Sunday, August 20, 2017

Maggie's on the cusp at last.

Yes, that's right -- Maggie on the Cusp: Transcendence Book 2 is out at long last.

I strive to publish three novels a year: the first in March or April; the second in May or June; and the third around the middle to the end of November. As you know, the first book in the Transcendence trilogy, Maggie in the Dark, came out in March. This one should have been out in late May or early June -- but it wasn't.

For starters, the themes in this book are tough. Maggie's mother is losing her memory, and it's happening very fast. And then, too, Maggie is being forced to deal with her brother Sandy, who has verbally abused her for as long as she can remember.

We hear a lot about physical abuse -- primarily, I think, because it's so obvious. If someone regularly roughs you up, you're going to have bruises and broken bones. The damage from sexual abuse may be less obvious. Psychological -- verbal and emotional -- abuse often accompanies these physical acts. But it can stand alone, too. Gaslighting is one form of psychological abuse; bullying is another. And the wounds from any sort of abuse run deep.

Here's how Maggie describes her relationship with her brother:
I know a lot of people are rotten to their siblings when they’re all kids, but as they mature, they grow closer. Well, Sandy never grew out of it. I was always the dumb kid sister. His greatest joy, when we were kids, was to tease me until I cried; among his greatest joys as an adult was to find something to needle me about until I exploded. When I was a teenager, it was my hair or my weight; then, later, it was my marriage. “Why did you marry a guy named Eugene?” he would ask, laughing derisively. “What a stupid name. And he’s such a poser. For God’s sake, Maggie, couldn’t you find somebody normal to screw around with? And what the hell were you thinking, letting him knock you up? Don’t you know anything?” 
Given Sandy’s opinion of my husband – which, it galled me to admit later, wasn’t far wrong – but anyway, you would think my brother would have been thrilled to learn that I was divorcing Gene. But no, that was my fault, too. “So you’re just gonna give up? Marriage is supposed to be ‘til death do you part, Maggie. Did you miss that part when you said your vows? Or maybe Jews don’t believe in that sort of thing. Is that it?”
I’d grown up enough by then that I refused to let him see me cry when his barbs sunk to the bone. I would sit there and take it, poker-faced, with my nails digging into my palms, until eventually he would give up and go away. But I internalized the abuse. His comments became the nagging soundtrack in my head – the voice that told me it wasn’t worth going back to finish college, that I might as well work at the casino with the other high school graduates who’d never made it out of our little town, because after all the things I’d screwed up in my life, that was all I deserved. 
Abuse doesn’t always leave a visible mark.
Maggie needs to get on with the business of renewing the earth, the task Granny -- who's the human avatar of the Shawnee creator spirit Kokumthena -- handed her in Maggie in the Dark. But she needs to settle her personal relationships first. And that means resolving her conflict with Sandy -- and with their mother, too.

Anyway, you can click here for the Kindle version. The paperback was just approved; if you absolutely can't wait to order one, it's available from CreateSpace here. Otherwise, it'll be available from Amazon and other major online booksellers in a few days.

I hope I haven't put you off from reading the book -- it's not all grimdark. And I'm planning to inject a little fun with a contest here next week. Stay tuned...

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


Sunday, August 13, 2017

What would Naomi do?

eric1513 | 123RF.com
Like most of you, I've spent the last 48 hours alternately outraged and horrified by what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend.

To catch you up: Three people died and 26 were injured in connection with a protest conceived by alt-right groups to protest the Charlottesville city council's plans to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. One of the dead is Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was attending a counter-protest when a car plowed into the group. The driver, 20-year-old James Alex Fisher Jr. from Maumee, Ohio, is being held on charges of second-degree murder, malicious wounding, and hit-and-run. The Justice Department is investigating and may file additional charges against Fisher. His high school history teacher says Fisher was enamored with Nazis even then.

The other two dead were Virginia State Troopers whose helicopter crashed on landing in a wooded area not far from downtown. The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Reaction to the events has been almost unanimously against the neo-Nazis, white nationalists, KKK members, and fellow travelers who conceived of the event. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have condemned the groups' actions. About the only people who have spoken out in support of these groups, in fact, are other white supremacists.

And then there's President Trump, whose remarks could most charitably be described as noncommittal. Instead of condemning the march's organizers, he spoke against "the egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides."

He also tweeted condolences to the family of the dead woman and "best regards to all of those injured."

"Charlottesville sad!" he said in another tweet.

I keep saying I'm not going to turn this into a political blog, but that guy in the White House, who has at least a couple of white nationalists on staff, keeps testing my resolve.

However, I will forbear. Instead, I'll risk turning this post into a shameless plug for my own books by dreaming aloud about how the characters in the Pipe Woman Chronicles universe would react.

As it happens, the Land, Sea, Sky trilogy -- which is part of that universe -- is set in DC, mostly, and not too far in the future. Thanks to the return of the gods to Earth some years before, a powerful coalition of military, industrial, and legislative leaders has been watching its power slip away. The co-conspirators are organizing what they believe to be a foolproof plan to defeat the gods and put themselves on top again. (You may see a parallel here with the white nationalists who would like to claw back majority control of the United States by staging protests like the one in Charlottesville.)

The good guys in Land, Sea, Sky include Sue Killeen, who works as a project manager for a nonprofit called Earth in Balance; Tess Showalter, an investigative reporter for the New World News Network; Darrell Warren, a Potawatomi healer turned Navy SEAL; and their gods. All the gods, actually. And I included cameo appearances by some of the main characters from the original series: Naomi Witherspoon Curtis, Joseph Curtis, and their children, Sage and Webb.

Any of the humans would give the alt-right a run for their money. But I'd especially love to give Naomi a crack at them. Her special talent is pushing people to do the right thing, and she would have a field day with the boys of the alt-right. And in the White House, too. If Naomi could get hold of President Trump, his tweets would sound very different. Believe me.

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Counting calories.

I've posted here before about weight loss, but not for quite a while. That's because I decided to quit trying to lose weight. I've been dieting, off and on, for nearly 50 years. At first I counted calories, then carbs, fat grams, and Weight Watchers points.

For a short while, I was on NutriSystem: prepackaged foods, a bunch of supplements, and no bananas. Seriously, no bananas. It had something to do with the way their diet handled potassium intake. I lost weight on it -- but anybody would. It was an 800-calorie-a-day, high-protein diet. They achieved the protein numbers by putting protein powder in everything -- even the prepackaged hot chocolate mix.

I've managed to stay away from gimmicky diet aids -- Ayds "candies" (remember those?), Slim-Fast shakes, fasts and cleanses, fen-phen. Haven't done any of them, ever. In most cases, I'm glad. I've also glad that I've never fallen for the siren song of bariatric surgery; nearly everyone I know who's had it done has gained the weight back, and some have had medical complications, to boot.

I've met with nutritionists several times over the years. I even signed up for a clinical trial for some weight loss drug, but I quit when the nutritionist gave me information that conflicted with information that another nutritionist had given me years before.

In short, over the years, I've lost hundreds of pounds...and gained them all back.

So I related to the New York Times story that came out this past week. It turns out that Weight Watchers has an image problem. People are tired of thinking about their weight. They're tired of thinking about food all the time. Instead, people today want to be healthy. They want to be strong. They want to eat clean (whatever that means).

Weight Watchers solved their problem by reinventing their program yet again (they tweak it every couple of years, anyway) and hiring Oprah to be their spokeswoman. Sign-ups skyrocketed. I highly doubt whether their results are any better, though, and here's why:
Diets don't work.
We have known this for years. One big reason is this one, from a Psychology Today article published in 2010:
Obesity and overweight can be conditions that are caused by early life trauma... In one early study of 286 obese people, half had been sexually abused as children. In these cases, "...overeating and obesity weren't the central problems, but attempted solutions." For these people, therapy might be a prerequisite to healthy weight loss.
Programs like Weight Watchers address physical hunger. They focus on the scale -- on measurable results to show investors and prospective clients -- and they basically tell you that if your problem is emotional eating, you just need to change your attitude, gosh darn it, and here are some tips for that.

Of course, there's a lot of recidivism in diet programs. As the author of the New York Times article says, if you want to be successful at Weight Watchers, you basically have to resign yourself to being a member -- counting points every day -- for the rest of your life.

No wonder I got discouraged and quit.

Unfortunately, that means the pounds have come back. So I'm trying something slightly different this time. It's an app called Noom Coach. You can download the app for free, but to get full use of the features, you have to pay for the coaching and group meetings. So far, I've been using it for a little less than a week. I haven't learned anything that I didn't know already, and the group chat feels a lot like a daily Weight Watchers meeting (for good or ill). But it's easy to log my food and the app does the calorie counting for me.

That's right! I've come full circle. I'm back to counting calories.

I'll let you know how it goes.

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

American Gods is -- wait, what?

In casting about for a topic for this year's Magic Realism Blog Hop (and thanks to Zoe Brooks for organizing once again!), I reviewed a list on Goodreads of books purported to fall under the category of magic realism. Not too far down the list, I spotted Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

I read the book several years ago, before I'd really begun studying mythology, and thought it was pretty weird. I mean, I liked it, but a lot of it seemed surreal. And confusing. I was fairly far into the book before I twigged to the fact that (spoiler alert!) Mr. Wednesday was Odin, the Norse Allfather.

So when I saw the book on that Goodreads list, I hesitated. I remembered several key scenes from the story -- the "Russians" living in genteel poverty in Chicago, the car in the lake, the hanging tree -- but not much else.

And then I remembered Starz had recently created a series based on the book. So I began to stream the episodes, in order to refresh my memory, and discovered -- oh haha -- season one don't cover the whole book. There's going to be at least one more season. Welcome to video storytelling in the 21st century.

Also, I was right -- American Gods is weird. But is it magic realism?

We've had our share of "what the heck is magic realism?" posts on this blog hop over the years. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to use Merriam-Webster's definition:
A literary genre or style...that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.
If that's strictly what we're going by, then I suppose both the series and the book qualify. The main character is Shadow Moon, a black ex-convict who runs into a mysterious con man named Mr. Wednesday. Wednesday hires him as his personal assistant. His duties become increasingly weird as things around him get more and more surreal.

Eventually, we figure out that Wednesday is a god, that a whole lot of gods immigrated to America with their followers, and that new gods -- the media and technology -- are staging a takeover. In the America of the story, gods survive only so long as people believe in them.

But back to the show.

The question for me is not whether American Gods is sufficiently fantastic; the question is whether it's realistic enough. It's set in America, but much of the action seems to happen on a different plane of existence. For example, Shadow suffers a pretty severe beating and lynching in episode two. But apart from a nasty torso cut that requires staples, his wounds seem pretty minor. Why isn't his face swollen? Is it because the whole thing happened on a different plane? Or is that just TV not being realistic? (I don't watch a lot of TV, so you'll have to tell me.)

Gaiman has written a number of great books, including some wonderful magic-realism novels. I'm not sure, though, whether American Gods qualifies as magic realism. Fantastic, yes; surreal, for sure. But magic realism? For me, the jury's still out.

What do you guys think?

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These moments of magically real blogginess have been brought to you by Lynne Cantwell and the 2017 Magic Realism Blog Hop. Please check out the other posts in this year's hop!