Strata: Rhian Ellis

Besides being a woman who has a good eye for what makes a cool author photo, Rhian Ellis is the talented writer who penned the literary thriller, After Life. She lives in upstate New York and co-writes the literary blog Ward Six with her husband, J. Robert Lennon. (Check out his art on Open Letters Monthly this month.) After reading about her office, you may find yourself wishing for an old desk full of mysterious notes, as I am.

What does your desk—the bare desk itself—look like, and how did you acquire it?

Many years ago when I lived in Amite, Louisiana, I bought the best desk ever from a junk shop. It was huge, oak, with peeling veneer. It had mysterious notes written in the drawers and it smelled good, like carbon paper. It was the size of a fat man’s coffin. I dragged that desk everywhere—people broke their ribs moving it from one place to another for me. I wrote my novel on it. But when I had my second son, I needed my office for his nursery, and I didn’t have anywhere else to put a big desk like that. So I put it out by the road without a second thought. I can’t believe I was so ruthless in those days.

For a while I worked on another, much smaller, oak desk I have, which I somehow got from my friend Jill. It was her grandmother’s, or some other old relative, and it had been painted green. I had the energy to strip the outside, but left the kneehole green. My kids use this desk for the family computer, the internet computer, and it’s where I’m sitting now. The drawers are stuffed with crap I put there when I “tidy” the house for guests.

A few years ago I rented an office and did it all up like a dorm room, with new wastebaskets and everything. I bought a desk from Target. It’s okay, woodenish, orangeish. It has a slide-out drawer for the keyboard, which sometimes slips away from my fingers if I get too excited. I no longer have the rented office but I have the desk and the nice wastebaskets at my home office, in our new, bigger house. I’m not sure I like it, though. The drawers are too small.

If anyone finds a huge old good-smelling desk that needs a home, let me know. I’ll pay big money.

What’s on your desk?

Not much, since I recently did a big purge in my office. Computer monitor, a plastic tray for office supplies (sadly empty, since I can’t keep myself in post-it notes), a log and a pile of paperbacks to prop the window open, some other books (Lydia Davis today), a stuffed crow, some notes, a dictionary.

What do you wish wasn’t on your desk?

The office supply tray, since it’s plastic and ugly, but what am I going to do with it?

Are there artifacts in your office that relate to your current project?

No, sadly, I’m between projects.

Are there living things in your office (besides yourself)?

Many spiders, my cat when I’m not sitting in my chair, and my husband, passing through on the way to the bathroom (he’s not allowed to stop).

What else surrounds you?

The window, mainly. It’s a giant old window that takes a workout to open and would sever a hand if it fell on one, so that’s why I fill the window well with paperbacks, in case the cat knocks the log over. It’s a system. The window looks out over the patio, the yard, some distant hills that change constantly. No signs of human habitation, which I like. Sometimes I can see faraway horses. I have a space heater for winter.

What’s on the walls?

Two walls are just books. One wall has a NaNoWriMo poster, another has a picture of the actress Jean Seberg (subject of one of my many stalled projects) and a bulletin board with miscellaneous stuff on it, such as exhortations in Welsh (language of my ancestors), a picture of George Clooney, and a photo of my sons. Also, a letter I received in response to a fan letter I sent to Alice Munro, most gracious of women.

What have you lost in your office that you really wish you could find?

I’m constantly writing little brilliant ideas on post-it notes, which then disappear, to be replaced with inexplicable, enigmatic sentences. Where have the ideas all gone? I show up every day with nothing.

What tools do you write with?

An old computer with no internet on it. And index cards or a spiral notebook and a pencil. Whichever seems better at the time.

Is anyone allowed to come in and clean?

Hahahaha! Who would want to?

T. Myers is a writer who believes that much can actually happen in the space between projects.

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  1. By on March 5, 2012 at 2:24 pm

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