Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jael McHenry

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.

Love food? Love foodies? Love fiction?

Then you’ll love Jael McHenry’s debut novel The Kitchen Daughter.

And you’ll really love how she talks about her writerhead.

The Scoop About The Kitchen Daughter

Jael McHenry’s The Kitchen Daughter is about a woman who discovers she can invoke ghosts by cooking from dead people’s recipes.

Julie & Julia meets Jodi Picoult in this poignant and delectable novel with recipes, chronicling one woman’s journey of self-discovery at the stove.

After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered Ginny Selvaggio, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, seeks comfort in family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning—before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

(To find out more, you’ll have to read the novel…)

The Buzz

“For Ginny Selvaggio, the protagonist of Jael McHenry’s captivating debut novel, food is a kind of glossary and cooking provides its own magic, whether it’s summoning the dead or softening the sharp edges of a world she finds neither comfortable nor familiar. The Kitchen Daughter is sweet and bitter-sharp, a lush feast of a novel about the links between flavor and memory, family and identity.” ~ Carolyn Parkhurst, New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel and The Nobodies Album

“McHenry writes passionately about food and foodies….While Ginny is wonderfully single-minded about cooking, her fresh, sharp story has as many layers as a good pâte á choux.” ~ O, The Oprah Magazine

First Four Lines

“Bad things come in threes. My father dies. My mother dies. Then there’s the funeral.”


And now…for Jael’s writerhead:

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

When I try to picture myself in writerhead, I see a dizzying gallery of images. I’m sitting in silence, cross-legged on a carpeted floor in Santa Rosa, California, with my laptop on a pillow in my lap. I’m leaning forward on a wooden chair at a dining room table in Philadelphia, hammering away at the keys of a different laptop, music blaring. I’m perched on a bar stool at a busy Manhattan restaurant, looking down at a spiral-bound printed manuscript on the marble bar, a red pen in one hand and a glass of Riesling in the other. I don’t have a particular time or place that I write. The good news is, that means that any spare moment might be a great moment to achieve writerhead. The bad news is, that moment is just as likely to be fruitless, and I’ll end up in blankhead or clumsyhead or screw-this-let’s-play-Angry-Birds-head instead.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Most often, for me, writerhead interrupts itself. It’s fleeting. It’s here and gone. I can be writing along in a perfect wordspilling haze and then–fwoosh, it’s over. Will it come back? Will I try to MAKE it come back? How? When I’m under deadline, I have ways of making myself make progress, like to-do lists and multicolored Post-It notes and a complex system of self-bribery. But progress isn’t the same as writerhead. There’s satisfaction in progress, but no joy. I want the joy.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Sometimes, writerhead is like whipping cream–you have to stick with it as it changes, going from a liquid thing to a solid thing, watching the shift oh so carefully because if you go too far it becomes butter, which is delicious and all, but not something you can put on top of your hot chocolate.

Sometimes, writerhead is like making fresh pasta, staring down a jumble of humble ingredients–flour, water, an egg–that somehow become a glorious thing you never would have known they could become, and even if your hands are the ones that did the work, you don’t really understand how it happened.

Sometimes, writerhead is like pitting cherries with a bobby pin–not “hard work” if you’re comparing it to coal mining or air traffic control, but a task both utterly tedious and utterly satisfying, and something no one but a fellow bobby-pin-cherry-pitter understands.


Jael McHenry is the author of the debut novel The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 2011). She is also a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who blogs about food and cooking at the SIMMER blog, http://simmerblog.typepad.com. She is a monthly contributor to Writer Unboxed and Intrepid Media. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.


Q4U Writers / Readers / Foodies / Cooks / Eaters: Whatcha think? Whipping cream? Fresh pasta? Or pitting cherries with a bobby pin?



Today—Wednesday, June 15, 2011—I’m giving away a signed copy of Jael McHenry’s debut novel The Kitchen Daughter. Yep, a signed copy!

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment right here on WRITERHEAD for Jael. Wish her well. Tell her that you ordered three copies of her book. Tell her what a fantastic read The Kitchen Daughter is or how much you’re looking forward to reading it. Ask her a question (which she might pop in to answer personally). Offer her a better method for pitting cherries. Show her some love.

*Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on June 16, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***Winners will be drawn on Thursday, June 16. Be sure to check back to see who wins.

****Though I welcome all comments, only one comment per person will be counted in the contest. (This isn’t American Idol.)



24 Responses to Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jael McHenry

  1. Wow, I love how she describes her writerhead. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever named the opposite of writerhead, but blankhead and clumsyhead sound about right 🙂

    Thanks, as always, for a great series, and good luck to Jael with what sounds like a wonderful book!

  2. Pasta, cherry pitting, whipped cream…hmm. I can relate to all three, but for me writing is often like trying to make a souffle, or something tricky and delicate like that.

    At any rate, I love novels with recipes and food themes. This one sounds terrific!!

  3. Another book to put on the Kindle wish list–unless I win a copy 🙂 Sounds like a great read- thanks for another interesting interview Kristin!

  4. Oh, I love this! Your post, Jael, makes me want to 1) read your book and 2) learn to pit cherries. We all have “friends” who are scab pickers and zit poppers. It seems that cherry pitting with a bobby would appeal to these “friends”?

    Writerhead often fwooshes away from me too. Or maybe I fwoosh from it . . . sometimes I’m in complete writerhead zone, and then suddenly, I find myself in the kitchen, reaching into the massive carton of Goldfish Crackers and snarfing them by the handful. What’s that all about? It’s like it’s TOO much joy. It’s TOO intense. And then I need to eat my kids’ Goldfish Crackers? Weird.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on your book. Thanks for the lovely post.

  5. Great responses! The Kitchen Daughter is a wonderful book that takes the reader to some marvelous and unexpected places, so it’s great to get some insights into where it all came from.

    But now after reading all those food metaphors, I’m freaking *starving*.

  6. Jael, First of all, I loved your book! I particularly appreciated the way in which you explored the healing power of food and cooking and the ability they have to provide an emotional outlet and opportunity for self-expression. (I also enjoyed your lovely and evocative descriptions of food. In fact, I found I simply had to make a pot of ribollita, despite the fact that it was 96 degrees in Pittsburgh…)

    Thanks for your writerhead images. I especially connected with the pasta making image. When making pasta there is that one moment when it assumes a life of its own–becomes a living, breathing, thing. I’m also a writer and I know I’m deep into my writerhead when I’m moving along and all of a sudden I’ve become merely the scribe, moving at the direction of something outside myself. Thanks again, Jael. I can’t wait to read what you write next! Kristin: Many thanks for a terrific interview–wonderful questions (and answers)!

  7. Thanks for the chance to win!! I have heard very positive things about this book!!!!!! I can’t wait to read it!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Kristin, thanks for the chance to win a book I’ve heard so many great things about!

    Jael, I’ve been reading a lot of reviews of your book, most quite positive, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. I seem to have added a sub-genre of ‘books about cooking’ to my favorites! Thanks so much for sharing here!


  9. What a great storyline! I’m so looking forward to reading this book!

    Thanks Kristin, for the lovely post and an awesome giveaway!

  10. Brownies? Does the book talk about brownies? Not a deal breaker but that would really get me excited. 😉

  11. Hi Jael,
    I can’t wait to see you on TV! Congratulations on your massive success, and I hope you go on to write many more books. I have heard so many good things about THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER that I can’t wait to read it!

  12. Jael, I would love to read your book! The storyline has me intrigued and I am curious how it came to you.
    Best of luck to you!

  13. Jael, I’ve got The Kitchen Daughter on my iPad and while I’ve been waiting to savor it on a beach in Hawaii the end of this month, my willpower is waning! If I win the signed copy I’m sure to devour it before I depart!

    I’m often tsk-tsking myself for not keeping set writing hours, so it’s nice to hear that you don’t either – it’s obviously not keeping you from success. Congratulations and thanks to you and Kristin for the wonderful post.

  14. Interesting story line especially for the fact that my mother has a lot of our deceased relatives recipes as so many have passed on. I’ll have to recommend the book to her! It’s on my to read list!

  15. a fellow cherry-pitter with the stained shirts to prove it!
    luv your sense of wonder, “that somehow become a glorious thing you never would have known they could become, and even if your hands are the ones that did the work, you don’t really understand how it happened.”
    looking fwd to the read ~ Thx Jael!
    and Kristin for the interview! appreciate the intro…

  16. You know, I often find that some of my best ideas come while I am in the kitchen preparing a meal — and from now on, I’ll be more vigilant about whether I’m whipping cream or making a pasta dish or pitting cherries at the time of my inspiration…

    Jael, I just love these metaphors for Writerhead!

    Likewise, I adore the idea of a book that centers around conjuring up people one has lost from their recipes. When you stop to think about it, we do that all the time, handing down recipes from one generation to the next… (Thank you, Kristin, too, for cooking up this series and selecting Jael, who has all the right ingredients!)

  17. And the winner of the signed copy of Jael McHenry’s THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER is (drum roll, please)…

    Jane Cook!

    Jane, please email me with your mailing address. (link to my email is above)

    Thanks to all who stopped by, read Jael’s writerhead interview, left a comment, and cheered her on.


  18. Wow, I love this! The fresh pasta simile is perfect, Jael. Can’t wait to read The Kitchen Daughter, my turn just came up at the library.

    Kristin, cool idea for a blog post. Look forward to reading more!

  19. It’s been a week & I haven’t heard from the winner of Jael’s book…so I’m picking a new one. (reaches hand into bag of names)

    And the new winner is…

    Sion Dayson!!!!

    Congrats, Sion!

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