Uh-oh, a couple of weeks ago, I dreamed I was inside a crossword puzzle. The dream is hard to remember clearly, much less describe (more surreal that an Alice-in-Wonderland card game); but the upshot was that the next morning I quit doing puzzles, cold. Now, as I finish my breakfast cup of tea, I'm reading Helen Gammack's Kitchen Garden Estate (2012) instead. It's perfect. Paper that's a delight to feel, many illustrations, and short, information-packed discussions of a wide array of gardening practices for raising edible and medicinal plants.
Picturing a World
Website alert: I hope this link to a copy of Poetical Sketches of Scarborough for sale will be viable for a while. It's a source for a set of twenty-one lightly satiric illustrations of life at the English sea resort of Scarborough in 1812. For anyone researching public baths in the early 19th C, voilà! The picture also fits my running theme of using imagery as prompts for original fiction. Obviously, there's a story here.
A poor student in my current fantasy story occupies a sparsely furnished attic room and makes do with a storage chest for a desk. It was enchanting, therefore, to come across this 10th C illumination of St. John: William's desk leapt right out. I've been debating whether to give the young man a writing board or portable desk (I think I will), but what really caught my attention was that box the good saint is sitting on. It looks like a biscuit tin! I collect images of medieval scribes at work and room interiors, and I've never seen anything like it.
Under the headline Unfinished story by Little Women author Louisa May Alcott published for first time, the Guardian reports on publication of "Aunt Nellie's Diary" in the Strand magazine along with a call for authors to complete it. So here are three possible writing exercises: (1) Complete the story in Alcott's style. (2) Update the story to a different period and see where it leads you. (3) Imagine a writers' group that tackles such a challenge, then write a story about their doing so. Even if you just chuckle over the idea, have some summer fun!
My mother was a marionettist who made her own puppets, which means I've been aware of the things since childhood. Nevertheless, I have to confess that despite years of editing books on East Asia, I was taken utterly by surprise—and delighted!—by Hokusai's depiction of hand puppets. I know a little about Kabuki and Noh theater but nothing whatsoever about Japanese puppets. It's a topic to explore, that's for sure.
Main Street Rag Publishing has just brought out a new chapbook of poems, How to Prepare Escargots, by my old friend, Elaine Fowler Palencia. No one is better than Elaine at turning quietly homely images into startling, sometimes explosive, insights. To illustrate the point, here is a poem that brilliantly fits the theme of this blog in ways I would never have come up with myself.
1. Writing Fiction
Lay out your tools:
a plastic spatula, a dinner fork.
It doesn't matter.
Throw away your watch.
Start building your house
from the roof down.
A post, Undine Love: Reprint, new art, at Kathleen Jennings' blog took me to the reprint of her story, "Undine Love," in full at Tor. What a treat—both the story and the silhouettes! They are a reminder that updating a fairy tale or folkloric motif can be a great way to begin a story of your own. The backbone of plot comes essentially ready-made, leaving you free to work on other aspects of composition—setting, character, dialogue, incidents (as opposed to the underlying structure). The talent to illustrate would be a big bonus—and might just affect the tone and finished piece. Wish I had the talent and the training!
Writers are always being asked, where do you get your ideas for stories? and the best answer is always "I dunno." Nevertheless, there are certainly exercises that can loosen imagination, and that's fun whether it leads to a finished story or not. Consider this picture of a small train traveling in the countryside toward encroaching shadows.
For my current fantasy story, I was wondering where a character might hide an amulet. Quick research on clothes turned up a delightful Victoria and Albert Museum post on the history of pockets from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Among its illustrations are three photographs of this doll—"Lady Clapham"—showing her in different layers of clothing. Surely, she herself can suggest a story for children, the motive or crucial clue in a mystery, or one of those novels that involve researching the contents of a trunk. Her pocket, by the way, is tied to her waist.
Another Jennings blog alert: What did I tell you? Kathleen Jennings' Tanaudel blog is always worth looking at. I love her post this week on Inkblots as creative stimuli. You wouldn't even have to be as good an artist as she is to make blots, doodle pictures, and then string a few together to make a story—at least as an exercise. (Though, let's be honest, some of us might want to keep the results private instead of giving them to the world!)