Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Lydia Netzer

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.


Here’s what I want to say about Lydia Netzer‘s debut novel Shine Shine Shine: It’s special. It’s one of those soul-changing, DNA-altering, oh-my-god-I-see-the-world-differently-since-reading-this-book kind of books. Lydia and Shine Shine Shine came to my attention via Sarah Reed Callender, and I’m forever grateful. (Thank you, Sarah!)

You know that quote by Franz Kafka? The one that goes like this: “A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.” Well, Shine Shine Shine is an ice-axe that broke the sea frozen inside my soul.

Crack! Crash! Smash! Damn the frozen f’ing sea!

You should read Shine Shine Shine. As soon as possible. But first, read about Lydia’s writerhead. It’s as cool as the book.

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

Writerhead can happen anywhere: on my back porch, in my office, on someone’s mountain cabin’s kitchen island, as long as there is a computer there, and a rectangular screen where I can look at the words coming up. Place doesn’t matter much, but there are very specific rituals and routines that can be used to invoke writerhead, and draw the words out of the brain. Here are a few of mine:

A. Music

I like to put a song on endless, endless repeat until it melts away into nothing but a feeling. Often I endlessly repeat a song my iPod calls Luilak / Fiere Pinkster Bloem (http://www.amazon.com/Luilak-Fiere-Pinkster-Bloem/dp/B005EU16B8). I have no idea what language it’s in or what the words mean but I think it might be Bulgadavian and the song is probably about sheep or political oppression. The words sound like this:

Lilac, sometimes a brick,

Hatches up a lilac tit

Hatches up a lilac tit

And a brick, and a block, and a very bad block,

Is a head that wants to be softened!

Dogs have thumbs so lie like a dog

In a head that’s spun so often!

Okay, in the interest of accuracy, I just Googled Luilak and came up with this image (http://www.50plusser.nl/forum/userpix/50570_luilak_2012_tndt_copy_1.jpg) of Wilma Flintstone hovering over three kids in a bed, while Ringo Starr sweeps the floor and agitates a tiny man with no pants pooping into a case of Dr. Pepper and waving a white flag at Mrs. Garrett who is smoking a gigantic purple doobie. So you can see that I really do prefer a song with lyrics that are intensely relevant to my themes.

I also do well with Spicy McHaggis by The Dropkick Murphys, the Brahms violin concerto, Imogen Heap, and other obscure Bulgadavian folk music.

B. Clothing

Clothing can be crucial in drawing out writerhead—the wrong pants and you’re stumbling uphill, the right pants and you’re like a solar flare on the keyboard. I have these terrible brown cargo shorts with a very unattractive rip in the rear, a pilly black tank top and a chewed-on athletic hoodie: these are the best garments for engaging writerhead. Other cargo pants can be substituted but they must be a bilious green or noxious brown, other tank tops will suffice but they must be black, and as for replacing the hoodie, well I’m not sure I even want to speak those words aloud. If I whisper I can tell you that a replacement has been attempted, in the interest in not looking like a flipping lunatic in public, but the attempt was abandoned.

 C. Odors

When I pack for a writing retreat, I need certain smells: Crabtree & Evelyn “West Indian Lime,” Viktor & Rolf “Flowerbomb,” Thierry Mugler “Angel.” Also Vick’s Vapor Rub, grapefruit shampoo, and rosemary. When I was writing Shine Shine Shine, the smell of lavender evoked the character Emma for me, and bergamot helped me think about Sunny and Maxon’s burgeoning love affair. Some smells turn my brain off: stuff that’s too floral or bready or nice and virtuous like Ivory soap or lemons. Limes are for writing dark, interesting novels. Lemons are for washing dishes and being really cheerful. This is the difference between limes and lemons.

I think I may be exposing myself as a superstitious nutjob.

When I was 20, I wrote with a cigarette in one hand and a bottle of red wine in the other, and I used my irresponsible whims to do the typing while my reckless disregard for health and virtue was popping the pill bottle. So this is better. Nutjob perhaps, but now that I have children and a pot rack I need to replace the martini glass with something that looks better in church. Like a ripped up hoodie that smells like eucalyptus.

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.)

The children do interrupt. And it always makes me feel like a terrible person. I remember one night, I was sitting in my office in the dark, writing a particularly horrible scene where someone died or was killed or killed themselves or something. My daughter opened the door, and stood there framed in the light: two years old and sweet and innocent as the dawn. “Mommy,” she said. I looked at what I had been writing, and looked at her, and as she crawled into my lap, I wanted to turn myself in as an unfit mother, and have my child re-homed with someone who lives on a farm and writes about the antics of goats or about how kindness is really nice.

(http://www.flickr.com/photos/lostcheerio/3593128093/in/set-72157615890062020/)This is why I can’t write sex scenes with my children in the same geographical region. All the sex scenes in Shine Shine Shine (there are four—would you like page numbers?) were written at the aforementioned mountain cabin, 600 miles away from my children. At home, I would always just allow the curtains to sweetly close. It took a full 24 hours of absolute separation to get me into a space where I could even get to PG-13.

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

Writerhead is like beating through walls with a sledgehammer. It’s not some easy bliss on the other side, that you have to beat through walls to get to—it is the beating and it is the walls.

When something’s not working, that’s hitting at the wall and your mallet is accidentally rubber, or the wall is actually granite, and it just makes a dull, thumping sound, and doesn’t even ricochet, just thuds.

Writerhead is when the walls get big, dark cracks in them and then your mallet turns to steel and with a whooshing sound the walls break open and you’re smashing through, climbing through, finding another wall, crashing through that, and on. It’s paragraph after paragraph of going somewhere, changing the landscape, opening up new air pockets, consuming those and opening more. And when you’re done, it’s a complete mess (that’s what edits are for!) but you’re standing in a new place, a place you couldn’t see from where you started. When I started writing Shine Shine Shine, I did not know where it was going. I don’t even remember, from where I ended up, what I thought was on the other side of that first wall. That’s what writing books is for me: trying to see what’s on the other side, hammer in my hand, smashing for all I’m worth.

BIO: Bio: Lydia Netzer lives in Virginia with her two homeschooled children and her math-making husband. She plays in a rock band, pulls weeds, and is afraid of bears. Her first novel—Shine Shine Shine—will be published by St. Martin’s Press on July 17, 2012.

If you want to connect with Lydia—and I’m quite sure you will; how could you not?—become her friend on Facebook, Tweet her on Twitter (@lostcheerio), visit her website, or read the first 50 pages of Shine Shine Shine for free here.

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Nichole Bernier

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’m delighted to welcome Nichole Bernier to Writerhead. She’s the author of the new novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D (you know, the one that’s getting all that wonderful buzz right now).

Having Nichole here is pretty special. I’ve “known” her virtually for years; we met on Twitter while I was still living in China. And I’ve been looking forward to sharing her book and her talent ever since learning that her novel was going to be published.

So please rise and give a big round of applause for Nichole. Then lean in close, listen up, and hear what she’s got to say about her writerhead. (And then, yep, go buy her book!)

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

For me the writerly mindset is the need to take a brace of thoughts and translate them into words, give them the structure of words. It happens anywhere, usually when I’m watching other people, and am tremendously moved to be witnessing a moment—some isolated episode of human connection or more often, human passing-in-the-night. But it doesn’t become a thing until I put it into words. That’s the way thoughts and ideas become real to me. It’s trying to force steam back into water.

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.)

When I began writing my novel I had three children, and had never written fiction before. So I expect to be interrupted. It’s fantastic when I’m in an environment where I can open things up for hours, but that’s not the norm. What’s critical then is the way I lay breadcrumbs to find my way back, whenever that will be. If I’m in the middle of writing, I’ll scribble a fragmented sentence with bits of emotion or action or adjectives or dialogue. If I’m at an appointment it might be a scribble on the backside of paper, or if it’s in the middle of the night, there’s a pad in the nightstand drawer. On the soccer sidelines I’m known for taking a lot of pictures with my cellphone; it’s because I’ve become really good at holding it up for mock-shots and texting myself notes.

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

There was once a tv show or movie—something slapstick—where the main character would find himself temporarily in the middle of frozen time, though he was still free to move about the cabin. Everyone and everything was stock-still while he tiptoed around doing whatever he liked, taking sodas out of people’s hands, knocking the baseball caps off their heads, etc. For me it feels like that.

BIO: Nichole Bernier is author of the novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, and has written for magazines including Elle, Self, Health, and Men’s Journal. A Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveler for 14 years, she was previously on staff as the magazine’s golf and ski editor, columnist, and television spokesperson. She received her master’s degree from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and is one of the founders of the literary blog Beyond the Margins. Nichole lives west of Boston with her husband and five children. She can be found through her website and on Twitter (@nicholebernier).

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jael McHenry

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.


Love food? Love foodies? Love fiction?

Then you’ll love Jael McHenry’s debut novel The Kitchen Daughter.

And you’ll really love how she talks about her writerhead.

The Scoop About The Kitchen Daughter

Jael McHenry’s The Kitchen Daughter is about a woman who discovers she can invoke ghosts by cooking from dead people’s recipes.

Julie & Julia meets Jodi Picoult in this poignant and delectable novel with recipes, chronicling one woman’s journey of self-discovery at the stove.

After the unexpected death of her parents, shy and sheltered Ginny Selvaggio, a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, seeks comfort in family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning—before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

(To find out more, you’ll have to read the novel…)

The Buzz

“For Ginny Selvaggio, the protagonist of Jael McHenry’s captivating debut novel, food is a kind of glossary and cooking provides its own magic, whether it’s summoning the dead or softening the sharp edges of a world she finds neither comfortable nor familiar. The Kitchen Daughter is sweet and bitter-sharp, a lush feast of a novel about the links between flavor and memory, family and identity.” ~ Carolyn Parkhurst, New York Times bestselling author of The Dogs of Babel and The Nobodies Album

“McHenry writes passionately about food and foodies….While Ginny is wonderfully single-minded about cooking, her fresh, sharp story has as many layers as a good pâte á choux.” ~ O, The Oprah Magazine

First Four Lines

“Bad things come in threes. My father dies. My mother dies. Then there’s the funeral.”

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And now…for Jael’s writerhead:

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

When I try to picture myself in writerhead, I see a dizzying gallery of images. I’m sitting in silence, cross-legged on a carpeted floor in Santa Rosa, California, with my laptop on a pillow in my lap. I’m leaning forward on a wooden chair at a dining room table in Philadelphia, hammering away at the keys of a different laptop, music blaring. I’m perched on a bar stool at a busy Manhattan restaurant, looking down at a spiral-bound printed manuscript on the marble bar, a red pen in one hand and a glass of Riesling in the other. I don’t have a particular time or place that I write. The good news is, that means that any spare moment might be a great moment to achieve writerhead. The bad news is, that moment is just as likely to be fruitless, and I’ll end up in blankhead or clumsyhead or screw-this-let’s-play-Angry-Birds-head instead.

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.)

Most often, for me, writerhead interrupts itself. It’s fleeting. It’s here and gone. I can be writing along in a perfect wordspilling haze and then–fwoosh, it’s over. Will it come back? Will I try to MAKE it come back? How? When I’m under deadline, I have ways of making myself make progress, like to-do lists and multicolored Post-It notes and a complex system of self-bribery. But progress isn’t the same as writerhead. There’s satisfaction in progress, but no joy. I want the joy.

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

Sometimes, writerhead is like whipping cream–you have to stick with it as it changes, going from a liquid thing to a solid thing, watching the shift oh so carefully because if you go too far it becomes butter, which is delicious and all, but not something you can put on top of your hot chocolate.

Sometimes, writerhead is like making fresh pasta, staring down a jumble of humble ingredients–flour, water, an egg–that somehow become a glorious thing you never would have known they could become, and even if your hands are the ones that did the work, you don’t really understand how it happened.

Sometimes, writerhead is like pitting cherries with a bobby pin–not “hard work” if you’re comparing it to coal mining or air traffic control, but a task both utterly tedious and utterly satisfying, and something no one but a fellow bobby-pin-cherry-pitter understands.

_________

Jael McHenry is the author of the debut novel The Kitchen Daughter (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, April 2011). She is also a talented and enthusiastic amateur cook who blogs about food and cooking at the SIMMER blog, http://simmerblog.typepad.com. She is a monthly contributor to Writer Unboxed and Intrepid Media. Her work has appeared in publications such as the North American Review, Indiana Review, and the Graduate Review at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. You can read more about Jael at jaelmchenry.com or follow her on Twitter at @jaelmchenry.

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Q4U Writers / Readers / Foodies / Cooks / Eaters: Whatcha think? Whipping cream? Fresh pasta? Or pitting cherries with a bobby pin?

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THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER GIVEAWAY

Today—Wednesday, June 15, 2011—I’m giving away a signed copy of Jael McHenry’s debut novel The Kitchen Daughter. Yep, a signed copy!

RULES: To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment right here on WRITERHEAD for Jael. Wish her well. Tell her that you ordered three copies of her book. Tell her what a fantastic read The Kitchen Daughter is or how much you’re looking forward to reading it. Ask her a question (which she might pop in to answer personally). Offer her a better method for pitting cherries. Show her some love.

*Comments must be posted before the clock strikes midnight on June 16, 2011. (That’s Eastern Standard Time U.S.)

**This contest is open internationally.

***Winners will be drawn on Thursday, June 16. Be sure to check back to see who wins.

****Though I welcome all comments, only one comment per person will be counted in the contest. (This isn’t American Idol.)