Category Archives: writing

#FineArtFriday: Home, Sweet Home by Winslow Homer 1863 (reprise)

I’m out of town this week, listening to the radio in car, and to audio books. War and peace seem to be hot topics… That brings to mind this iconic painting by Winslow Homer, an image that evokes profound emotion in me, even though I am viewing it 157 years later. I first posted this article in January 2018. Every time I view this painting, I find something new in the details.

The mud on their ragged uniforms, the can heating food in the cookfire, the plate in front of the tent–they are living and fighting in hellish conditions, doing the best they can despite the struggle.


Home, Sweet Home is one of the most famous paintings of the American Civil War, depicting a moment in time, painted by Winslow Homer. On opposite shores of the Rappahannock River, opposing armies are caught up in an awareness of brotherhood, as music becomes the medium that lays bare the humanity of the soldiers on both sides.

Winslow Homer was best known for his landscapes featuring the many moods of the ocean, but he also painted many iconic images of that turbulent time before, during, and after the American Civil War. His art captures a sense of familiarity, a feeling that the viewer knows these people and their stories intimately.

Wikipedia says, “Harper’s (magazine) sent Homer to the front lines of the American Civil War (1861–1865), where he sketched battle scenes and camp life, the quiet moments as well as the chaotic ones. His initial sketches were of the camp, commanders, and army of the famous Union officer, Major General George B. McClellan, at the banks of the Potomac River in October 1861.

“Although the drawings did not get much attention at the time, they mark Homer’s expanding skills from illustrator to painter. Like with his urban scenes, Homer also illustrated women during wartime, and showed the effects of the war on the home front. The war work was dangerous and exhausting. Back at his studio, Homer would regain his strength and re-focus his artistic vision. He set to work on a series of war-related paintings based on his sketches, among them Sharpshooter on Picket Duty (1862), Home, Sweet Home (1863), and Prisoners from the Front (1866). He exhibited paintings of these subjects every year at the National Academy of Design from 1863 to 1866. Home, Sweet Home was shown at the National Academy to particular critical acclaim; it was quickly sold and the artist was consequently elected an Associate Academician, then a full Academician in 1865.[10]”

The story behind the painting, Home, Sweet Home, is told poignantly in the autobiography, Reminiscences of a Private, by Frank Mixson, who served in the Confederate Army.

“The Yankee band would play the popular airs of theirs amid much yelling and cheering; our bands would do the same with the same result. Towards the wind-up the Yankee band struck up “Yankee Doodle.” Cheers were immense. When they stopped our band struck up “Dixie,” and everything went wild. When they finished this, both bands, with one accord and simultaneously, struck up “Home, Sweet Home.” There was not a sound from anywhere until the tune was finished and it then seemed as if everybody had gone crazy. I never saw anything to compare with it. Both sides were cheering, jumping up and throwing up hats and doing everything which tended to show enthusiasm. This lasted for at least a half hour. I do believe that had we not had the river between us that the two armies would have gone together and settled the war right there and then.”

Quote from: Reminiscences of a Private, by Frank Mixson (1910)


Sources and Attributions:

Home Sweet Home by Winslow Homer, © Connie J. Jasperson,  first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on January 5th 2018. It has been dusted off and reposted for your viewing pleasure.

Wikipedia contributors, “Winslow Homer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Winslow_Homer&oldid=817253575 (accessed January 4, 2018).

Home, Sweet Home: “Had we not had the river between us,” posted by Marek,  https://civilwarfolkmusic.com/2013/12/15/1862-home-sweet-home/ accessed 04 January 2018.

Reminiscences of a Private, by Frank Mixson (published 1910 by Columbia, S.C., The State Company)

Home, Sweet Home (oil on canvas) by Winslow Homer – circa 1863 | Winslow Homer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed 04 January 2018.

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The creative process #amwriting

My writing projects all begin with an idea, a flash of “what if….” Sometimes, that “what if” is inspired by an idea for a character, or perhaps a setting. Maybe it was the idea for the plot that had my wheels turning.

When I have that flash of brilliance, I don’t want to lose that thought. I carry a notebook and several pens at all times because the batteries never fail. I can write myself a note anywhere, anytime.

I developed the habit of keeping a small pocket notebook on hand when I worked at a daytime job. No one knew I was writing a book, but all day long, little ideas would pop into my head and I would jot them on a notepad.

Fortunately, bookkeepers keep a lot of notes, so my writing things down was not out of place. If a boss had looked at my notes, they would have seen something like “Put the bodies in the trunk of the Jaguar,” which might have raised an eyebrow or two.

A lot of people nowadays use a note-taking app on their cellphone to take notes. However, doing that at work might be frowned on, as some places limit the time you spend on your cell phone.

Note-taking by hand is old-school but will enable you to discreetly write your ideas down, and you won’t appear to be distracted or off-task.

In my last post, I mentioned that for me, a broad outline of my intended story arc keeps me on track toward arriving at a good ending. Experience has shown that I work best when I have a specific goal to write to. That way, the story flows smoothly to the best conclusion.

It’s okay to have several possible endings in mind, as long as each fits logically when viewed with the events that led up to them.

The list of ideas is important as it keeps me focused on connecting the beginning of the story to a proper ending. Even with the outline, I’ve been known to write several different endings before I find the one that works best.

When I try to “wing it” all the way through writing a book, I usually end up with a mushy plot that wanders all over the place and a story I can’t sell.

That’s why I make outlines even for short stories. I ask myself

  • What is the inciting incident?
  • What is the goal/objective?
  • At the beginning of the story, what could the hero possibly want that pushes them to risk everything to acquire it?
  • How badly do they want it, and why?
  • Who is the antagonist?
  • Why are they the enemy?
  • What ethical choices will the protagonist have to make in their attempt to gain their objective?
  • What happens at the first pinch point?
  • In what circumstances do we find the group at the midpoint?
  • What is their health like?
  • Why does the antagonist have the upper hand? What happens at the midpoint to change everything for the worse?
  • At the ¾ point, the protagonist should have gathered plenty of resources and companions and 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 over the course of 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.

When you are winging it through a story that encompasses 75,000 to 100,000 words, it is easy to get involved in large info dumps and bunny trails to nowhere when you begin fleshing out your characters.

With the loose outline, I’m more likely to avoid getting sidetracked by interesting but nonessential stuff.

I would suggest you don’t go into too much detail in that little framework because you might feel like you have written the story, and there’s nothing left for you to say. You might lose interest in it. But if you give yourself a general outline that has the highpoints listed, you can wing it to connect the dots and you won’t lose your way.

I’ve said this before, but when you have a simple outline, you’re less likely to become desperate and resort to killing off characters just to stir things up once the real work of writing starts.

And you won’t have to kill off random characters and hide their bodies in the Jaguar’s trunk.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Notebooks.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Notebooks.jpg&oldid=366931573 (accessed January 22, 2020).

 

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My writing life: magic and mayhem #amwriting

This last week I managed to get quite a lot of writing done—just not on the projects I had planned. I seem to be more in short story mode right now.

I had an idea for a short fantasy involving Gods and mortals, and that one is finished.

Then I had an idea for a post-apocalyptic tale of madness and murder, which is about halfway to the conclusion.

I am still reworking and rewriting the first draft of a novel set in my Tower of Bones world whenever I have a flash of brilliance.

Also, I am still working on devising a shocking-but-logical finale for my alternate Arthurian novel, Bleakbourne on Heath.

Many of you know that Bleakbourne began life in serialized form in 2015 on a now-defunct site called Edgewise Words Inn. It was written and published one episode a week.  I began with writing and publishing the first chapter only, and no idea where it was going to go after that.

It was a challenge, writing it in serial form and trying to turn out one installment a week.

At first, it all went well. However, at what would be the midpoint of the novel, the well of creativity ran dry. I had no clue as to what to do next. When that happened, once a week became twice a month.

I managed to squeeze four more installments out and then couldn’t think of how to write the final stand against Evil. On my writing group’s advice, I ended the serial on a happy note with a wedding but left a major thread dangling.

Cliffhanger endings aggravate readers who don’t want to wait a year for the rest of the story. I had to give my readers a reward for their faithfulness, and resolve most of the subplots. This is why I wound up most of the side threads and ended the Bleakbourne serial with a wedding.

This last December, I went back to edit and flesh out the first chapters and add a few that weren’t included in the original serial. In that process, I discovered that my subconscious mind had left several important clues that point me in the direction for the final confrontation.

I need to do some serious mind-wandering, and let this magic-flinging shindig roll around in my head a bit before I can write it.

Writing Bleakbourne as a serial and publishing it almost as soon as it left my head was a good experience. I had great input from readers, which was something I hadn’t expected.

It was also terribly difficult to keep on task and meet the publishing deadline. Making each installment readable took up far more time than I expected it would. I had no time to write anything else.

I discovered that, while I can write quickly if I have to, I don’t write well under the pressure of a weekly deadline.

For me, writing good endings is the most difficult part of writing. And in Bleakbourne,  so many possibilities presented themselves that I had no idea which way to end that unwieldy, complicated storyline.

That experience reinforced my need to write from an outline as a way of not getting stuck without a good finish. I may not stick to the outline but having a list of ideas gives me a jumping off point. Even with an outline I struggle to make every story’s finish logical, yet unexpected and memorable.

The final cataclysmic event must be a powerful emotional thing for the reader. Therefore, I have gone back and put more pressure on Merlin and Leryn in the earlier chapters.

The higher the emotional stakes when they meet Mordred for the final showdown, the more emotionally satisfying the final resolution will be for the reader.

This resolution will be final, with no loose threads.

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#FineArtFriday: Irene (poem)and The Coffee House, by Rita Greer 2008

The Coffee House

 

Portions of this post first appeared on Life in the Realm of Fantasy in 2015, as Flash Fiction Friday offering. The poem that follows, Irene, was written for a writer friend, a woman who moved to my Northwest town from Texas.

She participated in NaNoWriMo 2012, and we discovered we lived only a mile apart. Over the years she  became like a sister to me. Now, in 2020, one of her grandchildren has been hit with cancer, and she is temporarily relocating back to Texas to help care for him.

Believe me, she will be missed, as a neighbor, a dear friend, and as the heart and soul of my writing posse. My forthcoming novel, Julian Lackland, would still be languishing in limbo without her determined efforts over the last six years.

She and her husband quickly became members of our family, and no holiday will be the same with out them.

 

About this painting (quoted from Wikimedia Commons)

The original is an oil painting on board by Rita Greer, history painter, 2008. This was digitized by Rita and sent via email to the Department of Engineering Science, Oxford University, where it was subsequently uploaded to Wikimedia.

Coffee Houses played an important part in the social life of Robert Hooke. Only coffee and chocolate were served (no alcohol). Here news could be had, conversation, arguments, meetings, card games, wagers made, workmen could be paid, etc. (Hooke would sometimes carry out a scientific experiment in front of a coffee house audience as witnesses.) Hooke is shown writing (bottom left) at a table with people waiting to talk to him.

About the artist:

Rita Greer is a history artist, goldsmith, graphic designer, food scientist and author/writer. On retirement in 2003 Rita began the Robert Hooke project, “to put him back into history.”

According to Wikipedia: Much has been written about the unpleasant side of Hooke’s personality, starting with comments by his first biographer, Richard Waller, that Hooke was “in person, but despicable” and “melancholy, mistrustful, and jealous.” Waller’s comments influenced other writers for well over two centuries, so that a picture of Hooke as a disgruntled, selfish, anti-social curmudgeon dominates many older books and articles. For example, Arthur Berry said that Hooke “claimed credit for most of the scientific discoveries of the time.” Sullivan wrote that Hooke was “positively unscrupulous” and possessing an “uneasy apprehensive vanity” in dealings with Newton. Manuel used the phrase “cantankerous, envious, vengeful” in his description. More described Hooke having both a “cynical temperament” and a “caustic tongue.” Andrade was more sympathetic, but still used the adjectives “difficult”, “suspicious”, and “irritable” in describing Hooke.

Back-biting and jostling for position was a hobby among the divas of 17th century science, apparently. Little has changed in the world of academics, it seems.

I spend a large portion of my life in coffee houses too, writing and meeting with other writers, and artists. The friend who inspired the poem today was introduced to me in a coffee house in Olympia, on a dark November night in 2012. It was the kick-off meeting for NaNoWriMo that year.

 

Irene

I met you in a coffee shop.

Knitters and authors vied for tables

In a dark, polished, coffee-scented room.

Texas wit met Northwest irreverence

And the world was never the same.

A sisterhood built on words

And books

And commonalities.

We met as old ladies, too wise to raise much hell.

We’d have been dangerous

Had Austin met Olympia in the young, wild days.

It must have been divine intent

That our lives converged in the quiet years.

Sisterhood binds and unites us

Because family is more

Than marriage or blood.

 


Irene © Connie J. Jasperson 2015, All Rights Reserved

Portions of this post first appeared here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy on December 12, 2015.

The Coffee House by Rita Greer, history painter, 2008. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:10 The Coffee House.JPG,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:10_The_Coffee_House.JPG&oldid=304207824 (accessed January 16, 2020).

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Acceptance, Rejection, and Naked Came a Fungus #amwriting

We all know what it’s like to have our work rejected. When I first began sending my work out, I would feel crushed upon receiving a rejection.

However, when I look back at those efforts, I can clearly see that I had no idea what a finished manuscript should look like. The internet wasn’t a thing yet, and I hadn’t heard of William Shunn or his instructions for how to properly format a manuscript. I knew my finished story had some problems, but I didn’t understand what those problems were or how to resolve them.

I naively assumed an editor would fix them because that’s what editors do, right?

I soon discovered that few editors have the time to teach you how to write literate prose. You must educate yourself, and so I did just that.

Nowadays, my work is as clean as I can make it. Sometimes my work is accepted, and when that happens, I celebrate. Most of the time it is rejected, and not because it is bad.

Editors usually have a certain kind of story in mind when they put out an open call, and often, less than ten of those in  that landslide of submissions will be accepted. Those that are accepted are the few that perfectly fit the editor’s original concept.

When you read the email/letter of acceptance, you go through several stages of emotional reaction:

  • shocked disbelief
  • OMG
  • Woo Hoo!

So how an author should react when their work is accepted? If you have been wise, you’ll be able to promptly reply with a simple thank you, mentioning how pleased you are to be featured in their publication.

Hopefully, you have not submitted the piece simultaneously to competing publications.

If by chance, you did send it to two publications and it was accepted at both, you must promptly reply to the other publication and formally withdraw your submission.

I keep a spreadsheet listing the date a piece was submitted, the website of who it was submitted to, and the status of that submission so I can avoid simultaneous submissions. This spreadsheet goes back to 2015 and contains these details:

  • Title of Short Story
  • Genre
  • Date submitted
  • Name of publication submitted to
  • Website address or editor’s email address
  • Date rejected or accepted
  • Comment from the editor, if any

If you submitted the piece through Submittable, all this is easily handled. Nevertheless, this record is your way to avoid looking unprofessional. This is an example of how I keep track of my work:

If it has been more than six months since you submitted a piece, and you can’t find any record of a response from them (check the junk mail of your email service), go to the publication’s website and look at their submissions page. They will usually have a paragraph detailing their normal response time and whether or not they respond to authors whose work they reject.

Contests and anthologies with large numbers of entries may not issue rejection notices.

Take the time to calm yourself and re-read the email. Promptly write a professional reply. I recommend you write your reply in a word document, proofread it, and then paste it into the body of the email, so you don’t accidentally send an illiterate mess to this editor.

Be sure to attach any information the editor/publisher may have requested:

  1. Your signed contract/or form granting them permission to publish. Use your legal name if you write under a pen name. It’s a good idea to make copies and keep them on file. If they are paper, I scan them into my desktop computer and save them in my cloud storage. (I use Dropbox, but Google Drive or One Drive are both free and excellent.)
  2. Your contact information if requested:
  3. Mailing address
  4. Phone number
  5. Legal name (if you are using a pen name)
  6. Your press kit (only if requested):

If you don’t have a press kit, go to Brian Klems’ excellent post on how to put one together: How to Create a Professional Press Kit in 8 Easy Steps.

Sometimes authors go into panic mode and immediately try to send revisions. Don’t do it. Your work was accepted as it was, so have faith that it was what the editor for that publication wanted.

If the editor wants changes, they will make clear what they want you to do. This may happen in an anthology. Remember, this editor knows what the readers of that publication want, and you want those readers to like your work. Behave like an adult and make whatever changes they request.

Never be less than gracious to the editor when you communicate with them. The world is full of great authors who want to sell their work. We can’t afford to have a reputation as being difficult to work with, as editors can get good work anywhere, not just from us. No one likes to work with divas.

Always be prompt in answering communications with the editors and publishers. Put whatever else you’re doing aside to answer emails from them. You want the editors to know you are easy to work with and willing to go the extra mile for them.

You have one final task in this process: You must make sure your readers know this piece is being published and where they can go to purchase that magazine/anthology.

On the day it hits the market, tweet about it, add it to your social media pages, and post it on your website. Tell the world to buy that publication.

And in that vein, if you would like to read a flash fiction I was invited to write for Ellen King Rice’s Naked Came A Fungus Project, click on this link: Edna’s Patio. This is a wonderful literary “progressive dinner” that Ellen devised to benefit Feline Friends.

Knowing that someone you respect likes your work enough to publish it is a feeling that is impossible to describe, even for an author.

Woo Hoo!


Click here for my review of Ellen King Rice’s Lichenwald.

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Chapter Length and Point of View #amwriting

Authors just starting out often wonder how long a chapter should be. A good rule of thumb is to consider the comfort of your reader. Many readers want to finish a chapter in one sitting. With that said, you must decide what your style is going to be.

Over the years, I’ve read and enjoyed many books where the authors made each scene a chapter, even if it was only two or three hundred words long. They ended up with over 100 chapters in their books, but it worked for me when I was reading it.

I’ve attended seminars given by authors who say they have a specific word-count limit for their chapter length. One keeps them at 1,500. One of my favorite authors sometimes has chapters of only five or six-hundred words, which keeps each character’s storyline separate and flows well. I personally have found that for my style of storytelling, 2,500 to 3,000 words is a good length.

In a book, each chapter should detail the events of one scene or several related scenes. Chapters are like paragraphs, in that cramming too many disparate ideas into one place makes them feel erratic and disconnected.

One of my forthcoming books has longer chapters, as it is really a collection of short stories that take place over forty years of one character’s life. It follows the chronological order of his life and the chapters are vignettes detailing large events that changed him profoundly. These long chapters do contain hard breaks.

Conversations make good transitions to propel the story forward to the next scene, and they also offer ways to end a chapter with a tidbit of information that will compel the reader to turn the page. Information is crucial but should be offered only as the reader requires it.

A good conversation is about something one or more characters don’t know. It builds toward something the characters are only beginning to understand. A conversation is an opportunity to close a scene or chapter with a hook.

That is true of every aspect of a scene or chapter. They reveal something new and push the story forward toward the final showdown.

Fade-to-black and hard scene breaks: I don’t like fade-to-black transitions except as a finish to a chapter. Fading-to-black at the end of a scene can make the story feel mushy if there is no finite transition.

When a length of time has passed between the end of one scene and the beginning of the next, it makes sense to wind it up with a firm finish and a hook and start a new chapter.

Having said that, if you are writing a short story, dividing it into chapters isn’t an option. At the end of a scene, you may find that a hard break is required. Editors with open calls for short stories will often ask that you insert an asterisk or hashtag to indicate a hard scene break.

With each scene, we push the character arc, raising the stakes a little. Our protagonist grows and is shaped by receiving needed information through action and conversation, followed by reaction and regrouping. This allows the reader to experience the story as the protagonist does, and then to reflect and absorb the information gained before moving on to the next scene.

Some editors suggest you change chapters, no matter how short, when you switch to a different character’s point of view. I agree, as a hard transition between characters is the best way to avoid head-hopping.

Head-hopping: first you’re in his head, then you’re in hers, then you’re back in his—it gives the reader “tennis neck” and makes following the storyline difficult. Sometimes more than one character has a point of view that needs to be shown but readers will thank you if you limit point of view changes.

One of the problems some readers have with Robert Jordan’s brilliant Wheel of Time Series is the way he wandered around between storylines as if he couldn’t decide who the main character was. Rand Al Thor begins as the protagonist, but Matrim, Perrin, Nynaeve, and Egwene are also given prime story lines.

I’m a dedicated WoT fan, but even I found that exceedingly annoying long about book eight, Path of Daggers. I was halfway through reading that book when I realized there was a good chance that we were never going to see Rand do what he was reborn to do.

At that point, I kept reading because the world and the events were so intriguing.

As very few of us are writers at Robert Jordan’s level, I suggest you concentrate on developing a single compelling, well-rounded main character, with the side characters well-developed but not upstaging the star.

It’s easier for the reader to follow the story when they are only in one character’s mind for the majority of the story. If you do switch POV characters, I strongly suggest that you change scenes with a hard, visual break such as two blank spaces between paragraphs or end the chapter.

Now we come to a commonly asked question: Should I use numbers, or give each chapter a name?

What is your gut feeling for how you want to construct this book or series? If snappy titles pop up in your mind for each chapter, by all means go for it. Otherwise, numbered chapters are perfectly fine and don’t throw the reader out of the book. One series of my books has numbered chapters, the other has titled chapters.

Whichever style of chapter heading you choose, numbered or titled, be consistent and stay with that choice for the entire book.

To wind this up: Limit your point of view characters to one per scene. Limit each chapter to show events that are related, rather than a jumble of unrelated events.

When it comes to chapter length, you must make the decision as to the right length and end chapters at a logical place. But do end each chapter with a hook that begs the reader to continue on to the next chapter.

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Using Pictures and Quotes #amwriting

Quoting other authors verbatim and including it in your book is opening a REAL can of worms. I will touch on that subject further down this post.

First, we’ll talk about blog posts, and why citing sources and crediting images is important.

When we first begin blogging, finding great images seems like no big deal. You google what you want, see what images pop up, right click, copy, and use them, right?

Don’t do it.

You can get into NO END of trouble that way, as is made clear in this article, The $7,500 Blogging Mistake That Every Blogger Needs to Avoid!

I use Wikimedia Commons and Public Domain images. Wikimedia makes it easy for you to get the attributions and licensing for each image. An excellent article on using Creative Commons Images can be found here:

What Is Creative Commons, And Should You Use It?

Another good source is Allthefreestock.com, where you can find hundreds of free stock photos, music, and many other things for your blog and other projects. Make sure you credit the artist!

Sometimes I need images I can only get by paying a small fee for.

I go to Dreamstime or Canstock, and several other reputable sources. For a few dollars, usually only two or three, I then have the right to use the image of my choice, and it’s properly licensed. The proper legal attribution is also there on the seller’s website, clearly written out with the copyright and artist name, so all you need to do is copy and paste it to your footnotes.

I also insert the attribution into the image details on my website so that when a mouse hovers over the image, curious readers can go to the source. (In WordPress, you must be on the WP Admin dashboard. Click on the image and go to ‘edit details’).

If you can do this, you won’t have to credit them in your footnotes.

We may want to quote another blogger or use the information we have learned from them. However, you will notice that I generally only quote directly from Wikipedia in those posts.

There is a reason, and we will get to that later.

If there is research involved, you should make notes at the bottom of your composition document about the title and URL of the website/article, the author, and what day you accessed it.

Properly citing your sources is your legal obligation, but there is a moral one here too: if some blogger quoted you verbatim, wouldn’t you want to be credited?

Some people will say that blogging isn’t really writing, so WHY bother with footnotes?

First of all, if blogging isn’t writing, what is it?

The footnotes at the bottom of every post tell me where my images are sourced, who created them, and what I used them in.

In my Fine Art Friday posts on art history, I do as wide as search as possible for information on a particular artist and painting. I only use images available from Wikimedia Commons with the share-alike copyright.

Citing sources:

First, I open a document in my word-processing program (I use Word), save it as whatever the title of the post is in that blog’s file folder, and compose my post the way I would write a story.

Composing the body of my post in a document rather than the content area of the blog-template allows me to spellcheck and edit my work before it is posted. Even so, I miss some typos and errors. The truth is, I feel more comfortable writing in a document rather than the content-window.

At the bottom of the page, I list what website I quoted, who the author was, the date of publication, and the date I accessed it. I have found the simplest method is the Chicago Manual of Style method, which looks like this:

Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab,  General Model for Citing Books in the Chicago Notes and Bibliography System, Copyright ©1995-2017 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved.

Website: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/717/03 Accessed Jan 10, 2017

When you quote from Wikipedia, you can click on the ‘cite this page’ link in the left-hand column, which is a menu of items pertaining to Wikipedia in general and to that article. ‘Cite this page’ is listed under ‘tools.’ Clicking on this link takes you to a page offering citations for that page in CMoS, APA, or MLA style, whichever suits your needs. All you need to do is copy and paste the one you prefer into your footnotes, and your due diligence has been done.

All this information for your footnotes should be inserted at the BOTTOM of your current document, so everything you need for your blog post is all in one place. When my blog article is complete and ready to post, I will insert a line to separate the body of the post from the credits and attribution notes.

When readers view my blog, if my post were one that I did research for, they would see this at the bottom of the post:

Warning! To use copyrighted material in your book, you MUST contact the publisher.

Follow their guidelines to obtain the right to quote from a published book. This is NOT a simple process, but you must do it if you plan to quote anyone whose work is NOT in the Public Domain.

Chances are, you will be denied, so be prepared to do without that material.

That is why I quote from Wikipedia when it is applicable and when the copyright is Share-Alike.

Plagiarism and quoting are two different things. Plagiarism is lifting entire sections and publishing it as yours. For more on last year’s scandal in the world of “fast-track” publishing, read this article at the Fussy Librarian. Romance authors discover they’ve been plagiarized.

About the share-alike copyright, via Wikipedia:

Share-alike is a copyright licensing term, originally used by the Creative Commons project, to describe works or licences that require copies or adaptations of the work to be released under the same or similar licence as the original.[1] Copyleft licences are free content or free software licences with a share-alike condition.

Two currently-supported Creative Commons licences have the ShareAlike condition: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (a copyleftfree content licence) and Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (a proprietary licence).

To wind this rant up – bloggers, photographers and artists are just like those who write novels. They are proud of their work and want to be credited for it. Protect yourself and your work by responsibly sourcing images and giving credit to the authors and artists whose work you use.


Credits and Attributions

Wikipedia contributors, “Share-alike,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Share-alike&oldid=929200583 (accessed January 7, 2020).

Share alike icon, Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Cc-sa.svg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Cc-sa.svg&oldid=362413897 (accessed January 7, 2020).

Portions of this article and the screenshots first appeared on the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association  Blog in January of 2017, written by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2017 All Rights Reserved.

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Superpowers, Super Weapons, and Magic #amwriting

I am a born skeptic. I gravitate to reading fantasy but find both superpowers and magic to be an area hack authors regularly make least believable.

Many of my own books feature characters who can use magic of one sort or another. In my worlds, all magic is limited by strict parameters and requires both governing and training.

My approach to designing magic and worlds was shaped by my love of early Final Fantasy style RPG games. Everything was logical and believable. The political and religious systems were concrete, as were the technology and magic systems. The enemies were powerful, but no one had unlimited power. If you worked to build your strength and abilities and acquired the best weapons and armor you could get, you grew strong enough to prevail in the ultimate battle.

Later, I used those principles in writing a storyline, world building, and designing magic for an anime-based RPG. The company folded before the game went into full production, but the experience taught me to look at these aspects of genre fiction with a “God’s Eye.”

Anyone who has raised children knows they are born with a sense of self and an instinct for self-preservation. We come into the world aware only of how we feel and what we want. Those two things are the primary drivers of infancy.

Awareness that others also have feelings, needs, and wants comes later. Each human develops compassion for others at a different stage of childhood.

Some children are bullies while still in diapers. They will push and take toys from the weaker member of a group if they aren’t guided in the right direction or severely limited in what they can do. They quickly learn who they can get away with bullying, and that child gets picked on mercilessly.

These little bullies are strong-willed and could become leaders, so guiding them to learn and understand compassion is crucial for the welfare of society.

Some people, even those raised in good families, never develop the ability to care about others.

Most insensitive people aren’t sociopaths. But if a self-centered person has a superpower or a gift for using magic, could you guarantee they won’t use it solely for selfish purposes?

Thus, laws and a school system that trains them in both the use of these powers and what constitutes abuse is essential. There should be consequences for abuse, especially if others are harmed.

In designing a story where superpowers, super weapons, or magic are key elements, you must understand several things.

  1. Super weapons are science based.

Science is not magic. It is logical, rooted in the realm of real theoretical physics. The writer of true science fiction must know the difference, especially when creating possible weapons.

  1. Magic is not science.

However, it should be logical and rooted in solid theories. For me, as a reader, magic should only be possible if certain conditions have been met. This means the author has created a system that regulates what is possible. Magic works

  • if the number of people who can use it is limited.
  • if the ways in which it can be used are limited.
  • if the majority of mages are limited to one or two kinds of magic and only certain mages can use every kind of magic.
  • if there are strict, inviolable rules regarding what each kind of magic can do and the conditions under which it will work.
  • if there are some conditions under which the magic will not work.
  • if the damage it can do as a weapon or the healing it can perform is limited.
  • if the mage or healer pays a physical/emotional price for the use.
  • if the mage or healer pays a hefty price for abusing it.
  • if the learning curve is steep and sometimes lethal.

Satisfying these conditions sets the stage for you to create the Science of Magic. This is an underlying, invisible layer of the world. By creating and following the arbitrary rules of this “science,” your story won’t contradict itself.

  1. Superpowers are both science and something that may seem like magic, but is not.

What challenges does your character have to overcome when learning to wield their magic/superpower or super weapon?

  • Are they unable to fully use their abilities?
  • If not, why?
  • How does their inability affect their companions?
  • How is their self-confidence affected by this inability?
  • Do the companions face learning curves too?
  • What has to happen before your hero can fully realize their abilities?

Magic and superpowers share common ground in one area–genesis, or how the ability occurs:

Is the character born with the ability to use the superpower or was it imposed on them by a scientific means?

Is your magic spell-based or imposed by artifacts and relics? Or is it a biological/empathic ability? Is it a trait children can inherit?

  • If magic is spell-based, can any reasonably intelligent person learn it if they find a teacher or are accepted into a school?

Personal Power and the desire for dominance is where the concepts of science and magic converge.

In all my favorite science fiction and fantasy novels, the enemy has access to equal or better Science/Magic. How the characters overcome the limitations of their science/magic/superpower is the story.

“Struggle” forces the characters out of their comfortable environment. The roadblocks you put up force them to be creative, and through that creativity, your characters become more than they believe they are.

I do suggest that in regard to magic, you take the time to create the rules and write a document for yourself that clearly defines what limits characters face when using their magic.

This means that if the protagonist and their enemy are not from the same “school” of magic or science, you might have written two systems into that story. You should take the time to write out what makes them different and why they don’t converge.

You must also clearly state the limits of science for both the protagonist and antagonist. Take the time to write it out and be sure the logic has no hidden flaws.

In creating science technologies and magic systems, you are creating a hidden framework that will support and advance your plot. Within either system, there can be an occasional exception to a rule, but there must be a good reason for it, and it must be clear to the reader why that exception is acceptable.

An important thing to consider whether using magic or technology: the only time the reader needs to know these systems exist is when it affects the characters and their actions. Write it as a natural part of the environment rather than discussing it in an info dump.

Science and magic are two sides of the personal-power coin. We who write the two radically divergent sides of speculative fiction give this coin to our characters in varying amounts.

My favorite authors explore ambition, the drive to acquire more personal power, and the lengths characters will go to in their efforts to gain an edge over their opponents. They delve deeply into the societal consequences of their characters’ struggle.

How does the emotional toll of seeing that collateral damage affect your characters? Guilt might play a role.

The fundamental tropes of science, magic, or superpowers offer your characters opportunities for success. But to be believable, those opportunities must not be free and unlimited.

Every successful author teaching a seminar will tell you that when writing genre fiction, the struggle is the story. Make your characters work for their successes. Make them and the reader understand the personal cost of acquiring power and the dangers of unbridled ambition.

Use magic, science, or superpowers only as a means to tell a powerful story.

Strong, charismatic characters, powerful struggles, serious consequences for failure–these are the stories I want to read.


Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Dommersen Gothic cathedral in a medieval city.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Dommersen_Gothic_cathedral_in_a_medieval_city.jpg&oldid=319795786 (accessed May 29, 2019).

The Green Knight, by N.C,Wyeth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Boys King Arthur – N. C. Wyeth – p82.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Boys_King_Arthur_-_N._C._Wyeth_-_p82.jpg&oldid=304597062  (accessed December 9, 2018).

 

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Winter in the Northern Garden

Winter_berriesIn winter, my Northern garden

Languishes, ragged and shabby,

Unlovely, decaying, and

Uncomfortably aware she’s grown old.

 

The remains of Summer’s glory beckons,

Begging to be told she is still beautiful,

Still young and fascinating,

Still the object of desire.

 

Ever the gallant gentleman,

Winter obliges, and with a kiss

Ice crystals decorate each twig and branch

Gracing her with radiant beauty.

 

Ruby-red berries set against crystalline diamonds,

Ice catching the light, scattering it.

Jewels decorating decrepit limbs,

Dazzled, we bow to her wondrous splendor.

 

Beneath the litter of leaves dead and brown,

A new Spring waits,

Lurking in the wings, biding her time,

Politely allowing the old dame one last encore.

 


Credits and Attributions

Winter in the Northern Garden © Connie J. Jasperson 2017, first appeared here on February 17, 2017

Winter Berries, Nick Sarebi [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D

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Muffins and Mayhem #amwriting

Friday morning, I took one of my current works in progress back to 12,000 words. (From 90,000.) I’ve been fighting this thing since that point. I hated to admit that I took a wrong turn so early on, but the story was going in completely the wrong direction.

Never one to quit as long as one foot remains un-shot, I still tried to force it, until Friday morning when I finally admitted I had written myself into a corner.

However, what I accomplished with the 3 months of work I just trashed is this: I have the world solidly built. I have the characters firmly in my head. Much of what was cut will be recycled back into the new version, but it is simply easier to begin at the place where it went awry.

I now know why the story arc was flatlined, AND I don’t need to murder anyone or add a dragon.

It feels like mayhem when it’s happening but it isn’t the end of the world. It’s just a detour.

This sort of thing happens to me all the time, which is why it takes me so long to write a novel.

For the coming year, I have one novel at the proofreading stage, one novel at the “needs two more chapters and then we’re done but first I have to think them up” stage, and two novels are at the beginning stage.

Short stories will continue to flow from my keyboard, although I haven’t had as much luck with selling them lately as I did last year. Some years are better for sales than others. I always think it’s a matter of the story hitting an editor’s inbox at the moment they are craving that sort of tale, so if your timing is off or you have sent it to the wrong magazine, it won’t sell.

Here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, 2020 will find us delving into the depths of the Word-Pond again, focusing on specific aspects of storytelling. Exploring all the many nuances of writing craft is my hobby. I love it when I learn something new.

And as always, I will continue looking at Art History with my Fine Art Friday posts. I think Friday is my favorite day of the week—I’m a confirmed Rembrandt fangirl. I find inspiration and knowledge in the archives of Wikimedia Commons.

Since this is the final week of the year and we’re all busy going here and there, you probably aren’t into a long-winded blogpost. I leave you with a quote from L. E. Modesitt Jr., one that, in my mind, can be applied to writing and publishing novels:

“Everything takes longer than you’d think … except disaster and failure.”  ~~ L.E. Modesitt Jr. “The Mongrel Mage.”

And I will also leave you with this quote from Erin Morgenstern, one that applies to life in general:

“A quality muffin is just a cupcake without frosting.” ~~Erin Morgenstern, “The Starless Sea.”

2019 was a year blessed with an abundance of quality muffins, so no complaints there. My disasters were few, and each one resulted in a positive change of some sort, so perhaps they weren’t failures.

Perhaps they were opportunities for growth.


Credits and Attributions:

Blueberry Muffin, National Cancer Institute, Renee Comet (photographer) [Public domain]

NCI Visuals Food Muffins, Unknown photographer/artist [Public domain]

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