I’ll Take It Any Way I Can

Someone recently asked what inspires me, and I’ve been contemplating the question ever since. My answer is nothing grandiose. I might hear a story of great travail; I might bear witness to a friend’s evolution following a period of trauma and feel amazed. Those aren’t the moments that make me want to write.

InspirationWhen I first saw Katherine Torrini’s Narcissus, I knew I had to have the mixed media piece for myself. Her work inspired my first short story, and introduced me to James’s voice. Every time I see this piece–which hangs on my living room wall, across from my desk–I’m newly enthralled.

But I don’t need something visual to move me. A year ago I was talking to a friend of mine, who told me I didn’t need to get too entrenched in negotiations with the buyers of a property I was then leasing. “They’re just trying to sugar talk you,” my friend said in his perfect southern drawl. I immediately snagged on his words. Sugar talk? I’d heard of sweet talk, but never sugar talk. What a quintessentially Texan phrase, the sort of phrase James would use–and does, in the novel I’m currently writing.

Then there’s scent. Swing & SmokesA year or so ago, out with friends on a Friday night, we sat drinking wine at a local bar where porch swings hang from the trees. Porch swings, like the one that graces Joel’s house on Pearl Street in college. I was already intrigued, and of course my friend Amie, who knows me well, suggested we have a seat. As soon as I caught the scent of a freshly lit cigarette from a table nearby, I borrowed one for myself. I don’t smoke–ever–but the lure in the moment was too tempting. Someone snapped this photo at the perfect time.

I like the details. Jeans torn around the ankles, a smile like a fish hook, a scent so slight it’s almost imagined. I don’t want the story already told, however beautiful or transformative. I want the prompt, the promise of seduction. Make it subtle, so I can play.

Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Opening up

frioI spent some time outside of Austin this weekend, and though I shouldn’t be surprised by the inspiration that a little distance can kick up I still found myself reveling in that gift. I don’t think I realized how desperately I was craving space until I hit I-10 on the way from Austin to Leakey, a little town on the Frio River deep in the Texas Hill Country. That’s when I became aware of my breathing, in a way I hadn’t been for months, outside of my yoga practice. Deep breaths and a fresh eye, and I was scouring the countryside for a little historic cemetery because that’s where my head has been for the past few weeks: stuck in a scene–a series of scenes, really–in my third novel.

I didn’t stop at any cemeteries, though I spotted signs for several. But I’m not worried. I’ll make my way back to the Frio, sooner rather than later. I was too taken with the scenery not to return. The sky was too big, the water too clear. Cold, too, cold enough that I almost wished we weren’t experiencing such a mild summer here in Austin, so I could feel the contrast of a hundred degree day and water capable of giving me chills.

I was staying at a friend’s house, but Saturday night my marketing expert and I broke away and went for a walk under stars so perfect we ended up dropping down in a clearing and tilting our heads back right there. She’s been writing lately, too, and we were talking about our books as we stared up at the sky. When we got quiet the silence felt huge. “I think we’re having a moment,” I said, and we ended up laughing so long and hard the trip would’ve been worth it if I’d experienced nothing else.

My friend says a Native American tribe used to hold some kind of ritual on the land where her house now stands. There might be a burial ground. I felt that connection profoundly. One line after another from the novel I’m writing revealed itself to me. I couldn’t get them all down fast enough. I fell asleep that night stuck in one scene and when I opened my eyes the next morning I was stuck in another.

Any break in my routine can shift my creativity, but there was something magical about that place. I wonder if you’ll be able to tell, when you read what I’ve written. I wonder if you’ll be able to pinpoint the scene in question, or if whatever opened up for me while I was there permeates more than just one section.

I’m ready to go back. Maybe I’ll buy a house of my own, or rent one, so I have space to write.

I feel a pull in that direction, and I know better than to ignore anything so magnetic.

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

 

 

Raspberries, Wine, and Chocolate

Joel and JamesSomeone asked me recently what it’s like inside my head. I told him what some of you have already heard, that it’s all raspberries and wine and chocolate. I’m all filled up, because I’m always writing, even when I’m not.

Last week I met a friend for wine. He tells a good story, and I grilled him a bit about his fraternity days in Vermont. He was talking about hazing and drinking and I was completely focused on what he was saying until he paused and looked up at me. You’re not filing this away, are you? he asked, For one of your books?

Well. Maybe.

I wasn’t consciously thinking about my fictional world as I was listening to him, but as soon as he asked the question I realized that somewhere in the back of my mind I was all caught up in James. Because James was in a fraternity. Because the experience shaped his college years. Because in my third novel, the one I’m writing now, he still thinks about that year he quit.

So yes, it’s possible that part of my friend’s story will end up in my work. At the very least, I left the bar inspired.

Though I’m always thinking about my work, I’m not always talking about my work. People might ask me about my books, but they’re not asking about my characters. So I’ll hear, “how’s the book?” or “how’s your writing?” But the people who text me a photo of the train tracks at Zilker Park when they’re hanging out there with their kid, just because they know I’m going to immediately go in my head to my photo shoot last May (see that beautiful photo at the top of this post, and view it in dim light so you can really see the nuance) are few and far between. My friend who told me about his fraternity days texted after we met for wine and asked, “What are your characters up to now?” and I swear I felt a pang of something so sweet right in the center of my being. For someone to speak so familiarly about these men who inhabit my waking (and sometimes dream) hours feels incredibly provocative to me.

I have plenty of friends who haven’t read my books. Most of my family members, too. Sometimes it’s the subject matter that makes them procrastinate; sometimes it’s time. Their reasons always sound so strange. I don’t judge them; I get it. I really do. I’m busy, too, and the bottom line is that if one of them were to write a book about a subject that feels foreign to me–baseball, for example–it might take a little prodding to get me to read it. At the same time, I feel like my work is that proverbial window to my soul.

If you know my characters, then you know me.

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved