Almost 2.5 years ago, Rus and I embarked on our most ambitious collaborative adventure to date. We called it The Glass Marionette, after becoming enamoured with Angela Meyers’ photo of a glass marionette on Instagram, when we were in the early stages of brainstorming and writing.
This month we are returning to the hallowed (hollowed?) narrative hallways to pick up where we left off…which turns out to be no mean feat given the breadth and craziness of the original idea.
Spark is a monthly collaborative post written from a spark of inspiration that organically finds its way to us. This month we were inspired to write fiction based on this fabulous picture Rus came across.
Coven of One by Stephen Mackey
The table was always set the evening before. The mismatched crockery and forks with tines askew and knives with the tips slightly bent. Communing with the future, she called it. A eucharist for the deceased of the past, of the present, of the soon to be.
She set the kettle set on the hob early first thing in the morning and filled it to capacity for guests who would never wet their lips or ask for sugar or decline milk. Rubbing the air between her fingers she felt it at first thicken like rubbing folds of velvet, then thinned out to the vapour of gauze. At the whistle of the kettle she warmed the tea pot, rinsed it and poured out the clean water as a libation before adding spoons of finely cut leaves.
Seated at the table she rubbed the air between her fingers again and the gauze whispered into singular strands of cotton. Wisps of clouds dancing around the spout of the tea pot. She sliced the fruit cake and served herself. Poured the tea and watched the sugar crystals dissolve.
And he was there. A memory. A framed portrait. As if memory was nothing but cake fragments and breadcrumbs to be fed to the birds at the park. And bone china cups held the structure of trauma and the rigidity of tradition. Around her an exoskeleton, a carapace, as thin as a veil, as thick as love. The thinness of the day giving way to the thickness of night.
I wanted the green hat or the sheet. Wardrobe insisted I wear the red. It’s always the way with these things. Everyone knows better than you.
‘We can see your lovely face,’ they cooed.
I screwed it up and everyone said I was difficult to work with.
‘Can we trade?’ I asked.
‘You want me to be the girl?’
‘No. I want you to wear the red hat.’
‘I prefer the green,’ he said. ‘If I can’t do green hat, I’m doing the sheet.’
‘No one listened to me when I said that.’
‘Can we have a dog?’ I asked. ‘I’m allergic to cats.’
Someone laughed and then they all laughed.
‘We love your sense of humour,’ they said.
But I am not amused. It’s hard to laugh when you’re sneezing.
We are pretend reality, masquerading as common place. We are the things that go bump in the night, tidied up, sweetened up, so you’ll never think we are anything other than what you want us to be.
‘Smile,’ they say.
I grimace and secretly wish they would all go to hell. Or perhaps we are already there.
They waited, with undying patience, for the others to make it through the forest and take their seat at the table.
“Perhaps they have lost their way,” said the ghost, unable to really understand any concept of time.
“Or perhaps they have found it,” whispered the girl, knowing that, sometimes, these things happen.
The cat, though, would have none of it. He was hungry, and he looked beyond the forest for his next meal, staring at us in the distance, as if we would be providing him a tasty rodent for a late-night snack.
On the other side of the wall, where the wild things walked and stalked under the light of an endless moon, three creatures sat under a tree, staring longingly at the wall in front of them.
“Perhaps they have lost their way,” said the goblin, chewing on a recently fallen twig with fresh berries still clinging to the underbellies of bronze leaves.
“Or perhaps they have found it,” replied the boy, proudly wearing a green beanie. “You know how they are, always seemingly finding a different way to where they need to be.”
The dog, though, would have none of it, though. He was longing for the sweet flesh of a floundering rabbit stuck in some hole. It was late, and he was too hungry to think of much else.
Above, the owl sat perched, chin in chest, observing the stale mate of patience as he, himself, preserved his energy with great will.
“Perhaps this is their way,” he hooted. We are never as lost, or found, as we think we might be.”
I have been plotting the next story (or stories as the case may be here) since June last year when I decided I wanted to invite a small number of friends, former collaborators, readers and creatives into an intimate group which I ended up calling The Belief Trust. I wrote to them all and asked them if they could provide an energetic net of support for me while I worked out how to be a writer again. It was an enlightening process — handwriting the 13 handmade bi-fold postcards — which helped me to better understand what I was actually asking for.
This year when I wrote my update, I included a blank handmade postcard; these postcards were the backbone of my FireStarter Project. I asked each member of The Trust to send the postcard back with a set of prompts: a song, a year and a socio-political-cultural event. These would be the catalyst of a new set of short stories.
A week later, the Australian cards began to land in my post box: my next stories were arriving!
I was so excited reading what I had been sent. And then nothing else happened. The prompts flatlined.
I am being a little bit of a drama queen. They didn’t so much as flat line but were given a number and asked to stand in the very, very long line with other stories waiting their turn at the counter.
As it turns out, it has not been such a bad thing. The slow maturation of these postcard prompts is allowing something far juicier to emerge.
In 2014, I wrote a short story for the Strange Little Girls anthology. It didn’t make the cut and when I shopped it around, one of the rejections I got said I had to make the story shorter, or longer; at the current length of 4500 it didn’t work. I knew I could not make it shorter and I was at a complete loss at how to make it longer. Sometimes you have to be patient across years and wait for a homemade Velveteen Rabbit postcard to arrive with the year 1961 and Wanda Jackson’s Funnel of Love nominated on the back, to know what to do with a story.
And I loved that the first song I was gifted was Funnel Love as it is on a playlist I made for The Starling Requiem (the cover from the Only Lovers Left Alive). Little moments of synchronicity like that light me up.
When I get to my next story is debatable because while The FireStarter project is my next story in spirit, I first have to complete the current revisions of my birthpunk novella ahead of passing it to Rus for editing mid-month and its publication in December. Then there is the completion and editing of The JAR Story novel, ready for March 2020 publication. Plus Rus and I are both seriously drawn back a story we started in 2017 called The Glass Marionette.
There are no tumble weeds rolling through my creative life. There haven’t been for a quite while. My creative life is the most fertile, expansive and actionable it has (perhaps) ever been. I look forward (rather than backward) knowing that everyone has their time and my time is now and there is never a time that is not now. The Next Story is really this: living my best creative life every day with the JAR Writers’ Collective at my back, making it all possible.
The JAR is back after two months of intense activity behind the scenes. As the photo below shows – it has been stacks on!
Adam and Jodi’s debut epistolary novel Postmarked Piper’s Reach launched on the 21st July (through Vine Leaves Press). Rus and Jodi were busy completing the edits on Fossil Five, the collective’s debut novel, and generally getting the manuscript book-shaped ahead of its September 23rd release (or 21st of July if you are in the Baltimore area and keen to be part of the in-person launch in Ellicott County).
Fossil Five is accompanied by A Reader’s Companion, which includes behind the scenes interviews, questions and journal space for processing what surfaces after the novel. We are also ecstatic to share the news of Pattie Lin’s single, Pulse, inspired by the novel. It is due for release on the 7th of the month, the same day we email out the prologue and opening chapter.
Blogging returns this Friday, with our usual weekly schedule staying the same, though from here on in Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity will be a monthly prompt and we will be partnering with someone outside the collective to bring you the fruits of our explorations.
We hope this finds you well and as excited as we each are for the final months of 2019.
Home Grown by Jodi Cleghorn, Alchemy by Oracle (The Daily Breath)
* Fossil Five is currently only available in Australia via hand delivery. It is an epic tome of 630g/420 pages and currently costs over $10 to post out. Once it reaches our favourite online bookstores, with free postage, we will let you know the relevant links. We will be organising signed book plates for those in far flung places.