At Home in New Hampshire > An Office That Works

About fifteen years ago when my kids were young and running around the house disrupting my literary life,I had a choice: give up writing or get a divorce. I chose divorce. I didn’t divorce the family. I divorced the house and built an office on a budget in my garage.

It’s worked out very well. The kids grew up, and my wife and I are still honeymooning after thirty-eight years.I go back and forth between house and garage twenty or more times day. I especially like the view of the night sky in winter.

I built a twelve-by-sixteen-foot room in the garage by putting in a divider wall with a door. I insulated between the studs and nailed up rough-cut pine boards horizontally for siding and bookshelves. To soften the concrete floor for my slippered feet, I installed the cheapest wall-to-wall carpet I could find over a foam backing.

For a while, I warmed the office with a gas heater, but I hated it because the whirring noise from the fan drove me even crazier than I am normally. The solution was a woodstove.Cutting, gathering and burning wood has become my exercise and my religious observance.

Furnishings include file cabinets and a flea-market oak desk that holds an Apple iMac ® with a twenty-inch display; beside it is a lamp I made out of firewood. At the base of the lamp are a couple of wooden spoons I carved when I was writing my novel, Spoonwood.

On the wall opposite the computer desk is a custom-made pine table that holds my writing pad and a manual typewriter, which is one of five I own, including an ancient Underwood I inherited from my uncle, a Catholic priest I’m named after (my full name being Joseph Ernest Vaccarest Hebert).

Beside the woodstove is a couch without which I would be lost. For me,ideas begin in the zone between sleep and wakefulness as I lie on my back on the couch, notepad on my chest,digital recorder on the floor within easy reach, eyes shut.

After I get an idea, I sketch out a scene with a #2 pencil. I expand the scene on a typewriter. I love the sound and the feel as my fingers strike the keys. I keyboard in the scene from the typed page into the computer.When I retype, I rethink and revise.I further refine the scene by runningit through different word-processing programs: Storyist ®, Copywrite ®, Pages ®, MarinerWrite ®, Scrivner ®, Avenir ®, iTextExpress ®, MacJournal® and Lightwaytext ®. Having constantly to retype and reformat the work keeps my hands moving. When my hands are still, I can’t think.

On the walls are snapshots of family and friends, and just below the ceiling are sculpted sticks, 120 of them. In some past lifetime, I was voyageur, a coureurdu bois. In this lifetime, a mere writer. Sticks are my connection to the woods and my Franco-American heritage.

I cut the sticks 16 ½-inches long and put them in the dishwasher to soften the wood. I debark, shape and smooth the sticks with a Swedish mora knife,finish them with raw linseed oil, tie a string around the tops and hang them on the walls a couple of inches below the ceiling. There are sticks from a pear tree,sticks from Connecticut River driftwood,sticks from a lilac bush. When you split lilac, the heartwood is the purple color of the flower, very beautiful.

Wood-shaping, handwriting, typing, keyboarding — my identity is in my hands. When I need to remind myself who I am, I look at the back of my hand and the tattoo of a stick with a string around the top.