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.

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