Trudy: The Collage

So I made a collage for the Trudy novella, which I am stubbornly calling “Hot Toy” even though I’m pretty sure my editor is going to change it, and which is going to be in an anthology called Santa Baby, out in 2006. I did it this week because I’m heading for the Surrey Writer’s Festival this weekend where I’m giving a talk on collage as brainstorming for fiction, and I needed pictures to illustrate it. As craft topics go, this is the one that makes Bob twitch, so I’m not even going to discuss the huge box of stuff I have for the Agnes collage.

(Agnes and Shane are the hero and heroine of our next book. Agnes writes about food. Shane kills people for a living. Bob does the outline and blocks all the scenes out on a spreadsheet. I do the collage which he doesn’t want to see. Then we both write the book. Well, it works.)

In the past, when I’d start thinking about a book, I’d tear out pictures and stick them around my computer to remind me of the world I was creating. Then some friends—Jo Beverly, Barbara Samuel, Anne Stuart, Susan Wiggs—started talking about collage and I thought, “You know, I used to love collage. I should do that.”

And then I lost my grip.

Long ago, I was an art teacher. That doesn’t leave you. And collage was always my favorite medium. So twenty years later, I got a piece of foam core board and start gluing things on for a book I was writing called You Again, and then I thought that since the book takes place in an old house, I should really put a roof and some walls on it, and then there was a stone terrace and, well, one thing led to another and I sort of built the house and then went nuts filling it with stuff and it was a huge help on the book (especially now that I’m going back to it after a hiatus of a year) and I will never again do another book without a collage.

I did a small collage for Bet Me (if you want to see it, go to the Bet Me page on the website) and a big one for Don’t Look Down, and then this week, as part of the collage presentation and also as part of writing the novella, I did the Trudy collage. As usual, it got out of hand.

I started with a really beat-up, splintery shadow box that I’d found in the mark down bin at Hobby Lobby. It was full of pseudo-Italian stuff, wine bottles and bread and yellowed posters and a corkscrew that was a real bitch to get out of the box because they’d screwed it in. I ripped out all that stuff and put it in the Agnes box because the Agnes book is about the Cincinnati mob. Yes, Bob and I know there never was a Cincinnati mob. That’s why they call it fiction, folks.

And then I had an empty, even more splintered shadow box. I liked that because the first image I had of Trudy was walking through this very old, dark toy store that had splintery wood shelves. I decided the box part would have the plot imagery—antagonists, goals, plot points, setting, motif and symbol, theme—and the frame would be Trudy. It worked really well until, as I said, I lost my grip.

There are two parts to brainstorming with collage. One part is gathering stuff, and that goes on for a long time. I’ve got boxes for four different books and another novella started, so whenever I see things that look like those books, I throw them in the box. This is easier than ever since the scrapbooking craze hit. You wouldn’t believe the great stuff you can find in craft stores now. And then there are magazines and catalogs, and of course, the Internet. And Goodwill. You know that big table full of miscellaneous little toys every thrift store has? Pure gold. I found a lot of stuff for Trudy, but I told myself I wouldn’t use all of it—it’s a small shadow box—but I’d collect all of it so I could pick and choose later.

The second part comes when it’s time to start the book. You lay the pieces out and construct the background and figure out what the structure is going to mean and start gluing stuff down. And as you glue things next to each other, they take on new meanings and give you more of the story, making visual connections. I can practically hear my synapses sparking when I glue the stuff in. So I started gluing things in for Trudy. and I couldn’t stop, and I put it all in and then got more, and now both the box and the frame are jam-packed full of stuff from the story, and it’s exactly right because this collage feels to me the way Christmas always feels, too dark, too loud, too crowded, too bright, too busy, and yet, you have to love it.

So when I get back from Surrey, all I have to do is play the four different versions of “Santa Baby” that I have on my iPod while looking at this collage, and I’ll know how to finish the novella. It’s all right there.

And because I did the twelve days of Trudy with you, I’m putting it all right here:

Bob will undoubtedly post something snarky here, but I’m telling you, this works.

22 thoughts on “Trudy: The Collage

  1. Looked at it and suddenly, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…” starts humming in my head.
    Well done!

  2. I sure wish I got this. Me, with my B.A. in Art, and M.A. in Writing and Editing. I can’t make them mesh. For me they’re different things.

    I do collect images, but I have to put them next to the part of the story where they apply. They’re visual cues for me when I’m writing. If I put them all together like that, I’d be sooo confused that I wouldn’t be able to come up with a complete sentence.

    Maybe that’s why I was never any good at collage in the first place.

    Have fun at Surrey. I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about it.

  3. I love your collages! I’ve looked at the others you have on your web site. So much detail… What a wonderful 3-dimensional and sensory delectable momento of your books.

  4. My soul must be black and dead. Am I the only one who looks at these collages and thinks MY GOD WHAT THAT WOULD BRING ON EBAY??!!??

  5. took your advice and started doing a collage for my story.

    you should warn people! i thought ‘sure, it sounds like a help. i need all the help i can get.’ suddenly i’m forgetting to do anything, because im stuck on the floor with my glue stick and scraps of paper all around me. i forgot to make dinner one night. which was excellent.

    however i have found one hard part; how to find anything, images etc, that represents my hero. ive been using both new and old magazines, etc, and can only find males that a) have terrible hair/clothes/moustaches because it was the 70’s/80’s and its too embarassing, or b) are wearing salmon pink and pouting, with a crooked and expensive tie on.

    any tips, anyone?

    also; is the collage representing the story? or am i going to write the story now based on the collage?

    help here ppl.


  6. Don’t Fall Down????? When did this come out? Has it not yet been published? When is it coming out?

  7. Thanks for describing your collage process in more detail — very timely because I am in the hunting-and-gathering stage of my own collage right now. As for Bob, perhaps he will find a different creative process, such as blasting a design into the side of a brick building with an Uzi. Nothing artsy-fartsy about THAT.

  8. It’s kind of difficult to do an effective collage when the only magazines you get are SKEPTICAL INQUIRER, CONSUMER REPORTS, and LAPIDARY JOURNAL.

  9. I tried doing a collage for one of my books, but my toddlers got ahold of the folder full of clippings…and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I never did find some of those pictures.

    But glad it works for you! I’m still trying to figure out my own process.

  10. My 10-yr-old has that exact bottle of pink nail polish.

    And is that a b&w pic of Michael Vartan??? Is Vaughn your visual of your hero???

    I’m joining the “would go crazy” club on the sensory overload part, but it’s great it works for you.

    I generally just do a photoshop wallpaper with pics and brushes for my desktop with who I see as my h/H and where they exist.

  11. Love your collage assemblages, Jenny. I’m a collage and assemblage art junkie and have been for years. I love everything from collecting all the itty-bitty “crap” to the designing and positioning and then adhering everything. It’s fun and therapeutic and when you’ve finished you have an intricate, unique and personally meaningful work of art.

    I had to laugh when I read the comment here from 1blueshi1 who said: “MY GOD WHAT THAT WOULD BRING ON EBAY??!!??” That was my first thought, too. Just imagine how much a one-of-a-kind book-related collage designed by Jennifer Crusie might bring? Not only would it be a great source of additional income, it would be a nice break from writing when you get burned out. 😉

    If you’re like me, the original artwork is difficult to part with because of all the time, care and effort invested. But there’s a solution. Photograph your works and then have the images emblazoned on T-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, etc. Sell them from your websites, from CafePress, or from eBay! Voila! Jenny Crusie: Bestselling Author, Collage Artist and Gazillionaire!

  12. Hi!

    I just wanted to say that in your collage for Don’t Look Down, the lyrics on the moon are the lyrics to one of the songs my chorus sings! Ever heard of the Sweet Adelines? I sing in the Kitsap Pines Chorus of the Sweet Adelines International. ( It’s a small chorus, in comparison with a lot of them – it only has about thirty members, and they’re all crazy zany older ladies (several Red Hats), and then the three or four people that are under thirty. It’s like having thirty-two mothers. (I do not know why I’m telling you all this, but I’m giving myself ideas for writing, so maybe you will, too..) My older sister usually brings her husband along – they’re schmoopy newlyweds, but he’s going out to sea soon, so he won’t be coming to chorus anymore until the end of January sometime. (I seem to be compelled to tell you about my chorus..) I’m 18, my sister is 20, her husband is almost 22, the only other person that I know is under 30 is Christina, who is around 20. Everyone else is, at the youngest, 35. And we have one narcoleptic lady that’s like.. 80 or so. (One of the ladies that is at the upper end of the mid-range of ages (around 75) once came up to me and showed me her Secret Pal present, which was a ladies’ magazine and a Hershey bar with almonds. “Look! A male candy bar!! That’s what we called them in Texas!” I told my boyfriend that and he informed me that he is now traumatized for life. He’s also 17.)

    We have a Christmas benefit performance in Seattle every December, called Figgy Pudding. I’m not sure of the gist of it (my sister has been in the chorus about four years longer than I have, because we’re not really sisters and only say we are because we might as well be – mm, complication in the morning. Tastes so good.), but it’s to raise money for something for Christmas, and it’s a lot of fun, too.

    Sorry, didn’t mean to get all weird. I frequently babble and lose track of myself.

    If you’ve read this whole thing, I’m very proud of you. I’ve been told I’m sometimes tedious.

  13. I had enough trouble finishing college, let alone a collage for a book. I’d probably get the same grade for it as I did for Appalachian Speech — C. (Or in the case of the collage, don’t C!)


  14. Jenny, the collage is gorgeous. And you know, I like “Hot Toy.” Will Jen like it more if you call it “One Hot Toy?”

  15. Jenny, I think you have a thing with the title “Hot something something”

    …therefore, this story will probably wind up titled “Welcome to Christmas”.

    Whatever the name, we will love it!

    Thanks for sharing the 12 days of Trudy with us.


  16. Are you sure there is no Cincinnati mob? Considering a major cash crop in KY is pot there has to be a distributor here. Who does all the money laundering? Inquiring minds…

  17. I love the collage as well. I’m not that creative. Well, at least not with glue, anyway. Most of my creative stuff comes out in, gah, karaoke bars while I wait for my next chance to sing. Most of these ideas wind up on napkins that now litter my overly too small computer desk.

    Someday when I get published, my girlfriends say I should sell the napkin notes… lol. I think they’re nutty. 🙂

  18. Arghh! Everyone else is caught up in the collages; I’m stuck with the spreadsheet metaphor!

    Bob uses a spreadsheet to block his scenes. (probably excel but I might be maligning him) – Shane kills. That’s what the spreadsheet approach does for you.

    Jenny uses a collage – Agnes cooks. And probably collects something (recipes – well, duh! But maybe: salt & pepper shakers. Banal but consider the possibilities from Grandma’s Betty Boop shakers to modern stainless steel with Peugot mechanism’s).

    Seems like the universe is unfolding like it should.

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