Art is in the Knockers

currently playing on my iPod: Can’t Take It In by Imogen Heap

Got your attention with that title, didn’t I?

Last week I traipsed about Italy and France with my dear husband. The art was overwhelming. As it always is. But the art I enjoyed most were pieces that peeked from shadowed alleys and appeared when I least expected them, lost down a cobblestoned arm of the beast that is Venice’s pathways. I found them in Vatican City, Rome, Florence, and Paris too.

I’m talking about door knockers.

Mythological references. Beautiful faces. Flora and fauna. Whimsy. The brass entry pieces hint at the personalities of individuals who first lived in the townhomes, apartments, and houses of these old cities.

Here are a few that show evidence of nature. They are derivatives of the mythological Green Man, a face, usually of leaves, that represents the earth, spring, or renewal. The first shows pine cones, which, because of their perfect Fibonacci sequence layout, symbolize enlightenment. (There’s a big one in the Vatican that they supposedly nabbed from the top of the Pantheon. Not sure if that’s been confirmed. There’s also a pine cone on the Pope’s staff.) You can also see leaves and maybe a flower shooting from the first guy’s noggin. He is nature. The second knocker is more ocean themed. He has gills at the sides of his face, a shell adorning his head, and his mustache appears to scroll out and become waves. He is the sea. The third also references nature in the leaves sprouting from the small person’s head. Don’t you love the look on his little face? All of these are meant to remind us of our connection to the earth and the ocean.

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The first one below shows a satyr of sorts with a cheeky grin. Look at the detail in his beard and the fabric draped around his neck and shoulders. His neighbor is a more traditional-looking knocker, but it reminded me of a torc. A torc was jewelry worn around the neck or as a bracelet, and some were very important to the wearer. The bronze, gold, silver, or copper piece was reputed to give its wearer power in battle, amongst other things.

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These four feature what I believe are lions. Lions are featured regularly in heraldry. (Some would argue many lions in heraldry are meant to be leopards, but that is an entirely different subject.) The beast represented nobility, courage, strength, and the unwillingness to attack unless provoked. Handsome fellas, aren’t they?

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The man below stumps me. With his quirky bald head and googly eyes, I’m not sure if he is meant to be someone who actually lived in Venice (that’s where I found more than half of these) or simply a fun fellow to grin at when you get home from rowing your boat around. The woman may be the representation of a goddess or simply a beautiful lady. Her hair tie boasts leaves and grapes, indicating fertility. The angelic piece at the bottom is from the door leading out of the cupola stairs in St. Peter’s. It’s always interesting to see the blend of Pagan and Christian. This looks like Cupid, Venus’s son, if I’m not mistaken, and here he is looking solemn and ready for prayer in the most famous holy place in Christendom. I love his detailed features and the contrast between his youthful cheeks and his serious eyes.

 

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Which one is your favorite? And if anyone who stumbles across this blog knows more than I do about these, please correct me and/or share your thoughts. I love to learn!

 

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Writing a Main Character Who Is Just SO BAD

currently playing on my iPod: I See the Light by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi 

I don’t have buckets of time today. Very soon, I’m once again off to lands far beyond the sea and am wondering where I can get a sheet of butcher paper for my massive to-do list. Anyhoo, I have two historical bad girls that are demanding I write their stories NOW. They are bad. But also good. But mostly bad. So how does one go about writing a naughty main character?

1. Watch Breaking Bad and make good use of the writer’s technique.

To keep Reader from tsking your MC and tossing your book into the trash, you must take Reader through your MC’s downward spiral. If Reader sees the REALISTIC, BELIEVABLE, albeit bad choices, the MC makes, Reader will be much more apt to follow MC down their naughty path. Reader wants to look at MC’s actions and think, “It’s not a good thing to do, but I get why she did it. I might’ve done the same.”

2. Give us some good.

Show MC saving the cat. *If you haven’t read Save the Cat, google that awesomeness and get on it.

3. Plan that ending.

If Reader gets to the end and MC hasn’t learned how to overcome their ugly side, or hasn’t shown how sorry they are that everything went to poo-poo because of their ugly side, Reader will be very unhappy. At least in my genre. (YA Fantasy) You must evaluate your audience and develop an ending that will live up to their expectations regarding good vs. evil.

That’s all I have time for today! I hope this starts you down the path to writing MCs who are SO BAD, they’re good!

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In Writing, as In Life, Don’t Rule Anything Out

currently playing on my iPod: Sadrang by Niyaz

Do you have critique partners? If not, you should. This is not a post about that.

Do you put your manuscript away for a few months before coming back to revise it one more time? Do it. This is not a post about that either.

Are you going to workshops/conventions/watchingyoutube/readingblogs about craft? Put it high on your list of to-dos. This isn’t a post about learning.

“So what’s it about, woman?” you ask.

It’s about improving your story through unconventional methods. 

About a month ago, my kids, nine and six, (those are ages, not names—I didn’t get all Divergent on you there) begged to read my young adult fantasy about a sailor turned treasure hunter. I finally agreed to read it to them, one chapter at a time, at bedtime, thinking, Aw, this is cute.

But it was more than cute. WAY MORE.

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Not only did I get to hear my chapters aloud, listening for rhythm and overlong sentences, but I also snagged two fresh takes on my characters’ actions.

Children, being brutally honest and unencumbered with writing dos and don’ts, asked simple, basic questions such as why the MC didn’t run right when she saw the bad guy’s ship. They quizzed me on how a secondary character felt in a certain scene where that character was pretty much ignored. They said if the MC was nice, she would’ve noticed that and done something. My kids also brought up fatigue, claiming if they had been through all of that, they would’ve fallen asleep in their paprika chicken dumplings.

My point is this: Reach far, far out for feedback and inspiration. Not only did I reevaluate character motivations and actions due to my kids’ questions, but I was also motivated to finish revisions in order to read to them nightly.

Not everyone has a captive audience (aka immediate family) to work with, but I’d bet a dirham (piece of silver money) you have resources out there you haven’t mined. You should. These people/programs/environments could put a nice flame into your writing. Think about it. Teen cousins as readers, nieces and nephews as listeners, the actual library and its wealth of non-wikipedia knowledge for a resource, a paint program where you fashion mock cover designs for motivation, Pinterest for inspiration, Panera for interesting character facial features. The list goes on.

Thought of anything you’ve previously ruled out as not important to your writing? Share! I want more!

And thanks for reading.  

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3 Tips for Writing Stories Someone Might Actually Want to Read

currently playing on my iPod: Oceans by Twin Atlantic

Want your novel to not suck? Try these three techniques.

1. Figure out what you LOVE about your favorite movies/TV shows and include whatever-that-is in your story.

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I love BBC America’s The Musketeers because it has history, fantastic costuming, romance, fighting, and a setting in which I would happily spend a lifetime.

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Harry Potter is one of my faves. I love the gothic setting and the friendship arc between the main characters. Also, magic.

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Ah, Game of Thrones. While I wish it would tone down the graphicness, I adore the dragons, the historical feel, and the characters that are neither good nor bad.

So it’s obvious I’m a fan of magic, rich settings (that’s why I can’t get psyched for dystopians—white space suits and plastic decor aren’t for me), history, and deep characters.

2. Reread your favorite novels and include in your story the parts you love the most.

Deb Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches has romance, magic, and history. Perfect. I even adored the slower paced parts, because I just wanted to roll around in the setting.

In Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, I loved the herb lore, the history, magic, and romance. Plus, it’s set in the Scottish Highlands and later in France.

Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races weaves very believable magic and characters I want to grow up to be.

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Once again, we see magic, history, romance, setting, and deep characters as important to me. Are they to you?

3. Now stick to what you like, what you watch, what you read. Don’t try to please everyone in your critique group, family, the universe. Please yourself as a reader and those who have similar tastes in fiction. If you try to tailor your story to thrill every reader, it will thrill no readers. 

What are your favorite elements in entertainment?

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Is the 21st c the Time of Unconventional Hotness?

currently playing on my iPod: Blue Moon by Beck

Man/womankind has always appreciated a pretty face. Because SCIENCE, people. Not really just because we are shallow. But lately, it seems we humans (at least those into TV) are leaning more toward the Interesting rather than the Perfect-faced for our virtual crushes.

Point #1. Game of Thrones

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Take a look at the cast. Oh, we LOVE them, don’t we? We follow them on Instatweet and Facegram just to get another peek at Jon, Ygritte, the Khaleesi, Rob, Tyrion, Margaery, et al. But really. Look at them. They are gorgeous to me. To you, probably. But their cool faces don’t check off the normal list of sexy features. They have interesting noses, varying heights, a little smaller or larger than normal eyes. It’s intriguing. We love that each can act like a boss.

Point #2. BBC’s Sherlock

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Benedict Cumberbatch himself claims he looks like Sid the Sloth from Ice Age. I disagree, but I do hold that his jawline isn’t what Hollywood usually requests. But the voice! Oh, the voice. Anyone who can cover for Snape in an episode of The Simpsons is made of awesome. And of course, his name. Not the typical handsome Jack Soandso. By the way, if you haven’t checked out benedictcumberbatchnamegenerator, you should. Incidentally, my BCNG name is Honkytonk Scratchnsniff, thanks very much.

So yeah, the 21st century is all about unconventional sexiness, and WE LOVE IT. It’s freeing!

Give me a shout if you see another fine example and we’ll add it as Point #3. Until then, embrace your intriguing, funky upper lip and your broad forehead! You may be the next unconventional hottie.

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What in the world is a dhow? I bet you’ve seen one.

currently playing on my iPod: Bad Girls by M.I.A.

For my latest work-in-progress I’ve been researching dhows. Don’t know what they are? I’ll give you some hints.

They’re fast.

Sexy.

In the old days, they liked to hang out with pirates.

Give up?

A dhow is a lateen, fore and aft rigged sailboat. They usually sport one triangular sail that is attached to one yard, hoisted up a mast, secured at the bow, and tied with a sheet (a rope or a line) at the back. The other side of the sail isn’t attached to another yard, but is permitted freedom. Corsairs and pirates and merchants in the medieval middle east used such vessels to do their business in style. If you’ve never seen one, you’re missing out. They are seriously gorgeous.

Here is a link to a fantastic blog post on Madagascar dhows. Take a peek if you’re up for it!

 

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Charleston’s Snazzy French Quarter

currently playing on my iPod: Three Women by Jack White

I spent part of last week in Charleston, South Carolina’s French Quarter. It is a delicious place to visit. Cobblestone streets, crowded graveyards, old churches, and really, really brightly painted houses turn a sweltering July day into a pastry shop for the eyeballs. (Um. Yeah. I shouldn’t write metaphors before coffee.)

One spot I liked was The Pink House. In 1712, it was a tavern. Now, it’s an art gallery. Perfect. With its Bermuda stone, pink walls and creepy-looking gambrel roof, it just looks like a story waiting to happen.

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And here’s the Huguenots’ church. (Just so you know, Huguenots are a specific kind of French Protestant, who were kicked to the curb by Louis XIV.) The Huguenots have had a church in this beautiful place since 1680ish. A fire and a re-do later, they have the one pictured below, built in 1844. They still use it as official Huguenots. And they make sure it still looks like a big, ole wedding cake. As one does. It used to be called “the tidal church” because the much of the congregation (some of which were Norman and Carolingian nobles) owned and worked on inland rice plantations. They had to rely on the tides to boat to services in Charleston. The service times reflect tide timing.

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Another cool thing about the French Quarter is the cemeteries. Call me macabre, but you can learn a lot of history from tombstones. Dates. Names. Family connections, Artistic styling. Current residents and their ties to those in the ground. It is fascinating. The cemetery near the church holds the remains of many French nobles as well as Henry Brintell Bounetheau, a miniature portrait painter who created likenesses of William Ravenel (whose name you see everywhere in Charleston) and Nathanael Greene (google it–you should know this name).

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Charleston’s French Quarter surprised me with its color and history. I had no idea what I was getting into as I left that BBQ brewery and headed down its streets. I hope you get a chance to visit someday.

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