Guest Post: Navigating a Flexible Writing Space by Joan Leegant

Joan Leegant, author of Wherever You Go, will be sharing her writing space with us shortly, but I wanted to share a bit about this book and offer a giveaway to my U.S. readers (sorry, the publisher is sponsoring it).

From the publisher:

“In this sweeping and beautifully written novel, Joan Leegant weaves together three lives caught in the grip of a volatile and uncompromising faith. Yona Stern has traveled to Jerusalem from New York to make amends with her sister, a stoic mother of five dedicated to the hard-line settlement cause. Mark Greenglass, a gifted Talmud teacher and former drug dealer saved by religion, has lost his passion and wonders if he’s done with God. Enter Aaron Blinder, an unstable college dropout with a history of failure who finds a home on the radical fringe of Israeli society. Emotionally gripping and unmistakably timely, Wherever You Go tells the story of three Americans in Israel and the attractions–and dangers– of Jewish extremism, its effect on families, and its threat to the modern democratic state.”

Doesn’t this sound like a great book club selection; there’s so much to discuss.  Check out reviews of this book from Unabridged Chick, Life in the Thumb, Among Stories, the TLC Book Tour stops, Caribousmom, and For Book’s Sake.

Please welcome Joan:

The novelist Kent Haruf writes his first drafts with a stocking cap pulled over his face so he can’t see what he’s producing and second-guess every word and comma, and thereby lose the thread of his story. John Steinbeck required the noise of a washing machine in the background in order to compose The Grapes of Wrath. Once, during a residency at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire—an artist retreat on hundreds of secluded acres where painters, writers, composers and other creative types are given their own studios and abundant solitude—a newly-arrived novelist appeared at dinner flush with excitement after her first day’s work. What had she accomplished? we all asked. She’d covered every soaring window in her assigned space, a handsome stone structure abutting picture-postcard fields dotted with the occasional deer—and where, 60 years earlier, Aaron Copland wrote the music for the ballet Billy the Kid—with black construction paper. The view, she said, was too distracting.

Joan's writing room

Writers do all kinds of strange things to create the necessary conditions for writing. Perhaps because I began writing fiction when my children were very young, my sons then 3 and 5, I’ve cultivated a certain useful flexibility. For a time, I wrote in a small overheated room next to the one my boys shared. When they began staying up later into the evening (my peak writing hours), I decamped to the basement. This was next to the laundry, which was both convenient and conducive; getting up to change the wash was often precisely what was needed to clear my head and solve a thorny problem. When my younger son took up the drums, he and his instruments migrated downstairs and I went up a level and took over an enclosed porch.

I didn’t mind moving around and I didn’t care, and still don’t, about the furnishings; in fact, my preferred working surface is a folding table. Outfitting whatever space is mine with a proper desk or other items meant to bring to mind the word “writerly” feels pressured or forced. It reminds me of a visit to a clothing shop before my first book tour. I owned mainly jeans and a few dresses more appropriate for funerals and weddings than book talks. I told the saleswoman I was a writer and needed a couple of things I could quickly pack into a suitcase and just as quickly unpack. After dramatically draping me in black, she then layered on all manner of elaborately tied scarves and chunky necklaces and bohemian-ish silver bracelets and belts because, she said, “this is how authors are supposed to look.” Problem was, I didn’t know how to put any of the stuff on by myself. I would have had to pack her in the suitcase too.

Joan writing at her friend's apartment

These days I do most of my writing in a rented room attached to someone else’s house a fifteen minute walk from my own. It’s part of a former dental office—the house’s owners think it was the original waiting room—which seems fitting. I often feel like I’m waiting for someone, mostly my characters, who sometimes seem as eager to be hanging out with me as I would be to hang out with the person about to give me a root canal. And there are certainly days in that room when I feel like I’m pulling teeth.

During the final revisions of my novel Wherever You Go, I added pages and pages of hand-written prose, and heavily marked up the manuscript. For months, this was my only working copy. I wouldn’t let it out of my sight. I brought it home from my writing room every night and carried it back there the next day. When I flew to Tel Aviv to teach for a semester, the manuscript took up all the space in my carry-on. Among the many pleasures of emailing the final version to the publisher was that I could stop lugging around all that weight. Until I began the next project, of course. But that is—I hope—another story.

Thanks, Joan, for sharing your writing space with us. I wish you great success with your book.  Please check out these interesting videos about her work and the book.

About the Author:

Joan Leegant is also the author of a story collection, An Hour In Paradise, winner of the 2004 PEN/L.L. Winship Award for outstanding book by a New England author and the Edward Lewis Wallant Award, as well as a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and selection for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Series. Formerly a lawyer, for eight years she taught writing at Harvard University. The mother of two adult sons, she divides her time between Newton, Massachusetts and Tel Aviv, where she teaches at Bar-Ilan University.

To Enter the giveaway for 1 copy of Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant, you must be a U.S. resident or have someone in the U.S. willing to accept the book for you.

1. Leave a comment about why you want to read this book.
2. Facebook, Tweet, or otherwise spread the word about the giveaway and leave a link (up to 3 additional entries).
3. Follow this blog for another entry.

Deadline is Oct. 4, 2011, at 11:59PM EST.