Category Archives: writing

The view from the Room of Shame #amwriting

Today marks yet another Monday in our extended time of voluntary house arrest. Work continues on various writing projects. I’m still writing in the Room of Shame, that “no man’s land” of boxes, bags, luggage, and household debris that is our third bedroom.

I suppose if we actually did manage to get it tidied up, I would lose the ability to write.

All right, probably not, but that’s my excuse.

As a side note, I am making masks for our family unit. I don’t have a sewing machine, but I’ve rediscovered the serenity of hand-sewing, something my Grandmothers both did, and taught me.

My homemade masks aren’t as fancy as some made by our friends, but if you are looking for a simple pattern to make your own, here is a link: USA TODAY Make your own facemask.

I’m getting pretty tired of my own cooking, but I’m branching out again. Homemade vegan pizza on Wednesday night and fancy dinner salads break up the routine of casseroles and crockpot meals.

My back porch has become my personal escape. Watching the birds and letting my mind wander is restful. The flow of random thoughts is the source of creativity and this porch is my haven.

Having the time to just sit and daydream is important. Letting your mind roam free and allowing the possibilities to enter your stream of consciousness (or not, as they will) is beneficial for you.  Fifteen or twenty minutes a day of merely watching the world go by will rejuvenate you.

I do my best work when I have the chance to sit and let my mind wander. So, even when we aren’t in the middle of a quarantine, I always take the time to watch the town go by from my porch.

According to the internet, we daydream less as we get older. I wonder, is this nature or nurture?

What really happens when we allow ourselves to just sit and think about nothing in particular? What happens on a neurological level when we let our minds off the leash and allow it to run free and unencumbered?

One interesting fact is that apparently if we daydream about the past, we tend to forget what we were doing before the daydream started. This happens to me all the time.

Sometimes I gaze at the scenery with no conscious awareness of thought for long periods. This means my mind is entirely at rest. With this relaxing of conscious thought, I become rested, and my mind is cleared of the white-noise that hinders my creative process.

Some people call it meditation, and others call it a waste of time.

I call it essential.

Letting your mind roam with no particular direction lowers your stress levels, which immediately improves your health and your thought processes.

Sometimes we can visualize a complex emotional theme for our work but can’t find the words to describe it. If we can’t explain it, how do we show it? Often, the answers will come to me if I take the time to sit outside. I watch the clouds or the birds or listen to the trains passing at the other end of town.

I have discovered that when I am not thinking about the problem, the answer will come to me.

I hope that during this time of social distancing and quarantine, you have been able to set aside the stress and worry of our new normal. I am deeply aware of my good fortune in having a back porch and a garden to escape to.

When I was in my twenties, I moved often because of work. I usually lived in apartment complexes, which don’t always offer pleasant views or outdoor spaces.

I hope the views out your windows are worth looking at.

In the days ahead, my wish for you is that you will find the head-space to write and take any opportunity you can to simply let your mind wander.

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#FineArtFriday: The Boating Party, by Mary Cassatt 1893

Artist Mary Cassatt
Year 1893
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions 90 cm × 117.3 cm (46 3/16 in × 35 7/16 in)

What I love about The Boating Party by American artist, Mary Cassatt, is impression of movement, of the life of the water. It has a feeling of contentment, of peace. There is a serenity about this painting that evokes wonderful memories of boating and water sports, of the time when my family still lived on a lake. It reminds me of the sheer joy and freedom of being on the water with no purpose other than to enjoy one’s self.

About this painting, from Wikipedia:

Art historian and museum administrator Frederick A. Sweet calls it “One of the most ambitious paintings she (Cassatt) ever attempted.” His 1966 analysis focuses on the balance of the “powerful dark silhouette of the boatman”, the angle between the oar and the arm that “thrusts powerfully into the center of the composition towards the mother and child” and “delicate, feminine ones.”

Cassatt placed the horizon at the top of the frame in Japanese fashion.

  • In 1890 Cassatt visited the great Japanese Print exhibition at the ecole de Beaux-arts in Paris.
  • Mary Cassatt owned Japanese prints by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806).
  • The exhibition at Durand-Ruel of Japanese art proved the most important influence on Cassatt.

(Influence of) Manet

Frederick A. Sweet suggests that Cassatt may have been inspired by Édouard Manet‘s Boating from 1874.

I hadn’t considered that position of the horizon as being a traditional Japanese style until I read that paragraph. Then I realized that most Western artists place it lower on the canvas. In Western art, the sky (an allegory for God) traditionally dominates the work.

This painting has made me aware of  how greatly the ability to travel the world via ocean liners and contact with other cultures changed the way we produce art. Impressionism was new and daring in its time. The eye of the artist was freed from traditional confines of the various schools (Hudson Valley, etc.) by exposure to the simplicity and elegance of the previously unknown tradition of Japanese art.

Every new painting I come across leads me to another, which often leads me to another country and another tradition of style and form.

My life as an admirer of art is one of constantly finding something new about history and the world around me.

About the artist, Via Wikipedia:

Mary Stevenson Cassatt (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) was an American painter and print-maker. She was born in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (now part of Pittsburgh’s North Side), but lived much of her adult life in France, where she first befriended Edgar Degas and later exhibited among the Impressionists. Cassatt often created images of the social and private lives of women, with particular emphasis on the intimate bonds between mothers and children.

She was described by Gustave Geffroy in 1894 as one of “les trois grandes dames” (the three great ladies) of Impressionism alongside Marie Bracquemond and Berthe Morisot.


Credits and Attributions:

The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt, 1893–94

Wikipedia contributors. “The Boating Party.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Dec. 2018. Web. 8 Mar. 2019.

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NIWA Blog hop Post 1: My Writing Process

This is the first in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/ The topic today is my writing process. I had a difficult time formulating how I wanted to write this post. Finally, I asked myself 3 questions, as if it were an interview.


  1. What am I working on?

I am working on three novels and was seriously procrastinating on a fourth, until the plague hit. The one I’m now getting through the formatting stage of the publishing pipeline is an alt-medieval fantasy, Julian Lackland. It is set in Waldeyn, a mishmash of Venice, Wales, and England. While the characters from Billy Ninefingers and Huw the Bard have significant roles in it, each book in the series is a standalone book.

I love Julian and his story, but I had a hard time letting go of him.

The novel I have on hold, Heaven’s Altar, is a two-book subseries set in the Tower of Bones world of Neveyah. It is a prequel, set 500 years before Mountains of the Moon. It deals with a historical figure, Aelfrid Firesword, who frequently gets mentioned as a kind of superhero in children’s books. All three of my main characters in that world were influenced by these books as children.

Alf is not superhuman. He’s a young mage with a destiny he’s not comfortable with. At the outset, his wife has abandoned him, leaving him with a sick child. Along with that, he faces the disapproval of his people for having married a woman who was not of the tribes. Alf has a long struggle ahead of him to prove he is worthy of taking up his grandfather’s task of War Leader.

My third work-in-progress, Bleakbourne on Heath, began as a serialized novel and ran for two years on a now-defunct website. This tale is an inverted Alternate-Arthurian story. In their history, Arthur was a Caligula-like figure. The Druids conquered Rome, and the Church reflects that.

I have fleshed it out, addressed the inadvertent discrepancies and contradictions that writing and publishing a chapter a week and winging it inevitably generated. That experience of writing by the seat of my pants taught me that I really DO need to have an outline.

Now I am trying to end the story and am working on the final battle. Leryn (with Merlin and Bramblestein) must face the Demon Knight, Mordred.

A fourth novel has been pulled out of storage and dusted off. Surprisingly, this paranormal scifi fantasy doesn’t stink as much as I thought it did. I’m finding a lot of useful material here.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?

First of all, I write from the point of view of both a gamer and an addict for fantasy novels. I am a freak for the brilliant early Final Fantasy console games. Final Fantasy VII, VII, X/X2, and XII are among the great classics in gaming. I want to inject the action, the romance, and the drama of a full-throttle action/adventure into my books. I want it set in a sweeping landscape, with my characters beset by nearly insurmountable challenges. I want the philosophies and moral choices, as well as personal relationships, to mean something to the reader.

Gaming teaches us that magic has finite limits, and no character has unlimited power.

In my worlds, those limitations are what drive the action because the characters have to struggle to overcome them. The power of the story is in the struggle. The final redemption must justify the effort and the losses incurred as they struggle toward the conclusion.

  1. How does my writing process work? 

Typically, when I first have the idea to write a book, I visualize it as the walkthrough for an RPG game. I spend days building the outline, the shell of the story. Because the Tower of Bones series began as the storyline for an RPG, I still have the habits developed in that industry.

I figure out the political and religious systems and create the rules for magic. Most importantly, I draw maps to keep my characters going in the right direction.

Each world is unique, and I want to know how my characters fit into their society.

My outlines are formed by the answers to these twelve questions:

  1. What is the inciting incident?
  2. What is the goal/objective?
  3. At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want that pushes them to risk everything to acquire it?
  4. How badly do they want it, and why?
  5. Who is the antagonist?
  6. Why are they the enemy?
  7. What ethical choices will the protagonist have to make in their attempt to gain their objective?
  8. What happens at the first pinch point?
  9. In what circumstances do we find the group at the midpoint?
  10. What is their health like?
  11. Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the midpoint to change everything for the worse?
  12. At the ¾ point, the protagonist should be ready to face the antagonist. Do I have the story set up correctly to this point so I can choreograph that meeting?

All stories must have a logical arc, but each character should too. It’s my job to make sure that the characters evolve and grow throughout the story. For me and my style of writing, the character arcs benefit most from the outline, even more than the overall story arc does.

Once I have that all done, I start at the beginning and write, connecting the dots between the vignettes. When all the dots are connected, I have a book—albeit a raw rough draft of a book. I set it aside and work on something else for several weeks before I begin the rewrite. Setting it aside is important because when I come back to it, I need to see the raw draft through unbiased eyes.

My work in the Tower of Bones series tends to be linear as it began life as the walkthrough for an RPG that was never built. Each protagonist has a specific goal or “quest.” Many obstacles hinder them on the path to achieving those goals. My task is to make it an emotionally gripping journey for the reader, so I have to be careful when choreographing scenes. I can’t go too over the top, but I need to be creative and logical.

The Billy’s revenge series has been anything but linear. The storylines in each could easily have gone awry, if I hadn’t had a basic outline to keep things logical.

I have to negotiate carefully between the two radically different series when I am writing, as I want to stay true to the intent and flavor of each.  This is where having a writing posse really helps.


I hope your writing journey has been as satisfying as mine. Thank you for being a part of my writing life!

The next installment of this series will feature William J. Cook, who will be sharing some excellent advice for new writers. Look for his post on Thursday, April 9th. You can find out more about him at https://authorwilliamcook.com

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Formatting the Final Manuscript #amwriting

I’m in the process of formatting a manuscript for publication, both for the paper version and the book version. While there are significant differences between the layout of the two types of documents, some fundamental things remain the same.

I create three manuscripts. Before I embark on making mobi files for Kindle or designing the interior of my paper book, I create a base manuscript, one which has been thoroughly combed by my writing posse. At this point, it is as well-edited as we can get it.

Name it as the BookTitle_Final_.doc

I strongly suggest you save it as a Word 97 – 2003 compatible document (NOT a template) rather than as a .docx. Saving as a compatible document ensures fewer problems in the upload.

I have made several screenshots with the following steps highlighted for you, so if my instructions aren’t clear, my garbled artwork can confuse you even more.

I open my final base manuscript, and using select all, I highlight the entire thing. I have a list of things to check for.

First up is the Font. Go to the font group, on the left-hand end of the ribbon. Unless you write with a particular font, the default font, or pre-designed value or setting, will probably say ‘Calibri (Body),’ and the size will be .11.

You can change this on the home tab by clicking on the little grey square in the right-hand corner of the font menu and accessing the drop-down menu. Scroll down to Times New Roman or Garamond and set it to .12. A standard serif font is easiest on the eyes. Clicking on that will change the font for the whole thing (if you used select all to highlight the entire ms).

Next on the list is eliminating the random extra spaces that somehow find their way into my work as I go. Extra spaces interfere with formatting for eBooks and other electronically uploaded applications. Other than at a few specialty printers, ALL books and magazines are uploaded electronically nowadays, even printed books.

Extra spaces are most frequently found at the end of sentences, or where you have cut and pasted a passage. For older authors, there may be two spaces at the end of every sentence. When I was learning to type in school, they taught us to hit the space bar twice (two spaces) between sentences, for the sake of readability.

That was a difficult habit to break, but it must be done.

The simple way to hunt for extra spaces is to use the “find function” in the upper right corner of your toolbar:

  1. Open Find, click on “advanced find.”
  2. In the “Find what” box, hit the space bar twice.
  3. Then click on the replace tab.
  4. In the replace with box, hit the space bar once.
  5. Click “replace all.”
  6. Click that twice, to make sure there were no places where three spaces had been inadvertently inserted.

That will eliminate all the extra spaces.

I use “control-F” to open the Navigation Pane because it highlights the spaces in yellow, making them easy to see. The instructions are the same as when opening Find by using the toolbar. But for people who are new to word processing programs or who don’t use MS Word, using the toolbar on the ribbon is the simplest method.

Next, I make sure my paragraphs all look the way I want them to.

Some authors still use tabs to indent their paragraphs.

Don’t do it.

If you used the tab key to indent your paragraphs, the indents fail when the ms is uploaded. This creates a wall of words with no way to tell where one paragraph ends, and another begins.

Publishers hate it when that happens.

If you have done that, you can fix it by using one of the two following ways. The first set of instructions only work if you have a ten-key pad on your keyboard.

To remove tabs from a manuscript in Word or most other word-processing programs, open the “Find” box (right side of the ribbon on the home tab). In the “Find” field, type in ^t. (press the alt key 94 to make ^ and key the t) This only works if you have a ten-key (number pad) at the right side of your keyboard. ^t.

Then click “Replace.” In this field, type nothing. One click on “Replace all” will remove every tab.

That will leave you with no indents whatsoever.

If you don’t have a ten-key pad on your keyboard, you will have to remove each one by hand, which is a daunting task no publisher or editor has time for. Beginning with the first paragraph on the first page, scroll down and use the backspace key to remove the tab indenting every paragraph.

This will temporarily make your ms look like a wall of words, but you are going to resolve that the right way.

Once the tabs are all removed, use the following instructions to format paragraphs.

There are two ways to do this.

The easiest way is to open the “home” tab, click on “select all,” and with the manuscript highlighted, choose “normal” from the “styles” tab on the ribbon.

If your word processing program doesn’t have that option, you can format the paragraphs by using the simple formatting tool:

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

Step 2: Justify the text. In justified text, the spaces between words and letters (known as “tracking”) are stretched or compressed. Justified text aligns with both the left and right margins. It gives you straight margins on both sides, but remember, this type of alignment only comes into play when a manuscript is being made ready for publication.

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

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

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

Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘single.’This kind of formatting is not for work you are submitting to an agent, editor, or publisher. This is for a finished product that you intend to publish yourself.

You can get fancy with your layout, but remember, when it comes to eBooks, simple is better because it’s less distracting and less likely to fail in the upload.

I take this finished base manuscript to Draft2Digital and create my eBook and Mobi files there. As a member of Myrddin Publishing Group, I have all the ISBNs I need, but you can use theirs at no cost if you choose.

I use an old CreateSpace template to make my paper books, and even with that premade template, it’s a bit of a hassle. But that is part of the fun of publishing your work.

Next up, on Wednesday, I’ll begin a 6 part series that will post on Thursdays, featuring five guest authors and publishers who will discuss various aspects of Indie Publishing and how they negotiate the sometimes rough waters. I’m really looking forward to hearing what they have to say!

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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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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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