Sunday, June 16, 2019

An Elemental Father's Day.

Annalise Batista | CC0 | Pixabay
In our last exciting post, I promised that this week I'd talk about Treacherous Ground. It's Father's Day here in the US, so I might as well talk about the fathers in the book.

I feel like I haven't said a whole lot about the Elemental Keys series at all, and here we are, nearly ready to shoo the second book out the door. So here's a quick recap.

In Rivers Run we were introduced to the four major characters: Raney Meadows, Collum Barth, Rufus McKay, and Gail Oleander. All of them are half-human and half-magical-Elemental-creature. So Raney is half undine, a Water Elemental; Collum is half gnome, an Earth Elemental; Rufus is half magical salamander, a Fire Elemental; and Gail is half sylph, an Air Elemental. They all meet in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and there they also run into another major character: Damien Jones, a wealthy sociopath who happens to be Raney's father.

Damien would never win a Greatest Dad contest. He had captured Raney's mother and held her prisoner as one of his collection of singular things. When she tried to escape by disappearing into water, he moved her to his home in the desert. But when the monsoons came, someone left a window open and Ondine departed among the raindrops, knowing she was carrying Damien's child and vowing he would never find out.

And then Raney went and blew it by calling him "father" the first time she came face-to-face with him.

The thing is, Damien's been possessed by an ancient evil creature, and this creature intends to destroy the Earth. First it must collect a series of Elemental Keys from where they've been hidden around the world; then it must use them to unlock the door that the Doomsday device is behind. And Raney, Collum, Rufus and Gail are tasked with stopping Damien...while Raney is trying to hide from him.

For all that Raney, as an undine, feels emotions deeply, she doesn't react to her father as a daughter might. She feels him pulling her to him, but she can tell there's no love behind it. And too, he gives off an unmistakable aura of evil. Suffice it to say that he won't be getting a Father's Day card from her, let alone a gift.

There's another father in this saga: Collum's. Part of Neill Barth's job as an Elemental gnome is to guard certain magical places. Right now, he's keeping an eye on one in County Kilkenny, Ireland -- and in decamping for Ireland, Niall left Collum in charge of guard duty in Harpers Ferry. As your typical stoic gnome, Collum is not one to let his feelings show. But Niall's been gone a long time, and Collum has build up plenty of anger and resentment. The Barth family dynamics come to something of a head in Treacherous Ground. Let's just say Niall would be lucky to get a tie from Collum on this Father's Day.

All that, and golems in a bog, too. Treacherous Ground will be a fun ride...

I was originally aiming for publication this coming week, but the schedule has been pushed back slightly. I'm now hoping to get it out the door the following week -- June 26th or so.

I do need to publish it soonish, because I've been planning to write Book 3 during Camp NaNo in July. Time's a-wastin'!

I'll have more info on all that next week.

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Journalism isn't going to save us.

Tama66 | CC0 | Pixabay
Brace yourselves: This post is going to be political.

When the movie All the President's Men came out in 1976, I was in college, majoring in journalism. I admit that I came away a bit starry-eyed about the profession I was aiming for.

In the movie, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose work went a long way toward bringing down President Richard Nixon and his corrupt administration. The movie opens with Redford, as Woodward, sitting through a routine court arraignment -- the sort of thing a young reporter might be relegated to by an editor looking to fill a few column-inches with details of local burglaries. Woodward comes to attention, though, when he realizes the prisoners are charged with breaking into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. And they have ties to the CIA.

Woodward is teamed up with Bernstein, and together they follow the trail to the highest reaches of government. Everything you know about Watergate -- from the Plumbers to Deep Throat to Nixon's resignation -- all of it began in June 1972 with Woodward paying attention at a nothing arraignment of crooks involved in a third-rate burglary attempt. Two years later, Nixon resigned.

As a journalist, Woodward and Bernstein were, if not my idols, then certainly icons I looked up to. Investigative journalism seemed like a noble profession.

Oh, how times have changed. Here we are in 2019, increasingly aware that our current President is a crook. The Mueller Report has detailed ten counts of obstruction of justice against him, and strongly suggests, without coming right out and saying it, that the House of Representatives ought to begin an impeachment investigation.

But where has the press been? Where's our latter-day Woodward and Bernstein?

As it turns out, a lot of what Special Counsel Bob Mueller detailed in his 400-plus-page report had already been in the news. But as the Washington Post's media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, wrote in a column today, journalism is a different business now. In 1972, we had a very small number of national news outlets doing daily journalism: ABC, NBC, CBS, and a few national newspapers, mainly the Post and the New York Times. Cable news hadn't been invented yet, much less talk radio, podcasts, or blogs. If you watched the national news on television, you watched Harry Reasoner, John Chancellor, or Walter Cronkite. There wasn't anybody else.

Fewer choices made it easier to be a news consumer -- and to trust what you were being told. Now, as Sullivan says, we're subjected to "a polluted firehose blast of information mixed with disinformation." Sure, the TV networks sometimes toed the government-issued news line a little too closely back in the day (as one example, a lot of Americans today don't understand that the people who are coming here from Central America are fleeing political unrest that our foreign policy caused). But nowadays, it's hard to figure out who to believe. Especially when the President routinely calls the news media liars and "enemies of the people." (Not to put too fine a point on it, but dictators including Hitler, Stalin, and Mao have used the same phrase to undercut popular trust in news reporters.)

At the local level, newspapers are going under at an unprecedented rate. More than one in five closed up shop between 2004 and 2018, and those that remain often don't have the resources to cover their localities the way they should be covered. Investigative reporters like Woodward and Bernstein are usually among the first to get the ax.

The reasons for these changes are many; it would take a book, if not several, to detail them in-depth. The point is that journalists aren't going to play the same role in bringing down the current corrupt administration as they did during Watergate. Even impeachment looks dicey. Our best hope for justice is probably the ballot box next year.

Apologies for the political rant. I'll talk about Treacherous Ground next week -- it's politics-free, I promise.

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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Book marketing 101: Why not to sell to other authors.

I'm a member of a bunch of indie author groups on Facebook, so I see this a lot: An author puts their book on sale and, with dreams of shooting up Amazon's bestseller list dancing in their head, immediately posts about the sale to every author group on Facebook to which they belong.

But a lot of these groups don't allow marketing posts at all. Or they limit the posts to certain days in threads specifically set aside for that purpose. Groups always, always post their rules -- either in a pinned post at the top of the discussion section, or in the About section, or (ideally) both. And still it happens.

I had to spike a buy-my-book post this weekend in a group where I'm an admin. I was in a good mood, so I tagged the author in a new post and explained what had happened to hers. Her reply was along the lines of: "But it's a free book! We can't post those in here, either?"

Well, no. You're still asking people to buy your book. It just so happens that the current price is $0.

Then it occurred to me that maybe folks don't understand why so many author groups ban buy-my-book posts. I'm sure a lot of folks think it's because the ads would clutter up the discussion, so that eventually, actual discussions would be lost. And yes, that's part of it. But the other part is that marketing to your fellow authors is not going to do your career much good.

What every author dreams of is a huge, dedicated fan base, made up of readers who will buy their newest book as soon as it comes out. Right? Well, the way to find these superfans is not to hit up a group of authors. Yes, authors are all readers (or we should be, which is a topic for another day) -- but we read, and write, in all sorts of genres. My books are mostly urban fantasy. Laurie Boris writes mostly literary fiction. Chris James writes sci-fi thrillers. K.S. Brooks writes both thrillers and children's books. Shawn Inmon writes speculative fiction and memoir. Leland Dirks writes contemporary fiction, often co-writing with his dog Angelo. J.D. Mader writes gritty urban thrillers. All of these folks are kickass writers, by the way, and if you haven't read their stuff, you should. But we'd have a tough go of it if, for example, we traded newsletter mailing lists to try to drum up more readers for our own work. Our fandoms might overlap, but not by a lot.

Even if you do make fans out of a bunch of fellow authors, it won't help you much at Amazon beyond that initial sale. Most indie authors are leery of writing a review for another author because the Zon has a habit of deleting such reviews -- especially if they can figure out the authors know one another. (You can still post a review of a pal's book at Goodreads, as far as I know, but getting involved at Goodreads opens another can of worms. I think a lot of authors are still steering clear of it, lest they say something that enrages somebody and cause their books to be showered with one-star reviews.)

And yes, putting your book on sale for free is still selling your book.

All that said, there are Facebook groups for readers looking for their next good book. Those groups would love to have you post there. There are also a host of websites and newsletters dedicated to book marketing; many of them cost money to advertise on, and some don't work as well as they might. The best way to find out what's working right now is to check out indie author groups on Facebook like 20 Books to 50K. Just don't post a buy-your-book ad there.

And as always, I recommend as the best website for indie authors.

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

Sunday, May 26, 2019

A body image myth, debunked.

John Hain | CC0 | Pixabay
For the past several months, I've been working with a dietitian to get my eating back on track. Recently I had a revelation that I want to share with you.

I want to make it clear upfront that I'm not looking for dieting advice. I've been dieting off and on for 50 years. No kidding. At the age of eleven, tired of my brother teasing me about being fat, I went on my first diet. I lost 20 pounds that summer. Of course, later on, it all came back -- and then some.

By the time my kids were tweens, I'd yo-yo-dieted enough times to know that dieting doesn't work. And I told the girls that. Too bad I didn't follow my own advice.

Over five decades, I've counted calories and fat grams; I've done NutriSystem (800 pre-packaged calories a day!); I've done Weight Watchers a whole bunch of times. Almost always, I've lost weight. Often I would lose 30 or 40 or 50 lbs. in less than six months. I am really, really good at losing weight. I've had a lot of practice.

But then I'd plateau forever, and I'd get sick of eating so little with no results. So I'd drop the diet and the weight would come back.

It happened so many times that I ended up hating my metabolism. I'd joke about my Eastern European peasant genes that were so good at getting through my ancestors through famines. But really, I felt like my body was betraying me. I couldn't control it, and I hated it.

So anyway, the dietitian recommended to me this book called The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy. The author is Caroline Dooner. It took her a lot less time to get fed up with diet culture, and to conclude that dieting doesn't work, than it took me. But she connected the dots in a way I hadn't thought about before, and it only took her repeating it 20 or 30 times before I finally got it.

Here is what I realized at last: My body hasn't been betraying me when it packs on pounds after I drop the latest diet. My body has been trying to keep me alive.

Dooner cites a World-War-II-era study on starvation. The aim was to learn how to rehabilitate starving people, once the war was over. So they recruited 36 mentally and physically healthy conscientious objectors. At first the men received about 3,200 calories per day -- which was considered normal for men back then. A few months later, the men's diets were cut in half, to about 1,600 calories per day. In those days, 1,600 calories a day was considered semi-starvation; today, we consider 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day to be adequate for people on a diet.

Think about that for a minute.

And then think about what happened to those semi-starved guys: They lost interest in everything except food. Their heart rates slowed down, they were cold all the time, and they had other physical ailments. All of them suffered from depression and anxiety. Their sex drives deserted them. And they experienced body dysmorphia -- in other words, they had wrong ideas about the size and shape of their own bodies and others'. When the experimenters began feeding them again, the guys who got a lot of food -- 5,000 or even 10,000 calories per day -- made the best recoveries. And even then, some of the subjects said they felt hungry for months or years after the experiment was over.

You can extrapolate a lot from this. I mean, just about everybody's been on a diet at some point, which means we've all practiced self-starvation. And a lot of us have yo-yo'd back to where we started, and then some. And most, if not all, of us have believed ourselves to be weak-willed and lazy when it happens -- not to mention judgmental of others.

Expand that to our national preoccupation with what we're eating and what everybody else is eating. And a diet industry that makes more money every time a dieter fails. And a medical establishment that thinks anyone overweight ought to be on a diet. And you might begin to wonder whether our obesity epidemic hasn't been caused by chronic dieting (among other factors, of course).

As for me, I've started by apologizing to my body. Instead of hating it, now I'm grateful to it for keeping me alive. And I'm never going to deliberately starve myself again.

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