My Blog: Artful Fiction

Guest Post Over at the Coffee Pot Book Club

Hey there readers! I’m honored to have a guest post up over at the Coffee Pot Book Club, award winning author and book reviewer Mary Anne Yarde’s site which does more than its share for the literary community.

If you’re curious to know more about me and Stendhal’s Syndrome, or if you’d like to read an excerpt of Victorine, go here. Feel free to leave comments over there.

And many thanks to Mary Anne for allowing me to share.

Meet Emma Lombard, Writer, Twitter Expert

I’m so pleased to have on my blog today Emma Lombard, historical fiction writer and Twitter expert. She has agreed to share about her writing and her best Twitter tips, so if you’re in the market for Twitter tips AND you want to hear about an intriguing historical fiction novel based on one of Emma’s relatives, keep reading.

1. Tell me about yourself.

I’m a bit of a globe trotter, not only having travelled to different continents but also having lived on different ones too! I was born in the UK, spent my childhood in Africa and my adulthood in Australia. I’m staying put now. I was eleven when I started writing my first novel and fourteen when I finished it. I had the incredible opportunity at the time (through a friend) to have my raw first draft put directly onto the desk of an editor at a large publishing house (oh, for that opportunity now!) Naturally, it was rejected (with some wonderful feedback, I might add). Alas, fourteen-year-old me didn’t cope very well with the rejection! So, I shelved the idea of writing for a while. It was only after my kids got to a more independent age that I began thinking seriously about switching careers from being an editor in the corporate world to a full-time writer.

2. Tell me about your novel’s origins: how it came about, how long it took to write, where it’s at in the publishing process, and anything else you’d like to share about it.

I corresponded by letter with my grandmother for most of my life (she lived in the UK) and it was in one of her letters to me, years ago, that she told me about my 3x great grandmother who eloped with an English sea captain when she was sixteen. The instant I read that little bit of juicy gossip, I knew I had the start of my first historical fiction novel. I started writing it seriously and with intent back in 2016. It evolved into four books but by late 2018, I realised I needed to go back to Book One and get it ready to query agents. So, after dozens and dozens of reads by my amazing beta readers, plus two professional developmental critiques, I was ready to send it to my editor. Being an editor myself, I know first hand that no matter how strong a writer you are, a fresh pair of eyes is essential. I’ve discovered with fiction editing, it is even more vital to get developmental feedback from seasoned eyes to spot plot holes or flag when your character is going off track. Plus, I am a chronic over-writer, so it was invaluable to get guidance about what storylines could be removed without it impacting the core of my novel. Having a professional editor to bounce things off has been the best investment in my writing career for teaching me to be a better writer. For anyone writing historical fiction, I highly recommend historical fiction specialist editor, Andrew Noakes from The History Quill.

I began querying agents midway through 2019 and I’ve had a couple of nibbles with a partial and a full request, which is deliciously exciting!

3. You commissioned some cover artwork for your novel. Please talk about that, the why, the who, and the result.

After researching how to build my author platform as a yet-to-be-published author (based on the invaluable advice of publishing guru, Jane Friedman), I really wanted to have something juicy to add to my new website, since I do not have a book out yet. So, I thought it would be wonderful to commission portraits of my main characters to display. Since I am planning to head down the traditionally published route, I don’t expect this artwork to be used on the cover of my novel, but I’m okay with that because the benefits of having my characters brought to life through illustration has been amazing.

I engaged the services of the supremely talented Sydney illustrator, Tara Phillips, after I tripped across her feed on Twitter. And as luck would have it, I had also entered a competition on Twitter by award-winning UK-based screenwriter, Eleonora Mignoli, who is also an amazing artist, and I won a portrait of my protagonist! So, now I have three wonderful characters to show on my website!

Little did I realise the stunning flow-on effect this would have for widening my exposure on my author platform (Twitter, Facebook and my website). Not only do I now have artwork that has now become part of my branding but I’ve even got one of my darling beta readers working on the most incredible piece of fan art! She is doing an enormous cross stitch of my two main characters, starting with Grace. Readers can have an exclusive peek at the monthly progress on this masterpiece if they sign up to my newsletter, By the Book.

4. You are also known as a twitter guru. How’d that happen, and what’s your number one tip for tweeters?

How did that happen, indeed!?! I ask myself this same question every day! I am the LEAST technological person you can imagine, which is why as I tripped and stumbled my way through Twitter in the early days, I started documenting and sharing my discovery in a series of tweets to help out other newbies. These tweet threads proved so popular that I had followers ask me to put them all in a blog so they were easier to find and access in one spot. Despite there being ABUNDANT information out there from far more experienced experts, my Twitter Tips for Newbies series is all about how I discovered Twitter worked from a newbie perspective. It explains what worked or didn’t work for me, and the no-nos that newbies don’t know about, as well as outlining online etiquette, which is another whole issue. Many folks have told me they appreciate knowing this kind of information so that they don’t inadvertently step on any Twitter toes.

My number one tip for Twitter newbies is: screen all new followers carefully. Look not only at their main feed to see if they’re compatible with you, but check out their tweets and retweets to see how they respond to others online. If you like the look of them, follow back. If you aren’t comfortable having them following you, you can either hard block them (permanently – I do this for bots, crypto miners and explicit accounts) or soft block them (where you block them and immediately unblock them so that it stops them following you – I do this to non-writing accounts that look like they just want to sell me something, accounts in a foreign language and political accounts). You are not obligated to follow back (though keep in mind, you need to keep your follower/following numbers even until you hit the 5000 follower mark or Twitter will put you in Twitter jail). Don’t be shy to streamline your followers. This way you will have the kind of information you want to see popping up on your feed and comments on your posts that align with you. I know it seems counter-intuitive when you’re trying to grow your numbers to stop accounts from following you, but this will vastly improve your experience and enjoyment on Twitter.

For new authors still questioning whether it’s worth it to have Twitter as part of their author platform, here’s a guest post I wrote for publishing guru, Jane Friedman’s blog: How and Why to Build a Twitter Following While Unpublished.

5. What will your next writing project be?

I am currently working on revising and rewriting Book Two of my series, with the bonus of having a critique group behind me (which I didn’t have for Book One). I found my critique group by signing up for a writing course through The History Quill. My current historical fiction series is going to keep me busy for a while, but if I had to throw another project into the ring at a later date, I have always dreamed of being able to pull off a choose-your-own-adventure book for adults! But that’ll be a new venture once I have a bit more writing practice under my belt. Coming up with one ending to a book is challenging enough, let alone creating multiple endings to a story!

Many thanks to Emma for sharing her story with us today. Please check out her website,, sign up for her newsletter, and follow her on Twitter: @LombardEmma. You won’t be sorry! 

A Train, Manet, and…a Burger?

The title of this sounds like a joke in progress, but it’s not. Over Labor Day Weekend Barry and I took the South Shore Line into Chicago to (finally!) catch Manet and Modern Beauty at the Art Institute.

If you’re a listener of our podcast, Writing All the Things, you’ve heard about our trip in Episode 10. (Shameless plug.)

First of all, the train ride to the museum reminded us of when we rode from Rome to Florence backwards. It gives you more time to gaze at something if it catches your eye. We watched quaint towns go by and I (an urban decay aficionado) paid close attention to the rusting steel mills. It was a short enough ride from where we got on not to be tiresomely long.

Since I have recently fallen for vintage South Shore posters, much to my wallet’s chagrin, it was exciting to ride it for the first time.

We actually arrived early in Chicago, so we stopped for a quick breakfast before getting in line at the museum. “Getting in line” is code for talking with everyone around us about the exhibit, about previous exhibits, and about other museums we had all been to. Visitors were there from Japan and New Zealand, for starters.

Once we had our tickets we raced directly to the exhibit. Inside it, we decided to start at the end and come forwards. This was because, predictably, the area was packed with the early crowd.

Forgive me for this mild rant: it’s eerie to be in an exciting exhibit and hear near silence, to see audio guides glued to faces. That’s fine for those who like it, I suppose, but I “art” aloud. I like to discuss my discoveries, share with wide hand gestures the inevitably beautiful lines. (I’m a line person!) When I see a gorgeous color, I feel obligated to point it out. I don’t think this means I respect art any less. Hubby is much the same.

True, art has sometimes reduced me to silence. It has caused me to weep. This exhibit, however, felt like a visit with a friend. I’ve been studying Manet’s work for several years, and I could likely have been a guide myself.

Because the show was of his later works, Victorine (of my forthcoming novel of the same name; she was his favorite model and a painter herself), was only present in a photo from Manet’s album.

All of the works were worth seeing, though some stood out more than others. In the Conservatory was there. Barry and I last saw it with a dear friend in Berlin, where it lives. It was wonderful to see it again and discover the cigar anew.

Plum Brandy’s colors are hard to match, as is the sad sack expression on the model’s face. The model was actually an actor of the time, and her face would have been familiar. What does that say about acting of the time that he depicted her as so glum? Or was he merely painting what he observed?

Also to note: the banquette the woman is seated at (she’s supposed to be in a cafe or some such drinking establishment) is repeated in another of his paintings, clearly giving away that the painting was created in his studio. And, did you know they actually put a whole plum in the brandy? I haven’t researched this, but that’s what’s in her glass. Go figure. Ah, but those shades of rose and pink, the way the colors race around the canvas…

Manet was a master of still life. His brioche (complete with Zuzu, his wife’s cat, in the background, and a rose sticking out of the baked good) looks flaky and tasty. His white asparagus (besides looking phallic, naturally — the man has a juvenile’s sense of humor sometimes) are lifelike. There were two paintings of them there. One, alone, and a bunch of them as well.

His irregular, faintly bruised peaches also bear testament to his still life abilities. One likes them better for their imperfections.

Barry and I probably spent the most time in front of Boating. The colors in person are dazzling! Those gradations of blue! The shimmering water!

The figure placement is, predictably, pleasingly unusual. The passenger in the small boat, a woman in a dress that looks ungodly hot, complete with a belt, a hat, and veil, leans on her elbows. We see her profile. Her companion, the rower, is in basically a white undershirt, white pants, and a small straw hat. I’m angry that he gets to dress cooler than she does. He looks kinda irritated — because it’s hot and he’s rowing? How warm must she be!

In any case, the couple seems disconnected, for all that they’re in this tiny space. Her pose is relaxed but her body is not. They’re turned about as far away from one another as they can be.

He has the expression of someone who sees he’s about to have his picture taken and doesn’t like it. But since he’s posed for this painting, we have to attribute his features to conveying what Manet wants him to.

Is the rower too hot? Hearing bad news? Tired? The writer in me is still spinning scenarios.

Ah, but I promised you a burger. So because we didn’t have much time after we finished at the museum to have dinner, we shared an Impossible “burger” at Burger King. You know, the veggie burger that’s supposed to be indistinguishable from a real burger? Spoiler alert: it’s not. But nice try, BK.

If you missed the show, I’m sorry to hear it. It was special in so many ways. We talked about it from the museum back to the dunes and pretty much all the way home the next day. I still feel excitement fluttering in me just thinking of it.

What’s your favorite exhibit you’ve ever seen? Or is there one you wanted to make it to but didn’t? Let me know.

The Art of Rebelling Against Technique

If you’ve read any of my blog posts so far then you know how much I adore art. Art history, maybe more so.

When I began attempting to paint a few years ago, some friends asked if I was going to take art classes the way I had writing ones.

I thought about it. I really did. But I agonize over my writing. I revise over and over. Painting felt fun and fast. I didn’t know what I was doing and that was fine. It was play. Sometimes something interesting came from it.

It was gratifying to discover I am good at intuitively mixing colors and differentiating shades. I could play with color alone and be almost content.

Well, since I’ve written so much about art, I thought it might be fair (and useful) to study it in a more structured way.

That said, I’m going to attempt to learn some real tips and techniques and share my results here. Yikes!

To that end, I attended a watercolor class at our local library recently. We all watched a YouTube video and painted along.

It was fun.

I learned (relearned?) important things about myself.

For instance, I don’t like to follow instructions when it comes to creative projects.

Maybe it wasn’t entirely my fault, because the “green” we were given was too blue and we didn’t have the right paints to make it so. That made me feel rebellious from the get go. I knew I wouldn’t be able to replicate the leaves, so why try?

One of the things I enjoy most is filling up the background once I’ve finished my painting. I love the opportunity to play with big swathes of color, to make bold proclamations.

This painting didn’t call for that, but I couldn’t resist. The sweet woman sitting beside me in class simply murmured “Oh, my” when she saw what I was doing. I’m not sure that was a compliment.

Without further ado, I present to you my version of the project. I’m not unhappy with it, and DH wants to frame it, but a realistic nature illustrator I am not.

Comments welcome, unless they are about technique. It won’t do you any good. She won’t be taught. Sigh. Unless maybe through further YouTube videos.

But if you like or don’t certain aspects of it, do leave a comment. And if YOU are a visual artist, show me yours!

P.S. Clearly, this is sideways.

My First Victorine Reading!

Hubby Barry and I recently visited Louisville, where we participated in the Spalding at 21C: Voice and Vision reading at the 21C Museum Hotel, along with four other talented writers. Besides me and Barry, the lineup included Misha Feigin, Ellyn Lichvar, Alan J. Naslund, and Vickie Weaver. Celebrated author Sena Jeter Naslund emceed.

When the award-winning poet Misha was introduced at the reading, I remember thinking, “Why was I invited? I don’t have nearly his credentials.” Since I was the last to read, I was pretty nervous, but the crowd was so welcoming I quickly felt comfortable, even though such wonderful writing came before me.

Because of copyrighted artwork in the reading area, Barry and I didn’t take photos of our actual reading, but we did catch some shots beforehand.

Barry read from his novel-in-progress, and I was delighted as always at his lyrical language. Filigrees of cigarette smoke? Yes, please!

During the event, I did my first public reading from Victorine, my novel which is forthcoming from Fleur-de-Lis Press this year. I felt almost possessed by Victorine during my reading, she who is remembered by history as Manet’s favorite model, although she went on to painting success herself. I have no illusions about who’s in charge of her story (she is!), and I’m honored to be a part of the process.

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I’m beaming, because I’ve been visiting with some of my favorite peoples! Note my nearly ever-present pearls, although I wear the white set more often.
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We enjoyed this colorful display, only one of many intriguing exhibits. And yes, that’s Mr. Barry D. humoring me by standing before this.

The next day we drove on to Nashville, where we visited the renamed Frist, now the Frist Art Museum. We went specifically to see the Frida and Diego exhibit. Please try to get there, if you haven’t already!

If you haven’t noticed by now, I am drawn to strong female figures. Victorine is certainly one, as is Frida. It seemed natural to me to go from reading about Victorine to viewing Frida’s dynamic paintings.

May 24–September 2, 2019

Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism from the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection

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This is a Diego painting. Barry and I are teaming up with these fun finger puppets here just because I have a collection of them.
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Doesn’t Frida look like a lioness as she has Diego on her “mind?”
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Said to be the most detailed of Frida’s paintings, I find the imagery of this to be evocative. It seems to me that she is protecting Diego’s talents, as she is protected by the earth, which is in nature’s embrace.
While this photo is playful, I had to sit and stare at this painting silently for a few minutes. It made me dizzy, but in a good way. (Art sometimes does that to me.) I’d like to think Frida would have appreciated the fun finger puppets. She strikes me as both uber serious and playful all at once.

Frida’s strokes are measured, while her colors are freely sprinkled. I like her restrained style, because her subject matter and her use of tones are so extreme that if she had used thick paint or wild brushing, it would be too much. Her manner of painting also tells me something I suspected: she comes across as passionate beyond compare, and she is, but she also controls her image. Nicely done, Frida. Nicely done.

Barry and I also made a stop by the Speed Museum with a dear friend while we were in Louisville, and The Frist had a surrealism exhibit as well as the Mexican Modernism, but those are both topics for another post.

Have you seen any of Frida’s paintings in person? If so, what did you think of them? Do you agree or disagree with my take on her work?

La Luministe, a Lush Art Novel by Paula Butterfield

When I heard about this book, I knew I’d buy it. There are books like that. Since I’m an Impressionism geek and feminist, when I heard that Paula Butterfield had written a novel about Berthe Morisot, one of the few women on the forefront of the Impressionist movement, I was thrilled.

Then I learned that my Victorine Meurent, the main character of my novel, makes an appearance in La Luministe, and I squealed. (A fun thing is that Morisot shows up in my book briefly as well.)

If someone had asked me what I’d like a novel written about, I’d have said this. And I wasn’t disappointed.

But before I discuss the content, let’s look at the cover. You’ve got this amazing painting, At the Ball, by Morisot, which depicts a woman with a fan. Here, though, the painting is partially, tantalizingly, obscured. If you continue your gaze downward, you’ll be rewarded by a bit of what we assume is an easel, complete with a lovely, paint-spattered brush at the bottom. That brush! I want to hold it.

As one who has carefully studied mid-19th century Parisian art history and its chief players, I greatly admired and enjoyed the story, once I allowed my gaze to stray beyond that fabulous cover. In fact, Butterfield assumes the mantle of our “luministe” as she enlightens us about what it was like to be a painter during a time when respectable women did not paint beyond pretty little scenes to make them seem accomplished to suitable husbands.

Though artist Berthe Morisot sustains a lifelong longing for the unobtainable Edouard Manet, she manages to break free from both society and familial expectations enough to become a painter of note herself in the newly bourgeoning Impressionist movement. In the end, she ultimately finds herself at “repose,” as one of Manet’s paintings of her is titled.

This book is moving, well researched, and told with painstaking detail. It was a delight to read.

Manet’s Mania for Chokers

In Victorine, my historical novel coming out in the next few months, I write about the black choker Edouard Manet paints Victorine wearing. I imagine it as his bootlace, called into service on the spot.

Later, I give Victorine adoring fans who purchase and sport chokers with her as Olympia in lockets. It hardly offsets the cruelty she experiences in the streets after the “scandalous” nude painting was exhibited.

But Victorine is not the only one of Manet’s models to wear chokers. While I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand someone psychoanalyzing the painter and his predilection for encircling his model’s necks, I prefer to chalk it up to his respect and regard for fashion. Few paint fabric and fashion of the day the way he did.

When I stumbled upon this collage on Instagram, I knew I had to share it with you. Thanks, guzelonlu, for this lineup.

Four of the images pictured are Victorine. Can you tell which?

Bonus points if you can tell me the titles of those paintings. First one to comment gets a shoutout from me on Twitter.

#Manet #ArtHistory #Art #Impressionism