Sunday, October 22, 2017

Great Goddess! It's a giveaway!

Thomas Aleto | CC 2.0 |
The greatest joy for me of falling down a research rabbit hole is learning new stuff. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I didn't know much of anything about the ancient city of Teotihuacán, near Mexico City, until I started doing research for Maggie at Moonrise -- and I knew less than nothing about the Teotihuacano pantheon, even though it's the basis for some Aztec beliefs.

Discoveries are ongoing at Teotihuacán (just as they are at Cahokia and any number of other ancient sites around the world). Of course, historically, most archaeologists were male. So it may not come as a surprise to you that until a few decades back, the accepted wisdom was that the Teotihuacanos' top deity was male -- a storm god nicknamed Tlaloc, the Aztecs' name for their rain god. Then in 1974 or so, a couple of researchers noticed that quite a few images of this god wore a skirt. In short order, pre-Tlaloc was deposed as the top dog, and the Great Goddess assumed Her rightful place at the head of the Teotihuacán pantheon.

The Great Goddess is both a Creator and a Destroyer. As you can see above, in this photo of a recreation of a mural at Tepantitla, the Great Goddess sports a headdress from which the Tree of Life grows. She is linked to jaguars, owls -- in this mural She's wearing an owl mask -- and spiders. In some depictions, She has spider-like mouthparts; here you can see the spiders dangling from the tree on Her head. She gives the gift of water, which cascades from Her hands in this photo. But She's also linked to darkness and the underworld (owls and spiders live in the dark), as well as to war. And She's sometimes called the Spider Woman of Teotihuacán, linking Her to the Spider Woman of the Navajo.

You've probably figured out by now that the Great Goddess shows up in Maggie at Moonrise. Yes, that's the cover on the right. I'm confident that I'll have this book out by November 1st, so I thought I'd get a little excitement going by doing another giveaway.

One of the prizes is a pillow cover that depicts the Great Goddess of Teotihuacán. The cover fits a 16" x 16" pillow. In case you don't have one, I'm throwing in a $10 Amazon giftcard so you can buy one yourself (or, heck, whatever you want).

The other prizes are Day-of-the-Dead-themed, as it's a Mexican holiday and we're coming up on it. There's a silicon sugar-skull mold, which I guess you could use for candy or mini-muffins -- I've used mine for ice cubes -- and some small sugar-skull trays, one to a winner. Each tray is about 2" x 3". They're labeled as not safe for food use, but you could put a tealight on it. Or a little bar of soap. Or whatever.

So that's it: One contest, seven winners. The contest runs until 6pm Sunday, October 29 -- but enter now, so you don't forget. The hearth/myth rules still stand:

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

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Gone hiking.

As I mentioned last week, hearth/myth is taking this week off. See you back here next week -- same bat time, same bat channel. (Oooh -- was that a Halloween reference? Come back next week and find out!)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Curmudgeon's Corner: English is hard.

jmawork | | CC 2.0
A couple of days ago, I was sitting in a fast-casual restaurant about a block from the White House, having lunch with my daughter Amy, when I happened to notice the way the restaurant's hours of operation were written on the front door.

"10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday," it said.

I took it calmly. But two days later, I'm still annoyed.

You see, there's everyday and then there's every day. They mean different things. Everyday is a synonym for common or ordinary. It's used as a modifier: An everyday occurrence, for example. Or: The party was not formal, so she wore her everyday shoes.

Every day, on the other hand, means the same thing as daily. For example: This restaurant is open from 10:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. every day.

Of course, I complained about it on Facebook when I got back to work. And someone tried to pass it off as the fault of Twitter, everyday having one less character. But I'm pretty sure I've seen the mistake for longer than Twitter has been a thing.

Personally, I believe we can blame it, at least partially, on a charming educational practice that was popular some years back that was supposed to encourage kids to write without bogging them down with rules. These little kids were told to write words any way however they sounded, or however they thought they were spelled. But rules in writing have a point. The idea of written communication -- of any communication -- is to get your point across to others. Whimsical spelling and grammar aren't going to help the other person understand what you're saying. (And eventually the kids had to learn the rules anyway -- why not start them out right, so they don't have to unlearn bad habits?)

Granted, losing a space between every and day is not that big a deal. I mean, I understood what the sign was trying to say. But the words mean different things. Sure, we could just make everyday the standard and have it mean both things, and maybe that's where the language is headed, but I'd appreciate it if we could try not to hasten it along.

And while I'm on my soapbox: What has happened to the past tense in this country? I keep hearing about how football players kneeled during the national anthem. The word is knelt, isn't it? She knelt before the casket? He knelt before the queen to be knighted?

Now that I'm looking into it, Grammar Girl said back in 2013 that knelt ws giving way to kneeled, and it's happening more quickly in the U.S. than in the U.K. Maybe it's finished making the transition over the past four years, in the most sneaking, dirty, underhanded way...

Hmm. Maybe I need a vacation.

In fact, I believe I'll take one. Here's your formal notice that hearth/myth will be on hiatus next week, while my editors and I retreat to the mountains of southern West Virginia. When I'm back on the 22nd, I hope to have publishing news about Maggie at Moonrise -- and maybe another contest, while we're at it.

These moments of everyday blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell -- who was not kneeling at the time.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

CBS milks the Star Trek cash cow.

I'm almost never an early adopter, but I booted cable TV as soon as I could. At one point, we had a service whose name I won't mention (but whose initials are Cox Cable) that would periodically send us a letter that said, "Good news! We always strive to bring you the best in cable programming, so we're happy to tell you that we've added one/two/three new channels to your cable lineup! Of course, extra services cost money, so we are raising your rates by a dollar a month..." The new channels were almost never anything I was interested in, either. Thanks for nothing.

I always wished that I could fully customize my cable subscription so that I was paying only for the channels I wanted to watch: local channels, PBS, CNN, the Weather Channel, maybe a couple of movie channels, and that would pretty much be it.

Yeah, well, be careful what you wish for. The future is here, and it's not nearly as cost-effective as I thought it would be.

Last week, we started watching CBS's newest entry in the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek: Discovery. By the time we got around to it, the first two episodes (of 15) were already out. It's a good show so far -- not in the same league as Gene Roddenberry's original shows, with their optimistic and altruistic worldview, but good. The main character is Michael Burnham, a human woman who was raised on Vulcan, rises in Starfleet to the position of First Officer, and then gets court-martialed for mutiny.

What interests me here is how CBS is handling the show: Only the first episode was shown on the over-the-air network. To see the remaining 14 episodes, you have to sign up for CBS All Access, the network's three-year-old streaming service. You get the first week free, but then it's $5.99 per month if you don't mind seeing a few commercials, or $9.99 per month if you want your programming commercial-free.

Say you're a confirmed Trekkie and you couldn't wait to see this new Star Trek show. So you watched the first show for free -- and it's basically part one of two. It ends on a cliffhanger. So you signed up for the free week of streaming, because why wouldn't you want to see how the cliffhanger turns out? But when you watched the second episode, you discovered the first two shows are Michael Burnham's backstory, and the real story doesn't get going until episode three. So now you're in for either six bucks or ten for at least one month, and probably four in order to watch the whole series.

It's an interesting marketing approach, and seems designed mainly to drive viewers to All Access. CBS isn't making many fans with this programming decision, but it seems to be working: the initial showing of episode 2 gave All Access its best day ever. It's unclear whether fans will continue to pay for exclusive content like this, when they're already shelling out for Netflix, Hulu, and other on-demand channels. For viewers who prefer to binge-watch TV seasons, it may not play well. But for those of us who grew up with old-style over-the-air TV, waiting a week to see a new episode feels very familiar. And there's one saving grace with streaming: You'll never miss the first five minutes of your show.

I just wish it didn't cost so much.

Remember last week, when I said I might be done with the first draft of Maggie at Moonrise by tonight? Well, I made it. In fact, I finished the first draft last night. It's about 57,000 words, which is a little bit longer than the previous two books in the series, and the tone is lighter than the other two books. I'm hopeful for a release around the end of October, but don't quote me.

These moments of TV-inspired blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Engage!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Down the research rabbit hole we go.

One of these days, I'm going to finish the research for a book before I start writing the first draft. I used to be really good at that. Not so much any more.

One problem is that I'm starting to run out of locations I've lived in. Even places I've visited and liked well enough to set a story there are getting thin on the ground. So I have to rely more on research for details about the places where I want to set the story. Take the book I'm writing now -- Maggie at Moonrise

By the way, I need to clarify something. I've been calling this third book of the Transcendence trilogy Maggie in Moonlight, and I realized the other day that's wrong. My original concept was to show, with the titles, something of the progress Maggie makes in her journey from a woman with a lot of baggage to someone who's capable of renewing the Earth. At Moonrise fits the concept better -- and it's actually the title I intended to use to start with. So henceforth, Book 3 shall be known as Maggie at Moonrise.

Anyway, I knew that in this book, Maggie was going to need to hit the road to see two of her children: Emily, who lives in the Los Angeles area; and Tim, who lives in Mexico City. The trouble is that I have very little acquaintance with either locale. I've been in L.A. exactly twice. The first time, I was in high school and on vacation with my parents. We drove up from San Diego and stayed in an RV park that had orange trees at every campsite -- pretty exotic for a family from Indiana. It wasn't until the next day -- a Sunday -- that I realized we'd stayed across the freeway from Disneyland, and moreover, my father didn't intend to stop there. He wanted to get through L.A. as quickly as possible, and on a Sunday morning when traffic would be light. But c'mon, Disneyland!

My father's been dead for more than 30 years, and yes, I'm still holding this against him.

My second trip to L.A. was when my friend Kim lived in near Santa Barbara. Unfamiliar with L.A. sprawl as I was, I assumed that if I flew into LAX on a Friday, she could come and pick me up, drive back to her place, and we'd have a lovely weekend before she drove me back to catch my flight home on Sunday. Yeah, no. It turned out out it's three hours one-way from her house to LAX, and she was not willing to spend twelve hours on the road in the space of three days. So we got a hotel room near the airport, did the Getty Museum, and went to Redondo Beach. She still gives me a hard time about my 36-hour trip to L.A.

Anyway, I basically had no idea about where anything was in L.A., so I put out a call for information on Facebook. Thanks to those of you who offered suggestions and set me straight on my misconceptions.

Mexico City was another challenge. I minored in Spanish as an undergrad, but I was more interested in Spain at the time -- so although I knew bits and pieces about Mexico, there was a lot I didn't know. In addition, ancient Native cultures are a big thing in this series, and while I'd learned something about the Aztec pantheon to flesh out the character of Jack Rivers in the Pipe Woman Chronicles, I'm reaching farther back for Maggie's story -- to Teotihuacán.

Creative Commons
Like ancient sites around the world, from Stonehenge to Cahokia to the Newark Earthworks, no one knows who built Teotihuacán. Construction on the pyramids began around 200 BCE, and eventually the city was home to 125,000 people. It was sacked and burned around 550 CE, and abandoned about a hundred years after that. Centuries later, when the Aztecs stumbled across the ruins, they considered Teotihuacán sacred -- maybe built by giants. They adopted many of the gods and their imagery from the site and incorporated them into their own bloody religion.

Teotihuacán is now a national archaeological site -- and as at Cahokia, new discoveries are still being made there today. And now that I've done so much reading about Teotihuacán, I'm putting it on my bucket list. But unlike Maggie, I am not even thinking of driving there.

Speaking of Maggie at Moonrise, I'm making good progress on the first draft. I'm about 45,000 words in. This one is likely to be a tad longer than my usual 50,000 words -- I have about four important scenes left to write. But I'm still hopeful that I'll have it done by the first or second of October. Maybe by this time next week, I'll be able to call it done. 

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How the Equifax debacle reminds me of traditional publishing.

gagnonm1993 | Pixabay

Y'all already know my brain makes weird connections, so I'm not gonna apologize for this post.

By now, I'm sure you've heard about the Equifax hack (sorry about the paywall). The credit bureau -- one of three that aggregate consumers' credit histories so that businesses can deem us worthy of a new loan -- was hacked earlier this year, sometime between mid-may and the end of June. The breach was not announced, however, until last week (giving two of the company's top executives plenty of time to unload some of their stock, but I digress). The hackers gained access to confidential information belonging to 143 million Americans -- including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and birth dates. They also lifted credit card information belonging to about 200,000 consumers. Several hundred thousand people in the UK are also affected by the breach.

The hackers got in by exploiting a security flaw in an open-source software package called Apache Struts. The manufacturer had released a patch for in March, but Equifax hadn't bothered to install it. Two of the company's executives -- the chief information officer and chief security officer -- are already gone.

When people got upset about it, Equifax's reaction was not exactly helpful. For starters, their handy-dandy "how to check if the hack exposed your security info" site asked for more security info than people commonly have to hand over to anybody. Coming from a company that had already proven itself incapable of keeping consumer information secure, the request seemed clueless at best. Then, for those affected, Equifax generously offered a year of free credit monitoring -- and were happy to take the opportunity to offer the paid version to everyone else.

This lack of concern for consumers has been annoying for years, but the hack has raised it to DEFCON 1. It's particularly galling that we, as consumers, have almost no control over the information these companies have on us. We can't even choose whether to do business with a particular credit bureau -- or with none of them.

But Equifax's point of view is understandable if you squint just right. We're not the customers of any credit bureau. The businesses that buy our credit reports from them are their customers. We're the content. We're the data.

So what's the connection to publishing, you ask? Well, readers have always considered ourselves consumers of books. So we could be excused for thinking we were the publishing industry's ultimate customers. After all, publishers want to put out books we want to read, right? So that makes us the most important player in the transaction, right?

Um, no. Publishers don't sell their books to us -- they sell them to bookstores. Now, bookstores do sell to readers. But the big stores don't see us as individuals. I mean, Amazon sends me an email (or two! or three!) every day with things they think I might be interested in buying, but it's all computerized. It's not like friendly Mr. Bookseller down the street, who would set aside a copy of an author's new book because we had a lovely conversation about the last one by that author. It's Amazon's algorithm telling Amazon's email client to suggest a bunch of stuff to me because I'd searched for something similar on the web.

Bookstores are the publishers' clients. Readers are the data.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West once said, "Oh, what a world! What a world!"

In case you missed it, I've been featured by Fiona Mcvie at Author Interviews. I haven't done an interview in quite a while, and this one was fun. Thanks again to Fiona for hosting me.

Work on Maggie in Moonlight continues apace, although not as quickly as I'd hoped. I keep falling down research rabbit holes (more on that next week). However, I'm still on track to finish the first draft by the end of this month, although that may slop over into the following weekend. Stay tuned!


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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hats off to intrepid journalists.

I've had my head down in the first draft of Maggie in Moonlight all weekend (which is at just about 22,000 words right now, thanks for asking), while most of the United States has been watching the progress of Hurricane Irma, our second major hurricane this year. Irma follows Harvey, which caused massive damage to southeast Texas just a couple of weeks ago. Still mostly offstage is Hurricane Jose, which forecasters now say will probably meander off the East Coast for most of this week.

At the same time as these storms are drawing a bead on the southeastern United States, much of the West is either battling wildfires or coughing from their smoke.

As often happens, many folks are fighting their anxiety with gallows humor, liberally laced with references to the End Times. I spoke to a friend in Michigan the other day. She was saying how her state looks like a pretty good place to live right now, and I said, "Don't get complacent. You guys are on deck for the boils."

Among those who employ gallows humor are journalists, because they're so often in the thick of things, and sometimes humor is the only thing that will get you through a horrific event. I remembered earlier today that I wrote about a news network's hurricane coverage in Undertow, the middle book in the Land, Sea, Sky trilogy. This book is one of my favorites. So in lieu of a post, I'm presenting to you the planning meeting where Tess Showalter, investigative reporter for the New America News Network, volunteers to help cover Hurricane Hubert in 2023.

The air in the newsroom felt even more frantic than usual. More people than just the standard weekend crew were bustling around. Every so often, someone would stop and stare at the monitors at the producer’s desk; then they would walk away, shaking their heads.

Tess made her way around the desk to see the monitor. One look, and she knew exactly what was making everyone pop-eyed.

“Is that the hurricane?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.

“Oh, hi, Tess!” said Schuyler, who had stopped next to her. “Yep, that’s Hurricane Hubert.”

“Somebody drew that thing, right?” she said. “It can’t be real.” The ring of clouds was very nearly a perfect circle, with what appeared to be a small, round hole in the center.

“Oh, it’s real, all right,” the producer on duty said. “It’s the biggest storm to hit the U.S. since Katrina in ‘05. Or will be, if it makes landfall here.”

“Do we know where it’s headed yet?” Schuyler asked.

One of the writers popped her head up over the console. “It’s still pretty far out to sea. NOAA says it looks like it’s heading for the Caribbean right now. But it could always turn and make a run up the coast.”

The producer punched up a graphic from the NOAA website. “Here’s one scenario.”

Tess gasped. “We’re right in its path.”

“Nah,” Schuyler said. “If it makes landfall south of here, it’ll break up a lot before it gets to D.C. We’d get a ton of wind and rain, but nothing like the lashing those poor suckers at landfall will get.” He glanced at the producer. “Have we sent any crews out yet?”

The man hooked a thumb down the hall. “Ash and Antonia are setting it up now.”

Tess and Schuyler traded a look, and took off together for Antonia’s office.

“Tess!” Antonia called as soon as she spied them through her open door. “I’m glad you’re here. I was just about to call you at home. Hello, Schuyler.”

“Hiya, boss lady,” Schuyler said, perching on an end table. Seats were at a premium; Gil, Antonia’s producer, and Ashton, the newsroom manager, had commandeered the guest chairs, and all the unit producers were crowded onto the couch. Tess took a seat on the arm of the couch next to her producer, Tracie.

Ashton was running down a list of personnel on his tablet. “As far as stringers are concerned, I’ve contacted Boz Jaegers in Houston and Ebony Jackson in New Orleans.” At Antonia’s nod, he went on, “And on the Atlantic side, we’ve lined up somebody in Charleston.”

“The same one we had last time?” Gil asked. “Fred Michaels? He was good.”

“He was,” Ashton agreed. “We need to think about bringing him on board permanently, if he’s as good this time.” He looked at Antonia.

“Noted,” she said. “Let’s see how he does, and then I’ll see if there’s room in the budget. What about Florida?”

“I want to send Heela Shahin to Miami and Stu Levinson to Jacksonville,” Ashton said. He nodded to their respective producers. “That should cover the Atlantic side of the state, if Hubert takes a right turn. And if not, they can both get across to the gulf side pretty quickly.”

“So Heela in Miami, Stu in Jacksonville, Fred Michaels in Charleston….” Antonia was ticking them off on her fingers. “We need somebody at Hatteras.”

“Jeff Donohoe,” Ashton said, as if it were obvious. His suggestion met with groans of approval. The joke was that if there was a street sign in the path of a hurricane anywhere on the East Coast, you could count on Jeff to do a live shot hanging from it sideways.

Antonia’s lips twitched. “Of course,” she said dryly. “I don’t know what possessed me to ask. And in Virginia Beach?”

“We’ll go,” Tess said. In response, Morrigan’s crows raised a ruckus in her head. Ashton simply shrugged and typed her name in.

Antonia shot her a what the hell? look. Tess gave her what she hoped was an I’ll tell you later look.

A few minutes later, the meeting broke up. “I’ll go and see about travel arrangements for us,” Tracie said. “Hotel rooms ought to be easy to get. They’ll have a bunch of cancellations as soon as people get a load of the weather forecast.”

“I hope you guys aren’t mad that I volunteered us,” Tess said.

“Are you kidding?” Schuyler crowed. “You picked the best possible place. Hurricanes almost never come ashore at Virginia Beach. If they get that far north, they do a right turn at Cape Hatteras and head out to sea. We’re getting a vacation on the network’s dime.”

“Yeah, well, don’t pack your boogie board,” Tess said. “I have an ulterior motive for picking Virginia Beach.”

“Oh?” asked Tracie.

“Darrell called last night,” she said. “Quinn is in Virginia Beach. And something is definitely going down.”

“Spectacular!” Schuyler said with a happy grin. “We get a big story either way!”

“That sounds promising,” Antonia said as she came up behind them.

“Wait’ll you hear!” Schuyler said.

Tess rolled her eyes. “Come on in,” she said to her boss, and led the way into their office.

Antonia’s reaction was more muted than Schuyler’s, but just as enthusiastic. “Go get ‘em,” she said, grinning from ear to ear.

Tess grinned back. Don’t worry, Darrell. The cavalry’s coming.

Tess, Schuyler, and Tracie end up getting more hurricane than they bargained for -- although Tess never actually gets to cover the storm's landfall, because... 

Ohhh no. I'm not going to give away the story. You can buy it and read it yourself here. Or buy the whole series here

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

We have winners! and a knitting post.

First off, thanks to everybody who participated in the giveaway for the launch of Maggie on the Cusp. I've emailed all the winners, so check your inbox -- and don't forget to send me your street address if I don't have it yet (you know who you are).

I got a ton of good ideas for Maggie's road trip. In case you were curious (because I was), here's how the vote broke down:

Serpent Mound, Ohio: 3 votes
California: 2 votes
Cahokia: 1 vote
Mexico City: 1 vote

And for the "tell me where to send her" option, I received votes for the following destinations:

Bear's Ears National Monument, Utah
Canyon de Chelly, Arizona (Spider Rock)
Witch Mountain (see below)
Mackinac Island, Michigan (a.k.a. Turtle Island by the Ojibwe Indians)
Sedona, Arizona
Pacific Northwest

Witch Mountain sounds intriguing, but I'm going to need more info. I found a reference on this page to a Witch of Cedar Mountain, in Georgia. Maybe that's what the contestant was thinking of.

In any case, the suggestions are all awesome and much appreciated. And the timing couldn't be better -- I'm about 7,500 words into Maggie in Moonlight and she'll be hitting the road pretty soon. I may not get Maggie to all of these spots, but I'll definitely keep them in mind when I'm location scouting for future books. Thanks again, everyone!

And I keep forgetting to mention that Maggie on the Cusp is just 99 cents right now at Amazon -- as is the first book in the series, Maggie in the Dark. I'm going to leave the first book at a buck, but the price for book 2 will go up on Tuesday -- so if you don't have a copy yet, now's the time.

And now to the knitting portion of this post.

You may recall that I was working on a very cool shawl called a Fire Dragon Wing, but I was running out of yarn. Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the maker of Lemonade Shop yarn did send me another skein -- yay! And the project is finished -- yay!

The bad news is that the colors aren't a very good match. Here's a shot of the part of the shawl with yarn from both skeins. The red from the new skein is pink and the orange is MIA.

But hey, it's done, and I'll wear it, and it's all good.

And I have moved on to another project. This one is called the Main Street Shawl. It's constructed very much like the Eden Prairie, which is still my favorite thing I've knitted. Here's what I have done so far. The lighting is bad in the top left corner of the photo, so I'll tell you that the square that looks maroon is a deep rose, and the triangle that looks black is actually purple.

My next step is to pick up stitches along the inside edges of the big V where the white yarn is sitting, knit a few rows of black for a border, and then fill in the empty space with the white yarn. Then I'll pick up stitches along the left side of the rainbow strip, do a black border, and knit a big chunk using the lavender yarn. Then I'll pick up and knit a black border around the whole shebang and it'll be done.

This one, I have plenty of yarn for. As long as I don't run out of black...

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

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Big Maggie Giveaway.

First, let me say that here at hearth/myth, our hearts go out to the folks in the path of Hurricane Harvey. For those of us who are too far away to help in person, the Red Cross is taking donations of both money and units of blood. You can give online, and look up the location of a blood drive near you, at

Seems like a bad day for frivolity, but Maggie Muir Brandt -- the main character in the Transcendence trilogy -- has had experiences that are anything but frivolous over the course of the first two books. In Maggie in the Dark, her ex-mother-in-law practically ordered her to Rockville, Maryland, to help her recover from cancer surgery because the woman was so horrible that no one else would come. In Maggie on the Cusp, our heroine is back home in Indiana, but her mother seems to be losing her grip on reality and her brother wants Mom's house. To make things right for everyone involved, Maggie has to expose family secrets and navigate her own emotional minefield. And as a reward, she gets to renew the Earth. Which, to be honest, doesn't sound like much of a prize.

So in the final book of the trilogy, Maggie in Moonlight, she gets to hit the road.

I haven't started writing Book 3 yet, but I have a rough outline, and there are a few places Maggie is going to have to visit in order to move the plot along. But other than that, her itinerary is up for grabs. So I'm appealing to you guys: What should Maggie not miss on her road trip? She's going to be in an RV, so let's keep it to continental North America. Click the road trip question in the Rafflecopter below, and leave your suggestions in the comments.

Of course, contests offer prizes, and we have a few (photos in the Rafflecopter below):

  • A commemorative Canadian quarter featuring Mishepeshu, the Underwater Panther, in its original packaging. (The Mishepeshu on this coin seems much nicer than the one in the Transcendence books.)
  • A turtle hand puppet from IKEA for your favorite kid. Or for you. No judging here, no sir.
  • Five lucky people will win a deluxe Maggie in the Dark bookmark, each adorned with a festive ribbon and a removable turtle charm hand-beaded by Yrs Trly.
So that's seven prizes total. Which means I need at least seven entrants. So step up, y'all.

The contest will run for a week, until 6pm Eastern Daylight Time next Sunday, September 3rd. But don't wait to enter. The prizes aren't going to get any better (trust me -- this is all I got).

The standard hearth/myth contest rules apply, and they are as obnoxious as always:

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

Thanks for playing, and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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...

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 |
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.

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.

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?

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!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Reasoning vs. rationalizing.

We live in rancorous times. Here in the United States, we're split by political views -- conservative on the right, liberal on the left -- and each half is further fractured. Republicans have majorities in both houses of Congress, but they have been unable to get much done; major pieces of legislation have been shot down by moderates who think they're too harsh, and by members of the Freedom Caucus who think they don't go far enough.

Democrats are okay with that. But they can't get themselves together, either. Neoliberals, who has been in charge of the party for the last several decades, are still trying to figure out how they lost the presidential election last year -- while progressives are frustrated that the party is not embracing their farther-left economic stances fast enough.

Each side keeps trying to convince the others of the rightness of their position, using poll results replete with charts and graphs. "Proof!" they cry. "Why won't you listen to us? We're headed for disaster! Why won't you change your minds?"

It turns out we're not hardwired that way.

A whole host of studies have been done on decision-making behavior and how preconceived notions affect it. One of the most striking was done by a Yale law professor in 2013. He set up a fairly complex math problem and had the study participants come to a conclusion from the data given them. I won't bore you with the details (you can see the questions at the link). But the upshot was that when the question was about a skin cream that caused a rash, people who were better educated at math were more likely to get the answer right.

However, if the question was about concealed-carry laws and whether they made crime better or worse, knowing more math didn't help. In fact, people did worse if the data were presented in a way that went against their stance on gun control. In other words, conservatives did well if the right answer showed that the ban didn't work, but poorly if the right answer was that the ban did work. The same was true in reverse for liberals. And the people who knew more math were worst at picking the right answer if it didn't support their stance.

This goes back to confirmation bias: humans' tendency to form an opinion first, and then seek out facts to back it up. Moreover, when confronted with facts that don't back up our opinions, we tend to reject them -- or figure out some convoluted way that they actually fit our opinion. Knowing that, we should all be searching out opposing viewpoints to challenge our opinions, but of course we don't. And the harder we're pressed to change, the more likely we are to stick our fingers in our ears and go, "LA LA LA LA LA!" until those annoying nonconforming facts go away.

So if we won't challenge ourselves, and we won't listen to the other side, how do we bring everybody together again?

In the past, major historical events have been catalysts. Pearl Harbor and 9/11 both caused Americans to rally 'round the flag. Examples of positive events are harder to come by, although the moon landing might fit the bill. In each of these cases, opinions became divided some time after the event: many people now are second-guessing our going to war against Iraq as a result of 9/11, and some folks are questioning the money we spend on space exploration. But in the first flush of excitement -- or horror -- we all pretty much reacted the same way.

We must find a way to come together again soon. We cannot continue to function as a democracy (or, to be more precise, a democratic republic) without some degree of common ground. Let's hope that this time, it's a positive event that brings us together.

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Oh, what a tangled...

I have news!

1. The latest anthology from Five59 Publishing dropped this week, and I have a story in it. The book is called Free for All because there's no theme; some folks wrote short stories, some wrote poems, and some wrote creative nonfiction. My offering is a bit of my work-in-progress memoir -- a shaggy dog story about getting my mother to the eye doctor. I've already posted part of the story here, but the version in Free for All explains why I had to take Mom halfway across the country to get her eyes checked in the first place. Anyway, the ebook is only $2.99, or free to borrow if you have Kindle Unlimited.

2. Maggie on the Cusp is in the hands of my editors. And in a burst of inspiration, I began plotting the third and final book of the Transcendence trilogy this week. The next book is going to require more research, but I'm confident I can get going on it shortly. By the way, have any of you ever driven to Mexico City? Asking for a friend...

3. You'll recall that last week, my latest knitting project had stalled out because I was running out of yarn. Good news! The indie dyer who makes the yarn I'm using is going to make a skein for me. It won't be an exact match, but that's okay.

The bad news is that it'll be at least another couple of weeks before I get the new skein of yarn in the mail, since she has to spin it and all. So I've been casting about for something else to do in the meantime. I picked up an afghan project I started months and months ago -- but summer is not the best time to be working on an afghan, air conditioning or no. So I picked up on another project that's been on hiatus for a while: my first real attempt at weaving.

When I was a kid, my mother bought me an E-Z Weaver loom. Here's how Marx Toys advertised it on TV:

Looks like a piece of cake, right? Eh, not so much. I got two or three inches of my very first project done before Mom yelled at me for pulling the yarn too tight. Then some kid who came over took the loom out to play with and broke it. It sat in its box in my room for years before we finally threw it out.

A few months back, my local yarn shop sent out an email saying they had some very simple looms in stock, for people who wanted to try weaving. You can spend big money on a loom; the one Elsie uses in Seasons of the Fool probably cost a couple of thousand dollars. It sits on the floor and takes up a good-sized chunk of her living room. In contrast, the loom I bought cost $30. It's about the size of a piece of notebook paper -- and it came with how-to-weave directions!

I sketched out a design on notebook paper and started weaving. The fringe along the bottom -- they're called ryas in weaving -- turned out okay, so I pressed on. By the time I was four rows into my design, though, I realized it was way too complicated for a first project. (Diamonds? Really? What was I thinking?) I set the project on a corner of the dining room table -- and there it sat, silently rebuking me, for several months.

Yesterday, seized with determination, I pulled it out. Using my original sketch as a rough guide, I finished weaving my design -- yay! Unfortunately, the woven piece was very much compressed from the drawing. Six or seven inches of design-on-paper made about three inches worth of weaving. Rather than make myself completely crazy, I decided to fill in the top with stripes. Also, by the time I got that far, I was sick of weaving in ends and decided to just braid the tails from the stripes.

Here, then, is the finished product. Feel free to laugh. A third grader could have done a better job.

I have no earthly idea what I'm going to do with this thing. I'm thinking I should shorten the fringe, at least -- but why? I'm not going to put it up anywhere.

Maybe I should stick to knitting.

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Playing yarn chicken.

I was going to do a knitting post this week because I thought I'd have a cool, new project done. Alas, the project is not done because I'm running out of yarn.

See, there's a game knitters (and crocheters, too, I imagine) play. It's called "yarn chicken" and it goes like this:

  1. (a) You see a pattern that strikes your fancy and dive into your yarn stash (or your favorite yarn shop) to find something that will do it justice; or (b), you fall in love with a skein of yarn at your local yarn shop, bring it home, and then head to Ravelry to find a pattern that will show it off to its best advantage.
  2. The pattern calls for a little more yarn than you have in your favored skein, but you go for it anyway. Everybody knows designers factor in an extra ten percent when they figure yardage for their patterns, right?
  3. About halfway through the project, you begin to eye what's left of the pattern and what's left of your yarn, and you get nervous. Very nervous.
Sometimes the designer really did factor in that ten percent extra, and you're good. Sometimes you're not good.

Which brings us to my current project. The yarn is Sparkle Sock by the Lemonade Shop, an indie dyer -- which often means that when a colorway is gone, it's gone. Fire Pit is the colorway I lost my heart to: it's gray, with short stretches of yellow and red (and a little green for variety), and it has stellina spun into it so that it sparkles. The pattern I chose is called Fire Dragon Wing, and it calls for 100 grams, or 430 yards, of fingering-weight yarn. My skein of Sparkle Sock had 100 grams and 428 yards. Totally within the ten percent fudge factor, right?

So I cast on and started to knit. And I was so pleased with the way it was turning out that I posted this photo on Facebook a few days ago. Looks cool, doesn't it? With the wedges of varied widths and the bits of fire here and there? It put me in mind of the dragons in the Pern novels. I could envision it as the wing of an ancient dragon -- a blue, maybe, the color of her hide faded with age, and battle-scarred from fighting Thread.

Then I kept knitting, and watched my yarn dwindle. The photo below is from tonight. I have three more wedges to go, plus a final wedge. Oh haha. It ain't happening. I've been weighing my yarn after every wedge completed to figure out how much yarn I've used and comparing that to how much of the shawl I still need to knit. I'm going to be about 25 yards short.

All is not lost. The company is still making this colorway, but not with the stellina wound in. I have a message in to them to see whether they might have a skein of the sparkly kind still laying around (though it's highly unlikely). I've also messaged someone on Ravelry who has a skein in their stash, on the off-chance they'd be willing to part with it. I could find another gray yarn with stellina in it -- Amy has one, but it's not really the right color gray. Or I could buy a skein of the non-sparkly yarn and mix it in, row by row, and hope nobody notices the diminished sparkle (and likely the gray in the new skein would be a slightly different shade, too).

Another option would be to frog the whole thing and re-knit with a needle that's one size smaller. That, also, will not be happening.

In any case, the shawl will not be ready to show off tonight. Sorry, guys. Maybe next week. But don't hold your breath.

In other news, I am preparing to hand off Maggie on the Cusp to my editors directly, once I fix a continuity issue. I'm hoping to get the book on sale before summer is over, but my window of opportunity is closing fast. Sales of novels historically tend to slump after Labor Day -- people are busy getting back to work and school, and marketing folks begin aiming for holiday promotions -- so the timing isn't ideal. But I need to move on and get going on the final book of the trilogy. More news as it happens...

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

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Thoughts on giving, and on getting taken.

Pixabay | CC0
"Bitch," the man said. I turned and flashed him a smile, because I didn't know what else to do.

This was a few weeks ago, before I left on vacation. I was on my way to a meeting in Old Town Alexandria, and had just enough time to stop and get a sandwich for dinner. I parked on the street near the restaurant and went to pay for parking. Old Town has converted to a centralized metering system; there's a station in each block where you pay for your parking and receive a slip of paper to put on your dashboard. The meter takes only coins and cards; it took me a minute to figure out there was no slot for the dollar bill I had in my hand. I shoved the dollar back in my wallet, used my magic plastic to pay, put the receipt on my dash, and headed for the restaurant.

That's when I passed the guy. He asked me for money -- I can't remember what he said, maybe that he hadn't eaten all day -- and I said in a rush, "I'm sorry, but I don't have any cash to give you!" It wasn't a lie, exactly; just because I had a dollar in my wallet, it didn't mean I had the wherewithal to give it to some guy on the street. But I'm sure he saw that I had that dollar. Hence his comment.

I always come away uneasy from these sorts of interactions. Not this one, necessarily; once he called me a bitch, I was even less inclined to help him, even if I could see his point. But in general. I work in a big city, and in the block between my office and the Metro station are a few regular panhandlers: the guy who plays the trumpet every morning; the woman who frequents the corner by the Metro, child in tow; the guy who sits in the middle of the block in the evening, chanting change change change like a mantra. Then there are the folks who sell Street Sense, the newspaper produced by the homeless. I pass all of them every day, and I feel terrible about it, like I ought to hand in my "progressive" card (if I had one) because I never give any of them any money.

But see, I've been taken. Once, on a Metro platform, I was approached by a woman who claimed to be a lawyer. Her purse had been forgotten/lost/stolen, and could I help her out with cab fare? I opened my wallet to give her a $5 bill, and she insisted I give her the $10 bill in there, too. At that point, I should have told her to call her secretary and have her call the taxi for her -- but it happened so fast that I didn't think of the rejoinder until much later.

And I always wonder what these folks are going to do with the money they collect. Will they use it to get food? Booze? Drugs? The easy answer is to give to charities, and I do. But even then you have to be careful. We've all heard the stories about so-called charities that are in business mainly to line the pockets of the people running them.

The homeless and the down-and-out hear those stories, too, and so maybe they'd rather not ask for charity. Or maybe what the charity is giving isn't what they need. There's a van from a local charity that stops at the park in front of our office building every evening. They hand out sandwiches on white bread to the homeless folks who line up for them. Seagulls follow the van -- they know some of the people who get sandwiches won't want them, or won't be able to eat them, and the gulls will have their own dinner from the scraps. It's not that the poor folks are ungrateful. But what if they can't eat the sandwich for health reasons? It's like if you offered a peanut butter sandwich to a hungry kid with a peanut allergy. Should he give it back and risk being called ungrateful? Or should he eat it and risk suffering anaphylactic shock?

I guess the fact that all of this bothers me is proof that I'm not a jerk -- but that seems too glib. So does, "I gave at the office."

I wish I had a better answer.

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

What I did on my summer vacation.

I was sure I'd hung out the "On Vacation" sign here before I left for the airport... Sorry. I guess that was one of the things that slipped through the cracks.

Clearly I needed this break. A lot of things have been slipping through the cracks lately. One of them is editing Maggie on the Cusp, which -- given my publishing schedule over the past few years -- ought to be for sale already. Never fear; I'm going to dive in this week, I swear.

So anyway, I've been gone to Colorado for about a week and a half. Alert hearth/myth readers know that I've been there many times over the years. For this trip, I promised myself that I would do a road trip to take in a bunch of sites I'd never seen in person before. So even though I've been to Denver about a gazillion times, this time I rented a carriage house in the Congress Park neighborhood for a couple of nights. While I was there, I paid a visit to the Denver Botanic Gardens, both before I'd never been there before and because they're featuring an exhibit of Alexander Calder's works this summer. I'm a big fan of Calder. This one in particular caught my eye. The exhibit brochure called it vaguely man/machine-shaped. But come on -- it's a crow. Or maybe a Raven.

And even though I've driven west on I-70 before, I'd never driven up Mount Evans -- one of two 14,000-foot-plus mountains in Colorado whose summits are reachable by car. (The other one is Pikes Peak, near Colorado Springs.) So I did that. It was cold and windy (46 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill of 36) at the top, so I didn't stay long. But I wish I could have bought a t-shirt that said, "I survived the Mt. Evans Highway." Not only was the road narrow, but it had no shoulders and no guardrails. Aieee...

I drove from there to Glenwood Springs because I'd never been in a vapor cave before. It's kind of like a steam room on steroids.

I drove from there to Aspen -- or as the tourist brochures call it, "glamorous Aspen," although somehow I managed to circumvent all the glamor. First, I took a city bus up to Maroon Bells because I'd seen a million photos of the two mountains but had never been there. They're just as beautiful in person, as you can see.

In downtown Aspen, I found a bookstore and bought a book to read (Anne Hillerman's Song of the Lion, if you must know), then found the city library and spent an hour getting into the story -- as well as out of the heat.

I also stopped at the John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen. Denver lived in Aspen, and after he died, the city set aside a few acres on the banks of the Roaring Fork River downtown for a memorial. One section features a little waterfall and pond surrounded by trees and wildflowers, and another is a small amphitheater featuring more flowers, as well as boulders on which lyrics to several of his songs are engraved. It could have been really tacky, but I thought it was tastefully done.

One boulder featured the lyrics to "Rocky Mountain High," of course. This one has the lyrics to "The Eagle and the Hawk," which is an excellent one to sing at the top of your lungs when you need to declare yourself large and in charge. (Don't ask me how I know.) Anyway, it's a great song, even though it was never a hit, and I was glad to see it included in the park.

I had never made the drive over Independence Pass (a famously twisty road east of Aspen) before, so I did that next. It was a piece of cake compared to the Mt. Evans Highway. From there, I stopped in Leadville, which was a big deal during the silver rush in the mid-1800s, and toured the Tabor Opera House. Then I stayed for a couple of days near Nathrop, in a cabin with a little, private pool fed by a hot spring. That was very relaxing.

I also made a day trip to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, again because I've seen many photos but had never been. And I spent a day in Salida, which has a cute downtown that's classified as a Creative District by the state of Colorado.

The only problem with this trip is that I kept hearing about a bunch of other places in Colorado that I also should have visited. I guess I'll just have to go back.

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Happy 50th, Summer of Love.

Open ClipArt Vectors | Pixabay | CC0
Time flies. You blink once or twice, and suddenly it's 2017 and it's been 50! Years! since the Summer of Love.

My pal Shawn Inmon reminded me about this yesterday when he posted about the anniversary on Facebook. He asked where we were in the summer of 1967, when the hippies were bringing peace, love, and music to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Me? I was nowhere near that scene. I was nine years old and living at home with my parents. But I wore love beads (because Davy Jones did!), and I had a transistor radio tuned to WLS Radio in Chicago -- and really, that was all I needed.

The official song of the Summer of Love was Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco." It embodied the innocence of those days, and called everyone to the city by the bay.

In truth, of course, there was more going on than just a love-in. Drugs got Janis Joplin, as they did many '60s artists. Too bad -- she was a powerful performer. "Piece of My Heart," which she did with Big Brother and the Holding Company, is my favorite of her tracks.

What strikes me is how the music of that time would be sliced and diced into categories today. "San Francisco" would be folk-rock; "Piece of My Heart" would be blues; and the Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" would be...hmm. We don't really have a category today for psychedelic rock. But the kids on "American Bandstand" didn't seem to care.

The British invasion was a few years old by the time the Summer of Love rolled around, and some British bands made the scene -- including the Animals.

And then there was Grateful Dead, whose music still defies explanation. Country? Rock? Regardless, they kept truckin' until just a few years ago.

So where were you in the Summer of Love?

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

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Why I'm learning Irish.

"City Wall" in English and Irish, Kilkenny | Copyright Lynne Cantwell

I ran into our Irish instructor on the Metro a few weeks ago. I'd mentioned during the class that I'd studied Czech (more on how it came up below). So when he asked me on the train why I was learning Irish, I said, "Well, I've already studied one useless language, so..."

I was joking, mostly. Czech is a living language (although not for lack of invaders trying to kill it, first the Hapsburgs and later the Nazis), but as the Czech Republic isn't strategically important, studying the language is not likely to get you either a job with the CIA or a promotion at work. But still, about 10.5 million Czechs speak it every day.

Irish, too, is a living language (although not for lack of the English trying to kill it), but the number of those who speak it daily is much smaller -- about 74,000 people, according to Ireland's 2016 census -- and shrinking. Irish children are required to learn the language in school, but most adults say they haven't retained much.

So why am I bothering with these weird languages? The short answer is that it's part of my heritage. My mother's side of the family is all Czech, and a chunk of my father's side is Irish. But there's also the challenge of gaining insights into how people in other countries think, and grammar is one way to do that. No, really. In Czech, for example, you don't say something happens on Tuesday, you say it happens in Tuesday. It's kind of a neat concept, don't you think? Here's Tuesday's bucket, and you put the things that are happening that day inside of it.

It's also fun to see how language has changed over the centuries. All of the languages I speak or have studied -- English, Spanish, Czech, and Irish -- have a common proto-Indo-European root. (In fact, there are only a handful of languages spoken in Europe that aren't Indo-European in origin, Turkish and Finnish being among them.) So some really old words are at least a little similar. The word mother, for instance, is madre (pronounced MAH-dreh) in Spanish, matka (MAHT-kah) in Czech, and máthair (MAW-hirz) in Irish.

Did you notice how the Irish snuck in that z sound after the r? Irish, I'm learning, has two ways to pronounce nearly every consonant: broad and slender. In English, we do this with only a couple of consonants, particularly g (discuss: is gif pronounced with a hard or soft g?), but the Irish go whole hog. And the way you tell whether a particular consonant is broad or slender in Irish is by the vowel next to it.

So the i in máthair is silent -- it's there only to tell you that the r is slender. A slender r sounds kind of like rz in English, and similar to my old Czech friend ř -- r with a caron on top -- except Czech rolls its rs the way Spanish does, and Irish doesn't at all (which is going to take some getting used to).

Anyhow, it was the slender r discussion in which I brought up Czech. Another way Czech and Irish are similar is that nouns are declined in both -- that is, like in Latin, each noun changes in form, depending on what it's doing in the sentence. Irish only has two cases, though, whereas Czech has something like seven. And Irish has only two cases for nouns -- masculine and feminine -- while Czech has three. So Irish should be easier for me, right? Right. Other than all those extra vowels.

I've heard it said on separate occasions that the hardest language for English speakers to learn is either Czech or Irish. Gee, thanks, Mom and Dad.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Happy Memorial Day.

I will write a post today. I will write a post today. I will, I will, I will...

I've been busy most of the day, producing a video tutorial for writing a fantasy novel for Indie Author Day. This year's event, on Saturday, October, 14th, will be the second annual, and Indies Unlimited is one of the sponsors once again. It's designed to get indie authors and libraries together. If you're an indie author, you too can participate at your local library. Click through and see if your library's already on the list; if not, there's a spot on their website where you can ask them to contact your library and talk them into participating.

Anyway, I have vowed that I will not let that project keep me from writing a post tonight.

I was going to write about why I decided to study Irish, but I'll leave that for next week, I think. Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the United States, and so I thought I'd talk a little bit about that.

Wikimedia | Public Domain
We have both Memorial Day and Veterans' Day here in the US, and it's easy to get confused when they both honor veterans, and when they're both basically excuses to take a day off work, shop, and maybe have a cookout (depending on where you live -- Veterans' Day is in November, which is pretty darn cold in much of the US).

The difference is that Veterans' Day is for those who fought for our country and survived, and Memorial Day is for those who didn't survive. My parents sometimes called it Decoration Day, because that was what it was originally called. The last Monday in May was designated as a day to lay flowers and wreaths on the graves of those who have died for our country. The first observance came in the 1860s following the Civil War, although it wasn't until 1971 that Congress designated it as a federal holiday.

My most enduring memory of the holiday is from high school, when I marched with the Michigan City Municipal Band in our city's Memorial Day parade. Marching with the municipal band was easier duty than with my high school band -- there was none of that high-stepping stuff and no goofy hats. Just sober black uniforms, and muted drums as we made the turn into Greenwood Cemetery.

One of the most moving parts of the ceremony was when the trumpeters played "Taps." I'm sure you've heard the song. But you may not be familiar with the version where a second trumpeter moves a short distance away from the lead trumpet and plays as if echoing the first. If you've never heard it, I encourage you to hit the button below.

Have a pleasant day off tomorrow. But please spare a moment to remember those who've given their lives to protect and preserve our nation.

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