Saturday, October 16, 2010

Writing Space Week: The Texas Edition

Scott D. Parker

When I made the decision to start writing stories, I dreamed of a place, a perfect place, to write. What I got was a lesson.

What I wanted was to find--or, rather, create--the perfect space. In my head were visions of rooms with dark paneling, floor to ceiling shelves lined with thick, leather-bound volumes, and a massive wooden desk complete with blotter, ink well, and old paper. Not a smoker, I wondered if I could find incense with the essence of tobacco, just to give this fantasy room the final nudge. Not a hunter, I thought about buying random stuffed heads of wild animals.

Then, reality. At the time, I didn't have a space that could be wholly devoted to my writing. We had a guest room and, in a corner, I had a space. It was right next to the closet, one with accordion doors that pinioned outward into the room. With my small desk, half of the closet door would not be able to open. On this desk (really a converted server table I bought from my company) I had my old Mac PowerBook, ergonomic keyboard, and mouse. Setting this machine up for wireless Internet was possible, but it was a pain, so I rarely did it. In this little niche, I wrote my first novel.

There was a consistent problem, however. Whenever guests arrived, me and my gear would be evicted to another part of the house. Frankly, it irritated me, but what could I do? It was during one of those times in the domestic wilderness that I realized what I didn't need: the perfect place to write.

Like Dave mentioned on Thursday when he described his writing space, I’ve learned to write in just about any place I can. When I go on vacations, I make it a rule not to take my newer MacBook Pro. I use paper and pens. It allows me to continue the composition, but not be chained to my computer during vacations. One of those vacations (to Bandera, Texas), we stayed at a rustic bed and breakfast. It had a separate bedroom, a living room, and, in one corner, an old school writing table. I wrote every night on that table and fell in love with it. Upon our return, I put a call in to my dad, the son of a carpenter and quite a fine craftsman himself. I described the writing table and asked if he could build me one.

Well, he did. This is it, in the Room Formerly Known As The Guest Room. We converted our front room to a guest room, thereby finally giving me an honest and for true Writing Room. And, yes, that’s what we call it in the house. There, on the left part of the desk, is my modest To Be Read stack. I have taken to keeping it somewhat short so I can actually complete it. Notice the non-paperback there: my autographed copy of Russell McLean’s The Good Son. The white stack of paper is the draft of a current collaboration I’m working on with another writer. The one sheet of yellow paper is my goals for the fall. The pencil cup on the left is one I made. It has a simple mantra: “Just write.” The photo is of my two cats, both of whom died within two months of each other this year. My son placed it there and I’ve yet to move it. The Bluetooth keyboard there in the middle is linked to my iPod Touch. Yes, I write on the iPod Touch. I use the new PlainText app (from Hog Bay Software) that links to my Dropbox folder. Therefore, I’m never far from a writing surface (be it electronic or the notecards I sometimes carry around). That wooden stool on the floor is for my feet when I’m blazing away. Oh, and that framed picture on the wall? That’s a copy of the news piece I wrote remembering David Bloom. It’s my first piece I officially published.

Now, you may be wondering where my MacBook is. Well, it’s still there. I move it to my writing desk when I want to sit and write. Other times, however, it lives at my standing desk. I have discovered the joy of standing to write. It's exciting, it keeps me focused, and, during exciting action scenes, I actually started tapping my foot and shifting my weight back and forth. I built a small stand to raise the level of the screen while being opening underneath to keep the machine cool. There’s my mouse and ergonomic keyboard. On the right, tacked to the wall, is my large sheet of paper where I write all my story ideas. That bookshelf on the left was built by my grandfather. And, yes, that is my set of longhorns I earned by being in the University of Texas Longhorn Band for five years. Hook 'em!

So, that’s my writing space at home. But, as I’ve written here before, I can and do write anywhere on anything. I write on the iPod when standing in line at the grocery. I write on notecards when I'm out and don't have my iPod with me. I keep a notebook in my car to jot down ideas. I write at home, at night, on my writing desk or at my standing desk. No, my writing space is not a wood-paneled room, but I've learned that I don't really need that, either.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Call of Fall

Tom Piccirilli

It's autumn again. I've lived through 45 of them now, and most of those in the last decade seem to bring on bouts of reverie and bursts of creativity. It's the time of year when, in the current thrashing of my mid-life crisis, I find myself growing the most sentimental. For what I'm not sure–there's just a rampant nostalgia ferried in by the season. It's when I reminisce about friends gathering at the wooded borders of dead-end streets. When the world and the night seemed to be impressing themselves on me the most. When the turbulent waters of the Great South Bay called, and the wind reached out. It's when my old man kicked off, when the clawing back yard trees beckoned. You feel it too, some of you, or have, or will. It's that time when you wait jubilantly for snowfall. When you can smell history in the air. Your own and everyone else's.

When my literary tastes, both reading and writing-wise, moved from horror towards crime a few years back, I found myself forced to shift my attitude about certain elements and tropes as well. I had to learn to alter my descriptions of October from a month of monsters and terror to a month of noir...and terror. The implications of dread could now be found in hardboiled themes, the same themes I'd been writing about my entire career, but now with the added zing of realism. I had to reframe my descriptions and search for new details. Or at least find a new way to discuss the things I'd been addressing for years in a different genre.

As I gear up to start a new novel I can feel the drag of the past weighing down my mood. Which, ironically enough, is a good thing for a crime writer, I suppose. At least for me. Reflecting on my own regrets and disappointments will fuel the work. Scratching at the wounds keeps them bleeding, keeps them open and active. When I watch the little kids tramping up my front walk dressed as princesses and goblins this Halloween, I know I'll be thinking of the children I never had. The mediocre dreams that never came true, the average efforts that floundered out. The failures that sit beside me, the mistakes that hiss in nightmares. The need to revisit and hammer at troubling issues.

That's what the call of fall does to me, friends. How about you?

Tom Piccirilli is the author of twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He's won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de L'imagination. Learn more at:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hey! Get outta my workspace

By Dave White

Sorry. Not a fancy guy here. No desks, no posters, no bookshevles. Just a laptop and a couch.

I used to write in an office in the corner of my parents' basement. I used an old IBM Aptiva that had been in the family since 1995. I graduated to writing on a DELL in the same corner.

Then I moved out and got myself a nice Dell Inspiron, and my own room. I set up a desk in that room, against a wall, my back to the TV and the rest of the room. Since then I've bounced all over the place. often, though, I've found myself writing on couches.

Now that I've moved in with my wife, I usually write like this:

Sometimes, if I feel like sitting up, I'll rest the laptop here:

I don't really have many options right now. I need to write in house--at least when I'm drafting--because I need the wifi. Beyond that, I write where I can. Would I rather have an office with bookshelves behind me or cool photos surrounding me? Absolutely.

But that's not an option right now.

So I do what I can. I think this is why I'm so caught up in "writing everyday" and worrying about getting words on the computer. Because if I get wrapped into the whole "mystique" of writing, I'll never get anything done. I don't have an area that I can go to find the muse.

I have a couch.

I have some music I can put on.

When I'm revising, and I know what I'm going to do next, I usually go to a coffee shop. One that makes you pay for the internet. Because I can't have the distraction.

But either way, where I write is not as important. What is important to me, is actually writing.

And I can do my best to get that done anywhere.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Corner of a Room of One's Own

John McFetridge

Since high school I've written stories. Back then I had a desk in my bedroom. And a record player. I used to listen to Grand Funk and Alice Cooper and Deep Purple and David Bowie and write stories. For a couple years when I was a kid we had some political activism in Quebec. A few bombs were exploded in Montreal, mostly in mailboxes because apparently they represented the federal government, and once in an army recruiting office that killed the security guard (a retired military guy in his late sixties). And we had a lot of bomb threats, lots of times we had to clear out of the mall or the arena were I played hockey or school (that was always okay ;) because a bomb threat was called in.

And we had a couple of political kidnappings. In October 1970 (when I was 11) a British diplomat, James Cross, was abducted from his home in Westmount (on the island of Montreal). A few days later, Quebecois politician Pierre LaPorte was kidnapped from in front of his house in St. Lambert, the next town over from where I grew up in Greenfield Park on the south shore.

Cross was released in early December (the kidnappers got safe passage to Cuba) but only a week after his abduction Pierre LaPorte was killed and his body was found in the trunk of a car a few miles from where I was living (his kidnappers, a different cell of the FLQ, were caught a while later and all served prison time). At that time I had a job delivering the morning newspaper and, of course, it was filled everyday with stories about the kidnappings - The October Crisis.

So, a few years later when I started trying to write stories at the desk in my room they were mostly James Bond-style action stuff, very heroic rescue scenes and explosions.

I never dared show anyone any of those stories.

But I did get used to the idea of writing off in a corner of the room. Over the years in some places I've lived I've had an "office," a room with a desk dedicated to my writing. Sometimes there was a corkboard covered with index cards (and for a while covered with rejection letters back in the days when we actually got paper letters in the mail).

When my wife and I bought this house and had kids I became a stay-at-home-Dad and when the kids would nap I'd sit at the dining room table and write.

This is where I wrote Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

Then, a little while ago we renovated the house and I got part of the front porch as an "office."

A few years ago for Christmas my mother sent my sons some toys that are little bikers (!?!?). I keep them on the windowsill over my desk and I've named them after the characters in my books. There's JT and Nugs and Danny Mac and Gayle and Sherry:

At the moment I'm working on a book (which I hope will be out by this time next year) called Tumblin' Dice about a rock band from the late 70's who reform and play the casino circuit. The band's old manager, Frank, is now the entertainment director of the casino just north of Toronto (which I'm calling the Huron Woods Casino) and getting involved with the bikers in money laundering and drug sales and prostitution. If they can get rid of the mobsters who are already there.

And one of the band members, Ritchie, who still loves to play music, was twelve years old when the Toronto Rock'n'Roll Revival was staged in 1969 and his older sister snuck him in. What Ritchie remembers the most about the concert was the way all day long, while guys like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry were on stage, Jim Morrison stood in the wings and studied everything they did. Ritchie tells Angie how when The Doors went onstage Morrison acted like he didn't care at all about putting on a performance the way the old school guys did, but Ritchie noticed he used all kinds of moves he'd seen them use.

So, I found a couple of posters for the real concert online and printed them and I have them on the wall for inspiration:

One more thing.

When I signed my first book contract I was very excited and decided to treat myself. I figured that instead of going out to a nice restaurant or something like that, I wanted to get something that would remind me everyday that thirty years of working at writing had paid off (and it had to be something inexpensive because my advance was in the "low four figures"). I had a lot of weird ideas but I finally decided on a really good radio so I could listen to Grand Funk and Alice Cooper and Deep Purple and David Bowie. I bought this Tivoli desktop:

You can't see it in this picture, but there's another desktop speaker and a sub-woofer on the floor. The radio is fantastic.

Next to the radio in that picture is a sextant that my father actually used in the navy in World War Two to cross the north Atlantic.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Work Space Week -Taking Your Element With You.

By Jay Stringer

When Bryon suggested we steal -I mean honour- Murderati's work space idea, I thought it sounded great.

My mind came alive with ideas. I could talk about my routine, and the reasons I chose my work space. I could talk about the way I had to have the pens all lined up in a certain way, and the desk had to be facing the midlands at all times. Furthermore, I could pretend that the lay out of my work space offered some great insight into my writing process.

There was just one problem.

I didn't have a work space.

Okay, I have one by default. I mean, wherever I lay my hat, right? My 'workspace' is really just my macbook. The rest is optional. I've tried, don't get me wrong. When we moved into our current flat, I claimed a spot in the kitchen and set up a writing desk. I bought a printer to put on the desk, and a little metal container to fill with pens. I spent a summer trying to use it as my office, and settled into a routine of sitting there for a couple of hours every night to write.

The result was a very cluttered desk, piled high with plates, half-read novels and re-read comic books. And lots of coffee. But writing? Not so much.

I have friends who go through the same ritual; a new home is a chance to plan out a new writing space. It works for them, but not for me. I found that time spent thinking about these things was time that I could have spent writing.

The protagonist of Jim Dodge's Not Fade Away liked to say that he was never in our out of his element- he took his element with him. And I've found that's me and writing. My workspace is wherever I am. My first book was written on the floor, in the bedroom and on long train journeys. My second was written mostly on the sofa that i'm sitting on right now.

The third? Who knows.

The only time I really complain about my dyslexia is when it limits this mobility. To be really productive I need my laptop. Sure, I've always been a scribbler, I always have one of my notebooks on me, but their use is limited. I can make brief notes. The odd line of dialogue, or a character name, maybe half a paragraph. Anything more than that is a waste of time and ink, because I won't be able to read it later. For that reason i'm thinking I might sell my soul for an ipad, because it might give me even more options.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Work Space Week II: The Revenge

House-keeping note: Technical glitches kept BQ's post down for almost the entire day yesterday. Since it is kicking off our "Steal Murderati's Idea" Where I Write Week we figured we'll just leave his post up for Monday and bump Weddle's to next Monday, to close up the WHERE I WRITE week.

By Bryon Quertermous

I tend to be short of good ideas in my own life so when I see one from someone else I'm all over it to swipe it and claim the glory for myself. And one of the coolest ideas I've seen recently was over at Murderati where they all posted pictures of their work spaces then wrote a few words about how or why they chose that place. So when I ran the idea by the DSD brain trust they all were more than happy to jump gleefully into my thieving boat. Now, without further introduction, we present Do Some Damage Work Space Week. We start, of course, with my own workspace.

Prior to having kids, I loved writing in coffee shops. Starbucks are my favorite because (until recently at least) they didn't have free wireless internet access. I like everything about coffee shops, the subtle noise, the soothing cafe music, and low pressure purchasing environment. When I lived in Ann Arbor, before I was married, I did almost all of my writing at coffee shops. Once I had kids though, my process had to change. It's hard to justify leaving Becky alone with the kids while I go write every night, but if I wait until after they go to bed, it's almost 10pm and the places around here all shut down at 11. So Friday's I usually try to get out when they're open until midnight, but during the week, I'm doing my business at home. This also gives me more time to spend with Becky as well, and that's a swell prospect.

At home I have two writing stations. The first is the unofficial home office where our main computer, printer, scanner, and such is setup. This is where I handle the business of writing. I also like to use this computer for editing, because scrolling through a manuscript with a full mouse is better than with my laptop track pad. I also tend to write more out here in the winter because it's warmer than the room with the TV.

This office also serves to hold all of my professional mementos on those bookshelves. I have copies of the anthologies I've appeared in, pictures of me with authors I admire, and my bookshelf of reference books. That leg up there is from a Chuck Palahniuk signing I went to which is one of the coolest literary experiences I've had so far. There are also other writing trinkets and such that serve as inspiration.

But the place I do most of my composing is in our family room where our reclining couch and big TV are. Becky sits with Holly on one end, I sit on the end closest to the bookshelf and have done much good work (and a whole lot of crap as well). I like writing here when the kids are playing because I can feel multi-productive. But, given the right set of opportunities to be able to write full-time, I'd love to have a dedicated home office for the business stuff, but I'd like to be able to spend the days at a Starbucks or even more preferably, a nice greasy diner, clacking away at my imaginary worlds.