Sunday, November 21, 2021

A bad guy who wants to do good.

I was hoping to have exciting news for y'all on the Atherton Vampire front. Alas, I got going on editing and uploading the second book later than I'd planned. So I can't give you a link to the ebook edition of The Atherton Vampire: Out of the Coffin just yet. However, unless something totally awful happens, it should be live tomorrow. I'll post the news when I get it, including in the Woo-Woo Team group on Facebook. (What do you mean, you're not a member yet? Click the link and join!)

Here's the cover, anyway, so you know what to look for at Amazon when the book goes live:

I was also kind of hoping to give you an awesome report on progress for the third book, but I didn't write anything yesterday and I've been too tied up with prepping book 2 to do any writing yet today. That's next on my list after I finish this post. And by the time I go to bed tonight, I'm hoping to be pretty close to 25,000 words.

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I've been talking a lot about Good vs. Evil for the past couple of weeks -- and it's not just because I'm writing a series about a bad guy who wants to do good (and probably for all the wrong reasons). Although come to think of it, that's not a bad place to start.

Jerry Atherton was a good guy, if somewhat naive, before he was turned. I'm not giving away too much to say that he had a privileged but troubled childhood and fell for the wrong woman. Now he's undead -- a freak who exists on blood and who cannot stand the light of day. In other words, he's Evil. 

At the end of book 1, Callie Dailey suggests that he could rehabilitate his image by becoming "the bad guy who does good." The idea appeals to him. Who wouldn't want to be redeemed after such a massive fall from grace?

But here's the thing: Capital-G Good, like Capital-E Evil, is defined by society, and in the case of Western civilization, those definitions are built on the framework of Christianity. Pure Evil is apparently attainable; start a discussion on this topic and witness how quickly Hitler's name comes up. (I don't know what happened to the internet rule that whoever first mentions Nazis automatically loses the argument, but it seems to have gone by the wayside.)

But is it possible to be purely Good? It seems like as soon as popular opinion anoints a saint, somebody discovers they have feet of clay. It happened to Mother Teresa in 2007

The epitome of Good is God. Of course we can't be God; ergo, we cannot be perfectly Good. We are human, and therefore imperfect, because we are not God. Right? But how Good is good enough?

I believe this idea that humans are necessarily imperfect has run amuck. We've all known exemplary people who beat themselves up because of imperfections they perceive in themselves. They worry that they're not trying hard enough. They question themselves and their behavior. They wonder whether they're not Bad, deep down.

And on the other side, we've all known folks who refuse to question their attitudes and beliefs -- to the point of denying reality outright -- because they're scared of finding out how imperfect, and therefore Bad, they actually are. 

None of this strikes me as mentally healthy. But our society is built on this framework. It's not enough to be "good enough"; we must strive for perfection, which isn't attainable because we're inherently imperfect. But if we don't strive to be perfect, then we're Bad.

And before you know it, we're not only judging ourselves as Bad, but we're comparing ourselves to other people and judging them to be more Bad than we are. From there, it's a short step to judging others whose skin color or native language is different from our own -- and deciding they're less than human.

I reject this framework. I reject the idea that humans are inherently imperfect. I reject the idea that we are inherently flawed. We are, period. And we all deserve kindness and respect. Including from ourselves.

Jerry Atherton, vampire, isn't ever going to be able to become Good. But he can be good enough. And so can we.

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These moments of good enough blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, November 14, 2021

More on why I don't believe in Good vs. Evil.

A couple of weeks ago, I said I'd probably write a post on why I don't believe in Good vs. Evil. I listed one reason for my belief in that post (you can read it at the link): it's that Evil is defined by the observer, not the actor. The people that society perceives as Evil never think they are. They believe their cause is right and just. And sometimes later on, society comes around to their point of view.

I saw an ad for this Christmas ornament yesterday, and it reminded me of another reason why I don't believe Evil is a real thing. I hope Hallmark doesn't sue me -- I lifted this photo from their website. It's one of this year's Keepsake Ornaments from their Disney Villain line. The bad guy depicted here is from the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in the original 1940 movie Fantasia. Hallmark is calling him Chernabog.

I was much younger when I saw the movie. While I remember the scene, I had no idea what the character's name was until I saw this ornament for sale. 

Even if I'd known this guy's name, it wouldn't have meant anything to me back then. Now it does, though, because in the intervening years, I've done some reading on Slavic mythology. 

Chernobog -- that's the correct spelling of his name, or anyway it's one of the correct spellings (Disney got it right when they released their own Fantasia ornament) -- is reputedly the Slavic god of darkness. His name literally means "black god." He's usually paired with Belobog, whose name literally means "white god." And it's a pretty good bet that real, actual Slavic pagans never worshipped either one of them.

The only account of Chernobog and Belobog comes from a German scholar named Helmold in the 12th century, several hundred years after Christianity had come to the Slavic lands. Helmold casts Belobog (who he never actually names) as the Good Guy and Chernobog as the Bad Guy -- concepts that were foreign to the ancient Slavs. Sure, there were dualities in Slavic belief; perhaps the best known of these is the annual archetypal battle between Perun, the thunder god, and Veles, the god of the underworld. Veles rules the dark half of the year, you see, and Perun rules the light half, and there's a big fight every year when they switch off. But Veles isn't a bad guy; he's also the god of forests and cattle. He's not Evil, any more than Perun is Good. Those concepts were imposed on the Slavs by Christianity and its insistence on the Good/Evil dichotomy.

It's pretty well accepted today that the villainous Chernobog comes from that same wellspring. The Slavs didn't have a devil in their mythology, so the Christian conquerors had to impose one on them.

This may be the biggest reason why I don't believe in capital-E Evil -- even moreso than the spectrum of behaviors I talked about a couple of weeks ago. Half of my lineage comes from a people whose original belief system didn't have devils or demons. Tricksters, sure -- but devils? Creatures that were purely evil? Not 'til Christian missionaries showed them what it was (ahem).

Other ancient belief systems also lacked the Good/Evil dichotomy. But at this point, we'll never know how widespread that lack was; Christianity did its best to smother these "incorrect" ways of viewing the world, and in the case of the Slavic lands, what the Christians didn't eliminate, the Soviets did.

Anyway, as tempting as it would be to have a Slavic god on my Yule tree, I'm probably going to pass on the "Chernabog" ornament. I might re-watch Fantasia, though, just to see him in action. Plus the music is really cool.

Oh, what the heck. Here's the scene.

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Not-Na-No report: I'm closing in on 15,000 words on the first draft of the third Atherton Vampire book. I'm not keeping track as avidly as I do when I'm actually doing NaNo, but I think I've written pretty much every day this past week. I probably won't finish book 3 by the end of November, but I won't miss my just-before-Christmas deadline for publication. 

In the meantime, the second Atherton Vampire novel will be out of its exclusive period with Kindle Vella a week from today, so the ebook version will definitely be out before Thanksgiving. Let's call it November 24th for the release for book 2. I'll post here when it's live, and I'll send a newsletter, too.

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These moments of godly blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, November 7, 2021

It's No-No-November.

Let's stipulate that I spend way too much time on Facebook and get that out of the way upfront. 

I usually enjoy looking at the memories that Facebook shows me each day, but the crop these past few days has been bittersweet. It's convention season, you see -- the two big writing conventions I've been in the habit of attending over the past ten years are always scheduled for late October or early November. Today's memories include a photo of the mass autographing event at the 2014 World Fantasy Convention in DC; a photo of the freebies table at the 2015 World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY; and some photos my pal KS Brooks took of me in Las Vegas when we attended the 20 Books to 50K convention there in 2017.

Checking my somewhat faulty memory and my contemporaneous blog posts, it appears that 20 Books to 50K event in 2017 was the last convention I attended. I'm not quite sure what happened in 2018. I believe I intended to go to 20 Books to 50K again in 2019, but ended up rolling my membership over to 2020. We all know what happened -- or more accurately, everything that didn't happen -- in 2020. When the 2020 event was canceled, I rolled my membership over again, to this year. 

This year, I'm not going. I'll be there as a virtual attendee instead. And I probably won't attend many of the virtual sessions.
IzelPhotography | Deposit Photos

I have reasons: 
  1. The convention is on the Strip this year, which is more expensive than where we were before. 
  2. I'm not a fan of Vegas; lots of people love it there, but I'm not one of them. (I don't really like amusement parks, either, for similar reasons.) 
  3. I'm working for the New Mexico legislature as a proofreader again this year, and I started full-time two weeks ago. I would have had to take the week off without pay to attend this year's convention. Plus my supervisor was really leery about my going to Vegas for a week and catching who-knows-what while I was there; she was ecstatic when I told her I'd decided not to go.
  4. That who-knows-what thing. Santa Fe has been a safe place to ride out the pandemic; Vegas, once it reopened, was definitely not safe. It may be better there now, but the thought of going out amongst the Great Unmasked and Quite Possibly Unvaxxed was just too unnerving for me. 
  5. November is also NaNoWriMo, and I always end up missing a few days at the beginning of the month for a convention and then spending virtually all of Thanksgiving weekend writing. 
Of course, I'm not technically doing NaNo this month, either. I'm up to 5,378 words on The Atherton Vampire 3, but there were a few days last week when I didn't write. I think I'll still be able to get the book done by the end of this month, although it doesn't matter if I'm a few days late because I'm not actually doing NaNo.

The bottom line is that I've said no to a number of things this month that I typically say yes to. No writing convention, no NaNo. It's No-No-November.

To be honest, I'm been rethinking this writing gig for a while now. I've been at it for more than ten years; I've written and published upwards of 25 books; I've made a little money; and I've earned a little respect from some of my fellow indie authors. I'm not sure what else I have to prove. 

When I was in my early 20s, I wrote a list of life's goals; then I spent the next 40 years pursuing them. I've reached each and every one of those goals, including this one: "Become a published author." The goal wasn't to make a living from my writing (and anyhow I did that as a journalist for 20 years). It also wasn't to write a bestseller. It was to get published. And I've done that.

Years ago, I took backpacking training for Girl Scout leaders. I was so out of shape that I had a hard time slogging along the trail with my heavy pack on my back. I kind of whimpered at every little rise we climbed. (Yeah, I know -- pathetic.) But the lodge at the end of the trail had an ice cream parlor, and I just kept thinking about rewarding myself with ice cream when the hike was done. It became my goal -- if I could finish the hike without dying, I could have ice cream! But when the hike was over, I forgot to get the ice cream -- and I wasn't mad when I remembered it later. For me, reaching the goal was the important thing. The reward was beside the point.

I'm going through the same kind of thing now with writing. I wanted so badly to retire and get out of DC that I promised myself that when I finally did, I would live the life of an author -- writing every day and promoting the heck out of my work and all that stuff. Then in the fullness of time, I retired and left DC. And what I'm discovering now, a year into retirement, is that maybe I don't want to be a full-time writer, after all. The writing life was like that ice cream I'd promised myself on the trail: it was the reward. But my goal was always to get out of DC. And from where I'm sitting, the reward is looking like a whole lot of work -- probably more than this retiree is interested in pursuing.

I expect I'll still keep writing. I'll definitely publish The Atherton Vampire 2 as an ebook this month and The Atherton Vampire 3 next month, as planned. But after that? I don't know. We'll see how it goes.

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These moments of goal-reviewing blogginess has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Samhain musings.

 

bigdan | Deposit Photos

Blessed Samhain! Happy Halloween!

Here's a reminder that Jerry Atherton requests the pleasure of your company this Halloween. The Atherton Vampire is featured at Book Doggy today -- and it's still just 99 cents. 

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For the past few days, I've been watching some of the Dracula movies I've missed over the years. The 1977 BBC production with Louis Jourdan was...not good. Jourdan didn't do either menacing or sexy very well. 

Somehow I missed Frank Langella's Dracula when it came out in 1979. It was appropriately scary, and more overtly sexy than the original novel by Bram Stoker. I didn't like Langella's pop-eyed stare, but everything else was good.

The third movie I watched was Mel Brooks' take on the story. A couple of people have told me that it's their favorite, and I can see why -- Leslie Nielsen is a better Dracula than I expected him to be, and Brooks himself is hilarious as Van Helsing. 

But the common element of all these books is Stoker's original story. And it hasn't aged well. For starters, there's the obvious sexism -- both Mina and Lucy are victims (no matter which one Drac targets first, and why do screenwriters feel the need to swap them? Or combine them into one character? But I digress), and it's up to the manly men to save them. Just as in Stoker's novel, the women in these movies have no agency. At least in The Lord of Cries, the opera I saw this summer, Lucy actively chose her destiny. She made a lousy choice -- it wrecked her life as well as those of everyone around her -- but still, it was hers to make and she made it.

The other thing that bothered me about the legend, particularly in the BBC version, is its reliance on that old dichotomy of Good vs. Evil. This probably deserves a post of its own; maybe I'll get to it later this month. But I don't believe there is such a thing as capital-E Evil -- or capital-G Good, for that matter. Briefly, it's because the bad guys never think of themselves as bad. They always have what they believe is a good reason for what they do. Maybe they're mentally ill, or maybe they've just talked themselves into believing that what they plan to do is justified -- or someone else has talked them into believing it. 

The January 6th insurrectionists are the most glaring example of the latter; a number of them have asked the court for mercy, saying they believed former President Trump when he claimed the election was stolen from him and that they were convinced they were righting a grave wrong by invading the Capitol. (Now, whether you believe Trump himself is Evil or a narcissistic sociopath or just the sorest loser ever is a separate thing, and not where I want to go in this post. For this example, let's just stick to the mindset of the insurrectionists.)

My point is this: Even those we perceive as Evil usually have one or two good qualities, and those we perceive as Good often turn out to have bad qualities. Nobody is perfectly Good or perfectly Evil -- except in myth. And by "myth" I mean the stories that underpin religious beliefs of all stripes, even those of the Christian faith. One of the things that bugged me about the BBC production was that the Catholic Church had the power, through the crucifix and communion wafers, to combat Dracula. Interestingly, though, those talismans couldn't kill a vampire -- only sunlight or a stake through the heart could do one in. If the Church was so powerful, why did the cross merely scorch the vampires? Why couldn't it utterly defeat them? And why was that final power left to Nature, via a plain wooden stake or the light of the sun?

In the Dracula stories, the vampires are capital-E Evil and the church is capital-G Good. But in reality, we know the church isn't capital-G Good: witness the modern-day revelations about pedophile priests, to say nothing of the Inquisition. Farther back, we can see the cunning the church used to convert pagans to the new Christian religion, such as absorbing Samhain into a three-day church festival honoring the saints and the dead when the peasants refused to give up their end-of-harvest fire festivals. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I guess.

I suppose you can make the argument that the Church is made up of humans, and humans are imperfect by nature. I acknowledge that humans have flaws, but I don't believe we are fatally flawed. 

And keep in mind that it was the ancient pagans who knew how to handle a vampire -- and their solutions actually worked.

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I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I'm not signing up for the official event. Here's why.

Alert hearth/myth readers know that the goal of the November event is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Unlike the Camp NaNo events, you can't set your own goal in November -- the 50,000-word thing is immutable. And my project for this month is the third Atherton Vampire book, which I know isn't going to be that long because the others have been in the 40,000-word range and I'm aiming to keep this one in the same ballpark. Besides, I've won NaNo every time I've entered; I have nothing to prove by signing up this year and setting myself up for failure thereby. So I will be keeping y'all apprised this month of my word totals, week by week, and I'll share the cover for the third book when it's ready. But I'm not going to do the official event.

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These moments of hallowed blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. And a reminder that COVID-19 is scarier than any vampire -- so get vaxxed!