I'm writing from the kitchen.
My wife just told me I had "that look" in my eyes again. I know the look she's talking about. I can feel it in my chest. The same pressure that's been there for the last week or so. The one I get anytime I get stuck.
Writing is a different kind of job. It's not really a job at all, even if you're earning a livable wage from your words. Writing is art, and art comes from the heart, that same tight place on the left side of my chest.
"Where do you get your ideas?"
That's the number one question I get asked at readings. People want to know where these stories come from. I hem-haw around. Sometimes I'll say, "Walmart" and grin.
The truth, though, is that the stories come from me. My childhood. My life. The lives of others in close proximity.
Harry Crews once said something about how a writer has to look at the tough things. Has to stare straight at the stuff everybody else works real hard to ignore.
Harry's not wrong.
A writer has to get up close and personal with ugly. The worst memories make the best stories. Those memories most people work so hard to forget -- that's the answer nobody wants to hear.
So, I grin and say, "Walmart," and the event moves on to what sort of pen I use, or how my office is in an unfinished basement overlooking Lake Dardanelle. Pure bliss, right? A novelist's dream ...
My dreams are littered with my characters, these people I've created and set loose in the world. It's all very narcissistic. Especially considering the fact that I've got two tiny lives I'm responsible for and a wife who just confronted me in the kitchen.
Not to mention the same shorts I had on yesterday and a wrinkled Polo shirt. The beard isn't going anywhere, but my head could use a fresh shave. Swimming helps some. My feet hurt too bad to walk. Plantar fasciitis and bone spurs in my heels, war wounds from my quarterbacking days. Great details for a story.
It never stops.
That's what they don't tell you when you write your first page. Actually, Jack Butler tried telling me something along those lines. Alex Taylor did too. Just last week, I was talking to Alex and he was saying he felt like he'd hit a wall when it came to his writing. Said he thought he'd reached his peak, as good as he was ever going to get.
I called BS ("beautiful sunsets," according to my-11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Franks).
I told Alex that skill-wise, maybe he was right. Maybe he'd learned all the tricks. But, like me, Alex has a family and a lot of life yet to live. Which means there are stories still to come, books pulled from the heart-blood of fatherhood and moments like that one I just experienced in the kitchen.
I'm in the basement now.
I can see my reflection in the window. "That look" remains stamped in my eyes. My chest is still tight, but I can feel it loosening with every word I write.
Eli Cranor is the Edgar-Award winning author of "Don't Know Tough" and "Ozark Dogs." He can be reached using the "Contact" page at elicranor.com and found on Twitter @elicranor.