Monday, February 21, 2011

The Writer's Desk

By Dana Stabenow

[Originally posted at]

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?

  • Phone off hook.
  • Yellow pad with chapter number with page count. I’m always very conscious 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 U.S., 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.

Dana Stabenow is the award-winning author of the 18-book Kate Shugak mystery series, the four-book Liam Campbell mystery series and the three-book Star Svensdotter science fiction series. The most recent title in the Kate Shugak series, Though Not Dead, appeared yesterday on the New York Times Book Review hardcover list at #16.


Sandra Parshall said...

Dana, when my desk is relatively clean it looks the way yours does in the photo. What it looks like while I'm in the final stages of a book... Let's just say that no photographs will be taken. Ever.

Lynn said...

Now I don't feel so bad -- thanks for sharing!

Dana Stabenow said...

I always feel surrounded at that stage, like I'm going to have to fight my way out with sword and blunderbuss.

Msmstry said...


It's not a joke but a well-researched theory that filing and keeping things neat actually take more time than the archeological method so many of us try to hide.

Unfortunately, I've taken the theory to heart all over my house!

P.I. Barrington said...

Okay, I thought I was the ONLY ONE with a backscratcher on her desk! Thanks Dana!!

Anne White said...

Dana, I don't care how messy your desk is -- your characters and plots are terrific and the world you've created has cast a spell over me. I'm one of those greedy people hoping for the next book two weeks after I've finished your latest.
Anne White - Lake George Mysteries Opens to #5 Cold Winter Nights

Anonymous said...

I resemble this remark: Basket of unpaid bills. That’s right, don’t I have to go down to the bank tomorrow afternoon?

I'm trying to find writing/life balance, to no avail. Either one or the other gets done.

Love the article!!