Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Meredith Mileti

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.


How excited am I to welcome my amazing friend and writing colleague Meredith Mileti to WRITERHEAD to celebrate the publication of her debut novel Aftertaste?

Almost as excited as I’d be if I could actually host Mira Rinaldi–the main character in Aftertaste–herself. Mira is one of those characters who will stay with you forever. She kicks ass in all the best ways (literally and figuratively)…and I love that.

For the past week or so, Aftertaste has kept me up at night turning the page, urging me onward. I was so bummed when I had no more pages to turn…but also satisfied and content.

(And for all you Pittsburghers out there, you’re in for a hometown treat. Part of the book takes place in the ‘burgh and many favorites make guest appearances–Mineo’s, Pittsburghese, the Strip District, Mellon Bank, the Post-Gazette, and loads more. It’s like coming home.)

Remember, I’m giving away 3 signed copies of Aftertaste today. Just leave a comment here to enter. (Complete guidelines below).

The Scoop About Aftertaste

Mira Rinaldi lives life at a rolling boil. Co-owner of Grappa, a chic New York City trattoria, she has an enviable apartment, a brand-new baby, and a frenzied schedule befitting her success. All of that changes the night she catches her husband, Jake, wielding his whisk with Grappa’s sexy waitress. Mira’s fiery response earns her a court-ordered stint in anger management and a demotion to lunchtime cook at her own restaurant, but that is only the beginning of Mira’s legal and personal predicament as she battles to save her restaurant and pick up the pieces of her life.

Mira falls back on family and friends in Pittsburgh as she struggles to find the right recipe for happiness. Slowly, buffered by her best friend, her widowed father’s girl friend and an unanticipated career twist, Mira starts to assemble the ingredients for a new, very different life. But the heat is really on when some surprising developments in New York present Mira with a high stakes opportunity to win back what she thought she had lost forever.

For Mira, cooking isn’t just about delicious flavors and textures, but about the pleasure found in filling others needs. And the time has come to decide where her own fulfillment lies even if the answers are completely unexpected.

The Buzz

“Meredith Mileti’s Aftertaste is as honest, hearty, and deeply satisfying as the Italian peasant fare cooked by her heroine. A delightful debut novel about the important things in life: food, family, and love.” ~ Ann Mah, author of Kitchen Chinese

“I loved this unflinchingly honest portrayal of a woman’s fresh start—in life, in love, and in her very special kitchens.” ~ Melissa Senate, author of The Love Goddess’ Cooking School

“Hot. Funny. Sexy. This is one delicious story and Meredith Mileti is one steamy good writer!” ~ Jamie Cat Callan, author of French Women Don’t Sleep Alone and Bonjour, Happiness!

First Sentence

“The best thing about the location of the Manhattan County Courthouse is its proximity to Nelly’s.”

_________

And now, Meredith’s writerhead

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

You can’t plan or induce writerhead, but I can often tell from the moment I open my eyes whether it will be one of those blessed days. (I realize there’s no scientific evidence to support this contention, but I suspect that if you were to take a PET scan the brain you’d be able to actually see writerhead glowing silvery-blue or plum, or some equally incandescent and mysterious color.) Externally I feel a gentle tingling, a slight buzz in the surrounding atmosphere, a bit like I imagine someone might feel just before they spontaneously combust. It’s nerve-wracking, thrilling, heart-stopping and wonderful all at once.

If I sense it might be a writerhead day, I tread softly and take extra precautions to try to minimize the interruptions. I’m an early writer. I love being up in the morning before anyone else is awake in my house. I make a vat of coffee and retreat to my office, making sure my “Disturb Under Pain of Death” doorknob sign is in place. I don’t check my email. I just jump in.

Often I can’t type fast enough. Words and images swirl around my head waiting for me to corral them and assist them onto the page. Writerhead, at it’s best, is like listening in on a party line conversation between two characters who have come to life in a way you hadn’t imagined. I’m just the scribe.

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.)

Once, years ago, when my son was small, I was working on a something—I can no longer even remember what it was, (probably for the best)—when Mark toddled into my office. He was in that language acquisition phase where he would repeat one word over and over. He sidled up to my chair and began repeating “button, button” over and over again and, mad to finish the paragraph I was writing, I kept repeating “button, button,” with all kinds of goofy inflections, trying my best to forestall the inevitable interruption. Suddenly, my screen went blank. He had pushed the “off” button on the computer tower and, of course, because I was in my altered-writerhead state, I was not focused on the earthly and mundane task of saving my work. The word “button” still occasionally strikes terror in my heart. We both ended up in tears. Happily, Mark has lived to almost-adulthood and the scars barely show anymore.

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

I recently started running. (Actually, I’ve been saying I’m a runner for years now, but that meant I’d made it 4 times around the high school track without feeling like I needed CPR.) You always hear runners talking about “the runner’s high.” Well, I never felt anything but achy, cranky and occasionally on the brink of death until this summer when I finally managed to break the 4-mile barrier and experienced my first runner’s high. (Okay, there’s probably not a marathon in my future, but still it was a big deal for me.) It feels like you could go on for miles, your body tingling, your feet barely skimming the ground; it’s peaceful, heady and exhilarating; all the outside distractions seem to fall away. It’s very much like writerhead. Now, if I could only write while I run…

_________

Meredith Mileti lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their three mostly grown children. Since producing her first batch of gluey brownies from her Easy-Bake oven, Meredith has loved cooking for her family and friends. She is an adventurous and eclectic diner, and appreciates any well-cooked meal, whether from a lobster shack in Bar Harbor, a friggitoria in Naples, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris or an undiscovered little gem in her Pittsburgh neighborhood. Aftertaste is her first novel.

Hungry for more? Visit Meredith at her web site. Give her a high-five on Twitter (@winsomechef). Or raise a glass to her on Facebook.

_________

Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos / Cooks / Eaters / Pittsburghers / Primanti Fans: The sign Meredith hangs on her office door when she’s writing reads “Disturb Under Pain of Death.” What does your sign read?

_________

GIVEAWAY!!!

Today—Wednesday, August 31, 2011—I’m giving away 3 signed copies of Meredith Mileti’s debut novel Aftertaste.

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment right here on WRITERHEAD for Meredith. Tell her that you pre-ordered Aftertaste and have just cracked the spine. Talk to her about a particular dish you love to cook for your family and friends. Describe your favorite spice. Delight in a shared writerhead moment. (Or for you Pittsburghers out there, you can even dish about your favorite Primanti’s sandwich.)

*Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on September 1, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***Winners will be drawn on Thursday, September 1. Be sure to check back to see who wins.

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

****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).

 

Mojo Monday: Gulp

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.


Love, love, love when folks create a whole lotta something from very little. “Gulp” was filmed on a Nokia N8 (a camera phone) and it was the world’s largest stop-animation set.

Watch…and then go forth & create! Today, make a whole lotta something from very little.

 

(If you’re a geek like me, you can also watch a short film about how they made “Gulp.” Tres cool. Here ya go!)

 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #3: Firsts

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.


This is #3 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So listen up, my nomadic pals. Then grab your keyboards and start writing.

__________

I love firsts. If you ever take a class of mine–live or online–you will most likely be assigned at least one “firsts” essay. Maybe two.

What’s a first?

The first time I _____ (stood on my head, kissed a boy/girl, cooked something more than mac-and-cheese, went to college, stood up for myself, spoke out against ______, shaved my head, traveled alone, got on the wrong train, etc.).

All people have firsts, but expats–ooh, you ma-ma-marvelous expats–have a treasure trove of firsts. Think about it:

  • the first time I considered moving to _____
  • the first time I applied for a visa
  • the first time I stepped off a plane in _____
  • the first language class I took in _____
  • the first time I put my foot in my mouth (& how I got it out)
  • the first time I understood what someone was saying to me in _____ (Chinese/Swedish/Spanish/etc.)
  • the first time I got lost in _____
  • the first time I ate _____
  • the first time I forgot to renew my visa in _____ (We actually did this in China…not fun. I advise against it.)

See what I mean? You could probably write firsts forever and never run out of material.

So…here’s your writing challenge for the week:

  1. Fill in this blank: the first time I ______
  2. Write, write, write, write, write!

Tip #1:  Choose a first that is significant to you. (I wouldn’t write about the first time I saw a bus in China, but I would write about the first time I heard the monks chanting at the Longhua Temple in Shanghai.)

Tip #2: Tell your first fully. See it. Taste it. Hear it. Smell it. Feel it. Breathe it in and out. Run your hands over it. Turn it upside down. Look at it through a prism. Don’t worry about writing too much; there’s time for cutting and tightening later. Right now, write.

Need a little inspiration?

Here’s a couple of firsts from the Christian Science Monitor: the first time I went back to my summer camp and first time to Zimbabwe

 

_____

Image: Teerapun / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Eleanor Brown

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 Eleanor Brown, author of one of my favorite novels, The Weird Sisters. I’ve been hankering to learn a little something-something about Eleanor’s writerhead ever since The Weird Sisters debuted and now (whoop! whoop!) I do.

Listen up, folks!

The Scoop About The Weird Sisters

The Andreas sisters were raised on books—their family motto might as well be, “There’s no problem a library card can’t solve.” Their father, a renowned, eccentric professor of Shakespearean studies, named them after three of the Bard’s most famous characters: Rose (Rosalind—As You Like It), Bean (Bianca—The Taming of the Shrew), and Cordy (Cordelia—King Lear), but they have inherited those characters’ failures along with their strengths.

Now the sisters have returned home to the small college town where they grew up—partly because their mother is ill, but mostly because their lives are falling apart and they don’t know where to go next. Rose, a staid mathematics professor, has the chance to break away from her quiet life and join her devoted fiance in England, if she could only summon up the courage to do more than she’s thought she could. Bean left home as soon as she could, running to the glamour of New York City, only to come back ashamed of the person she has become. And Cordy, who has been wandering the country for years, has been brought back to earth with a resounding thud, realizing it’s finally time for her to grow up.

The sisters never thought they would find the answers to their problems in each other, but over the course of one long summer, they find that everything they’ve been running from—each other, their histories, and their small hometown—might offer more than they ever expected. [from http://www.eleanor-brown.com/]

The Buzz

“…bright, literate debut…a punchy delight…” ~ Publisher’s Weekly

“Here’s what I adored about this book: the first person plural narrative voice (I can still hear it in my head), its realistic take on the pleasures and pangs of sisterly relationships, and a cast of complex, three dimensional characters who love reading but find that real life sometimes doesn’t fit neatly—or can’t be solved—within the pages of a novel.” ~ Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust and Book Lust to Go

“Brown’s knockout debut about the ties that bind us, the stories we tell ourselves, and the thorny tangle of sisterhood was so richly intelligent, heartbreakingly moving and gorgeously inventive, that I was rereading pages just to see how she did her alchemy. Brilliant, beautiful, and unlike anything I’ve ever read before.” ~ Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You and Girls in Trouble

First Sentence

“We came home because we were failures.”

_________

And now, Eleanor’s writerhead

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

You describe writerhead as a temporary state, but for me it’s a state that lasts a long time, just in different levels. On the first level, usually when I’m thinking on a new project or just starting to write something new, everything I see calls out its story to me— conversations I overhear (okay, eavesdrop on), articles in magazines, song lyrics, the perfect blue of the summer sky. Things are sharper and clearer to me. It’s like a heightened sense of awareness of everything that’s going on in the world, and I’m usually very, very happy.

The second level is when I’m actually writing, and that’s when I really start to get sucked in, when I can draw on all those things that have been catching my eye, literally or metaphorically, and start to put them on paper. That’s kind of dreamlike, because I’m no longer aware of the outside world. I’m fishing around in my heart and my memories to find exactly the right way to describe that perfect blue.

The third level is when I’m deep into the project, when I’m beyond sorting through my notes or doing research or anything that pulls my eyes away from the page or the screen. The words are just coming out—not always pretty, but they’re coming!—and I can’t stop them. Interestingly, I am usually very, very grumpy at this level, maybe because my body keeps making ridiculous demands, like needing to be fed or washed or something silly like that.

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 don’t usually notice! My partner will say something to me, and I won’t respond—I genuinely don’t even hear it. Usually, he then launches into an extended monologue about how he and our cat are going to go to the moon in their cotton candy spaceship. By the time he gets to cotton candy, I’m usually aware enough to tune back in, but sometimes he has to get even more ridiculous before I’ll notice. Maybe I should suggest that he mention ice cream earlier in the story—I think even writerhead can’t keep me away from ice cream.

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

For me writerhead feels like I’ve passed out of my body in order to connect more directly with the world through its stories.

_________

Eleanor Brown is the New York Times and national bestselling author of The Weird Sisters. Born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Eleanor has lived in St. Paul, San Francisco, Philadelphia, South Florida, and Oxford, London, and Brighton, England. She lives in Colorado with her partner, writer and new media superstar, J.C. Hutchins.

To find out more about Eleanor, visit her web site. You can also give her a wave on Twitter (@eleanorwrites) or Facebook.

_________

Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos / Sisters: What grabs your attention about Eleanor’s writerhead? What makes you go “Hey, that’s so crazy!” or “Oh, my god, that’s just like my writerhead!”

_________

GIVEAWAY!!!

Today—Wednesday, August 24, 2011—I’m giving away 2 signed copies of Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters.

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment right here on WRITERHEAD for Eleanor. Compliment her on her shoes. Tell her about your sisters. Talk about a shared writerhead experience. Ask her a question about how she wrote The Weird Sisters. Give her a standing ovation for writing such a spectacular novel. Etc.

*Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on August 25, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***Winners will be drawn on Thursday, August 25. Be sure to check back to see who wins.

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

****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).

 

Mojo Monday: Octopus in Writerhead

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.


Octopus in writerhead.
 
Magic.

 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt #2: Stuff, Stuff, Stuff

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.


This is #2 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So grab your keyboards, my friends, and start writing.

__________

In 2006, as I prepared to upend my life and move from the U.S. to China, I (like many of you) rented a storage space and shoved nearly everything I own into it:

  • 40+ boxes of books
  • every single draft of my novel Thirsty
  • kitchen crap
  • Gagual (the panda bear I’ve loved since I was two)
  • my fishing gear
  • a load of elk horns
  • etc.

I arrived in China with a mattress, 2 suitcases of clothes, my laptop, a Swiss Army knife (thank goodness cause our “furnished apt” in Shanghai didn’t include any kitchen stuff & we sure needed that knife during our first few jet-lagged days in China), and few other bits and pieces.

And honestly, that’s all I needed.

Here’s your writing challenge for the week. In the video below, check out what filmmaker David Hoffman has to say about his connection to stuff. Read this terrific essay —“Selling My Mother’s Dresses”— in the NYTimes by Abby Sher. Then think about your own connection to stuff…and start writing. A few questions to get you started.

  • What did you take with you to your host country? Why?
  • What did you leave behind that you miss?
  • What was the “surprise” object you brought from your home country? The thing that proved to be more valuable than you anticipated? (for me, the Swiss Army knife)
  • What new object have you acquired in your host country that you couldn’t live without?

 

 
 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Tracy Seeley

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.


Place, place, place.

Place, place, place.

Place, place, place.

As a writer/reader/traveler/cultural spelunker/teacher, I’m a little obsessed with/enthralled by/seduced by place.

Guess it’s no surprise that when I spotted Tracy Seeley’s new memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas, I said, “I need her writerhead.”

And here you have it.

Enjoy. (& be sure to leave a comment to enter the giveaway contest; see rules below)

The Scoop About My Ruby Slippers

“Sure, there’s no place like home—but what if you can’t really pinpoint where home is? By the time she was nine, Tracy Seeley had lived in seven towns and thirteen different houses. Her father’s dreams of movie stardom, stoked by a series of affairs, kept the family on edge, and on the move, until he up and left. Thirty years later, settled in what seems like a charmed life in San Francisco, a diagnosis of cancer and the betrayal of a lover shake Seeley to her roots—roots she is suddenly determined to search out. My Ruby Slippers tells the story of that search, the tale of a woman with an impassioned if vague sense of mission: to find the meaning of home.

Seeley finds herself in a Kansas that defies memory, a place far more complex and elusive than the sum of its cultural myths. On back roads and in her many back years, Seeley also finds unexpected forgiveness for her errant father, and, in the face of mortality, a sense of what it means to be rooted in place, to dwell deeply in the only life we have.” [from www.tracyseeley.com]

The Buzz

“Tracy Seeley’s My Ruby Slippers: The Road to Kansas and a Sense of Place offers a graceful journey into the secret worlds of grief, illness and, ultimately, recovery. This is a wonderfully vivid and compassionate book, reminding us of how place can shape us and make us whole again.” ~ Dinty W. Moore, Author of Between Panic & Desire

“There is a sensitivity and patience and persistent thoughtfulness in Tracy Seeley’s prose that make her memoir unique to this cultural moment. In her capable hands we are in no hurry to get anywhere, but happy to follow her lead down every digressive and revelatory path.” ~ Phillip Lopate

“In this smart meditation on place, Seeley gives to Kansas the time that she never afforded it in her youth….The author elegantly captures the ambivalence of her return….She learned the history of the places she lived and delved into the native lore—the sacred bundles, medicine wheels and star maps of the Chahiksichahiks—experiencing a deepening and clarity of place. ‘When a place lives in you beyond the limits of the senses, when its many maps are laid on your heart, maybe that’s when you really belong to it.’ Seeley evocatively captures that place here.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

First Sentence

“The night before crossing the Rockies, I had three dreams.”

_________

And now, Tracy’s writerhead

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

Writerhead happens for me after I roll out of bed, make a cup of tea (I have my own secret concoction), then refuse to open anything that requires the internet: e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, New York Times. If I let myself slip down that rabbit hole, I know I’ll lose the morning for writing. Then I open my document or start a new one.

Immediately, the little yippy dogs of anxiety and distraction surround me. I must do laundry, I must write that e-mail to my sister, I must really eat breakfast first, I must update my Facebook page, I should take some fish out of the freezer for dinner, what am I wearing to work? Are the clothes still in the dryer? When’s the last time I mopped the floor? You know.

When I first started writing, I lost a lot of writing time paying heed to those little dogs. But I’ve learned to shake them off by taking a few slow breaths, in…out…in…out. I tell myself I’m only going to write for 15 minutes. It’s a trick, but it works. Anyone can write for 15 minutes before they take their yippy dogs out for a walk. And I tell myself that whatever I write, I can always rewrite or erase or fix later, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s good. Just write down whatever. That sends my last bits of anxiety over to the corner for a nap.

And then it happens. Just when I’m about to reach the 15-minute mark, I’ve forgotten all about the 15 minutes and I’m in it. Writerhead. Sailing into the wind. I try not to notice, afraid I might spook it away. I just keep on going, la-di-da-di, nothing important happening here.

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.)

Ack! Well, several things can happen. If I’m in a shallow state of writerhead (like dreaming when I’m sort of half awake), then an interruption can derail the whole morning. Mostly because I let it. But if the trance is deep enough, even if I have to jump up and attend to the interruption, I can usually manage to keep half my brain in writerhead and get back to it as soon as the interruption is over. My husband’s a filmmaker, so he has his own version of writerhead. He knows not to interrupt me when I’m writing.

If I do get derailed for the day, I just give myself over to it and set my intention to write again tomorrow. I try not to beat myself up about it. Kindness goes a long way for a writer. So I work at being kind.

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

While I was working on My Ruby Slippers, I made a trip back to Kansas and spent a lot of time in the Flint Hills, a region I love. It’s gorgeous there, rolling hills, patches of original tall grass prairie. And the first night I got back to San Francisco, I had a dream. I wasn’t really in it as a person, but more as a presence, a consciousness. And that “I” was sailing over fields of tall grass, free and easy, without effort, the grass waving beneath me, bending with the wind. The dream was silent, but the world felt fully alive and I in it. The feeling was of absolute peace. That’s writerhead.

_________

Tracy Seeley is a writer and English Professor at the University of San Francisco. Her memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas was published in 2011. She has also published scholarly essays on Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad and other writers, as well as literary essays in The Florida Review, Prairie Schooner and other journals. Her essay “Cartographies of Change” was a finalist for both the Iowa Review and Brenda Ueland prizes in nonfiction.

You can find out more about Tracy on her web site (www.tracyseeley.com). You can also give her a wave on Twitter (@tracy_seeley) or Facebook.

_________

Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos / Kansas-ians / Place-Obsessed Writers Like Me: If you were going to write this book, what would the subtitle of the book be? (ex: The Road Back to ________) How come?

_________

GIVEAWAY!

Today—Wednesday, August 17, 2011—I’m giving away 1 signed copy of Tracy Seeley’s memoir My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas.

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment right here on WRITERHEAD for Tracy. Give her a big “Hidy-ho!” Tell her about your connection to Kansas. Offer a shared writerhead experience. Ask a question. Tell Tracy you’ve read My Ruby Slippers from front to back, back to front, and inside out. Give her a high five. (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 August 18, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***The winner will be drawn on Thursday, August 18. Be sure to check back to see who wins.

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

****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).

 

Mojo Monday: Obsessions (Adam Savage’s & Yours)

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.


When I get into a writing project, I get INTO a writing project. Know what I mean? Single-minded, deep in writerhead, distant and distracted from everything else, obsessed.

O-B-S-E-S-S-E-D.

Kinda like Adam Savage is with making the falcon (see video below).

Check it out. Look/sound familiar?

 

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt: Split

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.


This is #1 of 10 in a series of writing prompts for expat writers. So grab your keyboards, my friends, and start writing.

__________

It’s no secret that expats often feel split. Divided. Cut in half. Between two (or more) places.

If I were a giant, I’d tower over the earth with one foot in the U.S. and one foot in China and rock back and forth between the two.

I’m grateful for this “splitness”–this duality. I love it, cherish it, even slobber all over it sometimes, but at the same time, it hurts…so much I sometimes find myself doubled-over and groaning.

Here’s your writing challenge for the week. Watch this video (which captures this feeling of “splitness” pretty darn well) and then write about your own experiences with feeling split…divided. A few questions to get you started.

  • How does that “split” feeling manifest itself in you?
  • Where do you feel it? (belly, head, heart, etc.)
  • Do you feel it more when you’re visiting your home country or when hunkered down in your host country? How come?
  • Do folks back home understand the feeling? Are they interested?
  • What’s one story that exemplifies this feeling for you? (“the time I was______”)

 

Splitscreen: A Love Story from JW Griffiths on Vimeo.

 

(A big nod to Sion Dayson (an American expat in Paris) who posted this video a few weeks back and who knows this feeling very well.)

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Christopher Boucher

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.


Here’s how I found out about Christopher Boucher’s debut novel How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive:

I spotted a post on Cheryl Strayed’s Facebook feed in which she said something to the effect of: “My friend Christopher Boucher’s novel is coming out…” And she gave the title…which I loved and which led me to believe (rightly so) that this novel promised to be a little quirky. (If you know me at all, you know I love quirky.)

I clicked and Googled until I tracked down Christopher. Then I asked him to share his writerhead.

He said yes.

I leapt with joy and waxed nostalgic about the baby blue VW our across-the-street neighbor drove when I was a wee one.

The rest is history.

And guess what? How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive was just released YESTERDAY!

So stand up, my writerly/readerly friends. Shout “Happy Pub Day, Christopher Boucher!” Shout “Hurrah! Hurrah!” And put your hands together for the author and his brand new novel How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive.

The Scoop About How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive tells the story of a newspaper reporter living in western Massachusetts and trying to raise his son, a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle. Born of grief and fueled by stories, the Volkswagen is hopeful, smug and fraught with mechanical problems. Drawing on John Muir’s book by the same title, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive assembles surreal vignettes and automotive manual excerpts which chronicle the narrator’s attempts to make sense of his off-kilter world, to write the book we’re reading, and to be a father to his Volkswagen son. [from www.vwalive.com]

The Buzz

“In one sense, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is about inventing ways to tell sad stories about tragic moments that will then help us—the reader, the writer, whomever—to find ways outside of them. This is denying the book’s overriding silliness to some measure, but I think that combination of silly and solemn is exactly what gives Boucher’s novel the ability to drive up off the page and into the depths of our literary garage hearts.” ~ Michelle Bailat-Jones, Necessary Fiction

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is definitely the next book you should read. It’ll be the most fun you’ll ever have getting sad.” ~ Adam Levin, author of The Instructions

“Writing to save your life—and your 1971 Volkswagen—is at the heart of this wildly imaginative debut… Readers are in for a fresh, memorable ride with this inventive ‘collage of loss.’” ~ Publishers Weekly (starred review)

First Sentence

“That afternoon we held a birthday party for my son, the 1971 Volkswagen Beetle.”

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And now, Christopher’s writerhead

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

I write every morning, fueled by a lot of coffee, but I can go weeks or months without finding true writerhead. When I do find it, I literally lean back in my chair like that guy in the Maxell commercial, and for a few minutes I’m “in tune”—the sentences line up in my brain and I can’t type them fast enough. I try to get my mind out of the way and listen—if there was a thought bubble above me, it would contain a lot of vowels and exclamation points. Writerhead is so much fun that I decide to let bygones be bygones and wipe the previous weeks of false starts from my memory. I blissfully resolve to return to this mental space every day for the rest of my life.

The rest of my writing life mapped out, I take a break and check my email.

No email. I zap my coffee in the microwave, sit back down at my desk and open up the document I was working on. If I’m lucky I can write my way back to where I was, but often the path is covered over and writerhead is gone.

Sometimes, too, I’m fooled by faux-writerhead; I’m leaning back in my chair like that guy in the commercial, and typing very fast, but the words are imposters—they’re empty or they just don’t sound right.

I often think about writing in musical terms. Sometimes I hear the music, and that’s writerhead. Sometimes I think I hear the music, and sometimes the music is just too faint for me to hear.

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 tell my writing students at Boston College that I think of writing like brushing my teeth—I can go a day without brushing my teeth, but I’m not very happy about it. Being interrupted in writerhead, then, is like really wanting to brush your teeth, and then just starting to brush them when someone kicks open the bathroom door and steals your toothbrush mid-brush. Or, to stay with the question, brushing your teeth when the toothbrush crashes, or begins to ring, or starts to bark.

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

Earlier this summer, my wife and I were driving through Whately, Massachusetts—looking for the town center—when we hit a detour and got lost on some dirt roads that we had no idea were there. The roads went sideways in time—we saw strange houses, and people on horseback, and a 1950s sedan with leaves piled up to the headlights. I thought I knew the town well, but it turns out I knew nothing. The wilderness went on for miles; I found it stunning and frightening, and I felt far from home.

I’m reminded of this experience because it has a lot of the same qualities as writerhead—it was exhilarating, and scary, and mysterious, and humbling, and holy, and it seemed to have no end.

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Christopher Boucher is the author of the novel How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (Melville House Publishing, 2011) and the Managing Editor of Post Road Magazine. He lives in the Boston area and teaches writing and literature at Boston College.

You can find out more about Christopher at his web site and blog (vwalive.com). You can also say hello on Twitter (@the_boucher) or zip him an email at christopher@vwalive.com.

Or (and this is pretty cool) you can go see Christopher read from How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive because to celebrate the publication of the book, he’s attempting “to drive a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle from Los Angeles to Boston, giving readings and completing missions along the way.” Find out more about his road trip here.

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Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos / VW Passionistas: Ever suffer, like Christopher, from faux-writerhead? If so, what does that look like/feel like for you?