#FineArtFriday: Ruins of the Oybin (Dreamer) – Caspar David Friedrich 1835


What I like about this image:

This is a mystical, fairy tale place, painted by a man who believed in fairy tales. As was his habit, he took the image of a place  he knew, Oybin Castle, and turned it into a world apart. This is a thing genre authors regularly do – like fantasy painters we take what we know and reshape  it into something wonderful.

This particular view didn’t exist in this exact form, ever. But it did in his mind, and he painted it, placing himself in the middle of it. The smallest details of the perfect trees combined with the broad red coloration of the walls and the dusk-red of the sky to create the image of a moment he wished for, an hour of serenity.

Sunset, the hour of twilight, is a powerful moment, a time of transition between the worlds. We move from the world of daylight to the world of darkness. The same moment of spiritual power occurs at dawn. Fantasy painters are like authors, capable building a fantasy world in one image.

Friedrich found his happy place in the fantasy worlds he painted.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Caspar David Friedrich (5 September 1774 – 7 May 1840) was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He is best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic ruins. His primary interest was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. Friedrich’s paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that, according to the art historian Christopher John Murray, directs “the viewer’s gaze towards their metaphysical dimension.”

Artist: Caspar David Friedrich  (1774–1840)

Title:  German: Klosterruine Oybin (Der Träumer)

             English: Ruins of the Oybin (Dreamer)

Genre:  landscape art

Date:  circa 1835

Medium:  oil, on canvas

Dimensions:  Height: 27 cm (10.6 ″); Width: 21 cm (8.2 ″)

Collection: Hermitage Museum


Credits and Attributions

Ruins of the Oybin (Dreamer) – Caspar David Friedrich 1835 [Public domain]

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Caspar David Friedrich 011.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Caspar_David_Friedrich_011.jpg&oldid=326731449 (accessed May 24, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Caspar David Friedrich,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Caspar_David_Friedrich&oldid=897812018 (accessed May 24, 2019).

2 Comments

Filed under writing

World building Part 2 – the Commonalities of Need #amwriting

Need shapes the environment and forms an obvious but unobtrusive layer of the world our characters inhabit.

What our characters do for a living, the tools they use, what they must acquire – these things form a layer that grows out of need. This layer shows the reader the level of technology, the society they inhabit, and their standing within that culture. This layer is easy to construct in many ways but can be a stumbling block to the logic of your plot.

First, no matter what genre you are writing in, you must establish the level of technology and stick to it. Do the research and then create your technology.

The Romans had running water, central heating, and toilets in their homes. So did the Minoans. However, all their great architectural creations required human hands to do the physical work. They walked, rode horses, donkeys, or oxen, and were limited to wagons drawn by those same domestic beasts.

In the ordinary environment, cups will be cups, bowls will be bowls. The materials they are made of might be different, but those items will always be the same. Furniture will be similar—people need somewhere to sit or sleep. They need a place to cook and somewhere to store preserved food.

Clothing styles are up to you, but I suggest you keep it simple and don’t wax poetic about it.

Some aspects of a story require planning if you are to keep to the logic of your established world setting.

Characters remain the same, no matter what genre you are writing. Beneath the obvious tropes of a particular genre is a human being. Consider the soldier:

I write fantasy, so the following is an excerpt from a short story written this last year, The Way of the Seventh Door.

Worlds are like clothes. I could drop Jared into any world, and he would still be who he is—a young, hapless schmuck with potential. Genre defines the visuals, but the characters are paper dolls we dress to fit the society we have placed them in. The clothes and world of Soldier Barbie fits Corporate Barbie… and Malibu Barbie… and Star Wars Barbie.

We will take one protagonist and place them in one of three kinds of settings: fantasy, sci fi, or contemporary. As we go, write your own version of this scene.

  • A soldier, your choice of gender, gears up for an impending battle. It will take place on foreign soil and could involve personal, face-to-face combat.
  1. First, we must consider what garments they might wear.
  2. Next, we armor them.
  3. Then we give them weaponry.
  4. Finally, we equip them with some sort of rations and water, as sustenance becomes an issue if a battle stretches for several days.
  5. We do it in one paragraph.

Now let’s put Jared, my luckless protagonist from the previous example into this scenario. Fortunately for the safety of everyone in Neveyah, he isn’t preparing for war, but he does have a mission, and it requires dressing appropriately, and ensuring he has what he might need to complete it:

In any setting, there are certain commonalities with only minor literary differences for soldiers: they all need garments, weapons, armor, and sustenance, and you can use those things to

  1. offer more clues about your character’s personality and
  2. set your protagonist up for a meeting with destiny by inserting clues: white armor, new boots – what could go wrong?

Whether the weapon is a rifle, a sword, or a phaser is dependent on the level of technology you have established.

Logic determines how each need is met. In the case of weapons, within each category there are many varieties of each. Which kind of hand-held weapon your protagonist will use is dependent on their skill level and physical strength as well as what is stocked in the armory.

When it comes to weaponry, if you are writing about them, you need to research them to know what is logically possible. Within each of the three world settings, strength and skill are determining factors—a cutlass is an efficient blade and is much lighter than a claymore. A one-handed blade allows the wielder to carry a shield. A shotgun is much lighter than a machine-gun but is less effective, so be true to the logic and research what might be most useful to your characters and don’t introduce an element that doesn’t fit.

Sci-fi writers—I suggest that for advanced weaponry, you should do the research into theoretical applications of lasers, sonic, and other theoretically possible weapons. Sci fi readers know their science, so if you don’t consider the realities of physics, your work won’t appeal to the people who read in that genre.

For soldiers of any technology level, from Roman to medieval, to contemporary, to futuristic—armor will always consist of the same elements: breast and back plate, shin-guards, vambraces, a helmet of some sort, and maybe a shield. These elements won’t vary much, although the materials they’re made of will differ widely from technology to technology. For the sake of expediency and logic, garments must be close-fitting as they will go under the armor.

Expediency affects logic which affects need. The same is true for any occupation–bookkeeper, lawyer, home-maker–the setting changes from genre to genre, but the fundamental needs for each occupation remain the same.

In every aspect of a world, expediency decides what must be mentioned and how important it is. At times, you must go back to an earlier place and make changes that allow for a certain necessary turn of events.

For instance, in a battle situation, food must be extremely compact, lightweight, and must provide nutrients the soldier needs. Nutrition bars, jerky—battle rations and how the soldier carries them must be considered. How do you fit that into the world building? Casually, with one sentence, a few words.

What basic things do you need in your real-world? You need food, water, clothing, and shelter, and a means of providing those things. Place the character in a room and call it a kitchen, and the reader will immediately imagine a kitchen. Mention the coffeemaker, and the reader’s mind will furnish the cups.

Need manifests in other, more subtle ways.

Do you require a way to communicate with others quickly? Messengers, letters, telephones, social media, or telepathy? Choose a method for long distance communication that fits your technology and stick to it.

If you are writing a sci fi tale, what sort of personal power does that technology confer on the characters? What powers it? What are the limits of that technology, and how do those limits hamper the protagonist? What do they need to acquire to overcome those limitations?

If magic is a part of your world, you must design the way it is used, what powers it, and set rigid limits. Limits create opportunities for both failure and creative thinking.

In all levels of technology, some of what the characters need should be denied to them.

Obstruction offers the opportunity for heroism.

No matter the genre, need and human failure makes the story more real.

Next week, we will explore the commonalities of science and magic and how they are applied to world building.


Credits and Attributions:

Excepts from The Way of the Seventh Door, © Connie J. Jasperson 2019, All Rights Reserved.

Gladys Parker [Public domain] “Mopsy Modes” paper doll published in TV Teens, Vol. 2, No. 9 Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Mopsy Modes – TV Teens, Vol. 2, No. 9.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mopsy_Modes_-_TV_Teens,_Vol._2,_No._9.jpg&oldid=344503399 (accessed May 21, 2019).

Metropolitan Museum of Art [CC0] Japanese Paper Doll, ca. 1897-1898 Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:MET DP147723.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:MET_DP147723.jpg&oldid=305535412 (accessed May 21, 2019).

9 Comments

Filed under writing

World building part 1: visualization #amwriting

World building—a skill all writers must have, not just writers of fantasy or sci-fi. I don’t believe there is a magic formula. ALL world building comprises the ability to visualize yourself existing in an environment you currently don’t occupy, be it Seattle, Mars, or The Shire.

First, you need to know where you are.

Close your eyes. What does the world around you look like? Are you sitting in a lounger on a quiet back porch, drinking your morning coffee while you scroll through your favorite blogs? Perhaps you regret purchasing the blue and white patterned outdoor carpet. It jars the eye, clashes against the red-stained cedar decking.

Even more annoying, Stellar’s jays and crows are quarreling over something, which means no other birds will come until they have settled their dispute. Meanwhile, the neighbor’s garishly colored cat stalks through the rhododendrons toward the broken garden lamp, vainly searching for songbirds to bully. Who would want a cat so hideously colored, black, orange white and beige all in large patches? And why do they let it roam? What if it gets injured or killed?

While I visualize that scene, I am sitting in my frequently described Room of Shame, pecking away at a blog post like a good author. For that scene, I am only describing what is important to my alter ego at the moment she exists, a framework to hang your imagination onto. But I know that environment because it is one step away, out my back door.

If you can’t write what you know, how can you write what you don’t know but wish you did?

For your first exercise, write two paragraphs describing your personal environment, where you are in this time and space, what you see, hear, and smell. With that done, you have created the known world.

So how do we translate the known into the unknown?

For this exercise, we will imagine a setting, a world blasted by a global catastrophe. Not sure exactly of what happened, our protagonist, Jane, walks through the wreckage of the city, trailed by a large group of young children and several other teachers. In an overcrowded, under-funded urban school, they had been relegated to a classroom in the school’s basement at the time and may be the only survivors, but Jane believes that if they are alive, some others must be too. They are walking out of the city, hoping that some patches are still undamaged, that some plants and animals must have survived.

What does she see, hear, and smell? You write your scenario, but this is mine:

Jane walked, pretending a confidence she didn’t feel. Random piles of debris that once were shops and homes lined the broken street. Was that where the café had been? No, it had been a little further on, but with no familiar landmarks, it was hard to tell.

No birds sang, no cats prowled, and no dogs barked. Twisted metal, destroyed, burned-out cars lined the broken street. No rescuers combed through the tumbled ruins looking for survivors, and no voices called for help. The only sounds were the wind sighing through the ruins, the noise of their plodding steps, and occasional whimpers of the children who followed her.

They passed places where the smell of rotting flesh and other unpleasant odors triggered her gag reflex. Some children cried. Who could blame them? The charred, shattered ruins they now walked past had been their homes. Did they know? Could they recognize small details?

How does her environment affect her movements and emotional state?

She came to a large, long pile of wreckage in the middle of the street, cars that had been moving when it happened. She didn’t want to think of the bodies that remained trapped inside the twisted, melted metal, of the last moments they had experienced. The way between was narrow, but they could do it. She turned to her group. “Walk carefully, single file. No one is to touch anything. We have no way of treating injuries.”

“Yes, Miss Jane,” said Jason, the teacher shepherding the middle of the group.

“Yes, Miss Jane,” dutifully echoed the students, all the way back to Dave, the teacher bringing up the rear.

The world around you is complex. It is made up of what you interact with, things you see, hear, smell, and touch.

The world you want to create is the same. Visualize each scene. Trees, randomly placed furniture, doors, any obstacle that affects your protagonists’ movements becomes part of that world.

Your next assignment is to take one of these scenarios and write a scene that places your protagonist squarely in their environment. You can make these settings in a real world, sci-fi, or fantasy environment.

  1. A policewoman/man having lunch at the corner deli.
  2. A barista in a popular coffee shop.
  3. A woman watching her suspicious-acting neighbors.
  4. A soldier, preparing for a raid.
  5. A politician reading an exposé about their self.

I can make my back porch into a fantasy setting.

This is a passage from Edna’s Garden, a short story I wrote several years ago.

This morning I noticed there were fairies in the back garden. I was a little shocked, wondering if they were a side effect of my heart medication. At first, I couldn’t see them well, and wasn’t sure if they were bugs or birds, but no… when I looked closer, I could see they were definitely fairies.

It seems odd to me, to think that after all these years of wishing for a fairytale ending in my life, I should finally have a garden full of fairies. But life is what it is, and sometimes the things you want elude you until you no longer need them.

World building is like cooking (or alchemy, which is the same thing). Writers start with basic ingredients found in the world they know. Cooks begin with common ingredients and add spices, the flavors they like that make their food unique to them. Writers do the same: we take the familiar world and reshape it until it is our creation.

If the world has some familiar elements the reader can relate to, they will suspend their disbelief when you casually place an alien element in the setting. We bend what is familiar, shaping it into something that feels new and unfamiliar. That unfamiliarity to the reader adds the mystery, the intrigue, lets them experience a sense of discovery.

At the outset, you plant the seeds of the world in the opening scene. As the story progresses, the world grows, building itself. This happens because the protagonist interacts with the environment. Fulfilling the needs of the protagonist also contributes to the world you build. Logic comes into play—you may have to go back and change things up a bit when new needs emerge.

We will talk more about how need shapes the fantasy world in my next blog post. In the meantime, go to your personal library and re-read one of the fantasy books (or whatever genre you are writing) that fired your imagination, a book you fell in love with. How did that author show the world? How did they take the real world and merge it with fantasy elements?

How can you apply that lesson to your own work?


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Martinus Rørbye – View from the Artist’s Window – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Martinus_R%C3%B8rbye_-_View_from_the_Artist%27s_Window_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=326761582 (accessed May 17, 2019).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:An architectural capriccio with figures amongst ruins under a stormy night sky, oil on canvas painting by Leonardo Coccorante.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:An_architectural_capriccio_with_figures_amongst_ruins_under_a_stormy_night_sky,_oil_on_canvas_painting_by_Leonardo_Coccorante.jpg&oldid=291488853 (accessed May 19, 2019).

Hunter in Winter Wood, by George Henry Durrie 1860 [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

7 Comments

Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: View from the Artist’s Window, Martinus Rørbye

What I like about this painting:

View from the Artist’s Window was painted just at the time when the young Rørbye was gaining recognition as an artist, around the year 1825. The room is pleasant, homey, and the pink hydrangeas are beautiful. The transparency of the curtain is masterfully done.

The shipyard is represented as looming below and in the distance, a dominant view in the artist’s life.

The visual allegory of the caged bird floating out of the open window is wonderful, representing the young artist poised on the edge of leaving home, daring to imagine the wide, unknown world that waits for him.

The possibility of adventure is represented by the view of the working shipyard and the ship berthed in the harbor below.

About the artist, via Wikipedia:

Martinus Christian Wesseltoft Rørbye (17 May 1803 – 29 August 1848) was a Danish painter, known both for genre works and landscapes. He was a central figure of the Golden Age of Danish painting during the first half of the 19th century.

The most traveled of the Danish Golden Age painters, he traveled to Norway and Sweden and south to Italy, Greece and Constantinople.

He is remembered for his genre paintings, his landscapes and his architectural paintings, as well as for the many sketches he made during his numerous travels. He painted numerous scenes of life in Copenhagen, as well as large compositions showing Italian and Turkish landscapes and scenes of folk life. He painted few portraits.

He was one of the most traveled of the Golden Age painters and distinguished his artistic production by his interpretations of lands rarely explored at that time for their artistic motifs, as well as for his anecdotal genre paintings depicting the Copenhagen of his day.

Title: View from the Artist’s Window, Martinus Rørbye [Public domain]

  • Genre: landscape art
  • Date: About 1825
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: Height: 380 mm (14.96 ″); Width: 298 mm (11.73 ″)

Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Martinus Rørbye – View from the Artist’s Window – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Martinus_R%C3%B8rbye_-_View_from_the_Artist%27s_Window_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=326761582 (accessed May 17, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Martinus Rørbye,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Martinus_R%C3%B8rbye&oldid=895614706

Leave a comment

Filed under #FineArtFriday

Fantasy Food #amwriting

As many of you know, I have been vegan since 2012. However, I write books set in fantasy environments. An important part of world building is including the appropriate food for your level of technology.

I recently read a fantasy book where the author went to a great deal of trouble to give each kind of fruit, bird, or herd beast a different (and in some cases, an unpronounceable) name in “their” language.  This ruined what could have been a great book for me. Every time the protagonists halted on their journey, they pulled some random fruit with a gobbledygook name out of the bag and waxed poetic about it.

For me, Tolkien had it right. When I am reading, I don’t want to have to learn a new language. Fantasy food should be kept to the familiar. Bacon should be bacon, apples should be apples. Food is part of the world building, so it needs to something a reader is familiar with.

During the 1980s, much of the meat I served my family, we raised ourselves. Our chickens were cage free and had good lives, and our sheep were raised using simple, old-style farming methods. I grew up fishing with my father, and I have a first-person understanding of what it takes to put meat, fish, or fowl on the table when a supermarket is not an option. Take my word for this: getting a chicken from the coop to the table is time-consuming, messy, and smelly.

SO – in a medieval setting meat won’t be served every day, and not just because it is a real job to slaughter it. Other, more subtle factors come into play, things that affect the logic of your plot.

In the middle ages, the wool a sheep could produce in its lifetime was of far more value than the meat you might get by slaughtering it. For that reason, lamb was rarely served. The only sheep that made it to the table were usually rams that were being culled from the herd. And chickens were no different because once a chicken is dead, you lose the many meals her eggs would have provided. Cattle were also more valuable alive: cows as milk producers and bulls as oxen, draft animals.

In medieval times, on many estates, it was a felony for commoners in Britain to hunt for game. However, most people were allowed to fish as long as they didn’t take salmon, so fish was on the menu more often than fowl, sheep, or cattle.

Therefore, eels, eggs, grains, and vegetables were easy and figured most prominently on the menu. Pies of all sorts were the fast food of the era.

Wheat was rare and expensive. For that reason, the grains most often found in a peasant’s home were barley, oats, and rye.

Common vegetables in medieval European gardens were leeks, garlic, onions, turnips, rutabagas, cabbages, carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower, squashes, gourds, melons, parsnips, aubergines (eggplants)—the list goes on and on. And fruits? Wikipedia says:

Fruit was popular and could be served fresh, dried, or preserved, and was a common ingredient in many cooked dishes. Since sugar and honey were both expensive, it was common to include many types of fruit in dishes that called for sweeteners of some sort. The fruits of choice in the south were lemons, citrons, bitter oranges (the sweet type was not introduced until several hundred years later), pomegranates, quinces, and grapes. Farther north, apples, pears, plums, and wild strawberries were more common. Figs and dates were eaten all over Europe but remained rather expensive imports in the north.

Even a century ago, the average person didn’t eat meat every day because it was difficult to acquire. To buy it from the butcher, you paid them for their time and labor as well as for the cut of meat. It was not cheap.

For the most part, my characters eat a medieval/agrarian diet. In medieval times, peasants ate more vegetables, grains, fruits, and nuts than the nobility did. The main source of protein would be eggs and cheese. Herbal teas, ale, ciders, and mead were also staples of the commoner’s diet because drinking fresh, unboiled water was unhealthy. Medieval brews were more of a meal than today’s beers.

So, in Huw the Bard and Billy Ninefingers, when food is mentioned, it’s likely to be oat porridge, soup or stew, ale or cider, or bread and cheese.

Billy is captain of a mercenary company and an innkeeper, and for most of his story he does the cooking. I keep the food simple and don’t make too big a deal out of it. The conversations that happen while he is trying to feed the Rowdies are more important than the food. The food is the backdrop.

For Huw (pronounced Hugh), starvation is his most urgent problem, so food and the difficulties of obtaining it are an integral part of his story at the outset.

Knowing what to feed your people keeps you from introducing jarring components into your narrative. In the world of Neveyah (Tower of Bones), my people have a New World diet. It isn’t really mentioned, but maize and potatoes are important staples as are beans and wild greens.

When it comes to writing about meals, I feel it’s best to concentrate on the conversations. The food should be part of the scenery, a subtle part of world building. The conversations that occur around food are the places where new information can be exchanged, things we need to know to move the story forward,


Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Medieval cuisine,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Medieval_cuisine&oldid=896980025 (accessed May 14, 2019).

Pieter Bruegel the Elder – Peasant Wedding (1526/1530–1569) PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Village Scene with Well,  Josse de Momper and Jan Brueghel II PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

14 Comments

Filed under writing

The eight forms of “be” #amwriting

It can take me several years to get a novel out of my head and into print. I write, rewrite, consider it done, and rewrite it again. Why does it take so long to write even a short story? How is it that I can write a short story in a day or two but work on it for years, trying to get it just right?

Prose.

I always begin with an excess of prose—don’t ask me why. It just is.

When I begin a project the words fall out of me in the form of “writers’ shorthand.”

I “tell” myself the story.  Then, after it has sat for a while, I have to take each instance of hokey clichés, lurid description, and nonessential background information and rewrite. All of that bad writing is, for me, a framework to hang the real story on.

I make radical, surgical changes. Sometimes it takes three or four completely new versions of a story before the one that really works emerges.

A few substantive things that might change in the revision process:

  • Character names.
  • Place names.
  • Which character the protagonist actually is.

These changes happen because of logic—if the plot isn’t logical, the story fails.

But also, the prose will undergo major surgery.

I mentioned that a first draft is a “telling” draft. The prose in that draft has to be reshaped so it is a “showing” draft. The big bugaboo my writing group helps me most with is my tendency to not see the passive phrasing in my own work. The area I am working on improving right now is my reliance on the forms of “be.”

Did you know there are eight forms of the word be? I use all of them too regularly, which creates passive phrasing that is seriously difficult for me to detect. Finding and rewriting passive prose is why all my work takes so long to get into its final form. Fortunately, I have a writing group to help me down that path.

These verb forms are insidious because they are necessary. We can’t write without them. However, they are easy to rely on. We can overuse them to tell ourselves the story. In doing so, we  create prose that holds the reader slightly away from the story, making them an observer rather than a participant.

Some literary fiction is written to intentionally make the reader an observer of the human condition. This is work that requires the reader to think about the ideas and events, perhaps even to learn something. Readers deliberately seek out this kind of literature because it is challenging to read.

However, genre work is intended to be an immersive adventure, with active prose that draws the reader into that world. The reader must see the world and the events as if they are the protagonist. Through active prose, the reader becomes a participant. They may learn some things about the human condition, but they won’t consciously realize it and didn’t seek it out.

So, now you know what I am working on improving in my writing journey. The ability to write active prose in a first draft is one some of my favorite authors were born with. Others, like me, must develop it and sometimes it takes me four or five drafts before it’s done right.

8 Comments

Filed under writing

FineArtFriday: The Man With the Golden Helmet, Circle of Rembrandt

About this image, via Wikipedia:

The Man with the Golden Helmet (c. 1650) is an oil on canvas painting formerly attributed to the Dutch painter Rembrandt and today considered to be a work by someone in his circle.

Categorized as a work by Rembrandt for many years, doubts were expressed as to its provenance in 1984 by a Dutch curators’ commission specifically created to investigate Rembrandt works of questionable authenticity. They made their remarks whilst viewing the painting in West Berlin.

In November 1985, Berlin-based art expert Jan Kelch announced that important details in the painting’s style did not match the style of Rembrandt’s known works, and that the painting was probably painted in 1650 by one of Rembrandt’s students.

What I like about this painting:

This is a  wonderful portrait with a great mystery attached. It’s a classic example of a work by a student being good enough to be mistaken for the mentor’s work. Whichever of Rembrandt’s student did paint this man’s portrait, they were clearly on their way to great things in the art world. So far, the artist has not been identified, and most of Rembrandt’s students left large catalogs of work, all of which could be compared to it.

However, Rembrandt had many students, including his son, Titus.

Titus died very young but was known to be painting at the time this portrait is attributed to. He was nine, old enough to be apprenticed. Could this have been one of his lessons? Could the confusion have arisen because a father was teaching his young son the art of portrait painting? No works with his signature survive that I know of, although I admit I am not an art historian. Regardless, much is like Rembrandt, enough to confuse the issue.

Just a Rembrandt fangirl, fantasizing.

A partial list of Rembrandt’s students can be found here Rembrandt’s Students.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Mann mit dem Goldhelm.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Mann_mit_dem_Goldhelm.jpg&oldid=318048571(accessed May 10, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “The Man with the Golden Helmet,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Man_with_the_Golden_Helmet&oldid=880858243 (accessed May 10, 2019).

2 Comments

Filed under #FineArtFriday

Voice #amwriting

If you write professionally, you develop habits, ways of expressing yourself that “sound” like you. Voice is how you bend the rules and is your fingerprint. For your voice to be compelling and not jarring, you must understand what rules you can break with impunity, and which ones must be obeyed. Knowledge is key—it enables you to craft your work so it says what you want, in the way you want it said.

Most editors will ignore liberties you take with dialogue but will point out habitual errors in the rest of the narrative.

If you work with an editor, you must be willing to explain why you are choosing to flout a particular rule. If you don’t understand the rule to begin with, you can’t defend your position with authority.

This is why I always suggest you buy a good style guide. I like the simplicity and thoroughness of Bryan A. Garner’s The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation.

If an editor asks you to change something you did deliberately, you are the author. Explain why you want that particular grammatical no-no to stand. If you have a concrete reason, your editor will most likely understand.

Repetition of a key word for emphasis is one example of breaking a rule with style.

This is why it’s important to educate yourself. If you know the rule you are breaking, you will be better able to explain why you are doing so, and your work will reflect that confidence.

However, if I am your editor, you must be prepared to break that rule consistently. Readers do notice inconsistencies.

No one is perfect, and even authors who also work as editors need and use editors. Certainly, I have benefited from the editors I have worked with. I began this journey knowing nothing about the mechanics of writing, other than that which I had retained from my school days. Writers who were further along in the craft gave me good advice, and I began growing as a writer.

To go back to what I said in the first paragraph, you must understand what rules you can break with impunity, and which of them must be obeyed. The average reader doesn’t take joy in reading James Joyce’s experimental prose. Alexander Chee can be difficult for an average reader to enjoy. This is because both Joyce and Chee take liberties with punctuation that makes reading their work a real challenge. Some readers are up to that, others not so much.

I will admit, I had to take a class to be able to understand James Joyce’s work, and I did have to resort to the audiobook for Alexander Chee’s work. It’s the hypercritical editor coming out in me, making it difficult for me to set that part of my awareness aside. It’s my job to notice those things.

I can hear you now: these are literary authors, and you are writing genre fantasy fiction or sci-fi. Shall I toss out another name or two?

Tad Williams mixes his styles. His Bobby Dollar series is Paranormal Film Noir: dark, choppy, and reminiscent of Sam Spade. In this series, he seems to be somewhat influenced by the style of crime authors, such as Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett. It is a quick read and is commercial in that it is for casual readers.

Yet his fantasy work set in Osten Ard has lusher prose, multiple storylines, dark themes. It is written for serious fantasy readers. The story starts slow, but his powerful writing has generated millions of fans who are thrilled to know he has set more work in that world.

Beginning slow and working up to an epic ending is highly frowned upon in writing groups, but Tad broke that rule and believe me, it works.

George Saunders writes sci-fi and historical fantasy but is considered literary. He has a unique, literary voice because he takes liberties with the rules.  His work reads like a conversation with him, a little crisp and choppy, but intimate.

If you are writing a genre such as fantasy or sci-fi or mystery, I suggest you do not get experimental with your punctuation unless you don’t mind bad reviews. People who look for quick reads for the adventure and romance don’t want experimental. They want an escape; they want prose that doesn’t interfere with the narrative. Run on sentences, commas inserted every place you breathe, or no commas at all—these are flaws that ruin the experience for the casual reader.

Get a good style guide and stop guessing about where the commas go and how to use that ellipsis.  Don’t know if you should use a semicolon or not?

Get a style guide.

Your writing will go faster, and your beta readers will be able to give you better opinions on what reads well and what needs more work.

2 Comments

Filed under writing

Formatting and Submission Guidelines #amwriting

Writing can be a solitary occupation, but as we gain confidence, we join writing groups and larger professional organizations. We become involved in the writing community because writers need to be able to talk about writing with people who understand. Through that network of professional acquaintances, we make connections with more experienced authors, people who are happy to mentor us. The knowledge I have gained about the craft of writing from those generous mentors has been invaluable.

Mentors have much to offer us about the mechanics of writing, such as grammar and industry practices. Also, they will often know of open opportunities our work might be suitable for, publications and anthologies with open calls. It takes courage to submit our work to any kind of contest or publication the first few times, but that is part of the process. We learn by doing.

New and beginning authors sometimes do the craziest things with their manuscripts. If you are serious about writing and submitting short stories, you must follow publisher and contest guidelines in formatting your manuscript before you submit it. No matter how pretty you make that manuscript for your own pleasure, if it doesn’t follow the submission guidelines for the place you are submitting it, you have wasted your time.

Perhaps you feel that the rules shouldn’t apply to you –  it’s your manuscript and by golly, you like the way it looks. It took you forever to make it look that good. Why should you have to take the time to completely reformat your perfectly fine manuscript to fit some stupid set of arbitrary rules no one cares about?

Maybe you don’t care about those rules, but editors and publishers do, and they are the people you want to please. They don’t have time to deal with a manuscript that is justified, single spaced, has block paragraphs, has an extra space between each paragraph, and is in Papyrus font .10.

When the editor of a contest, publication, or anthology opens the call for submissions, they will get hundreds of entries, perhaps thousands. When a call for submissions goes out, their editors will have no time to deal with badly formatted manuscripts.

Publication dates are set well in advance and must be adhered to. Time is always of the essence in the publishing world.

Editors are only one person, and they want to read each and every submission. Unfortunately, out of all those entries some will be great stories that won’t even be read because the author couldn’t be bothered to format the manuscript in the way that the submission rules stated.

Publishers have specific, standardized formatting they want you to use, and these guidelines are clearly posted on their websites. If the first page shows the manuscript is not formatted to industry standards, expediency kicks in. The editor must reject it and move on to the next submission.

Word processing programs are inherently hinky because they are built out of new versions layered over the old versions, and the bugs in the old versions are often still there. This is why some really large formatting issues are nearly impossible to iron out.

And then there is the issue of reasonable effort. It’s time-consuming and difficult enough for a publisher to make a final manuscript of thirty short stories by thirty different authors look good when each submission was formatted correctly. If you have thirty short stories, each formatted differently with random fonts, different paragraph spacing, and different font sizes – you have a nightmare to edit. Even after editing it can take days to make a final compilation manuscript fit for publication.

For the most part, the requirements are basically the same from company to company with minor differences. To make sure your work conforms to the intended recipient’s requirements go to the publication’s website and read the standards they have laid out.

Publications will want your contact information on the upper left of the first page, and your approximate word count on the right. The title should be centered, and the first paragraphs should begin at the halfway point down the first page.

To get your paragraphs and line spacing right, you need to know a few simple tricks for using your word processing program. These tools come with the software and are there to make your documents look as professional as is possible. I have covered how to do that in my post of January 15, 2018, Formatting Short Stories for Submission.

These rules are not only for short stories. Every contest and publication wants the submissions in the same professional format whether it is a printout or an electronic submission.

Too many extra spaces in an electronic document cause the formatting to fail when converted to electronic publishing formats (mobi, epub, etc.) so keep extra spaces to a minimum. Most publishers require manuscripts to be submitted electronically so you will have to go in and remove these tabs. You can do it by following the instructions in my post of March 27, 2019, Formatting Your Paragraphs. If you are not using MS Word or you don’t have a ten key on your keyboard, you may have to do it by hand. It’s a tedious job but do it now, if you have been using the tab key.

You should make sure the font is Times New Roman or Courier .12 font and the body of the manuscript is aligned left.

  1. 1 in. margins
  2. Double-spaced
  3. 1 space after each sentence (NOT 2 as we dinosaurs were taught in typing class)
  4. Each page is numbered in the upper right hand corner
  5. Has formatted indented paragraphs
  6. The header contains the title and author name
  7. The first page contains the author’s mailing address and contact information in the upper left hand corner

Please, if you consider yourself a professional, format your submissions properly. You want to stand out but getting fancy with your final manuscript is not the way to do that—you will be rejected out of hand if you don’t make this effort.

Again, the posts (with screenshots) detailing how to make your manuscript submission ready can be found at these links:

Formatting Your Paragraphs

Formatting Short Stories for Submission

4 Comments

Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: Self-portrait by Albrecht Dürer 1500

About this painting, via Wikipedia:

Dürer chooses to present himself monumentally, in a style that unmistakably recalls depictions of Christ—the implications of which have been debated among art critics. A conservative interpretation suggests that he is responding to the tradition of the Imitation of Christ. A more controversial view reads the painting is a proclamation of the artist’s supreme role as creator.

The inscription reads, I, Albrecht Dürer of Nuremberg portrayed myself in appropriate [or everlasting] colors aged twenty-eight years.

What I like about this painting:

I like how dark and precise this portrait is compared to his earlier self-portraits. Dürer’s eyes are compelling. They tell us he is a complicated man with many secrets. The year 1500 was significant to him, as it was the turn of the millennium and his studio was enjoying great success as a print maker. Dürer traveled often and had spent a great deal of time in Italy where he made the acquaintance of Leonardo da Vinci. It is clear he was highly influenced by da Vinci’s work, as were most artists of the day.

I’m intrigued by the way he has chosen to depict himself in a pose that was traditionally that of Christ as Savior Mundi (Savior of the World). His hair, in this painting, is portrayed as dark brown but was actually a lighter red. He shows it as parted down the middle, very like da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.

He raises his hand toward his heart, as if blessing us, the viewers. The position of the fingers is symbolic; some would say it is a Templar/Masonic gesture for the letter M, signifying Mary. If you try to hold your hand that position, you discover it is impossible to do so in a relaxed, natural way. The fingers must be purposefully held that way and it isn’t really comfortable.  Others would say hands are difficult to paint, and were frequently copied from famous paintings; still other will say certain gestures showed social status. It was the Renaissance and art was a way to express one’s rebellion through symbolism and allegory. Therefore, we know the gesture has meaning.

His signature is also clever: 1500 Anno Domini or 1500 Albrecht Dürer.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

Albrecht Dürer (21 May 1471 – 6 April 1528) sometimes spelt in English as Durer or Duerer, without umlaut, was a painter, printmaker, and theorist of the German Renaissance. Born in Nuremberg, Dürer established his reputation and influence across Europe when he was still in his twenties due to his high-quality woodcut prints. He was in communication with the major Italian artists of his time, including Raphael, Giovanni Bellini and Leonardo da Vinci, and from 1512 he was patronized by Emperor Maximilian I. Dürer is commemorated by both the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches.

Dürer’s vast body of work includes engravings, his preferred technique in his later prints, altarpieces, portraits and self-portraits, watercolors and books. The woodcuts, such as the Apocalypse series (1498), are more Gothic than the rest of his work. His well-known engravings include the Knight, Death and the Devil (1513), Saint Jerome in his Study (1514) and Melencolia I (1514), which has been the subject of extensive analysis and interpretation. His watercolors also mark him as one of the first European landscape artists, while his ambitious woodcuts revolutionized the potential of that medium.

Dürer’s introduction of classical motifs into Northern art, through his knowledge of Italian artists and German humanists, has secured his reputation as one of the most important figures of the Northern Renaissance. This is reinforced by his theoretical treatises, which involve principles of mathematics, perspective, and ideal proportions.


  • Title:  Albrecht Dürer: Self-Portrait
  • Artist: Albrecht Dürer  (1471–1528)
  • Genre: self-portrait
  • Date: 1500
  • Medium: oil on lime
  • Dimensions: Height: 67.1 cm (26.4 ″); Width: 48.9 cm (19.2 ″)
  • Collection:  Alte Pinakothek
  • Current location: 1st floor room IX Alte Pinakothek, Raum IX

Credits and Attributions:

Self-portrait, 1500 by Albrecht Dürer [Public domain] Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Albrecht Dürer – 1500 self-portrait (High resolution and detail).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_1500_self-portrait_(High_resolution_and_detail).jpg&oldid=292769964 (accessed May 2, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Albrecht Dürer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer&oldid=894882291 (accessed May 3, 2019).

 

2 Comments

Filed under writing