Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Where I Write by Sally Goldenbaum
SALLY GOLDENBAUM: Many, many thanks to the wonderful Reds for inviting me to spend some time with all of you today. I’m so happy to be here.
Wherever here might be, that is. . .
My writing (and reading) life is a wandering one, ruled by some mysterious force. Do any of you have this problem? I’ve lived in the same town, on the same street, in the same house for decades. I love my house and I love being home. But when I’ve finished my coffee and am ready to start the work day, I resist my little office beneath the eaves. It doesn’t call to me. So off I go, searching for the perfect writing spot.
A few weeks ago the NY Times ran an article about where writers write. “Ah,” I thought. “Kindred wanderers.” The pictures of Joyce Carol Oates’ office and Mona Simpson’s kitchen (where she writes) were lovely, but only Colson Whitehead wandered. And he didn’t go very far—only moving from a spare room to a dining room to a corner of the living room to a room with a view.
But their stories reminded me that I have been able to write a book at home—but only with help. One summer Nancy Pickard—a writer and friend--—and I were both facing tough deadlines.We needed discipline (mostly me) and a place to write. We decided to try my porch—the weather was peasant and backyard quiet. We imposed strict rules to ensure a full day of writing. Watching Nancy diligently writing was exactly the impetus (guilt had a tiny role) to keep me from doing laundry. And it worked. The muses found the porch and at the end of that summer Nancy had completed the manuscript for The Scent of Rain and Lightning and I had finished The Wedding Shawl.
But then winter came, snow filled the porch, Nancy moved to a new condo with its own writing space.
And my wanderlust returned.
About that time, I saw an HGTV show featuring a couple looking for their dream home. They had trouble finding one because the husband—a writer—could only write in a bathtub—and none of the prospective homes had one he considered suitable. (Lots of questions surfaced in my head—is there water in the tub? A pillow on the bottom? A waterproof computer on his knees? And I was VERY curious about what he wrote.) That story convinced me I wasn’t as bad off as I thought. Maybe wandering was a GOOD thing—certainly preferable to our bathtub, anyway. I simply needed to follow the ‘force’—whatever that mysterious thing is that primes the pump and gets the creative juices flowing. It didn’t seem to be my house—and it certainly wasn’t my bathtub.
One autumn I wandered farther than usual—1400 hundred miles or so— and found a place filled with muses—Cape Ann, MA, where my husband and I rented a tiny place with a magnificent ocean view. It’s where the Seaside Knitters Mysteries are set, and walking the shore not only gave me the idea for Angora Alibi, it gave me the real life Pleasant Street Tea shop. This comfortable cafe with its deep couches and great Paninis called to me. It was exactly the place to write A Fatal Fleece, and as New England leaves turned glorious colors, thoughts and scenes and story of the mysterious death of an old fisherman with a big heart were born.
Back home in Prairie Village my choices are not as picturesque (not a single ocean in Kansas!). But I listen hard for the call of a muse. Some days the friendly baristas at the neighborhood Starbucks beckon, and I block out the cappuccino machines and gossip and sweet babies and listen instead to words in my head.
Other days, I wander down the road to our local library and depend on the millions of words around me to inspire great and murderous thoughts. (And when I need a break I walk down the mystery aisles and touch the books of my favorite authors, absorbing their magical vibes.)
And then, finally, summer comes back and the porch calls. Usually. But not always. Recently I retreated to Nancy’s new deck instead. My daughter-in-law, son and family (3 children under 4, 2 dogs, and a cat) moved in with us for a few months. The porch, soon filled with Legos and talking toys, had pushed the muses away. But Nancy’s deck, with its view of a duck pond and jogging trails, was perfect and the words began to flow—until finally, miraculously, Murder in Merino came to life.
Different seasons, different stories, different life situations require different writing spaces for me. Maybe that’s what wandering is all about. As Colson Whitehead asks, “Where’s the good mojo today?” What’s going to make the similes pop, the red herrings fly?
So you look for the mojo. It may be invisible, but it’s there. Is it on a porch, a tea shop or coffee shop, a friend’s place? And then you find it and the words flow, the red herrings fall into your lap, the scenes pop.
Until they don’t. And then, as Whitehead says, the hunt begins all over again.
And so I wander…and listen…
Sally is offering a copy of both Murder in Merino and Angora Alibi to comments today! So let us know where you write--or do your best thinking...
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