Writers' Spaces: James Scott Bell
Where I Write
The attached photograph is the James Scott Bell table at the Starbucks about a half mile from my home. It is here I like to write.
The table is near a corner by two windows. Each window offers a never ending parade of the human comedy. It's like being at a people aquarium. As Yogi Berra said, you can observe a lot just by watching. And that's what I do, picking up all sorts of interesting characterizations along the way.
But mostly I put my head down and type, to get my quota in.
The black bag on the chair I always bring with me. It contains notebooks and books I'm reading – research, a novel or two, perhaps a favorite writing book I'm going over again for reminders. Today it has The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (one of may favorite novels of all time, which I'm reading again), Writing and Selling Your Novel by Jack Bickham (the book that, in an earlier edition, was the one I believe had the most to do with my getting published), and L.A. Noir, a photo collection of the city from the 40's and 50's, the classic noir era.
Some Starbucks play their music too loud and that can be a distraction, especially when the track includes The Doors, perhaps the most overrated rock band in history. At another Starbucks I once tried to throw my table through the window as "MOJO RISIN'!" kept screeching across my brain. I recovered, though, and killed a character in my book instead. (This is called "inspiration," by the way.)
My Starbucks is a little like Cheers, where everybody knows your name. The baristas know me, I know them. They ask about my writing, make sure I get one of the occasional samples they pass out and will even change the music CD if it gets out of hand.
The company, the Borg, decides what CD mixes will be given to the stores, and on occasion there's a song that defies all rules of tonality. There was one a few months ago that sounded like a hog being slaughtered. I made mention of this to the staff and order was quickly restored. I only wounded a character that time.
So this is my office, and it's nice to know I have branch offices all over my city, country and world. Several months ago I was in my London office, for example, connected to the net and my e-mail via T-Mobile hotspot. And writing, always writing. It was a little harder to eavesdrop on conversations there, as people talk funny. Over here, I sometimes get great snatches of dialogue I can later use.
Like the time an impassioned debate was going on at a table near me, and one guy said, "Is that logical?" And the other guy shouted, "It's so logical it's ridiculous!"
There's something about having a little bit of human activity going on around me that stimulates my writing. I don't know why that is. I don't know why I shouldn't be like Proust, rolling in agony on the floor of his quiet quarters, trying to bleed the perfect word out of himself. He would have gone mad (if he already wasn't) at Starbucks.
Balzac, on the other hand, would have been right at home here. He wrote over 100 books on the equivalent of industrial strength speed – 40 or more cups of thick, dark coffee a day. "Coffee is a great power in my life," he once wrote. "I have observed its effects on an epic scale." He would have his servants wake him up at midnight, get to his writing table and write until exhausted. Then he'd start with the coffee and keep going.
Me, I like to have one cup of drip at Starbucks, after my morning home cup of Sumatra or Verona or Komodo Dragon.
I actually do have a "real" office, but don't usually go in until my morning writing quota is done. I suppose I could stay writing at Starbucks all day, but then I am reminded it was caffeine poisoning that killed Balzac at 51.
I'm off to get a refill now. Decaf.
James Scott Bell