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Picturing a World

Art, activism, and mythic fiction

Yesterday, I attended a meeting about changes to a Massachusetts program to promote solar energy in the Commonwealth and then came home to read Terri Windling's blog post on Art and Activism. The post is illustrated by absorbing gouache and watercolor paintings by the wonderful artist, Kristin Bjornerud.  Her pictures can inspire writers, maybe by literally suggesting a story line, maybe by leading to idiosyncratic explorations of what she calls "dream logic."
 
Windling quotes Bjonerud as saying, "My aim is to create contemporary fairy tales that act as a medium through which we may consider our ethical obligations to the natural world and to each other. Retelling and reshaping stories helps us to understand how we are entangled, where we meet, and how our differences may be viewed as disguises of our sameness."

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Jennings and Jones

Blog post tip: Kathleen Jennings is one of my favorite illustrators working today and the late Diana Wynne Jones one of my favorite authors. Lovely to learn that Jennings has designed the cover for an Israeli edition of Jones's Power of Three. Check out Jennings' post for her preliminary sketches—it's always interesting to see how artists work.

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August creativity

The All-Story, cover (August 1909)

Well, maybe not our image of women artists or ourselves as storytellers, but, hey! it's summer. Have fun with your own painting or writing. Happy August.

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Anglo-Saxon buildings

Deep immersion in the concrete details of everyday life is key to imagining past or fantasy worlds convincingly, so it is always a pleasure to find a well-written book that provides copious particulars about traditional technologies. Right now, I'm reading John Blair's Building Anglo-Saxon England, which draws on archeology, linguistics, economics, and other disciplines to examine Anglo-Saxon buildings, settlements, trade, and other aspects of the built environment in England between A.D. 600 and 1100. Pointing out that much of Anglo-Saxon construction was wooden and therefore has left few traces, Blair explores the ways scholars have come at questions sideways by analogies to living practices or through clever deductions.
 
And at least one wooden structure from the 11thC still stands—Greensted Church, pictured here. I have to say the log-cabin look is a surprise. It certainly may give me ideas for a rustic structure in a fantasy idea.

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Honey Bunch

Blog post tip: The workings of Edward Stratemeyer's syndicate, and especially the role of his secretary, Harriet Otis Smith, have contributed to the imaginary publishing office in my not-quite-abandoned ANONYMITY. I was tickled, therefore to run across a set of articles from the Scholarly Communication and Publishing at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign about the Honey Bunch series. Learning that Smith outlined and edited Honey Bunch: Her First Trip in an Airplane, I bought a copy. If nothing else, it will make for more soothing reading than news about drones, oil tankers, and possible air strikes in the Gulf.

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To the Underland

Yesterday, I began reading Robert MacFarlane's wonderful new book, The Underland. In the first chapter, the author and a friend enter a labyrinth of caves through a pothole. This morning, by astonishing coincidence, up pops this photograph of a Yorkshire fluted pothole at the British Geograph site. I visit Geograph every morning and sometimes pull together three or four photographs to prompt ideas for a story. This one is suggestive, for sure.

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Secret Commonwealth

For those of us who have been looking forward to The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of Philip Pullman's Book of Dust, it's a whoo-hoo moment to see publicity for it. I love snazzy art work by Christopher Wormell. And an excerpt in the Guardian promises that Pullman has lost none of his story-teller's prowess. I won't throw away the summer wishing October were here; but when it comes, what fun!

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Agas Map of London

Website alert: For background to a story I'm writing, I have begun reading The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution by Deborah E. Harkness. The first chapter is about a community on Lime Street near a now-demolished church that had the delicious name of St. Dionysius Backchurch. To see where it was, I Googled and found the wonderful Agas Map site that lets you, not only enlarge, but search the image for streets, churches, and landmarks by name. Anyone interested in Tudor London or maps in general, check it out!

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Nature, Design

Yesterday, I spotted a plant about to bloom in a neighbor's herbaceous border, knew I knew what it was, and couldn't come up with the name. Well, it was a Crown Imperial. This morning, a post at Gurney Journey sent me to Eugène Grasset's La Plante et ses Applications ornementales (1896). Grasset offers floral studies of plants followed by abstract designs derived from them; and there was my flower.
 
As it happened, yesterday I also attended a reading of a new play, an historical drama. It fell short of its topic. Looking at Grasset's illustrations today, I'm not sure whether the play failed because it lacked sufficient historical depth or because it did not transmute fact into something different from reportage. (I know it lacked complex characters!)
 
What's worth remembering in our own work is that the same material can be handled many ways. We need to explore them, impose our own structures and approaches, and then scrutinize the results ruthlessly.

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Book buying

Before settling in to work on my fantasy novella this morning, I made the mistake of skimming the news. After that, I needed a better picture in my mind's eye, for sure, so I visited Terry Windling's Dartmoor Mythic Arts page, which, in turn, took me to Virginia Lee's home page and this mysterious landscape. I allowed myself to poke around at her website and found her illustrated edition of The Frog Bride by Antonia Barber, one of my favorite children's book authors. At Better World Books, I found a copy and ordered it. If you don't know that venue, its profits go to literacy programs, and it provides a carbon offset feature for shipping (at the grand cost of $0.04 in this case!). It's much more worth supporting than the behemoth Amazon. Sales of used books do not profit authors (don't I know!), but they do help circulate work on the budgets that so many of us book lovers can afford.

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