Novel Writing

The Light in L.A.

The New Yorker recently posted a video online (embedded above) taken from its show, which airs on Amazon. The video is based on one of my favorite pieces in the magazine: an article called “L.A. Glows,” written by Lawrence Weschler, and published in the February 23, 1998 issue of the magazine. (The issue theme was “California,” and it’s the only one of that theme I recall.) The article is here (requires a subscription).

It captures the wonder of light in Southern California (with a capitalized “S” because it is such a distinct region—as Carey McWilliams titled his book, “An Island on the Land”), and is really a wonderful read, both for the subject and the quality of the writing. For instance, it includes passages like this (from Coy Howard, and architect):

. . . when you have the kind of veiled light we get here more regularly you become aware of a sort of multiplicity—not illumination so much as luminosity. Southern California glows, not just all day but at night as well, and the opacity melts away into translucency, and even transparency.”

Ever since I read that passage I have wanted to be able to write like that. In my current work in progress, California Incline, I often talk about the sky. A lot of bloggers who give writing advice warn against overusing weather as a metaphor for a character’s mood. But when a story is set in L.A., the sky is a character. Describing it doesn’t so much reflect on the human characters, as give the reader a description of the ethereal character that hovers over the human actors.

So at different points I include short passages like these:

High clouds had drifted onshore, covering downtown; a veiled sun in a nacre sky softened the edges of the city with pearlescent light.”

Uphill, toward Hope Street, lay a fountain watched over by a bronze nude against an amber-blue sky streaked with Van Gogh clouds, wisps whipped to shreds at the ends.”

Even the sky looked washed out, threadbare blue with bleachmark clouds.”

Not quite the level of poetry found throughout the Weschler article, but I hope enough to give some character to the light.

Of course, for a cross-cultural perspective on L.A. light, you have Miami Ray Bones (Dennis Farina) in Get Shorty:

 They say the fucking smog is the fucking reason you have such beautiful fucking sunsets.”

In  any case, I strongly recommend the Weschler article if you can get a chance to read it.

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in California Incline, Fiction, Novel Writing, 0 comments

I’ve Become One of Those People

My seat at Peets

My seat at Peets

Sadly, I have become one of those people who have to have their seat at the local coffeehouse. It’s embarrassing. Everyone I know in Davis knows they can find me at the local Peets. And if I’m not in my seat – the seat all the way to the left, closest to the bar, at the counter facing the plate glass window with the million dollar view of the parking lot– they ask me what happened. I tell them that the usurper obviously didn’t get the memo. It’s surprising how few people have received that memo.

In fact, the person in my seat probably didn’t get the memo about my parking spot either. It used to be directly across from the windows in one of the two unmarked (but not red-curbed) spots by the mail box. When I first started parking there, no one did. (Maybe they were being polite and leaving the spaces for the people who wanted to use mailboxes?) Once I started, everyone else in Davis must have realized it’s okay because now the spot is never open. My backup parking spot, the one the person who took my seat inside Peets parked in, is the 10-minute (green curb) parking spot on the corner in front of Jamba Juice.

I  come here most weekdays. In between impromptu meetings with bike club members and fellow parents, I actually get a lot done. I like to come to this particular Peets because it’s close (walking and bike riding distance, you know, on fair days) and usually not too crowded. I need to leave the house to write because I cannot write in the house on these dark winter days. And I need to go to Peets because they have a loose-leaf Sencha that gives me a buzz that meshes perfectly with my writing mojo.

Over and above all of that, I need my seat because it is perfect. It gives me just enough elbow room to be able to set everything around me (iPhone, headphones, tea pot, strainer, tea cup). It also allows a physical buffer, giving me the peripheral-vision space I need to avoid feeling like I’m being barraged on both sides.  And it is the only seat at the bar that has access to a power outlet. I don’t necessarily need that. But it allows me to have all the programs I want booted up (Safari, Scrivener, Mail, Messages, iTunes) without compromising the roughly two hours I can manage to sit and write.

There is an alternate seat at the other end of the counter I can make work if I carve out a nice writing nook by swinging the end stool sideways and piling the piles of free weeklies on it. But it’s by the door, and on these cold days, the constant comings and goings of customers creates a steady blast of cold air the chills my hands, which is no fun when typing, let me tell you. In times of desperation, there is also a small table that works; but it’s cramped, and it sits right by the oven at Noah’s, which frequently emits an ear-piercing beep that is painful.

It’s absurd, I know, this fixation I have on making everything just so. Pathetic, really. I realize I am obsessing over these ridiculous details. At the same time, I am totally obsessed by them. And as long as I am able to crank work out at Peets, I’ll probably attribute my success to getting the private space I’ve improbably claimed in the midst of this common public area.

Fortunately, there is no problem most days: I get my seat. I plow through the words, sip my tea, and generally have a great couple of hours being with my characters. So long as I get my spot and assuage my neuroses, we all have a pretty good time.

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in Novel Writing, 0 comments


routineologyEarlier this month, Black Hill Press (now,  publisher of Will Kill for Food, started a new project called Routineology. It is a collection of 30-second videos made by writers on their writing routine.  My son Kazu helped me film and edit together a clip for the project. It was fun to collaborate with him, and I think the finished product carries that sense of joy. Plus, Kazu’s cat, Mizzy, make a cameo. It’s worth watching just for that.

You can view it here. While you’re on that site, you might check even out some other videos.

Posted by Scott Alumbaugh in Novel Writing, Will Kill for Food, 0 comments