By Pat Browning
My novel was stuck on page 70. I was in a rut, out of juice, badly in need of a change of scenery. I didn't need a complete break, just a little variation in the routine, something more than a brisk walk around the block, something less than a climb up the Matterhorn.
The perfect retreat turned out to be the Irwin Street Inn, a bed-and-breakfast across the street from the post office in Hanford, the small Central California town where I lived. The inn had new owners, a new brunch menu and a new cream tea service. I didn't have to pack a suitcase. I could go home to check my answering machine and read my mail any time I felt the need. The inn was only two miles away from my computer.
I gave the receptionist a signed copy of my first mystery, Full Circle, and explained that I needed time away from my desk, with privacy for writing. She gave me the honeymoon suite at a deeply discounted rate. The chef brought me a pot of tea and a plate of chopped egg sandwiches. I invited her to share. She told me the story of her life.
For three days I wandered the premises at my own pace, soaking up the inn's ambience. I asked questions about the Victorian furnishings, the polished woods and stained glass windows, the wine-red draperies and flocked wall coverings, the graceful period lamps and tables.
I climbed outside staircases to stand on balconies, making notes of places for a fistfight or a shootout, a hiding place for a body. I took photos to keep the inn always fresh in my mind. A framed eight-by-ten of a century-old camphor tree in a side yard hangs above my desk today.
I decided to write a short story. It takes place in a small-town inn. The heroine … well, it's on the back burner at the moment but you can read it one of these days. I reconsidered the plot of my second novel.
By the time I checked out I felt new again. The "white noise" that made sleep so peaceful and waking hours so restful was simply an absence of the clatter and clutter in my everyday life. I could hear myself think.
When you can do that, everything else falls into place.
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This article appeared in the June '07 issue of The SouthWest Sage, the monthly journal of SouthWest Writers, based in Albuquerque, NM.