Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Ned Stuckey-French

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.


Back in February, I featured fiction writer Elizabeth Stuckey-French here on Writerhead Wednesday. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome the other half of that brilliant writerly equation: Elizabeth’s husband, Ned Stuckey-French. I’ve been a fan of Ned’s work for a good while, but recently I’ve also become a fan of his insightful (and funny ha ha) commentary about nonfiction / creative nonfiction / essays / truth / etc. (You can often find him over at Brevity magazine…)

So kick back, my writerhead fans, and enjoy…because as I suspected, Ned’s description of his writerhead is like everything else he writes: addictive.

Now, shush!

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

When she answered this question for you, my wife, Elizabeth, said her writerhead never turned off. The same is true for me, but mine is different. Mine is less purely imaginative and more relentlessly interpretive. She’s a fiction writer; I’m a nonfiction writer, an essayist, and cultural historian. I’m also more of an analyzer and an arguer than she is. Which is not to say I don’t imagine. I do and much of what I love about the cultural history I write is that I get to spend long afternoons with Thurber and E. B. White in their little office at the New Yorker, smelling cigarette smoke and listening to the paper wads hit the metal trash can, or drinking with Dottie Parker and Bob Benchley at the Algonquin as we try to ignore the oogling tourists.

Much of the time, however, my writerhead is trying to think about what I really think, what I really believe. I am an essayist and so skepticism is where I live. I turn things over constantly. I am constantly watching myself, listening to myself. A part of me is always sitting in the press box of my own game, doing play-by-play and color commentary. It started when I was a kid shooting baskets in the driveway. 3 – 2 – 1… French stops, pops. It’s good!

But if am skeptical and questioning, I am also hopeful. I’m a very political person and believe in possibility of progress. Elizabeth teases me constantly about how earnest I am. I am the son of Stevensonian Democrats. My family vacationed in Concord and Lexington, Valley Forge, and DC. We saw Sunrise at Campobello at the drive-in movie. My mom was a poll watcher for the League of Women Voters and as a toddler I sat with her on Election Day and colored pictures. Later, I was a Student Council nerd, shook Bobby Kennedy’s hand a month before he was shot, and then, transformed by the Sixties, became a communist trade union organizer for ten years. So, in my writerhead, I’m constantly refining my position, questioning myself, and others, and trying to figure out what makes sense and is convincing. Is that fair? Is this what I think? I am always, always turning such questions over in my head. They are my version of Montaigne’s Que sais-je?, or What do I know?

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.)

Life is all interruptions, or as John Lennon so nicely put it, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Life is about adjustment and so is writing. Or maybe revision is the better word. You make a plan and head off this way and then you’re interrupted by a grammatical error, some faulty logic, a limp and silly adjective, and you want to fix it. But, you’ve got to keep going to the end, knowing all the while that your first draft is mostly potholes and speed bumps. But, if you’ve got to keep the editor out of the room till you get a first draft (which Anne Lamott has so helpfully reminded us is always shitty), you must eventually let them back in. I’ve got two editors, by the way, a male and a female. She looks like a 7th grade English teacher. Her hair is up in a bun, where she keeps an extra pencil. He wears a green visor and looks like Bartleby. And while both are scolds, they are also part of my writerhead team.

So, writing is writing, but it is also revision. Montaigne did three editions of his essays, never cutting, only adding. An essay is a conversation, with your reader and yourself. It’s a fireside chat, a late night bull session that solves the world’s problems. In this conversation, you say something, then interrupt yourself or ask a question and then follow that digression. The talk eddies and curls and maybe it circles back and maybe it doesn’t, but it always keeps rollin’ along.

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

Well, I guess I’ve already offered a few—time travel, press box and game, conversation with self, river—but here’s another. Borges said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.” Writerhead is Paradise. It’s where I like to be, and it’s kind of a library where I’m a kid again. I wander the aisles looking for one book, another catches my eye, I pull it down and begin reading, and soon find myself somewhere else, perhaps back at the Algonquin where everyone is a writer and so I start writing too.

BIO: Ned Stuckey-French teaches at Florida State University and is book review editor of Fourth Genre. He is the author of The American Essay in the American Century (Missouri, 2011), co-editor (with Carl Klaus) of Essayists on the Essay: Four Centuries of Commentary (Iowa, 2012), and coauthor (with Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French) of Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (Longman, 8th edition). His articles and essays have appeared in journals and magazines such as In These Times, Missouri Review, Iowa Review, culturefront, Pinch, and Guernica, and have been listed three times among the notable essays of the year in Best American Essays.

To learn more, visit Ned’s website. You can also give him a nod at his Facebook page or the Facebook page for his most recent book The American Essay in the American Century.

Mojo Monday: “Sh*t New Authors Say”

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.


After all the words are on the page,

we gotta be able to chuckle at ourselves…

Expat Sat: “Shanghai Calling,” the Movie

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


All my Shanghai/China/expat pals, look out! “Shanghai Calling” is a’coming to theaters near you. Check out the trailer! (Look/sound/feel familiar?) I love this!

Writerhead Wednesday: John Steinbeck & the Aching Urge of the Writer

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.


A few weeks ago in the New York Times, I read a piece that compiled six very logical writing tips offered up by John Steinbeck (abandon the idea you are ever going to finish; write freely and rapidly; you know, the usual stuff…).

But, I was ecstatic to discover, it also included a “thoughtful disclaimer” by Steinbeck:

“If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.”

“the aching urge of the writer”

“the aching urge of the writer”

“the aching urge of the writer”

And there, right there, neatly embedded in this disclaimer, was a glimpse into Mr. Steinbeck’s writerhead. (And likely, into the writerheads of many…)

 

Mojo Monday: Write Like the Eagle Owl

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.


Coooooooooool. Check out that focus and intention. I’m going to write like the eagle owl today.

Expat Sat: Thin Places

Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.


As I move into writing my new novel (which mostly takes place in Shanghai), I think a lot about why China affects me so deeply. Why it’s become such an integral part of my being. Why I can’t shake it. Why when I’d never planned to love it–and when it pisses me off in a lot of ways–I do.

Last week in the New York Times, Eric Weiner wrote a piece about “thin places.”

I know, huh? What the heck are “thin places”?

Weiner describes “thin places” like this:

“They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine, or the transcendent or, as I like to think of it, the Infinite Whatever.”

And then:

“A thin place is not necessarily a tranquil place, or a fun one, or even a beautiful one, though it may be all of those things too. Disney World is not a thin place. Nor is Cancún. Thin places relax us, yes, but they also transform us — or, more accurately, unmask us. In thin places, we become our more essential selves.”

And there it is.

Quite unexpectedly, in China, I became my more essential self.

This piece–and this idea of “thin places”–has given me some real insight into this next novel of mine. So thank you, Eric Weiner.

And to all you expats/nomads/wanderers out there, what’s one of your “thin places”? Where have you become your more essential self?

_____

Image: thepathtraveler / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Off to The Write Stuff Conference

Usually on Wednesdays, this: 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.

But today…


I’m prepping to speak at The Write Stuff Conference in Allentown, PA, this weekend, and I’m buried under:

  • PowerPoints
  • handouts
  • thumb drives
  • travel reservations
  • conference clothes (who the heck is going to iron my post-scrunched-up-in-a-suitcase conference clothes!?)
  • business cards
  • dance routines (well, not really, but that would be fun)
  • & whatnot

In Allentown, I’ll be yik-yakking about a couple of things I love to yik-yak about: “the geography of a novel” and “social media & writers.” Can’t wait! Raise your hand if you’ll be in Allentown! (Am I the only one who can’t say “Allentown” without putting on my best Billy Joel & belting out, “Well, we’re living here in…”?)

In May, I’ll be speaking at the 2012 Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA, where I’ll be giving my first “writerhead” workshop! Whoop! Whoop! So, so, so psyched about that.

In the meantime, thank god for coffee!

_____

Image: Jomphong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Mojo Monday: Isthmus

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.


*isthmus |ˈisməs|

noun ( pl. -muses )

a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, forming a link between two larger areas of land.

• ( pl. -mi |-mī|) Anatomy a narrow organ, passage, or piece of tissue connecting two larger parts.

ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: via Latin from Greek isthmos.

_____

Image: Chris Downer | Wikimedia Commons | Isthmus to St. Cwyfan’s Chapel, UK

*Oxford American Dictionaries

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jacqueline Luckett

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.


I first learned about Jacqueline Luckett (and her new novel Passing Love) at Carleen Brice‘s blog White Readers Meet Black Writers…one of my go-to sites for good book recommendations. As I clicked from link to link—ultimately landing on Jacqueline’s website—I became more and more intrigued. There’s just something about this woman’s voice that draws you in (you’ll see what I mean below). By the time I’d absorbed the fact that Passing Love is about a woman who leaves her home country for another…and that it explores the world of expatriates in Paris…I knew I had to hear about Jacqueline’s writerhead. (If you follow this blog at all, you know I’m a sucker for anything expatriate.)

So, readers, settle back. You’re in for a glorious ride…

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

Like a bad boy lover who knows he’s got me hooked waiting for his call, his email, his text, his touch, writerhead takes its own sweet time to visit. I hunger for its return. There are days when I sit in front of my computer for hours, pecking away at mindless, empty scenes. Waiting. Just waiting, like I might for the sound of a lover’s personalized ringtone. And then…

Sometimes it happens when I sit in silence. Sometimes, if I’m alone, with others around me (cafés, writing retreats, and the like), writerhead comes swiftly. It spreads through my body like too many glasses of fine wine. It makes my blood rush in my ears, makes its way around my head, pushes words and scenes back down to my fingertips making them want to fly.

Thankfully, my State of Writerhead isn’t limited to my time in front of the computer. I can slip into it as I walk down the street or eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations or people-watch and lipread. Sometimes, I don’t know that I’ve slipped into writerhead until I’ve left it and sometimes not even then. Is that daydreaming? Does it matter? It did the time I wanted to use a sentence I found in my notes and couldn’t.

I keep track of new words and sentences that come to me in these moments that I’m in deep. The magical moment, for me, is when I’m able to take notes, observe, and create at the same time. Right then and there, I scribble notes and fuss because I’ve forgotten my notebook. So, I capture my thoughts on whatever is handy: notebooks, napkins, magazines, and newspapers. (I have several notes written on funeral programs.) Eventually, I file them, or retype and store them in a computer folder.

While writing Passing Love, I came across a wonderful sentence in one of those files. I loved the sentence. I wanted to use it in the novel. I loved its power and daring composition. Damn, it was good! I readied myself for the wonderful prose sure to follow this inspiration.

The note was typed, not handwritten. I waited.

The perfect sentence stood alone in the middle of a page. I couldn’t remember if I had written that sentence or if it was a quote from another author.

I couldn’t remember then.

I don’t remember now.

That is my state of writerhead: a fog, a spell from fairy dust, a missing moment. The precious time of getting lost in my head, of digging and seeing the furrow deepen, of writing sentences, paragraphs, and scenes where I have fallen so far into my imagination, that I don’t recognize my own words. I dearly love that time.

It doesn’t last long enough, and it doesn’t come everyday. But, ahhhh, when it does…

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.)

My mother will be ninety in the fall. Whenever my phone’s Caller ID displays her number, I answer regardless of what state I’m in.

“Are you busy?” This she asks, on nearly every call, after having chatted for five minutes about the weather, her last doctor’s appointment, or a tennis match.

“No.” Catholic school guilt lingers—I must follow the fourth commandment: Honor thy father and mother. I breathe. I wait. I listen.

She tells me what else is happening in her life. There are days when she calls because a friend has died, and she’s fretting over that loss and her own mortality. Maybe the cable company increased her bill by $1.49 and she’s fussing over that charge.

After we hang up, the lost writerhead state may or may not return. No matter. It’s my mom, and I love her. I smile and feel grateful that she’s still in my life.

But any one else? Any one whose call I happen to answer out of reflex or expectation of my mother’s follow-up call? Anyone who asks—knowing that writing occupies most of my day—“What are you doing?” and I realize that I shouldn’t have answered the phone…

I GET CRANKY @#$*!!!

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

For me, writerhead is like falling into a pink cotton candy machine with no awareness of body or possible harm: whirling and whirling, bumping and gathering the soft, wispy, delicious matter, until my head is full and fat. Just enjoying the sticky spin.

BIO: After leaving the corporate world, Jacqueline Luckett took a creative writing class on a dare, from herself, and began writing short stories and poetry and never looked back. The Northern California native travels as often as she can to nurture her passion for photography and exotic foods. Her essay, “Traveling with Ghosts,” was included in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011. She is the author of two novels, Passing Love and Searching for Tina Turner.

Lucky for you there are all kinds of ways to connect with Jacqueline. Follow her on Twitter (@JackieLuckett). Visit her author page on Facebook. You can even subscribe to her newsletter.

 

Mojo Monday: Dr. Seuss and a Letter Called “Yuzz”

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.


“My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It’s the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond ‘Z’ and start poking around!”~Dr. Seuss

Happy (belated) Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

(And to all you writers reading this, go beyond “Z” today. Start poking around.)