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Winner of the Robert Olen Butler Prize for Fictional Short Story
LANGUAGE & VISUAL ART
January 2016 – present
Once a month I’ll be writing for Ploughshares on the link between language and visual art. To read these short essays please visit me at the Ploughshares Blog.
THE ART OF FICTION WRITING
I learned how to write fiction by understanding the language of visual art. As an artist, I was trained to capture the nature of my subject by amplifying the qualities that make it distinct or noteworthy. As a fiction writer, I do the same thing. At Rhode Island School of Design, where I studied, we spent a full semester on color. If you put one color up against another, both change.
FINDING & USING MY VOICE
What is most important to me as an artist and as a writer is authenticity of voice. Voice is an intangible but discernible sensibility that threads through and ties together a body of work. It can be loud or quiet, but we always feel it.
THE GRAPHIC CANON – BOOK REVIEW
There is a synergistic relationship between language and a that is rooted deep within our nature. Great literature leaves us not just with extraordinary stories; the language also leaves an image — a rich and expansive painting of the world written on the page.
HOW WRITING IS LIKE SCULPTING
For many years I earned a living sculpting superheroes and cartoon characters. Batgirl, Superman, Jimmy Nuetron, Betty Boop, Darth Vadar, Big Bird, Bugs Bunny, Marge and Bart Simpson—hundreds of my original prototypes line the shelves in my studio. I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, I didn’t study literature or attend a creative writing program.
WRITING WITH DYSLEXIA
I am a visual artist. The word “writer” feels wrong to me. I had a long career sculpting superheroes and cartoon characters for the likes of DC Comics and Nickelodeon. Every time I leave my writing desk and pick up a paint brush, I feel as if I’m coming home. Color, shapes, forms, contrasts of light and dark, these concepts make up my native language. In fact, language itself never came easy to me. As a kid, I struggled with dyslexia. Memorization was hard. Information was slow to sink in.
THE VISUAL ART OF FICTION
A WRITER’S WORKSHOP
Unlike with other art forms, the writer’s material exists completely inside his or her head. There is no clay or paint or instrument to interact with. And once the writing is done, nothing exists outside of the reader’s cognitive experience of it, and cognition is predominately visual. 80 percent of everything we perceive is visual information.
GILLIGAN’S EYES: A LESSON IN SEEING
When I googled Gilligan’s Island there were over four million hits. I found essays comparing the show to just about everything including Jean-Paul Satre’s, No Exit. Another popular theory persuasively argues that the castaways represent the seven deadly sins.