Is Quality in Art Subjective?

Let’s leave writing for a moment and head into the visual arts. Is whether or not a piece of art “good” or “amazing” purely subjective? To a point, perhaps, but particularly in visual and musical arts, there is a clear objective component in their quality. This shouldn’t be surprising: Music is rooted in acoustical physics, art in geometry and the physics of light and color.

How can art be objectively measured? Artist Robert Florczak explains in this entertaining video. What do you think, art or rubbish?

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The End of Shannara

For four decades now, Terry Brooks has penned his epic Shannara fantasy series. Now, he has decided to bring it to a close.

More or less.

Recently announced, he will write the chronicological end of his creation in a series of books. Then he may — or may not — go back and write some books to fill in gaps in the series.

With nearly 30 books in the series thus far, Shannara has become a staple world in the fantasy genre. It emerged at a time when high fantasy fans didn’t have much to choose from. When I had read everything Tolkien had written (which, unfortunately, wasn’t a lot), a friend recommenced Terry Brooks. While some argued his first book, The Sword of Shannara was too much like LotR, the series quickly established itself as an original world. So for Tolkien fans, Brooks provided a land of humans, elves and other creatures that filled the post-Tolkien void.

As a series goes, some of the books are self-contained standalones, though most are trilogies. This makes it easy for new fans to drop into Shannara without necessarily going back to the first book. The books, or groups of books, usually are separated by decades, if not centuries of time. One issue fans of the epic Wheel of Time series have, is that if you started it as a kid, you didn’t finish it until you had kids. Plus, you can’t start at, say, volume 12. On the other hand, I’m sure many Shannara fans have hoped for Brooks to go back and revisit their favorite characters.

I recommend starting with the first book, but regardless where you begin, Shannara is a land that will endure for ages to come.

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Distant Lands and Fantastic Places

One of the main goals of any novel is sending readers to locations real or imagined. What of the real ones, though? Does a writer have to travel to those places before writing an authentic story?

Many writers love traveling the world for research, and this certainly not a bad idea. Fusing your novelist career with that of a world travel would be fun, but isn’t always a feasible option. Especially if you’re writing about some dangerous region or perhaps a real, yet inaccessible place, such as Mars.

The truth is that a writer needs to be able to make a reader believe he or she is somewhere they have never been — whether or not the writer theirself has. In the Information Age where you can learn of any place — though I have learned that other books are often just as, if not more, valuable — any writer should be able to quickly drop a reader into another world.

You always run the risk of a reader who has been to your chosen locales finding a inaccuracy or omission. While a writer should strive for realism, part of writing well is picking the right, and enough, details to paint the mental picture. Going to a historic location in a novel shouldn’t read like a history lesson. Nor should it be a simple laundry list of descriptors.

Stonehenge and Glastonbury Tor are among the places that figure into Among the Shadows, anchoring the fantasy adventure in the real world. One of the opening scenes in Book 2, Awakening, unfolds on Nan Madol, a mysterious and ancient, ruined city in the Western Pacific. While visiting these places would be a fun way to write, not visiting them is a welcome challenge in creation, as much as is the world-building that fantasy and sci-fi genres are known for.

A writer explores to write, a reader reads to explore. Or is it a writer writes what he wants to read, and a reader reads what she wants to write? In either case, a great book should be like that looking glass or wardrobe and send you to another place and time.

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Orwell’s Revenge

After President Trump’s advisor, Kellyanne Conway, made an odd comment about “alternative facts,” others quickly noted the similarity to the concept of “newspeak” in George Orwell’s classic, dystopian novel 1984. Newspeak was the language used to control and shape the thoughts of people. To be fair, terms like “fake news” and “alt-right” are also Orwellian, as well as how many in the media and Washington (from both sides) try to manipulate people and thoughts. Thanks to all of this, Orwell’s book, along with similar classics like A Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, went to the top of bestseller lists.

And that made me laugh.

These are books on how governments, politicians and the media manipulate, control and monitor (Big Brother) the thoughts, beliefs and actions of the people.

Do the politicians and media really want the people reading these books? Do they want you to realize, that on a daily basis, that they have become what the Orwells of the world warned us about?

They may just have opened Pandora’s Box and there’s no closing that.

P.S. I had wondered if people even read these books in school anymore; perhaps these sales show they have not. It is also amusing to see the media and politicians lecturing us on truth, such as Dan Rather, who got himself in trouble for pushing “fake but accurate” news (talk about Orwellian). The media and politics are riddled with truthtwisters – perhaps Orwell will help more people realize this.

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Lost City of Z

David Grann‘s book The Lost City of Z reintroduced readers to the true story of Percy Fawcett‘s epic search for the legendary Lost City of Z in the Amazon. Now, it is being told on the big screen this spring and may be a welcome respite to the same old, action films. Check out the trailer here:

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The West that Was

Like many topics, the expansion into the West and the wars with the Indians (Native Americans) gets some short blurbs in history class before moving onto the next era. The Oregon Trail, ’49 Gold Rush, Pony Express, famous cowboy outlaws, Transcontinental Railroad, wagon trails and Custer’s Last Stand are among the familiar touchstones.

Yet he details of this history are far more vivid, fascinating and, sometimes, disturbing.

These three books, by different authors, serve as a trilogy to the western expansion and the “Indian Wars” of the 1800s: The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History and The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

Most now understand that pushing out the natives was often driven by greed and viewing them as primitives. Custer is no longer a hero. Few, though, know how brutal those wars were, or the hardships of settlers caught in the middle. Nor were many of the Indian nations peaceful peoples. Even fighting among themselves, their warfare was barbaric. That doesn’t justify their extermination; nor does their defense justify all of their own actions. Sometimes, in real history, it’s hard to pick out the villains and heroes. Other times, they aren’t who you thought they were.

For better or for worse, this was a defining era in U.S. history. It is a reminder, that in the not so distant past, people could be convinced to take terrible actions. A much greater nation managed to emerge from the blood and dust, so we should be thankful for that. Now we must respect the past so the wrongs don’t become our future, and those who should have lived are finally remembered.

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Patriot’s Day

Patriot's Day

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10 Publishing Trends for 2017

Robert Bidinotto pointed out this post at the Write Nook on what 2017 has in store for writers and readers:

The Write Nook

Another year is upon us. We all have a new “to-do” list, a new set of goals, and new adventures awaiting our arrival. Thanks to our friends at Written Word Media, they are making this year a little bit easier on us already. They have compiled a Top 10 publishing trend list for 2017 and I have to say, they are spot on. Take a look at the list below for things you should be looking out for to make this year your most successful yet.

2017

  1. Fiction sales are driven by e-books. The large majority of adult book sales are digital, especially for fiction. So, if that’s the genre you write in you will want to focus most of your marketing power there.
  2. Indie authors and small presses will keep growing. It’s no secret that the “Big 5″‘s market share continues to drop year after year. But, it’s encouraging…

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Saving Barnes and Noble

More bad news for Barnes and Noble. Holiday sales were down 9%. Besides making the mistake (like many retailers do) of over-relying on Christmas sales, B&N still seems to have trouble refitting their ship. No reader or writer wants to see B&N fail, but here is what I wrote awhile back on how B&N could reinvent itself.

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Lost Cities & Deadly Jungles

The search for lost cities is what movies are made of — and many of the films were inspired by real life. A number of authors have set out following the trails and clues left by others in search of what may still be lost. The latest is thriller writer Douglas Preston‘s book  The Lost City of the Monkey God.

Rumors of the White City hidden in the impenetrable jungles of Honduras have persisted for centuries. Preston joined a team of explorers and archaeologists, using a combination new technology and old-fashioned fight-your-way-through-the-jungle, to search for lost ruins.

Indeed, they find a lost city and indications of others. This a true story of adventure into a land of deadly animals and diseases, cartels and fixers, and forgotten histories that may still hold messages for modern man.

As Preston and the authors below have shown us, there is still much of our past to be uncovered. And there are still adventures to be had.

Categories: Ancient America, Ancient Sites, Forgotten Places, History, Native Americans | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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