On Storytelling

I stumbled across a list of storytelling tips from Emma Coats, based on her time working at Pixar. Good reading. I need to get better at #7.

The Jackal Girl (trailer fragment)

EXT. TAR HOLLOW STATE FOREST, OHIO   DUSK

The steady breathing of a large animal is heard as it races through the forest underbrush, weaving in and out among the trees.

RAMONA SCHAEFER
(voiceover)

Some things should not exist.

INT. SCHAEFER HOME   NIGHT

Ramona, 21, plain, tall, and slender, walks down the dark hall in her pajamas.  She slowly pushes open the door to her grandmother’s room. The lit bedside table lamp reveals an old woman lying in her bed, dead.

The door opens further to reveal the dead woman’s ghostly form standing beside the bed, staring down at the corpse. The ghost turns from the bed and reaches an incorporeal hand toward Ramona.

RAMONA
(voiceover)

Some things exist whether we choose to believe in them or not.

EXT. TAR HOLLOW STATE FOREST, OHIO   DUSK

A rental car with out-of-state plates is pulled off onto what little shoulder there is of the forest road.  Two men exit the car: Eamon, a large, red-headed man appearing to be in his fifties, and Ciarán, a tall young man appearing about twenty-five.

EAMON
(inhales deeply, shutting the driver door)

She’s close.

CIARÁN
(eyes unfocused, listening as if with a sixth sense)

I can feel her.

In the forest, the large animal lets out a whine, its breath more labored now.

CIARÁN
(eyes coming back into focus; quietly)

She’s frightened.


Written for the writing prompt, The Movie Trailer.

Copyright © 2011 Jennifer A. Liss

Bagel run

I’m a light sleeper but I’m convinced that I learned this behavior.

Dad is an early riser. If I wanted to join him on his Sunday morning bagel run, then I needed to be up early. For some time, I wouldn’t wake up until I heard the sound of the sun catcher rattling against the glass of the side door, followed by the click of the lock—too late!

Eventually, I trained my body to wake up at sound of the shuffling of bare feet on hall carpet. After the bathroom door closed, I had about thirty minutes. Generally, I’d go back to sleep for a few more minutes before getting up, getting fully dressed, and waiting for the bathroom to be free.

Then Dad and I would climb into whichever car Dad was driving at the time—Aries/Blazer/Jeep—and cruising through the pre-dawn morning, up 73 to the family-owned bagel place in Marlton. The way back was a less direct route: a leisurely drive past Cherokee High School to Kettle Run Road, which wound through pine lands and lakes, to Taunton Road and back to Berlin. No matter what the weather, these drives are always beautiful.

The key though, was hearing those footsteps in the hall.


Written for the writing prompt, Footsteps in the Hall.

Copyright © 2011 Jennifer A. Liss

Dry leaves. Dust. Sunshine.

The red, patterned carpet on the short flight of stairs leading down to the front door isn’t as worn here as it is in other places in the house. The sun coming through the glass door warms the entry way. The gray slate floor of the landing releases a  warm, vaguely wet smell. I crouch down on the middle stair, hiding from those up on the main floor. Dust fills my nose as I watch the legs of aunts and uncles move from the kitchen to the dinning room, readying the table.

My sister reaches down through the black wrought iron bars of the handrail and pokes me. The quick movement of my head brings the smell of dry leaves—earthy remnants of an earlier walk in a neighbor’s woods. I growl at her, thrusting my face up against the bars. As I inhale quickly to snarl at her again, the hard, metal tang of iron collects at the back of my throat.

The smokey smell of turkey, which has lingered about the house as it cooked throughout the day, intensifies as the bird is carved. Someone corrals young and old into the dinning room. The room gets close as warm bodies settle and crowd around around the table.

Later. A game of cards around the same table extends far into the night. I practice shuffling the deck, the waxy smell of the coated cards puffs into my face with each successfully executed bridge.

I nuzzle into faintly floral-smelling sheets and blanket, no longer able to keep awake enough to whisper to my sister in the dark.


Written for the writing prompt, Focusing on Sense of Smell.

Copyright © 2011 Jennifer A. Liss

Author Tools: Publishing from WordPress

Imagine you’re an author who uses your WordPress install to publish your work on your website. What if you wanted to export and distribute your blog posts–an anthology of short stories, research, or an image portfolio–as a PDF? Quite some time ago, I stumbled upon a WordPress plugin called Anthologize that does just that. It was discussed in a post at Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog. Here is an overview of what this plugin does, lifted from the Anthologize website:

Anthologize: grab, craft, publish.

Anthologize 0.5-alpha includes the following core features:

  • Use your existing WordPress blog content as the basis for your project;
  • Import content feeds from non-WordPress blogs and other publishing platforms;
  • Create a project containing one or more parts (chapters, acts, etc);
  • Add, update, remove, and reorder parts;
  • Add, update, remove, reorder, and merge individual items in parts;
  • Edit project items through standard WordPress editing interface;
  • Export your projects to: TEI, PDF, and ePUB.

It’s important to note that this plugin only works with WordPress 3.0 and PHP5 or higher and it only works on users installations (downloaded from wordpress.org and maintained on a server at a domain other than wordpress.com).

The possibilities created by this plugin are incredibly compelling to me. I’m a hardcore supporter of using WordPress as a CMS for websites. The ability to repurpose blog content into a ePUB, PDF or TEI file makes me a little giddy. I recommend looking at the case studies listed on the Anthologize website to get a better feel for how this tool might be used. My blogs don’t lend themselves well to this kind of tool but I can certainly see the usefulness of this tool for folks who want to distribute their own ebooks, generate exhibition catalogs, or create brochures and pamphlets about their company.

There’s quite a community built behind this plugin. The Center for History and Media and George Mason University developed this app with NEH funding. Some thought has gone into not just the documentation but the presentation of this plugin by way of logos and branding. It is evident that there is commitment from the developers to continue to shape this tool into a something special. The plugin was last updated a week ago today (I’ve known about the plugin since August).

I hope to give this plugin a try sometime.