“So what do you do?” It’s a question people seem to ask me a lot when I travel. I am increasingly torn by this question. A year ago, when my life as a fiction writer was still a secret, I would not hesitate to answer, “I’m a lawyer.” I wouldn’t deign to call myself a writer, even though I did write a lot of fiction. Even though I wrote all the time. Even though writing is the thing I most enjoy. Well. Not counting sex and coffee ice cream and a good bourbon and a long list of other indulgent diversions. The point is that introducing myself as a fiction writer was always a quickly stifled impulse. It felt wrong. In that split second, the lawyer in me always managed to elbow his way to the opening of my mouth, right hand raised, and took the oath of occupation. “What do I do? Well, I’m a lawyer.”
But then, in one giant step, The Lion Trees moved from the novel living and growing in the privacy of my laptop to a published work of fiction. Reviews have been embarrassingly good. In less than a year The Lion Trees has racked up a dozen international book awards. People want to know where they can find these books and if I will sign them. It has been an experience like no other. So when a fellow passenger asked me on a recent trip to Seattle, “so what do you do?” what do you think I told him? “I’m a lawyer.” I was baffled by my own response. If I cannot lay claim to being a writer now, then when? By the time we landed, I was working on a minor epiphany. The writer in me has been unwilling to stoop to pick up the question, “so what do you do?” and try to make something respectable of it. I “do” all kinds of things. Writing is not something I “do.” It’s who I bloody am. The next time some guy leans over and asks, “so who are you, deep down in the pit of our soul?” I’m swinging for the fences. I’m going to nail it.
—Owen Thomas is the author, if you haven’t figured it out, of The Lion Trees: Part One: Unraveling