Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Where Writers Write: Clifford Garstang

Welcome to another installment of TNBBC's Where Writers Write!

Where Writers Write is a series in which authors showcase their writing spaces using short form essay, photos, and/or video. As a lover of books and all of the hard work that goes into creating them, I thought it would be fun to see where the authors roll up their sleeves and make the magic happen. 

This is Clifford Garstang. 

Clifford is the author of the new short fiction collection, House of the Ancients and Other Stories, as well as two previous collections, In an Uncharted Country and What the Zhang Boys Know, and a novel, The Shaman of Turtle Valley. He’s also known for his annual literary magazine rankings, which can be found on his website:

Where Clifford Garstang Writes

My home office is where it has been since I moved into this house in 2001—a second-floor loft with built-in bookcases, closets for storage, and a bathroom. There’s even a window overlooking my yard. In theory, it’s ideal, even if I do have to make the occasional trip down to the kitchen for snacks or a coffee refill. Over the years, though, it grew impossibly cluttered. There is no more bookshelf space anywhere in the house, so new acquisitions formed stacks in my office, teetering piles of regret mixed with possibility. I also had boxes and boxes of literary journals that needed to go somewhere, but I couldn’t bring myself to send them to recycling. And I had a hard time throwing away documents or drafts of stories or anything else I’d produced here, so file drawer space was also hard to come by.
The office had become such a mess that I began writing in coffee shops. I’d grab my laptop and head off to one of the many such spaces in my community and find that I got a decent amount of work done and also managed to interact with people, too. Factoring in travel and socializing, it might not have been the most efficient use of my time, but I managed.

When the coffee shops closed in response to the pandemic a couple of months ago, I was forced to stay home to work. The first thing I had to do if I had a prayer of getting anything done was clean the office, or at least make it livable. I threw away a lot of paper. I removed the clutter from my desk. I organized the stacks of books so they didn’t look quite so intimidating. And for the first time in a long time I haven’t been tempted to leave, even if I had somewhere to go.

I’m now loving this space. I’ve written a lot here, over the years—my MFA thesis (an unpublished novel), three story collections, two novels (one published, one forthcoming), and a draft of another book I hope to finish this year. Not to mention the three anthologies I edited, the magazine I started and worked on for years, and countless book reviews, essays, and blog posts I’ve written.

In a previous life—I practiced international law for two decades, bouncing between Asia and the United States—I had offices that were necessary, but not particularly inspiring (although I do kind of miss my view of the Singapore harbor). Now, if I can keep the clutter at bay, I think I’ll be able to keep writing for years to come.

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