As soon as I knew I was going to be a regular member of the Author Expressions blog I started a list of things to write about and came up with the expected topics, but as the list grew, I thought perhaps I should introduce myself and give readers an idea of how I think and what matters to me as a writer. I scribbled down a list of eight things, and as I looked it over I could see that this list pretty much defines my life as a writer and has for several years. But then I looked at the list again and to me it seemed like a classroom exercise--how to be a dutiful writer.
While I was mulling over what to do I came across a notice that the University of Virginia has put online tapes of readings by William Faulkner. That got me thinking about the many voices of writers in this country and the many places they lived. And of course, that sent me into another room to locate an old book that belonged to my mother called Literary America (Dodd, Mead, 1952). This book is full of photographs of the homes and settings of American writers, and Faulkner's section includes five photographs of homes that lurk in the background of his stories. The grand house where Miss Emily might have lived enriches my feeling for the story and its characters.
Thomas Wolfe's section has a photograph of his mother's boarding house in Asheville, NC, which I visited with friends. The guide told us that young Tom, after a certain age, had no room or bed of his own. Instead, every night he wandered through the boarding house looking for a bed that was empty. When I told this story to another friend, she said, Well, yes, you can see it in his sentences that seem to go on forever, sort of wandering and meandering until they just stop. I look at a writer's home now with a very different eye.
I frequently come across another book, American Writers at Home (Library of America, 2004), which includes photographs of the writers' desks and work rooms and, often, of the writers working at their desks. Eudora Welty sits up straight and types with her arms outstretched. Hemmingway's table in his writing room sits beneath a mounted head, with french doors open to a bright, sunny day.
I love these kinds of books because I think we are shaped by place, not just as people but also as writers, and because I'm endlessly curious about how other people go about their work. My work space isn't nearly as serene or beautiful or messy as some. But I suppose it does reflect me. Every writer needs a space of her own (if not a room, as Virginia Woolf insisted), and I am fortunate to have a room of my own, which I usually share with the dog.
My desk has changed over the years, but whichever one I have, be it a long picnic table, an old vanity table, or my father's old desk, it sits in the same spot, giving me a view of the front door through one window, and a view of the sidewalk (if I stand up a bit and crane my neck to see over the printer). I keep the surface clear as much as possible, trying to stack papers neatly while I'm working.
The best part is that I'm surrounded by books, perhaps too many books, since many of them sit on the floor and on stools waiting to be read or put away. I have a comfortable chair to sit in, which desperately needs to be reupholstered, and another chair that the dog likes to stand on (when I'm not around to stop him) so he can see out the window.
This is my space, and I come here all times of the day and night to work. It's always ready, always set up for what I want to do. I like the calm, the dedicated space, the familiarity of the place. When I've finished a book or a story, I rush around trying to tidy the place up--a sign that I really have finished the job. I weed out old papers, make stacks of books to pass on, and make lists (I do love lists) of things to get done in the next few weeks (I never finish them all).
This is my setting, the place where I will be writing the next Anita Ray, working out the details of a new series character and her life, writing short pieces like this one for Author Expressions, and daydreaming. I'm a big believer in daydreaming.