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.”


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.


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



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.)