Sunday, October 13, 2019

What's your Tool of Ultimate Destruction?

It's been a busy week at La Casa Cantwell. The e-book edition of Molten Trail, the third book in the Elemental Keys series, went live at Amazon on Wednesday. You can find the US version here. The paperback edition went live the following day -- you can find that here. The Zon hasn't yet linked the two, so you won't yet be able to find them on a single page. (Their FAQ says it could take from 48 hours to a week. Rest assured that I will be shooting off an email on Thursday if it's not done by then. Ah, the joys of indie authordom and all the little niggly bits you have to follow up on...)

Not only that, but I've drafted the outline for the fourth book (working title: Elemental Keys Book 4) and am just waiting for November 1 to roll around so I can start writing it.

Earlier this month, I created a graphic containing all of my book-length works (except for Live Simply in the City, about which the less said, the better). According to this, Molten Trail is my 24th book. (Which means the book that wraps up the series will be my 25th. I'm going to have to do some rearranging on those shelves.)

So there's a plot device called a MacGuffin. It's a thing that's there for the author to hang the plot on. In the classic film The Maltese Falcon, the MacGuffin is a falcon statue. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, each of the Infinity Stones serves as a MacGuffin at various times. The Holy Grail has been the MacGuffin in countless stories, from Arthurian legend to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

In the Elemental Keys series, our heroes are searching for several MacGuffins -- four Keys that together will fit a lock that will open a door behind which is a Tool of Ultimate Destruction. The T.O.U.D. is, of course, the ultimate MacGuffin.

Can I be candid? I haven't quite yet figured out what form the T.O.U.D. will take. Oh, I have some vague ideas, but I haven't settled on anything yet. So I thought I'd take suggestions. If you were going to create a T.O.U.D., what would it be like? What would it do? Post your suggestions in the comments.

I'm not going to do a Rafflecopter. Instead, I will send the person who comes up with the suggestion I like best a $10 (or the equivalent value in your home currency) Amazon gift card. If none of the entries please me, I'll be keeping my $10, so get your thinking caps on. Suggestions that target one or more politicians will be disqualified (we can't make this too easy, now, can we?).

Good luck! I'm looking forward to reading your suggestions.

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

Sunday, October 6, 2019

What's a Pagan, anyhow?

I spent the day at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, which is always a good time. As usual, one of the first booths I visited was the one operated by Dancing Pig Pottery. The owner is a local potter who makes items popular with the RennFest and Pagan crowd. We've bought several of her pieces over the years, including serving bowls with the eight sabbats of the Pagan Wheel of the Year around the rim. Here's one of mine.
Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2019
While I was there today, I overheard one woman ask her friend, "What's that word?" She was pointing to the word Samhain on one of the bowls. Clearly the friend had no idea, so I piped up and told her. 

Then she asked, "What does it mean?" So I stumbled through a definition. I told her it was the name of the Celtic holiday that corresponds to Halloween. The women nodded politely and went their way. And I went mine, knowing that I hadn't done justice to the term. Because Samhain is the Irish word adopted by Pagans -- but not all Pagans -- as the name for the sabbat (feast day or holiday) that falls at the end of October. 

It's the "not all Pagans" part that makes things difficult. 

Someone asked me several weeks ago to explain the difference between, say, Paganism and Wicca. Greater mortals than I have tried to explain the Pagan movement and have walked away humbled. But let me take a whack at it.

Okay. So Paganism or Neopaganism is the big-tent name for a group of religions that...well, that don't have a whole lot in common, to be honest. Most of them are polytheistic. Some used to claim they were direct descendents of ancient little-p pagan religions that were stamped out across Europe by Christianity, but that idea has been debunked. Many are considered to be nature religions, believing the Earth and everything on it to be sacred and basing their holidays on the seasonal turns of the calendar -- hence, the Wheel of the Year. But there's no common liturgy and no single god or pantheon that every Pagan worships. 

The vast majority of folks come into Paganism through Wicca, mainly because it's the best known. Thanks to Halloween and Hollywood, people can get their minds around the concept of a witch pretty easily. But there are denominations, if you will, within Wicca. Some work with the Great Goddess, some with the Goddess and the Horned God, some with the Roman goddess Diana, and so on. Regardless, they all call themselves Wiccans and together they constitute the biggest group under the big tent of Paganism. Their commonality is belief in a Mother Goddess and that all of nature is sacred. (I'm a little nervous about making that declaration. Somebody's bound to come along and tell me about a Wiccan coven that doesn't worship any deity at all.)

Another is Druidry, which draws its inspiration and many of its beliefs from the priestly caste in ancient Celtic society. There are a number of Druidic organizations, including the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, founded in the UK in 1964; and Ár nDraíocht Féin or ADF, founded in the US in 1983. If any Pagan group ever succeeds in making the sort of Pagan religion that comes complete with brick-and-mortar buildings and a liturgy, my money is on the Druids.

A third is heathenry, or Germanic Paganism, which uses the Norse myths as a framework for its belief system. A host of smaller groups fall under this heading, including Asatru in North America. Some so-called heathen groups have been accused of being fronts for white supremacists, but certainly not all heathens are.

Wikipedia lists a number of smaller divisions within the big tent: eco-Pagans, who are often involved in Earth activism; the New Age folks, who may or may not be polytheistic; Reconstructionists, who try to make their worship as close to that of their pagan ancestors as possible (leaving out human sacrifice and other grisly bits); and so on. I'd say a lot of folks practice within these smaller groups as well as in one or more of the bigger ones. The Wikipedia article also mentions CUUPS, a group within the Unitarian Universalist Church that welcomes Pagans of all sorts.

And then there are eclectic Pagans -- the fence-sitters like me. Our beliefs don't align closely with any one group. Instead, eclectic Pagans dip in and out of several traditions, taking ideas that resonate with them and leaving the rest.

So that's how it works, kind of. I could also mention that Wicca was named the fastest-growing religion in America* in 2014, with an estimated 1.5 million "members" (which scares the pants off some folks). Or we could talk about why people are turning away from Christianity to Paganism (and to atheism, for that matter). But let's leave it here for now. Let me know if you have questions.

*The fastest-growing religion in the world is Islam. It's also the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity.

These moments of eclectic Pagan blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who puts a lot of Pagan gods and goddesses in her novels for some reason.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

I need a nap.

What a difference a week makes, huh? Last Sunday, we were just beginning to hear about the existence of a whistleblower complaint against President Trump. The Washington Post broke the story about the complaint on Wednesday, September 18th. Then everybody in the media got busy adding details. By the time Tuesday afternoon rolled around, enough information had come to light that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi officially dubbed the ongoing committee investigations into Trump an impeachment investigation.

Impeachment. Boy, that word brings back memories -- none of them good.

I was in high school in Indiana when the Watergate hearings were underway. I remember walking into classrooms where the teacher had requisitioned a TV so he or she could watch the hearings during passing periods. President Nixon resigned in August 1974, just two weeks after the House of Representatives returned articles of impeachment against him. He never went to trial in the Senate. And then of course President Ford pardoned him, thereby dooming his own election chances but ensuring Nixon would never face prison for his crimes, either.

Then in late 1998, President Clinton was impeached. I have to tell you that '98 was a blur for me; that was the year I took family leave to spend the summer with my mother while she recuperated from cancer surgery. Then at the end of that summer, I was laid off from Mutual/NBC Radio News. So I spent the denouement of the Clinton saga -- the House referring the articles of impeachment and the Senate trial that ended in acquittal -- in Denver, where I was earning a paralegal certificate. I'd sometimes cast an eye at the headlines in the local paper, but to be honest, I was just as glad to be out of the fray.

Now it's Trump's turn. It's already the craziest impeachment story ever, and I have no doubt it will get worse.

Sometimes, when a big story breaks, old newshounds will ask each other whether we wish we were still part of it all. News people are adrenaline junkies. It's a rush to know something consequential before anyone else does and to be the person who tells the world. So when something big happens, "Do you miss it?" we ask one another. "Do you wish you were still doing news?"

Honestly? For this one, I'm just as happy to sit on the sidelines. Ever since Tuesday, the media has gone into overdrive. Keeping up with the headlines is like drinking from a firehose. It's been less than a week, and I'm already exhausted. And I'm only posting stuff to Facebook.

Delyth Williams | Pixabay | CC0

No, today's news business is for the young. Like, for instance, Andrew Howard of Arizona State University, who got the scoop that the US Special Envoy for Ukraine was resigning as a result of being named in connection with the impeachment inquiry. Kudos to him for recognizing he had a big story and for going with it.

These moments of impeachy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. (If enough people buy my books, I'll never have to go back into news again. Thanks!)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

On balance.

The fall equinox -- known to many Pagans as Mabon -- has kind of crept up on me this year. It still feels like summer in DC (today's high was 92 degrees Farenheit; tomorrow's is forecast to be 93, and we may get another 90-plus-degree day next weekend, ugh), and we were in Europe on Labor Day, which has been the calendar marker for summer's end for me since I was a kid.

But the autumn equinox hits here at 3:50am tomorrow, so fall it shall be, regardless of whether I'm able to don a sweater without boiling to death.

Thank the gods we have more than cooler temperatures associated with Mabon. As I mentioned three years ago, Mabon is the second harvest, and as the fall equinox, it's also one of two days of the year when day and night are in balance. Which means it's not a bad time to consider how well our lives are balanced, and whether we should consider making any adjustments.

For me, this year has tipped toward travel to far-off lands. There was the Rhine River cruise I took in the spring, and the Mediterranean cruise with the girls just a few weeks ago. I've packed a lot of sightseeing into these past few months, and I expect to tip back to more normal travel levels from here on out. Which is to say I'm unlikely to do any more European travel for a few years -- although if I get an interesting offer, I might hare off somewhere. You never know.

I'm also looking with increasing anticipation toward retiring from the day job in less than a year, and the move that will accompany it. I'm balancing that with plans to hit some of my favorite places and events here on the East Coast one last time. Of course I made a list, and I've actually managed to knock a few things off of it, but I won't beat myself up if I don't get to them all. I want to be mindful of balancing my day-to-day life against all these "last chance" opportunities, and of not making myself crazy trying to do them all.

My writing life, too, needs to be in better balance. At the beginning of the year, I promised myself that I would write and publish all four Elemental Keys books this year. My original timetable had me publishing Molten Trail this week, but it's not going to happen -- I just sent the manuscript to my editor a week ago, and the book still needs a cover. So I'm expecting now that I'll publish it next month -- hopefully in early October, but certainly well before Halloween. Then I'll be drafting book 4 during NaNoWriMo in November, and I probably won't publish it 'til after New Year's.

This has been a valuable lesson for me. Some writers can churn out ten or more books per year. I've known for a long time that my best pace is three per year, but I wanted to push myself this year to do four. I know now that was a mistake -- I've spent too much of 2019 feeling guilty for not keeping to this accelerated publishing schedule, even though I knew I'd be doing a lot of traveling.

So! The new, more balanced plan: Molten Trail should be released around October 15th, and the final book will be out around late January 2020. I will let you know if that changes.

And looking farther forward, I may write a stand-alone novel in early 2020. I don't want to commit to another series, as late spring and summer will be sucked up by packing and moving. But I don't want the whole first half of the year to get away from me, either. We'll see how things are going once the final Elemental Keys book is out the door.

Blessed Mabon to you all! Here's hoping your life is in better balance than mine...

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