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.”

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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.

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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).

 

17 Responses to Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Tracy Seeley

  1. Sounds like a great read and love the cover.

    As for my title: The Road Back to Palestine
    That’s where my father grew up – and I was named for the land of Israel, although I’ve never been (and I’m no spring chicken…)

  2. If it’s a novel about “place” then it’s a novel for me – near and dear to my heart and the thrust of my own novels. “Place” was what had me scurrying over here this morning right away instead of waiting until later 😀

    I have a Kansas thought – when GMR and I were driving to Oregon years back, and driving through Kansas, which seemed so long (you’ve heard all the “corn corn corn fields in Kansas thang!) and suddenly we passed this beautiful field of sunflowers – all of them facing the same way until I noticed one sunflower facing the opposite direction from the others – that sunflower captured my imagination, and in fact, that image made it into one of my books. It was enchanting, that field of sunflowers.

    Going to check out your book . . . thanks Writerhead!

  3. I’m intrigued. This instantly makes me think of the “The Wizard of Oz”, and who doesn’t love that story. Plus, Kansas makes me think of growing up in the Midwest and living in different parts of it (Michigan, Illinois, Missouri). I would definitely read this book to capture that nostalgic feeling for my original home. Thanks for this post – I am always looking for good reading recommendations.

    • Another Midwesterner who’s moved around…we are legion, I’m telling you. It’s been such a pleasure for me this summer to run into so many of them while I was on tour. Good folks, warm hearts, and all with tender feelings toward the place they grew up. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. I love Tracy’s description of Writerhead and especially the idea of giving it 15 minutes, no matter what — and it usually does lead to a wonderfully blissful state of Writerhead.

    I love the premise of My Ruby Slippers: The Road Back to Kansas — and not only can’t wait to read it myself but to send a copy to my mom, who’s from Kansas. (Actually, with so many relatives from there, it looks as if I’ve got Christmas all taken care of…)

    Thanks, Kristin and Tracy, for the day’s inspiration!

    • Thanks for the support, Midge. I just finished a 10-week book tour and met SO many Kansans out there on the road. Please send my regards to your mom and all your Kansas relatives.

  5. Oh, this looks like a lovely book. And, I always enjoy reading about an author’s writerhead. The rabbit hole is a great description of the Internet time-suck, and I am so guilty of jumping head first into that abyss at the start of my morning. Tomorrow I’ll try it different.

  6. First, Tracy, I want the special tea you’re drinking! I, too, prefer an early morning writerhead — and I love your “just 15 minutes” internal dealmaking. And your surrender and kindness when it doesn’t go as planned. (Sometimes my yippy dogs of distraction are my actual dogs, and I’ve found when they are insistent for my attention there is no way I can win so it’s best to give in. They’re usually right anyway.)

    As a fellow moved-from-Midwesterner (Iowa, then Colorado, San Diego, now Pittsburgh), I am completely intrigued by your memoir and can’t wait to read it. We left my hometown shortly after my father died, and oh so much of who I am is wrapped up in what was left behind. And my own first novel deals (comedically) with the question of whether one can really go home again.

    Lastly, if you don’t already know and read her mysteries, check out the very talented Nancy Pickard, who lives in Kansas and sets her novels in Kansas. (Plus, her NF book Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path is fantastic.)

    I enjoyed your post. Thanks to both you and Kristin!

    • Thanks, Julie. I hope you enjoy ‘My Ruby Slippers’–and I’m not sure what I would do with real yippy little dogs. The imaginary ones are hard enough to shut up. Thanks, too, for the Nancy Pickard recommendation. I think we Midwesterners should circle up more formally. Until we can do that in person, cheers to you!