John the House Spouse has cursed his last empty box of dishwashing detergent. He’s an author now, and he wants you to call him Jack.
“I don’t understand this ‘Jack’ thing,” my wife said again last week when my debut novel arrived in the mail. She’s been protesting the pen name for six months. “No one around here will know who you are.”
My wife’s a public relations professional. We met almost thirty years ago at one of the biggest PR firms in the world. She’s stayed at it all these years and now operates her own successful business that includes press and PR services. I should listen to her.
But I can’t. See I’m Jack now, and to understand the reason why, you have to bear with me, let me take you back five years...
I’m probably the only person who remembers, but in March of 2002 I wrote a piece for the Asbury Park Press Crossroads section. The headline was, “A house-spouse’s work is never done,” and in it, I talked about hating my job as a stockbroker; how my wife said she needed her own housewife because her business was booming; and how over a cocktail and dinner, I decided to give up working and stay home to do the housework.
In that story I spun tales of inedible meat loaf, my children ridiculing me, and the gravity-like inevitability of dirty dishes piled in the sink.
And every word was ugly truth. I discovered being a housewife was even tougher than being a stockbroker. Shopping, cooking, cleaning. It made cold-calling seem like a day at the beach. "I asked the waiter for another Wild Turkey,” is how that other piece ended.
Not long after that story ran, I made a some changes. Nothing serious, I just hired a gardener, a house-cleaning service, and my daughter to do the laundry.
Heck if I was going to spend the rest of my life being a house spouse.
I've dreamed of being a mystery novelist since reading the Hardy Boys, Edgar Allan Poe, and Sherlock Holmes as a kid. I've always written novels in my spare time, though none had ever been published.
Hiring house-spouse helpers like gardeners and cleaners allowed me to redouble my efforts at the novel writing. Not a very nice effect on the savings account, but what the heck.
Well, it took another three years and two more manuscripts, but the effort finally produced results. One day last February, Valentine's Day as a matter of fact, I finally got The Call.
"Hello, John," my agent said. "Do you want the good news first or the bad news?"
"Gimme the bad news," I said. "I've developed a taste."
"It's not much money."
"What's not much money?"
"The GOOD news. A small mystery press, Hilliard & Harris, is offering us a contract."
A beat or two of my life passed by. "You mean they want to publish my novel?"
My agent laughed. "That's exactly what it means, dear. You've done it."
I let out a whoop.
So now it's a year later and my first box of books arrived from the publisher last week. Once again, my wife complained about the pen nam I've chosen to use.
"I still don't get the 'Jack thing,'" she said when I showed her the cover of Big Numbers. "Everyone knows you as John."
"John is that other guy," I said, "that struggling writer who couldn't sell a book for 37 years. Jack is the author."
The House Spouse has cursed his last empty box of dishwashing detergent.