The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.
Her prose has been published in The Writer’s Chronicle, Other Voices, The Sun Magazine, The GSU Review, Hunger Mountain and the Indiana Review as well as in the anthologies Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers and City Sages: Baltimore, and she has co-authored Seeking the Spirit: How to Create a Community of Seekers. She has also taught at Goucher College and the Maryland Institute College of Art and received two Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council.
Jen’s contribution to the Little Patuxent Review, “The End of August,” appeared in the Winter 2011 Water issue. You can read it here by clicking on the title. Applying a visual artist’s perspective to fiction, Jen writes about the piece:
In real life, I’m a big fan of epiphanies. I like it when I have a sudden revelation that alters my perspective. In fiction, I’m more interested in writing about the slow dawning of change, the incremental shift toward some new life. I am drawn to the silences, the questions that leave the mind wondering, the characters not seen, the conversations not had, the scenes unwritten that are as essential to the story as what is presented on the page. My preoccupation with these small moments, these absences is what led to my interest in negative space.
Negative space and positive space, terms used by visual artists, describe the compositional relationship between the background and form of a painting or sculpture. To determine how this concept translates to fiction, I started researching and experimenting.
Betty Edwards believes beginning painters often assume positive space is more important than negative space. (I believe this is true of beginning writers, as well.) She notes in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, “Beginning students generally lavish all their attention on the objects, persons, or forms in their drawing and then sort of ‘fill in the background’…If care and attention are lavished on the negative spaces, the forms will take care of themselves.” She adds that something can be “nearly fully described” because the negative space has been drawn.
In fiction, we paint a discernible landscape in which form and background are created with words. A sculptor once scolded me for using the term negative space as it related to fiction. She said, “Negative space is a very real thing.”
I know. That’s what interests me. It’s spiritual in its way, being willing to recognize the importance of such small moments and the influence of all that is seen and unseen. When I write fiction, I’m trying to create a subtle absence that evokes an elusive, mysterious sense or feeling about some form of the human condition by describing the space around the condition without actually naming it.
In “The End of August,” I’m playing with silence. There’s a lot that has transpired between these two characters—a full range of emotions and struggles, a gulf of experiences between them. They know each other well enough not to speak. The conflict between them and the particulars of their history together doesn’t matter. I’m more interested in their negative space that is so packed with emotion. What does that feel like?
The narrator—unnamed, as are all the characters—is struggling to come to terms with her life. The emptiness she feels defines her life as much as the events she’s experienced. The elements in the story—the water and the sun, the breeze, the day closing into evening, the summer passing into fall—are also moving in slow increments. This is a reflective piece, and hopefully one gets the sense that this feeling, these thoughts will lead the narrator somewhere eventually, but today, all she gets is a tiny and elusive bit of perspective.