Friday, November 12, 2010

In Search of a Gimmick A She Reads Guest Post by Ariel Allison

On Monday Bonnie described how she knows an idea is book worthy. And on Wednesday, Debbie helped us see that breaking the rules can sometimes work to our advantage. And they got me thinking…about my mother.

Let me explain.

July 2010: my children sat on our dining room table watching my mother sort scrap metal. Mostly cut up cookie tins, random pieces of wire, nuts and bolts, that sort of thing. I was in the living room, timing how long before they got bored and wandered off in search of mayhem. (My children typically have the attention span of gnats) Three hours later they were still helping their grandmother arrange bits and pieces of discarded “junk” on a painted wooden structure. They asked questions:

“Tootsie,” (her choice of grandma name) my oldest said, holding up the innards to what I suspect was once a blender. “What about this thing-a-mah-jiggy?”

And she’d take it. Set it against the emerging picture. Stand back. Pull at her earlobe. “Maybe. But don’t you think it would frighten someone if we used that for her eyeball?”

“I think it would be fun.”

“Right you are.” As a mother of six, she has learned not to second-guess the creative instincts of children.

Back and forth like this for hours, until a woman’s face emerged from the flotsam and jetsam of discarded objects. Once satisfied with the results, she nailed the pieces in place and christened it with a name. (“Wink” in case you’re wondering)

Viola! Art on my dining room table.

I took mental pictures the entire time. My boys with their grandmother. Learning. Being creative. Playing with dangerous metal-cutting tools. Fun times.

Fast forward to October 2010: I’m working on a new novel and I’m struggling to put the pieces together. It feels like a disjointed heap of mental junk. There might be a picture in there, somewhere, but I can’t find it. So I call my mother.

“I don’t know what I’m doing.”

She laughs. “You must be on the right track. I almost never know what I’m doing. I just know what I like.”

“But how did you know you were supposed to do this. Of all the art you could have made, why tin collage?”

“I found my gimmick.”


“People stop and look at my work because I have deviated from the expected boundaries. A Jazz Quartet made from clipped metal. A man proposes through the medium of cookie tins. Essentially, the same story told in a different way.”

Even though my mother didn’t give concrete advice on the specifics of my novel, she gifted me with something far more important: she helped me understand my gimmick. Some refer to it as a brand, but in reality the semantics don’t matter. We’re all trying to tell the same stories in a fresh way. And, thanks to her, I understand my method a little better.

What about you? Are your stories oil on canvas? Stained glass? Perhaps paper mache meets steam punk? Do tell!


Latayne C Scott said...

Just as each of us is born with a God-shaped hole in his or her heart, I think each also has an urge to create or to organize. But what your mom does with that urge -- and the way she included your children -- is inspirational to me in every sense of that word.

I am thinking about the gimmick part. I wonder if it's easier to define that in one of the arts than it is for a writer, since what makes each writer unique can also transcend genres.

No wonder you're so talented, Ariel. May God bless you. And thank you so much for taking the time out of a busy schedule to share your life and work with us.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I credit my mom for my love of learning and my creative flare. She is always immersed in a project.

To Latayne's point, I can see it being easier to define in the arts than for writers.

Every day I learn more and more about the message God wants me to share and the way He wants me to share it.
~ Wendy

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

Latayne: I've wondered that as well, if it's easier for a visual artist to define their work. But in many ways my mother is a "non-genre" artist. Tin collage is a term she made up to help people understand her methods.

She can paint. Quite well. But none of her pictures would he half as interesting if done with paint on canvas. She uses the texture of the unexpected to her advantage.

She told me once that there is really only ONE story and that we all spend our lives trying to re-tell it. She has chosen to tell the story with discarded cookie tins. I prefer bound pages laced with mystery.

Have I mentioned that I want to be my mother when I grow up?

Anonymous said...

Ariel, I love your mother's art! It's fabulous. I think we'd feel less like we're stumbling in the dark if our work emerged before us, like Tootsie's (oh, I love that too!) clever creations in a day or a week. But we pour ourselves into a project for a year or maybe more, not knowing if the piece is going to "work." I used to draw -- and have a huge desire to get back to it -- and within an hour or two I knew if I'd produced something worthwhile. It's so different with writing, which is so much harder to gauge. It's definitely easier now, with close writing friends who critique and encourage. I didn't have that for years and years. But still, when it comes to the arts, writing is a whole 'nother animal.

Bonnie Grove said...

A wonderful post. I'm in love with Tootsie's art. And I love how she stands confident in what she's doing no matter what.

Sharon, you make a very good point - even startling. Art requires so much of the artist. And for the novelist (and likely other art forms), being a slave to time is one of the most difficult aspects. It takes so very, very long to know if what you are producing is worthwhile.

Sobering. Challenging.

Ariel Allison Lawhon said...

Wendy: mothers have such a profound influence on the lives of their children. May we all inspire our children to love the things the things that are true and beautiful.

Sharon & Bonnie: time, that's the thing, isn't it? We writers have no instant gratification. Perhaps we are more like Michelangelo, chipping away at his David for three years. Slow and deliberate and never quite sure if we're working with the right piece of stone.

heavenlygurl said...

Wonderful insight. In an interview novelist Dennis Palumbo says, "none of us knows what we're doing." Please thank your mother for me... it was just the nudge I needed to get past wondering what I wonder everyday... whether it's any good or not... Blessings~

Kathleen Popa said...

"None of us knows what we're doing," I find that wonderfully comforting. Thank you.

Bonnie Grove said...

I also find that comforting.
Maybe it's the point. We aren't supposed to know what we are doing - we're supposed to go on faith.

heavenlygurl said...

You're so welcome Kathleen.

Yep, faith is an absolutely awesome commodity... it will bring the desires of our hearts into being. Happy Thanksgiving all!