Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Elena Passarello

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.


Usually on Writerhead Wednesday, I put the author’s photo up here at the top of the blog post (like this). And although—like all authors who have graced the pages of Writerhead—Elena Passarello is a beaut, I just had to put the cover of her new collection of essays here instead. How could I not? I mean, LOOK AT THIS COVER!

Elena is an actor and author of the new collection of essays about the human voice, LET ME CLEAR MY THROAT. As you can imagine, she’s got some juicy stuff to say about her writerhead.

Enjoy!

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

Writerhead for me is not an easy thing to come by, because my most generative days are the days in which I do not allow myself to get still in some kind of still, tunnel-vision-ed writer zone. Every moment of my writerhead is so specific to the unique “writertask” du jour that I have to court it royally. So it’s never just “sit in front of the computer, feel inspired, and clackety clack”; it’s “clackety at the computer for an hour, then go hand-write in the garden for a while, then take a long walk, talking out loud and taking notes, then hit a noisy coffee shop and clackety some more, then wake up in the middle of the night and type when it’s so quiet you feel like the last survivor in a zombie apocalypse and clackety until sun-up.”

I love it when I get the chance to do it, but an eighteen-hour, multi-locational writerhead bender is a rare opportunity. This means that, more often than not, I am working while out of writerhead—and that’s an important lesson I always try to keep in mind. Writerhead is a treat, but writing is a constant.

One thing is dead necessary, however, no matter what: in order to even begin to achieve any kind of writerly success, I must be wearing stretchy-waist pants.

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.)

Well, the reaction depends upon the distraction:

Phone Call: Not a problem, because I never know where my phone is.

Spouse: My partner is also a writer, and so he is amazing at steering clear of my work time, writerhead or not. But if he ever does interrupt me, I relent, because he is handsome/ winsome/ awesome and I am a total sucker for him.

Lover: My lover is the Internet, and she has much worse manners than my spouse’s. What a vile temptress she is. I have built up some resistance, but I am not always immune to her distractions, especially if said distractions include cat videos.

Coffee Shop: My most violent reactions. I shoot dirty looks, loudly stack papers, rant to the barista about these total jerks sitting next to me who won’t stop yelling about their stupid Ugg Boots and who will soon get a latte dumped on said stupid Ugg Boots. One time, I even tried to fart in the general direction of a gaggle of high-decibel stroller moms. It did not work. Also, I might need therapy.

Computer Crash: When the computer crashes (or the cat pukes on the keyboard and zorches two hours of work, which happened last Spring) I quit. I just quit. I go eat an entire Big Grab of kettle cooked potato chips and take a nap. Because sometimes, life just isn’t fair.

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

For me, writerhead is like one of those dates you have to work really hard to impress. It can’t just be dinner and a movie; it has to be dinner and a movie and a gondola ride and ice skating in an empty hockey arena and “let’s do it” spelled out in rose petals on the sidewalk AND a very special serenade from D’Angelo AND a three-dimensional scrapbook of our relationship—with holograms—mailed with a bushel-sized bouquet the next morning. But when it finally puts out? Good googly moogly.

BIO: Elena Passarello is an actor and essayist whose first book, Let Me Clear My Throat, is a shout-out to some of the most memorable human voices in history: Howard Dean, Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, Caruso, etc. Her work has appeared in publications including Slate, Creative Nonfiction, and Iowa Review, and in the music writing anthology Pop When the World Falls Apart. Last year, she became the first woman winner of the “Stella!” Screaming contest in New Orleans.

CONNECT: Oodles of ways to connect with Elena Passarello:

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Peter Selgin

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, I welcome Peter Selgin to Writerhead Wednesday. Peter and his memoir, Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist’s Memoir, caught my eye on Facebook because he is both artist and writer, and I’m insatiably curious about the intersection and overlap of those creative paths.

Let’s go…

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

Well, let’s be honest, inspiration doesn’t strike all the time. It’s not like knitting or doing a crossword puzzle, either, where there’s a consistent rhythm or where the problems have all been worked out in advance. Every sentence, every word of a good piece of writing is charting some sort of new territory, is both raising and answering its own questions. If words come to us too easily, we really should suspect them. Most writing that’s done with great facility and ease is suspect. If and when we get into the “zone” we do so, must of us, usually, through great effort. As for where and when it happens—for me, anyway, it’s not predictable, although I love those wide-open days when everything else has been put aside and I can do nothing but write for hours. In that case I write in my studio, which lately occupies the loft of an A-frame on Lake Sinclair in Georgia, and faces out through one of two very large triangular windows facing the lake, with the dock from which I periodically swim centered in the view under a tree. It’s one of those views you can get lost in, that inspires daydreams. At times I have to remind myself that it’s not one of those rear-projector fakes like the ones Hitchcock used to use all the time in his movies, that I really can go jump in the lake any time I want. The view is distracting but it’s also comforting. In some ways I think it mirrors an ideal internal state, the state of tranquility in which emotions are recaptured.

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.)

Since I live alone here out by the lake there are very few interruptions. My neighbors are mostly weekend and summer residents; often their homes are empty, and if I wanted to I could walk out naked to my dock for a skinny dip and get away with it (I don’t). I keep the music (usually opera or classical) very quiet and even then sometimes I have to turn it off completely. There are several dogs in the neighborhood, but they don’t seem to bark, thank goodness, although there is also a red fox who makes a hideous sound, a sort of half-howl, half-bark, but he does it deep into the night when I’m usually asleep. Since I do 99% of my corresponding my email the phone seldom rings. On summer weekends the powerboats and jet-skis all come out on the lake. The jet-skis in particular bother me, not just because of the noise, but because they’re such disgusting, infernal nuisances. I really detest them and have these terribly uncharitable fantasies about their drivers colliding (they also scare me since I’m a swimmer and like to swim across the inlet and back, and so the greater likelihood is that one day one of those morons will collide with ME). As for other kinds of interruptions, usually they’re self-engineered. I stand up, I stretch, I look out the window, I make a pot of espresso, I do some push-ups, I jump in the lake. It’s good to move the body now and then. Sometimes, if things aren’t going well, I find other things to do. Writing is the most avoidable of all endeavors.

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

I’m afraid I may be the least romantic of all your respondents to this question. No, for me inspiration isn’t at all like eating a bowl of warm pudding or rolling down a fur-lined embankment or anything like that. It’s more like snuggling up to someone in bed—the someone (if I’m writing narrative) being a story, its setting, its characters. Mostly, though, it’s snuggling up to words, caressing and exploring them, finding new ways to put them together. In that sense it is sort of like a jigsaw puzzle, except that first you cut out and shape the pieces, then you discover how to put them together. But there’s always effort involved. At the very least there’s the effort to surpass and challenge oneself. If someone tells me that writing is easy, that it’s pure joy for them, my first thought is always, “Well, maybe it should be a little harder.”

BIO: Peter Selgin is the author of Drowning Lessons, winner of the 2007 Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction, Life Goes to the Movies, a novel, two books on the craft of fiction, and two children’s books. His memoir, Confessions of a Left-Handed Man: An Artist’s Memoir, was short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. His latest novel, The Water Master, won the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Prize, and his essay, The Kuhreihen Melody, won both the Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize and the Dana Award for the Essay. Selgin’s full-length drama, A God in the House, was a National Playwright’s Conference winner. He teaches at Georgia College and State University.

CONTACT: Visit Peter’s website at peterselgin.com.

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Yuvi Zalkow

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 know y’all have been wanting to sneak into Yuvi Zalkow’s writerhead ever since you caught word of the publication of his new novel A BRILLIANT NOVEL IN THE WORKS. [And, yes, I know I’ve been using the term y’all a lot lately; see Dinty Moore’s intro last week. Sometimes I’m southern.]

Me, too.

Though I do think that in Chapter 1 when Yuvi (the character in the book, not the author) says to his wife, “Hush, I’m trying to work,” he really should have said, “Hush, I’m in writerhead.” Maybe Yuvi (the author) will update this in a later printing.

Regardless, I’m delighted Yuvi agreed to yak about his writerhead when I asked. A BRILLIANT NOVEL IN THE WORKS—like Lydia Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine—is going to be one of my favorite novels of the year.

Now, as you know, there’s to be no stomping around in Yuvi’s writerhead. Any stomping, hollering, hooting, or other disruptive behavior and you’re out!

Got it?

Good. Let’s go.

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

It’s funny because much of my writing is not really in writerhead, or at least not in my version of writerhead.

Oops. Now I’ve made it so I have to describe two things: writing in writerhead and writing in non-writerhead.

OK. First writerhead: Writerhead is when I lose track of time or day. I skip meals. I forget to do the shopping that I promised my wife I would do. Sometimes this happens on my laptop in a cafe. Or sometimes on my iPhone in the bathroom stall of my day job. It can happen with a notebook and pencil with me pulled over on the side of the road. Or a park bench in the shade. It is where I get so immersed in my story that I barely register external sights and sounds. Or else it might be while I’m blasting that instrumental Beastie Boys album (seriously!). It could be when digging through a critical scene in my novel or when I find the perfect voice for my storyteller. Or when I finally realize how the story must end. Writerhead is more than just in my head. It feels likes every part of my body and everything around me. I worship writerhead.

But most of the time, I write in non-writerhead. Writing in non-writerhead is when I’m thinking about that email I have to respond to. Or when I decide to check my twitter timeline. I’m thinking about my flaws as a parent or husband or as a human being. I worry about friends who are sick. I think about my taxes or the bad book review I just received. I awkwardly chip away at a scene and I see that the writing is bad. Or worse than bad: it is empty. I try again. My two hour window has suddenly become twenty minutes because I wasted time telling a poop joke on twitter. But it’s even worse than that: it was a poop joke that no one liked enough to retweet! While I’m working on my novel, I start thinking about an unrelated essay I want to write. I read a blog post that makes me depressed. I should call my parents and check in. My throat hurts. I’m sleepy. That picture on the wall is crooked. Maybe I should straighten it. Time to pick up the kid from daycare. I have squandered so much time!

I think both these spaces are essential to the writer. This is what I wasn’t warned about. Those crappy moments at the table are essential too. I produce meaningful stuff in non-writerhead, even if it is far less efficient. Sometimes I can channel that difficult emotion of being in non-writerhead and use it effectively in my scene in a way that writerhead might not have offered me. Or perhaps non-writerhead is where I organize and tame the few bursts of brilliance I produced during writerhead.

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 get resentful as a first response. And then I begin to feel like a failure… What is wrong with me? If this happened to [other-writer-I’m-jealous-of], they would be able to keep writing beautiful things. But for me, it spells disaster.

But I can also sometimes use that frustration from being interrupted as fuel for my writing. For instance, I’m writing about a character right now who has these grand aspirations but is always falling on his face, never achieving what he dreams to achieve. So my own interruption from writerhead can produce a disappointment in me that is useful when writing from the point of view of my character.

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

Forgive this total cop out, but writerhead is a place I’m not sure exists except during those moments when I’m in it and then I’m so immersed in it that it feels like there is no metaphor that could properly pay tribute to it. But then it’s gone and all the second-rate metaphors come back: the river, the sun, the light, the seed, the marathon, the plane, the clouds, the thunder, the explosion, the sex. But to hell with all those f***ing metaphors! I just want to get back into writerhead!

BIO: Yuvi Zalkow’s debut novel (A BRILLIANT NOVEL IN THE WORKS) is now available online and in stores. He received his MFA from Antioch University and his stories have been published in Glimmer Train, Narrative Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, Carve Magazine, and others. He is the creator of the “I’m a Failed Writer” online video series and has been rejected more than 600 times by reputable and disreputable journals. Visit his website at http://yuvizalkow.com.

HIGH-FIVE: If you’d like to give Yuvi a high-five (or encourage him to rewrite that line that I mentioned above so that it includes the term writerhead), here’s where you can find him: website, Twitter (@yuvizalkow), and Facebook.

 

Mojo Monday: Theo Jansen’s Kinetic Sculptures

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.


What are YOU going to make today?

 

_____

Want to learn more about artist Theo Jansen? Click here.