Sunday, January 30, 2011

Talkin' 'Bout My Inspiration

Artists and writers are often asked, "Which artists influence you?" and "Which writers do you like?" and I saw it again here: "Which book artist do you find yourself admiring?" While I am not always interested in every artist, I am interested in every artist's process.

To answer the question, however, I have to say it depends on the book, not the artist. While galleries run their businesses with each artist as a brand, I believe that each work must stand alone, apart from the artist. I may seek out one artist or another, but I don't always care for all of his or her work. Some work touches me, some doesn't.

I am more inspired—because inspiration is the root of the question—by music, dreams, dance, drama, film, reading, all kinds of art, and humans in general. Music is the one art that has the power to make me cry. Film can move me. Reading a book can change me. Looking at art reaches deep inside and grabs me; it can shake me up, excite me, or just make me really happy.

I like to keep moving and keep my eyes open for art gems that are out there. They could be hidden. They could be by someone not yet known. The quest is part of the fun.

The person is not the art. The shadow is not the person.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Anne Carson: Translator's Mind, Artist's Brain

I sat on the couch, laptop on lap, watching a video of Anne Carson from 2000, borrowed from the American Poetry Archives. It's my assignment this week to do a presentation about her. But before I tell you about what she read and what she said, a little backtracking. 

Carson's name started seeping into my life first via an article about her latest book Nox in the New York Review of Books, then later, when I was speaking with CCA professor Betsy Davids, who told me that Anne had been a Writer in Residence at California College of the Arts in the Fall 2001. She said that Carson had worked on an artist's book with Kim Anno (also professor at CCA) at the College of St. Benedict/Saint John's University with design and printing by Mary Jo Pauly, Minnesota Center for Book Arts director and alumna of CSB. Anne and Kim created a second book collaboration in 2007-08 called Sleep, of which I could only find a few pictures. The CCA connection was brought to my attention again when I met composer and fellow professor Guillermo Galindo who mentioned working with Anne on a musical piece, which was also section of what would be her book Decreation. So I feel drawn to her through all of these connections.

Carson is a translator, but resists labels. She is also a scholar of Greek and Latin, a classicist, an artist, a writer, a Canadian, a MacArthur fellow in 2000, a professor at University of Michigan, formerly at McGill University and more. In listening to her talk, I can hear her "art brain" speaking (I think I got this term from Bob Glück). Even her writing is visual. In one interview she says, “I don’t know what I do yet. I know that I have to make things. And it’s a convenient form we have in our culture, the book…." She also says she is not interested in being classified, "You write what you want to write in the way it has to be." Sounds very similar to how in the book art world we say whatever the book wants.

She also always thought of herself as an artist until she was in her twenties. Her first book, Short Talks, was a book of poetry which evolved out of her drawings. The poetry emerged as she titled her drawings and found that her titles became longer and longer until she decided to do away with the drawings altogether. This seems like it would be a good way to essentially trick yourself into writing if it was not one of your usual activities. Turns out she preferred writing to drawing, after all, but she brought her artistic sensibility along with her into her word work. Her feel for materials is evident in this quote from the Paris Review.
In surfaces, perfection is less interesting. For instance, a page with a poem on it is less attractive than a page with a poem on it and some tea stains. Because the tea stains add a bit of history…After all, texts of ancient Greeks come to us in wreckage and…the combination of layers of time that you have when looking at a papyrus that was produced in the third century BC and then copied and then wrapped around a mummy for a couple hundred years and then discovered and put in a museum…and brought out again and photographed and put in a book. All those layers add up to more and more life. You can approximate that in your own life. Stains on clothing.
But the one particular nugget that caught my attention in the video was how she, as a translator for half her life, reads. In a bilingual edition of a book, which she prefers to read when the text is not originally in English, she explains that the original language is placed on the left and the English translation on the right. She relates the story of reading an Ed McBain mystery novel and finding a passage she didn't particularly like or understand. Her translator's mind automatically looked to the left page for the author's true meaning. Of course, it wasn't there.

But I think this has exciting possibilities for making books. What text would you place on the right? And what text would you place on the left to explain it? A character could seem sweet on the right, but really be devious on the left. Or text and image could replace text and text. It seems that if you know this about translations, you might explore it when you look at an artist's book. The concept of multiple meanings comes back to Carson's love for the layering of history with the present, both by way of words (translations) and materials (surfaces.) 

The new book, Nox, blends these layers. Carson overlaid her own loss of a brother who ran away, whom she had not seen in twenty-two years, and who died abroad with that of Catullus, the Roman poet who was living in Italy when his brother died in Troy (now part of Turkey). Catullus wrote a lament, which Carson took apart and reused, word by word, on the left side, placing her own writing and pieces of a letter written by her brother on the right. She incorporated photos and ephemera from their early life together to create a long accordion-folded unique artist's book, (Robert Currie came up the reproduction concept to preserve the feel of her original,  Rodrigo Corral designed the cover) which was then commercially printed as a facsimile. The part I wanted to read was on the right, but I looked to the left at the word and its definitions to find the deeper meaning of her text. It worked.

Anne Carson's Nox, 2010

Anne Carson has provocatively merged the weight of history and classical texts with the lyrical flow of fresh and creative work. She has found an interesting balance between relating information and creating a new way of seeing. In her work we read with our own artists' brains.

The accordion stretches out about forty feet, which is somewhat long for a book.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Writing Workshops & Art Critiques

When we make something creative, we all want praise, appreciation, or respect of some kind. Some critiques can be helpful, but helpful critiques seem to be rare. Why is that? First let's look at what happens in a critique.

We hold critiques in both writing and art classes which are meant to be constructive, but they have varying results because we are not mechanical production lines; we are humans with feelings. Both art and writing students often feel so personally attached to the work that they feel they are also personally being praised or attacked during a critique. Interesting how we sometimes try to soften critique days with potluck parties. Are they celebrations or consolations?

Patterns emerge in both. In art classes we have the similar ego-focused problems inherent in writing group critiques: the love-fest; the pile-on effect; the silent classroom; the unrelated storytelling; the "that reminds me of" anecdote. These discussions seem to focus on personal opinions and life experiences of the viewer rather than on the work in front of him or her. None of the comments that grow from these discussions is particularly helpful.

Frustrated with the tone of one workshop classes I was in, I wrote up a framework for critique based on the concept of mutual respect. The professor agreed with it, but it was never discussed in the class.

What is helpful? A few general questions presented at the beginning of the course are helpful. Alice LaPlante presented hers in an Advanced Short Story writing workshop, which I'm paraphrasing here: "What are the strengths?" and "What is this about?" and "What would you say if you were the editor/curator and were interested in the work, but perhaps had a few suggestions?" and "What exercises would you recommend to the maker?"

Michelle Carter, in a Plays: Reading/Viewing/Writing course, started us out with a wonderful outline for critiquing: the first formal guidelines I had seen. Carter based our assignments on two sources: methods by literary critic M.H. Abrams, and the critical response process developed by dancer/choreographer Liz Lerman. By following these processes, we were to avoid the "narcissism of opinion."
  • According to Lerman, start with the Affirmation; what is meaningful, striking, intriguing. In short, what specifically catches your eye and grabs your attention in a positive way? 
  • Abrams mentions Descriptive Mode: you determine your awareness of the piece, what are its qualities and characteristics? Does it contain a monologue or flashback, metafiction, time travel, retelling of an ancient myth? What is it? 
  • Abrams also talks about Analytic Mode where you look at the craft, the elements of the work and their functions. What is the effect of all of the elements together? 
  • A fourth part of the process goes back to Lerman: Ask neutral questions without voicing an opinion such as, "what made you choose ___?" or "what would happen if this was _____ instead of ____?"
This structure nearly always guarantees that you end up in a constructive discussion rather than in an opinion war. The goal is to get feedback to help you make the best work that you can make, not the best work tuned to someone else's style, intentions, or visions.

I would like to add a fifth item that hasn't been mentioned yet. That's trust. These guidelines provide a basis for trust, which is the real key in learning. If you can trust the leader, you are more likely to consider the comments given. If you can trust your colleagues, same deal. Taking "I like" and "I want" out of the picture helps build that trust. Knowing how you are expected to look at the work also helps build trust. You don't have to agree, you just have to be open to contemplate the issues.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lessons from The Snake Book

I've made the snake book (MHB, 39) many times, but last Friday I had an epiphany about it. A small one, but a useful one to me. The snake book, also known as the ox-plow or boustrophedon and attributed to Scott McCarney, provides a form where one can assemble and disassemble a large image by folding or unfolding the pages completely. This is how I've seen Scott use it.

But what if you want to make a book that reads a little more conventionally? You can glue parts of it together like Katherine Ng did for her book, Alphabetical Afflictions (40). It still reads like an accordion fold book, it just doesn't open flat like the book that Val, Beth, and I made, Betsy's Almanac (39).

The revelation came as I was preparing to teach a lesson I call the "whirlwind tour" of folded books. I was looking particularly for structures that could be made from one piece of paper and printed on only one side. Ed Hutchins introduced me to these long ago, and they were an interest and specialty of his.

X Book. Pants Book. T-Cut, almost. Snake, almost. I stared at Snake again. Yes! I found that by wrapping one end around to the back and securing it there, the book feels more like a traditional codex and does not move as freely as an accordion. It is possible, and more than likely, in fact extremely likely, that someone figured this out long before I did since people who like to fold paper tend to discover these maneuvers on their own.

You can use permanent glue stick, rub-on adhesive, a light application of glue at the edges, a sticker, or glued tab to secure the back cover.

This close examination of the Snake book reminded me yet again how teaching can be a path to learning something new.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ann Hamilton Falls into Reading

"The act of reading leaves no physical mark," remarked Ann Hamilton, who presented the keynote lecture at the College Book Art Association conference at Indiana University, Bloomington. We sat in a deep hall with a tall ceiling and took notes. She stood high up on a stage near a screen. "And what happens when we read?" she asked. We become submerged. "Can you fall into reading without falling into words?"And so she showed us slides of how she reads, the marks she makes in the books, how she uses a different color to underline and circle every time she reads, how eventually, the text takes on symbols and visual patterns. Reading, to her, becomes "an act of drawing."

Through this marking, the trace of the reader is left in the book, the book becomes a landscape that the reader explores. Her books, her landscapes, are not small and intimate, however, they are monumental installations. One is the "Floor of Babel," the threshold to the Seattle Public Library. The low-relief letters in the wood floor spell out the first lines of books in different languages that are in the library's foreign books collection. A similar concept was used in her latest project "Verse" at the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, Ohio State University, but with cork floors. The reader feels the words first in the soles of her feet. (I imagine that the soles/souls connection is completely intentional.) Through the feet, from the edges of the body, from the experience, the information goes inward. Eventually, the marks of the reader, the library visitor, will draw on the floor and wear it down. As the words become erased, all the readers will be documented. An exchange.

She wants to confirm the inside and the outside and the exchange between them, she says. She looks at edges, the mouth open and closed. The word "reciprocity" tumbles out. In the past she has put a small camera in her mouth and taken close-up pictures of people with her mouth wide open. Gaze meeting gaze. Reciprocal gaze. "The mouth is the first site of an installation," she says. It is an empty cavity waiting to be filled. With a camera. With words. With song. In one short video, it is filled with smooth stones, blocking language.

In another piece, there is no language but there is potential for it. Can architecture be a throat? For her piece "The Tower," she designed a cement tower with double spiral staircases and variously sized windows, but no door. The visitors must enter via a horizontal window, a portal awkward to enter, but large enough to slip through. The acoustics make the inside ring with sound, which surrounds the callers. The sound emanates from them and then revolves around them. Inside and outside merge again, and again leave no physical mark.

These are only a few examples, and I hope I've got them right. Her vision is clear. Her work is, to use her own words out of context, "connected, but not connected." She continues to explore the concepts that fascinate her. And her excitement for that exploration is both captivating and inspiring.

Ann Hamilton is Professor of Art at Ohio State University and was awarded a MacArthur fellowship in 1993.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pocket for A Tip: Tip for A Pocket

As I went to leave a tip for the housekeeping services folks at the Biddle Hotel, where I was staying for the College Book Art conference, I wanted to wrap it up but didn't have an envelope. Hotel notepaper would do. Now, how to wrap? I began folding around the bills and ended up with this pocket. You could also apply glue or glue stick to the back of the pocket and tip it in to a book page. Yes, that pun was intentional. And no, I did not leave Monopoly money for the staff.

1. Hotel notepaper & bills
2. Fold paper in. (Paper: r-side down)

3. Take out bills. Fold up from bottom.
4. Fold flap over.

5. Replace bills. Fold up again.

6. Tuck in flap.
Behind the scenes: For this demo at home I creased my original extra piece of notepaper wrong (which would be confusing) so I scanned the paper and printed out the unadulterated facsimile that you see here. 

Acknowlegement: The background for the photos is the back cover of a catalogue of prints from Indiana University graduate printmaking, Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, 1969-1991: Two Decades of Change.

For a completely unrelated but surreal and magical musical tip, check out Janelle Monáe's music video, Tip on A Tightrope.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Writing/Not Writing

I remember writing my first piece about not writing in fifth grade. I used a pencil on recycled paper that was tinted light green (it was during the Ecology movement). I began, Q: What seems to be the trouble? A: I can't think of anything to write about. At the time, it seemed a new way of writing, and I certainly knew nothing about metafiction.

Once I started teaching at the college level, however, I realized that writing about not writing is a common topic for many students, particularly when they feel creatively stuck. I find I'm most interested in this kind of writing when I learn something new, either about the writer, a story that emerges from the exercise, or about another topic that may be included.

But on this current trip to the College Book Art conference, WORDIMAGE TEXTOBJECT in Bloomington, Indiana, I was faced with my own desire to write something during the conference but felt so overwhelmed by the amount of information I was receiving from the talks and sessions, the tour of the enormous and well-equipped printshop, the Lilly library, book art exhibits, the snow, and meeting new and old friends and colleagues that it was hard to begin. For a day and a half I was unable to process, digest, synthesize and output anything coherent until I had spent a couple hours in my room just letting the memories of the stimulation ebb and flow over me. I had to get calm, first, in order to focus. My body vibrated, and it wasn't because I was getting a text message.

The message I was getting was that it is nearly impossible for me to write about a trip while I am on it.  I can either be in the moment or write: I cannot input and output simultaneously. I should know this. I've always found it difficult to write in cafés for this reason. And I try not to hold classes where students must create something imaginative on the spot immediately after seeing a demo.

So I've been taking notes as if I were collecting specimens, descriptive with no story yet; making lists and scribbling out impressionistic fragments. After sensory bombardment, isolation and incubation, the idea will emerge.

It's 10:06pm. The conference ended this evening. I think I will have to unpack my brain at home so I can tell you more about it.

Out the window of Indiana Memorial Union

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writing The Bear Trap Story

Part of what we do as a graduate students in creative writing is to give presentations on creative process and the craft of writing. One of my topics was "Stakes of the Story," about which I wrote here in a November post. A presentation by fellow student Ezra Fox ended with a great exercise he called the "bear trap story." Here is the exercise, very slightly revised.

An object has certain qualities that distinguish it from other objects. A bear trap, for example, is made up of several possible qualities. The bear trap:

  • Is hidden
  • Contains a surprise
  • Holds on and won't let go
  • Takes a prisoner
  • Hurts
  • Leaves a scar
  • Traps something or someone
I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Now, when writing a bear trap story you won't literally include a bear or a bear trap, you will only look at the list of qualities and create a story that contains them. Let's say someone gets trapped psychologically by guilt, for example, and feels like a prisoner in a relationship.

How about a chicken story?
But a bear trap is not the only object you can use. Try making a list of ten nouns. Then choose one and make another list just of its characteristics, what it does or can do.

I find that this exercise is a useful way to generate a story's beginning. How to get to the end?
Think about:

  • What does the character want before, during, and after the experience?
  • How does a character change, psychologically or physically?
  • What is gained or lost?
  • What is at stake?
If you write an (insert noun here) story, let me know how it works out. Catch you later…

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Artist's Book Is Not A Taco

Wine label on new Moleskine travel journal
Certain types of bookmaking lend themselves well to what I'd call sketching out of an idea. You've probably seen them. They contain collections, possibly paper ephemera, or are made up of collages. They may document a process like painting or stamping or calligraphy or decorate a travel journal. These books are valuable as practice books and documents, and some can be quite intriguing.

Why do I have so many bags of stuff?

However (you knew there was going to be a however), when you are making book art, I'd like to encourage you to develop a concept beyond the sketch or scrapbook. Many curiosities stuck in a book do not automatically make an artist's book. The artist's book is not a taco or a sandwich.

That said, I've seen books that look like sandwiches with words printed on paper that is shaped and colored to be bread, lettuce, tomato, etc., but these books use the physical sandwich as a concept. Form and concept connections are good things, they help the reader better understand the meaning. That form and concept connection is present here, but this book now walks a fine line because a new danger presents itself: novelty, or the cute factor.

Just because you may want your work to be taken seriously doesn't mean you have to give up all novelty or cuteness, but you will have to work harder to convince the viewer to linger longer with your book. One way to avoid being labeled as a novelty artist is to make sure you are working with many layers of meaning (see Conceptual Layers on page 241 in Making Handmade Books for a detailed example).

So, if it's a book shaped like a sandwich, how do you avoid the cuteness? Try to connect with social, political, or emotional content. I can think of a few subjects offhand: world hunger; eating disorders; school lunch programs; organic farming practices. When I made my book, Save This Bag, I was a little worried that it was too cute, but the text is quite ironic, including references to the ubiquitous "ketchup is a vegetable" statement and the meaning of expiration dates.

Save This Bag, 2006

Another danger to avoid (the world is fraught with them!), is in thinking too much or looking too hard for a serious subject. In the Special Features for the film, Rachel Getting Married, Debra Winger comes to Jonathan Demme, the director, asking, "What is the subtext" for her character. Demme says, "There is no subtext," because he just wants her to feel the character and the lines as written, without reading too much into it. (It should be noted that she curses him out for this.) I think he didn't want her performance to come from thinking/the mind, just felt and from the heart. The same should hold true for your book subtext, but be balanced. Starting with your concept, your subtext should evolve naturally from concerns that touch you.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Travel Journals and Travel Writing

US-101 Southbound
 Alice in Wonderland. Gulliver's Travels. Lord of the Rings. These books all contain journeys, but not one of the characters carries a prominent travel journal. Each character is in the moment and we are in the moment with him or her. Occasionally in a book, a traveling fictional character writes a letter which gives us new information about the character's thoughts and feelings and adds to our understanding, but a letter is not a book. The fictional character does not keep a document of the journey even though we might in his or her circumstances.

In non-fictional travel writing, however, the goal of the writing is not just to create a document, but to provide an account of a real journey told through a sequence of stories. Human interest might cause us to read someone's diary that lists places visited, food eaten, and prices paid, but it does not sustain our interest for long. We hunger for the story. Pico Iyer is one of my favorite travel writers. His story could be imaginary (it isn't) and still it would hold my attention through the details he chooses, his use of language, and the stories he tells about the people he meets. He tells how he becomes involved with them and what he must do to continue the relationships. These facts grab me. He, like other travel writers, may indeed refer to his travel journal to tell a story and he may describe that physical book/journal in the published account.

I only have two dedicated travel journals that are ongoing, although I've made a couple particularly for extended family vacations. One is a handmade, Coptic bound book that I draw in when I'm in an airport or on an airplane, the other is a storebought watercolor paper journal I use to document camping trips. Since the spine is visible on the Coptic one, I wrapped strips of old maps around the signatures before I bound them. Sometimes I collect papers like tickets and receipts from my trips to make into an artist's book when I return home. Photos of some of these are in Making Handmade Books (pages 28, 69, 185). I devoted Chapter 7 in Expressive Handmade Books to "Sorting Through The Big Box: Handling Memorabilia." Betsy Davids has made great combination travel journals and artist's books with stories and dreams (MHB, 18; EHB, 145; Unique Handmade Books, 43-45).

Before you take a trip, think about if and how you might want to capture it. Will it be a personal memory jog just for you? A work of art? A series of stories? I'm fond of looking for a story in every day (some are better than others, but usually one exists). I didn't collect any ephemera on this last trip, and I didn't keep a journal, but I did write down one story for you.

An old and dear friend and I decided to meet one evening and go out to tea, preferably somewhere other than Starbucks. We hadn't seen each other for more than a year. It was about 7:50pm and we drove by a Peet's that was open. After we bought our tea (she got peppermint, I got Xiao's Blend, which smelled like apple cider but wasn't), the barrista informed us that they would be closing in nine minutes. Somewhat outraged, we sat down for a few moments but could not drink the tea, which seemed to be still boiling. Our request for ice cubes was granted, but we were shooed out nine minutes later. We sat in her car facing a brick wall that told us the rules of parking in the lot. We loitered there until I couldn't stand it anymore and made my friend start up the car. For the next hour or so she drove leisurely around Santa Monica and West Los Angeles. We passed her old residences, I pointed out buildings that weren't there the last time I visited. We actually had a fun time sightseeing at night, not something we had planned. A little while after she dropped me off I got a text from her that said (and here I can refer to it since it is still in my phone), "Note to self, Starbucks @ 26th/Wilshire was filled with people relaxing as I passed at 9:30. Next time." We had tried so hard to avoid Starbucks, but there it was, outshining Peet's into the night.

I-5 Northbound, 4400 feet at Tejon Pass

For your own stories, create a journal in advance, if you like. Book structures that lie flat and make good travel journals may be found in Making Handmade Bookson the following pages: Coptic (174-181); Crossed-Structure (150); Woven Codex (163); Secret Belgian Binding (159); Multiple Signature onto a Ribbon (153); Bundled Stitch (169); and Accordion with Pockets (112), to name a few.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tiny Shiny Books: Glitter and Glam

If you have ever been exposed to glitter you know that once it touches you it hangs around for awhile. A speck on the cheek. In the mac and cheese. The neighbor cat's fur. Since most of us encountered glitter in grade school art projects its presence remains with us if nowhere else than in memory.

Little girls are particularly susceptible to glitter and its tiny shiny allure. As they grow up they are told to leave their glitter use behind and to embrace matte finishes and practical materials. Generally, I have adopted the serious nature and work of artmaking, but not without joy, and periodically not without indulging in the guilty pleasure of using shiny iridescent materials, primarily pearlescent inks.

Occasionally I teach a workshop called "Tiny Shiny Books" where we unabashedly embrace our inner glam artist. In other workshops when we paint paper I say, "use pearlescent inks sparingly, for accents perhaps, or to highlight certain areas," but in this one I encourage everyone to buy one bottle of FW pearlescent ink and bring it to share. (I think the names speak for it such as: hot mama red, volcano red, waterfall green, sundown magenta, and birdwing copper.) The first time I offered the class at the San Francisco Center for the Book it was completely full.

Giving ourselves permission to indulge the concept further we made miniature books—small is cute—with a tied binding that I devised (I included it in Making Handmade Books, which is finally available!) Everyone seemed relieved to have an outlet for their inner glitter girl, so I guess the desire for sparkle really never leaves, after all.

I Want It, 2007
Blogging from glittery Los Angeles this week…

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Revealing the Clues

Films, books, music, and other time-based art are metaphorically also tapestries, woven works. Unifying threads run throughout. Part of the skill in creating the work is knowing when to reveal new information, when to reveal the clues for the reader/viewer and in what order.

In the 2001 film Enigma, there is one scene that perfectly demonstrates this idea when Thomas Jericho enters his former girlfriend's cottage illicitly. We see a shot of him searching through her dresser drawers; we see a screwdriver, possibly a brush, and many perfume bottles. As he walks away from the bureau it occurs to him that the floorboards don't squeak anymore. After pulling up the rug he discovers a board that is now screwed down. He remembers the screwdriver that was in the drawer, and is able to use it. It is such a small detail, but I liked that I had already seen the screwdriver, that it didn't just appear coincidentally later after Thomas needed it.

This kind of set-up is something I learned about in Bob Glück's class: put everything on the table in the beginning. The idea is that if the writer knows what is going on, the viewer/reader should be let in on the secret. It's fine if the creator doesn't know as s/he is making the work—sometimes it works for the viewer/reader to discover something as the maker does. But if you, as the maker, do know, put it out there so you can earn the reader's trust.

Certain kinds of clues can be used in artist's books that are different from films or musical pieces. You can use words, pictures, materials, and/or the binding as pieces of the story or puzzle to give clues from the beginning and weave them in along the way. Some simple examples might be: a picture of a glove before the story says it is a mystery or before a snowstorm; a dried and pressed leaf when talking about a winter tree now bare; burlap used as covering material for a book about poverty or silk or velvet to indicate luxury. Each of these examples adds new information.

If all the parts relate to the narrative or intended meaning, the reader will trust that s/he knows what the book is about. In a good mystery, all the pieces are hidden in plain sight, like the screwdriver; we turn the pages or keep watching the film to see not what they are, but how they will be used, and how they might be twisted.

A twist at the end is different from a punchline. The punchline, while using the pieces that are revealed bit by bit (a duck walks into a bar…put it on my bill), goes straight for the laughs or one sudden emotional response (which could also be shock). The twist is more complex, containing many layers of response from the reader/viewer. The response is possibly conflicted, like happiness tinged with loss (a popular one).

How you show the story, how you use the materials and the binding will influence the reading. The reader, by continuing to hold your book is trusting that you will not manipulate her, but that you will guide her toward a satisfying conclusion.

Crows at Home, 2008