Before They Were Authors: Diners, Shoe Sales & Desk Jobs by Catherine Dilts

Catherine Dilts is the author of the Rock Shop Mystery series, set in the Colorado mountains, while her short stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Catherine’s day job deals with environmental regulatory issues, and for fun she fishes, hikes, and runs. In her starry-eyed youth, she lived in the delusion that writers could earn a living and was spectacularly uninterested in pursuing a career, knowing that she would soon be rich and famous. She took the type of jobs Elaine Viets uses as a backdrop in her Dead End Job mystery series. Only sometimes not as glamorous!

Here’s Catherine’s story:

My attempt to wait tables in a deli had been an abysmal failure. I lacked the people skills and attention to detail required in the service industry. I received the telltale penny tip more than once.

So far, my stint in the shoe department of a retail store was heading for the same disaster. The manager chided me more than once for the horrifying rate of “shrinkage” during my shift. Perhaps I didn’t take the customer theft of cheaply made shoes seriously enough.

I would check on a customer, turn my back, and when I returned, there would be a ratty pair of shoes in the slot where a new pair of shoes had recently resided. Darn it, they got me again! Sadly, many times the abandoned shoes were child sized. What were these people teaching their kids?

I had a conversation with store security one evening. The rent-a-cop told me about a shoplifter he’d caught. The woman was on parole for, you guessed it, shoplifting. The paltry items included in the $18 haul that would send her to jail included flip flops. Seriously? She ruined her life for flip flops? The security guy assured me that shoplifters weren’t in it for the goods. They craved the thrill of their thievery.

My disgust with the human race had reached a new low. I was determined to help bust one of these miscreants. As this was a chain department store in a poor neighborhood, I soon had my chance.

The man was homeless. That was the obvious explanation for his ratty clothes and unwashed condition. I could smell him two aisles away. I crept near. He didn’t notice me. Probably not due to my policing skills, but rather to his inebriated state.

It was winter in Colorado. The smelly criminal selected a pair of work boots. I had to admire his choice. As if he had a job to wear them to. He loosened the laces, then slipped off his own decrepit excuse for footwear.

The man’s feet were disgusting. Filthy, covered with sores, and in bad need of a podiatrist’s attention to his scary toenails. He glanced about, then pulled the boots on. He hastily tied the laces and headed out of the shoe department, inexplicably taking his disintegrating shoes with him.

I debated calling security. Dropping the proverbial dime on the thief. Then I thought of him facing the cold winter day in his rotting shoes. He had selected work boots. Maybe he planned to sober up and get in line for day labor shoveling snow.

I turned away, knowing he would escape with the boots scot free. I would like to say I made a quasi-moral decision, but the reality was, if they caught him, I would have to handle the boots those icky feet had occupied.

My career in shoe sales ended after that episode. I decided to return to college after a long absence. The degree eventually led to my current career – a desk job in EHS – Environment, Health, and Safety. I monitor product compliance to a plethora of environmental regulations.

Both jobs have influenced my writing. My stint in dead end jobs gave me a keen awareness of the struggles of the minimum wage worker. Environmental compliance opened a world of ideas for stories involving hazardous materials. A recently finished and as yet unpublished story combines both, as a homeless man inadvertently reveals the location of a hidden chemical dump.

Now that I am published, in novel and short story forms, I am keenly aware of the income level of authors who don’t hit the NYT bestsellers list. I’m still hopeful, but I’m not quitting the day job until my writing income equals my salary. Or until I retire. Whichever comes first.

Gotta go. Time to save the planet for another eight hours.

You can learn more about Catherine and her books at

Catherine’s latest mystery, Stone Cold Blooded – A Rock Shop Mystery, published by Encircle Publications LLC, is available in paperback, and in e-book for Kindle and Nook

16 responses to “Before They Were Authors: Diners, Shoe Sales & Desk Jobs by Catherine Dilts

  1. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for stopping by Jennifer. I loved Catherine’s post.

  2. Excellent points, Catherine! Thanks for sharing your perspective. 🙂

  3. Catherine Dilts

    Jennifer, environmental regulatory work is a lot like writing fiction in that many boring hours of plunking away on a computer may be required before you see any reward. I encourage young people to go into environmental work, as it is constantly evolving.

  4. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Agreed Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I love that Catherine Dilts uses her day job and past jobs for inspiration in her writing. Besides the glamours of writing, saving the planet (8 hours at time) is awesome work, too!

  6. Catherine Dilts

    Pamela, I am guessing your work history finds its way into your novels, too.

  7. Catherine Dilts

    Jacqueline, so true. Besides the paycheck, my day job generates tons of story ideas.

  8. Catherine Dilts

    Susan, maybe I should write a story about what I imagine happened to the man and the boots.

  9. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for stopping by Susan. Good to hear from you.

  10. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks Jacqueline. I’ve freelanced since 2003 and made a decent living at it. I could have earned a LOT more writing PR at some big firm, or staying as a Credit and Collections Manager, but it would have sucked the soul out of me. But I agree that our work experiences form our writing. Catherine’s post is an excellent example of that.

  11. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for stopping by Pamela. I think we all had a “past life” — I used to be a Credit and Collections Manager! I loved this post by Catherine.

  12. Susan Oleksiw

    Good stories, Catherine. I’m looking forward to reading your books. (And I’m very glad you let the man have the boots. He needed them.)

  13. Hi Catherine and Judy,

    Writing careers tend to be glamorized in the media, but the fact is that most freelance writers earn very little. I taught at all levels for many years. I’ve always written as well but never depended on it for a living. Catherine, you are wise to keep your day job. Your experiences will also enrich your writing.

  14. pamelasthibodeaux

    Sounds a lot like my life…although I didn’t work retail, I did fast food, cocktail waitress, Insurance, Admitting & Patient Accounts in a hospital, Bookkeeping and Payroll, Insurance (which I’m back doing now)….Great post, Catherine!

    Good luck and God’s blessings

  15. Judy Penz Sheluk

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  16. Catherine Dilts

    Thanks for having me on your blog, Judy!

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