Remain sitting at your table…

It seems to be a law of writers’ blogs that you must have an essay on that perennial question: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?  So I thought by way of introduction, I’d start with that one, since, frankly, it’s so easy.

Franz Kafka offered this advice to writers (I guess to writers – I can’t imagine who else he would have been talking to):

You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

I’m here to say that that Kafka really knew what he was talking about.

In one of my multiple, bicoastal lives I own a house in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in the South, an historical district with gorgeous old houses (huge wraparound porches, five-story high old growth trees, azaleas, hydrangeas, hyacinths – fireflies, for God’s sake) – some of which have been redone to perfection, others (fewer and fewer) of which are, well – crack houses. Not to put too fine a point on it.

It makes for some interesting traffic on the streets, let me tell you.

My house is between two rental houses – grand old places that were split up some time ago into various small and in several cases, disreputable, apartments. In the house on the right are student types and young recent graduates. In the house on the left are crazy people and criminals.

And all this makes for some interesting viewing, during those long, long days when I’m staring blankly out of whichever window I happen to be working in front of.

There’s a very, very cute twenty-something in the student house. Very cute. Very smart. Long hair. Great, probing eyes. Sits on the porch alone and smokes and thinks. Dead end job. Did I mention cute? And who lives with his very sweet, very straight girlfriend. And I’m very nicely taken care of myself, thank you very much. I’m just saying.

In the crazy house, there is a crazy girl. Young woman. One or the other. You must use words like "spitfire" and "floozy" and "lolls" and "prowls" to describe her. She throws anything within reach when she’s angry, which is often. She screams. She sobs. She constantly locks herself out of the house and asks the nearest passing man to boost her up to the second story window so she can get back in. She is often in just a – very short -bathrobe when she does this.  And I do mean – just the bathrobe.   I don’t actually think she works, but if she did work, she’d be a "dancer". You know. Not quite exactly the way I’m a dancer. Sex just rolls off her in waves. I’d sleep with her. Well, I wouldn’t really, but I certainly don’t have the slightest trouble imagining it.

Oh yeah, and she’s married. Young husband. Clueless.

Now, this whole situation is ripe. It’s practically oozing. There will be all kinds of sex with the wrong people. There will be scheming, and cross-scheming. Someone will die. Horribly. There will be betrayals and reversals that will make your head spin.

And you know, I don’t have even the vaguest idea what part of it I’ll end up writing. The whole Hitchcockian thing? Or just one character who shows up fully formed in some other story when I least expect it? I have no idea. I just know it’s growing.

I remain sitting quietly at my table, and wait for the world to roll at my feet.

So, brand new Murderati pals – what’s rolled at YOUR feet lately?

(And it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – I am just so honored and thrilled to be here!  XX)

20 thoughts on “Remain sitting at your table…

  1. G. T. Karber

    Right now, I’m writing a novel about two, modern-day magicians.

    Since I have had this idea, the following two things have happened.

    1) I went to a NaNoWriMog meeting that four other people attended: two had been professional magicians for a year and a half.

    2) The elder president of a magic club, long since disolved, that I had been the youngest member of when I was eight recently invited me to a dinner/magic show.

    There was something else, too, but I’m too tired to remember: my point is, the world favors writers in some way, and whether it’s inspiration or encouragement, it will find its ways to speak to you.

  2. Mike MacLean

    All right, not to sound like a kiss-ass here, but what a nicely written post. It’s easy to see why you’re here. You set a high bar.

    I’m still learning to listen to the world. It’s a hard job when your life is full of work and family and friends and dreams and bills and washing machines that don’t work like they should.

    So for right now, I steal.

    I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing new under the sun. So, in all honesty, I’m a thief. I steal from movies and TV and comics and books. I take ideas from a hundred sources and mix them together, twist them, and make them my own.

    To search for the new idea is a fool’s errand. Ask Shakespeare.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Hey Karber – good to meet you! You’ve got a great blog going there.

    Your magician thing is EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Synchronicity. It’s probably the best part of being a writer. You start a new project and when it’s really going right, the story starts to manifest, literally manifest, around you.

    A stranger really will walk up to you and you’re hit with some cosmic thunderbolt, because they are the living image of a character you’re trying to define, and suddenly you understand so much more about your story than you ever realized you were writing. You will find yourself in the exact situation that your main character is struggling with. You will walk around a corner and come face to face with the precise house your villain lives in.

    I live for that part. (My problem actually is when it starts happening, I’m liable to get too involved in acting things out, but that’s another post!)

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Well, thanks, Mike! This site is a high bar – I think we’re all going to stretch.

    Oh, I steal, too. But mostly I’m a vampire. Really, people aren’t safe around me.

    On the other hand, it’s always kind of sexy and flattering to be written about, right? So maybe our victims hang around because they like it. 😉

  5. Guyot

    Seriously, that Kafka quote has always been a favorite. And he was talking about a room with NO windows!

    Recently, I’ve been in that dreaded “in between projects” state that scribes like Alex know so well. I’ve been working on a book, toying with a pilot idea, and just kind of wandering sans focus.

    Then, while searching for music for the pilot idea, I stumbled across some tunes that made me think about a movie idea I’d written down two years ago.

    I dug it out, and actually liked it. To the point of thinking, “Wow, this is something I’d love to make myself one day – an indy sort of film.”

    Cut to the very next day, and I’m having a get-to-know-you lunch with the father of one of my kids’ friends. Turns out that he works at a bank that is getting into financing indy films shot in Missouri.

    My best stuff comes when I don’t force it. When I just wait for that big black Newfoundland dog to show up – my muse.

    This time he was playing music and dressed as a banker.

  6. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Banker muses are the best. Where can I get one of those?

    Now THAT’S the pollen trail if I ever heard it. Really exciting… when can I see the script?

    Also, Newfoundlands are my favorite. If you’re going to have a dog, then commit, is what I say.

  7. Tasha

    Alex, so lovely to see you here!!!

    I’ve got nothing but grief at my feet this morning, but I suppose that doesn’t preclude inspiring good writing…

  8. JT Ellison

    Alex, I remember you telling me about these neighbors in Phoenix. I recall being jealous that you have such colorful people around you. But that’s your personality, you’re going to attract everyone, lucky girl.I’ve been in force it mode myself, and am really ready for one of those serendipitous moments to let everything break free. Maybe I need to come sit on your porch.

    Guyot, I’ve got a manuscript that would make a good series, just in case. Then again, our brains working together might be dangerous.

    Mike, you aren’t a kiss-ass. You’re a brilliant man who recognizes the talents of a pretty spectacular woman. That just makes you smart in my book.

  9. pari noskin taichert

    Let me join Mike in kissing thine ass. Wonderful post.

    Mike’s life sounds a lot like mine: Kids, work, housecleaning, PTA.

    I live in a really white, conservative neighborhood — retirees and young families — and usually, the most exciting thing to happen here is a car speeding down the street or a roaming dog that escaped a backyard.

    Of course, there was that morning that a police sniper hid behind the rosebushes in OUR gated front patio, his weapon trained on the house across the way… five different law enforcement agencies had closed off the street in both directions.

    The sniper was dressed in camoflauge, including fake branches on his helmet, for Heaven’s sake.

    Divorces, deaths, house alarms going off in the middle of the day . . . that’s my normal world.

    Re: SychronicityWhen I’m writing about any subject, I always meet people who can help. Right now, everyone I speak with seems to know someone in Las Cruces or who works in the food processing biz.

  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Yeah, JT, I attract everyone, all right. Just remember that some of my neighbors are more “scary” than “colorful”. We finally got rid of the guy who walked down the middle of the street muttering to himself and who kept threatening to burn down the house. Speaking of snipers, apparently a SWAT team had to take him down a couple years ago when he was standing out on the roof naked with his – well, let’s just say it wasn’t a gun he was playing with.

    That wasn’t enough to get him evicted, somehow, but a few months ago he threw a cinderblock through his landlord’s windshield and lo and behold, he was gone two days later.

    (I never saw him in a helmet with branches, though – that’s a riot.)

    But Pari – don’t you think it’s the straight ones who are the MOST fun to write about? I just love imagining what roils under the surface in those white bread neighborhoods. Writing about the weird ones is almost too easy.

  11. Louise Ure

    Well, I don’t have Kafka’s windowless room, dark enough to see the spectres writhing in the air.

    But damn, Alex, your cast of characters could populate a dozen novels.

    Put’s my Golden Gate Bridge view to shame.

  12. Elaine Flinn

    Kafka, huh? Now we all know where Alex got her muse!

    Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote a short story called A Friend of Kafka, which was about a Yiddish actor called Jacques Kohn who said he knew Franz Kafka. In this story, according to Jacques Kohn, Kafka believed in the Golem, a legendary creature from Jewish folklore.

    No wonder THE HARROWING kept me up at night!

    Welcome, welcome – Alex! Wish my window on the world was as exciting. 🙂 But then, I live in Oregon now. No California crazies to observe anymore.

  13. JT Ellison

    Alex, you must have the magic touch. This evening, up popped a documentary on Brushy Mountain State Pen in Eastern Tennessee. I needed to do some research on the facility, and here it is, rolling up to me unbidden. So thanks!

  14. billie

    Hey! You murderati are having all the fun! What a great site and I love the blog line-up.

    One of my favorite things about writing is when the world seems to offer things up that perfectly mesh with the book-in-progress. I call it having my finger on the pulse of the universe. 🙂


  15. Deb Kristy

    Welcome, Alexandra! Great post to start off with. Only now you have to keep being brilliant 😀

    Things are, indeed, rolling at my feet. I’m feeling slightly protective of them right now, though. I am gathering, hoarding greedily, and feel quite suspicious, or perhaps just superstitious, of allowing them out of my grasp for even a moment.

    I will write about my neighborhood–one day. When I am out of it. They think that because they take no notice of me, that I take no notice of them. Ahh, but what I notice. It all goes in the hopper. Sometimes it comes out bent and damaged, but still beautiful in its way, I hope.

    I’m looking forward to reading between the lines, Alexandra! 🙂

  16. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Elaine, I’m not so sure I want Kafka’s muse. He scares me enough all on his own. But you’re right about the Golem – I was definitely referencing that in THE HARROWING.

    JT – that is so cool about the Brushy Mountain Special. It seems to be the thing about synchronicity – the more you look for it, the more you get it.

  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Billie, it’s great to have you here. We are having a ton of fun, and it’s only the first week! This party’s just getting started.

    And Kristy, if there’s anything that’s going to make me be brilliant it’s knowing you’re over there at the Debutante Ball writing brilliant posts like your last one. Damn you. 😉


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