Sunday, October 2, 2011

Where I Go When I Write

"Funny how you could be in one place and, a split second later, be in another place entirely, I thought, pushing my hands deeper into my pockets as I picked up my pace." - Lindsey, The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen

When I read books in middle school, I wasn't in Atlanta at the time of Gone with the Wind nor in any of the locations set forth by other novels. Inexplicably, in my mind, I was always at the P.E. fields at Riverside Elementary in Coral Springs, Florida, where I attended the second half of second grade to fifth grade. There was the kickball field at the back, the basketball courts next to it, separated by high chain link fencing with an opening in the middle, and miscellaneous fields near the outdoor area that had concrete flooring, with a roof over it. If this was an office building, that area would have been the loading dock. Behind that building was the playground with tetherball poles and monkey bars.

In high school, all that was gone. When I got into a book, I was wherever the characters were, whatever the author was describing. I imagined it all.

The quote from The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen is Lindsey thinking about where she's gone in her life, from being fired by the prestigious advertising firm she worked for in New York City to being one-half of a dating service with a woman named May, intent on making her a full partner so she can travel to India as she's always dreamed. Lindsey is obviously thinking about the split-second impact of life, going from the life you thought you were supposed to have, to a life you never even envisioned. But for me, that quote is about where I am in my head when I'm writing. Not like I am now, but when I'm deep in my writing projects, working to hopefully be published again by the time I'm 30.

When I co-wrote What If They Lived?, I was always on the second floor of the now-formerly-named "M" building at College of the Canyons, the media building, near the door to the screening room that served many film classes, especially when I was writing my James Dean essay. I think that was because even though I enjoyed those film classes that I took only for credit (and which were always easy A grades), I was always on the outside, being that most of the movies shown were ones I had already seen many times, and when the teacher (who was also the golf coach for the girls' team) left for the period after putting on the movie, I left for the library, preferring to spend my time amidst worlds I didn't yet know.

So now I'm thinking of where I want to be in my head with the writing projects I have stacked up, and especially a new one that cropped up over the past week, which will tap into what I partly learned about the machinations of the studio system while writing What If They Lived?, but examined differently. I need a place that's full of good memories, that is relaxing all the time, that puts no pressure on me. A safe haven, where I can just walk around in my head, unsnarling problematic passages, mulling over what I've found in my research, figuring out how best to tell the stories that I've thought about.

And I've hit upon it. Before it was known as the 9th grade campus of Flanagan High, the campus of portables in Pembroke Pines, Florida (near the condo I lived in in Grand Palms) was home for a time to the 7th grade class of Silver Trail Middle before the school was fully built. We were there for the first half of the school year and then, over winter break, Dad and the rest of the teachers moved everything necessary into their new classrooms on the permanent campus. I spent part of my winter break with Dad doing exactly that, so I got a preview of the campus and knew where all my classes would be before the other kids arrived for the second half of the school year and tried to figure out where everything was.

But my fondest time in those portables was in 9th grade. Flanagan High had the 9th graders there because the main campus was overcrowded. In my first weeks as a 10th grader there, I thought I saw parts of the buildings bulging.

It was amidst those portables that I met Sara Mangan, who was my first serious crush. She was more mature than a healthy majority of the girls on campus, and I was impressed by that. She was incredibly smart, and I could sense a fellow voracious reader, and it was no wonder that there were many others during that year who gravitated to her. Unfortunately, she let me down easy when I got to the point where I thought I could let her know how I felt, because she was in a long-distance relationship that she wanted to stick with. It was worth the hug, though.

Nevertheless, we remained friends, still are, and she's a most trusted voice when I'm batting around writing project ideas. Currently, she's in her first year of law school at Florida State University, looking to fight human trafficking, and I think she's going to be one of the greatest lawyers the profession has ever witnessed. In a recent e-mail, I asked her what jurisdiction cases were, since she mentioned on her Facebook profile that she was studying them in class, even as the "FSU plague" made its way around the school (Colds and all), and she explained it so clearly to me that it was as if I was taking the same class alongside her. Back in late August, she sent me the first page of a story she's writing, a hobby to keep during the "madness that is the first year of law school," as she expressed it, being told that it's important to keep hobbies during that time, and I want more of that story. What better inspiration to have as a writer than a fellow reader and writer? I also remember her friend Stacey (or Stacy) back then, who let me borrow her VHS tapes of Tomorrow Never Dies, which introduced me to James Bond and set me on a course of the entire series becoming my Star Wars, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, taking much of its comedic inspiration from the Bond series.

But it's not only those events that make me go back to that campus with this new project and the other projects still in play. It's because of the peace I found there, of those wide-open fields, of those walkways between clusters of portables. There, I don't worry about what books have already been written about the subjects I want to cover (I don't worry about them anyway, but they are something to consider, finding what wasn't answered and attempting to answer it on my own through what I find), I don't think about my goal to be published again by the time I'm 30, I don't think about anything dealing with the book business. I just set about writing the book I want to read, which is possible since I have much more fun editing than writing. I enjoy writing, but I love playing around with words while editing, moving sentences around, deleting what doesn't work and replacing it with new words, sentences or paragraphs. I find an all-encompassing peace by being on that campus again in my head. My world is wide enough as it is right now, but it's even more vast over there again. I stroll over those walkways often, thinking about what I've written, wondering what more I can add, or what I don't need in my book. It's a constant inspiration.

And this is coming from someone who partly grew up going to Walt Disney World every weekend and sometimes during the week just for dinner.


  1. How come characters in books and movies always have careers at prestigious firms, are editors at magazines, are successful writers, lawyers, whatever? How come characters are never just plain old schlubs like me? You know, people who can't find a job and have no where to go but down and downer.


  2. Start with "Post Office" by Charles Bukowski. Through his alter ego, Henry Chinaski, Bukowski recounts his 12 years working for the United States Postal Service. It's bawdy, funny, drunk, and on the level of us plain old schlubs.