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.

Monday, July 25, 2016

When the head rules the heart.

Sorry I'm late this week -- the weekend got away from me. I even forgot to mention to anybody that I published a new book. Back Home Again: The Five59 Stories, plus a few is the anthology I spoke about, not long ago. Most of the stories have been published previously by Five59 Publishing, either in an anthology or on their website. But a couple of them are entries from an Indies Unlimited flash fiction contest; one was published in a different anthology; and one has only been available on Wattpad until now. Doing this collection gave me an opportunity to gather them together in one place, and maybe even gain a wider audience for them.

Plus some people prefer reading short stories. And some folks don't want to commit to a novel by an author whose work they're unfamiliar with; this is an opportunity to entice those readers into the fold, so to speak.

Anyway, the book is available only for the Kindle right now. And I'm pretty pumped: I just checked the stats, and Back Home Again is #14 on the Hot New Releases list for horror anthologies. Whoo hoo!

The paperback version should be ready by next weekend. I'll let y'all know when it's up.


This has been an interesting political year, and not just in the U.S. (No, I'm not going to talk about the candidates -- I've said over and over that I'm not going to make this a political blog, and it's still not happening. But we're in the middle of presidential campaign season here, and so it's on my mind.)

One of the interesting things about political persuasion -- about persuasion in general, really -- is to watch how much of it is really an emotional appeal gussied up as logical thought. Granted, some candidates make speeches that are full of nothing but dog-whistle appeals to their base of supporters -- but at least they're transparent about it. Others talk in a kind of code, aiming to sound sober and thoughtful, but underlying their rhetoric are stands on the issues that are just as much a play for certain voters as the dog-whistle candidates.

And yet, among the most disparaging things a critic can say about a candidate is that he or she doesn't have a viable platform, that someone or other has run the numbers on their proposals and they just don't check out. Never mind the fact that the details -- even if they're fully-formed legislative proposals -- will have to be hammered out among the White House and the two houses of Congress. No President in recent memory has walked into the White House on Day One with an agenda that subsequently became law with no changes whatsoever. Doesn't happen. At best, political platforms are suggestions -- a way to gauge how the wind would blow, if a particular slate of candidates were to be elected. Every last one of them is an emotional appeal.

I have to tell you that as an author, I know a thing or two about making emotional appeals. Those of us who write fiction use emotion in our work all the time. And I'm not just talking about romance writers; authors of thrillers need to keep their readers anxious so they'll keep turning the pages to the end. Same with horror writers, although the emotion they're going for is fear, terror, and sometimes outright disgust. Sci-fi and fantasy hope to awaken a sense of wonder in their readers. Even authors who work in "serious" genres like literary fiction are working to strike an emotional chord in their readers -- recognition of, and empathy for, the human condition. And so on. Our characters may or may not be serious, rational-minded individuals, but if they can't make some kind of an emotional connection with readers, the story will fail.

So what purpose does a rational review of an emotional appeal have? Clearly it's important to get the details right, particularly when you're getting ready to implement a Big Idea. And it's often unhealthy to decide on a course of action by relying only on emotion, without thinking through the consequences.

But I would suggest that a total reliance on logic, cutting emotion out of the equation entirely, is just as unhealthy. Big Ideas don't come from rational thought processes; they come from aha! moments. They come from people who are fired up. Sober reflection can be a good thing, but it can also be a buzzkill. And "let's think this through" too often becomes an excuse for inaction. Fear of doing the wrong thing can lead to doing nothing. And as I hope we all know, doing nothing is also a choice.

So don't denigrate the people with the Big Ideas. They're the ones who will move us forward.

These moments of buzzkill-free blogginess were brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Misogynists on movies, or: Who ya gonna call?

Copyrights Columbia Pictures &
Sony Pictures 2016
My daughter Kitty and I saw the new "Ghostbusters" movie yesterday. It's an entertaining flick, embodying the premise, as well as the spirit (sorry), of the original films. The members of the team -- Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones -- are just as funny, and snarkier, as Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson were. Ivan Reitman, who directed the first two movies, is a producer this time around; Ackroyd is executive producer. And each of the surviving members of the original cast (except for Rick Moranis, who has retired from acting) show up in cameos. Even Ramis makes an appearance of a sort, even though he died in 2014. (No, he doesn't show up as a ghost.)

In short, the reboot's DNA is superb. And the film is getting decent, if not spectacular, reviews. Too bad so many of the fans of the original movies have decided not to see it.

Why? The official take, espoused by Reitman and others involved in the film, is that these fans are disappointed there was a reboot at all. The original 1984 film is regarded as a comedy classic; the second movie also did well; and some fans say that after Ramis died and Murray refused to make a third movie, the franchise should have died.

But then there were the trolls. A whole lot of men were upset that the producers had the temerity to cast women in the major roles. Some of them took a stand months ago, saying they would never see this new movie. And a whole bunch of them -- more than 600-thousand -- mobilized in April to make the film's first trailer the most-disliked ever on YouTube.

The scriptwriters, to their credit, took the complaints in stride, and even worked in a couple of digs at the misogynistic mouth-breathers.
It starts after scientists Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig), and Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon) post a video online of their first encounter with a ghost, a class-4 apparition. “We have over a hundred comments already and they’re not all crazies,” Yates says. “Ain’t no bitches gonna hunt no ghosts,” Gilbert reads aloud. 
It's a funny line. But still...seriously? In this day and age, we can't let women wield proton packs?

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given what has happened in other parts of the sci-fi fandom: witness Gamergate, as well as the Sad Puppies takeover of the Hugo Awards. There are clearly speculative fiction fans who like things the way they have been for decades, thank you very much, and who have zero interest in letting "political correctness" creep into their entertainment.

Whatever. While they wallow in their bitterness, the rest of us will enjoy the new "Ghostbusters" (including Chris Hemsworth as the dumb-blond receptionist -- ooh baby!).

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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The rise of the citizen journalist.

Roberto Ferrari | Flickr | CC 2.0
I am never going to turn this into a blog about politics; teh intarwebz are already chock-full of 'em. But one thing I've noticed this week -- amidst all the social media accounts of the horrific events in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas -- is how citizen journalism is playing a larger and larger role in informing us.

Most of you know that I used to be a broadcast journalist. I got out of the business in the late 1990s for a number of reasons, but a big chunk of it involved the changes I was seeing in the industry. The line between news and entertainment was blurring, as news organizations began chasing ratings instead of telling viewers/listeners/readers what they needed to know. At the same time, the lines between objective reporting and commentary had also become less clear.

And the industry was consolidating. When I began working in broadcasting in the early '80s, there was a whole host of network-level radio news outlets: CBS, ABC, NBC, Mutual News, NPR, the Associated Press, United Press International, and I'm probably forgetting some. By the time I got out, UPI was toast. Westwood One had bought NBC Radio News and Mutual News, combined them into one shop, then combined that with CBS Radio News (which is how I lost my last radio job -- the Mutual/NBC newsroom in Washington, DC, was shut down when the networks were consolidated at the CBS studios in New York).

Along with the consolidations came new scrutiny of the bottom line. In the name of maximizing shareholder profits, news staffs were trimmed to the bone, and surviving staffers -- just like survivors of downsizings everywhere -- were expected to do more with less.

One way news operations did that was to develop the concept of citizen journalism: this idea that a regular Joe with a phone could call his local newspaper or broadcast station and report on a fire or whatever in his neighborhood. It seemed like a win/win for the corporate bean counters: the paper and/or the station would get the story without having to pay a reporter to go out and get it. So what if Joe wasn't a trained journalist?

Then came YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook -- places where people were encouraged to share photos and videos of things that interested them. At the same time, smartphones began to proliferate, to the point where nearly everyone had a video camera in his or her pocket. And an interesting thing happened: almost by accident, social media stepped into the real-news void the bean counters had created.

When congressional Republicans shut down official broadcasts of the sit-in at the Capitol last month, the protesting Democrats turned to Twitter to get the word out. When Alton Sterling was killed by police in Baton Rouge last week, it was a group called Stop the Killing that filmed the incident and uploaded it to social media. Then, when Minneapolis police shot and killed Philando Castile, his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, uploaded her video of the aftermath to Facebook. And Facebook was the venue again for live videos of the shooting incident in Dallas that left five officers dead.

What I find interesting is that in most of these incidents, it's not bystanders doing the filming; it's the people directly involved. It's the people I, as a reporter, would have interviewed after the fact: "What did you see? How did you feel?" Without the reporter, there's no buffer. What we're getting now is visceral and raw, and in real time. First person, present tense.

This is corporate media's worst nightmare. Not only do many people now view them as untrustworthy -- a direct result, by the way, of recasting news as commentary/infotainment -- but now their customers don't need them at all. The critics will wring their hands over whether social media ought to be entrusted with the sacred task of deciding what's news -- it's already begun -- but it's too late for that. They're not going to be able to stuff this djinni back in the bottle. And they have only themselves to blame.

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

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Happy Independence Day! The turtle has been released.

Ikluft | Wikimedia Commons | CC 3.0
It was crunch time for most of last week at La Casa Cantwell, but we burned the midnight oil (and threw in a few other cliches for good measure) and managed to get Turtle's Weir out the door, as promised, on Thursday.

The paperback edition is still in process -- which is to say that I uploaded the file to CreateSpace this morning -- but it, too, will be along in due course. 

Thanks to those of you who have already picked up a copy of the e-book. You're all my new best friends. To the rest of you: it's only 99 cents through tomorrow. After that, the price goes up to $2.99. So you know what to do now, right?

Finishing this book is allowing me to clear the decks for some other projects. Today, I worked on pulling together an anthology of short stories. Most of them first appeared in the Five59 anthologies, but I'm also including a couple of flash fiction pieces from the weekly contests at Indies Unlimited, and a horror story from another anthology. This is the first time I've created an anthology of my own short stories since I put the three Land, Sea, Sky prequels into one volume, and I discovered I had a fairly large backlog. The working title for this new book is Back Home Again, and I expect it will be available within the next couple of weeks.

Once that's done, I'll turn to updating A Billion Gods and Goddesses. It appears Webb and his friends have only added four new deities to our existing motley collection, so the update won't take too long. I should have it done by the end of the summer. (By the way, my offer still stands: If you bought a copy of the first edition of the gods guide and you'd like the update, email me and I'll send you a copy for free.)

And then there will be an omnibus version of all four of the Pipe Woman's Legacy books. I'll be releasing that near the holidays.

After that? I dunno yet. I usually write something new in the fall for release in November; I expect I'll do that again this year. Maybe I'll start a brand-new series. Yeah. I like the sound of that...

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