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...

Please visit her on Facebook.
Or on her Website.


  1. I’m still chuckling over the mental picture of the writer in the bathtub with the laptop . . . .
    The idea of place being so important for where writers write is not one that I’d given much thought, but since a sense of place is often an important aspect of a story, I guess it stands to reason that the place the story gets written is probably just as important . . . .
    Now I’ll have to hunt up one of your books . . . and I know the perfect place to sit and read . . . .

  2. Like Joan, I'm not sure I realized how important the perfect place to write was to an author. I envisioned most authors writing at a desk in an office designated for their writing, maybe filled with quirky individualistic touches and a couch. Of course, there was that one author that started her popular wizard series in a bar. What was her name? LOL!

    Sally, after reading your post, I'm not sure a writing desk is at all the best place to write. As you've pointed out, the choices are endless and must be capable of striking the mojo chord.

    I'm not an author, but if I were to venture forth in that arena, I think my writing space would have to be quiet. I just don't see how you, Sally, or anyone can write in a coffee shop with so much other activity going on. But, then a bar or pub-like setting comes to mind, and I actually think that might be conducive to writing. I don't drink that much, but I love the atmosphere of a bar and all those pretty bottles lined up.

    Can't wait to hear where all my Reds write. And, it looks like I have yet another author to add from this blog.

  3. Yeah, the writer in the bathtub got me, too. Although it works so well for reading....

    For me, it's not a place but finally forcing myself to get started. Once I start, I can go no problem. But I have to check Facebook again in case someone else posted something in the last minute before I get started.

  4. I do my best writing at home in my room in the middle of the night. Quiet. No music. Nothing but my computer, Power Paws Kendall, and me. And coffee. Ice cream helps.

  5. I wish I were a writer, but I do my best thinking and "writing" in my head while I run, and I've yet to figure out a way to capture those thoughts when I've completed my run. I've actually thought about running with a small recorder in my hand. After reading about the author who can only write in a bathtub, I don't feel so odd and may start checking out small recorder options.

  6. Amy, I too get a lot of good ideas while walking (no more running for these dogs.) I did try once to record some ideas while I was driving--probably not safe, but it also came out as sheer gobbledegook!

    Sally tell us more about the new book.

  7. ps meant to say, I love the photo of you and Nancy on the porch. I would have a hard time quelling the chitchat though:)

  8. I can relate to the bathtub writer! My best ideas for presentations and problem-solving thoughts come while I am in the shower. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to keep them when I'm done! I have considered swiping the kids' bathtub crayons to jot ideas down on the walls...

    Thanks for another introduction for my towering pile of TBR!

  9. Wandering sounds like a wonderful thing to do. Why haven't I tried it yet? Though, I'll admit that I LOVE to sit outside on a warm summer day in my yard and write while the birds chirp and the bumbles hop from flower to flower. True nirvana.

  10. Kathy, you may not be an "author," but you do write your blog posts. So you are a "writer."

    I prefer to have quiet when I am writing my blog posts. I think my mind is just easily distracted by outside stimuli. (Same applies to reading for me)

    I have a nice chair in the front of the house where, I can have my book, notes, computer right at hand. With all of that in place, I can usually knock out a review in about an hour. Proofing and editing always comes a day or so later.

  11. My best thinking gets done when I'm doing my power walks. It's also during these walks that I remember things I've forgotten to do, or MUST do soon, and of course I have no pen or paper with me! Writing is something I've done just as a hobby - it will never be for anyone else's eyes - on and off since childhood (and for the longest time had a bad habit of throwing away nearly everything I'd written). My walks are the times when I think of things I want to write about. Again, no pen or paper...grrr...

    Sally, you have me worried about the safety of that bathtub writer! I hope he uses a pad and waterproof pen!

    (Now that captcha often has numbers instead of illegible letters, I keep redquesting a new captcha code until it gives me clear numbers to type! It's not fair to people in their sixties to have to try to decipher blurs and then copy them down!)

  12. Ahem, "requesting", NOT "redquesting"...back to my morning coffee now!

  13. I usually write in my cozy office at the top of the stairs but only if no one is home. With others in the house the words drag out of me like a snail with agoraphobia.

    Sometimes I write at the library but the chairs aren't very comfortable and my butt complains loudly drowning out the Muse and my characters and the very loud music I have pounding through my headphones (libraries are not very quiet places anymore).

    I resist the urge to roam so I stick to my office. I close the door. I try to block out the presence of the other humans in the house.

    Sometimes I put up a sign. GO AWAY! Creativity In Process!

  14. I can totally identify with this! I don't write regularly, but I knit, and sometimes I need a new place (not my home) to get the creativity flowing! I often find when I re-situate myself I am INCLINED to write! As well as dream of the next knitting project. I am definitely always seeking the creative vibe. Looking forward to the next Seaside Knitter story!

  15. Hi, Sally! xxo

    I love to write on the train! ANd on airplanes. Somehow, the enclosed space--or something-- makes me feel very focused.

    I am off to NYC on the Acela, so we shall see..

    Gorgeous photos, too, dear Sally!

  16. The bathtub? Seriously? I'm assuming without water?

    Personally, I have no office and actually no desk (don't even ask) so I go to the library a lot. I also write on the couch or in bed. And I'm off to Boston to housesit for friends/focus on writing...

  17. And hi Sally!

    And hi to Hank, coming to NYC just as I'm off to Boston......

  18. Also, Reine — "Power Paws Kendall" — love!

  19. My usual writing corner is in the guest bedroom at home. Occasionally I move to the dining room table, but can't focus as well there.

    If I cannot focus at home, the library is where I go to reboot myself. My fave is at the University of New England's Portland campus, where, coincidentally, the Maine Women's Writers Collection is housed.

    Maybe it's the light or the color scheme, but I settle right in there.

  20. Writer in the bathtub? Well of COURSE the first thought that came to mind was Waldo Lydecker, from 1944's Laura. Just Google images for "waldo lydecker bathtub" to see what I mean.

  21. In summer, at the cottage, I'm tempted to write down at the dock, but it's hard to focus (and often quite busy). So my perfect writing spot there is the sleeping cabin, which has a nice big wooden table with a view of the lake through the trees. Totally private.

    At home, it's the office/guest room. Couch and kitchen and back deck are all very well, but only for other computer stuff. Such as Morning Coffee with Favourite Blogs.

  22. You have to be where the "magic" works for you and that, obviously, can vary from day to day.


  23. Sally, Hi!!! Waving from Boone, and looking forward to seeing you at Malice!

    I am a huge fan of the Seaside Knitters, as you know, and can't wait to read Murder in Merino. Donald and I have visited Cape Ann and I love going back there vicariously with the knitters. You bring it to life quite vividly, and quite perfectly.

    I have two favorite spots to write and to read. In our sun room on a big, very old, very comfy sofa that has been with me longer than Donald. and on our bed with a beezillion pillows behind my back. From here I have a perfect view of the sun rising over Elk Knob. The view is moving and inspiring and comforts my soul.

  24. Boring. I write at a desk. Boring me that is......quirkfarms

  25. I've recently done my best ...and longest spurt of writing... in the home office upstairs. It's quiet up there and used to be DH's till he retired this year ...and took over my desk and computer in what's supposed to be our dining room on the main floor. Might be a good thing: too much activity downstairs with two GSD's and hubby popping in to chat (no doors!). There is a door upstairs....and it's not as easy to spontaneously pop in! Now I just have to redecorate it and make it "mine".

  26. Hi, Sally! So great to see you on Jungle Reds!

    I have an office at home where I write, and I do most of my work there. But when I the mojo isn't working, I will wander to my nearest Panera's where they know me and ask how the books are coming along or to our fabulous local bookstore, Mysteryscape, which has a nice, quiet coffee shop with wi-fi.

    In fact, Mysteryscape's where Sally and I are launching our books a week from Saturday with another friend whose book also publishes on May 6 with ours.

    No need to enter me for the drawing. I've already pre-ordered Murder in Merino and own all of her other books. Those of you who haven't read Sally yet should grab her books right away. You're in for a grand treat!

  27. I'm not a writer -- I develop software -- but my go-to work spot is a comfortable chair and ottoman tucked in a bay window, laptop on my knees.

  28. Thanks everyone for the great comments. I have been having trouble leaving a comment but if it works this time, I will get back on in a minute.

  29. Yay! I got on this time. (Thanks Roberta for your help.)
    And for those who are going to look up the Seaside knitters mysteries--thank you! And I hope you like them.

    Kathy--I tried the desk route--and for awhile Nancy and I had an office (with desks) outside our homes and that worked. But at home, the laundry and refrigerator keep calling to me.

    Mark--you have a point. It's getting that START that helps.

  30. I'm imagining Reine in the middle of the night with ice computer. And quiet. I do like night sounds. Maybe I will try it.

    I get ideas while driving too. (not running, though, like Amy...maybe because I don't run?) My son put an ap on my phone to record, and it send the recording to my computer. I tried it with Murder in Merino (which...plug plug....comes out this Tuesday) but once I said the words out loud they were no longer the characters somehow. So the mysterious lady in this book became me (and I'm not very mysterious)...sigh.

  31. Deb--you made me laugh...yes, that poor guy in the bath tub (and the HGTV story was TRUE...). I've spilled diet coke on my computer but never bathtub water.

    Amy--you are absolutely RIGHT about library chairs. Sometimes I take a pillow... And I also have the home alone problem. My husband works out of the house and maybe that's what sends me adrift...

    Terri and Kristopher--I like both your ideas, sitting in chairs, birds nearby. I did some of that in Gloucester while writing Murder in Merino. And it was helpful. I could almost see the cottage where a man dies...and hear the sounds of the water.

    Yes, Deb--NUMBERS! I have the hardest time with those letters.

  32. Hi Kaye. Caught the wave! See you soon....and thanks for the lovely comments! Cape Ann is an amazing place.

  33. My grandparents enclosed the open pavilion on top of the boathouse at the family lake property, and the big room at the front, with 16 windows all around, is where I wrote at least three books and many articles. I slept on the couch there, with the water lapping below, and when the early morning light woke me, I'd move directly to the computer and write until the sun reached across the room to where I sat (around 1:00 p.m.)
    Then I'd hit "print" for later editing, close the blinds, and go downstairs for a swim.

    Of course, this only worked in summer (we closed the place down from fall through spring), and unfortunately my brother inherited the place and barred his sisters from it (sweet guy). But it was a great place to write, and I miss it.

  34. Susan D--those images are a hoot! Waldo Lydecker--I had almost forgotten about that movie. Is that David Niven....? So funny!

    Linda--hello! And thanks for the lovely words. (Linda's EVERY HIDDEN FEAR comes out next Tuesday, too!)

    Hi Susan--happy housesitting. Maybe it will be the perfect spot to write?

    HI HANK! Have a great time tonight. Wish I could write on planes, but I fall asleep before leaving the runway (I'm a really delightful person to travel with!). But now the Acela, that sounds perfect. I think I could write on a speeding train. OR in Susan's D's cottage. If I had a cottage by the lake I just know I could write five books a year....

  35. Ellen--what a perfect place to write (and shame on your brother!). It sounds especially perfect to me because the sea is so important in the mysteries I write--important to me, I guess. I love imagining the water lapping against the sides of a boathouse. Wish you were still there so I could get the address and drop by.

  36. Hi dear Aimee! Oh, I so agree that Library chairs can be very uncomfortable. Sometimes that's good because pain keeps me alert. But sometimes I take a pillow.

  37. Hi Sally! What a fun post. I'm a wandering writer, too. I have a very nice office upstairs in what used to be our daughter's bedroom. But if I'm upstairs, the dogs need to go out, or I want another cup of tea, or something... If the weather is very pretty, I write on my deck. When it gets too hot, I like to write on my sunporch (glassed in) where I can still see the back yard. This winter I've been writing in the downstairs guest room, at a re-purposed dining room table. I can see out the front window, and usually have both dogs (getting hard for the older dog to make it up the stairs to my "real" office) and both cats with me.

    I like coffee shops, too, especially Panera and Starbucks, which have pretty comfortable furniture--as well as tea! Can't write at the local library. Furniture is miserable. You'd think they'd put a little thought into ergonomics...

  38. But just for clarification, there is no impetus to writing ANYWHERE like an advance you might have to return if you don't finish the book. I wrote The Everything US Constitution Book on a very short deadline in a chilly basement in the dead of winter because (1) I wanted the second half of the money and (2) there was no way I was giving them back the first half.

  39. I could never go anywhere lovely to write. Then I'd be admiring the view, listening to the birds and doing anything but write. With my really demanding schedule (2 books most years, 3 this year) I need to have a blank wall in front of me and be ready to work, work, work.

  40. Yeah, wouldn't be taking my laptop in the bathtub - with or without water.

    I am fortunate that I can write anywhere. I chalk it up to growing up in a noisy family of four. Quiet, loud, whatever. Once I get "in the zone," I don't notice.

    Currently, most of my writing takes place in the cafe area at work. But I've also been in libraries, coffee shops, in front of my fire, and in my den (surrounded by books) in a reclining loveseat. The muse comes everywhere (although not always at my beckoning).

  41. Hi Deborah--a fellow wanderer! And I know the feeling...the dog, the tea, the dirty oven. And Starbucks doesn't let us do the dishes. (Your yard sounds like a lovely place to write!)

    Ellen--HOW TRUE!!! Payments schedules are a grand motivator and not to be forgotten.

    Karen--Thanks for the affirmation that moving around sometimes stirs up the creativity juices. it's so nice to meet a knitter (as well as a writer.)

    And now I am going into some kind of a trance, thinking of the wonderful writer Rhys Bowen writing THREE books this year! Good for readers, for sure, but I completely understand sitting with your back to the wall.

  42. Writing in the bath? Yikes! I have my writing room for the winter months, then the back deck in the summer. But as for plotting and planning - I love to do that when I'm weeding, or even driving (not so sure that's safe!) then I phone myself at home and leave messages of the points I want to make notes about later on. The most common sound to accompany my writing? My dogs snoring at my feet ;-)

  43. I remember when you and Nancy were working on the porch together. Lots of good words in those books.
    I don't think I'd be able to shut out the sounds in a coffee shop like one of my friends does.

  44. Kristopher, you are such a sweetheart and made my day with calling me a writer. Hank, I love the idea of writing on the train. I entered a contest a while back through Amtrak where five people would win a train trip to write. I haven't heard anything back, yet, so I'm assuming I didn't win, but it would have been a lovely experience. The contest only required a short essay about your connection to writing and trains, and you didn't have to be an "official" writer.

    Debs, I so understand the aging dog consideration. Every time I think about moving, I think about my 14-year-old dog navigating steps or a new place.

    Sally, I love the porch. I have a screened-in back porch, but it seems hard for me to keep clean-up these days. I have thought about glassing it in, but then the sounds of nature are lost. Guess I need to get off my lazy bottom and get it (the porch and my bottom) in shape.

  45. Mary--your comment reminded me that my tolerance for--and even finding comfort in noise probably came from my early writing days when toddlers (and dogs) wandered around the kitchen table where I wrote back then.

    Judy--good luck on the redecorating. But so important. Make it yours and the words (hopefully) will flow!

    Cathy--I wish weeding brought me inspiration and helped me work out plot ideas. I think I will try it (I have enough weeks to give me ideas for seventeen series!)

  46. Hi Jody! Thanks for the nice words.

    Kathy--I know what you mean about glassing in a porch. Somedays our furniture turns green with pollen. But I love the sounds--and often write out there at night, listening to the deep night sounds.

  47. Love the picture of you and Nancy on the porch - company, nature, concentration and creativity!

  48. I sometimes wander to write or read, but since I usually write (when I write) in the middle of the night, I don't do it often. The cafes and library would frown on my wandering in about now. :D

    Pen M

  49. So entertaining thinking of each of you in your chosen spaces, busily creating new books, blog posts, grocery lists. No, wait, the grocery list is mine.... I do my work at a computer, so for creative writing, I prefer to be elsewhere. And elsewhere can be anywhere at any time of day or night--on a plane, in the middle of a convention (oops, supposed to be LISTENING to those papers), in a waiting room,etc. But my favorite place is on the couch, knees up, turned away from the view because the view won't really matter anyway when I get in the zone. And now I'll be looking for your books, Sally!

  50. Anonymous--maybe there's a new career here--an all night cafe (at the least, it'd make a good book!).

    Hi Carole--thanks!

    FChurch--a fellow wanderer! (I sometimes do the couch thing too--except I fall asleep very easily. And I hope you enjoy the books!

    Thanks everyone. What a treat to be here.