Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Caroline Leavitt

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 love Caroline Leavitt’s energy…her joy…her tenacious dedication to her writing. I’ve followed her on Twitter and Facebook for a good while, delighting in the wild success she’s had with her ninth novel Pictures of You. I’m honored to host her here on Writerhead.

So, lovely writerheads, sit back and relax. Stretch out your legs. Pour a cup of coffee…or a cocktail. And enjoy!

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

I’ve never done heroin, but I imagine that being in writerhead is like the first, heady shot, a state so supposedly amazing that you keep desperately trying to refind it again and again and again—no matter what it takes to get there. I love that state, and yes, I’m totally addicted to it, and yes, I’d do anything (well, almost anything) to get into it.

When I’m in the writerhead zone, I hear and see nothing but what’s on the page. When I am in that zone, all that exists are the characters, the story world, and me—and it’s so profoundly wonderful that I wish I could stay in that state forever. It feels so real and the experience is absolutely heady. Of course, those are on the good days. The bad days fray my nerves. There have been weeks when I have gotten up at 5 in the morning and written until midnight and nothing is working and the panic keeps me from eating or sleeping. (Those days are usually when my husband is out of town, because when he’s home, he worriedly refuses to let me skip sleep or meals! And I do always attend to my son when he’s home from school, though in an altered state.) There have been moments when I’m so panicked I burst into tears, but I keep working. I always keep working.

Getting there into the glories of writerhead, however, is not easy. I have to trick myself at first, with rituals. Coffee. Exercise (sometimes). Music blasting. Alphabetizing my books first. (Always.) I try not to get up for at least four hours. I have to rewrite pages to prime the pump. Sometimes I do Truby Story Structure exercise thingies to get things moving. Writerhead almost never kicks in until at least an hour has passed, but once it’s there, I relax.

I don’t like being interrupted because it definitely stops the flow, so I tend to not answer the phone and to avoid email, FB, twitter and more unless I need them for research, which does happen!

I always try to stop before I feel the writerhead state leaving me. That way, I leave on a high note. I remember the intoxication, and it propels me back the next day.

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.)

It’s not pretty. Once, I was deeply working when I felt a tap on my shoulder and I jerked around to see my astonished husband and teenaged son standing there, staring at me in disbelief. “Didn’t you hear us shouting for you?” Jeff, my husband asked.

“We were practically screaming,” Max, my son said. “I think the whole city heard us.”

I shrugged, one eye back on my work. “I was working,” I said.

“What if there had been a fire?” Jeff said. “Or an emergency?”

“I guess I would have smelled the fire,” I said, but I knew that wasn’t true, because the only odor in my head was the smoky city of my novel.

“That’s not good,” Jeff said. “You have to listen better.”

Now, both my husband and son think it’s problematic and funny. Their favorite game at dinner is to wait until I’m drifting off to writerhead and then to say something like, “Oh, look, the kitchen is on fire.” Or, “Who’s that intruder with a gun in the living room?”

Sometimes I catch them and calmly answer back, “Get the extinguisher” or “Call the police.” But sometimes, I don’t.

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

For me, writerhead is like living in a parallel and paradise world where you’re in a constant, heady state of love, but you aren’t sure if it’s requited, but it might be. And that, of course, compels you to keep writing on to find out

BIO: Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Pictures of You, which was also a San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick, a Costco Pennie’s Pick, and on the Best Books of 2011 lists from the San Francisco Chronicle, The Providence Journal, Bookmarks Magazine, and Kirkus Reviews. A senior writing instructor at UCLA Writers Program online, her new novel, Is It Tomorrow, will be published by Algonquin Books in the spring of 2013. She can be reached at www.carolineleavitt.com.

You can give Caroline a literary high-five in any number of places: her website, her wonderfully writerly blog, Facebook, and, of course, Twitter (@Leavittnovelist).

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.