Goth Rose

Story Notes: August Patron Fiction

Sometimes inspiration comes from unexpected places.

Earlier this week I took an out of town friend up to the International Rose Test Garden here in Portland. In the Shakespeare Garden area we sat to chill and my friend, Shveta Thakrar, read to me from a book of faerie stories.

One of the stories she read was The Lothian Farmer’s Wife, a tale I hadn’t heard before.

The wife of a farmer in Lothian had been carried off by the fairies, and, during the year of probation, repeatedly appeared on Sunday, in the midst of her children, combing their hair. On one of these occasions she was accosted by her husband; when she related to him the unfortunate event which had separated them, instructed him by what means he might win her, and exhorted him to exert all his courage, since her temporal and eternal happiness depended on the success of his attempt. The farmer, who ardently loved his wife, set out on Hallowe’en, and, in the midst of a plot of furze, waited impatiently for the procession of the fairies. At the ringing of the fairy bridles, and the wild, unearthly sound which accompanied the cavalcade, his heart failed him, and he suffered the ghostly train to pass by without interruption. When the last had rode past, the whole troop vanished, with loud shouts of laughter and exultation; among which he plainly discovered the voice of his wife, lamenting that he had lost her for ever.

When she finished I said: “It’s a reverse gender Tam Lin except, when a man has to do the bold brave thing, he fails. This is why men ain’t shit.” And we had a hearty laugh.

Then I kept thinking about the story, and about Tam Lin, and about how I have never thought that dude was all that great despite really loving some arrangements of the ballad, such as my favorite one by S.J. Tucker[1]:

The more I thought about how the people in this story might have known the people from the Tam Lin ballad and how Tam was probably not the best husband a Janet could ask for, the more I started to spin a backstory on why the wife got taken and then the first draft of this month’s microfiction poured right out of me.

It is, as some of you are aware, not all that micro! It’ll likely get a bit shorter once I polish it and send it out into the world for publication. Patreon patrons get to read it right now.

Footnotes

  1. P.S. You can buy the studio version of this track, which is excellent, on Sooj’s website []
WX Cruise Caribbean boat

Why You Should Attend The Writing Excuses Cruise & Help Others Do So As Well

This week the fine folks at the Writing Excuses podcast announced the next cruise and retreat. In 2018 I’m joining the team as an instructor alongside Amal El-Mohtar, Maurice Broaddus, Piper J. Drake, Valynne E. Maetani & more. The workshop starts on 9/22 in Houston, and the cruise sails from Galveston, TX and goes to Roatan, Honduras, Belize City, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico before docking again on 9/30. It’s going to be a fabulous trip and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Before I tell you why I’m so excited for this based on my experiences over the past couple of years, I want to ask for your help with something. Every year, alumni of the Writing Excuses retreats raise funds for a full ride scholarship to the cruise. This is in addition to a scholarship funded by supporters of the Writing Excuses Patreon (the $20/month level). The more money they raise, the more people who can’t afford this cruise get the opportunity to experience this. Please consider donating to the Alumni fund before December 15th, or giving ongoing support via Patreon. I’ll give details on how to do that at the bottom of this post.

But first, let me tell you why I think going on this cruise is an awesome opportunity for writers.

I first came on the cruise back in 2016 when I was invited to be a staff member. That year we sailed around the Caribbean, and it was my first time on a cruise ship. The nature of cruises like the one we took is that we only spent a few hours on each island, and so there wasn’t much time for seeing more than one thing and certainly not enough time to get a real sense of the place.

WX Cruise Caribbean zoo

That said, having one distinct experience in each place, getting some time in places I’d never been, being exposed to even the slightest hint of something outside of my life, was powerful. It made me want to have more time, to visit the places for real. But I also appreciated those few hours floating in clear, warm ocean water and allowing myself to just be and breathe and listen.

WX Cruise Caribbean beach

This year’s cruise was very different. We went to the Baltic sea with stops in Sweden and Denmark and Estonia and Russia. There were no beaches! But with each city there was time enough to again have a distinct, capsule experience.

WX Cruise St Petersberg

And it was on this trip that I discovered how even a small amount of time in a place can provide inspiration for my writing and fodder for my creativity. I talked about this in episode 13 of ORIGINality (skip to the 1 hour mark for the stuff on this trip in particular). I was able to turn experiences I had in Europe into useful reference points for the novel I’m writing set in Egypt. And I know down the line the places I’ve been will bubble up in some other way. Everything one does can benefit ones writing.

WX Cruise Stockholm

Beyond that, the cruise instructors all offer classes, there are critique groups and other workshops, the chances for one-on-one discussions with amazing authors, editors, agents. There’s networking and craft working and skill building and the opportunity to get to know some amazing people. I have felt so very lucky to be part of it the last two years and to get to be part of it going forward.

I want more people to have the opportunity to be part of it. And so I’m asking that if you have $5 to spare or $10 or $20, please donate to the alumni scholarship fund. You can donate via PayPal to wxralumscholar@gmail.com by December 15th. If you donate via credit card, please mark it as a gift and not as for a good or service, so they won’t be charged a fee. If you really hate PayPal, email that address and they’ll work something out with you.

If you have $20 a a month to spend, consider supporting the scholarship through the WX Patreon. You get cool extras if you do.

And if you’re a person who would love to come on the cruise and would benefit from it but cannot afford it, keep an eye out for when the scholarship applications open. It’ll be announced on the Writing Excuses website, social media, etc.

Finally, if you’re a writer and you can afford the time and price of the cruise, please join us! I have no doubt this year is going to be as wonderful as the last two. The ports we’re visiting have the potential to offer inspiration or relaxation, and the instructors are going to teach you amazing stuff.

Come on a boat!

Inspiration | Resonance: The Art of El Anatsui

Peak (2010) by El Anatsui

A couple of weeks ago I saw an amazing exhibition of works by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum. Anatsui takes found materials like metal and wood — considered trash by most — and turns them into amazingly flowy pieces of art that evoke cloth and drapery and alien landscapes. The intricacy of the works and the amount of time he clearly puts into them brings to mind intricate beadwork and quilt-making. Thinking about the time involved in connecting all those old tin can lids or aluminum bottle caps or metal strips from liquor bottles together by hand almost overwhelms me, but then I remember how I feel when I’m stringing beads together or working on an art project that requires tedious repetition. In the moment I’m not really thinking about that, I’m more focused on the end result. Working on projects as big as Anatsui’s would require getting into a meditative state in order to not drive yourself nuts, but it’s not hard to imagine doing so.

The way the exhibition is set up, the pieces get more and more flowy as you go along. In the last room I found my favorite piece: Peak. I immediately saw this as a post-apocalyptic or alien landscape and spent a good amount of time trying to imagine how it would look from eye-level. A bunch of the pictures I took were from as close to that perspective as I could get.

 I also took this video in an effort to get a sense of how it would be on the inside of this sculpture and also how it would look to someone approaching it at eye-level.

Inspiration | Resonance: Cellist Zoe Keating

Zoe Keating at the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival

A recent conversation with N. K. Jemisin made me realize that I have not been vocal enough about my love for musician Zoe Keating even though I’ve been a big fan for over four years. She’s one of my go-to artists when I need writing music that sets a mood or fades into the background just enough to let me work but not enough that I don’t actively enjoy it. Other than just loving the sound, I also geekily enjoy how Zeating makes music. It’s very techie.

The first time I heard Zeating’s music was on the RadioLab podcast titled The Quantum Cello, and that’s how I think of her stuff: quantum music. Using MIDI recording tools and a laptop, Zeating overlaps repeating phrases to create multilayered music all from the same instrument. It’s hard to grasp how awesome this is when listening to a recording because it’s easy to create layered music in a studio. Keating does it live. She records each phrase as she plays it, then the laptop repeats it back (controlled with a petal) while she plays and records another bit. The layers build and build into ever more complex interactions. Watching this happen in real time is more amazing than I can recount.

The other thing I love about Zeating’s music is the wide variation of sound she gets out of a cello. There are several tracks where, if I didn’t know better, I would swear a piano or a whistle or a flute was involved.

The only sadness with being a Zoe fan is that she doesn’t produce new albums all the time. Her last one, Into the Trees, came out in 2010. Before that she put out two EPs in 2004 and 2005. I can’t very well complain since she’s a label-less indie artist and thus can’t just spend all of her time composing new stuff for me (uh, I mean, for all her fans…). I am pleased to see her music getting attention all over the place. I started hearing it as interstitial music between news segments on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered a few years ago. The Elementary staff and producers love her stuff, too, and so her tracks are all over that show.

You can buy her EPs and album from her website or on iTunes. I suggest buying them all, but if you start with One Cello x 16: Natoma you’ll get a good feel for her overall style. If you listen to the EPs and album in order you’ll note that her music gets more and more complex as she goes on. It makes me excited for what she’ll produce next.