Upstairs Vacancy

In my head, I mean, and on that note a distracted hello again from Sarah Graves, who is thinking today about…

Well, that’s the trouble. Too often lately my personal upstairs contains only cobwebs. I write a few words, then find myself staring vacantly. It is, when you are finishing up rewrites while scheduling the next book’s efficient (one hopes) production, what’s known in the business as Not Good. ™

A walk might help, in winter. Brisk exercise, bracing temperatures…but not now, when everything in Eastport conspires to bring on spring fever. The leaves are a heartbreakingly tender shade of green, the lilacs like tight purple fists full of the promise of any-day-now perfume. Even the bay, so icily dark-blue until recently, has paled to watery indigo, the color of your favorite old jeans.

So: no walk. And no reading, either: all I can manage are the free samples I download onto my e-reader. That’s why I’m postponing Hilary Mantel’s long-awaited Bring Up the Bodies and Robert Caro’s illuminating new volume of his Lyndon Johnson biography, Passage to Power. I have high hopes for Drew Magary’s The Postmortal, though, since a zombie novel that doesn’t make me feel like I’m being poked in the ear with a sharp stick is a treat not to be missed.

Music helps: old Steely Dan tunes, especially. Great songs, unstinting perfectionism in the arrangements and production, and I happen to know that Donald Fagen turned a voice he was scared to sing with into a cultural — well, can a sound be an icon? Which (aside from the guy just naturally cheering me up more than somewhat) gives me the courage to bust out there with my own writing voice, too, scraggly and atonal as it may be. There there’s the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes, which I sang as a teen and are still so soaringly, unashamedly romantic that they make my old sourpuss heart lift every time I hear them.

And movies help. Because movies, especially the thrilling kind, are constructed; they have their plot bones so close to the surface you can practically outline the films while you’re watching them. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is a perfect example of this; for instance, remember at the beginning when Indy escapes in the little two seater plane, and the pilot’s pet snake is in it? “I hate snakes,” Indy says, so that later when he peers down into the tomb where Marion is trapped and sees…well, I’ll let you remind yourself by watching again. But it gets me back in the groove, is what I’m saying, to see the plot-rifle placed firmly on the mantelpiece and then later hear it shot off so satisfyingly.

Right now I’m watching another kind of plot construction: via collage, in Catch-22. No straight shot of a plot arc, here, and yet it all hangs together; more than one way to skin a story, yes? And that’s another hope-giving thing, that such books can be written and such films can be made of them and that I live in a world where people do.

So: brain blahs, followed by…what? Is that inspiration I hear, clomp-clomping up the stairs inside my head? Could be, and if it is, instead of just sampling I’ll be reading a new book, tonight.

And after that, who knows? Tomorrow I might — yet again — sit down and actually write one.



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4 Responses to Upstairs Vacancy

  1. MCWriTers says:

    I HOPE music helps. The rain will keep me out of the garden, as will the mosquitoes, ticks, etc., but I’ve been at my desk for hours with nothing happening. Now I’m going to plug in my headphones, tap into Zune, and activate my Leonard Cohen playlist. He’s come through for me before, so hopefully, a few hours of Hallelujah and other tunes will get me in the groove.

    Sometimes my attic isn’t so much vacant as too cluttered. So many boxes to shift out of the way before I find the dusty old collection of ideas I’ve been seeking. But we know you, Sarah. You will come through. Just don’t get so busy that we miss our regular visits to Eastport.


    • Sarah Graves says:

      Right-o, I’m adding Leonard Cohen to the list. Another guy who’s not afraid to sing with the voice he’s got, fortunately for the rest of us.

  2. John Clark says:

    I’m a firm music can get your wheels out of the mud person.

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