Thursday, August 17, 2017

Story: Kumi's Light Published in Every Day Fiction

I started this blog in November 2010, as I was in my second year of a three-year graduate program in creative writing, fiction, at San Francisco State University. I think three years for a grad program is perfect, particularly at a state school. I wrote about the program hereThe first year you are learning new ways of seeing and trying out new ways of making. The second year you commit to a project and may end up changing your focus. The third year you are totally committed to the last idea on your plate and work hard to finish. The last semester of the third year you are writing and revising. And then you submit your thesis.

My first thesis was going to be about performance art. Since I hadn't experienced any of the performances firsthand, I researched them and tried to make them the center of some short stories. After writing about ten stories, I realized they didn't have much emotional interest for me. They were intellectually fun to write, but they weren't from the heart. At the time, I was also knitting little brightly colored rectangles to try a new way of felting. Staring at this pile of textiles I wondered, if these had been sweaters who would have worn them? Each one seemed to have a personality. That was the catalyst for a series of short stories set in a fictional town called Snake, located near Lake Havasu in the California desert. It would end up to be 297 typed pages. I graduated.

When I was finished with the Snake stories, I put them away. Five years later, I'm taking them out again, seeing what heart is in them, if they need revision or should be sent out in the world as they are. One of them, "Kumi's Light" is about a young couple, how they met, and what each must accept about the other. It is being published today in the online magazine, Every Day Fiction. I don't usually ask, but if you like it, please give it some stars! You can find it here.

After I had completed the knitting project, I built a little bureau for the sweater fragments. It stands 12.5" x 8.5" x 9.5" tall. I forgot I had also made sachets with cloves, embroidered with words or initials related to the stories. I think O.K. stands for Octavio and Kumi.







Read "Kumi's Light" here.
You can comment on it there as well.






Tuesday, August 15, 2017

New One-Sheet Book Instructions: Wrapped Accordion

I taught my Winged Book* in a workshop last Friday for the Miniature Book Society's Conclave. Peter Thomas, another book artist, was in attendance, and he commented how much he liked the way the cover was formed. Inspired by his interest, I wondered if that mechanism of folding and tucking could be used with a different book structure. After folding up my junk mail and figuring out what could work, I painted a piece of paper and am offering up the results of my exploration to you.

What's nice about this structure, which I am calling Wrapped Accordion, is that it can be made from one piece of rectangular paper and printed or painted only on one side. It has no sewing or glue. It has hard covers. You fold an eight-panel accordion, but it ends up with six panels. At the covers there may be a slightly uneven edge, due to the various thicknesses of board and paper, but perhaps you can't have everything.

Small size: 8.5 x 11 (or A4) paper, makes a book 1.5 x 3.5 inches 
Medium size: 22" x 14" paper, makes a book 2.75 x 6 inches 

Strathmore drawing paper is what I used for the example. The paper needs to be lightweight because of the folding involved. To create a different sized book, decide the size, double it for height, and add one to four inches (for the pockets that will hold the boards). For width, multiply your ideal book size width by eight.

Cut boards the size of the desired book and subtract 2 board thicknesses on the short side, then on the long side. My boards turned out to be 2.5 x 5.75, but I would recommend a thinner board than the book board I used.

Tools: pencil; metal ruler longer than your paper; X-Acto knife and cutting mat or scissors; bone folder


Inspired by the abutilon flower, I painted the paper.

When it was dry, I turned it over and measured and marked up along the short sides.
The height of the desired size book (6") minus 1/8"= 5 7/8".
Then the height of the book: 6".
Then there remainder: 2 1/8" (this could have been simply 2").

Line up the marks and score with the bone folder.
You'll ignore those marks for a moment.

Begin the folding for the eight panels.
First: fold in half to make the paper shorter and squatter.

Open it up, then fold each cut edge to the center fold you created.

Fold the edges back like window shutters.

Then complete the fan fold by matching folds to folds.

Now, turn so the tabbed edge is at the bottom.
Fold up along the score.

Fold down along the second score you made.

Open completely, and with a knife against a ruler
or using a scissors, make horizontal slits from the first
folded intersections to the edges.

You have four horizontal slits.

Fold the bottom tabs in toward each other.

Fold the center tabs in toward each other

Fold the bottom panel up. It will partially cover the center panel.

Slip the boards in the pockets made by the bottom tabs.


Fold the top panel down.

Tuck the edges around and behind the boards to anchor them into place.


Refold your fan.

And there is the Wrapped Accordion.

Thanks to Peter Thomas, for unintentionally inspiring this!
Here's a link to his and his wife's blog. 
They travel the country in their tiny home / art caravan.

*Winged Book is on p. 69 in Making Handmade Books, a.k.a. Check Book, in Expressive Handmade Books, p. 110.

Article about the conference in the San Francisco Chronicle here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Reading Fiction and Haruki Murakami

I've got a story coming out in the online magazine Every Day Fiction on Thursday, and some comments by one of the editors got me thinking again about fictional stories and what we expect from them. First, I will mention that the magazine has a rating system—every reader can vote zero to five stars per story. Every reader can also comment, which often leads to a discussion. I've been reading the stories so far this month and the comments they inspired. There is a bit of the typical online discourse that happens; someone feels emphatic about one thing and continues to defend it long after others post their own opinions. There is some love. And there is genuine close reading of a story. Most of the stories have something dramatic or action-packed to them. I confess I'm a little nervous.

My stories tend to be quiet moments, low drama, or points of heightened awareness. I like finding meaning in the everyday, something that might seem insignificant on the surface. Perhaps that is more of a poet or visual artist's angle, but I love writing prose. In grad school I began noticing that books considered "bests" tended to include a death. While that is a natural ending for all things living, it troubles me that death is the only or best way to add tension to a story.

In my twenties, I read quite a bit of Japanese fiction. The sensibility for what makes a good story seemed different. And the high stakes might be there, but it is the main character's response and how the characters change that is the purpose of the story. The stories seem to examine why people do what they do or think what they think, or feel what they feel, a deeper psychological look at humanity, rather than an action plot of getting from here to there. The endings are often left open. They don't wrap up neatly, leading the reader to surmise, guess, infer, or hope. At least that is what I remember.

Curious, I recently checked out two books by Haruki Murakami. While I had read his book The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel (1997), which I remembered to be surreal and unsettling, I wondered what his more current works were like.



The Strange Library (2014) attracted my attention as an artist's book rather than conventional novel. It has two cover flaps up and down, and images on the versos. The text begins immediately with no other title page or introduction and in larger monospaced typewriter font.




Full-bleed images occur on nearly every other page. Extremely visually rich.



The story is a quick read and fairly simple: a young man ends up imprisoned in a library basement by an evil librarian who thrives on brains filled with knowledge. There is the odd servant and the mysterious beautiful girl, the mother waiting at home, and new shoes. All those tropes have been done cleverly elsewhere. But, looking deeper, psychological questions such as, "Why do I act like this, agreeing when I really disagree, letting people force me to do things I don't want to do?" (Section 6), run throughout. Unfortunately, it only skims the surface of why we might to please other people and not want to make waves. I wanted to be satisfied—the book looked lively and seemed to have so much potential, but ultimately, it was not enough for me. I'm also looking for well-crafted prose, so sentences like this one are problematic: "She was so pretty that looking at her made my eyes hurt" (Section 11).  Daniel Pinkwater can do absurdity better and with humor. And, in the end, someone dies (albeit in smaller type and as a denouement). But the design is so good! I was sure he wrote better than that.

So,  I also tried After Dark  (2007). The outward appearance is conventional, but the writing format, I realized, was more like a play, which delighted me. The descriptions at the beginning of chapters are like stage directions. For example, the first chapter: "Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair." Much more poetic prose. The same writer! 

In each chapter, "We allow ourselves to become a single point of view" (24) and "We follow the same rules, so to speak, as orthodox time travelers. We observe, but we do not intervene" (26). The book is written at a remove, primarily in omniscient third person when it does not say "we." We only get close to the characters when they communicate with each other and choose to reveal their feelings. We are not inside their heads. We stay in ours and observe. After all, he seems to show us, we are the readers, not the writer.

The whole novel takes place from 11:56 pm through 6:52 am; times are the chapter names. Strange things happen. There is risk, a little violence, but those are placed to keep our interest and wake us up periodically. The theme is about connecting, getting close to others, how memories connect us, the metaphorical barriers we put up, and what to do to take them down. These are ordinary thoughts, quiet thoughts, but in After Dark they are presented in a poetic and imaginative way. The ending doesn't tie up nicely, and we don't see death. It's open in what I would say is a more classically Japanese ending. An imaginative and intriguing book.

Translation is another issue, but that's a subject for another post.

For a third comparison, I re-read Kawabata's story, House of the Sleeping Beauties in the story collection of the same name (yet again, spoiler alert: there is a death at the end, although not what you'd expect). I discovered that Murakami may have been consciously or unconsciously echoing Kawabata, perhaps both thinking of the fairy tale. In both, there are beautiful women who are deeply asleep. Things seem to happen to them, but they have no knowledge of them. They may wake up and go back to sleep, but that happens offstage. But these are Japanese stories, not Western ones, so the important changes happen to the people around the sleeping women, not to the women themselves. They are psychological and emotional changes that deal with our questions of life and death, memory and connection. Kawabata's writing, as makes sense to the story, is more visceral, sensual, and written in very close third person, so we feel more intimate with the character. 

Subtlety and nuance can be sensual, can slow us down, make us pause and reflect and feel. That's the kind of work I like to read. And write.




Monday, August 7, 2017

A Quilt as an Open Book: Hope Rants

I've been making quilts nearly as long as I've been making books, although I've made thousands of books and perhaps a dozen or so quilts. That doesn't count all the postcard quilts I made (instructions are here). My journey through quilt making was posted in 2015 , as I made two quilts in a row, then again in May 2016 and June 2017.  Here we are in August 2017 and here is yet one more, with another in the wings. What's going on?

Back in March, I bought ten giant aluminum sign painter's stencils from Rosebud Antiques on Solano Avenue in Berkeley. The owner had the whole alphabet, but my wallet said only ten. I had caught him as he was packing up for the day, and he said to call him with the ten letters I wanted, and he would put them aside for me. Which ten? The phrase, "HOPE RANTS" came to me. Nine! I added a D so I could, at some point, write READ. After trying an online anagram maker, I discovered I could make 2420 phrases with these letters. Sold. At the same time, I had wanted to try making some cyanotypes on cloth. The letters would be cool for that, I thought.

A moonlit night in the studio thereafter, I mixed the chemicals and spread them on square after square of cotton cloth, placing them between blotter paper and under a black garbage bag to dry in the dark. (I would recommend trying out the Jacquard SolarFast Starter Kit, which seems less fussy. I just placed an order for Jacquard Solarfast Teal 4 oz.) The next day, I printed. It seems that the cloth I bought was not plain ecru, but had a texture printed on it. In this case, the sharpness of the image wasn't crucial, so I continued, and found I had a few plain pieces as well (these printed darker). I experimented with some negatives under the letters for even more texture, and I had some paper stencils, which I used as well. I overprinted wood type and carved and printed linoleum blocks on many of the squares with subtle shades of blue and white, peach and olive. It was like creating pages, one at a time, each different from the next. The lino block I carved in a circle says: hope is the thing with or the thing with hope is or with hope is the thing. The rectangular block says: hope belongs to me. hope is an intake of breath. i know there will be more.



I believe this is a combination of a strip quilt and a block quilt, since I sewed sections into both strips and blocks before piecing them all together. The letters are basically in sequence, and there is a right way up.


 detail:

I had much to say on this subject, so the quilting is also more text. I insist on hope! As a quilt hope can cover someone or something. Get wrapped up in it, like a book.
waiting at the end of the leash / hope is warmth just out of reach / hope has wheels and can tow you / hope is an intake of breath / i know there will be more / hope sings / vote to keep hope alive 
I used my own handwriting and sewed freehand, enjoying the variations in the letterforms in contrast with the type and sharp-edged stencils. I tried to keep the stitching neat. Some people seem to prefer the backs to the fronts. (I'm a printmaker, and I like the marks, too. Printmaking is all about transferring marks.) I sewed a hollow tube at top to hang the quilt with a dowel or rod.


 detail:

In the past, I've had trouble working large. I tend to focus on the micro details, so making quilts seems to be a way for me to work both small and large. I've found that half of a twin size is perfect. It's also my height and wingspan, like I embody the other half of the twin, my project, an opening: an open book.