#FineArtFriday: Hope by George Frederic Watts 1886

Title: Hope, by George Frederic Watts

Date: 1886

Genre: allegory

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions Height: 142.2 cm (55.9 in); Width: 111.8 cm (44 in)

Collection:  Tate Britain

Notes: Presented by George Frederic Watts 1897

What I love about this painting:

This painting strikes home with me. Hope is blindfolded, battered, dressed in rags, and cast adrift in the universe. She clings to a lyre upon which only one string remains—yet Hope turns her head to hear the sound of that one string. The lone star in the sky is nearly invisible, yet it is there, deliberately placed. Watts’s choice of symbols for this allegory and the stark layout of the composition combine to create a powerful idea—Hope makes music with one string when nothing else remains.

About this painting (via Wikipedia):

Hope is a Symbolist oil painting by the English painter George Frederic Watts, who completed the first two versions in 1886. Radically different from previous treatments of the subject, it shows a lone blindfolded female figure sitting on a globe, playing a lyre that has only a single string remaining. The background is almost blank, its only visible feature a single star. Watts intentionally used symbolism not traditionally associated with hope to make the painting’s meaning ambiguous. While his use of colour in Hope was greatly admired, at the time of its exhibition many critics disliked the painting. Hope proved popular with the Aesthetic Movement, who considered beauty the primary purpose of art and were unconcerned by the ambiguity of its message. Reproductions in platinotype, and later cheap carbon prints, soon began to be sold.

Although Watts received many offers to buy the painting, he had agreed to donate his most important works to the nation and felt it would be inappropriate not to include Hope. Consequently, later in 1886 Watts and his assistant Cecil Schott painted a second version. On its completion Watts sold the original and donated the copy to the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum); thus, this second version is better known than the original. He painted at least two further versions for private sale.

About the Artist, via Wikipedia:

George Frederic Watts OM RA (23 February 1817, in London – 1 July 1904) was a British painter and sculptor associated with the Symbolist movement. He said “I paint ideas, not things.” Watts became famous in his lifetime for his allegorical works, such as Hope and Love and Life. These paintings were intended to form part of an epic symbolic cycle called the “House of Life”, in which the emotions and aspirations of life would all be represented in a universal symbolic language.


Credits and Attributions:

Hope, by George Frederic Watts 1885. Wikipedia contributors, “Hope (painting),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hope_(painting)&oldid=946584185 (accessed March 27, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Hope (painting),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hope_(painting)&oldid=946584185 (accessed March 27, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “George Frederic Watts,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=George_Frederic_Watts&oldid=947120342 (accessed March 27, 2020).

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The creative process #amwriting

A few years ago, I accepted a NaNoWriMo dare to write an Arthurian tale with a steampunk twist.

I rather quickly regretted that.

The first question I asked myself was: Where do Arthurian and steampunk connect well enough to make a story?

The answer was that they don’t. I was faced with the mental blankness we all feel when a story refuses to reveal itself.

For me, a bit of mind-wandering always loosens things up, so I sat on my back porch. I picked a knight at random, Galahad, and pondered the problem. What kind of a person might Galahad have been, had he truly existed?

Those characters were supposed to be men of the 5th or 6th century, ordinary men. But the tales featuring them were written centuries later. Their 11th-century chroniclers presented them in contemporary armor as worn by Crusaders, and so did all subsequent authors.

Despite the heroic legends written about them, they would have been flesh and blood and would have been subject to the same emotions and physical needs as any other person.

What if Galahad and Gawain were lovers? That thought led to these questions:

What really happened after the Grail was found? What if somehow Galahad got separated from Gawain through a door in time when the magic in the world vanished with the Grail? How would Galahad get back to Gawain?

What if Galahad was marooned in Edwardian England, with Merlin. That was how the steampunk aspect of the story came into being.

That story became Galahad Hawke

The main character is Galahad Du Lac, son of Lancelot Du Lac, illegitimate, some chroniclers have said. If he is, we have to accept that the fifth century was a lot less concerned about the proprieties than Victorian Romantics gave them credit for.

Galahad is a knight-errant, a classic character in medieval chivalric romance literature. The adjective errant in this context means wandering. These characters roam the land in search of adventures to prove their chivalric worth.

They engaged in knightly duels or went in pursuit of courtly love. The medieval romance of highly ritualized courtly love was a rigid structure. It defined the behaviors of noble ladies and their lovers. It was tightly intertwined with the principles of the Code of Chivalry.

The Chivalric Code was a system of values combining a warrior culture, knightly piety, and courtly manners. Adherence to the Code of Chivalry ensured a knight epitomized bravery, honor, and nobility.

Thus, since the established canon dictates that Galahad isn’t attracted to women, he goes on quests to find strange and magical objects such as the Holy Grail.

The story is told from Galahad’s point of view and opens just after the Grail is found. As I said above, history and fantasy merge in the Middle Ages, so I took the high fantasy route.

Galahad Hawke was published in a short collection called Tales from the Dreamtime.

I read some medieval literature in college and found his story both varied and fascinating. So, different versions of Galahad appear regularly in my work.

Nowadays, Galahad is considered a minor knight. However, what we regard as canon about him is taken from Sir Thomas Malory’s 1485 work, Le Morte d’Arthur, in which he has a prominent role.

Mallory’s collection was a reworking of traditional tales that were hundreds of years old, even in his day. Also, he wrote it while in prison for a multitude of crimes, so we can be sure it’s not historically accurate.

Traditionally, Galahad is an illegitimate son of Lancelot du Lac. He goes on the quest to find the Holy Grail and immediately goes to heaven, raptured as a virgin.

But was he raptured? If he was not raptured, what could have happened to make medieval chroniclers think he was?

And he never married, but humans tend to be human, so why would bachelorhood make Arthurian chroniclers assume he was a virgin?

You might wonder why the notion of a virgin knight and being taken to heaven before death was so important to the medieval chroniclers. Why would they write it as though it were factual recorded history?

People always rewrite history to suit the times in which they live.

Medieval chroniclers were writing some 300 to 400 years after the supposed event, during the final decades of the Crusades. We have excellent records of 15th and 16th-century political struggles, and yet we make things up about the Tudors and Elizabethans as we go along, because they were interesting people and we love to imagine what they must have been like.

Religion and belief in the Christian truths espoused by the Church were in the very air the people of the time breathed. All the physical and material things of this world were entwined and explained by the religious beliefs of the day.

Literature in those days was filled with religious allegories, the most popular of which were the virginity and holiness of the Saints, especially those Saints deemed holy enough to be raptured.

Death was the common enemy, the one thing kings feared as much as beggars did. Those saints who were raptured did not experience death. Instead, they were raised to heaven, where they live in God’s presence for all eternity.

Thus, Galahad’s state of virginity and grace was written to be an example of what all good noblemen should aspire to.

The High Middle Ages, the period of European history that commenced around 1000 and lasted until 1300 (or so), saw a flowering of historical-fantasy writing in England. The craft of researching history was not an academic subject taught in school.

Reading history and writing their own accounts was a hobby for educated men who had the time, social position, and the talents to pursue it. Also, it was the purview of well-educated members of the clergy. The scientific method did not yet exist, so their “histories” were colored by daydreams, fantasies, and religious beliefs.

This means the assertions these authors claimed were history weren’t authenticated by the kind of intense research that we apply to academic subjects today.

I like to think that if J.R.R. Tolkien had been writing history in a monastery during the 7th and 8th century, The Lord of the Rings would have the same place in our historical narrative that the Arthurian Cycle has now, and Aragorn would have been the king who united all of Britain.

Sure, the histories from this period are highly questionable. However, they’re entertaining fantasy reads, leaving us free to riff on them and create our own mythologies.

So that is what I’m doing—working on my Alt-Arthurian novel, and also an unfinished spec-fic novel I pulled out the archives, looking for something cheerful to write.

What are you writing? I hope you are enjoying good writing time during this period of uncertainty and voluntary house-arrest!

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Writing Through the Perilous Times #amwriting

We live in difficult times. You might be temporarily unemployed unless your work is the sort where you can telecommute. My husband falls into the “work from home” category. My brother does not. Like many others, he is mostly unemployed once again.

If you live in Washington State, you have some help available. They’re small, but better than nothing. Our governor immediately put our fallback resources in place, trying to help our struggling workers and our healthcare system.

  • A statewide moratorium on evictions from rental properties for 30 days.
  • Working with state utilities to waive late fees and suspend shut-offs.
  • Waiving the one-week waiting period to collect unemployment insurance, putting money into unemployed Washingtonians’ pockets as soon as they need it.
  • Expanding eligibility for the Family Emergency Assistance Program to include families without children.

Governor Jay Inslee is doing all he can with our state funds, but (at this writing) whether the federal government will do the right thing by us or not remains to be seen. Closed-door meetings don’t bode well for small businesses and health care.

Historically, writers living in perilous times have produced some of the most enduring works. Samuel Pepys (pronounced “Peeps”) was a typical privileged man of his era, cruel to his servants and predatory to women. He did, however, leave a diary that detailed his experiences in both the Great Fire of London and the Plague of London 1665 – 1666.

“This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and ‘Lord have mercy upon us’ writ there; which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind that, to my remembrance, I ever saw.”

Samuel Pepys, Diary, 7 June 1665.

And Wikipedia, in their article, The Black Death in Medieval Culture, tells us:

In addition to these personal accounts, many presentations of the Black Death have entered the general consciousness as great literature. For example, the major works of Boccaccio (The Decameron), Petrarch, Geoffrey Chaucer (The Canterbury Tales), and William Langland (Piers Plowman), which all discuss the Black Death, are generally recognized as some of the best works of their era.

La Danse Macabre, or the Dance of Death, was a contemporary allegory, expressed as art, drama, and printed work. Its theme was the universality of death, expressing the common wisdom of the time: that no matter one’s station in life, the dance of death united all.

It consists of the personified Death leading a row of dancing figures from all walks of life to the grave – typically with an emperor, king, pope, monk, youngster, beautiful girl, all in skeleton-state. They were produced under the impact of the Black Death, reminding people of how fragile their lives were and how vain the glories of earthly life.

The earliest artistic example is from the frescoed cemetery of the Church of the Holy Innocents in Paris (1424). There are also works by Konrad Witz in Basel (1440), Bernt Notke in Lübeck (1463) and woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger (1538). Israil Bercovici claims that the Danse Macabre originated among Sephardic Jews in fourteenth century Spain (Bercovici, 1992, p. 27).

The poem “The Rattle Bag” by the Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym (1315–1350 or 1340–1370) has many elements that suggest that it was written as a reflection of the hardships he endured during the Black Death. It also reflects his personal belief that the Black Death was the end of humanity, the Apocalypse, as suggested by his multiple biblical references, particularly the events described in the Book of Revelation.

Thomas Nashe also wrote a sonnet about the plague entitled “A Litany in Time of Plague” which was part of Summer’s Last Will and Testament (1592). He made countryside visits to remove himself from London in fear of the plague.

Plagues and natural disasters are cyclical events that in our modern times affect us on a global scale, making our watery planet seem smaller.

My friends in the UK and all over the world are going through much the same shortages, worries about loved ones, and social distancing as we are here at Ground Zero. Our society and how we interact at public gatherings will be forever changed by this experience.

Our writing will have a depth of understanding we didn’t have before. On a personal level, we who have been comfortable and secure will understand the fear of not being able to find what we need in our grocery stores.

We will understand how truly fragile the supply system is and find ways to work safely with it.

We will know the worry of knowing an invisible predator lurks outside the door, or perhaps within….

We will understand what the lack of resources for the hospitals and clinics we depend on truly means in a time of crisis.

In experiencing this calamity, we are gaining an understanding of what we write and the truth about how societies react to large external threats.

Write upbeat, write downbeat—but write. Take a break from your novel and write short works if you are inspired.

If nothing else, let this time of trouble be the fertile ground from which great works emerge.


Credits and Attributions:

The Diary of Samuel Pepys, excerpt from the entry 7 June 1665, by Samuel Pepys. Public Domain. First published edition of the diary, deciphered by Rev. J. Smith, edited by Lord Braybrooke, published in two volumes in 1825.

Wikipedia contributors, “Black Death in medieval culture,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Black_Death_in_medieval_culture&oldid=936348120 (accessed March 22, 2020).

Primroses, by Connie J. Jasperson © 2016 All Rights Reserved

Yellow Magnolia, by Connie J. Jasperson © 2016 All Rights Reserved

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#FineArtFriday: Salvator Mundi, by Leonardo Da Vinci

  • Artist: Leonardo da Vinci  (1452–1519)
  • Title: Salvator Mundi
  • Genre  religious art
  • Description: Photographic reproduction of the painting after restoration by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, a research professor at New York University.
  • Depicted people: Jesus Christ
  • Date: circa 1500
  • Medium: oil on walnut wood
  • Dimensions: Height: 65.6 cm (25.8″); Width: 45.4 cm (17.8″)
  • Collection: Ostensibly the Louvre Abu Dhabi
  • Object history: 1958: auctioned 2007: restored
  • November 2017: acquired by Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority
  • 15 November 2017: auctioned

Leonardo da Vinci was one of history’s greatest artists and thinkers. Only about 15 of his paintings are known to exist and one, the “Salvator Mundi” (Savior of the World), was thought to be lost forever. Leonard painted it sometime around the year 1500.

About this image, via Wikipedia”

Salvator Mundi is one of Leonardo’s most copied paintings, with about 12 known examples executed by his pupils and others. Leonardo’s version was thought to have been lost after the mid-17th century. In 1978, Joanne Snow-Smith developed a compelling case that the supposed copy located in the Marquis Jean-Louis de Ganay Collection, Paris, was the lost original based on its similarity to Saint John the Baptist. Many art historians were convinced, as she was able to establish a direct historical connection between Leonardo da Vinci, the engraving by Wenceslaus Hollar and the painting in the Ganay collection.[30]

In 2005, a Salvator Mundi was presented and acquired at an auction for less than $10,000 (€8,450) by a consortium of art dealers that included Alexander Parrish and Robert Simon, a specialist in Old Masters. It was sold from the estate of Baton Rouge businessman Basil Clovis Hendry Sr., at the St. Charles Gallery auction house in New Orleans. It had been heavily over-painted so it looked like a copy, and was, before restoration, described as “a wreck, dark and gloomy”. 

The consortium believed there was a possibility that the low-quality mess (with its excessive overpainting) might actually be the long-missing da Vinci original. They commissioned Dianne Dwyer Modestini at New York University to oversee the restoration. She began by removing the overpainting with acetone, leading her to discover that at some point, a stepped area of unevenness near Christ’s face had been shaved down with a sharp object, and also leveled with a mixture of gesso, paint and glue. Using infrared photographs Simon had taken of the painting, Modestini discovered a pentimento (earlier draft) of the painting which had the blessing hand’s thumb in a straight, rather than curved, position. The discovery that Christ had two thumbs on his right hand was crucial. This pentimento (literally ‘repent’) showed the artist had a second thought about the positioning of the thumb. Such a second thought is considered evidence that this is not a copy but indeed an original, since copiers would have no doubts about composition. 

Modestini proceeded to have panel specialist Monica Griesbach chisel off a marouflaged wood panel which had been tunnelled through by worms, causing the painting to break into seven pieces. Griesbach reassembled the painting with adhesive and wood slivers.  In late 2006, Modestini began her restoration effort.

The work was subsequently authenticated as a painting by Leonardo. From November 2011 through February 2012, the painting was exhibited at the National Gallery as a work by Leonardo da Vinci, after authentication by that facility. In 2012, it was also authenticated by the Dallas Museum of Art. 

More about this painting:

In 2005 restoration by the eminent conservator, Dianne Dwyer Modestini. She commented in a video interview for the Robb Report, “This picture is a paradigm of everything that he (Da Vinci) knew technically about painting and much of what he thought about time, eternity, and the cosmos. It wasn’t just a portrait of Jesus Christ painted for the king. This was something that became very important to him.” READ MORE: http://bit.ly/LostDaVinci


Credits and Attributions:

Salvator Mundi, by Leonardo da Vinci / Public domain Circa 1490-1519, oil on panel, 45.4 cm × 65.6 cm (25.8 in × 17.9 in), private collection. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Leonardo da Vinci, Salvator Mundi, c.1500, oil on walnut, 45.4 × 65.6 cm.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Leonardo_da_Vinci,_Salvator_Mundi,_c.1500,_oil_on_walnut,_45.4_%C3%97_65.6_cm.jpg&oldid=403092006 (accessed March 19, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Salvator Mundi (Leonardo),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Salvator_Mundi_(Leonardo)&oldid=946001422 (accessed March 19, 2020).

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Society, the hidden underpinning of worldbuilding #amwriting

Authors all know that the physical setting of a story and the immediate environment must be absolutely clear in their mind. But there is a hidden aspect to worldbuilding, one that is nearly invisible to the casual reader.

Whether you are writing real-world environments or sci-fi/fantasy, a significant part of the world your characters inhabit is their society.

This aspect of worldbuilding is a fundamental underpinning of any novel, but it is one that goes virtually unseen. How people live, and their place in society is an invisible component of any story.

All societies are made up of layers. What those layers are is listed below. What makes your story different is how you apply the layers and yet keep them subtle to the reader.

We build the society in our minds, and to us, it is rock solid. It helps to write a page or two of background info, just for yourself. The reader doesn’t need to know the details or the history, only that it is.

My Tower of Bones series was initially invented as the setting for an anime-based platform-style RPG (Role Playing Game) that was never built. We intended to create a Final Fantasy style world and game, but the tech crash happened, and the game didn’t materialize.

However, I had retained the rights to my maps, my characters, and my storyline. This worldbuilding eventually became the basis for the Tower of Bones series. Mountains of the Moon is the original story that the series grew out of, although it was the fourth book to be completed and published.

Companies like Square-Enix have it right. Over the last three decades, they’ve consistently produced anime-based RPG games that are considered classics. These games have a rabid following because they share one commonality: they all have unforgettable characters, memorable worlds, and deep, involving storylines.

When I was asked to write the storyline for the game, I began with my protagonist, a hapless yokel named Wynn Farmer. I created a word-picture of his world and how the dangerous environment shaped his society.

Then I made a list of questions about the society Wynn lived in.  The answers formed the picture of his world and his place in it.

With that done, I set it aside to use as reference material for when I needed to know how a particular character would react in a given situation. We intended to determine what was important enough to be a cutscene later, but never got to that stage. Cutscenes are generally a short transitional animation, marking places where the storyline advances and giving deeper insight into the characters, their motives, and their ultimate quest.

This is the method I still use today when I create a new world.

I have posted the following lists before, so if you have already seen them and are bored now, thank you for stopping by.

Society is always composed of many layers and classes. How is your society divided? Who has wealth? are there

  • Nobility?
  • A servant class?
  • A merchant class
  • A large middle class?
  • Who makes up the most impoverished class?
  • Who has the power, men, women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?

Do they have a written language? This is really important if you are setting your people in a medieval world or in a really low-tech society because it determines how knowledge is passed on. Low-tech generally equals an oral tradition.

  • How are people educated?
  • Who is allowed to learn to read and write?
  • How are bards, storytellers, and other disseminators of knowledge looked upon?
  • How is monetary wealth calculated?
  • Do they use coins? What is their monetary system? If you are inventing it, keep it simple. (I generally use gold, divided into tens: 10 coppers=a silver/ 10 silvers=a gold)

Ethics and Values: What constitutes morality?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated?
  • How are men treated?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is human life? How is murder punished?
  • How are treachery, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness?
  • How important is the truth?
  • What constitutes immorality?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?

Religion and the Gods: How important is religion in this tale? If it is central, ask yourself: Is there one god/goddess or many? If the worship of a deity is a vital part of your tale, you must design the entire theology. You must know the rituals and understand how their deity holds their hearts. You must know how that deity considers his/her worshipers.

  • What sort of political power does the priestly class wield?
  • What is the internal hierarchy of the priesthood?
  • Who has the power?
  • Is this religion a benevolent entity or all-powerful, demanding, harsh?
  • How does the priesthood interact with the community?
  • Who can join the priesthood?
  • Do people want to join the priesthood, or do they fear it?
  • How is the priesthood trained?

Level of Technology: What tools and amenities does this society have available to them? What about transport?

  • Hunter/Gatherers?
  • Agrarian/farming
  • Greco-Roman metallurgy and technology?
  • Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  • Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  • Modern day?
  • Or do they have a magic-based technology?
  • How do we get around, and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, by train, or by space shuttle?

Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:

  • Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  • How does the government fund itself?
  • How are taxes levied?
  • Is it a feudal society?
  • Is it a clan-based society?
  • How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  • How is the government viewed by the citizens?

Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior, and how are criminals treated?

Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?

  • If not, why? What causes the tension?

Waging War: This is another area where we have to ask what their level of technology is. It is critical for you as the author to understand what sort of weapons your characters will bring to the front, and also what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

These lists are a jumping-off point, something for you to consider. The answers to these questions always lead to my considering other larger concepts, ideas and values that combine to make up a civilization. Please feel free to use this roster to form your own inventory of ideas about society.

Know your world, know the society, and write with authority.

Give your readers just enough detail to show that your world is real and substantial. You don’t need to go into detail about how that world came to be. You, as the author, are the only one who needs to know those details.


Credits and Attributions

Potions of this post were first published here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy as “Creating Societies,” © 2018 by Connie J. Jasperson. https://conniejjasperson.com/2018/09/24/creating-societies-amwriting,  published September 24, 2018.

Sword image via Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Espadon-Morges.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Espadon-Morges.jpg&oldid=350432233 (accessed March 18, 2020).

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The Rant from Ground Zero #amwriting

I live and write in the Olympia area of Washington State. We are a short drive from Seattle, the epicenter of the Corona Virus outbreak. Four of our children live within a few miles of the nursing home where 27 deaths have so far occurred that are linked to this disease. One of our daughters is a health care professional in that part of King County, a Reflexologist.

I will admit that it has been difficult to focus on writing.

In December, I wrote a short story with the theme of “Escape,” tailoring it specifically for an anthology with that theme. It is a dark story, detailing a virus that brings humanity to its knees.

Two weeks ago, I had just clicked the “send” button when the news of the nursing home deaths burst, and the Pacific Northwest went mad—panic shopping ensued.

Yesterday I made the decision to pull that story from consideration. I don’t think the world needs another dark tale about viruses, especially one with no happy ending.

I submitted a different story, one that is not necessarily happy. However, it’s optimistic and deals with a girl in 1950s America hoping to escape her difficult parents. The theme in the new submission fulfills the intention of “escape.” I don’t want to read anything that’s a downer right now, so I suspect that readers of an anthology won’t either.

I don’t see any reason to “panic shop.” I’ve been poor, and I know how to function in a world that isn’t 21st century America “clean.”

As far as housekeeping goes, those wipes and all that sanitizer aren’t really that useful, but they make people feel safer. I’ve never used them, as I’m allergic to chlorine bleach and use a mix of 1 cup white vinegar to 3 cups of water in a spray bottle for spot cleaning doors and even windows.

I’m old and officially began adult life at the age of 19 in 1972. I know that a sink or bucket full of hot, soapy water cleans most surfaces in my home well and doesn’t leave a nasty chemical residue.

White vinegar is an acid, and in a strong solution, it disinfects as it cleans. See this article: Does Vinegar Kill Germs?

Plus, it’s cheaper.

So how do we go forward as a people during these strange times? Here in Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee has worked tirelessly. He’s made hard decisions to ensure that our state does all it possibly can to meet this threat.

From this point on, we will admit that we can’t depend on those in our national government to respect us here in the Northwest. We know they won’t be honest with us, nor will we count on them to supply the country’s health system with what it needs.

We will learn new habits that will change how we interact with the world. We denizens of Ground Zero will elbow-bump but won’t shake hands, or hug, or kiss cheeks when in France. We won’t spread viruses if we can avoid it, and we’ll try to avoid getting them.

Panic shopping will settle down as this passes. Here at La Casa del Jasperson, we have enough to get by, and if we run out and the stores are empty, as I said at the beginning of this rant, we will manage. During the Reagan years, we were financially challenged, and since those days I’ve always been prepared for emergencies.

In the meantime, I have a large virtual community of writer friends, and we communicate through various boards on social media. My Tuesday morning writing group will be meeting via Google Hangouts. We have a Discord Channel for Olympia NaNoWriMo.

It is allergy season. Today March 15th, the tree pollen index is low, but with the advent of spring, that will change. My allergy to Douglas Fir will kick in as soon as the lovely green dust of tree pollen begins to cover the cars.

This year I will take allergy meds because a sniffly nose is a bad thing in this day and age. If the meds don’t work, I’ll have to stay home and dream about the new, remastered version of Final Fantasy VII.

Or, I could play the old, classic version again…heh heh…. I can probably still do that even if the meds work as they’re designed….

Never mind.

I have books to write and a house to clean.

Again.


Credits and Attributions:

Logo owned by Square Enix for Final Fantasy VII Remake. Copyright 2020 Square Enix, Fair Use.

Wikipedia contributors, “Final Fantasy VII Remake,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Final_Fantasy_VII_Remake&oldid=945625103 (accessed March 15, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Bottles of vinegar at a supermarket.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Bottles_of_vinegar_at_a_supermarket.jpg&oldid=218865788 (accessed March 15, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Jan van Grevenbroeck, Venetian doctor during the time of the plague. Museo Correr, Venice.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Jan_van_Grevenbroeck,_Venetian_doctor_during_the_time_of_the_plague._Museo_Correr,_Venice.jpg&oldid=213078370 (accessed March 15, 2020).

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#FineArtFriday: Canal in the Spreewald in Spring by Bruno Moras

Artist: Bruno Moras, (1833 – 1939)

Title: Kanal im Spreewald im Frühling (Canal in the Spreewald in Spring)

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions Height: 79 cm (31.1″); Width: 119 cm (46.8″)

What I love about this picture:

Moras captured the trees as they are when the leaves first burst forth, with a bright, yellow-green. The apple and plum trees, the first signs of spring around here, are blossoming. The water reflects the  colors of the world, yet a slight breeze moves it. The small boats drawn up to the shore can carry one or two fisher folk comfortably.

About the artist:

I have been unable to find much about Bruno Moras, other than he was the son of Walter Moras, was born, lived, and died in Berlin, and never achieved the fame his father had. This is too bad, as his works are just now becoming more in demand at auctions.

Still, his work survives. In a time when modern art was moving away from traditional landscape painting, Moras painted beautiful images of what he loved most: the countryside of his Germany.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Bruno Moras – Kanal im Spreewald im Frühling.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Bruno_Moras_-_Kanal_im_Spreewald_im_Fr%C3%BChling.jpg&oldid=273477004 (accessed March 13, 2020).

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The synopsis #amwriting

On Monday, we covered the query and cover letter. Today we are going over the synopsis, which is a short summary of your story or book. Indies will occasionally have to write a synopsis if they submit their longer work to contests, agents, or publishers.

When a contest or publisher asks for a synopsis, they don’t want a book blurb, which is a “this is why you should buy my book” teaser. They do want a short description filled with all the spoilers so that the work goes to the right editor or (in the case of a contest) reader.

Most submissions are electronic. I’ve mentioned before how important naming your files is. You want your work to be easily found, so don’t label your synopsis file “synopsis.doc.” Be specific and include the book title: Don_Quixote_Synopsis.doc

Try to be brief. For an average 300 – 400 page novel of less than 100,000 words, 500 to 800 words is good and won’t frighten off your intended editor/publisher. Length can vary—some agents and editors will want a longer synopsis, so be sure to check their website for their guidelines.

For a short story, a paragraph or so in the cover letter is usually all that is required for your synopsis.

Why do agents and editors want a synopsis when they can have the whole manuscript? They will ask for the first two or three chapters but are subject to time constraints. They don’t have time to read and judge an entire novel, so if they are interested at that point, they turn to the synopsis.

The synopsis, with its recounting of the events, will tell them if the rest of the book will keep the reader hooked. If they like the way the plot evolves, they will ask for the entire manuscript.

Your synopsis is not intended to entertain the editor. Your first few chapters should have done that. It is meant to be a brief, dry recounting of the who, what, where, when, and why of your entire novel.

If we are boiling a 350 page novel down to 500 – 800 words (which is only around one page), what do we include in our synopsis?

Harry Bingham of the UK’s largest literary consultancy, Jericho Writers, says:

A synopsis is a 500-800 word summary of your book that forms part of your agent submission pack. It should outline your plot in neutral non-salesy language and demonstrate a clear story arc. Every major plot twist, character, and any big turning point or climactic scene should get a mention. [1]

In other words:

  • Summarize your novel and include all the twists.
  • Don’t give it the hard sell.
  • Start at the beginning and hit the high points of the plot all the way to the end.

In this, as in most things, the internet is your friend. For a great article that includes both an excellent example of a synopsis, a good template, and many more details of how to write a synopsis, go to https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/.

The following synopsis is of a book published in 1605, and which is 1,072 pages long. A book of this length would require a 2,000 word synopsis to cover the high points.

400-word Synopsis of the first 10 chapters of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote is a metafictional account of the mid-life crisis and adventures of a nobleman (hidalgo) from La Mancha named Alonso Quixano. The first chapters are taken from “the archives of La Mancha,” and the rest is translated from an Arabic text by the Moorish author Cide Hamete Benengeli.

Nearing 50 years of age and living in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and housekeeper, Quixano is usually a rational man. He is obsessed with reading tales of chivalry and knights-errant. However, by not sleeping adequately because he was reading, Quixano is easily given to anger. He believes every word of his fictional books of chivalry to be true.

While he is asleep in his bed, his niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber burn most of his chivalric and other books. The priest must decide which books are bad for morality, so he can know them well enough to describe every naughty scene.

After the books are burned, the niece and priest seal up the room which contained the library, later telling Quixano that it was the action of a wizard.

The loss of his books causes him to lose his mind. Quixano decides to become a knight-errant. He will revive chivalry and serve his nation, under the name Don Quixote de la Mancha.

After a short period of feigning health, Don Quixote requests his neighbor, Sancho Panza, to be his squire, promising him a governorship. Sancho is a poor and simple farmer but is far more practical than Don Quixote. He agrees to the offer, sneaking away with Don Quixote in the early dawn.

They begin their quest to revive chivalry, starting with Don Quixote’s attack on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.

The two next encounter two Benedictine friars traveling on the road ahead of a lady in a carriage. The friars are not traveling with the lady but happen to be on the same road. Don Quixote believes the friars are enchanters who hold the lady captive. He knocks a friar from his horse and is challenged by an armed Basque traveling with the company.

As he has no shield, the Basque uses a pillow from the carriage to protect himself, which saves him when Don Quixote strikes him. The combat ends with the lady leaving her carriage and commanding those traveling with her to “surrender” to Don Quixote. [2]

I do recommend you go to the Jericho Writers site and follow their guidelines if you are asked for a synopsis. The article there is one of the most comprehensive and useful ones I’ve read anywhere. Again, that article can be found at https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] How To Write A Novel Synopsis: Includes Template & Example, © 2019  by Harry Bingham, https://jerichowriters.com/synopsis/ (Accessed 03 Mar 2020).

[2] 400 word Synopsis of the first 10 chapters of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes, condensed from Wikipedia.  Wikipedia contributors, “Don Quixote,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Don_Quixote&oldid=943081150 (accessed 10 Mar 2020).

Don Quijote de La Mancha and Sancho Panza, 1863, Gustave Doré [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Wilhelm Marstrand, Don Quixote og Sancho Panza ved en skillevej, uden datering (efter 1847), 0119NMK, Nivaagaards Malerisamling.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Wilhelm_Marstrand,_Don_Quixote_og_Sancho_Panza_ved_en_skillevej,_uden_datering_(efter_1847),_0119NMK,_Nivaagaards_Malerisamling.jpg&oldid=376321256 (accessed March 10, 2020).

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The Cover/Query Letter #amwriting

Every author who wants to sell their work will be required to craft either a query or cover letter at some point in their career. This is frequently a requirement for submission to a magazine or contest.

Some authors despise that process so much that they go indie, thinking they won’t have to leap that hurdle, only to find there is no escaping it.

Writing queries and cover letters can be an inconvenience if you don’t know what is expected or what you should include.

I’ve attended several seminars on the subject and have written many of them. The best place I have found with a simple description of what your query letter should look like is at the NY Book Editors website.

Boiled down, what they tell you is this:

  1. If you are mailing it or submitting a cover/query letter as a separate document, be formal:
  • Your address at the top of the page, right-justified.
  • The agent’s address, this time, left-justified.

In an email, you don’t do step one. However, you DO make sure your personal information is in your signature.

  1. Be personal and polite. Greet and acknowledge the agent or editor by name: Dear Ms. Stuart

The body: This is important: the body of your query letter should not exceed three to five paragraphs.

  1. The 1st paragraph is where you introduce yourself. Perhaps you met at a convention or seminar, or you’re a fan of one of the authors they represent. If you have a connection with the agent or editor you are approaching, mention it but be brief.

If you have no previous connection, NY Editors suggest you get down to business right away with your attempt to sell your short story or book. Their point of view on this is that you only have a few paragraphs to sell your work, so make those words count.

The 3 most important things to include in the 1st paragraph are:

  1. Title of the story (or novel)
  2. Genre
  3. Word count

The 2nd  and possibly 3rd paragraph must give a brief description of the work—showcase the plot and tell them why you think it is a good fit for this publication. Do as briefly as possible—do not write a 3,000-word synopsis.

ALL prospective publishers, whether for magazines or larger houses, want the hook and the essence of that short story/novel in these paragraphs. They want to get a feel for who you are as an author.

Do NOT give it the hard sell. The www.NYBookEditors.com website has this to say about query/cover letters: “You must walk a very fine line between selling your manuscript without coming across like the parent who knows his kid is the best player on the bench.”

The final paragraph is where you post a short (as in BRIEF) bio of you. Mention your published works, and whatever awards you have acquired. If samples of your work are available on your website, say so.

When submitting queries to two widely different types of editors, anthologies or magazines, the submission guidelines will be different. However, the basic cover/query letter is the same.

Magazines: Most magazines are available online nowadays and they usually want electronic submissions. Many publishers use Submittable, a service offered by a submissions manager software that makes the process simpler for both authors and editors. If they want their submissions sent via email, the email you attach your submission to is your cover letter.

Large Publishing Houses: Most agents, editors, and publishers want a 1 page, 300-word description of your novel. This is the query letter, as described above. Your ms is not attached to this.

Every magazine, publisher, editor, or agent has a website detailing the way they want things submitted. In general, the larger publishers and agents want to receive letters and/or emails formatted to rules that are readily available on their website.  You must read and follow them carefully.

I have mentioned the word “brief” numerous times in this post—and hopefully you see why. Choose your words carefully so that your brief paragraphs showcase you and your work in the best way possible.

This is most important: don’t forget to double-check your letter for typos and spelling errors. We all make them, and we don’t want them to be our legacy.

A sample email cover letter might read:

Dear Ms. Editor,

My name is Connie Jasperson. I was introduced to you at the 2019 PNWA conference during the book signing event. I hope my story, A Cold and Dangerous Place, might be a good fit for you.

A Cold and Dangerous Place is a quest tale about forgiveness and human frailty, with some elements of high fantasy. It is 3,500 words and has never before been published. I have attached the manuscript as a word document in Vonda McIntyre’s manuscript format, as specified in the submission rules.

I live and write in the Olympia area of Washington State, and am active in several writing groups. I am a founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group have independently published nine novels. My short stories have appeared in several anthologies. One of my short stories was included in the 2019 anthology Swords, Sorcery and Self-Rescuing Damsels, featuring stories by authors such as Jody Lynn Nye and Katie Cross.

Thank you for your consideration,

Connie J. Jasperson

123 Writer Rd. S.E.

Buymybook, WA 01234

c.jasperson@writer.com (email)

123-456-7890 (phone)

The body of any cover letter will be laid out in the same fashion. Title, word count, and genre are important. Agents and editors want to know that you sent them the kind of work they specialize in.

Sometimes my queries get good results, and sometimes not. I’ve said this before, but query letters are like ice cream. Everyone likes certain flavors and have to be pushed to try out new.

You just have to cross your fingers and hope your manuscript and letter arrives on a day when the person in question is in the mood for a story exactly like what you are selling.

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#FineArtFriday: Dawn in the Hills by Julian Onderdonk, 1922

  • Artist: Julian Onderdonk  (1882–1922)
  • Title: Dawn In The Hills
  • Date    1922
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: Height: 76.2 cm (30″); Width: 101.6 cm (40″)
  • Collection: Private collection

What I love about this painting:

Onderdonk captured the surreal essence of early morning near San Antonio, Texas. The mists are rising in the hills, slowly revealing the riotous splendor of deep blue wildflowers. It is a rolling sea of bluebonnets, with the occasional white of the blackfoot or fleabane daisy mingled in.

The artist perfectly conveyed the mystical quality of that singular moment of the morning when the air is still and golden, and the day ahead is full of possibilities.

I could spend hours in this place.

About this painting:

Art historian Jeffrey Morseburg writes, “In the fall of 1922, as he was just entering his prime, Onderdonk was rushed to the hospital with an intestinal blockage. He failed to recover from the emergency surgery and died on October 27, 1922. His sudden death created an outpouring of emotion for the man who had become “The Dean of Texas Painters.” Just before he died, Onderdonk had finished a beautiful early morning view of a Texas hillside carpeted with Bluebonnets titled ‘Dawn in the Hills’ and another work, a bold fall scene titled ‘Autumn Tapestry.’” [1]

About the Artist, Via Wikipedia:

Julian Onderdonk was born in San Antonio, Texas, to Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, a painter, and Emily Gould Onderdonk. He was raised in South Texas and was an enthusiastic sketcher and painter. As a teenager Onderdonk was influenced and received some training from the prominent Texas artist Verner Moore White who also lived in San Antonio at the time. He attended the West Texas Military Academy, now the Episcopal School of Texas, graduating in 1900. His grandfather Henry Onderdonk was the Headmaster of Saint James School in Maryland, from which Julian’s father Robert graduated.

At 19, with the help of a generous neighbor, Julian left Texas in order to study with the renowned American Impressionist William Merritt Chase. Julian’s father, Robert, had also once studied with Chase. Julian spent the summer of 1901 on Long Island at Chase’s Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art. He studied with Chase for a couple of years and then moved to New York City to attempt to make a living as an en plein air artist. While in New York he met and married Gertrude Shipman and they soon had a son.

Onderdonk returned to San Antonio in 1909, where he produced his best work. His most popular subjects were bluebonnet landscapes. Onderdonk died on October 27, 1922 in San Antonio.

President George W. Bush decorated the Oval Office with three of Onderdonk’s paintings. The Dallas Museum of Art has several rooms dedicated exclusively to Onderdonk’s work.

His art studio currently resides on the grounds of the Witte Museum.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Julian Onderdonk, An Illustrated Biography by Jeffrey Morseburg, © 2011 https://julianonderdonk.wordpress.com/tag/julian-onderdonk-biography/  (accessed March 4, 2020).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922) – Dawn In The Hills (1922).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Julian_Onderdonk_(1882-1922)_-_Dawn_In_The_Hills_(1922).jpg&oldid=278966540 (accessed March 4, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Julian Onderdonk,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Julian_Onderdonk&oldid=882101452 (accessed March 4, 2020).

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