Sunday, August 21, 2016

Time flies when you're having fun.

I am grateful to Facebook today. The first thing I saw in my newsfeed this morning was a reminder that five years ago -- on August 21, 2011 -- I notified all of my friends that SwanSong would shortly be available for purchase at Smashwords. 
Just like that, I became an indie author.

I don't think I've ever mentioned this here before, but publishing a novel had been on my bucket list since my twenties. Well, okay, we didn't call them "bucket lists" then; that wasn't until that movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out in '07. But the concept of making a list of lifetime goals has been around forever.

Here's the list I made back then, as near as I can remember it, and very likely not in order: 
  • Get married and have kids.
  • Make $20,000 a year.
  • Travel to all 50 states.
  • Visit Ireland.
  • Visit Czechoslovakia (yes, it was still Czechoslovakia when I was in my twenties).
  • Write a novel and get it published.
  • Lose twenty pounds.
There may have been a couple more, probably relating to getting out of the city I was living in at the time, but that should give you the gist of it. 

It's kind of fun to look back on, now that I've nailed all of the items on that list. Of course, the marriage didn't stick and the pounds didn't stay off (and brought friends when they came back...), and my salary goal seems ridiculously tiny now (and it ought to give you an indication of how much I was making back then).

But this put me in mind of another goal. Not long after I started this indie author thing, I told myself I would publish three novels a year. So far, I've kept to that schedule -- and when I add in the omnibus editions and short-story collections, as well as all the anthologies I've been a part of over the past few years, my publishing schedule looks crazy: thirty-three titles in five years. And 2016 isn't over yet. I've spent this weekend updating A Billion Gods and Goddesses; the new version should be out later this week. (I'll send out a newsletter when it's live.)

I've learned a lot over the past five years, and there are some things I don't yet have the hang of. Sounds like it's time for me to make a new bucket list -- and here's hoping I'm as successful at completing it as I've been at nailing the old one.

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

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Travel, punctuation, etc.

I'm on a road trip this weekend, so for tonight, I've renewed an old post. (The original post is here, if you're the sort of person who likes to see what has been changed.)

This allows me to:

  1. Point you to a cute, new Grammarly article that goes into further detail about the difference between et al. and etc.;
  2. Have an excuse to remind you that hearth/myth Editorial Services are available to serve your editorial needs (click here for more info); and
  3. Get out of writing a whole new post while avoiding yet another reuse of my On Vacation graphic. You're welcome.


    Not many indie authors use the abbreviations etc. and et al. -- but I do see them at work. Et al., particularly, is used in formal writing. But just so we're on the same page, punctuation-wise, I thought I'd explain a few things about them.

    First, et al. means "and others." Et is the Latin word for "and." It's not an abbreviation. Okay? So it doesn't ever get a period after it. That would be like putting a period after "and" every time you use it in a sentence.

    The al. part of et al. is, however, an abbreviation -- for alii (masculine plural), aliae (feminine plural), and/or alia (neuter plural). I'm not going to try to explain masculine/feminine/neuter nouns here; suffice it to say that Latin has 'em (as does Czech, by the way). As English speakers, all we really need to be concerned with is that al. is an abbreviation and et is not. So the proper way to punctuate the phrase is like so:
    et al.
    Clear so far? Excellent.

    So now, clever thing that you are, you have recognized that the first two letters of etc. are the same as good old et that we just talked about. And you're correct. In Latin, etc. is short for et cetera, which means "and the rest" or "and other things."

    "So how come," you are now going to ask me, "etc. gets slammed together into one word and et al. doesn't?"

    Good question, and the answer is probably similar to how, in English, "has not" turned into hasn't and "I am" turned into I'm: etc. is a contraction. Typesetters, who liked to save a space anywhere they could, dropped the space in et c. at some point, and etc. eventually became common usage.

    Got that? Et al. is a two-word abbreviation with no period after etetc. is a one-word abbreviation that gets a period. Good. Okay.

    Now. There's one more sticky thing about these two, and it comes up when you stick them in the middle of a sentence. They take commas on both sides. If you have a phrase like "the rain, the park, and other things make me very happy," and you want to replace and other things with etc. to save space, you need a comma both before and after etc. Like so:

    The rain, the park, etc., make me very happy.

    Don't be tempted to forget that second comma. Just like with a quote or some parenthetical material, you need to mark off the end of the Latin you've just inserted. Hence, the closing comma.

    Okay? Cool. Here's your reward for suffering through this post. Have a great week, everyone.

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

    Sunday, August 7, 2016

    In which I go (green) bananas.

    Some of you may have already seen this photo when I posted it on Facebook yesterday. I bought this bunch of bananas last Monday. They were really green, so I let them sit for a few days to ripen.

    Five days later, they were still green on the outside. The fruit inside is ripe, but the peel is still mostly green -- and it's remarkably tough. Not tough like a regular green banana peel, but tough like the peel has gotten denser. It's older, but it's not ripening the way it should. It's weird.

    Nobody who commented on the photo had any idea what could have caused this to happen, so I turned to the intarwebz. In one article (most of which was over my head), I learned that wholesalers expose green bananas to ethylene gas before they're shipped to market. That encourages the fruit to turn ripe, as long as the bananas are kept thereafter at temperatures between 16 and 24 degrees Celsius (or 61 to 75 degrees, for those of us of the Farenheit persuasion). If the treated bananas are stored at temperatures above 24 degrees Celsius, however, the peel doesn't turn yellow, even though the fruit inside ripens normally. The article goes on to say that this phenomenon costs the banana industry big money in lost sales. Anyway, I figure that's what happened to my bananas: they were stored somewhere that was too warm for them.

    But that brought to mind another weird produce-related thing. Last fall, I think it was, I cut open an apple and let the two halves sit for a while while I did something else. When I came back, I noticed that the apple's flesh had not turned brown. So I let it sit for a while longer. It never turned brown.

    Thus reminded, back I went to the intarwebs. There, I learned that a couple of years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started test-growing a genetically-modified apple that doesn't turn brown. The process involves inserting extra copies of the gene responsible for the enzyme that encourages oxidation. The apple tree reacts to those extra copies by shutting off production of the enzyme entirely. The apple will eventually rot, but it won't turn brown. And further, I learned that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the process last year -- as well as a similar one that keeps potatoes from turning brown when sliced or peeled.

    I'm sure this is not news to some of you. I confess that I have not been closely following the debate over genetically-modified foods; I knew that GMO foods sold in the U.K. must be labeled, but here in the U.S., the government has sided with growers and resisted calls for labeling these foods -- so far. Apparently three of our four current candidates for President support GMO labeling, with only Donald Trump opposing it.

    I like knowing what I'm eating, so I suppose I'm in favor of GMO labeling, too. But I'm especially in favor of fruits and vegetables that ripen naturally, because they taste better. My still-green bananas are okay, but that non-browning apple didn't taste like anything. My biggest fear is that we're breeding produce for shelf life at the expense of taste. Fresh fruits and vegetables are certainly healthier than the sugary/salty processed foods that jam our grocery store shelves. With obesity such a problem, maybe tasty produce ought to be a matter of public policy.

    These green yet tasty moments of blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

    Sunday, July 31, 2016

    Finding magic in the real world.

    There's a dragonfly hanging around the parking lot of my apartment building. I've been seeing it every afternoon when I come home from work. Usually it simply crosses my field of vision, but sometimes it zips past me to really make sure it gets my attention.

    I tend to think of dragonflies as liminal creatures, right on the border between reality and the fantastic. Part of it is their appearance: their bulbous heads, long, slender tails, and iridescent wings make them look less of this world and more of some unaccountable one. Part of it is the way they zip through the air, ducking and hovering in ways that we think we might be able to understand, if only we could read them as well as (or better than!) we read other humans.

    Dragonflies need to stay near water, because that's where they lay their eggs. The element of water is linked with the emotions, which might make dragonflies suspect to the rational-minded. And in fact, many cultures have superstitions, most of them unflattering, about dragonflies. I wrote a story about them once -- or rather, I wrote a story in which dragonflies play a significant role. I made the main character a news reporter partly so I had an excuse to do a brain-dump of all the fascinating things I learned about them. (The story's called "Lulie." You can buy it for 99 cents at Amazon.)

    But my story was strictly fantasy; the dragonflies in it were real, but they carried a magical message that my main character, Artie, resisted all the way. If "Lulie" had been magic realism, Artie would have been a very different character, and the dragonflies' message would have been less overt than Come down to the family farm and meet your cousin by the light of the moon. It would have been less insistent, more intriguing, and more of an answer to a deeper dilemma Artie himself was wrestling with.

    Because magic realism works best, I think, with characters who are on the verge of something: a difficult transition from childhood to adolescence; an insistent need to escape an intolerable situation, whether domestic (physical or emotional abuse) or on a wider scale (war, racial hatred, etc.); or a cognitive dissonance that may be close to manifesting as mental illness (the movie Birdman comes to mind). The characters have to be open enough to magic to not shy away from it. They need to be in a liminal frame of mind.

    I've been sufficiently intrigued by my dragonfly friend to investigate why he or she has been trying to get my attention (other than as a subject for this blog post, I mean). In Animal Speak, Ted Andrews says Dragonfly, as a totem, is about the power of light:
    Dragonflies remind us that we are light and can reflect the light in powerful ways if we choose to do so. "Let there be light" is the divine prompting to use the creative imagination as a force within your life.
    Tomorrow is Lughnasadh, the Pagan first harvest. For those of us in North America, the celebration comes at the height of summer. On this Lughnasadh eve, I'm going to try to remember to let my light shine. I hope you do the same.


    This post is part of the 2016 Magic Realism Blog Hop. In fact, it may be the final post, time-wise, in this year's hop -- which means you can click through the list below and catch them all at once! Big thanks again to Zoe Brooks for organizing another intriguing hop.

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