The Small Victories

Welcome back! I’m glad to report that you’re catching me on the upswing, which is a rare and beautiful thing this time of year (I’m usually starting that downward slide into the SAD doldrums right around now). Thankfully, I’m on the mend physically, mentally, and emotionally. The return to work has done me a world of good. I’d love to be that person who works better from home full-time, but I’ve learned that such excursions should be limited for my own mental well-being. For whatever reason, I prefer to work with the sound of other people around me, and some hustle and bustle. I suppose for the same reason that I prefer to work under some pressure – the imposed limitations push me. If ever I were lucky enough to become a full-time fiction writer, I would likely rent an office, or venture to the local coffee shop for work. I suppose that would be cheaper than rent.

Anyway, my point is that I’m doing better, and my brain ticked over at some point last week. I mean, I wrote over 18,000 words, a high point for this year. And this in the midst of taking on a new role at work and an increased workload as a coworker and friend transferred to another department. This week has been a little more difficult as I pick up the pieces, but I’ve found that each small victory bolstered my confidence and gave me what I needed. I think I’ll still hit 10K words this week, as I’m already sitting at the threshold. That was my old goal, and it would be nice to hit that consistently again now that I’m out from under a few shadows. The key is to make the time, and I think I’ve found a way to do it.

Enough of that talk. How about the actual writing? Once upon a time I had thought that the second draft outline of Soul Eater would be finished on Monday, but the job transition and related exhaustion changed those plans. The good news is that it was not a permanent change, and I finished that outline up yesterday. As always, the process surfaced some more ideas and issues with the approach. I know I went over some of this last week, but I feel okay digging into specifics now.

The original idea for this story revolved around a male millennial character who was a video game streamer and worked at the local gas station. His life was going nowhere, and he felt stuck living with his mother, who had moved them out of the city and into the exurbs to offer him a better life. Ethan proved to be a cypher, however; I could get into his surface emotions but had trouble digging deeper into his motivations. In addition to that, I figured out about halfway through the draft that I would need to shift perspectives from Ethan to Morgan, who Ethan pretty much knew as his best friend’s girl. And I learned that Morgan was easier to understand and presented more compelling options for the story. I finished that draft and chewed over the idea of shifting protagonists, as I always end up doing.

Shifting to Morgan has proven to be the right call, and I have made her friend Rosa far more important to the story than the original, while Ethan has receded to victim status. But this has brought a new set of complications: the story feels rushed, and a theme has surfaced that demands finesse. The good news is that the theme is crystal-clear, I just need to decide if I want to follow it to its logical end. I don’t know. If I don’t, I will need to do some more retooling. I’ve decided to let the story sit until next Friday while I chase the Elkmont dragon to its den in the mountains.

And what a den it’s turning out to be. It’s way too early to talk specifics, but this is the one that I mentioned last week that features a group of YouTube actors filming a lost town in the West Virginia mountains. A theme has already surfaced for this one, and I think it might be strong. I’ll have more to report next week on that front.

That’s all for this week. Look for more tomorrow, with the weekly photo post, and thanks for joining me again.

And We’re Back!

Not like I intended to leave in the first place, but being in pain will do funny things to your productivity. And make no mistake, I was in pain. A lot of it. I’ll spare the delicate nature of what went down, but suffice it to say that I had a lot of pain in a very sensitive place, and it ended up necessitating surgery. Minimally invasive, outpatient surgery, but surgery nonetheless – itself very painful, painful enough to cut through the general anesthesia. So you have two weeks before surgery and two weeks after for recovery and you get to the month we’ve had since the last entry. But I have not abandoned you, dear reader, and I have not abandoned my work. In fact, since Sunday I’ve been back to the grindstone better than ever.

I believe I’ve mentioned my latest project, a relatively straightforward horror novel. The interesting thing is that, as part of this project, I’ve developed a new method of drafting that seems to mitigate my worst habits. But let me back up.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks with my novels in the past has been my tendency to get three-quarters of the way through a story and realizing that it’s not working in its current form. I mean, hell, Corridors of the Dead was a different book altogether at first, with a different protagonist, which I retooled entirely. Room 3 went through several different iterations and a complete rewrite, as did Room 3 and Came to Believe, which is still stuck in Clusterfuckistan and may not make it out for another year or so. Clearly, the idea of doing the bare minimum of planning then diving in and adjusting on the fly was not working. Came to Believe even had a relatively complete plan before I started drafting, but it still fell victim to the same problems. So half-planning didn’t work, and going by the seat of my pants definitely didn’t work. A new approach was needed. I went down the full-on planning road.

So far it’s working out. As often happens, I quickly realized that problems with the POV character would necessitate a change in protagonists and in the dynamic of some relationships. I also learned that the first protagonist was kind of a cypher, somewhat boring. Another character stepped to the front of the stage, and the second draft of the plot has been all about her. In the course of creating this second draft, I’ve realized that there are pacing issues that can be shored up here and there, which will be addressed in the third draft. But I think you see where I’m going: in the past I might have written 75 to 100K words before discovering the protagonist didn’t work, which would necessitate a months-long total rewrite. In this case, I discovered it within 15,000 words of the plot, and the update is going to take a couple of weeks. And again I might have gotten through that second 75 to 100k word round and discovered the pacing didn’t work, so now I have to insert a chapter here and there then go through the text again to account for any ripple effects. Cue another six months or so. As it stands now, my plot is about 22,000 words, but again it will only take a week or two to insert the new chapters and adjust accordingly. By the time I’m finished, I’ll have a pretty good skeleton of the story that will be pretty easy to drape flesh over.

I’m hopeful enough about this new process that I’ve already started brainstorming another story idea and am allowing that to develop organically. I’m not ready to fully talk about that one yet, but it involves YouTube wannabes and a long-lost abandoned town in the mountains.

Anyway, thanks to those of you who have stuck around all this time. I can’t promise that the road will be clear from here on out, but I am doing my damnedest to stay on it. Hopefully you see some more fiction from me sooner rather than later.

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Or do, if you wish. Either way, I’m happy to be back and among the productive. To tell the story of the last three years of my life would be a lesson in tedium, anxiety, and stress – the kind of caustic stuff that melts the creative impulse. I’m still not fully back on my feet, owing to a move to a new city and a new office, but almost as soon as we set foot on Missouri soil, the juices started flowing again. Memories flooded back; I remember what it felt like to create, to let my fingers dance over the keys and channel the words like some shaman. How nice it was to tap into the creative force underlying the universe, or whatever you want to call it.

In short, the last few years have sucked. We underwent what seemed to be a layoff (only to get my job back at the last moment), not one but two mergers, and an extended period of unease and uncertainty regarding relocation. Our – and I very much include my loving wife in this – lives seemed to be suspended in mid-air. At first I was able to write through this, push it aside and keep going, but as I watched friends exit at work and found myself increasingly isolated in an empty building, I had a hard time bringing my focus back to writing at the end of the day. All I wanted to do was go home and shut the world out, whether it be through reading, video games, or other pursuits.

In the end, a combination of factors brought the muse back to me. One, reading through Mark Frost’s A Secret History of Twin Peaks. It contains a lot of the conspiracy lore and mythos-building that drew me to writing my first few novels, and it reminded me of the promise of weaving my own reality within fiction. It also reminded me of the power of magick, and of seizing control of the reins of your life. It didn’t take long to start to feel the pull toward something new, a framework that helped me to put my chaotic thoughts into some semblance of order.

Then came, of course, the move. While he had relocation assistance and support, it’s hard to imagine a more “seize the day” act than packing up the car and moving across half the country to see if it will all work out.

I came to realize that I had become…well, passive is not the right word. We wanted to relocate from the moment either of the two mergers were announced. More that I had resigned myself to hunkering down and letting fate whip me where it would, so long as it ended with us out of the DC area (something that both of us very much wanted). And so I became less an author of my fate than a pawn at the hands of people with much larger agendas. At some point I lost sight of the fact that I had made this choice to wait and hand things over, and became depressed and resigned. That’s when my output dropped. I think I can pinpoint it to March or April of this year, somewhere in there, because there is a steady downward curve in my word count until July, when I barely wrote at all.

Now, though? I’m back, I think. I’m currently five pages short of finishing my “critique” of Came to Believe, at which point I’ll go back and make the suggested changes and try to hammer it out. Given the massive delays (we’re just about at year four of working on this thing and I want it out the door), I’m likely just going to self-publish it, but we’ll see how I feel when I get there. In the meantime, I’m plotting the antithesis of this story, a quick, pulpy horror novel that I think will be a blast to write.

In the meantime, I intend to check in with you guys more often. Thanks to those of you who are still with me. We’ll see where this ride goes next…

Coming Back Around

Hi there, hope everybody has had a great holiday season thus far. Apologies for not being around the last month, had oral surgery on the Third that ended up being far more debilitating than expected, and then just as I was getting wind in my sails again came down with a nasty cold that morphed into an inner ear infection. The ear infection remains, but I’m ready to pick things up again. Look for more coming out of this space soon.

Emerging From The Writer Cave

Hello one and all, I return from my Writer Cave bearing good news. I know, I know, not the first time returning, nor will it be the last, I’m sure. Blame it on an overwhelming drive to finish up this novel in the face of more than two years of work. But hey, at least I’m in the closing stages of Came to Believe! Well, the last few chapters of what is ostensibly the final draft, anyway. A few more steps to go through after that, but I’ll talk more about that on Friday.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: I have a plan for this space now.

Now, don’t expect to see content as ambitious as what I’ve posted in the past. I’ve shifted priorities to focus on quality in my novels, which is rather intensive and eats up a lot of writing time, which means daily posts are just not possible. It’s sad and frustrating, but it’s reality. And at least I do have a reliable process now, after five years of searching. One of the biggest lessons of the last ten months or so has to been to trust this process and understand that it will ultimately provide, even if it seems at times to be magic. Again, I’ll talk about this more in the near future.

My current goal for this space is to provide a “home base” of sorts for my efforts, both writing and marketing. At the moment, this means a weekly post focusing on the major themes of what is beginning to look like a series. This series revolves around the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and, more specifically, the city of Harrisonburg and towns of Dayton and Bridgewater, though other towns are represented. It’s an area that is undergoing a transformation from rural stronghold to metropolitan region, all driven by an influx of student loan money. It’s a rich vein to mine, with lots of ephemera that only shows up on the sidelines in the books but could be expanded upon with the proper time and care. That’s what I want to bring you in the weekly posts.

 

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You can also expect a bi-weekly update on the status of my latest works and talking about my overall writing, pitching, and marketing process. These will be quicker entries, just a few hundred words to get you up-to-date.

In the meantime, I’ll also be updating my Facebook Author Page, Pinterest boards, Tsu page, and Twitter with relevant content; for example, you may see me talking about Halloween in the Shenandoah Valley here and sharing some photography from past and present Valley Halloweens over on Pinterest, all while talking about this year’s festivities on the Facebook author page.

It should be an interesting adventure, and I hope you stick around for it. More in the near future.

 

 

Omens and Portents

Welcome back again. I regret to inform you guys that I am still not back up to normal speed. My schedule is so crazy at the moment that I can only fit in the bare minimum for blog posts, nothing like what I’ve been providing to you guys before. I’m hoping that next week gets back to the regularly-scheduled posts, but I can’t make that promise just yet. Work and other commitments are consuming my time like you wouldn’t believe, spilling well beyond work hours into the evening hours.

Isn’t it a strange time to be alive? Things have been kind of hush-hush, but I’ve been following some of the “exercises” in the Arctic and potential confrontations between NATO and Russia. Talk about disconcerting. Add to that the huge sun flare  that caused trouble all over the world and today’s eclipse and it becomes very tempting to regard this as the passage to something very dark. It’s likely all a coincidence, but I can’t deny being on edge more than once over the past week, especially over that whole military situation. That’s one that bears watching, I believe.

Anyway, let’s review what’s going on with my progress at the moment. Great news is that I finished Chapter 16! And I think it’s really, really good. Obviously I’m biased and it’s hard to judge your own work, but I look at it by the metric that it accomplishes exactly what I wanted it to accomplish and does so in a fairly weighty manner. It’s a chapter that needed to have a certain gravitas, and while it took a lot of maneuvering to get it there, I think I have it. Now my critique group will tell me if it works as a whole, but that’s for down the road.

In the meantime, I’m in the throes of Chapter 17, and the first draft is going along pretty quickly. I don’t know that I’ll complete it this week (again, owing to my schedule), but I would not be surprised to finish it early next week, maybe by Tuesday. I’ll do what I can to get at it this weekend. The great thing about Chapter 17 is that it’s relatively light after the heaviness of the previous 3 chapters. It’s a chance for the reader – and the author – to catch their breath. In this scene, Lindsay arrives at the hospital after having learned of something bad happening to one of the main characters, meeting up with Dean outside the entrance to the ER. They have a brief chat and, upon learning that they won’t get to see their friend that night, head back to Lindsay’s place to console one another and really get down to the business of knowing each other. The part at Lindsay’s place is going to be an adaptation of a previously-written scene from the original version of the novel, one that had served as the tail-end of their first date.

It’s dicey, given their mutual sex addictions, to put them both in one place at a highly-charged emotional period for both of them, but I think them choosing not to get intimate is a way bigger triumph for the characters, a sign that this relationship is a little different, means a little more. And it greases the wheels for the climax.

I also planned out the next three to four chapters last night, which gets me up to Chapter 21. I’m aiming for the book to be between 25 and 27, so the end is well in sight, it’s just a matter of the events that get us there and what the climax might look like. I have a pretty good idea of it, but I’m still allowing it to be somewhat fluid as events change so much between conception and actual execution. I’ve found this to be the best method for telling a story, as I’ve mentioned before – keep that balance between spontaneity and structure.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep cranking away and keep you guys updated. I really want to get this one done by August and a series of events have convinced me that it’s time to redouble my efforts to get there, even if it means pushing other priorities down the list (though not the day job, that one’s non-negotiable). Funny, though, I use that flashback app that rounds up your posts from the previous five years for that date and one of the recent posts talked about how I was going to have to write new chapters for this novel and how it would be a long process – oh how naive it feels.

So yeah. I still owe you guys a longer, more emotionally-charged post, but I’m not there yet, time-wise or emotion-wise. I also owe you the continuation of the questions, but again, just don’t have the time. I’ll be back with that next week, hopefully. In the meantime, hope all is well with you in these strange, strange times.

Something for Now

Hey, heads up right away that this will be an abbreviated entry. Apologies, between this and the late entry last week it must seem that I’m slacking on my duties, but honestly I’m just slammed and at a weird point in my life. I haven’t had a good, restful week in over two months. At least I can share it with you? Maybe that’s the one saving grace of this whole mess.

As I mentioned last week, we lost a beloved pet, which sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Thursday morning started out looking somewhat okay – looked like a snow day, which would mean not too many people bothering me on messenger and a chance to get caught up with work and writing. Went out to do the morning ritual of feeding the cats and guinea pigs and found poor Wendell dead in his cage.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected; he had always been a frail guinea pig, victim of some mystery illness that the vets couldn’t quite sniff out. I suspect some form of cancer, as he had a cyst early in his life and was never quite the same after, but his tests came up clean for some reason.

So we knew our time with him would always be short, and honestly, we were damn lucky to get the four years that we got, but you’re never quite ready for it. It hit us hard, and it seems to have hit the other pigs as well, maybe moreso Quimby than Bertram. The latter seemed a little shell shocked for a day or two, but has returned to his normal self, while Quimby preferred to hide away and shunned any contact for a bit. We hung in there with him, though, and he’s come back out of his shell a bit. We really had no idea that they were so close, as they lived in separate cages and males don’t usually bond that much. All we can really do is be there for him until he gets through it.

Anyway, we’ll miss Wendell, and definitely remember him. He was one of those unforgettable pets.

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All right, so like I said, shortened entry this week. Just too much going on between our loss, last week’s storm, a whirlwind weekend, and a job interview. Just wanted to check in with you guys and let you know that I’m still here, still cranking away. Time is by far the most significant issue that I’m encountering at the moment. The desire is still there, along with the will and/or motivation, whatever you want to call it. I just cannot find the time to work on the novel without something else intervening. I mean, hell, I’m managing to write between 10,000 and 20,000 words a week, but it’s always on something other than the book. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe it.

Next week is going to have to be the center of an attempt to refocus on the novel if I want to finish it this year. At one point I thought I might have this done by July or August, but it’s beginning to look doubtful. Hopefully I can manage a few weeks of just working on it, and nothing but. Maybe a vacation in May? I don’t know. Next time we’ll catch up on last week’s question and get a new one going. Until then…

This Vanishing World

Welcome back for the next thrilling installment! Thanks for joining me again.

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Promo talk time. Maybe you recall me mentioning a Valentine’s Day Special last week? Well, starting on February 13th we (myself and the awesome ladies of Dark World Books) are running a special on Corridors of the Dead, Pathways of the Dead, and Room 3, with each priced at 99 cents until February 20th. My capable assistant Franny is handling the promotional details, but I should have more news in the next day or two.

Connection

Alright, I’ve told you why I walked away from things and what it means to be back. Let’s wrap this up with marketing talk. The most important promise I can make is that I won’t just shout at you. No more schemes, no more mindless broadcasting on Twitter, Tsu, or Facebook; the new focus is in-depth, targeted information about key themes, events, and locations in my life and stories, a means of connecting more deeply with you, the reader. This blog is “home base” for these efforts, though you can expect to see more on Facebook, Twitter, Tsu, and many other places in the coming months.

Right now I’m still in broadcast mode, but that changes next week, when I plan to post a question of the week and spur discussion by sharing my answer first. I don’t expect many answers for the first few months, but I hope that at some point you’ll participate, as together we – and hopefully that includes you – will figure out where this is all headed.

Might as Well Face It

It might seem odd to discuss love addiction when we’re so close to Valentine’s Day, but I think it’s appropriate. I know the very concept of love addiction sounds preposterous – straight out of that cheesy Robert Palmer song – but it exists, and I have seen its effects firsthand. It can be just as if not more insidious than its cousin, sex addiction, as it’s far more culturally accepted.

Think about it, songs, books, and movies are written about how we lose ourselves in the process of falling in love. I mean, hell, Valentine’s Day itself is built upon the notion of love transforming our mental state and making us do things that we wouldn’t normally do.

Now I could write a book on the difference between love the noun and love the verb, but all I’ll say here is that sometimes “falling in love” conceals flaws in our own thinking. Now imagine getting hooked on the sensation of falling in love rather than the object of your affection. What to do? A normal relationship only stays in that phase for so long, leaving you with the reality that neither of you are very perfect. Some people deal with this by trying to change and control their partner into being their fantasy lover; others pursue a never-ending string of new people. Both become an endless pursuit of some divine state that by its nature cannot be sustained.

This is love addiction.

And so we get to Lindsay, the recovering sex/love addict (they can coexist within one person) with whom Dean falls in love. Lindsay joined the recovery group after a series of disastrous liaisons with coworkers, culminating in one of them paying her for sex. Her behavior is viewed through the lens of sex addiction, but she did not see these as one-off encounters, rather a series of betrayals by people that she loved. These were acts of courtship, not titillation.

This backwards logic leads her to select Dean. It’s still unclear whether it’s a bad choice; they do genuinely have a lot in common and care for one another, but it will be a hard road for her.

The Mother and Child Reunion

Speaking of dysfunctional behavior, let’s turn our gaze to Dean and try to understand what created the egotistical, sex-driven beast that we encounter at the beginning of the novel. This early personality is the construct of a Dean who doesn’t truly understand himself. Much of it is due to a dark, suppressed secret that I will save for your first read through the novel, but his parents share in creating this false self.

Dean grew up in the shadow of an overbearing, alcoholic mother whose sole joy in life was dominating her weak-willed husband and vulnerable son. This turned his mother into a feared and loved icon, with his father inspiring a great deal of his anger and hate, all of which warped Dean’s view of women and relationships.He has only ever known relationships to be a surrendering of the man’s will to the woman’s whims. Commitment is surrender.

This attitude transforms him into a misogynist who only pursues unavailable or unsuitable women, projecting the blame for his shortcomings onto the female population. He’d marry, if only women weren’t so shallow. If they didn’t “friendzone” him. As far as he’s concerned, women only want money and/or status, and so he uses those to get the one thing that he wants – sex. Maybe one day that perfect woman will arrive, but until then he has no use for romance, as it’s only an excuse to put a leash on a man.

The good news is that this guy doesn’t stick around for long, as his attitude leads him to the brink of jail time and losing one of the few things he values: his license to practice dentistry. Life is forcing him to understand his flaws and break the cycle, a process which will span Books One and Two and drag him and Lindsay through hell and back.

Photo(s) of the week

Now for this week’s photo(s), which tie perfectly into the themes of what I’m coming to think of as the Shenandoah Valley series. This series is both borne of and a commentary upon my complicated relationship with rural America. I grew up in a small rural town, one that I both loved and wished to escape. Sound familiar? It was not an easy life, but even in the struggles I found untold rewards and riches. Even at a young age I recognized that the country offers so many untold stories, ones that lurk on dusty back roads and mountain ridges, tucked away from the prying eyes of the outside world.

I realized a few years ago that this secret world is vanishing as the ultra-rich take the spots once occupied by hard-working, blue collar folks like my family. Obviously I don’t have the power to stop this change, but I can document what remains while it’s still possible. So my wife and I ride the backroads, searching of signs of that vanishing world and its decay, hoping to capture what’s left before it gets bulldozed for another McMansion.

In that spirit, I’ve chosen two pictures this week, both of which represent this vanishing world. The first appears to be a decaying restaurant or service station that lies at the intersection of two relatively well-groomed roads, surrounded by a growing cluster of McMansions. I give it a year, maybe two at the most before it’s gone.

The second is an old farmhouse that’s hidden down an old dirt road in a place not likely to be gentrified for quite some time. This building is truly something special, a structure that should be preserved for history, not left to rot. It appears to have started as an old stone house, likely sometime in the 1800s; over the years its residents added a wooden attic, later tacking and on the white facade. This place had a powerful, ancient feel to it – very creepy and foreboding, the kind of place populated by uneasy ghosts rather than harried exurbanites. I wish I could put you there with me, but for now, I hope the pictures suffice.

And that will be it for this week. Next time, expect a proper status update on the novel, a talk about Dean and religion, and the first question for an interactive discussion.

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Return to Form?

A strange thing occurred to me this morning as I brushed my teeth and did that old study-yourself-in-the-mirror thing, and it’s strange specifically because of when it happened. I realized that I’m not done writing dark fantasy. Part of me has been flirting with abandoning the genre altogether and going full-on literary, though I’m not proud to admit that here. I now realize that was based on a belief that my dark fantasy had to be cleverly structure and draw the reader on with its mysteries. Don’t get me wrong, I think that can be a fun way to write a story and if I’m allowed to toot my own horn a little I think Room 3 benefitted enormously from the approach, but my critique group has enlightened me to some of the problems inherent in what I’ve been doing.

Linear storytelling has never been my cup of tea. Even when I wrote short fiction in college I had a tendency to jump all over the place in the timeline and allow the reader to reconstruct the tale. There’s something to be said for it, that you experience the twists and turns of discovery right along with the reader and allow them to share in some of the mystique of the creative process.

The problem comes when the structure drives the story, rather than the story driving the structure. I had become so enamored of the approach that it blinded me to the possibilities of really toiling away at a linear piece and turning some of the energy devoted to high-flying literary acrobatics to instead focusing on the word craft and emotional texture. Hey, it’s all a learning process until the day we die, right? Anyway, this leads me to the conclusion that I’m not done with dark fantasy, as I haven’t attempted a truly straightforward, linear piece without a central mystery. I want to see how I could stretch my wings in such an environment.

So, mea culpa to those who have read my dark fantasy works to this point. You guys aren’t forgotten, I just need to work this stuff out of my system so I can come back and do something (hopefully) really dynamite. Still lots out there waiting to be written, it’s more a question of time than desire.

Oh, and a total side-note, anyone watching Under the Dome this season? Could that thing be any more ridiculous and overwrought?

Post 500? Meh

I guess this is technically my 500th post, but age has proven that numbers really mean very little. The important milestones are those with emotional significance, those that connect you with other people, not the ones that are the result of simple accumulation. There’s a metaphor for consumerism in there.

Anyway, occupied with editing Came to Believe for critique group review, so have (for my money) the greatest song based on a painting: