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.

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

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.

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jessica Keener

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.


Ssshhhh!

Today we’re stepping into the writerhead of luminous author Jessica Keener, whose novel Night Swim has stirred readers/writers/critics everywhere into a delightful tizzy.

Now it is a little dark in here so turn on your flashlights. And remember, do not take any unmarked paths or make any sudden movements. The results could be disastrous.

All right…let’s go.

 

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

Early morning is my best time for entering writerhead. First thing after coffee at my desk, and sometimes from my couch writing longhand, it’s easy to slip into that particular weightlessness that is writerhead. My body releases gravity and rises or drifts to a place that is no place. It’s also soundproof from external noises around me. Or, if I hear those outside noises, they soon grow distant and meaningless. In writerhead, I float down pathways of time and no time, visiting memories, thoughts, and feelings. I float and dip, hover and circle through colors, lights, smells, shapes, voices, images, conversations. There is no direction and all direction. In writerhead, my internal satellite opens wide to the universe—my psychic ear listening far and close for story waves, phrases of narratives, wafts of dialogue all of which funnel through my body, down my arm and fingers onto the computer screen or page.

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.)

If someone interrupts me, at first I might try to talk to them while staying in writerhead. This kind of talking is almost hypnotic. When it becomes apparent to the other person that I’m not truly listening to them or answering sensibly, the resulting internal/external dissonance yanks me out of my trance. It’s like pulling myself out of taffy. At that point, unfortunately, I tend to snap and bark at the interrupting person—what do you want? What? I’m writing! My head feels shaken. I feel disoriented and displaced. I am not kind. I behave badly.

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

In writerhead, I become an invisible capsule gliding across plains of time and space; pausing at will to witness and experience the most intimate emotions and thoughts between lovers, friends, families, and strangers.

BIO: Jessica Keener’s fiction has been listed in The Pushcart Prize under “Outstanding Writers.” Her stories and novel excerpts have appeared in numerous literary magazines and online, most recently: Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Night Train, The Nervous Breakdown, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Huffington Post. Writing awards include: a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist’s Grant Program and second prize in Redbook magazine’s fiction contest. For more than a dozen years she has been a features writer for The Boston Globe, Design New England, O, the Oprah magazine and other national magazines. She reads fiction for the award-winning Agni magazine.

If you’re intrigued by Jessica and Night Swim—and how could you not be?—shimmy on over to her web site. Say hello. Buy a copy her novel. Send messages of faith and devotion. Or give her a thumbs-up at these writerly watering holes: Twitter (@JessicaKeener4) and Facebook.

Writerhead Wednesday: Magnetic North and the Shanghai International Literary Festival

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.

Today…


Every year at this time in Shanghai, the world’s best literary festival takes place: The Shanghai International Literary Festival (SILF). Even though I’ve been living back in the United States for over a year now, SILF is my literary magnetic north. Not only do many of my favorite authors flock there (this year, Edward P. Jones!!!), but throughout the glorious three-week festival, you’re pretty much guaranteed at least a handful of compelling conversations about China, India, our world, East/West, etc. (And to top it off…it’s a helluva good party.)

Since I can’t be there this year (watch out, 2013!), I’m going to appease myself by attending as many local author readings as I can (tonight, Margot Livesey), slipping into writerhead as often as possible, and trying like hell to ignore the compass needle that keeps flinging around wildly.

So…where’s your literary magnetic north?

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Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expat Sat: China Is The Big, Bad Monster

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.


Yesterday I was reading the “Amazon Will Kill You” blog post by Joe Konrath at the same time I was reading the “Amazon, Innovation, and the Rewards of the Free Market” post by The Authors Guild. (If you haven’t read these two pieces, I encourage you to do so. But in essence, JK says that publishing has already changed, that we—readers & writers—are responsible for that change, that Amazon is not the devil it’s made out to be, and that those who don’t embrace the change will be left behind. The Authors Guild says pretty much the opposite.)

This conversation reminds of the “China debate” folks often rope me into. Because I lived there for a good while, they expect/want me to be leading the “China is the big, bad monster” parade…the monster that stole our jobs. But while I am often hollering about China’s flaws and challenges (especially when it comes to freedom of speech and human rights), I love China. And here’s what I believe:

  • The U.S. gave China our manufacturing jobs, and now it sucks because we’re feeling the repercussions of that act. We didn’t think ahead. We just saw $$$$$$.
  • Because we gave our manufacturing jobs to China (and for a whole lot of other reasons), the world economy has changed. In big ways. Forever. Some are embracing it; some are resisting.
  • Those who embrace will soar; those who resist will stay stuck in the mud.
  • We can’t go backward.
  • Get out of the mud. Innovate.

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Image: chrisroll / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mojo Monday: Failure…Bah!

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.


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

~ Thomas Edison

(Thomas Edison & his early phonograph, circa 1877)

Expat Sat: 4 Questions Expat Writers Need to Ask Themselves

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.


You’re an expat. You’re a writer. You’re ready to start a new project. You’re not quite sure how or where or what to begin. Here are four questions to help you get started.

1.  Am I writing about myself in this place?

2.  Am I writing about this place without “me” in it? (Meaning, you’re an observer, a gatherer of information, not a participant.)

3.  Am I writing fiction or nonfiction?

4.  What is it about this place that inspires me?

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Image: think4photop / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring the Fantabulous Elizabeth 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.


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.

If you’d like to know more about Elizabeth, pop on over to her web site or say hello on Facebook.

 

Mojo Monday: The Big Secret in Life (Writing)

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.


Oprah puts it like this: “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”

Here’s my take: “The big secret in writing is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you work your arse off.”

And it’s true. You can.

Sure, in the “working” period there’s little recognition, few pats on the back, zero minutes of fame, moments of self-doubt, zero minutes in the limelight, etc.

And yes, the working period can (and most likely will) go on for a long time. Weeks, months, years, decades.

And all of that can feel like crap once in a while.

But (and here’s the hard part), too bad.

If you want it (you know, the big IT), you must do the work.

So go…work your arse off this week. Let nothing deter you.

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Image: ntwowe / FreeDigitalPhotos.net