The Catskills, by Asher Brown Durand 1858

Quote from Wikimedia Commons on The Catskills: This painting was commissioned by William T. Walters in 1858, when the 62-year-old Durand was at the height of his fame and technical skill. The vertical format of the composition was a trademark of the artist, allowing him to exploit the grandeur of the sycamore trees as a means of framing the expansive landscape beyond. Durand’s approach to the “sublime landscape” was modeled on that of Thomas Cole (1801-48), founder of the Hudson River school of painting. The painters of this school explored the countryside of the eastern United States, particularly the Adirondack Mountains and the Catskills. Their paintings often reflect the Transcendental philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), who believed that all of nature bore testimony to a spiritual truth that could be understood through personal intuition.

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Quote from Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge): Asher Brown Durand is remembered particularly for his detailed portrayals of trees, rocks, and foliage. He was an advocate for drawing directly from nature with as much realism as possible. Durand wrote, “Let [the artist] scrupulously accept whatever [nature] presents him until he shall, in a degree, have become intimate with her infinity…never let him profane her sacredness by a willful departure from truth.”

Like other Hudson River School artists, Durand also believed that nature was an ineffable manifestation of God. He expressed this sentiment and his general opinions on art in his essay “Letters on Landscape Painting” in The Crayon, a mid-19th century New York art periodical. Wrote Durand, “[T]he true province of Landscape Art is the representation of the work of God in the visible creation…”

I grew up in a forested place, not unlike that depicted here. That sentiment has endeared this style of art to me. I have become attached to the modern fantasy painters, those modern artists like Michael Whelan and the late Darrell K. Sweet, who paint images in this style for fantasy novels and RPG games. Their style is called Imaginative Realism.

What strikes me the most about this particular painting is not only the attention to detail, but the fairy-tale quality of Durand’s vision of realism. Viewed as a whole, this composition has an otherworldly quality to it, almost as if Elrond or Galadriel lurk just out of view, beyond the edges.


Credits and Attributions

Wikipedia contributors, “Asher Brown Durand,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Asher_Brown_Durand&oldid=845716778 (accessed June 14, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Asher Brown Durand – The Catskills – Walters 37122.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Asher_Brown_Durand_-_The_Catskills_-_Walters_37122.jpg&oldid=164572034 (accessed June 14, 2018).

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Conflict, the core of the story #amwriting

cuckoo_definition_thefreedictionary_lirfI began my current project with an idea for a character, and I knew what the ultimate end of the story is because it is already canon in the Tower of Bones series. The difficulty I have had was devising a completely different culture, the pre-culture if you will.

In the time of the Tower of Bones series, the Temple of Aeos is a finely-tuned machine that serves to distribute food and medical care to the poorer communities, provides education to everyone, provides military protection when needed, and maintains the roads that connect the communities. Mages are sworn to serve the goddess Aeos, and the people of Neveyah, even at the cost of their lives. Although it’s not bandied about, the Temple’s primary function is to find mage-gifted children before their untrained gift wreaks havoc in their communities. Untrained mages have a high chance of becoming the tool of the Bull God, Tauron.

In the current work-in-progress the Temple doesn’t exist. It is born into existence because of the struggles of two larger-than-life characters and the events of these two books.

When I decided to write this story, I had to ask myself three questions. The answers to these questions are what shapes the story arc.

1: The Problem: What is the core conflict?

My protagonist and antagonist are each chosen as champions of their deities. The one who wins decides which deity rules Neveyah, the usurper or the rightful goddess. There is more than simply a world at stake here—the balance of the worlds is threatened as there must be one world for each living god, and even though he is imprisoned, Ariend still lives.

One deity, the mad god Tauron, is the cuckoo in their nest. He was not born a child of the Mother of All as were the others, but simply appeared one day and was taken in, which upset the balance of the universe.  When no new goddess appeared to be his mate, Tauron’s loneliness caused his descent into madness.

Angry at being denied a wife, Tauron desires to rule the universe and began his quest by assaulting his brother Ariend to claim Aeos as his wife. This was the apocalyptic “Sundering of the Worlds” and nearly destroyed the societies of three worlds.

He has claimed half of Ariend’s world and intends to have the rest. He will take Aeos and her world, believing it is his due.

However, with the imprisonment of Ariend, the gods can no longer interact directly with each other, but must instead act through their champions, who have free will. Religion features strongly in this series, and the concepts of good and evil, moral right and wrong.

2: What do they want? What does each character desire?

Each man desires to unite Neveyah under the banner of his deity. Alf follows Aeos, Goddess of Hearth and Home, who created the world of Neveyah.

Daryk follows Tauron, the Bull God, who created the world of Serende and who imprisoned Aeos’s husband, Ariend the Mountain God, in his effort to force Aeos to become his wife.

Map of the North and the Barbarian Towns, in the time of AelfridAlf’s best friend has triggered a mage trap and fallen to the Dark God. His wife has left him and dumped their sick child on him, and he has been chosen for a task he doesn’t want—that of Shaman. He believes that the Barbarian Tribes are the key to defeating Tauron because their culture is strongly rooted in the concept of community. Each member of the community can defend themselves against raiders, something the people living in the citadels of the south have forgotten.

With the triggering of the trap, Daryk has shed the weakness that was his life as a follower of Aeos. He now understands that only the strong deserve to survive and rule Neveyah, and he believes the Barbarian Tribes are the key to defeating Aeos, as they are trained in war craft.

 

3: What will they do to get it? How far will each go to achieve their desire?

At times, the line between what is moral and immoral is blurred, as both societies are fundamentally flawed. Both men will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, although of the two, only Alf is burdened with regrets for the choices he makes.

This is the core conflict. How my characters deal with it is the story.


Credits and Attributions:

Cuckoo in the nest definition, The Free Dictionary,

https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/a+cuckoo+in+the+nest, accessed June 12, 2018.

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Craft and Intention #amwriting

You’ve heard the saying, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” A small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence. A person might leap to invalid conclusions based on what they know without considering the things they don’t know.

New authors eagerly soak up the wisdom offered through writing groups, seminars, and handbooks on the craft of writing.

It is only when we begin reading widely, and in many different genres, that we discover a difficult truth: great writing is not simply a matter of following rules.

I know, the editor is implying that grammar doesn’t matter.

But I am not, exactly.

What I am saying is that applying rigid rules to literature is akin to expecting your two-year-old to behave perfectly every moment of every day. The books that move me are young and wild and have occasional tantrums. They’re sometimes messy, dirty little things.

Producing a book is a form of parenthood. Like the unruly toddler, when an author puts her manuscript to bed at the end of the day, it’s the most amazing creature she has ever seen.

As an editor, sometimes I discover life in a manuscript that has broken all the rules.

Grammar rules exist for a purpose, and if done wrong, this breaking of certain rules can destroy a reader’s enjoyment of a story.

However, sometimes when it is done deliberately by someone who understands how to write, this work shines because the writer’s style struck the right chord. Life is a natural consequence of the rush of creativity and is set into the manuscript when the first words are written.

Unfortunately, it is easy to murder what began as a beautiful story. Consider those writers who spend years carefully combing every spark of accidental passion out of their work, creating textbook-perfect sentences that are flat, toneless. When the prose is perfectly flat, the author has no voice and the reader may have no desire to care about the characters or their struggle.

Then, we find authors who randomly have characters swear, not consistently, but off and on, apparently for the shock value. Others might inject a little graphic violence or sex into the spots where they couldn’t think of what to do next.

When you do anything that breaks a rule, you must do it consistently and with purpose. “Shock value” has no value to offer a well-written manuscript, although a well-written manuscript may shock and challenge you.

When you have taken the time to understand how a story is constructed, you begin to find creative ways to phrase things so they keep the story interesting. My suggestion is to learn the rules. When what you write breaks with what is considered accepted practice, do it intentionally. Then, tell your editor what rules you are choosing to ignore and why, and she will make sure you are consistent.

Great authors (and good editors) understand balance.

You want to create a balanced narrative:

  • Information must be delivered only as the protagonist (or reader) needs it. Speaking as an author, it can be difficult to know when to dole out the background, but this is where writing becomes work.
  • The information can never be something everyone already knows, as that is boring.
  • Write with intention, use good grammar, but write using the phrasing and words you think best conveys your story. Refuse to be bullied by people who don’t like work published in your genre and who can’t understand what you are trying to achieve.
  • Write with consistency. If you choose not to use commas to join compound sentences, be consistent, or your narrative will look unedited. If you are consistent, most casual readers won’t notice, although they may think you use too many run-on sentences. However, many more readers are becoming authors, so be wary of breaking that rule.
  • No one will die if you use an adjective or adverb when they are needed. The caveat is don’t use descriptors excessively—creative writers find many ways to show the story, but sometimes only a descriptor will do. At that point, use a “telling” word, rather than going to absurd lengths to show an awkward moment.
  • Show who your people are but allow the reader to form their own idea of beauty. Do give the reader a good general framework to build their visualization around.
  • For the most part, stick to simple basic speech tags like said and replied, and if the conversation has only two people, skip speech tags for an exchange or two. Not for more than two exchanges, however, as lengthy discussions with no speech tags will become confusing.
  • Follow the story arc: it must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. A story consists of
  1. A setting
  2. One or more developed characters
  3. A conflict that forces growth/change
  4. A resolution.

Some authors are like pendulums, swinging wildly from one extreme to the other. They leave each meeting of their writing group confused and hurt, burdened with the notion that they are terrible writers. These people work hard and go all out in applying suggestions made by the group. Unfortunately, they’re making their manuscript more unpalatable with each misguided effort.

Their book is being written by a committee, and we all know how poorly some committees function.

First, we must realize that no one writes a perfect, completely flawless manuscript. Even Neil Gaiman and Alexander Chee begin their new works with imperfect first drafts. No novel emerges fully formed, no matter how brilliant the author.

This means we all begin at the same place as writers, all of us mortals with flaws.

So now that we understand we all begin with flawed work, I must ask you this question: are you writing for the critics who might be out there, or because you have a story you are burning to write?

If you are not writing for the joy of writing, quit now.

Otherwise, keep writing. Only by continued practice and attention to learning the craft will you develop the balance you know you need. Buy the Chicago Guide to Grammar Usage and Punctuation, and learn how sentences and paragraphs are constructed. Then learn how to fit those sentences and paragraphs into a story arc.

When you break a rule, be knowledgeable and do it with style.

You can gain a handle on balance by writing short-stories and essays.

With each short-story you write, you increase your ability to tell a story with minimal exposition and intentional prose. This is especially true if you limit yourself to writing the occasional practice story—telling the whole story in 1000 words or less. These practice shorts serve several purposes:

  • You have a finite amount of time to tell what happened, so only the most crucial of information will fit within that space.
  • You have a limited amount of space so your characters will be restricted to just the important ones.
  • There is no room for anything that does not advance the plot or influence the outcome.
  • You will build a backlog of short stories and characters to draw on when you need a good story to submit to a contest.

Go for the gusto, and try writing flash fiction–give yourself less than 1000 words to tell a story.

You can also challenge yourself to tell a story in around 100 words. That is called a drabble and is an art form in itself.

I write epic and medieval fantasy, but I also write short literary fiction and poetry. I read in all genres and learn from what I read—I learn many things I like and much I do not, simply by reading. I read everything from vampire romances, to science fiction, to classical literature. Think about this: the first superhero adventure, a pair of genre fiction novels written for the entertainment of the masses were two books written by Cervantes, and which are now known as “Don Quixote.”

Today’s novel has a chance of becoming tomorrow’s classic if you are brave and bold enough to write it.

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#FineArtFriday: Rembrandt through his own eyes, 1659

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, commonly known simply as Rembrandt, is considered the finest artist of the 17th century. Some art historians consider him the finest artist in the history of art, and the most important artist in Dutch art history.

Speaking strictly as a Rembrandt fangirl and abject admirer, I consider his self-portraits to be more honest than those of any other artist.

Quote from Wikipedia: His self-portraits form a unique and intimate biography, in which the artist surveyed himself without vanity and with the utmost sincerity.

This honesty comes across in all his works featuring himself as the subject, even those where he portrays himself as a shepherd or the prodigal son. Each portrait shows an aspect of his personality, his sense of humor, his affection for Saskia who was the love of his life, and his wry acceptance of his own human frailties.

Rembrandt knew he was talented, but didn’t see himself as a creative genius. He was just a man with a passion for art, who lived beyond his means and died a pauper, as did Mozart, and as do most artists and authors.

I feel I know this man, more so than I do the person he was in his earlier self-portraits. He’s matured, lost some of the brashness of his youth. When I observe the man in this self-portrait, painted ten years before his death, I see a good-humored man just trying to live a frequently difficult life as well as he can. His face is lined and blemished, not as handsome as he once was. But his eyes seem both kind and familiar, filled with the understanding that comes from living with all one’s heart and experiencing both great joy and deep sorrow.

The art of Rembrandt van Rijn shows us his world as he saw it. Others may disagree with me, but I feel his greatest gift was the ability to convey personality with each portrait. This gift allowed him to portray every person he painted as they really were, blemished and yet beautiful. This is a gift he taught his students, and they were able to copy his style quite effectively, making discerning his true work difficult even for the experts.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Rembrandt,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rembrandt&oldid=844357531(accessed June 8, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rembrandt van Rijn – Self-Portrait – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rembrandt_van_Rijn_-_Self-Portrait_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=292800848 (accessed June 8, 2018).

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Creating your author blog part 3 #amwriting

Today marks the end of my three-part series on author blogs. (Edited to add: Parts 1 & 2 can be found at these links:)

Creating Your Author Blog, Part 1

Creating your Author Blog, Part 2

One of the comments authors make most often when explaining why they don’t keep their blogs updated, is that they don’t know what to write about. One well-known author told me she sees it as a job that is as exciting as doing laundry.

I think it’s because it hasn’t occurred to her to write about her passions. She is a woman who has many different hobbies—climbing, cooking, and kick-boxing, as well as writing. It just hasn’t occurred to her to write a 500-word article about what she did over the weekend and post it for her fans to read. As a fan, I’d love to hear about her trip to the Sasquatch! Music Festival at the Gorge and get her opinion on the various bands that played there.

However, my friend regularly tweets about her hobbies. The fact is, many authors who use twitter to connect with fans don’t think that their lives are worthy of more than the 280 characters you must work with in a tweet. But a blogpost doesn’t have to be long. Think of it as a long tweet or Facebook post, and you will have 300 – 500 words written in no time.

That is an acceptable blogpost. My first posts averaged 400 words.

A great many of us are quite adept with Facebook as a medium for connecting with readers. The work you put into a Facebook post for your author page or a tweet could easily be turned into a short blog post.

If you fall into that category, even a bi-monthly update on your works in progress and where you will be signing books is a good option. We just need something to  keep our fans engaged.

Needing a blogpost is also an opportunity to quickly dash off a flash-fiction, a drabble, or a haiku. Authors need to write and keeping our blogs updated is a good way to keep those juices flowing when we are having a creative lull in other areas.

Life, my family, and the nuts-and-bolts of writing craft are my inspiration. I am always educating myself in this craft, and since writing is my obsession, that is usually what I riff on for 500 – 1000 words at a time.

However, I sometimes write about the challenges life hands us. I will talk about the worry of having two adult children who live with epilepsy. I have discussed how being vegan adds culinary adventure to attending conventions. I also have many creative grandchildren, some of whom who give me career advice, some of the more hilarious of which have made fun posts.

Sometimes, during the week, interesting things will come up in conversations in the writing groups I visit on Facebook. Often these little questions and how they relate to my own works-in-progress are subjects that I think might make a good topic for a blogpost. So, I keep a sticky note up on my desktop and note my ideas for topics as I come across them.

Usually, the only day I write blog posts is Sunday, but I write the entire week’s posts that day. Sometimes, I write them the day before I intend to schedule them, but I like to do them well in advance, so I can proofread them with fresh eyes before their posting.

Sometimes there is research involved, and I need to quote other websites. When that is the case, I make footnotes at the bottom of my composition document as I go. Pretend I need to quote from an article on Gallows humor. Footnotes or attributions are written like this:

Wikipedia contributors, “Gallows humor,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gallows_humor&oldid=759474185 (accessed January 30, 2017).

If you are using images or quotes found on the web, only publish those you have the legal right to use. Do the right thing, and source your images and quotes responsibly. To find out more on that subject, see my article of September 4, 2017, Citing Sources and Image Attribution.

Some people wonder why I make footnotes at the end of most of my posts. I didn’t always do this, because I didn’t understand that even public domain and royalty free images found on Wikipedia should be attributed correctly. It’s our legal obligation, but there is a moral one here too: photographers and artists are as proud of their work as we are of ours—if you wrote something good and someone quoted you verbatim, wouldn’t you want to be credited? When you see your book offered for free on a pirate’s website, don’t you feel anger?

After my post is written in a document, I open WordPress or Blogger and select new blog post. Then, before I do anything else, I insert the title and schedule the date for publishing, so the post is prescheduled for the right publishing date. Prescheduling allows my blog to post a new article three times a week at 06:00 am my time (on a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday) which is 09:00 US Eastern time. It updates without my having to babysit it.

I do have to be observant when I am scheduling my posts. Occasionally, I accidentally hit the “publish immediately” button, which means I end up with an extra post that week whether I meant to or not. When that happens, I sometimes use naughty words. When I get done cursing, I either skip the Monday post or write an extra one.

Once I have the post scheduled, I select the categories and tags.

For an author who is posting once a week or twice a month, it won’t take an hour to put together a post if you write in a word document, spell-check it, and paste it into the body of the post. I spell-check and self-edit my posts as well as possible. Blogposts don’t require an editor, but you should, at a minimum, check for these things:

  • We need to look for incorrectly spelled words and doublecheck the spelling of proper names. We also need to look for words that sound the same but are spelled differently.
  • We need to use good grammar—when we are blogging, it doesn’t have to be perfect but do your best. It will sound like you, and that is important.
  • Also look at sentence structure. Did you use complete sentences? What about run-on sentences? Lo-o-o-o-o-ng sentences can make reading a post confusing.
  • Numbers. This is especially an issue when using digits, as the difference between 10 and 100 is substantial.
  • Look carefully for dropped words or repeated words—my big bugaboo is the extra and or to in a sentence: and and.

Once I have my post edited as well as I can, I paste the document into the body of the post. It is a good idea to use the preview function and read your post. It looks different there than it does in a word doc, so you will find many things you want to change and can make any adjustments needed before the blog is actually posted. Even so, I always miss a lot of typos and other bloopers, so don’t freak if you have to go back and take the apostrophe of a plural word that is not a possessive: sharks vs shark’s (as I regularly have to do.)

Blogs look nice with an image, so insert pictures. I love looking for images on Wikimedia Commons and other free public domain sites, or sometimes I use my own photographs/graphics.

Blogging is where I come to talk about things that are on my mind, which are usually ideas about writing craft. Having the ability to write each post ahead of time, edit them, and select the date for publishing allows me to work the rest of the week at my true job, which is writing novels.


(07 June 2018) Edited to add the links to the previous posts:

Creating Your Author Blog, Part 1

Creating your Author Blog, Part 2

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Creating your author blog part 2 #amwriting

As last week’s post, Creating your author blog part 1, much of this is taken from earlier posts on this subject, so if you have seen it before, thank you for stopping by, and the next post will be on sourcing content for our blog posts.


Once you have your blog set up, and the catchy title picked out, etc., it’s time to start writing. Both WordPress and Blogger offer you the ability to use html (Text) if you choose, which I don’t have a clue about, or to go with the Visual (what you see is what you get). Unless you are a programmer, stay with ‘Visual.

In WordPress, choose a category now for your post–do it first, so you don’t forget to do it. I published this post in the category of writing.  Each blog post may have a different category, but you decide what your categories are. If you should forget to choose the category, it will go into the ‘uncategorized’ pile–the dreaded WordPress slush-pile where blogs go to die.

Also in WordPress, chose a few TAGS now, if you know what you’re writing about, so that you don’t forget to tag the post. That button is below the Categories list. Chose tags that most represent the core of your post, so that searchers for that subject will find your post.

For this post, I am using ‘blogger, blogspot, blogging, WordPress, WordPress blog how-to.’

If you are using Blogger, PICK YOUR LABELS NOW–Blogger doesn’t use categories, so your labels are very important. On the right-hand side, click on ‘LABELS’ and simply type your key words into the BOX, separated by commas. In Blogger, LABELS are what TAGS are in WordPress, so use words that represent the core of what you are blogging about so that interested searcher will find your blog.

Next, schedule your post: In WordPress, in the the right-hand menu-list you will open the the ‘status bar.’ Use the calendar to pick the date and set the time of day you want the post to go live.

Here is the screenshot that shows you where everything is in WordPress:

Wordpress_how2blog_screenshot2018

And for Blogger it looks like this:

blogger_details_screenshot

Now that you have that out-of-the-way, it’s time to blog!

  1. Hook me with that catchy blog post title! Pretend this post is called “Blogging for beginners.” Pretty boring, but hey – it is what it is.
  2. Put that title in the white box at the top of the page and DO IT NOW, so you don’t forget to give your post a title.

Now there are two paths for you. You can choose to wing it, keying directly into the post box as I sometimes do, or you can write it on a WORD document, edit it at your leisure, and copy and paste it into the body of the post. (In WordPress, depending on the platform’s mood, you may have to key “cntrl V” to paste it into the post box.)

Both Blogger and WordPress have spell check functions, and both will save at times as you go. However, spell check only picks up misspelled worlds, and doesn’t catch errors that involve correct spelling. When I key directly into the post box, some errors may get overlooked in the proofing process. I do try to correct them but I sometimes don’t notice them for several months, so blogging can be a lesson in learning to laugh at yourself.

Now we want to add a picture. In WordPress, place your cursor in the body of the blog post and click once at the spot where you will want the image. Then scroll up to the left side of the ribbon (tool box) and click on the circle with a + sign in it, where it says ‘Add’ (when you hover your mouse over it, it will say ‘insert image.’ This symbol is a little obscure, but once you find it, you are good to go.

If this is your first blog post, you won’t have anything in your media library yet, so click on “Upload Files.” Practice uploading images and inserting them, playing with it until you feel comfortable and know how to ensure the image will appear where you want it and will be the size you want it to be. Then, once the image in the body of the post you click on the picture, and a new toolbox opens. That is where you make your adjustments for positioning and size. You can even add captions if you wish.

In Blogger you also click on the little picture in the ribbon (when you hover your mouse over it, it will say ‘insert image’). A pop-up menu will appear, and then you will upload the image, decide the placement and the size.  This nearly foolproof simplicity is why most people who have “never done this before” like Blogger more than WordPress.

All you have to do now is post your links to Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler and all other social media you can think of. It is quite easy to set up, and you rarely need to refresh those connections.

This is where WordPress really excels.

In WordPress, we have the “publicize” option which will automatically post to our other social sites. In the Settings menu, open “sharing” and click on it. that will take you to the “Sharing Settings” page. Click on the button that says, “Publicize Settings.” That will open a list of what I think of as blog warehouses, places that collect blogs and offer them to their regular readers. You want to activate as many of them as you can.

It will take a long time for you to build up good traffic – when I began in 2011 I averaged 4 to 10 visits a day. I see those months as my training months, a time when I was able to get a feel for this craft. I have a lot more readers now because I have gained many good friends here through WordPress and am diligent about keeping this blog updated.

I highly recommend blogging if you are serious about being an author, as it helps develops your writing craft, especially when you must go in and edit out your mistakes after they have posted. People expect blogs to be a little rougher than other work as it is usually written on the wing but try to do your best work—you want people to buy your books, and they won’t if your blog posts seem illiterate.

As I mentioned above, my next post will discuss the nuts and bolts of sourcing content and writing the posts, including little tricks I use for catching most typos and misspelled words before my work posts.

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#FineArtFriday: After the Hurricane, Bahamas by Winslow Homer

After the Hurricane, Bahamas is a watercolor painting by the American artist, Winslow Homer. It shows a man washed up on the beach after a storm, surrounded by the fragments of his shattered boat. The wreckage of the boat gives evidence of the severity of the powerful hurricane, which is retreating. Black clouds still billow but recede into the distance, and sunlight has begun to filter through the clouds.

The man may have lost his boat, but he has survived.

I love the way the whitecaps are depicted, and the colors of the sea are true to the way the ocean looks after a severe storm. Winslow Homer’s watercolor seascapes are especially intriguing to me as they are extremely dramatic and forceful expressions of nature’s power. The beauty and intensity of Homer’s vision of “ocean” are unmatched—in my opinion his seascapes are alive in a way few other artists can match.

This painting was done in 1899 and marked the end of Homer’s watercolor series depicting man against nature. That series was begun with Shark Fishing in 1885, the year he first visited the Caribbean and is comprised of at least six known paintings. The most famous of these watercolor paintings is The Gulf Stream, which was also painted in 1899. After the Hurricane, Bahamas is the last of the series.


Credits and Attributions:

After the Hurricane, Bahamas by Winslow Homer, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Creating your Author Blog part 1 #amwriting

Much of this is taken from earlier posts on this subject, so if you have seen it before, thank you for stopping by, and the next post will be on creating blog posts.


‘Life in the Realm of Fantasy’ is a WordPress blog. I use WordPress because it is a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system.  I also have several other blogs on Blogger (Blogspot), which is also a free, open-source blogging tool and content management system. I prefer Blogger for ease of use, but it is limited. I love the way WordPress looks when you get to the finished product stage.

There is a small learning curve for each. But with very few skills, I have a decent-looking blog at no cost to me, using the fine tools and templates provided by the wonderful people at WordPress or Blogspot–and you can too.

The thing that is so awesome about both these products is you have the option to use them in what my husband-the-programmer calls ‘wysiwyg’ (pronounced wizzy-wig) or ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get.’ The user does not have to know any programming or coding–all that is done for you already, and you just organize it the way you want it, within certain limitations.

If you want to use WordPress visit the WordPress home pageand select the ‘Sign Up’ button to register for a WordPress account. You’ll need a valid email address (that has not been used to create another WordPress account) to sign up for a new WordPress account. Follow the steps and bam! You have a blog.

But you can also do this via Blogger (blogspot), Google’s free blogging tool and content management system, also an extremely simple process.

Whichever platform you choose, I suggest you use your author name. I used Connie J. Jasperson. This links your author name to your blog, which is why you are doing this in the first place. Pick a title for your blog–this one is Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

I now pay something like $25.00 a year for the domain name, so https://conniejjasperson.com is mine. But for five years I used the free domain, which gives you a .wordpress.com ending after your blog name, such as http://myblogname1.wordpress.com.

In WordPress, begin with finding a template. Open the left-hand menu and go to Customize and click on Themes. Select one of the many free templates. Once you find a theme that you like, you are ready to go. I use Pilcrow theme for this site because I like the versatility.

In Blogger, you will also come to a screen with many options. I suggest you just start at the top of the menu where it says template and begin playing around with it until you find the look and style you like best. You will be able to see most of your changes in the area below the Template Designer.

In both WordPress and Blogger, I keep the template simple because it is easier for people to read.

Once you have decided on that catchy title for your blog and have figured out the color of your fonts and background are all organized, decide the layout. You can make it one column with no sidebar, or with one or two sidebars. Sidebars are good places for advertising your books and book trailers, along with many other things you want to share with the world, such as blogs that you follow, and offers those who wish to follow your blog a place to sign up. The trick with sidebars is to keep them from junking up the blog, which I have a tendency to do.

In WordPress, you will click “Upload.” This will take you to the part where you REALLY customize the look of your blog. Open the menu on the left and begin customizing from there. Click on Customize and go to Widgets. You can add your book images there, and links to amazon or other sellers, along with all sorts of other wonderful things that will make your site uniquely yours.

In Blogger, click “Apply to Blog” in the upper right-hand corner. This should take you back to the Blogger page, where you will look in the menu on the left and click on the “Layout” button, just above the orange Template button. On the right hand side (yours may be different, depending on how you chose to display sidebars) click on add a gadget.

In both WordPress and Blogger, you will find many options to make your site look great, from inserting images to ways to add html code for embedding videos. You can get fancy with the header or use the header they offer you. The appearance of your site will evolve over time, as mine certainly has.

Both sites have awesome and informative help in their FAQs and I suggest you make good use of them. Everything I know was learned by my asking questions.

Do take some time to play around with arrangements. You can preview it, but if you accidentally hit publish, don’t freak because until you add content and tell folks it’s out there, no one will see your mistakes. Take as much time as you need to get comfortable with the system and remember that anything you don’t like can be undone.

On Monday, we will begin with the actual blogging part of your author website. This is as crucial as anything else because it is where you will connect with your readers.

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The author’s platform #blogging #amwriting

Today’s image is a picture of my husband’s amazing hydrangea from last year. It’s covered with green buds right now, and I can’t wait to see it bloom again. It’s my favorite plant in his lovely garden.

So what does a hydrangea have to do with blogging? Nothing, although a photo from a garden would be a good image for an author’s blog post. Blogging is a good way to connect with readers. It’s a platform where you can advertise your books and discuss your interests, and most importantly, talk about what you are writing.

I have made a personal commitment to post three times a week on this blog, plus I contribute posts to three other blogs. I do this because each time I write an essay on the craft of writing, I clarify my own thoughts on those points. Also, posting the occasional flash fiction on Friday keeps me sharp and keeps me writing little bits of prose I might otherwise not have the chance to write.

Many of you know that I first began blogging because my former publisher insisted I do so. This, he said, would help get my name out there, and give me a regular platform for my opinions. That original blog is long gone, and those posts were pathetic attempts to write about current affairs as a journalist. That blog failed because writing about current affairs is something that has never interested me.

What I learned from that otherwise-negative blogging experience is important: it wasn’t until I stopped trying to fit into a mold someone else had designed for me and began writing about my interests that I learned to love the craft of blogging. When I made that connection and commitment to writing about what I enjoy, I began to grow as a writer.

When I’ve had a small success and am in danger of becoming too full of myself, blogging never fails to provide me with a sharp dose of reality. I must work hard to proofread my own work and then publish it. Nothing bursts your bubble of self-importance like discovering gross errors and bloopers several days after you published the post.

Oops.

Regularly writing blogposts has made me a “thinking” author, as well as a “pantser.” I can write using the “stream-of-consciousness” method or write from an outline of whatever interests me at the time. I do the research, and the post begins to write itself.

I have found that a good length for a blogpost ranges from about 500 words to not more than 1,000. Having that limit means I must keep my area of discussion narrow, and not get sidetracked.

This helps me when writing flash fiction, as most flash fiction can only be up to 1000 words. When I first began writing flash fiction, telling the entire story in so few words was often an issue. Writing blog posts really helped me learn that skill.

I have found that writing blogposts isn’t that difficult per se. I can knock one out in less than an hour if I’m fired up about the subject.

What I find most challenging now is sourcing ideas for new and interesting content. I have written posts on nearly every aspect of the craft, and don’t want to bore people. I also write on the craft for two other professional organizations and don’t like to repeat myself there either. These commitments have me scrambling though my notes to see what questions people might want to have answered, and then doing the research—my favorite thing.

During the week I make a note of any interesting topic that might make a good blog post. The only day I write blog posts is Sunday, but I write the entire week’s posts that day. If there is a lot of research involved, I make footnotes with citations and sources as I come across the information. When that is the case, getting the week’s articles ready could take the whole day. Usually writing the posts for the week only involves the morning.

If you are a blogger who only posts once a week, writing your blog post should take less than an hour.

I spell-check and self-edit my posts as well as possible. Then I go to each website where they will be posted and pre-schedule them. By using the tools each platform offers (be it WordPress or Blogger) to schedule in advance, they will post without my having to babysit them. Having that ability allows me the rest of the week to work on my true job, which is writing novels.

If you are an author, you really should be blogging too—but you don’t have to blog as frequently as I do. Think about this: your website is your store, your voice, and your public presence. Readers will find you and your books there. So, offer them a reason to come and look at your books.

Many of you are saying that it’s hard to gain readers when your website is new, and you first begin to blog. This is true, but that will change if you just keep at it. The reason we write is for people to be able to read our work. When we have a limited audience, we feel a little defeated in our efforts to gain readers. In the world of blogging, as in everything else, we start out small and gain readers as we go along—but we gain them more quickly if we keep the content updated at least bi-monthly.

Because authors want to gain readers, it’s necessary for them to use every platform available to get the word out. Updating our website blogs twice a month offers us many opportunities to do just that and keeps us in touch with the people who count—our readers.

My next few posts will discuss the little things I’ve learned about blogging, beginning with how to get your own author blog up and running at little or no cost to you. I am fluent with WordPress and Blogger, two free-to-the-author platforms, and I will explain how to get started with both platforms. After that, we will talk about finding new content.


Credits and Attributions

Hydrangea, image by Connie J. Jasperson ©2017, All Rights Reserved

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#poppies #poetry In Flanders’ Fields, by John McCrae

The beautiful image of poppies that graces this post is by Tijl Vercaemer from Gent, Flanders and was found on Wikimedia commons. The beauty and serenity of the poppies, rising from the fields where such terrible conflict once happened, is a fitting accompaniment for the poem, In Flanders Fields, by John McCrae, the text of which follows the picture.

From Wikipedia:  “In Flanders Fields” is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. In Flanders Fields was first published on December 8 of that year in the London-based magazine Punch.

In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, a 1919 collection of McCrae’s works, contains two versions of the poem: a printed text as below and a handwritten copy where the first line ends with “grow” instead of “blow.” (…)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

While bed-ridden and recovering in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Vancouver, Washington, after World War II, my father had little to do but read or crochet afghans. To keep busy, he and the other recovering soldiers in his ward made endless numbers of Remembrance Poppies to commemorate fallen American soldiers. Dad always wore his poppy on his left lapel, as it was close to his heart.

Memorial Day is more than just the official launch of Summer here in the US, more than just an Indy car race. Families have always cared for their family graves, but it became a designated day after the American Civil War in 1868, established  as “Decoration Day.” It was a specific time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Every family had soldiers who served and gave their lives in the never-ending wars, as we do today.

Officially, Memorial Day is the last Monday in May. In the US, it is a 3-day holiday weekend. Banks are closed on Monday, and the US Postal Service is also closed. The American flag is traditionally set at half-staff until noon to honor all those whose lives have been given in the service of our country. At noon, it is raised to the top of the staff, signifying that we, as a nation, will rise again.

My paternal grandmother never failed to keep our family’s graves neat and tidy, bringing flowers every week for my uncle, who had died while serving in the Korean War. As she got older, this tradition aggravated my father, who just wanted to listen to the Indianapolis 500 car race on the radio. He couldn’t bear dwelling on the loss of his brother, or the friends he had lost in France in WWII.

But he took her to the cemetery, anyway.

After each great and terrible war of the last two centuries, the hope was always that we had fought a “war to end all wars.” World War I, also known as The Great War, was spoken of in literature as just that: a war to end all wars.

With each conflict we still hope, but we are less able to believe it, today less than ever.


Sources and Attributions

In Flanders Fields, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, PD|75 years

John McCrae died of pneumonia January 28, 1918, near the end of the Great War. In Flanders’ Fields is a staple poem for Memorial Day services.

Wikipedia contributors. “In Flanders Fields.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 May. 2018. Web. 24 May. 2018

Poppies Field in Flanders, image By Tijl Vercaemer from Gent, Flanders #Belgium. File:Poppies Field in Flanders.jpg. (2018, January 13). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 15:55, May 24, 2018.

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