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Henri Rousseau

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Henri Rousseau

The French post-impressionist painter Henri Rousseau (May 21, 1844 – September 2, 1910) was largely self-taught and thought of by his contemporaries as primitive in style.

As a young student, he received mostly mediocre grades, but won prizes for drawing and music. He had a very brief legal services career, followed by four years in the army. After his father’s death, he moved back to Paris so he could help support his mother as a tax collector. He married, and he and his wife had six children, only one of whom survived infancy. Ten years after his first wife passed away, he married again.

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Henri Rousseau, Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)

In his early forties, he began painting seriously. By age 49, he retired from his day job and began painting full-time, supplementing his small pension with odd jobs and playing his violin in the street. (Click on the smaller images to enlarge and read the captions.)

His paintings had a dream-like quality to them. He is best known for his exotic jungle scenes.

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Henri Rousseau, The Dream

In March of 1910, he developed an inflammation in his leg, which he neglected. By August, he had gangrene; a post-operative blood clot killed him.

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Henri Rousseau, The Sleeping Gypsy

Muzio Clementi

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Muzio Clementi

I know of Clementi mostly because of his piano sonatinas, which are among the classical repertoire for piano students.

But his contributions to the field of music are so much more than just the sonatinas.

Born on January 23, 1752, in Rome, the firstborn of seven children. His father recognized his musical talent early and arranged for music lessons for him. By the time he was 14, he was the parish organist.

Around that time, Sir Peter Beckford of Dorset, England, traveled to Rome, and he heard the young Clementi play. He persuaded Muzio’s parents to allow the boy to come live with him in England to continue his musical studies until he turned 21. During that seven-year period, Clementi practiced harpsichord eight hours a day, learning the works of J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Domenico and Allesandro Scarlotti, and Bernardo Pasquini. In 1774, he moved to London.

In 1780 he began a three-year tour of Europe. In Paris, he played for Marie Antoinette. On Christmas Eve of 1781, he participated in a competition with Mozart for the entertainment of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and his guests, improvising and playing selections from their own compositions. (The emperor declared it a tie.) Clementi expressed enthusiastic respect for Mozart’s brilliance; Mozart responded with less enthusiasm about Clementi, yet imitated Clementi’s style in a set of variations and borrowed one of Clementi’s themes for the overture for The Magic Flute.

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Muzio Clementi

Clementi returned to England, and, except for a couple other forays around Europe, spent the rest of his life there, performing on piano, composing, and conducting. In 1798, he took over a music publishing house, and won a contract as sole publisher of Beethoven’s work in England. He also started building pianos, making innovative improvements that are still used today.

Beethoven was a great fan of Clementi’s piano compositions, recommending them to his nephew for study. Clementi was also a piano teacher, and one of his students was John Field, who became a well-known composer in his own right.

Clementi wrote over 100 sonatas for the piano. But I didn’t know he also wrote 20 symphonic works. His most famous, No. 3, is nicknamed The Great National Symphony, because it uses God Save the King as one of its themes.

Guest Post: How to Start a Book Review Blog–And Score Some Free Books!

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This article has been reprinted with the permission of Web Design Relief.  Whether you’re just starting out or a best-selling author, Web Design Relief will improve your existing website or build you an affordable, custom author website to support your author platform, boost your online presence, and act as a hub for your social media outreach. Web Design Relief is a division of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. Sign up for their free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit the site today to learn more.

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If you are a ravenous book reader, you may be able to turn your passion for the written word (and your love of sharing your opinion) into a rewarding book review blog. Not only do book review bloggers get the satisfaction of reading and critiquing, they also often score free books from writers and publishers who want to generate some book review blogger buzz. Here’s what Web Design Relief wants you to know about how to start a book review blog!

How To Start Your Own Book Review Blog

Pinpoint a genre/readership. Although your reading tastes may run the gamut from quiet literary fiction to noisy international espionage thrillers, you may want to focus your book review blog on one specific genre. When you focus clearly on a particular target audience, you’ll have a better chance of connecting effectively with that specific readership.

Sharpen your hook. There are a lot of book review blogs out there. What makes yours stand out? Now is the time to think about how you might distinguish your blog from others.

  • Do you want to write a “shock jock” style book review blog that invites controversy by both delighting and enraging readers? Are you willing to risk being alienated by certain writers or book review-seeking publishers by having an in-your-face style that cuts to the heart of reader concerns?
  • Or do you prefer a milder, more moderate approach that focuses on the positive, supporting the authors who inspire you while choosing not to devote attention to those books that don’t spark your interest?

Find your voice as a blogger. The tone and style of your book reviews will help define your future readership. If you are reviewing books that have an academic or literary focus, you may be able to get away with writing long, formal, winding sentences in your book reviews. But keep in mind that the most popular bloggers often embrace a witty, chatty, casual style, because the way people read using a computer or mobile device is different from how they read print. Learn more: Author Website Copy: Five Essential Tips For Writing Web Text.

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Establish a format for your book reviews. The traditional publishing industry format for book reviews includes dedicating the majority of the review to the facts of the book in question (story/content/synopsis/background). Only in the last few sentences, would you share your personal opinion and include both strengths and weaknesses of the book.

But you don’t have to stick to the traditional style of writing book reviews. As a blogger, you can take creative liberties with your book reviews. You may decide that the bulk of your review should focus on opinion, with only a few sentences dedicated to summary of the book itself.

Develop a book ranking scale. Another thing to consider is how you will rate or rank the books on your book review blog. You can use a traditional five-star system, or you can develop your own rating guide—using anything from emojis to color schemes. You may want to link each of your book reviews to an explanation of your personal book ranking system so that readers who are new to your blog can understand it.

Focus on value. Whatever the format/style/voice you choose for your book reviews, keep in mind that the most successful book reviews are those that are practical and helpful to readers who are trying to decide whether to read or buy a given book. Readers who are looking for the next great addition to their TBR list may not want to waste their time reading a lengthy diatribe about a book you consider a “don’t buy.” They might prefer to spend their time learning about a book they will actually want to read.

Select which books you will review. Your choice of book titles to review will say a lot about who you are as a blogger and what you value as a reader. Will you choose to join the conversation by reviewing nationally released, buzzworthy books that are already being discussed all over the Internet? Or will you focus on hidden gems from independent presses? 

Keep reviews short, memorable, and quotable. Book readers want you to cut to the chase and let them know what makes a particular book a great read. Witty insights, pithy phrases, and unique perspectives can make your book reviews memorable. Plus, authors who are happy with your turn of phrase might just feature your book review quote and URL on the cover of their next book release—which will help spread the word about your book blogging efforts!

Reach out. Book bloggers rarely succeed by writing in a vacuum. To generate an audience and increase the likelihood that writers and publishers will send free books your way, you’ll need to do some marketing. Here are a few ideas:

  • Connect with other book bloggers
  • Reach out to writing groups to invite book submissions
  • Cross-promote with other bloggers
  • Host book giveaway contests
  • Feature writer interviews/Q&As/guest bloggers
  • Integrate your book reviews with social media feeds 

Final Thoughts: Are You A Book Reviewer? Or A Writer?

If you are active in the creative writing community as an author, you may want to be aware of how your book reviews will be received within the community of your peers. What you write today about a given author’s book could affect you tomorrow if you sit down at a luncheon and an author you once lambasted is seated right beside you. Also, if you come down hard on a particular publisher’s title in a way that makes a big splash, that publisher might not be particularly receptive when it’s time for you to pitch your own book for publication.

Your words have power—as both a book lover and an author, you’ll have to make decisions about your priorities and values if you decide to start a book review blog. Learn more about what it means to be an author who also writes book reviews.

 

Question: What most influences your decision to buy a book?

I’d Rather Be Dancing Roma Folk Dances

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The Roma people are bands of nomads who originated in India but have migrated world-wide. It is estimated there are 5 million Roma today, but it’s hard to verify, since they are by definition itinerant and aren’t generally counted in censuses. They are sometimes known as gypsies, a term that is disliked for its pejorative connotations.

The Roma people are accomplished musicians and dancers. The composer Franz Liszt was deeply influenced by the Roma music he heard. And folk dancers cherish the dances in Roma style.

Mahala Mori Shej, performed at the Phoenix International Folk Festival in 2018:

Chaj Zibede:

Chef is a Roma dance from Romania:

Chikulata Chickita is a Greek Roma dance:

Cine Are Noroc Are is a Roma dance from Romania with an interesting toe-heel figure:

Dana is another Roma dance from Romania. Listen for the call of the loon in the beginning of the music:

E Shukar Romnji is a Roma dance from Hungary:

Mori Shej is another Roma dance from Hungary:

Opa Cupa is a Roma dance from Serbia:

Phiravelman Kalyi Phuv is a Roma dance from Macedonia:

Sherianqe (to the song Ketri Ketri) is a Roma dance from Albania:

An Interview with Quilter Stephanie Finnell

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An Interview with Quilter Stephanie Finnell

Meet Stephanie Finnell, the blogger, sewer, crocheter, and quilter behind the Katy Trail Creations blog and Etsy shop. I’ve followed her blog for years and recently reached out and asked if I could interviw her for ARHtistic License. Here are her responses:

ARHtistic License: You care for pre schoolers in your home. How do you find time to quilt?
Stephanie Finnell: I’ve been caring for children ages newborn through 11 years for over 25 years and have learned to utilize naptime pretty efficiently lol. Otherwise there are evenings and weekends.

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AL: How did you get started quilting?
SF: I have sewn nearly all my life. My earliest recollection is making a toy ‘snake’ with scraps with my grandmother Inez on her treadle sewing machine. I took sewing in 4-H with my mother as the project leader and after I married, I bought my first machine. The quilting part came along after my daughters were born and I wanted to try using up a bunch of scraps. I’d made quite a good amount of dresses for my daughters and used them on a crazy quilt. I don’t have a photo of it (guess that should be a priority).

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AL: Do you prefer traditional quilt designs, or do you like contemporary designs as well? What is your favorite kind of quilt to make?
SF: I do have a love for traditional but I really admire the contemporary quilts I’ve seen online. My favorite ones lately are from old Kansas City Star patterns. I’ve collected a few books that feature these and love trying them out. Some turn out great, others not so much lol.

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AL: Are there any particular quilt designers you admire?
SF: I think I need to give credit to Fons and Porter for their influence with PBS as well as other tv quilters (Alex Anderson, Ricky Tims, Eleanor Burns, Sharlene Jorgenson) for jumpstarting my interest as well as giving all the wonderful instruction. There aren’t many quilters in my family and none that I’ve actually sewn with. I am slightly partial to Fons and Porter as they hale from my grandma’s birthplace in Iowa.

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AL: You do a lot of hand quilting. Do you ever quilt by machine? Do you stitch-in-the-ditch or do you do free motion quilting? What kind of sewing machine do you use?
SF: I’m glad you asked. I definitely use machine when I can’t take as much time in completing a quilt. I like using the walking foot so more line quilting or serpentine styles when using a machine. There’s also tying when really pinched for time. I own a Bernina 1080(a real workhorse) and an Esante but use the Bernina most. I have also used embroidery with the Esante on a couple quilts. It worked really well on a cathedral window quilt.

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AL: What are your favorite colors for quilting?
SF: I think red and white quilts really are my favorite. (This has reminded me of a UFO-stack of red & white blocks downstairs lol.) Also blue and white. But as you can see in my completed photos, I’m a lover of all color combinations.

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AL: What is your fabric-shopping strategy?
SF: Usually sales and a need for specific colors to match.

AL: Do you usually have a particular quilt in mind when you go to the fabric store, or do you buy whatever strikes your fancy?
SF: When readying for the A to Z Challenge I’ve got a color scheme in mind.

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AL: What is your stash like?
SF: It is pretty large with much of it in tubs. I am fortunate to have a designated space but as I’m working on projects, they overflow into my recliner for ease of access. Recently a local fabric store closed due to the owner passing and my mother and I had to restrain ourselves with all the fabric available. It was still a bit more than we could do and we both spent a significant amount but all fabric lovers justify their purchases and seem to have enabling spouses lol.

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AL: What kind of batting do you like?
SF: All cotton, low loft. Much easier for hand stitching.

AL: What are you working on right now?
SF: Another eBay find. It’s a wedding ring-ish type but it is has a square border all around. Someone used Precious Moments fabric on it in the rings and will make some little girl an adorable keepsake I hope.

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AL: How do decide what kind of quilt to make?
SF: I often try to decide how many fabrics I want to use, So for a red and white, the options are fewer in block pattern choices. Other times, I just use up my scraps so they aren’t continuing to pile up.

AL: What is the hardest part of quilting?
SF: Finding enough time. If I had to do it for a living though, I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.

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AL: What has helped you the most on your quilting journey?
SF: Working at home gives me more time than most people, I think. Out of sight, out of mind in so many hobbies and being here it’s pretty much always in my line of vision.

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AL: Do you have any funny quilting stories?
SF: Well recently, my daughter who really does know better wanted a quilt by 1 pm the same day. I agreed only if I had her assistance in cutting and tying. It was the quickest quilt in history I think! Lol Glad we spent that time on it together though. Warmed my heart 😊

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AL: What else you would like readers to know about your quilts?
SF: I just hope they bring someone joy. That’s a quilter’s ultimate goal.

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Stephanie Finnell with her husband.

Where Do You Create?

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I am blessed to have my own writing room. It’s my daughters’ former bedroom, outfitted with a desk, a dresser, two overfilled bookcases, two stuffed file cabinets, 3 stacks of TBR books, and 12 banker’s boxes of miscellany I need to find places for.I can generally be found there daily from noon to 4 pm, supposedly doing writing-related stuff.

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My desk one day when it was relatively neat.

Of course, there are myriad distractions inherent in working at home. Sometimes I need a change of scene in order to get quality writing done.

I’ve gone to the library for some uninterrupted writing time (because my husband is retired and doesn’t always respect my need not to be interrupted).

Sometimes I meet writer friends at a coffee shop where, after a few minutes of conversation and the company of an icy mocha latte, we get down to work. I’m always surprised how productive these sessions are. Maybe we inspire each other to focus and get lost in our work.

Sometimes I get my best work done while I’m walking in the neighborhood by myself. I bring a notebook and a pen, and write myself questions about plot problems, and brainstorm possible solutions. Moving somehow opens up a creativity portal. I’ve done poetry walks where I jot down observations that later grow into poems.

What about you? Where do you write, or make your art or your music? Does it help you to have the consistency of a certain time and place? Do you use stolen moments or commuting time? Share in the comments below.

Guest Post: Crafting a Powerful Set-Up by Becca Puglisi

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Guest Post: Crafting a Powerful Set-Up by Becca Puglisi

Thank you to Becca Puglisi and to Writers in the Storm for these strategies for grabbing your readers in the first few pages. Puglisi is one of the founders of Writers Helping Writers and One Stop for Writers.

As authors, we all know the importance of engaging our audience within a book’s first few pages. It’s called grabbing the reader: captivating them in a way that makes them want to stick with the story to its end.

Michael Hauge prefers the term seducing:

“Everybody likes to be seduced; it’s a gradual, enjoyable, and emotionally involving experience that thoroughly captures our attention.” (Writing Screenplays That Sell)

Whatever your terminology, drawing in readers is a vitally important process that needs to happen at the beginning of your story. Also called the set-up, it’s everything that occurs before the all-important catalyst that propels your character out of his regular world into a new one. According to Blake Snyder (Save the Cat), the set-up should consist of roughly the first 12% of your story. This is a guideline that you can set in stone or take with a grain of salt, depending on your plotting/pantsing style. But 12% is a good rule of thumb because it’s enough real estate to set the stage and draw readers in without it dragging on and putting them to sleep.

Unfortunately, we can get the length of the set-up right and still not achieve the goal of pulling readers in. To do this, we have to tap into their emotions. If we don’t make them feel, they won’t be invested in the character; if they’re not invested in the character, they won’t care what happens to him and won’t keep reading to see if he succeeds. So it’s incredibly important that the set-up elicit emotion from the reader. There are a few things you can include in your opening pages that will help accomplish this.

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Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

Character Empathy

Readers start reading a book for a variety of reasons: they liked the premise, it was a recommended by a friend, they’re a fan of the author. Readers keep reading because they connect with the characters. We have a very small window—that first 12%—to achieve the reader-character connection, and eliciting empathy is a great way to make it happen. Here are a few ways to encourage that special something between the reader and your protagonist.

  • Universal Needs. Readers like characters they can relate to in some way. One way to bond your audience of unique individuals to the protagonist is to remove one of her basic human needs, such as belonging or surviving. Because everyone understands these needs, taking one of them away from your hero can endear readers to her. This is one reason Katniss Everdeen was such a successful protagonist. Most readers couldn’t relate to her circumstances of having to kill others to survive, but they could understand needing to protect a vulnerable loved one or providing for one’s family. If you want to increase your reader’s empathy for the hero, try taking away a universal need, and the reader will stay tuned to see if she can get it back.
  • Admirability. People are drawn to those they admire, so it’s a good idea to give your hero some qualities that readers will appreciate or aspire to themselves. Intelligence, a sense of humor, kindness, generosity, honor—these are attributes people long for. Seeing them personified in the hero opens us up to them, making us want them to do well. Notice that I didn’t say a protagonist must be likable (though that works, too). As a selfish and manipulative character, Scarlett O’Hara isn’t exactly a glowing role model, but people relate to her because of her shrewdness, tenacity, and confidence. It’s her admirable qualities that win readers over.
  • Uniqueness. Readers, along with editors, agents, and publishers, are tired of seeing new versions of the same old characters. We want someone who surprises us with something new. A janitor who anonymously and effortlessly solves impossible math theorems at M.I.T. (Good Will Hunting). An art student in Prague who collects teeth for the demons who raised her (Daughter of Smoke and Bone). When you’re creating your protagonist, see what you can do to make him or her stand out from the crowd and be remembered.
  • Remarkability. Few people truly excel in any area, but most would like to. Characters who are remarkable in some way speak to our need for esteem and recognition, whether it’s because they’re intelligent, incredibly talented, or have an unusual ability. Make your character extraordinary and readers will often respond.

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