A Peek at the Creative Space of Ben Guterson
Joining us for Creative Spaces is debut author Ben Guterson. His middle-grade mystery, Winterhouse, is wonderful. I highly recommend it to fans of Book Scavenger, especially if you’re also a fan of books like The Golden Compass or the Harry Potter series. I’m not the only one who adored this book either–independent booksellers selected it for their Indie Next list for Winter 2017-2018!
Here’s a little more about it:
An enchanting urban fantasy middle-grade debut―the first book in a trilogy―set in a magical hotel full of secrets.
Orphan Elizabeth Somers’s malevolent aunt and uncle ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel, owned by the peculiar Norbridge Falls. Upon arrival, Elizabeth quickly discovers that Winterhouse has many charms―most notably its massive library. It’s not long before she locates a magical book of puzzles that will unlock a mystery involving Norbridge and his sinister family. But the deeper she delves into the hotel’s secrets, the more Elizabeth starts to realize that she is somehow connected to Winterhouse. As fate would have it, Elizabeth is the only person who can break the hotel’s curse and solve the mystery. But will it be at the cost of losing the people she has come to car for, and even Winterhouse itself?
Mystery, adventure, and beautiful writing combine in this exciting debut richly set in a hotel full of secrets.
Describe your workspace.
My workspace is my older daughter’s semi-converted bedroom. For some reason, about half the room is still full of her furniture and boxes (she moved out years ago), so I have a desk against one wall, and two bookshelves nearby. Not very exciting, but I discovered long ago that I can work almost anywhere–just very lucky now to actually have my own “den”!
Describe a typical workday.
Wake up around 6:00. Have breakfast and read till about 8:00. Write from about 8:00 till 11:00. Have lunch, look at email or news, nap, take a walk or try to do something physical, read some more, have dinner, all from about 11:00 in the morning through 7:00 in the evening. Write again from 7:00 till 10:00. Sounds kind of dull, now that I write it down! Basically, I try to write six hours a day, seven days a week, almost every week when I am in the middle of working on a book–very fortunate to have this sort of schedule.
List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
Oh, gosh, not sure how to come up with three things here–really, my one favorite aspect of my workspace is that I sit before a window that looks out at almost total greenery. I live in a heavily forested area, and right outside my window are several Douglas fir trees and then a few foothills in the distance. It’s a lovely view, very peaceful at all seasons.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.
None. Unless “Typing on a keyboard” counts as a ritual? I doubt it.
What do you listen to while you work?
The sound of silence. Not the song–actual silence. I’m lucky to live in a very quiet area. I don’t need absolute silence to work, but I do find I get distracted if there are too many loud or random noises, so it’s great that I don’t have to worry about disturbances most of the time, even when my window is open.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
Tea. And more tea. I don’t eat while I write, but I do like to drink tea.
What keeps you focused while you’re working?
The writing itself. I don’t find myself getting distracted or unfocused while I write, generally.
Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?
Computer only. Sometimes I take notes or jot down ideas in a little journal, but I do all my composing on my laptop.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
I usually get an idea–a setting, perhaps, or a character or a moment of action–that will become fixed in my thoughts and then expand and deepen for months or even years; and then, if my interest doesn’t fade, I slowly accumulate notes as I think and think about the possibilities in my initial inspiration. After a while, I might have ten or twenty pages of notes, so then I’ll start thinking about how to corral them into a rough story and see if things come together. A little synopsis might be in order at that point, and if I still feel enthusiastic about the potential, I’ll hammer my notes into some sort of order (lists of characters, settings, plot elements, and so on) and try to get things into some coherent scheme. At that point, I can attempt an outline, which is something I like to do by way of charting a clear course for drafting. I’m not beholden to the outline, but it gives me a rough roadmap even as I experiment within the parameters I’ve defined. One thing I recognize now is that I spent a number of years trying to use systems or techniques that other writers had devised and recommended…and they never worked for me. It wasn’t until I came up with my own method that the process felt natural and efficient.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
The only possible answer I can give here is: My wife. Happily, I should add. Be sure to note that: Happily. Seriously, my wife has been my biggest supporter, and any person would be glad to have someone in their corner who is so helpful and steadfast.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
Hmm, not totally sure. I do know that when I was about 19 I read The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, and that book has remained the single most important piece of writing advice–albeit, stretched across scores of pages–I’ve ever encountered. I also recall a teacher I had in college, Lois Hudson, reminding the students in her creative writing class that each passage should “do two things,” and I think there’s a lot of wisdom there–how to make certain there’s a level of depth and interest and resonance on every page and, really, in each sentence, that make the parts come together organically and meaningfully within the bigger picture.