Jan Donley, Author of The Side Door

Masque and Spectacle

1 September 15

I am pleased to announce the publication of eight of my train paintings in Masque and Spectacle: an arts and literary journal

Please visit the journal via the link provided and give support to this well designed and carefully crafted publication. It is so well done, and I am proud to be included.

Paper and Apple

14 May 15

apple store talk

On May 13, 2015, I had the great pleasure of giving a presentation at Boston’s main Apple Store (Boylston Street in Back Bay) about how I produce paintings on my iPad. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk about my art and to show off the wonderful App called Paper. I titled the presentation, “My Life on the Little Screen,” and I showed images of my movement from pencil drawing to final product. While I was talking, I realized how much it would be useful for everyone to have an iPad and to follow along with the app. I would definitely recommend to the organizers to make sure that happens the next time. But overall, great experience.

Always in Search of Story

19 November 14

Inspired by Webucator
I started writing as a teenager. Over 40 years ago. That fact alone is hard for me to grasp. My goals then, though, were not that different from my goals now: I wanted to write. I wanted to make songs and poems and stories and plays. I discovered then how much writing—creating in general—settled me, calmed me, and gave me a sense of purpose. Forty years later, that truth is confirmed. Over and over. Creating calms me. Creating centers me. Creating helps me understand the puzzles around me. Creating gives me purpose.

Back then, I wrote songs and poems. Where these writings would end up, I didn’t know. As the years went by, I discovered playwriting and fiction writing and did both. I have had plays produced and stories published. These days, I write mostly fiction. My day job finds me at an institution where I teach musicians how to write. The songwriter in me loves being around musicians.

Success took on different meanings over the years—I was sometimes a big fish in a small pond. I didn’t publish my first novel, The Side Door, until 2010. And now I find myself creating digital paintings and was even written up in Boston Magazine for my series of subway drawings.
Boston Magazine

My goals now are to keep writing and drawing and to discover what projects grow out of my creative endeavors. Also—my goals are to keep surrounding myself with creative people—the kind of creative people who are generous and curious about the imagination and invention.

I pay the bills with a teaching gig at Berklee College of Music, where I have been teaching writing and literature for almost five years. Since 1988, I have taught at various colleges and universities, and I have always loved the work. I view teaching as one more creative act—as a way of self-discovery, of curiosity, of meeting other creative people at various points in their own journeys.

Of course, I would like to write a break-through novel or story that puts me more squarely on the literary map. That would be wonderful. But it’s not my goal. Instead, my goal is too keep creating, to keep imagining, and to keep surrounding myself with other creative people. The imagination also keeps me asking questions, keeps me young, keeps me wanting to discover.

If I had any advice for young authors, it would be to write and to read and to recognize the power of story: balance, disturbance, crisis, climax, resolution. I learned these elements in playwriting classes, but they go way back. We are stories; stories are blood and flesh and bone and spirit. I would say, “Write and imagine, and stay humble. Don’t try for a masterpiece; just try for a good story.”

Washington Street

11 May 14

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m reposting a story I wrote a couple of years ago.
The story can also be found on Kitti’s amazing blogspot:
Kitti’s Quotidian Kit

You are eight years old and already lonely. You measure your walk home from school by sidewalk squares. Your feet have memorized the path. You are walking to the house on Washington Street where the steps to the porch are steep. Your mother greets you at the door, her face as familiar as wind.

Now, years later, you look at a photograph of her from that time; her brown eyes smile, her dark hair pulled back from her luminous face. You marvel at her beauty, showing the photograph to friends—anyone who will look: “See. See my mother. This is what she looked like then”—as if she is someone different, someone you don’t remember, someone you never saw before.

In the house on Washington Street, that same mother—the one in the photograph—does the dishes by hand. It is 1964. She gives you a towel. “Here. You dry.”

In her 80’s now, her hair gone gray, her shoulders stooped, her loneliness beats in rhythm with your own. You hear her voice over the miles, and you listen to her stories—endless stories of what ifs. You ask, “Do you remember the house on Washington Street?” And she answers, “Of course I do.”

If you go looking, you will find sidewalk squares to measure. You will find steep concrete steps leading to stoops and into houses. They are everywhere. But something about that house on Washington Street calls you, reminds you of something you just cannot name. You see it in her eyes when you look at the photo. You want someone to tell you the story of that house and her in it. You were there, yet you need someone to tell the story.

You stare a long time at the photo. Her beauty startles you.


2 March 14

Dear Readers: the following story is a collaboration. Glenn Sharron, an artist and media producer, is one of my tumblr pals. He created this beautiful fish named Stain. He has other “fantasy fish” on his site and invites writers to develop stories about them. I really enjoyed writing a story about Stain.

Glenn Sharron’s Site

Stain lived below anything that’s below anything else. His parents, two murky fish who seemed to form right out of mud, liked the depths. It was a mystery to all the other fish in the neighborhood, how Stain was born of those two: Louisa and Sal. They were extra fishy. They liked their water dark. They stayed away from the surface. Louisa and Sal tried to hide Stain. He was too flashy for their taste.

“Why can’t you blend in like the others?” Mama Louisa pleaded. “You call too much attention to yourself.”

“Just my luck to get a bright son,” Sal complained.

Stain’s blues and reds and yellows shone like lights in the darkness.

He was lonely. Other fish didn’t want to play with him.

“You make my eyes hurt,” Joey said.

“Keep those fins away from me,” Lisa said.

Stain considered a trip to the surface. He had heard of other fish ending their lives that way. The stories of their last breaths frightened Stain: the gasping, the wish for water that was no more.

He swam away from the neighborhood. He swam up and up, away from below and into the middle.

In that in-between place, Stain saw brown fish, yellow fish, gray fish. He saw blue fish, red fish, green fish, fish of many colors.


Stain twirled to see a fish behind him, a fish unlike any fish Stain had ever seen: his body shimmered. Stain swam closer and then saw something even more unfamiliar. He saw the fish’s shiny body change. Colors appeared.

“That’s funny,” Stain said.

“Tell me about it,” the strange fish said.

“You were shiny and then you were full of colors,” Stain said.

“I’m Glass,” the fish said. “I’m reflecting you.”

Stain did not understand.

“You see yourself in me.”

Stain looked more closely at the colors inside Glass. He saw his own eyes, his fins, his blues, yellows, reds.

“That’s me?” Stain asked.

Glass turned this way and that so Stain could see different parts of himself. “Like what you see?” Glass asked.

“I’m…beautiful.” Stain had only heard stories about himself. Now, looking right at the truth, he saw it.

Stain told Glass his whole sad story.

Glass told Stain his: “You think it’s easy being a mirror?”

They became the best of friends.

In the middle land above the depths and away from the surface.

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All writings © Jan Donley 1985-2019
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