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  • J.A. Willoughby

Trojan Horse-The Gift That Kept On Giving-Creating the Illustration for "The First Step"

short story "The First Step" image at

Third in this blog series about illustrations for my book, This Side of Center, this beautiful texile artwork created by Stephanie Sweeley of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was paired with the short story, "The First Step".

I received this magnificent piece in the mail sometime around 1997-98. It came shortly after I had finished and released my first solo album, Trojan Horse. Steph and her husband, Mark, have been long-time supporters of live music and were (and continue to be) fans of the band, Hybrid Ice, with whom I had performed until 2008.

A smaller version, a Picasso-like patchwork horse head, had preceded this one. Not knowing the first thing about sewing (other than sticking my finger with a needle - see my blog, "Spilling My Blood for a Photograph"), I was fascinated with them both because of the intricacy of the design. Both pieces promptly received a special place on my office wall.

Shortly after I had finished writing "The First Step" this past summer, I knew I needed a special illustration. According to the story, two military super powers are about to do battle over a huge cache of crystals, the world's last natural energy source. The narrative makes reference to the confrontation as being like a "chess match". It seemed only natural to illustrate the two opposing powers as the knights on the board.

I needed to look no farther than my office wall for the means to make that inspiration a reality.

I scanned the textile using a flatbed scanner and imported it into Photoshop. From there, I copied the original scan and pasted it as a mirrored image, transforming the colors of the copy so as to look more adversarial by making them different, near-opposites on a color chart. The two "knights" were head-to-head, appearing to be engaged in battle.

The art is now back on my office wall, after having been given a second, extended life - continuing on in printed and digital pages. Although I very much appreciate the specific and personal nature of the gift, something that unique needed to be shared. But even after all these years, I still don't know how Steph made it in the first place. ~ JW


Stephanie Sweeley is also a part of my readership: a group of individuals from various parts of the country who read my stories soon after I create them. They give me feedback or suggestions for changes which I take under serious consideration before the stories are published. They are a dedicated, honest, intelligent and enthusiastic group whose input I value immensely. Their part in the making of the book will be featured in a future blog.

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