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.”


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.


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.


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?


3 Responses to Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Christopher Boucher

  1. I absolutely love the idea that skipping your daily writing is like skipping brushing your teeth. I’m not very happy about it either, when I do that (far too frequently). I’m looking forward to Christopher’s VW road trip — I hope the Bug makes it as far as Pittsburgh!

    As for the faux-writerhead, when I really experienced this was in my advertising days. The art director and I would have what we thought was a fantastic brainstorm session. We’d close up shop for the day, pleased with ourselves and certain we had at least 3 excellent creative concepts to work with. The next day we’d realize they were all shit. Back to the drawing board we’d go (on the bright side, in our case this involved lunch).

  2. Congratulations, Christopher! I’m looking forward to reading How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. I like your metaphor about Writerhead being like getting lost on a detour. You don’t plan it, it’s often inconvenient and, if you ever had to re-create the detour route you’d never find it. Good luck on your road trip! I’ll be looking for you in Pittsburgh.

    P.S. Hopefully you won’t need the mechanical advice, but you should be a guest on Car Talk.