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Author Archive: "Benjamin Percy"

Benjamin Percy: What I’m Giving

In this special series, we asked writers we admire to share a book they're giving to their friends and family this holiday season. Check back daily to see the books your favorite authors are gifting.

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Everywhere I go, people are talking about Game of Thrones. "Winter is coming," my neighbor jokes, when the autumn wind strips the leaves from the trees and clutters up our yards. "A Lannister always pays his debts," a friend says when he slips me the twenty I loaned him the other night at the bar. The novels — and the HBO series — are explosively popular for good reason. Fantasy is more mainstream than ever, and Patrick Rothfuss is equally deserving of such a wide audience.

The Dark Room

To the left of my desk, there is a closet the previous owner used as a photo studio. I call it the Dark Room.

I have hung a pull-up bar from the door frame. Every now and then I get up from my desk, pace around, stare out the window, and crank out a set of 10 pull-ups. The other day my wife came downstairs and heard me grunting and panting and said, "What are you doing in there?"

The tiny wooden desk tucked into the Dark Room? My grandfather cut and sanded and stained and hammered it together for me as a kid. There I would scribble in coloring books. My son used it for a while and then my daughter, and now it's too small for them both, so I keep it purely for sentimental reasons.

Hanging from the back wall is a giant tackboard. It has always been my habit to keep a corkboard near my desk and pin to it articles ripped from magazines, conversations overheard at bars, images encountered on hikes or long drives — a repository for story ideas. Since moving in to this house a year ago, I haven't hung one, so I'll probably put this one to use soon enough. Right now it carries the U.K. cover of my new novel, Red Moon — a Game of Thrones calendar (yes, I am that nerdy) — a cross-stitchy thing my son gave me — a postcard of men eating — and a pin that says, "Beer is my life."

The Dungeon

Every day after I brew my coffee, pack lunches, and send my kids off to school, I say to my wife, "I'm headed down to the dungeon."

Later, I might sneak upstairs for more coffee, some toast slathered with marmalade, maybe lunch, but there's a good chance she won't see me again for seven or eight hours.

This is what surrounds me during that time.

Lamp and Powell's Mug

The laptop is a wheezy HP Pavilion I bought three years ago. At the time, I coveted Macs. But my computer died when I was traveling — and I needed one immediately — so I swung by Costco on the way to the airport and chose the HP from their limited stock. I love how monstrous the screen is — good for streaming Netflix and for the long hours I spend staring at my stories — but it's clumsy to carry around. Lately, it's been making a sound like an old man endlessly exhaling. I'm guessing this is the death rattle. So maybe I'll finally get that MacBook Pro.

The amber-shaded lamp sat on my grandfather's ...

The Desk

I had been teaching at the Nebraska Writers Conference all week, and on my way back to Ames, Iowa (where I lived and worked at the time), my buddy (and former colleague) Dean Bakopoulos called, said he needed my help moving something, and asked me to drop by the university on my way home.

There I discovered my office door cracked open, with light and music falling through the crack. And then my wife's laughter when I found her inside.

While I was away, my wife had enlisted the grad students and arranged an office makeover. The walls had been painted a storm-cloud gray. My pictures were framed and hung. Wooden bookshelves, arranged by author and genre, ran along one wall. A wine-red chair sat in the corner with a matching ottoman. Next to it was the desk.

At the university I used whatever Nixon-era model came with the office — metal framed, plastic topped — and at home I used a crumbling composite wood desk bought for $40 off Craigslist.

This was solid wood, maple the color of caramel, Ethan Allen. I felt sick with gratitude, and weirdly grown-up. For ...

The Horror, the Horror

There are certain places that feel charged. Visiting them gives me an electrical surge, as if I have plugged in to some current. The headwaters of the Metolius River are like that. So is Short Sands Beach on the Oregon Coast. And the tunnels snaking beneath Edinburgh. And the Von Trier bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The horror section at the downtown Powell's makes me feel the same way. I grew up in Central Oregon, but my grandparents lived in Portland, so every few months, we'd cram into the truck and growl over the mountains for a visit. We had no local bookstore — outside of the sad little Waldenbooks in the Bend River Mall — so the Powell's visit took a lot of time and strategy. This was our literary haul for the next two months. We had to choose wisely.

For those who have never visited, the downtown Powell's takes up a whole city block. A giant concrete split-level sarcophagus of books. There is a ghost that haunts the water fountain. An urn of cremated remains that moves from room to room, depending on space. The shelves spill ...

The Roof People

My sister slept with the light on until she was 27. She rightfully blames me.

I would leap out of closets with my hands made into claws. I would shut off the lights when she was in the bathroom. I would creep up behind her in a demon mask and tap her on the shoulder, and when she twisted around she would scream and then laugh and then hit me.

She had a collection of troll dolls. The ones with the bug eyes and the wild hair. And I would move them around, sneaking one under her pillow, another in her sock drawer, and when she asked if I did it, I would give her a dead-faced look and say, "What are you talking about?" One time I snuck into her room late at night and rearranged the troll dolls, all 20 of them, in a line next to her bed. When she woke the next morning she found them staring at her, one of them carrying a note that read, "BAD DREAMS," with the R and the S backwards (for trollish authenticity).

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