Thursday, June 19, 2008


Eight years ago I hired a painter to paint our kitchen cabinets and screen porch. At the time, I was working on Keeper of the Night, but I didn't think that those small renovation jobs would cause interference. Instead of moving around the house with my manuscript, I'd work in my office. That was the plan.

The painter(I'll call him Bill) showed up on Monday with two teenage boys. Good, I thought, three people will make the job go quicker. Unfortunately that was not Bill's plan. The entire job, he never picked up a paintbrush. I learned this a couple of hours after they arrived and noticed Bill sitting at my kitchen table watching the young guys paint.

It was a spring day so I opened my office window to work. Bill must have walked past my window a dozen times that day, shaking his finger at me and remarking, "You're working too hard, girl."

The next day I discovered Bill in my office, using my phone, his work boots resting on my desk. "I'll be off in a sec," he told me.

I picked up my manuscript and got in the car. I drove out of my neighborhood and onto the highway. I drove until my aggravation with Bill dissolved. I drove to New Mexico. (No, I didn't pack a bag. We're about forty five minutes from the stateline.) When I saw the familiar golden arches, I stopped and bought a cup of coffee. To my surprise, I discovered the plastic bench and Formica table a suitable working space. I got right to it. After a few hours, I ate a quarter pounder and headed home. I passed miles and miles of ranch land, but my thoughts centered on my characters and the story.

The following morning, I left the house before Bill and his crew arrived. With my car pointed toward Pampa, a town an hour away, I returned to the world of Isabel and her family. Fifty miles later, I crossed the town limits. Pampa's Braums became my office. The next day's destination--Dumas. Soon I'd visited Hereford, Canyon, Borger, Claude. Every Panhandle town has a Braums or a Dairy Queen, serving cheap coffee and offering a corner booth.

Even after the new white cabinets and the screen porch sparkled from that last coat of paint, I got in my car and headed toward some little town. My annoyance with Bill had started it, but I'd soon fallen in love with the routine. The drives provided long stretches alone with my story. The fast food restaurants filled with strangers allowed me to write without interruptions. Keeper of the Night may have taken place on the island of Guam, but I couldn't have finished it without those Texas Panhandle towns.

I've been tempted to try that routine,again, but the idea is quickly dismissed with one trip to the local gas station. I don't want to spend my advance fueling up my tank. Now when I leave home to write, the destination is a coffee shop in my city. I still reminisce about that spring's long drives of highway and cheap strong coffee. However, I don't miss Bill at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment