Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions 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 met today’s Writerhead–Laura Harrington–on Twitter after I witnessed a flurry of tweets about her new novel Alice Bliss. Turns out Laura is not only a much-buzzed-about debut author, but also an award-winning playwright, lyricist, and librettist. Yowza! As you know, I’m a sucker for lovely, oozy creative lava, so I just had to know about Laura’s writerhead.
In addition, I’m giving away 5 copies of Alice Bliss today (whoop! whoop!); be sure to leave a comment to enter. Guidelines below. (Laura is also setting off on a terrific bookcrossings.com adventure.)
The Scoop About Alice Bliss
When Alice learns that her father, Matt Bliss, is being deployed to Iraq she’s heartbroken. Alice idolizes her dad, working beside him in their garden, accompanying him on the occasional roofing job, playing baseball. After Matt ships out, her mother begins to crumble under the pressure of suddenly being a single parent and Alice struggles to fill the void as she balances the drama of adolescence with the effort of keeping her family together.
But Alice is supported by a safety net strung with relationships, including almost boyfriends, a grandmother, a baker with too many children, her track coach, her kid sister, her Uncle Eddie, and even her well meaning but complicated mom. She will learn to drive, plant her father’s garden, and fall in love, all while trying to be strong for her mother, and take care of her precocious little sister, Ellie. But the smell of Matt is starting to fade from his blue shirt that Alice wears everyday and his infrequent phone calls are never long enough.
Alice Bliss is a profoundly moving coming-of-age novel about love and its many variations: the support of a small town looking after its own; love between an absent father and his daughter; complicated love between an adolescent girl and her mother; and an exploration of new love with the boy-next-door. These characters’ struggles amidst uncertain times echo our own, lending the novel an immediacy and poignancy that is both relevant and real. At once universal and very personal, Alice Bliss is a transforming story about those who are left at home during wartime, and a teenage girl bravely facing the future. [from www.lauraharringtonbooks.com]
“Harrington creates nothing less than a fully realized vision of a young, complicated girl.” ~ Entertainment Weekly
“Heartbreaking yet edged with promise, Alice Bliss explores the wounds of war, love, and family bonds while illuminating the strength of a young girl’s spirit. A stunning debut.” ~ Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
****Alice Bliss is a ‘People Pick’ with 4 out of 4 stars.”**** ~ Sue Corbett, People Magazine, July 4, 2011
“This is the first time Alice has been allowed to walk back to their campsite from the Kelp Shed alone.”
And now, Laura’s writerhead…
1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).
Writerhead, for me, is both very mysterious and perfectly mundane. On the one hand, I don’t usually talk about it because it feels so personal and occasionally weird. It can also feel a little bit like magic. On the other hand, it’s really pretty simple.
I have different kinds of writerhead for different kinds of writing. For lyrics I like to walk. I wrote almost all the lyrics for Lucy’s Lapses, my first musical, while walking in the rain in a suburb just outside of Portland, OR. I’m sure I looked crazy as I would walk, then stop, trying to get the bill of my baseball cap to keep the water from leaking onto my tiny notebook. The rhythm of walking helped me connect to the rhythm and music of the words that would become song.
Revising a lyric is another kind of writerhead all together. It’s initially very prosaic: lists of words, of phrases, the thesaurus, the rhyming dictionary. I’m surrounded by pieces of paper, scribbled notes, scraps of ideas, dictionaries, often Bartlett’s book of quotations. It’s a big mess. And then, in the midst of that stew I get very quiet as I try to find that phrase, that perfectly musical phrase where the words begin to combine with a pulse, with a life force, with an ease that belies all the hard work evident in the mess around me.
And then there’s writing a novel, where I begin by sitting quietly until I start to hear my characters. It can be something as simple as a phrase. Henry appeared completely unexpectedly in Alice Bliss with the phrase: “There’s no accounting for Henry.” Why not? And who’s Henry? I follow that phrase and the questions it provokes wherever it leads me. The fact that a character can appear nearly fully formed with something as simple as a phrase is amazing to me. It’s as though the phrase is like a line of code, encompassing an entire human being.
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.)
Mostly I like interruptions; sometimes I crave them: a walk, a swim, hanging out the laundry. Interruptions create time to think, to reflect, to reconsider, to listen to a character’s voice, to listen to the promptings of my better—or worse—self; both of which are useful. I even like crazy-making interruptions because I’ve learned, like an improv actor, to use them.
I was traveling to NY on the train once, working on a play—a comedy—about Civil War re-enactors. Two guys were in conversation on a park bench—a lost truck driver and a chubby re-enactor, taking a break from a long hot day on Pickett’s Charge. The guy in the seat behind me on the train got a phone call in the middle of my scene and talked on and on and on. At first I was totally ticked off; I couldn’t concentrate on or even hear anything but his voice, which was so loud and so insistent that he filled all the space in my head and my characters were silenced. Until I decided to use the interruption and have my character, Chuck, get a call on his cell phone from his six-year-old. Great moment: a guy pulls a cell phone from the pocket of his lovingly created Confederate uniform, filthy with dirt and crusted with sweat and fake blood. Nothing could have juxtaposed the world of the battle, the mind of the re-enactor, the parallel universe that is re-enacting, colliding with the “real world” in quite the same way.
3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.
Writerhead is like getting to be a seal or an otter for a little while. Playful, joyful, buoyed by the water around you, living in a medium that feels like perfect freedom, aware of unexplored depths and the light above you, at one with the physical world, aware of the possibility of a spiritual world, breathing, playing, grateful, in awe.
Laura Harrington, award winning playwright, lyricist and librettist, winner of the 2008 Kleban Award for “most promising librettist in American Musical Theatre,” has written dozens of plays, musicals, operas and radio plays which have been produced in 28 states, Canada and Europe, in venues ranging from Off-Broadway to Houston Grand Opera to the Paris Cinemateque.
Harrington has twice won both the Massachusetts Cultural Council Award in playwriting and the Clauder Competition for best new play in New England. Additional awards include a Boston IRNE Award for Best New Play, a Bunting Institute Fellowship at Harvard/ Radcliffe, a Whiting Foundation Grant-in-Aid, the Joseph Kesselring Award for Drama, a New England Emmy, and a Quebec Cinemateque Award.
Laura teaches playwriting at MIT where she was awarded the 2009 Levitan Prize for Excellence in Teaching. She has also been a frequent guest artist at Tufts, Harvard, Wellesley, Skidmore, and the University of Iowa.
Alice Bliss, her first novel, has been chosen by Barnes & Noble for their “Discover Great New Writers” program for Fall 2011.
You can find out more about Laura Harrington on her web site (www.lauraharringtonbooks.com). You can also say “Hidy Ho, Laura Harrington” on Twitter (@bookalike) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/Lharringtonbooks).
Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos / Playwrights / Librettists: Do you have different kinds of writerhead for different kinds of writing? Do you welcome interruptions? If so, how do you use them?
GIVEAWAY! 5 Copies of Alice Bliss
Today—Wednesday, August 3, 2011—I’ll be giving away 5 copies of Laura Harrington’s novel Alice Bliss.
“5?” you ask incredulously.
“Yup, 5!” I say.
So thanks to Laura’s very generous publisher, you’ve got a great chance of winning.
RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment right here on WRITERHEAD for Laura. Wish her well. Tell her you have a neighbor named Alice Bliss. Talk about a shared writerhead experience. Tell her you can’t wait to read her novel. (Make sure to leave your email address so I can get in touch with you if you win.)
**Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on August 4, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)
**This contest is open internationally.
***The lucky winners will be drawn on Thursday, August 4. Be sure to check back to see who wins.
****The winner will be drawn randomly by the highly scientific method of my 3yo pulling a name out of a hat (or some other convenient container).
*****Although I welcome all charming comments, only one comment per person will be counted in the contest.