In his book on writing, The Lie That Tells a Truth, John Dufresne lists ten commandments that writers must follow. Along with such indispensable advice as “Sit Your Ass in the Chair” and “Honor the Lives of Your Characters,” Dufresne urges young writers to steal whenever possible. He is encouraging, of course, stylistic and technical theft. See that nifty transition, that structural shift, those sentence structures that are worthy of duplication? Take them, Dufresne says. Take them all and use them and make them your own. No need for apology, no need to ask permission.
Writers and artists talk about this kind of theft all the time. When it comes to technique, a little larceny is encouraged. Still, there is another kind of stealing implicit in the creative process. Richard Hugo argues that, “A poem can be said to have two subjects, the initiating or triggering subject, which starts the poem or ‘causes’ the poem to be written, and the real or generated subject, which the poem comes to say or mean, and which is generated or discovered in the poem during the writing.” Those two subjects, the triggering subject and the generated subject, are at the very core of narrative development. The generated subject is a development of the creative process. It is something the writer or artist comes to during the crafting of the work. But where does that triggering subject come from?
It’s stolen, of course.
Writers and artists appropriate their subject matter from all manner of places. An image seen on a subway car, a snippet of dialogue overheard in a noisy restaurant, an idea discussed ad nauseum by argumentative friends, a conversation with a loved one, a cloud in the sky and a piece of fruit on the table, all the things of the world are fair game to the writer or artist. Beware the wandering eye of the artist, the roving ear of the writer. They’ll snatch up the detritus of our lives and repurpose it to suit their needs.
The first edition of Trigger is an attempt to duplicate and analyze that process, that theft of origination. We (the fine folks at Status Hat and I) invited submissions of visual art, short stories, and poetry from sixteen talented writers and artists. We felt sure that they would submit quality work, and they didn’t disappoint. As I reviewed those initial pieces, I was stunned by the variety of material we were being given. A wide range of styles and mediums were represented: abstract, concrete, black and white, color, confessional, and lyric. The initial works you’ll find in Trigger run the gamut of the type of work being produced across the country (and world) on a daily basis.
Once those initial pieces were submitted, we made some assignments, pairing each artist with the work of a writer and each writer with the work of an artist. You can see my piece on the methodology of selecting these pairings here. Given their assignments, our sixteen writers and artists created new works using their assigned pieces as their triggering subject.
In the pages of Trigger you’ll find both the initial and the response work from each of our contributors. You’ll also find brief process statements where our contributors explain how they approached the creation of their response pieces. When viewed together, it is an in-depth look at the creative process. Each of these writers and artists shows us, through their words and images, how the gap between triggering subject and generated subject is bridged.
I’d like to thank Carli and Tim Castellani and everyone else at Status Hat for their hard work on this project. I’d also like to thank the sixteen contributors we’ve gathered for this first edition. We asked them to send their best, and they came through. I especially want to thank them for their generosity. We all steal, but it is an act of great kindness to offer up your own work, to give it freely to another creator who will, undoubtedly, abandon the trigger that it is in an effort to reach the dizzying heights of art.