small, fierce things: my new book of stories and illustrations

small, fierce things: my new book of stories and illustrations

After a long hiatus during which I recovered from the incredible experience of traveling to the Arctic Circle and sailing aboard the Antigua with an incredible group of people, I have been busy doing something new: illustrating and writing a new book.

As of yesterday, I completed the first draft and am very excited to be doing the layout and getting it ready for binding. Yes, you read that right, I am binding it myself. Thanks to Stevie Ronnie, a poet from the UK that I met in the Arctic, I now know how to make my own books. With the support of a local literary press (more on that later!) I will be hand-binding a first run of 50 books which will be available for purchase in early 2014. I will give you all the details when they are ready. Each book will be made with unique “found” materials… including handmade papers, textiles, photographic prints, and other ephemera. Each book will have a hand-stitched spine, using fibers I recovered from fishing nets that washed ashore on Arctic beaches.  The book is called small, fierce things, and will contain 12 stories accompanied by 28 pen and ink illustrations.

To give you a sense of the book, here is an excerpt of one of the stories in small, fierce things.

Please check back mid-January for news on when the book will be available!

the gentleman in the white coat

driftwood

Sigbjørn is Norwegian, though when he arrives to work in the coal mines, he is a newcomer to the hardened group that has already labored several winters together. He is not one to try to ingratiate himself, which is taken by many to mean he is either proud or simple or both. After a night of drinking, they try in their way to make him belong to them, suggesting various nicknames until, in a fit of backhanded alliteration, someone jokes “Sig the Swede,” and the insult sticks. After the explosion, he moves from Longyearbyen to a shack on an isolated stretch further along Isfjorden. He begins again there as himself, Sigbjørn.

Behind him, a ghost lives on. The men who survived the blast entertain the new men who come to swing the dead men’s picks in the dead men’s boots by telling them the story of Sig the Swede, who was burnt so terribly in the coal fire he could not bear for anyone to see his face, and so now lives where only snow and sky can look on him.

As spring and then summer wane, Sigbjørn watches the sun swing lower and lower in its parabola until each day is one long twilight. In his mind he calls the days days and the nights nights, but they have long ceased to have anything to do with light or darkness. He lives in the shack with only occasional visits from the gentleman in the white coat for company. The gentleman in the white coat is no gentleman at all, but large and hungry and abusive of friendships. He, like Sig the Swede, is one story to others and another to himself. The gentleman in the white coat likes to make himself Sigbjørn’s guest without having been invited. He endeavors to eat up precious stores and provisions, and the shack’s rugs and furnishings. He would devour Sigbjørn himself if allowed. His hunger has a magnitude to which it is difficult to draw comparisons, and when this hunger overtakes him, Sigbjørn is forced to scare him off with a torch or explosives or a shotgun blast.

Still, the vagaries of the gentleman in the white coat are preferable to what troubles Sigbjørn most: collecting enough fuel to keep himself alive through the polar night. He brought no coal with him. Coal belongs to Sig the Swede, and only without it can he be sure he is Sigbjørn. It seems fitting, in his darkest moments, that Sig the Swede had ended in fire, as Sigbjørn would unquestioningly die of ice.

But there is another thing he can burn, to remain himself: he gathers it along the beaches of the fjord. It gives itself to him in the continual darkness, revealed in its particular shade of gray in a landscape of gray. It is a gift sent from his home, a distant coast thick with stands of spruce and larch and pine. Dying first, then washed into the sea, it floats across the brow of the globe in drift ice. It begins this movement toward him long before he leaves home for the mines, long before the birth and death of Sig the Swede, even long before he had become Sigbjørn the first time.  Salted and bleached, it comes ashore to him now, gnarled, altered, full of fire.

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