Report on The Last Ekphrasis

IMG_3748Last night we enjoyed one another’s company for the last time — at least, it was the last time that Ekphrasis will gather under my auspices with its regular purpose of sharing and critique, since I’m moving to Texas to start my PhD at Baylor. It was a magnificent meeting! There were food and flowers, hilarity and drama, literature and art. In attendance were myself, Sharon G, Devon W, Eric M, Richard B, Curt D, Laura W, Andrew S MacD, Betsy G, Jeff H, Amanda L, and two newcomers, Thaina D and Diante R.

Even though it was a sort of a going-away shindig, it was really just an ordinary hard-working meeting. Lots of people shared excellent work.

IMG_3744(1)At the beginning of the meeting, Thaina and Devon shared the hot-off-the-press Spring 2016 issue of Xanadu, Lehigh Carbon Community College’s literary magazine. Thaina and Devon, along with Diante, are student editors of the magazine this semester, and I’ve been a faculty adviser to it for six years. This semester’s may have been the most professional issue of the magazine we’ve ever produced: the design is streamlined and debonair. Diante has a poem published in it; Thaina has a few poems and several pieces of prose.

indexThen Sharon G read another chapter of her Robin Hood novel adaptation, Mercy and Justice. This chapter included a sad story of a poor, cast-off, single, expectant mother, helped by Marian and Robin, which was a good way of revealing their compassionate character. Sharon has completed about half of this novel and hopes to draft the rest of it this fall, after finishing her current novel-in-progress, Chrysalis!

13184680_1014038361966917_2053915199_oRichard B and Eric M each showed pieces of their artwork. Richard is writing and illustrating a comic book starring his Jack Windsword character. Eric is working on drawings he’ll bring to the Baltimore Comic Con. Their work is somewhat similar–both depict heroes, villians, mythic, archetypal characters with bold lines and swift action–but their techniques are quite different. The black-and-white image to the right is from Richard’s book. The colored images below from Star Wars and Star Trek are some of Eric’s works of art.

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Then we moved into a sort of stage-like area we had set up, in order to watch several theatrical scenes.

First up was a stage adaptation of a bit from a Brandon Sanderson novel, by Betsy G. It was a scene packed with secondary-world-building, lots of neologisms and names and cultural references. In it, an experienced con artist is teaching her apprentice how to fool her potential victims by posing as a foreign princess. The prize? Her dupe’s boots. 13184742_935769666536853_1112604979_o

Next up was a selection from Jeff H’s recent full-length adaptation of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, which was recently produced by Players of the Stage. This scene was Toad on trial for causing a motor car accident–which is really just a cover for his enemies to lock him up and take his ancestral mansion.

Then came my short play, Galatea Awakes, which I wrote for my creative writing class at LCCC, and from which I previously posted a selection. It’s a retelling of the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, and I’m exploring themes of the artist’s isolation and relationships, the idea of the art as a child, issues of voyeurism and objectification, questions about the nature of beauty, etc. It was admirably performed by Richard, Andrew, and Sharon, and much hilarity ensued–sometimes when it wasn’t in the script, such as when Pygmalion whispers to his animated statue to “scroll down, scroll down” for him so he can read his script!

We got to see another play from my creative writing class, too: this one by Thaina. It is a side-splittingly funny drama entitled Why Deals With the Devil Never Work (And You Should Always Read the Fine Print). I’ll give you just a tiny snippet here to give you an idea of how funny it is:

ASH: Look man, I just really want my soul back. Please? Pretty please? Have a heart.
SATAN: What part of Lucifer, Demon, King of Hell, do you not understand?
ASH: I know you’re Satan and all, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk!
SATAN: Do you listen to yourself when you speak?
ASH: Hm? Of course I do! My soul is gone, not my hearing!

Yup, it’s all like that. With a great twist at the end.

And we were treated to a performance of a powerful slam poem by Diante, a tale of troubles and salvation. It is meant to become his final project for Creative Writing class.

Finally, Laura W ended our evening with a mind-boggling 2-min mystery: a piece of flash fiction in 500 words. Since Laura won most of the weeks of Signum University’s “Almost an Inkling” flash fiction contest, you won’t be surprised to hear that it was magnificent!

There were some amazing conversations, too, about the “Artist-as-inspired-romantic-genius” myth, about the use of profanity and taking the Lord’s name in writing and drama, about anachronism and style and craft. These are the talks on which my soul feeds.

So, yes: a fitting ending for, what, eight years, I think, of Ekphrasis meetings. I’ll miss you guys, and I hope you carry on!

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Chapters 1 & 2 of “Demae’s Story” by Betsy Gahman

Chapter One

Ilyya crossed her legs primly and smoothed her skirt. The cherry blossom petals overlapped to create an elegant dress that smelled faintly of the fruit they could form. She trilled before beginning her song.

“Where the wind blows

I follow with my nose,

The shining sun

Cannot escape or run,

Ilyya I am:

Great huntress of the wood!”

A chuckle erupted from under her branch, and Ilyya peered through the leaves. A Faerie wearing a suit of pine-needles lounged in a particularly large hollow left by a broken branch. He stood up, stretched, and flew to sit next to Ilyya.

“Very clever, sister. Do all your songs end in such a self-glorifying way?” Ilyya felt her cheeks grow hot as she retorted,

“At least I sing what is in my head, instead of borrowing the words of others, Hneus.”

“Ah, but I don’t just use others’ words. You should give me more credit; I work very hard at my songs. Listen:

You use your nose

To find people when wind blows,

The bright bold sun

Wishes that you would run,

Ilyya, sister:

Leave and improve our mood!

See? I can – Ow!”

Ilyya left Hneus to rub his burning cheek and flew farther from the center of the Forest.

“What a smart-mouth! Who is he to tell me what to do? I am a full two seasons older than him, and he presumes to tell me how to praise the Designmaster! One day Looren will hear of his silliness and then he’ll be sorry.” The vehemence of Ilyya’s internal tantrum fueled her wings and she continued zipping past trees until the edge of the Forest loomed in front of her. Pulling up short, she gazed out at the foreign world.

“I wonder what the air tastes like out there. The people are all so strange and hurrying. Not like Looren. He walks slowly and talks to anybody who wants to. So many of those people out there don’t even look at each other! Strange, strange people, living in brown and grey. Don’t they get tired of those two colors?”

She looked past the tall buildings and steamy air, and felt she could see the rumors she had heard of; wide open spaces with noble mountains rising before buffeting touch of the wind.

“What would it be like to fly in the wind and sunshine with only the peaks for company? I love my trees,” She placed a hand on the branch next to her, “But sometimes I can’t play with the wind as freely as I want. They get in the way, and only move if they feel like it.” She sent a withering frown back into the Forest and addressed the trees. “Maybe if you would play with me, I wouldn’t want to leave the forest. But I don’t want to become Witless. Why is it one or the other, Designmaster? Why can’t I leave the Forest and keep my Wits?” The gentle whispering of the wind was her only answer, and Ilyya turned back to gaze at the outside world.

Beings, humans, people, walked past the Forest without so much as giving it a glance. Ilyya had noticed that for the past three hundred years, or so, humans didn’t seem to want admit that the Forest existed. But there it stood. They could ignore it, but it wasn’t going away. A lilting sound caught Ilyya’s ear and she searched the crowd for the elusive hum.

“There! That girl there! She’s singing!” So few of the humans sung that Ilyya always watched those who did with particular attention. Singing was the very reason that Faeries existed in the Designmaster’s plan. Humans who sang must be something special. The girl seemed huge to Ilyya, although humans would think her a bit small. Rebellious black curls escaped from the simple hat the girl wore, letting the wind tug them different directions as it blew by. Her clothing was simple, just a pleated skirt with a blouse and sweater. Sturdy shoes and stockings matched the dull brown color of the rest of her clothes. Ilyya knew from watching humans before that this meant the girl was of the middle class. People above the middle class wore very fancy clothes, and people below the middle class wore very holey clothes.

“Why do humans separate themselves from each other? How can they talk and listen to each other if they make each other so different? They don’t make any sense. Surely the Designmaster didn’t tell them to do that.” Desperate to hear the human’s song, Ilyya began flitting along the edge of the Forest.

The massive wood was circular, and stood at the center of Comm City. People were forbidden to go into the Forest, but they were all so afraid of it that no enforcement was needed. Fear of the Old Religion was ingrained so deep that no one had tried to enter the Forest in over 250 years.

“That was so scary. I’m glad Looren was here to protect us!”

Ever since, the humans had kept their distance. That did not stop them from walking near the Forest, however. In fact, it would have been difficult to avoid it. After the fall of the Old Religion, the very first City Council had deemed the Forest harmless and issued the first edict that it be left as a reminder that all false teachings are doomed to abandonment. So they continued building the city that had sprung up around the Forest, and now people from all walks of life walked within two hundred feet of the very place they feared. Ilyya kept just inside the shadows of the Forest as she followed the girl. The human had been humming before, but now she began a soft refrain.

“The one who makes life is,

The one who gives life is,

The one who takes life is,

The ruling king is and will be here forever!”

“A human singing about the Designmaster! They have not worshipped him since before was born!” Ilyya flittered in excitement, dancing from leaf to leaf. Picking up the tune, the Faerie began to hum along as she continued to follow the girl. In all her time watching the humans, Ilyya had never hear one mention the Designmaster, much less sing his praises. Without warning, the girl stopped and peered into the Forest. Ilyya froze, gazing back at the human. “What does she see? Hopefully she didn’t see me. Maybe she heard my humming. I should have sang with her instead of humming; then she wouldn’t have heard me.” The Faerie

continued to wait, tiny body tense and still, for the human girl to end her inspection of the Forest. The words caught in Demae’s throat when she heard a sound come from the Forest next to her. Stopping in her tracks, she peered at the mysterious wood, trying to see past the thick screen of brush and bushes that tried to hide the trees looming over them. Nothing met her gaze.

I was sure I heard something. She blinked slowly. It sounded like a little voice. It was humming with me. Her scrutiny of the Forest didn’t yield a sight of anything, so Demae turned to continue her way home. Spirits above, I must have been imagining things. Although it did feel like someone was watching me. But who would be in the Forest? Surely the tales of goblins and sprites living in

there aren’t true. Nonetheless, Demae moved a little quicker and soon found the street that took her away from the Forest and toward home.

Comm was laid out like a giant ring. The perfectly circular Forest in the center was the middle of the ring, and everything was organized in a circle around it. The original town that had sprung up around the Forest had largely been torn down when the first City Council designed the new plans for the City. There were several main roads that formed larger rings around the Forest, and then hundreds of smaller side-streets ran East to West and North to South, providing practical connections for the larger roads. Not a single road ran through the Forest. Even with the latest technology, no one considered passing through the enigmatic wood a good idea.

This meant for people like Demae, who lived in the East Side but worked in the West Side, that the shortest way to get to work was to walk to the Forest, around either the North or South edge, and then continue the way they needed to go. Unless they had the money for the trolley, of course. Many didn’t. So every day, Demae would make the two hour trek to work before the sun was ready to wake, and then as the sun was going to bed. She was one of many, though, and did not feel any injustice in her difficulty. It was just the way it was. The brown-paper package in her hand felt light, but Demae knew that her mother would make the meat stretch for the whole week. The trimmings from the hog had cost a whole eyring, a week’s wages, but Raema, Demae’s mother, thought meat was nutritionally important for children. The Researchers had just begun studying nutrition in the past twenty years, but the idea had caught on very quickly. The Middle Class had latched on to the idea as something they could claim as their own; the High Class didn’t care what they ate, as long as it tasted good. So Demae had grown up eating lots of nutrition-based meals. Never mind that almost anything could be said to have nutritional value; everyone had an opinion about what it was they needed nutritionally. It can’t be helpful to just eat what you think will help you. Demae mused. Maybe one day there will be Researchers who specialize in nutrition and will help people decide. But what does that matter? As long as we have food to eat, I’m happy. Demae earned her part of the family’s bread by working in Comm’s largest makeup factory. It was an industry fueled by religion, and it was a steady job, guaranteed. She worked in the eye-shadow department, putting palettes of complementing colors together. It was one of the more difficult jobs in the factory; Demae was required to be able to remember which colors went where on each of the forty separate palettes, and had to place them precisely without disturbing the valuable powder. If there was even a hint of a fingerprint in one of the colors, a customer was bound to complain.

The customers. Demae snorted. The only people who have time to wear makeup are the High Class. The snooty High Class. They are only High Class because of their bloodlines. They rule over us, make us work, and then spend all day making themselves look beautiful, eating, and dancing. What good is it to be beautiful when you treat the people below you like they are inferior human beings. Just because we have different ancestors. By the Spirits above I sometimes wish that I lived in the Shadow Times, before the Purifying of the Blood. Then there would be none of this Class nonsense.

Like Comm, the Class system had been set up by the first City Council after the Purifying of the Blood. The Prophet of Doom had appointed the members of the City Council to create order out of the chaos caused by the Purifying. They were, in turn, under the leadership of the Lords, who were answered to the High Spirits. A Lord hadn’t visited Comm for many years, but Demae had heard it was quite an event whenever they did visit.

While the City of Comm did have a corner on the makeup market, it was located in the far South of the known world, and therefore was inaccessible for seven out of the ten months, due to the heavy snowfall that blocked the passes through the Southern Mountains. This meant that the three months in which travel was an option, the merchants paid a handsome sum that monopolized the trade routes so they could move their wares out of Comm, and then come back in time with all the supplies needed to keep the City on its feet during the next seven months of isolation.

The main import to Comm was food and clothing. The soil surrounding the City was not rich enough to support crops, and therefore any grains or natural textiles had to be brought in by the merchants. Comm did have a bustling live-stock market, which helped to bolster the city’s economy when the makeup market took a dip. Demae had heard stories of animals raised in Comm and sold to cities North of the Southern Mountains lying down and rolling in the grass when seeing it for the first time.

She wasn’t sure what to think of the tales of grass. There were many people who claimed to have seen the stuff, but not many who could actually describe it to her satisfaction. Everyone either says that grass is a nuisance or a piece of art. And that it is sometimes soft and green. How can it SOMETIMES be soft and green. What is it when it isn’t soft and green? Well, there’s no point in thinking about it, since I probably won’t ever see it for myself.

With this thought, Demae turned onto her street and began the last quarter mile walk to her home.

#3DNC Journal

Please don’t read this. If you do, you will think we are all 7 years old.

 

3DNC 2015

Friday, 4th September

 

7pm    Sorina & Betsy arrive at the Coffee Pot

Welcome back to the lush mossy carpet & vaulted ceiling of leaves! Welcome back to the brook singing to itself, to the fire that leaps up in greeting. Welcome back to the work & the madness, the music & the silence, the fellowship & the competition. ~SH

 

7:?? Je suis le monde. ~SH

 

7:??pm

Q: How do you know when your bagel is done toasting?

A: When it bursts into flame. ~SH

 

8:32pm

The bugs are murdering me this year. ~BG

 

9:08pm

“Nothing is wrong with a little cleavage.” (Sorina) The camera promptly focuses on my chest. ~BG

 

9:10pm

It was a bright and shiny day. ~SH

 

9:10pm

“I don’t suppose you’d be the best person to ask for death metal quotes?” (Sorina) ~BG

 

9:28pm

Sorina has checked off one square out of 585 on her novel-planning spreadsheet. ~BG

 

9:30pm

“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single box in the spreadsheet.” (Sorina) ~BG

 

9:52pm

“Let’s listen to the Jupiter Symphony after Angry Birds. Never thought I’d say those words!” (Sorina) ~BG

 

Saturday, 5th September

6:36am

Woke up. ~BG

 

6:37am

Me too. ~SH

 

9:58am

Oh, come on, characters; it’s too early in the morning to be using such profanity. ~SH

 

11:47am

Went on a walk up the powerline, bathed in the creek, put up the screen house, and are now eating lunch and getting back to writing. ~BG

 

12:10pm

“Don’t say that! That’s really dirty!”(Sorina to a character) ~BG

 

12:20pm

Not enough verbs. ~SH

 

12:21pm

“Last year, Marian & I were talking about donuts and men…” (said Betsy) ~SH

 

1:30pm

Finished Chapter one! ~SH

 

1:51pm

Heard from Nadine that my Mom is in the hospital again. ~SH

 

5:20pm

Mom is home. They didn’t find anything wrong. ~SH

 

5:24pm

Finally finished one page of my spreadsheet – 39 out of 585 little boxes. 7,845 words. 42 pages. Not bad, I guess. Today’s goal: 10,000 words, 3 chapters. ~SH

 

5:31pm

Scrivener random name generator – almost as much fun as the Benedict Cumberbatch parody name generator. ~SH

 

5:30pm

Started a stir-fry for dinner. ~BG

 

5:57pm

“Hyphens are my favorite endangered species.” (Sorina) ~BG

 

6:02pm

We complain about characters getting off-topic. ~BG

Sorina complemented me on my biceps. ~BG

 

6:49pm

About getting bitten by mosquitos:

“Maybe you are getting sweeter.” (Sorina)

“If only to reduce bugbites, I would not want to be any sweeter.” (Betsy)

 

7:00pm

Marian arrives! ~BG

 

7:15pm

Marian’s Awkward Existence Part 2 ~MB

 

7:23pm

Marian’s Awkward Existence Part 1 ~MB

 

7:25pm

“I want more flames.” (Sorina) ~BG

8:15pm

Finished chapter 2. 9,323 words. 43 of 585 squares. ~SH

 

8:48pm

*Marian grasps the air in frustration*

Sorina: “What?”

Me: “I had a word…” *it comes back* “got it!”

Sorina: “What was it?”

Me: “Snort.” ~MB

 

9:07pm

“Is Sorina tap-dancing on the porch?” ~MB

 

10:13pm

“Because everything’s better with sex.” ~BG

 

10:14pm

“Ok. Hamlet.” (Marian) ~BG

 

10:50pm

Marian applauds ~BG

 

11:36pm

Bedtime for all ~BG
11,110 words today. ~SH

 

Sunday, 6th September

7:47am

Everyone up! ~BG

 

8:08am

Non-sequitur? We try to figure out how it’s spelled. ~MB

 

10:15ish am

Went for a walk to the waterfall. Discovered a dead frog and an old lady. One was pleasant. One was not. ~MB

 

2:30ish pm

Sharon arrived! ~SH

 

4:00pm

Sorina, Marian, and Betsy go for a swim in the Deep Hole. ~BG

 

5:50pm

“My characters are doing horrible, creepy, unexpected things!” (Sorina)

“Fry them.” (Betsy)

“I will kill them soon” (Sorina) ~SH

 

7:14pm

Marian finishes reading Piccalilli & Sharon declares that illustration is a different skill set. ~SG

 

7:15pm

Marian is a heathen in the morning. ~SG

 

7:17pm

According to Sharon, Avatar has “See-a-jor-oujie” Weaver in it. ~MB

 

7:23pm

Marian: You can’t live up to everyone’s standards.

Sharon: I can’t even live up to my own. ~MB

 

8:07pm

Bandaged vs. Brandished ~BG

Sharon asked what’s the word for waving a sword around. “Brandished,” we said, & after the brandishing comes the bandaging. ~SH

 

8:13pm

“Cats and Commas” is an alliteration ~SG

Marian is wearing a shirt that says: “Let’s eat kitty. Let’s eat, kitty. Punctuation saves cats.” My two favorite things: Cats & commas. ~SH

 

8:48pm

Lobster ~BG

Betsy is going to boil her feet like Lobsters. Sorina tells a story about her relative not being able to cook a lobster because her son was attached to it. We discuss the reason why lobsters must be boiled alive — because they’re poisonous otherwise. ~BG

“It he tries to kill me even after he’s dead, then I don’t care if it’s a horrible death!” (Betsy) ~SH

 

8:51pm

Sharon hushes us for the first time ~BG

 

9pm

Sharon tells us something sappy she & Robbie do: “That’s about as sappy as we get. We’ve gotten more sappy as we get more married.” ~SH

 

9:30pm

I wrote 20,000 words! ~SH

 

9:55pm

20,000 words! ~BG

 

10:09pm

1st Draft of Love’s Labor’s Happily Ever After finished. ~SG

 

10:15pm

“I would be offended if you didn’t come if I didn’t invite you.” (Sharon to Betsy in regards to her play reading) ~SH

 

22:30pm

Conversation about Old Testament rape laws ~SG

 

22:45pm

The door’s name is Carina – Marian’s dubbing. ~SG

 

Monday, 7th September

 

8:05am

“We’re here to write, not look pretty.” (Sharon) ~BG

 

10:06am

Sorina and I return from a lovely walk and finally get to work. ~SG

I had a dream last night that I met Benedict Cumberbatch at the Underground. We had such a lovely conversation about his performance of Hamlet that he invited me out for tea so we could continue the chat. ~SH

 

1ish pm

I’ve always thought that groundhogs end rather abruptly. ~SH

 

1:30pm

Finished Demae’s book! 24,800 words. ~BG

 

2:50pm

Finished reading K. M. Weildman’s book on novel structure. Gearing up to put all my parts into an outline and check them for what I’ve learned. ~SG

 

3ish pm

Marian: “I apologize for my crass language, sullen disposition, & for making you cancel Ekphrasis.”

 

5:23pm

27,005 words ~SH

 

5:52pm

Sewing is not about fashion. Seamstresses know how to put a garment together. Fashion is about knowing how to put an outfit together.” ~MB

 

5:58pm

“Okay, let’s go bathe so we don’t be stinky anymore.” (Sharon) ~MB

 

Not Quite a Novel: Sørina’s #3DNC Report

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The Coffee Pot.

The three-day novel contest is over again for this year. We survived, happily, with deeper friendships and great work accomplished. I at least am amazed that we have managed to make this dream come true three years in a row in the face of enormous obstacles. And, as is usual for me, the work is barely beginning. Here are the stats of what was accomplished, a narrative of the weekend, and a plan for what to do next. 

8 Ekphrasians participated in some permutation or other of this intensive writing retreat, composing well over 100,000 words collectively! These words were written in community, alone, in the woods, in a cabin, at a retreat center, at home, in various states of euphoria, inspiration, or drudgery.

IMG_2594* I began a new novel, a murder mystery. I wrote 27,005 words, but only got about 15% of the way into the plot. The story takes place over a 20-hour period, and I only got my characters through the first three hours. They kept doing things that weren’t in my notes!
 * Sharon wrote an entire play. It is called Love’s Labours Happily Ever After, and it blends fairy-tale characters with Shakespearean plot lines from Love’s Labour’s LostMidsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth, and As you Like it. She completed a full draft at 17,000 words. She also worked through a book about structuring fiction and wrote her outline for her next book!
* Betsy
roughed out the entire plot of her novel, Demae’s Story, writing what she calls the skeleton of the story at 24,000 words.
* Steph is the only one who paid the fee and entered the contest for real. She wrote most of the story she had planned.
* Jeff spent the time working on a play called “Hail Mary.”
* Andrew worked on a novella and wrote about 18,000 words.
* Marian wrote a complete children’s story, called “Piccalilli.” (Which I love, by the way). She wrote a journal, did lots of homework, practiced her lines for two roles she’s got in upcoming plays, and edited some of Aakroveil, the novel she completed earlier this year.
* Devon planned to spend the weekend editing her personal narrative.
If this year goes like previous years, most of us should have complete manuscripts by Christmas, then spend any number of months or years revising, revising, revising. (I also plan to start The Four Senses, my 2013 #3DNC production, over again from scratch. Sigh).

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The situation room, with a map of my cemetery setting.

Unfortunately, most of us had a very interrupted weekend. I traveled up to Massachusetts on Monday to be with my mother, who had unexpected heart surgery. I did get home late on Thursday, and Betsy and I made it up to the cabin on Friday evening, but we didn’t really start working until Saturday morning. Marian got cast in two plays and had rehearsals until late Saturday afternoon, so she arrived Saturday evening. Sharon got cast in one play, is directing another, and had both a funeral and a wedding to attend on Saturday. So she and Betsy worked at home on Friday, then Sharon joined us on Sunday. We all left by 7 on Monday evening. Next year, we all want to join the official contest, get up there earlier, start right at midnight on Friday, end at midnight on Monday, and leave on Tuesday. I plan to develop a plot for a novella that can be completed within 30,000 words.

But what a beautiful time it was! The Coffee Pot, the cabin owned by Betsy’s family, where we have the retreat, is an idyllic location. We enjoyed it thoroughly. We didn’t push ourselves, sleeping eight hours a night, going for long walks, swimming (and washing) in the creek, having hour-long intense conversations. Sure, we could have written more words if we hadn’t taken those mental-and-physical-health breaks. But I think we are happier people for those times. And now we have all those words there, ready for the adding and editing. Stay tuned for selections and for posts by the other Ekphrasians!

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Betsy’s 3DNC plans

10636080_700398716697654_7053503100358359142_nThe first time I heard the phrase, “Three Day Novel Contest”, my blood pressure skyrocketed. Just the thought of writing an entire work was terrifying, without having to do it in three days. But here I am, planning my third Labor-Day-Weekend getaway for that very same event. Let me give you some of the reasons I am able to survive this, and want to continue participating every year I can.
1. I have a great support system. In particular, the three friends I do the getaway with. We range from single, college-age to married college professor, but we all share one passion: writing. We offer each other encouragement, make each other take breaks when one of us is stressing, and even dish out some tough love if necessary (this usually manifests itself when one of us has had enough of the others’ shenanigans and needs to be isolated for a few hours).
2. We go to a relaxing location. Everyone has a different definition for “relaxing”, but for me it means my family’s cabin in the Pocono mountains. There’s no wi-fi or running water, and very spotty cell-power. This makes it impossible to be distracted by the ever-present internet, and allows us to fully enjoy the woods that surround us. I like to think the gurgling creek, the whispering of the wind, and the occasional wildlife we see all serves to inspire our writing in different ways.10556413_700398973364295_7621822969054447400_n
3. I have a plan. Or, half a plan. This year I did a full outline of the entire novel I am going to be working on. It isn’t very complicated, just bullet-points of what needs to happen in each chapter, but it will keep me on task and remind me of where I’m going in the story, should I get lost. My end-goal for the book is for it to be somewhere between 50 and 60 thousand words. I’m aiming to get around 30,000 written over Labor Day Weekend. I tend to have a very short attention span, so I work in spurts, broken up by tending the fire, making food, catching crayfish, etc.
I do plan to actually enter the contest eventually…this year I was intending to, but we decided to start Thursday night of Labor Day Weekend because of Sharon having a wedding to go to. I didn’t want to waste all that extra time, so did not pay the fee. Maybe next year.
I look forward to this year’s 3DNC, and hope all the others who participate have as much fun as I will!

February Meeting Report

On Tuesday evening, we eccentric Ekphrasians gathered in the wild world of Wegman’s. It was a glorious meeting. While the skies froze outside, we heated things up there in the cafe with our readings, performance, talk, and laughter.

First, Jeff Harvey started us off by imitating Andrew Stirling MacDonald’s approach to 2015: he shared a list of ambitious creative writing goals for the next 12 months or so.

spitfireThen Marian Barshinger showed her very great confidence by performing a dramatic monologue right there in the grocery store! She’s taking a course in Acting for the Camera, so her focus in this piece was on facial expressions and voice, rather than blocking or gesture. She chose a speech from The Spitfire Grill: a heart-rending narrative of abuse. She performed it very powerfully, with depths of expression and serious focus.

Next Betsy Gahman read a revised chapter of her novel Dragonhoard. This novel is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale, and in her version, the Beast is a dragon. In what we heard on Tuesday evening, our narrative-perspective character finds himself transformed into a dragon. Betsy’s revision goal was to get into the physicality of dragonness, and she achieved this admirably.dragon_symbol

A performance of another kind followed: a reading of of a scene from Sharon Gerdes’s play Rifton. This is a lively, funny, thoughtful family and small-town drama. It is really coming to life as she reworks it, deepening the relationships and exploring the pain of misunderstanding.

Following this reading, Eric Muller of Hand-in-Hand artworks shared more of his amazing drawings! It is a huge blessing to have a professional artist in our midst. He showed us the final, colorized version of a book cover he has recently created, plus several original portraits of U.S. Presidents for Pastime cards.eric

Switching to creative nonfiction prose, Carl Hoffmeyer shared a really gritty tale of torture–with a surprising historical twist. Carl has a gorgeous reading voice and a masterful command of narrative pacing, so his reading is always a supreme pleasure.

Continuing with our successful streak, Richard Berrigan honored us with the first few pages of his new comic book, starring the same characters from his ongoing Jack Windsword world. His style is lively and active, with exciting plotlines and mythic figures.

Then there was more fiction: a back-story chapter from Earl Pape to go with his dwarf-human saga. This was an account of a battle between minotaurs and their mysterious opponents.

We have a new member of the group, Devon, and she graced us with a piece of tragic creative nonfiction. We hope to hear more from her in the near future!

Since we still had more time, we got to hear yet another scene from Sharon’s Rifton and yet another of Carl’s gripping stories. This was an unforgettable tale of dinosaurs in the backyard!!

Do join us sometime with your own work to share.

 

Photography day at Betsy’s Cabin.

WP_20140726_14_31_28_Pro 1Notes on Photography day at Betsy’s Cabin.

Earlier this summer, before the 3DNC madness, several members of Players of the Stage (who also attend Ekphrasis) had a photography day at Betsy’s Cabin. This gave a chance for photographer Joshua, costume designer Besty, and several actors to showcase their skills. Here are some notes and images from the day.

JOSHUA (photographer): I was very nervous about the whole thing actually. I love to take photos, and my favorite subject is people. I have a lot of experience taking photographs of people, but it’s always been candid photos. In fact with the exception of two weddings I was asked to do once I have never done a formal photo shoot before, and let’s just say that it was a good thing that I was not the primary photographer at either wedding.

Don’t get me wrong; it is exceptionally hard to get a good candid photo. You only have one chance, one shot to get it right and so much can go wrong. Your subject will suddenly move. Something will come into frame. You’ll be so focused on the subject that you are shooting that you won’t noticed all the objects in the background that can distort the lines of the photo, distract from the subject, or otherwise annoy the photographer.10382226_10153120647259128_7829841508441903490_o

A more formal fashion shoot on the other hand should be a photographers dream. Ideally as a photographer you have complete control over the model, what they wear, how they look, composition of the photo, lighting, scenery, background, in short everything.

Yet, I was still nervous. I put more prep work into this shoot then I have ever done with any photo shoot before. I spent the two days prior to the shoot researching different poses, different ways to photograph someone to their best advantage. I insisted that Betsy and Andrew, both of whom would be arriving before me, scout the locations out that we were going to use and if possible send me stills of each location so that I choose the best possible spots. This part ended up being a bit superfluous though, as Andrew ended up arriving at the same time as me, and there wasn’t a terrible location to be had, and we ended up using all of them.

1502218_10153120645799128_5370725031167806479_oAlso unlike other photos that I had taken before that were more for fun or personal enjoyment, these photos were also going to be used to help promote Jeff’s upcoming film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (both Betsy & Hudson would be playing roles in it) and would be added to a Betsy’s costume designer portfolio that she was assembling.

As Hudson wouldn’t be arriving until later in the day (He seemed to be under the totally correct assumption that we might … possibly … technically be trespassing for some of our locations and didn’t want to be around for the first part of the shoot) so we decided to shoot Betsy & Amanda first, so me, Andrew & his daughter Summerled, Betsy and Amanda headed out to the first location which was a series of small paths that lead to a small dock for canoes on the edge of large creek.

Betsy’s first costume was a colonial period dress & straw hat that would have been worn by a young girl followed by an English Regency Period (1790’s-1820’s) dress, similar to the type of dress that a Jane Austin character might have worn. Amanda’s first costume was a Medieval peasant girl’s dress which was later switched out for a Medieval noble woman’s dress (though several of us thought the dress made Amanda look more like a sorceress.). After we were done at the dock we headed to our second location, which was a cliff overlooking the creek with a number of waterfalls on the other side.

Once we were done with the waterfall location we headed back to Betsy’s Cabin to met up with Hudson, have a quick lunch and get ready for the next part of the shoot.

The second part of the shoot was character shots for Jeff’s Midsummer film and featured Betsy wearing her Hermia costume and Hudson in his Cobweb (one of the fairies in Tatiana’s entourage) costume. This part of the shoot was going quite well but unfortunately had to be cut short when Mother Nature decided to try to kill Hudson.10629438_10153120648924128_1124785882281965452_o

On the way to the second location for the afternoon shoot Hudson was bitten some kind of flying bug and started to have a very scary, but thankfully very minor allergic reaction. We, of course decided to head back to the cabin where Betsy, Amanda & Andrew took Hudson inside while I stayed outside to watch over Summerled.

After a while me & Summerled headed inside to check on Hudson and was shocked to see that what had started out as swelling red & white welts had appeared to turn into slimy green scales on Hudson’s neck & shoulders, BUT was very quickly relieved to find out that the “slimy green scales” were actually plantain leaves that Amanda had chewed up and administered to Hudson’s neck & shoulders to reduce the swelling.

It must have worked because in about 20-30 minutes Hudson made a full recovery and we joined Betsy’s brothers and their friends who had made a bonfire in the middle of the creek and we all roasted marshmallows.

 

AMANDA (model):  So basically my character in pink was your average, young, village woman and the green was a medieval – time lady. It was a lot of fun and slightly nerve wracking, trying to look ok for the camera. Josh gave some very helpful suggestions. Betsy and I went out earlier that morning to scout locations, so by the end of the day we had walked quite a bit.

 

10448514_10153120647354128_5087988483766559500_oBETSY (costume designer, seamstress, and model):

 All the costumes were the result of a need or free time combined with available materials. The blue children’s outfit in particular I made to wear as Polly Heckewelder for the Historic Bethlehem Blueberry Festival. Amanda and I did our own hair and makeup for the shoot, as well as provided our own jewelry.

It was a fun process, but took a little bit to get used to. At first I had to ask Josh what he wanted me to do, but as the day progressed he became more communicative and directive about what he wanted.

ANDREW (model and photo editor): Somerled and I set off for Betsy’s cabin late in the morning.  We’d borrowed my sister-in-law’s car for the weekend, with an after-market sound system and a sunroof, so we had a great drive up to the Poconos, music blasting and the wind in our hair, as God intended.  Our progress towards the cabin was punctuated by selfies texted from Betsy showing off some of the locations we’d be shooting in.

10547373_10153120646924128_2083960669915695803_oWe arrived about the same time as Josh.  Betsy and Amanda had gone up the night before.  As soon as we got there, the girls changed into their initial costumes and Josh changed into a photographer.  We set out on the road to shoot some photos.  Josh, Somerled and I rode in the bed of Betsy’s pickup truck.  Eventually we arrived at a place we could no longer traverse by truck, so we got out and hoofed the rest of the way.
As we walked, Josh shot some candid shots.  The path gradually became surrounded by bushes full of ripe huckleberries, which we picked and ate by the handful.  Since that activity seemed to work with Betsy’s first costume, Josh took some photos of her collecting the berries.
A little further down the path we found an little pond with an old wooden dock.  Josh took pictures of Betsy on the dock, and of Amanda nearby.  The girls went off somewhere to mysteriously change into their other dresses, and we continued on our way.
10582932_10153120645829128_4048099300921611949_oOur ultimate destination was the waterfall you can see in several of these photos.  Betsy led us along a rocky path, made wet from the fine spray of the falls, and we eventually ended up on the outcropping where we took the remainder of the pictures.
Finally, we headed back to [relative] civilization, where the promise of campfires and creek-wading adventures awaited us.  By the time we made our return, Hudson had arrived.  With some assistance he donned his costume, Betsy changed into her final costume of the day, and the two of them, along with Josh, descended into some stinking bog that I couldn’t quite be tempted to brave.
Eventually Hudson had some kind of allergic reaction to Nature, and Amanda saved the day by chewing up some kind of plant and spitting it out onto his chest in a bizarre sort of ritual.  It worked, his hives disappeared and the swelling went down, but by then everyone was ready to relax for the rest of the day.  We waded through the creek to a dam Betsy’s brothers had built, and a campfire they’d erected in the middle of the water.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing and playing in the idyllic mountain scenery, and all was good with the world.
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