Write Here: Scott Blackwood

WriteHere‘Write Here’ takes us into our authors’ writing spaces across the globe, where they tell us about how they go about their craft. We mark each location on the map at the bottom of each post. Scott Blackwood is a hard man to pin down, as he likes to write on the move…

motel

‘I used to be one of those writers who needed a certain desk, a certain view out the window, a habitual this-or-that to get my writing done. But time—as Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys taught some of us—changes everything. That and long train commutes over vast foreign lands, like when I travel south by Amtrak train from my current home in Chicago, over the endless prairies and plowed fields of Illinois on the same tracks that hundreds of thousands of black people rode north during America’s Great Migration.

During this time I was alternating between writing a novel about a heinous murder and its aftermath, See How Small, and writing a nonfiction narrative, the Grammy-nominated The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, for the musician Jack White about the great black musicians of the early 20th Century who were a part of that mass exodus from the American South. The Amtrak train—its swaying, its shifting landscapes—became a new kind of writing desk.

Once at the end of the line, in Southern Illinois, where I teach fiction writing, I’d stay three nights a week in a 1940s “retro” motel—The Heritage! It’s name evoking a kind of posterity, something passed down the generations—it squats shabbily on a hill near the university and 350 miles south of Chicago. The management reserves room number one for me each week, their own office a comforting combination of baseball shrine and record collecting museum. The view out the window of room number one is of a credit union, a daycare, a nail salon, and the litter-strewn parking lot of an ambulance-chasing attorney. I’d write here for a couple of days, teach my classes, and then I’d be on my way north again, back to Chicago.

In short, I found if I wanted to write anything in this itinerant life, I had to adapt to a kind of placeless-ness. Writing two very different books simultaneously in various locations, constantly on the move, would seem a disaster waiting to happen. Yet, one of the surprises of being a little older, of having experienced more, is that I’ve found I’ve written places—my beloved Austin, Texas and its Hill Country—on the cave walls inside my head. Chicago, where I’ve lived for six years, is there too, Lake Michigan, alongside it, shimmering. Sometimes, too, there are strange encounters on the train, unexpected gifts: a furloughed prisoner who asked for my clothes, an ex- Chicago gangbanger fleeing his past life, an insurance salesman who may or may not be a criminal. I let them in, too, to ride alongside, and write them on the cave wall. The ephemeral and uninvited have a place there, too.’

Scott Blackwood’s novel ‘See How Small‘ is out now.

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