Sunday, June 6, 2021

Writing episodic fiction for my new guy.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to put in a plug for our Summer Reading Challenge. It's been going on for just over a month and I've read, uh, one new-to-me book on the list. Oh, wait -- actually I'm still reading it. Whoops. I have another one queued, though. 

Anyway, I can't win any of the prizes. But you can! Hop on over to the link, check the list, and get cracking. The contest ends September 4th.

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copyright Lynne Cantwell 2021
So here's my new guy. His name is Jerome Reed Atherton, a.k.a. The Atherton Vampire -- Jerry to his friends. Looks like a charmer, doesn't he? I'm writing his story now for Kindle Vella, a new platform that Amazon is developing.

We don't have a launch date yet for the platform, although one blog has speculated it will be sometime this month or next. What we do know is that Amazon is aiming Kindle Vella at people who read on their phones or other mobile devices, and it will work a little differently than a regular Kindle ebook. For one thing, the story will be doled out in episodes of between 600 and 5,000 words apiece. For another, readers won't be able to purchase the whole story at once, the way they do with an ebook; instead, they'll buy virtual tokens, and then use those to buy the episodes. The episodes are priced by length, with one token worth 100 words -- so an episode that's 1,200 words long would cost a reader 12 tokens. As usual with these sorts of things, the more tokens you buy at once, the cheaper they will be. 

Don't take the prices for tokens at that link above as gospel; Amazon hasn't finalized them yet. But using that chart as a rough example: it looks like Jerry's story is going to end up being about 40,000 words long. The first three episodes of every story will be free; in Jerry's case, that's about 2,500 words lopped off the total, so you'd be paying for 37,500 words. The whole shebang would cost you 375 tokens, or (according to that chart that hasn't been finalized yet) between three and four bucks.

Another thing that isn't super clear is how much authors are going to be paid. We'll get 50% of what readers spend on each episode, but the formula has variables that include the price a reader paid for their tokens and the fee charged by the sales platform. That's not as good a deal as the 70% royalty that authors get for ebooks, but it's not nothing. And it's a way to reach a whole new readership. Assuming this thing takes off.

And assuming people like Jerry's story well enough to keep reading it. That creates a bit of a challenge in terms of structuring the story. I'm keeping my episodes on the shorter side; none has hit even 2,000 words yet, which is shorter than the chapters I write for my novels. And each episode needs to end with something that will compel the reader to buy the next episode -- a cliffhanger, say, or a surprise of some sort. I'm thinking I'll end up with 25 episodes. That's a lot of cliffhangers.

I'm not allowed to publish a Kindle Vella story as a regular Kindle novel unless I unpublish it from Vella first. So we'll see how it goes. If Jerry doesn't get many fans to bite (sorry not sorry), I'll pull the story from the new platform and publish it as a regular ebook. Either way, I think Jerry's story has legs, as we used to say in journalism; I have a whole bunch of ideas for sequels. 

I'll let you know when Kindle Vella launches and how things go from there. Or as they used to say on TV, stay tuned for our next exciting episode!

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


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Mulling over vanlife.

First things first: I was interviewed this week on NFReads. It was a great experience. Of course, I forgot to mention The Payoff (duh, Lynne) but I did provide some hitherto unannounced details about my Kindle Vella project, The Atherton Vampire. Click through and check it out. Thanks!

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Dmitry Y. | Pixabay | CC0
A couple of nights ago, I watched Nomadland via pay-per-view. It won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, as well as a slew of other awards. 

The plot intrigued me. Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her performance as Fern, a woman who loses her home and her husband within the space of a few months during the Great Recession. She makes some improvements to her van, puts the majority of her stuff in storage, and hits the road -- piecing together odd jobs and falling into a culture of folks living what's come to be called #vanlife.

The reasons these people decide to live in an RV are varied. Some, like Fern, are forced to do it when their finances turn against them. Some would rather travel than be tied down to a house and everything that entails. A woman named Swankie, diagnosed with terminal cancer, decides to live out the rest of her life seeing places she's always wanted to see. (Most of the people in the movie play themselves; they were featured originally in the 1997 nonfiction book the movie is loosely based on. The only honest-to-gods actors in the film are McDormand and David Strathairn, who plays a fellow traveler who falls for Fern. But the real-life Swankie didn't actually die; in fact, she attended the Oscars ceremony as a guest of Chloe Zhao, who won the award for Best Director.)

All this has got me thinking -- again -- about tiny living. My place is already pretty small -- 500 square feet, give or take -- but I still feel a pull sometimes toward going smaller, although I don't know that I'll ever be ready to refit a van and move into it (and I hope my financial circumstances don't ever turn so bleak that I'm driven to that extreme!). 

But there's a certain feeling of purity, too, in ditching the life that society expects us to live -- the single-family house with the two-car garage and the stuff to fill it and the soul-sucking job to pay for it all -- and "living lightly on the land," as they say. Some of the folks Fern meets on the road are living as nomads for that reason. And in the movie, at least, it doesn't seem like making that choice would be the end of the world.

Back when I was involved in the simple living movement, I knew of a woman who retired from the military and set herself up to live on her pension -- which, if I remember correctly, was $500 a month. This was twenty years ago, when $500 went farther than it would today, but it still was nowhere near a fortune. But she made it work, at least for a little while. I lost touch with her when I dropped out of the movement, so I don't know how it's going for her these days.

Longtime readers of hearth/myth know I've been a sucker for tiny homes for many years. (For those just joining us, you can get up to speed by clicking here, here, here, and here.) My conclusion after years of research was that tiny homes are adorable, but they have some significant drawbacks: Cities in general don't want them (typically you can live in an apartment or condo with the same square footage as a tiny home, but a standalone dwelling of the same size is verboten) except as housing for the homeless; rural areas have begun to zone them out, with minimum square footage requirements and such; and because they're built of wood and not the superlight materials RV manufacturers use, you need a beast of a truck to pull one. I really like Eli, my Kia Niro hybrid, but I can't attach anything to him that's heavier than a bike rack. It's true that I could buy a truck to pull a tiny house -- or any other sort of trailer -- but buying another vehicle that I'd have to insure and maintain seems like it would complicate my life instead of simplifying it.

Motor homes have their own drawbacks. Most localities don't want you living in one of these, either; you're often limited by the number of months per year you can live in an RV, even if you own the land it's parked on. And they get terrible gas mileage. Considering we appear to be lurching toward a future of all-electric vehicles in this country, buying a gas guzzler seems like a bad idea right now. 

And I really like living in Santa Fe.

In the article I linked to above, Swankie is quoted as saying it took her ten years to transition to living in her van. In the movie, Fern put all her stuff in a storage unit until she was ready, emotionally, to let it go. 

I guess I still have some thinking to do.

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

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Taking a pandemic breather to review.

geralt | Pixabay
It sounds like most folks had the same reaction I did to the CDC's recent declaration that anyone who's fully vaccinated can (mostly) stop wearing masks in public: Eh, not so fast. We're now at the point where either you throw caution completely to the winds and go without, or wear one anyway and risk those you meet thinking you're either: a) an anti-vaxxer or b) a Republican. I feel like I need to get a t-shirt that says, "I'm fully vaccinated but I have trust issues about everybody else."

I'd get a button, but I don't think all that would fit. Or at least not in a big enough font to be readable from six feet away.

Anyway, it appears that in the US, at least, as vaccination rates go up, the number of COVID-19 cases is going down, and the death rate attributed to the virus is going down, too. I don't want to jinx things by speaking too soon, but we may be emerging from the woods.

Regardless of how soon our lives can safely go back to normal, this seems like a good time to sit back, take a deep breath (masked or un-, your choice), and see whether we've learned anything from the past fourteen months. Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, wrote a Facebook post earlier today that's a pretty good summary of the economic lessons learned due to the virus. While I agree with his list, I decided to come up with my own. There's some overlap, but I think he missed a couple of things.

1. How nice was it to show up, get your government-provided vaccine, and not have to pay a penny for it? Nobody asked for your insurance information. Nobody asked you for a co-pay. You didn't even have to contact the vaccine administrators to find out whether they were in-network or out-of-network. You just showed up, got the shot, and went on your way, right? Now think about how wonderful it would be if all health care in America was offered the same way. It can be -- if we would just institute universal health care. We're the only major nation that doesn't have it. It's beyond ridiculous. We need to do whatever it takes to get this done.

2. We need to continue to appreciate our essential workers -- and by "essential workers," I mean all the people who had to show up for work during the pandemic while the rest of us stayed safely at home: the health care providers, the delivery drivers, the warehouse workers, the grocery store clerks, the cashiers at stores deemed essential businesses, and the teachers who had to go back to in-person instruction not knowing for sure whether it was safe. Other than teachers and health care workers, most of these folks don't have job security -- they're typically not full-time employees and they receive minimal, if any, benefits from their employers. We need to fix that. At least give everybody free health care (see point 1).

3. I have zero patience for people who made a buck off of others during this trying time. I don't mean just the idiots who bought up all the hand sanitizer and wipes at the start of the pandemic and then tried to sell them for a premium -- although they're on my list. Nope, I'm also including the billionaires who have increased their wealth by more than $1.6 billion over the course of the past year and change. In many cases, their gain has come at the expense of their employees, many of whom are considered essential workers. Economic inequality was already off the charts in this country before the pandemic, and now it's worse. There's no excuse for that. 

4. As for the employers who tried to roll back hazard pay for their essential workers after a couple of months? Hello, the pandemic is still happening -- they still deserve that extra pay. And if you can't get people to come to work for you now? Maybe don't be so chintzy with your pay and benefits, and treat your employees like they're human beings and not interchangeable cogs.

5. When it comes to those who've been working remotely for the past year, now that they've had a taste of the good life, employers are going to have a hard time convincing them to go back to the office full-time. It was gospel at my old law firm that secretaries would never be able to work from home. Our job duties simply wouldn't allow it. Well, here we are, fourteen months into the pandemic in which everybody's been working remotely -- including secretaries at my old law firm. Not everybody thrives in the office fishbowl. Employers need to be flexible when it comes to bringing people back into the office.

6. I admit I wasn't nuts about the idea of having to wear a mask when it first came up. But when it became apparent that either I needed to mask up or hermetically seal myself in my apartment to avoid getting the virus, I got on board. But some people have been absolutely desperate to avoid reality, to the point where they have convinced themselves that masks are useless and the vaccine is dangerous. I'm all about "live and let live," as long as people's choices don't impact me. This does. If you're not going to get the vaccine, wear a mask. If you won't wear a mask, get vaccinated. And for gods' sake, don't lie about having gotten the vaccine so you don't have to wear a mask. 

7. The January 6th insurrection happened. It was not a "normal tourist visit." It seems logical to assume that anyone who objects to an investigation into what happened that day, including a thorough probe of who was behind it, probably has something to hide. 

Okay, that last point doesn't have much of anything to do with the pandemic. I'm leaving it on the list anyway. After all, this is just a draft. I'll come back to it once the virus has well and truly ridden off into the sunset.

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Speaking of lists: How's your progress on our summer reading list? I'm not nagging, I swear.

In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, here's a link to the list and info on the contest. That's right! Prizes! Now go forth and read!

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These moments of bloggy listicle creation have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaccinated and good luck!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Mask whiplash.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threw us quite the curve ball this week. Just a couple of weeks ago -- on April 27th -- the CDC issued an infographic with cute red, yellow and green icons that described the situations in which fully-vaccinated people could go without masks outside. We had barely parsed that news by this past Thursday, when the CDC basically said never mind: If you've been fully vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask at all. You can also drop the physical distancing. If your local or state ordinances require you to mask up, you still have to. But otherwise, go out and live your life like it's 2019!

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2021
I don't know about you, but this has given me a case of whiplash. It feels a whole lot like the case I had in March of last year, when suddenly we were all either working from home or, if we couldn't work from home, hoping we didn't catch the virus and die.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the decision to drop the mask requirement isn't a surrender to the mask-averse or a nefarious way to encourage people to get the vaccine if they haven't already. Instead, she says, it's grounded in science. Results of numerous studies announced over the past several weeks have indicated that vaccine immunity is lasting longer than some had expected, and that the vaccines approved so far are effective against at least several of the virus's variants. Moreover, while a fully-vaccinated person can still catch the virus, the odds that he or she will need to be hospitalized for it are pretty darned small. For example, at the Cleveland Clinic, since the start of this year, just one percent of patients admitted because of the virus had been fully vaccinated -- and among their employees, 99.7% of cases of the virus occurred in those who hadn't been vaccinated.

All that's swell news. But I've still got that case of whiplash.

How are we supposed to know who's been vaccinated and who hasn't? Dr. Walensky says it's going to have to be up to individuals to be honest. My immediate response: Because that's worked so well so far. The federal government decided against creating a database of those vaccinated, citing privacy concerns, but that leaves us with no official way to keep track of who's gotten the jab and who hasn't. The card you get when you get your shot is not an official government record. Even so, people reportedly have been trying to counterfeit the cards ever since states began rolling out the shots -- to the point where the FBI had to announce that it was illegal. 

If the vaccines are as effective as the research suggests, and if the mask-averse are likely to lie anyway, I'm inclined to let the liars play their stupid games and maybe win the stupid prize. But that's easy for me to say; I'm fully vaccinated and I live in a state where nearly 63% of those eligible for the vaccine have received at least one shot. New Mexico has been doing so with with the vaccine rollout that our governor had been planning to lift all restrictions next month anyway.

But then Thursday happened, and now I've got this case of whiplash.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story yesterday called, "How to Handle Your Re-Entry Anxiety as the Pandemic Recedes." They talked to several experts -- a neuroscientist, a therapist, a behavioral scientist and a psychologist -- and came up with some tips for easing back out into society. Here they are:

  • Set boundaries. Decide what you're comfortable doing and let folks know. If they push back, stand firm. And don't push others to do things outside their own comfort zone.
  • Calm your brain. Relaxation exercises can help here, as can repeating a mantra like, "I'm fully vaccinated, my friends are fully vaccinated, and the danger in this situation is minimal." Another suggestion, which I really like, is to approach situations that scare you with curiosity. One expert says, "Curiosity feels better than anxiety."
  • Look on the bright side. That's what the WSJ article called it, at least. I kind of hate the phrasing. But the idea is to talk yourself into looking forward to a get-together or event and anticipate having fun. Then, at the event, pay attention to the fun you're having, and replay it later by thinking about and talking about how much fun you had.
  • Don't let life get too hectic again. Which kind of speaks for itself.
Now for my two cents: Change is hard, transitions are hard, and they're harder when changes are sprung on us. It's going to be tough for all of us to find our comfort zones in the post-pandemic future, so be kind to yourself and understanding of others. And if you still feel the need to wear a mask, you'll be in good company -- I'll be wearing mine for at least a little longer, too.

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