Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Stacy Bierlein

A hearty Writerhead Wednesday welcome to Stacy Bierlein, author of the short story collection A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends. I’ve known Stacy since we did our MFAs together way back when at Columbia College in Chicago, and I’m excited and grateful for the opportunity to share her very sexy, rather hot, laugh-out-loud-and-shake-your-head collection. As Pam Houston says, “These are stories that will make you laugh, and long for, and challenge, and think.”

Now, pull your chair close and lean in. Listen.

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

Writerhead typically arrives unannounced. It might very well refuse to come when summoned. Ideally writerhead shows up in my office, early in the morning, when birds sing in the canyon and I can shut the rest of the world away; or in the coffee shop, bursting in with the rush of the caffeine, spurred on by the bustle and voices around me. These days writerhead might hurry in late at night, keeping me wide awake while the rest of the house sleeps, sometimes determined to stay until sunrise. Writerhead willingly accepts blame for dark circles under my eyes. I like writerhead as a travel companion. Sometimes stories take shape on airplane napkins or hotel memo pads and that feels good and right. Writerhead disappears completely when I am stressed out or overwhelmed. It may go missing for months at a time, but reappears to find all forgiven.

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.)

In the years before I became a parent, I could fight hard to keep writerhead around as long as possible; to protect it from threats of interruptions. If the writing was going well I would do anything not to give it up, often to the frustration of my husband who can probably recall a hundred not-quite-conversations like this:

Ned: Your phone is ringing.

Stacy: I have voice mail for a reason.

Ned: Your phone is ringing again.

Stacy: Whomever it is will call or text my cell if it is urgent.

Ned: Your cell phone is turned off.

Stacy: Switch it on if you have a death wish.

Ned: Did you even hear the doorbell?

Stacy: Of course not! How many times do I have to explain this? I am not actually here!

Ned: Your flight leaves in two hours.

Stacy: There will be another one.

Ned: Sean Penn just ran across the street naked.

Stacy: Did you say something?

Ned: Have you heard a word I’ve said all day?

Stacy: Huh?

But writerhead is no match for a seven-year-old. These days I will forsake writerhead at the sound of my daughter’s voice, even if I always try to beg a few minutes more. My daughter will say, “Mommy, I need your help.” I’ll say, “I need two minutes and then I am all yours.” Thirty seconds later (or so it seems) she will say, “Mommy, your minutes are taking forever!” And writerhead takes a timeout.

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

Writerhead is the morning after the first time with a new lover. It is the warm and cold of the next day, the anxious heart filled with wonder. It is the assurance that words and gestures link together and pull and push and need—the stunning recollection that sentences linger. It is a jumble of memory, the uncertain order of events, the jolt of newness, of rearranging. It is comfort as well as surprise. It is complexity and vigor and fear. It is a suspension of time, a dance, the keeping and the letting go, and a resilient whisper of his lips on your neck.

BIO: Stacy Bierlein is the author of A Vacation on the Island of Ex-Boyfriends. She is the editor of the award-winning anthology A Stranger Among Us: Stories of Cross Cultural Collision and Connection and a co-editor of Men Undressed: Women Writers and the Male Sexual Experience. She is a founding editor of the independent press Other Voice Books and co-creator of the Morgan Street International Novel Series. She holds degrees from Syracuse University and Columbia College Chicago. A native of mid-Michigan, she now lives in Newport Coast, California.

Follow Stacy on Twitter (@StacyBierlein). Say hello on Facebook. Get to know her publisher too.

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Erika Dreifus

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.


Please put your hands together for the marvelous Erika Dreifus whose short story collection Quiet Americans: Stories was released by Last Light Studio Books in January 2011. (The Kindle edition is now available as well.).

(pause for applause)

I’m not sure exactly when I first became “virtually” acquainted with Erika, but I know it was years ago while I was still living in Shanghai. Just last month, I was lucky enough to meet her in person at Grub Street’s MUSE 2011 writers’ conference in Boston. Erika is one of those writers who gives a lot back to the writing community (visit her web site and you’ll see), so I’m very happy to have the opportunity to highlight her work and her writerhead.

About Quiet Americans (from Erika’s website):

“A high-ranking Nazi’s wife and a Jewish doctor in prewar Berlin. A Jewish immigrant soldier and the German POWs he is assigned to supervise. A refugee returning to Europe for the first time just as terrorists massacre Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. A son of survivors and the family secrets modern technology may reveal. These are some of the characters and conflicts that emerge in Quiet Americans, in stories that reframe familiar questions about what is right and wrong, remembered and repressed, resolved and unending.”

Praise for Quiet Americans:

“Dreifus’s clear, direct style and her subject matter bring to mind the stories of Jhumpa Lahiri….Dreifus does an excellent job of taking the much-written-about subject of the Holocaust and presenting stories that add new complexities to the topic,” writes Rebecca Henderson for Englewood Review of Books (May 2011).

“The Quiet Beauty of Quiet Americans,” Creating Van Gogh: “Anyone with an interest in the Holocaust and how it led immigrants to this country needs to read this book. Anyone who simply wants to enjoy engaging, relevant, and thoughtful fiction by a subtle practitioner of the craft needs to read it even more.”

“Facing the Terror Inside Us,” The Jewish Journal: “So Dreifus does not confine herself to the kind of character studies and slice-of-life sketches that are the stock-in-trade of so many short-story writers. Rather, she cares deeply about history—her own family history and the larger history that we all inhabit—and that’s what makes her stories both engaging and consequential.”

First Line of the Short Story “For Services Rendered”

“His father and grandfather and great-grandfather had all practiced medicine in Berlin.”

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Now…for Erika’s writerhead:

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

In a way, this question makes me a bit sad, because it reminds me how much time has elapsed since I could rely on relatively frequent immersion in writerhead. One of the biggest challenges I have faced since shifting from teaching and freelancing to working in a full-time, M-F, 9-5 job is recreating and recapturing writerhead on anything near the basis I enjoyed—but did not fully appreciate—when my schedule was more flexible. These days, I seem to approach writerhead most closely on weekends, sometimes motivated by the perfect prompt, sometimes energized by an idea that occurs to me while on a walk or jog. Unfortunately, writerhead is much more elusive in the early morning before leaving for the office or in the evening after a long day there.

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.)

Honestly, interruptions are not what I worry about these days. As I’ve suggested, it’s getting into that state of writerhead in the first place that’s my biggest challenge.

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

Writerhead is a beautiful buzz, a substance-free elixir that makes me energetic, productive, and happy.

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Based in New York, Erika Dreifus is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories (Last Light Studio, 2011). She writes prose and poetry and serves as contributing editor for The Writer magazine and Fiction Writers Review. Erika also edits and publishes The Practicing Writer, a free (and popular) monthly e-newsletter for poets, fictionists, and writers of creative nonfiction.

You can connect with Erika on Facebook and Twitter (@erikadreifus). You can also check out her Machberet blog (matters of Jewish cultural interest).

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Q4U: Writers…anyone else struggling to find time to even get into writerhead? Share, share.