Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Susan Wiggs | The Portable Profession

September 4, 2012

Susan WiggsWillow lakeWriting novels is surely the most portable career there is. The office cube farm is handily located right between my ears. Tools of the trade fit in the pocket of my oversize hoodie–a Clairefontaine notebook, a fountain pen filled with peacock-blue ink, and a smartphone that doesn’t actually get a signal at the house.

The commute? My usual route is from the couch to the computer, and the only traffic I encounter is a sleeping dog or a teetering tower of to-be-read books.

When you’re this portable, you have the ability to live anywhere you want. So why not pick the place that feels most like home in the world?

My “anywhere,” as it turns out, is Bainbridge Island, Washington–a chunky green dot on the map, located a ferry commute away from downtown Seattle. This particular house has everything a writer could want–a nice big stretch of beach, privacy, a separate studio for guests, and a funky ’60s vibe that makes it a unique and creative space.

There’s a timeless quality to life at the shore, where the work schedule is defined by the tides, and deadlines are dictated by the seasons. Blue herons, scoters and red-winged blackbirds inhabit the estuaries and marshes. It’s the ideal spot for me–a dreamer, an optimist, a hard worker, a perfectionist, a bundle of passions and emotions that spill out onto the page.

As a writer, I spend at least half my time staring off into the distance. Although hard-pressed to explain the process to my family, this is when the real “heavy lifting” of fiction writing takes place. Living here gives me no end of things to stare at while my imagination takes flight. From any window of my house, I can see a blue, busy waterway filled with sailboats, ferries and Navy vessels. In the distance is the island’s piece de resistance–a dead-on view of Mount Rainier, painted pink by the dawn, or sky blue in the afternoon sun, or deepest amber at sunset. It’s probably no accident that some of my bestselling novels have titles like Just Breathe, Return to Willow Lake or The Ocean Between Us, expressing themes of love, family, connection and peace.

All my first drafts are handwritten in Clairefontaine notebooks from France. Because I’m left-handed, I use a fountain pen with peacock blue ink, which dries quickly and saves me from smudging things with my sleeve. It’s a habit I developed while in high school, and it’s still the most portable way I know of to craft a novel. Writing this way feels more organic and immediate–as writer Anne Tyler says, like “knitting a book.” The technique also frees me from being tied to any one place in the house for my writing. Depending on the weather, I can be found in the lounge room, the study, out on the patio or at the beach, putting my stories on paper.

Readers often ask where ideas come from. My answer is that I find them on the beach or in the forest, picking up storylines and plot twists like colorful bits of seaglass on the beach, or pinecones in the woods. Because when I’m not staring into space, I’m putting on my gumboots and heading out, either afoot or on my bicycle, kicking my brain in gear with a brisk walk or ride. The key to a character might be found while poking around in the wrack line along the beach. I might figure out a book’s resolution while tromping with Barkis in a rain forest populated with 200-foot Douglas firs, majestic cedars and electric-green mosses.

People will warn you about the dreary winters here. They’ll tell you it rains all the time and gets dark at four in the afternoon. They’ll regale you with stories about slugs the size of Volkswagens and bathtub mould with the half life of uranium.

For me, the dark, damp season is essential. Our summers are an intoxicating riot of sunshine, when the temptation to play hooky is impossible to resist. Ah, but the winters–that’s the time for stories to unfold from the deepest part of the imagination.

When the rain comes and the sun refuses to show its face, I make a fire and a cup of lavender-scented Earl Grey tea, put up my feet and get busy writing. I haven’t yet found a use for the slugs and bathtub mould, but the rest of it is working well for me.

About Susan Wiggs

Susan Wiggs‘s life is all about family, friends…and fiction. The author is a former teacher, a Harvard graduate, an avid hiker, an amateur photographer, a good skier and terrible skate boarder, yet her favorite form of exercise is curling up with a good book. Her latest novel is called Return to Willow Lake. Readers can learn more on the web at and on Facebook at

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