The Telling Detail

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We have new family members.

Some of my new works contain mice. Mice are Essential. I don’t have much real-world experience with mice, and it seemed wrong to draw them and write about them (or their analogs) without knowing them. So I adopted a pair of sisters who are, at this moment, sleeping in a nest they built themselves. Did you know that a Playstation 4 comes with cardboard in the packaging that converts to fabulous mouse housing? You do now.

See? Research rocks! Just this second-hand exposure to mice has taught you something, too. While I won’t advocate immersion learning for everything you may write about, there’s something to be said for deep and immediate understanding. But it comes with a cost. I’ve cared for many other small animals in my time so I had some idea of what I’m in for. I did my mouse-specific research, and was prepared to make up to a three year commitment before I adopted these mice. I’m buying their food, bedding, and (because I want them to live their best lives) three cages of increasingly large size. Right now, they’re in a 40 gallon long glass breeder aquarium with a screened top. And I decided beforehand how much *smell* I could deal with, and figured out how to keep them safe from my cat. But you don’t have to go this far in your research.

Second-hand info can be fantastic! People are generally thrilled to be talking about what they love, so don’t be afraid to ask politely. Your genuine interest will show. And if you ask deep questions, they may share the telling detail: something that conveys a depth of understanding or immediate experience. Then you can convert their knowledge into your character’s knowledge, using that detail to create a believable reality for your reader.

Back to mice: such joyful little creatures. They love to explore, and are curious about any new thing in their habitat. Bonus: I’ve learned that a mouse’s tiny forepaws feel like eyelashes flickering across your hand. Such a lovely thing.

Want a writing exercise?
Susan has moved to a new city. She enjoys gaming. She is lonely, so she adopts some mice. Use the info I’ve given you about mice and create a quick scene of Susan unpacking and giving the mice the carton inserts. Note for new writers: you don’t have to say she enjoys gaming. Just show her unpacking the PS4 and some games. Feel free to post in the comments if you feel like sharing. Posts in which Susan also has a pet snake, featuring an unfortunate outcome for the mice, will be deleted. 😉

Tuesday: Tea and a Tome 9/13/16

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In my studio today.

My happiest time is when I stand in front of a white empty board: the space is full of hope.

— Kinuko Craft

Too much wrestling with tech yesterday left me irritable. Today is a new beginning! So I had a lovely cup of chai tea with a friend to start my morning. Cinnamon and ginger, allspice and cloves, quiet conversation: all warming and life-enriching. These things will soothe.

As will a peek into the visually delicious Kinuko Craft: Drawings & Paintings. I purchased a copy in New York recently. You may not know Kinuko Craft’s name, but you might recognize her paintings: ethereal, yearning,  ambient pieces that cup narrative in an enchanted, wordless space.

If you know her work, then like me you probably saw her paintings first on a book cover. I looked into her art after discovering her wonderful illustration for The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip, and realized that many of these paintings were familiar to me. Generally, yes, via book covers. A good cover stands alone as a work of art, but also serves as a sort of gateway, inviting a reader to come step through into the story.

An ill-suited cover can suffocate a book, but the right cover can make it sing. Craft and McKillip are well suited. As are Craft and Ellen Kushner, at least in the case of the wonderful Thomas the Rhymer. I read this story in 1990, when it was a new version of an old wonderment, and have revisited it since. I loved the Thomas Canty cover back then, and thought it couldn’t have an equal, but the US and Kindle reissues are graced with a Kinuko Craft cover that will likely draw in a new generation of readers. (You can see more about it on Terri Windling’s wonderful blog post over at Myth and Moor.)

But back to the book at hand. This volume (available through her official gallery for $25 at the time of this post) is a lovely production. Gleaming gold ink, lavish borders, and vividly printed illustrations. Worth the space on your bookshelf.

Kinuko Craft’s words give insight into her process and motivation.

“The stories invite me into a world the author has created. I start living there and let my own dreams and imagination explore and guide me.”  — Kinuko Craft

The art, though, is the main reason for picking up the book. Line drawings let us see pieces of the creation of the finished works. She has a very great technical skill in art, but as with the best writers, she transcends technique and takes us into worlds of her own creation. Dense, layered, rich with detail and color. Her paintings are so narrative, they don’t have subjects: they have protagonists.

Once a painting is finished I never look back. The journey is done, and I go on to the next adventure. — Kinuko Craft

Visit Kinuko Craft’s official website for more wonderment!

Holding Patterns

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Photo by Denise Thompson

We’re in a period of transition here. The Young Person of the house is heading out to university on Friday, and the nature of the place is shifting.

Our home has been both a school for Atticus, and a place of creative work for me. Along the way, we’ve hosted educational and creative gatherings, fostered injured and orphaned wildlife, and trained for competitive pinball. Nerf battles, Star Wars marathons, harp and guitar and bass and voice … these are the sounds of our home.

Prior to moving to our home, the longest I’d lived anywhere in my life was around two years. We’ve lived in this house for more than sixteen years. I know how to be here. I have ways of being in the space. But the place is about to get much emptier. Much quieter.

I’m moving through my days, even before Atticus leaves, and finding myself tripping over the old patterns that just aren’t working any more. It’s tough to know what to hold on to. What to let go.

I’m considering an off-site studio space. Someplace that won’t echo with absence.

I’m looking for a space to help shape my days.

Meanwhile, I am sleepless. Which is why I’m writing a blog post at 4 a.m. (Hi! Are you awake, too?) The cats are very happy at my early rising. The dog, not so much.

My thoughts circle like planes waiting to land. I have stories to write, stories to paint, energy that needs direction. I’m just not able to ground them yet.

I understand from my friends that I’m not alone in my slightly-befuddled condition. There are many of us parents and care-givers finding new ways to be as our young people make their own transitions. Here we are, in our holding patterns. Luck to us all, good flights, safe landings.