View From the Keyboard ~ An Open Call

Is it because I am a writer, or am I just plain nosy? There is something about peeking into other folks’ lives and habitats that I find fascinating. Should I confess? I am a bit of a voyeur.

I remember one winter’s eve when I was writer-in-residence at Interlochen Arts Academy a couple of months after September 11, 2001, and I was in the backseat of a colleague’s Subaru as we headed across snowy landscapes to a restaurant on one of the many small lakes up north in Michigan. All that snow and all that dark, dark sky made the houses, few and far between, loom up from the shadows, their windows bright and glowing from the lights within. And as we passed, I looked in each of them, saw husbands and wives sitting in reclining chairs staring at a television set bringing that time’s bad news from the world. I saw an old man with a messy ring of white hair dressed in a flannel robe sitting by himself at a kitchen table, his face tilted towards a big bowl of something. I saw children reading and children playing video games. I saw empty rooms. And despite the cold and the snow-covered earth and the bleak blackness of the sky and the knowledge that things out there, out in the world beyond the warmth of the Subaru, were a bit out of our–of my–control, I found comfort in these quick, bright glimpses of the lives of others.

I’m in the city now, and at night walking or driving or sitting in my third floor apartment with a unique view of this Chicago neighborhood, I continue to look towards the windows of light, to see what art my neighbors hang on their walls, what is playing on their absurdly wide-screen television sets, where their cats like to sit, what they wear in the evenings, who still has Christmas decorations up (it is, after all, April, folks!) I am drawn to and enamored with these surroundings not my own.

And so, it is in that spirit of voyeurism, maybe, that I invite you, my writerly friends, to submit to me a picture of your writing space. I’ll call this segment of the blog “View From the Keyboard,” but know that I am not limiting submissions to those of you who write on a keyboard. Whatever space you write in, whatever tools you use to write, whatever trinkets or photos or books or animals or libations, etc.,  you surround yourself with can be part of your photo. I’d also like to know what you are writing. And once I start to gather these submissions, I will begin to post them now and again, and share your spaces and your writing with others as well.

The How:

  1. Take a photo of your writing space (with or without you in it.)
  2. Write a brief description/explanation of this space. Say whatever you want about it. Some ideas–why this space? What little thing here inspires you? What can’t we see in the photo? How much time do you spend there? What time of day do you write? And so on. You get the idea.
  3. Submit–if you are willing–no more than 250 words of something you have written in this space.
  4. Self-promote anything you might want to here. Website? Publications? Etc.
  5. Make sure to let me know how to contact you in return.
  6. Send jpeg of photo. Cut and paste text into an email. Send to templeofair@gmail.com
  7. In your email, please put the words “I agree to let Patricia McNair edit this submission for publication on her website/blog.” And don’t submit if you don’t agree to this. I will respect your work and your words as best I can.

The What Next:

  1. Be patient. I will respond as soon as I can. I am hoping to use each submission I get, but may have to discriminate along the way depending on number of submissions and their appropriateness.
  2. I will contact you if I use your submission on my blog, but may post it before you receive and respond to the notification (see #7 above.)
  3. Check back regularly to see what others are posting. Share the site with friends. Expand this community of writers.

Finally;

  • Thanks in advance to everyone who participates in any way, either by submitting, reading, or sharing. Looking forward to hearing from you!

On All That Goes Into It + an Interview Excerpt

Who would have thought that when one works with a small, conscientious, and very professional independent press on a book release that there would be so much for a writer to be part of along the way? I am stunned by how much it takes to make a book, and even more stunned by how much my publisher and editor and book designer, et al, continue to do to make this debut come to life. Each day something new has to be undertaken, accomplished, sent off, put to bed, etc. And I am lucky to be able to be part of so many of the decisions. I can’t help but think of those authors I know who talk about how they weren’t happy with this decision their publishers made, or that image on the cover, or how they weren’t consulted along the way. Not so in the case of The Temple of Air. I can’t tell you how fortunate I am to be working with Elephant Rock Books under the thoughtful direction of Jotham Burrello.

For instance, Dan Prazer, book editor for ERB, came to my office (HE came to MY office!) and spent a good long time asking questions and follow-up questions about the book, my process, etc. This he did for the Reader’s Guide included in the collection. Below is a small sampling of what we talked about:

Q: What was your starting point for The Temple of Air?

A: I wanted to write about this place, a place that became New Hope. It’s a loose composite of Mount Vernon, Iowa, where I went to school, and Solon, Iowa, where I lived for a while, and Mount Carroll, Illinois, which is a small town where I have a house now, and upper northern Michigan. All of these places, to me, are very much Midwestern, but at the same time, very rolling and very woody. A lot of people think of the Midwest as Nebraska, flat plains, and I wanted to challenge that perception somewhat.

I also very much wanted to write about faith, religion, magic, superstition. What can we believe? What matters to us? What is at the helm? I mean for a number of these stories to be, for lack of a better word, spiritual, full of faith, but not blinded by it.

The story “The Temple of Air” came to me when I was watching a bad cable show about magicians and this one guy, this hip new magician actually floated. He lifted himself up a few feet in the air on a New York city street. There was a girl in the show who was watching him, and she totally freaked out. She started shaking and squealing and said something like, “It’s my birthday, and I saw a man float.” Something about that combination of words stuck with me. I also happen to be a bit of a birthday baby, so these things, observation and emotion, came together for me. In the story there’s a girl who sees something (or perhaps doesn’t see something) similar on her own birthday.

There’s a relationship mentioned between a couple of characters, Michael and Sky, toward the end of that story. As I was writing that story, I knew—in that way writers seem to know things about their characters—that they’d been friends a long time ago, but aren’t friends anymore. It took me about a year to figure out what their friendship was a long time ago and how they had separated. And that’s when the first story, “Something Like Faith,” came to me.

“Something Like Faith” was inspired from something I witnessed while riding on the big Navy Pier Ferris Wheel in Chicago. These parents were just letting their kid run around the gondola as we were going in this huge circle high above Lake Michigan and Navy Pier. It made me queasy to even watch. It made the ride so incredibly unpleasant for me, and I couldn’t get the idea out of my head — what would happen if this kid fell?  I had to write it out to find out what would happen, and how this tragic event might affect its witnesses.

Once I finished SLF, I had the first story and the last of the collection.

Q: Is that useful to you as a writer, to know the bookends in order to fill in the middle?

A: I think once I figured out that this was the inciting chapter, for lack of a better word, and that the other was the ending chapter, then the rest began to fall into place. So it became useful to me the more I wrote and explored.  Only it took me a while; I didn’t immediately recognize it as a place to start putting together the collection.  I am not certain I knew I was working on a collection in the beginning. I was just writing stories that pulled at me.

I think we write a lot of things by accident. In the story “The Way It Really Went,” there is a section where the couple is in bed and the husband starts to have these dreams and the wife cuddles up to him. That was just an exploration in a journal, and I was sitting in on a class with (Fiction Writing Department Chair) Randy Albers just to keep the writing going in my first semester of teaching full-time at Columbia College Chicago. And I read the journal entry out loud but said, “This is just an exploration. This isn’t going to be part of the piece,” and somebody in that class, who is now also a faculty member, said, “What the hell are you talking about? It’s got to be in the piece.” I don’t know that I would have figured that out without somebody telling me. Maybe I would have, but it probably would have taken me longer.

I use my journal a lot to discover various parts of story, and it has happened more than once that I’ve written something then forgotten about it, only to fine it later and put it to good use.  Sort of like when you drop your jigsaw puzzle pieces on the floor, and try to put it all together but there’s still this hole. In frustration you start searching, turning over cushions and looking under things. Then you move the couch, and there it is, the piece that had gone missing. And now you can fill the hole. (from “Interview with Patricia Ann McNair,” by Dan Prazer, Reader’s Guide, The Temple of Air)

—I’ll add more interviews and the like as we move forward with this project, but just wanted to take a minute to marvel over—and express gratitude for—what we have accomplished so far.

Thanks Dan.  Thanks ERB.