Kitchen Table

To rewind this tale to the proximate cause of my shift of late to the kitchen table as my base of operations would require volumes.

One of those volumes is in my agent’s hands. Another is in scraps on my regular desk, back in my office. Several more are in published form, shelved on the bookcases found there. These are painted white and stand floor to ceiling against walls done in a soft, warm color named goat’s beard.

A goat appears in one of my works. That’s nothing I could have predicted. It’s a charged scene, with that goat serving as both dinner and as loss, a stand-in for a destiny reduced to smoke and ash.

To tell that scene required considerable effort, none of which could show. I wanted the reader to take it in, but not be held up by it. I wanted him to shake off a chill perhaps, but not stop to think about it, because he’s in too much of a hurry to see what comes next.  That’s exactly where I want my reader: wanting more.

To write a scene like that—one that can speak on many levels, from dinner to destiny, but which foremost entertains—is not the work of idle writing. It requires, among other things, fortitude and careful calculation.

My office is not the place, of late, to find either. There’s too much going on, too many directions, too much conversation, too much. What chance to clear a head with all this noise?

And so, I’ve left it behind and moved to a more hospitable region of the house. Today you will find me—or preferably not, as I work alone—in the kitchen. Fortunately, at the rather early hour I like to write, I have the space to myself.

Everyone needs a place to think, to plan, to compose a simple sentence that advances the cause. And one needs to be able to linger there, as well, as these things take time.

Where is that place? I wonder if the answer is the same across the globe. Should I take a pencil and a photographer and find out? Already, I can picture an array of kitchen tables, from the sandy earth to the polished oak of the English manor, populated, in the off hours especially, by women in their robes who need to think.

Photo credit: Amanda Woodward

The Boss

As a writer, you work for yourself, even if you’re being paid. Every sentence, every word, every turn of the phrase comes from you. The way things sit on the page. The amount of white space. The tone. The taste. The raised eyebrows of the reader—in delight or shock, maybe—is proof that you have done your job well.

And now you’re done.

It’s up to them now, those with the city shoes that decamp, slamming car doors, all  sunglasses and cell phones, looking around to assess the possibilities in what you have created. And because you’re the writer, you’re still looking after they have turned away, busy with their labors, the next steps.

A smart writer remains interested, takes notes, and tries to be helpful.  You’re not the boss anymore—far from it—but you are still the parent. And parents must always be accorded their say. It’s in the contract, buried in the fine print.

Photo credit: Businessmen – Huntz, paolo

Fishing for Stories

Some of the best stories come in our off-duty times. There you are, minding your own business, when you notice something in the current. You keep your eye on it, but it bobs and dives. You run along the bank to follow it, cry out when you think you’ve lost it.

But there it is!

Quick—get it, before it floats too far downstream.

That it has caught your attention is proof enough that it is worthy of it.  Something interesting is at play, and you will learn.

Perhaps your curiosity will be satisfied in a moment. Not every matter is as it first appears. It’s a cork, but no gold cap—just a shiny foil from a brewer’s hand, and you, dripping wet from your efforts to secure it in hand.

Or, maybe you’ll find something that will hook you and open an entire body of work.  Hold on. Look here . . . there’s a message on this cork, penned in a delicate hand. It seems to speak directly to you, practically calls you by name.  It’s a command, a prayer, a question, perhaps. Search for an answer, and now you’ve got a story.

Photo credit: cork – Miroslav Sárička, sxc; bottle – Ali Taylor, sxc

The Ebb and Flow

There are times when writers can’t seem to write, or when everything we write is just plain terrible. Writer’s block, as some call it, is a common affliction. We moan. We groan. We take to the bed, drink fluids.

But in our fear, our misery, we tend to forget that it’s just the natural rhythm of a working life, the ebb to any forthcoming flow. It’s a good thing, really, the chance to build power, but for the restless among us, the quickest way through it is to stop resisting, and go do something else.

Sometimes, the answer is to turn to reading. That’s it: reading. Don’t try to analyze how the writer is doing what he’s doing. A good work will soon put a stop to this anyway by sweeping the reader away, which is exactly what’s needed.

At other times, one might need to go investigate what other creative folks are doing, people not in your own field. Some turn to music, for example.  Others, to fashion or food. For me, modern art offers an appealing suspension of rules. So much is possible when an artist can set his piece on fire, or compose it of shiny hard candy that he invites his viewers to eat, a trail of glittering wrappers all that’s left by the end. Who can feel wooden and unyielding for long in the presence of such creative breadth?

Photo credit: Timo Balk, sxc.