Sunday, November 19, 2017

Here comes Advent -- and it's gonna be expensive.

Today, I spent $150 on an Advent calendar.

Not the mittens. I made those several years ago -- knitted them out of 100% acrylic yarn that I happened to have on hand. Those tiny mittens will still be around when the sun goes supernova. And they were cheap!

No, the thing I bought today is a cleverly-packaged knitting project called a Craftvent Calendar. The box has 24 drawers, and each drawer holds a thing I will need to create a knitted shawl: needles, notions, yarn, and the directions. I'm hoping the directions are in drawer number 1 -- although since the project is billed as a knit-along, the pattern will probably be parceled out in chunks over the course of the month.

The thing is, I have no business buying an Advent calendar of any sort. I'm Neopagan, as you may recall, and Advent calendars are a Christian thing. The practice began among Lutherans in the 19th century, according to Wikipedia, and the idea was to mark the passage of time between the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and the day itself. The first commercial Advent calendars, though, marked the days from December 1 to Christmas Eve. They were cardboard and had little numbered doors that you opened each day to see a scene; the door number 24 would reveal either Jesus in the manger or Santa Claus.

Since then, the idea has morphed. Mutated. Grown into a monster. Oh sure, you can still get the cardboard variety, as well as the kind with a little piece of not-very-good chocolate behind each door. But there's more -- oh, so much more!

For less than $50, you can get a Lego Advent calendar -- and as every parent who has ever stepped on a Lego knows, they are the gift that keeps on giving. But adults have lots of less painful options. For example, the Body Shop sells an Advent calendar for $105 that features not only cosmetics, but "a feel-good action to complete every day" and, inexplicably, a bunny-eared headband. On a more serious note, Anthropologie offers a box of 24 little bottles of personal care products for $170. And booze sellers have also gotten in on the act. The Master of Malt website has been selling a Very Old & Rare Whisky Advent Calendar (in walnut or ebony -- your choice) for upwards of $11,000. I say "has been" because, alas, they are sold out.

It's gotten so bad that clergy in the U.K. are warning about the dangers of consumerism -- not just on Christmas, but while counting the days leading up to the Big Day, too.

I feel like Exhibit A. We observe Yule, which falls on the winter solstice, anywhere from the 20th to the 22nd of December. Traditional Advent calendars overshoot our holiday. In fact, I made the mittens so that we could easily adjust the countdown for the year in question.

But after the mini-tour of excess I just undertook to write this post, I'm feeling better about that Craftvent Calendar. I'd rather have a new shawl in January than a bunny-eared headband anyhow.

These moments of bloggy excess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Why my dad hated All in the Family.

I ran across an article on Politico today called, "Why Won't TV Show People Who Aren't Rich?" You may have seen it, too, when I shared it on Facebook earlier today (although probably not -- thanks for the lame organic reach, Facebook). The upshot of the article is that shows like ABC's "The Middle" -- which features a middle-class family and which is now in its final season -- are few and far between. The author of the piece, Joanna Weiss, goes on to lament that so few TV shows feature middle-class families these days. She says it's particularly sad because the gulf between haves and have-nots in this country is widening by the day.

Weiss says it would be useful for TV to feature more characters who live on the economic edge because it would help us "coastal elites" understand what the folks in the middle of the country are going through. But there's no guarantee people would watch it -- and I'm not just talking about folks on the coast.

The top-rated show in the 1970s was "All in the Family." Produced by Norman Lear, its main characters were middle-class -- maybe even working-class. Archie Bunker was the old-fashioned, Republican, opinionated patriarch; his wife Edith was a homemaker and kind of dim; their daughter Gloria was the apple of her parents' eye, and then she married a long-haired liberal named Mike Stivic. Lear himself is a liberal, and his political leanings were obvious. Archie and Edith were played for laughs. Archie regularly gave Mike a hard time -- his favorite nickname for him was "Meathead" -- but it was pretty clear that Mike's ideas weren't all that terrible and that Archie was objecting simply because he didn't like the source.

My father had a lot in common with Archie Bunker -- he was a working-class Republican and not very well educated -- and he wouldn't watch the show. He didn't like it, he said. He didn't think it was funny. To almost everyone else in America, "All in the Family" was a microcosm of what was going on in the country in the '70s: the old, conservative guard being upstaged by long-haired youngsters. It allowed us to laugh at ourselves. But I think for my father, it felt like people were laughing at him.

Entertainment allows us to escape from our daily cares. TV shows today feature the rich, or at least the financially secure, for a number of reasons, but chief among them is ratings. These shows draw a lot of eyeballs precisely, I think, because they offer financially unstable Americans an escape from their problems. The respite doesn't last, of course, but the fact that the shows only make viewers more miserable in the long run doesn't matter to TV producers. They're only in it for the money.

These moments of economically unstable blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Monday, November 6, 2017

That post-conference high.

I came home with a reading list...
It happens to me every November. I leave town for a writing conference for a few days, and come home all fired up about writing more books and, uh, somewhat less than fired up about returning to real life.

You're hearing from me a day late this week because last night -- or more accurately, very early this morning -- I came home from three days at the 20 Books to 50K conference in Las Vegas. It was my first time in Vegas, and it was both more and less than I expected it to be. But I'll leave the impressions of my trip for another time. Tonight I'd like to talk a little bit about what this conference is all about, and why I skipped this year's World Fantasy Convention to attend.

The conference name is somewhat self-explanatory: the idea is that if you write books in a popular genre and market them properly, you can expect to be making $50,000 a year by the time you've published 20 books. As someone who has just released her 18th book, I found the concept intriguing.

And as an indie author, I was getting less and less out of attending the World Fantasy Convention. It's a meetup for professionals, mostly, who either are chasing a contract with a traditional publisher or who already have one. So while the panels are often interesting and give me food for thought for my own writing, the emphasis behind the scenes is on schmoozing with editors and agents, neither of which -- as an indie -- I'm interested in.

Anyway. I didn't go into the 50 Books conference knowing much beyond what I explained above. What I was hoping for was a blueprint for how the indies who are making money at their craft got where they are. While I didn't get a straightforward answer, as the weekend progressed I got closer to the Big Picture.

First, you need to publish a lot of books each year, and for that you need to write fast. There were several presentations on methods for outlining a book, because it's quicker to write a story when you know where you're going with it. You also need to create characters who readers will fall in love with and want to read more about. Then your cover needs to fit in with others in your genre, your blurb needs to be well crafted, and your book itself needs to be professionally edited.

Next, you need to market it well, and for most authors these days, that means shelling out for advertising. There were several presentations on developing advertising campaigns for both Facebook and Amazon (and I bought books on those subjects written by Michael Cooper and Brian Meeks, two of the presenters at the conference). Another presentation talked about the strategy of doing a rapid release: you release four books, one each week, for four weeks straight. That takes an enormous amount of planning ahead, both for advertising buys and for writing time. But with four titles out at once, they work together to boost you up the sales lists at Amazon -- and the more books you sell, the more money you make.

Some of these concepts were new to me, but some are things we've been talking about at Indies Unlimited for years. (K.S. Brooks and I literally cheered when one of the presenters said his first question about any book cover is how it looks in thumbnail size.)

To sum up, organizers Craig Martell and Michael Anderle did a bang-up job pulling the conference together. And I'm going to be doing a lot of thinking over the next few weeks about how best to deploy some of these strategies next year. Stay tuned...

Just before I left for Vegas, I pushed the "publish" button on Maggie at Moonrise. With that, the Transcendence trilogy is complete. I'll pull together an omnibus version pretty soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the new book -- and thanks in advance to those of you who have already bought a copy. You're my new best friends.

These moments of bloggy enthusiasm have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Contest winners, and happy Day of the Dead!

Thanks to everybody who entered the Rafflecopter for Maggie at Moonrise. We'll get to the announcement of the winners in a minute, but first I wanted to talk about what inspired me to include so many Day of the Dead-themed prizes. I mean, of course it's coming up this week, and Maggie does go to Mexico in this book. But I really like the spirit (pun possibly intended) behind the holiday.

That noted reference work, Wikipedia, says Día de los Muertos -- or more properly, Día de Muertos -- originates in an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. Then it began in early August and lasted an entire month. But it was strictly a central and southern Mexican thing for hundreds of years. Día de los Muertos wasn't celebrated at all in northern Mexico until the 20th century, as Native cultures there had different traditions. Since the Mexican government made it a national holiday in the 1960s, though, it has spread throughout the country and around the world. It's even on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Today, the Day of the Dead is a three-day festival, wrapping in the Catholic observance of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. At, it says: "[Indigenous Mexicans] believe that the gates of heaven are opened at midnight on October 31, and the spirits of all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to reunite with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come down to enjoy the festivities that are prepared for them."

Old Town San Diego, 2011 | Lynne Cantwell
Families honor their dead by building ofrendas, or altars, at home. The ofrendas feature candles, marigolds, crepe paper decorations, sugar skulls, and photos of their deceased relatives. They leave toys and candy on the altar for spirits of children, and cigarettes and booze for adults. They also leave food on the altar, including pan de muerto, or bread for the dead. On November 2nd, everybody goes to the graveyard to have a picnic. There's music and card-playing, and folks clean their relatives' graves and reminisce about them. It's family-centered and fun.

Contrast that with Halloween, which was originally designed not to celebrate the dead, but to keep them from haunting the living. Although the idea behind the Day of the Dead is to keep the ancestors happy so the family's luck won't turn. So maybe they're not that different, after all.

Speaking of luck, here are the winners from the Maggie at Moonrise launch giveaway:

Great Goddess pillow cover and $10 Amazon gift card: Illume Eltanin
Sugar skull silicone mold: Will Griesmer
Sugar skull tiny trays (5 winners): Sharon Starns, Ashly Haraf, Amanda Whitley, Shirley Shepherd, Brian Lepak

Congrats, everyone! I'll contact you by email about mailing your prizes to you. Thanks to everyone for playing.

Maggie at Moonrise will indeed be released for Kindle this week, on Wednesday, November 2nd. I'm hoping to have the paperback out at the same time, but it may be next week. I'll keep you posted.

If you'd like a preview of Maggie's road trip, I've posted photos of her stops on a Pinterest board. Go here to see 'em:

These moments of festive blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Happy Halloween! ¡Feliz Día de los Muertos!