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Piles of Work

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Recently, work has been a Sisyphean challenge for me. It seems like no matter what I do, more and more piles of work build up, threatening to smother me and sap every ounce of energy I might generate. Certainly, you’ve probably noticed a slight down-turn in activity here, which is something I hope to rectify shortly.

Most of my recent days at the office have started at 5:15am. I’m definitely there, at my desk, pounding away by 6am at the latest. For a night owl like me, it’s a real chore to get up, get ready, and get out of the house that early.

But it does seem worth it. I turn on one bank of lights so I can see, but it remains somewhat dim. The only noises are the building’s air conditioning jarring to life at 6am and the copying machine warming up. My desk faces a large bank of windows and when I sit down, it’s completely dark but, as I work, I observe the sky turn gray, then pink, as the sun rises. On sunny mornings, I have to shut the blinds because the rising sun is shining straight into my eyes before anyone else is nearby. The rest of the people in my office don’t start arriving until 8am or even 9ish. I can get in a solid three hours of uninterrupted work before I have to deal with the hustle and bustle of the day.

Which led me to think of this writing challenge… what if you got up at 4:30 and wrote from 5am until 8am every morning? Many writers do this already, but for those of you who don’t, why not give it a try? Even for just a week or two, you could jump-start that novel you’ve been meaning to work on and then go back to your more normal hours.

Conversely, if you typically go to bed early, what if you stay up late three or four nights a week to write? The point is to alter your routine by a couple of hours so you can get some uniterrupted writing time. Challenge yourself to do this for one week, or maybe two. Then you can catch up on your sleep. But I think you’ll be amazed at how much work you get accomplished.

Now, while I’ve been innundated with work, I’ve managed to read some excellent books, albeit at a slightly slower pace than normal. I’ll probably discuss these texts in more detail later, but for now, here’s a scattergun approach to what I’ve been reading lately…

First, Andrew Vachss’ new Burke novel, Mask Market is excellent. Classic Vachss. After last year’s ambitious Two Trains Running, Vachss returns to the streets of New York City for more neo noir with Burke striving to fix a problem he inadvertently created years earlier.

Second, I’m in the middle of A Brief History of the Vikings: The Last Pagans or the First Modern Europeans? I recently watched a fascinating show called Rome: Engineering an Empire on The History Channel and I went to the bookstore in search of more information about Roman emperors. They didn’t have very much and I edged over a couple of shelves and ended up with this illuminating book about Vikings. Well worth the read. Writers, if you’re looking for the next big entertainment craze, then you should bone up on your knowledge of Thor, Odin, Harald Fairhair, Gunnhild Kingsmother and other Viking luminaries. Think about it, we had the movies Troy and Alexander, so ancient Greece has been done recently. HBO’s show Rome covers that era. Isn’t there a movie coming out about Hannibal? I seem to remember an image of elephants. Knights in shining armor has been done to death. And of course, the Pirates of the Carribbean craze doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Vikings are all that’s left. Mark my words, Vikings will be the new pirates, coming soon to a cineplex and bookstore near you. 

Third, I’m about half-way through Daniel Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone: A Novel. My only complaint with this book is that it was released in September. They should have waited, so that you could put a log on the fireplace, curl up in a blanket, and lose yourself in this fine novel during a long snowday. Woodrell flawlessly sets a scene and creates an atmosphere that is undeniable. Consider this passage where Ree, a hard luck girl who listens to relaxation tapes for a break from her daily toil, pauses in the forest.

Ree followed a path made by prey uphilll through scrub, across a bald knob and downhill into a section of pine trees and pine scent and that pious shade and silence pines create. Pine trees with low limbs spread over fresh snow made a stronger vault for the spirit than pews and pulpits ever could. She lingered. She sat on a big thinking rock amid the pines and clamped her headphones on. She tried to match the imported sounds to the setting and selected Alpine Dusk. But those wintry mountain sounds matched the view too perfectly and she switched to The Sounds of Tropical Dawn. Snow worked loose on branches overhead and sifted between pine needles to drift down as powder while she heard warm waves unrolling and birds of many colors and maybe monkeys. She could hear the smell of orchids and papayas, sense a rainbow of fish gathering in the shallows near the beach.

She sat there until the big thinking rock made her butt too cold.

Normally, I think we all are leery of repetitive language. But in this case, I think Woodrell uses the inital repetition of pine trees to great effect, conjuring the thousands of large trees that crowd in a mature-growth forest. And the “she could hear the smell of orchids” is just fantastic.

I’ll let you in on some of the other great books I’ve been reading later…