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

Now Available for Your Reading Pleasure

The Crossing is now available for your reading pleasure (or displeasure; I’m getting a lot of feedback from readers who want to give Joel a kick in the ass because his behavior, like Adam’s in I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, is so appalling). Every time I look at the cover, designed by Virginia Hassell with Big Star Creative, I feel a little thrill.

The Crossing

Cover by Virginia Shurgar Hassell

And every time I open up my email to another message from a reader, I get that much more excited. Because that’s the point of this whole process, isn’t it? Not just to lose myself in Joel’s head (or Adam’s head, or James’s head), but to share what I’m seeing with others.

I was able to celebrate that experience a little over a week ago at my book launch party, which my lovely friend, Jennifer Bloom, threw for me at Chez Zee, in Austin. I’m never able to visit quite as deeply with my guests as I’d like at these events, but they’re still magical. Best of all, I was able to read from my novel, and that’s absolutely where I’m in my element. Are you nervous? my brother asked before my reading at Bookwoman back in July, and I laughed. I’m never nervous. Never. I’m just as comfortable in Joel’s voice as I am in my own, and I promise that everyone at that party last week would agree with me. What’s cool, said Amie Stone King, my wonderful marketing maven, Is that you say you need a moment to get into Joel’s head and you look down at your book… and when you look up you’re someone else.

Want to see what I’ve been lost in for years now? Take a look.

And please, tell me what you think in the comments below. I’d love to hear to hear from you.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Very Conservative Christians

Last night I had the opportunity to talk to a book club whose members had read I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden.

Every book club has its own dynamic, and I’m always curious to see how readers will respond to what I’ve written. This particular group was really stuck on Adam’s infidelity. We’re very conservative Christians, one woman said, which might have made me jump to the conclusion that their issue would be Adam’s sexual orientation. But that wasn’t the case. They didn’t like the betrayal of the commitment Adam had made to Joel; some of them, in fact, seemed downright angry. Though they eventually understood Adam’s motivation, his affair made them like him a little less.

Maybe even a lot less.

I get it. Adam’s behavior, especially when viewed outside of the context of his relationship with Bobby–his former lover who died of AIDS when Adam was twenty-five–seems pretty appalling.

Of course, we only see Adam’s perspective. That’s what happens when something is written in first-person. In I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, you’re in Adam’s head. And along with his viewpoint come his baggage and biases.There’s not a lot of space for anything else.

In The Crossing, coming to you later this summer, you’ll be able to get inside Joel’s head.

Of course, Joel has his own issues, his own baggage. He makes his own terrible decisions. You may be totally annoyed at times by his inertia, or his self-destructive tendencies.

At the same time, everything will start to click: Adam’s relationship with Joel, Joel’s relationship with James, James’s relationship with Adam. They’re all so intertwined, and it’s messy and complicated and actually kind of rich.

Like monogamy. And infidelity.

There’s a reason why those words were triggers last night.

I want to suss that out. Care to join me?

Start by reading I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, if you haven’t already. (Click here to purchase.)

Then join me on my author page on Facebook. Or ask your book club to read my book. I’ll chat with you in person, or Skype myself in.

Let’s talk about this together. There’s so much we can discover.

p.s. Want to get a jump-start? Tell me in the comments below what you thought of Adam’s affair.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved