Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace. My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them share some of their writing wisdom here.
Today, I am most eager to welcome ML Swift, writer and blogger at mlswift.me.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?
As you see, I was born in the period when black and white photography was still the norm. Sure, color had been invented, but who could afford it except the very rich? Then Polaroid introduced instant color film to the masses and before you knew it, the entire world was snapping pictures, much like we are today with the advent of cameras on cell phones. Of course, we’re doing it a thousand times more and instantly sharing with the entire world, but ahh…technology…don’t you love it? It’s a blessing and a curse.
It’s been a trip getting to this place in my life—you know, the writing aspect of it. Before moving here to the panhandle of Florida, I was living in Sunny San Diego and lovin’ every minute of it. The Navy took me there; the weather kept me. After my discharge my jobs varied, but I eventually settled into a nice position as a buyer for a men’s clothing catalog.
I was also an unofficial copywriter—that is to say, I wrote all the copy for my stock but didn’t get paid for it. While other buyers gave brief descriptions of the garments to the copywriters for identification, that didn’t fly with me. Call me a critic, but I didn’t like the garment and color names they’d choose, and the descriptions didn’t thrill me enough to grab the phone and order the shirt or slacks or belt or shoes or whatever it was. So when I handed my inventory over to the photographers and copy personnel, I also included the names and descriptions I wanted in the catalog. They liked it, it stayed, and my stuff sold. Everyone was happy.
But all good things must come to an end. The fine folks at Hanover House bought us out and consolidated the catalog, which laid off hundreds of folks, including me. My portion of the catalog—clearance and close-out items—was discontinued altogether, swallowed up by the individual departments to which the garments belonged.
That’s when I felt a call on my heart to be closer to my parents, who had relocated to Florida. Good fortune and investments allowed me to semi-retire, and I bought a small place on a couple acres in a little town south of Tallahassee. Although I hated to leave California, the move seemed to happen just in the nick of time; my mother’s health began to decline and she developed Alzheimer’s Disease.
Until her passing in June of last year, I was her caregiver, and although Mom and I were always close, this strengthened our bond even more. During some of the most difficult moments, I began to write—to journal the events—which led to my decision to pen a book on the experience.
And that’s how this shaky venture into the writing world transpired. The book about my experience as an Alzheimer’s caregiver is yet to come, as I’ve needed to create different worlds with different characters…someone else to trudge through life’s hazards for awhile. I’ll participate vicariously from the sidelines.
I have no idea what genre I “belong,” but when I look back at my writing style, it has a literary fiction feel, with works more character-driven than plot-driven. Although the plot is just as important to me, I simply reveal it differently. I guess that’s why I don’t feel a belonging to any specific genre, but many, for my stories can be tailored to children, young adults, and old adults alike—whichever way the story wants to be told.
Other than writing, I love to garden, and studied landscape architecture in college. I’m a true Virgo, the earth sign, and live up to that stereotype: meticulous and detailed, grounded and practical. I love all things to do with the Fine Arts, and can usually be found singing or acting in my spare time, even playing Jesus Christ on a couple of occasions.
1. Where do you do most of your writing?
I used to have a room I lovingly called my office, but I began to lose that five years ago, when my twin sister moved in to help with my mom. It was nothing special: a door lying across two file cabinets that served as a make-shift desk, a bookcase from the thrift store, a love seat for visitors, and to keep in shape, a weight bench. Sis moved in, and although I could still use the desk, the rest of the room became her bedroom and walk-in closet.
In April 2011, two weeks after I began my research into the publishing industry, my nephew moved in. His “just a couple of months” lasted two-and-a-half years and my office was officially lost in the process.
I resigned to my bedroom where my 1907 cast-iron bed became my workspace. On the bright side, it hastened the purchase of my Lenovo E530 Thinkpad! There’s actually a beautiful quilt under that awful yellow blanket, otherwise known as the dog blanket. My two boys, Buster and Rameses, like to lay with me while I work, and even with a bath a week, they’re dirty little critters. They’ve provided much love and comfort during my recent difficulties and I’d be lost without them.
2. Where did you get your desk? How did you go about arranging your work area?
After Mom moved in, followed by my sister, followed by my nephew, all of my stuff was displaced, boxed up, and crammed into a corner of my bedroom. I hesitate to even show you:
My nephew finally moved out in January, and since then, I’ve been on a remodeling quest—and getting rid of the clutter! It’s been a job, with many life distractions along the way.
Mom left me an exquisite Victorian Parlor Set which will finda a new home in the old office, and rather than keep the “door-desk” (which I really loved all the desktop space) I splurged and bought a BRAND NEW Magellan Series from the Office Depot: an espresso-colored L-shaped corner desk and hutch, tech station, and bonded leather task chair—the works! After I complete a couple more projects, I’ll make a video of the remodel and post it on my own blog, but for now here are a few stills of the process:
And the completed product, minus a few finishing touches:
3. What are some important things on your desk? Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?
My older sister gave me a Shoebox Teddybear years ago that I’ve always kept on my desk, no matter the job, and I like to be surrounded by inspirational quotes, with several hanging on the walls. My twin sister gave me one a few Christmases ago: “May you live as long as you wish and love as long as you live,” as well as this one during the remodel:
4. What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?
Other than the fact that it’s BRAND NEW (can you hear my excitement?), I love all the cubbyholes, drawers, special compartments, and especially the espresso finish. I’m a natural lover of earthy colors—the greens, golds, maroons, and browns—a veritable palate of the transition of the seasons. The espresso finish is a perfect accompaniment to my dark wooden veneer dresser and highboy.
The tech station comes in handy as a storage and charging spot for all my technoware. I’m ecstatic, and haven’t treated myself to something like this in years. Add to that the new 32″ flatscreen I received for Christmas and I’ll never have to leave the room.
I’ve also always had a soft spot for this dragon mug given to me by friends almost twenty years ago. It’s never held coffee, only pens and paperclips, and is currently the home of a lucky hawk feather that lit upon me one afternoon while musing in the backyard.
5. What’s your writing beverage? What do you love to drink while you’re writing?
Coffee, coffee, and more coffee. Is that too stereotypical of a writer? Well, tough; it’s the truth. I awaken rather early and toss back a few pots to get the day started, then mainly sip it as a beverage until noon. After that, it’s usually water until dinnertime, when I have a Dr. Pepper or sweetened Iced Tea. I’ll have an occasional Pepsi or Sprite, but only if there’s no Dr. Pepper or tea. I also drink herbal teas and love the Yogi brand.
1. Who is your favorite author? Who inspired you to write?
Oh goodness—fave author? How can I limit it to just one? I was raised on the classics and of course love the greats: Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe, Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, C.S. Lewis, Louis Carroll—the list is endless—but I love just as many women authors, except they seem to be more contemporary (Stein, Walker, Angelo) or humorous ( Flagg, Bombeck, Stockett).
My inspiration to be a writer came from two of my high school teachers, Joan Pawloski and William Groves. I was fortunate to have inspirational teachers in each field of study, but Mrs. Pawloski and Mr. Groves went above and beyond any others in the Language Arts department. I had Mrs. P. for English in the 10th and Journalism in the 11th grade, as well as adviser to the newspaper staff, and Mr. Groves for both Spanish and 11th grade English. He was a remarkable man, a polyglot who spoke seven different languages. They each took great care in nurturing my creative spirit.
2. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?
As I said earlier, I awaken at an ungodly time of day, usually rousing in the 4:00 hour and finally rising around 5:00, but I set the coffee for 3:45, just to be on the safe side. When I get up—and I don’t need an alarm—the routine is always the same. The house is dark, save the dim light over the stove, and through cracked eyelids I feel my way to the coffeemaker, pour my first cup, and feel my way back. I’ll drink that first cup with my eyes closed and the lights out. After that, I turn on the bedside lamp and get another cup, which I enjoy with my first cigarette. Then and only then does the day begin.
3. Do you write every day? How many hours a day do you spend writing? What are some of your worst writing distractions?
Yes, I write a little everyday, whether it makes it into something or not. I keep a list of lines I like, phrases, words…whenever I hear, read, or think of something, I’ll write it down. I have so many parts of stories going, it’s not even funny, but a lot of these have turned into characters or scenes that I use elsewhere. I never throw anything away. NEVER.
When Mom was with me, she required a great deal of care, none of which I regret. It was difficult getting this venture off the ground being a full-time caregiver. Now that she has passed, I thought things would ease up a bit, however, two months later my twin sister was diagnosed with a severe form of breast cancer and we’ve been dealing with that. Life has a way of…complicating things.
Since September of last year, we’ve been making trips three times a week to various doctors, surgeons, labs, etc. in the ongoing battle for her life. She has two more chemotherapy treatments before surgery, and a double mastectomy is being considered. A BRCA test she took yesterday will determine for sure whether she carries the gene, and if so, the double mastectomy will happen as planned.
My other two main distractions are my boys, who like to snuggle against me and put their paws on the keyboard. “That’s enough for now, Daddy,” they tell me. Most times I can’t help but put the work aside and love on them for a bit.
4. Why do you write?
I write because if I didn’t, I’d probably go crazy with all the stories piling up in my head. There’s always a conversation taking place up there; sometimes too many! Add to that some seriously exciting moments and terrible heartaches I’ve experienced, and it makes for good story. I want to pen these down, whether it be in fictional form or non-fictional creative writing.
I try to make sense of it all. I think God has put these experiences in my path and the desire to write about them in my heart for a reason: to share them with others, to instill a sense of strength and hope within the stories to help those in similar situations get through them. I write to promote a better sense of self.
5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us? How about a favorite writing quote?
I’ll end with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which was the same quote I used as my yearbook affirmation in my Senior year of high school. It’s from his essay, Self-Reliance:
“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.”
If you’ve followed me at all, you know what a believer I am in being true to yourself and in being true to your story the way it wants to be told. Forget trends. Forget hype. And forget success—it may never come.
Remember who you are and from where you come. Write about that, either fictitiously or realistically. That will bring you the most satisfaction and ring truest to your readers.
An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.
He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.
Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your writing life, ML!
Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.
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