Monday, September 29, 2008

How To Get A Good Illo For Your Story

One of every writer's pet peeves is how difficult it can be to get a good illustration for your work. Granted, sometimes you luck out, the way Lucius Shepard did with the cover James Gurney painted for the issue of F&SF containing "The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule" or the way I did with Stephan Martiniere's painting for The Dragons of Babel. More commonly, though, you get a clunker like . . . well, discretion stills my tongue.

Which is why I went to the Institute of Contemporary Art here in Philadelphia and bought their poster for the really quite terrific R. Crumb show (which continues into December and is absolutely free -- so if you're local you have no excuse for missing it). Then I took it home and wrote the following story, or rather vignette, for it, and copied the story onto the poster itself. Which I then framed and leaned against the wall in my office.

So now I feel better.

Here's what I wrote:

The Three Graces

The three Graces met for drinks in the West Village, as they did once every other year in October, when the city looked its best. This year it was in Zanzibar Blue, Le Wine Bar having faded into that same fog of nostalgia and failing memories which had swallowed up a long line of watering holes all the way back to Tangerine Dream, their original place back in the Sixties when they danced together.

“Here’s to kick-ass old women!” said Grace Zagajewski. The Graces clicked their drinks – two Manhattans and a chardonnay – over the center of the table.

Then Grace Harrelson dug through her purse. “I was going through Richard’s things after he died, and guess what I found.” She carefully unfolded a telephone pole flyer for “Psychedelicious,” their last off-off-Broadway show together. “Remember this?”

“How could I forget?” Grace Feinstein said. “Bad choreography, pretentious Moog synthesizer music, a malfunctioning fog machine, and we were all as naked as jaybirds!”

They all but collapsed in laughter. “It’s funny now, but we took it so seriously then,” Grace Harrelson said. “We were going to knock Martha Graham off of her perch.”

“That was when you met Richard,” Grace Zagajewski said. “He came to every performance and he never looked at Grace or me. Not once. And we looked pretty good back then, too.”

“Oh God we were perfect then.”

“We were.”

“More than perfect.”

“Ah me," Grace Feinstein said. "Where did all the years go?”

“Most of them I spent on men and drugs and booze and partying. The rest, I fear, I wasted.”

“I gave them all to Richard. I know you never liked him . . .”

“Never liked him? You have no idea how Grace and I envied you. When I think of all the chaos I’ve been through, the divorces, the affairs, the scenes, I’d trade places with you in a heartbeat.”

“I’d trade places with Grace. She stayed true to her muse. She’s still an artist.”

“I’m a teacher, dear. It’s not the same thing.”

“It is! All I have now are the place in Queens, the condo in Denver and the grandchildren. I love the little buggers, but . . . I just wish I could have stayed with dance, like you did.”

“Hah! You forget what a grind it is – and how drab. Frankly, I envy Grace’s chaos – all those adventures, all that freedom.”

They all laughed in a complex blend of emotions that had taken a lifetime to distill. Wiping the tears from her eyes, Grace flagged down their waiter and ordered a final round of drinks and the check.

“I don’t suppose we were really as pretty as we thought we were,” Grace said wistfully. “But we were young and so of course the boys wanted us. My students are all so muscular – they have abs like oak boards. You could hammer a nail into them. By today’s standards, our bodies were soft and pudgy.”

“Are you nuts?” Grace drained her drink to the dregs. “We were gorgeous!”

-- Michael Swanwick



Farah said...

Gorgeous. Want!!!! Any chance of copies?


Farah said...


Michael Swanwick said...

I'm afraid that the chances of ICA or R. Crumb letting me commercialize the poster are pretty much negligible. So it joins a select list of stories written on masks, jars, lighting fixtures and whatnot which can only be seen by visiting my house.

But you're always welcome here, Farah.

Elaine M Brennan said...

Gorgeous story -- it brought tears to my eyes.