AJAX BELL

Author of the Queen City Boys books


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Beautiful to a reader, better to a writer

Miniature of Istanbul (Historical Peninsula)I few weeks ago I stumbled across Alex Jeffers’ Tattooed Love Boys in the Wilde Stories 2013 collection. I love short stories and speculative fiction but I find often that I enjoy a story while reading it, but forget it not long after shutting the book. Tattooed Love Boys stuck with me. Sure, it was about tattoos, beautiful boys, angels (maybe), and gender switching, which are basically the things I love most. But the writing in this story set a mood and tone that was what made the story stick with me. It had a dreamy quality that made the reader, like the characters, not question the weirdness.

Immediately I went out and got Jeffers’ The Padishah’s Son and the Fox which is both delightful and disgusting. Telling an ‘erotic’ fairytale with all the gruesome darkness of true fairytales, with many unexpected turns the story left me completely satisfied as a reader. The storytelling is lovely, giving you a genuinely visceral response, both positive and negative.

Though wonderful neither of these stories had the length and depth for me to completely immerse myself in, to forget myself in. Luckily the next I picked up was The Abode of Bliss. I read it in two sittings, interrupted only by the need to interact with my family and to sleep. Given the chance I would have read it straight through. Though I was emotionally overwrought when I finished it, so maybe it’s best that I had time to reflect on it when I finished (easily done as I was on a plane).

3597187161_1dcfb09bc4_oThe Abode of Bliss by turns made me laugh and made me weep. Reading it I felt both lonely and loved, and was filled with longing, both sexual and romantic. The prose is poetic though not overblown or contrived. It is evocative and heartfelt but with an emotional distance, as if the story teller is remembering, that allows careful observation. But still I felt close enough to be pulled into the remembered emotions, to cheer and cry for Ziya. I felt entirely inside his world, inside him, a character made up only of a words on a page.

This is how I hope to write. Some day I want to be practiced enough to feel confident that I can tell stories this intense, this clearly crafted, stories that sound this true no matter how made up they are. Here’s the thing about storytelling: it’s all made up, even when it’s true. As far as I can tell, Jeffers isn’t Turkish, (he says in his end note that he’s never been there) but somehow he manages to utterly transport me to Turkey. And carry me there inside the mind of character who feels completely authentic, so fleshed out as to be entirely real, utterly believable.

Jeffers’ books have reminded me that writing what you know is shit advice, it always has been. If people only wrote what they know we’d never have Madame Bovary, or War and Peace, we certainly wouldn’t have Star Trek or Harry Potter.  My own stories, at this point, are merely dirty little tales, with characters hopefully polished enough that readers will love them so much that they feel what the characters feel. They, at their core, stories of young men finding a sense of community in eras before my time. They are stories about things I have no experience of, having never been a young man in the 1980s. But these are the stories I have to tell, the characters who live in my head. So I will do my best to do them justice.

Reading The Abode of Bliss was pure joy as a reader, exactly what I needed for my vacation, to be entirely transported out of my own world. As a reader I couldn’t ask for more out a book.  As a writer I’m thrilled to find books like this that inspire me to try and make my stories much better than they are now.  Books that encourage me to keep writing the stories that come to me. Stories of cities I have never lived in, of people I am not and do not know. I will sleep tonight dreaming if Ziya in Turkey. I will wake tomorrow ready to better practice my craft, to more skillfully use words to bring readers into the world I created.

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Almost making it

So ever since I saw the movie I have been thinking about the striped sweater that Kristen Wiig wears on the plane in Bridesmaids.

Of course it’s no longer in stores and all the similar ones I can find are priced way out of anything I can afford.  So I set out to make it.  How hard could it be, anyway?  It’s like three pieces of fabric.

Test run #1 wasn’t the right fabric, but close enough.  I used a shirt pattern I already had and tried to guess about how it should be broken up between stripes and black.  The end result is wearable, although just not quite there yet:

But it’s close and super comfortable and it’s the first tee shirt I’ve ever made!  Sewing with knits is not fun.  Seriously do not like it.  But the end result is good enough that I’m definitely keeping it.  My second attempt I drafted my own pattern and found better fabric.  Alas the pattern fit was wonky and way off and the fabric shrunk like crazy when washed.  Still it is also wearable if not exactly perfect:

So close and yet still so far.  I might make one final run on this.  Redraft the pattern, keep hunting for the right fabric and eventually end up with the unbelievably simple shirt.  Or maybe I’ll just give up and be happy with what I have.  I mean I know how to sew tee shirts now.  A whole new world of sewing is open to me!


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The amazing sense of accomplishment even finishing something simple brings

I started a dress last fall, or late last summer, with some fabric that I loved.  Alas it was really the wrong fabric for the pattern (wrong weave, wrong weight), I tried lining it with little success, I cut the pockets wrong and sewed them in way too high, couldn’t get the back to fit together.  What’s known in the industry as a wadder.  Wad it up and throw it away in frustration.  So it’s been hanging on the works in progress rack forever, taunting me.  Yesterday I cut it up and made it into a blouse.

Most of my blouses are more of a cutesy, 40s-ish style, which I love, but maybe I’ve been needing something a little more grown up lately.  So here’s the end result:

I’m actually fairly pleased with the fit and the drape.  A nice silk would have been better.  I might make another of these, though, because I’m actually pretty happy with how it turned out.  I think this will be good with jeans too and maybe even shorts in summer.  And this pic doesn’t really do justice to the colors of the actual blouse. It’s definitely more teal and purple, with nice neutral tan and grey in the alternating stripes.  YAY I SEWED SOMETHING ALL THE WAY TO THE END.  I think I can do this again someday.  Very satisfying.

Pattern (Simplicity 2594) and line drawing:


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Right out of the gate

Hello, 2012!  You look fantastic!

First project started: Love Letter From an Occupant.  This will be predominantly a visual project.  Go follow it with your own Tumblr or add it to your feed reader or bookmark to read later and then ignore it.  Or you can ignore it right out, I don’t mind.  I will probably set this up so it streams to Facebook directly, though hopefully not intrusively.  Probably I will add a wrap up of what happens over there here periodically as well.

I am actually glad for Facebook’s existence.  It’s allowed me to better keep up with my family than I ever could, and brought me back in touch with people that I am thrilled to have found.  But frankly it makes me lazy on the internet.  I have been actively participating in online communities in a variety of ways since about 1992.  It has opened doors to me, introduced me to many of my friends and made me creative in ways I never could have imagined.  I think Facebook actually damages a lot of that.  It’s easy to thoughtlessly toss up a picture, or a quick status and stop thinking about why things are being shared or taking the time to really write about things.  I can’t give up Facebook because it is my main connection with some folks and that’s okay, but I am spreading out more this year than I have for the past couple years.

To some extent I’ve been locked up inside myself for the last 30 months or so.   I am thankful that I’ve had the time for introspection and the chance to find myself again.  Now I need to stretch a little creatively and a little personally.  The Tumblr project is personal.  I know from past year’s experimenting that I can’t do a picture a day or anything that requires specific time commitments, but there are pictures, narratives and imagery that I’d like to be sharing more thoughtfully and hopefully this project will be the beginning of that.

I am ready to go, are you? Let’s go! Let’s go!

Seattle horizons. December 23, 2011.


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Silk reconstruction

I was looking back through posts here the other day and I realized I am WAY BEHIND on sewing blogging.  It’s not that I’m not finishing things, I just keep forgetting to photograph them.  So here’s a couple refashions.  The first one the ‘before’ pic is more than a year old.  The shirt’s been finished for at least six months.

Before:

Silk blouse, pretty but boxy and just not quite me.

After:

I shortened the sleeves and used the leftover over fabric to put an elasticized panel around the waist, lengthening the top and making it more fitted. YAY, I love it now!

Before:

I got this beautiful silk dress for $3.50.  It’s really lovely silk, but not at all my style.  I feel like I’m auditioning for Little House on the Prairie.

After:

I shortened the sleeves and re-purposed the ties that held the waist back into trim for the hem.  I have enough of the silk from the dress part left to make a skirt, or more likely a little sleeveless shell.

As soon as we get through the holidays I’m going to make a concerted effort to get at least one project a week photographed so I can get it up here.


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Adventures in substitutions

It’s a cold, cold winter night here, so I did the only thing one can do, cooked and baked until the house was warm and smelled good.

Quinoa Red Lentil Soup


I used this recipe (the stove top version which only took about 35 minutes) which came highly recommended from a trusted friend.  I saw it and thought, oh I have all those things, I’ll make that.  HAHAHAH!  Well, I had quinoa and red lentils.  Of the spices I only had fresh ginger, paprika, cumin and thyme.   So I used those and substituted 2 tbl of green curry paste for everything else.  Also I didn’t have any of those vegetables, so I used a yellow onion, diced, a yellow squash (the zucchini like kind), also diced and a can of diced tomatoes and a couple cloves of garlic, finely chopped.  I did follow the directions pretty closely, despite all the substitutions.   At the end of cooking I also put half of it through the blender until it was smooth and added it back in with the rest (a secret that improves 85% of soups).

I think it turned out great.  Would be excellent with a dollop of sour cream but there’s few things that isn’t true about.

Apple cake


2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pumpkin spice
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 apples, peeled & chopped

Directions:  In large bowl, beat eggs, applesauce and oil until smooth.  Add sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, pumpkin spice, baking soda, salt and mix well.  Add flour, beat until smooth. Fold in apples. Pour into greased and floured 9 by 13 pan. Bake at 350F degrees for 50-55 minutes.

I substituted Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free baking flour.  Also I normally would do 3/4 cup applesauce and no oil, but I was unsure about this flour mixture, because I’ve never used it and I figured a little oil might help.

I’ve used previous versions of this recipe (I seem to reinvent it every year, whole wheat flour, less sugar, no oil, now gluten-free) to make muffins for which it is excellent.   The original recipe called for 2c sugar and a cinnamon and sugar glaze, but I really prefer things less sweet.  You should experiment until it tastes how you like.


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Rest my weary head

I have been completely over hauling my tiny bedroom to make it more colorful and more comfortable since winter is inevitable and bed should always be welcoming at the end of a cold day.  I’m 98% done and pictures of the whole thing soon enough. Today I made throw pillows for the bed:

This is made from the curtain that I didn’t end up using the room, deep teal canvas.  I applied the stencil repeating diagonally with fabric paint.  the back is a soft, dark brown stretch twill.

This is made from the piece of cream canvas left over from the curtains I did hang.  I painted the stencil on with fabric paint, did a terrible job of masking it, got paint everywhere and hand embroidered some stitches into the design to cover the paint flubs.  I wanted yellow or brow piping on this, but I didn’t have either in the house and I’m making an effort to use what I have laying around, rather than buying more stuff.  I’m actually really pleased with how the blue looks, though I do think yellow would have been great to highlight the stitching.  The back side of this is piece from the sheets currently on the bed so I can pretend it all ties together.

And here they are on the bed!  YAY!  The pinwheel quilted pillow in the middle was made by my friend Michael Frazier, about a decade ago.  He has since died, but this pillow always makes me smile and think of him.  I think he’d like the pillows I made today too.

Hooray for pillows! And for projects finished.  Now to get back to the 10,000 other things on my weekend to-do list that still aren’t done.