Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Room of One's Own

RHYS BOWEN: When I first read the Virginia Woolf piece in college it didn't make much impression. After all, I had a serene and private room of my own in an ivy-clad college dorm. But I read it again when I was juggling writing with the demands of being a mother of four small children. And then it really resonated.I remember trying to finish a chapter when there were screams outside my door, someone had taken someone else's toy or made fun of someone else's hair. And the school called to ask me to bring two dozen brownies because "I was the only mother who didn't work!!!!!" I think that was when my thoughts turned to murder.  A haven, a perfect place to write where the inspiration will just flow and nobody will disturb us. Isn't that what we all want?

I've been thinking recently about my perfect place to write. I know that Julia has escaped to our agent's retreat on Nantucket to finish a book without interruptions. I know Susan has fled to a hotel (in Florida, wasn't it?). But I'm not sure it would work for me to go somewhere lovely. I'd be peeking out of the windows, watching the ocean and thinking I should go for a walk on the beach first, or what kind of sea-birds were those. At home I stare at a wall (it does have my Edgar nomination on it, a couple of NYT lists with my name on them AND a photo of a young Robert Redford to remind me of what is possible) But I try not to look out of the window.

So I'm wondering... who would jump at the chance to go and write somewhere lovely and serene? I'd certainly welcome no interruptions and someone else to cook and serve my meals. I think for me it would have to be snowed in in a snug cabin in the mountains with a roaring fire, lots of good soups and mulled wine. I'd get a lot done if I knew I couldn't leave!

So would you escape to write if you were offered the chance? Where would it be?

HALLIE EPHRON: Honestly I don't want to go anywhere. I'm much more productive at home. My tiny office IS my perfect place to write. The only thing that happens there is my work. Maybe it's the reason I didn't start writing until late -- it was once my children's play room. You really do need a place to write. I always remember the story (Woolf tells it in A Room of One's Own) about Jane Austen having only the family drawing room to write in and how she used to have to hide her manuscript.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I've really never had a room of my own for work. Before Kiddo was born, Hubby and I shared the guest room/office. Then Kiddo took that over. And then, when when Miss Edna moved in, she took Kiddo's bedroom and we made him a "nook" in our dining room. (It's a loft -- not quite as dire as it sounds....) But, with that, I lost my desk, so I would work sitting on the couch or in bed.... Now I have a desk back, but it's in our living/dining/kitchen area, so it's not exactly private. So, yes, for bouts of concentrated effort I like to travel. It really doesn't matter where to me, as long as it's private and I can walk places. Seriously, I would do (almost) anything for a room of my own.... Having a place to work where no one is walking through/bothering me an ongoing challenge... Ah, New York....

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yeah, if I went somewhere to write, then I'd have to PACK, right? And then i'd be all worried about what to take, and what would happen in my home while I was gone. I adore my study, the big sugar maple out the window, all my stuff and nice things, and access to everything. Yeah, I'm home. And when it's quiet, and I'm not on a crushing deadline, and the words are (crossing fingers) flowing. That's a journey right there--I'd rather go INTO the book than out somewhere to find it.
If I must, though, I adore writing on airplanes. It's so contained, and such a time bubble, I am incredibly productive when I am at 30,000 feet. Probably having no internet helps, right?.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love writing in my office, too. But, this is complete fantasy, right? So I would be in a stone cottage in the Cotwolds, in the autumn or winter, so there would be a fire inside and bare trees and fields outside. I'd write (having my total fantasy ergonomic desk and chair in said cottage) in front of the fire, with cups of tea, and when I needed to think I'd go for long walks with a borrowed dog (no feeding or cleaning up after.) Then in the evenings I'd walk to the local pub and read my pages over dinner and a glass of wine... Can you tell I've been looking at English home magazines?

Hank, so funny, I cannot write on a plane. Just cannot do it. At least not on the computer, although sometimes I manage notes by hand. I always think people are looking over my shoulder and it paralyzes me.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Debs, can I have the cottage next to you? That sounds ideal. Hank, I can't write on a plane either, but it's usually because we're all so jammed together like herring in a barrel. Either I tuck my arms in and approach the keyboard v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y or I type freely and constantly nudge the person next to me.

My and Rhys' agent's house in Nantucket was about as perfect as one could get. There was a fireplace, but I discovered that if I don't need a fire for heat, I'm happy to avoid the fuss and muss that goes with it. The reason I think it worked so well was that I was visiting in late January/early February; quite possible the only time of the year one has NO desire to walk the beaches of Nantucket. There were hardly any people around, and those with whom I socialized were also writers, and they understood my desire to be monkish.

I also like my own old farmhouse in the country. If I could only afford to send the rest of the family away for a two-week cruise, I could get loads of writing done right here!

RHYS: Debs and Julia, I love visiting my sister-in-law and staying at her lovely manor house. It's the closest I've come to shutting myself away from the world.

RHYS: I think we should all go on a Jungle Red retreat, don't you? Which reminds me of the reason I thought about this topic. I have been invited to be the writer-in-residence at a workshop/retreat in Tuscany next summer. Ten days at a lovely old hotel in a village in Chianti,with good food, wine and gelato tastings, in between intense writing sessions, many of them one-on-one with me. So if you know someone who wants to kick-start that novel, or finish a novel, please tell them about this. Visit for all the details. Who is going to join me?

I can't wait..


  1. Rhys, your writer-in-residence workshop sounds incredibly wonderful!

    So interesting to read about where the Jungle Red ladies like to write. The desire to go someplace away from the demands of home or stay where all is familiar and you can appreciate the comforts of home . . . tough choice. However, we readers appreciate that, wherever you choose to write, you share the most amzing stories with us.

  2. Great topic! I've also had some very productive airplane writing sessions, Hank, especially on the non-stop to California when I was going (alone) to see my mom several times a year. Usually at New Years I borrow a friend's house in the next town for a solo retreat when they go off skiing, or cat sit another friend's house. I've also gone to western MA to an artist retreat house for three-days of super productivity. It's inexpensive because they don't provide food but you can use the kitchen. So I pack up bread, peanut butter, some salad greens and smoked turkey breast, a can or two of lentil soup some fruit, wine, and chocolate, and spend hours holed up in my monastic room pounding out word count. In fact I'm headed there in a couple of weeks! There's just something about being NOT home, even though I have a lovely second-floor office in our house. With a door that closes.

  3. Thank you Joan for the kind words!

    Edith, you're a marvel!

    Rhys, the retreat in Italy sounds wonderful.

    I guess I missed posting on this topic in the chaos of last week. I do best at home too--actually I like writing in bed, though it's not good for my tendinitis. My hub gets so much done on a plane ride that I've finally succumbed to his influence and now I work too. Saving reading (my favorite activity) for when I'm too tired to think.

  4. I discovered how productive I could be while in New Orleans with my daughter, with no distractions other than a daily walk to the grocery store. Otherwise, I'm working at the kitchen table, dog at my side, all writing clutter banished upstairs.

  5. Oh, I forgot to say -- the train! Whatever happened to those Amtrak writers in residence programs?

    If I had an office like Hank's, I'd never leave either, BUT I've now stayed on her third floor (which is a whole separate apartment, really) and could picture doing some great writing there.... The only problem with Hank's is the shelves and shelves of fantastic books everywhere.... I'd be so tempted to read!

  6. It think those Amtrak writers-in-residence programs dried up with the small print was read. I recall there was something about Amtrak owning the rights to anything created while on the train - or something as equally asinine as that.

    I would love to get away to do some extended periods of reading and review writing. I feel like if I could just get caught up, I'd be in good shape moving forward. But instead, I keep taking on more assignments - the latest being a regular review column in Deadly Pleasures Magazine - and authors keep writing damn good books that I need to consume.

    So yes, for me, a month away would do wonders. But then I would have no day job to come back to and that would create all kinds of other problems.

  7. I read about the AMTRAK writing residency and it sounded so neat, but I think you had to write about the trip. Tuscany with Rhys sounds sooooo appealing.

  8. I think Julia has the solution--send the family away for 2 weeks!
    Then add in someone to cook and shop so I don't have to think about it.

  9. Oh, if only I could afford to go to Tuscany, Rhys. And yes. Jungle Reds retreat!

    I also don't have a dedicated writing space at home. Dining room table, living room couch, den, where ever I can grab space. When it's warm, the back deck (sometimes the front porch). At work, where most of my dedicated writing time happens, it's the cafe area or a little IKEA loveseat by the window.

    Some day, my son will move out and I'll get my office back. We just built him a desk, so it'll be perfect for office space. Some day.

    Until then, I love retreats. My favorite is when my Sisters in Crime group rented a house in Confluence, PA (which is in Fayette County, where my mysteries are set). We cooked for ourselves, the fall is a great time for those who wanted to walk, and no one broke "the zone" for anyone else. We really do need to do that again.

  10. Love your comment about going into the novel, Hank.

    I've got an office with a view of Pikes Peak beyond my three towering cottonwoods which are holding onto the last yellow leaves. It suits me well for all the reasons already mentioned. I must say, though, that I got a LOT of writing done at the retreat Sisters in Crime sponsored in NC. I don't think I could maintain that pace much longer than a week, though.

  11. RHYS!!! That looks fabulous! The poster is--amazing, and you are amazing. Let's all go!

  12. ANd I was just on a place (!!) and writing like mad. And near the end of the flight, the person next to me said "Excuse me, do you have any published books?" I gave him a bookmark, and we bonded over thrillers. SO hey--it's all good!

    And Rhys, did I say that poster is perfection?

    (Thank you, dear Laura!)

  13. Wherever you're writing, Jungle Reds, it's working so please keep it up.

    Rhys, your Tuscany retreat sounds divine, even for non-writers. This reminds me of the fabulous Dana Stabenow's Storyknife project, a writers' retreat (for all those future authors):

    She provides the room and everything else; the writer "simply" writes, no cooking, cleaning, etc.


  14. Oh, yes, Tricia, we should have mentioned Dana's Storyknife. Dana recognizes, like so many of us do, that women in particular still need rooms of their own.

    And Susan, I don't think I ever heard of the Amtrak writer-in-residence, but I do love to write on the train to NYC. Although sometimes I worry the small clacking of my laptop keys makes too much noise for the quiet car...

  15. I think I've had every one of those daydreams. Thanks for the photos to remind me. (Rhys, does your sister-in-law have by chance a tiara to go with that castle?) The only time I did it was a couple of years ago. I went to my favorite cottage in Hanalei for 3 weeks. None of my family or friends could take up my offer of the second bedroom, and I had firm instructions to stay out of the sun from 10-4. So, I re-wrote the first part and then finished an entire manuscript. It was glorious and I felt so virtuous. Lots of revisions later, my agent's currently shopping it. I have yet to learn if the retreat was the key to a success or a decadent indulgence. Hold a good thought, please!

  16. Rhys, I want to go to Tuscany, too! I think we should make some serious plans for that REDS retreat. You can be our scout while you're there for your workshop. It sounds divine!

    I am going to London for a three week retreat/research session in January, but this time I'm staying in a lovely little hotel rather than a flat. I will report!

    But I'm so taken with my "cottage in the Cotswolds" fantasy that I may have to find one and write a book around it:-)

  17. NaNoWriMo has taught me that I can pretty much write anywhere, my office, the living room, the kitchen, a café, a library, a car, a bus, housesitting for me kids, a hotel room, and the dock. I have written in all those places.

    Now since as Hank said this is fancy, for me it would be a tiny house with a pool at the beach. It could be in Cape May, NJ or the Amalfi (sp) coast as long as I can see the water, I'll love it.

  18. Rhys, I don't think you've received my message where I offered up my services as an assistant for your Tuscany workshop. Hahaha! Whoever signs on for that event is going to have the best of it all, you heading it and a picture-perfect location. I like the snowed in cabin idea, too. I'm also on board with the cottage in the Costwald district, although for me, I would probably change the location to Cornwall or Devon. Rhys, isn't your sister-in-law's house in Cornwall?

    The train experience would be one I'd really take to. In fact, I applied for the writer-in-residence Amtrak program last year. I knew it was a looooooong shot, but I thought, why not. And, you do write about your experience on the trip. Trains have always held a romantic, mysterious interest with me. I was even thrilled to travel from Williamsburg, VA to D.C. a couple of years ago on the train. It was especially great because it was in the fall and the leaves were turning.

    Laura, you have a view of Pike's Peak from your office? Hard to imagine a more awesome view than that!

  19. The question is can one really write in Tuscany? Or would one stare at the scenery all day (drool optional)?!?! Sounds wonderful though.

    Personally, I love the idea of being somewhere else to write where I wouldn't stare at everything in my house that needs doing and distracts me from the work. (I'd choose the beach, myself.) Then again, sometimes I sit at my messy desk and think, "If I only had...[insert perfect setup, different furniture, different view, different location, etc.]...I could be so much more productive."

    Then I tell myself to stop being prissy and just write! *sigh*

  20. I'm for the cottage, maybe we can have an entire writer's colony. I love my office too, it's a converted bedroom with French doors and a balcony. My day job desk is on one side (work from home--highly recommend it) and my writing desk on the other. All of the artwork is a reminder of something I've written - magazine covers with my stories featured, and framed prints of my book covers. I love it there. But, we're talking fantasy here? A log cabin in Maine in the dead of winter. 200" of snow outside and a wonderful roaring fire inside (or a slate covered wood stove at least). There would be a chocolate lab and a German shepherd. I haven't decided on any people yet. I think not. And yes, the dogs would have to be loaners!

  21. You all deserve, at the very least, a room in which to write . . . but perhaps publishers should send their writers to Tuscany, and feed them well, if the world were really fair. I remember reading that Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss, covered over one window in his study because the view was too distracting, but I can't find a source, so I might have imagined it.
    Most adults need a quiet place to focus, and your work deserves it. Studies have shown that teens actually do better with some noise, which worked out well for me. I grew up in a tiny house with five siblings, and somehow managed honor roll studying amidst the noise. College dorm gave me more quiet, including a nearby library, than I'd ever had, and I loved it!

  22. Rhys, your retreat in Tuscany sounds marvelous! As does Debs' Cotswold cottage.

    I'd settle for getting my office back. When youngest son moved back in unexpectedly, husband dumped all the junk from the junk room in my office and on my desk to make room for the boy. Youngest then piled lots of his stuff onto my desk until the heavy wooden dining-room table that it really is actually broke in half. Son and husband promised to clear everything out and fix or replace the desk. Then son got his job and moved out of town, and husband's been overwhelmed at work. So I hunch over the laptop in the living room since most of what has to be cleared is too heavy for me to lift. But I have plans for everyone's Christmas vacation!

    The best working time I ever had was when I had a one-month residency at Ragsdale outside of Chicago. Meals cooked, maid service, signs all over that read "Quiet! Writers at work!" It was heaven, and I got an incredible amount of work done. I need to go to another writers residency.