The Grand Practically-Idaho Hotel
I love nice hotels. I also like slightly less nice hotels as long as I get to stay for more than one night. The miracle of even crummy, cheap, roadside motel type hotels is you leave for a few hours during the day, and when you come back, it's all clean and nice and new again, and you get to start over. There's something very perfect about that. Plus it's a pretty good metaphor.
More often than you'd think, I set scenes in hotels. My first book opens in the Waldorf=Astoria (equal sign theirs) where I just went for the first time on a research expedition for novel number three which also opened there but doesn't anymore for reasons not clear to me until I set foot in the place. Also fodder for another day. Outside, there was this sign:
which probably wasn't actually a directive from the universe to me but certainly felt like it. It's a gorgeous old hotel.
Then there's this gorgeous new(er) hotel which I also visited for book research: the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park (whose hyphen, let's admit, is a little passé). A scene I was writing hinged on the view from a suite in the hotel, so I needed to see a suite in the hotel and look out its windows. It was pouring rain in NYC, and I was wandering around in only a raincoat and hat because I am a Seattlite now apparently, and so a forecast of rain no longer suggests to me that I should bring an umbrella. Thus I showed up in the lovely empty lobby of this very posh hotel, soaked and dripping and bedraggled and asking politely to see and photograph a $1500 a night hotel room. The concierge was quite, quite skeptical. I explained as to how I was writing this book and really it would take only a minute and I promised not to even drip on anything. And he paused and looked askance and went and whispered with someone else and looked tempted to call security and looked tempted to throw me out and looked somewhere between alarmed and appalled at my very existence and said, down his nose, "I don't suppose you have a card or anything." I do. I fished around in my wallet and produced it for him. And a switch flipped. Suddenly, he was terribly solicitous and all smiles, very eager to help, very kind, delighted to take me up and let me into a room that was maybe one hundred times lovelier even than it had been in my imagination. Generally they require a permit for photos he said but I should feel free to just go ahead and take as many as I pleased. You understand I ordered these cards online. And you could too. They aren't certified by the Library of Congress or anything. This is the sort of reception one hopes will greet the revelation that one is writing a book. And it never, ever happens. So I was gratified. And as an aside, if you've the means, the suites at the Ritz-Carlton seem entirely worth $1500 dollars a night in my opinion. And they do keep out the riffraff.
"This telescope is provided for your enjoyment while a guest at this hotel. Should you wish to take it home with you, a $1,000 dollar surcharge will be added to your account." (I am just kidding. Probably if you pay $1,500 dollars a night for a hotel room, they throw the telescope in for free. Like how it's implied in your $99 a night hotel room that you may take your leftover shampoo if you wish.)
In fact though, the case I want to plead is for the opposite kind of hotel room. I did a couple book events recently at a wonderful bookstore called Auntie's in Spokane, Washington. Spokane is so far east of Seattle it's very nearly in Idaho, and its hotels were all booked so I stayed a bit out of town, even easter, maybe only eight or ten feet from the border in a Comfort Inn which cost not even 100 dollars a night and was exactly what you are imaging. And it was perfect. In New York City, it doesn't matter how nice your hotel room is -- there's too much else good on offer to spend very much time there. In between Spokane and the Idaho border? I think there was a Subway down the street where I could have hung out, but otherwise nothing. So I sat in the room and wrote. All day. The room was spacious and neat and comfortable with a nice big window (overlooking the parking lot), climate control free and at my fingertips, a large desk and chair, free wifi, a TV in case I needed a break, a bed in case I needed a nap. Just downstairs was a hot tub, a workout room, a pool so I could have a little (very little, but still) swim. When I finished availing myself of these, I returned to a newly clean room, newly made bed, sparkling bathroom. Breakfast was plentiful and included and did not even require my putting on shoes (I did. But I didn't have to.) plus hot coffee and tea all day long plus soup in the late afternoon plus cookies in the evening. It was quiet and interruption/distraction/temptation free. For $99 a night, you could do a lot worse in the way of a writing retreat. There's much ado these days about romantic writing retreats -- on the train, say -- and though I get the romance, a train is going to be much more cramped and loud and public and distracting and with way grosser bathrooms and a much flimsier desk than one's very own hotel room.
For me the only wrinkle is that Practically-Idaho is a solid five hours from Seattle, and though the ride there had been 60 degrees and sunny and so I'd put the top down on the convertible, when I left to go home, it was 35 degrees, and I could not get the top back up. And having packed for the former -- and for being in the car besides -- I'd not even brought a jacket. FYI: car heat does not stay in your car at highway speed if you don't have a roof. Strange but true. It was a long, cold drive home. But a good writer's retreat. A trade I am always willing to make.
The notion of vacation is a strange one when you work everyday but don't go to work any day and when work and not-work look so much alike. My husband, son, border collie, and I spent last week on Blakely Island with the wonderful writer Katherine Malmo and her family. On the one hand, it was vacation definitionally -- we were away from home. On the other hand, it was pretty home-like: same general topography if a much better view of it, same weather, same activities. In part, activities were the same of necessity. Small children will be entertained; they will leave the house; they will run about; otherwise, you will be sorry. Then they will nap during which you will try to accomplish something. Then they will need to be entertained out of the house whilst running again. In between, they'll need to eat. Blakely is not an island like, say, Oahu, with restaurants and such. It's the other kind. So another home-like activity on this vacation was the preperation of meals three times a day.
Meantime, one of the very best things about writing as one's job is the fairly legitimate justification of reading books as work. Do I learn how to write novels by reading novels? For sure. Still? Even after all the novels I've read and the couple I've written? Hell yes. Can I continue to write novels without constantly reading them? No. No way. Do I take notes and add marginalia and look things up and write small essays reflecting on what I've read, what I've learned from it, and how I might implement those lessons myself? I do, always, but a) that is fun as far as I'm concerned, b) I've been doing it so long that it's part of reading for me, so c) that's not what makes it work. Reading is work insofar as it's part of my current job description. But it looks an awful lot like reading for pleasure.
So on this vacation, while my kid was asleep, my husband and I sat out on the deck overlooking the sound, listening to ballgames on the radio, watching the sun set until about 11 o'clock every night, and reading books (and taking notes and writing about them -- well, I did that; my husband just read). It is indeed hard to overstate how amazing the view was and how different from the one off my own tiny deck. But is that enough to account for the difference in attitude? I'm not sure it is. Vacation reads are the best ones. And vacations just feel different from real life, even when you spend your days doing nearly the exact same things, even when you're blessed with a day job whose to-do list includes, "Read a new book."
My vacation backyard.
My actual backyard.
About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.