Thursday, January 10, 2013

Little Red Caboose

I’ve never been one of those writers who tuck their laptop into their bag and then head off to a coffee shop to work every day. I’m too attached to my ergonomically angled keyboard and the utter quiet of my office.

But every once in a while, I need a change of scenery to get me into the right frame of mind. I need a place that is not my office, and I need to pick up a pen.

When I’m stuck and I need to be playful—when the tone of what I’m writing needs an element of play—sometimes it works best to leave ergonomics and quiet behind.

I have a couple places near me that I like to work, and this one is the most playful of all: a teahouse inside a little red caboose.

Technically, the entire teahouse is not in the caboose. There’s a whole addition built out from the back side, with lots of tables and chairs, a lovely outdoor courtyard, and about 50 kinds of tea. But to enter the teahouse, you board the little red caboose. Just the idea of it makes me happy. They also make an excellent masala chai with just the right amount of spice and the right amount of sweet.

I went to the caboose last week, when I was working on a new idea for the early concept books I do with National Geographic. The books introduce simple ideas supported by fabulous photographs (not mine, of course—the fabulous photographs that have made National Geographic famous.) I’ve written about a variety of topics: water, families, peace, a day in the life of school kids, and a new title out this spring encouraging kids to get out and explore.

My goal with these titles is to have a clearly defined concept expressed succinctly in an accessible tone. To express a big idea in a kid-friendly way, with language that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

In other words, to be playful.

That kind of writing is best not done at a quiet computer. That’s when it’s a good idea to head to a caboose.


Unknown said...

Barbara -- Getting away from the "offical" office can often relax those tense writer nerves, free up odd, interesting thoughts, and let that sense of fun invade. All good. As for the caboose. Many years ago, I came very close to buying a wonderful red caboose (it came with a little coal stove for heating) to use as my office, but I backed off when I worried about what my neighbors here might think. Ah, well, life goes on. P.S. That title works for me, but I think your name should be bigger on that page.

Deborah Heiligman said...

Oh, Jim and Barb, now I want a little red caboose! What are we going to do, Jim? I too like to change up where I work, even if it's just desk to couch to other couch. When I write fiction or picture books, I can work in a noisy cafe. Long nonfiction, I usually need the quiet of my home or a library. But I often put on music, and I change what (wordless) music I play (jazz, classical). Anyway, this is all a lovely diversion from writing, thinking about red cabooses, couches, et al. Oh oh! I can't wait to see the new book, Barbara should be much bigger Kerley.

Barbara Kerley said...

Come to Portland, you two, and we will hop the train to Chai Land.

Mary Nethery said...

And, Barb, I see that The World is Waiting for You got a STARRED review from Kirkus!! Yay!!!! Do you have a title for the new one you're working on?

Barbara Kerley said...

Hi Mary --

Not quite yet. I've sent it off to my wonderful editors there, Jennifer Emmett and Kate Olesin. Still waiting for comments :)

Kate said...

I LOVE the red caboose! So cute! My favorite place to work when I was in college in Western Massachusetts was always the Montague Book Mill. It's in the middle of the woods in an old mill. You can find your own little nook to hang out in and overlook the river the mill sits on.

But even though I've been in D.C. for a number of years, I haven't found the perfect spot to do work yet. It's a little different than rural Massachusetts. Especially when I work from home. I think my main priority is coffee. But your post has made me want to explore more!

P.S. You'll get some comments soon :)

Anonymous said...

I know that caboose! I haven't been in since it was a bookstore (sigh) but a tea shop has always sounded lovely, too.