Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Scraps from the Cutting Rooom Floor

"How do you know he didn't eat the horse's soul?" Lyta asked, looking back at the wreckage of the ruined cart.
"Because you don't do that to a friend," said Jasper, tension creeping into his voice.
She looked back at him. "What about Bess?"
He grimaced. "Bess made a bargain -- a stupid one."
Lyta's lips curved into a pout. She was obviously uncomforted by this response.
"And stop looking at me like that. I'm your husband, not a beast," he snapped.
Her eyes went wide and her lip trembled. Before Jasper could say anything else, she leaned in close and kissed him. "I love you," she whispered.

A similar note on writing alcohol

While we are at it, I have some similar thoughts on the subject of alcohol in books.

To be clear: I have drunk very little alcohol in my life. Everything I know, I learned from talking to other people or just doing a bit of research on the internet. So I am no expert! Even so, I often see authors (especially aspiring ones) make some funny mistakes with the characters' alcohol.

The most common mistake, which I have seen many different times from different authors, is for a relatively high-class character relaxing with a glass of randomly-selected alcohol (say, a light desert wine,) to chug it all, giving a theatric grimace of pain.

So much no.

1. The only time down large quantities of alcohol all at once is if they are trying to get drunk as quickly as possible. If so, the alcohol is probably cheap and crappy and your character is not particularly high class. This may be how people act at frat parties, but it is not how people who can afford expensive drinks generally approach alcohol.

So how do they drink?

In general, most people drink by, well, drinking. Same as you might sip a cup of tea or have a glass of juice with a meal. A glass of wine is sipped; a shot of whiskey is savored. Depending on the situation, your character might not even get drunk.

"But wait," I hear you saying, "Isn't whiskey one of those alcohols people chug, because it tastes so bad?"

Look, I think whiskeys and scotches taste absolutely awful, even the fancy Japanese ones. But people who actually drink these things assure me that they find the flavor pleasant, and I have never seen anyone chug expensive whiskey and then sit there grimacing. Think about it: why would you pay $150 for something you find unpleasant?

Which leads me to number two...

2. Not all alcohols are the same. A dinner wine is not vodka and is drunk under different circumstances. Scotch is not beer. Pick the alcohol that is appropriate to your character and the situation; don't just pick at random.

On a related note, if you have never been to a club or bar, I recommend visiting one or at least talking to someone who has visited one before writing about them, as ignorance in this department will show.

Happy writing, my friends!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Apron Tuesday

Servant from Bordeaux, the Guyenne region of France.

But what I would like to know is how her hat stays up.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I don't like Napoleon

One of the things I have discovered in my researches of all things French Revolution-related is that I really don't like Napoleon.
Despite my dislike of murderers, this wasn't necessarily a given--I regard Genghis Khan as little more than a force of history, after all.
But Napoleon--Napoleon grates. After all, this is a man whose selfies look like this:

And here's a portrait of his son, who apparently has the power of magically not peeing on expensive sofas:

That's his second wife. He divorced his first for the crime of infertility.

And then, of course, he did this to his own army:

I'm sure everyone he invaded wasn't to keen on him, either.

And this was the end of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity?

*Shakes head in disgust and walks away.*

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saint Teresa of Avila

By François Pascal Simon, Baron Gérard.

Just loving books is not enough; they have to mean something.

So I've noticed that a great many of the books I've read lately have MCs who really like books. This seems especially true of literary novels--The Book Thief and People of the Book come obviously to mind--but plenty of genre novels have 'em, too. Heck, one of my main characters likes books so much, he went out and bought himself a printing press, so I guess I'm really not one to talk on this score.

As a friend pointed out, this isn't terribly surprising, as the people who write books tend to also like books, and people often write characters who are like themselves.

Unfortunately, some of these book-loving characters just make me roll my eyes.

Since I don't generally object to people liking books, I started trying to figure out why I object to some book-lovin' characters and not others, and here it is:

Your character's love of books needs to tell me more about your character than just that they love books. Just loving books is not enough. Sure, your MC likes books. So does mine. So did the MCs of the last 5 books I read. So does pretty much everybody I know in real life. "Likes books" does not distinguish your character from my mother or next door neighbor. It is simply not enough.

Which books does your MC like? Do they desperately devour anything they can get their hands on, including moldy books they dug out of the garbage? Do they only read Christian Inspiration? Or do they prefer Enlightenment philosophers? Do they absolutely hate something they had to read for school? Or perhaps there is just one book that means a lot to them, like a dog-eared copy of "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret."

At the very least, the books your character reads should match the character you're describing. For example, if you are writing a contemporary novel with a teenage MC who really likes books, then I expect your MC to read a lot of contemporary YA--books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Twilight, etc. If your teenage MC doesn't like YA, that in itself says something about their personality.

I recently read a contemp in which the teenage MC supposedly liked books, but the only book she actually liked was a "classic" adult novel. The effect felt forced; my suspension of disbelief was broken. I can believe that a teen who voraciously read anything she got he hands on would also like many classics. I'm not going to believe that a teenager who is depicted as interested in only one book in the entire novel is the kind of teenager who would love classic literature.

Rather, the whole business felt like the author attempting to say, "Look, my character is so smart! She loves books!" and then just picking whatever book the teenager might reasonably have encountered for her to love, because obviously a book-loving person will love every book that comes their way.

Let me tell you a little secret about really smart people who like books: they tend to hate a lot of books.

When you're a voracious reader, you develop tastes. And you encounter things you absolutely hate.

For example, I hated Paradise Lost. Personally, I'd much rather read Homer than Milton. That's just me; you're of course allowed to hate Homer and love Milton. I also hated Hawthorne; my husband liked Hawthorne. Oh well.

The character who just loves whatever book they happen to come across feels shallow and incomplete. It sets them apart from the sorts of people who don't like books, yes, but is that really your chief concern?

Let the character's choice in books mean something.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Experiment with a Leyden Jar

The Leyden jar is lined inside and out with metal, allowing it to hold an electric charge. The knob at the top of the jar can make electric sparks, or in this case, shock the experimenter.

Thus, Leyden jars were the first capacitors.

An array of Leyden jars, called a "battery" due to their resembling an artillery battery of cannons, became the first, well, battery.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Intervention of the Sabine Women

Sometimes you just wonder, "Why are there so many butts in this painting?"

The Intervention of the Sabine Women, also by Jacques-Louis David, 1799. (That'd be before his paintings of Napoleon.) He intended it to follow a series by Poussin, The Abduction of the Sabine Women, 1635:

and the Rape of the Sabine Women,1638

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Friday, March 13, 2015

Napoleon's Coronation

As long as we're discussing Napoleon, here's his coronation, as painted by Jacques-Louis David.

To be frank, I think Napoleon looks atrocious in all of his coronation garb:

The story goes that when it was time for the Pope to crown Napoleon, he unexpectedly got up, picked up the crown, and crowned himself, then Josephine.

Then of course he went and threw the entire French army into the Russian winter, thereby killing nearly all of his supporters.

And this pathetic tragedy the outcome of what had begun as the French Revolution against monarchy and autocracy.

Rest in Peace, Terry Pratchett

You were a big part of my life. I loved your books, every one that I read, and that's a lot. The whole world will miss you.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

In the land of the blind...

Thomas Vireloque, by Gavarni, 1860. A one eyed man dressed in rags, spectacles on his forehead.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Empess Josephine and Child

I believe this is a child being presented to Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. (She does not look to me like Napoleon's later wife, whose hair was a shade lighter, but you never know.) From the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco.

(I cropped the picture because a great deal of it was empty walls above their heads; the room they are sitting in is very tall.)

How quickly the fashions changed from the enormous dresses and hairstyles of the late 1700s to the simplified lines of the "empire" waisted gowns!

I do wonder who the child was.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Apron Tuesday

That hat! Her hood! Those shoes!

Lithograph by Auguste Bry, 1840.

Vladimir and Rogneda

Anton Losenko, Vladimir and Rogneda

The tale behind the painting: Prince Vladimir, having conquered Novgorod, asked for Princess Rogneda's hand in marriage, but she refused. Enraged, he conquered her city, killed her family, and married her by force.

Anton Losenko painted the scene as an assignment given to students of the Imperial Academy of Arts, in 1769. He was awarded the position of adjunct professor for this painting.

Personally, I find the sceen a little over-acted, but as I understand it, the prince is supposed to be having a moment of realization where he recognizes the horror he has caused and feels some true, deep emotion for Rogneda. I'm not really buying the idea of Vladimir suddenly realizing he's done wrong, but I do think it's a pretty painting anyway. (I suspect the color balance may be a little off, though; often it's hard for photographs to adequately capture the true colors of the originals.)

Now that I think of it, this seems like the kind of painting that's ripe for captioning.

Amber is Basically a Terrible Person (Another scrap)

Amber's jewel-encrusted goblet clunked against the table as Jasper entered her chamber. He attempted his most artful bow, but her glare remained as cold as the December wind which whistled through a half-open window. "And to what do I owe this inconvenience?" she asked in a voice like ice.
Jasper gathered his resolve and drew a silver box from beneath his cloak. "I have a favor to ask you." His fingers trembled as he set the box before his sister, almost knocking over her goblet. He backed away.
Curiosity widened her eyes, and Amber flicked open the silver lid. "A knife?" She drew the blade from its velvet bedding. Light from the window glinted on its razor-sharp edge, and her eyes turned hard again. "What favor?"
Jasper pushed the hair away from his good ear and tugged at its pointed tip. "I request that you cut off the top of my ear for me, so they'll match." His other ear had been cut long ago, almost as small as a human's.
Amber examined the knife, weighing the balance in her hand. "Why?"
He glanced away from her. For an instant he almost reconsidered. But even Wilgefortis had commented on his ears. "There is a lass -- "
Her laughter cut him short. Amber leaned against the table, tears glinting in the corners of her eyes. When she recovered, she smiled slyly and asked, "What of your little narwhal?"
He shrugged. "I doubt she likes me."
Her fingertips danced along the blade. "And yet you fancy this one does?"
Jasper bristled. "It's hardly your concern."
"Then why have you come to me?"
"Because you hate me enough to do it."
Amber met his eyes. She made no effort to contradict his statement. "You know the geis on our blood. If I harm you, I feel your pain."
He shrugged.
She considered the knife, gently pressing the blade against the pad of her thumb. "You are quite certain of this."
He nodded, the words frozen in his throat.
Amber crossed the gap between them and grasped his ear. The knife flashed.
Lyta --
Pain shot through Jasper's head. He tried to muffle his scream with his fists as he sank to the marble floor. He fumbled for a wad of gauze in his pocket and shoved it against his bleeding ear. Ow.
Amber stared down at him, contempt on her lips. She toyed with the bloody knife. "Huh. The geis doesn't work."
Jasper squeezed his ear, barely able to think. "The geis is fine. You're not my blood."
The knife clattered to the floor. "You..." Amber snatched it back up and grabbed Jasper's hair, forcing his chin up. The blade tore against his skin. "Breathe a word of this, and I swear on my crown I'll cut your throat."
Jasper began laughing deliriously as red droplets pricked his neck. "I have no wish to die before I am even wed, my sister."
Amber withdrew in disgust and tossed the knife onto the table. "You're bleeding on my floor." She gestured toward the door. "Out."
Jasper dragged himself off the floor, still smarting. He hadn't time to mope over his ear -- his grain shipment had been delayed, and he needed to find out why before it all disappeared into the pockets of some thieving official. Before someone starved.
"You're wasting your time." Amber's voice followed him into the hall. "She won't have you."

I like this scene, but I decided to cut it because the whole business with the ear and the geiss and realizing they weren't really siblings was just too complicated.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Around the World with Art: Belgium

Arnolfini marriage portrait by Van Eyck.

Triptych of Mary and Child

The Madonna in the Church

The Annunciation

Statue of the Van Eyck brothers in Ghent.

I am rather fond of Van Eyck's work, probably because the Arnolfini Portrait is featured prominently in my art history classes. Also, that angel's wings are pretty awesome.


I'm honestly not too sad to see this one go, but just in case you were wondering how Jasper's tournament turned out:

The next morning's events began with archery. Lady Madeleine's brothers -- important students of the military school -- were introduced with great dignity and fanfare; then the rest of the lists were read. A ripple of disbelief spread through the crowd as Jasper's name was called. A quick commotion ensued as the Master of the Tourney stepped onto the dais to confer with the Keeper of the Lists. After much hushed haranguing, he resumed reading.
Jasper took up his bow, feeling Madeleine's brothers' keen eyes upon him. They were massive men, raven-haired and curly-horned, and yet they moved with a easily. They pinched their noses as Jasper passed.
He marched up to the line beside the others, took aim, and bitter shame spread across his cheeks as his first arrow flew wide. His second flew better than the first -- it manage at least to strike the target -- and his third, by some miracle, nearly found its mark. Not too terrible, he reflected, as the next archer took his place. In the end he did not do well enough to attract attention nor poorly enough to attract scorn, except in the eyes of Madeleine's brothers.
The herald announced pairs for the next event, wrestling. Jasper's distress at being paired against Madeleine's elder brother Serge was only outweighed by Serge's.
"This is an outrage," he complained to the Tourney Master. "I cannot fight him." The Master gave Jasper a sidelong glance. "I understand your situation, but the rules of the tourney are clear. If you concede, the match will be awarded to your opponent."
Serge huffed and stomped back. He stripped off his shirt and glared at Jasper. "Let's go."
Jasper swallowed and shed his own shirt. This was not a contest he could win.
Serge circled. Jasper tried to keep his back to the ropes. What had possessed him to enter the lists? He hadn't the least training in hand-to-hand combat, and Madeleine's brother was easily twice his weight.
The larger man charged, feinted, and as Jasper failed at ducking, he discovered his one bit of luck: Serge could not bear the thought of touching him.
Jasper charged, intending to flatten his opponent. Serge's arm shot out and Jasper found himself flat on his back. A knee dug into his chest.
Jasper winced and raised his hands against the magical field that held him down. "That's cheating."
"Shut up, dirt clod, or I'll hit you for real."
Lord Miacha ended the count, and Jasper was allowed to rise.

Not well. Not very well.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

There is no cure for a sour mood like writing to one's heart's content.

And no cause for a sour mood quite like having something to write, and being forced to wait.

Clips from the Cutting Room Floor

Lady Madeleine's arrival later that week threw Jasper's customary brooding into disarray.
Lord Miacha entertained his newest guests with jousting, an aquatic ballet, and a stag hunt, which Jasper declined to attend. But Lady Madeleine seemed not to mind, laughing with him at dinner and even accompanying him on his rambles through the woods. His favorite waterfall she declared a place of divine splendor, and he resolved to prove himself a worthy and not terribly anti-social husband.
Lady Madeleine's brothers were expected in the next few days, and a tournament of skill and daring was planned to welcome them.
"What do you mean you're entering the tourney?" Jade stared at him, the thread she was trying to pick out of her sampler momentarily forgotten.
Jasper paced the library, hands behind his back. "There's a trial of skill tomorrow, and I thought -- "
"You need skills to enter a trial of skills."
"I can shoot," he replied, indignant.
"Badly." Jade returned to her thread, freeing with the point of her needle.
"There's no sense in trying to talk me out of it," he said. "I've already added my name to the lists. It would be shameful to recant."
"You will put the other contenders in an awkward position," she said, sewing again. "They cannot risk harming the king's favorite, but you are not skilled enough to hold your own. Your presence shall ruin the games."
"Am I really such an imposition on everyone?"
Jade sighed and put down her needle to pick out another thread. "Yes."

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Clips From the Cutting Room Floor

Jasper sat atop the carriage, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Rob and Tom sat beside him, driving the horses. The fire had prompted the king to move his court to their summer estate.
Jasper sighed. "It's just too good to be true."
"You sound like your sister," said Rob.
"Amber's a very intelligent person." He leaned back to stare at the sky. "It's just..."
"You're in love with that human."
"Yes." Jasper closed his eyes. Lyta shimmered, smiling up at him as they twirled in the darkness. He pressed a hand against his side, where she had tried to heal him. "I love her." It was a relief to feel the words on his tongue, even as the horrible situation closed in on his heart.
"And you feel guilty for considering Lady Marine."
"I cannot love both."

Friday, March 6, 2015

Around the World with Art: Belarus

Archbishop Stanislaw Jan Siestrzencewicz Bohusz, painted by Jonas Damelis, (Jan Krzysztof Damel.)

Damelis was born in Latvia, but did much of his artistic work in Belarus.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Ahasuerus, Haman, and Esther, by Rembrandt.

Queen Esther has just told King Ahasuerus about Haman's plan to wipe out the Jewish people--including herself. The king is not pleased.

Around the World with Art: Barbados

Stone culture carved in pumice by a member of the Saladoid people, Barbados.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Apron Tuesday

A Basque woman from the Valley of Baigirry, from Costumes of the French Pyrenees by J. Johnson and J. D. Harding. Published circa 1831.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Losing The War by Lee Sandlin

Some interesting thoughts, observations, and reflections on WWII.

Apparently this is the first time I've tagged anything "WWII."