Sunday, March 30, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour.

I've been tagged by Yvonne Hertzberger to be one of the next stops on the Writing Process Blog Tour. Thanks for the opportunity, Yvonne. And a hearty hearth/myth welcome to any newbies who have found their way here from her site.

By the way, Yvonne writes some pretty awesome epic fantasy; click on the Rursday Reads tab above and look for my reviews of her "Earth's Pendulum" series. She's also a fellow staffer at Indies Unlimited.

Now then, to the main event -- which is for me to answer the following four questions:

1. What are you working on?

Alert readers of hearth/myth already know that Scorched Earth will be the third and final book in my Land, Sea, Sky trilogy. What they don't know (because I just signed up yesterday) is that I've made this book my Camp NaNoWriMo project for next month. My outline is already done; I still need to fill in the pertinent dates on my dry-erase calendar, which I will do before I go to sleep tonight, and then I will be ready to kick this thing into overdrive on Tuesday.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This question assumes I've settled on a genre. The Pipe Woman Chronicles were easier -- Native American mythology + handsome shapeshifters = urban fantasy/paranormal romance. Land, Sea, Sky has some Native American mythology, but none of the sexy Plains tribes are involved; instead, Darrell is a Potawatomi Indian, a tribe which almost nobody has heard of, and his sponsoring deity (if you will) is the Ojibwe culture hero Nanabush. I've also got the Morrigan, who's the Celtic goddess of war and who is allied with Tess (to Tess's dismay); and Gaia, who is more or less a Wiccan Earth goddess, and whose human avatar is Sue. The plots of all these books involve a fair amount of intrigue and political maneuvering. So I'm calling the series contemporary fantasy.

If pressed, I'd compare Land, Sea, Sky to Neil Gaiman's American Gods, or to some of Charles de Lint's books. But my books are not enough like those to make a fair comparison. I don't really think anyone else is doing what I'm doing.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Because it interests me. I began studying various Pagan pantheons as part of my own spiritual journey several years ago, and I'd been reading up on Native American spirituality for many years before that. As a news reporter and editor, I spent a couple of decades covering politics (along with a whole bunch of other stuff). I've lived in all the places where the books in both of my series have been set (so far...).  And I read a lot of fantasy.

4. How does your writing process work?

I have discovered that I work best on deadline -- a holdover from my years in journalism. So the NaNoWriMo template seems to work best for me: I churn out a first draft of 50,000 words or so in three or four weeks. It's an intensive process, obviously. I don't have much of a life during the weeks when I'm writing the first draft; I typically spend several hours each night and all day on the weekends at the keyboard.

I do work from an outline, although it's a general, beat-style outline rather than a really detailed one. I write that, and I put the big events of the narrative on a dry-erase calendar that hangs above my desk, before I start writing the first draft. I also collect my research notes in a OneNote notebook. But that's pretty much it for my "writing process." Other than that, I just write.

Tag -- you're It!
The next thing I get to do is tag three authors to be the next stops on the Writing Process Blog Tour. They have all agreed to post their stuff by April 7th. Do stop by and visit them!

1. Laurie Boris

Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels: The Joke's on Me, Drawing Breath, Don't Tell Anyone, and Sliding Past Vertical. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she enjoys baseball, cooking, reading, and helping aspiring novelists as a contributing writer and editor for She lives in New York's lovely Hudson Valley.

2. John R. Phythyon, Jr.

John wishes he were a superhero or a magician, but since he has not yet been bitten by a radioactive spider or gotten his letter from Hogwarts, he writes adventure stories instead. He is the author of the Wolf Dasher series of fantasy-thriller mashup novels, as well as several short stories, a two-act comedy, and numerous game manuals. He won awards for the latter and hopes to make millions with the former.

In the meantime, he lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, their children, a dog, and a cat. His current projects include the next novel in the Wolf Dasher series, world peace, and desperately wishing for the Cincinnati Bengals to win a Super Bowl before he dies.

3. Alesha Cary

Alesha Cary grew up reading mysteries and she still loves a good who-dunnit. But she's also a romantic at heart and believes we all deserve our own happily-ever-after -- we just have to find the right person. She writes her books with a bit of romance and a bit of mystery ~ and sometimes a splash of paranormal.

The mixture is different for each book, but you can expect to find some of each in every story.

Just like her characters, Alesha lives on the Pacific Northwest Coast with her husband and two cats. Their neighbors are deer, raccoons, skunks, foxes, mountain lions and bear, and far too many birds to list. From her window she gets to watch the whales playing as they migrate.

These moments of bloggy process -- or maybe it's processed blogginess? Anyway, here they are, brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

She who expects nothing...

First and foremost, thanks to everybody who came to the Undertow launch party on Facebook yesterday! I had a blast, and I think the folks who came did, too. Best of all, I gave away all the prizes, including the door prizes. Congrats to Greta Burroughs and Illume Eltanin, who won the $5 Amazon gift cards, and to Chris Lewis, who won the $25 Amazon gift card.

It was so much fun, I'm thinking of doing it again when Scorched Earth is ready for release. Good thing I have a few months to rest up first.


I am not sure now where I saw the quote. Probably on a poster when I was in college. I don't think I owned the poster; it must have been a friend's, or maybe I just saw it in a store. But anyway, the quote is this:
It's meant to be funny, of course. I think the accompanying photo illustration was a woeful beagle with his head on his paws. But often, humor works because there's at least a grain of truth in it.

There was an article floating around Facebook a couple of weeks ago (which I can't find now, of course) about traditionally-published authors who are having trouble making a living from writing books. Several authors -- midlisters and literary writers -- were quoted in the article as saying they had gotten used to getting big enough advances from their publishers that they were able to support themselves on them. That allowed them to live and work as writers, without a day job; they could devote themselves to their art without having to worry about working for The Man in order to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Those halcyon days are apparently over. Advances from traditional publishers have been shrinking over the past decade or so, as those publishers pour more and more of their resources into big advances to already-famous people to pen blockbusters (or, more accurately, books the publishers hope will be blockbusters). This means midlist writers who have gotten used to living off the income from their books are being forced to recalibrate. They're either cutting back their expenses or -- the horror! -- having to take a day job.

In short, they had come to expect that they could make a living wage from their work, but their publishers are disappointing them.

The implication of the article was that maybe society has lost something by not paying our creators of literature a living wage for their words -- that what we're seeing is the passing of a golden age for the life of the mind.

The truth is, though, it's not the first time the paradigm has shifted for those who work in the arts. During the Renaissance, artists and composers sought wealthy patrons who would support them. The artists turned out stuff their patrons ordered, and wrote or painted or sculpted their pet projects on the side. That sort of patronage eventually went out of style. In the centuries since, artists, writers and composers have largely lived hand-to-mouth in pursuit of their art. There's a reason, after all, for the term "starving artist."

Then when capitalism became the New Hotness, people began make a habit of quantifying the worth of the worker's produced goods -- an attitude that still exists today, even when we're talking about service workers. "Do novelists contribute as much to the general welfare as doctors or lawyers?" people want to know. "Aren't police more critical to society than people who write books? What about firefighters? What about teachers?"

Yeah, yeah, I get it. All these people deliver work that provides an obvious benefit to society. They may not be making widgets, but they do provide services that we, as a society, have deemed important: healing the sick, helping us get out of trouble, protecting us, teaching us. The impact of writers' work, and its contribution to the greater good, is much less direct.

And too, books require thought in order to reap their benefits -- and that's not something we seem to value these days. I mean, who wants to have to think? We're tired when we get home from work, for goodness' sake. We just want a beer (or two or three) and a diverting TV show (or two or three). We might read for ten minutes before we fall asleep, assuming we can stay awake that long, but that's it.

So what does this mean for indie authors? A lot of us dream about kicking the day job to the curb and making a living from this writing thing someday. We have some things going for us in that regard that trad-pubbed authors don't -- higher royalties per book sold, for one thing. But I do sometimes wonder whether our society isn't sliding back into another "age of the starving artist." And I think it's probably prudent, in any case, to have a Plan B in our pockets, in case this writing-for-a-living thing doesn't pan out.

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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Surf's up Thursday!

As I write to you, here on this Sunday night in mid-March, it's snowing outside. Again. This is approximately the 273rd time it has snowed here in the mid-Atlantic this winter, and I am pretty much sick and tired of it.

But there's a ray of hope that warmer days are coming. Just yesterday, I ran errands without a jacket. Today, before the snow began, I saw a robin! And this Thursday, March 20th, is promising for two reasons: it's the spring equinox, which is the traditional first day of spring in the U.S.; and it's the day Undertow will be released.*

The events in this book occur over Labor Day weekend (for non-U.S. folks, that's the weekend preceding the first Monday in September) in 2023. It's the last big summer weekend, and a lot of people spend it at the beach. So to celebrate both the release of the book (which, coincidentally, is set in Norfolk and Virginia Beach, VA) and the end to this freakishly long winter, I'm throwing a virtual beach party on Facebook next Saturday, March 22nd, from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.

I have lots of stuff planned. I've pulled together a playlist of beach music, and a number of my fellow indie authors have generously donated copies of their books as prizes for the games we'll be playing. I've got some other fun prizes, too. And we're getting things cranked up already. The caterer is  setting out the food, and we're recruiting lifeguards and nominating cabana boys and girls, and talking about who should play Tess, Sue and Darrell.

Of course, we'll have door prizes, too. But because Facebook gets cranky when you try to post a contest there, I'm putting the Rafflecopter for the door prizes here on the blog. I'm going to be giving away a $25 Amazon gift card and two $5 Amazon gift cards. All you have to do to enter is let me know you're planning to come to the party. Simple enough, right?

The usual and customary hearth/myth giveaway rules apply, to wit:

1. Friends and family may definitely enter.
2. Winners of previous contests may win again.
3. There will be winners. I am getting this stuff out of my house, one way or the other.
4. As always, the judge's decisions are arbitrary, capricious, and final.

Hope to see you Saturday! Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*By the way, you can pre-order Undertow right now at both B&N and iTunes for 99 cents. On Thursday, the price goes up everywhere to $2.99. (Editing to indicate that the 99-cent deal is not available at Smashwords. Sorry for the confusion -- it was totally my fault.)

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

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Curmudgeon Corner: Weight loss for fun and profit. Mostly profit.

-PaulH- via Flickr
Oh, leave me alone, already. Two posts about losing weight in two months hardly constitutes turning this into a dieting blog.

Yes, I'm once again doing the Lifestyle Change Minuet. This makes my 974th attempt, give or take, to get my weight into the "normal" range. I went on my first diet in junior high; I lost 27 lbs. and still wasn't within the normal weight range for my height. (Yes, I still remember the number of pounds I lost on that first diet.) In the decades since, I have tried a number of weight loss programs -- everything from Nutri-System (where they provide you with pre-measured food packets, all of it laced with protein powder, and tell you not to eat any bananas) to Geneen Roth's suggestions (my favorite, which actually is excellent advice: "Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car") to counting fat grams under a dietician's care to Weight Watchers. Weight Watchers has been the most successful program for me, in terms of the aggregate number of pounds lost -- I'm up to 100+ lbs. for all the various times I've signed up over the past ten or twelve years, including the 14.6 lbs. I've lost so far this go-round -- so I'm doing it again.

All told over the course of my life, I have lost probably hundreds of pounds -- and I have never, ever reached my goal weight. I don't expect to get there this time, either.

Because here is the thing about weight loss programs: If they worked and kept working, then America wouldn't have a problem with obesity. Everybody would be thin. And then the people in the diet industry would all be out of work. So it's in their best interest to design their programs so that their customers have a little bit of success, and maybe even a lot of success. But the deck is stacked against us for a number of reasons (portion creep among them). So we will always be back.

The Weight Watchers program is one of the best of a bad lot. When you pay your money (and it ain't cheap -- the 17-week Weight Watchers At Work program I'm in cost me $186), they give you a two-digit number. This is the number of points' worth of food you are allowed to eat each day. (Your points-per-day drop as you lose weight; as a friend said jokingly, they punish you for being successful.) You also get access to a website (although depending on your iteration of the program, you may have to pay a monthly fee for the site access) that includes a database of hundreds of thousands of food items. The site includes a place where you can list every bit of food that has gone into your mouth, and it will tell you how many points you've eaten and how many you have left for the day.  You can even type in your personal recipes and the online calculator will tell you how many points there are in each serving. And they have a smartphone app with a barcode reader that's tied to the food database. (This beats the old days, when they handed you a sort of cardboard slide rule and a booklet at your first meeting, and you had to keep track of your food on paper.) They give you some weekly fudge-factor points, and you get extra points if you exercise. But that's the program in a nutshell.

But that's not all there is to Weight Watchers. They also produce cookbooks with point values listed for each recipe, cooking tools designed to help measure portion sizes, and a FitBit-type activity monitor. They also sell food under their brand -- lunch-sized entrees, snack foods in two-point single-serving packets, "ice cream" treats, and so on.

It's the Weight Watchers-branded foods that make me crazy. They are not healthy. The lunch entrees are loaded with salt and chemicals to make up for the lack of fat, the two-point snack foods are jam-packed with artificial sweeteners and other chemical additives, and the "ice cream" ingredients list is mostly unpronounceable.

Sure, the foods appeal to Americans whose palates are used to the chemically-processed sugar/salt/fat American diet. People at my meeting buy boxes of them. But shouldn't Weight Watchers be setting the bar higher? Wouldn't it make more sense for them to sell really healthy foods under their brand? How about Weight Watchers-branded produce? Or fruits sporting "0 points!" Weight Watchers stickers? Because even though they tell you that you can eat anything you want (as long as you count the points), it doesn't take long before you realize that it's really pretty easy to beat the Tyranny of the Points System: you just have to quit eating full-fat dairy and anything fried; cut way back on your consumption of grains, sweets, and alcohol; and load up your plate with fruits and veggies, most of which have zero points.

But, see, if they sold really healthy foods, they wouldn't make as much money. And if people broke their dependence on processed foods, then they wouldn't fall off the wagon as easily, gain back all the weight they lost, and need to join up again.

And yes, even knowing all that, I joined up again.

Stay tuned. I'm sure I'll have more to complain about as the weeks go by.

A few bits of business: As promised, the Crosswind e-book edition is now 99 cents; Undertow is on schedule for release March 20th; and I'm busy planning the Facebook virtual beach party in celebration of the launch. Y'all come!

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

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Punctuating dialogue.

Two bits of business before we start:

1. I'm honored once again to have one of my books nominated for a Big Al's Books and Pals Readers' Choice Award. Tapped: Book Three of the Pipe Woman Chronicles is up for the award in the category of Fantasy this year. As the name of the award implies, there's a popular-vote component. Coincidentally, voting opened today -- and there are prizes in it for you!  If you're reading these words, would you please click here and vote for my book? (Rafflecopter gets testy with Internet Explorer, so if you have another browser available, it's best to use that one.) A number of other nominated books -- many of them Rursday Reads -- are also worthy of your vote. I'd like to draw your attention in particular to Laurie Boris's Sliding Past Vertical, K.S. Brooks's Night Undone, Carol Wyer's Just Add Spice, D.V. Berkom's Yucatan Dead, and the Brooks/Hise/Mader humor pastiche called Bad Book. Consider giving them a little love while you're at it. Then come on back. I'll wait. And thanks!

2.  Keep an eye on your inbox (or spam filter -- I have no illusions) for a newsletter from me. There's info about the Undertow launch and a special feature or two. I'll be putting most of it on the blog eventually, but newsletter recipients will get it first. Not on my mailing list yet? That's easy enough to remedy -- just head on over to the left and sign up.

Now then. In advance of National Grammar Day, which is coming up on Tuesday, I offer you this post that I wrote for Indies Unlimited. I'm re-running it because the topic keeps coming up -- mainly, I suspect, because schools don't bother to teach this stuff any more. (Don't get me started.)


“There was something I was going to write about for my Indies Unlimited post this week,” I said to my daughter Kat. “Do you remember what it was?”

“Hmm. Maybe it was punctuation in dialogue,” she said.

“You’re right!” I said. “You were saying that your teachers never went over it in school.”

“Yeah,” she said. “We concentrated on learning the rules for writing essays, because that’s what kids need to know to pass the state-mandated tests.”

I interjected, “Which the kids need to do so the teachers can keep their jobs.”

“Exactly. And there’s no dialogue in an essay.”

“Gotcha,” I said. “So here’s how I think of it. Dialogue is a sentence inside a sentence.”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” she said. “I think you’ll need to give some examples.”

“I was just about to,” I replied. “Let’s use the phrase, ‘do you remember when.’”

She shrugged. “Sure. Whatever.”

“If you’re asking a question, the question mark goes inside the quotes: Do you remember when?” I said. “Same for an exclamation mark: I do remember when!”

“But what if the sentence inside the quotes ends with a period?” she asked.

“That’s a little trickier,” I said.

“I knew this was going to get complicated,” she muttered.

“Nah, it’s not that hard,” I said. “You just have to watch where your attribution is.”

“Your what?”

“Your ‘she said’ or ‘he said.’ If the attribution comes after the end of the sentence, like I’m doing right now, then you replace the period at the end of the sentence with a comma,” I explained. “And the comma stays inside the quotation marks.”

Then I said, “But if the attribution comes first, like in this paragraph, then the sentence inside the quotes gets a period at the end. And just like with the comma, the period goes inside the quotes.”

“And if there’s no attribution?”

“The stuff inside the quotes gets a period – like this.”


“And if,” I said, “your attribution comes in the middle of a sentence, you need to put a comma before the first close-quote mark.”

“I think I get all that,” she said. “But it’s punctuating the attribution that seems to trip up a lot of people.”

“That’s because they’re not thinking of dialogue as a sentence within a sentence,” I said. “The attribution frames the quote – it’s all one sentence. I’ve seen what you’re talking about, too; they hang the ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ out there as a separate sentence.”

“Yes, like this.” She said.

I said. “Or like this. But it’s wrong. You need to use a comma to tie the quote and the attribution together.”

“Okay. But there are times when you can end a quote without tying it into the next sentence.” She smirked at me.

“Wipe that smirk off your face, missy,” I said. “That second sentence of yours isn’t attribution – it’s a stage direction!”

“Yes!” she cried. “And now let’s talk about a pet peeve of mine, and it’s something I’ve caught you doing.”

“Oh,” I groaned, “I know where this is going.”

“See? See? You just did it again!” she crowed. “There is no way you could have groaned through that whole sentence!”

I hung my head in shame. “You’re absolutely right,” I said. “I should have put a period after ‘groaned’. That’s another reason why ‘said’ is the safest verb to use for attribution. It sure is a good thing you’re one of my beta readers, huh?”

"It's a good thing for you, yeah," she said, smirking.

(This post originally appeared at Indies Unlimited on September 13, 2013. Happy National Grammar Day!)

These moments of bloggy dialogue are brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell