Building Castles in the Sky

By: Mike May 14, 2016

My apologies for the long gap between posts. I was sick for much of the spring, and summer caught us unprepared. We've been working long hours getting the farm built and working on Silence Fallen, the next book in the Mercy Thompson series

The good news is that the book is nearly done, there's a freshly-erected loafing shed in the lower pastures and the hay barn and tack room have been reinforced, re-sided, and given a fresh coat of paint. With the lawns mowed and the trees pruned, this place is almost presentable. It's important that our little farm look presentable, because we're having it appraised this week in preparation to taking out a loan.

For the record, I hate borrowing money. We finished college deep in debt, and had some really lean years before were were finally debt-free. I remember the struggle all too well. So why are we trying to get a loan? That's the topic of today's post.

A Quiet Little Nook

There are authors who write best in isolation, and others who prefer the energy of a crowd. There are some who write while walking, or standing, or even flying on an airplane. I've talked with authors who claim that their best writing is at a Science Fiction convention, where the energy and hype provide energy and inspiration. To paraphrase the Princess Bride, "Author's methods are diverse. Anyone who says otherwise is selling you something". So, while recognizing that there are many paths to success, Patty prefers solitude.

Finding the perfect spot to talk to your imaginary friends isn't always easy. Writing at home is hard. Home is full of distractions. Is your heroine in a slump? Maybe you should watch a few minutes of TV while your subconscious sorts it out. Is you plot not thickening properly? Well, it was probably time to run a load of wash and vacuum the carpets anyway. It takes real discipline to write from home.

For authors who don't mind a little hustle and bustle, the coffee shop or bookstore may provide a viable alternative. For authors, like Patty, who want to sing along with their music, scratch what itches, and maybe test some dialog out loud (while possibly carrying out multiple parts of the conversion), public places are best avoided. There is a fine and blurry line between creativity and schizophrenia which the other patrons may not fully appreciate.

For many authors, an office away from home is ideal, and for several years we rented an office in town. The short commute reinforced the idea that this space is for working and that space is the one with dirty dishes in the sink. While in the office, you write.

Here in Benton City, we ran into two small problems. First, the commute to town was a little longer than we wanted, which, in addition to wasting gas and time, made it difficult for us to take lunch together. Second, her office was in a building owned by a very industrious entrepreneur. He sold metal buildings, cars, farm equipment and offered various other services. He was far too busy to spend any time in his office, but Patty was clearly visible working at her desk in the office next door. It was natural for visitors to assume that Patty was his secretary and and ask her to leave messages, schedule appointments, or make a quick photocopy. The owner of the office building was, I think, delighted with his cleverness in acquiring a secretary who not only worked for free but paid rent. Patty was less enthusiastic.

Dreams are Free, Construction is Not

We decided to build our very own little office out in the lot beside our house. Her commute would be a quick walk across the yard, and we could probably even write off the building as a business expense. A small, simple office would be an excellent investment.

From such simple, rational decisions spring forth the seeds of hubris. If we were going to build another building, we should add a small shop for my tools. In all of our years together we have never parked a car in garage. Garages, when we've had one, have always been filled with tools. If we built a shop, the garage might actually have room for cars, and wouldn't that be wonderful? Our imaginary building quietly doubled in size.

At about this time we were going through a hellish renovation on the house, and while grasping for a happy thought, decided to build a carousel 1. You know, the old-fashioned ones with hand-carved wooden horses that go up and down. If we were going to build a carousel, we would need a place to paint carousel horses. A dedicated space with good light, and maybe a big double sink nearby for cleanup. Another imaginary room was added to our imaginary building.

Naturally we would want to store the carousel indoors. In our dreams, the carousel wouldn't be one of those little portable units that the traveling carnivals use, it would be a full sized park carousel. You know, something fifty feet or so in diameter and about twenty-five feet tall. And where do you store such a monstrosity? Why in the imaginary carousel bay you just added to your imaginary building, of course!

The astute reader will have noticed that, at this time, our imaginary building is not exactly the small dedicated office building we started with. Perhaps I should have written this all down years ago, and hired an astute reader to point that out to me, because we sort of ignored that subtle difference, and jumped right into drawing up plans.

Plans are fun and wonderful things. You sit down with a skilled architect who doesn't laugh at your ridiculous ideas like all your friends would. Instead, he starts taking notes and looking thoughtfully at the plans you've drawn in crayon. Oh sure, he might mention that the indoor water slide over an alligator pit presents some design challenges, and the teleporter required to access the third floor will need to get passed to engineering, but he can certainly draw it all up right and proper2.

And then, somehow, you find yourself holding a sheaf of papers with detailed plans and an engineer's stamp for your building. Your bank account may be a little lighter, but so what? You're building your dream just like Carnegie, Rockefeller and the giants of the gilded age! Now all you have to do is hire a builder, get some permits, and make that dream a reality. Most people come to their senses after talking with a builder and getting a construction estimate. Some of us go the builder and ask about cheaper materials (maybe the walls don't need to be hand-polished Italian marble after all) and the feasibility of building in stages, as the budget will allow.

And Here We Are

We broke ground almost four years ago, and our wonderful contractor has been as good as his word, working when there's cash available, and then buttoning it all up tightly during the lean times. The dream isn't done, but the shell of it hulks in the side-yard, far larger than it looked in those early plans and sketches.

A Little Office in the Side Yard

Meanwhile, Back in Reality . . .

When Patty gave up her little office in Benton City, she needed a quiet place to work. I suggested we buy an office trailer as a temporary solution. There's a place in town that rents office trailers to construction firms. They're not fancy, but they're warm and dry. No plumbing, no kitchen, and few amenities, just a place to read the blueprints and store some tools. We bought one that was getting a bit long in the tooth. The doors were sagging, the windows didn't close well, and the siding was in rough shape, but it was cheap, and available immediately. Patty looked a little dubious, but I promised it would only be temporary3.

The Office Trailer

Patty's now been in the office trailer for six years. For most of a year, we lived in it. She says it's still haunted by the ghosts of those memories. Last year, several woodpeckers drilled holes all over the outside of the building. The windows still don't seal well, but several large spiders have taken up residence and make quick work of most of the insects that wander inside. You have to fight through the apricot tree to get to the trailer, and only one of the doors works. But wait, the inside is even better!

The Office Trailer

Half of the building is dedicated to holding goods for the web store. Bins of shirts are stacked practically to the ceiling, along with shipping materials.

The Fortress of Solitude

The other half of the building is where Patty spends her time. By the way, that green color? Yeah, she picked out a swatch in one of the big box stores, and thought it looked pretty good. I painted the room as requested, but it's a little overwhelming. Patty has tried to hide it by covering most of the walls with book shelves.

To be fair, she usually keeps her office pretty clean. However, the end of a novel is always a chaotic period with long hours, and the office tends to suffer for a month or so. Here's a closeup up her desk during crunch time. Notice the many spent bottles of "Author Fuel". The life of an author is glamorous, no doubt about it.

Livin' la Vida Loca!

With the office trailer deteriorating rapidly, we need to either fix the new offices up so they can be used, or start putting money into fixing the trailer. Patty seems convinced that the larger, nicer offices on the second floor of the new building would be a better solution, and every day spent in the dusty, bug-ridden trailer strengthens her resolve. . .

All of which explains why I've been busy fixing the rest of the farm, and waiting for an appraisal as a prelude to taking out a loan. I'm convinced that most historical disasters started out with a simple, reasonable plan and a person with an active imagination.

1) The carousel story is long and convoluted. Suffice it to say that our sanity was probably questionable at that point in time.

2) At this point, for anyone considering designing or remodeling a home, may I heartily recommend Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House? It's a 1948 Cary Grant Comedy that perfectly encapsulates the experience.

3) I didn't lie. On a geological time scale the office trailer is temporary. It will probably have crumbled into dust long before the next ice age, and certainly before the sun goes nova. See? Temporary. It's not my fault she interpreted that as "only a few months, a year at the outside".