Local authors talk ‘work quirks’

Thomas Dresser. — File photo by Susan Safford

The MV Times asked Ward Just, Linda Fairstein, Laura Wainwright, and Thomas Dresser to talk a bit about their work habits, both good and bad.

Toward the end of his life, living then in Hollywood, F. Scott Fitzgerald often began his writing day with a glass of gin. That did not work out well for him, though it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. My glass of gin is a game of solitaire, in fact four varieties of solitaire. I normally exhaust two decks of cards in the two-plus years it takes me to write a novel. The fifty-two cards in each deck are repaired again and again with Scotch tape until they literally fall apart. After thirty minutes of card-slapping I seem to be sufficiently mesmerised to begin the day’s work. The patterns of the cards make a kind of plot, the buried ace in the seventh file, the rare stymied three-card run in the fifth file, the absence of kings, the ominous queen of spades as the lone card in the first file. The spade-queen often signals an unproductive day, while the ace of hearts promises the opposite. I am putting a character aboard a train leaving the Gare Montparnasse at midnight. He is meeting a woman and the question is, will she be there or – a la “Casablanca” – will she send a cryptic note instead? Red ace trumps black queen. She’s in the bar car drinking a glass of champagne. The cards are put to one side. A fresh sheet of paper is in the typewriter. The day commences.

-Ward Just, of Vineyard Haven, is an award-winning author who has most recently contributed to the book “My Bookstore,” on which he will speak about at the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival on August 3 and 4.

Before writing these words I dawdled; fed the cats and dogs, filled the bird feeders, swept the kitchen, then washed a load of laundry and hung it on the line. Remembering I owed my cousin in Rome a letter, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote her a newsy card. When I walked out to put it in the mailbox, I decided the dogs needed a short stroll; so we meandered into the neighboring field and I watched the tree swallows dip and swoop until the dogs turned back toward home.

Now it was time to brew a strong cup of tea, cross the yard with the hot mug cradled between my hands, and open the door to my little studio. As always, after resting the steaming mug on my desk, I took out a stick of incense, and lit it with a wooden match. Soon thick grey smoke glided out of the incense burner’s tiny chimney. The familiar smell of dry pinion reminded me to turn on the birdsong CD I always listen to. Once the meadowlark sang I could begin, “Before writing these words…”.

-Laura Wainwright, of West Tisbury, is the author of “Home Bird: Four Seasons on Martha’s Vineyard” published by Vineyard Stories. Ms. Wainwright will speak about the book at the M.V. Book Festival.

I’ve had the luxury and delight of doing most of my fiction writing in Chilmark, in a small cottage apart from the house – a true writer’s room. I work best in the morning, jump-starting the day with two cups of coffee on the deck at the Chilmark Store. Then I go to my desk, which has a glorious view of Quitsa pond – and not a person in sight – which works well for me because I am so easily distracted and love being with friends and family. I like to spend as many hours as I can in front of the keyboard, telling a story, before I break for a swim or to chat with anyone who has dropped by to rescue me from the solitary time that writing requires. I knock off in late afternoon to take a break from the intensity of plotting and putting words on the page to enjoy socializing with my favorite people, the great local food, and Vineyard sunsets. Once I have that first sip of wine, I’ve left the writer’s life for the evening and enjoy the relaxation every bit as much as I love the chance to write fiction.

-Linda Fairstein, a seasonal Chilmark resident, most recently wrote “Death Angel,” the 15th book in the Alexandra Cooper mystery novel series, which publishes July 30.

1. I must have a full cup of piping hot coffee, or a glass of ice-cold water at my desk, which usually goes untouched when I write. I forget it’s there, but must have it.

2. I seek quiet, alone-time, preferably early in the day, with minimal distractions. Once I start to write, I jump when the phone rings, a door slams, or a voice calls out.

3. At times I write as much as possible, up to 2,000 words per hour, then cull through the draft, picking and choosing phrases or concepts of interest.

4. Often when I’m driving on a long trip in the car, I make notes for stories in my head; at rest stops I scribble frantic notes on index cards for later use.

5. Many times I have worked out challenges of writing a piece when I am driving my school bus. This also happens when I’m on a stationary bicycle in a spinning class at the Y.

6. I find it tedious to write in long-hand, and often am unable to read my own writing. I love my laptop.

7. I prefer writing in the off-season, in the quiet of mid-winter, especially on a dark or rainy day, within the confines of my cocoon of an office. Scattered books, papers and notes abound, and I thrive on the messiness of the writing process, with everything at my fingertips.

8. I prefer working early in the day, when I first wake-up; I detest the pressure of having to write in the evening.

9. Exercise sharpens my mind; I revel that it improves my style by broadening my mental options.

10. When I read what someone else wrote, I often silently critique or edit their sentences for my edification.

11. I prefer not to share my work until I’ve revised it several times. And I love to proof-read and edit my own work.

12. Often I read my work aloud to hear the sound of the phrases, to eliminate repetition of words, to listen to the points I’m trying to make.

13. I don’t like the distraction of snacks or music; I thrive on the pressure of an impending deadline.

-Thomas Dresser, of Oak Bluffs, mainly writes nonfiction and most recently published “Women of Martha’s Vineyard.”