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Picturing a World

Writing Manual

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.

 

Writing Manual
 
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.

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Jennings’ Undine Love

Kathleen Jennings, 2020 illus. for "Undine Love"

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!

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Mildred Anne Butler

Blog post alert: For those of us still self-isolating at home, the excuse for an occasional ride through the countryside is welcome. Also always welcome to me: discovery of a new artist contemporary to Jeanette! In this case, check out Mildred Anne Butler (1858–1941), via GurneyJourney.

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Girl at a garden gate

I think we can all agree that one of the saddest things about the current pandemic is the way it has forced children into isolation. Worse things than being cheated of graduation exercises can happen to teenagers; but for younger children to be cheated of grandparents and playmates? That's worrisome for their psychological future. Strange how we bring our preoccupations to looking at images. I think I would always have loved the way this little girl, held in by the fence, looks out at us. At another time, I might have related it to feminist concerns or formalist art-history observations on Morisot's technique. Now it seems somehow emblematic of summer 2020, even for the privileged few. Beautiful, potent, rueful.

Image via Art and Artists.

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Train of thought

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.

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Disparities

Good news! Bookstores are reopening in Massachusetts. Shopping in one of my favorites, the Bookloft, requires an appointment; but the store has a good website. For summer reading, I have just ordered a Martin Walker mystery and a boxed set of N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy.
 
Bad news: I have also just read an article about disparities in pay between white and black authors. Good grief. Jemisin, who is black, was given advances of just $25,000 for each volume of the trilogy—each one of which won the Hugo Award for Fiction (the third also won the Nebula Award).

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Black lives matters, black fiction lives

It is hard to say anything original or profound in the face of George Floyd's murder and its aftermath, but one thing a white person can do is listen. The case for racism as the nation's four-hundred-year-old sin and an unavoidable condition of life for black citizens is easy to make. The news does it every day. Brilliant books have laid out the case time after time after time. What is harder, even with the best journalism, biography, essays, legal writing, and history, is to experience each other's lives. That's where fiction comes in.

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Much needed inspiration

Blog post alert: It is so difficult at a time of plague, economic duress, and justified rage to know where to turn. Somehow in the midst of anguish, lies, blather, and banalities, some artists and writers find ways to respond forcefully and honestly. A striking example is Vanessa Lemen's oblique artwork combined with her straightforward post on how she paints around "found phrases." The very idea that "through art we harvest the unknown" can be a reminder to reach deep and go where inspiration leads.

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Pockets

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.

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Kathleen Jennings’ ink blots

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!)

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