#FineArtFriday: Rembrandt as Shepherd with Staff and Flute, by Govert Flink 1636

About the artist: Born at Kleve, capital of the Duchy of Cleves, which was occupied at the time by the United Provinces, Govert Flinck was apprenticed by his father to a silk merchant, but in 1627 he was sent to Leeuwarden, where he boarded in the house of Lambert Jacobszoon. Jaobszoon was a Mennonite (one of the historic peace churches known for their commitment to pacifism). While Jacobszoon is better known as a preacher, he was a talented painter and an excellent teacher.

While studying there, Flinck met some of Jacobszoon’s neighbors, relatives of Saskia van Uylenburgh, who had married Rembrandt in 1634. That same year he began studying with Rembrandt.

Flinck is acknowledged as one of Rembrandt’s best pupils.

I really enjoy this romantic painting of Rembrandt dressed as a shepherd, holding a flute, and thinking about…what? Rembrandt’s contemplative expression seems peaceful.  The details are wonderful – from the finely worked trim on his garments down to the jewel dangling from his right ear, a gem that softly glows. The grains of the wood in both the flute and staff are subtle and real. The light falls perfectly – Flinck captured the personality of the master as a handsome young man during the happiest time of his life, and it seems as if Rembrandt himself enjoyed posing for it.

For more than a decade, Flinck’s work echoed that of Rembrandt, clearly influenced by the master’s style in the work which he executed between 1636 and 1648. As time passed, he began to desire to be a history painter, a genre in painting that  is defined by its subject matter rather than artistic style, and turned to the work of Peter Paul Rubens. In later years, Flinck had great commercial success, receiving many commissions for official and diplomatic paintings.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt als herder met staf en fluit Rijksmuseum SK-A-3451.jpeg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_als_herder_met_staf_en_fluit_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-3451.jpeg&oldid=225225289 (accessed August 16, 2018).

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Identifying Genre #amwriting

If you have taken my advice and written several short stories, you now have something to enter in contests and submit to various publications. However, it can be hard to know what publication to send your work to.

This is where you must learn to identify the genre of what you have written.

When I sit down and begin writing a short story, sometimes I don’t have a particular theme or plot in mind. I key the first lines with an open mind, and random ideas begin to flow. Because I am working within the limits of 3000 to 7000 words, these are the stories that stretch my writing skills.

These “orphan” short stories are widely different from my normal work and aren’t always written in a genre that is easily identified.

Mainstream (general) fiction–Mainstream fiction is a general term that publishers and booksellers use to describe works that will appeal to a broad range of readers and will have some chance of commercial success. Mainstream authors often blend genre fiction practices with techniques considered unique to literary fiction.

It will be both plot- and character-driven and may have a style of narrative that is not as lean as modern genre fiction but is not too stylistic either. The prose of the novel will at times delve into a more literary vein than genre fiction, but the story will be driven by the events and action that force the characters to grow.

Literary Fiction–Literary fiction tends to be more adventurous with the narrative, with the style of the prose taking a prominent place. Stylistic writing and the exploration of themes and ideas form the substance of the piece.

Writer’s Relief Author’s Submission Service defines literary fiction as “…fiction of ideas. While the story must be good, emphasis on action is not often as important as emphasis on the ideas, themes, and concerns of the book. Literary fiction tackles “big” issues that are often controversial, difficult, and complex.”  (end quoted text)

Literary fiction is frequently challenging to read, which is why certain readers search it out. They want to savor every word and turn of phrase. Sometimes literary fiction is experimental, wordy, and goes off topic, but the journey is the important thing to those of us who enjoy the works of David Foster Wallace, John McPhee, and George Saunders.

Science fiction–Science Fiction features futuristic settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, time travel, faster than light travel, parallel universes, and extraterrestrial life.

If you use magic for any reason you are NOT writing any form of sci-fi, so don’t bother submitting it to a publisher who only wants science fiction.

Hard Sci-fi is characterized by rigorous attention to accurate detail in the physics, chemistry, and astrophysics. Emphasis is placed on accurately depicting worlds that more advanced technology may make possible. Soft Sci-fi is characterized by works based on social sciences such as psychology, economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology.

Other main sub-genres of Sci-fi include Space-operasCyberpunk, Time Travel, Steampunk, Alternate history, Military, Superhuman, Apocalyptic and Post-Apocalyptic.

The main thing to remember is that Science and Magic cannot coexist in the Genre of Science Fiction.

The minute you add magic to the story, you have Fantasy.

Fantasy: Fantasy commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works are set within imaginary worlds, environments where magic and magical creatures are common. Epic and high fantasy generally avoid scientific and macabre themes, although in some fantasy subgenres there can be a great deal of overlap between fantasy and horror, and fantasy mixed with science.

I’ve said it before, but every genre has its share of snobs and idiot purists, people who will argue your choice of sub-genre no matter what you choose.

High fantasy–High fantasy is defined as fantasy fiction set in an alternative, fictional world, rather than the real world. It commonly features elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes, and multi-volume narrative. Often the prose is more literary, and the primary plot is slowed by many side quests. Think Mervyn Peake, William Morris, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Epic Fantasy–These stories are often serious in tone and epic in scope, dealing with themes of grand struggle against supernatural, evil forces. Epic fantasy shares some typical characteristics of high fantasy and can include elements such as elves, fairies, dwarves, dragons, demons, magic or sorcery, wizards or magicians, constructed languages, quests, coming-of-age themes. These also come in multi-volume narratives. Tad Williams’s series, Memory Sorrow and Thorn is classic Epic Fantasy.

Paranormal Fantasy–Paranormal fantasy often focuses on romantic love and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from all the speculative fiction genres. Think ghosts, vampires, and supernatural.

Urban Fantasy– can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Horror–Horror fiction, horror literature, and also horror fantasy are narratives written specifically to frighten, scare, or startle their readers by inducing feelings of horror and terror. Sometime these stories detail the experience of purely mental terror, other times they are rife with sudden graphic violence.

Romance– Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on developing a relationship despite many roadblocks, and in the end, the characters find true romantic love. These stories must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending, or they are not romance.

Choose carefully what publications, anthologies, and contests you submit your work to. Read and follow their submission guidelines. Read one or two back issues so that you only submit the kind of work they publish.

Never submit anything that is not your best work, and do not assume they will edit it, because they won’t. No publisher will buy work that is poorly written, sloppily formatted, and generally unreadable.


Credits and Attributions:

How Do You Know If Your Novel Is Literary Or Mainstream Fiction? How Long Is A General Fiction Book? By Writer’s Relief Staff, Writer’s Relief Author Submission Services Blog, posted July 22, 2009. (Accessed August 14, 2018.)

Cover of The New Yorker (first issue) in 1925 with illustration depicting iconic character Eustace Tilley,  drawn by Rea Irvin. Fair Use.

First Cover of Astounding Stories of Super Science (Analog Science Fiction and Fact) art by H. W. Wesso,  January 1930, Fair Use. Via Wikipedia.

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English, origins and style #amwriting

One of my favorite subjects is how English is and will always be an ever-evolving and ever-disintegrating language. The history of the evolution of English is intriguing.

In recent years scholars have determined that if you want to make Shakespearean poetry  and prose rhyme, it must be read with what is now a Scottish/Appalachian accent, as that was the accent of Renaissance England, and pronounce words the way they are spelled. To hear for yourself, go out to NPR’s Shakespeare’s Accent: How Did The Bard Really Sound? I found it to be a treat.

Jonathan Swift, writer and Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, complained to the Earl of Oxford in 1712: “Our Language is extremely imperfect. Its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities.” He went so far as to say, “In many Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar.”

It was the linguistic wild-west, undisciplined and out of control. Slang words willfully forced their way into drawing rooms, newspapers, and books, and in the process they became part of our common usage. So, in an effort to tame our wildly evolving language, a group of clerks and clerics in the eighteenth century who wanted a more orderly language developed the rules for the “Queen’s English.”

Unfortunately, they used the rules with which they were most familiar. Being men of the church, they borrowed them from Latin. This poor choice on their part is the source of much of our grammatical dysfunction.  These men applied the rules of a dead language, Latin, to an evolving language with completely different roots, Frisian, added a bunch of mish-mash words and usages invented by William Shakespeare, and called it “Grammar.”

Despite their origin, the rules have been consecrated, hallowed, and immortalized in hundreds of books on style, and repeated by scholars who ignore the scabrous history of our English language. Frisian evolved into Modern Dutch, and Latin evolved into Modern Italian, Spanish, French, Romanian—and several other modern languages. Yet, despite the wide linguistic differences in the two root languages, these hard-and-fast rules have been passed down by generations of schoolteachers in a vain effort to teach students how to write and speak our common language.

These rules of grammar are what we also refer to as style.

When we leave school and first begin to write seriously, we soon discover that we don’t really know how to construct a narrative that people would want to read. So, we need to further educate ourselves.

Despite the pox-ridden history of the English language, it helps to have a framework to go by when writing. I use a book of rules, the Chicago Manual of Style.  This book is used in the big publishing houses here in the US and is the manual of choice for most American editors of fiction and literary works. Referring to it when I have a question helps me to remain consistent in my punctuation, and ensures my personal style is comfortable for the reader.

You can use any style guide you choose, but you must remain consistent. Refer to your guide of choice whenever you are confused about punctuation or grammar. This isn’t a cure-all for bad writing. Many times, confusion can only be eliminated by rephrasing, deleting excessive descriptors, and by cutting long, compound sentences in half.

Knowledge of grammar is no substitute for talent, but it can help make talent readable.

If you are in the UK, you might want to invest in the New Oxford Style Manual.

If you are writing technical manuals, the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications would be a good investment for you.

If you are a journalism major, you may think Associated Press Style is the only style guide you’ll ever need, but you would be wrong. AP Style evolved for the printer setters in the newspaper industry and is intended to make the most efficient use of space in a column. It is not favored by the large traditional publishers and editors as the style guide for novels or short stories, which have different requirements.

For a good post on the major differences in these two very different American English styles, see this blog post written in 2016 by Acadia Otlowski for Hip B2B:

AP vs Chicago Manual of Style: Which Stylebook is Right for You?

I’ve seen AP and Chicago Manual users in hair-pulling matches over the Oxford comma, on-line disputes that were both embarrassing and needlessly troll-ish.

Regardless of your personal writing style, it’s a good idea to learn how to write and speak in your native language, as readers will be able to accept your personal style choices more easily if the larger elements flow as expected.

And that is the key word: expected.

We all habitually write in such a way that we consistently break certain rules. This is our voice and is our fingerprint. This does not mean you should throw grammar out the window—readers have expectations that authors will respect them enough to spell words properly, will understand the words they are using and use them correctly, and will insert pauses between certain clauses.

They don’t demand perfection, but they do want consistency.

A rudimentary knowledge of how your native language works is essential, so my advice is for you to invest in a few reference books and use them. Listed below are my go-to books.

If you are writing novels or fiction in the US, a handy book for you would be The Chicago Guide to Usage and Grammar by Bryan A. Garner. It is a more concise and to the point compilation of the important things than the big blue book that is the Chicago Manual of Style.

If you are in the UK, you should invest in The Oxford A – Z of Grammar and Punctuation by John Seely. I use this little guide when I am editing for my British clients.

A handy book for all who write in the many multi-national English dialects is The Oxford Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms – I find this book invaluable when I am stuck trying to think up an alternative word that won’t be awkward or pretentious.

I secretly love awkward and pretentious words, especially ones that rhyme. It embarrasses my children when I forget my manners and use them in public.


Credits and Attributions:

Quote from: A Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue by Jonathan Swift, 1712, 2nd ed. Edited by Jack Lynch, Professor and chair of the English Department in the Newark College of Arts & Sciences at Rutgers University – Newark. (accessed Aug. 12, 2018).

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#FineArtFriday: Perseid Meteor Shower; Aug.11, 2015, by Brad Sutton

This weekend, August 11th through the 13th, 2018, is the annual show of lights known as the Perseid Meteor Shower. My husband and I will watch them as we always do. Sometimes I fall asleep before they appear, but I always try to be awake for them. After midnight is the best time.

The National Park Service photographer, Brad Sutton, caught this dreamscape perfectly. The Joshua trees are black against the  sky and he managed an exposure that was perfect: the meteor was captured yet the brilliance of the stars and the color of the night wasn’t washed out.

That, my friends, is no easy trick. I know a little about photography, having worked as a darkroom tech during the 1980s. Processing and printing is a digital no-brainer now, but in those days it was a worthy career. During my time in that line of work, I was privileged to handle the work of many fine professional nature photographers, and have retained my appreciation for the art-form.

About the scene portrayed in this image:

From Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge: The Perseids are prolific meteor showers associated with the comet Swift–Tuttle. The Perseids are so called because the point from which they appear to hail (called the radiant) lies in the constellation Perseus.

The other thing of beauty in this wonderful image is the setting, Joshua Tree National Park. It is an alien landscape to my northern eyes. The silhouettes of the Yucca against the clear, star-strewn sky calls to me in some lonely way.

Someday, I will travel to the American Southwest and see this place, and more. Perhaps I will see the Perseids from there. As all new experiences do, the feelings and emotions these places and events inspire will find their way into my work. I have been so privileged to see and touch the alien beauty that is our Planet Earth.

Also, from the Fount of Knowledge: Straddling the border between San Bernardino County and Riverside County, the park includes parts of two deserts, each an ecosystem whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. The Little San Bernardino Mountains traverse the southwest edge of the park.

Looking further into Wikipedia:

In a 2001 paper published in the journal Ecosystems, Joshua trees are one of the species predicted to have their range reduced and shifted by climate change. There is concern that they will be eliminated from Joshua Tree National Park, with ecological research suggesting a high probability that their populations will be reduced by 90% of their current range by the end of the 21st century, thus fundamentally transforming the ecosystem of the park. There is also concern about the ability of the species to migrate to favorable climates due to the extinction of the giant Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis) 13,000 years ago; ground sloth dung has been found to contain Joshua tree leaves, fruits, and seeds, suggesting that the sloths might have been key to the tree’s dispersal.


Credits and Attributions:

Perseid Meteor Shower; 8-11-15 by Brad Sutton for the National Park Service. Taken in Joshua Tree National Park. © CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Perseids,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Perseids&oldid=853424957 (accessed August 9, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Joshua Tree National Park,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Joshua_Tree_National_Park&oldid=852008844 (accessed August 9, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Yucca brevifolia,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Yucca_brevifolia&oldid=854060539 (accessed August 9, 2018).

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Things to check for before submitting to a beta reader #amwriting

When we finish writing a story, an article, or a novel, we feel a rush of pride. The urge to immediately send it to a magazine or contest is strong, but the wise author must overcome it.

Don’t even show it to your writing group at this stage, because you are too involved in it, and there may be some awkward flaws that were introduced into the narrative during the rush of creation. You want their feedback to be constructive and not focused on the editable flaws.

Set your manuscript aside for a week or so then come back to it and look for

  1. Dropped or missing words.
  2. Words that spell check won’t find because they are spelled correctly but are wrong: They went their for breakfast.
  3. Extra spaces in odd places, and after sentences. Editors want one (1) space after each sentence.
  4. The paragraphs are indented, NOT WITH TABS, but by formatting the paragraphs correctly.

Tabs >.< I feel it’s important to revisit this subject, as I have recently seen two manuscripts where authors used the tab key to indent their paragraphs.

That is a huge no-no, and screams “never done this before.” Ninety percent of publications and publishing houses want electronic submissions. Too many spaces messes up the final formatting. For this reason, make sure you have removed the tabs. You may have to do it by hand which is a daunting task no publisher or editor has time for.

You want your work to look professional, even if you are only submitting it to your writing group for a critique. Always format the paragraphs by either opening the home tab and choosing ‘normal’ from the styles tab on the ribbon OR format by using the simple formatting tool:

Step 1: On the home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it.  A pop-out menu will appear, and this is where you format your paragraphs.

Step 2: On the indents and spacing tab of the menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. The reason we use this format is we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced, and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.

Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.

Step 4: Where it says ‘Special’: on the drop-down menu select ‘first line.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (Some publishers will specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)

Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double.’

To summarize, standard paragraph format has:

  • margins of 1 inch all the way around
  • indented paragraphs with no extra space between
  • double-spaced text
  • Align Left. This is critical.

Do not justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words, and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text aligns with both the left and right margins. It gives you straight margins on both sides, but this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is published, and at that point, the publisher will handle the formatting.

Also, I have two things for you to look for before you submit your work to a beta reader or writing group, much less a prospective agent or publisher.

First up: Dialogue.

  1. Make sure every spoken sentence is enclosed in double quotes. All punctuation goes INSIDE the closed quotes, and quoted dialogue is enclosed in single quotes, ALSO inside the closed quotes.

Good: “I’m sorry, Mary. Your punctuation is horrific. Jake said, ‘I won’t accept it,’” said Helen.

When using dialogue tags, the spoken sentence ends in a comma, inside the closed quotes, followed by the dialogue tag which is NOT CAPITALIZED.

Bad: “I’m sorry, Mary. Your punctuation is horrific. Jake said, ‘I won’t accept it.’” Said Helen.

Good: “I’m sorry, Mary. Your punctuation is horrific. Jake said, ‘I won’t accept it,’” said Helen.

Next up: Commas. If you have a basic grip on commas, perfection is not needed. But commas separate clauses and act as traffic signals for our words.

  1. Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

Good: My dog has fleas, and he needs to go to the vet.

Do not join dependent clauses to independent clauses with commas.

Good: My dog has fleas and needs to go to the vet.

Avoid comma splices at all cost. Use conjunctions or semicolons to join related independent clauses, not commas.

Bad: My dog has fleas, he needs to go to the vet.

Good: My dog has fleas, and he needs to go to the vet. OR if you absolutely must use a semicolon, write it as, My dog has fleas; he needs to go to the vet.

By searching for these simple errors before you submit your work,there’s a good chance that an editor will read beyond the first page.

Even if you intend to hire an editor, if you have these sorts of major amateurish flaws in your work, the editor will most likely refuse to take on the task of editing your work, as it would be too difficult to complete in a reasonable amount of time.

If I receive a request from a prospective client to edit a manuscript, and a glance through the first few chapters shows a clear lack of knowledge of how to write, my policy is to refuse it. The author owes it to herself, and the craft in general, to learn how to write.

In these instances, I am always gentle, but firm. I usually suggest the author join a writing group and invest in some books on writing craft. Many times, I see wonderful, amazing stories that are so poorly written no editor would take them.

It’s important to remember that we all begin at that place. With practice and feedback from others, we grow. These first drafts of our writing life are the beginner stories, the ones that come from the heart and which we learn from. I have a desk full of examples of “What was I thinking?” Each one of those stories had great bones. They are the foundation of all my work.

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Character Growth/Arc #amwriting

When we think of epic fantasy, the first books that come to mind are J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien’s work was compelling not only for the quality of his prose and the events, but for the characters and how they grew and changed in the course of their adventures.

Genre authors spend a lot of time plotting the events a character will go through. Equal time must be given to character development.

A great story evolves when the antagonist and protagonist are strong but not omnipotent. Both the antagonist and protagonist must have character arcs that show personal growth or inability to grow.

Sometimes, an antagonist’s weakness is their inability to accept change and adapt to it. Other times, events cause them to devolve, sending them into a downward spiral. Either way, for the antagonist to be realistic, this must be clearly shown.

Once we meet the hero, small hindrances must occur between the larger events, frustrating their path to success. As each hindrance is overcome, the reader feels a small sense of satisfaction. Following the protagonist as he/she is negotiating these detours is what makes the story captivating, in my opinion.

  1. The story begins with the opening act, where the characters are introduced, and the scene is set. It then kicks into gear with the occurrence of the “inciting incident,” that first plot point at the ¼ mark that triggers the rest of the story. It is “the problem,” the core conflict of the story. This is where the protagonist is thrown into the action and is where they first find themselves blocked from achieving the desired object.

At this point, the protagonist is not fully formed—they must grow as a result of their experiences. They may make mistakes, cause themselves more trouble because they are untried and don’t know what they are doing.

Also, at this point, the protagonist may be confused as to what is really going on. This is a good place to introduce a mentor, someone who can offer a little wisdom or set the hero on the right path.

  1. Following the inciting incident is the second act: more action occurs which leads to more trouble, rising to a severe crisis. At the midpoint, the protagonist and friends are in grave difficulty and are struggling.

Each scene is a small arc of action that illuminates the motives of the characters, allows the reader to learn things as the protagonist does, and offers clues regarding things the characters do not know that will affect the plot.

Those clues are foreshadowing. Through the first half of the book, foreshadowing is important, as it piques the reader’s interest, and makes them want to know how the book will end.

The characters begin to be changed by the events they experience. How you show their emotional state is critical at this point because emotions engage readers. If you want your readers to feel the crisis, your characters must feel it and show their reactions to the reader.

We must contrast the relative security of the characters’ lives as they were in the opening paragraphs with the hazards of where they are now. We show the uncertainty, fear, anger, sense of loss they are experiencing.

  1. At the midpoint, another serious incident occurs, launching the third act and setting them back even further.

Now they are aware that they may not achieve their objectives after all. Bad things have happened, and the protagonists have to get creative and work hard to acquire or accomplish their desired goals. They must overcome their own doubts and make themselves stronger.

The midpoint is also where we really get to know the antagonist and learn what the enemy knows that the protagonists do not. We discover his/her motives and what they may be capable of.

First, we need to remember that very few people are evil for no reason at all. Sometimes they are likeable, people who appear innocuous, even loving. If this is the case in your story, you need to insert small clues for the reader about their personality into the narrative in the beginning pages.

Fleshing out the antagonist and making their motives realistic is important. He/she is as central to the story as the protagonist because their actions force the protagonist to grow as a human being.

  1. By the end of the third act, the protagonists are finding ways to resolve the conflict and are ready to commence the final, fourth act, where they will embark on the final battle. They will face their enemy and either win or lose.

By the end of the narrative, the protagonist has been through life changing events. They are no longer naïve but have knowledge and wisdom of their own. They are fit to be the mentors of the next generation.

It’s important to remember that at no point in the narrative can people be sitting around idly chit-chatting about the changes they have been through. The reader knows and doesn’t want to read a rehashing of events at the end of each chapter.

Many authors who are new to the craft say their characters just evolve with no thought ahead of time. As this lack of planning is clear in their muddy work, perhaps it’s a good idea to give a little thought to plotting the personal growth of the characters, how the experiences will change them. Readers become invested in the characters and want to see what happens next. Reward the reader by making the journey about the characters as much as you do about the events.


Credits and Attributions:

The Lord of the Rings The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001 theatrical poster, Copyright 2001, New Line Cinema, Fair Use

Wikipedia contributors, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Lord_of_the_Rings:_The_Fellowship_of_the_Ring&oldid=853509330 (accessed August 5, 2018)

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#FineArtFriday: Don Quixote in the Library, by Adolf Schrödter

An area of art I haven’t discussed, but which has often been a primary reason why I buy books, is the illustrations. The artwork that went into many books in the 19th and early 20th centuries was sometimes exquisite. Yet, these illustrators remained unknown for the most part and unsung. Today’s image is from Wikimedia Commons and is by a German artist, Adolf Schrödter.

Little is known about Schrödter other than he was born on June 28, 1805, and died Dec. 9, 1875, and was a genre painter of the Düsseldorf school of painting. According to Wikipedia, the Fount of All Knowledge:

The Düsseldorf School had a significant influence on the Hudson River School in the United States, and many prominent Americans trained at the Düsseldorf Academy and show the influence of the Düsseldorf School, including George Caleb BinghamDavid Edward CroninEastman JohnsonWorthington WhittredgeRichard Caton WoodvilleWilliam Stanley HaseltineJames McDougal HartHelen Searle, and William Morris Hunt, as well as German émigré Emanuel LeutzeAlbert Bierstadt applied but was not accepted. His American friend Worthington Whittredge became his teacher while attending Düsseldorf.

However, some of Schrödter’s art survives in the form of illustrations and a few prints have been sold at auctions.

In today’s image what impresses me is the level of detail. Here we see Alonso Quixano reading, lounging in a room that is clearly a book lover’s sanctuary. He is a descendant of the family of “Gutierre Quijada” by direct lineage and is proud to be part of a long and noble tradition of knights. In the first part of the book, Alonso, later Don Quixote de la Mancha, is a dreamer, preferring to imagine himself as a superhero, living out a knightly story.

Books are strewn everywhere, beautiful, heavy leather-bound tomes. Schrödter shows him in a relaxed pose, deep into a book. The light of the room comes from a large window. He is a very human, ordinary middle-aged man, relaxing in the most cherished place in his universe: his library.

Alonso Quixano, the protagonist of the novel (though he is not named until much later in the book), is a retired country gentleman nearing fifty years of age, living in La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper. Although he is mostly a rational man, his excessive reading of books of chivalry has produced a skewed view of reality and what we might consider dementia. In keeping with the theories of the time, not sleeping adequately—because he was reading—has caused his brain to dry.

I love that notion.

As a result, Alonso is easily given to anger and believes every word of these fictional books of chivalry to be true. Don Quixote’s niece commits, what is to me, the most heinous crime–she and the Parrish curate burn his library, and lie to him, telling him it was the work of an evil magician.

He descends completely into his fantasy world and decides to become a knight-errant in search of adventure. Schrödter has captured the essence of the making of Don Quixote in this painting—the man who loves books is in his element, the one place where he fits. When that is taken from him, the story begins.


Credits and Attributions:

Don Quixote in the Library, by Adolf Schrödter, 1834 PD|100, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia contributors, “Düsseldorf school of painting,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=D%C3%BCsseldorf_school_of_painting&oldid=822264175 (accessed August 3, 2018).

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How I became an author #amwriting

I have always been a writer, and a lover of music and art. Music was important in our house, as my parents had a large collection of vinyl records and the stereo was always cranking. Whether it was classical, jazz, or rock and roll, music was played loud enough to hear outside.

In an afternoon, you might hear the Beatles, followed by Vivaldi, Dean Martin, Herman’s Hermits, Loretta Lynn, the Monkees, and capping the evening—Mozart. Simon and Garfunkle, The Who, The Rolling Stones, 101 Strings, Electric Light Orchestra, Eddy Arnold, Count Basie, Stevie Wonder—you name it, the music was always played at a high volume in our home.

The books in our home were just as eclectic. My parents were prolific readers and were members of both Doubleday Book Club and Science Fiction Book Club. They also purchased two to four paperbacks a week at the drugstore and subscribed to Analog and several other magazines.

There was always something new and wonderful to read around our house, and most of it was literary fiction or speculative fiction, although we had the entire 54 volume leather-bound set of the Great Books of the Western World, and our father insisted we attempt to read and discuss what we could.

Some of those books were mostly understandable, such as William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys.

Plato, not so much, and yet his work did influence me.

At the age of fourteen, I didn’t understand Pepys, but I read him, and while we were bass fishing on a Saturday morning, Dad would talk about the differences and commonalities between life and morality in Pepys’ London and our life in suburban America in 1968. His thought was that I should learn about the 17th century and the Great Fire in London from an eyewitness, just as I had learned about the war in the Pacific from John F. Kennedy‘s autobiographical novel, PT 109.

But Pepys’ London of 1666 was so different from the ‘Mod’ subculture of the London of 1968 (and the Beatles) that I was familiar with thanks to Life magazine. To me, it was almost like speculative fiction. In many ways, it was more difficult for me to believe in historical London than Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

Everything I knew about sex, I learned from the books I stole from my mother’s nightstand.

When I married and left home, I still read every sci-fi or fantasy novel that came out in paperback, budgeting for books the way others of my acquaintance budgeted for beer. I read the classics for my irregular college classes and learned to love Chaucer and James Joyce. For a variety of reasons I never earned a college degree, but I’ve never stopped reading and researching great literature.

But reading for entertainment was still my “drug.” I jonesed for new books by the great ones, Anne McCaffreyJack Chalker, and Roger Zelazny, reading and rereading them until they were shreds held together with duct tape.

As a married student attending college in Bellingham Washington, purchasing books for pleasure became a luxury. I found a secondhand bookstore where I could get a brown paper shopping bag full of novels in too poor a condition to sell on their shelves for $2.00 a bag if you had a bag of better books to trade in.

As a college drop-out I went through a full shopping bag of books every week, and within a year, I had read every book they had.

Thus, out of desperation, I discovered a whole new (to me) genre: regency romances written by Georgette Heyer, and other romance writers of that generation. Those books, along with beat up copies of bestsellers by Jack KerouacJames Michener, and Jacqueline Susann began to show up in the pile beside my bed.

So at least some of my literary influences can be traced back to dragons, booze, morality, and England’s romantic Regency—lived vicariously through these authors’ eyes.

Always when the budget permitted, I returned to Tolkien, Zelazny, McCaffrey, AsimovBradbury, and as time passed, Piers AnthonyDavid EddingsTad WilliamsL.E. Modesitt Jr., and Robert Jordan to name only a few.

And there were so many, many others whose works I enjoyed. By the 1990s, the genres of fantasy and sci-fi were growing authors like a field grows weeds, and I loved it.

All of the books I read as a child and young adult have influenced my writing. They still inspire me.

Nowadays I rarely am able to read more than a chapter or two before falling asleep. My Kindle is full of books, and I haven’t got the time to read them because I have to write my own stories. Having the luxury to spend a day wallowing in a book is a treat to be treasured.

But it is because of the uncountable authors whose works I have been privileged to read that I was inspired to think that my own scribbles might be worth pursuing.

Writing has always been necessary for me, as natural as breathing. In the beginning, my writing was unformed, a reflection of whatever I was reading at the moment. As I matured and gained confidence, I found my own ideas and stories, and they took over my life.

Once that happened, I became a keyboard-wielding writing junkie.

Some days I write well, and others not so much, but every day I write something.

And every day I find myself looking for the new book that will rock my universe, a new “drug” to satisfy my craving, even if I know I won’t have time to read it.

I’m addicted to dreams and the people who write about them. Reading is my form of mind expanding inspiration. Without the authors whose books formed my world, I would never have dared to write.


Credits and Attributions

Potions of this article have appeared previously here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy in the post, The Genesis of an Author, © Connie J. Jasperson 2016, posted Jan 27, 2016

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Theme and the Short Story #amwriting

Even if you are a confirmed Indie author, as I am, you may feel the desire to write short pieces and submit them to anthologies, magazines, or contests. Writing a short story is an excellent way to explore in detail an idea that is inspired by your longer work, but that you don’t have room to include there.

If you are writing a series of speculative fiction novels set in a world of your creation, writing short stories is a good way to develop that world. You also have the opportunity to develop characters you can use later.

Once you submit your story, it will be up against many entries, so you must make yours as unique as is possible.

Anthologies are usually themed. According to Wikipedia:

A theme is not the same as the subject of a work. For example, the subject of Star Wars is “the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.”

The themes explored in the films might be “moral ambiguity” or “the conflict between technology and nature.”

If you intend to submit your work to an editor with an open call for themed work, you must demonstrate your understanding of theme as well as your ability to craft brilliant prose.

Analyze the theme and try to think creatively—think a little wide of the obvious tropes. Look for an original angle that will play well to that theme and then go for it. As an author, most of my novels have been epic or medieval fantasy, based around the hero’s journey, detailing how their experiences shape the characters’ reactions and personal growth. The hero’s journey is a theme that allows me to employ the sub-themes of brother/sisterhood, and love of family.

These concepts are important to me on a personal level, and so they find their way into my writing.

To support the theme, you must layer

  • character studies,
  • allegory, and
  • imagery

These three layers must all be driven by the central theme and advance the story arc.

The theme is introduced, either subtly or overtly, at the first plot point. In a really short story, this must happen on the first page. Many times, we are given a specific word count we cannot exceed, so lengthy lead-ins are not possible.

When writing a short story, it helps to know how it will end. I suggest you put together a broad outline of your intended story arc. Divide your story arc into quarters, so you have the important events in place at the right time. If you try to “pants” it, you might end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story that may not be commercially viable.

When you assemble your outline, ask yourself

  • What will be your inciting incident? How does it relate to the theme?
  • What is the goal/objective? How does it relate to the theme?
  • At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want to cause him to risk everything to acquire it?
  • How badly does he want it and why?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • What moral (or immoral) choice is the protagonist going to have to make in his attempt to gain that objective?
  • What happens at the first pinch point?
  • In what condition do we find the group at the midpoint?
  • Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the turning point to change everything for the worse?
  • At the ¾ point, your protagonist should have gathered his resources and companions and should be ready to face the antagonist. How will you choreograph that meeting?
  • How does the underlying theme affect every aspect of the protagonists’ evolution in this story?

In my own writing life, too much background info has been my greatest challenge. Writing short stories has helped me find ways to write more concisely. What is important for the reader to know? What is just info for me? Knowing what is important in my own work is difficult because it all seems so important.

Short stories follow a single thread in a character’s life. Each word must advance that one story thread. Work that wanders all over the place will be summarily rejected, and the editor will most likely not give more than a stock rejection.

Having your work beta read by your critique group will help you identify those places that need to be trimmed down. I have close friends who see my work first and who help me see what the real story is before I bother my editor with it. My beta readers are published authors in my writing group.

Because I am a wordy writer, I always have to keep in mind that info dumps about character history and side trails to nowhere have no place in short stories because every word is precious. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the theme of the story and how it drives the plot.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Theme (arts),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Theme_(arts)&oldid=848540721(accessed July 29, 2018).

 

 

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#FineArtFriday: Imogen, by Herbert Gustave Schmalz

Herbert Gustave Schmalz (1856–1935) was an English painter who named himself Herbert Gustave Carmichael in 1918. He is counted among the Pre-Raphaelites , and Imogen, which was painted in  1888 is a classic example of the hyper-romanticized Pre-Raphaelite style.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood produced some spectacularly beautiful work, as well as some rather awkwardly posed, overly sentimental pieces. Schmalz was famous for his romantic pictures depicting medieval scenes, Arthurian scenes, and vignettes from Shakespeare’s work.

Schmalz turned his brush to portraiture in his later work, as that was where the money was.

From Wikipedia:

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (later known as the Pre-Raphaelites) was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 by William Holman HuntJohn Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The three founders were joined by William Michael RossettiJames CollinsonFrederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner to form the seven-member “brotherhood”. Their principles were shared by other artists, including Ford Madox BrownArthur Hughes and Marie Spartali Stillman.

A later, medievalising strain inspired by Rossetti included Edward Burne-Jones and extended into the twentieth century with artists such as John William Waterhouse.

The group’s intention was to reform art by rejecting what it considered the mechanistic approach first adopted by Mannerist artists who succeeded Raphael and Michelangelo. Its members believed the Classical poses and elegant compositions of Raphael in particular had been a corrupting influence on the academic teaching of art, hence the name “Pre-Raphaelite”. In particular, the group objected to the influence of Sir Joshua Reynolds, founder of the English Royal Academy of Arts, whom they called “Sir Sloshua”. To the Pre-Raphaelites, according to William Michael Rossetti, “sloshy” meant “anything lax or scamped in the process of painting … and hence … any thing or person of a commonplace or conventional kind”.[1] The brotherhood sought a return to the abundant detail, intense colours and complex compositions of Quattrocento Italian art. The group associated their work with John Ruskin,[2] an English critic whose influences were driven by his religious background.

The group continued to accept the concepts of history painting and mimesis, imitation of nature, as central to the purpose of art. The Pre-Raphaelites defined themselves as a reform movement, created a distinct name for their form of art, and published a periodical, The Germ, to promote their ideas. The group’s debates were recorded in the Pre-Raphaelite Journal.


Credits and Attributions

Wikipedia contributors, “Herbert Gustave Schmalz,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Herbert_Gustave_Schmalz&oldid=829134407 (accessed July 27, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Pre-Raphaelite_Brotherhood&oldid=846744412 (accessed July 27, 2018).

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