A Peek at the Creative Space of Michelle Ray

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is author Michelle Ray. Her debut YA novel, Falling for Hamlet, was recently published. Falling for Hamlet is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s play told from Ophelia’s point of view:

Meet Ophelia, high school senior, daughter of the Danish king’s most trusted adviser, and longtime girlfriend of Prince Hamlet. She lives a glamorous life, has a royal social circle, and her beautiful face is splashed across magazines and TV. But it comes with a price — her life is dominated not only by Hamlet’s fame and his overbearing royal family but also by the paparazzi who hound them wherever they go.

After the sudden and suspicious death of his father, the king, Hamlet spirals dangerously toward madness, and  Ophelia finds herself torn between loyalty to her boyfriend, her father, her country, and her true self.

Michelle is a contributor to Emu’s Debuts where she’s written about the creation of her book cover and the conundrum of planning a themed launch party for a book that centers on revenge, madness, and murder. To learn more about Michelle you can find her on Facebook as “Michelle Ray writer” or visit her website. And if you live in the southern California area, you can learn more about Michelle in person on July 18 when she’ll be at Book Soup in West Hollywood at 7pm.

The butt imprint in the couch (covered by my laptop in the picture) proves that I put in the hours, but I don’t have a classic writer’s area.

Describe your workspace.

My workspace is a couch nestled between the kitchen and Barbie’s Funhouse. Sigh. Some writers I know have lovely rooms devoted to their work with natural light and inspiring art around them. My workspace is the hub of our house–the sitting room that seconds as a playroom. It has French doors that I sometimes close to block out the dulcet tones of Arthur and High School Musical. But everyone walks in while I’m working. Everyone. Constant interruption. My husband has gotten used to my scowls as he walks in to ask a question, but as he rightly says, “It’s hard to know when you’re working and when you’re just on Facebook.” Fair enough. But often I AM working, and because I’m in the middle of the house, the interruptions are frequent.

Writing wasn’t a regular part of my life when we moved in five years ago, so we didn’t set aside a space for it. Even if I had a separate place, I doubt I would be able to hide away and concentrate because I would still have to get someone a juice box or to change Barbie’s outfit. At least this way, the walk is that much shorter.

Describe a typical workday.

My typical workday begins at 5:45 a.m. when I get ready for my day job as a teacher. After classes and meetings and grading, I come home and have an hour or two before I pick up my kids from their aftercare program. In that time, I sometimes write, but usually I try to take care of other business (cooking dinner, checking email, writing a blog entry, napping, if I’m lucky). Family dinner is followed by homework, bath time, books, etc. My girls go to bed between 8 and 8:30, but they keep getting up! This is when my writing time begins, so if the trips out of bed are many, I get mighty peeved. Once I get writing, I might go until midnight (though I pay dearly the next day when I try to teach), or eleven o’clock, or even ten if my husband calls out that a new episode of Top Chef or How I Met Your Mother is on. It’s hard to balance all that I need and want to accomplish in a day, but I wouldn’t give up any of the things I do.

When I’m really into a project, it can be physically painful for me to have to wait so many hours to write. I’ve occasionally used a free period at school to write, but I have to make up that time later. I write in my mind during hall duty, when I’m driving, while cooking. Proctoring standardized tests is a terrific time to daydream about plot. But the number of hours I have to actually get my ideas on paper are few. I tend to be very efficient as a writer because of this. It shocks people how fast I can churn out pages.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

My workspace, as I said, isn’t devoted to my work. It’s just a sitting room. However, I’ll tell you three things in it that I love.

1) We have a chair that’s supposed to be a pinto print, but everyone calls it “The Cow Chair.” It’s comfortable and funny, and people fight to sit in it. Our old apartment was decorated with all kinds of foolish things, like retro Hawaiian ads, and was painted in crazy colors. When we bought our house, we decorated like grownups. Except for The Cow Chair. We let ourselves have one silly object.

2) A CD spinning rack that holds photos of four generations of family weddings. Great-grandma in a corset. Grandma in a flapper-ish gown. Mom in her Jackie O coat dress. My outdoor wedding.

3) A bookcase we’ve dragged cross-country twice. It holds photos, my husband’s history books (including the one he wrote), and my first novel, Falling for Hamlet.

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them.

Yelling at my kids to be quiet and just let Mommy work!

What do you listen to while you work?

Against my will: the TV across the house blaring some kids’ show or sports, someone playing with Barbie not five feet away (because she wants to be close, and I can’t refuse that!), and various other household noises.

By choice: Usually nothing. Though for my new project, I’ve been listening to Joshua Radin. Very mellow and romantic. It helps me tune out noise and focus on my characters.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?

Nothing. I’m always afraid I’m going to spill on my laptop, and when I write, I get so focused that I don’t stop for much of anything.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Knowing that I don’t have a lot of time.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

My first manuscript was handwritten and I thought it was grand. But four notebooks later, I realized I was going to have to transfer them. I panicked, but faced it one page at a time. The next manuscript I wrote on the computer, and I’ll never go back. Now I even prefer editing on computer. My agent, editor, and I all use markup on the computer to get it done. It saves paper and space (I hate to throw printed drafts away), and is quicker.

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

I’m working with an outline right now for the first time and it’s strange. I’ve never planned out a whole manuscript ahead of time. I usually have an idea for the climax or some big moment in the middle, then work my way from the beginning to that point and finish the rest. Falling for Hamlet had its own template, since it was Hamlet, but I left the script so often that it didn’t act as a perfect outline. The muse leads me here and there, though I do have big moments in mind from the beginning.

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

My best friend, Lauren, would be great because she reads all my drafts anyway, she pushes me to write more to entertain her, and she gives killer foot rubs.

The better question is if I didn’t share my workspace with the family would I be more productive? Maybe not. When I have a lot of time alone, I tend to check email, Facebook, and search for snacks.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird spoke to my early fears of how to keep going when I didn’t think I had enough to make a whole book, and then when the ideas were coming faster than I could write them down. She tells the story of her brother having to do a report on a variety of the birds. He was in a panic, so his mother told him he’d get it done “bird by bird.” It’s a great lesson on chipping away at a project and not letting oneself get overwhelmed.

The second is more about dealing with rejection and criticism. A couple of years ago, I was telling my friend Jimmy that I had been rejected by too many agents, and I was giving up on writing. He’s a successful composer/musician for television, and he pulled out his Blackberry and showed me criticism he’d gotten that day for some music he’d created. He said, “As the saying goes, opinions are like a**holes. Everyone has one.” That was when I decided to buck up and try again. And I did find an agent who sold my book at auction. I’m glad I didn’t give up.

2 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Michelle Ray”

  1. LadybugSF

    I love that there is another writer out there who decides to nap in the afternoon when the stars align instead of writing… and she finished a book! You can nap and write, (separately) and no one will die!