Tuesday, August 16, 2005

My office

On the London-Minneapolis leg of my flight home last Thursday, my rowmate, a young Brit on his way to a wedding in Fargo, asked, "So, are you going to the office tomorrow?" We had been having the typical ice-breaker conversation of strangers on a plane, "So, what do you do?" meaning for a living, not what you do for fun. I told him I was an "author and a graphic designer." When he asked if I was going to the office, I suppose he meant to expose the irrationality of bosses everywhere who would expect an employee to finish out the week after a vacation. I had to think about it a second, and I said that yes, I was going to the office tomorrow. It would be hard not to.

I am a home worker, and this corner of my cabin is my office, what I call my command center. Here I do all my writing and graphic design. Note the tools of any modern office: the light, phone, and computer. What else do you need? I also have three windows to gaze out of and a radio with two of the best stations in the US. My desk is a coffee table, very useful in that it can be moved for vacuuming the floor. I keep my desk messy to satisfy my inner slob. My computer, an Apple iBook rests on the desk on top of my thesaurus and dictionary. I do all of my graphics work on its 14-inch screen. I only have a dial-up modem; cable doesn't come down my road, and a dish connection would cost more than I can afford right now. Note also the sleeping bag on the couch. Summer or winter, this cabin is chilly, and I cover my legs. Against the wall on the left is the oil stove, the sole source of heat and only a couple of yards away for maximum comfort. I come to my office and sit on that couch six days a week for 4 to 7 hours a day. I write first, while I'm still fresh, and compose a minimum of 1000 words. Then I make a living with the graphics.

This photo and little description might serve to answer one of the five common questions people always ask writers: How do you write? The other questions are:
2) Where do you get your ideas from?
3) Who are your main influences?
4) Why do you write?
5) What is your book about?

Now that I'm back from Glasgow I'm prepping for my next event, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association book fair in Portland next month. I am a guest author invited to the Friday night "Feast." They'll feed me and the other dozen authors early so that we can circulate around the tables during the banquet and give a 20-minute spiel about ourselves and our books. Get this, I'll have the opportunity to speak face-to-face with 45 persons responsible for stocking the shelves in bookstores up and down the West Coast. I have two weeks to organize and practice my talk.

Regrettably, the most difficult question is the last one. I find it impossible to sum up my book in a sentence or two. I've been wrestling with this for years. This is not a typical novel, with a single through-line and trio of main characters. COUNTING HEADS is more similar to an ensemble TV series like ER or Star Trek. That is, there are five main characters, and the overarching plot is weak. In ER, the "plot" is "bunch of health care workers struggle at their jobs and personal lives." Their work place, a county hospital emergency room in Chicago, is the unifying theme, and each character's story is more related to work than to each other.

My book works in a similar way, and the unifying theme is, I think, the future world we are creating. My characters' individual stories are only superficially intertwined. The real glue is the world, or so I think. Anyway, I'm working on this now, and I'll try my insights out here for you. By the way, the book description you read on Amazon is cribbed from a story synopsis I wrote in 2001, long before the book was split and remelded, and it's not entirely accurate or compelling. I am redoing that too, though not in time to alter Amazon (or maybe even my book cover).

Anyway, here's a little riff I jotted down that I like in answer to question 5:

So, your spouse is a clone, 
and your boss is immortal. 
Nasties are eating Chicago, 
and there’s a baby in a drawer in Trenton
with your name on it. Welcome to Counting Heads, 
an everyday tale about a man 
and his home planet--Earth.

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