Writerhead Wednesday: Off to The Write Stuff Conference

Usually on Wednesdays, this: 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.

But today…


I’m prepping to speak at The Write Stuff Conference in Allentown, PA, this weekend, and I’m buried under:

  • PowerPoints
  • handouts
  • thumb drives
  • travel reservations
  • conference clothes (who the heck is going to iron my post-scrunched-up-in-a-suitcase conference clothes!?)
  • business cards
  • dance routines (well, not really, but that would be fun)
  • & whatnot

In Allentown, I’ll be yik-yakking about a couple of things I love to yik-yak about: “the geography of a novel” and “social media & writers.” Can’t wait! Raise your hand if you’ll be in Allentown! (Am I the only one who can’t say “Allentown” without putting on my best Billy Joel & belting out, “Well, we’re living here in…”?)

In May, I’ll be speaking at the 2012 Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA, where I’ll be giving my first “writerhead” workshop! Whoop! Whoop! So, so, so psyched about that.

In the meantime, thank god for coffee!

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Image: Jomphong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jacqueline Luckett

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 first learned about Jacqueline Luckett (and her new novel Passing Love) at Carleen Brice‘s blog White Readers Meet Black Writers…one of my go-to sites for good book recommendations. As I clicked from link to link—ultimately landing on Jacqueline’s website—I became more and more intrigued. There’s just something about this woman’s voice that draws you in (you’ll see what I mean below). By the time I’d absorbed the fact that Passing Love is about a woman who leaves her home country for another…and that it explores the world of expatriates in Paris…I knew I had to hear about Jacqueline’s writerhead. (If you follow this blog at all, you know I’m a sucker for anything expatriate.)

So, readers, settle back. You’re in for a glorious ride…

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

Like a bad boy lover who knows he’s got me hooked waiting for his call, his email, his text, his touch, writerhead takes its own sweet time to visit. I hunger for its return. There are days when I sit in front of my computer for hours, pecking away at mindless, empty scenes. Waiting. Just waiting, like I might for the sound of a lover’s personalized ringtone. And then…

Sometimes it happens when I sit in silence. Sometimes, if I’m alone, with others around me (cafés, writing retreats, and the like), writerhead comes swiftly. It spreads through my body like too many glasses of fine wine. It makes my blood rush in my ears, makes its way around my head, pushes words and scenes back down to my fingertips making them want to fly.

Thankfully, my State of Writerhead isn’t limited to my time in front of the computer. I can slip into it as I walk down the street or eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations or people-watch and lipread. Sometimes, I don’t know that I’ve slipped into writerhead until I’ve left it and sometimes not even then. Is that daydreaming? Does it matter? It did the time I wanted to use a sentence I found in my notes and couldn’t.

I keep track of new words and sentences that come to me in these moments that I’m in deep. The magical moment, for me, is when I’m able to take notes, observe, and create at the same time. Right then and there, I scribble notes and fuss because I’ve forgotten my notebook. So, I capture my thoughts on whatever is handy: notebooks, napkins, magazines, and newspapers. (I have several notes written on funeral programs.) Eventually, I file them, or retype and store them in a computer folder.

While writing Passing Love, I came across a wonderful sentence in one of those files. I loved the sentence. I wanted to use it in the novel. I loved its power and daring composition. Damn, it was good! I readied myself for the wonderful prose sure to follow this inspiration.

The note was typed, not handwritten. I waited.

The perfect sentence stood alone in the middle of a page. I couldn’t remember if I had written that sentence or if it was a quote from another author.

I couldn’t remember then.

I don’t remember now.

That is my state of writerhead: a fog, a spell from fairy dust, a missing moment. The precious time of getting lost in my head, of digging and seeing the furrow deepen, of writing sentences, paragraphs, and scenes where I have fallen so far into my imagination, that I don’t recognize my own words. I dearly love that time.

It doesn’t last long enough, and it doesn’t come everyday. But, ahhhh, when it does…

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.)

My mother will be ninety in the fall. Whenever my phone’s Caller ID displays her number, I answer regardless of what state I’m in.

“Are you busy?” This she asks, on nearly every call, after having chatted for five minutes about the weather, her last doctor’s appointment, or a tennis match.

“No.” Catholic school guilt lingers—I must follow the fourth commandment: Honor thy father and mother. I breathe. I wait. I listen.

She tells me what else is happening in her life. There are days when she calls because a friend has died, and she’s fretting over that loss and her own mortality. Maybe the cable company increased her bill by $1.49 and she’s fussing over that charge.

After we hang up, the lost writerhead state may or may not return. No matter. It’s my mom, and I love her. I smile and feel grateful that she’s still in my life.

But any one else? Any one whose call I happen to answer out of reflex or expectation of my mother’s follow-up call? Anyone who asks—knowing that writing occupies most of my day—“What are you doing?” and I realize that I shouldn’t have answered the phone…

I GET CRANKY @#$*!!!

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

For me, writerhead is like falling into a pink cotton candy machine with no awareness of body or possible harm: whirling and whirling, bumping and gathering the soft, wispy, delicious matter, until my head is full and fat. Just enjoying the sticky spin.

BIO: After leaving the corporate world, Jacqueline Luckett took a creative writing class on a dare, from herself, and began writing short stories and poetry and never looked back. The Northern California native travels as often as she can to nurture her passion for photography and exotic foods. Her essay, “Traveling with Ghosts,” was included in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011. She is the author of two novels, Passing Love and Searching for Tina Turner.

Lucky for you there are all kinds of ways to connect with Jacqueline. Follow her on Twitter (@JackieLuckett). Visit her author page on Facebook. You can even subscribe to her newsletter.

 

Mojo Monday: Dr. Seuss and a Letter Called “Yuzz”

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.


“My alphabet starts with this letter called yuzz. It’s the letter I use to spell yuzz-a-ma-tuzz. You’ll be sort of surprised what there is to be found once you go beyond ‘Z’ and start poking around!”~Dr. Seuss

Happy (belated) Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

(And to all you writers reading this, go beyond “Z” today. Start poking around.)

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Jessica Keener

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.


Ssshhhh!

Today we’re stepping into the writerhead of luminous author Jessica Keener, whose novel Night Swim has stirred readers/writers/critics everywhere into a delightful tizzy.

Now it is a little dark in here so turn on your flashlights. And remember, do not take any unmarked paths or make any sudden movements. The results could be disastrous.

All right…let’s go.

 

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

Early morning is my best time for entering writerhead. First thing after coffee at my desk, and sometimes from my couch writing longhand, it’s easy to slip into that particular weightlessness that is writerhead. My body releases gravity and rises or drifts to a place that is no place. It’s also soundproof from external noises around me. Or, if I hear those outside noises, they soon grow distant and meaningless. In writerhead, I float down pathways of time and no time, visiting memories, thoughts, and feelings. I float and dip, hover and circle through colors, lights, smells, shapes, voices, images, conversations. There is no direction and all direction. In writerhead, my internal satellite opens wide to the universe—my psychic ear listening far and close for story waves, phrases of narratives, wafts of dialogue all of which funnel through my body, down my arm and fingers onto the computer screen or page.

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.)

If someone interrupts me, at first I might try to talk to them while staying in writerhead. This kind of talking is almost hypnotic. When it becomes apparent to the other person that I’m not truly listening to them or answering sensibly, the resulting internal/external dissonance yanks me out of my trance. It’s like pulling myself out of taffy. At that point, unfortunately, I tend to snap and bark at the interrupting person—what do you want? What? I’m writing! My head feels shaken. I feel disoriented and displaced. I am not kind. I behave badly.

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

In writerhead, I become an invisible capsule gliding across plains of time and space; pausing at will to witness and experience the most intimate emotions and thoughts between lovers, friends, families, and strangers.

BIO: Jessica Keener’s fiction has been listed in The Pushcart Prize under “Outstanding Writers.” Her stories and novel excerpts have appeared in numerous literary magazines and online, most recently: Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Night Train, The Nervous Breakdown, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Huffington Post. Writing awards include: a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist’s Grant Program and second prize in Redbook magazine’s fiction contest. For more than a dozen years she has been a features writer for The Boston Globe, Design New England, O, the Oprah magazine and other national magazines. She reads fiction for the award-winning Agni magazine.

If you’re intrigued by Jessica and Night Swim—and how could you not be?—shimmy on over to her web site. Say hello. Buy a copy her novel. Send messages of faith and devotion. Or give her a thumbs-up at these writerly watering holes: Twitter (@JessicaKeener4) and Facebook.

Mojo Monday: Failure…Bah!

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.


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

~ Thomas Edison

(Thomas Edison & his early phonograph, circa 1877)

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring the Fantabulous Elizabeth Stuckey-French

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.


Titles led me to Elizabeth Stuckey-French. She’s got some of the best: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, Mermaids on the Moon, and The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. Her prose and storytelling style got me addicted. I’m so excited to be able to share her writerhead today.

Now, listen up! And no fidgeting. As Elizabeth says, she lives in writerhead. We do not want to interrupt her.

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

I live in writerhead. It never goes away. I’m always experiencing my life and simultaneously evaluating things that happen to me and around me as possible material. Sometimes it’s annoying—like when I’m having fun with my family and I just want to be in the moment already. As James Thurber put it, “Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, ‘Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.’” But other times it can be useful when one bad thing happens after another. Then, no matter how bad things get, and how sad I might be, part of me is standing back thinking, pay attention to how this feels so you can use it later! Now you know what it feels like to have someone you love die. Grist for the mill!

Writerhead gets most intense for me when I’m revising something. My fictional world can start to feel more urgent than the rest of my life. This happened to me the first time when I started graduate school at Purdue and had enrolled in my initial graduate fiction-writing workshop. This was also the first time I’d ever been required to revise a piece of fiction—previously I just banged out a first draft, an only draft, and stuck it in a drawer. My husband was teaching high school at the time and, since we didn’t own a computer, I tagged along with him to Benton Central High School one blizzardy day to use one of the Apple IIs in their library. I started to revise my story, and before I knew it, hours had passed. I had to tear myself away when it was time to go home that afternoon. I’d never been transported like that before, and that’s when I knew that I had found my calling.

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.)

Because I’m constantly in writerhead, I’m constantly being interrupted. Tending to my kids has taught me that the creative process is not fragile. Well, interruptions bother me some, but in a perverse way, being bothered about being interrupted makes me happy, because if I’m bothered I must be writing something I care about, which makes me happier than anything. And I’ve learned that what I’m working on will be there waiting, like a loyal friend, till I can get back to it. I do go on a writing retreat for two weeks every summer when I can wallow in writerhead to my heart’s content. I dream of those two weeks during the rest of the year. My husband always tells the story of how, when I was finishing my first novel on Sept. 11, 2001, while he was glued to the television watching the towers fall over and over again, I tuned out the news and sat at the kitchen table banging away at my revision. It was the best antidote I could find for the helplessness I was feeling.

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

Writerhead feels like playing on a Ouija board with my characters. We’ve got our fingers on the pointer, which takes us to another world, the world of the story.

BIO: Elizabeth Stuckey-French is the author of two novels, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady and Mermaids on the Moon, as well as a collection of short stories, The First Paper Girl in Red Oak, Iowa. She is a co-author, along with Janet Burroway and Ned Stuckey-French, of Writing Fiction: A Guide to the Narrative Craft. Her short stories have appeared in The Normal School, Narrative Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Gettysburg Review, Southern Review, Five Points, and The O’Henry Prize Stories 2005. She was awarded a James Michener Fellowship and has won grants from the Howard Foundation, the Indiana Arts Foundation, and the Florida Arts Foundation. She teaches fiction writing at Florida State University.

If you’d like to know more about Elizabeth, pop on over to her web site or say hello on Facebook.

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Dylan Landis

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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I became smitten with how Dylan Landis talks about her work when I read this interview with her at The Rumpus. As soon as I read about what the “egg and spoon assignment” in her tenth-grade art class taught her about lyricism and her voice, I knew I needed to hear more about her writerhead.

I wrote to Dylan immediately. She responded promptly. And here we are, lucky us, privy to a sneak peek at her writerhead.

Bio: Dylan Landis is the author of Normal People Don’t Live Like This, a debut novel-in-stories that made Newsday‘s Ten Best Books of 2009 and More magazine’s Top 100 Books Every Woman Should Read. She has recent Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Norman Mailer Center, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is working on a novel. To learn more, visit her web site.

Now…let’s go.

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

Fiction flows only one way—brain, fingers, keyboard—and the conduits, the nerves, are damaged. So my writerhead starts with a physical ritual.

First I put on little rubber fingercots, and snippets of gel-filled tubing on the pinkies. These babies cause typos, but they dull the sensation of electrical shock when I type. The laptop goes on a stand, and a wireless keyboard sits on my lap. That compels me to sit straight, which also helps. A trackball saves my right forefinger.

Now, only now, can I enter a prolonged state of writerhead.

My friend Natalie Baszile, whose debut novel Queen Sugar just got taken by Viking Penguin, heard a Gustave Flaubert quote on The Writer’s Almanac that explains writerhead so much better than I could:

“It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.”

I can attempt that delicious thing anywhere I have a laptop, but looking up and seeing a friend deep in concentration always deepens my own writerhead. I love working across the table from Susan Coll (Beach Season), Natalie Baszile, Pia Ehrhardt (Famous Fathers) and Ellis Avery (The Last Nude). Normally I read aloud as I write, but I’ll postpone that for a good three-hour writing date. I can also achieve writerhead while my husband reads near me, or working silently near other writers at the Center for Fiction in New York.

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’m jumpy. I interrupt my own writerhead to check my email. There. I confessed.

But many interruptions intensify writerhead by the very act of my shutting them out. I can write for four hours on an airplane with people yammering across the aisle. Ignoring the music in Starbucks creates a bubble of concentration.

Three things throttle my writerhead. A neighbor’s TV (mine’s never on.) The bass of a neighbor’s stereo (ditto.) And the lingering of a child too young to drive. Motherhead and writerhead are both marvelous, but it’s hard to be in two places at once.

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

Writerhead begins with imagined strains of music, representing the perfect but not-yet-written book, drifting far above my desk. In the state of grace that you call writerhead, I can snatch whole streams of notes out of the air, and transpose them onto the page as sentences.

Mojo Monday: Writing Wisdom from Anne Lamott

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.


As always,  Anne Lamott says it beautifully:

“I sometimes teach classes on writing, during which I tell my students every single thing I know about the craft and habit. This takes approximately 45 minutes. I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.

“Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this.”

Click here, to read the full article at sunset.com.

 

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Image: Rawich / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Expat Sat: Save the Date!

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.


Teaser: Later this week, I’m going to announce an online writing adventure for place-passionate writers around the world.

Save the Date: Saturday, February 4, 2012 (If anyone asks what you’re doing on February 4, tell them, “Writing.”)

Stay tuned!

 

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Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Allie Larkin

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.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whoop! Whoop! (Or perhaps, in this case, I should say: Woof! Woof!) Allie Larkin, author of the novel Stay, is kicking off the 2012 season of Writerhead Wednesday. I was first drawn to Stay because it features a big dog in a big way, and I love dogs—especially big ones. I became enamored when I saw that one of her dogs looks almost exactly like my dog Bear. (Bear passed away a number of years ago, but she’s still romping and rolling in my heart. She looked nearly identical to the pooch pictured above with Allie.)

Allie lives in Rochester, New York, with her husband, Jeremy, their two German Shepherds, Argo and Stella, and a three-legged cat. She is the cofounder of TheGreenists.com, a site dedicated to helping readers take simple steps toward going green. Stay is her first novel.

Want to know more? Of course you do! Hop on over to Allie’s web site and blog. Or give her a holler on Twitter (@AllieLarkin) or Facebook.

Now, for Allie’s writerhead. Ssshhhh.

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

I find I do my best writing after four in the afternoon on days when I don’t leave the house or talk on the phone, when I’ve had enough—but not too much—coffee (usually one cup in the morning and another in the afternoon), done something creative—but unrelated to writing—earlier in the day (sewing, knitting, gardening), watched a little TV, had some exercise, and have the perfect playlist set up for the scenes I need to work on.

Obviously, I write under other circumstances too, but when I can line all that up, I usually produce best quality and quantity of work. Basically, all of that is to say that I work best when I give myself downtime to clear my head.

My husband also taught me a great trick recently—stop work in the middle of something. If I write to the middle of a scene instead of the end, it keeps me thinking about my work after I close my computer, and makes it easier to sit down and dive in the next time I work.

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.)

Tears! Well, sometimes. Dogs barking is just par for the course around here, so I can settle down easily after that. I almost always have the ringer on my phone off. A friend of mine reminded me that having a phone is for my convenience, not everyone else’s, so I don’t answer when I’m working or chilling out before I work. Although when I do have to take an urgent call when I’ve been working, I end up feeling like I’m at a loss for words. It’s disorienting. Almost like getting a phone call in the middle of the night.

If anything goes wrong with my computer, it’s usually an instant-panic situation. I am still a bit shell-shocked from my pre-Mac days. I went through a laptop a year for about three years. They always died just after the warranty and usually took a few chapters with them. I lost a significant chunk of Stay back in the early stages of the manuscript. Tears, panic, tons of cursing, and then I picked myself up and got back to it. I haven’t had nearly as many issues since I made the switch, and I back up everything constantly now, but I have a short fuse when it comes to any computer-related problems.

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

For me writerhead is like being a space cadet. Re-entry is a bitch.

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