Happy New Year: 11 Things I Learned And/Or Relearned About Life, Love & Writing in 2011

Usually on Saturdays, I post an “Expat Sat” post…you know, “Welcome to Expat Sat, the culturally kooky, map nonspecific, sometimes bewildering, always fascinating intersection of expat life and writerhead. And where every Saturday, I offer tips for writing, publishing, and thriving to expat writers around the globe.”

BUT…since today is New Year’s Eve (whoop! whoop!), I’m stepping away from tradition to share a few things I learned (or in many cases, relearned) in 2011. Ready?

  1. The seeking and finding of oneself happens again and again in life. Stay open.
  2. I AM here to live out loud.
  3. Writing is not a solitary endeavor. (Relearn, relearn, relearn…)
  4. Paul Simon & I are alike when it comes to rhythm and symmetry and the breaking of symmetry.
  5. Despite the fact that as I get older, my eyesight gets worse and worse, I see things much more clearly.
  6. Just when I believe I see things clearly, they shift out of focus.
  7. Missing Shanghai is an ongoing feeling, as is my longing for each place in my life with which I’ve connected deeply.
  8. Journal, journal, journal. (& when in doubt, journal!)
  9. I love teaching writing to freshmen. I love how damn fresh they are.
  10. Steve Jobs
  11. Writerhead rocks! And it’s beautifully different for each writer. It can be like:


How about you? What did you learn (or relearn) this year?

Happy New Year, all! See you in 2012!


Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Lisa Brackmann

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.

It’s no secret that I’ve got a soft spot for anything China…so it’s not a surprise that when Lisa Brackmann‘s debut novel Rock, Paper, Tiger came out (Soho Press, 2010), I devoured it.

It’s a great story…a fantastic read…and good gracious, look at this cover art! Amazing.

Just yesterday, June 7, the paperback was released (big round of applause). Whoop! Whoop!

So welcome, Lisa, to Writerhead Wednesday. Let’s get started.

The Scoop About Rock, Paper, Tiger

Iraq vet Ellie McEnroe is down and out in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Uighur fugitive drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

The Buzz

“To add to the list of ‘good fiction set in modern China,’ check out Rock Paper Tiger, by Lisa Brackmann. It’s a mystery/action novel that pretty much pulls off something I would have thought improbable: combining an account of Iraq-war drama (the emphasis is on Abu Ghraib-type themes), with a portrayal of the urban China of these past few years, complete with overhyped art scene, dissident bloggers, lots of young expats, and constant uncertainty about what the government will permit or crack down on. Along the way, lots about the online gaming world that often seems the main passion of youthful Chinese, especially males.” ~ James Fallows at theatlantic.com

First Line

“I’m living in this dump in Haidian Qu, close to Wudaokou, on the twenty-first floor of a decaying high-rise.”


And now for Lisa’s writerhead

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

Typing on my laptop, talking to myself, reading passages aloud, giggling and occasionally pumping my fist, shouting: “Yes! BOOYAH!” when I solve a problem or come up with a line I really like. Walking down a Venice Beach sidewalk doing same, which is okay because I blend in pretty well with both the mentally ill homeless population and every other Angeleno conducting intimate conversations on their cell-phones. Missing my freeway exit because I’m so involved in the geography of my story (I really am paying attention to the actual road, too, I promise! Just not to where I need to be going in actual space). Standing in the shower, letting the hot water thrum against my skull, having a “Eureka!” moment—hey, it’s no accident that the original “Eureka!” moment was in a bathtub. I worry about our ongoing drought though…

When: often, but not always, late at night, when it’s quiet around me, and dark.

Also: when I’m traveling. I find it incredibly inspirational just to be in a place and absorb what’s around me. The places I go to can be as far away as China and as close as my own neighborhood. I just need to be in that observational frame of mind to travel a long way.

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, I currently have this insane cat. She needs to be entertained! And if she’s not suitably entertained, she finds ways to entertain herself. For example: unrolling the toilet paper roll. That one’s easy to solve, I just have to remember to keep the bathroom door closed. Lately, though, she’s taken to trying to dismantle the cats’ drinking fountain. She’s been rather successful at this. It leads to a lot of water on the floor. So I have a laser pointer to distract her. I try to type with one hand and move the little red laser dot around with the other. I’m only moderately successful at this.

The thing is, I’m not a writer for whom words come easily or quickly, so for me, most of the time, writing is a struggle. I’m not one of those “Oh, I just love to spend time with the voices in my head, if I don’t write and write and write I’d go nuts! The words just flow!” kind of writers. More like, “Put a gun to my head to make me start writing. No, I’d rather you just shoot me,” kind of writers. I do best when I write a little every day, even if it’s only a paragraph, rather than save it up for some major burst of inspiration that rarely comes.

So I probably interrupt my own writerhead far more than any external force interrupts it.

Except for the dude on the street over from mine with the World’s Loudest Motorcycle, which apparently needs to idle for excessive periods of time both to warm up and to shut down. I swear I’m gonna stick a potato up that pipe.

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

For me, writerhead is an irresistible force hoping to dodge the immovable object.


Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010” lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Novels and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers, and has been nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best Debut Novel. Her second novel, a literary thriller set in Mexico, will be published by Soho Press in early 2012. Her first published short story appeared in Akashic Books’ SAN DIEGO NOIR (June 2011).

You can connect with Lisa on Facebook and Twitter (@otherlisa). Also be sure to check out her website (www.lisabrackmann.com).


Q4U Readers / Writers / China-philes: Any other writers out there paying so much attention to the geography of your story that you’re missing exits on the freeway? (I’m proudly raising my hand.)