Mojo Monday: Get Inspired…Do Something

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.


Last Thursday evening, I gave my first-ever Writerhead presentation at PechaKucha at River Tree Arts in Kennebunkport, Maine. It was fantabulous! (I’ll be talking about Writerhead again in a few weeks at the Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA. Come on out!)

One of the things I (re-)realized during the presentation was that DOING something creative gets me into writerhead. There I was, getting into writerhead while giving a presentation about writerhead.

So for you today? Two creative opportunities for you to DO something…and the promise that DOING something will help shift you into writerhead.

KICK-ASS CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY #1 / The “Immersion” Writing Contest at Brevity.com

Details from Brevity.com.

“To celebrate Robin Hemley’s new book, A Field Guide for Immersion Writing: Memoir, Journalism, and Travel, we are launching a quick contest. You have one month, until May 11th, to immerse yourself, in something. If it is water, be sure that you can swim. If it is honey, watch out for bears.

“Here are the details:

“For centuries writers have used participatory experience as a lens through which to better see the world at large and as a means of exploring the self. Immersion writing encompasses Immersion Memoir (in which the writer uses participatory experience to write about the Self), Immersion Journalism (in which the writer uses the Self to write about the world), and Travel Writing (a bit of both: the writer in the world and the world in the writer). Types of immersion writing within these broad categories include: the Reenactment, the Experiment, the Quest, the Investigation, and the Infiltration.”

For complete details, visit Brevity. (Quickie Info: 500 words due by May 11, 2012! Get busy! Immerse yourself!)

Bonus: You could win a showercap!

* * * *

KICK-ASS CREATIVE OPPORTUNITY #2 / “The Great Outdoors Photo Competition”

Yep, photos, not writing for this contest. Of the great, grand, gorgeous outdoors.

Photos of a cutthroat trout, bison, the sky, a lily, your cousin leaping over a creek, elk in rut, green leaves, etc.

For complete details, visit The Great Outdoors Photo Competition. (Quickie Info: Photos due by May 10, 2012.)

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Image: arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jefferson Bass

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’m pretty sure Jefferson Bass is the first writer in this series to compare writerhead to “squeezing into a wardrobe and emerging into Narnia,” and oh, how spot on he is! It is like that (in the best moments of writerhead, that is).

Please give a warm welcome to Jefferson Bass, and remember, he’s a crime writer…this could get a little mysterious.

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

Writerhead is often a crowded, chatty place for me to hang out. When I was writing The Inquisitor’s Key, I found myself eavesdropping on many intriguing conversations—conversations taking place inside my head and, magically, also in the glorious city of Avignon, France, home of the popes for most of the 14th century. One of my favorite conversationalists in The Inquisitor’s Key is a modern-day French detective, Inspector René Descartes (“I think I am a detective; therefore I am a detective…”); another is Laura de Noves, the young 14th-century countess whom Petrarch worshipped from afar—yet near enough that his conspicuously broken heart would be noticed, by Laura and everyone else in Avignon; a third is Meister Eckhart, the 14th-century mystic who said (among many fine, fresh things, “If the only prayer you ever say, your whole life, is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough.”) What a lucky guy I am: instead of getting straitjacketed, I get paid for hearing voices in my head!

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’m reminded of the time I was writing my brilliant long poem “Kubla Khan” when I was interrupted by a gentleman from Porlock knocking at my door, causing me to forget most of the poem. Oh, wait, that happened to Coleridge, not me. I did, however, lose a full day’s hard, productive draft a couple years ago, when—on the one day in months when I’d failed to back up my work—my iBook died. It took me a week to get the machine fixed and attempt to recreate the missing work…and besides being maddened by the lost work and lost time, I was saddened, because I knew beyond a doubt that my reconstruction wasn’t as good. Thank heavens for Dropbox, which automatically backs me up even—especially!— when I’m deep in writerhead!

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

Finding myself in writerhead is like squeezing into a wardrobe and emerging into Narnia; like stepping through the skewed doorway of my monochrome, cyclone-spun farmhouse into a Technicolor realm over the rainbow. Some of it isn’t very nice—sometimes the murders and evil in writerhead send me into racking, convulsive sobs—but like Oz, most of it is beautiful. When I step back from my life as a writer, I’m often reminded of a lovely line from William Least Heat Moon’s interview with an old woman, a widow who was one of the five residents of Saffordville, Kansas. She and her neighbors lived on the first terrace of the Cottonwood River—a flood-prone, perilous location that Heat Moon wrote “whets a fine edge on their lives.” The widow had been flooded out many times but was still able to say, with wonder and gratitude, “Not everybody gets the chance to live like this.” Dwelling where I do, amid the droughts and floods of writerhead, I say “amen”…and “thank you.”

BIO: Jefferson Bass is the pen name of Jon Jefferson, writer, and Dr. Bill Bass, renowned forensic anthropologist. Jefferson and Bass have collaborated on two nonfiction books and six crime novels; their seventh novel, The Inquisitor’s Key, will be published May 8, 2012. Dr. Bass, founder of the University of Tennessee’s Body Farm, is an author on more than 200 scientific publications. Jon Jefferson is a veteran journalist and documentary filmmaker; his two National Geographic documentaries on the Body Farm were seen around the world.

If you’re properly intrigued and want to learn more about Jefferson Bass and The Inquisitor’s Key, there are oodles of way to do so:

If you’d like to visit Jefferson Bass elsewhere on his blog tour, here’s the spectacular lineup!

Photo: That’s the Jon Jefferson half of “Jefferson Bass” in the photo above.

Mojo Monday: Get Up and Dance to “Jaan Pehechan Ho”

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.


If I could express how much I love this in words, I would. But really? Just better to get up and dance. Welcome to a stellar performance of “Jaan Pehechan Ho” (a Hindi phrase roughly translated as “We should get to know each other”).

I love this!

 

This is from GUMNAAN, a 1965 Indian horror thriller film. Wikipedia describes the plot as, “Seven people mysteriously win a free vacation. On the way to their destination, the plane has engine trouble and they are left abandoned in a remote seaside location. They find shelter in a large mansion inhabited by a comical butler Mehmood. One by one, they are murdered and the remaining vacationers try to figure out why they were chosen for the trip and what they have in common. Loosely based on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.”

Expat Sat: Writing Prompt

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.


LOST/FOUND

 

Go! Start writing. Get thee to writerhead!

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring John Colman Wood

Shhhh. I know it’s exciting to have John Colman Wood—author of The Names of Things—at Writerhead today, but you’re still expected to be quiet while we listen in on his writerhead. Don’t worry…there will be plenty of time for questions and rousing applause at the end.

So sit back. Pour yourself a cup of coffee. And enjoy.

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

Let me start with a disclaimer: anything I say about writerhead is bound to be nonsense. But I’m an academic, and the risk of uttering nonsense never stopped me. It’s a serious point, however, about nonsense.

First, writing about writing isn’t writing. Not really. It’s something else, like loving the idea of loving isn’t loving, or that imagining happiness isn’t happiness. Second, writing about writing requires a self consciousness that is, I believe, antithetical to the state of mind that occurs when one is lost in the act, which is what I think you mean by the term writerhead.

In other words, trying to adopt a writer’s state of mind is one way to make it go away. So I suppose “getting lost” comes closer to writer’s mind than anything else I can think of. More on that below.

In any case, it rarely happens to me. And when it does, it never lasts longer than a few seconds, a minute at most. When it happens, I am always caught up in something, so focused, so unselfconscious that I’m not thinking at all, just doing. Of course, as soon as that happens, and the right words are falling from the tree, I almost immediately think “Ah, this is great! Now I’m writing” and then puff, the moment vanishes, killed by a thought.

Ironically, this writerly state of mind seldom occurs when I am at a desk with pen, computer, or typewriter at hand. Rather, a word, an image, a sentence, a next paragraph, a turn of plot is more likely to fall from the sky when I’m out walking. Just walking. I am not very writerly when I am writing, and I do my best writing when I am not.

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.)

When I am writing, my distractible mind looks something like this:

First I have to make coffee. It’s good for about ten or fifteen minutes of keyboard avoidance. The switch on the coffee maker is unreliable. The thing turns off in the middle of brewing. Since only half the water has filtered through, the coffee is twice as strong. That’s not bad if you like strong coffee, as I do, which is probably why I haven’t replaced the thing.

With a fresh cup of tar in hand, I turn to my desk and a story I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. I like a clean desk. I mostly work on a laptop, which sits, half-cocked, front and center. There’s a lamp to the left, a couple of sharp pencils and a legal pad to the right, the coffee within easy reach beyond. That’s it. The world is now well ordered.

The story is about a girl I sat beside about forty years ago in seventh-grade English. My family had just moved to a big city from a small town. Everything was new and frightening.

The teacher’s name was Mr. Defoe. He had a bald head and wore a white shirt, striped tie, black trousers, and black wingtip shoes.

There’s a knock at the door. This is typical. There’s always a knock at the door. A driver from Fed-Ex offers me an envelope in exchange for a signature. He smiles, comments on the weather, thanks me, and skips back to the van like he’s done me a great favor. I sit at the desk and calculate that I’ve just paid fifteen bucks for the privilege of being interrupted. The coffee’s cold.

The school was generations old: dark wood, flaking paint, blackboard pitted and gouged so the chalk broke in Mr. Defoe’s hand. The tall windows were greasy from city air.

I tinker with the last sentence. The windows started out “fogged with city breath” but I had something dirtier in mind, so I changed “fog” to “grease” and decided not to personify the city but just give it dirty air.

I need to pee. I take along my cup to fill in the kitchen.

While I stand in front of the toilet I think of a writer who spoke years ago at the university where I was a graduate student. He was South Asian, a famous guy, and we all wanted to meet him. At the party afterward, I remember watching him talk with one of the professors. The famous writer had a glass in his hand, and as he listened he kept sipping from the glass though there wasn’t any more whiskey in it, just ice. He chewed on chunks of ice, spoke occasionally, and otherwise nodded at whatever was being said. His lips curled into an attentive frown as he chewed. It seemed such a human thing to do, his chewing on ice, and it surprised me because he was such an admired figure, hardly human at all.

Why I think of him now after so many years I don’t know, except maybe my stance in front of the toilet reminded me of his in front of that professor.

Back at my desk I pick up where I left off.

The girl, in contrast to Mr. Defoe, was blonde and small and sunny. She wore a skirt and blouse and penny loafers with shiny pennies in their eyes.

Those two sentences take all of half a minute to type. I read them over. Then a gurgling noise from the bathroom draws my attention. You must think me lavacentric, if that’s a word. I’m not. It’s just that the bathroom is near the study, and I use it often because of all the coffee I drink. I jiggle the handle and return to my desk.

She had slightly crooked front teeth—a tiny, distinctive flaw that made everything else about her perfect. She smiled almost all the time but was self-conscious of her teeth, so she’d smile and then wrap her upper lip around them in a bashful way, like she was trying to hide her smile.

I read that over. The work so far today has taken half an hour. It’s all descriptive. Straight forward. Nothing fancy. I like the bit about her smile. It’s the best of what I’ve written today, and it came by accident. I didn’t set out to write it, wasn’t thinking of her smile when I started.

Now the kid two doors north has begun to practice his drums. He would, wouldn’t he? It’s two-thirty in the afternoon, which seems early. But there he is. He’s beating away without rhythm. It sounds like a lot of stuff that’s been piled on shelves in their garage is crashing to the concrete floor, only it keeps crashing.

It’s time to take the dog for a walk.

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

I think writerhead is a matter of getting lost. You need to set off in one direction and then, sometime later, find yourself somewhere else. In that sense writing is like walking.

It is pointless, while walking, to intend to get lost. The intention itself keeps track of where you are. I’ve tried to get lost. I write about place and space, and several times I’ve thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to get lost and see what that’s like, to find my way back. Can’t be done. I’ve been lost, of course, just not by intention. I think it’s just as pointless and for the same reasons to try to get lost while writing.

You can, however, let it happen. You can allow intention to lapse, just as you can wander into an unfamiliar forest and walk and walk, thinking about other things and, after a while, find yourself lost. It happens to people two or three times a year in the forests near where I live. They go in, lose track of where they are, and they’re lost.

I think it’s important to get lost while writing. At the risk of sounding Taoist, you can’t find your way unless at first you’re lost. The kind of writing I do is always a matter of finding my way. I seldom know where I am. And it is relatively easy to get lost while writing (without really trying) because, let’s face it, there’s so little at stake. We can always decide that what we’ve written while finding our way is nonsense, and then we can toss it in the trash.

BIO: John Colman Wood teaches at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. His research with Gabra nomads of Northeast Africa has been funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. His fiction has appeared in Anthropology and Humanism. He has twice won the Ethnographic Fiction Prize of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology. He is the author of When Men Are Women: Manhood among Gabra Nomads of East Africa (University of Wisconsin Press, 1999). Before becoming an anthropologist, Wood was a journalist.

To learn more, visit John’s blog Im/placed: Identities in space and place or his publisher’s site at Ashland Creek Press.

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Stacy Bierlein

A hearty Writerhead Wednesday welcome to Stacy Bierlein, author of the short story collection A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends. I’ve known Stacy since we did our MFAs together way back when at Columbia College in Chicago, and I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to share her very sexy, rather hot, laugh-out-loud-and-shake-your-head collection. As Pam Houston says, “These are stories that will make you laugh, and long for, and challenge, and think.”

Now, pull your chair close and lean in. Listen.

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

Writerhead typically arrives unannounced. It might very well refuse to come when summoned. Ideally writerhead shows up in my office, early in the morning, when birds sing in the canyon and I can shut the rest of the world away; or in the coffee shop, bursting in with the rush of the caffeine, spurred on by the bustle and voices around me. These days writerhead might hurry in late at night, keeping me wide awake while the rest of the house sleeps, sometimes determined to stay until sunrise. Writerhead willingly accepts blame for dark circles under my eyes. I like writerhead as a travel companion. Sometimes stories take shape on airplane napkins or hotel memo pads and that feels good and right. Writerhead disappears completely when I am stressed out or overwhelmed. It may go missing for months at a time, but reappears to find all forgiven.

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.)

In the years before I became a parent, I could fight hard to keep writerhead around as long as possible; to protect it from threats of interruptions. If the writing was going well I would do anything not to give it up, often to the frustration of my husband who can probably recall a hundred not-quite-conversations like this:

Ned: Your phone is ringing.

Stacy: I have voice mail for a reason.

Ned: Your phone is ringing again.

Stacy: Whomever it is will call or text my cell if it is urgent.

Ned: Your cell phone is turned off.

Stacy: Switch it on if you have a death wish.

Ned: Did you even hear the doorbell?

Stacy: Of course not! How many times do I have to explain this? I am not actually here!

Ned: Your flight leaves in two hours.

Stacy: There will be another one.

Ned: Sean Penn just ran across the street naked.

Stacy: Did you say something?

Ned: Have you heard a word I’ve said all day?

Stacy: Huh?

But writerhead is no match for a seven-year-old. These days I will forsake writerhead at the sound of my daughter’s voice, even if I always try to beg a few minutes more. My daughter will say, “Mommy, I need your help.” I’ll say, “I need two minutes and then I am all yours.” Thirty seconds later (or so it seems) she will say, “Mommy, your minutes are taking forever!” And writerhead takes a timeout.

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

Writerhead is the morning after the first time with a new lover. It is the warm and cold of the next day, the anxious heart filled with wonder. It is the assurance that words and gestures link together and pull and push and need—the stunning recollection that sentences linger. It is a jumble of memory, the uncertain order of events, the jolt of newness, of rearranging. It is comfort as well as surprise. It is complexity and vigor and fear. It is a suspension of time, a dance, the keeping and the letting go, and a resilient whisper of his lips on your neck.

BIO: Stacy Bierlein is the author of A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends. She is the editor of the award-winning anthology A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection and a co-editor of Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. She is a founding editor of the independent press Other Voice Books and co-creator of the Morgan Street International Novel Series. She holds degrees from Syracuse University and Columbia College Chicago. A native of mid-Michigan, she now lives in Newport Coast, California.

Follow Stacy on Twitter (@StacyBierlein). Say hello on Facebook. Get to know her publisher too.

Mojo Monday: Wild Mountain Gorilla

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.


Q: Kristin, what would you be if you weren’t a writer?

Kristin: A gorilla scientist. I am, and always have been, slightly obsessed with gorillas. When I lived in Chicago, I used to walk down to the gorilla house at the Lincoln Park Zoo and watch them for hours. I’m equally fascinated today. I love this video. It puts me into writerhead.

Watch! This is incredible. (And yes, you need a little patience here. The really good stuff happens in the last two minutes.)

 

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Image: Michael Elliott / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Expat Sat: Travel Writing Scholarship

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.


This is such an amazing writing opportunity for some youngster or oldster who fits the criteria. Check it out. (Please note that all information has been taken from Travel Writing Scholarship. I’m just sharing the goodness.)

 

DESCRIPTION:

“Do you want to be a published travel writer?

“This year we decided to shake things up a bit and instead of choosing just one country for our scholarship…we’ve decided to send you off to three different countries in Southeast Asia! Once on the ground, you’ll have the opportunity to see for yourself life beyond the banana pancake trail, and get to know Southeast Asia from the local perspectives, through the eyes of three amazing writers.

“Here’s the triple-dip deal:

“First you’ll head off to Singapore to go on assignment for five days under the mentorship of Rough Guides writer Richard Lim to review and update ‘The Rough Guide to Singapore’.

“Then you’ll fly to Bali and meet up with Stuart McDonald, founder of Travelfish, the online travel guide to Southeast Asia, before heading off on six days of cultural insight and adventure in Indonesia.

“For the last leg of the scholarship, you will be whisked off to Malaysia for a food odyssey through Kuala Lumpur and Penang with former local and cookbook author of award winning hsa*ba Burmese cookbook, Tin Cho Chaw, to explore how cuisine shapes the lives of Malaysians.”

HOW TO ENTER:

To enter, you must:

  1. write and submit a 2,000-word essay
  2. fill out and submit an entry form

Topics and details are here.

PRIZE

See description above.

DEADLINE:

April 23, 2012 (Write! Write!)

WHO CAN APPLY:

* This opportunity is open to students, emerging and non-professional writers and lovers of travel looking for a career change.

* The scholarship is open to all nationalities, however, you must have a high degree of proficiency in written English.

* The opportunity is designed to give you a taste of what it’s like to be a travel writer on the road, so you must be comfortable doing some travel on your own.

* Minimum age 18 by the date the scholarship application close (April 23, 2012)

* A current passport with at least six months before expiry

* You must be available as per the dates set out. Please note these dates are not changeable in anyway, you must be available for the entire assignment.

* You should be an exceptional writer with a lust for adventure travel, a desire to experience new cultures (and eat them!)and above all, a burning desire to become a professional travel writer!

THE KICKER:

None that I can see.

THE UPSIDE:

Duh.

ADVICE:

Check out the Travel Writing Scholarship. There’s lots more information there. Then get busy and write.

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Image: worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Can You Make Writerhead Happen?

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…


In May, at the Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA, I’m leading my first Writerhead workshop (whoop! whoop!), and one of the questions I know that I’m going to get is, “Can I put myself in writerhead?”

Absolutely, I’ll say.

Doing so is like allowing yourself to float on your back in a lake or the ocean after treading water or swimming freestyle or playing a crazy-arse game of Marco Polo (which you won, by the way). Stretch out long. Still the limbs. Stare up at the blue/gray/cloudy/sunny/stormy sky. Pretend you are a starfish. Pretend you are a star. Allow the water to buoy you up. Breathe.

Ta da.

Writerhead.

 

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Image: thephotoholic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mojo Monday: A Writing Mantra Word Scramble

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.


Prophecy: If you can unscramble one of my most effective writing mantras, you will have a good writing day.

sear

ni

rhiac