When I was ten years old, newly in love with the poetry of Emily Dickinson and my own nascent dreams of being a writer, my fantasies were all about place.
It wasn’t so much what I would write, but where. My answer to that question, until reality intervened, was a breezy pensione on a cobblestone street, with French doors either thrown wide to a Mediterranean breeze or closed tightly against a creeping river fog somewhere in the United Kingdom. The curtains would be gauzy, and the furniture crafted from blood-red mahogany. My bed would be canopied and draped with embroidered silks, as if I was some literary equivalent of Louis the XIV. Somehow (though these fantasies were born in 1985), I was sure I would be able to hear the clip-clop of horse hooves on the cobblestones outside my window. I would write on an old typewriter that clacked and dinged joyously as a manuscript of creamy vellum sheets grew steadily at my elbow with every carriage return.
As I write this post under fluorescent lights in the storage room of the herb shop where I work, brushing chamomile dust and sneaky slivers of oatstraw from my peeling laptop keyboard, I send that ten year-old a head pat across time. I implore her to hold her fantasy loosely, lest she mistakenly assume that the “what” of her writing must be bound in any way to the “where”.
To date, I have never written in a mahogany-furnished redoubt within earshot of horse-drawn carriages and yet, miracle of miracles, I continue to write. I have written on napkins, tissues, grocery receipts, business cards, menus, and in one instance, the inside of an orange peel. I have written in every conceivable form of transportation and in whatever posture was necessary to fit myself into the space available. Sometimes that space was a bathroom stall, or under a table in the company of other people’s knees, or midway through a hike, my fingers clumsy with winter cold. I have “written” by yelling into a voice recorder over the rumble of a diesel engine during long-haul truck-driving shifts, and by sitting in the curated gloom of a music venue, while a musician helped me unlock some problem of plot or character that had me spinning my wheels for days.
Though I prefer to write all alone in a completely silent room, rather than a bustling coffee shop where I might advertise my part in the creative economy via my writerly frown and absent latté-sipping, this too, I now hold loosely. It was easier in my former home state of Vermont (which has more writers per capita than any other state) to find those silent rooms. Silence is one of Vermont’s greatest natural resources. But here in the Bay Area of California, every room is permeable to the sounds of sirens, shouting, traffic helicopters and yes, even my semi-urban neighborhood’s growing goat population. The work I do to pay for my writing addiction means that the place I write is wherever I happen to be when a vernal pool of time appears magically before me. I can quibble about the jackhammer noise outside or the difficulty of tapping into my right brain on a dime in the midst of a left-brain day, but then that vernal pool of time would dry up before I had the chance to splash through it or crouch down and scan it for tadpoles.
The impact of this on my writing has been good (overthinking = overwriting, i.e. adjective and adverb overload) and bad (hasty writing = a dearth of delicious detail). Either way, it still passes the first question on the writer’s litmus test: Is this bad day of writing still better than a good day doing anything else? The upshot is that place does affect process, for good or ill, but the perfect place or time is a luxury few of us can afford. I would be lying if I said that I don’t still yearn for that romantic cloister of my ten year-old imagination, and maybe someday, I will get to live out that fantasy.
Meanwhile, there are kind patrons and friends with extra rooms when the prospect of yet another lunch break spent banging away at my laptop in the storage room overwhelms. I’ve even heard of a mythical thing called an “artist’s residency”, where one might colonize some scenic locale with one’s fellow creatives for a time, with the sole aim of wallowing in words, paints, or what-have-you until one’s masterpiece emerges whole like Diana from Zeus’s skull. For now, though, I chalk it all up to “good material”, kick aside a twenty-pound bag of lavender flowers to make room for myself by the storage bins, and get to work.
The greatest trial Roy Watkins faces isn’t deciding whether she’s gay or straight, male or female, West Virginia country mouse or prep school artistic prodigy. It isn’t even leaving behind her childhood sweetheart Oscar to attend uppity Winchester Academy in the hunt country of Virginia, or acclimating to a circle of friends that now includes privileged Imogen, her sharp but self-conscious sidekick Bugsy, and the tortured Hadley. No, the hardest thing for Roy to face is the world’s expectations about who and what she should be.
As Roy’s journey of self-discovery forces her to cross one hurdle after another, her identity closes in fast. Sooner than she could have ever predicted, she’ll have to decide what that means for her, the people she’s coming to care about, and the life that lies ahead.
Harmony Ink Press: https://www.harmonyinkpress.com/books/being-roy-by-julie-aitcheson-500-b
Julie Aitcheson began her pursuit of writing as a screenwriter, then realized that a little exposition never hurt anyone and switched to books. She has had articles published in Echo Quarterly, Communities Magazine (formerly Talking Leaves Magazine), Isabella, and All Things Girl. Most recently, she received a full fellowship to the 2013 Stowe StoryLabs and won second place in the 2014 San Miguel Writers’ Conference nonfiction writing competition.
Julie lives wherever her bohemian heart takes her, and wherever she can hit the hiking trails when her muse decides to take a personal day. She has worked extensively with young adults as an experiential educator, both across the United States and in India. After spearheading an initiative to assist at-risk youth in becoming trained for green jobs, Julie threw herself into writing stories for young adults that do justice to their intelligence and complex emotional lives. Her childhood growing up in West Virginia, subsequent matriculation at an exclusive all-girls boarding school in Virginia, and former incarnation as a truck driver inspired her to write Being Roy. Her next YA novel, First Girl, is a dystopian piece due out from Harmony Ink in Spring 2018.
Julie continues to seek out unique life experiences to provide grist for the mill of her imagination, including her work as a medical actress at a simulation laboratory. There, she indulged her love of the dramatic arts and her passion for health education while amassing enough writing material to sink a barge.