Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bath Festival of Children's Literature Day 1

Visiting Bath, entering the Guildhall for the Bath Festival of Kids Lit, is rather like walking into the Cheers bar. Everyone knows my name, everyone's glad I came. It's a good feeling.

This past week I've chatted with John McLay, one of my lecturers on on my MA, and the co-Artistic Director. I caught up with Julia Green, amazing author and my tutor on my MA. I touched base with several other Bath Spa MA people, tutors, former students, current students, and we talked writing, books, authors, agents, life. But even more strangely, after almost four years in the UK, I know some of the authors and publishers, too. It's been like a big, wonderful writing party.

So in between all the late nights, and long buses back and forth to Bath, I figured I should catch you up on it all.

I started Saturday by volunteering at the Geraldine McCaughrean and Caroline Lawrence event. The two authors were thrown together because they have Western-themed books coming out. But it was a fascinating conversation as they discovered how different they are. McCaughrean is a pantser (though she didn't call herself that!), inspired by character, and doesn't think much of sequels (though she acquiesced to writing this one because she loved her characters so much). Lawrence has of course made her name with her Roman Mysteries stories, she's inspired by setting, and is a total plotter. Lawrence kept mentioning how she plots using 7 steps, so when I got home, I had to look up her website to see the 7 steps. Hah! She's a John Truby devotee. What a coincidence!

The second event I saw might be the best children's lit event ever. It was Kristina Stephenson, author and illustrator of the Sir Charlie Stinky Socks books. She sang about farts and beans, she danced. Her musician husband had written an entire score for her reading. She recruited her children for speaking roles. She had a complete stage set (in her former life, she was a costume and set designer) with moving parts, pop up characters, mountains, castles. Her audience of parents and toddlers were mesmerized. I was mesmerized! Later, I was told the Festival often refers to them as the Von Trapp family. You can hear (audio only, unfortunately) one of Kristina Stephenson's readings here.

But I have to say, the best part of the day was what happened between those two events. Apparently, I had been noticed when I entered the room. No, not for my sunny disposition or cute new haircut. I was the shortest volunteer. So, given my advantageous height, the Festival asked if I'd be willing to dress up as Horrid Henry, so he could make an appearance to greet his fans.

The picture isn't me, by the way, but one from Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon's website. I wish I had had a camera handy, but it all happened so quickly. One minute I was happily volunteering, the next minute I had two Festival volunteers helping me dress in this ginormous plush costume. They warned me it would be crazy hot, we practiced signals to let them know when I was getting tired, so I wouldn't pass out inside Horrid Henry. But what I didn't expect was how horrid Horrid Henry's head would be. I had to put it on sideways, where the opening was biggest, then turn it to face forward. I couldn't see ANYTHING, and was totally enveloped in this giant, close-fitting, dark head. I've always been slightly claustrophobic, so for a moment, I really wasn't sure I could do it. But I would've had to disappoint all Henry's fans. Plus, I wanted to say I had done it!

I'm so glad I stuck around. Once I got outside the green room, and got mobbed by children, it was actually easier. They were all so excited to hug me and touch me and get a high five or a photo with me (never mind that I couldn't see ANYTHING and had to pat out with my hands to find their heads--my keeper assured me I did a fine job). I danced, gave the kids bunny ears, made faces, and wished I could see and really interact with everyone. But it was definitely one of the most fun things I've ever done.

Though taking off the costume was pretty fun, too. Fresh air!

Monday I sat in on a talk by Cathy Cassidy, Joanna Nadin, Samantha Macintosh, and Karen McCombie (the Queens of Teen), and another by Meg Rosoff, David Almond, and Melvin Burgess. Then Tuesday night I went to a Bristol talk by David Almond. All of them blew me away. More posts to come, I promise!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Seven Stories: The national home of children's books in Britain

I'm well aware you're probably sick of hearing me babble about how great my trip to Newcastle was. But I couldn't not mention my visit to Seven Stories, the National Home of Children's Books in Britain. How cool is that? So just one more Newcastle post!

Seven Stories displayed a balance of kid-friendly stuff and a rich collection of materials for adults interested in children's books. I visited an exhibit on the production of children's books (acquisition, editing, cover design, etc), the history of Puffin Books from inception to modern day, and an exhibit on picture book author and illustrator Anthony Browne. The museum was full of editorial letters, correspondence, rough sketches--everything involving British children's books, making me realize how much I've absorbed of this world since moving to the UK. The most fascinating tidbit was a letter from a Puffin editor to Robert Westall requesting he omit some of the swearing in the second edition of his debut (and award-winning) novel, The Machine Gunners. Westall did not comply (more about this incident, and other background material about Robert Westall, can be found on Seven Stories' website). The information placards frequently had small text saying such and such additional tidbit, while not on display, could be found in their archives. It made me yearn for a day (or a week!) to crawl around behind the scenes.

But of course the museum had to make room for all their wonderful, kid-friendly attractions, too. The Anthony Browne exhibit was decorated with scenes from his books, so you felt as if you were walking into a picture book, complete with a forest, fun mirrors, and a house. The Puffin exhibit had a Stig of the Dump cave for kids to crawl through. The top floor of the museum was devoted to dress-up and story time, the bottom floor to crafts. And everywhere you looked were baskets of picture books, enabling people to sit down anywhere and read the rest of the story.

Not only is Seven Stories an incredible place to visit (with children or without!), but they do regular events. Shaun Tan spoke the day before I arrived (shoot!). So if you're going to be in the area (or if you need an excuse to visit Newcastle!), you can check out their events calendar.

Is there any other museum like this in the US? One of my writing friends tells me that the Roald Dahl Museum in Buckinghamshire (just northwest of London) has a similar vibe. That might be next on the itinerary.

*Both pictures are mine, the top one shows the back of Seven Stories, the bottom the Seven Stories boat.*

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bath Festival of Children's Literature

The Bath Festival of Children's Literature opens tonight. Yay!

I posted more about the Festival last year, and some of the great talks I went to here and here, so I don't have much more to say. But if you're in the area, and have the chance to check out some of this year's talks, I highly recommend it!

I'll be volunteering at events featuring Dame Jacqueline Wilson (what a rock star author! I can't wait!), Caroline Lawrence, Geraldine McCaughrean, Melvin Burgess, David Almond, and Meg Rosoff (one of my favorite authors, I really can't wait!). Plus I'll be attending Bath Spa University's event, Writing for Children and Teenagers, featuring my tutor Julia Green, the amazing author in residence Marcus Sedgwick, and recent published graduates Samuel Gayton, Gill Lewis, and Karen Saunders.

It does mean life will be a little crazy, though, so I'll be posting less on the blog. But I'll be sure to share all my thoughts on the events and any tidbits I learn from these amazing authors.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Respecting my time

The other morning I was working in my cafe when my landlord called.

Technicians had been at the house the day before, installing cable for my new upstairs neighbor. They hadn't finished the job properly, wires were exposed to the elements, and a storm was on the way. My landlord was concerned my neighbor and I were going to lose internet access, so asked if I could call the technicians.

My cafe is only down the street from my house, and I really didn't want to lose the internet, so I didn't think to question my landlord. But I was steamed. I had been right in the middle of a scene, and now I had to drop everything, walk home, and call my internet provider.

I bumped into my landlord in front of the house. I asked if he had called my upstairs neighbor. "No," he said. "She works full time, so I really didn't want to bother her when you were around."

Then he looked at me, noticed my coat and bag, and said, "Sorry, I thought you were home."

"I was just at the cafe down the street," I said.

"Must be nice having a life of leisure," he said.

I went inside then, because if I had talked with him any longer I might have snapped. Honestly, it's not entirely his fault. He doesn't know I'm writing. But still, life of leisure?!

I called the technicians, spent twenty minutes arguing on the phone, before finally realizing there was no way they'd come out to the house on my request, as the job was connected with my upstairs neighbor's account.

I went outside and wrapped a plastic bag over the wires. Then I called my landlord to tell him to do what he should have done originally: call my upstairs neighbors.

By the time I sat down to finish my scene, I had lost an hour of writing time.

But at least my lesson was learned. Next time my landlord calls during my work hours, I'm not answering the phone.

If I don't respect my time, how can I expect anyone else to?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Write what you love

There are some writers who only read and write in one genre. For example, I have a good friend who only reads realistic, literary fiction. She read the first two Harry Potter books and gave up. They were good, but they just weren't her thing, she wasn't interested.

Then there are people who read almost everything put in front of them. Literary fiction, sci-fi, comic books, horror, historical fiction... And yes, that has been my reading list for the past month! Everyone has things they can't get excited about, but most writers I know fall into this latter category: we'll read just about anything as long as it's good.

So, if we're not a sci-fi gal, or a historical fiction guy, how do we decide what to write? Especially if publishers are going to expect us to stick more or less to the same genre with each book? I've struggled with this before (Do you read what you write?), but this past year I've managed to stumble across some good answers, so I thought I would share those with you.

Betsy Lerner in her book The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers encourages writers simply to look at what they read, especially at what they return to over and over again. I found this advice maddening at first, given my omnivorous appetite for books, but on reflection it made more and more sense. There are commonalities in the things I love. It's not a genre, unfortunately. I can't get off so easily and say I want to be a realistic, literary writer. But the books I love do have plenty of similarities.

John Truby in his book The Anatomy of Story (which I reviewed two weeks ago) has a more general approach. He encourages writers in search of an idea to make a list of "everything you would like to see up on the screen, in a book, or at the theater. It's what you are passionately interested in, and it's what entertains you." Agents do this frequently in trying to describe their interests to potential clients. Why can't we as writers do the same?

Then there's this genius writing exercise from genius author Laurie Halse Anderson. Make a list of the things you're most afraid of. Use one in a story. Talk about a foolproof way to inject passion into your writing!

This past month I've done all three of these exercises. And combined them into one giant list of the things I'm passionate about (passionate with love or fear, all the same list!). So when my current idea was ticking off several items on the list, I knew I had a winner. Further, amongst all the commonalities, I was beginning to get a very good sense of the type of writer I wanted to be. Even better? The list is a keeper. I can see dozens of other ideas emerging from it.

Do you have a clear and defined genre? If not, how do you decide what to write? Any other suggestions?

Friday, September 16, 2011

So, uh, Project Demo?

After taking almost two months off, for once I have a backlog of things to discuss on the blog. But I've had a few people catch me out on Twitter and here and say, "Wait... are you working on something new?" So I figured I should share a writing update. And while I'm at it, I feel the need to have a bit of a conversation with Project Demo. Why not listen in?

So, uh, Project Demo? How's it going? I know we haven't been hanging out much for the past week, but...

We had good times, though, right? I love that scene with the stars. And your characters. M always makes me laugh.

No, don't jump to any conclusions! This isn't a break up. This is just...

I still think about you. All the time. Well, occasionally. I just think if we had some time apart, some time to do our own thing, see other people, maybe...

Okay, fine, I'll be honest. Sometimes I hate you. I hate that your climax is so stupidly complicated. I hate that your antagonist is so multi-faceted he makes my head hurt. I even hate that M doesn't always seem to have an arc. Yes, I know I said she's funny... but she's got to have an arc!

Sometimes I wish I could bundle you all up and throw you on the fire and be done with you!

Yes, yes, I realize you're saved on my hard drive, my back up hard drive, my email... But that has to mean something, right? All that violence? You know I'm not typically a violent person.

Sure I loved you. I mean... I love you! Of course! But you're always so dark and depressed. It's like a funeral when I'm with you, a funeral every day. Where's the hope?

What? No! Of course there's no one else. How could I? I BELIEVE in you. You're a beautiful, powerful, complex story.

No, I mean complex in a good way.

Okay, fine! There is someone else! Someone fun! With younger characters! And it doesn't wear black all the time, and it isn't mopey! And this time I'm going to do it right. I'm going to plan everything at the beginning, so I know exactly what I'm doing, so there won't be any overly-complicated climaxes and characters without arcs.

No, I won't get bored with it! I won't lose my creativity in the process! Because this project is fun and fresh and original and...

But don't leave me, okay? I'm not sure about this. Sometimes I want to be dark, too. And serious. And I wasn't kidding earlier, when I said that thing about believing in you.

Project Demo?


What does it mean that I'm such a violent, two-timing user in my head?

Anyway, that's the plan. I'm hoping this time away from Project Demo will be a good thing, and I can come back and pull together all these final strands and send it out. But in the meantime, I AM playing with something new.

I'm calling it Project Fun.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Further inspiration: the work of Maurizio Anzeri

Monday I posted about my inspirational visit to the Robert Breer gallery at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

I know I'm milking this Newcastle trip for all it's worth on the blog, but I really have to share about the Baltic's Maurizio Anzeri exhibit, too. Thankfully his art was a little more understandable than Breer's floating igloos. The Baltic website explains: "Using portraits from the 1930s and 1940s collected at flea markets, Anzeri overlays abstract designs by sewing intricately patterned threads directly onto the photographic surface. Obscuring part of the photograph he both hides and heightens certain features of the face. His precise juxtapositions transform the discarded image, giving his portraits a disquieting and psychological presence."

I'm not sure you can tell from the images how disquieting, and mesmerizing, Anzeri's art is. You know that strange feeling you sometimes get when looking at black and white photographs? Moments frozen in time, people you hardly knew, relatives who will never be that young again? Anzeri captures that same effect, then plays with it, emphasizes it.

Here he explains his process:

"I put tracing paper over the photo and draw on the face until it develops. Sometimes the image comes straight away, suggested by a detail on a dress or in the background, but with the majority of them I spend a lot of time drawing. Once the drawing is done, I pierce the photo with a set of needle-like tools I invented and take the paper away; the holes are obsessively paced at the same distance to convey an idea of geometry. When I begin the stitching something else happens, drawing will never do what thread will – the light changes, and at some points you can lose the face, and at others you can still see under it.
.. Like a costume or other identity, my work reveals something that is behind the face that suddenly becomes in front. It’s like a mask – not a mask you put on, but something that grows out of you."

His words (which I heard in a video at the Baltic, and have copied from the Saatchi Gallery's website) seem to say a lot to writers developing character, too. There's always that person on the outside, visible to everyone, but then the inner side, too, the secrets we hide, our true selves.

And yet, for as much as this is a common idea about character, look at the unique place Anzeri's creativity has taken him. I find that pretty inspirational, too.

I bought two postcards of his work, and they've been keeping me company at my table while I start on my next project... but more on that Friday!

You can read more about Maurizio Anzeri and see further examples of his art on this page at the Saatchi Gallery's website.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Watch very closely

While in Newcastle (see here for pictures of my trip!), I visited the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

I've always found art galleries incredibly inspirational, and in the midst of finishing my revision of Project Demo and starting a new project, I figured I needed as much inspiration as I could get.

I wasn't disappointed.

The best fun was the Robert Breer exhibit. The door to the exhibit hall had several conspicuously posted warnings about how fragile the art was to the slightest touch, and to be careful of bags, children, etc. That piqued my interest.

I stepped through the doorway behind a mother with two young sons. The guard stationed just inside made sure she knew about the fragile art, while I looked around. The room was filled with white igloos (see picture) and a few other randomly assorted objects. It was absolutely bizarre. I turned to the explanatory board on the side of the room, read about how Breer was fascinated with movement, animation, and film, though none of that seemed to explain the igloos. So as the guard guided the family over to the igloo, my ears perked up.

"Watch it very closely," he said to the boys.

They all gathered in close. I couldn't tell if he was playing games with them (something security personnel in art museums don't normally do) or dead serious. All I saw was a white igloo. I watched with them.

Then the mother gasped. "It's moving!" she said.

The guard and family talked a bit more, but I had to see this for myself. I edged closer to the igloo, stared at it as the guard had suggested. It WAS moving, fractionally, ever so slowly gliding across the floor.

The kids pelted the guard with questions. The best: "Do they [the igloos] ever crash into each other?" Apparently they do, but at very slow speeds.

I lingered over each object in the room. Mostly igloos, but also tiny igloos fixed with ink that drew pictures on a board below. Also crumpled up fabrics, small styrofoam wedges, and a huge right angle wall, all moving.

I visited the other exhibit room on Robert Breer next, which had some of his animation, films, and flip books. But I was really struck by the igloos. They were so creepy. And silent. And MOVING.

And I might have missed the entire experience, just thought it was a room full of random vaguely igloo-shaped objects, if I hadn't caught the guard explaining it to the family. After all, how often do we watch very closely?

In doing research for this post, I just discovered that Robert Breer passed away August 11th. I'm so sorry.

Wednesday I'll post on my other inspiration from the Baltic.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Exploring North East England

The past few months of writing haven't been all stress. Phil and I managed to squeeze in a brief jaunt to Newcastle two weeks ago.

Regular readers probably realize this has been a difficult past year for me. I've gotten pretty good at expecting life not to turn out as planned. And I had a few additional worries going into this trip: would I get enough done beforehand that I could justify not working for four days? Would I have enough to do in proportion to the time away? (Phil would be attending a conference for two of those days, so I would be on my own).

Yet somehow this trip ended up being almost magical in how smoothly it went, how fortuitous we were, and how inspirational it was to my writer brain.

Even the flights, from Bristol to Newcastle, and home again, were both several minutes early. Weird, huh? In a good way.

Also, I could spend several pages raving about Newcastle. A small, walkable city, with beautiful architecture, an incredibly extensive and efficient metro (leaps and bounds better public transportation than Bristol, which is twice its size!). Not only were there numerous museums and ancient attractions (Hadrian's Wall, castles, cathedrals), the metro meant we could cover more ground, even make it out to the sea. And the food! Delicious!

Anyway, enough babble, let me share some pictures.

This is the New Castle that gives the city its name:

The big brick building is the Baltic, an old flour mill that's been converted into a contemporary art museum. The bridge in front is the Millennium Bridge, the world's only tilting bridge.

It only "tilts" once a day, to let ships through. Phil and I happened to walk out of dinner just as it started. So glad we caught this:

I'll post more about the Baltic on Monday, as I had such a great inspirational experience inside.

I ended up exploring a bit of Newcastle as I walked to Seven Stories, the UK's only children's book museum. Too cool for school, huh?! I'll have to post more about the museum in the coming weeks, too.

But the walk there was a fascinating mixture of Newcastle's old industrial side and natural beauty. I ended up outside a miniature farm (the roosters were going nuts!), staring at this view:

Then I saw this sign (if you can't see, it says "Wytchcraft") and figured, okay, I'm game.

I followed a path along the river all the way to the docks. Here's the back of Seven Stories, another revived industrial building (the one with the blue trim. And yes, it really is seven stories):

It's got a boat out back:

Further along the river:

I wish I could share two thousand more Newcastle pictures. I have them!

Anyway, let me share a bit of North East England, too.

Here's Vindolanda, a ruined fort along Hadrian's Wall. The structures in the distance are reconstructions of guard posts along the wall.

This is part of the actual wall:

Remote, rugged, and beautiful, isn't it? (incidentally, both pictures were taken within three hours of each other. Ah, English weather).

We went to Durham to see its famous cathedral. Here's the front doors, with a replica knocker (the real one is inside):

One of my regrets about flying into Newcastle was missing the Angel of the North, the famous statue that stands along the highway (picture from Wikipedia):

But it was a lucky trip. Guess what we saw outside the train window as we traveled back from Durham to Newcastle?

Then a friend visiting the conference with Phil tipped us off about how easy it was to take the metro to the coast. He sold us when he mentioned Tynemouth's ruined castle and priory.

Again, way too many pictures to do it justice, but here's one I like of me considering the ruined cathedral.

And here's a picture looking back at the site, the castle in the background, the priory in the center, the graveyard, and the abandoned coast guard station to the right:

Then we walked along the coast, stopped at the fish market for fresh fish and chips, and later that evening caught our (early) plane home.

Trips don't get much better than this.

All pictures, except the Angel of the North, were taken by me or Phil.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of writing craft books out there. Some are literary and a pleasure to read (Stephen King's On Writing, Jane Yolen's Take Joy). Others are purely practical instruction manuals, complete with graphs and exercises (James Scott Bell's Plot & Structure, Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel). By the way, I would highly recommend all of the above!

But I think it's hard to find The Right writing craft books, ones which speak to your individual thinking and writing style, and meet you at the stage where you need to be met.

So I'd like to share my thoughts on John Truby's The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller. For me it was an incredibly useful read, and a book I look forward to keeping close by on my reference shelf. And hopefully my thoughts will help you know whether it might serve useful for your writing as well.

Firstly, to define genres, Truby is definitely in the "practical instruction manual" camp of craft books. As my writing friend Elisabeth (blogging at FictionForge; she reviewed The Anatomy of Story here) told me, if you like lists, you'll like Truby. That's it in a nutshell.

Truby breaks stories into different elements, plot, setting, character, etc., then dissects those elements further. For example, in his chapter on character, he breaks character types into hero, main opponent, second opponent, third opponent, ally, fake-ally opponent, fake-opponent ally (yes, those are two different things), and sub-plot characters.

Each chapter ends with a list of exercises, and an example of those exercises as shown in another story (frequently a classic movie; his favorites are The Godfather, Tootsie, and Casablanca).

Truby covers most aspects of a novel, plot, setting, character, theme, dialogue, symbol. And better yet, each chapter builds on the one before, so if you read through the book step by step, and do all of Truby's exercises, by the end you will have a thoroughly mapped out guide to your book. And not only that, but each element will be connected to each other element. Your characters' weaknesses will be intrinsically connected to their opponents' hopes, for example.

Nothing is simplistic about Truby's analysis, either. He takes much of what is organic and inherent in storytelling and spells it out explicitly. Frequently I found myself nodding at his directives, thinking I had done something similar in Project Demo, but never even realized I had done it. For example, here are some of his instructions on creating an opponent:

"Remember, the opponent should want the same thing as the hero. That means that the hero and the opponent must come into direct conflict throughout the story... The relationship between the hero and the opponent is the single most important relationship in the story. In working out the struggle between these two characters, the larger issues and themes of the story unfold. By the way, don't think of the opponent as someone the hero hates. He may be, or he may not be. The opponent is simply the person on the other side. He can be a nicer person than the hero, more moral, or even the hero's lover or friend."

Good stuff, huh?

However, while Truby has an excellent understanding of storytelling, I have to say he's not the best writer in the world. At times his book was like reading a TV manual. Which is fine, if that's what you want, except sometimes (though infrequently) he skipped steps, and once he changed a term's name halfway through. He reminded me of a brilliant professor racing through a lecture, refusing to stop to take questions. Maddening, but okay, because after all, eventually we need to make our stories our own.

Truby encourages his readers to use The Anatomy of Story to initially create stories, and he walks you through developing an idea to writing a detailed, scene by scene outline. However, I used The Anatomy of Story at a rough point in Project Demo, and it was tremendously useful for helping me see the forest instead of the trees, and making sure my motivations, themes, and plot were all streamlined and consistent throughout.

I worry, for a pantser like me, that Truby might be too prescriptive for developing my next story. However, Project Demo has been such a mess, I could use a bit more order in my life. So I'm intending to re-read the book with my new project in mind. I doubt I'll get as far as a scene by scene outline. But if I could figure out a few basics before I dive into the writing, I think it could only be a good thing. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Café culture

Welcome back, blog friends!

As you've probably gathered, the writing's been intense lately. Some days I hate Project Demo. Some days I feel better, think it might work, might even be good. Some days I feel all of the above.

But I've missed being here. So in between the agony of finishing Project Demo, I figured I'd start up discussion again, and share what I've been up to lately (besides, you know, the writing).

So let me tell you about my newest discovery: a lovely, neighborhood café.

I've never been a café writer before. I'm a homebody. I get easily distracted, prefer absolute silence.

But lately even my quiet home has been distracting. I've become obsessive about laundry. I've even started to enjoy vacuuming. One day I found myself rearranging my bookshelf. And that's with the internet turned off! I realized I needed to get out of the house.

I ended up at a café down the street from me. Close, with delicious drinks, no internet access, and independently run. How could I have never been there before? Even better, the owner is friendly, chatty, and has started quizzing me about my daily writing goals (accountability!).

It's worked a charm for the writing. No mess to look at, no responsibilities except writing, and I look like an idiot if I stare off into space too long. The café's big enough that if I sit in the back, I can usually tune out conversations. Plus, sometimes the people watching is a nice break. I don't get much interaction in my daily life.

The only thing that's been difficult is the music. Easy listening. Bette Midler, Backstreet Boys, James Blunt. I'm not a music snob, I mostly enjoy it. And it's kind of sweet on a quiet morning when the owner sings along. But hearing every lyric, familiar and clear, makes writing new words hard.

So I try to snag my favorite table whenever possible. It's large, in the back, away from the chilly fans and the speakers.

I don't know how long this café culture will last. I don't know if I'll be able to draft a new novel there. But for the moment, it's working well.

Where do you write? What works best for you?