Jason Gurley

By day, I'm a user experience designer; by evenings/weekends, I write novels from my home in Scappoose, Ore. My newest is Awake in the World, published February 2019 by Roaring Brook Press; my previous novel, Eleanor, was published by Crown in 2016 and has since been translated into German, Portuguese, and Turkish. I’m currently working on a new project.

A new writing space

This is the first thing that I have written in my new office. 

For the past two years, I've done most of my writing work in coffee shops and libraries. That hasn't always been a bad thing, and I've done some pretty good work in little fits and starts, here and there. I even wrote most of The Dark Age in my Jeep. But for the last month or two, I've been editing Eleanor, and I've been hauling a manuscript box and pens and Post-Its around with me everywhere. I take up too much space, and I've found that editing requires a bit more focus than even writing does, at least on this book. It seemed like it was time to find a little place of my own, where I could spread my work out, close a door, dim some lights, and get shit done

So here I am, in my writing space. It's not presentable enough yet for photos, though when it's all tidied up, when the new desk arrives, when Felicia assembles the furniture that I would just mangle if left to my own devices, I'll give you a look at the place. It isn't much, just a little room in an office building reasonably near home — a hundred thirty square feet of novel-conjuring space. It costs a bit more than I'd like to spend, but my need outweighs the inconvenience of its price.

I was eighteen years old when I wrote my very first novel, a little stinker that I called Breathe (a title well-suited to a novice like me). I might have been seventeen, now that I think about it. Either way, the book was mostly written in my dad's home office in Anchorage, Alaska, either just before I left for college for the second time, or just after I returned to Alaska, after dropping out for the second. That was a borrowed writing space, but it got the job done. I wrote the book in about three months' time, and convinced myself I'd write a dozen more and be a legend by twenty-five. (Which of course did not happen, not by a long shot.) 

My second novel, another stinker with a bad title (Sleeps the Stars), was written in an apartment in Anchorage, during the winter. The apartment had a second bedroom that was unexpectedly spacious, with a nice, large window that let in the cool, dim light all winter long. The novel was much shorter than the first one — fifty thousand words to the first novel's eighty — and it was marginally better, though 'marginally' didn't mean all that much. They were both practice novels, though at the time they seemed quite important to me. 

I wrote the third at a tiny computer desk in the corner of a different apartment bedroom, this one in Reno, Nevada. I didn't have a dedicated writing space then, at least not a full room; I wrote deep into the night, and the book that I produced, Nightblindness, was significantly better than the previous two — though, again, that isn't saying too terribly much. It was good enough, at least, to capture the attention of a young literary agent, and he signed me as a client in the summer. By fall, that relationship had ended, and I was left with another novel that wasn't quite ready for prime time yet. 

When I started writing Eleanor, I was twenty-three, and I had a somewhat dedicated writing space again, this time at a glass desk in the basement of another Reno house. It was cool during the summer, cold during the winter, and often served as a thoroughfare for my cat, Oscar, who had discovered a way out of the basement and into a second basement room, one that had been poorly walled over, and that I wasn't aware of when I'd come to live there. While I wrote in this space, I spent most of my time on Eleanor's prologue, writing and rewriting and rewriting again the opening pages, until the prologue was some eight thousand words on its own, and began a little something like this:

For all of her life, Eleanor had been falling.

That’s how it seemed, at least. She was introduced to the sensation of flight on a gloomy August morning the year she turned fourteen – a morning forever marked in her memory by its peculiar shade of bluish-gray – and had ever since wakened from her dreams to find herself weightless.

What Eleanor remembered of the first of many falls was visited upon her in splintered glimpses, gritty and worn, like a flashback spun on damaged film, scenes shot by a nervous hand, framed by an unsure eye.

That first line remained the beginning of the novel until 2013, when I realized I was writing the wrong story altogether, and started completely over, nearly thirteen years after I had begun. Over the course of those years, I wrote Eleanor in just about every space imaginable. The character and story were conceived on a road trip, while I drove through Oregon; the first chapters were written in a Reno basement; those chapters were rewritten again and again over the course of a time-out year I spent in Yelm, Washington; countless character sketches and more chapters were written on an orange couch in a very small apartment — really the bottom floor of my landlord's house — in Morro Bay, California. Enormous leaps of progress were made during annual week- or ten-day-long writing trips I took to Klamath Falls, Oregon, where I would hole up in a timeshare and do almost nothing but write. But it wasn't until Felicia and I moved to Oregon that I cracked the novel, and it became something worth sharing. 

During 2013, too, I wrote several other books, almost all of them in libraries, coffee shops, from a rocking chair in our living room here in Oregon. Then Eleanor was published, and did well, and then was purchased by publishers, and that was a very nice and unexpected surprise. Some people celebrate in flashy ways when the first check from their publisher arrives — "Don't go buy yourself a boat or anything," my agent warned me — but I've put some of that money into leasing this little office, where I hope to finish editing Eleanor for good in the next eight or ten weeks, and where I'll start hammering together the foundation of the next novel.

We of course won't live where we live forever, so this office is, ultimately, just a temporary stop along the way to, one day, having a home with enough room for me to claim a small bit of territory for myself. That territory doesn't even have to be inside the house; I still wouldn't turn down a yurt, see. 

But for now, I'm fairly giddy, because I'll be able to write without worrying that the person beside me at the communal table in the coffee shop will overturn his or her drink, leaving me to scramble to move my laptop and my papers. This room is quiet, lit just right, and even though it's surrounded by other similar offices which house everything from realtors to CPAs to fireplace salesmen, it's a little cave of my own, and I'm going to make some fire while I'm here. 

Author event in Mount Vernon, WA

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