The Writer’s Desk

[from the archives, February 10, 2008 ]

Okaaaaay, five days after publication of Prepared for Rage, I have received the first email wanting to know when the next Kate novel will be out.

Laurie King and I were talking about this yesterday. We’re pleased and flattered that you Just Can’t Wait for the next book, but understand that while it takes you a day or two to read one, it takes us a year to write one. Have a heart! We’re peddling as fast as we can!

I am, in fact, even as we speak thundering to the end of Whisper to the Blood, also known as Kate16. Today’s photo is the disaster area that is my desk at this point in the process. Let’s look at it counter clockwise, beginning middle left, shall we?
The Writer's Desk

  • Phone off hook.
  • Yellow pad with chapter number with page count. I’m always very concious of the physical shape of the book, of its structure and its appearance when you read it. I try to keep the chapters roughly equal in length.
  • Notes about events in book. Much crossing out and rewriting of chronology. When the hell did that third attack on the river happen, and to whom?
  • Basket of unpaid bills. That’s right, don’t I have to go down to the bank tomorrow afternoon?
  • Cup of pens and pencils and ruler and scissors and nail files and, very important, extendable back scratcher
  • Kleenex, also very important, not good to sneeze directly on keyboard.
  • Can’t see them but peppermints, good for shot of energy when still writing late at night.
  • Stand holding newspaper article to do with research for Kate16 (come on, I’m not going to give anything away), also copy of Robert’s Rules of Order, also notes about why Kate and Jim and the aunties are so pissy lately, constant visual reminder of prime character motivation.
  • Open copy of A Deeper Sleep, the book immediately preceding this one in the series. Have to look up stuff that happened in it all the time. On shelf in back of chair are copies of the whole series, which have been wearyingly in use during the writing of Kate16 as it seems every single fricken’ Park rat who ever showed up in a book is determined to show up in this one, and I keep having to look up where they first appeared.
  • Under the open book a bunch of yellow sticky notes about characters and plot points. “Ruthe.” “More Dick” (heavily circled). “Kate–internal dialogue about her lie.” “The ‘Burbs.” “Helmets a giveaway.” “Why the river and not the road?” Most will be incorporated into the rewrite between rough draft and final draft. Maybe.
  • Open atlas on printer, open to US, had to trace Johnny’s trip home for mileage and times, although Mapquest helps, too.
  • On table at left, a mess, consisting of newspaper and magazine articles about the Pebble Mine, the Shooter’s Bible (need to get a new edition, this one is ten years old), and a stack of books, The Klondike Rush by Pierre Berton because I wanted a good stampeder’s name for a new character, The Riverside Shakespeare because I had to check on one of Prospero’s lines from The Tempest and to make sure that there really were that many bodies left on the stage at the end of Hamlet, and Webster’s because I was looking up I forget what word to make sure it meant what I thought it meant.
  • Danamaniacs sweatshirt (gift from ‘maniacs manager CathyO and husband Jim) on back of chair for when I get chilly.
  • Open Alaska atlas on floor behind chair.

See. I’m working really, really hard on Kate16.

Prepared for Rage
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Dana View All →

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28 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Dana,
    Finished Prepared for Rage last night. Thoroughly enjoyable read as always is with your writing. Love the occasional one-two liners that you intersperse. Your blogs from the Munro last spring gave much factual information, here you could throw in more of how people are feeling while on patrol: it fills in the picture more completely of what life is like on patrol. My only sorrow is that the book was not 600 pages long, but after reading your current blog about the state of your desk and the amount of detail referencing you have to do…. 600 pages would be pure torture to write.

    Thanks for a great vicarious adventure!

  2. Dana,

    PS: just called Seattle Mystery Bookstore and asked how appropriate or not, it would be to bring the copy that I just finished for you to sign. He laughed, and said technically not, but if I purchased another book at the same time, my indiscretion would be overlooked. So work schedule permitting, I am looking forward to the pleasure of meeting you.

    Carol G

  3. Thanks for sharing the photo! Love the insight into how you work. Total geek question – what software do you use to write? I’m a technical writer and my software of choice is Adobe FrameMaker, not for the faint of heart but powerful for the lengthy tech docs we do.

  4. Maybe you could have a student [ read temp assistant ] make up a cheat sheet reference for you that is a complete factual outline of all your characters and fictional history .

  5. I keep thinking I’ll do something like that, but I’ve always been too busy writing books to write the cheat sheet. Can’t afford to hire somebody to do it, not yet anyway.

  6. Reading back a few days . . . . ” can’t picture a society that views women as possessions ” . . .How about ours – right to vote 1919? – unable to own property ? end of 18th century ? – equal treatment ? not yet !

  7. I’m sure any Danamaniac out there (worthy of the title Danamaniac) would cheerfully volunteer to be at your beck and call to organize your unorganized clutter. In fact, let me be the first to volunteer. The cost of my volunteering…advanced reading of anything I wanted to read. I’ll even come to Alaska in the dead of winter. I’m cheap and I can be had.

    Sooo, whadya say???? Do I got a job?

  8. Our book discussion group read and talked about A Fine and Bitter Snow. Since “The Park” is where we live, we were wondering why there are so many liberties taken with the geography and people of the area?

  9. I write fiction. It is by my literary devising that the books conform to the spirit rather than the letter of Alaska, as in the Park instead of the Wrangell-St. Elias Park, Aleuts as well as Athabascans (see Dead in the Water, the third Kate Shugak novel as to how that happened), and right now I’m in the laborious process of moving the Pebble Mine to the Park.

    If I ever write history, I’ll stick to the facts, but in the matter of fiction, I’ll quote the Ear: “The truth is so limiting.”

  10. Thank you for your response…I hear that the “pilgrims” make a cameo in A Deeper Sleep. Our group will look forward to that selection and I’ll share your comment with the “CR Readers” at our next discussion this coming Sunday.


  11. I just finished reading “Prepared for Rage” last night, hardly being able to put it down in order to go to work! Thanks for another finely-wrought and suspenseful tale! I did have two questions that kept me puzzled overnight: 1) was what happened to Akil and his sister as a result of his [Western] interaction with his house-cleaner purposely kept vague? [I couldn’t figure out why his sister was punished for something he supposedly did.] 2) Did I miss Riley’s motivation for turning coat, the reason he was the one attending the maritime conference, and how he and Akil/Isa would even have gotten in contact with each other? If you say it’s there, I’ll do a closer re-reading when I buy my own copy of the book!

  12. Delighted to hear you couldn’t put it down, Michele! In answer to your first question, an honor rape is an accepted cultural fact in some Muslim countries. I based the one in Prepared for Rage on reports of same in the international media. Awful but true. As to Riley, his motivation is there. It’s not noble, but it’s there.

  13. Feb…..well I guess I can wait that long;-) No other choice;-)
    What about the next Liam book…when? Soon, this year maybe? Love and kisses,
    I’ll join Facebook tomorrow!

  14. Well, at least you can find your desk! Mine looks like Katrina blew in, and circled around for another blow after I write a simple short story. I call it Katrina’s home page.

  15. To Jeanne: Yikes! Yes, definitely, I’m counting my blessings now.

    To Marty: Minotaur wants two Kates back to back before bringing out the Liam. NY publishing moves in mysterious ways.

  16. #7 Microsoft Word. I am sure most of that stuff you hate that Microsoft “does for you” can be turned off for good. Who are these people and why do they think we are so stupid? Anyway, I think if you find your way to WORD OPTIONS that you can turn your computer into a really really smart typewriter instead of a really really anoying other human. Open Word but do not open a document. Just un-check the items you hate. Keep a side note of what you did. The main headings to look for are:

  17. I visited Alaska for the first time this summer and I fell in love. We traveled by caravan and visited so many areas. I found your books in the Danali store. I have been hooked since then. Bought so many I had to ship them home and then when I got home I bought the rest. Have read most of them and getting anxious that I am getting close to having nothing to read. I love your characters, your stories and your Alaska. I am amazed at how prolific you are. Keep up your wonderful writing. I am also amazed that I had not heard of you before this time. The rest of the world doesn’t know what it is missing. Thank you.

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