Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: David Rotenberg

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David Rotenberg's Desk

A Murder of Crows (Simon & Schuster Canada) is the follow up to the first book in David Rotenberg's Junction Chronicles, The Placebo Effect.

For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.

David's workspace took some time to perfect — he hunted for the perfect desk for a long time but it's proved successful for him. Today he talks with Open Book about entering the blank spaces in his writing, one very heavy book and one very tidy office.

You can catch David in person on March 27, 2013. David, who is also a respected theatre teacher and mentor, will head up a dramatic reading from A Murder of Crows by several of his former acting students. For details of the event, please click here.

You can also get a taste of the book yourself, with the chance to read an excerpt from A Murder of Crows courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada.

It took me seven weeks and three days of intense looking to find the desk for my new office. It took me less time — much less time — to find the house that now holds the desk in place.

It’s a desk specifically for writing the Junction Chronicles (Book Two,A Murder of Crows is coming out March 19th, 2013). Book Three in the series is already haunting my sleep, distracting me when I drive and cursing me every time I turn my back on it.

I wrote the eight Chinese novels from a very different office and from a very different desk. (I count Shanghai, the Ivory Compact as three novels since it was written that way. Penguin decided to publish it as one so that it is now one of the longest novels ever published in English and I field weekly complaints from readers that it’s too heavy for them to carry around!). The first five Chinese novels were police procedurals so I purposefully had my writing space cluttered with images and books, two large modern desks at right angles to each other — the whole thing dominated by a large computer monitor. It felt that the job was to produce order from the chaos — just as police officers must.

The Junction Chronicles presents a very different task. The Chronicles are spare — filled with leaps in time and space, often defying normal rules of storytelling. They demand order just as any piece of art does but they push the boundaries and beg to enter the new, the other. Here the job has to do with entering blank spaces — creating from whole cloth.

The desk I bought for the Chronicles is made from reclaimed wood. It is only a foot and a half deep and about four and half feet long. It is a piece of art in and of itself. It has no drawers — no file cabinets — no in and out trays. Nothing is on the desk except a small laptop. Even the hard copies of what I’ve written (and this last novel has five distinct stories each of which is kept in different binders — hopefully I will eventually figure out how to entwine them) is kept in a book shelf out of the room.

I do share the room with the Wifi modem tucked in a corner but that’s it. No couch. No easy chair. No chair for a guest to read over my shoulder. No overhead light. One purposefully intense stand up lamp. A stool — I hate desk chairs, they invite you to lounge and there isn’t anything about writing that I can see that has much to do with lounging. Just a bare desk that is an article of art in and of itself. Nothing on the walls — no textures, no music, no fragrance — all that is for me to create. The place is a place of challenge — just as an empty computer screen is a challenge to any writer. But like an old, abandoned house at the end of a darkened street that you’ve never been in before whose front door you find ajar — it is alluring.

— David Rotenberg

David Rotenberg has published five mysteries set in modern China as well as the Canadian bestselling historical fiction novel Shanghai. He is also the author of The Placebo Effect, the first book in the Junction Chronicles. He is the artistric director of the internationally renowned Professional Actors Lab. He has directed on Broadway, in South Africa, in major regional theatres in North America, and for television. He directed the first Canadian play staged in the People’s Republic of China. He lives in Toronto.

For more information about A Murder of Crows please visit the Simon & Schuster Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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