Knock, Please

For the second time this year, we have winter precipitation here at the farm. Initially it was more sleet than snow, powering down like rain on steroids, and piling into shallow white drifts. Now I see soft blobs of snow floating down. This is a good day to sit at my kitchen desk, dressed in a turtleneck, a sweatercoat, and a shawl, a heater beside me, a cat in my lap, and write. The magazine publishing timeline being what it is, my stories are always at least a season ahead; on Sunday, I finished a May piece, and now I’m working on one for June.

I spent the first half of Thursday working on that portion in my sci-fi novella in which the villain expounds all his evil deeds to the protagonist. We can’t do without a monologuing villain, can we? Without the villain explaining what he did and why, we would be left with a bewildering sequence of events, minus crucial elements of plot and motivation, cause and effect, action and reaction. Real life is often like that, at least from a temporal perspective. But we want our stories to have meaning, emotional impact, payoff.

So I took a break from my villain’s monologue to check email. I had a message from an editor, asking if I could “whip up” a story for the May issue and have it to her Sunday morning. She outlined a basic plot, sturdy enough to provide a framework, loose enough to allow some freedom. I got right on it, and after 17.5 (nonconsecutive) hours of work, the story was done. I emailed it to the editor right before walking out the door for morning church and felt quite pleased with myself.

My office comprises a space of about sixty by sixty inches in the kitchen—the width of my desk plus some floor space. I feel sensitive about my workspace, and sometimes wish, like Les Nessman, to delineate its perimeter with tape and require people to knock on the invisible door before entering. People like to come stand by my space heater, and often I return to my office after a brief absence to find one of the kids ensconced on my desk chair, reading a book.

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