By Jean Flowers
I’ve learned to be very flexible in terms of where and when I write. Deadlines can do that to a writer.
Finding time, the “when,” is pretty easy. All I have to do is cut back on sleep and housecleaning, put a few multitasking techniques into play, and I’m all set.
The “where” is more challenging. Living in a suburb as I do, it’s sometimes hard to find a noisy spot. We’re at the end of long driveway, at least 300 feet from the main street. In the evening, there are no sounds—no buses, no honking horns, no crowds of people.
Once in a while, I get a little relief. Our neighbors on the adjoining street are great partiers, periodically turning their backyard into a venue for celebrations. I get very excited when I see a HAPPY ANNIVERSARY or CONGRATULATIONS banner going up across the fence. We don’t know the family, so, of course we’re not invited. The best of all cases—I get to write to a cheering crowd, music included, without needing to show up. A perfect background for creative writing.
I grew up in a relentlessly noisy environment. My childhood bedroom window was no more than five feet from the juke box of a pizza parlor. [For those with a fact checker bent, look up DeMaino’s Pizza in Revere, Massachusetts, still doing a thriving business.]
For years of undergraduate study, I had a commute of about an hour and 40 minutes each way, on a good day. So, I did the bulk of my homework with my arm wrapped around a pole on Boston’s MTA, the same one from which Charlie never returned.
My last apartment before migrating from Boston to California was above a bar in East Boston. It was the pre-recycling era and the law required all empty liquor bottles to be smashed. The idea was to prevent unhygienic refilling. Every night, for about an hour after the 2 a.m. closing, employees gathered around a metal barrel directly under our windows, in the back yard, and tossed the bottles into the barrel. With zero hope of sleeping, the surrounding tenants had no choice but to make good use of the time.
Those experiences shaped me forever. Once I know that the world is being taken care of, that life is going on, I can focus on my thoughts, my reading or writing. When it’s silent around me, every creaking floorboard startles me, the ice maker in my refrigerator door sounds like thunder, an air conditioner kicking in shakes me out of whatever thoughts I’m trying to put on paper.
Other than from Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny, I’ve felt little support in this attitude. Imagine how excited I was recently to find myself in the excellent company of Helen Keller:
“Cut off as I am, it is inevitable that I should sometimes feel like a shadow walking in a shadowy world. When this happens I ask to be taken to New York City. Always I return home weary but I have the comforting certainty that mankind is real flesh and I myself am not a dream.” — Mainstream
What great company! Never again will I apologize for my need for assurance that the world outside my head is present and accounted for and doesn’t need me at the moment.
Jean Flowers is the pseudonym for a long time mystery writer who has published series with Berkley and Minotaur. Her first book in the Postmistress Mystery series is Death Takes Priority.
CANCELLED BY MURDER: A Postmistress Mystery by Jean Flowers, Berkley, paperback, September 6, 2016, $7.99, 290 pages.