Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

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.

If you’re a mom or a dad (or grandparent or aunt or stepparent or best friend, or…) who loves smart, beautiful, meaningful picture books for the kiddos in your lives, you are going to love today’s Writerhead Wednesday author/artist Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw. Love, love, love her!

She is a wildly talented author/artist (or she might say, artist/author) who creates books that, yes, can be shelved in the “multicultural” section at your local bookstore, but who really creates books that go deeper than that—her books encompass the world. They wrap their enormous bookish arms around the earth with all its beautiful and interesting cultures and give it a big squeeze. (And in a house like ours, with a mom from the U.S., a dad from Ireland, a kiddo from Vietnam, and one emotional family foot firmly planted in China, world-encompassing literature is important to us.)

I’m honored that Jenny said yes when I hounded her to be featured on Writerhead Wednesday. Like many of us, she’s juggling like crazy (artist, author, blogger, mumma, chai traveler, and homesteader…yep, homesteader!) and squeezing in anything extra is challenging. (Thank you, Jenny!)

So make a cuppa chai, sit back, put your feet up, and see what Jenny has to say about her writerhead/storyhead!

Prepare to be enchanted…

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

I feel shy here because I do not consider myself of the writer species. I am an artist who loves story and doodles words and pictures. I think my “altered” state should be called storyhead. There are two types: (1) the dreamy beginnings and fragments of stories, and (2) the obsessive, very focused flurry of bringing a picture book idea to life in storyboard form.

The first state is a dreamy, ethereal realm that my brain enters in and out of throughout the day. Sometimes I enter consciously, after my daughter says something clever like, “Mama, I wish I had a pet angel.” Other moments I find myself searching for stories—as if I’m flying around the world or reliving a day from childhood. I notice my eyes open much wider and move about and I make odd faces during this time. It’s like I’m watching the stories and characters play in front of me like an old film projected on a bed sheet. Most days, I am with my energetic 3-year-old daughter, and her ambitious ideas keep me busy. At the risk of forgetting a story idea, I scribble them in a sketchbook or on scraps of paper that I keep inside a cigar box. Sometimes I send myself emails. I also treasure nights when my daughter and I cuddle in silence as she falls asleep. It’s then that I play with ideas deeper.

When I develop a story into a manuscript or a dummy, I need long chunks of time. My husband and daughter go on adventures or I sneak away to a shared artists’ studio in town. I also work during naps and late nights. Throughout this stage, I am still in the dream-world (because the story is still forming) but I also have my feet on the ground (and butt in chair). I teeter totter between drawing and writing, and the pictures and words take turns leading the way. This piggy backing helps me from getting stuck and often surprises me.

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 am getting better at blocking out non-human sounds, but I’m considering those headphones that block out all noise. Right now, my family is at home, and I am tempted to steal away into the bathroom (our only room with a door) to finish these questions. When my husband interrupts my storyhead, my blank look makes it obvious I am stuck between worlds. He often “gets” that I need my space; other times, he stays and I take a break. Sometimes we talk about an idea. (He is a very helpful part of my process!). With my daughter, there isn’t a choice—I’ve learned to hit the “pause” button. However, I interrupt her, too, and “test” out my book dummies on her, which always prompts insightful comments and helpful art direction.

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

For me, storyhead is like chasing and wrangling one of my hens in our thick pine forest. It takes me for a ride over yonder, or in circles and back around to the same places. It can be scratchy, sticky, dirty, frustrating, exhausting, humbling, obsessive, enlightening and hilarious. And it’s only when I surrender completely that my hen (or my story) walks home by herself.

BIO: Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw is the author/illustrator of the picture books, Same, Same but Different (2011) and My Travelin’ Eye (2008), published by Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt, and the illustrator of The Mother’s Wisdom Deck (Sterling, 2012). She is a freelance illustrator of books, kid product and wall decor, and lives with her family at their mountain homestead in New Mexico. Her website is DancingElephantStudio.com.

CONNECT: Yep, you can find out lots more about Jenny and her beautiful projects at her website, but you can also give her a high-five on Facebook. In addition to heart-opening books, she also creates gorgeous artwork, like this depiction of our world. She’s even been featured in the Mumbai-base newspaper Mid Day.


Welcome 2012! Bring on the Water Dragon…

2012 is the Year of the Water Dragon, and according to experts in Chinese astrology, the dragon is the mostest special of the twelve zodiac signs because it is a mythical, not earthly, beast. As a mad supporter of all things mythical, I say, “Bring it on!”

To encourage the dragon and entice goodness to my table, I’m starting the year with a handful directives. (Last year, I did three words, but I’m feeling more energetic this year. Directives seem appropriate and necessary.) And because I spend so much wonderful time with words every day, I thought that instead of writing down my 2012 New Year’s directives, I’d present them to you via images. I’ll leave the interpretation up to you.

Here goes:

Happy New Year, friends!


Dragon Image: Kittisak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Lotus Image: Sura Nualpradid / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Treehouse Image: anankkml / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Flowerhead Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Woman with World Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expat Sat: M Literary Residency Program Invites Applications

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

Today I want to share an amazing opportunity for writers with an interest in China and/or India…a 3-month literary residency in one of those two countries that includes transportation to and from the country, an apartment, and a stipend.

Crazy good opportunity for writers, huh?

Told ya so.

From the Residency page at the “M on the Bund” website:

“The M Literary Residency Program has been established to disseminate a broader knowledge of contemporary life and writing in India and China today and to foster deeper intellectual, cultural and artistic links across individuals and communities. Applicants are invited to apply for three-month residencies in India or China.”

Applications for the 2012-13 Residency are now being accepted.

The application deadline is Friday, July 1, 2011.

Decisions will be announced October 31, 2011.

To find out more (and to download program guidelines and an application form), please visit M’s Residency.

So if qualify, scooch your patootie over to the site and apply. Come on…time’s a’wasting.