This weekend I ordered two books that have one thing in common: they are anthologies of stories by authors who are in some way contributing to a team effort. The new one is Fourteen Days, which is set in a New York apartment building where the tenants gather on the rooftop to tell stories during the COVID-19 lockdown. NPR said in its review: "Fourteen Days is an ambitious project, and its proceeds benefit the Authors Guild Foundation, two-thirds of whose members suffered an income decline during the pandemic." Contributors include Margaret Atwood, Emma Donoghue, Diana Gabaldon, Celeste Ng, R. L. Stine, and Ishmael Reed. Good authors, good project, sold!
Picturing a World
From time to time, a picture goes into my file of story prompts. I ran across this photograph of a corner in Peveril Castle the other day, and flash! a fiction! If I were better at art software, I could probably combine it with this photograph of Peveril Castle for a Tiny Illustrated Story. Read More
This engraved illustration to a page in Edward Young's Night Thoughts by William Blake from his own watercolor design demonstrates pictorial drama, while the thirty-line text shows approximately how long a one-page tiny story could be. Blake reacted to the poem. We, on the other hand, could ignore it and react to the imagery as inspiration for a story. As I said in my last post Kathleen Jennings has a good post on formats for tiny illustrated stories.
Fantasy writers' prompt: This photo at Geograph is accompanied by a caption: "Dunluce is one of the most picturesque and romantic of Irish Castles. With evidence of settlement from the first millennium, the present castle ruins date mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. (When it is not raining!)"
Okaaay—so what happens when it does rain?
An editor might move the parenthesis to follow the first sentence. Fantasy writers? Get to work on time slips and morphing ruins!
Serendipity + disparate connections = story possibility. Recently, my husband and I took a drive along a rural back road. In the side yard of a pretty 19th C farmhouse, a black bear was asleep. When we stopped, it roused and ambled away. On our return down the same road later, there it was again. When I e-mailed a niece about it, she replied, "The Napping Bear—it could be a pub or home goods store or anything." I thought of Barbara Firth's illustration for Martin Waddell's Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? and bingo! a children's bookstore. Now to figure out what happens there.
A post by James Gurney on Painting Fantasy on Location immediately brought to mind Kathleen Jennings' Floating Islands. I've also just finished rereading A Sudden Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones in which a pocket world the size of a giant fortress orbits a planet in its own universe while being connected by magic to its counterpart in another. And then there's Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Petit Prince, surely the most delicious story and artwork ever set on an asteroid. In short, the whole idea of tiny floating worlds has set me thinking about how to approach a story set on one.
Unique, or one of the Seven Basic Plots? An author I know who writes fantasy fiction worries perpetually about whether her plots and characters are original or clichéd. Well, it's hard to come up with a wholly new device or deep structure, but a delight to think how material can be worked and reworked and still exhilarate. In this case, one shape is used repeatedly in a tile design that never quite repeats itself. Explore the hat and think about just what satisfies the most—fundamental repetition or endless surface variation.
Blog post alert: Spitalfields Life has a great vocabulary list for The Language of Tailors. It's always fun to have characters use a bit of lingo, and glossary lists can even supply names. My favorite from this one is Mungo—sounds like a hobbit and the meaning (cloth cuttings, which can be sold to a rag dealer) also suggests a subplot.
image via 18th C Tailoring Slang
There are so many ways you can approach this watercolor of Lady Lilith by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (which appears in a recent BBC article, Femme fatale: The images that reveal male fears). Start with whether it fits in the long history of the mythological figure, Lilith, Adam's first wife. Examine the symbolism of flowers, comb, candles, red bracelet, etc. Ask how it compares to Rossetti's own oil version of the picture. Expand the art-history approach to examine whether it belongs with other 19th C depictions of women at their toilette, such as Lucy-Lee Robbins' Putting Up Her Hair, Mary Cassatt's Denise at Her Dressing Table, or Edgar Degas' Woman at Her Toilette.
Or, as a writer, consider it as the springboard for a story.
Writing a poem in response to a painting is a well-known exercise. Theodora Goss's To Be a Woman is a splendid example. What I like best about it is that the poem works with or without the picture; and after you read it, the picture retains unplumbed depths. Personally, I am touched by the delicate strength of the embroidery on the woman's shirt, best seen in the highest resolution of the image via Wikipedia Commons. What about you?