Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Tale of Two Rhyses




RHYS BOWENLike many of you I have done a lot of Zooming in the past year. Most recently, with the launch of The Venice Sketchbook, I seem to have been permanently on Zoom or other online media. It’s very important to choose the right background, isn’t it? It can’t be too busy because it’s distracting. It can't look unprofessional, or messy. I Zoom from my office in Arizona and busy is not how I’d describe it. Spare. Uncluttered. Bare—that would be better. 





In contrast to my office at home that is…well, lived in.


It really is a tale of two houses.  We have lived in our California home since 1980. We have inherited most of our furnishings from John’s parents, most of them lovely antiques. So our house looks pretty much like an English home. My office has all the research materials I have accumulated over the years plus a copy of each of my books in four bookcases around the walls. Plus various awards on the walls, plus small things to keep me amused when I am bored or stuck—a bobble head of Edgar Allen Poe, a wind up set of teeth, one of those picture cubes of Monet paintings and an Eleanor Roosevelt doll (that I bought after a bookstore appearance when other people were commenting how ugly she was and I took pity).

I should add that I have a perfectly lovely office in another room, lined with bookcases of my books and with a nice sofa to sit on for interviews, but I prefer to work in the smaller room where I can grab research materials easily.


Contrast this with our house in Arizona. We bought it two years ago when it was completely remodeled. All gray and white and efficient with 25 foot ceiling in the living room and my office upstairs off a little balcony. So I had a chance to furnish starting from scratch and I guess my taste is modern, simple. My office contains the bare minimum for me to write in comfort. A desk, bookcase, sofa, keyboard. No toys to distract me except for Eliot, my elephant who is wonderfully supportive and gives excellent suggestions. 



 But I do have a balcony and a view that would distract anybody.


So it’s interesting to work out which is the real me? Do I work better when surrounded by ‘stuff’, or in my minimalist office? I certainly get lots done in Arizona, but partly because not so many people know I’m here so the phone doesn’t ring as often.   But also , I think, because my office is on a separate floor. I can’t hear John on the phone, or the TV, and the only outside noises when I have the sliding doors open are birdsong and the wind rattling the palm branches. 


How about you? Do you need things around you or can you work best in minimalist surroundings? Music or silence? Toys to distract you?


42 comments:

  1. This is interesting, Rhys . . . .
    Minimalist does not describe me very well, so I'm certain I'd do better with things around me. Definitely music, definitely toys . . . .

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  2. I can obviously work with things around me, because I do! My desk is messy. My sofa has stuff piled on it. The "inventory" of boxes of books my publisher sends me are behind the rocking chair (what do other authors DO with all those books? It's getting ridiculous). This is our second guest room when the other one is full. When it's going to have someone sleeping in here, it gets cleaned up. It hasn't been used as such in 14 months, so it hasn't been tidied.

    I guess I just shut it all out and write. Silence or bird song, yes, nothing else. And I am upstairs with a door that shuts, so that helps.

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    1. When I self-published my first book in 1994 we took delivery of 5,500 books, in boxes of 44 each. And later, another 1,100 books. That first shipment, 125 boxes, had to be delivered to the street, 300 feet from the house, and carted up, six boxes at a time.

      Luckily, we had a room at Steve's office that was rarely used, so there were stacks of boxes in there for years, until we tore the old house down a couple years ago. I thought we'd sold them all until I found two more boxes under some other stuff. (Another couple thousand sold through a book club that printed their own. It did really well.)

      So at least you don't have to manage that many extras! Can you sequester them in a couple bookcases somewhere? Books do make excellent insulation, you know.

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    2. Come to think of it, the actual guest room has room for a tall bookshelf against the wall. Brilliant idea! And it's just the next room...

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    3. I’d love to know what to do with the extra books! I’d willingly donate and pay to ship if I knew who could use them!

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  3. My home office is well, lived in too! It's too small and doesn't have enough shelves or storage. OR I have too much stuff. But I'm surrounded with that research material and assorted objects and gifts and books, all of which bring me joy and help me feel grounded.

    We used to keep a camper on a permanent site where Hubby could walk to his favorite fishing spot. It was tiny and spare. I loved it for writing. Lately, I've been missing it a lot.

    Or maybe I'm just tired of not going ANYWHERE. As for music, no. Too much distraction. I need to be able to hear my characters' voices in my head.

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    1. Annette, when you said that you need to hear your characters voices in your head it made me think of audiobooks. I love listening to them while I work around the house, but I test them first to see if the voices are compatible with the ones I hear in my head. I don't want wonderful stories ruined by someone else's interpretations. Is that why we sometimes love the books more than the films?

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    2. Judy, I think you are absolutely right! Or at least for some people. I have trouble with some women's voices, some seem whiney or little girlish. Probably there are men's voices I don't care for either but I have been turned off more by the women's voices. The one I most remember was the author herself and I wished I could have told her the book would have been better if someone else had read it. But how could I say that?

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    3. I was so tired of not going anywhere so Arizona has been a big pick me up!

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  4. Isn't it fun to see author's "writing caves"? A website with photos of many writers' desks was actually my first experience with writing blogs, quite a long time ago now. Thanks for sharing where the action happens, Rhys. I also find it interesting to see what choices are made after the inherited/found furnishings are no longer a factor.

    My best writing happened when I had my sewing studio in the basement of our old house. The classroom took up most of the 25' X 16' space, but at one end I had my "office", with the computer, etc. I did hundreds of phone interviews there, and had my tape recorder with piano music to play for writing sessions. It faced a mostly blank wall with two glass block windows, which were underneath a tree, so a lovely green light came through most of the time. The kids were not allowed to come downstairs while I was writing unless one of them was "gushing blood" or something was on fire. And they'd better NOT cause fire or bleeding.

    You'd think I could find that kind of spot in our new house, but two years in I'm still trying to do so.

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  5. My "office" is a corner of the sunroom. I have to keep the desk clean - everything in it's spot. I'm surrounded by windows and can see all the animal comings and goings in my backyard. (Rhys, I love your view.) I think too much clutter would get to me eventually for work purposes.

    I used to be able to write with any kind of music, but now if music is on, it has to be soft and without words. Koda is usually curled up next to me, but he's a very respectful office-mate and doesn't make much noise. (Unlike my neighbors' dogs, which are little and yap constantly when they are outside but I've learned to tune them out - mostly.)

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  6. I love my office! It is… I love your expression, Rhys. Lived in. But I love all the books and files, and it is not “messy” so much as it is… Enthusiastic. you have all seen a million times on zoom!

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  7. And BREAKING NEWS!!!! The First to Lie is now just $1.99 in all e-book platforms! Please please please, even if you have the physical book, could you go snap one up? I would really appreciate it! And if you do not have it… we’ll, The price will never be this low again!

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  8. And here is the link: you can copy and paste.
    http://bit.ly/TFTLBIGSALE

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    1. Hank Phillippi Ryan has an audiobook deal available on Chirp The Murder List $3.99

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    2. Oh, wow! I did not know that! YAAY! Thank you!

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  9. A dear friend had an exquisite office--she was highly productive. The minute a project was done, everything was whisked away to its proper place. My multitasking consisted of piles of research materials/reports in progress on just about every available surface. And that didn't include the two labs I ran, both visible from my desk and full of materials to be processed. My friend marveled at my ability to retrieve whatever I needed from the correct pile. Productive in my own way--never missed a deadline. So yeah, though I strive for simplicity, it's never maintained for long. Currently have a table and laptop in a corner of my bedroom--not ideal but will have to do until the nestlings are finally fledged.

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  10. I have an upstairs office where I retreat if things get too loud, but I usually write at the kitchen table or, now that the weather is warming up, the porch table next to tall old-fashioned lilacs filled with chirping birds and nests. I zoom in the dining room in front of an empty wall.

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  11. Love that view, Rhys! After working for years in a corner of the kitchen, I now have an office. It’s a work in progress :)

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    1. If anyone needs a place to retreat to it’s you, Jenn

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  12. I need my things... within reaching distance. And I can barely deal with owning one home (and feel so lucky to have bought it ages ago) I can't even fathom owning two. The 'view' from my office is my neighbor's house, 12 feet away. So I keep a light filtering shade raised just enough so I can see any birds that visit the forsythia just outside the window. One year sparrows built a nest right there. A lovely distraction from all tje things within arm's reach.

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    1. We’ve had the second home long enough now that it’s just beginning to feel like home and not a vacation rental. I love the very high ceiling and openness in contrast to our traditional house in Marin

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  13. Rhys, what a wonderful post about the tale of two homes. I work best in minimalist surroundings with things that I need for writing. Easier for me to find things when I'm in minimalist surroundings.

    All of the photos I've seen in this post looks very neat!

    When I zoom, I do it from my kitchen because that is the neatest room in my house right now.

    Diana

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  14. This is so interesting. We just sold our second home in the NC mountains but I never needed an office there since I am not a writer. My iPad was enough to take with me. Both houses were (still are for this one) full of stuff so I envy you the spare decor. Divesting was not easy.
    As an aside, Hank, I just bought FIRST TO LIE. Meant to do so yesterday. Thanks for the reminder.

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  15. That view would be very distracting for me, Rhys! I love my office, originally the parlour of my old house, because it has generous space for me, the dog, two cats... and my reference books and business papers, of course. My desk is in a bay window, so I get lovely natural light from three directions, and this time of year I can see the cardinal couple nesting in the rhododendron in the front.

    The downside? It gets REALLY chilly in winter. I have an electric heater I drag under my desk and I blast it as I work wrapped in a blanket.

    Over the years, I've done lots of writing in libraries, friends' homes, hotel rooms - even an overlooked cubby in my church! The one thing I consistently need is quiet. Not-to-loud classical music is nice, but people talking is right out.

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    1. Julia, do you knit? I wondered if people knit sweaters and blankets in Maine ?

      Diana

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  16. My Zooming, basically church, takes place in my dining area, in front of my China cabinet with my colorful Fiesta ware. My work area, in the office is a small cubical, small counter space with two computer screens, no views. No music, even through
    earplugs, I'd just have to take them out to answer the phone or questions.

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  17. Office? I wish. I have a rolltop desk and a bookcase with notebooks of financial stuff in one corner of the kitchen. My dream is that my next house will have a designated library/office with a door that shuts and says PAT on it.

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  18. I seem to like clutter. Mainly because I'm too lazy to properly put things away. Any space that is mine becomes cluttered before too long.

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    1. I tend toward clutter, which parallels the innards of my WIP until I have enough to rewrite.

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  19. Time. The more time I live in a home the more I accumulate. Once things started getting cluttered I used to think time to move! Now it’s time to buy more storage cabinets! Give your Arizona home some years and it will be just as comfy and lived in.

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    1. John feels the same way! When I complain about his clutter he says we’d better buy a bigger house!

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  20. I used to dream of a perfect office with elegant shelves, a fine wood desk, b&w photos on the walls. Then I realized that once I entered with my notebooks, coffee, phone, stickies, pillow or heating pad if back flairs up, snack--gotta have a snack--I decided I'd downgrade that perfect office. So I stick with functional disorder.

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  21. May I just say I adore Eliot?!?

    I am lucky to have a lovely home office. It's fairly organized, at least from time to time. But I do like to go to other spaces--libraries, coffee shops--to write every now and then. The change of scenery is refreshing. I'm looking forward to getting back to that.

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