Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Amazing Ice Age Artists, revisited

I recently came across this picture of the Lions of the Chauvet Cave in France, one of many spectacular panels of drawings, or paintings, discovered there. The paintings there are the oldest known, carbon-dated to approximately 33,000 years ago, almost twice the age of the Lascaux cave paintings.­­­ The forms and movements, the lines and grace of the animals, show incredible talent. The cave painters smudged charcoal to create shadows and depth, they incised lines into the white stone to emphasize certain features—all with charcoal, bits of pigment, and stone or bone knives on rough cave walls. By firelight.
Jean-Baptiste Oudry
Imagine what they might do with the tools we take for granted: brushes, canvas, a limitless palette of colors. Michaelangelo, move over.
Here's a male leopard by 17th century French wildlife artist, Jean-Baptiste Oudry (1686-1755). An elegant painting, but it doesn't have the graceful spine of the Chauvet lionesses (I think they're female). To me, they're slinking, probably stalking something, maybe wary of the cave bear they're about to tackle. I may have to re-read Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear. If I remember, she visited the Lascaux caves and studied them before she wrote the novel.
This is a "portrait" of a woman found in Dolní Věstonice, south of Brno, Czech Republic. Possibly the oldest known replica of a human head, it was carved from a mammoth tusk. The woman has an "awry," or deformed, face. The skeleton of a woman with just such a face, having traces of a long jaw joint inflammation, was also found at Dolní. The grave and its contents indicated a very prominent or powerful person, so there's much speculation that it's the same person, possibly a shaman or mystic.

Next to her I placed a sculpture of Nefertiti, found in the studio of Thutmose, considered the official court sculptor of Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten, who died in 1336 BC or 1334 BC. There are many similarities in the pieces, considering that one was carved with crude tools thousands of years before.
Courtesy of Miroslav Fišmeister

Keith Schengili-Roberts

I wonder if the storytellers used the paintings to enhance their tales, keeping their audience spellbound through long winter evenings. The stories probably had all the elements we look for today, interesting characters, a riveting plot, conflict--breathtaking cliffhangers. I can see it, flickering firelight, children falling asleep on their parent's lap, the artist among them inspired to create another painting.
When you're thinking how far we've come, consider the Lions of Chauvet. The cave wasn't discovered until 1994. Skeletal remains of a mammoth, lions, and a number of cave bears, carbon-dated to the same time period, were also found in the cave.
By the way, the photographs of the Lions and the mammoth carving of the woman's head were taken by my friend Miroslav Fišmeister. One day I'd like to show you more of his gorgeous pictures, taken around Brno, Czech Republic.
A couple of interesting sites:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Formulaic? Same-old, same-old or a comfort read?

I've often heard the term used in a derogatory tone, and to be certain about its  meaning, I looked it up. The best explanation came from ArticleWorld.org .  Ah, a standard set of plots, characters, and so on. Yes, I've read many. I still dislike the word. It's in the same category as "literary." Literary is often used to imply that other styles of writing are somehow lacking in quality or generally unworthy.  Then again, used by genre writers, "literary" may mean plotless. (I've heard it described as self-absorbed and about as exciting as watching paint dry.) We seem to need something or someone to look down upon--one of our less desirable human traits.
Considering the number of books on the market and how many I read, I'm bound to recognize elements of the story. So does that make the book formulaic?  Perhaps, but that doesn’t necessarily cause me to reject it. What allows me to overlook the commonplace, what sets many of them apart, is the writing. If it flows well and the characters are believable and likeable—or at least interesting—I'm halfway there. Sometimes the plot falls apart for me—too many convenient events that don't tie in to the story, as if hurled from the heavens by a capricious diety solely to cause problems. Still, I've read many a good book that others consider formulaic (always described with a little disdain).
How far down into the story do you have to go to decide whether a story is formulaic? Take this as an example: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, crisis occurs, boy gets girl. There's a formula that's been used more than once, but is it bad? The treatment of the story, the setting, and the characters can make it all seem new—something to read with pleasure and enthusiasm. You could go down another layer and see if there are still tried and true (or tired and overworked) secondary characters and situations. But it can still be fun to read. It depends on the pacing, the way the story unfolds, and how much we care about the characters.
When does it become a formula?
For me, the biggest challenge to my reading pleasure comes in the second phase—boy loses girl. The conflict is often artificial and contrived, but I think it's that old round hole thing—writers are forced to shove and squeeze their oddly shaped stories into that rigid mold. If it's formulaic, who can blame them? How many ways can you create enough conflict to keep apart otherwise sensible people who are attracted to each other? Personally, I'd like to see a little flexibility in that one. A little more credibility and realism would be a welcome change. Shakespeare handled it well, but I like happy endings. How often can a theme be used before it becomes trite? Is frequency the only measure?
In the good sense of the word, formulaic may be just what you're looking--a certain kind of story. Sometimes I'm in the mood for something in particular, and I that's what I look for. There are days when the windswept moors of Wuthering Heights appeal to me, and I want that kind of story. Or I need to laugh and I want something in the vein of One for the Money. A certain amount of predictability is good.
 I'll admit some books are so familiar that I can't remember whether I've read them before. I don't usually finish them. But I find "formulaic" applied to many that seem quite good to me. I'd have to go several layers down to reject a book because it's been done too often. Maybe I just don't have a discerning eye.
Every genre and just as many mainstream and literary stories follow some basic  theme or idea. Does it bother you? Do you see it? Do you look for something totally different? Do you consider many books formulaic?

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Scottish Lass Talks about Kilts

My guest this week is the witty and charming Shehanne Moore, historical romance author of THE UNRAVELING OF LADY FURY and HIS JUDAS BRIDE.
A Scots visitor complained about the "dignity, morals and respect" of women in Stalybridge - after her husband was repeatedly groped because he was wearing a kilt.
"I've never seen this kind of thing before," she said from their home in Scotland.
"I've been to goodness knows how many functions where men have been wearing kilts and I've never known behaviour like it."
 Ellis being a suspense author and me being historical rom I was struggling to think what on earth I could write about after she kindly invited me here, all the way across the pond. I was going to do something about men of myths seeing as my latest hero is a bit like that. Then I thought am I nutz? Don’t answer that. Look at the book jacket and the amount of other Highland rom book jackets that kick about half-clad guys flaunting their biceps. That’s myth isn’t it? You seriously went about like that in our Scottish weather and you’d be dead within a week. Sort of anyway.

Blame it on Rob Roy MacGregor, here immortalized onscreen by Liam Neeson, sporting a tunic mind you. But probably Jamie Fraser has a lot to answer for too.  But men in kilts are deemed sexy. Yes, I have had at least one author friend say she would love to come to Scotland and see all the men dressed up like that. I didn’t want to say to her, in your dreams, doll.
Still, the perfect excuse, being on a suspense author’s blog, to get out—no, not the magnifying glass—the interview board and ask why, because let’s get it straight here, all the years I was growing up in Scotland men in kilts were kind of infra dig.  Sexy? Excuse me. Now just go put sexy kilts into Google and see what comes up.  
So, I did a little asking around. You have to understand, I had to mainly ask online, out with my usual habitat or face being laughed at otherwise.  A woeful 80 percent thought it was because of what was underneath. Yes. Shocking, eh?  4 percent liked the ‘wiggle waggle’ whatever that is…   7 percent liked the whole Scottish business: Tartan. Castles, Nessie. The lot.  9 percent liked the bare knees.
Of course that was in my survey. You might have a different answer but there is no denying that men in kilts have taken off.  Do you find them sexy and if so...why?
Blurb for His Judas Bride.
To love…
To love, honor, and betray…
To get back her son, she will stop at nothing…
For five years Kara McGurkie has preferred to forget she’s a woman. So it’s no problem for her to swear to love and honor, to help destroy a clan, when it means getting back the son she lost. But when dire circumstances force her to seduce her fiancé’s brother on the eve of the wedding, will the dark secrets she holds and her greatest desire be enough to save her from his powerful allure?
To save his people, neither will he…
Callm McDunnagh, the Black Wolf of Lochalpin, ruthlessly guards heart and glen from dangerous intruders. But from the moment he first sees Kara he knows he must possess her, even though surrendering to his passion may prove the most dangerous risk of all.
She has nothing left to fear except love itself…
Now only Kara can decide what passion can save or destroy, and who will finally learn the truth of the words… Till death do us part.
Buy His Judas Bride here
Barnes and Noble
All Romance Ebooks
Bio Shehanne Moore writes gritty, witty, historical romance, set wherever takes her
fancy. What hasn’t she worked at while pursuing her dream of becoming a published author? Shehanne still lives in Scotland with her husband Mr Shey. She has two daughters. When not writing intriguing historical romance, where goals and desires of sassy, unconventional heroines and ruthless men and mean worlds collide, she plays the odd musical instrument and loves what, in any other country, would not be defined as hill-walking.
The Unraveling of Lady Fury, Amazon US, and Amazon UK
His Judas Bride, Amazon US and Amazon UK

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Carmen DeSousa's CREATUS!

In every myth there is a modicum of truth…
The reason we believe in Fairy Tales—and Monsters.

As the sun’s rays peeked above the horizon, lighting the abyss below her, she inhaled a deep breath, closed her eyes, and jumped. She didn’t scream; she didn’t look down. As much as she hated her life, she hoped it wouldn’t end this way. She’d really like to see him one more time.

Her life didn’t flash before her eyes as she’d always heard. Just an image of her mother covered in blood and her Dark Angel telling her he was sorry.

Creatus by best-selling author Carmen DeSousa is a new romantic-suspense novel with a supernatural edge that answers the myths and fairy tales you’ve heard about preternatural sentient beings.

Prepare yourself to believe.

Download Creatus:

In order to spread the news, we are also giving away a $50 gift card! In order to qualify, just share this post’s URL in the Raffle Copter. Any social website you choose. The more places you share, the more entries you earn.

Contest ends midnight, Monday September 2, 2013. The drawing, which includes all participating websites, will be held Tuesday, September 3, 2013. The winner will be posted the same day.

Follow this link to Carmen's website and enter the

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Time of Death excerpt

Alex, the artist. After a tree falls on her house, she joins her aunt on an unspoiled island, but something wakens her family psychic streak. She draws eerily accurate scenes of violence, but she knows nothing about them.
Connor, the prosecutor. He’s building a case against a drug lord one piece of evidence at a time. For him it’s personal, and he can’t risk a relationship with a witness, especially a psychic who’ll blow his case out of the water. 
Rollins, the killer. He’s a cog in a much bigger wheel, and the witness to his acts of violence threatens his operation and his life. He’ll do anything to see that doesn’t happen.
When violence is near, Alex is compelled to draw the scene. While she relaxes on an unspoiled island near Charleston, South Carolina, violence disrupts the tranquil scene when a dead man takes shape on her sketch pad. She knows nothing about the man, but the killer believes she witnessed the murder and sets his sights on Alex. After seeing her drawing, the police think she's involved, and the prosecutor fears a psychic witness will destroy his case. Now, with danger at every turn, she must uncover a killer before he destroys her and her loved ones.

Ace Basin, near Charleston, SC. Dave Allen Photo
Alex smoothed the paper on her board and took a number 2 stick of Payne’s gray from the box, gazing toward the water. The bleached skeleton of a tree lay on its side, smooth and ghostly in the fog. Thin light from the morning sun touched the trunk, giving it a shimmering, ethereal glow. She began drawing, selecting pastels without conscious thought. She worked steadily, intent on capturing the scene before her.
When she was satisfied, she replaced the used sheet with a fresh one and shifted so she could see the old pier. The last wisps of mist hung there, creating the image of a translucent walkway floating above the water. The fog hid the broken board—senseless violence. She sketched without thought, her hand moving automatically over the paper. The pier faded from her vision as her fingers flew. A face, swollen and distorted, took shape under the charcoal.
She blinked, startled by what she’d done. Not the mist-shrouded wooden structure, but a dead face. The face that belonged to yesterday’s body, so misshapen she couldn’t tell if she’d ever seen it. Shaken, she ripped the paper off her board and crammed it into her bag. Later she’d examine it, think about what she’d drawn. Now she wanted only to get away. She packed her materials and hurried from the cove, heading toward Chicora’s breezier ocean side to clear the images from her mind, to concentrate on happier things.
P.S. I've turned comments on again, but spam is overwhelming so I've resorted to the dreaded Captcha Codes. Sorry. I wish there were a better way. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Writing Close to the Bone

Hemingway in Milan, circa 1918,
This is a story I’ve read and heard about for years (you probably have too), but not even Snopes can really confirm it. It doesn’t matter; it’s still a great story. In a discussion about brevity, someone bet Ernest Hemingway he couldn’t write a story in six words. He took the bet. This is the story attributed to him.
For sale, baby shoes, never used.
Can six words bring you to tears? They can me. At least these six words can. This story has images, pathos, tragedy, and despair. It shows, it doesn’t tell. It’s a magnificent story. Hemingway is also supposed to have said it was his best work. I might argue with that, but it’s certainly a powerful work.
Based on Hemingway’s words, someone put together a little book about life in six words. (I really need to find the name and get a copy.) One that stuck was “I still make coffee for two,” by Zak Nelson. Another poignant tale.
Okay, got off my duff and looked for it. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon. (Since I looked, the Smith Magazine site has gone down--thanks, Donnell, for letting me know.)

It’s all there, making this blog completely superfluous (maybe not entirely—how often do I get to use that word?).
Have any you’d like to share? I’m thinking but to no avail. (Is that six words?)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

So long for now, friends

The Unpredictable Muse is going on sabbatical for a while. I’ll leave the blog up if I can do so without getting spam. There are some interesting articles in the archives on writing and all kinds of topics from a number of excellent writers. I’ve been fortunate in meeting some great people and having them share their knowledge and ideas over almost three years. I’ve enjoyed it and learned a lot.
However, it takes time and energy to maintain a blog, not only to think of the topics or schedule guests, but to format and post. Blogger “updated” its program and what used to go right in now takes an hour or more to format.
Then there’s spam—a never-ending headache. I wanted it to be easy to leave a comment, but spammers made that impossible. I tried Captcha codes, but they’re a pain for everyone (I often have to try several times to leave a comment on someone’s blog, so I seldom do it). Finally I tried moderating comments before allowing them to post. That takes time, and people don’t get to see their comments appear for some time if I’m not watching. Also, all the spam comes to my email. At first it wasn’t too bad, several a week, but in the last couple of months it’s grown to around 100 a day.
I want time to write. I have another book half done that I really like, and I need more time to work on it. When it’s done, I hope you’ll check it out. Meanwhile, I’ll be on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Thanks for your support and interest. See you again, maybe in the fall.
Cheers to all,
P.S. I've turned comments on, but spam is overwhelming so I've resorted to the dreaded Captcha Codes. I wish there were a better way.