News! I was recently interviewed for The Somerville Times by poet, publisher, and arts editor, Doug Holder. We touched on my personal history, my creative process in art and writing, and my sources of inspiration.
It’s perhaps a little more of a glimpse behind the curtain than I often give out, and I’m excited to share it with you all. It’s drawing me out of my burrow, as it were, just a bit.
I’d like to thank Doug for his kind interest in my work and for asking wonderful questions that made it easy for a recluse like me to talk about myself.
Please click on the shiny new Writing & Books tab.
At long last, the Letters half of the classic Arts & Letters combo has arrived. Wait until you see – omg, I’m so happy about it.
Writing & Books is the index page to my written works. You can read the stuff, comment on the stuff, follow the stuff. Eventually, you will be able to order print editions via that page. At some point, I will likely add artist books and zines as well. Basically, anything bookish goes under Writing & Books.
So what is it, exactly, that I do write?
Well, similar to my visual arts, I like to switch and blend genres. You may choose among fantasies, mysteries, romances, or thrillers, but they are all linked by certain common themes. Just as nature, memory, and dreams run through all my artworks, so I think you’ll find most of my writing deals with emotions, relationships, and wild, sometimes dangerous landscapes, both external and internal.
Right now, you can dive into four of my 50-word micro-stories: “To the New World,” “The Runaways,” “A Lot of Frogs to Kiss,” and “Faith.”
Some of you may remember my 50-word story challenges, based on a surrealist word game, in which a complete story had to be told in precisely fifty words, no more, no less. I liked to raise the ante by randomly pre-selecting five of the words, which every participant had to use in their stories. It’s actually quite a lot of fun.
You can also read the very first poem I feel brave enough to show to anyone, “Night, April.”
Inspired by the American-style haiku of such intimidating giants as Ezra Pound and Allen Ginsberg, I decided to experiment with this form because why the hell not? To me, this is such a perfect and basic form of expression – to capture the essence of a moment, to make a picture in words of ephemeral experience – I really think everyone should try their hand at something haiku-esque, just to get the feel of it – the feel of one’s feelings. Go and take a look, and let me know what you think of my effort.
Finally, there’s the big project. Oh, boy, this is the one that’ll have you saying “Wow, Jen, you really went off the edge this time.”
Yeah, you’re damn right. I’m going straight off the edge – of the map – where there be dragons. A whole alchemy of them, in fact.
An Alchemy of Dragons
One peace-loving ranger with a past. One audacious bard with an agenda. And one deadly conspiracy – with dragons.
You’re not hallucinating. It is, indeed, a fantasy novel. What’s more, it’s a serialized web novel, which means it will be a hell of a lot longer than a haiku or some fifty words. It will be posted on this site by chapters, as they are written. It will probably be illustrated, too.
Now granted, fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea, but we don’t drink tea here at the Jen Fries Arts studio – we spill it. (Actually, we do drink tea, every day, but you get what I mean.)
Yes, An Alchemy of Dragons will feature both swords and sorcery. It will have creatures and fancy outfits and very high stakes, but this is not going to be that Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings type stuff.
This is a Jen Fries project.
So check out the stories and poetry, reacquaint yourselves with the artwork, and you’ll get a sense of what you’ll be in for. I think you might enjoy it, and I hope you’ll give it a try. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter, if you haven’t already, to get email notifications when chapters are posted.
In other news, it’s spring time. And yes, a lot of shit is happening in the world, but the trees and bulbs are flowering and the birds are courting, and that’s what I’ve decided to focus on. Look for an upcoming blog post about spring time artwork, soon. Also please visit the Shop for seasonal works available now.
I’ve posted a lot about my artwork, but not much about my writing. It’s time I addressed that – not least because I have no visual art ready to photograph this week.
So, let me tell you all about my books.
I’ve mentioned this year-long challenge in other posts. I’m writing one fifty-word story each week over 2019. They have to be fully realized narratives told in exactly fifty words, no more, no less. Inspired by a game played by the first-generation surrealists, these micro-stories are kind of like prose haiku. You have to learn the arts of implication and editing. You have to milk every nuance of meaning out of every word, even the articles. So far in January, I have written a version of Rapunzel as star-crossed romance, a heist thriller, a high fantasy with a dragon, and a family drama. It’s fun! You should try it. I’ll explain my method below, and you can try your hand at writing your own.
The goal is to print the stories in the form of book-cards, which you’ll have to imagine for now as I haven’t finished designing them.
My method for churning out fifty whole words may seem complicated, but it suits my brain. I’m too commitment-phobic to pick a track to follow, so I let the universe pick one for me by randomized draws.
First, I pull five random words, all of which must be used in the text. Next, I pick from a selection of story prompts spat out by a random generator. My favorite generator site is Seventh Sanctum. The prompts give me up to three story elements, of which I must use at least one. Finally, I break out the Tarot deck and pull three cards, the meanings of which must inform the story.
Thus, for the story I wrote today, I worked with the following:
The words were “body,” “here,” “know,” “factories,” and “sister.
The story elements were “a pharmacist is involved” and “a character becomes pregnant.”
The Tarot cards were the Nine of Cups (reversed), the Queen of Pentacles (reversed), and the Queen of Cups, suggesting imperfect joy and a contrast between a terrible woman and a good woman.
From these building blocks, I wrote a story about a young woman, poor, hardworking, rejected by her mother but loved by her new husband, who has learned that she is to become a mother herself.
I drafted the story on unlined paper with a dip pen and brown ink. It’s a beautiful, slow, calming way to write, making pages that are dreamy to look at, even with my horrible handwriting. The ritual of it is almost like a tea ceremony – the preparation of the ink and nib, blotters and water ready to hand, the smooth flow of color and the scratch of the nib across the paper, the regular pauses every so many words to dip and reload the pen in the inkwell. It keeps one focused. Rather zen, you know.
Eventually, the story is formed enough to type it into the computer and edit it down to the final word count. Tomorrow, I’ll reread, edit further, and come up with a title.
The Other Project, Noir on Many Levels:
Another work in progress is a novel, of course. It’s an adult dark fantasy, a supernatural detective story with witches and dead people and crimes across centuries.
The process is pretty much the same but with more moving parts – character profiles, research, settings, plot maps and diagrams, chapter outlines. I’m woefully but not irretrievably behind schedule on it. I hope to have sample chapters available in the not too distant future.
Strangely for a narrative artist, I had no pictures to illustrate my writing process. The sidebar images are scans of this post’s original manuscript, handwritten with the dip pen, just like I said. And here is the beginning of today’s fifty-word story.
If you try using my formula to write your own fifty-word story, I’d love to hear about it and even read whatever you end up with in the comments.
2019 promises a lot of challenges, and I feel pretty good about that. This month’s Full Super Wolf Blood Moon, with total eclipse, falls on my birthday, which also happens to fall on Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year. It’s hard not to feel a certain emotional boost.
So I am embracing the theme with a series of art, writing, and lifestyle challenges.
First comes “50/Week,” in which I must produce one 50-word story each week. In this update of a micro-fiction game from a previous blog, I’m upping the ante by making an illustration for each story. These past two weeks, I have written a version of Rapunzel, focusing on star-crossed lovers, and a suspenseful heist thriller. Watch for these to become available soon.
I’ve also decided to learn a new skill – monoprint. My first attempts are oil pastel transfers – a fun and satisfying creative exercise.
Finally, I’ve started a new year of wildlife spotting on the Mystic River estuary. Last year, I fell in love with the birds, fish and other creatures of the Mystic and began primitive efforts to record their comings and goings. This year, I am laying the groundwork for an ambitious online project. Keep track here.