Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At The Desk: Julie Czerneda

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Julie Czerneda's Desk

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.

In the first instalment of At The Desk, Julie Czerneda writes about her office and how it changed in appearance as she made the transition from writing science fiction to writing fantasy. On November 18 at SCFontario, Julie will host a launch for Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales, an anthology that she co-edited with Susan MacGregor. You can find the launch details on Open Book’s Events Page.


I’d describe my desk and environs as ever-evolving inspiration. (My better half, a tidy person inspired by uncluttered open spaces, charitably refuses to describe it at all.) But for me, stuff is necessary.

Not just any stuff, however. It has to help along whatever I’m writing. Before I started my current project, A Turn of Light, my walls boasted a crow wing, moose jaw, moss, images relevant to the setting of my previous book (rainforests, Romanian farm houses and an archaeological dig in the far east), robot parts, a cluster of buttons with funny sayings and copious lists. Whenever I glanced up, my eyes would land on something that mattered to the story or made me smile.

To write the fantasy, however? Everything came down. I’d written science fiction to this point, other than some shorts. I needed a different inspirational array. Step one? No lists, to-do or otherwise. Step two? Textures. Silk. Stone. Rose petals. Old wood. A very large ceramic toad. (More followed.) Things I could (and do) handle when thinking. Step three? Yes, those are candles on my desk and they aren’t for power outages. I started writing this story by candlelight and still do, for poignant scenes. There are indeed dragons. Maps from the novel. A b/w image of Paris and her bridges that feels perfect. A photo of a horse whose eye has the “I will eat you if you bug me” look of one of my characters. Last, but not least, a little chocolate bar saved from New Zealand to enjoy when the book’s done.

I suppose, in a way, I nest. Writing and editing for a living means living at my desk, and that space must not only inspire, but house me. Ergonomics are huge. (I am not.) My wonderful better half took apart an office chair (I was on my sixth) and rebuilt the armrests so they finally fit my torso/elbows/etc, then crafted a footrest to suit my legs. I now perch in postural perfection. What a difference! I’ve an antique roller ball mouse I refuse to give up that lets me swap right/left hands as often as I want. I’m just as fussy about keyboards and like something fast and clicky. Music while I write? I’ve speakers at ear level and a substantial subwoofer under the desk. Nothing’s vibrated off a shelf yet, but the day’s coming.

When I took on Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales (co-edited with Susan MacGregor) I was still in the midst of Turn. No problem. I spun in my chair to face my big standard desk, working on that with a laptop. Giving each its space is a useful trick for working on more than one project. Back in the day, when I was also writing non-fiction? I had a separate office and computer for that. The only way I stayed focused, believe me.

Have I missed anything? To my right, the book shelves easiest to reach house the research material for the current story, plus dictionary. To my left are wall slots for story notes. The books above my writing desk? Reward-for-done reads. I may need a vacation to catch up on those.

Oh, the stack of paper? I work onscreen, but keep a running hardcopy for editing. That would be my present book. Since it’s out April 2012, I’d best get back to writing it. Once done, I’ll be on to the next.

As for my desk? Time to evolve and inspire. Everything will change again.

Though I may keep the toad.

— Julie Czerneda

Since 1997, Julie E. Czerneda has turned her love and knowledge of biology into science fiction novels and short stories that have received international acclaim, multiple awards, and best-selling status. A popular speaker on scientific literacy and SF, in 2009 Julie was Guest of Honour for the national conventions of New Zealand and Australia, as well as Master of Ceremonies for Anticipation, the Montreal Worldcon. Most recently, Julie was guest speaker at the U. of South Florida’s symposium on Women Writers of SF. Julie co-edited Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales with Susan MacGregor and will host a launch for that anthology at SFContario. Coming next to bookstores everywhere, Julie’s first fantasy novel, A Turn of Light, to be published by DAW Books April 2012. For more about Julie’s work, please visit

Photo of Julie Czerneda's desk and of Julie Czerneda by Roger Czerneda Photography

For more information about Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales please visit the EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy website.

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

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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