According to GrowthBadger, there are over 600 million blogs online today. Over 31 million bloggers in the United States post at least once a month. Over 2 billion posts are published each year worldwide.
Alas, no matter how hard I try, I can’t read them all. I have some favorites, however, and in this post I’ll profile two of them.
Which is easier to write—novels or short stories? How about short-short stories? How about short-short-short . . .
Each week, a photograph is posted at Rochelle Wisoff-Fields—Addicted to Purple. Using the photo as a prompt, you write a 100-word story—complete with beginning, middle, and end—post both photo and story on your own blog, and link to an inLinkz list of other Friday Fictioneers’ stories.
A Round of Words in 80 Days: The Writing Challenge That Knows You have a life
Many writing challenges set goals for you: Write 1,000 words every day. Write five chapters every week. Write write write . . . And then life gets in the way, and goals are not met, and the challenge ends not with a bang, but a whimper.
ROW80, on the other hand, allows writers to set their own goals. There are four 80-day rounds in a year. At the beginning of a round, you set your goals, write about them on your blog, and then post about your progress on Sundays and Wednesdays.
As with Friday Fictioneers, posts are linked so other participants can keep up with your progress.
Progress is the operative word. Goals can be modified at any time.
Everything you need to know about how the challenge works is on the ROW80 site:
New Orleans is known for many things. It is a city of magic, mystery and a creole culture. New Orleans offers fabulous Cajun food, jazz and traditions born of hundreds of years of French, Spanish and American influences melding to create one of the most exciting cities in the U.S.
February marks the beginning of the Mardi Gras culture of masks, beads, and jazz music on every corner and in the streets,
and the closer it gets to Fat Tuesday, the more frenzied the partying becomes.
Somewhat out of character in this atmosphere, however, New Orleans has a very sobering institution. Surrounded by the city’s distinctive and ornate French architecture, surrounded by the mysterious atmosphere, and surrounded by celebrations and festivities, stands a stately monument.
Flying the Stars and Stripes, high above its roof, is the National World War II Museum. Visitors who take time off from the city’s fun events to come here experience the sacrifices made by so many in defense of other nations, as well as our own.
A 2017 TripAdvisor rated the World War II Museum the number one attraction in New Orleans, and number two in the world. Again, in 2018, it was rated one of the top ten museums in the world.
Well planned, the museum’s design provides immersive exhibits, multimedia experiences, and a vast collection of artifacts. Spanning the nation’s pre-war domestic manufacturing, preparation to enter the war, and its industrial efforts on the home front once the U.S. entered the conflict, the exhibits pay attention to the women on the home front who took over the industrial work when the men were sent overseas.
Upon entering the museum, one looks up to see a C- 47 transport plane suspended on cables. The C-47 carried many of the young men sent to fight and die in Europe and Southeast Asia. Beneath this plane is a Nazi anti-aircraft gun, the type used to shoot down the C-47s, and alongside the gun is an Andrew Higgins landing craft.
Throughout the museum, there are displays of weapons, the soldiers’ back packs, communication equipment, and first-person oral histories, as well as unique immersive exhibits—all included in the admission price. One interactive exhibit is The Dog Tag Experience, which
encourages visitors to choose a soldier from the kiosk of registered combatants and follow him through the war.
For those who prefer to go from exhibit to exhibit on their own, the displays are labeled and arranged to move the viewer from event to event, but also included in the admission price are guided tours.
These guides are well versed in the areas they cover, and they provide the details and connective tissue that turn specific events into full histories.
Then there is the 4D movie. Shown on a panoramic screen, and narrated by Tom Hanks, Beyond All Boundaries covers the epic story of WW II. The film is a very intense experience and not recommended for young children.
Although there are many stories of inspiration and courage, all war is hell, as is clearly shown here. No one sane wants it, but in the words of the first president of the United States, in his first annual address to Congress, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” (George Washington, January 8, 1790) To that point, there is an exhibit board displaying how unprepared the U.S. was in 1941. Japan had 1,700,000 men in uniform, Germany had 3,180,000, and the U.S. had 335,000.
In a separate pavilion, connected by an indoor bridge are two roads. Each one occupies a full floor. One takes the visitor on the combat road to Berlin, starting with the battles in North Africa, and the other, on the road to Tokyo, weaves in and out of the island fights in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
New Orleans was selected for the museum because it is the city in which Andrew Higgins built the landing craft used in the amphibious invasions. As the Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower believed the landing craft was one of the five essential inventions that helped win the war. New Orleans is better known, however, for its free spirit, fun, food, music, multicultural events, and Mardi Gras festival. Having the museum here is a solemn reminder that the freedoms and celebrations we enjoy carry a hefty price tag.
The men and women who paid the price in the mid-twentieth century are almost gone. One day soon, all that will be left to tell future generations what happened to the world between 1932 and 1945 are these stories of the citizen soldiers, the men and women who fought the battles in Europe and the Pacific, and the odds they faced. Their records, personal oral histories, and photographs taken by military photographers in real-time ensure that they will be remembered forever.
The World War II museum is comprehensive, and it is not possible to see and experience everything it has to offer in one day. Nonetheless, any amount of time spent there is worth the price of admission.
A native New Yorker and a Texas transplant, Fran Paino loves learning about her new State and enjoys melding the cultures and characteristics of two cities, New York and Austin, where she and her husband now live, under the watchful and loving direction of their cat, Miss Millie.
Ms. Paino is an active member of the Writers’ League of Texas, Sisters in Crime, Heart of Texas Chapter, and Austin Mystery Writers. She is an alumnus of the Austin’s Citizen’s Police Academy.
1986, Community College, Day One of Art Appreciation. Clumping to the podium on wooden clogs, dressed like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, the teacher stated we would learn two truths about art: 1) Art is subjective; and 2) with Art, there isalways something more.
This post began about Wassily Kandinsky, but surprisingly, things quickly moved someplace else and about someone else. And, just like that, there was something more to the story–a real art history mystery.
In the long story of art, Kandinsky is the Father of Abstract Art. This was an undisputed fact until 1968. Then an utterly unknown Swedish artist’s hidden work was released—a woman, not Kandinsky, was the first Abstract artist. Her name, Hilma af Klint, and just like that, the art world was turned on its head.
The immensity of the af Klint discovery is still being debated, its impact on-going, her diaries under translation, and further scholarly work anticipated.
For this post to go anywhere, it was obvious much more digging would have to happen. First, find out more about these complex artists, the who, what, where and when of each.
Who was Wassily Kandinsky?
Kandinsky, a Russian, was born in Moscow to loving and financially secure parents of the merchant class. Despite his parents’ divorcing when he was young, he had a stable childhood. After the divorce, he went to live with his aunt and attended school. His mother later re-married and had three additional children, providing him both siblings and a second family.
Kandinsky showed artistic talent early: drawing, painting, and playing the cello and piano. But later in college, he pursued degrees in law and political science, becoming a career educator, lecturer and teacher. Abruptly at thirty years of age, Kandinsky left the academic world, seeking a career in art. His formal training was brief, however; he adopted the day’s avant-garde styles and joined non-conformist artists in establishing the Bauhaus Movement in Germany.
Prior to World War I, Kandinsky achieved some notoriety as an art teacher and lecturer. In 1911, he wrote his treatise titled Concerning the Spiritual in Art, that is still in use today. Groundbreaking at the time, his premise (generally) was that within each artist there was a spiritual need to create. Art, in turn, when viewed, fulfilled a spiritual need inherent within the viewer. Music, color, and the arts (drawing, performing, painting) created a synthesis akin to a spiritual experience.
Kandinsky’s writings are complex but made clearer when it was found that he had a condition known as synesthesia. Synesthesia is a condition in which certain individuals upon hearing music, see colors and vice versa. With Kandinsky, the more intense the music, the more intense the coloration in his paintings.
Synesthesia also proved to be a key contributor in Kandinsky’s creation of a symbolic linear shorthand. Sixteen years after writing Concerning the Spiritual in Art, he published Point and Line to Plane, expanding his theory of lines, color, music, and composition, solidifying his theories.
Later, his most memorable paintings would be titled and numbered mimicking musical compositions. While historians have debated the point, they generally contend that the first Kandinsky abstract was his 1913 Composition VII. This work was, for the time, shockingly absent of any form and a total abstraction of color.
When the estate of Swedish artist Hilma af Kint released her hidden private collection in 1968, the art world was at a minimum shocked. Not only was Af Klint a woman, her work was entirely unknown.
Af Klint, believing that the world would not understand her life’s work, stipulated in her will that it was to remain hidden until twenty years after her death. When af Klint unexpectedly died in 1944, her nephew inherited the estate. He was surprised at the immensity of the find, and abided by the will’s terms, withholding the collection and finally releasing them in 1968.
With the release of the collection, it was discovered that af Klint had been creating abstracts a full six years before Kandinsky. Hilma af Klint, not Kandinsky, was the most likely choice to have been the first abstract painter – a dramatic revelation.
Who was Hilma af Klint?
Hilma af Klint was born the fourth child of five children, a daughter of a Swedish naval captain. Af Klint, like Kandinsky, displayed an early talent for both drawing and painting. Hilma was also adept in both mathematics and botany. From other accounts, she was known as a kind, serious, and intelligent person, devoted to her family and particularly to her visually impaired mother.
Eventually, Hilma’s talent was recognized and she was admitted to the Stockholm Academy of Fine Arts at twenty years of age. After graduation, af Klint was able to financially support herself producing landscapes, botanical subjects, and portraits. She became the primary caretaker of her mother and never married. Due to her mother’s condition, she was unable to travel or exhibit outside of Stockholm.
During the productive years of both Kandinsky and af Klint, Spiritualism was a widespread popular pursuit. After the death of her younger sister, af Klint became heavily involved and became a medium and member of a secret group of women named The Five. The Five met regularly to channel spiritual guides. Lengthy and detailed notes of instructions and messages received from the guides were written down in numerous notebooks and diaries.
It was during the seances that Hilma was instructed by her personal guide Amaliel, to create a group of paintings, reflecting the life stages of man from birth to death, later referred to as the Temple series. She completed the series in 1906, at 42 years of age. These works physically and mentally exhausted her. At one point, she attempted to share her work but was rebuffed gruffly by a critic and withdrew from painting for a period of time.
Comparing Lives – Kandinsky and Af Klint
After af Klint’s death, over one thousand spiritually directed works were discovered along with an undetermined number of diaries with sketches and notebooks. All of these works are now being studied and translated. Like af Klint, Kandinsky produced a large body of work; however, Kandinsky’s total output remains unknown. Many of his works were deemed degenerate and were destroyed under Hitler’s regime during WWII.
Both Kandinsky and af Klint believed in the Spiritual Movement sweeping Europe, and in separate and distinct ways, it directed their work. In his treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky, speaks of the confluence of music, color, and art as a spiritual synthesis producing the highest form of art. Hilma af Klint painted the famous Temple series at the direction of her spiritual guide, Amaliel. Although the spiritual instructions came in widely different forms, each artist believed that outside forces were directing their work.
Historians have confirmed that at least on one occasion, af Klint participated in an exhibit with Kandinsky. It is also been confirmed that her working studio was in the same building in which an Edvard Munch exhibit had taken place, also confirming she was a contemporary of Munch and Kandinsky. There is no proof at this time showing that Kandinsky and af Klint were introduced or aware of one another.
Other differences exist between the two artists. Kandinsky was born in 1866 and died at 78 years of age, relatively unknown and penniless in Paris; Hilma af Klint was born in 1862 and died at 82 years of age as the result of automobile accident in Sweden, she also was unknown and penniless. Kandinsky was born in Moscow, an only child, only much later gaining step-siblings through his mother’s second marriage. Af Klint, on the other hand, was born in Stockholm into a large family, the fourth child of five children. While af Klint never married nor had any children, Kandinsky married twice and had one child who tragically died at three years of age.
Kandinsky did not pursue an artistic career until 30 years of age, having very little formal training. Hilma af Klint began formal training at 20 years of age and graduated from a prestigious art program at 25. Both artists displayed talent when young, yet Kandinsky was a respected academic before coming to art late in his life. Both artists created paintings in the Absract style, but produced their works in totally different countries, far apart from one another. It also been confirmed that af Klint created her abstractions a full six years earlier than Kandinsky.
Geographical differences also exist between the two. Kandinsky moved frequently. He was first in Moscow then Munich, changing careers, pursuing art at thirty, finding some notoriety and acknowledgment. He was forced to flee into the German countryside, then went back to Russia because of WWI. After WWII, Wassily finally arrived in Paris, where he died penniless and unrecognized.
Af Klint, unlike Kandinsky, moved infrequently and always lived within Sweden. Born in Sweden, she grew up living on a naval base, went to school in Stockholm, and essentially never left Sweden her entire life. Hilma died at the age of 82, and, like Kandinsky, was isolated, penniless, and unknown.
Both Kandinsky and af Klint were pioneers of Abstraction. Both left art legacies filled with mystical language, color, and symbols. While Kandinsky left a linear language of representational movement, af Klint left admirers an otherworldly language of symbols.
Kandinsky’s fascination with lines and color are readily apparent in his paintings, while, af Klint’s paintings reflect her proficiency in botany with many images similar to cellular or even floral reproductive or germination phases.
And in the end, the question Who was the first Abstract Artist? remains unanswered. We ask, Does it matter that we do not have an answer? The best response, probably not. The legacies of Kandinsky and af Klint is their art – and happily, we are the beneficiaries.
Wassily Kandinsky. Concerning the Spiritual in Art, by Wassily Kandinsky, is in the public domain and is thus available as a free download from Project Gutenberg.
Also available from Amazon.
A former paralegal, Renee Kimball has a master’s degree in criminal justice. Among her interests are reading and writing. She is an active Animal Advocate and fosters and rescues both dogs and cats from shelters and works with various organizations to find them forever homes.
“Tell me a story about before you met me,” the lover entreats the loved one.
“Tell me the story about how you met,” we ask the new couple.
“Tell me the scariest moment,” the reporter demands of the returning explorer.
“Tell me a story,” we whisper to the books on the library shelf.
After an astounding career as master of detective fiction, P. D. James finished Talking about Detective Fiction in 2009, when she was nearly ninety. This small but hugely thoughtful book touches many topics: the history of detective fiction, authorial arguments over point of view and whether or not the murderer can be a protagonist, variants in the genre. Then James tackles the importance of setting, the importance of character, and the importance of plot.
As to setting: “If we believe in the place we can believe in the characters.” She notes that one function of the setting is to add credibility to a story. For James, credibility is particularly needed for crime fiction, which often offers not just dramatic but bizarre or horrific events. (This immediately brought to mind Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling’s) Cormoran Strike series, including The Silkworm.) According to James, “My own detective novels, with rare exceptions, have been inspired by the place rather than by a method of murder or a character.” She says her Devices and Desires was born when she stood on a deserted beach in East Anglia, then turned and saw the vast outline of a nuclear power station.
Character: her characters “grow like plants” while she’s writing but still bring surprises, so that “at the end, no matter how carefully and intricately the work is plotted, I never get exactly the novel I planned.”
As to why people love this genre? For the story. For the story! Here she quotes E.M. Forster:
“‘We are all like Scheherazade’s husband in that we want to know what happens next. That is universal and that is why the backbone of a novel has to be a story….Qua story, it can have only one merit: that of making the audience want to know what happens next. And conversely it can have only one fault: that of making the audience not want to know what happens next.’” [E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel]
Our mystery genre has at its heart, of course, a mystery, and we know that by the end it will be solved, more or less. Of course, we readers relish solving the mystery, but, as James says of herself, if that were the only attraction, we wouldn’t reread our old favorites. Which many of us do.
Why do we reread? Not just for the solution, but for the story. Once upon a time there was [a character] who lived in [a setting] and one day, a [terrible awful amazing startling promising exciting bizarre weird shocking hilarious unexpected] thing happened. And what do you think happened next?
We can’t wait. Bring it on. Because we want a story, in a setting we believe in, even if surprising, so we believe in the characters, and––even when we’re re-reading an old favorite–– we want to keep turning the pages so we can know what happens next.
Thank you, P. D. James, for this rich small book, and for all your books with their settings, characters, plot intricacies…and story.
Helen Currie Foster is the author of the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series. She earned a BA from Wellesley College, an MA from the University of Texas, and a JD from the University of Michigan.
Having grown up in Texas surrounded by books and storytelling, she taught high school English and later became a prize-winning feature writer for a small Michigan weekly. Following a career of more than thirty years as an environmental lawyer, the character Alice and her stories suddenly appeared in Foster’s life. In her writing, Foster explores the interaction between history and the present and the reasons we tell the stories we do.
Married with two children, she lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She works in Austin, and she’s active with the Hays County Master Naturalists and the board of Austin Shakespeare.