Wednesday, August 12, 2009

“Do Not Disturb”

Today a special guest is visiting Criminal MindsAgatha Award-nominated Juliet Blackwell writes the paranormal Witchcraft Mystery series, about a witch with a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. The first in the series, Secondhand Spirits (Obsidian: July, 2009), is a current IMBA bestseller.  A Cast-off Coven will be released in June, 2010.

Under the pseudonym Hailey Lind, Blackwell wrote the Art Lover’s Mystery Series: Feint of Art, Shooting Gallery, and Brush with Death. The fourth in the series, Arsenic and Old Paint, will be released in fall, 2010. 

A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet has worked in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France. She currently resides in a happily haunted house in Oakland, California, where she is a muralist and portrait painter. Juliet/Hailey is two-term president of Northern California Sisters in Crime.

Thanks so much to 7 Criminal Minds, for letting me be their temporary 8th!

My very favorite place to write is in the anonymity of motel rooms. Or hotel rooms.  Or mountain lodges, seaside resorts, any old Motel 6.  As long as the sheets are fresh, the bathroom is clean, and it smells okay, I’m not too fussy.  
The first thing I do is hang that seemingly innocuous piece of cardboard/ plastic/ wood on the doorknob: Do not disturb. 

I could sit in such a room and write for days.  But I hardly ever get the chance.  I suffer from a trifecta of too little money, too little time, and too many friends.

Friends who are all too eager to step up and offer me their guest rooms, couches, and floors. I accept out of financial necessity as well as the sincere and fervent desire to spend time with them –after all, can anyone ever have too many friends?  But what with talks late into the night, a shared bottle of wine or two, laughter over old times and new, I don’t get much writing done…no matter how early I rise.

But ah, the blessed obscurity of the rented room.  The staff bother you only to change your sheets, and they’re just as happy to ignore you if you hang that magical little sign on the doorknob. There’s no laundry to do, no phone to answer, no food to cook, no dog to walk, no pile of unpaid bills to attend to. Not that motel rooms are entirely distraction-free: at some point I’ll always make it into the pool, and I’m a big fan of the ice machine.  And aren’t sodas and candy bars so much more fun when you have to venture downstairs and extract them from a clanging vending machine hidden behind a partition?

One recent trick I’ve learned: I try to check into a place without internet service, or at the very least one that makes things difficult by offering limited access to a weird little closet dubbed the “business office.”  It’s astounding to me what I can get done when I’m not free to check my email and my blogs and Facebook and the “weird news” section of SF Gate, the on-line version of the San Francisco Chronicle.  And depending on the motivation, my procrastination techniques can get really ugly: testing my vocabulary on, for example, or surfing for obscure relatives, or tracking down cases of witchcraft murders, or translating phrases into Latin….  

As I write this essay in the messy but beautiful sun porch I use as an office, looking out at the hills of Piedmont and the Grand Lake neighborhood, watching the raccoons, squirrels, and wild turkeys that manage to thrive in our urban Oakland neighborhood, I feel disloyal and distinctly ungrateful. But what can I say? 

I’d rather be toiling away at a cheap linoleum motel-issue desk, my door protected by that unique, beloved motel/hotel/no-tell talisman: Do Not Disturb. 


Unknown said...

Yes! My husband has a name for it "hotel camping." I have a box in the garage with extra coffee and powdered creamer, plastic utensils and all kinds of whatnot.

In the hotel room, no one needs anything from me. Except the blank screen!

Between Sophie and Rebecca, I've gone back to early morning writing. If my boss notices me coming in at 9:30 instead of 7:45, she hasn't let on yet...


Shane Gericke said...

Great post, Juliet! You fit right in with us, because you're paranormal and we're . . . well, not entirely normal :-)

There's plenty of cheap-linoleum motels in the area in which I could check in to write, but I'd be distracted by all the moaning and screaming and pounding on all four walls. Funny, I didn't notice they let rooms by the hour.

Besides, I'd miss my deck, which is the best place in the world to write during the summer. Close to the fridge and the bathroom ...

Shane Gericke said...

Great term, Mysti. Congratulate your husband on his excellent word coinage.

But powdered creamer? Ahhhh! Say it ain't so! Spring for the half and half, now that you're a bonafide early morning writer!

Very cool that you're writing again in the a.m., too. Sophie and Rebecca are good influences.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I bet Sophie and I don't get called good influences often, so thanks Mysti!

I do love hotel writing. Have been sleeping on too many spare beds and couches to do it much since I got published. Maybe at Bouchercon (oh yeah, that'll be quiet).

If you get over to Fenton's, have a black&white for me, Julie! (remember those, Mysti?)

Unknown said...

Mmmmm Fentons mmmmmm !!!!!

Unknown said...

Shane, yah, the powdered creamer is for the freeze dried coffee -- emergency rations :)

Thanks to ALL the criminal minds here for kicking my butt/inspiring me/sharing cool insights. Definitely keeps me focused, thank you all!

Shane Gericke said...

Long as your writerly whisky and ceegars aren't powdered, Mysti, you'll be all right :-)

Juliet, forgot to mention I liked your motel photos. Coolest motel I ever saw was the Wig-Wam, where the accommodations were teepee made of concrete, with a room inside each one. Full bed, bathroom, AC, the works. Somewhere in Arizona, along Route 66. The place is still there and hosting visitors.

juliet blackwell said...

Mysti, love "hotel camping!"
And can't take any credit for the photos--Sophi put those in.
Thanks for letting me post --I love you guys, normal or not.