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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."

This is the first house I've ever had with enough storage. The cabinets in the Dark Room contain my old comic book collection and my old baseball card collection, and I'm trying to better organize my archival materials. Posters and programs for events, profiles from newspapers and magazines, correspondence. And curiosities like the sixth-grade "research" paper I wrote — called "Werewolves!" — that proves Red Moon has been a long time coming.

But here's the really special thing about the Dark Room — at least to me. Along the wall I hang long strips of paper, torn from my kids' Melissa & Doug art easel. I use these as maps for my novels. I usually think about an idea — and tease out character charts, storylines — for a good year before I begin writing. There are three concepts on the Dark Room wall presently, and I add some and erase some almost daily.

People always ask if I blueprint when writing. Short stories, because they are so brief and because they are more impressionistic, don't require as much forethought. But a novel is so enormous — I can't keep all of it in my head at one time — I need a visual explanation of its choreography. And I find that revision is far less taxing when I outline beforehand. Of course I don't know everything that will happen (that wouldn't be any fun), but I don't feel comfortable building a cathedral without a solid set of plans before me.

That's what the Dark Room is for. I stand in there — in the dim light, a pencil dangling from my hand — and dream up worlds.

More from Benjamin Percy at PowellsBooks.Blog:

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Benjamin Percy has won a Whiting Writers' Award, a Plimpton Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is the author of the novels Red Moon and The Wilding, and two short story collections.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Red Moon
    Used Hardcover $9.95
  2. The Wilding Sale Trade Paper $7.98

Benjamin Percy is the author of Red Moon

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