Pardon Me, Pardner — But You’re In My Space

Sharing Work Space and Partnering with Other Authors

By Jeff Salter

This week, we’re blogging about sharing — who we’d share writing space with and who we’d want as co-authors. Supposedly I came up with this topic, way back when, but I can’t (for the life of me) remember what I had in mind… if anything. For one thing, I’m not much into sharing. I don’t tend to share snacks, for example, and that’s supposedly the minimum threshold for status as a true gentleman.

But as I’ve read what three of the Four Resident Foxes have to say, so far this week, I think I’ve chiseled out a toe-hold on this topic.

sharing-space

I could not work like this!

Writing Space

If I had to share MY writing space with anyone else, it would be a nightmare. I know this from two distinct experiences:

  1. At my first “permanent” duty station in the Air Force – the Office of Information at Cannon AFB, NM – for my initial few months, I had a desk that was head to head with the desk of a three-striper. In other words, if we were both seated properly, we were staring at each other. That wasn’t the bad part, however, because we each had our own typewriters (manual, of course) and we were each writing our own articles for the base newspaper. The difficult part was that we had to SHARE a single telephone. Yeah, back in the dark ages when offices had desk phones and there were only so many lines… all hard-wired. So when Sgt. Clausen needed the phone, he’d whack the rotary dial with the hooked end of a specialty ruler and drag the phone to where he could reach it to dial. And when I needed the phone, I’d snag it with my own hooked ruler and drag it back over to my side.
  2. The other example is much more recent. For several months, a few years ago, my wife’s laptop was not working… or wouldn’t connect to the internet. Something like that. So she logically needed to use MY desktop, which was directly wired to the cable box. Fair is fair. But when I was hot on a story and really desperate to start clacking those keystrokes… I was unable to get to the workspace. Drove us both crazy. Finally she got a new laptop which was able to pickup the wireless internet… and we could (once again) peacefully coexist.

Some of my colleagues this week have spoken of writing retreats, or more concentrated group writing sessions… or even just meeting with a colleague at a favorite coffee shop to write. There’s part of me that wishes I could / would do some of this… but a larger part of me just doesn’t want to be bothered. It’s not that I’m antisocial — it’s just that when I’m focused, I’m really focused and it aggravates me to be pulled away or distracted. And when I’m not focused, it would bother me to see anybody else successfully courting their own muse and having a fine time. If you know what I mean.

Writing Partners

I greatly admire people who have successfully co-authored fiction with others. Several of my colleagues and friends have done this and some have fared very well with the results. I don’t think I could do it, however. Much is made of whether an author is a “plotter” or a “pants-ster.” — the former being one who carefully outlines nearly every aspect of her/his plot, characters, and setting… and the latter being one who flies by the seat of her/his britches. In fiction and poetry, I’ve always said I’m mostly a pants-ster but often find I’ve written myself into trouble that requires a plotter to work out of. So, I’m just saying that my hybrid, ebb-and-flow, flux and flummox style of writing fiction simply would not sync well with a co-author. One of us would drive the other… CRAZY.

Writing non-fiction, however, is a completely different ballgame. My brother and I co-authored at least four principal works back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Two were monographs released by one of the top three (at that time) publishers of library resources; the third was a signed chapter in a book published by the American Library Association; the fourth was a signed article in a specialty encyclopedia. For each of these projects, Charles Salter and I worked together closely on the scope, direction, and outline — then we divided up the chapters and other components. As we finished each solo part, we’d send it to the co-author for feedback. We rotated our names, so that my brother’s name was listed first on projects 1 and 3, while mine was listed first on projects 2 and 4. Whoever was the “lead” author was the primary contact with the publisher / editor / whoever had to be dealt with.

Not a Co-Author

As I’ve pondered our topic this week, I realized there’s another category of writing “partner” who is less involved than a true co-author, but nonetheless considerably valuable to the creation of the work. You’re probably thinking, Beta Reader — and, yes, that also fits. But I’m thinking more of a go-to person who can fairly quickly jump into the project, scan what I’ve done, learn where I’m going, and then offer up the assistance I need.

My brother, Charles A. Salter, is particular good at several phases of this — namely technical expertise on matters related to science or medicine… and insightful assistance with structure and organization matters. [He helps in numerous other ways, also, but it would take pages to list them.]

My wife, Denise Williams Salter, is my other go-to resource person. Sometimes this is at the very beginning of a new story, when I sound her out about the direction I’m considering. Sometimes it’s when the story is moving along but I’ve hit a snag of some sort. Sometimes I’ll tell her a little about my story and then ask her, “What kind of house does Character X live in?” And Denise will know. Or I’ll ask her, “What kind of job does Character Y have?” And Denise will know. One time when I was struggling with the complex layout of an unusual setting for a story — Denise (who loves building plans and loves to draw) sketched out the layout for me. She’s helped me decorate hotel suites (circa 1914)… and design Depression-era ranch houses which were renovated in the 1960s. And those are just a few examples.

So, even though neither of these two “go-to” resource people are actually my co-authors for fiction — each is indispensable for the stories I write.

Questions:

What about YOU? Do you write with others? Share writing space with others? Go on writing retreats, of any duration?

[JLS # 360]

 

 

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Say Yes to the Mini Retreat

Writing tends to be a lonely business, and I find I work best in those circumstances. I don’t mind being by myself, although I’m not always at my most productive when I am home alone in front of my computer. Facebook, youtube? Don’t mind if I do!
Productivity at home tends to happen when I’m not at my desk, walking on my treadmill or supposed to be sleeping. 10:15 pm seems to be the magic hour when my eyelids will barely stay open, but the words won’t stop flowing.
I have gone to a few writing retreats, even a couple with Patricia. While I expected to be phenomenally productive, having two to three days of uninterrupted writing time, I probably wasn’t anymore productive than I would have been at home… at least before my children were born. The last one I went to I was four months pregnant with my youngest, and she had already made it so there was no comfortable position to sit. A longer retreat may be different now.
One writers’ retreat I attended had only one other attendee. We met for meals, but spend the majority of our time working in our hotel rooms. I wrote much of the end of A Penny Saved there. I also watched many, many episodes of Say Yes to the Dress. I even managed a couple runs. The problem there being that when the hotel is at the top of a ski hill, it’s a long uphill to get back to the resort.
Occasionally my critique group does mini retreats. Usually we meet each week to chat and critique, but sometimes when deadlines are pressing, we meet to work instead. We might only  have two hours which can be a good chunk of time to get something done. Other times we mostly talk and don’t get a lot of words on the page.
Last winter, Tess Grant and I tried to meet every couple weeks for the sole purpose of putting our butts in the chair and getting something done. We were both at a low point in our motivation and thought scheduling a time to write would help. It did help to get the ball rolling, although our first meeting was disastrous for me. I somehow deleted my Bigfoot manuscript and couldn’t get it back. Serves me right for naming the file after a mythological creature.
I think the most productive mini retreats/ critique groups are the brainstorming ones. We can spend a couple hours tossing around ideas for a novel. After one of those meetings is when you need a couple hours of quiet time to get all those ideas done and maybe outlined. I usually feel energized and excited to work. Unfortunately those days don’t tend to be the ones where I have a free afternoon.
I’ve found retreats can be quite productive if you define productivity in other ways than word count.
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Writing in Darkness

This week we’re talking about writing with others. I have often thought about collaborating with a few different authors but I seem to lack the courage to ask them if that would be something that they would be interested in doing. What I would really love to do is a time travel but I lack the knowledge at the moment to write a decent regency. I think it would be fun to work on this with someone like Felicia Rogers.

As for sharing a writing space with someone, I would be alright with that but I don’t think it would work out. I can’t write during the day. I can’t write with the lights on. I have to have music playing, usually a playlist that I create for the story and then it plays on a loop. I have tried to write when it was light outside and I felt like what I wrote was rubbish. I can’t write when its bright. My muse awakens when the rest of the world is sleeping. Maybe my muse lives in Asia or Australia so when my body is ready for sleep it is just waking up proclaiming, “It’s time to write! I have the greatest idea. We. Have. To. Write. Now!”

So while I would be alright sharing a space with someone and have dreamed of going to a writer’s retreat to be able to write with other authors. I saw one once that was held in a castle somewhere in Europe, that would have been amazing! I don’t think I would get much writing done during the daylight hours (research I can do during the day but not writing) and I don’t know if anyone else would stay up until three or four in the morning to write with me in the dark and then be able to get up again at seven.

Do you have any unusual writing habits or rituals that you think might make it hard for others to write with you?

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May I Squeeze In?

38579663 - two colleagues working with computers in office

This week, our resident hound posed an intriguing question: Who would you select as a writing partner if you were simply going to share studio space? Who would you choose if your writing partner would also be your co-author on the same manuscript?

Frankly, I’m not sure I could share a writing space with anyone on a permanent basis. I’ve attended writing retreats with my local RWA, spending the entire weekend in a house where up to a dozen of us were all working on our individual writing projects. I loved being with fellow writers and each time I got a lot done, but only when I separated myself from the large group and found a spot where I could write alone. I’m extremely distracted by extraneous sounds – even when I had my headphones on and played baroque music (my go-to for concentration and getting things done) I couldn’t help being disturbed by the woman behind me with the long fingernails click-click-clacking on her keyboard. Also, my arthritic back prevents me from sitting for long periods of time, so I work better when I can alternate between sitting and standing – and I’m sure all my moving around would be distracting to someone else.

As for co-writing, I’ve actually written two novels with my friend Stephanie Michels. Stephanie lives on the north end of Grand Rapids, and I live on the southwest corner, so it’s a twenty-five minute drive between our homes. Not an insurmountable trip, but we only met a few times in person during the process. Most of the time we talked on the phone (video calls are great when we want to share visual images) or communicated by text or email. It was a fun experience, but I’m not sure that I’d want to work with anyone on a long-term project. It’s difficult to mesh different writing styles, writing schedules, and thought processes. I’m also busy with other hobbies and projects, so I might not ready to work on something when the other person is. Also, I’m not a linear thinker – even though I spend a lot of time planning and plotting, I write in bits and pieces, jumping from introduction to conclusion and then filling in the middle. So that could really annoy someone who wants to write the story from beginning to end.

So to choose someone with whom I could share a writing space and/or co-write, I guess I’d have to find someone who understands my foibles, who is okay with my unpredictable and varied schedule, and is tolerant with my not-so-tidy habits and my unorthodox system of writing. I could probably handle sharing space with someone (other than the fingernail typist), but others might not be eager to share with me.

How are you at sharing spaces?

 

 

 

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Holidays

I sincerely hope that every one of our readers in the United States had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday. It is one day that anyone can, (and nearly everyone does), enjoy. No matter what their background or Creed, I have yet to meet a family that does not use the day to gather, share food and celebrate life together.

No matter how hard a hate-filled a few try to tear down the tradition,it isn’t working; everyone I have ever known likes Thanksgiving day.

I know atheists who have a big feast with family and friends, so it doesn’t have to be a religious holiday. And every [Native] American Indian family that I know gather as well. They do not see it as a symbol of attempted genocide, but a celebration of family and life.

Although many, even the newest to America, embrace the traditional servings, (i.e., turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, etc.), a great number serve their own ethnic foods, or add them to the menu. On my mother’s side, several pockets of the family still serve pasta or other Italian dishes along with the turkey. [For the story of my non-Italian father going to meet the family at Thanksgiving dinner 1945, see “The Element of Surprise”, my post from last December.

We Americans usually win over even the most reluctant foreign visitor with the ambience and foods of Thanksgiving. Even the hardest-core anti-American snob usually softens with the first taste of pie. If nothing else does the trick, pecan pie will.

The only other holiday that seems to transcend all ethnic differences is The New Year’s celebration.

Yes, Chinese celebrate their New Year, Jews observe Rosh Hashanah, the people from India observe different New Year holidays depending on their home region. Muslims, Sikhs and Tamils,( among many others), celebrate the New Year according to differing calendars, but I have yet to hear of any of them not also celebrating traditional New Year’s Eve (December 31st), and/or New Year’s Day, (January 1st).

I have a confession.

This has a sneaky way for me to lead up to a RANT:

Please  don’t say :

“HAPPY NEW YEAR’S!”

Granted, it is New Year’s Eve, it may be a New Year’s celebration,
but you want to wish people joyful time in the upcoming Earth’s rotation around the Sun, with which we measure our lives; in other words, a year. One year.

Happy New Year! Right? If you say, Happy New Year’s”, I will have to ask you, “The New Year’s WHAT?
“Happy New Year’s DAY”? “Happy New Year’s celebration”? Both of those seem pretty limiting.

“Happy New YEARS”? (It can only be a new one once, one at a time).

So, you can see that “Happy New Year’s!” make no sense.

It’s “Happy New Year!”

Now you will be ready next month!
This has been a Public service Announcement.

Posted in America, big plans, Family, Holiday, Life, New Year's Eve, Tonette Joyce, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

More Backstory About My Tribute to the Greatest Generation

How My Novel “Called to Arms Again” Came to Be

By J. L. Salter

Details have become somewhat hazy over the past ten years, but I’m pretty sure the seeds of my third novel — third completed and the third to be published — came during a slow drive up the hill and along the curves of the retirement community where my father-in-law and mother-in-law were then living.

I spotted something I had never seen before… or simply had never noticed — most of the condo owners had their garage doors raised about one foot. I asked my F-I-L why and he explained it was alleged to release some of the heat buildup during summer months. I’m not much of a scientist so that made as much sense to me as any other reason.

“But what if somebody wanted to break into all these condos?” I asked rhetorically. “All they’d have to do is get a skinny kid to shimmy under the garage door and then he could get inside and let the robbers walk through the front door.”

And there was my basic story: a community of retired condo owners are invaded by a gang of robbers who slip into each house by way of the raised garage doors.

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Of course, it took months to write. And after my F-I-L died, it took me some 14 months to return to this novel at all. It eventually reached about 165,000 words, from which I had to hack away some 55,000 words just to get it into a size that my publisher could consider.

It’s a heartfelt tribute to the Greatest Generation… and (of all my novels) probably the closest to my own heart. Anyone who knew my F-I-L and M-I-L will recognize them in this novel. Both have since passed away — Dad in 2008 and Mom in 2010.

Below are some paragraphs from the novel’s Afterword:

Inspired by the strength and sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, this novel weaves together themes of patriotism, pioneer spirit, self-reliance, and the willingness to fight for your own present as well as the future of generations to follow.

A portion of this fictional plot pits an assembly of aging World War II veterans – and friends and neighbors of both genders – against a gang of opportunistic criminals in their twenties.

Called to Arms Again features fictional members of the real-life Honor Guard of American Legion Post 38, which (over the eighteen year period, 1989-2007) had provided military burial honors to nearly 2000 veterans buried within Pulaski County.  [In the five years since that tally, they’ve provided over 530 additional military burial honors.]

Though about 980 WW II vets die each day, their lives and stories won’t necessarily be forgotten if we continue to honor them in fiction and non-fiction.

Featured prominently in this novel – as in two other as-yet-unpublished manuscripts – is a fictional figure inspired by certain characteristics of my late father-in-law (a long-time member of the Post 38 firing squad).

I had just resumed serious work on this novel when my father-in-law was hospitalized in early February, 2008. From February 2 through April 1, I worked on this manuscript for sixty consecutive days (often until midnight), trying to finish it … in hopes that Dad would remain alive and alert long enough to read it. I had given him updates on my progress during both of his stays in the hospital – thirteen days and seventeen days – as well as the approximately four weeks in between when he was at home but still very ill.

He had read my other two novels (which featured “his” character) and seemed eager to read Called to Arms Again. But he never had the chance: I couldn’t produce it quickly enough, though I wore myself out trying. In the few moments I had to say my final words to him on April 1, I also told Dad I had finally completed my first draft — still quite rough, but readable. He and I both knew he would never get to read it. I reminded my dying father-in-law that my novel was inspired by him and members of his honor guard. I’ve already forgotten the specific words in his reply, but he grinned and said, in essence, “I’ll bet it’s a corker.”

I think it is a corker and I believe Dad would have loved it.

P.S.  Twenty members of the Post 38 Honor Guard were in uniform at the funeral service of Charles A. Williams.

[JLS # 359]

Posted in favorite books, Jeff Salter, Random thoughts, tribute, Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Thankful for the flu!

My son had an allergist appointment about two weeks ago, and his doctor said that cold and flu season was about two weeks away. It arrived about four days early in our house.

My daughter has the cough and stuffy nose, and hopefully she doesn’t share. Yesterday, she stayed home from school, mostly because she claimed she was going to puke. She didn’t, thank goodness, but since she stayed home from school, I had to shift a bunch of plans around.

I was going to drive to Grand Rapids to visit my mom and run a few errands while the kids were at school. Couldn’t do that with a sick kid, didn’t want to expose my mom to the germs, nor did I want to take the risk of potential puking in the car.

So it meant that I stayed home and had a whole day to tackle the to do list of things that I wanted and/or needed to get done before Thanksgiving. I de-dogged the area rugs. I finished a read through of my Bigfoot story, something I was really worried about completing in my self-imposed deadline.

I still have some phone calls to make and mop the kitchen floor, but I feel so much more relieved about the list.

So sometimes we can be thankful for sick kids.

Today, I’m thankful that she felt well enough to go to school.

Posted in Joselyn Vaughn, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments