Sunday, November 11, 2018

NaNo'ing again, for the eighth time.

I haven't made a big deal about it, as concerned about this past week's election as I've been. But yes, I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month again this year.

For the uninitiated, the idea is to start writing a novel on November 1st and keep writing every day, 1,667 words per day. If you can stick to it, you will write a 50,000-word novel by the end of the month. I mean, it's math: 1,667 per day x 30 days in November = 50,010 words. So really you could slack off on the final day and write just 1,662 words. Or you could write 1,666 words two out of three days and 1,667 the rest of the days. Your choice.

How many pages is 1,667 words? If a page is 500 words single-spaced, then your goal is to write a hair over three pages per day.

This is my eighth time participating in NaNoWriMo -- and if I fail this year, it would be my first time ever. So I don't plan to fail. (My previous NaNo novels, for those keeping track at home: The Maidens' War in 2008, SwanSong in 2009, Seized in 2011, Gravid in 2012, Undertow in 2013, Spider's Lifeline in 2015, and Maggie in the Dark in 2016.)

Which is why I'm doing it again. This has not been a very productive year for me, writing-wise -- which is a roundabout way of saying it has sucked. I usually publish three or four books per year, but this year I've published just one -- Mom's House -- and I've got nothing in the pipeline for the rest of this calendar year except maybe an omnibus for the Transcendence trilogy. There are a lot of reasons for my lack of productivity, but mostly it can be attributed to fallout from the sale of my mother's house in January and our sudden move in the spring. I've started a couple of things, but haven't finished anything. So with November coming up, I figured an arbitrary and capricious deadline was just what I needed to get back on track. After all, it's worked for me before.

The new book doesn't have a title yet. The working title for the series is Elemental Truths, but I expect that will change. This first book is set in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and the main character is a TV actor who decided she needed to hike the Appalachian Trail. Near Harpers Ferry, she finds a body in the Shenandoah River. The police believe the guy was a kayaker who drowned, but Our Hero is an undine -- a Water Elemental -- and she knows the guy didn't drown. Things get weirder from there.

I'm kind of cheating with this novel. For NaNo in November, you're supposed to write a brand-new book -- but what I'm working on this month is one of the projects I started earlier this year. When I dusted it off, I was surprised to learn that I'd written about 11,000 words before I set it aside. So although my official NaNo word count right now is about 19,500 words, really I'm about 30,000 words into the book. My books typically top out at around 53,000 words, so I expect to finish this book well before NaNo's over. If I do, I plan to start working on the second book in the series. In any case, I'll keep writing 'til I've cranked out 50,000 new words this month.

I'm not worried. It's not like the NaNo Police will come looking for me.

I'll keep you posted on my progress, and on whether I come up with a name for the book.

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

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Two more days.

I'm sure you've heard by now -- even if you don't live in the US -- that this coming Tuesday, Americans will be going to the polls. (I'm pretty sure everyone in the galaxy has heard. We've certainly been making enough noise about it.)

This is a midterm election -- it happens halfway between the four-year Presidential elections -- and even though we're voting on candidates for every Congressional seat and one-third of those for US senators (as well as a ton of state and local offices), the current occupant of the White House wants everyone to believe that he's on the ballot again this time. In a way, he is; a lot of Americans are disgusted with the way he has conducted himself so far and with the way his fellow Republicans in Congress have refused to make any meaningful moves toward reining him in. There's been a lot of talk about a "blue wave" coming, and a fair amount of hold-your-breath hopefulness about the percentage of early ballots being cast around the country.

So here we are, two days out. And FiveThirtyEight, a polling aggregator that has a reputation for being pretty even-handed and maybe even a little conservative, gives the Democrats a 6 in 7 chance of capturing the House, and Republicans a 5 in 6 chance of keeping the Senate.

But polls can only tell you so much. Two days before the last Presidential election, the polls had Hillary Clinton as the winner. A lot of Democrats still aren't over that abrupt loss -- and they're trying hard not to get too excited right now, lest it happen again. As the saying goes, he who expects nothing shall not be disappointed.

The suspense is getting to me, too, a little. I had planned to be out of town this coming week, so I got an absentee ballot and mailed it in several weeks ago, and now I'm ready for the votes to be counted and the hoopla to be over.

The process of voting by mail was easy and painless. I don't know why more states -- including Virginia -- don't allow everyone to vote by mail.

Wait. Yes, I do.

Once upon a time, or so I've been told, Republicans in Virginia Beach tried to get more involvement in the city's elections. Now at that time, the Virginia Republican Party used the caucus system to select their candidates, and the party officials in Virginia Beach wanted more people to show up to their local caucus. So they hired a consultant, and he came up with a whole bunch of ideas for increasing turnout. I can't remember what they were, but let's just say they involved things like holding the caucus at a more convenient time for working people. To which the horrified officials responded: "But if we did that, just anybody might show up."

That spirit is alive and well today. That's how you get dumb rules like the one that requires Native Americans in North Dakota to present an ID with a street address in order to vote, when state officials know good and well most folks who live on reservations don't have street addresses. It's also how you get Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp throwing out tens of thousands of African-American voters' registrations on a technicality because he's running for governor against a black woman. After a judge slapped his wrist for it, he then charged his opponent's party with hacking and launched an investigation despite having zero evidence.

Aside from that, there's the gerrymandering that both parties have engaged in. And hey, the Russians are still out there playing their own games with our electoral system, and nobody in charge seems to be too concerned about stopping them.

The odds are long that our election will be 100% fair. But we can overwhelm those odds if we all just show up to vote.

Tuesday. Mark your calendar. Show up. Vote.

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This bloggy get-out-the-vote exhortation has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The final brain post, and a plea for kindness.

This post will be somewhat disjointed. I promised y'all I would post the sugar skull cowl when I finished it. As Samhain, Halloween and Día de los Muertos are all coming up this week, I need to do that today. But my head and heart are elsewhere right now, and I imagine a lot of you feel the same way. I'll get to that in a minute.

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First, the cowl. Double knitting turned out to be perfect for this project. As you may recall, the idea behind double knitting is that you end up with a double-thick item that has a colorwork design on one side and the negative image of it on the other side. You knit both layers at the same time. It's a fun technique that I'll likely do again someday.

Here's the finished product:



I put some corkscrew fringe on top of the hat for fun.

I find that which side I wear depends on the color of my coat or jacket. With my navy blue quilted coat, I've been wearing the multicolored background. With my brown jacket, I've been wearing the side with the blue background showing.

Of course, it's now supposed to be 70 degrees on Wednesday. Maybe it'll be cold enough in the office for the cowl.

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As I mentioned, Samhain is coming up this week. Many Pagans consider this our New Year's Eve. As the Wheel of the Year turns, Samhain marks the start of the dark half of the year, a time to go within ourselves and contemplate our personal harvest and what we might want to accomplish in the year to come.

It's also said to be one of the times of the year when the veil between worlds becomes thin. That makes it easier to reach those on the other side -- magical beings as well as those who have gone ahead of us in death. The veil doesn't thin all at once, for an hour at the stroke of midnight on Halloween or anything like that. It's a gradual thing. I've even heard some folks say that in general, the veil is thinner now than usual. 

Anyway. I don't mean for this to sound dramatic, but several days ago I received a message from the other side that I'd like to share with you. Here it is: It's going to get worse before it gets better.

I was dismayed but not surprised. Our country -- as well as much of Western society -- has been deteriorating pretty steadily into two polarized camps, and those in charge don't seem inclined to lead us out of it. In fact, they're egging us on. It gets them votes, after all, and keeps them in power.

And so just this past week, we've learned that someone thought it would be a good idea to send pipe bombs through the mail to many liberal political leaders and some news organizations. And just yesterday, someone thought it was a good idea to take a gun into a synagogue and shoot a bunch of old people -- some of them survivors of the Holocaust.

A lot of us are sick at heart over this poisoned atmosphere we're all living in. How do we clear the air? It's like we're at war with one another. How do we stop the madness?

The Associated Press talked to Robb Willer, a sociology professor at Stanford University. Willer calls this "the question of our time:  Are we going to choose to continue the war, or are we going to choose peace? And we don’t know yet what the answer to that will be, because while a majority of Americans are fed up with the extremity of our political divisions, it does feel like we’re stuck here." And then he says, "It's going to get worse before it gets better."

Gee, I've heard that somewhere before.

I know this is going to sound like liberal snowflake claptrap, but you know what would fix this? If we all just decided to be kind. I'm serious -- that's all it would take. Be kind to everyone you know and everyone you meet. Assume the best instead of the worst. And if someone is trying to scare you into hating someone or a group of someones, ask yourself why. 

There's an election coming up on November 6th. It's too late to register in most jurisdictions, but if you're not registered and you still can, do it. Then cast your vote on election day -- or sooner, if they'll let you. But don't vote out of fear. Vote for kindness. It may sound like the weenie option, but I'm pretty sure it's the only thing that will save us.

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These moments of bifurcated blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get out and vote!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Skull Month, week 3: Brain and brain!

I admit it. Sometimes I make obscure cultural references just to make my kids wonder what's wrong with their mother.

One of the things I sometimes say is, "Vagel, I'm coming!" It's from Stephen R. Donaldson's Mordant's Need duology. One of the characters is a master mage gone mad, and he has a tendency to hop through mirrors while yelling to another master mage that he's on his way. (The Watchers in the audience are saying, "I knew that!")

Another phrase that pops into my head occasionally is, "Brain and brain! What is brain?" I expect more folks will get this one -- it's from the opening episode of the third season of the original Star Trek. The episode is called "Spock's Brain" and in it, a crew of marauding women procure said brain from Spock's head and make off with it. Kirk and the gang track them back to their home planet, where they discover that the women -- who are called Eymorgs -- have installed Spock's brain as a sort of planetary CPU.

In case that doesn't refresh your memory, here's a four-minute condensed version that I found on YouTube:

As you can see, uninstalling and installing a brain requires advanced technical knowledge, but it's clear the Eymorgs don't have any. In order to complete their task, their leader must don special headgear called The Teacher. The device temporarily imparts sufficient information to the leader so she can do what needs to be done. It's kind of like cramming for a test. And Mr. McCoy must resort to using the same device to put Spock's brain back where it belongs.

Supposedly this is the worst episode of the series. I have no opinion either way -- other episodes annoy me more -- but it does underscore the way the original Star Trek was a creature of its times, particularly when it comes to portraying women.

Don't get me wrong -- the series made great strides for women. Uhura, who was both black and female, was a bridge officer, and the voice of the computer was female. One presumes there were more women on the crew than just Uhura and Nurse Chapel, although we never see them -- or at least I don't remember seeing any. (Yes, I know that Majel Barrett was both Nurse Chapel and the computer's voice. And yes, I know she was married to Gene Roddenberry.)

But then there's Kirk's constant womanizing. And you also get the story lines like the one in "Spock's Brain," in which the women are dumb bunnies who are looked upon by their male counterparts as "givers of pain and delight." To be fair, the men don't appear to be any brighter. Why "the builders" -- the ancestors who built the underground facility where the Eymorgs live -- thought it would be a good idea to keep their descendents stupid is a question for the ages.

Be that as it may, I find this women-as-other attitude in a lot of early science fiction, and it keeps me from appreciating it as much as I otherwise might. For example, I enjoyed Robert Heinlein's early work, but then he started relying on horny old Lazarus Long as a deus ex machina who got him out of every plot hole. And I remember thinking when I read Dune that Frank Herbert didn't have much use for women.

I get that these guys were writing for other guys, or for themselves. But still I'm glad that science fiction has progressed to the point where women are captaining starships instead of asking what a brain is.

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