Expat Sat: Americans & Passports

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

Did you hear?

An article published this week in the U.K.’s Daily Mail revealed that there are more Americans on Facebook than Americans who have passports. The stats look like this:

Facebook: 155,000,000 Americans

Passports: 115,000,000 Americans

I could ask the obvious question: “How is this *#%)#(#! possible in 2011?”

But I know the obvious answers to the obvious question:

  • The United States is ginormous. There’s so much to see right here at home.
  • It’s too expensive to even dream about traveling outside our borders.
  • It’s so awesome here…why go anywhere else?

What intrigues me are the less obvious answers, like:

  • Lots of people are scared of what’s different (& other countries are, indeed, different).
  • The actual process of getting a passport can be intimidating (special photos, government forms, etc.) & time consuming.
  • There is no one–no Friendly Passport Liaison–to walk you through the process. (If you’ve ever tried to ask about it at the post office, you know what I mean.)
  • A passport is not a familiar object to most folks. It’s not something we carry on our person–like a driver’s license–and therefore it feels like it’s something beyond our reach…something only other people have.

It seems that lots of people (me included) believe this should change…that the majority of Americans should have passports.

So what if…

  • There were “Get Your Passport Here” booths at malls (right next to the cell phone kiosks) where you could accomplish all steps in one place.
  • At the “Get Your Passport here” booths, there were Friendly Passport Liaisons to walk you through the process. (No, not old, frumpy liaisons with bellies hanging over too-tight belts who launch into speeches about traveling to Japan during the “War,” but cool, hip, smart, well-traveled liaisons who have been around–you know, taught English in South Korea, backpacked through Thailand, did a year of study in Beijing, fell in love in Germany, and so on. No offense to the old, frumpy liaisons…you’re cool, too.)
  • Getting a passport was a celebrated milestone, like getting a driver’s license.
  • U.S. high schools (or even middle schools) had passport programs in which students could get their passports, while learning about travel lingo (visas, residency visas, etc.), maps, travel web sites, cool study programs around the world, etc. (I know, I know…budgets.)

Why even suggest all this?

Because there’s a feeling that comes with a passport that anything is possible. That ANYWHERE is possible. And it’s a feeling that all people deserve to have.

And as our world continues to shrink, we all need to be crossing borders and getting to know what’s on the other side.


Q4U Expats / Repats / Travelers / Nomads: What does your passport mean to you? When did you get it? What prompted you to get it?



Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Laura Harrington’s Novel “Alice Bliss” on bookcrossings.com Journey

Book Bloggers around the world, listen up!

Next Wednesday (August 3), I’ll be featuring author Laura Harrington on Writerhead Wednesday. Her new novel Alice Bliss was published back in June and it’s getting lots of great buzz. (I’ll also be giving away 5 copies of Alice Bliss next Wednesday! So be sure to stop back.)

In the meantime, Laura is launching a bookcrossings.com campaign for Alice Bliss. If you’re not familiar with bookcrossings, it’s a really cool way to share books around the world.

As a repatriated expat (China), I love this program. (Yep, there are bookcrossings events in Shanghai.) After all, it’s not always easy (or affordable) to get books when you’re living “elsewhere.” So if you’re a book blogger based anywhere in the world, you can participate.

To join in the fun, here’s what you need to do:


Help us send Alice Bliss all around the world.

This summer, book bloggers from across the United States and the globe have the unique opportunity to participate in an exciting, new international adventure. Laura Harrington, author of the novel Alice Bliss, is pleased to invite you, a book lover and blogger, to be a part of Where’s Alice Bliss?

What Is Where’s Alice Bliss?

Where’s Alice Bliss? is a campaign to send copies of the novel Alice Bliss to as many countries and U.S. states as possible. Through bookcrossing.com, copies of Alice Bliss will be registered and tracked as they travel around the world, passing from one reader to the next. Your bookcrossing ID (BCID) allows you to follow your book wherever it goes. It’s like a passport enabling your book to travel the world without getting lost. Once your book is registered, you will leave it in a public place with a note inside for someone else to find, read, and pass on, like a modern-day message in a bottle. You will be part of an international movement encouraging readers to read, register, and release books for others to enjoy.

How Do I Join?

If you are a teenage or adult book blogger, you are invited to request a copy of Alice Bliss through lauraharringtonbooks.com. Click on the Where’s Alice Bliss? page and fill out the submission form. The copy you receive will have a bookcrossing book plate on the inside. Please go to www.bookcrossing.com to register your book and get your book’s unique bookcrossing ID (BCID). Put the BCID in the space provided on the bookmark. This number will allow you to track your book’s journey.

What Do I Do When I Get My Copy?

Upon receiving your copy of Alice Bliss, you should read and review the book before logging on to bookcrossing.com and following the instructions to “release” your book to someone new. Photograph or video your “release” and upload your images to your blog and/ or Tumblr account and send us a link.


We want to send Alice Bliss to four continents and 50 U.S. states.

How Can I Follow Alice?

You can find out where Alice is by going to wheresalicebliss.wordpress.com, see pictures and videos of Alice all around the world on wheresalicebliss.tumblr.com, and get Where’s Alice Bliss? updates by following WheresAB on Twitter.


Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Ransom Riggs

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.

To be honest, when I started reading Ransom Riggs’s new novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, I wasn’t sure I could finish it.


Because it’s a little bit scary (especially the first couple of chapters), and I’m a little bit chicken.

But despite the fact that I was checking under my bed for ghosts and peeking behind doors before turning off the light, I still couldn’t wait to turn the page.

On top of an incredibly compelling story line, the book is full of photographs. Oodles of creepy, bizarre photographs that draw you even deeper into the story.

Technically, I think Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is labeled YA, but I loved it (and I’m a smidgin over 16).

So let’s get started.

The Scoop About Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. And a strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children who once lived here—one of whom was his own grandfather—were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a desolate island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows. [from www.ransomriggs.com]

The Buzz

“An enjoyable, eccentric read, distinguished by well-developed characters and some very creepy monsters . . . dark but empowering.” ~ Publishers Weekly

“A tense, moving, and wondrously strange first novel. The photographs and text work brilliantly together to create an unforgettable story.” ~ John Green, New York Times bestselling author of Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska

Named one of the “Best YA Books of June” at Amazon.com.

Named one of the “Top 10 YA Books of the Year So Far” at Amazon.com.

First Sentence

“I had just come to accept that my life would be ordinary when extraordinary things began to happen.”


And now, Ransom’s writerhead

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

I’ve become a creature of habit in this respect. The way I write is mostly can’ts—I can’t write in coffee shops, because there’s always some blabbermouth chattering away at the next table, or I get distracted with whatever they’re playing on the stereo; I can’t write on planes or while traveling; I can’t write at night; I can’t write without at least an hour and a half of free time in front of me, or I get distracted thinking about whatever’s about to happen in less than an hour and a half. I’m spoiled: I need hours of obligation free quiet time in my house (I have an office in my house where I write), with no one else around or in the next room (so I can get up and pace around and mutter to myself without feeling self-conscious about my weird habits) and it helps to be surrounded by books that I can grab and flip open at random for inspiration. Also, it helps when the Internet is broken, for obvious reasons. I have no clue how people work regular day jobs and then come home and write in the evening with kids and dogs crashing around their houses. I couldn’t do it!

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.)

I get cranky! My wife always knows I’m writing when she calls me in the middle of the day and my speech is clipped and fast—it’s like I’m trying to save my words for the page instead of using them up on the phone. (I always apologize to her later, though.) I don’t have any great stories about this…usually I just get annoyed, then keep writing when whatever’s distracting me is over.

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

It’s like a state of half-dreaming, where you’re letting your brain go and have adventures and imagine things, but you’re aware enough to write them down. A bit like lucid dreaming, I’d imagine.


Ransom Riggs grew up in Florida, where he spent his formative years making silly movies with his friends in their various backyards, snorkeling, and complaining about the heat. He studied English at Kenyon College and film at the University of Southern California. He is married. He has a cat. He lives in Los Angeles. He makes films you can watch on his YouTube page: www.youtube.com/ransriggs. He enjoys traveling to exotic lands and complaining about the heat.

You can find out more about Ransom on his web site (www.ransomriggs.com) and connect with him on Twitter (@ransomriggs).


Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos / Lovers of YA Fiction / Lovers of Spooky, Creepy Fiction: What are your writerly /readerly “can’ts”? (I can’t write if someone–a.k.a. my husband–talks to me in the morning before I sit down to write; I can’t read in a car or a train…)


GIVEAWAY! 3 Copies of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Today—Wednesday, July 27, 2011—I’ll be giving away 3 copies of Ransom Riggs’s crazy, lovely, creepy, captivating novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment right here on WRITERHEAD for Ransom. Wish him well. Tell him you can’t wait to read his novel. Talk about a shared writerhead experience. Ask him why he’s always complaining about the heat. Anything. (Make sure to leave your email address so I can get in touch with you if you win.)

*Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on July 28, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***The lucky winners will be drawn on Thursday, July 28. Be sure to check back to see who wins.

****The winner will be drawn randomly by the highly scientific method of my 3yo pulling a name out of a hat (or some other convenient container).

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


Mojo Monday: Ira Glass on Storytelling

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.

Especially important for beginning writers, but really important for all of us beautiful, crazy, word-obsessed folks who sit down alone with the words every day:


Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.



Expat Sat: I Need a Magic Wand

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

Some days I hate not being in China. I wake up and think:

“I want to boggle my brain by talking only in Chinese today.”

“I want to wear my bloody self out listening to those two old men in the lane and figure out–once and for all–what the hell they’re saying about the bicycle that leans in the corner.” (cause, you, they’re speaking Shanghainese, not Mandarin, which makes getting it a gazillion times harder for me)

“I want to go watch the guy tie frogs on Wulumuqi Road.”

“I want to see the Pearl Tower gleam in the night.”

“I want to follow the chicken man.”

“I want, I want, I want…”

Boiled down…

“I need my fix. My China fix.”

On these days, I long for a magic wand I can wave over my crazy, place-obsessed self and magically transport me & mine back to Shanghai.

(waves pen frantically)

Damn it…not a wand.



Q4U Expats / Travelers / Explorers: Longings like this? How do you deal?



Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Suzanne Kamata

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.

I’ve been itching to learn about Suzanne Kamata’s writerhead ever since I read her first novel Losing Kei.  She’s a beautiful writer who often explores two of my favorite topics: multicultural mamahood and the challenges and triumphs of trying to fit into a culture other than your own. Suzanne is an American expat who has been living in Japan for twenty years. Yowza! Twenty years! She is also the author of the new collection of short stories The Beautiful One Has Come. Enjoy.

The Scoop About The Beautiful One Has Come

These stories cross countries and cultures while exploring universal matters of the heart. “The Beautiful One Has Come” is about a young Japanese woman who nurtures an obsession with Nefertiti—with tragic results. In “Polishing the Halo,” an American mother in Japan grapples with news of her daughter’s disability while in “Mandala,” an eccentric Japanese doctor provides an unlikely haven for a newly divorced expat.

The Buzz

The Beautiful One Has Come poignantly shows the pains and the pleasures of living in a culture that is not your own. Kamata also illuminates the modern struggles of everyday people, showing us that perhaps foreigners are not the only ones searching for belonging in this traditional society. An insightful exploration of what it means to straddle two worlds, of embracing the old ways while being open to new.” ~ Margaret Dilloway. author of How to Be An American Housewife

“Kamata’s stories reverberate like a Japanese Noh opera: They portray the ‘agony of love’ in all its forms, acted out by sympathetic characters in various stages of external flight and internal change. The stories are artfully plotted, and tiny details—spots on photos, bean-filled cakes, sewing stitches, insects—take on the heavier weight of symbolism under her observant, empathic eye. Kamata will make you look at the world, and the culture you take for granted, in enhanced and profound ways.” ~ Tara L. Masih, author of Where the Dog Star Never Glows

“Kamata provides a refreshing alternative, one that focuses on female protagonists, but which also looks at daily lives, both the mundane and spectacular.” ~ The Asian Review of Books

First Sentence

“On Hemingway’s walls, there are heads of animals—deer, elk, impala and other horned beasts that Alicia cannot identify.” (from “Havana”)


And now, Suzanne’s writerhead

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

Sometimes I go into writerhead when I’m not writing. Maybe I’m walking, or driving, or cooking dinner, and I start thinking about a scene in the novel I’m working on, or how to describe a certain slant of light. When this happens, I’m only half listening to my children. I miss exits while driving. I become irritated by distractions. I want to be fully present when I am with others, so I try to stay out of writerhead until I have a stretch of time alone, such as mid-morning when the house is empty except for me—kids are at school, husband is at work.

To truly immerse myself, I usually need fuel (lots o’ coffee) and a certain amount of putzing around (checking Facebook updates, my Twitter feed, and Amazon rankings) before I can settle down to writing. If I’m stuck, especially in a piece of fiction, I start with a prompt—“opening a door,” or “celebrating a birthday” or another writer’s first line. And then once my fingers start tap-tap-tapping, and I’m in the flow, everything else falls away. I no longer notice my messy desk or the rooster next door that’s always crowing. My stomach may grumble, but I don’t feel compelled to run downstairs and grab a cookie. I don’t even glance at the word count at the lower corner of my screen. I don’t worry about style or structure. I just go. When I finally look at the clock—oh, no!—I sometimes discover that I’m late to pick up my kids from school.

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.)

What usually happens is someone comes to the door selling tofu or handing out flyers for that new funeral home down the street. Or maybe it’s one of my farmer neighbors bringing a giant bag of spinach. If I hear the doorbell, however, I have to answer because it might be the postman delivering…books! But to come out of writerhead is like being rudely woken from a dream where I’m about to meet George Clooney.

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

At the best times, it’s like entering a parallel universe, or hurtling through years and miles in a time machine. And that’s about as sci-fi as I will ever get.


Originally from Michigan, Suzanne Kamata has lived in Japan for over 20 years. She is the author of a two books of fiction featuring expatriates—The Beautiful One Has Come: Stories and Losing Kei; a picture book, Playing for Papa; and editor of three anthologies including The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan and Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering.

You can visit Suzanne at her web site (www.suzannekamata.com), read her blog, or follow her on Twitter (@shikokusue).


Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos / Expats / Multicultural Mamas & Dads: I love that when Suzanne needs a bit of a boost into writerhead, she sometimes starts with another writer’s first line. Brilliant! Ever try that? What other tricks do you have for getting into writerhead? Share, share!



Mojo Monday: The Intro to End All Intros

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.

I’ve been thinking about introductions.

Author introductions.

The hushed air of respect (and in some cases, reverence) that wafts and drifts through an author reading as the book store manager or the director of the cultural center says, “And now here’s ______, author of ___________.”

And it’s good.

Of course it’s good.

Getting introduced for a book you wrote = always G-O-O-D.

But man…how f’ing good must it feel to be introduced like this? Even just once in a lifetime.


All that energy.

All that love.


All that YOU KICK ASS.

How f’in good?



Q4U: What’s the best author intro you’ve ever seen?


Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expat Sat: The 2012 Narrative Travel Writing Contest

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writing. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.

TransitionsAbroad.com’s annual travel writing competition opens for submissions on July 15 (2011). Another great writing opportunity for expat writers! (Note: All information below is taken from TransitionsAbroad.com.)


Given the huge downturn in the global economy since 2008 which has resulted in a marked decrease in opportunities to work in your home country, many have turned to volunteering as a way to see the world, often inexpensively, as well as to altruistically help others handle their own economic plight. Transitions Abroad has long been a big believer in contributing to the host community either financially, through works, service, or through respectful interaction with the natives in which all learn from each other. Please describe an experience(s) you have had in which your volunteer work or service, or even voluntourism, has had a positive impact on the natives (as far as you know), as well as contributing to your inner development as an empathic global citizen. In some cases, volunteer service abroad also may help you find work at home in the aftermath. We are open to a combination of narrative and practical writing, including a sidebar which provides others with the information they need to follow your footsteps or pursue their own path. We recognize that at some level all travelers or volunteers all ultimately “outsiders” in some way, but we believe that through empathy the gap between people and cultures around the world can be closed, just as music is a universal language which often brings people together.

We are not looking for destination pieces which describe in flowery “amazing” terms your experience, nor are we looking for travelogues or blog-like posts which are too overly personal and self-involved to necessarily resonate with others on their own paths of discovery. We are looking for inspirational pieces which will lead others to experience the sense of engagement as a global citizen.

How to Enter

  • Submit an original and previously unpublished essay from 1,000 to 5,000 words. Supporting photos in .jpg or .gif format are welcome to illustrate the experience and are considered part of the essay submission. Please do not embed the photos for the travel essay in the .doc files.
  • To enter the Contest, attach your essay in Microsoft Word format or copy and paste it into an e-mail as a last resort. Please include your the essay title, full name, complete postal address and phone number in both the email and Word document and add a brief bio if you so choose. Please type “2012 Narrative Travel Writing Essay Entry” in the subject description of the e-mail and send the e-mail to narrativewritingcontest@transitionsabroad.com.
  • Accompanying photos which enhance the narrative are highly preferred. Photojournalistic essays or accompanying videos will also be considered, and humor is appreciated where appropriate.
  • Please include an optional bio of 1-3 sentences which reference your websites, blogs, books, and contact information in the body of the submission.


The contest is open to professional, freelance and aspiring travel writers from any location around the globe and of any nationality.


Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc. will require first-time Worldwide Electronic rights for all submissions which are accepted as contest winners and for publication. In addition, Transitions Abroad Publishing, Inc. will reserve the right to reprint the story in a future publication. The writer may republish the unedited submission as desired six months after initial publication on TransitionsAbroad.com.


  • The first-place winning entry will receive $500 (USD).
  • The second-place winning entry will receive $150 (USD).
  • The third-place winning entry will receive $100 (USD).
  • Any other articles selected as runner-ups will receive a $50 payment.


  • The contest begins July 15, 2011.
  • All entries must be received by January 5, 2012.
  • Winners will be notified by phone, mail, or e-mail by January 15, 2012 for publication by March 10th due to the time required for all writers spanning the globe to send in Agreements and payment to be cashed.


Editors of TransitionsAbroad.com will judge entries based upon the following criteria:

  • Sensitivity to the people and culture being described
  • Ability to engage the reader
  • Literary quality
  • Rich photographic/video illustrations

The Kicker

None that I can see.

The Upside

Money, money, money!


Read past winning entries. Then start writing.


For full terms and conditions, click here.


Image: Michal Marcol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Joe Wallace

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.

Sshhh…today we’re sneaking into the creative noggin of Joe Wallace, brilliant author of the highly acclaimed novel Diamond Ruby. So we don’t startle him, I did let Joe know we’d be looking around, and he was generous enough to open the window a crack so we could get a better view. Here…take a look.

The Scoop About Diamond Ruby

“New York City in the 1920s was like a vast ocean swirling with treacherous currents: It was far easier to drown than to stay afloat. But young Ruby Thomas, newly responsible for her two nieces after a devastating tragedy, is determined to keep her family safe. She’s got street smarts, boundless determination, and one great skill: the ability to throw a ball as hard as the greatest pitchers in baseball-mad city.

“Vividly portraying everything from Coney Island sideshows to the brand-new Yankee Stadium, Diamond Ruby chronicles the life and times of a girl who rises from utter poverty to the kind of renown only the Roaring Twenties can bring. But fame comes with a price, and Ruby must protect her family from Prohibition rum-runners, the Ku Klux Klan, and the gangster underworld. A sweeping epic whose breathtaking climax features a showdown with the great Babe Ruth, Diamond Ruby is filled with adventure, suspense, and characters you will never forget.” (from www.josephwallace.com)

The Buzz

“Wallace’s lively and entertaining first novel…includes all sorts of colorful characters and fascinating social history….At its heart, Diamond Ruby is the story of an unassuming, courageous young woman who uses the national pastime to become a pioneering heroine in a man’s world.” ~ Howard Frank Mosher, The Washington Post

“Ruby is a keeper—a believable heroine living in a fully re-created New York world of baseball and Prohibition. There are echoes of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, but this story holds its own, allowing Diamond Ruby her place as a literary gem.” ~ Library Journal (starred review)

“Using a gem of history as inspiration, Wallace invents a tale thick with the atmosphere of 1920s Prohibition-era New York City.” ~ Billy Heller, New York Post (“Required Reading”)

First Sentence

“Ruby Thomas had never seen anything as beautiful as Ebbets Field, with its brick exterior and half-moon windows that reminded her of slices of jelly candy.”


And now, Joe’s writerhead

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

For me, writerhead—those impossible-to-predict, precious, fleeting moments of creativity—usually occurs at the least expected (and, often, least convenient) times. While I’m driving. In the middle of a long movie. During a heart-to-heart with my wife.

I remember once going to a local commuter parking lot on an empty Sunday to teach my son to ride his bike without training wheels. As soon as I stepped out of the car with him, I entered writerhead. The entire remainder of the novel I’d been struggling with unfolded before me like a vast quilt. Plot problems solved. Character motivations understood. I had an ending!

But no pen and paper.

For the next hour, in a state of blind panic, I kept my son safe, offering words of encouragement and guidance as I desperately attempted to remember everything that writerhead had delivered to me. It felt like a challenge akin to juggling flaming torches, and I’ve never been happier to get my hands on a piece of paper and a pencil in my life.

Sometimes writerhead strikes when I’m actually sitting at my keyboard. Then I feel as if the words are flowing directly through my body onto the page. I don’t feel like I’m stringing words together; I feel like I’m just the conduit for what writerhead is giving me.

These are the best moments of my writing life.

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.)

This is a real challenge for me. When writerhead arrives, I want to do nothing else but write. It’s so precious and rare!

I know that’s not how life works, that sometimes other things get in the way. My problem is that I don’t hide the onset of writerhead well…or at all. My family can always tell: My eyes widen, go out of focus, grow vague. I stop answering direct questions, or even hearing them. My body is there, but my mind appears to have been exchanged with that of a pod person.

I don’t snap or snarl when someone gets in the way of writerhead. What I do is worse: I absent myself from the scene. I plunge into the world of my book, and leave the physical world behind.

I’m probably really lucky that my family and friends are as patient as they are. I’m not sure I’d be so willing to put up with me.

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

Writerhead is like time travel. The only way I could write Diamond Ruby was “live” in the Roaring Twenties world along with Ruby, surrounded by gangsters and rum-runners and Coney Island sideshows and the KKK.

To prepare, I read books, journals, memoirs, and half a dozen newspapers of the time, every day’s edition, day by day, one after another. By the end, I felt as if I had actually journeyed to that era. All I had to do was place Ruby—who felt just as real to me as the people I’d been reading about—there. Then I simply let this vivid world spin around her and wrote down what happened.

This is the essence of writerhead for me: To be able to travel to another time, another place, to live within it, and to write what I see.


In Joe Wallace’s 30-year writing career, he has specialized in…not specializing. Magazine articles on science and health. Books on dinosaurs and baseball. Short stories in a noir vein. And a novel, Diamond Ruby, featuring a tough, strong teenage girl in the tumultuous world of New York City in the 1920s. Joe lives north of New York City, where he inflicts writerhead on his wife, two teenage children, cheerful dog, and unforgiving cat.

You can connect with Joe at his web site (www.josephwallace.com) and on Facebook. You can even follow him on Twitter (@joe_wallace).


Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos: Ever have one of those writerhead but “no pen and paper” moments? How do you manage? Write it out in the dirt with a stick? Create a mnemonic for each sentence (ROYGBIV)? Chant? Do the “oh-my-god-please-don’t-let-me-forget-this dance”?


Mojo Monday: What Does a [Writing] Community Mean to You?

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge you into writerhead.

A week or so ago, I caught this video about community on the fantabulous site Brain Pickings. In it, oodles of folks respond to the simple question, “What does a community mean to you?”


As I hunker down in a new community here in the U.S. after almost five years in China, I think a great deal about this very question. Sometimes at normal hours of the day; sometimes (like last night) at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning when my brain is taken over by the I-can’t-stop-thinking-so-I-might-as-well-think-about-something-creative energy.

And because I am who I am, as I watched the video, I applied the same question to my writerly life and asked myself, “What does a writing community look like to me?”

Here’s what I’ve come up with thus far:

It’s local and it’s worldwide. It’s live and face-to-face. It’s online and virtual. It’s big. And small. Welcoming. And intimate. Critical, but not judgmental. Open. Diverse. Lively. Funny. Irreverent. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s coffee at the local shop. It’s getting to know the booksellers in the local bookstore. It’s a quick volley of Tweets or a friendly Facebook add. It gives and forgives. It changes and grows. It challenges me, and I it. It kicks me in the tush when I need it. It’s organic. It’s fluid. It’s p-p-p-powerful.

But—and this is a super important thing to remember at 2:00 in the morning—a writing community is something I create and build. It doesn’t make itself. It doesn’t appear magically when I land in a place. I can’t manifest it by wiggling my nose or waving my wand (though that would be pretty damn cool). It takes a lot of work…a lot of reaching out…a lot of reaching in. And time. It takes time. It’s kind of like… (pause) Here…let me reach into my cheesy-and-obvious-but-spot-on comparisons bag and pull out…voila! A garden. Growing a writing community is like growing a garden. (cue Peter, Paul & Mary)



Q4U: And you, dear writers? What does your ideal writing community look like? Do you have one yet? How do you work on it? How do you tend it? How do you make your garden grow?