Category Archives: Articles

Guest Post: Lovely Bones

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Guest Post: Lovely Bones

Thank you to Donna from My OBT for sharing this startling artwork.

My OBT

skull Ali Gulec

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The Harp Twins

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It’s difficult to find information about the duo known as The Harp Twins without hiring a private detective. For example, no online source reveals their birthday or their age. The most complete biography I found is the one that appears on their website.

Camille and Kennerly Kitt have acted in movies and commercials. They’re both third-degree black belts in tae kwon do.

Both graduated summa cum laude from the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College with Bachelor of Music degrees in harp performance. Though classically trained, they are better known for their many YouTube covers of rock songs and soundtracks. They’ve also recorded four albums.

They play movie themes while wearing related costumes:

And they’ve also done video game themes:

No one knows how hard it is to go on tour with harps:

I can’t look away. Does that mean I’m addicted to Harp Twins videos?

Tempe Library Complex

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My husband and I have lived in Tempe, Arizona for 29 years. It’s a great place to live. When we moved here with our then four children (fifth child born nine months later), we were delighted to discover the plethora of community services for young families.

This building was the library when we first arrived in Tempe:

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But soon, ground was broken for a new library. I remember, when the staff was preparing to make the transition from the old building to the new, the community was invited to take out as many books as possible, and return them to the new library when it opened. My kids and I were happy to oblige.

Eventually, the old library was reopened as the Tempe History Museum. When my daughter Erin attended Smith College, she served as a summer intern at the museum.

Here’s what the current library looks like:

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Yes, it’s huge. Its vast collection is housed on the first floor, with the children’s section located in the basement. There are meeting rooms, study rooms, public computers, and a few years ago they added a coffee shop. Since I have stacks of books at home that I haven’t read yet, I haven’t borrowed any books in years, but my son Matt visits frequently to browse through the movies. The day I took these pictures, I dropped in to check out the Friends of the Library used bookstore. I bought two books for a total of 75 cents. Sigh. I told you I’m a bookaholic.

The second story contains city recreation offices.

In a little plaza formed by a circular drive to the library entrance stands a public art sculpture. The inclined plane is supposed to be a map of Tempe. I can see the dry (as it was when the sculpture was created, before the construction of Tempe Town Lake) Salt River bed stretching across the top, and I surmise the stacked structure is the butte that encloses Arizona State University’s stadium. That must be the rest of the campus surrounding it. But after that, it all gets kind of abstract. I feel like I should be able to find my neighborhood on that gridwork of major roads, but I can’t find any other landmarks where I think they should be.

The sculpture took the place of a prickly pear cactus garden that used to be there. I liked that better.

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Here’s a stone wall along a walkway, with an interesting edge (click on the smaller images to enlarge):

And the Edna Vihel Center, where I took my children to many events and classes over the years:

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I hadn’t been here in a while, and I’d never seen this lovely bench, covered with hand-made tiles depicting feet and scenes and symbols relating to Tempe and city services:

Tempe is very energy conscious. The city government advocates in favor of bike lanes. The library complex has some covered parking, shaded by solar panels:

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There’s one more building in the library complex that I didn’t photograph, because it was hot and I was too lazy to walk across the parking lot: the Pyle Adult Recreation Center. Among other events and classes available there, it also hosts activities for senior citizens. I haven’t taken advantage of them yet, but I probably will someday soon.

My little photo essay ends with shots of some of the landscaping at the library complex.

Creative Juice #64

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Creative Juice #64

A dozen articles to spice up your creative life:

  1. Ursula LeGuin on the difference between cats and dogs, among other things.
  2. Taking Zentangle to the next level.
  3. Sorry to be punny. Food memes.
  4. Seeing this wall of mini-quilts is making my fingers itch. I want to make a couple dozen so I can have a wall like this one.
  5. Here’s a fun Halloween face-painting
  6. I want to go on a guitar retreat like this one!
  7. I was afraid this article was about manipulating people. It’s not.
  8. This is the best short story I’ve read in a long time.
  9. This new television series looks wonderful.
  10. A different kind of patchwork.
  11. Everything I know about Richard Feynman I learned on Big Bang Theory—until now.
  12. Check out these awesome mask kits.

The Taste of Toasted Marshmallows

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The Taste of Toasted Marshmallows

I’m participating (sporadically) in OctPoWriMo (October Poetry Writing Month). Here are some of my efforts:

hanna-morris-278272Day 3’s prompt was The Taste of Metal. I imagined shish kabob, which led to memories of toasted marshmallows:

The part of the barbecue I like the best.

I select a skinny branch on the tree and snap it off.
I peel off the bark, and I sharpen one end of my stick to a point, rubbing it against the concrete back porch steps.

I stick a marshmallow on my homemade skewer, and hold it over the smoldering coals.
There is an art to this: too close, and it burns; too far away, and it takes forever.
Just right, and the sugary white blob turns brown, like deep suntan, the innards sweet melty goo.

Day 7’s prompt was And Then I Went Too Far, which reminded me of a childhood incident I’d forgotten:

The Day I Ran Away

I can’t remember why I left
Some unbearable grievance no doubt
Running away seemed a reasonable response
And a marvelous adventure

maxi-corrado-140647Without any forethought
Without packing any provisions
I hopped on my bicycle
And pedaled till I grew weary

Two towns away I rode to the hospital
A nurse exited, her shift over
I approached her and said,
“I’m running away from home.
Can you help me?”

I expected she would see what I fine girl I was
And offer to adopt me
Instead, she sighed
And lifted my bike into the trunk of her car

Dashing my hopes, she didn’t
Take me to her home
Opting to drive me to the police station
And hand me over to authorities

Who weren’t interested in where I wanted to go
Or why I left
Only in calling my bewildered parents
To come pick me up.

My father apologized to the cop
And transferred my bike to his trunk
And said nothing to me beyond
“Get in the car.”

At home, my mother berated me
“How could you make us worry so?
What were you thinking?”

How could I tell her
It seemed a reasonable response
And a marvelous adventure

Day 9’s prompt was Tapping the Ash of her Cigarette, which reminded me of an anthropological artifact of my childhood:

The Ashtray

Photo by Amin.

In the 1950s and 60s,
An ashtray was an appreciated gift for a grownup.
We made them for our parents in school and at Girl Scout meetings.
They were ubiquitous.
Families displayed them on coffee- and end-tables.
Children emptied them daily as part of their chores.
(That’s as close to cigarettes as they were allowed to get—
Funny how our parents recognized their “coffin nails” were bad for children.)
My parents both quit smoking, my father only after a heart attack.
My mother-in-law quit the hard way: dying of lung cancer.

None of my friends smokes.
None of us have ashtrays.
It’s funny how times change.

Day 11’s prompt was Dancing. What follows is a true story:

The Epsom Salts Girl

The orchestra’s playing a waltz
And I can’t dance

Two weeks ago I landed on the side of my foot
And heard it crunch

My partner asked if she’d stepped on my foot
I said, “No, it was all me.”

Nothing broken, just badly sprained
My chiropractor said “Soak it in ice water.”

Are you crazy?
I’m a hot water and Epsom salts girl

Day 13’s prompt was Art:

Process

The white canvas jeers
I smother it with inky darkness

Then I take my palette knife and scrape it off
Leaving gray areas behind

To counteract the gloom
I smear on aqua and yellow green
Shock it with pink
Burn it with yellow and orange

My brush blends the colors
As if the canvas were my palette
And a cityscape forms before my eyes
With sidewalk cafes and flower shops
And car headlights reflecting off rain slick streets

I graduate to thinner and thinner brushes
To add the people who live in this city
People with jobs and relationships
People with places to go and people to see
I step back and survey my world
I dip my pinkie in cadmium white
And dab it judiciously where light is needed

It’s not too late to jump in and write some poems of your own! If you’ve posted an OctPoWriMo poem online, share a link in the comments below.

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My Introduction to Opera

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My Introduction to Opera

When I was in high school, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City hosted special matinees for high school students. My school organized annual field trips to these performances, but I was blissfully unaware of them until my senior year, when the featured opera was La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi (I’ve posted about this before).

It was the perfect introduction to opera. The story is a classic, stolen borrowed from La Dame aux Camélias, a novel by Alexandre Dumas. In a nutshell, courtesan Violetta loves Alfredo, but his parents think she’s not good enough for him, so she breaks it off. At a party, he confronts her and accuses her of loving someone else, but he doesn’t learn the truth until Act III, when she dies of consumption (tuberculosis) in his arms.

 

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Painting of party scene in Act I of La Traviata, by Carl d’Unker, circa 1855.

 

Verdi’s music is heavenly. Here is the drinking song, Libiamo:

And Violetta’s first reaction to Alfredo’s declaration of love (the voice she hears in the background is Alfredo’s), Sempre Libera (Always Free):

 

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Maria Callas as Violetta in the Royal Opera House production of La Traviata, 1958. Photograph by Houston Rogers.

The version I saw was not quite so contemporary; instead, it was set in the late 1800s.

 

Soon after the field trip, I bought a record of the opera’s highlights, and wore it out through repeated playings. It remains one of my favorite operas.

When I transferred to Glassboro State College (now called Rowan University) in my junior year, I met a student who had been to that very same performance (also his first opera), and it convinced him he wanted to be a musician. Music has the power to change lives. At very least, it helps us to escape our world and our troubles for a while.

What was the first opera you ever saw? Did you think you’d be bored? Did the experience meet or exceed your expectations? Please share in the comments below.

 

 

Creative Juice #63

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Creative Juice #63

Sharing twelve artsy articles to juice up your creativity:

  1. Street art.
  2. A sculptor turns a fallen tree into a sculpture.
  3. Super Converse kicks!
  4. The truth about corsets.
  5. What happens when Helen Keller goes to a dance studio? No, I’m not making a tasteless joke. Martha Graham was a friend of Keller’s.
  6. This one might make you cry. It’s about the death of a mother. Skip it if you must.
  7. Amazing award-winning quilts.
  8. If you have the ability to snap a picture of your pet doing something silly, you may want to enter this contest next year. If not, you can still enjoy this year’s finalists.
  9. Pages from a Zentangle sketchbook.
  10. Shipping containers never looked so good.
  11. How a unicorn makes music. (Because I’m dedicated to bringing you all the unicorn stories I can.)
  12. Quirky ceramics and a podcast.

Guest Post: The Apprehension Engine

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Thanks to Donna at MyOBT for this guest post. I usually avoid horror movies, but I am so intrigued by this instrument, I may just go see The Witch. Or maybe I’ll just watch these videos again.

My OBT

apprehension Mark Korven

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Writing Books on my Kindle

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Writing Books on my Kindle

I’ve written about the writing books on my bookshelves here and here. But I also have a collection of writing books on my Kindle. I’ve reviewed several of these on ARHtistic License; click the highlighted titles to read.

  1. The Audacity to be a Writer: 50 Inspiring Articles on Writing that Could Change Your Life compiled by Bryan Hutchinson.
  2. Crank it outCrank It Out! The Surefire Way to Become a Super-Productive Writer by C.S. Lakin.
  3. Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development by K.M. Weiland. I haven’t read this yet, but I love this author’s work.
  4. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. This is one of the best resources a fiction writer can have. It lists the physical manifestations of various emotions which you can use to make your readers viscerally experience what’s going on inside your character. (If you want, you can try out the abbreviated version, Emotional Amplifiers, for free.)
  5. Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus when You’re Drowning in your Daily Life by Jessica Abel. I’m reading this now, and it’s excellent, but you really have to do the steps. This is the manual for professional cartoonist and graphic novelist Abel’s Creative Focus Workshop. Not strictly a writing book, it’s useful for all kinds of creative endeavors.
  6. How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good by Bryan Cohen. I haven’t read this yet.
  7. Inspired Writer: How to Create Magic with Your Words by Bryan Hutchinson. I haven’t read this yet.
  8. Jumpstart Your Creativity: 10 Jolts to Get Creative and Stay Creative by Shawn Doyle and Steven Rowell.Outlining
  9. Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book by K.M. Weiland. I’d recommend getting this in hard copy.
  10. Productivity for Creative People: How to get Creative Work Done in an “Always On” World by Mark McGuiness. I haven’t read this yet.
  11. Publishing Poetry & Prose in Literary Journals by Writer’s Relief, Inc. I haven’t read this yet, but I find lots of good information on their website.
  12. Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pansters, and Everyone in Between Write Your Novel From the Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pansters, and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell. I have to read this—I’ve heard such good things about it.
  13. Writing in Obedience: A Primer for Christian Fiction Writers by Terry Burns and Linda W. Yezak. I think I read this and was underwhelmed. It might be a good place for a beginning Christian writer to start.
  14. Writing Short Stories to Promote Your Novels by Rayne Hall. I haven’t read this yet.writing the heart
  15. Writing the Heart of Your Story: The Secret to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel by C.S. Lakin. One of the best books I’ve ever read on the art of the novel, which I will probably reread every year.
  16. You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins. A nice little motivational book when you need a kick to get going.
  17. The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women: A Portable Mentor by Gail McMeekin.
  18. The 15-Minute Writer: How to Write Your Book in Only 15 Minutes a Day by Jennifer Blanchard.
  19. 5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out by K.M. Weiland. I can’t remember if I’ve read this yet. Weiland often gives it away free.

Of all the above books that I’ve already read, my two favorites are #4 and #15.

Did you find this article helpful? Please hit the Like button. Have you read any of these? Or do you have a writing book to recommend? Write your comment below.

Deadly Description

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I have a dear friend who begs me to describe my characters when I introduce them, so she can accurately visualize them while she reads.

However, when I read, I picture the heroine as me at that age—that’s how closely I identify with characters. And if the author describes her as tall and blond, it throws me off, until my subconscious figures out how to continue picturing a protagonist who looks just like me.

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Pamela Hodges says on The Write Practice that “You do not need to tell your reader everything about your characters. Create a bond with your reader by leaving room for their imagination in your story.”

Among readers and writers there is much controversy about how much description is necessary to visualize a character or a setting. Too much description, and the piece gets boring. Too little description, and readers can’t enter the scene. It all boils down to balance.

K.M. Weiland, on Helping Writers Become Authors, says:

Authors must find the perfect balance of telling readers just enough for the story to make sense and come to life, without sharing so much that readers are crowded right out of the story. Our goal as storytellers should be to create a partnership between our own imaginations and that of our readers’. If we’re describing every little detail—both pertinent and not—what we’re creating instead is an on-the-nose narrative that has literally been described to death.

This is not to say that description has limited value in fiction. Laura Drake, in an article on Writers in the Storm, says, “Descriptions nowadays have to do double, and sometimes, triple duty. Because through it, you can show: worldbuilding, tone, foreshadowing, and most important, emotion.”

How much description is enough? Include only enough details to make the picture come alive for the reader. Employ more than one sense, but you probably don’t need all five. Word your description in such a way that it sets mood as well as establishing the visual. Stephen King says, “Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience.”

Need an example of too much description? Old literature is full of it. Here’s an excerpt of Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray:

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.

169 words describing Lord Wotton’s surroundings and what he thought about it. What do we lose if we cut it down to:

From where Lord Henry Wotton lay smoking, through the window he caught the gleam of the honey-coloured laburnum blossoms, whose branches could hardly hold their flaming beauty. The shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long curtains, producing the momentary effect of swift motion, like a Japanese-style painting. The sullen murmur of the bees buzzing through the unmown grass, circling with monotonous insistence, made the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the sustained bass note of a distant organ.

84 words. Does it convey the same image without totally decimating Wilde’s voice? His version sent me running to the dictionary. Here are my reasons for my revisions:

  • 351px-Laburnum_anagyroides_flowering

    Laburnum. Photo by Andrew Dunn.

    To the right is a picture of laburnum. I shortened the description, but left in the essence of it.

  • Tussore is coarse silk from the larvae of the tussore moth and related species. So, it’s redundant, and can be eliminated.
  • Is the description of the faces of painters in Tokyo necessary to the story? I’m guessing no.
  • Woodbine is a climbing plant, like a vine. I don’t understand how it could have dusty horns. Would mentioning it distract the reader? Why risk it?
  • Bourdon is a low-pitched stop in an organ, like a 16’ stopped diapason. Do you really care? I’m a music major and I don’t.

Do you agree that where description is concerned, a few well-chosen words are all that’s needed? Or do you believe description is where the author shows his skill in painting a detailed image, using all the vocabulary at his command? Share your position in the comments below.

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