Robert Duffer is one of those writers who spreads himself around. He is adjunct faculty in the Fiction Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago, and is one of the original members of the crew of RUI: Reading Under the Influence, a Chicago literary gathering. His freelance work has been published in many venues, among them The Chicago Reader, TimeOut Chicago, Chicago Tribune and others. In this installment of View From the Keyboard, Robert Duffer (or just plain “Duffer,” as everyone calls him) invites us into his writing space.
Duffer: Space is mental. It’s like money: you always want more but you do fine working with what you have.
I write here at the kitchen table before anyone wakes up. Lots of windows and southern exposure. Sunlight, daybreak, openness, makes it easier to write poorly at the start of the day, when nothing is formed or flowing but anything is possible. I try to get an hour in each morning. Then I’m writing all day in my head, the story is there, and it gives me energy at night to put in another hour after everyone’s in bed. But if the writing waits till the end of the day, I’m ready for it to be the end of the day. I can rewrite at night but clocking in for an hour of new material becomes an obligation so I’m impatient to get to it, which gets me justifiable comments like, “Why don’t you stop being a dick and go write?” That’s not my five-year-old saying that. Yet.
He’s pictured here, in the basement office/guestroom, playing “JoJo’s Fish Fun” or some such nonsense, on a Dell PC from 2002, which is all it’s good for. There are two desks and two chairs. I don’t know where the second chair came from. The office, sometimes referred to as the man cave, is the opposite of the kitchen table: clustered, cluttered and cramped. In it are taxes, insurance, kid work, warranties—generally, the burden of owning shit—and an unpublished novel, a couple unfinished novels, notebooks, a box of clips, a fucking Lego that I step on no matter how much I vacuum (not often), and other collisions of the family and writing life. The basement space is where projects are either completed or buried. I write there for three-hour stretches on many Saturday and Sunday mornings. This is why Wife likes the man cave as much as I do.
This [excerpt] is from The Affairess. Lyle has decided to stop stalking The Affairess and instead wipes out on his bike while pursuing her husband, Gary, in his car.
The Affairess (an excerpt)
Lyle couldn’t look at him, kept his scarf bunched up over his face. He was embarrassed and ashamed. Had he slowed down instead of racing the car he would’ve found out where they lived, at a distance. Too excitable, Shelly always said, pressing her hands down as if he were a hyper dog. Lyle pressed his hands down and glanced past the man’s knees; his bike light had smashed into a handful of pieces in the curb before the man’s car. He reached up to where it once was on his helmet and felt a deep welt, warmer than the rest of his helmet and scuffed. Wow. Did he hit the curb head first, or maybe he hit the pole? Good thing his head broke his fall or he could’ve gotten seriously hurt. How would he have explained that to Shelly? Going away from the train station, in the opposite direction of their house? A succession of excuses short fired then sputtered on their illogic. He had to get control of himself, had to leave these people alone.
The man shifted to his haunches. Did he do yoga? Lyle didn’t think he could squat like that. He was able to see around him to the license plate–AH 2748, plates expire in November, guard that said U of M and WOLVERINES on bottom. Lyle was being a fool; this was an opportunity he couldn’t have planned.
“I just need a place to clean up,” Lyle said, looking over his knees back to the patch where he slipped, where the car had turned, seeking out a corollary between the car turning and his accident.
“What about your bike?”
“It’ll take me just a minute to true the wheel. I have my gear. But I can’t go to work like this.” Lyle looked into the man’s eyes, which were wet and expectant—pregnant with pity.