Layers of a Scene—Immediate Environment #amwriting

While you are reading this post, you are probably sitting in a room, or perhaps sitting in some form of public transportation and reading on your phone. Wherever you currently are physically, you are reading a blog post. Because you are reading this post, your attention is in my room. The sounds of your environment have faded, and you are here with me, observing as I write about writing.

It’s 05:38 am, and my house is quiet, but not quite silent. It’s not a dark place, as the nightlight in the living room casts a warm glow, and the ceiling light in the room I call my “office” keeps me hitting the right keys, mostly. The furnace has come on, and the vents are making that familiar soft wooshing sound.

A cat once lived in this room, but she is gone, nine years now. Still, her spirit lingers among the dusty books and boxes of the storeroom that is my Room of Shame—a room no one is allowed to see when they visit. A sign on the door clearly warns, if you’re not in my book, keep out.

I wear a blue robe and ratty pink slippers. My feet are propped on a folding chair from Costco and the keyboard rests on my lap. Filing cabinets, boxes, shelves, dusty books, my husband’s citronella plants in the window, boxes and more boxes—this room is a cacophony of visual noise.

And yet this room is my haven, my quiet space, my room to write.

My keyboard has a certain rattle to it, a few keystrokes forward and the backspace key is pressed several times, then we go forward again. The end of a sentence arrives, and the punctuation is firmly added.

The aroma of fresh-brewed coffee calls to me. I set my work aside and go to the kitchen, the room that, despite its location in the rear corner of the house, is the center of my home. As I pour my first cup of coffee, my plan is to make a Sunday breakfast, bake bread, and maybe make oatmeal cookies with dried cranberries and walnuts.

But perhaps not. Perhaps after breakfast, I’ll return to the Room of Shame and write.

This is my immediate environment.

Our characters also occupy a particular environment at any given moment of their story. Whether they live in a condo, a house, or a caravan, their immediate environment reflects their personality.

The larger world is comprised of sound and scent as much as it is physical objects. The out-of-doors has a certain smell, perhaps of damp grass, or fresh-turned earth. In the city, smog has a scent all its own.

The smaller world, the immediate environment can be shown with brief strokes. My room has sounds that are unique to it: the furnace vents, the keyboard, the sound of the TV in another room. But some things are universal–coffee cups, small appliances, etc. We all have an idea of what a kitchen looks like. Place your character in a room with certain common props and the reader’s imagination will supply the rest of the scene:

Rick closed the drapes, which smelled faintly of cigarettes. He switched the TV on—for light or companionship? Maybe both. The hotel’s movie selection was minimal, but The Maltese Falcon seemed appropriate. Unable to relax, he sat on the worn sofa, waiting, his gun at the ready.

Whenever you mention an object in a scene, it becomes important. When you mention odors, they become important, as do sounds. This is why using your character’s senses is a part of world building. What they see, hear, and smell shapes the world the reader experiences.

As an exercise, picture your immediate environment. What are your impressions of the place where you are now? Write a brief word picture of those impressions. For me, the impressions of my immediate space are: Glow of monitor, rattle of keyboard, looming boxes, cooling coffee.

Those four things show my environment.

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#FineArtFriday: Falling Leaves, by Olga Wisinger-Florian

Falling Leaves, by Olga Wisinger-Florian, circa 1899, depicts a woman and her dog enjoying a quiet walk in the serenity of an autumn day. Using light and shadow, the artist employs an impressionistic style to convey the forest. Nothing is drawn with precision, yet everything is shown in its entirety. The feeling of this pieces is a little dreamlike–she carries an umbrella, so she’s prepared for rain. She is dressed all in black except for her yellow hat. Leaves in all the many shades of green, gold, and red cling to their trees; the damp, aging rails of the wooden fence offers a flimsy barrier to the carriages and motor vehicles that may travel the roadside. Leaves cover the dirt road, and more are falling down, and the dog trots happily along beside her mistress—the story is there for us to see.

About the Artist:

According to Wikipedia, Olga Wisinger-Florian’s early paintings can be assigned to what is known as Austrian Mood Impressionism. In her landscape paintings she adopted Schindler’s sublime approach to nature. The motifs she employed, such as views of tree-lined avenues, gardens and fields, were strongly reminiscent of her teacher’s work. After breaking with Schindler in 1884, however, the artist went her own way. Her conception of landscapes became more realistic. Her late work is notable for a lurid palette, with discernible overtones of Expressionism. With landscape and flower pictures that were already Expressionist in palette by the 1890s, she was years ahead of her time.


Credits and Attributions:

Falling Leaves, by Olga Wisinger-Florian, ca 1899 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Olga Wisinger-Florian,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Olga_Wisinger-Florian&oldid=852607929 (accessed October 11, 2018).

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Olga Wisinger-Florian – Falling Leaves.JPG,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Olga_Wisinger-Florian_-_Falling_Leaves.JPG&oldid=273565541 (accessed October 11, 2018).

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Ideas to jump-start #NaNoWriMo2018 #amwriting

I have been a Municipal Liaison for NaNoWriMo since 2012. I started participating in this annual writing rumble in 2010. I  found myself taking the lead as the unofficial ML for my region in 2011 when our previous ML didn’t return, and we didn’t have one that year. Organizing write-ins, cheering on my fellow writers–I didn’t really know a lot about how it all worked, but it was a lot of fun and I met so many wonderful people.

Over the years I have learned a lot of little tricks to help people get a jump on their NaNoWriMo project.

Some people continue writing the first draft of an unfinished work-in-progress but on November first, they write all the new work in a separate manuscript that is only for NaNoWriMo validation purposes.

Most will start an entirely new project, which is what I do. Actually,  since 2012, I have started a bunch of new projects, an attempt to amass a collection of short stories to submit to magazines and contests.

Many times, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do until 12:01 a.m. on November 1st.

But that lack of a finite plan doesn’t mean I have no ideas. I am always prepared to write something new.

One of my favorite tools is the prepared list of one-liners that I keep on hand, little ideas to open a story with.

You must write every day, even when you are only writing for yourself. When you write every day, you keep your “writing mind” in top condition–you are training yourself the way an athlete trains for a big event.

For this reason, I have a document saved to my desktop that I use to write down ideas as they hit my brain.

Everyday I pick a prompt out of my list and start writing. I write new words on that idea for fifteen minutes.

Often, I end up with a good drabble to show for my fifteen minutes. Other times, what I produce is not worth much, but the act of writing new words is important.

On November first I will pick one that will be the first short story I write, giving me a jumping off point to riff on.

1 – Leonard always said there was no place for pansies in this war. His preferred weapon was a dahlia.

2 – Dogs and little children hated Eldon. The rest of us merely despised him.

3 – Death is the one thing you can take with you, and Harvey Milton was packed up and ready to go.

4 – No dogs or cats for Mrs. G—she had pygmy goats.

5 – The body in the trunk of Edna’s car had become a real inconvenience.

6  – “Technically, it’s not my cow. It’s my stepdad’s cow. Anyway, we aren’t going to harm her. She’s just going to school for a day.”

And what about essays, those wonderful commentaries and literary pieces for various magazines? I’m stricken every day with ideas that would make such good essays, and November is my month to write them.

  • Impressions of a spring day at the Olympia Farmer’s Market (one of the largest on the west coast).
  • The story of a mentally ill homeless woman whom I met on a rainy day.
  • A road trip down Washington State Route 105 from Westport to Raymond, and the ghostly, nearly abandoned coastal towns of rural Washington State.

So many random ideas and so little time to write those stories! That is why November has become so precious to me—it is my time to make use of my flashes of inspiration.

Another trick to both jump-starting and finishing a NaNo Novel is to write the last chapter first and set it aside in a separate document from the NaNo Manuscript.

Yes–its true. I wrote my first complete novel by writing the last chapter first and then wondering how the characters had gotten to that point, that place.

Once I knew how the book ended, I was easily able to write 60,000 to 70,000 words to connect up to that final denouement.

The original premise: An old man returns to a town that was the scene of his most treasured memories.

The book opens when he is a young man of barely twenty and takes him through grand love affairs and miserable failures, a Don Quixote-like story of madness and bravery. My brain was on fire with that book.

I still love that book and one day I will republish it.

Maybe.

That wasn’t my first novel, but it was the first one I had completed—and if you don’t complete your projects, you can’t really lay claim to being an author.

We all have false starts—it’s part of writing. My first novel was begun in 1994 on an old Macintosh Performa. The original manuscript was lost when I switched to a PC in 1998, but I rewrote it. Over the next ten years, that version evolved to over 250,000 rambling words, ten different story lines, and it was still nowhere near the finish line.

I promise you, that is one book that will never see the light of day.

NaNoWriMo has shown me that writing prompts are a wonderful tool that we can use to jump-start our imaginations. The Writer’s Digest website has an excellent post dedicated to writing prompts:

Creative Writing Prompts

If you want to practice writing something but can’t think of what, take a look and see if something interests you.  No two people are alike, so don’t be afraid to use a prompt from a popular site like Writer’s Digest. The way you go with it will be as unique and individual as you are.

In the meantime, start keeping a list of ideas, prompts that you think would make great stories. Save it to your desktop so it is always available with just a click. Great novels all begin with a random idea, a “what if.” Don’t let your ideas slip into oblivion–write them down and use them.

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Layers of a Scene #amwriting

I try to approach writing each dialogue scene as it would be portrayed in a movie. I think of each conversation as an event that must advance the story, so dialogue must do at least one (if not all) of these things:

  1. Offer information the characters are only now learning.
  2. Show the state of mind the characters are experiencing.
  3. Show the relationship of the characters to each other.
  4. Show the relationship of the characters to their world.

In the first stage of the rough draft, with those goals in mind, I sit down and picture the characters and their relationship. Then, I write just the dialogue for several back-and-forth exchanges. No speech tags, just the exchange. I do this in short bursts, to get the basic words down. It’s a two stage process—the scenery and background get filled in after the dialogue has been written.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, just drawing.”

“Drawing what?”

“You’ll laugh or find a reason to mock me for it.”

Once I know what they are talking about and have the rudimentary dialogue straight, I add in the scenery and attributions, and the dialogue grows with each layer. This is because the scene has become sharper in my mind and I know more of the mental state my characters are in.

The next morning, when his stepmother came down for coffee, John was once again working on something in his notebook. He stood, gathering his pens.

“What are you doing?” Ann’s clipped tones cut the silence.

“Oh, just drawing.” The peace he’d sought had gone, earlier than he hoped.

“Drawing what?”

John’s normally open features were closed, inscrutable. “You’ll laugh or find a reason to mock me for it.” Closing his sketchbook, he attempted to leave but stopped when she put her hand on his shoulder.

“Show me. Now.” When Ann repeated her demand, he reluctantly opened the book. Page after page was covered in stylized dragons, leafy vines, and runes. “Why do you waste your time with this crap? You could be brilliant, but no! People want real art, not this drivel.”

“This is how I earn my living.”

Ann poured herself a cup of coffee, pausing only to sneer. “You don’t have a pot to—”

“Stop.” John reclaimed the sketchbook. “Coming back here was a mistake. I did it because Dad asked me to, and because it’s Christmas.” He crossed toward the dining room. “Enjoy your breakfast.” The kitchen door closed behind him, cutting off his stepmother’s rant.

We know the characters’ relationship to each other, and what their place in this environment is. The layers that form this scene are:

  1. Action: She comes down for coffee. He holds a notebook, gathers pens, and stands.
  2. Dialogue: shows long-simmering resentment between the two players and gives us a time reference—it’s Christmas.
  3. Environment: a kitchen, closed off from the rest of the house. In this story, the woman’s closed off kitchen is symbolic of her closed off personality. The place that is the heart of a home is closed off. She is at odds with her own son, as well as her stepchildren.

We work with layers to create each scene. With these layers, we show the reader everything they need to know about that moment in time.

In many ways, each scene is a story-within-a-story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Every scene should have an arc, leading us to the next scene. We link the mini-stories together to form the larger story, pushing the characters to the final confrontation that ends the novel.

By beginning with the dialogue in each scene, I can get the words down and then concentrate on visualizing the setting where the conversation takes place. Over the course of a book, conversations take place in different settings, so readers are eventually shown the entire world these characters live in. They will see that world without our having to dump a floor-plan or itinerary on the reader. Remember our basic conversation?

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, just drawing.”

“Drawing what?”

“You’ll laugh or find a reason to mock me for it.”

Let’s put that dialogue and the notebook into a fantasy setting and change how the characters are related to each other:

At the end of her watch the next morning, Ann warmed the flatbread from the day before and filled it with goat cheese for breakfast. Traveling alone with John was different without the others, more difficult in ways she didn’t want to acknowledge. 

Clearly surprised at waking to a hot meal, John thanked her but remained on his side of the fire. He opened his journal and made an entry, then with his breakfast eaten, he began drawing something in his sketch book.

This time she decided to see what was so absorbing. “What are you doing?”

“Oh, just drawing.”

“Drawing what?” Ann couldn’t read his expression, and normally she could.

“You’ll laugh or find a reason to mock me for it.” Closing his sketchbook, John attempted to rise but stopped when she put her hand on his shoulder.

“Show me,” she commanded. “I promise I won’t mock you. I’m just curious.”

Now the look in his eyes confused her. It was guarded yet had the same quality he did after praying. Clearly against his better judgement, he opened his notebook.

Page after page was covered with portraits of all the members of their tribe, including her, all looking as full of life as if they could step off the page. Every messenger they had ever been sent was there, and people she didn’t know whom he must have met on his travels. She nearly wept on seeing the many portraits of her brother, handsome and laughing.

“These… they’re amazing. You’ve detailed our life for the last three years. And David… it’s the way I want to remember him. Thank you.”

John seemed confused by her approval. His gaze was far away when he answered. “I dream all night long, and then I have to draw. I don’t know why.”

We began with the same words and a notebook, and used the same names. But with different relationships, we ended up with different characters. They have a different quest, and their story is written for a different genre. However, the layers in this fantasy do the same work as in the contemporary piece. The layers that form this scene are:

Action: Ann prepares breakfast, something John is surprised to find her doing. He opens a notebook.

Dialogue: shows a wary interaction between two people who know each other well, and who may be entering a different stage in their relationship.

Environment: a campsite, an open fire. It is set in the wide outdoors, yet it is intimate.

The words are the same, the notebook is there, but the direction the conversation takes is different because the story is different.

By beginning with the conversation and envisioning it as if it were a scene in a movie, I can flesh it out and show everything the reader needs to hang their imagination on. Readers are smart and don’t want to be told what to think. The reader’s mind will supply the details of a kitchen or a campsite, depending on the clues I give.

How will you add the layers to your conversations? The possibilities are endless.

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#FineArtFriday: “Tomorrow is Another Day”:  Mark Bradford, American Artist at the 2017 Biennale

Today’s guest post concludes my two part series on two exhibits of the 2017 Biennale in Venice: the Glasstress exhibit, and the Mark Bradford Exhibit. Today’s post is by Dr. Colleen Getz, and digs deep into the mysteries of American artist Mark Bradford’s creative genius. Enjoy!


“Tomorrow is Another Day”:  Mark Bradford, American Artist at the 2017 Biennale

By Colleen Getz

The works of Mark Bradford, Los Angeles-based African-American artist command the American Pavilion at the 2017 Biennale in Venice.  All but one of the works were created for the Biennale.  When Bradford spoke at the opening of the exhibit, his remarks focused on his role as an artist and citizen.  Thus, it is not only appropriate, but rather essential that any review of his Biennale installation focus first on Bradford’s view of himself and his role in the world.

Bradford spoke compellingly about his interest in politics, social policies and community.  “Being an artist doesn’t mean I lost my passport to my citizenship.  We need to expand the definition of artist,” he stated.  For Bradford art and social engagement are parts of a whole, and both begin with community.

In Los Angeles he founded Art + Practice an organization that supports children in foster care (children who are in government care) and provides the local community opportunities to experience contemporary art.  Similarly, in Venice he founded Process Collecttivo, which works in partnership with a local organization that works with prisoners to support their transition back into society by developing skills that will allow them to be self-sufficient.  Both are long-term projects, in keeping with Bradford’s commitment to economic sustainability, to give people a solid foundation in life.  He declared he is “obsessed by sustainability.”  He gets involved, he explained, by talking to people outside of the art world, by listening to what they need and determining what he can do to help them sustain themselves.

So it is no surprise that the physical material and content of his work come from his engagement with the world.  He says he pulls information—the people, the stories—as well as the physical material he uses from the world into his studio.  There he adds his perspective to it all—the urgency he finds, the hope he feels.  The resulting work is a project created not just of material taken from the outside world, nor something created in a hermetically-sealed art studio.  Rather it is something in between, artistic creations he calls a little bit elegant and a little rough.  He declares he’s a “big process person, a big ‘I don’t know’ person.”  He feels most comfortable when people tell him they’re trying to figure something out, working through something.  Similarly, he doesn’t mind letting people into his thinking process.  He doesn’t need to be “Instagram perfect.”  He believes perfection can alienate.

And, alienation is clearly an anathema to Bradford.  His life and art together—are determinedly an ongoing masterwork against alienation and marginalization.  He said firmly while he may have problems with aspects of the world, he has never had a problem being in the world.  His response to contemporary events is to engage and encourage others to engage as well.  Similarly, he asserted that he has no problem being black, but does have a problem with being reduced to what some people mean by that.  He proclaimed what’s exciting about the situation in the United States now is “we’re having conversations about what it is to be North American that are not just about race.  We’re beginning to have conversations about nationhood that are about more than black and white.”   He is encouraged that a lot more young people are getting involved in the political machinery of the country.  He declares it “super healthy” that his nieces and nephews want to discuss how the U.S. Congress operates.  He says recent events in American politics are like “when the ground moves and certain gases escape.”  As a result, people are becoming interested in the North American political structure.  “I see possibility in that, I’m always looking for possibility, no matter what happens.  Whatever I get thrown I can work with it.  For me it’s always about navigation, not crying about roadblocks, it’s always about trying to find a way to navigate.  Navigate and negotiate.”

When asked how to bring marginalized voices into the national discussion Bradford said you can’t disappear because you’re nervous and scared, and referencing his Biennale exhibition avows, “though my exhibition begins with a collapse and a push to the center, we have to push back into it even if it’s a bit problematic; we can’t allow ourselves to accept marginalization, that’s something we can never allow.  Progressives belong at the table.  My whole life people told me, Mark you know you don’t belong at that table and I said, yeah, I do.   We have to demand that we push into the center as close as we can get and I’m going to do this as an artist.  The center needs to see me more than I need to see them.  People In the center don’t know what an artist looks like any more.  They have some romantic notion of what we do, but they don’t see what we do.”

So what has Mark Bradford done in his Biennale exhibit?  He has created a journey through works that that both encapsulate the artist’s personal vision and provides the opportunity for viewers to find their own vision within.

The first notable aspect of the exhibition is its title, which is the closing line of Gone with the Wind, both book and movie.  It is Scarlett O’Hara’s declaration of hope and faith in her power to move forward and shape her future in the face of great loss.  Given the racism in Margaret Mitchell’s work, it is not an obvious choice for an exhibition by an African-American artist.  When asked, Bradford said that he had chosen it two years before, with an entirely different theme for the Biennale in mind.  But, although his ideas for the exhibition changed, he found the words still relevant, given what is currently occurring in the United States.   So these few words both encapsulate both Bradford’s attitude towards American life and guide visual and philosophical journey on which Bradford takes the viewer.

The visual experience begins with the interplay between his works and the architecture of the American pavilion itself.  It is an example, in miniature, of a classic American government building, found not just throughout Washington D.C., but in cities and towns across America.  The structure, with its columned façade and central rotunda is the physical embodiment of “the center” of power and authority in American society to which Bradford referred in his remarks.  You enter it, and the exhibition, from the left wing and immediately are confronted by that power and authority in the shape of a massive bulb of paper that hangs from the ceiling, filling the room and forcing you to edge your way around it.   As Bradford described it, this tumorous mass represents a kind of collapse of the structure of “the center”.   With its scabby surface of rough spots of black, orange, red and white (layers of paper that have been blasted with a pressure hose) it intimidates and marginalizes the viewer.  There is no way to view it comfortably.  And to get past it, we have to use Bradford’s approach to life, we have to navigate and negotiate our way around it to the next room.

There we find in the center of the room a tall sculpture of twisted ropes of black paper partially bleached yellow.  The viewer does not need to be told that the artist named it “Medusa.”  It’s powerful, seething mass, is both complemented and counterbalanced by the works that surround it on the walls.  In these pieces Bradford has returned to a form he explored earlier in his artistic career.  Endpapers—used in styling women’s hair, and here dyed shimmering shades of purplish-black, create compositions of subtle color gradations that invite the eye to explore their nuances.  The use of endpapers is inspired by Bradford’s early life.  His mother is a hairdresser and owned a beauty salon in which he worked for years.  When asked why he had returned to this medium, he replied simply that he “hadn’t finished with it, there were still some paintings I wanted to do”.  He added that he had stopped doing them because he felt they had led people to reduce his life down to a rap video—a “black hairdresser from south central Los Angeles.”   But, “black people’s stories are as diverse and messy as everybody else’s. I just want diversity.”

And diversity is what he has created in this room.  In substance it is an homage to the black women, including his mother, of whose inspiring, supporting role in his life he speaks frequently.  In style it exemplifies “elegant and rough” in Bradford’s work and demonstrates how they can work together to convey a coherent and compelling vision.

What then to make of the next installation in the pavilion?  One steps from the expanse of this room into the confines of the small space under the rotunda at the center of the pavilion and is immediately overwhelmed by an encrustation of the same black and bleached paper as the Medusa sculpture, which coats the dome and pours down the sides of the room.  He explained how it came about—originally he had planned an entirely different work for this space but decided shortly before the start of the Biennale that it “wasn’t working” for him.  He terms the work in the rotunda “a lot of process”, and thus a prime example of how Bradford does not mind letting people into his creative process.

It is physically intimidating and visually striking, but what does it mean?  The artist himself called the rotunda “monstrous but beautiful.”  In his remarks Bradford said he is more comfortable when people tell him that they are trying to figure something out, or are working through something.  The rotunda certainly provides them with such an opportunity.  The work lends itself to several interpretations, all in keeping with Bradford’s keen sense of himself as an American citizen.  First, there is the obvious inference to American history and slavery, since the rotunda as an architectural form in America is often associated with Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson developed a love of Palladian architecture while serving as a diplomat in France, and designed a rotunda for both his home, Monticello, and the main building of the University of Virginia, whose original campus he designed.  It is easy to interpret the dark mass covering the rotunda as a metaphor for the monstrous enslavement of Africans whose labor sustained Jefferson’s elegant intellectual life.  The contrast between the smooth neo-classical form and Bradford’s seething work addresses an ongoing question in American history:  how to understand the contradiction within the man who could write the Declaration of Independence yet enslave others his entire life?   One can take even a broader view of the contrast of form and surface in the rotunda.  Since the rotunda is at the center of a building that is the physical embodiment of the centers of social and political power in the United States, the viewer can also see Bradford the citizen at work here.  He has demonstrated how the realities of American life have encrusted the elegant, beautiful and inspiring ideals on which the country was founded.  But, because the encrustation appears dynamic, he also has demonstrated that there exists opportunity for movement and change.

That change is manifest in the following room.  Here form and color of the compositions become lighter, and dynamic in a way that lifts the spirit and brightly engages the eye.  Bradford has dyed, bleached and molded the paper with his hands to create complex compositions of diverse surfaces, shapes and colors.  Red is startlingly present in some, suggesting violence and drama.  Examine the compositions up close and the multiplicity of round shapes suggests the molecules that make up life; step back and the compositions taken as whole suggest an ever-expanding, ever-progressing universe.  Above all, they engage in a way that is entirely in keeping with Bradford’s approach to current American life—the ability to see possibility and opportunity, to navigate and negotiate our way forward.

We then arrive at the final work in Bradford’s exhibition.  The only one which was not created for the Biennale.  It is a 2005 film of a young, strong African-American man striding down a city street, seen only from the back, walking away from the camera.  It is not a staged walk, it is real—the man used to walk by Bradford’s studio every day—intriguing the artist so much that he asked to film him.  And one can see why.  He symbolizes the apotheosis of the ideal of citizenship Bradford spoke about.  He does not need to navigate or negotiate his way.   He has made his place at the table, he is seen; he belongs. He walks forward with assurance.  The viewer sees him, confident in his place in the world, striding into his future.  And thus, the ultimate message of Bradford as American artist and contemporary American citizen is conveyed—that always, “Tomorrow is Another Day.”

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About the author, Dr. Colleen Getz

Dr. Colleen Getz studied art history at Smith College.  She has published op-eds in the New York Times and Wall St. Journal as the official speechwriter for a senior government official and in the Washington Times under her own name.  She has previously served as an editorial consultant to the art journal gallery.spb; this is her first article for it, which will be published in its online version later this year.


Credits and Attributions:

“Tomorrow is Another Day”: Mark Bradford, American Artist at the 2017 Biennale, by Colleen Getz, ©2018 Colleen Getz, All Rights Reserved. Printed by Permission.

All images used in this article are ©2018 by Colleen Getz, and are intended solely to illustrate this post. Used by permission.

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Validation vs. Candor #amwriting

When I first began this writing gig, I wanted to share my work with everyone, kind of like a proud parent showing off their exceptional child. It never occurred to me that it wasn’t really ready for prime time, as they say.

The worst part was when people would point out flaws—it felt like knives cutting out my heart.

I was seeking validation that my work was good – and therefore I was good – not an honest opinion that it had promise but needed work.

Then, something occurred that showed me that my expectations were skewed: my first experience with a real editor.

That ordeal was when I truly saw my work through unbiased eyes.

My manuscript came back to me looking like a sea of red. Even though I had gone over it several times, my manuscript was rife with lazy writing habits.

  • Dropped and missing words.
  • Closed quotes sometimes missing at the beginning or end of dialogue.
  • Erratic spelling of made-up words
  • Random capitalization of made-up words
  • Lack of knowledge of grammar
  • Repetition of crutch words
  • Repetition of ideas
  • Too many descriptors
  • Too many quantifiers
  • Too much background
  • Awkward phrasing
  • Passive phrasing
  • Too many hyphenated words
  • Relying on clichés rather than creativity
  • Using too many words to say simple things
  • Using “thoughts” to dump info
  • Using dreams to dump info
  • Using flashbacks to dump info

The list of writing “wrongs” that were so carefully instilled into that manuscript went on…and on….

When I got that manuscript back, my initial gut reaction was outrage. Naively, I had expected a few comments about commas or something.

On the heels of outrage came depression. When I really looked at the first chapter, I discovered that I was a hopeless, no-talent hack. How could I have missed so many stupid mistakes? I must be the worst, the most ignorant fool out there.

After I survived the self-pity stage, I pulled up my socks, put my big girl pants on, and made it my business to make the revisions as my editor had suggested.

We grow as writers, not from mindless, sycophantic validation of our personal worthiness, but from mindful, honest critiques of our work.

My passion for writing craft evolved out of a desire to make my next book better. And with each book, I have gained in craft, and I have learned to love the experience of having an editor who is looking out for me and doing her best to make sure my work is enjoyable.

If you are new in the craft and you blithely hand your work to an experienced reader, don’t be shocked if they point out things you don’t want to hear.

This is where you must make a choice. You can write just for yourself, which is perfectly fine, and many people fall into that category. Or, you can purchase books on writing craft, attend seminars, and learn everything you can about how to make your talent readable.

Many people are not comfortable in groups, preferring a one-on-one discussion of strengths and weaknesses. If you want to know what the weaknesses are in your manuscript, but don’t want to be involved in a writing group, hire an editor. Learn to love the process of making revisions. She/he will do their best to help you realize your vision of what that novel can be.

If what you are really seeking is validation that you are worthy, don’t show that manuscript to anyone. Instead, volunteer in your community and through helping others, you will find the validation you seek.

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World building: what was, what is, and what may be #amwriting

All novels are set in one of three time periods: the past, the present, or the future.

Readers are much smarter than we are, so knowing what you write about is critical no matter what the level of technology. Even when setting a novel in the present day, the actual technology available is an unknown quantity to most of us.

However, targeted research can shed some light on what was once possible, what is possible, and what will one day be possible. Here are some of my go-to sources of information:

The Past:

My best source of information on low-tech agrarian life and culture comes from a book I found at a second-hand book store in Olympia in the mid- to late-1980s. Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley is still available as a second-hand book and can be found on Amazon. This book was meticulously researched and illustrated by a historian who knew the people she was writing about.

What I find absolutely charming is the way the author used excerpts from medieval rhymes and literature to put their lives into context, forming a picture of how we really lived before the industrial revolution. In fact, many rural communities were still living this kind of life in the early twentieth century. The author knew and interviewed farmers whose lives had been spent working the fields and raising animals the old way.

Best of all, even though the book makes no apologies for being a textbook, Hartley’s prose is so enjoyable I found myself reading it with the sort of enjoyment one gets from a novel.

I also get a lot of information on how people lived from Wikimedia Commons.  There, under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830) you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters, artists living in what is now The Netherlands. In the course of their work these painters created accurate records of the everyday life of the common people, how they dressed, and what was important to them.

The Present:

You can Google just about anything. Fads, fashion, phone tech, current robotics tech, automobile tech—it’s all out there. If you need to know how many bodies you can fit into the trunk of a Mini Cooper, don’t guess. Look it up and write with authority. (The answer is NONE—Mini Coopers have no trunk.)

Available on the internet today:

TED Talks are a wonderful resource for information on current and cutting edge technology.

ZDNet Innovation is an excellent source of current tech and future tech that may become current in 25 years.

Tech Times is also a great source of ideas.

If you want to know what interests the people in the many different layers of our society, go to the magazine rack at your grocery store or the local Barnes & Noble and look at the many publications that are available to the reading public. You can find everything from culinary to survivalist, to organic gardening—if people are interested in it, there is a magazine for it.

Know what your community is interested in, and your setting will have depth.

The Future:

We can only extrapolate how societies will look in the future by taking what we know is possible today and mixing it with a heavy dose of what we wish were possible.

But many business people and scientists have incredible imaginations, and their life’s work is making the future knowable, and a reality.

SPACEX

NASA

Digital Trends

If you write sci fi, you must read sci fi as that is where the ideas are. Much of what was considered highly futuristic in the classic science fiction is now current tech—ion drive, space stations—these are our reality but were only a dream when science fiction was in its infancy. Think about it: your Star Trek communicator is never far from your side.

Do the right research, target it to your needs, and don’t allow yourself to be sidetracked by the amazing bunny trails that lead you away from actually writing.

Above all, enjoy the act of creating a world that a reader will want to live in, whether it is set in the past, the present, or the future.


Credits and Attributions:

Lost Country Life, by Dorothy Hartley, © 1981 by Pantheon, cover illustrated by Beatrice Fassell, fair use.

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#FineArtFriday: The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting, by Rhonda Truesdale

The following post was written by my sister-in-law, Rhonda Truesdale. She is a world traveler, art lover, and an all-round amazing woman. This past summer we toured many art and glass museums in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and she confessed she had written an article on the Biennale of Art in Venice which she attended in 2017. I convinced her to send me her article for my Fine Art Friday series, and she was kind enough to do so. She also sent many pictures, which I have included here. Seeing the Glasstress Exhibition through her eyes has been a wonderful experience. Enjoy!


The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting

By Rhonda Truesdale

May 2017

I was fortunate enough to preview the Biennale of Art in Venice this year. I specifically covered the Glasstress exhibit. Communing with the city, my colleagues, other reporters and artists gave me a taste for the rest of the exhibits, and I hope to see more when the Biennale of Art returns in two years.

The Venetian setting for the Biennale of Art lends an extra dimension to the art. While each piece of art is an intended focus, the surroundings can’t be ignored. The juxtaposition was at times jarring: the old with the new; the flashy with the staid; the timeless with the fleeting; or the unquestionably lovely with the bizarrely intriguing. It also creates facets in the jewels. The combination of colors and styles enhances the art in sometimes unexpected ways. Would the jewels be as stunning in a different setting? For me, they are forever tied, inextricably linked.

The main event that I covered was the Glasstress exhibit displayed in the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti. The Palazzo is the 19th century home of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti. This Venetian Gothic work of architectural art has soaring painted ceilings, beautifully sculpted plaster, stunning chandeliers, elaborate columns and breathtaking panels of wood and marble. In contrast, another display in Glasstress is in a glass foundry on Murano, which is dark, smoky and utilitarian.

The Biennale introduced Glasstress in 2009, in which Adriano Berengo melded contemporary art with glass. Over the years, it has expanded its cadre of artists from painters and sculptors to include architects, designers, fashion designers and musicians, including Pharrell Williams. Most of the contributors aren’t glass artists, as Glasstress focuses on the concepts and artistic collaboration more than on the medium. Glasstress is a collateral event at the Biennale of Art, traveling around the world when not in Venice. Host cities include Stockholm, Beirut, London, New York, and, most recently, Boca Raton, Florida.

These unusual collaborations have resulted in a singularly unique set of artistic creations. Reflecting the medium, they are shiny, bright and either transparent or reflective. Depicted thematic creations evoke emotions across the spectrum from exquisite to repulsive, including a fair amount of bemusement. As introduced by Philippe de Montebello, former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at the opening of their show, “For hundreds of years, glass has been viewed as by some as simply a decorative or functional medium. Glasstress New York on view at the Museum of Arts and Design, shatters those notions. Here you will see dynamic new glass works from both established and emerging artists, architects and designers from around the world.”

The next few pages highlight examples of the art in the Palazzo.

The influence of fashion design is unmistakable in the glass dresses.

The glass picture boxes are fascinating in their detail and engineering, as they are each composed of many layers of glass, each of which is a standalone picture that contributes to the whole landscape.

The beauty of the room and the chandelier complement the artist’s work.

 

From eels, to a woman in a mirror only visible from the side, a fallen bird and a jumble of intertwined images in a hanging sculpture, each piece is unique. Separated body parts add a gruesome touch, and what appears to be solid glass turns out to be individual filaments on closer inspection.

Collaborators in the Palazzo Glasstress exhibit include Tony Cragg, Erwin Wurm, Thomas Shuette, Monica Bonvicini, Jan Fabre, Shirazeh Houshiary, Vik Muniz, Ai Weiwei, Paul McCarthy, Abdulnasser Gharem, Laure Provost, Ugo Rondinone, Sarah Sze, and many other new and established artists.

After touring the Palazzo, visitors were invited to the Berengo Exhibition Space on Murano for a separate, related Glasstress exhibit. Above is a view of the Palazzo and a boat preparing to transport visitors to the exhibit. Here again, the overall experience of boating to Murano and entering a glass factory enhances the enjoyment of the displayed art.

The Murano glass factory exhibit, titled “The Unplayed Notes Factory”, is a solo exhibition by Loris Greaud and curated by Nicolas Bourriaud as a special project of Glasstress 2017. The factory has been closed for 60 years, and is brought back to life in this exhibit. According to the Glasstress brochure, “the former glass furnace will be secretly revived and will play host to a whole new trade: an unofficial production line which is thought to conceal the mysterious vitrification of ‘hourglass’ sand, with an almost alchemical ambition to crystallize time…”

The interior of the factory is dark and smoky, punctuated by bright lights from high windows and the fire in the furnaces. The play of the lights, glass bubbles, smoke and furnace is mesmerizing. Each bubble encloses a light, and the bubbles intermittently light up in sections or across the entire sculpture. In a happy circumstance, a dinner hosted in the factory the previous night left large silver tables set up the length of the room. The line of tables mirrored the glass bubbles, fires and sunlight from the windows for even more dramatic photographs.

Here are images from the Murano glass factory exhibit.

The glass “notes” are created, and …

… hung from the ceiling.

The notes twinkle in front of the smoky furnaces, and …

… are mirrored in the tables.

Pictures:

So, in the final estimation, is it the jewel or the setting that makes the piece? For the Biennale of Art in Venice, it has to be both. While the glass artistry is spectacular, Venice’s history, architecture and unique feel makes this exhibit a special experience.


Thank you, Rhonda, for your wonderful photos and vivid impressions of this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity to see such an exhibition of glass art.

Next Friday, Rhonda’s colleague and fellow traveler, Colleen Getz, has agreed to give us her impressions of “Tomorrow is another Day,” an exhibit by Mark Bradford, an American artist, that was featured at the 2017 Biennale in Venice.


Rhonda Truesdale, in her own words:

I began supporting online writing as a director for the non-profit organization ChixLIT, which published an ezine for and by girls. The organization and ezines were founded in 2010 by my good friend, Maria Laso Elders, who also wrote a children’s novel, “Otherwise Known as Possum”, which was published February 28, 2017. I created the ChixLit and ChixLittle magazine websites at http://www.chixlit.org and http://www.chixlittle.org and helped with content and site maintenance until 2013, when the site was redesigned. Following Maria’s death in 2015, the ezines were moved to http://www.chixlit.tumbler.com.

So what makes me an art blogger? I love art, travel, and writing; however, my writing is more typically in the realm of technical and sales articles for information technology. I joined the art blog world when I was invited to attend the press preview event in Venice for the 2017 Biennale of Art in May 2017 and wrote a guest article for gallery.spb. The gallery.spb is a contemporary arts journal based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which has been published for over 10 years and is transitioning online. This invitation gave me the opportunity to combine my 3 passions, and the resulting article describing the Glasstress exhibit at Biennale in Venice is scheduled to appear in the online version of gallery.spb.


Credits and Attributions:

The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting, by Rhonda Truesdale © 2018 Rhonda Truesdale, All Rights Reserved. Printed by Permission

All images used in this article are ©2018 by Rhonda Truesdale, and are intended solely to illustrate this post. Used by permission.

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Thoughts on the Advent of Autumn #amwriting

I’ve mentioned before that I love the changing of the seasons. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the colors of our native big-leaf maples and alders are beginning to paint the landscape in shades of yellow and gold, dotted with pops of red sumac and scarlet vine-maples.

In the higher hills of the lowlands and up in the Cascades, the gold of our native larches is astonishing to those who’ve never seen a deciduous conifer. It can seem like an entire forest has died. But they’re only getting ready to sleep through the winter, the way bears, maples, and cottonwoods do.

I’ve always been awed by the majesty of the autumn forest here in my part of the world.

The sky is also changing. The days are growing shorter and the rains of the monsoon months approach. The long dry spell has ended, and rain has returned to us.

In November, the gray overcast skies linger unending, eternal. My friends and I wonder if the sun will ever shine again. But just as I am feeling desperately sorry for myself, the clouds will part to reveal a patch of blue so beautiful my eyes hurt. I have to dig out my sunglasses to shield my weak, Northwesterner’s eyes from the radiance of the great yellow orb.

We who have grown up in the long dark winters have little tolerance for such brilliance. But we’re always ready to discuss our never-ending quest for cheap sunglasses. We adore those accessories that are so much more than a fashion statement.

As my previous posts have said, these are the writing weeks, the mad dash to finish the first draft of my work in progress, and my preparations for NaNoWriMo. Stockpiling staple groceries, perusing my recipe file for crock-pot meals—comfort food is on my mind at this time of year.

After all, food was love in the family I grew up in, and our favorite comfort foods make the winter seem warmer. The time we spend at the table sharing the evening meal is inviolable—no TV, just quiet music and conversation. This is our time to reconnect, to rebuild the ties of love and family that bind us.

Autumn’s glory will linger for a brief few weeks. The rainy season will come, turning unraked leaves to sodden, moldy messes waiting for the winds of November to send them flying from yard to yard. I will watch from my front room window and admire the leafy ballet.

Once the leaves are gone, evening and morning will still bring color, but it will be the sky that has the dominant role. At that time of year, the sun, low on the southern horizon, reflects on the clouds, turning them every shade of pink, gold, red, purple, and even a gray so dark it’s black.

Sporadically juxtaposed against that riot of cloud-color will be patches of poignant blue. It’s a color that makes my heart ache for spring, makes me yearn for sunshine and warmth.

I have prepared the back porch for winter, abandoned my favorite thinking place. The cushions are put away and the chairs are pulled to the center where they will stay dry except in the heaviest wind-driven rains.

Since spring is a full six months away, and the weather is fairly nice today, I will uncover a chair and sit on the back porch and write about a world where the sun is shining, and birds are singing.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Thomas Worthington Whittredge – Woods of Ashokan.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Thomas_Worthington_Whittredge_-_Woods_of_Ashokan.jpg&oldid=296638658 (accessed September 13, 2018).

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Creating Societies #amwriting

I write in many different worlds with widely varying levels of technology and forms of government. When I first began writing, I was woefully ignorant about many things, but I knew it was important to create a solid feeling of reality in any fantasy world. My first efforts were less than good, but as time went on and I read the works of other authors, and played certain, world-heavy video games, I learned how important creating a sense of depth is in world building.

We all know the importance of giving depth to the physical setting of your story. The environment must be absolutely clear in your mind. But the society your characters inhabit is just as important as his physical world–how they live in that environment a key component of world building.

You achieve depth in a society by creating layers. What those layers are is listed below, but key is in how you apply the layers. The society must be there in YOUR mind, rock solid and with no apologies. The reader doesn’t need to know the details or the history, only that it is.

The World of Neveyah was originally 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 story line—which eventually became 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.

In a large console/computer RPG, world-building is critical. When you look at the great games that are considered classics, you find one commonality: Whether the classic game is a Platform game, ‎a Beat ’em up game, ‎a Shooter game, ‎a Stealth game, or an MMO game—they all have memorable worlds and deep, involving story lines.

What I originally did for the game was to write the story of the community my protagonist grew up in, a word-picture of that world and how the environment shaped their society. I made a list of questions about the society and the answers formed the picture of Wynn’s world and his place in it.

With that done, I set it aside, to use as reference material when I need to know how a particular character would react in a given situation. 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, thank you for stopping by!

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

  • Nobility?
  • A servant class?
  • A merchant class
  • A large middle class?
  • Who makes up the poorest 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 key part of your tale, you must design the entire theology. You must know the rituals and know 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 do 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?

This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a jumping off point. Considering this little list of ideas always leads to my realizing other large concepts that combine to make up a civilization. You are welcome to use this roster to form your own inventory of ideas about society.

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

Give the reader just enough detail to show the world as one that is real and solid, but don’t devolve into dumps about how that world came to be. You, as the author, are the only one who needs to know those details.


Credits and Attributions

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Milano Duomo 1856.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Milano_Duomo_1856.jpg&oldid=146639100 (accessed September 23, 2018).

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