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The Sirens of Suspense




Gordon McAlpine is the author of Once Upon a Midnight Eerie , the second volume in his middle-grade trilogy "The Misadventures of Edgar and Allan Poe". The first, The Tell-Tale Start, was published in 2013.

McAlpine is also the author of Hammett Unwritten (under the name Owen Fitzstephen, Seventh Street Books, 2013), Joy in Mudville, The Persistence of Memory, and Mystery Box as well as non-fiction work. His story "The Happiest Place" appears in Orange County Noir,

A native Californian, he attended the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writitng at the University of California, Irvine, and has taught writing at Chapman University, U.C.L.A. and U.C. Irvine. In his twenties, he developed video games and wrote scripts for film and television.


Find Gordon online:

item1 IN MY ROOM item1

My writing room is perched at the back edge of our house. There, the chance of family or visiting friends passing near, from one room to another, is slim. As a writer, this is helpful -- not because I want to avoid interruptions but because, most times, I want to be interrupted. My wife needs help getting the lid off a jar….fantastic. The garbage can has tipped over and a week’s worth of refuse is now blowing down the street…great, what could be better than scuttling after trash? Certainly not sitting at a laptop, struggling to find just the right word for this or that fictional endeavor. So, in this light, I have taken it upon myself to make my writing room as inviting and encouraging a place as possible. It is there that I dawdle and pace away the day (and some nights), which ultimately results in stories and novels that I’d arrive at in no other, less strenuous fashion. I know I am fortunate to have such a place as this room, just as I am fortunate to be tasked with literary endeavors in the first place. This is no complaint. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of what often constitutes the “glamorous” life of a writer. And a suggestion as to how one might arrange his or her writing room to optimal use.

Begin with a comfortable writing chair and a narrow desk or table long enough to accommodate not only the laptop and, perhaps, the printer, but also the various piles of books, papers, pictures, meaningful knick-knacks, correspondence, and other detritus that tends to gather hurly-burly about the contrastingly pristine, glowing screen upon which we dutifully place our Microsoft typography (perfect little letters among all this imperfection). Next, a desk lamp that does not look like it was designed as a prop for a 1970’s science fiction film. And a small file cabinet, preferably disorganized. A window? Optional. But wait. All this is mere ergonomics. Physical comfort and convenience is good, but provides no inspiration. Nonetheless, this was my initial focus.

The room’s soul came as an afterthought, with what I believed to be its mere decoration.

Pictures on the shelves that hang high on the wall at my back….

For a brief period in the early days of eBay, bargains abounded. I indulged, primarily in antique books but also in the occasional, century old lithograph or photo of a one or another favorite author. When I moved into my writing room I set these framed pictures on the shelves, among a few books and mementos, in what seemed aesthetically pleasing locations. There’d been no plan. I can’t say how long I worked in the room before I noticed the unconscious arrangement of these framed pictures in relation to me. It turns out that when I write, I have Joseph Conrad, Dashiell Hammett, Hans Christian Anderson, and Robert Louis Stevenson literally looking over my shoulder.

The four are excellent, if silent, companions.

They too paced their small rooms. They understand. But they have high standards that demand I always return from my own pacing to the work at hand. And I like to think that with little else to watch from their perches they’re at least passingly interested in my work – sentence by sentence. Of course, there are other favorite authors who likewise could provide inspiration (including many women, particularly Emily Dickinson), but these were the long-ago Ebay purchases that I unselfconsciously arranged on my wall, which somehow assures me they belong there.

Recently, however, I made an addition.

My father passed away at 90 on February 27th of this year. He was not a writer and only became an enthusiastic reader in the final decade of his life. Preparing for his funeral, I came across a formal 8X10 photograph of him that was taken in uniform upon his induction into the U.S. Army in 1943. It had never before occurred to me that my framed quartet of encouraging gentlemen might become a quintet. In my father’s final years, the challenges of his aging superseded for him whatever meager challenges I faced in my writing room. We never discussed my work. But now, freed of the weakening and suffering of his final illness, I believe he’s also free to take an interest in many things, including looking over my shoulder. He was no wordsmith like Conrad, no hard case like Hammett, no lyrical dreamer like Anderson, no global and literary sojourner like Stevenson – nonetheless, my Dad belongs among them now. It is, after all, my writing room. He’s looking over my shoulder even as I type these words. An honest man, he’d want me to be honest now too:

What would make a great writing room for you? I don’t know.

But find it or make it.







Tell us by commenting on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a a copy of THE ART OF SECRETS and his adult mystery HAMMETT UNWRITTEN! (U.S. entrants only, please.)



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