Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #1

Update: I decided to make this an ongoing series, so disregard the stuff about a three-part post.

An Exercise in Caffeine Tolerance

This week, I read about a study that showed our creative cognition is enhanced by the moderate noise level often present at cafes. Having read this, and perhaps gripped by the nauseating realization that I was averaging about one page of revisions per hour at home in my quiet room, I decided to venture into the wilds of metropolitan Los Angeles on a quest to find the best coffee shop for a local writer in desperate need of brain lubricant.

I obviously couldn’t visit every coffee shop in L.A., but I ventured to what I believe is a good cross-section pulled from Yelp lists, proximity, and, most helpfully, a survey of my Facebook friends. A big thank you to all who made suggestions. IOU one cuppa.

Because I can only handle so much caffeine in one day and because L.A. is a massive beast, my findings will be posted in three parts, somewhat by region.

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Stir CrazyStir Crazy — Hollywood/Melrose

My quest began at the sleepy intersection that is Orange and Melrose at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. Two-hour free parking on the residential street right beside the shop was a good sign, and the street was almost free of cars. A few metered parking spots were available as well.

As I walked up to Stir Crazy, I saw a lone man sitting at a table outside with his laptop. Second good sign.

Inside, classical music lulled out of the sound system. Was this place too good to be true? At the counter, a young woman laughed with two seated middle-aged men. She farewelled them warmly and left with her order. The men two-stepped around a laptop debate for a couple of minutes before the shop fell into a hush, pulsated by a few murmurs.

The waitress took my order and muttered, “Do you want the bottomless coffee?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Never mind,” she said. Something self-conscious in the way she said it.

“The bottomless coffee? Yeah, sure.”

Two bucks isn’t a bad price to avoid feeling like a jerk taking up space for a couple hours on a Saturday morning.

Stir Crazy Lamp

I grabbed a seat next to a power cord–a rare vacancy in Los Angeles–and took a sip of coffee. It wasn’t strong, but that’s okay. I’m no cowboy.

Everyone came alone. Everyone brought a laptop. Except Statler and Waldorf in the back corner, observing and making commentary once in a while.

Then groups and breakfasters started trickling in and, by 10:30, the shop was full and my coffee was cold.

Viscosity: 4 out of 5

By the way–WiFi Password: Surfyourballsoff (but don’t use it because you should be writing)

Bricks & SconesBricks & Scones — Mid-Wilshire

I gained a companion on my quest after leaving Stir Crazy. I picked up my friend Justi and we awayed to Bricks & Scones.

Where Stir Crazy is a rustic establishment in the cozy style of a hunting cabin, Bricks & Scones is the Downton Abbey of coffee shops. Stepping inside, the first thing I noticed was the massive glittering chandelier hanging over the register.

Awed and feeling a little like Oliver Twist at Mr. Brownlow’s, I put in my order. “Please, mum, can I have a grilled cheese and tomato soup?” I said. Maybe not quite in those words, but I did order a grilled cheese and tomato soup with my second cup of coffee as the day was tit-nipply and drizzly. B&S had a bistro style menu with plenty of variety for a coffee shop, so if you happen to be writing around the noon hour as I was, you won’t starve.

Rainy Day Food

They offered two indoor seating areas–a quiet zone upstairs and a sprawling, noisier sector on the lower floor–but neither had an open table. It was the lunch hour, after all, and it was immediately obvious that the place is hipster-popular. Hardened adventurers that Justi and I are, we sat outside where plenty of patio chairs and tables were available. The food was good. There must be an edict against strong coffee in certain parts of L.A.

The crowd was more social than Stir Crazy’s early morning throng. They were lunchers and group studiers.

Between the food and chilliness, I didn’t get much work done. I’d like to return for a cozy nook indoors and try it out again, even if just to chat with friends.

Viscosity: 2 out of 5

Lyric CafeThe Lyric Hyperion Theatre and Cafe — Silverlake

Justi and I left Bricks & Scones’ Winterfellian patio in search of warmer climes, so we headed to Silverlake for Lyric Café and Theater. Metered street parking is the name of the game here, but it wasn’t hard to find a spot after a little initial confusion.

Quietest coffee shop by far, and they had gluten-free pancakes that were, according to Justi, delicious. They also had craft beer and a wine selection. I had a glass of wine thank you very much. A nice, fresh-tasting one that made me wistful for summer.

Lyric Cafe Company

My fellow journeywoman.

Warmest waitress so far as well. Inside seating is limited (and definitely not appropriate for groups, which shouldn’t be a problem if you’re writing anyway), but business was slow so we were able to nab a table for two. And there is seating for larger groups outside on the patio.

Yes, quietest coffee shop by far until rehearsal began on the other side of the wall. I imagine the play is called, “Screamers.” Somehow, it didn’t bother me. I managed to get some (blog) writing done.

Viscosity: 3 out of 5

Best Place to Write in Los Angeles #2

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A (Belated) Clive Barker Halloween Special

This Halloween, I found myself face to face with Clive Barker. One would think I would’ve blogged about it sooner.

The encounter involved a fetish club, a costume contest, and a broken branch antler.

I heard through reliable sources (a mess of flyers littering my Facebook feed) that Clive Barker was hosting a Halloween ball at Miss Kitty’s in Los Angeles, and that he would be judging a costume contest that night.

For once, I hadn’t procrastinated on my costume and actually took some pride in it, so I jumped at the opportunity and purchased a ticket to the event.

This is how events (and I) unravel…

Barker is nowhere to be seen when I arrive, but that isn’t a surprise. With celebrity hosted events said celebrity usually makes a brief “onstage” appearance. So Miss Kitty, an intimidating and queenly type, makes the rounds and personally handpicks contest participants. When she chooses me, I try to act all “whatevs” about it, but my giddy excitement is pretty obvious. She has all of the participants line up in the hall to wait and I’m scratching and slapping people with my branch antlers as they pass. I worry not that I’ll find a dislodged eyeball on one of my branches, but that someone will break the headpiece as they’re impaled by it.

Miss Kitty finally introduces Barker and, in a flash, I see someone all in white ushered onstage. This is when I get really nervous. I was a theater nerd in high school–it’s not like I’ve never stood on a stage in front of people, but being in a judged setting is a different matter, especially when the judge is a writer you respect and are inspired by (a heart defibrillator and years of intensive therapy would’ve been necessary had it been a contest on my writing as judged by the author in front of a large crowd).

Shortly after his entrance, I hear the announcer call the “Winter Witch” and I’m pulled up the stairs. As my foot hits the stage, the curtain latches onto my antlers and time stops. Something crunches and cracks on my head. I can almost hear the creak and whine of a redwood capsizing as my right antler begins to collapse. The base tears off the headpiece but I grab at the antler before it falls off completely and hold it in place as I head onto the stage. Disaster and recovery occur in the span of about three seconds.

Everyone’s clapping and shouting. I’m still in too much of a panic to even see Barker sitting on the throne downstage. All I can think about is how stupid I must look gripping the antler as I walk. A pageant smile emerges from I don’t know where and sets itself on my face as I march down the runway.

As I’m coming back around, resisting the desire to dash madly down the stairs leading off the stage, I’m directed to stand before Barker so he can get a good look at the costume. I walk up to him smiling like a clown, sweating like a pig, and curtsy. Of all things. I don’t know why, it just seems like the thing to do.

Then he nods and says, “That’s a really great costume.”

I WIN!!!!

WOOOHOOOoooo….

…Actually, I lost to a Silent Hill nurse who did that creepy stilted walk. Ah well. I made it into the final round and Clive Barker complimented my costume. I consider that a win. (But don’t count on ever seeing me on ANTM.)

On Being Completely Overwhelmed

It hit me last Friday, approaching a weekend that would begin the screaming vortex that is my spring and summer schedule, coincidentally starting with a trip to Magic Mountain…land of screaming vortexes. For whatever reason–birthdays, BBQ’s, fairs, trips, the rush of pre-vacation requests at work–these seasons are always jam-packed. I had to calendar lunch with a friend because almost every other weekend in May was booked. Calendaring a lunch! I felt like Charlotte Pickles. I lifted my head from my smartphone (no Bluetooth, I’m not there yet)  after reserving his time slot and faced the colossal tidal wave rearing in front of me. My head went light as I braced myself. Stress swept my legs and took me under, shooting me into a riptide that won’t let out until early November.

I usually embrace the chaos of the warmer seasons. It’s usually all fun and games. This year, it’s fun and games that have to be balanced with the numerous writing projects I’ve taken on.

Last week, I took a break from my MS. I had just finished a review that focused on scribbling questions as I read it again from start to finish. Identifying plot holes and areas in need of improvement, looking forward to the next three books in the series and writing down themes that would have to carry through the entire set, noting key events that would have to take place. Coming out of that review, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me. The kind of work that requires closed doors, no interruptions and real digging. I would have to answer all of these questions and fill in all of these holes. I would have to make this next draft the final one before sending the MS to beta readers. I spent the weekend celebrating my boyfriend’s birthday and cowering from Monday’s threatening fist.

I also have the graphic novel. I’m writing flash fiction horror stories to expand the world of Beatrice is Dead, telling backstories of some supporting characters and making an effort to get people excited about the actual book in progress. These stories are being illustrated by Robert Burrows, the graphic novel’s artist. My next story is due to him mid-month. I’m also researching marketing, providing merchandise copy, looking into requirements for conventions.

And this one may seem like a throw-away, but it’s important to me: writing short stories for submission to fiction magazines and journals. I need this aspect of the writing process. I need rejection and acceptance to feel challenged. It’s an integral part of my process and also a big part of working on my craft. Just let me reach into my exploding pockets to find time for it.

Work has been insane. My lunches are often working lunches, so I don’t have that hour to work on short stories as I did before.

I have this blog.

Yeah. Overwhelmed.

I will say this. I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy with my life, or felt this mentally sound since I was a kid. I don’t feel like a wistful sad-sack waiting for my dreams to come true–I finally feel like I’m actively pursuing them.

Why Write Fantasy?

I’ve been seeing a lot of these “Why I Do Such and Such” blog posts lately, so I decided to add my own thoughts as to why I write fantasy.

In addition to being a self-absorbed writer who thinks you’ll find all of this interesting, I am a world-class escapist. Some of my closer friends and boyfriend wonder why I’m severely oblivious. The fact is, I spend more time in my head than I do in the real world.

As I leave important belongings like my cell phone and keys at a friend’s house, I’m not thinking, “Hm, I should check my bag to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything.” No. I’m watching already-famous and wildly successful writer S.Z. being interviewed by Jon Stewart. Or creating a diabolical robot servant and considering the many ways it will turn on me. Or fashioning a zombie apocalypse strategy and then watching my leg being ripped off my body like a turkey drumstick on Thanksgiving Day after my plan fails.

To an escapist like myself, books are dependable portals into oblivion, and fantasy is the ultimate destination. No passport required.

SZW the Witch

Faeries and Witches and Gods, Oh My

I’ve been nestling my brain between the cracked spines of fantasy and mythology books since I could read, starting with fairy tales illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, selected works in Cricket Magazine, and The Illustrated Bulfinch’s Mythology. As a teen, I turned into a hippie of sorts. Faeries (I used to insist on spelling it that way), elves, nature gods, etc. were right up my alley.

Around 13, I went through a phase where I desperately wanted to be a witch and read every young adult witch novel I could get my hands on. Witch Week, Witch’s Sister, and The Letter, The Witch, and The Ring were some of my favorites. When I was 17, I shoved the first H.P. book in everyone’s faces like I’d discovered the cure to cancer, only to be told I was reading a kid’s book. Little did they know!

I was also reading adult novels, but young adult has always been my favorite. Possibly because, like so many teens, I had severe identity and self-esteem issues growing up. I really relate to that sort of struggle. When I read those books, I felt like the underdog could succeed. I felt like someone understood what I was going through, and that amazing things could happen to the flawed and overlooked.

It was also easy to ignore everything around me, the judgments I imagined, the loneliness and insecurities, when I was living vicariously through characters so like me in a world so unlike my own.

 A Perfect Fantasy

I was always on the lookout for a great fantasy novel. With each visit to the bookstore, I’d tell myself, “Today, I’m going to find the perfect book.”

The perfect book was a vague idea I’d fashioned, and in which I’d placed implicit faith. It would have everything I wanted: the fantasy, the intrigue, the main character I’d always wanted to be, breathtaking scenery. I scoured the aisles like a starved bookworm, but I could never find this book (H.P. is still the closest I’ve ever come to finding it).

One day, I decided I had no choice but to write this book myself. So I started working on it. In the ninth grade, I wrote a short story about a girl who finds fantastic creatures in her own backyard only to wind up in the nut house. Nope, not it.

I started writing a novel that was mostly flowery description of another world. A friend said it was “gay.” Still not it.

I wrote tons of flash fiction and novel beginnings that glided off the path to nowhere onto a mountainous trash heap.

I realized that writing the perfect fantasy novel was not going to be easy. But I’m still trying my hand at it, and I’ve come closer than ever with my current project.

At this point, I realize there is no such thing as the perfect book because everyone’s perfect book is unique. Now, I’m determined to get my version of the perfect book out there; to share my vision. The best part is, there isn’t just one vision. There’s a world of them.

And who knows? Maybe some introverted, acne-ridden, socially awkward kid will pick up my book and find comfort in its pages like I did with so many novels.