Larry’s Post-Rapture Pet-Sitting Service, By Ellen King Rice #bookreview #beachread

While I was on vacation, I read Ellen King Rice’s new book, Larry’s Post-Rapture Pet-Sitting Service. What a hoot!  As with her previous books, it’s set in the South Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest. This book is a joy.

So, without further yak-yak, here is my review of

Larry’s Post-Rapture Pet-Sitting Service: A loser’s account of surviving the righteous and other afflictions, by Ellen King Rice

  • Publisher:Undergrowth Publishing (August 20, 2020)
  • Publication Date:August 20, 2020

But First, the Blurb:

One man with highly flexible morals and a dodgy past.

His mother, in dire need of beer and pretzels.

A history-mad teenager in search of a job.

And cats. Lots of cats.

As the alleged man of the house, Larry has to make ends meet, one way or another.

Selling post-Rapture pet care insurance seems simple enough.

Until Larry crosses paths with a left-behind televangelist looking to carve a new domain. Out of his hide, if he lets her.

Review: “A large and colorful cast of characters fills the novel, and their experiences and coping mechanisms in the rapture-altered world give the story a welcome variety of perspectives.” – Kirkus Reviews


My Review:

I’m still smiling about this book. Larry is the most perfectly imperfect man ever. Marjorie is a wonderful person, a little rough around the edges, but possessing a heart of gold. Every cloud has a silver lining, but sometimes you have to hustle to get there first. Marjorie excels at keeping her son hustling.

Larry is accustomed to not flying first-class, so to speak, so he’s not surprised that he was left behind. He loves life and all the pickles he’d have missed had he been raptured or sent the other way.

I loved the notion that all the dogs went to Heaven.

Abigail Ross is a credible villain. The varying degrees of devotion her entourage of now-unenthusiastic minions feels for their employer since the rapture began is well-drawn. The many snake-like ways she tries to thwart Larry’s success kept me turning the page. I had to find out how everything was resolved.

Larry attracts a good posse. Every character in this group and their circumstances are unique, and yet they fit together, becoming stronger by virtue of being not quite saintly enough for the rapture.

I laughed out loud in many places, worried for Larry and his crew, and celebrated when certain animals were rescued.

If you like humor, dark or otherwise, and love thought provoking character-driven novels, this is one you should read.

About Ellen King Rice: Ellen  usually writes mysteries with mycological elements, but recent political events have drawn her out of the woods to admire the resilience of the people of the Pacific Northwest. Call it a Menippean satire for the modern era, or a rollicking tale of imperfect people surviving in uncertain times, this is a story of doggedness and pickles. Winner of a 2020 IPPY Gold medal for Best Regional Fiction for “Lichenwald” (and a 2019 Silver Medal IPPY award for “Undergrowth” and a Wishing Shelf Book Awards finalist for “The EvoAngel”) Ellen King Rice is a former wildlife biologist with passions for epigenetics and fungi. In her younger years she served as a wildlife conservation officer, a big game manager, an endangered species biologist and as a lobbyist for environmental issues.

You can find Ellen and her books at


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#FineArtFriday: Time, the Pandemic, and the Monarch of the Beach

Today I am revisiting a post from August 2019, and contrasting a beloved holiday retreat with how we must experience this place today.

Last year I offered you two images instead of one, but this year I am giving you five. The first image was found on Wikimedia Commons, taken in 2013 on a spring day in Cannon Beach Oregon. It is a wonderful shot of what I think of as the Monarch of the Beach, the God-Rock dominating the shores of my favorite beach.

The second image is one I shot in 2018, an unusually hot year, when we were plagued with massive wildfires here on the west coast of America. The sunsets that year were unbelievable.

The third image in this post is one I shot in 2019 with my cell-phone, and little did I know that it would be the last image I would ever get of that particular sea-stack. The two final images were also shot on my cell phone.

In the first image, Haystack Rock, shot and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Tiger635, the sky is perfect; an amazing shade of blue with stratus clouds overhead and sea below, all converging on Haystack. The photographer did everything right to capture the beauty of this place.

This tiny resort town is home to me, although I only live here one week out of the year.

Before the Pandemic, on Sundays, the streets of Cannon Beach were crowded with cars and throngs of people. The cafes, galleries, trinket shops, bookstores, wine shop, and bodega—all were jammed, alive with a seething mass of humanity.

On Mondays, it became briefly walkable, and that is how it is now, during the pandemic. People wear face-masks in town, and give space to each other while walking on the sidewalk. It’s still a place where temporary neighbors become socially distant friends, glad to know they aren’t alone.

This year I have the view I love most, that of Tillamook Head, as pictured in my photo from 2o18. When the fog that seems eternal this year lifts, we can see  Terrible Tilly, the most notorious lighthouse on the west coast. So far this year, the sunsets have not been quite as spectacular as 2018 was, but I did get one beautiful shot, which is the final image in this post.

I can walk out my front door to the the seawall’s stairs to Ecola Creek, walking out to where it emerges into the Pacific Ocean.

The stairs are precipitous, and as I said last year, they are familiar; old friends greeting me in their sand-encrusted steepness, bidding me, “Welcome back, Pilgrim! Welcome home.”

On sunny days here at the north end of the beach, the sandbar between Ecola Creek estuary and the sea is dotted with people carrying chairs and chasing children. It’s not the throng we had last year, but still a bit of a crowd. While many aren’t wearing masks on the beach, everyone seems willing to maintain respectful distance.

Unaware of COVID-19, excited dogs, all with leashes securely attached to their people, push along toward the waves, dragging tired humans faster than they can comfortably walk.

Most days, when it is cold, foggy, or rainy, we only have to share the beach with the few hardier folks who love the soul of this place as much as they do the sun and sand.

The beach stretches four miles from Ecola Creek to Arch Cape. It’s a sandy shoreline, dotted with sea stacks. Several smaller sea stacks surround the grand master, the Monarch of the Beach who sits near the center, the megalith known as Haystack Rock.

This is the annual Jasperson family pilgrimage to a  place that assumes mythic proportions when we are away from it. The pandemic made its mark this year, with no grandchildren in attendance, no hand-dug sandpits waiting for unwary grandparents to stumble into, and so far no wind for my kite.

But every year is different. Regardless, like the seabirds nesting on the sea stacks, my husband and I return here every year, as do as any family members who can get these few days away from work. We come to regain the internal balance that we gradually lose over the course of the year, seeking connectedness as a family.

The Needles, those acolyte sea stacks gathered around Haystack’s knees are slowly disintegrating. We see them diminished a little more every year, noticed especially when we compare pictures from one year to another. This next image is one I shot on Monday August 5, 2019. The sky that year was a shade of gray that is impossible to describe. I particularly love the way the tidal pools came out in my photo, the green of the sea moss, and the reflection of the spires across the shallow sea.

Last year the most visible change was in this sister-spire of the three Needles—one of the larger ones had been sundered into two spires rising from a common base.

This year, the change is graphic.

Now it is only a low hump, not too different from any other lump of basalt cresting the waves in the shallows. Where once there were three, now there are only two.  In the final two pictures, you can just barely see what is left of the middle sister.

Haystack Rock and the Two Needles, 20 August 2020 © 2020 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

Time eventually wears everything to sand. All these sea stacks will one day be gone, shattered to rubble, a testimony to the violence of the wild Northeast Pacific winters. That is the way life is, and I find it reflected in myself.

I’m not quite crumbling into the sea, but I’m definitely showing the effects of weathering.

It’s comforting to know that, still standing strong and unchanged, Haystack Rock, the Monarch of the Beach rules. Pelicans, puffins, terns, seagulls, and rare wide-winged wanderers from far out to sea still come to nest on the Monarch of the Beach, Haystack Rock and his attendants.

Tidal pools still shelter starfish, anemones, and a multitude of other small creatures. These tiny water-worlds remind us that we are part of something larger.

The sea is ever-changing. Untamed and dangerous one day, it is calm and serene the next.

The most fundamental thing I’ve learned from my walks among the tide pools at the foot of the Monarch is this: we humans are not islands—we are part of a world that extends below the surface and conceals secrets and lives we surface dwellers can only dimly imagine.

Above the eternal sea, on the strand below the Great Rock, we remember who we are, and we are made stronger.

The bonds my family forges in this hallowed place bind us together. They won’t be broken no matter how far apart we are, or how long we are separated, not even after the Monarch of the Beach crumbles into the sea.

Sunset Haystack Rock, with the two remaining needles. Author’s own work.

Credits and Attributions:

Haystack Rock, by Tiger635 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

Tillamook Head at Sunset © Connie J. Jasperson 2018 All Rights Reserved

Sentinel, 05 August 2019 (One of the Needles, Cannon Beach) © 2019 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved (author’s own work).

Haystack Rock and the Two Needles, 20 August 2020 © 2020 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved (author’s own work).

Sunset at Haystack, 19 August 2020 © 2020 by Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved (author’s own work).


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The Inferential Layer Revisited: Drama #amwriting

Today I am flying a kite on a beach somewhere south of here. In honor of that, we are revisiting my post on DRAMA, something I try to avoid in real life! This post originally appeared here on August 26, 2019.

Whether you are writing a screenplay, a short story, or a novel, you are writing something that you hope will resonate with the reader and move them. A lesson that screenwriters learn early on is that each scene must be viewed as a mini-story; a complete story within the larger story. They learn this early because they don’t have the luxury of space that we who write novels have. The entire story of a screenplay must be told within a finite framework of time, so the writer must wring the most emotional impact out of the least amount of words.

I’m still working on this, myself. But I’m getting there.

So, where do we start? We begin with the most fundamental reason people purchase books or go to plays and movies—drama. The inferential layer of the Word-Pond we call Story is all about the drama, and I’m not talking over-the-top hysterics here. We combine emotional highs and lows with action and reaction in each passage to create dramatic scenes that leave a mark on the reader.

Of course, we understand large, emotionally charged, outwardly noisy dramatic scenes. They impact us and leave us reeling. But the only way those events have power is if they have context. They must be balanced by quieter, more introspective moments.

Drama can happen in the mildest of scenes, places where it looks as if nothing important is happening. The follow-up/regrouping scenes are places where you have the opportunity to waylay the reader with something unexpected. This is where you show the reader what is happening beneath the surface, the inner demons and fears the characters now face.

Consider  The Two Towers by J.R.R.Tolkien. Let’s look at the emotional impact of the scene that takes place in Shelob’s Lair. Frodo and Sam have survived incredible hardships and have made it to Cirith Ungol.  The passage is an excellent example of the dramatic story within a story that advances the overall plot.

Drama is the hope we feel in the moment when Frodo faces Shelob with the Phial of Light. Drama is the moment Frodo fails, the moment he is stung.

It is the shock, the horror, the moment where Sam reluctantly takes up Frodo’s sword, Sting.

It is triumph when Shelob impales herself on Sting, a weapon made of Mithril and a sword in the hands of a hobbit. But really, Sting is only a long-knife, and despite its mythic properties, it is not long enough to kill the giant arachnid, Shelob.

Still, she is wounded and scuttles away.

Drama is in the despair, the quiet moment afterward, where Samwise realizes that everything they have just endured was for nothing.

Drama is the moment of sharp introspection, the internal conversation when Sam fears his own weakness; the moment when his faith is not just shaken—it is lost. It is that moment of profound despondency in Shelob’s Lair, the dark night of the soul where Sam believes the spider has killed Frodo.

What about love? Few emotions have as much dramatic potential as that of love. It has many shades, from friendship to affection, to desire, to passion, to obsession, to jealousy, to hate.

Let’s look at the Pulitzer Prize winning short story, Brokeback Mountain, by Annie Proulx (synopsis via Wikipedia):

In 1963, two young men, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, are hired for the summer to look after sheep at a seasonal grazing range on the fictional Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. Unexpectedly, they form an intense emotional and sexual attachment, but have to part ways at the end of the summer. Over the next twenty years, as their separate lives play out with marriages, children, and jobs, they continue reuniting for brief liaisons on camping trips in remote settings.

Ennis and Jack are tied to each other, but they love their wives and children. They are products of their society, and their personal reactions to the intensity of their relationship are both hurtful and understandable in the context of their time and situation. People have love affairs in books all the time, and we often find them forgettable. It is the complexity of external societal pressure and deep, confusing emotion that makes Ennis and Jack’s attachment memorable.

Then there is the novel, Possession, by A.S. Byatt, winner of the 1990 Booker prize. This is a complex relationship that begins in a rather boring manner – it opens in a library when Roland Michell, a scholar and professional man of high morals commits a crime: he steals the original drafts of letters he has come across in his research. This act has the potential of becoming his professional suicide. The synopsis via Wikipedia:

(Roland Mitchell) begins to investigate. The trail leads him to Christabel LaMotte, a minor poet and contemporary of Ash, and to Dr. Maud Bailey, an established modern LaMotte scholar and distant relative of LaMotte. Protective of LaMotte, Bailey is drawn into helping Michell with the unfolding mystery. The two scholars find more letters and evidence of a love affair between the poets (with evidence of a holiday together during which – they suspect – the relationship may have been consummated); they become obsessed with discovering the truth. At the same time, their own personal romantic lives – neither of which is satisfactory – develop, and they become entwined in an echo of Ash and LaMotte. The stories of the two couples are told in parallel, with Byatt providing letters and poetry by both of the fictional poets.

Love, whether unacknowledged or returned, physical or platonic, is complicated. The sections of movies, books, and short stories where the arc of the scene showcases true emotional complexity stick with me. I find myself contemplating them long after the story has ended.

In all three literary examples, The Lord of the Rings, Brokeback Mountain, and Possession, it is the interpersonal relationships entwined with the action that illuminates the drama. Action scenes require some sort of emotion to give them context, to shape them into an arc:

  1. Opening, the linking point where we introduce our characters and their situation.
  2. Rising Action, where we introduce complications and emotional responses.
  3. Climax, the high point of the action, the turning point of the scene.
  4. Falling Action, the “what the hell just happened” moment where we regroup.
  5. Closing, in which the problems encountered by the protagonist are resolved as best as can be expected, and we move on to the next scene.

The resolution of one scene is the linking point to the next, the door that takes us further into the story. The dramatic arc of each scene ends at a higher point in the overall story arc.

The emotions surrounding the drama in our literature attracts us, captivates us, keeps us interested. In every story, drama is the moment you, the reader, realize you must take up the hero’s task; you must carry the evil One Ring to Mount Doom.

Drama done well can take the reader from joy to despair to resignation and back to hope within the arc of the scene. This is good pacing and urges the reader to keep turning the page to see what is coming next.

Credits and Attributions:

The Inferential Layer: Drama, © 2019  Connie J. Jasperson (accessed August 16, 2020)

Wikipedia contributors, “Brokeback Mountain (short story),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 24, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Possession (Byatt novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 24, 2019).

The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien, first edition cover, Publisher George Allen & Unwin, © 11 November 1954, Fair Use.

Possession by A.S. Byatt, first edition cover, Publisher Chatto and Windus, © 1990, Fair Use.


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COVID Brain and the Writer #amwriting

The pandemic (and the politics surrounding it) has affected everyone differently, especially in how we go to work, or even if we have a job to go to. For those in my area of Washington State, we first became aware on February 29, 2020, when the first death from coronavirus in the U.S. was reported at Evergreen Health Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington. That was followed by two other confirmed cases in a nursing home in the same city.

Since that day, officials passed down a series of unprecedented orders. They closed down schools, businesses, and restaurants; only takeout and delivery were exempt.

Terrified, newly unemployed people made a run on grocery stores, buying everything they could lay their hands on and stockpiling it.

Stores quickly became large, empty warehouses. People who shopped as they normally did were unable to find such necessary items as soap or toilet paper.

Things have changed and restrictions have loosened a little, but life will never go back to the way it was. Residents are now trying to settle into what has become a new normal, following social distancing guidelines and staying at home as much as possible.

While shopping has returned to a new kind of normal and stores now have most of the basic necessities, life is not returning to what once was ordinary, nor will it ever. Wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing has become de rigueur. In my home state of Washington, these are mandatory.

No shoes, no shirt, no face-mask, no service.

Remote school was a struggle for many parents. Now, for many, their spouse is either laid off or working from home. During the spring, their kids were home-schooled, then summer happened. They ended up with a house full of bored kids and no place open to take them for entertainment.

For those who live in apartments, even most parks are closed. Going for an afternoon walk quickly loses its charm for the average four-year-old.

Unfortunately, in my state of Washington, schools will remain closed through the fall, and online classes will be the norm. This is a disaster for the poorest families, those without access to the internet. The schools provide your child with a Chromebook, but what do they connect it to? And in most really poor families, the parents have no idea how to hook up a computer or use one.

Even parents who are financially better off are trying to keep their children focused and entertained. This, while they attempt to work from home and are once again faced with also trying to educate them.

Zoom meetings are frequently interrupted by toddler tantrums and cats—the way business is done in our new world.

I know several prolific authors whose ability to write has gone out the window. Many people are only now getting back into some sort of schedule.

This is for a variety of reasons. First of all, if you are writing full time, you rely on those quiet hours of the day while the spouse is at work and kids are at school.

For those whose day jobs meant they scrambled to find time for writing, unemployment was a blessing as far as their writing went. They now had time to write and plenty of apocalyptic stories to tell.

However, we who write full time were thrown out of the normal routine and into a world where every day felt like Saturday, but no one would leave the house and just let you get on with your work.

We had what my Texas editor, Irene, calls “COVID Brain.”

If you are one of the many whose ability to think and write has been affected by the way our world has changed, you are not alone.

However, we are adaptable. All those hours of playing Stardew Valley when you should have been writing weren’t wasted. Your mind was resting, taking a break from the craziness.

I am so grateful for the tools that participating in National Novel Writing Month  (NaNoWriMo) every year has given me. If you are struggling to connect two sentences together, here are some thoughts for you:

Writing daily is easier once it becomes a behavioral habit. First, you must give yourself permission to write.

Your perception that it is selfish will be your biggest obstacle. Trust me, it is not asking too much of your family for you to have some time every day that is sacred and dedicated to writing.

You must decide what is more important, your dream of writing that novel, or watching a television show that is someone else’s dream.

Do you want to create, or do you want to be entertained?

Give up that 8:00 p.m. TV show. If you want to create, you must turn off the television or log out of your video game for a certain length of time every day because you’re not writing if you’re playing a game or watching a show.

Trust me about the six hours a day playing Stardew Valley thing.

But you don’t have to give up the things that keep you sane. Do this in baby steps.

You have the right to take an hour in the morning and the evening to use for your own creative outlet. Get up an hour early and write until the time you would usually get up. That will be the quietest time you will have all day.

Write for five minutes here and ten minutes there all day long if that is all you can do around the demands of educating your children and working from home.

Every word, every idea counts toward your finished manuscript. By writing in short bursts whenever you have the opportunity, you are redeveloping the discipline you once had.

Normal has changed. We have had to wrap our heads around this new way of life, but we are adaptable.

For those who are now faced with schooling their children at home, I offer you this YouTube video from Kathryn at Do it on a Dime, which has some useful tips for making their learning time productive and reducing your stress. Toward the end, Kathryn offers some excellent advice, words we all need to hear.

Remote Learning Made Easy


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#FineArtFriday: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1560

Artist: Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Year: c. 1560

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: 73.5 cm × 112 cm (28.9 in × 44 in)

Location: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

The story depicted in this painting, via Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

In Greek mythologyIcarus succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father Daedalus, using feathers secured with beeswax. Ignoring his father’s warnings, Icarus chose to fly too close to the sun, melting the wax, and fell into the sea and drowned. His legs can be seen in the water just below the ship. The sun, already half-set on the horizon, is a long way away; the flight did not reach anywhere near it. Daedalus does not appear in this version of the painting.

The ploughman, shepherd and angler are mentioned in Ovid’s account of the legend; they are: “astonished and think to see gods approaching them through the aether”, which is not entirely the impression given in the painting. The shepherd gazing into the air, away from the ship, may be explained by another version of the composition. In the original work there was probably also a figure of Daedalus in the sky to the left, at which he stares.

There is also a Flemish proverb (of the sort imaged in other works by Bruegel): “And the farmer continued to plough…” The painting may, as Auden’s poem suggests, depict humankind’s indifference to suffering by highlighting the ordinary events which continue to occur, despite the unobserved death of Icarus.

What I love about this painting:

This is a wonderful painting, despite its disputed provenance. Pieter Bruegel the Elder tells us a story bluntly: Icarus flew too close to the sun and the wax holding his wings together melted. He fell into the sea and drowned.

Bruegel’s earthy sense of humor comes to the fore in this painting as it does in his other works depicting Flemish proverbs. Always ready to point out humanity’s failings, the artist makes him look ridiculous showing us only his pale, thrashing legs.

In saying that humankind shouldn’t try to fly too high, Bruegel tells us to stop trying to be what we aren’t. He says that one should be content with one’s place in life.

The controversy surrounding this painting, via Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is a painting in oil on canvas measuring 73.5 by 112 centimetres (28.9 in × 44.1 in) in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels. It was long thought to be by the leading painter of Dutch and Flemish Renaissance paintingPieter Bruegel the Elder. However, following technical examinations in 1996 of the painting hanging in the Brussels museum, that attribution is regarded as very doubtful, and the painting, perhaps painted in the 1560s, is now usually seen as a good early copy by an unknown artist of Bruegel’s lost original, perhaps from about 1558. According to the museum: “It is doubtful the execution is by Bruegel the Elder, but the composition can be said with certainty to be his”, although recent technical research has re-opened the question.

Since its acquisition by the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in 1912, its authenticity has been challenged by several specialists, mainly for two reasons: (i) the relatively weak quality of the painting compared to other Bruegels, although this question is complicated by later overpainting; (ii) it is an oil painting on canvas, an exception in the work of Peter Bruegel the Elder who made all his oil paintings on panel.

In 1963, Philippe Roberts-Jones, curator at the museum, and the Bruegel specialist Georges Marlier, hypothesized that an original panel painting had been later moved onto canvas, as was once common.

In 1998, a mixed team of scientists from the Belgian Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage and the University of Utrecht[7] attempted to solve the authenticity problem by a radiocarbon dating of the canvas that was supposed to be the original support. As mentioned here above, the conclusion of this dating was that P. Bruegel the Elder cannot have painted on this canvas. Later, in 2006, Prof. J. Reisse (Université libre de Bruxelles) challenged this dating on technical grounds.

A sample of blue paint taken from the right edge in 1973 was re-examined by performing analysis such as scanning electron microscopy (SEM) coupled to the energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX), which in connection with optical microscopy revealed the following structure and composition. From bottom to top:

  1. Canvas (from transposition);
  2. Oily lead white (adhesive);
  3. Thick oily layer with azurite (repaint);
  4. Chalk ground;
  5. Oily lead white with scarce particles of charcoal;
  6. Oily blue with azurite;

with layers 4 to 6 being original.

The presence of chalk ground under the original blue proves that this is a panel painting transposed on a canvas. The original blue layer is lead white with azurite containing a few grains of ochre and charcoal. These structure and composition match perfectly those found on other certified panels of Peter Bruegel. Moreover, it is noticeable that the wood charcoal particles are very peculiar, being very long and acicular, exactly the same as those found only in The Census from the same Museum.

Recently, a study of the underdrawing using infrared reflectography has been published.

Reflectography is based on the fact that the infrared light penetrates all colors except black. As a result, the drawing, mostly black, can be made visible. The interpretation of these reflectograms is of course more subjective, but in a global way, the drawing from the Fall of Icarus is not really different from other certified works from Peter Bruegel the Elder. This drawing is generally limited to a layout of the elements. Probably because the thin, weakly covering paint on white ground would hide imperfectly a detailed graphism.

A re-interpretation of the reflectograms in agreement with the other analysis suggested the conclusion that the work in the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels is a panel painting transferred to canvas. The paint layer and maybe also the underdrawing have been severely damaged by this intervention as well as by two more relinings, responsible for the heavy overpainting. In the paint sample remains a fragment with structure and composition matching perfectly the technique of the large panels attributed to Peter Bruegel the Elder. It is therefore unlikely that this version of the Fall of Icarus might be from the hand of a copyist, except perhaps from P. Bruegel the Younger. Conversely, the Van Buuren copy with a different technique cannot be attributed to either Peter Bruegel.

Transfer of panel paintings, via Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia:

The practice of conserving an unstable painting on panel by transferring it from its original decayed, worm-eaten, cracked, or distorted wood support to canvas or a new panel has been practised since the 18th century. It has now been largely superseded by improved methods of wood conservation.

The process is described by Henry Mogford in his Handbook for the Preservation of Pictures. Smooth sheets of paper were pasted over the painted surface of the panel, and a layer of muslin over that. The panel was then fixed, face down, to a table, and the wood planed away from the back until it was “as thin as a plane may safely go”, and the remainder scraped off with a sharp instrument such as a razor. The ground of the painting was then removed by solvents or scraping, until nothing remained but a thin skin of colour, pasted over with paper and held together by the muslin. A prepared canvas was then attached to the back of the paint layer, using the same method as was used for lining pictures. When the glue had dried, the paper and muslin were removed by careful damping.

Credits and Attributions:

“Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” Pieter Brueghel the Elder ca.1558 / Public domain

Wikipedia contributors, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 14, 2020).

Wikipedia contributors, “Transfer of panel paintings,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 14, 2020).


Filed under #FineArtFriday

The Pyramid of Conflict, Tension, and Pacing #amwriting

In any story, the crucial underpinnings of conflict, tension, and pacing are bound together. Go too heavily on one aspect of the triangle, and the story fails to engage the reader. Balance the three, and the story works even if the reader doesn’t care for the writer’s style or the way they write prose.

Scenes involving conflict are controlled chaos—controlled on the part of the author.

Stories that lack conflict are just character studies.

A story that opens with a teenager leaving her parents’ home, angry, then meeting a manager on a bus and being offered a gig as lead guitar player for a big-name band, and ending on that happy note lacks conflict. It is a case of authorly wish-fulfilment.

An angry, naïve teenager and a “successful manager” on a bus…what could possibly go wrong? The roadblocks and obstacles that happen between her leaving home and finally gaining success are conflict, and they are what makes a story more than just a character study.

First, if it is a violent confrontation, there must be a logical reason for the problem. Don’t insert a fight just because you can’t think of any other way to liven things up. Most people have to be pushed into angry confrontations. The emotional triggers that cause them to snap must make sense to a reader and be logical within the established storyline.

Long, drawn-out fight scenes bore me to tears. For that reason, I keep my violence concise and linear.

I’ve read books where the authors focused too firmly on the technical side of the fight. Too many words were spent on how they were dressed, who hit who with what weapon, in minute detail. Yes, these are necessary elements of the scene. Just remember that long paragraphs with too much detail can be confusing to the reader.

Conflict is not only fighting.

Conflict is what keeps the protagonist from achieving their goals. Overcoming the opposition is the reward for sticking with the story.

No one is going to stick with a novel where random, convoluted quarrels and roadblocks happen for no good reason. The most important consideration in plotting conflict is need.

What does the protagonist gain by overcoming it?

Why did it happen?

What is the purpose of injecting that conflict into the narrative?

Let’s look at Billy Ninefingers. Besides the obvious fact that he is seriously injured in the opening fight, which is the core plot point of the book, I had two other goals to accomplish with the inciting incident.

First, I knew one of the fundamental laws of writing; that plausible literary conflict is not random.

For Billy’s plight to be believable, the reader must see that the Bastard is jealous of his success and acts on any thought that passes through his alcohol-soaked mind. Because the conflict is not random, the reader must later be allowed to discover how the Bastard is manipulated, why he’s being used in this way, and by whom.

In the resolution of the initial scene, my intention was to demonstrate that Billy, even with his life in ruins, has a sense of fair-play.

Billy’s resilience, his creativity, and how he overcomes one roadblock after another despite his maimed hand is the story.

In other words, conflict drives and forces the momentum of the story. It must stir emotions in the reader. The reader must feel the sense of justification or sorrow or triumph that the protagonist experiences with each interaction.

Tension is experienced during the build-up to an incident. The resolution of one conflict leads to another, which is resolved and turns into another. In maintaining good tension, the author keeps the pressure on, raising the anxiety by always raising the stakes.

Pacing is the underpinning, the way the scenes are structured. As our narrative follows the arc of the story, our characters experience action and reaction. The story has a feeling of life, almost as if it is breathing. It moves forward, then allows a brief moment where the reader and the protagonist process what just happened, and then it moves forward again. The speed with which these things occur is called “pacing.”

Pacing allows the conflict to continue raising the tension yet gives both the reader and the protagonists a chance to rest between incidents.

One of the most challenging aspects of writing the first draft of any action scene is to ensure that each character remains a unique individual. A blurring of personalities is a problem that occurs when an author focuses too intently on the mechanics, the action and interaction of a scene, writing it as if they lived it.

For the author, acting out the action ensures that the moves are reasonable and make sense. But you aren’t done writing that scene just because the hacking, slashing, and gunshots are on paper.

Tension is heightened as scenes are connected to each other, and more deadlines and showdowns approach. This feeling of subtle anxiety is controlled by pacing.

Thus, the plot of any story is composed of a triangle formed by conflict and tension, set on a foundation of good pacing.

On the positive side, once we get the pacing right, it’s easier to use the conflict to ratchet up the tension.


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Plotting the End #amwriting

Maybe you’re a “pantser,” not a “plotter.” Unlike me, you like to wing it when you write, just let the ideas flow freely. I have “pantsed it” on occasion, and it can be liberating.

For me there comes a point where I realize my manuscript has gone way off track and is no longer fun to write. This is when I must go back and find the point where the story stopped working.

Perhaps you are working on a manuscript you began writing during last year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Maybe you’re 80,000 words in and need to write the final 20,000 words to finish the book. You have a vague idea of how it ends but can’t figure out how to get there.

This is what I am dealing with in regard to two novels right now. One began as a serial published in 2015 – 2016 on Edgewise Words Inn, which was how I discovered that writing and publishing a chapter a week is not my forte. This book has been on hold for several years because of other writing commitments.

The other unfinished business is book one of a duology. I’ve committed to writing the second book in this set before publishing the first. This will ensure the wait time for the second book’s release will be reasonable. Even though the entire story will span two books, this first half must have a finite ending.

It’s at what would be considered the midpoint of the 2-book story arc. The problem has been deciding where in the overall story arc of the duology the ending of book 1 occurs, and how it leads into the action of the opening chapters in the second half.

I have stopped floundering and (literally) cut my losses with both unfinished books. I trimmed both back to the place where they dissolved into chaos. After a lot of writing and rewriting, I have the first three-quarters of both books in good shape. But now I’m suffering from “pandemic brain.” I don’t know what to do or how to bring either story to its intended conclusion.

This isn’t unusual. Fortunately, my years of doing NaNoWriMo have given me some tools for just such an emergency.

The first tool is a sense of balance. Every published novel has entire sections that had to be rewritten at least once before it got to the editing stage.

Much of what you cut out can be recycled, reshaped, and reused, so never just delete weeks of work.

  1. Save everything you cut to a new document, labeled, and dated: “Outtakes_Bleakbourne_rewrite1_08-08-2020.” (that stands for Outtakes, Bleakbourne on Heath, rewrite 1, Aug-08-2020)

Now, we must consider what will be the most logical way to end this mess.

What is the core conflict? For me, a good way to pull the ending out of my subconscious is to revisit the outline I made of the story arc. Fortunately, I have been on top of things in both worlds, so deviations from the original plans have been noted. I’m looking at the current blueprint of both works-in-progress to this point.

The problem I am experiencing now is that I didn’t know exactly where either of these books were going to end when I began writing them, so that part never got plotted. Now I can see how the internal growth of the characters has caused two of them to fundamentally change from what was originally planned. Their personal goals have radically deviated from what I had initially thought.

By seeing the whole picture of the story to this point, I usually find the inspiration to put together the final scenes that I know must happen. Something big and important must be achieved in the final chapters, so for me, pausing to do some more plotting and loose outlining is crucial to writing a logical sequence of events.

I sit down with a notebook (or in my case a spreadsheet) and make a list of what events must occur between the place where the plot was derailed and the end. This is just a list of chapters with the keywords for each scene noted.

Once I have refreshed my memory with what has gone before and made a few notes as ideas occur to me, I start a new document and save it with a name that clearly denotes that it’s a worksheet for that novel.

HA_Final_Chpts_Worksheet_08-08-2020 (Heaven’s Altar, final chapters worksheet, and the date)

At first, the page is only a list of  headings that detail the events I must write for each chapter. I know what end I have to arrive at, but the chapter headings are pulled out of the ether, accompanied by the howling of demons as I force my plot to take shape:

  • Chapter – Sunhammer revealed/swearing the vows of protection
  • (and so on until the last event)

You’ll note that while the word chapter is there, and a rudimentary title, there are no numbers. I don’t number my chapters until the third draft is complete, although I do head each section with the word “chapter” written out, so it is easy to find with a global search. The titles will disappear, or be changed, depending on which series it is.

This is because in my world, first drafts are not written linearly. For me, things change structurally with each rewrite. It’s less confusing if the numbers are only put in when the manuscript is finalized.

I begin writing details that pertain to the section beneath each chapter heading as they occur to me. Once that list is complete, those sketchy details get expanded on and grow into complete chapters, which I then copy and paste into the manuscript.

When I begin designing the ending, it’s as challenging and yet easy as plotting the opening scenes. I go back to the basics and ask the same questions I asked in the beginning.

It’s a good idea to have a separate worksheet that lists each character and contains notes detailing what they wanted at the beginning. That way you can see how that has changed by the events they have experienced.

  1. What do the characters want now that they have achieved a significant milestone?
  2. What will they have to sacrifice next?
  3. What stands in the way of their achieving the goal?
  4. Do they get what they wanted in the end, or do their desires evolve away from that goal when new information is presented?

When I’m forced to do a lot of rewriting, I never delete anything. Everything we write should be kept in a file labeled “outtakes.”

Don’t be afraid to rewrite what isn’t working. Save everything you cut, because I guarantee you will want to reuse some of that prose later, at a place where it makes more sense.

Not having to reinvent those useful sections will significantly speed things up, which is why I urge you to save them with a file name that clearly labels them as background or outtakes.

Something we all suffer from is the irrational notion that if we wrote it, we have to keep it, even though it no longer fits.

Let’s be honest. No amount of rewriting and adjusting will make a scene or chapter work if it’s no longer needed to advance the story. If the story is stronger without that great episode, cut it.

What you have written but not used in the finished novel is a form of world-building. It contributes to the established canon of that world and makes it more real in your mind.

Use it as fodder for a short story or novella set in that world. This is how prolific authors end up with so many short stories to make into compilations. It’s useful to know that every side-quest not used in the final manuscript can quickly be made into a short story.


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#FineArtFriday: A Back Road, by Childe Hassam 1884 (reprise)

We have been talking about world-building all this week. World-building can be a challenge at times. Some days, we need a visual boost to get our minds working. Historical fiction and fantasy authors have a marvelous resource in the images of great art that has been compiled and is available for viewing on Wikimedia Commons.

For instance, if you want to know what a road looked like to travelers before the advent of blacktop and concrete made the modern freeways and highways possible, turn to art.

The above painting by Frederick Childe Hassam, shows what a good road looked like.  It goes across the land, cut into the earth by the travelers who use it. Along the better roads, such as this one, ditches were dug to enable drainage.

No bridge crosses the small creek–travelers must cross the water on foot or in the wagon. In winter it becomes a mushy, muddy track, and in summer it’s sun baked and hard. In spring, the grass grows green, making it a pleasant place.

A Back Road (1884) was painted in his early years, while Hassam was still influenced by the works of William Morris Hunt, who like the great French landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, emphasized the Barbizon tradition of working directly from nature.

From Wikipedia: In 1885, a noted critic, in part responding to Hassam’s early oil painting A Back Road (1884), stated that “the Boston taste for landscape painting, founded on this sound French school, is the one vital, positive, productive, and distinctive tendency among our artists today…the truth is poetry enough for these radicals of the new school. It is a healthy, manly muscular kind of art.”

I like the composition of this piece, the way the land is larger than the sky. The grass feels damp and the clouds herald more spring rain–this painting has life.

In his later years, Hassam moved away from realism and became known as one of the best of the American impressionists.

Credits and Attributions:

A Back Road, Childe Hassam 1884 [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Childe Hassam,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed April 6, 2018).


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World-building, part 2: building reality #amwriting

When I write a world that my characters might live in, I want to express more than merely the sights, the sounds, and the smells. I want to convey the emotions that place evokes for me, the author.

The fact is, unless we are there physically, other places don’t really exist for us. For this reason, the only world that really exists in this incarnation is the space we physically occupy as individuals.

The only true reality is the space we can see, hear, smell, and touch. This is our setting, the world in which our life story plays out.

In literary terms, what is setting? It is the environment your characters live and interact with. It is scenery, topography, plants, and animals. The setting is also comprised of a place in time, defined by an era, or a level of technology.

These aspects of the setting are crucial to making a story real to a reader. However, if they are shown as unconnected elements, this setting lacks something. We must inject these elements with the indefinable fantasy thingamajig we call atmosphere.

Perhaps you experience a sense of longing when remembering a particular place.  For me, one place represents a feeling of home and lingers in my heart. When I am writing in my fictional world, I am drawing on the memory of that long-ago place.

That lost time and place has a hold on my emotions and is made brighter and shinier by the false lighting of memory. This is why, despite the fact my childhood home is a real place, it is also a fantasy.

A reader’s perception of a setting’s reality is affected by emotions they aren’t even aware of. We must give the reader something they can subliminally recognize, something they can relate to. We need to convey a sense of familiarity to a place the reader has never been.

“Familiar” does not mean safe or comforting. It means the elements of the environment are recognizable on a subconscious level, something the reader can understand without having experienced it, or being bluntly told.

This is why I draw maps. If your characters must do any traveling in a fantasy world, you probably should make a rudimentary map. The map is my indispensable tool for keeping my story straight.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. All that is required is a pencil sketch showing a few lines for roads and the general location of any cities or topographical features that come into the story.

When your characters are traveling great distances, they may pass through villages on their way, and if these places figure in the events of the book, they should be noted on the map. This prevents you from:

  • accidentally naming a second village the same name later in the manuscript
  • misspelling the town’s name later in the narrative
  • forgetting where the characters were in chapter four

Perhaps the land itself will impede your characters. If geologic features are pertinent to the story, you will want to note their location on your map so that you don’t contradict yourself if your party must return the way they came:

  • rivers
  • swamps
  • mountains
  • hills
  • towns
  • forests
  • oceans

Even if your work is wholly set on a space station/ship, consider making a floor plan.

My novel, Billy Ninefingers, is set almost entirely in a wayside inn. I made a drawing of the floorplan for my purposes because that is the world in which the story takes place.

In the narrative, if you are writing fantasy, I suggest you keep the actual distances mushy because some readers will nitpick the details, no matter how accurate you are. Yes, you wrote it, but they don’t see it the way you do.

Using medieval distances won’t help, because they’re not concrete—a league might be three miles or one and a half, depending on the country and era. Some readers will argue that their version of a league is the only real version and blah blah blah….

When it comes to creating reality on paper, a perception of familiarity is everything. Use your memory to visualize the scenery:

Imagine the surface of a pond. On a windless day, the pool will be calm, still. The sky and any overhanging trees will be reflected in it.

Add in a storm, and things change. The waters move. Ripples and small waves stir the surface, which now only reflects the dark gray of the stormy sky.

Atmosphere is the part of a world that is created by colors, scents, ambient sounds, and how the visuals are shown. It is visual and tied to the setting, but the perception of it is affected by the moods and emotions of the characters.

From the first paragraph of a story, we want to use the setting to establish a feeling of atmosphere, the general mood that will hint at what is to come.

We do this by employing lighter or darker descriptions. A dark, gloomy setting created by “weighted words” establishes an ominous atmosphere, which will be reflected in the mood of your characters.

I think of “weighted words” as those with strong descriptive power, and which don’t need a lot of support from adjectives and adverbs to convey their intensity.

Lighter words will create an atmosphere that feels brighter.

We have mentioned before that while the two terms, mood and atmosphere, are usually used as synonyms, they are different from each other. In literature, mood refers to the internal feelings and emotions of an individual as often as it does the overall atmosphere of a piece. The term atmosphere is always associated with a setting.

Many sci-fi and fantasy novels are set in real-world environments. The settings are familiar, so close to what we know, that readers have no trouble accepting that world.

I love books where the author’s gift for world-building creates a layer of reality I can immediately “fall” into. Setting, action, interaction—these most obvious components combine to showcase the more profound aspects of the story.

I have been returning to the works of other authors to see how they create their worlds, how they choose words to build a setting and create atmosphere and mood.

Some of their tricks work, and some not so much, but I keep reading and learning. By figuring out what didn’t work for me in a novel, I hope to avoid those mistakes in my own work.


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World-building, part 1: Place #amwriting

My novel, Mountains of the Moon, was born in 2008. It began life as a storyline for an anime-based RPG that never went past planning into production. The original title was Neveyah, named after the world in which it was set.

MOTM is set in an alternate universe and takes place in an environment that was ground zero for a war between gods. As a result of that battle, the gods were prohibited from acting directly against each other and must now act through their people.

When the story opens, the World of Neveyah has been recovering for a thousand years.

I had created the maps for the role-play game, so before I began writing Wynn’s story as a novel, I knew the topography of his world.

Of course, I got distracted and wrote Tower of Bones, a story set two generations later before I finished MOTM, but that’s how writing works for me.

I went to science to see how long it takes for an environment to recover from cataclysmic events. I took my information from a place I live a two-hour drive away from, the Channeled Scablands of Washington State. This vast desert area is  comprised of the scars of a natural disaster that occurred around 18,000 years ago.

From Wikipedia: The Cordilleran Ice Sheet dammed up Glacial Lake Missoula at the Purcell Trench Lobe.[10] A series of floods occurring over the period of 18,000 to 13,000 years ago swept over the landscape when the ice dam broke. The eroded channels also show an anastomosing, or braided, appearance.

I had to first build and then destroy the ecology for the game. All RPG players will tell you that a hazardous environment and correspondingly dangerous creatures are a core part of a game’s story. Hazards present threats the protagonist must learn to coexist with. Overcoming and surviving danger raises a player’s skills and strength.

That concept of personal growth through action is a feature of all adventure stories.

Thanks to that year of prep-work on the game, when I began writing the book, all the hard work was done. Many hours of work and years of writing is why the world seems so solid from the opening paragraphs.

When we first brainstormed the idea of writing a fun, yet deep and meaningful story and making a computer game out of it, my partner had two requests. He wanted the central character to be under a curse. Also, he wanted Wynn’s arc to take him from the most naïve, sheltered twenty-year-old ever to walk the planet, to a strong adult capable of making a difference in a world that could sometimes be a terrible place.

So, with those requests in mind, I sat down and wrote a 3500-word outline of events, and answered as many questions about the world as I could think of at the time:

  • What is the name (and the meaning of that name) of the worlds involved in the character’s journey?
  • Who are Gods involved, and what is the core of their conflict?
  • This is a portal story, so where was my protagonist, Wynn Farmer, when the story opened? Why was he unaware of the portal before he fell through, and why wouldn’t it take him back to his world?
  • Where was he at the end of the opening chapter? How did the air feel? What scents and odors were common to that place?

Blue camas and wild mustard on the Violet Prairie, Tenino Washington, in May 2014

The world of Neveyah is an alien environment, yet it’s extremely familiar to me. I based the plants and topography on the world I live in, the Pacific Northwest. The plants and geography are directly pulled from the forested hills and farmlands of Southern Puget Sound and Western Washington State.

Who did he meet (Jules Brendsson)? What did he see, and how did that meeting go?

When he realized he couldn’t go home, how did Wynn react to his new environment?

It was written as a game, so the environment plays a part in the characters’ learning curve. Coping with it is how the characters “level up” or grow in strength. While Wynn didn’t expect to fall into Neveyah, Jules had been sent specifically to meet and instruct him in the use of magic. Wynn and Jules must walk from the meeting place to a town.

As they are walking, Jules must get to know Wynn and teach him how to use a form of magic. What does Jules think about his student? Looking through Wynn’s eyes, what does he see in each scene?

This is where atmosphere comes into world-building, something we’ll go into detail about on Wednesday.

On this original world-building document, I wrote every detail I could think of, from the largest and most dangerous creatures down to the insects. Over the next four years, as I wrote the novel, I added to it whenever I thought of something new.

In the process of building the world that Wynn Farmer fell into, his storyline began to write itself.

The act of designing the immediate scenery builds the entire world in your mind. I go with the familiar, with some strange twists thrown in for fun.

You might tell me that you can’t picture a place you haven’t been to. But what does that really mean?

Sunset on Cannon Beach, August 2019

Open your eyes and look around. At this moment you have all the elements you need to create an alien or alternate world. These elements could exist before your eyes, or they exist in your memory.

Use what you know, reshape it, reuse it, and make it yours.

Everyone has a place they want to be more than anywhere else. For me, one place on earth represents my serenity, my creative happy place, and it exists in the real world but is a four-hour drive from my home.

Yet, when I need to, I can pull that place up in my mind. By visualizing my summer retreat, I recharge my serenity-batteries.

Open a new document, one that will be your world-building work sheet. What kind of place seems to build itself in your mind? This is an environment you are mentally connected to. In writing that that place, it will flow from you and convey itself to the reader. Write down the sights, smells, and the emotions you experience when thinking about it.

Perhaps it is a real place, and maybe you experience a sense of longing when remembering that place. If so, write how it makes your physical self feel.

This the point where cosmology and human nature intersect to create atmosphere, and we will continue this discussion on Wednesday.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Channeled Scablands,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed August 1, 2020).

All images and maps used in this post are the creation and intellectual property of Connie J. Jasperson.


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