Summer is for reading, but Maine winters seem particularly hospitable for ordering our thoughts and committing them to paper. It’s a season of staying home, stoking the fire and accomplishing some serious writing.
The Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance gives us incentive to sharpen our pencils this winter with summer reading in mind. The alliance has teamed with Shanti Arts Publishing and Maine painter/writer Leslie Anderson to invite Maine authors to submit original short stories inspired by Anderson’s paintings for a “Summer Stories” writing contest.
Joshua Bodwell, the alliance’s executive director, noted that writers have turned to the visual arts for ideas for hundreds of years. This competition brings it all back home to Maine.
“This idea has always interested me because of the legacy piece. Writers have always drawn inspiration from the visual arts,” Bodwell said. “Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ inspired a best-selling novel. William Carpenter at the College of the Atlantic has a sequence of poems about Edward Hopper paintings. It’s a time-honored tradition.”
Anderson lives in Sedgwick in the summer and Portland the rest of the year. For the writing competition, she offers a series of summer paintings to help with inspiration.
Writers can choose among 28 paintings on the Shanti Arts website. They represent a visual narrative of things with which we’re all familiar: A young girl standing on the edge of a water-filled quarry trying to muster the courage to take a leap. A farmer haying his field. Fishermen, clam diggers and sailors. A solitary figure rowing a boat.
Classic Maine scenes, all of them.
Any one of the paintings would look terrific hanging in my living room, but for the purposes of this writing competition, they’re intended simply as a starting point for the writer. They may spark a larger idea or tell a complete, succinct story.
Consider the story of the young swimmer at the edge of the quarry. The painting conjures many thoughts and questions. Why is she alone? How did she get there? Does she make the plunge? What is her outcome if she does? Is the water cold?
There is mystery to the scene, as well as intrigue and maybe some danger. It’s up to the writer to determine the next frame in the sequence.
And writers are limited to 5000 words to do so.
Anderson suggested the idea of the writing competition after Shanti Arts published a portfolio of these paintings.
“I got an email from a guy in Australia who was using these as triggers for short stories, which was pretty cool,” Anderson said. “He sent me one, and I liked it. He sent me another, and it was pretty dark. And then he sent me a third, which was really dark.”
Whatever Anderson thought of the Australian’s writing, she liked that her paintings provided a platform for someone else’s creativity. A writer herself, she relished the notion that her paintings could pair with companion short stories.
She made most of these paintings in 2010 and 2011. They represent stolen glances along the road to someplace else. Anderson travels the Deer Isle peninsula extensively for larger painting projects.
“These are almost always something I have glimpsed out of the corner of my eye,” she said. “When I go out to paint, I go into hyper-vision mode. I see things I might have missed otherwise.
“The guy haying is a perfect example. I love tractors. I love mowing. One of my thematic enchantments as a painter are patterns. I like stripes and repetitive motifs. I never go anywhere without a pocket camera. I just got out of the car and started snapping away.”
Ron Currie Jr., a Waterville-born writer, will judge the contest. Having Currie on board gives this contest enormous credibility — he has won the Young Lions Fiction Award from the New York Public Library, and The New York Times called him a “startlingly talented writer” in its praise for his novel “Everything Matters!”
Truth be told, there is little financial compensation in winning this competition. Winning submissions will receive a $50 honorarium, which will come in the form of a gift certificate. Shanti Arts will publish winning entries in an anthology alongside Anderson’s paintings.
The deadline for submission is March 1, so it’s time to get going.
Bodwell has high hopes for the contest. This being the first year, he’s also realistic. But he reminded me that the short story is a time-honored tradition in American literature, attracting the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Stephen Crane and Edgar Allan Poe. Titans, all.
The short story remains a healthy and vibrant art form, he said. “I am annoyed by all these constant conversations about, is the short story dead? It’s not.”
This contest will prove his point.
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or:
This story was updated at 12:28 p.m. on Friday, February 22, 2013 to correct the contest’s word limit, which is 5000 words, not 500 words as previously reported.