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Brunonia Barry’s Map Room

Brunonia Barry was one of the authors I was dying to meet at Book Expo America, and unfortunately, I was in such a rush with packing and prepping for a week of reviews from my mom that I dropped the ball.  I sincerely apologize to my readers and Brunonia Barry.

Originally, this wonderful guest post from Barry should have posted when she appeared at BEA on Wednesday, May 26.

I loved The Lace Reader and cannot wait to read her latest book, The Map of True Places; to see what I thought of The Lace Reader, check out my review.

Without further ado, here’s a guest post from Brunonia Barry on her writing space, which she calls The Map Room.

My writing space is a second floor ex-bedroom with maps from very old National Geographic magazines glued to the walls. Many of the countries on the maps either no longer exist, or their names have been changed. The room has four big windows giving it great natural light and a view down our historic Salem street. It also has a fireplace I’ve never used, mostly because it has been claimed over the years as a cave by our fifteen year old Golden Retriever, Byzy, who often joins me when I write, or at least he did when he was younger and still able to easily climb the stairs. These days the fireplace has become more altar than cave displaying anything remotely connected with my second book and some leftover treasures from my first.

Our house was built in the style of an old Captain’s house, though I think it belonged first to a minister and his family and later, just before we bought it, to two artists who raised their family here and stayed for thirty-seven years. The room where I write was once their son’s bedroom, and they creatively covered it with those maps which made it a perfect writing room and inspiration for me since I’ve recently been working on a novel titled The Map of True Places. When their son grew up and moved away, the artists set up their easels in this room. That is the way I first encountered this creative space, with easels and paintings in progress and the smell of oil paint, a smell I loved and remembered from childhood because my mother was also a painter.

I cleaned up the clutter a bit before I took these photos. When I’m writing a book, I tend to collect anything that I think might be useful to read or look at or to meditate upon, and I have found many items along the way.  I have been collecting things for The Map of True Places for the last two and a half years and things related to The Lace Reader for a long time before that, so I’ve accumulated quite a bit. Before cleaning up, I took an inventory of the things I had collected. Books were piled on every available surface, including five copies each of every international edition of The Lace Reader, (there have been thirty). I try my best to give most of them away. Whenever I meet people who speak different languages, I always get their addresses so I can send them a book.  The goal is to have just one copy of each edition. I will get there one day. Meanwhile, I am once again on tour and therefore buying more books. I’m going to purchase more bookshelves when the tour is over and turn the map room into a library, making it an even more inspirational place to write.

Here’s a list of some of the items I‘ve collected along the way: All things Hawthorne and Melville. A carved wooden moose on skis that I bought in Bar Harbor Maine on The Lace Reader book tour. Two Revolutionary War soldiers that were once in my parent’s house and now stand facing each other from both sides of the fireplace. Two ship’s models. Several books about pirates. A map of famous New England shipwrecks. Six volumes of romantic poetry. Three envelopes of Gibraltar candies (the kind they packed as ballast and used to bribe custom’s officials on the Salem ships that sailed out of here in the 1700’s). A tattered photo of my maternal grandmother in her wedding gown that I found in an old trunk and will one day  have restored. A piece of lace carved from an eggshell. Two quartz singing bowls tuned to different chakras. Several books on meditation. A ceramic tree my mother- in-law sent us with Celtic crosses and leprechauns hanging from its branches. A seagull that flies upside down and cannot be righted. Several coffee cups from different places around the world. I drank only tea when writing my first book, and only coffee for this last one (both are important to the stories). I drink decaf when I’m listening to my muse, and caffeinated coffee when I’m editing.

I write directly on the computer and have two of them (both Apples but one a Mac Air for when I’m on tour). It’s a good thing there are two, because one of them died the day before I finished my last book. I think I simply wore it out, though they have since replaced the hard drive, and it has recovered. I can’t say enough about the importance of backing up your work and sending it to an outside location. I was lucky to have done that.

I am very attached to my map room and have tried to write in other locations. I can do it, but I’m never as happy with the process. There is something about sitting here, surrounded by books, with that northern painter’s light filtering through the windows that summons the muse better than any other place I have ever written.

Thanks so much, Brunonia, for sharing with us your writing space.  Stay tuned for my review later this month of The Map of True Places.

Where I Write by Beth Hoffman

Beth Hoffman‘s debut novel Saving CeeCee Honeycutt is a New York Times bestseller that is set in late 1960s Ohio and Georgia.  The young protagonist Cecelia (CeeCee) Honeycutt has a hard life with a mother who has lost touch with reality and a father who is hardly at home.

Stay tuned for my review of this novel on Friday, May 21.

Today, we’re going to get a peek into Beth Hoffman‘s writing space.  Please give her a warm welcome.

When I made the decision to leave my career in interior design and pursue my dream of writing a novel, I had the idealistic thought that I’d take my laptop to the local park and sit at a picnic table overlooking the Ohio River. I imagined my fingers would blaze over the keyboard for hours, and now and then I’d stop to watch a coal barge lumber its way toward West Virginia. Oh, the serenity of that image was burned into my mind and I couldn’t wait to make it a reality. But, I soon discovered that I was the kind of writer who needed to be at a desk working on a big screen.

I live in a restored Queen Anne (circa 1902), and on the second floor I created what I call the writing library. The room isn’t very large, but it’s cozy, filled with bookshelves and artwork that I love, and, it’s the perfect size for my needs. Three large windows are set in an ashlar-cut stone bay that overlooks the front gardens. Morning light floods into the room, and it has a fireplace that I keep burning throughout the winter.

This is the room where I imagine, create, and dream. I’m happiest when I’m sitting at my desk in a totally quiet house, writing, researching, and developing characters and scenes with my cats sleeping at my feet.

Though I don’t strive for a specific word count for each day, I’m quite disciplined and will spend a minimum of six hours working on my writing. When the muse is with me, I’ll often write well into the late night hours, or, until my hands grow numb! And, on those days when the muse is maddeningly silent, I’ll spend time researching and editing.

Do I have a special totem? Yes, I do. My great aunt Mildred had a powerful impact upon when I was a child. She was a true Southern lady who possessed great charm and wit. She lived in a big old Greek revival home that I fell in love with, and, it was she who lit the fire I carry to this day. My great aunt introduced me to historical homes, antiques, and the power of the written word. In fact, the character of Tootie Caldwell in my novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, is based upon my great aunt Mildred. One summer’s day I plucked a stone from her walkway and brought it home with me, and it has since become my totem. I keep it on the fireplace mantle and will oftentimes pick it up and hold it for a moment.

The other thing that I look at to help me stay grounded is an antique carousel horse and teddy bear. From my desk I can peek around my computer screen and look into the den. By the fireplace sits these two happy creatures, and they remind me to smile easily and often, nurture a childlike spirit, and not take anything too seriously—the good or the bad.

Thanks, Beth, for sharing your writing space with us. Wouldn’t you just love to get a sneak peek into those shelves?

Global Giveaway Details — three copies for US/Canada readers and one copy of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman for international readers:

1.  Leave a comment about what book you think is on those shelves.

2.  Blog, Tweet, Facebook, or spread the word about the giveaway and leave a link here.

3.  Become a Facebook Fan of Savvy Verse & Wit and leave a comment.

Deadline June 2, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

Also, stay tuned Friday for another chance to enter the giveaway.

Peering Through My Window by Karen White

I hope everyone enjoyed my review of Karen White’s On Folly Beach yesterday.  I’ve really enjoyed all of her books, which you can find reviews of the Tradd Street Series, here and here.

Today, I have a real treat for you.  Karen is going to take us on a journey through her writing space.  Please give her a warm welcome.

In the days when I was a young and blissfully naïve reader, I imagined my favorite authors (Victoria Holt, Katherine Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Susan Howatch) creating the books I loved to read.  I had a fuzzy picture of them relaxing on chaise lounges, wearing feather boas and either dictating each word to a handsome stenographer or slowly pecking away on a manual typewriter in a glamorous office as seen in the movies.

And then I became a writer (imagine old-fashioned needle screeching across vinyl record).

For the record, I don’t own a boa, feathered or otherwise.  Nor do I have a handsome stenographer (or a pool boy).  I’m a working writer, emphasis on the working part.  I haven’t calculated how many hours each day I work—but I get up at 6:15 each morning and go to sleep around midnight and I’m usually filling quite a lot of those hours in between either writing or editing, or attending to the non-writing parts of my career:  fan mail, Facebook, website, pre-publication planning, mailings, back and forth contact with editor, agent, publicist, book club visits etc.  I also work seven days a week because besides all of the above, I’m also a wife and mother and SOMEBODY has to do the laundry and feed the dog!

When I was asked to send a picture of my workspace, I was so tempted to send a picture of my laundry room.  I’ve joked (semi-seriously) about setting up a desk in there to spare me the trouble of walking down the hall fifteen times a day.  But I digress.

I actually have several work spaces.  I have an office on the main floor of my house where I have all my files and books and my desktop computer.  This is where I do the non-creative parts of my job.  There’s a door in this room that leads to the driveway—very convenient since my dog, Quincy, likes to go in and out about one thousand times a day and having the door so convenient to my desk makes the trek back and forth to the door easier for me.  I’m currently working with a professional organizer to organize all of my research books on the large bookshelves on the long wall of the office (which is why everything looks a mess—I’ve just yanked off and donated about 100 books).

Supposedly, this office is supposed to be off limits to other members of the household (except for Quincy).  My husband has his own office, and the kids have a bonus room upstairs with their own computer.  But everybody still uses mine.  Sigh.

For my creative writing, I use the large chair and ottoman up in my sitting room.  I have a fireplace for when it’s cold (I turn it on with a switch <g>), I have a mini-fridge for my Diet Dr. Pepper (I’m addicted), and a little bar area for my coffee maker.  My bookshelves on both sides of the fireplace are for my keeper books and books I’ve not yet read, and the small black bookshelf next to my chair is for the reference books for my current work-in-progress.  Right now they’re filled with books about Charleston, its gardens, houses, and ghosts since I’m working on book three in my Tradd Street mystery series.

Please note the wideness of the chair.  I had a smaller chair but my writing companion (aka Velcro Dog) couldn’t fit in it with me.  Since he insists on pressing against my side while I write, I had to accommodate him by buying a larger chair.  Sigh.  I guess being always in my sight is the reason why I’ve written him into the Tradd Street series as the protagonist’s dog, General Lee.

When the weather is nice (and the pollen is gone—we had a pollen count of 6,000 last week here in Atlanta so not quite yet), I love to sit out on my screened-in porch.  It’s almost as long as the width of the house and looks out over our back yard (we’re three stories up since we live on a hill and on about an acre) and the horse pasture behind us.  I’ve got a bird feeder, stereo speakers, ceiling fans, and quick access to the kitchen—pretty much the perfect setup for a writer and her laptop.  And her dog.  When the temperature gets too high (which it does since I live in Georgia) I move back indoors to my writing chair in my sitting room.  With my dog who doesn’t like the heat either.

It’s not glamorous or exotic.  Especially since when I’m at home writing I dress like a candidate for What Not to Wear.  Notice how I didn’t share any pictures of me actually writing. But it gets the job done.  I suppose it’s because when I’m writing I’m transported to a completely different place altogether where it doesn’t really matter what’s around me.

Maybe I should get that desk in my laundry room after all.

Thanks, Karen, for showing us your writing space.

I had a feeling that General Lee was your dog when I saw the photo of Quincy!  I hate to disagree, but those writing spaces look gorgeous and exotic to me, though I live in a tiny apartment!

If you’ve missed the giveaway for 2 copies of On Folly Beach for readers in the US/Canada, go here.

The Physiological Impact of Poetry by Melanie Kindrachuk

Today, I’d like to welcome Melanie of The Indextrious Reader today to discuss the physiological impact of reciting poetry.  Please give her a warm welcome.

When we think about poetry, we often think about the emotional pull of beautifully phrased, carefully formed words. But there are many sides to a poem. Part of the reason poetry is an ever-present part of human experience, from our beginnings right up to today, is because of the way it speaks to all aspects of our lives.

One area we don’t usually think of poetry being a big part of is our physical life. How can a poem affect day-to-day life from a physical standpoint? There have been some intriguing studies on this very subject.

The classic study in this field is research done in 2004. German researchers studied the effect of reading The Iliad aloud — specifically due to its hexameter format. This is a form specific to Greek and Roman classical works, and the rhythm seems based on a breathing pattern which would make these long poems easy to recite. This makes sense as recitation would have been the usual method of hearing these poems. According to this study, reading The Iliad produced intermittent cardiac synchronization – essentially, heart and breathing rates fell into step more frequently due to this practice. Cardiac synchronization and an enhanced regulation of blood pressure, both outcomes of this study, are beneficial for post-heart attack patients. This raises an interesting point about why and how this ancient poetic form came to be; were our ancient forebears aware of this physical benefit in some way? You can read a summary of the original study by Cysarz, Betterman et. al. if you want all the scientific detail on this fascinating subject. Scientific American also reported on this research but in a much more general way, with some interesting quotes and further ideas put forth.

Other kinds of poetry have been known to have strong equalizing effects on breathing and blood pressure patterns as well. These are mostly religious verses, such as the Catholic Rosary, or the OM Mantra, according to the Science Blog. Both of these result in an approximate breathing pattern of six breaths a minute, which positively affects regulation of blood pressure.

So next time you are feeling in need of a stress break, do yourself a favour — take a deep breath, and recite a few verses of The Iliad aloud, or try out your favourite religious chant. If nothing else, you should get some time to yourself this way!

Thanks so much, Melanie.

About Melanie Kindrachuk:

Melanie Kindrachuk is the owner of Four Rooms Creative Self Care, a company focused on the power of the written word to lead us to wellness. Four Rooms provides workshops in journaling, explorative poetry and bibliotherapy, including personalized reading lists.

Melanie also is a working librarian and active book blogger at The Indextrious Reader.

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Don’t forget to visit today’s stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Peeking Between the Pages, things mean a lot, and Jen’s Book Thoughts.

Cara Black’s Off the Beaten Path in Paris

If you missed me on That’s How I Blog with Nicole of Linus’s Blanket, I’ve got a treat for you . . . just listen below.

I hope you’re enjoying Detectives Around the World week hosted by Jen’s Book Thoughts.  If you missed my poem about Alex Cross, feel free to check it out.

Today, we have a special guest, Author Cara Black who has a vivid mystery series set in Paris, France. Please give her a warm welcome; she’s a lovely woman, whom I had a chance to chat with briefly at Book Expo America in 2009.

I think a crime novel is the perfect genre to explore the darker side of the City of Light. To visit off the beaten track Paris, not the beret and baguette stereotype. In writing my Aimée Leduc Investigation series, I go to Paris to research. Over the years I’ve built up contacts, nourished by wine and meals in bistros, with several of the city’s private detectives and police chiefs. My contacts have enabled me to build my stories, one for each arrondissement in Paris and ten books so far, with inspiration from real-life cases.

Leduc Detective (Aimée, my protagonist’s Detective agency) is indeed based on the real Duluc Detective agency. This happened one day years ago when I was at the bus stop on Rue du Louvre. Across from me on the street was the wonderful neon thirties sign of Duluc and I’d been interviewing female detectives in Paris and thought why not this agency? I crossed the street, met Madame Duluc who inherited this agency from her father who himself had inherited it from his grandfather who’d started in the Suréte. She was very gracious and told me the history, the cases they work on and much more. I used the agency as a template for Leduc Detective; Aimée had a grandfather who’d started the agency and went from there. But when my publisher suggested we use another name for legal reasons I agreed.

I’ve loved Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and Leo Malet’s Detective Nestor Burma series for a long time. I wanted to see something contemporary set in Paris and wasn’t finding it. Though I’m not French I grew up in a Francophile family in California, my father loved good food and wine, my uncle had studied painting under Georges Braques in the 50’s and life in our house was very much of French appreciation. I went to a Catholic school with French nuns who taught us archaic French and felt a bond, some strange familiarity with all things French as I grew up. That’s partly why Aimée Leduc, my detective is half-American half-French because I knew I couldn’t write as a French woman. I can’t even tie my scarf properly.

People ask me why write about Paris? The history maybe? For me, that’s a big part. My research gives me the chance and a nice excuse to go to Paris and scratch the surface. Dig deep and deeper to understand the quartier, the people who live there, the origins of the quartier such as Bastille with its old furniture making and artisanal roots. Paris holds so many secrets and stories that I want to keep discovering.

For me it’s about the place in Paris; capturing the ambiance, the streets, the rhythm and the flavor that makes it unique. Each part of Paris was once a village and that’s what I’m looking for. I talk with cafe owners, police, people at the Archives, research photos at the Carnavalet museum, take people out for wine and get them to talk. Talk about growing up in the district, or their mother who was born there. I’ve joined the Marais historic society and the Historic society of the 10th arrondissement and met people who share so kindly with me about the place, the way the things are and used to be. Often I’ve gotten lost and that’s the best because then I discover a corner of Paris, an alley, a place I’ve never been before and that becomes part of a book.

Thanks, Cara, for sharing your research, your reverence for Paris, and your inspiration.

Please check out the rest of the festivities this week, here and the schedule at Jen’s Book Thoughts.

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Also, don’t forget about today’s tour stops for the National Poetry Month blog tour at SMS Book Reviews and Author Ru Freeman’s blog.

Tatjana Soli’s Writing Space

Earlier today, I reviewed The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (check her out on Twitter), and the author was gracious enough to share a sneak peek into her writing space.  Please give her a warm welcome.

Years ago when I first decided to start writing I bought a large, rolltop style desk. It was a big purchase for me, fresh out of college, but I needed to have something that made me feel like a writer. I bought it on layaway, payments that took a year to finish. But I needed to create a physical place that I would occupy hours a day, as a writer. For me, temporary writing places — a couch, or dining room table — made it too easy to ignore writing when life got in the way.

Ten years ago when we moved into our current home, it had a perfect writing room on the second story, with large windows that looked out over the treetops to the faraway hills. A perfect writing space… except for the narrow hallway leading to it, too narrow to get my big desk through. I was heartbroken. My mom gave me two tables that she no longer wanted, and I installed these in my writing room instead — one for my computer, one for handling correspondence, bill paying, all the other stuff.

My theory is to make the room as welcoming and comfortable as possible, to trick myself into working longer hours! Above one desk, I have a painting by my husband that I love, “Tree of Life,” all greens and golds. That big mound of paper on the corner of the desk is a draft of my second novel. I feel guilty looking at it every day that I don’t get back to it. My computer desk has a stand for my handwritten first drafts. I learned long ago that buying expensive moleskin notebooks made me feel like I couldn’t make mistakes, so I have a closet of cheap notepads to write on. The shades are usually half drawn since the light is bright in this room, but I love to look out while I’m thinking. There’s a big sour cherry tree outside, and this time of year wild parrots, green with a single big red spot on their heads, descend on it, bouncing on the branches and squawking as they eat the fruit.

The desk that I imagined I needed in order to write sits dusty at the end of the hallway. I realize that one doesn’t need the perfect room, paper, or pen to be a writer, one only needs to show up and do the work. For the years it takes. But if possible, why not surround oneself with things that remind one of the important things in life, the things, hopefully, that are leading one to write in the first place?

Thanks, Tatjana, for sharing your space with us.

I know I’ve always thought about writing at a rolltop desk, but then I smartened up and realized I love to move around too much.  What do you think about Tatjana’s writing space?

Giveaway information for 1 copy (US/Canada, No P.O. Boxes):

1.  Comment on guest post about what you think about Tatjana’s writing space.

2.  Leave a comment on my review of The Lotus Eaters.

3.  Tweet, Facebook, or blog about the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline April 20, 2010 at 11:59PM EST

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Please also remember to check out the next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Monniblog and Ernie Wormwood.

Vanitha Sankaran’s Writing Space

As part of Today’s TLC Book Tour for Watermark, Vanitha Shankaran offered to show us a bit of her writing space. Please give her a warm welcome (and be sure to click through to the blog, there’s a surprise new look and make sure this is the link in your feed reader: http://feeds2.feedburner.com/savvyverseandwit/YMAQ).

When Ms. Agusto-Cox asked me to share with her what kind of space I write in, I have to admit I was a bit perplexed.  As a writer with a full-time job, I’ve had to learn to write wherever I am, whenever I can.  Much of Watermark was written on the go, mostly in airports, often in hotel rooms, occasionally on lunch breaks outside or at night on the couch.  Part of my erratic ways, I’ll admit, are due to my own clutter and chaos—really, can you find my desk here?


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I do have a more serene work space but I find it’s a little too organized for me:

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Writing wherever I happen to be when I have spare time allows me both to maximize my work time and to focus on the world I am writing about, not the world I am writing in.  I don’t even need my laptop—just a pen and a pad of paper, and of course, my imagination!

Thanks again, Vanitha, for sharing your workspace with us.

Author Carol Snow’s Writing Space

Carol Snow‘s novel — Just Like Me, Only Better — hits stores today, April 6.  The protagonist, Veronica Czalicki, is a housewife who soon finds herself on her own when her husband leaves her for another woman — the love of his life.  She’s now a financially struggling single mother, but she has other problems too.  She just happens to look like a famous star.  Veronica receives some respite from her daily struggles when she’s asked to become the star’s double.

Check out WriteMeg!’s review.

Let’s take a look inside Carol’s writing space.  Please give her a warm welcome.

My office has pale wood floors, sage walls, and three big windows that look out to the street. It has two oak book shelves that I periodically (and futilely) attempt to organize, a comfy blue loveseat, and a really, really big oak desk.
Years, ago, when we were living in Park City, Utah, my husband found the desk through the local PennySaver. According to the seller, in the twenties the desk belonged to the President of Utah Power & Light; on the side there’s a little brass plague that says, “Property of UP&L.” As far as provenance goes, that’s not as cool as if the desk had belonged, to, say, John Steinbeck. (Granted, it’s hard to imagine Steinbeck’s desk making its way to Utah.) But I still like the sense of history. And, you know — power. (Sorry. That was uncalled for.) The desk has four very deep drawers and a file drawer. We’ve been shoving stuff into those drawers for years. I have no idea what’s in there.

I have a computer on my desk. I use it to answer emails, do research, and waste vast amounts of time. I do most of my writing on a laptop while sitting (slumping) on the comfy blue loveseat. It is terrible for my posture, and I keep thinking I should put the laptop on my desk and sit on one of those big balls that force you to sit up straight or risk falling over. Somehow, I know I’d fall over. Plus, I’d be so uncomfortable that I wouldn’t get any work done.

Mostly, though, I like sitting on the couch because one of my cats usually ends up on my lap. I like to think it’s because they love me and not because my lap is soft and the computer is warm.

Thanks, Carol, for sharing your workspace with us.

I’m not sure how she gets any work done on those adult and teen reads with those cats hanging out all over her desk.  It must be great exercise. . . for them.

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The next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour are Janel’s Jumble and The Betty and Boo Chronicles.  Go check them out!

FTC Disclosure: Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Peter Schilling’s Writing Space

Peter Schilling Jr.‘s The End of Baseball is his debut novel, new in paperback this month.  Set in 1944 during World War II and at a time when African-American baseball players were being integrated into the major leagues, the novel follows young Bill Veeck Jr.‘s foray into baseball team ownership and the obstacles he must overcome to use black players in the Philadelphia Athletics to get to the World Series.

I haven’t had a chance to review the book yet, but Schilling was gracious enough to provide a guest post about his writing space.  And I know how much you love these sneak peeks.  Please welcome Peter Schilling.

I work upstairs in my old, 1923 brick house. The upstairs attic was finished sometime probably in the 1980s, and has carpeting, as opposed to the rest of the place, which sports hardwood floors. The attic, or factory as I like to call it, is the perfect writing space. It’s the length of the house, its insulated from noise (so I can work even when someone’s downstairs watching television), has its own bathroom, futon, and all the space I need for all my clutter.  It is very quiet up here, which I enjoy. You can see down the block from my window and feel the house shake when a train goes by.

As you can see, I write on a white drafting table. I like the slight incline on the surface, and I like the way the surface reflects the light from the outside. Things stand out on that surface–my tchotchke’s, icons, photos, and notes. I have a piece of cloth in the center that I use to write on, which my father made and on which he used to perform slight-of-hand magic.

I write my first drafts in longhand, using a Mont Blanc fountain pen a friend gave me, in black journals. Then I pull out my MacBook and transcribe. Surrounding my desk, and in arm’s reach (it’s hard to get in and out), I have a dictionary, thesaurus, the Complete Film Dictionary (I’m writing a screenplay), other books for research, pen cartridges, journals, note cards, and, on the walls, various items that interest or inspire: a current tide calendar from where my wife and I honeymooned, photos of people I admire (Jackie Robinson, Bill Veeck, Alfred E. Neuman, Robert Mitchum, Mark Fidrych, my father, etc.) And a big poster of “Mulholland Dr.“, because I’m in awe of that movie.

The rest of the space is filled with eight bookshelves, filled with baseball books, novels and pulpy paperbacks, poetry, film biographies, comic books, you name it. There’s old train maps from the Milwaukee Line, vintage baseball pennants (Tigers, Brooklyn Dodgers, Philadelphia Athletics), movie posters (Marty, Sullivan’s Travels, The Third Man), and even graffiti I wrote to try and remember the vocabulary of the Navy for my first novel (for instance, in giant scrawl is written “This is a HATCH” by a door).

Now and again I head out to the University of Minnesota’s Wilson Library to get out of the place (which at times feels like I’m in my own head), or to Bob’s 33 Cafe just for a change of pace.This is the space where I spend most of my life, a good six to eight hours a day from about seven in the morning to around three in the afternoon. Everything in here connects to the people and places I’m writing about–the books have inspired certain characters, or I’ve grabbed one or two and tried to figure out how another author managed to structure plot, etc. Surrounding myself with the work of these artists is fun, exciting, and very inspirational. It makes me feel like a part of this world, and it informs all my writing.

Thanks, Peter, for showing us your writing space.  Stay tuned for my review of The End of Baseball.

About the Author:

Peter Schilling has been a sportswriter, film critic, and freelance writer for over seven years, in addition to writing novels, graphic novels, plays and screenplays.  Check out his author appearances.

FTC Disclosure: Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.

© 2010, Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Savvy Verse & Wit or Serena’s Feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

The Writing Space of Nafisa Haji, Author of The Writing on my Forehead

I recently reviewed Nafisa Haji’s The Writing on my Forehead (click for my review).  Haji was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to share with us a sneak peek into her writing space and writing life.

Please give her a warm welcome.

Cultivating a space for my writing was the first step on the journey to take myself seriously as a writer—something I had to do before anyone else could. 

Buying a desk that would be mine alone, not something I shared with my partner or anyone else, was important.  I remember brushing aside feelings of guilt at the expense.  It was the intention, the promise that I was making to myself, that was the real point of that investment.

Part of being a writer is reaping the fruit of what comes from having been a reader.  When I sit to write at my desk, behind me are shelves lined with the books not aesthetically worthy of display in the living room— the paperback classics and pulp fiction that I devoured as a teenager, the assigned college reading that left a mark, as well as some books I’ve never read but have kept, the ones that survive the purging I indulge in when I’m in procrastination mode, or when the shelves look like they can no longer hold their burden of past indulgences and good intentions for the future. 

The walls in the current incarnation of my space are a copper color—“pennies from heaven” was the name on the paint chip, a lovely fragment of poetry and music that caught my eye and inner ear and made me think of the people whose job it is to give tempting, marketable names to the stuff we brush on our walls as the background of our indoor lives.

Always at hand are baby name books, my favorite a book of multicultural names that is well-worn from handling.  Also, a couple of dictionaries, a thesaurus, several books of quotations, and a stack of nonfiction related to historical events that may have touched the lives of the people currently living in my head.  

There’s a window, but the blinds rarely go up, the slats slanted to let in light, but not enough to see out.  

The point of this room, whose only other use is for my daily meditation, is to go within, to get away from the distraction of the view outside.

My laptop and what I type into it are sacred, never subject to the social viruses that get passed around on the Internet.  I have to leave the room to connect to the web of the wider world, to check email and verify facts.

In the drawers at my side are files of stuff that I keep for no good reason—one, especially treasured, filled with rejection letters, painful to read when received, that I have learned to savor as gifts over time.

This is my space—one I am grateful to have had the time to occupy, glad for what has come out of it in the past, and eager to discover what grows here in the future.  

Thanks, Nafisa, for sharing your sacred space with us.

Writing Spaces and Other Forms of Solitary Confinement by Jamie Ford

If you’ll recall, I recently reviewed Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (click for my review).  Ford was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to share with us a sneak peek into his writing space and writing life, along with some great shots of his dogs.

You know I love dogs, so this was a real treat to see that his dogs act like Charlee does when I’m on the computer.

I hope you enjoy today’s guest post.  Please welcome Jamie Ford.

I have a lovely home office, with a door and a lock. Which my children still happily ignore, despite telling them that when I’m writing they should only interrupt if the house is on fire or if someone requires stitches. Who knew that rides to the mall, and “I can’t find my iPod headphones,” would rival such emergencies? Nevertheless, this is where I get a lot of work done. 

The Desk. My neighbor is a chiropractor and has been steering me in the direction of something more ergonomic for months, but old habits (and writing desks) are hard to break. And yes, I’m a Mac guy. I bought an iMac, thinking the ginormous screen would be easier on the eyes, but still gravitate to my trusty MacBook Pro. Scattered about my desk are a Jenga-like tower of galleys I’ve promised to read, my new manuscript (tentatively titled Whispers of a Thunder God), my current itinerary, a photo of my parents, and an assortment of iTunes gift cards and desktop statuary made by my kids. The map is of the North Pacific, circa 1943.  

The Shelf. Actually, shelves. My office is filled with assorted knickknacks. Daruma dolls—you color one eye when you make a wish or set a goal and color in the other upon completion. I have two, you can guess what they’re for. I have a small urn with some of my father’s ashes—a morbid little paperweight (thanks dad), a snuff tin, used by my grandmother who actually chewed the stuff, and my gloves from when I used to compete in karate tournaments, with a tarnished silver medal. 

The Floor. My carpet is usually covered with an assortment of barely animate objects—my dogs, which are easily mistaken for throw rugs. There’s a doggie bed in the corner, but they still prefer the floor. They’re great to bounce ideas off of and they always let me know when the UPS man arrives. 

That’s my space in a nutshell. I’ve tried writing at the library, or the local coffee pub, or in the back yard on a sunny afternoon, but I love being surrounded by my notes and maps and such. Plus I don’t have to chase them all over the lawn when the wind blows.

Thanks, Jamie, for taking the time to share with us a sneak peek inside your writing space.

Ben Winters: Jane Is my Co-Pilot


Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (click for my review) by Ben Winters and Jane Austen is another mash-up of classic literature with the paranormal.  Winters was kind enough to provide a guest post about why he chose to use Austen’s work.  Please give him a warm welcome.

Jane is my Co-Pilot: The Fine Art of Making Sense and Sensibility Totally Ridiculous
By Ben H. Winters
Since writing Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I’ve gotten a ton of feedback about how nice it is that I’ve made Jane Austen appealing to certain readers — meaning readers who previously suffered a persistent allergy to The Classics. I am complimented for taking the prim and decorous Jane Austen and making her, A) really violent, and B) really funny.
The first compliment I will gladly accept. Over the decades since Sense and Sensibility first appeared, it has been noted by scholars and casual readers alike that the book is sorely lacking in shipwrecks, shark attacks, and vividly described decapitations. I believe it was the poet and critic Thomas Chatterton who admired the novel’s careful plotting and social critique, but lamented the total absence of vengeful ghost pirates.
But I can’t take credit for making Jane Austen funny. As is well known by passionate fans of Austen — I have yet to meet any other kind — the old girl has always been funny. Take for example Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, a set of secondary characters in Sense and Sensibility. The periodic appearances of the Palmers comprise what any comedy writer will recognize as a running gag. Mrs. Palmer is chatty and trivial, while Mr. Palmer (a delightful Hugh Laurie in the Ang Lee version) is gruff and unaffectionate. What Mrs. Palmer labels “droll,” the reader — along with Elinor, our sensible heroine — recognizes as plain distaste for his wife, her friends, and everybody else in the universe. Every time those Palmers show up, we know we’re in for the next variation on the same great gag.
Note that Austen doesn’t do to the Palmers what Charles Dickens would: Exaggerate their core traits to the point of absurdity. (Also, she doesn’t name them something like Mr. and Mrs. Featherwit). The Palmers are funny, but they’re plausible, and their primary function in the book is to provide not laughs, but a corrective to Marianne’s rosy ideal of married life. So Austen makes them funny, but not ridiculous.
Making them ridiculous was my job. When the Palmers appear in my monsterfied Sensibility, I give Mr. Palmer’s drollery a murky, weird-tales back story, part of the preposterously elaborate foreshadowing of my H.P. Lovecraft-inspired denouement.
I play the same game, of comically amplifying what’s already there, in varying ways throughout the book. Colonel Brandon, stiff and formal and middle-aged, becomes a stiff and formal and middle-aged man-monster. Genial Sir John becomes genial adventurer/explorer Sir John. Had Austen made all her characters ridiculous in that Dickensian way, if she had been the kind of writer who is forever winking at her readers, my book would be (as they say in improv comedy) a hat on a hat. But because Sense and Sensibility is so eloquent and restrained, Sea Monsters gets to go way over the top.
This is true even on the simple level of vocabulary. Austen’s precise early-19th century diction is the textual equivalent of Eustace Tilly, the top-hatted, monocled figure from the cover of the New Yorker: Her writing simply oozes good taste. The trick was to appropriate that ever-so-tasteful and old-timey Austenian style to describe things she never would have:
In the profound silence that followed, their ears were filled with a low thrashing sound, as the corpse of the bosun’s mate was noisily consumed by devil fish. At length the captain drew upon his pipe, and spoke again. “Let us only pray that this is the worst such abomination you encounter in this benighted land; for such is but a minnow, when compared to the Devonshire Fang-Beast.”
“The . . . what?”
Even more fun to play with than Austen’s eloquent vocabulary is her universe of enforced emotional rectitude. The Dashwood sisters live in a world where one’s feelings are not blurted out — or, at least, they’re not meant to be, as sensible Elinor is continually reminding sensitive Marianne. It’s a constant struggle to keep one’s emotions hidden beneath the surface; all I did was literalize that metaphor in the most preposterous way, by adding deadly and dangerous monsters which appear literally from beneath the surface.
There was one factor above all that made Sense and Sensibility such a fun comic foil, and that is the place the book holds in the cultural firmament. One question I’ve heard a lot (or read a lot, as it’s the sort of thing that comes up on blog comment-threads), is “Why didn’t you do PersuasionThat’s the Austen book that actually takes place on the water!”
The answer is simply that Persuasion, unlike Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, may be a great book, but it is not a Great Book. It has not gathered around itself the unmistakable stink of importance.
Sense and Sensibility, on the other hand, stands in the literary tradition as Margaret Dumont stands before Groucho Marx, as the Chairman of the Reception Committee in Duck Soup: Prim and proper and radiating worthiness — just waiting, in other words, for someone to hit it with a pie.

Thanks, Ben, for stopping by.  If you missed the global giveaway, please check out my review.  The giveaway ends Feb. 19.