Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Midge Raymond

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.


Welcome, welcome, welcome to Midge Raymond, author of the award-winning short story collection Forgetting English. Originally published in 2009 by Eastern Washington University Press, Forgetting English won the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction (whoop! whoop!) and was recently published as a new, expanded edition by Press 53. Check it out!

The Scoop About Forgetting English

“In this new, expanded edition of her prize-winning collection, Midge Raymond explores the indelible imprint of home upon the self and the ways in which new frontiers both defy and confirm who we are. Forgetting English takes us around the world, from the stark, icy moonscape of Antarctica to the lonely islands of the South Pacific, introducing us to characters who have abandoned their native landscapes only to find that, once separated from the ordinary, they must confront new interpretations of who they are, and who they’re meant to be.” (from www.midgeraymond.com)

The Buzz

“Raymond’s prose often lights up the poetry-circuits of the brain, less because of lyrical language and more due to things that work as both literal and symbolic nouns: stolen rings, voice-mail messages gone astray; heavy-footed humans in the middle of fragile habitats.” ~ The Seattle Times

“Raymond has quiet, unrelenting control over the writing; each story is compelling and thrives because each detail and line of dialogue reveals just a little more about the characters and the evocative settings.” ~ The Rumpus

“In her impressive debut collection, Forgetting English, Midge Raymond sets her stories in a variety of locations outside the continental United States…Alongside personal, human histories, Raymond incorporates larger traditions. Marriage rites. Fertility symbols. The meaning of jade. The natural history of the penguin.” ~ Fiction Writers Review

First Sentence

“He lives in his mother’s house, with no electricity or hot water, yet somehow he always has a ready supply of condoms.” (from “Sunday,” the first story in Forgetting English)

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And now, Midge’s writerhead

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

I experience writerhead in stages, maybe a little like the stages of sleep. So, for example, the first, light stage of writerhead happens when I have an idea that I jot down, and maybe even take a couple of minutes to write a few notes. Just as the first stage of sleep is when you’re drifting off and not really sleeping, this is not really writing—but it’s the first step in getting there. And then, the more time I have, the deeper I fall into writerhead, and the more vividly I think and dream. If I have plenty of time to write, I’ll fall into the REM-sleep version of writing, when my brain activity is going crazy but nothing can get me up from the chair. This is the stage of sleep when all the dreaming happens, and it’s the writing version of when all the good work happens. It takes me a while to get to this stage; I usually have to set aside a few good hours so that I can delve into a project. I turn off the phone, get offline—often I even take myself out of the house to avoid distractions. And once there, I become completely engrossed in the scenes on the page. Everything else around me disappears. I’ve been kicked out of cafés past closing, late for events and meals—when I’m absorbed in the story, I have no idea what time it is.

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.)

For someone to interrupt writerhead, they really have to work at it—it’s like waking me from a deep sleep. I’m usually pretty unaware and unconcerned with what’s going on around me. On the other hand, when I’m in an early, light stage of writerhead, any little interruption will annoy me—it’s like trying to fall asleep with a lot of noise in the room. When I make time to write, though, I’m pretty good about ignoring most outside interruptions: the phone, the door, email, my husband—oddly enough, my most persistent interruptions come from my beastly rescue cat, who will not be ignored. He’ll jump on the desk, sit right on the keyboard. If I lock him out of my office, he hurls himself at the door until I give in. This is why I work in cafés quite a lot.

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

While writerhead is a lot like being in a deep, dreaming sleep, I also imagine it’s much like being an actor, when you literally take on the role of someone else. As a writer, I have to be many people at once, and it can feel a little crazy to be in that space with all those voices—especially when they literally begin having conversations in your head. But it’s one of my favorite places in the world to be.

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Midge Raymond is the author of the award-winning story collection Forgetting English. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications. Her work has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and has received numerous awards, including the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction and an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship in Literary Arts. She lives, writes, and battles the cat for writing territory in the Pacific Northwest.

You can learn loads more about Midge at her web site (www.midgeraymond.com) and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@midgeraymond).

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Q4U Readers / Writers / Short Story Aficionados / Curious Looky-Loos: How good are you ignoring interruptions? How much time do you spend writing in cafés?

 

 

9 Responses to Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Midge Raymond

  1. Love you, Midge, AND, love your book. If you have not yet read Midge’s collection, Forgetting English, run to the store and buy it! Even those readers who don’t typically gravitate toward short stories will find a huge treat in Midge’s work.

  2. Pingback: The state of “writerhead” | Remembering English

  3. Sorry for being late to the Writerhead party, but if it’s not too late to ask a question of Midge, here goes:
    Midge, why have you set your stories in exotic (as in outside the US) landscapes? Are you a traveler? Were you ever an expat? Or to put it another way, have you had these kinds of identity challenges yourself? I’m more than little curious…

  4. Thanks, ML, for reading and especially for your questions! I am indeed a traveler (less so now than I’d like, but it’s still one of my great passions), and I have also been an expat. So certainly the experience of travel and living abroad have had an impact on the stories I write. That said, the stories in FORGETTING ENGLISH are just a handful of the dozens of stories I’ve written over the years, on all sorts of themes — these 10 stories are together because of their thematic similarity, of course, and also because of their exotic settings.

    As for your most intriguing question, about whether I’ve had these kinds of identity challenges myself: I suppose the answer would be both, “Yes, of course” and “No, of course not”! The stories are all entirely fictional, based loosely, in some cases, on places I’ve been and random incidents I’ve witnessed — and the characters themselves are all figments of my imagination. That said, I find that my characters are always most authentic when I can inhabit them as completely as possible, which always involves putting myself in their shoes. And to do this well, it helps to connect to them on some level — and certainly I’ve found that I can connect to each of these characters in some way or another, whether it’s via an escape fantasy or by learning something new about oneself or one’s relationship outside its normal boundaries. And one thing I’ve discovered in both writing and life is how identity is always changing, that none of us are necessarily the same person now as we were ten years ago, or even five or two. I find these issues really fun to explore, which is probably why it’s a common theme in all these stories.

    Thanks again for your excellent questions!

  5. Thank you, Midge, for your excellent answers! I’m writing for the new collaborative blog, The Displaced Nation, about people who venture across borders to live — hence my question. 

    You remind me of Joanna Penn, whom I wrote about in a post about what “home” means to expats, and she ended up engaging with us… She was what people call a Third Culture Kid and has also been an expat — but she doesn’t self-identify as such. She’s a writer, first and foremost.

    I’m also intrigued by what you said about using fiction to explore other cultures and other cultural identities — it reminded me of interviews I’ve seen with top-notch actors, who invariably say that’s what they love about their craft.

    Perhaps The Displaced Nation should explore the theme cross-cultural fiction — and you could be featured on our site at that point. (That’s of course assuming Kristen doesn’t mind some cross-fertilization between our two sites?)

    Thank you (both) again!