By Jeana Conder
Several months ago I set out on the task of asking local writers to answer a series of eight questions I compiled. The responses I received are now creating our newest series, “From the Mouth of Writers.” We hope that this series allows upcoming writers to gain knowledge from others with the same passion. This month’s question: Are there any local places that have helped inspire your creativity?
I can’t really think of specific places, really, but Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley, where I have lived for the past 13 years, are of course important to my writing. Any place an author knows well is extremely valuable. With few exceptions, a story needs a character, a place and a conflict. Knowing a place, having watched it and noticed its details, is like having a patch of fertile ground out of which a story can rise.
Menomonie has a connected system of walking trails that follow Lake Menominee and the Red Cedar River. It is easy to find inspiration there.
I routinely write in coffee shops, most often Starbucks or EC/DC. I like a little noise and bustle around me when I write--a quiet room with no one else in it is harder; it feels too precious. I think this has to do with the fact that I treat writing as a job, not in the tedious sense, but in the sense of: "Sit down and do this thing four or five or six days a week, whether you feel like it or not." A coffee shop is the perfect space, then, because there are other people there doing their own work (homework, business work, etc.). It takes away the idea that you need magic to write. You don't. You need tenacity and time.
I often write from, if not necessarily about, the place that I am. Where I’m living at the time. For a long time, it was Mt. Simon. Now it’s Lake Hallie. At one point I seemed to have a lot of poems about bars. For almost 6 years on the way to work every day I went, weather permitting, to the same bench on Half Moon Lake with a thermos of coffee and my notebook. It became almost Pavlovian. Ring the bell? Salivate. Go to the bench? Write. I never finished anything there, that wasn’t the point. It was mostly all phrase, fragments, tentative lines, but I filled many journals, some of which, I still go back to from time to time.
There are a few poems in my recent book that are set in and around Eau Claire, and in the Hayward area.
Eau Claire parks; at Braun's Bay on Half Moon Lake in my kayak. CVWG writer's retreat
In the spring, summer & fall I can be found out by the pond or up in the spring moving rocks around or walking on our woods walk or sitting on the tractor pulling something across our fields to dig or cultivate or mow. Down the road a piece there’s an old cemetery I like to walk around in and marvel at all the history buried there and take in the peace and listen to the wind in the huge old white pine trees around the edge. Lunch on the front stoop is good too.
I've written at Racy's and The Nucleus. Those spaces helped me focus, and get the work done. Maybe the food was inspirational, or the coffee.
In a very practical way, my wife, who is a writer as well, and I both work and have worked in various coffee shops around Eau Claire: Starbucks, Caribou, Panera, and EC/DC. The last location aside, we find inspiration in the sterile familiarity of corporate chains. Lately, we’ve returned again and again to EC/DC for its generous seating, large windows looking out on downtown, and the politely disinterested staff who allow us to linger for hours. But the location that we long for the most, now that it is gone, is the small sitting area that was found in the front of the Mega on Hastings. Not only do we miss the grocery store, but the small tables and the fireplace where we spent many hours working, usually accompanied by the electric glow of the television mounted over the fire, on which Jeopardy! always seemed to be playing.
No, not specifically.