A blog about the hearths we come from and those we make for ourselves; the myths we create, both cultural and personal; and the stories I write about them.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

A word on climate change.

I've been nattering on for the past couple of weeks about my real life stuff -- to the point where I've managed to bore myself. So enough of that junk. Let's talk about Sage and Webb's story.

If you've read the Pipe Woman Chronicles or the Land, Sea, Sky books, you know that I have a habit of using real-world problems as a springboard for my plots. Well, one of the springboards. My brain is kind of complicated, as it turns out, and weird stuff gets associated with other weird stuff when I get going on plotting a book.

But I had a bit of a problem when I started thinking up a plot for the Pipe Woman's Legacy duology. I  wanted to write these books for adults, which meant Naomi and Joseph's kids had to be at least 20, or pretty close to it. I mean, I guess you can write an adult book with a kid as a protagonist -- but the kid had better grow up in a hurry or the grownups reading the story are going to get bored pretty fast. (Yeah, yeah, Harry Potter. But think about it: when did the series really start to get interesting? When the kids got older and the tone of the story got darker, right?)

So okay, Sage has to be at least 20 years old at the start of Dragon's Web. Which makes Webb, oh, 17 or 18. (Sage's birthday is May 25th or so, but I never have picked a birthday for Webb. Maybe I'll let you guys do that.) But that posed another problem: the gods would have been in charge on Earth for 20 years by then. They brought most of the recalcitrant humans into line ten years before, when Darrell, Sue, and Tess took on Lucifer. So what could possibly be left for Them to fix?

Then I read Mayan December by Brenda Cooper. And on the very first page of that novel was my solution: climate change.

Earth is a closed ecosystem. Moreover, even if we took our lifestyle back to the Stone Age right now today, and stopped spewing any manmade pollution into the atmosphere anymore ever, it would take something like another hundred years to get greenhouse gases back to pre-Industrial Revolution levels. I could very easily see the gods saying to us, if They came back today, "Yeah, well, We're really sorry, but there's nothing We can do to clean up the mess you guys have made. There's a natural system in place that takes care of that, and it's hardwired in. We can't modify it to make it work any faster." And then They'd leave it up to us to figure out a way to fix it.

I can hear the howling from the tinfoil-hat brigade -- about how the 97 percent of scientists who agree that we should be worried about climate change isn't 100 percent, and anyhow scientists once agreed that the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around us, and so on. While I acknowledge their right to be skeptical, I also think it's foolish. When 97 percent of experts tell you, say, that your car needs a new timing chain or you're going to find yourself at a dead stop on the expressway in 55-mph traffic, you'd be an idiot not to shell out for the new timing chain -- even if the car's working fine right now.

In any case, what I write is fiction. So I've chosen that the premise of these two books is that climate change is, in fact, underway; that we're 20 years closer to disaster at the start of these books; and that it's up to humans to figure out a lasting solution.

In reading a little bit about the subject, I've discovered that there are a number of proposals for getting greenhouse gases out of our atmosphere. Some of them are really pretty simple. But we're not going full-tilt on them because it's hard to get funding. Why? Well, because the people who could fund them want to develop projects that would make them more money. Never mind improving and sustaining life on Earth -- if they can't make money at it, it's not going to happen. Is it me, or does that seem short-sighted?

I hope we can get to a point soon where saving humanity is more important than making money.

These moments of pie-in-the-sky blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Practicing patience.

(copyright greg, flickr.com, licensed under CC 2.0)

There's this thing I sometimes do when life gets frustrating (such as now, when I'm fighting with writing my weekly blog post on the iPad). I tell myself that I am practicing patience.

This does two things. First, it reminds me that patience is a good quality -- a virtue, even. And second, it underscores that patience does not spring full-blown and perfect from most of us, most of the time. That's why it's called practicing, right? Because practice is how you get good at it.

For the past several years, I've had plenty of opportunities to practice patience. I talked about one of them last week, when I mentioned that I've been temporarily back in DC for 16 years, waiting for my chance to move back to Denver. Well, I'm here now, and I'm still having to practice patience -- I don't know yet how long this current visit will last, and I don't know for certain whether I'll be able to make the move permanent this year. (Divinatory signs are telling me that this is my year to make the move, but I'm not willing to stake anything on that. I'm well aware that any divination is a snapshot, and things could -- and often do -- change.)

There's another situation that I haven't talked much about in public up to now. It has to do with my mother's estate, and I'm still not comfortable going into many details. But suffice it to say that I've been practicing patience on that for a number of years, as well.

And of course, there's your garden-variety indie-author patience practice: Will the next book be my breakout book? Will I sell any books today? Will I ever sell another book, ever again?

The thing about being patient is that at some point, you have to question whether it's not doing you more harm than good. It's one thing to put off having a cookie until after dinner, and another thing entirely to be so patient that people take advantage of you, or even forget you exist. At some point, you need to set aside your patience practice and do something.

I have good news for those of you who have been waiting (patiently?) for my next book. I finished the first draft of Firebird's Snare this morning. I need to go back and do some tweaking on Dragon's Web, including making a cover for it. (That kind of took a back seat to writing the second book and, um, practicing patience about whether I was going to get to make this trip to Denver.) But I am confident that we are still on schedule for publication of the first book in the Pipe Woman's Legacy duology in late-ish May. Stay tuned, as they say in broadcasting....

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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My Colorado love affair, or: Why I set the Pipe Woman Chronicles in Denver.

Greeting You From Denver, Colorado
It must have been the summer of 1973 when my love affair with Colorado began.

Every summer, my parents and I would take a driving vacation to a new part of the United States. Remember a while back when I said I'd visited all 50 states? I nailed the majority of them on these summer trips with Mom and Dad.

In the summer of '73, I had just finished my sophomore year of high school. Dad decided that would be the year that we would make it all the way to California. Now, what you have to understand is that we spent the vast majority of time on these trips driving from one place to another. We'd stop for a couple of hours of touring, and then get back in the car -- or truck. For many years we had a camper; then Dad traded up for a pop-up camper (hydraulic -- no cranking!). Anyway, the point is that we never stayed anywhere more than one night, unless we were visiting relatives.

So for this trip, we drove across the Great Plains to Colorado, and stopped at a KOA in Estes Park, just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. We never made it to California that year -- instead, we stayed in Estes Park for four days. Four. Days. Never in the history of our family had anything like it happened before. Colorado was just so beautiful that we didn't want to leave.

The reason I say the trip must have been in the summer of '73 is that the Estes Park radio station was using John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" as its jingle, and the song was released in the fall of '72.

Anyway, that trip stuck with me through high school, college, and all of my radio jobs. But I never thought about relocating to Colorado until the summer of 1998. I was in Indiana, using the Family and Medical Leave Act to help my mother recover from her second cancer surgery of the year. I was supposed to go back to work at the end of the summer -- but then Westwood One shut down the Washington operation of Mutual/NBC Radio News, and I was out of a job. It was my fourth layoff from a radio job in nine years. I simply shrugged and fired up the job-hunting apparatus again. But my time off with Mom had given me enough distance from the business to realize how wrong that blase reaction was. It was time to get out of broadcasting, I decided -- but what else could I do? I thought about staying in Indiana and teaching college-level English as an adjunct, and so I went to the local library to make a list of schools to send my resume to. That's where I ran across a brochure for the Denver Paralegal Institute. They offered a five-month program leading to a paralegal certificate; I had a severance package and six months of unemployment insurance coming to me. So I put my house in Virginia on the market, put some stuff in storage, packed the car full of kids and cats, and moved to Denver. I swear to you that as we crossed the Colorado state line, the sun came out.

Financially, it was a miserable time, but I discovered that the years hadn't dampened my love for Colorado. And we all thrived there. I never would have left if circumstances hadn't forced us to move back to the DC area. I promised myself that it was only temporary, and as soon as I could, I'd move back to Denver.

I swear to you that on our way back, when we crossed the Virginia state line, it began to rain.

That was in March 1999. I've now been temporarily back in DC for 16 years. And when I heard that the law firm where I work was going to set up a new office in Denver, I knew I had to be part of it. So tomorrow, I start a two-week stint in our Denver office. I hope it will turn into a permanent gig. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, here's a "Rocky Mountain High" for you. See you next week.
These moments of high country blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ah, Washington in the spring.

Up until about a week ago, I was beginning to wonder whether spring would ever get here. After a fairly mild start to our winter here in the mid-Atlantic, the cold settled in along about February and didn't seem inclined to leave.

I live just outside of Washington, DC, and I commute to the day job in the District every weekday. And the thing is that the tourists show up every year, even if spring doesn't. You can tell what time of year it is by the type of tourists you see on Metro. March through May, it's usually large groups of preteens and/or teenagers with their adult chaperones. Often, the kids all have on the same brightly-colored t-shirt with the name of their school or group emblazoned on the front. I have to say that the shirts are a great idea. Not only do they help the chaperones count heads and keep the group together on unfamiliar territory, but they also give us locals a heads-up about which train cars to avoid.

One of my favorite stories along these lines is the one about the gaggle of giggly teenage girls who were all wearing zebra-striped hoodies with "DC" in hot pink letters across their chests. I made the mistake of getting into the same Metro car these girls were in. They were so loud that it was hard to hear myself think. When the train pulled into the station at Pentagon City, they all piled out, and then stood on the platform in a huddle and shrieked at the top of their lungs. The gods alone know why.

Anyway. March through May, as I said, it's school groups. Except for several weeks in April when the National Cherry Blossom Festival is happening, and then we also get families who come to see the blossoms. DC is actually awash with blooming trees in spring, but the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin get all the press because they were a gift from Japan. The current trees are actually the second batch; the first batch, which arrived in 1910, turned out to be infested with insects and had to be destroyed. Japan sent a new, bug-free batch of trees a couple of years later. We've had other gift shipments over the years, but the ones at the Tidal Basin are mostly either the 1912 trees or their descendants.

So they're old trees, and pretty much a national treasure. And yet every year, some idiot decides their kid ought to be able to climb the trees and/or pick the blossoms. Don't. Just don't. If the National Park Service catches you, you'll be in trouble. Picking blossoms and climbing the trees are prohibited. Even walking around under the trees is discouraged. If too many people do it, it compacts the soil around the roots and makes it harder for the tree to absorb water.

Anyway, I was very glad the cherry trees finally bloomed (and in time for this year's festival, too -- that doesn't always happen), because it means winter is over at last. And it also means that next up are my favorite blooming trees, the redbuds. (The redbud tree in this photo is not in America. It's at the Alhambra in Spain. But ours look the same.) After the redbuds, it'll be the dogwoods. And not long after the dogwood blossoms peter out, summer will arrive with a vengeance and we'll all hermetically seal ourselves inside and crank up the air conditioning -- and the only people on the streets will be the poor families who decided to spend summer vacation here.

Gotta love DC.

Speaking of being hermetically sealed inside, I've spent the weekend cranking out thousands of words on the Camp NaNoWriMo novel. It's the second book in Sage and Webb's duology, and it's going to be called Firebird's Snare. As of right now, I'm about 30,000 words into the first draft. Book one of the duology, Dragon's Web, still needs some tweaking. But we're still looking at a May release for that book, and a June release for the second book. Unless life throws me a curve ball, which it very well might here shortly. More on that next week....

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