Ever since Thea started elementary school, summer has become delineated in our house between the last day of school and the first. By this standard, we’re nearly halfway through the season.
Thus far, my summer has included the following activities:
~ Travel to beautiful lakes in faraway places.
~ Take Thea to camp in various parts of Brooklyn.
~ Pick up Thea from camp in various parts of Brooklyn.
~ Gardening. (This includes sub-activities involving wildlife, such as obsessing over raccoons attacking the water lilies I’m raising in a tub outside*, and squeeing over the sparrows at the bird feeder.)
~ Eating herbs and vegetables from our garden. (Can’t get more locavore than this.)
~ Design schtuff.
~ Writing the Next Novel.** (I am deep into my first draft, which I’m hoping to finish up by the end of the year. Now with added intensity and gothic romanticism!)
It’s this final activity which brings me to writing prompts, the subject of this post. ”What’s a writing prompt?” you might be asking. I think of writing prompts as a way to subvert your inner critic, like playing the party game of Charades on a blank page. They’re also useful for dealing with writer’s block because it takes the pressure of deciding What To Write About out of your hot little hands. It’s a very simple two step process:
Step one: Someone besides yourself suggests a subject to write about.
Step two: You write for a specified amount of time. No excuses.
Now that we’re deep into summer, my intensely creative writer friend Anca Szilagyi, a fellow at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House, has thoughtfully posted a list of summer-inspired writing prompts over at Ploughshares. They range from five minutes prompts such as “describe the physical sensation of sunburn” to more involved twenty minute ones.
So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and write!
*Water lilies budding in my garden. I’ve saved them several times from curious raccoons. The tiny circles in the center will grow to become blossoms. Amazing, no?
A favorite Sarah Waters* quote:
“Novels are for readers, and writing them means the crafty, patient, selfless construction of effects. I think of my novels as being something like fairground rides: my job is to strap the reader into their car at the start of chapter one, then trundle and whizz them through scenes and surprises, on a carefully planned route, and at a finely engineered pace.”
This advice seems expecially important to remember as I continue to outline, outline, and outline the Next Novel: I’m carefully planning my route. Oh, and here’s a photograph of my just-about-completed novel bible, whose process I described in a recent post.
*Semi-related to above: I can’t wait to read Waters’ soon-to-be-published novel THE PAYING GUESTS! She is a literary goddess.
This lovely rose opened up overnight in my garden—the first of the season! I’m so pleased. I’d wondered if it had made it through the winter intact.
In non-garden news, I spent last Friday afternoon perusing the Metropolitan Museum’s wonderful new exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelites, which focuses on the applied arts “second wave” of the movement: Burne-Jones, Morris, and Rossetti. Between this and the recent big Tate retrospective, it seems as though the Pre-Raphaelites are experiencing a new surge of attention. Last week, a New Yorker article even posited the intriguing question of whether the Pre-Raphaelites were a Victorian version of today’s artisinal hipsters.
From The New Yorker article:
We can start with Morris’s near obsession with the idea of craft. Like the ever-growing number of twenty-first-century tastemakers and designers who value traditional methods and materials, Morris strove to bring the mark of authenticity to everything he made…. Any maker, D.I.Y.-er, or producer of craft beer, craft pickles, or craft anything owes a debt to his design firm, Morris & Co., where he and his collaborators emphasized the slow-to-emerge beauty of the handmade object….
This made me laugh because I live in Brooklyn, aka Artisinal Hipster Central. (Perhaps that’s what drew me to Morris and Friends so many years ago?)
All this makes me especially pleased to announce that my guest on my blog Friday will be author and Pre-Raphaelite scholar Kirsty Stonell Walker (right). Her new novel, A CURL OF COPPER AND PEARL, is based on the life of Alexa Wilding, one of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s more reclusive muses. I was fortunate to have beta read Kirsty’s manuscript, and found it a deeply immersive experience. Short version: if you’re as obsessed with the Pre-Raphaelites as I am, you’ll love A CURL OF COPPER AND PEARL.
In my interview with Kirsty, we’ll talk about Rossetti’s models, writing nonfiction versus fiction, and more. So I hope you’ll check back!
Creativity Friday: The Little Library that Could (Or, How to Transform a Community One Book at a Time)
I love to take long walks—I consider them part of my daily creative “work”, if you will. Besides serving as exercise, these several mile long walks clear my mind of clutter so I can better concentrate on whatever I’m working on. I first became enamored of long daily walks during the year I lived on the moors of Devon. While Ditmas Park (aka my corner of Brooklyn) may not be as overtly scenic as Dartmoor, it nevertheless possesses numerous charms.
Such as this.
Which I found planted oh-so-matter-of-factly several blocks from my house during my daily walk.
Yes, the box is what it looks to be: a free lending library placed smack-dab in the middle of Brooklyn. It’s hosted by my neighbor Jennifer Wilenta and her family.
Upon closer examination, I discovered the library box contained mostly picture books for children and several novels. Once I returned home, I followed the url listed on the box, which lead me to this. Turns out that Little Free Library is an organization that sponsors community-based libraries to bring literature to the streets. Best of all, their website offers instructions on how to steward a free lending library of your own: everything from building plans to registration materials. Here’s a New York Times article about them.
While I love my local public library, I adore the grassroots intimacy of this. A little library box is something an individual would easily do on their own without dealing with large organizations or bureaucracies. All it would take is a weekend and some books to share.
Imagine if there was a library box on every block, each filled with their owner’s personal book favorites and recommendations. What a way to transform a community one book at a time!
Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a bit (ahem) obsessed with AMC’s Mad Men. When a Mad Men season is underway, I’ll gladly spend hours deconstructing character motivation, plot points, whether Don Draper is a sociopath*, and the delights of a well-placed Roger Sterling bon mot with my husband and friends. Beyond the obvious pleasures of well-written dialogue and fully developed characters, I also adore the gorgeous 1960s clothes that seem to tell a story of their own.
Fashion bloggers Tom and Lorenzo agree: their Mad Style recaps are wonders of semiotic insight. Generously annotated with screen captures from each week’s episode, each Mad Style post takes Mad Men viewing to a sublimely detailed level. TLo, as their fans call them, claim that Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant deploys clothing in the same way a literary novelist consciously uses symbolism, subtext, and foreshadowing. Nothing is by accident.
Sound crazy? Spend some time reading Mad Style and you’ll agree. Three of TLo’s particularly brilliant observations:
- Joan often wears rose-patterned clothing to signify her fluxuating romantic state.
- Don associates the color red as a call back to his troubled childhood in a whorehouse.
- Peggy is often outfitted in Peter Pan collars and plaids, revealing her Catholic upbringing and lack of fashion acumen.
After mulling Mad Style for some time, I realized I used clothing in a similar manner in THE LILY MAID. Which makes sense—after all, my novel is set during Victorian England’s Aesthetic movement, an era when the rational dress movement faced off against the padded pleasures of the bustle.
For example, my protagonist Elizabeth becomes uneasy when she’s confronted with the costume she’s to wear while modeling:
Dulac handed me a long gown sewn of a softly mottled cream-colored linen with pale green ribbons along the shoulders and waist.
I said, “So the Lady of Shalott’s dress was white after all.”
“As far as I could tell. This will do until a better idea comes along.”
… Before I could get too involved with my examination, Mrs. Dulac led me to a windowless antechamber tucked into a corner. She shut the door behind me. “Let me know if you need help with the lacing, Miss Sirini. I fear you’ll need to remove your stays for the gown to drape properly.”
I had not expected this—I’d worn some form of corset since I was twelve. Somehow the costume seemed emblematic of the Dulacs and their easy, bohemian ways. But I refused to be caught short. “Oh, I’m sure I’ll be fine, Mrs. Dulac.”
Beyond fashion signifying class, I also used color: Elizabeth wears grey half-mourning throughout the book until a crucial turning point. Another character dresses in green, the color of absinthe, to signify his decadence. And so on. Though I’m not nearly accomplished a wardrobe stylist as Janie Bryant, I do have one advantage: since I’m writing fiction, my clothing budget is unlimited.
*After last week’s disturbing Fifty Shades of Grey Flannel episode, I think he is. Don Draper: dark, handsome, and eminently messed up.