Matthew Pearl’s Writing Space

With my TLC Book Tour stop for Matthew Pearl‘s The Last Dickens scheduled for Oct. 22, I wanted to provide Matthew with his own guest post date, since he was kind enough to include some photos of his writing space along with the description.

Readers, you are in for a real treat.

This is a timely topic since I’m renovating a house as we speak, so I’ve been forced to think about my writing space from scratch.
We purchased a home built in the 1840s. It needed updating, and for structural reasons we had to do a full gut renovation. On the top floor, away from the (future) hustle and bustle, there were two mirror image rooms, and we knew one would be a guest bedroom and the other my office. My first decision was to choose which I wanted as the office. I actually chose the one facing the street, rather than facing the back of the house. It’s a quiet street and I know if I’m expecting a delivery of some kind I’d be much more productive being able to see it coming rather than constantly getting up to go to the front of the house and check.

Sometimes not seeing a distraction coming distracts me.

It’s nice to have some natural light, so we’ve put in a new skylight in my future study. And there’s a nice tree-scape, too, outside the window.

Writing The Last Dickens, I learned about Charles Dickens’s working space. He had two different rooms on his estate that were dedicated offices, and he switched between them seasonally. In one, he wrote the final words on the first half of his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. A few hours later, he collapsed and never regained consciousness. The circumstances of this gave me my starting point for my novel. Here is one of Dickens’s working spaces from his era (the estate is now a high school):
I confess: I don’t like working at a desk. I work on a couch or, Edith Wharton-like, in bed. I know that’s not good for your sleep (because you then associate bed with work) or probably your carpal tunnels. I’m going to put a small sofa in the office, so I can either nap or work on it. I use the desk more to store and organize papers and folders.
The Last Dickens was written on the top floor we rented in the house below, the upper left window shown here was my office. This house was built in 1871, and my novel took place around 1870. Coincidence, but pretty neat! 
You always have certain knickknacks in your writing space that either inspire or comfort. Wherever my study is, one item always ends up on the wall. There’s a story behind it. When I was writing my first draft of my first novel, The Dante Club, I hadn’t told anyone about the project. Visiting my grandmother in Queens, New York, for lunch, before I left she stopped me. “I was just cleaning out the basement,” she said, “and found this I was going to throw away. It’s a picture of the American presidents. Do you want it?”
Except it wasn’t the American presidents. It was an elongated framed print of “Our American Poets.” With Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, Emerson. The characters in The Dante Club, which nobody, including my grandmother, knew about! I took that as a sign I was meant to be writing my book. 
That’s always hanging somewhere near my desk. 

Thanks, Matthew, for sharing with us your writing space.  Looks like he has his work cut out for him with that renovation.

The Value of Mess by Laura Brodie

I want to welcome Laura Brodie to the blog.  You’re in for a real treat.  She’s written about her writing space and provided a photographic invitation for all of you.  I want to thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to provide a guest post.

Without further ado, I’ll turn it over to her post, The Value of Mess.

I wish I could say that my writing space is beautiful—that I have a cozy, book-filled corner, decorated with tasteful artworks, happy family photos, and well-tended plants. In fact, as I write this sentence I am sitting at a dining room table strewn with children’s textbooks, pens and markers, hair bands and sweaters and cough drop wrappers, and piles of papers that need to be recycled.  I haven’t included a photo, because it’s too embarrassing. At my feet lie mangled socks that our puppy likes to gather from my daughters’ bedroom floor. He chews them into shredded clumps, and distributes them around the house.

What inspiration can a writer take from such a messy space, except the most important of all—the motivation to get lost in imagination, far away from the world of laundry and dishes and stacks of college students’ papers.

When I was in college, writing longhand in notebooks, I used to think that I could only be creative in a gorgeous setting. Back then I would sit outside at night on the steps of a church or the banks of a river and write gloomy poetry. I still find that for poetry, elegant journals and long walks provide the best atmospherics. But when it comes to losing myself in the world of a novel or memoir, I’m not so particular. Whether I settle my laptop in the kitchen, dining room or bedroom, the glowing screen draws me in.

My main requirement for writing is not visual, but aural—I need silence. That’s why, when my house is overfull with the sounds of family, I sometimes retreat to my office at Washington and Lee University. There, I have orchids, children’s photos and artwork, and a big sunny window.  But the walls are drab white cinderblocks, shown in this photo taken by a local reporter, who wanted to include author, novel, and website in one picture.

As for that website—it features the chief visual solace in my writing world.  Outside my dining room window I can now see a broad meadow that extends beyond our front yard, divided by a creek that flows toward a barn and trees at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Whenever I need beauty, I can sit on our screened porch, stare at the mountains—now a rusty orange and crimson—and  just breathe. The picture shared here appears on the home page of my website, along with lots of other images from the town and countryside that provide a backdrop for all of my books.

Beauty, however, can be distracting. When writing on my screened porch, I sometimes  spend more time watching the ducks in the creek, or the cows moving over the southern ridge, than concentrating on my words. When that happens, I carry my laptop back inside and settle amid the clutter of my dining room table, where my eyes are only too happy to concentrate on the screen.

And now that my writing for the morning is done, excuse me while I go and clean my house.

Isn’t that just a gorgeous view?  Thanks again to Laura for sharing with us her writing space.  If you missed my review of her debut novel, The Widow’s Season, click on the link and get reading.

Have you seen my interview with Laura Brodie at D.C. Literature Examiner? You should check it out and her Halloween reading selections.

I wish I could have made it to the reading with Laura in Silver Spring, Md., last week (Oct. 15).  If anyone made it to her reading, please leave a comment about how it went.

Michael Baron Talks About his Writing Space

Michael Baron was kind enough to write up a short piece about his writing space as part of his time here on the blog.

I hope you’ll check out his vivid descriptions and enjoy the journey.  Please welcome Michael Baron:

Many years ago, when my wife and I were looking for a new house, we found a place that had a separate structure, maybe twenty feet from the main building, with high ceilings, wraparound windows, soaring bookcases, and a fireplace. My immediate thought was that this would be the perfect place to write. Unfortunately, we didn’t buy that house.

The house we did buy was lovely, but for years I didn’t have a proper writing space in it. The basement was quiet, but impersonal regardless of how I tried to dress it up. The living room, which we never used for its intended purpose, was too spacious and gave my then-toddler daughter far too easy access. It took her years to understand the concept of “Daddy’s working” when I was right down the hall from her (although since I’d worked from the house since she was an infant, she just assumed everyone did this. One day, she was visiting my sister and asked after her uncle. When my sister told her that he was at work, she walked all over the apartment and then returned to my sister, alarmed, and said, “I can’t find him!”).

Finally, two years ago – more than a decade into my career as a full-time writer – we did a major renovation on the house. It involved knocking down many walls, putting up several others, and repurposing huge chunks of square footage. As a result, for the first time, I have a true writer’s space. It isn’t nearly as impressive as the one in that house we decided not to buy, but it is, finally, a part of the house that exists exclusively for me to write. I have a window looking out on the woods accented by a glittery star that my oldest daughter made with a “make your own stained glass” kit when she was ten. My desk has some candles a psychic friend gave me, a pair of hand-carved bookends that house one copy of each of the books I’ve published, and many pictures of people hugging – my parents when they were newlyweds, my oldest daughter and son when they were little, my middle daughter and me, and my wife and me. Oh, and my Mac, of course. I tried hand-writing my books once. I didn’t get past the first paragraph of the introduction before I realized I didn’t have the right constitution for this.

The walls to my right and left are lined with bookcases. The ones on the right have my books, including foreign editions. The ones on the left feature books by writers I admire, ranging from Barbara Kingsolver to Maureen Dowd to Ray Bradbury to Lynne McTaggart (yes, I knew who she was before Dan Brown made such a bit deal about her). My first edition copy of William Faulkner’s Soldiers’ Payis there. Right next to my first edition copy of Dave Marsh’s Glory Days. Faulkner is the more poetic writer, but he could never belt an anthem like Springsteen.

I finally have my fireplace as well. I use this surprisingly infrequently. I had very romantic visions of igniting some logs on a February morning and writing crackling prose as the flames danced. In reality, the fireplace is something of a distraction. It seems a waste to burn the logs if I’m not going to watch them. It also heats up the office too much and makes me drowsy. The fireplace itself is very nice, though. It’s brick and brass with a mantle including all kinds of meaningful pieces, including a photo of my wife when she was a kid.

Of course, this is only my official writing space. In reality, much of the house is part of the process. I tend to pace quite a bit and the office isn’t nearly big enough to hold me when I need to pace. My new book, When You Went Awayis my first novel after many nonfiction books, and I found myself pacing considerably more as I wrote it. If I were having trouble with a bit of dialogue, I’d make a loop through the kitchen, the living room, maybe even upstairs to the bedrooms. Fiction is good for me because it expands my emotional range as a writer and it lets me get my roadwork in at the same time.

My writing space is humble, certainly much more so than if we’d bought that house with the separate structure. But it is decidedly mine and I definitely feel at home here.

Thank you, Michael, for a look inside your writing space.  If you missed my review of When You Went Away, please stop by and check it out.

Sara Angelini Speaks About Writing

Sara Angelini, author of The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy, is stopping by the blog today to discuss writing. If you missed my review of her novel, check it out. Also stay tuned for a giveaway of her novel.

They say the first rule of writing is to write what you know. In my first book, The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy (a modern adaptation of Pride and Prejudice), that’s exactly what I did.

Like my Elizabeth Bennett, I am a young attorney who works in San Francisco and drives a MINI Cooper. I have had my share of encounters with cranky judges. What’s that, you say? Well, er, no, I didn’t actually meet a swoonfully handsome judge, romp around England with him while engaging in hot monkey sex, break up and make up, and strut myself down the aisle with him. Not precisely. Maybe I fudged that part a bit. So sue me. I dare you. *grin*

Aside from the obvious parallels of an attorney writing a story about an attorney, my job influenced my writing in a more roundabout way. You see, I already write a tremendous amount for my job. I write letters, memos, briefs, and appeals on a daily basis. Unfortunately, legal writing is challenging, technical, and mind-numbingly tedious. When I go home at the end of the day, I want to unwind with something light and fluffy.

Enter Pride and Prejudice 1995 and Colin Firth. After a rainy weekend of repeatedly rewinding “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you,” followed by fast-forwarding to that dreamy Pemberley gaze (you know the one I’m talking about!), I found myself randomly perusing the interwebs in search of completely unwholesome, empty-calorie Colin Firth brain candy.

Apparently, Colin Firth is the Willy Wonka of Jane Austen Fanfic Candyland. I found a virtual sweetshop chock-full of red-hots, dark chocolates, savory caramels, and even nut-filled nougats. Some stories were discarded after the first bite, some were set aside to savor after dinner, but mostly I gorged like a five-year old on his first Halloween binge. And like said five-year old, I felt mighty sick on Monday morning.

After the initial sugar rush had worn off, I discovered that most of what I was reading on the internet was, well, not very good. I found myself rolling my eyes at plot foibles or gnashing my teeth at ridiculous character inconsistencies. I muttered under my breath “Had I ever learned to write romance, I would have been a true proficient!” Convinced of my own genius, I decided to give it a whirl.

I of course found that writing romance was easier said than done; I started off with a Regency that was rife with purple prose and stiff dialogue. I hacked out a paranormal short story (which is still close to my heart) but wanted to do something meatier. That’s when I remembered the golden rule of writing: write what you know. I sure as hell didn’t know Regency, so I decided that it would have to be a modern re-telling of Pride and Prejudice.

What could I write that would do justice to Jane Austen’s creation while being true to myself? How could Darcy and Elizabeth translate to modern characters? If Regency mores about intermingling social circles and pre-marital sex are no longer relevant, where would the conflict arise?

In Pride and Prejudice, the main conflict is the practically unbridgeable social gulf between Elizabeth and Darcy, which is not relevant in today’s world. How could I write an appealing Darcy who remained aloof and reserved in a world where social circles overlap and mix freely? How? HOW??


Go back to what you know. Lawyers are bound by a strict code of ethics. Really. All lawyer jokes aside, ethics is a big deal to the legal community. We’re well aware of our reputation as cold-blooded, unblinking, cartilage-skeletoned sharks. We try hard to be nice. Ever see a shark try to smile? It ain’t pretty. But I digress…

A character like Darcy (proud, rigid, but with a good moral compass) would make a perfect contemporary judge. From there, it all fell into place. A courtroom romance would create an ethical violation with very real, possibly career-ending, consequences. The struggle to resist temptation, and to ultimately give in to that temptation, provided the conflict. The characters’ willingness to compromise provided the resolution. And Lou Hurst provided the comic relief.

Satisfied with my original idea for Judge Darcy, I took another gander at Jane’s (yes, I was now on a first name basis with her) Pride and Prejudice. And there, on page 94 of my annotated version, Miss Bingley says to Darcy:

“Do let the portraits of your uncle and aunt Phillips be placed in the gallery at Pemberley. Put them next to your great uncle the judge.”

Aw, shit.

Oh well, I went with the idea anyway, and The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy was the result. Thank you, Ms. Austen.

Does your job influence what you read or write?

Thank you Sara for stopping by the blog today. Sourcebooks is offering my U.S. and Canadian readers a chance to win 1 copy of Sara Angelini’s The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy.

To Enter:

1. Leave a comment on this post telling me what part of this guest post you enjoyed most.

2. Leave a comment on my review and leave a comment here that you did so.

3. Blog, Tweet, or Facebook this giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline is October 9, 2009 at 11:59 PM EST

Check out the rest of the blog tour here:

September 24

The Good, The Bad, The Unread Guest Blog


September 25

Romance Junkies Guest Blog



September 28

Savvy Verse & Wit Guest Blog


September 29

Yankee Romance Reviewers


September 30

Pop Culture Nerd Guest Blog


October 1

A Journey of Books Guest Blog


October 2

Fallen Angel Reviews Guest Blog



October 5

The Long & Short of It Reviews Guest Blog


October 6

Love Romance Passion Guest Blog


October 7

The Serenity Gate Interview


October 8

A Bibliophile’s Bookshelf Guest Blog


October 9

Books and Needlepoint Interview



October 13

Books Like Breathing


October 14

Romance Reader at Heart’s Novel Thoughts


October 15

Fresh Fiction Guest Blog


October 16

Booking Mama Guest Blog


Susan Helene Gottfried discusses blog tours

Today, we have a guest post from our wonderful blogging buddy Susan Helene Gottfried of West of Mars fame. If you missed my review of The Demo Tapes Year 1, check it out. If you missed my two part interview with her, check it out as well.

She’s discussing The Demo Tapes and blog tours. . . and offering one ebook copy of The Demo Tapes Year 2. Stay Tuned for details . . . and now let me turn it over to Susan.

I was recently having a discussion with another author about virtual book tours. She wanted to know if they work, if they result in book sales. The general consensus was that no one knows for certain, but then again, you can say that about almost any advertisting campaign, especially something not done through one of the major advertising agencies.

We authors are often in a hard spot. We’re told that we shouldn’t pay to be published, that money ought to flow to us — but we need to pony up and pay for a publicist. Have you see what some literary publicists charge? Some authors can’t even afford a small Virtual Book Tour through one of the established companies. This author I was speaking to was one of them.

Then she said something that horrified me. She wanted to set up a book tour for herself, on her own. But the “big book bloggers” will only talk to an author’s publicist. And she didn’t want to visit the smaller book bloggers, the ones with only a few readers.

Well… huh. Color me offended. Deeply. Top to bottom, and from outside to in. Making distinctions about the size of a blog’s readership or its Alexa ranking never occurred to me. What’s important in this game of getting your name out is exactly that — getting your name out.

Maybe it’s because of the way my own books — yes, there are two of them now! — came about. The Demo Tapes were never meant to be collected into book form. They were never meant to be the subject of guest blogs. I’d never imagined standing at book fairs with my two slim volumes displayed on a black crushed velvet cloth, telling actual people, in a face-to-face method, about my books.

Nope. The short fiction in The Demo Tapes was meant to do one thing and one thing only: build my audience and the demand for my novel, Trevor’s Song. I figured that if I got my readers as hooked on Trevor and Mitchell as I am, they’d build up buzz. Eventually, the buzz would reach the right ears and the novel would come out.

A famous rabbi once said that a revolution begins with a single person. And then another. And then another.

That’s how my Trevolution began. That’s why I call it the Trevolution. My readers rallied. They wanted the story of Mitchell and Trevor from the beginning. On a timeline. They wanted to watch the boys grow up, grow into themselves, become rock stars. One piece of short fiction at a time. One reader at a time, they called for The Demo Tapes to be born.

To a person, those demanding readers of mine who blog have blogs this other author is dismissing as not being big enough for her. Some of my readers and fans aren’t even bloggers. But they are people who pick up books. People like you, who’re reading right now. It doesn’t matter if there are ten of you or ten million of you. What matters is that you catch my passion for my fiction. That you decide to share it.

As the shock and horror of this author’s snobbery goes away, it’s replaced by sadness. I wouldn’t trade you guys even for a spot on Oprah and all the copies that inevitably sells. I’ll stay a small potatoes author any day, if it means staying close to the people who’ve inspired not just one book, but two.

Best of all, more’s on the way. If you haven’t joined the Trevolution, now’s the time to do it. There’s no right or wrong place to get started; just dive on in. The water’s fine, the rock and roll is loud and thunderous, the men are hot (so’re the women, for any of you who lean that way).

And behind it all is an author who appreciates each and every one of you.

Thanks Susan for stopping by the blog today!

Now for the giveaway details:

1. Leave a comment on this post about whether you’ve read Susan’s first book and what you thought.

2. Leave a comment about why you want to read The Demo Tapes Year 2.

3. Blog, tweet, or Facebook this post and receive an extra entry.

Deadline is October 9, 2009 at 11:59 Pm EST

Ru Freeman’s Writing Space

As part of the TLC Book Tour for Ru Freeman’s debut A Disobedient Girl (Click on the link for my review), Savvy Verse & Wit got her to talk about her writing space or should I say spaces.

Without further ado, please welcome Ru to Savvy Verse & Wit.

I should have known better than to say I would write a guest post about my writing space, considering that I write everywhere! I used to believe in the absolute necessity of a “room of ones own” in order to write, until I discovered that the real space that any writer needs is inside ones own head.

No perfect vista, no clear surface, no computer or quill really has the power to draw an idea forth if the writer herself has not cleared room in her mind for the work at hand.

I realized that I wrote everywhere. In my car when I am a passenger and sometimes – shh! – when I was driving; but only at stop lights. I wrote while waiting for one of my daughters to get ballet out of her system. I wrote while the same daughter took her piano lessons. In fact, a few good short stories and the end of this novel was written in those half hour bursts when I had to sit at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music, waiting, waiting.

Some of the time I write without writing at all.

I “write” as I absorb the things that are happening around me, tucking away details that strike me in some corner of my brain, trusting that they will come forth and report for duty when the need arises down the line!

Other times, I jot down a thought on a scrap of paper – the usual bills and sundry lists and paraphernalia that stick to women in particular like we are comprised of a magnetic substance particularly attractive to such things – and stash it in an old cigar box that I picked up for the sweet price of $1.50 at the store down the street.

I confess that there was a time when I insisted upon a separate space for my writing.

The reason for that lay not so much in my need for a place to set up my computer and associated totems, but rather that I needed the other people in the house – primarily daughters – to recognize that I was “working” and that I had a “work space,” which was impregnable and sacred.

This was more a fantasy than a reality; children do not take kindly to existing in the margins and the heart of a mother is far too permeable to allow them to do so anyway! But it did help that there was a specific place I could go to, where I could say, this is my room, my study.

Now, in a much more chaotic household in Philadelphia, where I live the life of a juggler who gives a fairly good imitation of being proficient at the task, I travel to various places with my computer. To the dining table, in my bedroom, to the couch downstairs, and the car. What I take is an image of serenity, the memory of a place that has meant everything to me in terms of affirming my writing life: a screensaver which depicts the Bread Loaf campus. This alone is enough.

Check out a photo gallery of Sri Lanka. Please also check out Ru Freeman’s blog and this Amazon.com video with Ru Freeman.

I also have a guest post over at Ru’s blog. Check out my post on writing and photography.

And of course, my review of A Disobedient Girl.

In honor of this being my 600th Post and Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I’m going to giveaway my gently used copy of A Disobedient Girl to anyone in the world.

1. Leave a comment and tell me what your “private” space looks like where you go to relax and read.

2. Tweet, blog, Facebook, or what have you to spread the word for another entry.

3. Remember, this week only I’m offering 5 additional entries for those who purchase books through my Amazon.com Affiliate links. All you have to do is email me an invoice or order #.

4. Comment on the Review for another entry as well.

5. Leave a comment on my guest post at Ru Freeman’s blog for another entry.

Deadline is Sept. 19, 2009, at 11:59 PM

Guest Post: Jill Mansell, Author of Millie’s Fling

Millie’s Fling, which hit stores on Sept. 1, continues Jill Mansell’s invasion of the U.S. market and stars kind hearted Millie and her friend Hester, as they search for love.

Jill Mansell, author of Millie’s Fling, offered to share with my readers a bit about her writing life. Please give Jill a warm welcome:

Have you ever wondered what a writer’s life is like? Honestly, it’s so weird. There’s nothing else like it. So many mundane household tasks. If you didn’t talk to yourself you’d go mad. Just this morning I dropped a pan of new potatoes on the kitchen floor; they went rolling off in all directions and I heard myself shouting at them like naughty children. I actually told them off! Twenty minutes later, I’m trying to scrub mustard out of an empty jar because all our glass has to be recycled to save the environment. Now I like the environment, but I hate mustard. This is a distressing job for me and I’d much rather throw the jar in the trash. Spending my time doing this isn’t remotely glamorous and I’d far rather be sitting down and getting on with some work.

Then again, I say this, but I’m a writer so I’m also a professional procrastinator. Once all the mundane household chores are done, I can find any number of other things to do before settling down to write. I check the TV listings, see what’s on. Then I have some breakfast. Check my emails. Chat to everyone I know on Twitter. (My British publishers suggested I start up a Twitter account – I think they’re going to live to regret it. My writing time hasn’t so much decreased as evaporated. In a few months they’re going to ask where the next book is and I’ll point like a simpleton at my head.) Then I check the blogs I like to follow, the links posted on them… which takes me to new, as yet undiscovered places that distract me for another hour…

And then it’s lunchtime, hooray! All this serious research has made me hungry.

After this, I’ll sort out the washing, try out my new mascara (an oscillating one that tickles my eyelashes!) and repaint my toenails. Whilst contemplating what I’m shortly about to write. Soon my kids will be home from school and wanting something to eat, only nothing I suggest will be quite good enough.

OK, done a bit of writing now. Not as much as my publishers would like, but better than nothing. And you know what they say, a page a day makes a book a year. Actually I write by hand so whoever said it was either talking about a very thin book or they didn’t get their sums right.

Ooh, phone, that’ll be my daughter telling me to pick her up from school. Which signals the end of my working day.

Am I doing something wrong? I’m sure Jackie Collins’ life is more glamorous than this.

But glamorous or not, I’ve managed to write a few books and Millie’s Fling is one that’s been particularly welcomed by readers in the UK. It’s fun and frothy and will hopefully make you laugh. I hope you enjoy it!

About the Author:
Jill Mansell is one of the UK’s premiere contemporary authors who has written nearly 20 romances with multi-generational appeal and has sold nearly 4 million copies of her books in the UK. Releasing her latest novel this Fall, Millie’s Fling, Mansell’s writing style can be best described as Sex & the City meets Bridget Jones’s Diary.” She worked for many years at the Burden Neurological Hospital, Bristol, and now writes full time. She lives with her partner and their children in Bristol, England. For more information on Jill in the UK, and for information on her U.S. releases.

Sourcebooks has kindly offered my U.S. and Canada readers a chance to win 1 of 2 copies of Millie’s Fling.

1. For one entry, leave me a comment about the best chicklit book you’ve read this year and why I should read it.

2. Blog, tweet, etc. about the giveaway and leave me a comment about doing so.

Deadline for the giveaway is Sept. 11, 2009 at 11:59PM

Good Luck!

Interested in the rest of the tour, here’s the schedule:

August 31: Romance Reader at Heart Novel Thoughts Blog

September 1: A Bookworm’s World

September 2: Booking Mama

September 3: Cindy’s Love of Books

September 7: My Friend Amy

September 8: Night Owl Romance

September 9: Scribe Vibe

September 10: Books by TJ Baff

September 11: Diary of an Eccentric

Guest Post: Cathy Holton, Author of Beach Trip

Please welcome Cathy Holton, author of Beach Trip, to Savvy Verse & Wit. She kindly offered to discuss her writing process with my readers.

The Writer at Work

I love watching television shows or movies that portray writers at work. It is amazing to me that in this day of advanced electronic technology, the slightly eccentric, vaguely attractive, bespectacled author is always shown sitting at a typewriter. Well, not always, but more likely than not there is a typewriter in the background.

Sure, I can remember banging away at an old IBM Selectric, neatly stacking my finished pages in a box on my desk. And even before that, I can remember writing in long hand on an endless supply of yellow legal pads. I was cleaning out a closet the other day and found an old suitcase stuffed with a novel written on crinkly, ink-stained pages in a faded hand.

And it amazes me that I ever wrote this way, because the truth is, it was a time consuming and inefficient way to work. There are writers that insist long hand is the only way to write; that the act of stringing together long looping words, and long looping sentences is the art of writing at its most organic. They may be right. But I would guess that these are writers who’ve never had to meet a tight deadline, who can afford to keep an army of typists busy with their drafts and constant rewrites.

Me, I enjoy the wizardry of my trusty Sony laptop. I take pleasure in composing a sentence and then watching it materialize on the screen, much as it will appear on the printed page. It helps me to see clearly whether the rhythm of the sentence works, whether the word order should be changed, whether a word should be modified or deleted. And during the long, dreary rewrites, when I realize that a paragraph I’ve put at the end of a chapter needs to be moved to the beginning, or a particularly boring scene needs to be trimmed, or a bit of dialogue “freshened up”, how wonderful to be able to make my changes with a few deft clicks of a mouse. Compare that to the tedious hours it used to take to redline a draft and then retype the entire chapter (only, in some cases, to find that I had it right the first time.)

Having established that I’m a fan of technology, what about the rest of my daily writing routine?

I rise promptly at eight o’clock (give or take an hour). I make a pot of coffee and contemplate taking the dog for a walk in the woods. Usually I decide to drink the coffee because it smells so great and, hey, I can always take the dog for a walk later. After two cups, I’m beginning to feel almost energetic so I go to my computer and read my emails. This can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to two hours depending on the news of the day and whether I choose to follow links trying to find out, once and for all, whether Brad is cheating on Angelina, and whether he intends to return to Jen.

Now I’m ready to get down to business. But first, even though I’ve told myself repeatedly not to do this, I go online and check the reviews on my latest novel. Now I’m either deliriously happy or hopelessly depressed. If I’m happy, I’m ready to get down to work right away. If not, I spend anywhere from ten minutes to two hours trying to purge myself of anxiety and self-doubt. I repeat my mantra, “I am a good writer. I am a good writer.” I imagine myself accepting the Pulitzer. I visualize myself on the red carpet in Hollywood. Now I’m ready to work.

A layperson would call this “wasting time.” I call it “getting ready to write.” It can take anywhere from ten minutes to six hours but here’s the thing; regardless of how long it takes, regardless of the medium I use, eventually I sit down and write. I don’t give up. I don’t walk away and call it a day and this, I think, is what makes me a writer.

In an essay he once wrote on the craft of writing, Sinclair Lewis said that most writers don’t understand that the process begins by actually sitting down.

See, I get that.

Thanks, Cathy, for joining us today at Savvy Verse & Wit. Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of her novel, Beach Trip.

From her Website:

Cathy Holton entertained her classmates with tales of a scaled creature that lived in her carport shed and a magical phone that hung in her family’s bathroom that could be used to summon an English butler (this was in North Carolina in the 1960’s and her family lived in married student housing).

She is the author of Beach Trip, Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes, and Secret Lives of the Kudzu Debutantes, all published through Ballantine/Random House Books. She lives in the mountains of Tennessee with her husband and three children, in a house that has both electricity and running water but, alas, no magical phone to summon an English butler.

Check out Beach Trip today.


You have until Aug. 28 to vote for Charlee in the Dog Days of Summer Photo Contest. Help a Hot Dog out!

Guest Post: Hazel Statham, Author of Lizzie’s Rake

I would like to welcome Hazel Statham, author of Lizzie’s Rake, to Savvy Verse & Wit. She’s taken the time out of her busy schedule to share with us some tidbits about her mischievous dog, Mollie, and her writing space. . .

My Writing Space – Or Rather, Lack of

I wish, oh how I wish I had a workspace all of my own where I could spread my work out and no one would complain! It wouldn’t have to be a large room, I would be quite content with a very modest space – just large enough for a desk, a chair and a bookcase, but most importantly, with a door. Somewhere where I could just hide away from everyone and immerse myself in my own little historical world. There would be peace and quiet and when I was hidden away, everyone would know I wanted to be alone.

Of course, the dogs could come into my inner sanctum, they’re no trouble, except Mollie who, at just 12 months old, is still a little monkey – but we are imagining the ideal here. Sadly, the reality is not quite the same.

Due to the lack of an office, my computer is set up on a desk in a corner of the dining room – not very practical, I know, but as there’s no other space available, it has to be. I write when my husband is at work and the house is quiet. I can’t write when there’s noise around me as it disturbs my train of thought. Sometimes I can be at the computer from morning to night, sometimes for just a few short hours. Wherever I am, so are the dogs. Lucy is content to just lie by my chair but Mollie, more often than not, is always into some mischief or other. It’s not always easy typing with a Labrador trying to get on your knee.

There’s also a computer set up in the opposite corner and when my seven-year-old grandson comes to stay with me during the school holidays, he’s usually on it. He informs me that he’s writing a book about Mr. Bean and Star Wars. Rather a strange combination, I know, but one that seems to work for him.

Mollie getting into mischief!

About Lizzie’s Rake (From Hazel’s Website):

Can a rake reform his ways and truly love? Lizzie’s head tells her one thing, her heart another.

Infamous rake and Corinthian, Maxim Beaufort, Earl of St. Ive, finding himself in possession of a property in Yorkshire, is unprepared for the changes it will bring into his life. Irresistibly drawn to Elizabeth Granger, the former owner’s daughter, he attempts to help the family, finding himself filling the role of benefactor. When the house is razed to the ground, he arranges for

temporary accommodation for Elizabeth and her siblings on his estate.

When Elizabeth rejects his proposal of marriage, he is nonetheless determined to win her over. However, events and his reputation conspire to thwart his efforts and his course is one fraught with dangers.

Trust does not come easily and determined to protect her heart, Elizabeth struggles to resist her own longings. At times, their difficulties appear insurmountable but the earl is widely known as ‘The Indomitable’ and the name was not lightly earned.

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary, here and here.

Guest Post: Renee Hand, Author of The Crypto Capers

I’d like to welcome Renee Hand, author of The Crypto-Capers, to Savvy Verse & Wit to talk about her writing process.

Her latest book The Case of the Missing Sock, for ages 9-12, is a story of two siblings, Max and Mia Holmes, and their good friend Morris and their flamboyant Granny Holmes as they unravel crimes by solving cryptograms left by criminals. Mia is the expert puzzle solver, and Max has great deduction and reasoning skills. Morris happens to be a computer genius, and granny is the “muscle” of the group. In this caper, the group heads to Florida and are hired by Mr. Delacomb, and readers have a chance to help these detectives solve the case through cryptograms and puzzles.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“FIVE MINUTES! JUST FIVE MORE MINUTES,” said Max Holmes quietly as he surveyed the dark room in front of him.

This should be the last place to reach, the highest test of his skills. He switched off his flashlight. He faced a rugged stone wall. From somewhere far above him, a crack let in a single, narrow beam of sunshine. It hit about the middle of the wall, barely lighting up a recess, an indention shaped into a rectangle, slightly taller than wide. A box could fit in there, Max thought, and he grew just a little nervous.

“Did I come here for nothing?” he asked in frustration as he glanced more intently at the wall. “Did I pick the wrong way?” For just a moment, he reviewed his route to this stone box of a room. No, he had made each choice carefully. “This has to be the right place. It has to be here!”

Without further ado, here is Renee and her writing process:

My writing process is interesting. I really just let my ideas come to me. I have a favorite tool that I use in my writing. I have what I call “an idea wall.” Whenever I get an idea I write it down and stick in on my wall for future consideration, as well as to remind me of things that I want to make sure I incorporate into my stories. In writing a series, there is so much that I have to remember, so I use my idea wall to help me remember these things. I also use it to help me when I get stuck on an idea. There are times when I am not sure where to go with an idea so I write it on my idea wall and refer back to it throughout the day as I am doing something else. This is a tremendous help to me and my idea wall has not failed me yet. I use it for many things in my writing.

My stories usually develop on the fly, which works great for me and my creativity. I write at my own pace the way that I want to write. If I felt that I was being pressured to write a certain way or at a specific time every day, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much. I make writing as fun and enjoyable as possible because I love to do it.

When developing my stories, I usually know what I want to have happen; all I have to do is find a great way to get there. I do a lot of revision and editing but when I begin a story I first just concentrate on getting my ideas down on paper. I don’t beat myself up if everything is not perfect. I just get my ideas down all the way to the end of the story. Once I have a base, which I must have, then I will go back and fine tune and develop the story better. I will do lots of research along the way to add more detail and description, or I will take a vacation somewhere to help aid in the experience and relate it in my story. What I start with usually always changes and becomes ten times better by the time I finish it. I will lay out certain ideas in a specific order at times, depending on the scene in my story and where I want it to go or what I need to have happen. So, certain ideas in my story are planned out to be in a certain way, but after that I let my creativity take me where I need to go.

By the time I am finished with my story it is in the best shape I can possibly make it. I am finding that with each story I write, I become a better writer. I am always improving and I can see it with each book that gets published. I have 4 to my credit, two of which have won awards.

Thanks, Renee for stopping by Savvy Verse & Wit and taking the time out of your busy schedule to share your writing process with us.

Check out Renee’s site, here. And if you’re interested in these capers for your kids, check out The Case of the Missing Sock, here, and The Case of Red Rock Canyon, here.

About the Author:

Since my first novel has been published I have done over 70 events. I have been on radio, TV, and have been in over 40 newspapers. I have experience talking in classrooms about writing. I have presented at various libraries, have
done several booksignings and many other venues with more going on in the future.

My family has encouraged my talents and creativity and I couldn’t have gotten this far without their support and love. Having Magic Hearts published really was a dream come true and I am thankful to God for all of the blessings in my life.

I have also received an award for Magic Hearts for Best 2006 Fantasy Romance. I am thrilled. My second novel Seduction of the Lonely Heart has won a National Literary Award for Best Romance of 2007. I am thankful for these two awards.

I have also ventured in writing other genres. I have a new children’s detective series that will be coming out. The first book of the series, The Crypto-Capers in the Case of the Missing Sock, is currently released. This story is filled with adventure and heart. With relateable characters and you, as the reader, are apart of the story, helping the detectives solve the case. Book 2 The Case of Red Rock Canyon, is also currently available. Book 3 will be out in the fall.

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary, here and here.

Guest Post: Emily St. John Mandel, Author of Last Night in Montreal

Emily St. John Mandel, author of Last Night in Montreal, was kind enough to take time out of her schedule to share with us her writing space. She even included some great shots from her space for this tour.

Without further ado, here’s Emily and her writing space.

I do most of my writing in a small white room, typically with at
least one cat on my desk. I’ve thought about repainting (the room, not the cat), because off-white is pretty unadventurous, but I’m typically paralyzed by indecision when I visit paint stores and I have to admit, there’s something restful about the pallor of the room.

There’s a small desk and a wooden chair, a lamp, two bookshelves and two filing cabinets, a lot of books, and several uncontained avalanches of loose-leaf paper. Above my desk there’s a window; when I’m working I can’t see much above the air conditioner, just sky and a neighbor’s ancient TV antenna, but if I stand up there’s a landscape of Brooklyn rooftops and fire escapes. The room’s very quiet. There are neighbors who play bad music in a garden below the window on Sundays, but that’s what noise-blocking headphones are for.

There are photographs on the walls—street and subway photography from New York, Rome, and Montreal—and also two images from Google Maps that I find particularly gorgeous; both are satellite images of the north coast of Russia, improbable greens and deep blues and frozen lakes like silver mirrors. They remind me of stained glass. There’s also a particularly nice letter from my agent, which I keep on the wall for encouragement purposes; a poster for La Femme Nikita; and the most famous section from Raymond Chandler’s essay The Simple Art of Murder written out on a piece of scrap paper (“In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption . . . ”)

Just above my desk there are innumerable little scraps of paper taped to the wall, containing notes of varying depth and legibility related to whatever project I’m presently working on. This is because my note-taking system isn’t particularly organized or actually even really a system, and there’s always some risk of losing whatever idea just occurred to me (see paragraph 2: “avalanches of loose-leaf paper”) if I don’t immediately stick it on the wall in front of my face.

I’ll occasionally become desperate for a change of scene and go work in the living room by the windows, looking down over the avenue four stories below, or I’ll go out and lose myself for a while with a stack of manuscript pages in the pleasant din of a local café. But this room is my oasis, and I spend a shocking percentage of my life working between these four walls with the door closed.

Thanks again to Emily for sharing with us her writing space. Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of Last Night in Montreal.

Until then, check out this video and this post by Emily at Powell’s Books.

Don’t forget my current giveaways:

2-year Blogiversary

Secrets to Happiness

Guest Post: Gail Graham, Author of Sea Changes

I’d like to welcome Gail Graham, author of Sea Changes, to Savvy Verse & Wit. Today, she’s going to provide us with some insight on her writing and the struggles she most recently faced. Please give Gail a warm welcome.

When my husband died, I was devastated. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t even talk to anyone for more than a couple of minutes without bursting into tears. And of course, I couldn’t write.

Over time, things got better. I managed to go back to work. I could interact with my students and colleagues. I’d lost a lot of weight, and people kept telling me how good I looked. But I still couldn’t write.

It was as if part of me had died. And not just any old part of me, but the best and most important part of me. All my life, I’d thought of myself — and described myself — as a writer. But whoever heard of a writer who couldn’t write!

People said, Give yourself time. It’ll get better. But years passed, and it didn’t get better. I still couldn’t write.

But I dreamed, incredible, complicated, detailed dreams. Almost every night, my subconscious mind conjured up people I had never met and places I had never seen, all in vivid color and detail. Sometimes, the dreams would continue over several nights, picking up where they’d left off. My dream life was as colorful and exciting as my waking life was dull and drab. In my dreams, I felt alive.

So I started writing them down, every morning. They didn’t make much sense, written down. There was no story line, no plot. The characters continually changed, and so did the places. Still, it was writing. Maybe it would lead to something. Maybe it would lead me back to the person I used to be.

More years passed. My dream life was more real to me than my waking life. I often thought of Chuangzi, the Chinese philosopher who fell asleep beneath a tree and dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke he asked himself, Am I Chuangzi who dreamed I was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I’m Chuangzi?

I felt that I was living in two worlds, simultaneously. One of them was real and the other was imaginary. I knew that. I wasn’t crazy. But the world I preferred was the imaginary one. And that was how Sarah Andrews, the protagonist of Sea Changes was born.

Sarah seemed very real. And it was easy to write about her, and to describe her walk to the beach for that final swim. Hooray! I was writing again! But where was this going? What would happen to Sarah as she swam out towards the horizon? I had absolutely no idea. And suddenly, there was Bantryd.

The mind is a wonderful thing. The imagination is a wonderful thing. And all of this has taught me that the world is a wonderful place, a place where truly, anything is possible.

Thanks, Gail, for sharing your experiences with us and for taking the time out of your busy schedule to stop by Savvy Verse & Wit. Please check out the book synopsis and excerpt below for Sea Changes.

About the book:

When Sarah’s husband dies suddenly, she is left with no anchor and no focus.

Grief is an ever-present companion and counseling a weekly chore with minimal results, but when Sarah decides to end her life her suicide attempt takes her to an underwater world where she finds comfort and friendship. Afterwards, back on the beach she wonders – Was it a dream? Was I hallucinating? Or am I going mad?

Her efforts to make sense of the experience lead to Sarah’s becoming a suspect in the alleged kidnapping of a young heiress. Now her worlds are colliding – and the people she trusts are backing away, not believing a word she says. She must decide what is real and what is not. Her life depends on it.

Excerpt from Sea Changes:

She doesn’t have to get up if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t have to do anything. Propped against the pillows, she watches the changing patterns of light filter through the branches of the tree outside her window. She could lie here until Friday and nobody would know or care. But that would be giving up. You’re not supposed to give up. You’re supposed to keep trying, whether you feel like it or not. If you keep going through the motions, sooner or later, something will kick in.

So she gets up and dresses, even though she’s not going anywhere. She puts on clean underwear and clean, pressed clothes. Her appointment with Kahn isn’t until Friday, but that’s not the point. You can’t spend the day in your nightgown.

There’s nothing much in the newspaper. There rarely is. It’s Australia, only eighteen million people in the whole country. Sitting at the kitchen table with a second mug of coffee, Sarah tackles the crossword puzzle. It was years before she mastered Australian crossword puzzles, which contain fewer words than their American counterparts and are shaped differently, more like skeletons than grids. The spellings are different too.

She hasn’t eaten since yesterday and she ought to be hungry, but isn’t. French women don’t get fat because they don’t eat unless they’re hungry. Sarah looks in the refrigerator, but nothing tempts her. She needs to go shopping. Later, perhaps, when it’s not so hot. She wishes she had a ceiling fan, or better still, central air conditioning. Nobody in Sydney has air conditioning. They don’t think it’s necessary, not with the beach so close. Nobody has central heating, either. They say it doesn’t get cold enough, but it does.

Sarah picks up a novel from the library and tries to concentrate. It’s not a very good novel, although it’s supposed to be a bestseller. That doesn’t mean anything, these days. Everything’s a bestseller. The protagonist has left his wife, is having an affair, has just learned he’s got cancer. He’ll probably die at the end. Sarah thinks he deserves to die and dozes off on the couch. When she opens her eyes, damp and sticky with the perspiration of an afternoon nap, it’s already getting dark.

The telephone rings. Nobody calls her, except telemarketers and sometimes Kahn, when he needs to cancel a session. If it rings five times, the machine will answer it. Five, six, seven. Maybe she’s forgotten to turn the machine on.

About the Author:

Gail Graham’s previous novel, CROSSFIRE, won the Buxtehude Bulle, a prestigious German literary award. CROSSFIRE has been translated into German, French, Danish, Finnish and Swedish. Three of Gail’s other books were NY Times Book of the Year recommendations. Gail lived in Australia for 32 years, where she owned and operated a community newspaper and published several other books, including A COOL WIND BLOWING (a biography of Mao Zedong) STAYING ALIVE and A LONG SEASON IN HELL. She returned to the United States in 2002, and now lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Check out this giveaway:

1 copy of Holly’s Inbox by Holly Denham, here; Deadline is June 10, 2009, 11:59 PM EST