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:
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.
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.
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.