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Amy Tan’s first job was writing astrology

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Amy Tan’s first job was “making up” astrology for her friend’s astrology hotline business. She later wrote ad copy, direct mail, and became a technical writer for a telecommunications company: “all the subjects I had absolutely no interest in,” Tan recalls. She turned to writing fiction in the search for more meaningful work and learned a lot about herself in the process.

- Amy was a linguistics and English major, and I remember her wanting to write.

John, my husband, started a business.

He had one phone line that was Dial-A-Joke, another phone line was Dial Michael Jackson, and another one that had astrology.

So, he hired Amy to write astrology.

She was very creative and she would make it up. (laughs) - I was doing a little bit of ad copy, direct mail, the really sleazy stuff, you know, like do these exercises and your vision will become perfect, or study this course and you'll be a doctor.

I had materials I wrote for a telecommunications company.

I was the subject matter expert on ISDN, and wide area networks, and divestiture of AT&T, all the subjects I had absolutely no interest in.

I was doing really well.

I had a lot of clients.

I was working about 90 billable hours a week, which meant I didn't have a lot of time to sleep, or eat, or be social.

And I was looking for something more meaningful, and that's why I started writing fiction.

They met somebody who encouraged me to read fiction again, and she gave me a reading list, and she was a writer, and I started to write.

And the things I discovered about writing at that point were so important to me.

It was the notion that you could write and find out what you really believed and felt.

All these things that had been submerged, they just came out and it was through fiction because fiction gave you a place of safety.

It wasn't about you.

It was about these characters, but it was about you.

And at that point, I knew I would write the rest of my life.

I would write fiction the rest of my life.

1985, 33 years old.

I never was so egotistical as to think I could make a living doing that.

(birds chirping)