Thursday, January 29, 2015

Celebrations January 30, 2014 Celebrating...people.

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Welcome to the January 30 edition of the Celebrating the Small Things blog hop, started by VikLit and now run by Lexa Cain, our fearless new leader and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

I recently became involved in Pinterest.  I love images, and I tend to be visually inclined.  Put something in the form of a picture or image, and I can grasp it much better.

Renaissance Florentine man
I set up a board called 'Handsome fellows' and have put there images through the ages of men that I might call 'handsome'.  I imagine there are some surprises.  But to celebrate beauty through the ages is surely not foolish, and I have derived a great deal of enjoyment from these pictures.  ...And they have made me think.

Some of them could be people I might meet over a cup of coffee and, perhaps, try to draw out in conversation.

Some of them are simply worth looking at and dreaming over.  ...though I could say that about many people.  This man, for example, was an artist who painted some splendid depictions of heroes from the past.  That snub nose and the lurking smile make me want to ask him what it is that has him so interested and amused.

And this gentleman with the calm regard and the folded lips, as though he is keeping his impressions to himself.  A handsome man of substance and quality...  The neatly queued hair, the well-cut suit in that rich, bronze-red.  There is a lot I would like to know about him...

Or you could look at other faces and wonder about what lies behind this dark, brooding man.  Possibly a riotous sense of humor.  It would be most amusing to take one's friends quite by surprise...

We are all mysteries, and the question remains:  who are you, sir?  Where do you come from?  And why are you as you are?  are you, like the rest of us, a mystery to be enjoyed and pondered?

Or...just perhaps...the friend we wish we had met, so that we could touch another and learn and enjoy?

We are, in the final analysis, mysteries.  To others, to ourselves.  Endlessly fascinating, always new and beautiful.

So what are you  celebrating today?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tinkering with Art When One Is Not An Artist

Diana, reading a newspaper affixed to an easel
Artists run in my family.  There is so much sheer talent among my family members, they could populate the Royal Academy or else serve as Staff for the Rhode Island School of Design.  Alas, I must have been busy elsewhere when the artistic ability was handed out because I most emphatically am not one of them.  My drawing ability is limited to stick figures and somewhat fantastical horses. 
No false modesty, no hiding my talent up my sleeve: I can't draw or paint and that's flat.  But I do enjoy designing book covers for my work.  Fiddling with images is not the same as drawing or painting, but it can be rewarding.  Sometimes.  Then there are times where you want to tear your hair out.  
Book 1: Tuileries
I have a series in the works, with the first book out.  It is set in 1830's Paris.  The series is called 'The Orphan's Tale', and the first book is out.  The second is, I'd say, 80% finished.  The third is not too far behind.  Because Book #1 is published, it stands to reason that it has a cover: 
The lady, who is Elise, the heroine, is taken from a portrait of that era, and the structure in the background is the Tuileries palace in Paris.  It stood opposite the Louvre, but was destroyed around 1870.  This painting, executed some 20 years after the setting of my story, shows a party at the palace.  It works very well with the lady's hair and fashion.

Book 2, finalized
The second book is not out yet.  Projected release is May.  I do have that cover designed.  The boy, Larouche, is taken from a Victorian genre painting.  I really wanted to use his whole form, but was forced to drop that idea when I realized that the full-length painting depicted a newsboy peddling the New York  Times, a publication that would have been difficult to find anywhere outside the United States.  The building is the Hotel de Cluny in an old quarter of Paris.  The painting, executed by a Californian in the 19th century, is titled 'Christmas Morning'.  The book ends with Christmas Eve, and the painting works.
Ummm...  No.
The big problem arose with Book #3.  It originally had Larouche in place and, it taking place during one of the periodical riots that plague Paris, was appropriate.  Or so I thought.  Unfortunately, some of my nearest and dearest pointed out issues with the painting.  The fellow motioning to the rough-looking crowd is rather dopey-looking.  The face fungus appears out of period, the apparently dying boy (who somehow appears  strong enough to hold up a flag straining in the breeze) is not an asset, and the dopey young man is wearing striped trousers.  Enough said.  Besides, I needed a depiction of the main male character, Paul Malet.

That was difficult.  He is described as a tall man.  His hair is thick, dark, and graying, and his eyes, set under straight, dark brows, are a light brown, almost green.

When you are working in period, as opposed to simply trying to set a time-like feel to the story, you have to be careful about facial types.  The western Europeans of two hundred years ago do not look the same as they do now.  There has been a blending of peoples.  One forensic anthropologist, often called upon to identify bodies found on a certain battlefield, said that he could usually tell by looking at the skull.  In my case, I needed images to work with, either to be purchased, or in the public domain.  I started looking among portraits of the era.  Sir Thomas Lawrence was a portraitist active at that time.  I strolled through his paintings.  I wanted someone who was under 50 years old, moderately refined.  I only needed a head.
I found one.  This fellow, one Sir Codrington Edmund Carrington, was a distinguished and well thought-of aristocrat.  Perhaps a little too refined, not to say effeminate.  Paul Malet had been an artillerist in the armies, was an expert swordsman (they used edged weapons in the military - in Malet's case, heavy, long swords).  As a high-ranking police officer, he would still carry a sword.  But he had dark eyes while this fellow had gray eyes and, alas, a cast in the eye on the right.  That was fix-able, I thought, and I broke out my Photoshop and set to work.

I came up with this.  The coloring is appropriate, though he still looks delicate.  Still, I had been looking and LOOKING, and this was the best I had.  A little refined, but setting the head in a uniform coat seemed to help for the moment.  Now to look for some appropriate settings.

Well, there was Lawrence's portrait of Admiral Pellew, who fought in Britain's navy during the Napoleonic wars.    The body looked pretty good from the neck down.  From the hair, crew cuts were a Napoleonic invention, but I didn't plan to use the head.  It only remained to paste the head I had designed atop the body.  I set to work and finished it fairly quickly.  The proposed image is below:

A Frenchman in the Royal Navy?  Uh... No.
The big problem with this, aside from the apparent olive color of the uniform coat, is that the hero, Paul Malet, would have been the last one to wear an English uniform, admiral or not.  I was aiming for historical accuracy.
I tried another uniform, just to see how it would look.  The hero, being a veteran and a police officer, would have worn a uniform.  This one was a little better, though the man who posed for that one was Russian and, for reasons unknown, had stopped in the middle of doffing his cloak.  
May I take your coat, sir?
The general effect is rather awkward.  And this ruddy smiling fellow, also painted by Lawrence, was Russian.  Hm...    I found I could not take the painting seriously.  When I added the head of my character, the result was especially laughable. 
It was worth a try, but the result could be summarized with the words...

Uh...  No.

The possible solution was to simply use an inset head on the cover with an image I wished to use.

I tried it.  Truly I did.  It should have worked.  The background image was perfect, and I had my adjusted head.  Unfortunately, I learned to my dismay that while the head, somewhat over-refined, was not so bad from a close vantage point, when you put it at a distance it looked somewhat like a snipe.  Or,  perhaps, like Bob Hope.  In fact, it reminded me forcibly of a cartoon by Honore' Daumier:

Blast!  It was back to the drawing board. 

Fortunately, I found the perfect image when I wasn't looking for it.  In fact, I caught a glimpse and spent a good long time trying to find it again.   
General Maurice-Louis Gigost d'Elbee
This man was one of the royalist generals who fought in the counter-revolution during the Terror (French revolution).  Freedom of Worship had been denied, the king was imprisoned, and the Terror was in full swing under Robespierre.  Led by a peasant, wearing the emblems of their faith, aristocrat and commoner, wealthy or poor, they fought with courage and firmness.  The 'Republican' government's suppression of the revolt, is considered genocide.  It was a terrible time, but heroes and heroines arose, as happens during such times.  This man was one.  I am surprised that he is not better known, but then people tend to shy away from those who lose wars.  Napoleon, by the way, came to power while the strife continued, though weakened.  He made inquiries, realized that the people were fighting for freedom of worship, and stopped the war and the killings.  The portrait was commissioned posthumously by Louis XVIII after 1817.
...And, on a less impressive note, I had an image I could use.  It was in the public domain, and I could not imagine that Maurice d'Elbee would object to my borrowing his portrait as a basis for a character that was also a hero.
I adjusted the image: the epaulettes were out of place, the hair out of fashion.  During the action of the third book, the hero is trying to make his way out of a riot.  He would not be in uniform and the uniform would not, at any rate, look like that.  He would, at least at first, be carrying that heavy cavalry sword (it's a sword, for thrusting, and is straight: sabers, used by light cavalry for slashing, are curved) I tried the earlier cover: 
Uh, no...
There is too much going on.  Too many bodies, too tangled.  And the expression, looking grimly to the left, does not work with the background.  He doesn't appear to be paying attention.

I liked the flag, but ...  No.  I needed something to show tumult.  I also needed to find something to go with the theme of the earlier covers, which incorporated monumental buildings. 

I had an idea, and I tried something else:

This is a little better, but rather boring, truth to tell.  It's a good thing the Chief Inspector is placed where he is, because if his hips were not in that exact spot you would see the Duke of Orleans, who became King Louis-Philippe of France, riding his bright bay horse across the cobblestones with his doffed hat in his hand.

In fact, the cover was boring as all get-out.  And another thing: the white silk sash (used by the counter-revolution to show support for the Bourbon kings) was out of place.  I decided to remove it.

That took some work.  I had to reconstruct the man's coat, which involved constructing the double-breasted placket down to his waist, creating cloth and blending it in.  I admit that it was fun:

While I was at it, I added what I thought were lively people at the right, complete with tricolor.

Alas, it being Christmas day, a friend asked me what on earth Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim were doing there.


They had a point.

What the heck to do?

I sat back and thought...

Almost there
You can't get much more monumental than the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris on the Île de la Cité.  Placing the figure on the other side of the composition provided balance.  It worked.

Well...  Maybe.

I sat back with a frown. 
Aside from the fact that my hero appeared to have a light saber embedded in the heel of his right boot (on our left) with the blade beaming downward, it was Okay but not really good.  So what to do...?

I eyed the design, reached for my mouse...

Done. all I have to do is finish volumes II and III.

Piece of cake.

...and avoid watching my nearest and dearest as they draw and paint. 

Yes, M. Gustave (Courbet) I know the feeling!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Celebrations January 16, 2015

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Welcome to the January 16 edition of the Celebrating the Small Things blog hop, started by VikLit and now run by Lexa Cain, our fearless new leader and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge
Katie @ TheCyborgMom

Do stop by and visit!
Today I am celebrating being a smart-aleck.  Or…  Oh, dear, that's probably not something I should say.  Let's just say that I am celebrating being given the opportunity to figuratively nail one of those people who call and try to persuade unknowing folks to part with their money because they have been trapped by a scam. 

Hi, there!  Come closer!
There are far too many of such people in the world.  I, having a strong streak of commonsense and dealing, in my professional life, with cheats and sneaks and liars on a far too common basis, can identify them a mile away.  Usually.  Once I fell for a scam, but I recognized it for what it was and backed out. I think I scared them, rather like the emotion you feel when what you thought was a pretty, longhaired black and white cat turns out to be a skunk.  

Anyhow, today I received a phone call.  The caller ID screen said it was a Skype caller.  I picked up, said hello, and the conversation went from there...

--Hello?  This is Diana Wilder?
I admitted that it was.
--I need to speak to you about your computer—
I gasped.  M-my computer?  You mean like fixing a problem?

(Note:  There is absolutely no reason for anyone but The Geek Squad to phone me about my computer.  Perhaps others, but not me.  This was a known scam that nearly caught me last year until I realized that the people who said they were part of Trend Microsoft - an excellent virus control software - were not, and backed out.  I checked with Trend Micro, who got the giggles when I showed them my screen prints of the 'problems' the scammers had pointed out.  In my case, I had encountered a problem and phoned what I thought was the group.  It was a lookalike phone number. I realized my mistake.  Others were not so fortunate.)

But they were game and motivated.  Yes!  If you give us control of your computer we can see problems in your computer—
(Yeah, right.  Uh Huh...  And I have a bridge to sell you.)  --And y-you can fix them? (quavering voice) You could w-walk me through it?  Oh, could you?
--Yes, we do.  So if you—

I gave a cry of dismay.  Oh, if only you had phoned me last week!
--Yes, but we—
I began to sob.  If I had only known about you—  If I had only known you could have helped me.
--But Madam, we—

Alas, too late! (sob)
--No—no— I wept.  It is too late!   My computer blew up and I just…  I just…  No (wept I) it is too late. Too late!  I c-can't talk any more.  G-good-bye!

Well, I at least thought it was worth celebrating.

So what are you  celebrating today?

Friday, January 2, 2015

January 2, 2014 - Celebrations

This is the January 2, 2015 installment of the Small Celebrations blog hop founded by Vik Lit, the Hop she started and ran for two years while holding down a job, having a social life, and being an utterly delightful person.  I don't know how she did it.

Managing a hop takes an awful lot of work and time (I know: I only helped out a very little) and this wonderful get-together has had an effect on me beyond having to try to think up something to post on a Friday.

It made me:

1.  Sit down and take stock of things

2.  Notice things

3.  Do what a friend called 'Looking For The Blessing'

I would think, It's Thursday: what will I post for Friday? or else I would think This is so nice!  I'll talk about it on Friday. 

It was a way to really start noticing the good things.  I can lump along with the worst of them and find things to grouse about, but this hop made me look up.  It has been a blessing. today I'm celebrating her.  That's a lot to be grateful for.

And we'll see how things go.

What are you celebrating?

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Favorite Christmas Memory

This post is part of 'My Favorite Christmas Memory' blog hop, organized by Cherdo and JuneBug. 

Look around, read the posts, enjoy the memories.  I suspect there will be a log of laughter, smiles
and, maybe, some misty eyes.

**   **   **
Mine has been a wonderful family.  Loving, certainly, smart-alecky at times (children and parents), enjoying each other.  I never doubted that my parents had my best good at heart, though I wished from time to time that I could adjust their notion of exactly what that entailed.  We enjoyed Christmas, the carols, the decorations, the reason for the season. Mom and Dad deplored the shops that put decorations out before Thanksgiving.  Mom has some pithy things to say now about the pre-Halloween Christmas decorations.  But that's another story.

We went to Christmas service, whether at midnight (when we were older) or with the laughing, chattering throngs mid-morning.  It was always good.

Santa ate milk and cookies, left a thank-you note in handwriting that was similar to Dad's.  Once he tracked ashes from the fireplace across the rug. Mom was not happy.

But what about my favorite Christmas memory?  That was a tough one...

And then I was down in my basement fiddling with the laundry and I happened to see a purse on a hanger.

It is a Coach purse, made when the company was still owned by its founders, who went into leather goods by way of baseball gloves.  It has a sturdy shoulder strap, elegant (and sturdy) pure brass buckles and clasps and zippers.  It's numbered...and it is very old.  I haven't carried it in years, it needs a good saddle-soaping and some TLC, but I will never give it away.  It is a symbol and an affirmation.

Christmas of 1990 was a difficult one.  My grandmother had died, my sister had moved to Japan and I was paying all the rent.  It was hard going.  My employer had closed its offices in Philadelphia and I had spent some months out of work. I found another job at a pay cut, I had double the expenses, and money was very, very tight.  And I needed a new purse.

When we move through trying times, we tend to fix our attention on things that are not the actual cause of the problem.  My financial difficulties, my family worries (Grandpa, in his late 90's, was doing poorly after Grandma's death), my frustration with the new job...  All crystallized into the notion that my purse was worn out (it was) and needed to be replaced, and I simply could not afford to do so.  I could not afford a great many things, and it was hard.

All of this was in my head, you understand.  Stiff upper lip and all that.  I was far more fortunate than many that year of 1990.  Counting my blessings led to an impressive total.  I was properly and appropriately grateful. 

...So, Christmas morning, 1990 found me at my parents' house with two less people than usual.  My brothers and their families were out of state and would be coming by after Christmas.  My grandmother's chair was echoingly empty, and my sister, who could always be counted on to liven things up with her humor and knack for finding what made people happy and doing it for them, whether they wanted it or not, was half a globe away.

I gave out my presents, opened the ones given me, chatted with my grandfather, and listened to the music.

...And then Mom handed me a package.  "Here is your last present," she said.

It was a fair-sized package, wrapped with her usual style.  A box...

I pulled the tape away (my family always says, "For  heaven's sake, Diana, would you just OPEN the thing???") revealed the box, and frowned down at it.  Plain brown box.  I lifted the lid...

Sitting in some tissue paper was a rich brown Coach shoulder bag with gleaming brass hardware.  It looked like something you would find in a fine tack room.  A Coach bag.  Big enough to hold all the stuff that I carried with me, redolent with the smell of fine leather.

A Coach bag.

I took it from the box, smoothed the strap with shaking fingers.  And then all the worries, all the self-pity that I had resolutely fought, the stiff upper lip I had shown people, telling them that all was fine with me, they didn't have to worry - all melted and ran down my face as tears.

Mom was watching me, smiling quietly.  "Do you like it?" she asked.

"It's...beautiful," I said.  "Beautiful."

"I noticed that yours was worn, and your father and I thought we would get you a really good one."

That Christmas gift was far larger and more complex than a purse that I had secretly yearned after, the lack of which had served as a sort of symbol for the difficulties I was facing at that time.  It served to confirm that I would be cared for, one way or another, whether or not I was in difficulties.  It made me realize that I could trust those who loved me to, well, love me.   And, sometimes, unspoken wishes were granted.

That was twenty-four years ago.  The bag has been well-loved and is now retired.  I think I may take it out, give it a good saddle-soaping, and carry it for a while.  More immediately, I will finish this post (I am writing this on December 21), get in my car, and drive the 250 miles to my mother's house and do my best to make this Christmas, the third since she was widowed, a warm and happy one for her.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thought for the Moment: Discipline

A sometimes unwelcome truth...
I stumbled upon this image while thumbing through various ones trying to find something for a book cover design I was working on.  It made me pause and think.

Slow and steady wins the race…haste makes waste…Measure twice and cut once…

They all refer to our need to refuse instant gratification.  To allow the wine to age, to permit the flowers to grow, to let a relationship deepen.  In my case, referring to my writing, it was very hard not to give in and shoot for that ‘Holiday Release’ when I knew jolly well that the book simply was not ready.

I’m older than I was (ten minutes older right now than when I started jotting my thoughts for this post) and I have learned a thing or two despite my best efforts to the contrary.  Around late September of this year I sat back, looked at my ‘Holiday Release’, lowered my head and advised all who were concerned with the book that it simply was  not ready, and needed to be pushed back at least four months.  Everyone was charming about it, and while I still felt the itch to get that wonderful book cover I’d put together out to be seen, I knew I had done the right thing.

Guess what?  I really had done the right thing.

·     The book cover was scrapped and a far better one designed.

·     With the pressure off, I found that the storyline itself was deepening, growing more complex and tighter, and setting up for a really good (I think) finish in the third volume of the series…

·     …which, incidentally, was being pushed toward finishing by my work on the second volume.

The entire effort is far better than it was in September.  And once again I have to concede that impatience is best restrained and time, in matters of creation, is generally an ally.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Celebrations December 12, 2014

It's celebrations Friday again, and time for the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop, a brilliant idea conceived by Viklit .  Every Friday we post about the things that have happened that are worth celebrating, however small.  It's fun, free, and makes  you think - and there are some wonderful bloggers who participate. 

Today I'm kicking back and enjoying the season.

There are all sorts of things about this season that I like:

the end of the 'blast furnace' heat that seems to come in July and August.

falling leaves (to really like those, I need to celebrate a willing neighbor child who will rake leaves for me)

And for the rest, some images:

You *are* wearing your slippers and have your (chose 1) cat on your lap, dog at your feet, main squeeze in your arms...

They left out the cognac!
The difference between 'hot cocoa' and 'hot chocolate has been discussed.  I prefer 'hot chocolate', but if either is brought by a smiling loved one, then I am happy.  I do, of course, eat the whipped cream (if any) first.  A jigger of cognac helps matters, too...

Ah!  The snowplow is com-  Aaack!  Run!!!  **WHOOSH!**

Ideally, this last is a view out the window.  ...although after a nice day of making snow-angels in the snow, watching the dogs romp through the drifts, and seeing that your local municipal snow removal concern has managed to (a) remove the snow without (b) destroying your mail box or (c) blocking your driveway with icebergs that will require dynamite to shift, it is pleasent to bundle up and sit on front step and watch the snow.

...though, for myself, perhaps I will look at this scene out my picture window while toasting my toes by the fire and sipping hot chocolate.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

What are you celebrating?