Non-Fiction: A Study of Five Pieces of Art and Their Periods.

The Calling of St. Matthew was painted from 1599 to 1600 by an artist known as Caravaggio, and was the piece that won him lasting fame. I chose this work because the dramatic lighting and easily identifiable emotions on the subjects’ faces are common qualities of the Baroque style. It highlights several new techniques and ideas of the times, and endures as an impressive work, even today. The figure of Christ is placed on the edge of the painting, only his head and upraised arm visible, emerging from deep shadows. This positioning is directly contrary to the Renaissance practice of placing the most important figure in the center of a work. A robed man stands next to Christ, possibly a disciple or apostle. A group of well-dressed money-lenders sit at a table counting coins and poring over ledgers, two of which fail to see Christ’s arrival. St. Matthew is one of these, his head bowed as his hands greedily separate gold coins. One of the lenders points to himself wonderingly, mistaking Christ’s pointed finger as intended for him. A dynamism to the figures’ arrangement and form speaks of the tension of the event, with the lenders looking on in confusion at the solemn face of Christ. Warm light spills from a high window, casting complicated shadows from limbs and folds of clothing. The palette is narrow, mostly earthy browns and yellows, but saturated reds and even greens can be seen.

While difficult to assign a specific set of characteristics to, the Baroque period certainly saw painters emphasizing realistic depictions of un-realistic subjects in everyday situations. For example, Caravaggio took this well-known scene from the Bible and placed the fantastic event (Christ calling a sinner from his greed to join Him in his ministry) into a very human and naturalistic setting. His subjects are relatable, not idealized, shown in believable positions, not contrived postures. The pronounced chiaroscuro (called tenebrism) of the lighting and darkened background, painstakingly rendered through real-world observation in his studio, was a stylistic breakthrough and influenced many artists of the Baroque period and later. It brought a new level of three-dimensionality and a theatrical quality to art.

This scene is more than just a depiction of a biblical story. It also serves as an allegorical warning. By placing the figures in contemporary clothing (of the time), Caravaggio gives the viewer pause, perhaps in an attempt to spark a thoughtful and emotional reaction in them. The meaning is clear: we are all sinners and slaves to greed. Only Christ can save us, if we but listen to his call.

The Calling of St. Matthew brought a new standard to painting, challenging artists to observe and recreate the reality of the natural world. Its subjects, blemishes and all, brought art closer to the common people, inviting everyone to benefit from its message, not just the aristocracy. This humanization of biblical figures was no doubt an instrumental influence on the later works of Realists, beginning a tradition that eventually led to the Impressionist movement and the popularity of candid photography.

Parnassus was painted in 1761, a work by Anton Raphael Mengs. I chose this piece because of its solid embodiment of the Neo-Classical ideals of simplicity, harmony, and order. The clothing stays firmly within the expected Neo-Classical palette of primary colors, and the figures within the careful framing pose with decorum, formed with severe idealism. The clear connection to the tenants of the Neo-Classical movement is thorough and plain.

The scene depicts Apollo (the god of music, intellectual inquiry, and poetry) surrounded by muses. He stands as a vitruvian nude, save for a drape across his shoulders. A wreath of laurels crown his head and another is clutched in his formally upraised hand, perhaps intended as a gift. A lyre rests on his hip, calling to mind his role of dominion over music. The muses surrounding him are arrayed in colorful clothing from antiquity, dancing, composing music (or poetry), and posing with elements of the theatre. Aspects of Classical architecture are evident in the fluting of the small corinthian column and Apollo’s sandals. The collection of figures calls to mind a sculptural frieze, with little attempt at creating a sense of depth or three-dimensionality. Little to no ornamentation shows the Neo-Classic reaction to the gaudiness of the Rococo, and the calm, almost sedated expressions of the subjects defy the emotionalism of the Baroque.

The laurel leaves symbolize accomplishment, and combined with the elements of dance, performance, and music, is meant to convey worldly achievements in the arts. The message is nearly didactic in its overt depiction of excellence, championing the merits of the Classical era and adherence to tradition (the use of Classical orders and ornamentation in art and architecture), suggesting that the viewer also, should claim such virtues as honor and restraint.

Paintings such as Parnassus contributed much to the growth of Neo-Classicism, influencing later works that in turn brought a renewed interest in the ideals, or virtues, of the classical past. With its noble air and simple execution, Parnassus helped bring about the development of many new styles, some complimentary, others in direct opposition to Neo-Classicism.


Romanticism was a direct reaction to the values of Neo-Classicism, replacing didactic pieces featuring reason, primary colors, and statuesque figures with the strange and fanciful, portraying feeling and imagination. Johann Henry Füseli embraced this rebellion when he painted The Nightmare in 1781. The subject of this painting is that of dreams, specifically nightmares. It gives an fantastical portrayal, going so far as to show the dreamer within the composition, side-by-side the ghouls she dreams of. A young woman lays draped upon a bed, her upper torso and arms falling over the side, long tresses of wavy hair cascading toward the ground. She is dressed in clothing reminiscent of the Classical past: a simple but well-made garment of filmy white material. The contours of her body show through sensuously, revealing an idealized form not unlike those within Neo-Classical pieces. A nightstand plays host to several jars and perfume bottles, while the carved wood and gold-trimmed tassels speak of wealth. Her face might be that of a former lover from Füseli’s own life.

Upon the dreamer’s stomach perches a sinister incubus, caught in the motion of turning to face the viewer, his bulging, darkened eyes piercing through the surface of the painting. Thick limbs and stocky legs give it a sense of immense weight, as do the shadows cast across the majority of its body, pinning the woman to her bed. This could well be a reference to the sensation many report feeling while experiencing nightmares: being unable to move despite the clawing desperation of fear. It is said that the incubus’s grim face bears a resemblance to Füseli himself, a fact that if true, casts the portrayal of a former lover as the dreamer in a new, disturbing light. In the background, the night mare pushes its head through the thick red drapes, nostrils flared, teeth jutting, and eyes rolling wildly.

The prominent shadows, reminiscent of tenebrism, dictate the use of copious blacks, highlighted dramatically by light source from beyond the frame that makes the pure white of the dreamer’s gown glow. Deep red drapes and blankets add color, as do the browns of the incubus’s corrupted skin. Paint is applied with less attention to detail than previous works; the lack of defined outlines representing rather than describing details.

The fantasy with which this supernatural piece is painted, along with the dark elements of fear and the indiscernible madness of the horse draw the viewer in, eliciting an emotional response, a primary goal of Romantic art. The beauty of the dreamer’s form and the grotesque features of the incubus are shoved side-by-side, displaying a juxtaposition that was thought to lead to the Sublime, a state of great admiration and awe.

Romanticism isn’t one particular style, or even collection of styles. It is an approach that attempts to find truth in intense emotions and experiences, be they exquisite or ghastly. The Nightmare contains elements of both, though the painting as a whole leans to the disturbing. The meaning of the work is ambiguous, though some conclusions can be drawn: the inclusion of recognizable features from the artist’s own life can be interpreted as a venting of negative feelings after being shunned. Even so, the meaning of the piece remains subjective rather than reasonable and easily interpreted, another tenant of Romanticism.


Claude Monet’s Impression: Soleil Levant (Sunrise) was the first true Impressionistic painting, created in 1873. It was painted as one of many works intended for exhibit outside of the accepted Salon system in order to rebel against the Académie. Thirty oft-rejected artists sought to engage the art viewing public directly, bypassing the critics. The reviews of the resulting works were generally positive, but one man named Louis Leroy, dubbed Monet’s contribution scathingly as impressionistic because of its obvious brushstrokes and unfinished look, not knowing that the term would stick, and eventually come to represent an entire art movement (Stokstad et al 984). It was this rebellion against the Salon system that brought about the modern art age. Monet uses colors exclusively to represent the scene. A small boat drifts in a harbor, the two men inside mere silhouettes against the rising sun. In the background to the right a group of masted ships ride at anchor, their bulk barely visible as a collection of vertical and diagonal lines of color. To the other side we see the tall smoke stacks of industry, plumes of smoke hovering in the air, partially obscuring the sun. This scene would have been absolutely common in his time, making this a modern-life painting.

Monet uses pure pigments in this work, with little mixing of paints, instead relying on the science of optics and color theory to create the proper hues. Blues, purples, oranges, and yellows are all applied with care and purpose. The palette lacks any blacks, whites, or grays, utilizing varying saturation of pigments to represent light and shadow. Brushstrokes themselves also play a role in the forming of shapes, using differently sized swathes of color to create a “feeling” of the objects, as opposed to plainly describing them.

One of the main components of Impressionism is realism, in that objects and people are represented as they are, true to life. Many artists, such as Monet, employed the practice of plein-aire painting (open air paintings, where the subject is directly observed). Because of this, casual subjects such as the harbor in Impression: Sunrise became popular, in part from the growing popularity of photography, a relatively candid art form. The realist ideas of the Impressionism movement eliminated symbolism and iconography within paintings, instead focusing on communication of moments-in-time to a viewer. The depiction of casual events led to the idea of “art for art’s sake”, the thought that making art is its own motivation, without any extrinsic need for symbols or religious meaning. Impression: Sunrise wasn’t the first work to feature objects suggested with paint (not explicitly depicted), and it wasn’t the last. However, it does hold a place in history as the painting that sparked a new era of art, leading into modern day. Monet’s work directly influenced the styles of Modern painters like Henri Matisse with their focus on color and shape, not line. Impression: Sunrise is still greatly admired for its simplicity of detail and complexity of artistic composition.


The Triumph of Death is a work by Pieter Bruegal the Elder, completed in 1562. I chose it because of its clear separation from the naturalism and idealism of the High Renaissance. Unnatural color tints, elongated proportions, and a high emotional content all make this piece a prime subject for study as a Northern Mannerist piece. The Triumph of Death was an unusual painting in its time, and can still illicit a fair amount of unease from viewers today.

Death is the focus of this scene, both allegorically and literally. The terror of sickness and plague was not far from anyone’s thoughts in this era, and brought such devastation that towns and cities were wiped out in less than a year. This fear and despair is depicted here with gruesome detail. Hundreds of figures fill the frame, some mortals, others the harbingers of death. Skeletons, withered corpses, and grotesques cavort in black delight as they wantonly slaughter men and women alike for sport. The carnage is complete and nearly pornographic in the amount of delight it takes from itself.

Everywhere horrors abound: gaping wounds pour blood, naked men are netted like fish and herded into the depths of hell, and bodies are spitted by spikes. Men are tossed into a pool with millstones tied to their necks while the grim parody of a fanfare is played by the bodies of the dead dressed in the robes of the church. All around lies the sickly green of plague upon the ground, poisoning the very air, mixing with the smoke of bodies burned alive. In the lower-middle foreground, a bound man’s throat is slit by a robed ghoul, and on the far right a skeleton gropes a woman dressed in fine clothes from behind, and toward the bottom edge a skeletal dog eats the face from a baby. A kingly figure in the robes of office and expensive armor lies dying upon the ground, oblivious to the figure of death propping him up, his own short life dwindling within an hourglass clutched by spidery fingers.

The Christian symbol of the Crucifix stand impotently as the host of the dead march over the land. This speaks clearly of the terror so many useless prayers would have brought. Two figures ring a large bell, announcing the coming of death, possibly even an advance on the viewer’s life. The visceral quality of the victims’ faces (screams, disbelief, and weeping), are direct connections to the emotional centers of the viewer, bypassing the intellectual from the start. Mannerist form is also observed: long-limbed skeletons and twisted corpses exist within irrational spacial relationships, putting the viewer on edge.

The color palette is comprised of browns, burnt reds, deep blacks, infectious yellows, and malignant greens. While incorporating many different hues, the general range of color stays relatively narrow, as Bruegal uses secondary colors in place of the typical Renaissance primaries. The resulting effect is an overall feeling of dread and distaste, once again bringing the viewer’s emotions into play.

It is works such as this that began the movement toward the macabre, filtering down the centuries. It also openly addressed the fears of the people of its time, assisting in the development of self-awareness that society required. Without The Triumph of Death and others like it, art might have shied away from such subjects as death and horror. The Mannerist practice of irrationality vs rationality was instrumental to the breadth of styles and art forms we enjoy today.

Non-Fiction: Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora

Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora is a portrait by French painter Marie-Louise-Elisabeth

Vigee le Brun (1755-1842). Painted in 1799, this 53 1/2 x 38 inch oil-on-canvas depicts the Russian “Princess de Minuit” in the likeness of the goddess Flora from classical myth (South 34). The painting is one of many le Brun produced during her twelve-year exile from France during the French Revolution and was originally shown at the Exhibition of Russian Portraits at the Taurida Palace in St. Petersburg (Nickerson 7). The painting is not recorded among le Brun’s lists or memoirs, despite the obvious inspiration and fantasy with which it was painted (Nikolenko “Russian Portraits”). This work was gifted to its current home by Mr. Val A. Browning (South 34).

I first viewed this piece amid many other 18th Century European paintings and sculptures at an exhibition of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on November 26, 2011. I had intended to write about another of Elisabeth le Brun’s paintings, but it was not on exhibit and I went searching for another piece. I was pleasantly surprised to come across the portrait of Princess Galitzine while wandering the display hall, and found myself admiring it more than my first choice. I already admired le Brun’s representation of female faces (particularly the eyes), and recognized her style at once. I ultimately chose this painting as the subject of my research because its mix of bright primary colors and the soft luminosity of light revealing the subject’s features was unique within the exhibit hall. It immediately stood out among the dark Baroque and early Renaissance pieces nearby, one of which was a rather grim depiction of the Deposition of Christ. A definite femininity was present, a quality I often find lacking in paintings of women from the Renaissance to the Rococo era. I have since learned this femininity is a hallmark of le Brun’s portraiture style, and is characteristic of her many paintings (Auricchio, “Women Painters”).

In the painting, a young woman stands in the foreground, dominating the distant landscape with her presence. A woven basket of pink roses sits atop her darkly curled hair, balanced easily by a casual hand. In her other hand she clutches a branch of fruit-bearing leaves. Her clothing is sophisticated, simple in cut, and colorful: saturated blues and reds contrast nicely with a white undergarment banded with gold. The filmy fabrics and plentiful folds of her drape give volumetric presence, while an unseen sun creates a soft glow upon her skin.

A delicate system of shading serves as a tool for creating three dimensionality, granting weight and realism to the young woman’s limbs and face. Her striking eyes are dark brown, with catch lights emphasizing the clarity of the irises. She bears a small smile, exuding peace and happiness, as if greeting a close acquaintance or friend.

Beyond the subject, soft green hills and a brown road are visible behind and below, slowly making way for cold blue mountains along the horizon. The corner of a classically-inspired building peeks into the frame, instantly recognizable by its pediment and surrounding portico of columns. Trees and bushes accent its outline, partially hiding a distant body of water painted in silver-blue.

Elisabeth le Brun’s use of atmospheric perspective heightens the sense of realism and creates a sharp illusion of depth, firmly placing the subject in the forefront. The light shading and yellow coloring of the clouds gives the piece a further sense of distance, as the viewer imagines them extending out from the painting to hang over their own head.

A wide variety of colors form the palette, ranging from the saturated blues of her dress to the pale yellows of the sunset-lit sky behind her. With red accents and shawl, le Brun breaks the potential monotony of the palette by complimenting the soft greens, flesh tones, and blues, making the figure leap from the surface (Nickerson 7).

Despite the natural posture of the Princess, this painting is not simply a depiction of a single, or candid moment in time. The details are arranged and represented with deliberate care. The subject’s pose is purposefully positioned, with her crooked arm subtly pointing behind her, moving the viewer’s eye to the background details, including the Greek Temple. Her state of dress indicates wealth and station, instantly identifying her as a member of the aristocracy (Nickerson 7). The roses in the basket on her head symbolize beauty, the worship of mythical goddesses, and are considered to be the flower of Venus. The olive branch in her hand represents peace and love, and the fruit it bears suggests fertility.

The portrait is a stunning example of how Elisabeth Vigee le Brun successfully blended the Neo-Classical and Romantic styles in her portraiture. More than anything, Le Brun favored a Romantic portrait style “aimed at seizing the subject in an intimate, unselfconscious and introspective moment of reflection” (May 136). Katheryn Gallitz suggests that the emotion and imagination of Romanticism came in response to disillusionment with the reason and order of the Enlightenment in the aftermath of the French Revolution. She goes on to state that, “This interest in the individual and subjective—at odds with eighteenth-century rationalism—is mirrored in the Romantic approach to portraiture. Traditionally records of individual likeness, portraits became vehicles for expressing a range of psychological and emotional states in the hands of Romantic painters” (Gallitz “Romanticism”).

The portrait is Neo-Classical in design, with elements of Romanticism in its execution. This romanticism is evidenced in the relaxed position of the subject, the peaceful cast of her eyes, the dramatic beauty of the landscape, and the billowing folds of her drape (South 34). The beauty of these elements complement the bright, classical clothing and Greek temple that embody the Neo-Classical ideals of simplicity and proportion.

This portrait bears a marked resemblance to Julie le Brun as Flora, a portrait le Brun painted of her own daughter, also in 1799. Both sitters are portrayed as the goddess Flora in similar poses and clothing. Both bear a basket of roses atop their heads and leafy branches in their hands. In her daughter’s portrait, however, le Brun arranges the leaves in a heart-shaped wreath, symbolizing love and peace. The Italian landscape in her daughter's portrait is also altered, and her daughter’s clothes are composed and colored differently than Princess Galitzine's. The portrait of Princess Galitzine is rendered with more attention to the visual representation of detail, and shows the subject in a more natural pose and relaxed manner (Nikolenko, “Russian Portraits”).

Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora was finished two years after the Russian princess’s sister, Elizabeth Vladmirovna, commissioned her own portrait by le Brun (South 34). The resulting works are very similar, and a marked family resemblance is present. In fact, most of le Brun’s female portraits share physical similarities: soft skin, a delicately shaped mouth, large eyes, and delicate limbs. This style is especially noticeable in the the many portraits of Queen Marie Antoinette, who greatly favored le Brun (“Elizabeth Vigee-le Brun: Oxford Dictionary of Art”).

Several influences from earlier artists’ works are evident. The red shawl reflects le Brun’s admiration of Rafael’s Madonnas, which she often emulated in her portraits of female subjects. She also draws stylistic techniques from Peter Paul Rubens, giving her female subjects “supple flesh tones” and a soft luminosity achieved with the use of several layers of glaze (South 34).

Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee le Brun was quite famous in her own time, and was a welcome dignitary in many court circles. Because of this, her style and works enjoyed a relatively wide viewership outside of France, and she amassed a not un-large personal fortune (South 34).

However, Elisabeth Vigee le Brun was more than just a talented portraitist. She embodied a stark change in the way the world thought of men's and women's roles in art and society at large. Brun was accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture on May 31, 1783, a particularly impressive distinction considering the protests of some of its members because of her gender. She also regularly exhibited in the biennial Salons (Auricchio, “Women Painters”).

Her style was so distinctive that, “the simultaneous admission of [fellow female painter] Labille-Guiard and Vigée Le Brun [to the Académie Royale] caused a stir in the art world and beyond, and the press immediately cast them as rivals, pitting Vigée Le Brun's ‘feminine’ style (loose brushstrokes, high-toned color, and flattering renderings of her sitters against the ‘masculine’ characteristics (crisp handling, muted tones, and truth to nature) of Labille-Guiard's paintings” (Auricchio, “Women Painters”).

Elisabeth Vigee le Brun has done much to change the art world, from developing unique blends of Neo-Classical and Romantic styles, to displaying a distinctly feminine touch while painting women, and finally, by becoming (at the time) one of the few female members of the Académie Royale.

Though she enjoyed great status and powerful friends, she still fought against the ideas of her time. During her lifetime, none of her portraits were displayed in France, the land she called home. It wasn’t until after her death that her work was widely shown in France, when her niece donated two inherited pieces to the Louvre. This was only the first step, and soon, her art would spread, even crossing the ocean to America. “Overcoming all odds, Vigée Le Brun has finally had the last word and gained her passport to immortality, for her paintings now hang in all the leading art museums of the world” (May 203).

Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora was only one of many portraits and paintings produced by le Brun, and while her characteristic style and manner of presenting women is remarkable in and of itself, it is her overall work that begs our attention. One can only imagine the breadth and scope of the very real impact Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee le Brun has had on the world. She, and women like her, have done society an undeniable service by fighting archaic views of gender roles. Without such ambition and perseverance, the current art, political, and professional worlds would be very different places.

Works Cited

Auricchio, Luara. "Eighteenth-Century Women Painters in France.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Web. 3 December 2011.

"Elisabeth Vigee-le Brun: The Oxford Dictionary of Art." ENotes - Literature Study Guides, Lesson Plans, and More. Web. 3 December 2011.

Gallitz, Katheryn. "Romanticism.” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Web. 3 December 2011.

Nickerson, Melissa. Princess Eudocia Ivanovna Galitzine as Flora Lesson. Women Artists Lesson Plan for Educators. University of Utah Printing Services (28 October 1998): 7. Print.

Nikolenko, Lada. “The Russian Portraits of Madame Vigee le Brun.” Reprinted from the Gazette des Beaux Arts. Web. 3 December 2011.

May, Gita. Elisabeth Vigee le Brun : The Odyssey of an Artist in an Age of Revolution. Yale University Press (2005): 136-202. Print.

South, Will. The Val. A Browning Memorial Collection of 500 Years of European Masterworks. University of Utah Printing Services (1995): 34. Print.

I'm still alive, I promise!

Working on a lot of things right now, glad to have too much to do, rather than too little. But I thought I'd drop by and give you all an update on what's going on. First off, this next month's interviewee will also be my second published author! (You can check out the first one here.) Bryce Moore (@bmoorebooks) has agreed to have a few questions thrown at him, which is great, cause he's a really amazing writer. His book Vodnik will be out soon, and I'm excited for all of you to read it. I've already had the pleasure of reading it pre-release, and it's amazing! More on that later though.

On a related note, my monthly Aspiring Writer Interview series will no longer be called such. I will be dropping the "aspiring" bit, because if a person writes, they're a writer. Period. There are good writers and there are bad writers, but that's another issue.

Right now I'm deep in developing plot within the second version of my own book, even as I write. It's kind of counter intuitive, but that's how I roll. I just passed the 52k word mark, which if my expectations are correct, means I'm just now over the halfway point. Woot! I know I have a lot of revision to do, but that's something I've come to terms with. I'm a messy first draft-er.

One last thing, if you haven't already, feel free to follow me on Twitter, as I've become a little more active there lately (@SometimesSword).


Saladin Ahmed's first published novel just came out on February 7th of this year, and I have to say that I was very excited for it. Saladin had been featured on the Writing Excuses podcast sometime last year, so I was somewhat familiar with what he hoped to accomplish with this book, and have been following him on Twitter ever since. Quite some time later, I heard that the novel was finally close to coming out, and began looking into it further. I read several pre-release reviews and a synopsis, and found myself eager to dive in. I even somehow managed to mistake the release date for the last day of January, and found myself disappointed once I rushed over to the Apple Bookstore. After waiting a whole week, I was finally able to purchase and download the ebook. Here's what I thought:

My unofficial rating.

This is the sort of book that stands out from a crowd. When you first see the cover, it strikes you with the back of it's hand and tells you to pay attention. The image is thick with color and the clean lines of a comic book, its subjects captured in an explosion of motion, Marvel Comics style. Unconventional clothing and weapon styles instantly tell you that this is no European-style fantasy, something that really excited me. Don't get me wrong, I love the traditional sword and sorcery stuff that's been coming out for decades, but just like eating too much ice-cream, it can sometimes leave you feeling unsatisfied.

Saladin's book smacks of many different cultures, from Egyptian to the classical Arabic turban-and-camel-riding nomadic tribes we see in movies. I'm no expert, and I probably just offended someone there, but Saladin pulls everything together in a truly unique world that I've never seen in Fantasy. He doesn't just dress the traditional S&S in a turban and hand it a scimitar, he works his way up from a solid foundation of unique culture, infusing every aspect of the book with the traditions of his world. The food they eat, the tea they drink, even their curse words and oaths are steeped in their culture. The characters themselves have their very personalities and self-identities shaped by the specific views on religion and family present in this blend of pseudo-Arabic cultures (once again, if I'm using the wrong terms, please forgive me). Also, I want to use the word "culture" one more time. Culture.

Beyond the unusual setting, Saladin brings some other great aspects into play. Unlike many books of the same genre, Throne's main protagonist is a 60 year-old man named Adoulla, a ghul hunter who just wants to retire and get married. (The point of view is shared by several people over the course of the book.) It's pretty amusing to be inside this semi-crusty old man's head as he watches youth wasted on the young, even forgetting the author himself isn't exactly what you would call old. If I had my way, more time would be spent on The Doctor's point of view, he's really a great character.

The story is easily followed, with plot points popping out to say "hi", not trying particularly hard to stay hidden. In my mind, this was a good thing. Most of the events take place in a huge, shining city, forgoing the normal hero-on-a-quest format. The action is short and to the point, with a few gruesome bits thrown in for good measure, which I like. The book features some pretty cool magic, and a seriously bad-ass bad guy. Creepy stuff.

Finally, I have two complaints about this book, and they are small:

First off, it's short. For an adult fantasy novel, it tops out at an unusual 288 pages, leaving me wanting more. Before you get all up in arms, let me clarify: I don't believe that every fantasy needs to be a 240k word behemoth, nor do I think Saladin was lacking in proper story-telling technique. Everything wraps up satisfactorily, and his descriptions are more than adequate. The experience was simply over too soon. I wanted to keep reading, because this unique world and characters felt like they had more to give me. Hopefully there are more books to come.

Next, and this is my only major issue, I felt like two of the younger characters were underdeveloped, not individually, but in relation to each other. SPOILER ALERT! I think it comes as no surprise that there is a "B" story in this book, centered around the budding romance (if it can be called that) between a young zealot and a teenage tribeswoman. By the end of the book, the word "love" is used, and I honestly didn't see the proper build up to it. It almost seemed like they fell in love because they were supposed to. Did it ruin the story? No. Is it the reason I gave the book four stars instead of five? Yes. Combined with the fact that I only give five stars to books that totally blow my mind away (which is hard to do). That being said, four stars is stellar, and I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good fantasy adventure. Go buy it here!

I've been interviewed! Also a bit about why I haven't posted in a while.

Hey all, it's been a lean couple of weeks post-wise, so sorry about that. I wanted to touch base real quick, and let you know that I'm still alive! First off, Leigh Covington interviewed me on her blog, which you can visit here. So click that link! It's worth it.

Also, the reason I haven't been doing much on the blog is because I've been writing. Yeah I know, right? I've actually been picking up the pace, and aside from the last three days (LTUE), I've been getting at least 1k words knocked out per day. On Wednesday I actually hit 3k in one day, so yeah, I figure I can forgive myself.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to get a good post up here soon!

Local Writer Interview: Ali Cross

This month's interview is a little different, since Ali is not simply an aspiring writer, but also a self-published one. We met across the Internet machines through Melanie Fowler, another of my interviewees. Ali is very, VERY active in the writing community, and I'm excited to get to know her a little better. As you all know, I like to just jump right in, so here goes!

If it's not too much to ask, how old are you?
LOL, I’m in my 40’s. But I never really aged past 23. I’m eternally youthful. (Ha!)

Are you married? Kids?
Heck yeah! I have a rockin’ husband who’s a computer genius who slashes computer code and cuts hackers off at the knees. My two boys both eleven, are evil geniuses who take after their dad (thank goodness. One of them is a black belt and the other is close on his heels. At our house it’s all awesome, all the time.

Where in our lovely area do you live?
I live in West Jordan, Utah, but I’m not even an American. I’m a Canadian who’s followed her man (who followed a job) to the States and has been trying to get back home every since. (It’s been twenty years. I haven’t been too successful yet, obviously.)

How long ago did you start writing seriously?
I started writing seriously nine years ago. I know the precise date because my family and I were driving into the mountains for a weekend in the autumn leaves. On our way out popped from my mouth: “I want to write a book.” I swear I did not think those words before I said them, but as soon as I did, I knew it was true. My hubby and I chatted about the idea (I’d always wanted to write a story about my favorite Dungeons & Dragons character—hey, don’t laugh) and it wasn’t long before he admitted that he, too, would like to write a book.

We stopped at a Podunk gas station convenient store, happily discovered they stocked the basic materials with which to begin a book (notebooks, pens, index cards and tape!), brainstormed and outlined our books over our long weekend and … the rest is history! (And to follow-up, we both wrote our books, and finished them together, New Year’s Eve 2003!)

What project are you currently working on?
Right at this very second I’m finishing up the first draft of a middle grade fantasy called LAND MAGIC. Meanwhile, another MG fantasy THE SWIFT, is resting between revisions, and DESOLATION (book two of Desolation, my young adult urban fantasy series) is resting before revisions begin. Exciting stuff!

How long have you been working on Land Magic?
LAND MAGIC was conceived a couple years ago, but I didn’t have to work on it at that time. I did a quick and dirty outline and left it alone. I started drafting it during NaNo ’11, but couldn’t finish because of the release of BECOME (the first in the Desolation series). Time to finish this baby up!

Tell us a little about it.
Here’s my working blurb: 

In a world where land magic has fallen into disuse and land comes together and breaks apart like clouds in the sky, one boy must rediscover the ways of the old magic in order to reunite his family and save mankind.

Wow, that sounds kinda lame. I promise it’s a lot more fun and awesome than it sounds. J

What are your goals for it?
I self-published BECOME, and I love, love, loved the experience. I’d like for LAND MAGIC to reach middle grade readers which (I believe) there’s no doubt traditional publishing methods are (so far) better suited for, but . . . I honestly can’t imagine publishing in the traditional sense.

Have you sent out any queries? How many have you gotten responses to?
Oh yeah. I queried BECOME to 103 agents. Twenty-eight agents read the full manuscript. One agent read three full versions of the novel, and still rejected it. Another agent made an offer, but ended up being a flake and left me hanging for four months before I finally got wise and moved on. Crazy, right?

Have you published anything previously?
Nope! BECOME was my maiden voyage!

Do you have any special sales you'd like me to highlight?
YES! Through February 4th (the day of NiNoCon, woot!) BECOME is on sale at Amazon here and Smashwords here for only $.99!

Anything else you'd like to tell us about works you've previously published/put on sale?
BECOME is an awesome, dark young adult novel—if you’re a Buffy fan, or a Lilith St. Crow fan, or a Melissa Marr fan . . . I think you’d like my book, too!

What is your favorite book or author? Why?
My favorite book(s) belong to THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’m not a fan of all of his books, but this trilogy is the one that inspired me to write (because I wanted to write something as amazing as those books—to reach people the way these books reached me). THE FIONAVAR TAPESTRY, is rich and beautiful, heartbreaking and fulfilling—it’s everything I think a truly great book should be. And I think it would nowadays fall into “new adult” fantasy, but back when I first read it it was just regular old fantasy. J

What has been the hardest part about writing your current work? About writing in general?
I’m not sure. I haven’t struggled with the craft in the same way that I know other people struggle. For me, the hardest part is believing in myself when no one else does.

What has been the best or most rewarding aspect of writing?
Without a doubt the most rewarding part are all the friendships I have formed through writing and blogging. Who knew that such a solitary art could give me such an amazing sense of belonging?

Do you have any "technical" suggestions for new writers?
A couple tools that have really helped me. Buy the book SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. It’s funny, quick and easy to read. It’s a script-writing guide, but it absolutely relates to writing. I swear you will not regret it. Next to that, get thee a crit group! I think that should be in the writer’s ten commandments.

Do you have any sage advice for new writers?
LOL, no. Just, if you have a dream? Don’t let it stay in dreamland forever. Live your dream—because you CAN.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Come to NiNoCon this Saturday (February 4th!). It’s a free online writer’s conference taking place at It’ll be fun! There’ll be lots of great info! And PRIZES!!

Give us some links to any blogs, websites, or other online media you run.
You betcha! Thanks for letting me plug, Trevor!

ali cross (blog)
the writer’s dojo
the indelibles (a group of 25 self-or-indie-published authors)

There you go people, go check out her blog and all the goodies she has for you, and read her book Become dang it!