We’re very pleased to welcome guest author Lisa Genova today to the ball.
Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University. She used her experience and knowledge to pen her debut novel Still Alice, about a 50-year-old woman’s sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book has been critically acclaimed, and a New York Times Bestseller. She is currently working on her next novel, LEFT NEGLECTED.
I have a great office in my house. Brick floor, two deep and comfy chairs, a café table and chairs, and a desk with my iMac computer on it. Three of the four walls are windows, so it has lots of natural light, and the west window wall overlooks a saltwater creek that runs into Pleasant Bay. Two swans just swam by. A huge bulletin board hangs above my desk tacked with Still Alice clippings, pictures of my kids, and my intention board. My intention board has lots of great words on it that help me stay grounded and balanced by simple reminder: Grateful, Grow, Create, Live in the Moment, Books that Make a Difference, Believe, Open Minds.
Sounds lovely, right? Inspiring even. It is, but honestly, I prefer Starbucks. I find it difficult to write at home. There are bills to pay, laundry to do, phone calls to take and return, food in the fridge. So at home, there is always the possibility that when a scene I’m writing isn’t flying effortlessly from my head into the pen, I’ll think, Hmm. I really should pay those bills. I know if I find myself choosing bills over writing the next sentence, it’s time to get out of the house.
Plus, I have two kids (8 and 1). If I’m home, one of them always needs me for something, even if there’s a perfectly good adult other than me here to get the job done. I’m a sucker for games and songs and hugs and kisses.
So I go to Starbucks. There’s nothing else to do at Starbucks but drink caffeine, which I need because the 1 yr old doesn’t sleep through the night, and write. You can’t even daydream there for long without looking like a nut. I wrote Still Alice almost entirely at Starbucks.
I love my home office and enjoy writing in here when I can. Like right now. But if I didn’t have it, I’d be fine at a table at the coffee shop down the street.
Just don’t tell my husband this. He’ll want to convert my beautiful office into something else, like a gym or a gameroom.
Ah, yes. The office. That’s long been a touchy issue for me – literally, because I’m so sensitive to my environment. Anyone out there like that? You actually have to “feel” a room before you can enter it? This makes short vacations rather difficult because it invariably takes me 48 hours before I can get comfortable in most places. On the other hand, I knew that I’d found my house as soon as I felt it. I hadn’t been in more than two rooms of the place; hadn’t even set foot upstairs when I said to my real estate agent, “Call my husband. This is our house!”
Unfortunately, our charming, if drafty, old farmhouse doesn’t exactly have room for the elegant office of my dreams. In fact, my office is the little landing at the top of the stairs. It’s not even a room really, but it has great light and an amazing view of the farms, fields and mountains that surround us.
For the longest time, I pounded out FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA on a narrow old desk we picked up for next to nothing at an auction. Then my friend Tanya came to visit from Uzbekistan and told me I had the Feng Shui all wrong. Apparently, I had been facing the wrong direction. No wonder it took me so long to finish my book! I also needed a picture of a flowering tree, something that represents fire and some money over my right shoulder. I needed photos of people who supported me over my left shoulder. And for goodness sake, I needed to keep the bathroom door (at the other end of the landing) closed whenever I was writing!*
Since we didn’t have much maneuverability in my tiny space, St. John hauled out the tiny, computer cart that we’d dragged around since grad school, so that at least I could be facing in the right direction when I wrote. We got the photos, the candle, the Chinese money all in their right ba-guas. Tanya tied some red ribbons in several auspicious places. And laugh if you must – but it was shortly after that, that I sold my book.
I guess with my first book about to hit the shelves, my family thought it was time for me to have something a bit nicer to work on than the flimsy old computer cart. For Christmas I got a lovely bamboo desk of my very own. It took some looking to find one that fits the tiny space and keeps me sitting at just the right angle. But we were certainly NOT going to mess with good Feng Shui!
So now I am contentedly (if just a bit coldly) sitting at my beautiful new desk, nested perfectly into the corner with a gorgeous – at the moment, snowy – view out my window. Perhaps when I sell my next book, I’ll buy that matching bookshelf I’ve had my eye on. And who knows? Maybe when FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA hits the New York Times Bestseller list, I’ll finally get a real office. It’d have to be facing in the right direction though. I am NOT about to go messing with good Feng Shui!
*Note: The Feng Shui advice given here was carefully discerned in consultation with a compass, my date of birth and possibly an intermediary who talks to the dead (hey, it was in Russian, so I can’t be exactly sure). For the Feng Shui advice that will move your life along, consult your own funky friends!
P.S. Rhonda Lane and Helen K – you two are the lucky winners of last week’s contest in celebration of POSED FOR MURDER! Send your mailing addresses to Eve@thedebutanteball.com so we can get your prizes to you.
Sorry, guys. My post won’t have pictures (just those you create in your mind). For one thing, I’m going to describe some of my past offices, and, for another, my office is a really private space to me and currently very messy.
When I was single, I had a desk in the bedroom of my apartment in New York, and, lo, it was good. A beautiful room in a pre-war building. Light-filled. Eggshell walls. Windows across one wall and a view over rooftops. I loved it.
Then I got married and moved to England. First, I had no office because I moved into my husband’s tiny, wretched, bachelor flat. Then, we bought a slightly larger house and things kind of improved. I got a desk again (makeshift, true, out of two cabinets and some particle board), but it was in a miniscule room shared by my husband’s desk (which was actually my old desk). And I hated the view.
When we moved back to the States, things improved again, sort of. I acquired office space in what I came to refer as “The Hole.” It really was a hole, a cubby you walked down some steps to, set off of the library, unheated and spidery. I didn’t have a door, but no one else in the family really ever came down there, and that’s where I managed to write The Little Giant of Aberdeen County.
We moved last year and I have finally come full circle. Once again, my office is part of my bedroom, a sort of lovely, half-room separated from the bedroom by a double-sided fireplace. Windows fill two walls, and the view is great: hills, a huge gum tree, all kinds of birds, and yes, rooftops.
I have an antique desk I rescued from my parents’ basement, a comfy armchair and ottoman, and paintings I love. On my desk, there are pictures of my family, my icon of the Virgin, an old, china teapot that I use as a pencil holder, bracelets I collected from my travels, and a gooseneck lamp.
Virginia Woolf said you should have a room of your own, and she’s right. For me, one of the biggest gifts about being published has been that it’s finally given me the permission I foolishly thought I needed to make a haven for myself where I can nurture my imagination, take my writing seriously, and express myself. It’s kind of my version of “If you build it, they will come.” I loved my office in New York, but I love this one more because my kids barge into it, I can hear my family through the doors, and it’s right here in my home, where I most like to be.
Finally, let me offer Stephen King’s advice from On Writing: “It starts with this,” he writes, “put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.” In other words, make sure that door opens every now and then and lets the world in. Bon Vivant!
I had to wait until I had unburied my desk to take this photo. It gets really cluttered—especially when I’m in the middle of a book. On my desk is the only TV in our home. My son watches PBS shows on it, and I watch videos on it for work. I also have the family desktop computer sitting in the middle of my desk, but the computer I use for writing is my laptop.
I live in an apartment in New York, so no space is reserved for one thing only. My office is also my husband’s office and is also my son’s playroom. In fact, the whole apartment seems to be my son’s playroom. In order to get through the living room to the kitchen, I routinely have to step over cars, helicopters and transformers.
I rarely write at my desk. No, I occasionally write at my desk. I do better when I move to the kitchen table or sit on the couch or go to a café. I need a change of scene, and to get away from things like the checkbook (which usually needs balancing) and the piles of other stuff I need to deal with. I wrote Posed for Murder almost entirely in neighborhood cafes, which did help my descriptions enormously.
I have four file drawers filled with old scripts, files from movies I worked on, and ideas for stories. I occasionally try to clean these out, but I find it difficult to throw away stuff I’ve worked on. It’s like admitting that all those months of work were for nothing. I know intellectually that I’ve learned from everything I wrote, but I hate to admit that was all it was. I like to think that those scripts and stories will someday see the light again.
So my desk is really used as an entertainment center and for storage. I wish sometimes I had an office door I could close and a desk that felt inspiring. But for now I’ll just have to deal with the hardship of working at a table in the local café, and reward myself with a cappuccino.
We’re excited to announce the winner of last week’s contest. Meredith couldn’t stand to give just one signed copy of POSED FOR MURDER away, so she grabbed two names out of the hat–Helen K and Rhonda Lane. Please send your address to Eve@thedebutanteball.com so we can send you your books.
(This post is best viewed using Firefox, Safari, or IE 7+.)
(I hope Kristina doesn’t mind that I’m going to borrow her “photo tour” angle!)
I used to have the office upstairs for my writing and the sewing room downstairs for my creative work (well, you know what I mean), but after about two years, the husb caught on and demanded that the space be divided 1-1 rather than 2-0. So I moved the computer downstairs and do all my work in one place.
The downside is that, like Kristina’s office, mine doesn’t get much heat, so in the winter it’s routinely in the low 50s (low ‘teens for you Metric folks). But I crank up the space heater and pile on the sweatshirts and socks, and it works for me.
Here’s my computer desk, where I write (and otherwise compute). You can see some of my favorite things in this picture–the painting of Winston my little sister gave me for Christmas, my frog picture, my fun orange phone, and of course my trusty computer. Also, Winston’s bed. And Winston’s crate. And my crazy quilt that functions as half a curtain.(click the picture for a closer look)
Turn to the right, and here’s my sewing table. In this photo, you can see the sewing machine (covered when not in use), a picture my mother-in-law bought for me at an art fair, Winston’s bed, and my red clock. (clickable)
I looooooove my red clock. I love the color red and love to have little splashes of it everywhere. (not clickable)
Okay, so, yes, if you’re counting, that’s three dog beds. But actually, Winston’s favorite place to sit is directly on top of whatever I’m working on, if it happens to be laid out on the floor. Or he’ll sit next to my chair and bark at me.
In this picture, you can see the height differences in my workstations. I do a lot of my sewing work standing up. So the work surface has to be higher. (not clickable)
This is my treasure shelf. I’ve always been a bit of a hoarder. But as I get older, I’m working on creating a less cluttered home environment. To that end, I’ve tried to contain my knickknacks on just the single shelf. You can see in the second picture above that they’re kind of spilling out to the top of the shelves… you know what that means, right? Yep, time to get bigger bookshelves. (clickable)
These are my spring-loaded threadsnips. Aside from how fun it is to say, “spring-loaded threadsnips,” these little guys make themselves useful for everything from cutting tags to, well, snipping thread. You have no idea how helpful spring tension is until you’ve experienced it. Also, these are the sharpest little scissors ever. They would love to bite you. (not clickable)
Here’s a closer look at my work table. Non-crafters are probably wondering why I have so many scissors and rulers. Here’s how it breaks down: pinking shears (yellow handle), spring-loaded scissors (black handle), lowest-grade fabric scissors (white handle), medium-grade fabric scissors (red handle), and higher-grade fabric scissors (orange handle). There’s cotton padding at the bottom of the jar to protect the tips.
I would hang them on the wall, but I’m always worried that if there’s an earthquake, they’ll fall and stab Winston, which would be unfortunate. The rulers are a trick of the quilting trade.(clickable)
I love color. So I really enjoy having (most of) my fabric out on display, even if it creates a little bit of a messy look. My poor mannequin, Katie Jr., has been wearing that half-finished dress for more than a year now. (clickable)
We call this “mixing business with pleasure”: sewing books, gardening books, and writing books all shelved together. (clickable)
And here’s the view of the yard. I used to sit facing the outdoors instead of the wall, but that got to be very distracting, not to mention that having the desk in the middle of the room used up all the floor space.
Besides, I’m a homebody, not an outdoorsbody. But I do like knowing it’s there. And Winston spends a lot of time watching for trespassing squirrels. (clickable)
So there you have it. The room where I spend hour after happy hour of my time. I hope you’ve enjoyed the tour! And if you’re a writer (or a crafter), may I encourage you to take a little time to make your workspace a place you love to be?
(This post is best viewed on Firefox, Safari, or IE 7+. Internet Explorer users who are seeing wonkiness can click here for an IE-friendly version.)
Welcome to my office. Sorry that it’s chilly in here. There’s no heating vent in the office itself, it has to share with the rest of the downstairs, and seeing as its February, the whole downstairs is a bit nippy. Sometimes my toes go numb, but it’s nothing some extra socks won’t fix.
See this picture, here? This is a snapshot I took of the inside of Hemingway’s office, at his Key West house, where I visited while attending a literary seminar in early 2005. At the time I was dreamy about publishing and searching for an agent. I took this picture as a sort of totem, and it’s been taped up near my desk ever since, though we’ve moved twice. That was three manuscripts before Real Life & Liars, so it took a while. (Also, I’ve always doubted his office was ever this neat in real life.)
When it gets too cold in my office, sometimes I come out to this big blue couch. But it’s so squishy and comfy, and the dog takes my working there as an invitation to slide himself in that small space between my stomach and my laptop, until he rests his head on my keyboard and starts writing his own experimental poetry, which goes something like this: “edx,l.ß0063,,cc”. Also, I get sleepy here, and start to gradually slip horizontal which is hardly conducive to productivity. So, moving on…
Here’s my kitchen upstairs. The kitchen table is a pretty good spot. Lots of room to spread out papers, not so comfortable that I get distracted by thoughts of napping, and unfortunately for the dog, no room for him to get in my lap. The heating works fine up here and I stay toasty warm with only one pair of socks. This is a popular choice when the weather’s bad.
But through the sliding door… Spring and summer mornings will often find me out here with the cordless phone, coffee, and the computer. And the dog. He likes these folding chairs, too. I put one in front of me and form an ersatz recliner, balancing the computer on my lap, while Lucky takes up residence in a third chair/doggy bed. Someday again soon I’ll be out there, though for now, it’s back to my downstairs office, because I feel fortunate to have any space that I can claim as mine for writing, even if my toes do sometimes go numb.
You see how it’s decorated with so much clutter? It might look like junk but it’s artwork by my kids, and souvenirs of fun times with writer friends, and look here. This tiny typewriter was meant to be a picture frame, but my friend Jill Corrin gave it to me as a birthday present, encouraging me to put an inspirational writing quote in the frame. And so I did. That was my thirtieth birthday, and now I’m 34. Again, it took a while. But that’s OK. I’m patient. And I have really, really good friends.
Also, Deb Kristina has an essay titled “Small Sacrifices” due out in an anthology called Cup of Comfort for New Mothers. She just learned that book will be released next month from Adams Media, and is available for pre-order. The essay relates how the writing of Liars saved her sanity after the birth of her second child.
Deb Meredith is guest blogging today at http://thelipstickchronicles.typepad.com/ about her funniest Google Alert experience. You can also hear Meredith 2/23/09 at 9:45 AM CST/10:45 AM EST on KORN 1490 AM in SD on the morning show (http://www.1490korn.com), and on 2/25/09 at 7:15 AM EST on the Frank Truatt Morning Show WTBQ in Warwick, NY.
Deb Friend news
Former Deb guest Lisa McMann’s new young adult novel Fade debuted at #10 on the New York Times hardcover chapter book bestseller list! Brava, Lisa!
The Debutante Ball website contains copyrighted material and may not be reused without prior written permission.
The names The Debutante Ball, The Debs, and The Debutantes, and The Debutante Ball
theme and imagery are protected.