A Peek at the Creative Space of Mara Rockliff

Joining us today for Creative Spaces is author Mara Rockliff (although you may also be familiar with her books under the pen names Lewis B. Montgomery, Nan Walker, and Eleanor May). She is the author of the chapter book series “Milo and Jazz Mysteries”, named ALA Best New Books for the Classroom; Get Real: What Kind of World Are You Buying?, an ethical consumer guide that is now in its third printing and was a Green Earth Book Awards honor winner; and the picture book The Busiest Street in Town, which was an IndieNext pick.

January has been an exciting month for Mara as she had two books published: My Heart Will Not Sit Down and The Case of the Diamonds in the Desk, #8 in the Milo and Jazz mystery series. She also has three upcoming picture books with Candlewick including Me and Momma and Big John, which will be published in summer 2012.

To learn more about Mara Rockliff and her books, visit her website.

My desk where I don’t work.

Describe your workspace.

I guess I would describe it as a little odd, because I have a desk, but I don’t work at it. Mainly I work in an old green recliner in a corner of my office. When I’m really serious, I need to spread my notes around me, so I skip the office and go work in bed.

My chair and filing system.

Describe a typical workday.

It starts about 8:30, when I go upstairs to drink tea, waste time online, and recover from the daily agony of getting my eight-year-old dressed and fed and out the door to school. How much time I waste depends on how far along I am with whatever I am working on. If I’m on chapter 8 of the first draft of a ten-chapter book, I might just check my email and get right to work. If I’m about to start chapter 1, I’ll read Miss Manners and Fuse #8, visit the Blue Boards, follow a few links from Twitter, watch a YouTube clip of Jimmy Stewart dancing with Eleanor Powell, and by then more emails have come in and soon it’s time to walk the dog and, oh, well, looks as if I’ll have to start that book tomorrow.

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

1. A letter from Ray Bradbury from 1986. He was one of my two favorite writers when I was a teenager (the other was Kurt Vonnegut), and I was very happy when I wrote to him and he wrote back himself—I could tell from all the typos and handwritten corrections, now very faded.

2. A Cat in the Hat that Dr. Seuss drew for me when I was seven or eight and met him at an autographing. I framed it myself, which is why the signature is mostly obliterated by ancient Scotch tape.

3. My collection of mother’s day cards, one of which reads in part: Here’s a cheer for a good Momma! The Momma cheer! Who’s a good Momma? You! Who’s a really good Momma? You! Who’s the best best Moooooommmmmmaaa in the wwwooooorrrlldd??? Yyyooo!!!

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

Does pathological procrastination count as ritual? Today I swept the stairs. Not a good sign.

What do you listen to while you work?

Nothing, unless it gets noisy and then I turn on the fan. Or if it’s really bad, Simplynoise.com. If I’m not actually writing, I might listen to Pandora. I like the Contemporary Bollywood station.

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

Champagne and truffles, naturally. But I settle for tea with milk, no sugar, and whatever’s in the fridge.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Deadlines! As Samuel Johnson said about the prospect of being hanged, they concentrate the mind wonderfully.

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

Computer, always. But I scribble notes by hand, usually on a one-sided sheet of paper folded in half.

How do you develop your ideas?

On a walk, or in the bath. Then notes. Then drafts.

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

A nice, calm golden retriever. Instead I have a small, neurotic poodle-spaniel mix who creeps into the office, lurks unseen at the foot of my chair, and waits until I’m totally absorbed in what I’m doing before suddenly bursting into ear-shattering frenzied yaps. This gives my heart a workout and eliminates the need for an expensive treadmill desk.

My dog with a beet juice mohawk.

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

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”

That was really good advice, before the Internet.

6 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Mara Rockliff”

  1. Mirka Breen

    Mara's creative space, like her work, is such a treat. I read every word on her wall notes, and was 'WOWing' all the way.
    What a creative series, Jenn.