Language and image inhabit different realms of human expression, so when Stephen Soucy of Modernist Press announced a call for fiction inspired by works of art, I thought it was a great idea and submitted a story, "Self Portrait: Untitled" (first published by WorkShirts Writing Center in their great journal FishStories). It now appears with thirty-seven others in Art From Art: A Collection of Short Stories Inspired by Art, forthcoming from Modernist Press in June 2011.
My story was inspired by a sketch from a childhood drawing book. When I first drew the picture at the age of eight I thought it was terrible, but unlike other failed drawings, I didn't tear the page out. I'm glad of that now, because the bleak aspect of the figure makes it one of the most interesting drawings from that time, much more than the carefully drawn princesses and fashion models.
The story begins:
The pages of my drawing books, the ones from girlhood, are filled with women. Women eating breakfast surrounded by teapots and hat boxes, women in seasonal clothing, in cars and on bicycles. I drew my friends as teenagers, as busy wives and mothers. I drew a girl I hated, rendering her in scrupulous detail, then scratching her out with a pen until the page was torn and spattered with ink. Most often though, I drew my mother. I showed her tanning on the patio, her oily, coconut-scented fingers trailing the sides of the chaise, or standing at the sink in bare feet, warm water trickling down her arms. She was newly divorced, beautiful and young and alone, a kind of movie that I watched, flickering in front of my eyes in recurring scenes: flagging down a car when ours broke down, stirring a Bloody Mary as she turned the pages of a book, or polishing her toes at the edge of the bed, her arms glossy against the sleeveless black knit. I drew these daily portraits, my mother and the objects that surrounded her, and nothing in them seemed labored or difficult. I embraced each challenge of mood and setting, the gleam of her ring against a cracked teacup, her tousled hair against a wrinkled blouse worn on days when she cared little of what the world thought.
The anthology is beautiful, sleek and smartly designed, and editor Soucy has commissioned works of art to accompany each story. Modernist Press' newly designed web site has a virtual book to browse, as well as featured stories and links to author's websites.
A great project and worth checking out.