Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks 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.
Titles led me to Elizabeth Stuckey-French. She’s got some of the best: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Mermaids on the Moon, and The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. Her prose and storytelling style got me addicted. I’m so excited to be able to share her writerhead today.
Now, listen up! And no fidgeting. As Elizabeth says, she lives in writerhead. We do not want to interrupt her.
1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).
I live in writerhead. It never goes away. I’m always experiencing my life and simultaneously evaluating things that happen to me and around me as possible material. Sometimes it’s annoying—like when I’m having fun with my family and I just want to be in the moment already. As James Thurber put it, “Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’” But other times it can be useful when one bad thing happens after another. Then, no matter how bad things get, and how sad I might be, part of me is standing back thinking, pay attention to how this feels so you can use it later! Now you know what it feels like to have someone you love die. Grist for the mill!
Writerhead gets most intense for me when I’m revising something. My fictional world can start to feel more urgent than the rest of my life. This happened to me the first time when I started graduate school at Purdue and had enrolled in my initial graduate fiction-writing workshop. This was also the first time I’d ever been required to revise a piece of fiction—previously I just banged out a first draft, an only draft, and stuck it in a drawer. My husband was teaching high school at the time and, since we didn’t own a computer, I tagged along with him to Benton Central High School one blizzardy day to use one of the Apple IIs in their library. I started to revise my story, and before I knew it, hours had passed. I had to tear myself away when it was time to go home that afternoon. I’d never been transported like that before, and that’s when I knew that I had found my calling.
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.)
Because I’m constantly in writerhead, I’m constantly being interrupted. Tending to my kids has taught me that the creative process is not fragile. Well, interruptions bother me some, but in a perverse way, being bothered about being interrupted makes me happy, because if I’m bothered I must be writing something I care about, which makes me happier than anything. And I’ve learned that what I’m working on will be there waiting, like a loyal friend, till I can get back to it. I do go on a writing retreat for two weeks every summer when I can wallow in writerhead to my heart’s content. I dream of those two weeks during the rest of the year. My husband always tells the story of how, when I was finishing my first novel on Sept. 11, 2001, while he was glued to the television watching the towers fall over and over again, I tuned out the news and sat at the kitchen table banging away at my revision. It was the best antidote I could find for the helplessness I was feeling.
3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.
Writerhead feels like playing on a Ouija board with my characters. We’ve got our fingers on the pointer, which takes us to another world, the world of the story.
BIO: Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of two novels, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady and Mermaids on the Moon, as well as a collection of short stories, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. She is a co-author, along with Janet Burroway and Ned Stuckey-French, of Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft. Her short stories have appeared in The Normal School, Narrative Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Five Points, and The O’Henry Prize Stories 2005. She was awarded a James Michener Fellowship and has won grants from the Howard Foundation, the Indiana Arts Foundation, and the Florida Arts Foundation. She teaches fiction writing at Florida State University.