An antique sewing table with a wrought iron back bar. A writing desk from a 19030s Quebec schoolroom. Sounds, scents and sirens from Ottawa's Rideau street below. These are just few of the vivid details Patricia K. McCarthy shares with us in today's At The Desk interview. But then, Patricia is good at vivid detail: as a writer of the erotic vampire series Crimson, she does the tantalizing bits best.
My writing office is my bedroom. Where else would an author of erotic vampire novels work? These gin and tonic pot-boilers, as I fondly call them, save me the trouble of serving prison time for infanticide. I never had children. Instead, I give birth to novels which are a lot less expensive; they never talk back to me and I don’t have to save for their education. I put a lot of energy into rearing my novels, of course nowhere near as much as most parents do with raising a child, but it still means two to three years work. My drafts are pulled together in my bedroom, in an apartment in Sandy Hill, one of Ottawa’s oldest neighbourhoods — a quaint place known not surprisingly for its hilliness and manicured curbs and pruned trees, embassies and serene streets. Its history links to the days of the lumber barons. My novels are set entirely in Ottawa with much of the action taking place in Strathcona Park in Sandy Hill.
The computer monitor and keyboard sit atop an antique sewing table. When I write, one foot rests on the treadle and the other is raised with toes curled on its sturdy, wrought iron back bar. It’s an old table with a stressed wooden top, re-stained and damaged over the years with the claw marks of two cats who eagerly watched over me; both have since passed on. The table was given to me by my mother. I bugged her for years to get it, expressing umpteen times how much I loved it, never realizing what it would eventually come to mean to me, the perfect writing desk. I like antiques; they make me feel young… well at least younger than are they! The table is barely wide enough for my monitor and keyboard but just right to fit inside my bedroom. I need erotic inspiration and being a stone’s throw away from a bed reminds me of the purpose of my Crimson vampire novels, to titillate, amuse and satisfy.
Above my writing table is a sticky board. Torn slips of paper are posted scrawled in my hurried chicken scratch that I can sometimes read, business cards, numerous phone numbers and email IDs, the dreaded “Action Items List” (revised each year), plus excerpts of emails from fans and a few from my editor David Three Rats on the rare occasions when he compliments me after he has lunged into my first drafts like a hungry wolf ogling Little Red Riding Hood. There are prints too, near my writing table, some of which are graphically erotic, for inspiration of course; they double as conversation pieces for visitors.
To the far right of my sewing table is the Crimson Vision Board, a wish list of sorts: names of magazines, newspapers, television and radio stations that I harangue on the release of each novel, requesting a review or for any sort of publicity. Many have already been achieved while others are but a pipe-dream. It’s ever important for authors to cast their eye to the skies (yes, I’m looking at you, The New Yorker). I don’t collect images of vampires or read other vampire novels or put up vampire posters around my workspace. I write with the sounds of Middle Eastern music streaming into my bedroom from outside, coming from a Persian restaurant as the kitchen staff sits in the alley parking lot peeling potatoes in summer. My third floor window faces Rideau Street. There is a single-story building down below: out back are the doors leading to the restaurant, a busy magazine tuck shop, laundromat, pawn broker, a man who gives jazz guitar lessons and practices with his students for all to hear… the traffic is constant, the noise ever-present. Some writers function better in silence; I thrive on disturbances, screeching sirens on Rideau Street, the thunderous motorcycle choppers riding in groups of six who roar as though they were sixty strong, arguments breaking out between lovers, crows and seagulls fighting over the same leftovers in the dumpster.
I have an editing desk too, also an antique — another piece I coveted and begged for from my mother (bless her generous soul). I use this one for reading finished manuscripts, after they have undergone numerous hackings by my principal editor, copy editors, proofreader and typesetter. The change in desk and space is good for my head and eyes. This gorgeous writing desk, from a Quebec school, dates back to the 1930s; the wood is light in colour and the legs tall, much taller than one would expect for a child’s desk. It has one of those wonderful old-fashioned flip tops. Hidden inside are all of the clipped articles with reviews, stinging criticisms and glowing interviews that me and my vampire series have received. At both writing places, I sit on red oak chairs (again from mom) whose seats are hard and uncomfortable. When my bum goes numb, I have an excuse for getting up to go to the fridge for water (or sometimes for a nip of wine; I often keep an open bottle on top of the fridge). Libation and distraction are two essential ingredients in the creative process, particularly when I’m feeling uninspired.
If my sewing table and school desk were replaced or swindled out of my possession, I would be lost. I feel off-balance when I write away from them. Many feel that art chooses the artist. I agree, though I would quickly add that the desk chooses the writer, or in my case a sewing table — like a marriage assembled in author’s heaven.