Dreaming of Detroit

Combine a mild cold with 3-a.m. viewings of Toy Story 3 and a late night or three up scrapbooking,throw in some cold medications, and it leads to some weird dreams. I was listening to Chinese Man’s I Got That Tune just before I fell asleep last night, and it put me in the 1920s mood I so desperately seek when I sit down to work on my novel.

I ended up dreaming my recurring sad Detroit dream; the one where I go through the broken landscape of burnt-out homes and businesses, and for a moment see What Used To Be. Not that Detroit ever had such a glorious moment in history; even the 1920s were ripped apart by bootlegger crimes and young children carting booze in their schoolbags.

I have a very vivid, very real memory of going to a downtown intersection with my best friend Chris, and looking at the ruin of an old bike shop that still had her family’s name over the crumbled doorway. Tin ceilings showed through the rubble. Once, I thought, this was a real place, a livelihood, it’s the reason she and her father still pronounce “battery” as “bat-tree” and talk about “going begging” on Halloween.

I know all these bits and pieces about my hometown, but I feel I need to be honest about them when I write, even if what I am working on is part fantasy/part historic fiction. I need to get back to Detroit…what’s left of it. I always get the best vibes from the past when I’m immersed in the city.

If vacations lasted forever, they would cease being vacations. Right?

Blame it on my recent trip to Venice, Florida. Despite staying in an efficiency with a kitchenette, with the express request that I figure out meals to save us money, I still managed to re-energize myself to the point that I lit a fire under my writing dreams — again. This happened last June, driving down to Franklin, Tennessee, for a scrapbooking weekend. Nine hours by myself in a car, iPod fully loaded with inspirational tunes for my novel. Came home and wrote a detailed outline, with the help of R. Karl Largent and his brief but excellent How to Write and Sell Your Novel, which I picked up at the Ann Arbor Friends of the Library book sale for $2.

This time around, it was Carolyn See and her brilliant book on Making the Literary Life, which I found at the Sand Dollar Bookstore on Miami Avenue in Venice. I hadn’t planned on reading (or knitting) this vacation (see kitchenette, above); my husband threw in Ironside (which I was reading before we left) but it was too dark to be a frothy beach read. I surprised myself by consuming See’s book in just a couple of days instead.

The best advice this time around was her 1,000 words a day rule. Not 1,000 words of rambling, self-pitying navel gazing, but of fiction (preferably, or whatever topic you were writing about…not a journal entry, in other words). Four pages by the handwritten route. Easy enough, and I managed it just fine for 5 days (you take weekends off). Then I did a sixth day, then…I stopped.

One of the things I am discovering that I need is solitude. That is practically impossible with a 3 year-old around. Notice I said practically. I could certainly try around 10a every day, when Jungle Junction is on (his must-see TV). Of course, that is usually when I (finally) jump in the shower. But a shower only takes me about 15 minutes, and my son watches TV for a good hour, hour and a half some mornings. One thousand words can take me anywhere from a half hour (my speed record, and BTW, I loved what I wrote under pressure that day) to a full hour. That’s it! Doesn’t seem right, does it?

I find once I decide what scene I am going to focus on that day, I dive in and don’t look up. But that, for me, takes solitude. I understand why J.K. Rowling wrote in a coffeeshop (well, I am blessed with heat, which she wasn’t at the time, but she was bless with a daughter who napped, and both of my children stopped napping when they were two!) I love my coffeeshop, and yes, it offers solitude.

Here’s another interesting fact I learned about myself in this brief process: I can write any time of day. I always thought I’d do my best work in the morning (I still might, once my son is off to school daily), but it turns out I can write when he is in afternoon preschool (coffee helps).

Now I just need to get back to my 1,000 words a day. Next week is Easter break, so the kids will be around all. day. Here’s to hoping I can find my focus again and get back to my novel. I’ll consider it a mini-vacation from daily routine.