Sharing Space

Steeping RoomI used to write alone. I preferred my office, the familiarity of my own desk, the proximity of my electric kettle and a full container of breakfast tea. I’m not someone who gets distracted by laundry and unmade beds, partly because I’m not the type to leave my bed unmade much past the time I wake up in the morning, but also because once I’m working I’m vigilant about blocking out anything else. I don’t answer the phone, I don’t respond to texts, I don’t sift through the bills. I hold my writing space sacred.

A few months ago I started a new writing project that, while fictional in nature, doesn’t revolve around Joel and James and Adam. This is something peripheral, just for fun, and because a friend of mine was starting a similar project I asked her to come over one night so we could work in tandem. We chatted a bit but mostly we wrote and drank wine. I invited her to return.

Somehow that evening opened the door to another friend, then another. After a few weeks, to escape the house for a few hours when my son was in summer camp–he’s a bit of a homebody and as a single parent I often find myself at home in the evenings–I started writing at Steeping Room, a tea house not far from where I live that allowed me to sit outside, drink beautiful coconut tea and disappear into Joel’s voice. (That peripheral writing project still feels very peripheral.) At first I showed up alone, but soon those same friends who’d found their way to my home in the evenings started meeting me at Steeping Room. Austin experienced a mild summer and for a while we were happy sitting outside, but the heat eventually drove us indoors, where some of us switched to hot tea and others indulged an addiction to iced tea and simply brought along a sweater.

I’m there often, often enough to know the wait staff by name and for them to be familiar enough with my preferences that they quietly slip another glass of beautiful coconut tea beside my laptop without having to ask me what I want. A year ago I would’ve insisted that I couldn’t work amidst such chaos, but I would’ve been wrong. As long as I have earbuds with me, I have no problem shutting out the lunch crowd.

Still, I have to stay out of my own way. The friends I meet there are among my very best. I light up when I see them, and I want to talk to them. Every so often I do. But most of the time I resist. The temptation of my fiction feels far greater, and I know that once I’m in that world I’m in deep. Pull me out and I’m probably pissed, because I know what I’m losing when I turn my attention elsewhere: the perfect paragraph, the right turn of phrase, at the very least the train of thought that will get me exactly where I want to go.

Sometimes I think about Joel, about that moment in The Crossing when he’s painting and decides he’s too deep in the process to meet James for a drink. He makes the call to cancel, then finds himself stuck in a loop of justification.

The more time I have to spend explaining myself the harder it’s going to be getting back into the paint. Already I can feel the image I’ve been seeing loosening its hold, fading into the background.

I know from experience that it doesn’t take long to lose that image, and sometimes it’s crushing when I do. So I’m judicious about who I ask to meet me. And though I almost always see someone I know while I’m there–someone who shows up to meet their own friend, for their own reasons–I usually don’t linger.

A week or so ago I was writing with my friend Amie when someone dropped by to see her. Amie has only been writing for about a year and a half but she’s so lost in her first novel it’s breathtaking. Sharing space with her feels magnetic, and though I pulled my earbuds out long enough to say hello when her friend arrived I went right back to my writing. After he left Amie told me that he could feel the energy surrounding us as he approached our table.

I can feel it, too. And I want to hold it close.

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Movement

Someone told me last week that I’m at a pivotal place in my chart, that for some reason I chose to have everything in my life shift at at once. I’m feeling it. I’m all over the emotional map right now, dealing with some craziness in my relationships, finding my way through new revenue streams, diving into a new project with someone who just might be the last person I would ever imagine as a co-collaborator. And I’m moving, too, downsizing to a smaller house closer to the core of the city. I’m not sure when that’s going to happen, but it’s going to be soon and it’s going to be quick.

In the midst of all of this chaos I’m finishing the last revisions of my novel.

Paint stains the denim, so thick and vibrant I almost can't bring myself to wash it.

Paint stains the denim, so thick and vibrant I almost can’t bring myself to wash it.

I’ve been promising you for a while that you’ll have The Crossing in your hands and now there’s no turning back. I have a book launch party planned for October 25th, and if that book of mine doesn’t get to my designer by October 1st I’m not going to have books to sign. So I’ve been flying through read-through after read-through, staying up late, working weekends. I’ve had a provocative tête-à-tête with my designer about the book cover and I’m so excited to show you what we’ve been dreaming up. And I’ve been working on Book Club questions, too, because I know from experience how much you like those. I don’t blame you; I like little more than listening in as you argue over whether or not you can forgive Adam his affair given the damage in his past, or lament that anniversary weekend.

The Crossing is coming.

In the interim you can see me at BookWoman next Sunday, September 29th. I’ll be there with JH Trumble and Russ Gregory, two novelists you should absolutely know if you don’t already. We’re having a panel discussion about what it’s like to write LGBT fiction, and we want your questions, the sexier the better. We’ll be ready to talk about love, loss and passion starting at 3 pm. And we want to see you there.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

That Question Is too Intimate

A friend of mine occasionally asks how my characters are faring. How’s Joel today? she’ll write in an email.

At first her questions took me aback. They felt personal and deeply intimate. But now those questions make me giddy.  Even when I haven’t had much time to write, instead of seeing those questions and feeling guilty because I haven’t had the opportunity to give my characters the attention they deserve, I pause for a moment and think, How IS Joel today?

I just finished my last major read-through of The Crossing.

I take notes as I go, instead of editing as I read. That way I’m able to maintain the novel’s flow in my head; I’m able to tell if sentence follows sentence, paragraph follows paragraph, scene follows scene, seamlessly. When I get to the end I look at my notes, usually a dozen pages of what needs to be changed. But this last time around I had less than one page.

That’s how I know I’m getting close.

From now on I’ll be looking for minor edits, keeping an eye out for stray commas and homophones. I’ll also make sure that the novel’s structure makes sense; in an earlier draft, Joel’s life was measured by James’s semesters. But now I’ve blocked the novel differently, and I want to make sure that works. I added a few moments during my last read-through, too, and I want to make sure they make sense when read against the novel as a whole. After my photography shoot in May, for example, we ended up with some great photos of James (Addison Roush) peeling off his coat to give to Joel (Evan Shaw) on the night of his 25th birthday.  (Look at this photo in dim light, so you can really see what’s going on.) That moment never happened in the original scene. But we ended up with those shots courtesy of Josh Baker and they were so perfect that just yesterday I added it in. I’ll make sure when I read through the novel that the addition wasn’t a mistake.

I don’t think it was.

Then I’ll be ready to work with my designer to get this novel into your hands. We’re already revamping my website in preparation.

Soon you’ll be able to see for yourself how Joel’s doing.

p.s. While you’re waiting, give I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden another look, and in the comments below, tell me what you thought. Did you love it? Did Adam make you crazy? (Oh, you still haven’t read it? Click here to purchase.)

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved