Sunday, July 27, 2014

Communing with trees.

You would think that a person who got back from a vacation in New Mexico less than a month ago would have cured her wanderlust for a while, wouldn't you?

Yeah, well, you would be wrong. I had a yen to go camping this weekend. So yesterday morning, I packed up and went.

I can't remember whether I've mentioned it here before, but I grew up in the woods. The house where I spent my childhood is in a hardwood forest -- oak and maple, mostly, with some tulip poplars and sassafras -- about five blocks from Lake Michigan. I think part of the reason why the Southwest fascinates me is that the sky is so big, the view so unhindered. That's very different from the leaf-rimmed circle of sky I saw above our yard as a kid. And our trees were tall; it wasn't until I moved to Virginia and saw tulip poplars in bloom that I realized they have flowers.

These days, I live above the tree tops, on the eighth floor of an apartment building. But sometimes you just need to get under them. This weekend was one of those times.

When I tell people that I'm going camping, I usually get one of two reactions. Either they say, "Ooh, now I want to go camping," or they look at me as if I've grown another head: "You're going to voluntarily give up air conditioning and indoor plumbing, and go out in the wilds to sleep with the bugs? No, thank you."

Bugs don't scare me. Not even bees -- not since the time I went camping with my daughter's Junior Girl Scout troop. A bee flew into our camp, and predictably, several of the girls did the shriek-and-run thing. I had just got done giving them the approved leaders' response to that sort of behavior -- "The bee's not going to hurt you; it just wants to see whether you're a flower" -- when a bee landed on my arm, and I had to sit there calmly until it decided I wasn't a flower and flew away. Sometimes, the Universe has a rotten sense of humor.

Anyway. At one point a few years ago, I thought I would get into backpacking. So I bought a bunch of ultralight gear -- a solo tent, a backpacker's stove, an internal frame pack, and so on. I went backpacking exactly twice and realized it wasn't going to be my thing. But the gear does make for compact loads when I go car camping.

Chez Cantwell at Prince William Forest Park.
Here's a shot of my camp from yesterday afternoon. What you see is what I brought. The canvas bag on the right holds food, and the white blob on the far end of the table is a jug of water. That's my tent in the back -- the door is at the far end, facing away from the camera.

The weather forecast was iffy, but I came prepared with a rain jacket. Unfortunately, I didn't stake out the tent properly, and the several hours of rain we had overnight made a puddle inside my tent. So this morning, I packed up and came home. I've spent the rest of the day drying out all my muddy, wet gear. (Thank the gods I brought the solo tent; there wouldn't have been enough room in this apartment to pitch the three-person tent.) There's now leaf mold everywhere, which I need to vacuum up. And I've had to dispatch a couple of hitchhikers of the insect variety.

But hey, I had a lovely night in the woods last night, sleeping under the trees. And I fully expect to have a lovely night at home tonight, with my air-conditioning and my indoor plumbing -- once everything dries out so I can put it away.

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Kindle Unlimited: What's in it for readers?

Summer is typically a slow time in the news business, but this summer's news has been anything but slow: undocumented kids showing up by the thousands at the US border, renewed fighting in Gaza, and somebody in Ukraine blowing a civilian jetliner out of the sky.

But the news that sent the indie author blogosphere into a tizzy this week hit a bit closer to home: Amazon's announcement about Kindle Unlimited.

This new program (offered only in the U.S. so far) is an ebook subscription service. As a reader, you pay Amazon $9.99 a month to join KU; in return, you can download an unlimited number of books from the KU store, although you can only have ten books out at a time. This is in addition to the Kindle Owner Lending Library program Amazon already offers to its Prime members; that feature allows you to borrow one book a month.

Before you ask, I don't know whether Prime members who also join KU will be able to borrow eleven books at a time. Maybe I'll check that out -- in the interest of research, you understand -- and let you know next week.

Anyway, readers who are mulling over the idea of joining KU have a few things to consider. First, of course, is the cost, especially if you're already a Prime member. Prime costs $99 a year, but it's totally worth it if you buy a lot of stuff from Amazon; it gets you free two-day shipping on a lot of items, as well as a boatload of streaming movies and TV shows for free, as well as entry into the KOLL program. By contrast, the $9.99 a month for KU adds up to nearly $120 a year. That can be worth it if you read a lot (we do love voracious readers here at hearth/myth), and if you buy a lot of the books you read from Amazon. If you shell out $10 a month or more for books, then KU might be a great deal for you.

But not every book at Amazon is available through KU -- not by a long shot. For one thing, you won't find a ton of bestsellers in the KU store; some traditional publishers are participating, but not (at least right now) the Big 5. So if your reading tastes run to newly-published books reviewed by the New York Times, you'll probably be disappointed.

Still, in a storefront that features 600,000-plus titles, you ought to be able to find something to read. And if you like books by indies (we do love readers of indie books here at hearth/myth), you're in luck -- Amazon thoughtfully included every book enrolled in KDP Select in the KU store.

Which is the long way around to mention that a few of my books are available at the KU store: the Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus and The Maidens' War; two great anthologies that I'm honored to have stories in, Summer Dreams and 13 Bites Vol. 1; and a short story, "Lulie", which has a spiffy new cover in honor of the event.

You can try KU for free this month. Even if you don't end up joining for good, it's a way to pick up some free summer reads without having to make a trip to the library. What's not to like about that?

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Psst...July 14th is Digital Book Day!

Today is the first-ever Digital Book Day, in which authors around the world are offering one of their books to readers for free!

Click here to get a free copy of Crosswind: Land, Sea, Sky Book 1 at Smashwords. Just use coupon code HS88K at checkout. Enjoy!

Storm's coming...

Life on Earth is much improved since the pagan gods' return. As conflict eases around the world, attention -- and money -- has turned to more humanitarian goals: improving the lives of the First Nations peoples and others who were repressed for thousands of years.

But the former ruling class – the military, religious, and corporate leaders who profited under the old system -- are about to stage a last-ditch effort to bring their good times back.

The gods refuse to start a new war against those men, because that would make them no better than Their opponents. Instead, They have drafted three humans to help Them. Together, Tess, Sue and Darrell must find a way past their own flaws to ensure the gods' peace will not be destroyed. 

This bloggy freebie has been brought to you, as a public service, by Digital Book Day and Lynne Cantwell

Do authors owe their readers anything?

George R.R. Martin has apparently had it up to here with some of his fans. As "Game of Thrones," the HBO version of A Song of Ice and Fire, closes in on the end of the story published so far, certain of Martin's fans are renewing their drumbeat for him to finish writing the books, already.

ASoIaF was originally supposed to be five books, if memory serves. The first three books came out in two-year intervals, starting in 1996. Then book 4, A Feast for Crows, got to be too long, so Martin split it in two. Even so, it was five years before A Feast for Crows was published, and another six years before book 5, A Dance with Dragons, saw the light of day on bookstore shelves.

That was in 2011, the same year "Game of Thrones" began airing on HBO. Now, Martin is working on book 6, The Winds of Winter. There will definitely be a seventh book (tentatively titled A Dream of Spring), and Martin has hinted that the series may stretch to eight books before he's done. If everybody keeps to the current schedule, and if the HBO series goes to seven or eight seasons as planned -- well, you can do the math, but my calculator says everybody could know the ending of the story via HBO somewhere between twelve and eighteen years before Martin writes "The End" on the final book. That eventuality has certainly occurred to the producers of the HBO series, who have already met with Martin to find out how he plans to end it.

ISoIaF fans have never been reticent about urging the author to get on with it. During the last hiatus, a number of them criticized him for taking vacations and working on other projects instead of finishing their beloved series. That's bad enough. But this latest round of complaining has taken an ugly turn, with some people mentioning the author's age and size while wondering whether he'll survive to finish his magnum opus.

In an interview with a Swiss newspaper this week, as reported by the Guardian, Martin gave those fans the kind of wave that doesn't use all of his fingers: "I find that question pretty offensive, frankly, when people start speculating about my death and my health, so fuck you to those people."

I feel for the guy. I do. But I also understand the fans' point of view. It doesn't help Martin's case that early on, he made promises about his upcoming publishing schedule and then didn't keep them. Sure, he's run into problems with the narrative -- the story is massive in scope, and I gather he didn't fully understand how massive it was 'til he got in the middle of it -- but fans who aren't writers have no idea how much effort it takes to keep all of those balls in the air. All they see is that the guy's not keeping his word to them, and they're not happy about it.

Is there such a thing as an author-reader contract? Does Martin owe his fans anything? In general, do authors owe anything to their fans?

The answer to that question in Martin's situation is complicated by whatever contract he has with his publisher; one can only assume his agent has been kept busy renegotiating the terms of the deal. That sort of contract isn't something indies have to worry about. But for those of us who write series, it's still a viable question: Do we owe our fans "The End"?

Some authors take on the task of writing a series solely to make money. I can see someone like that feeling zero responsibility to continue, if the first book doesn't sell like hotcakes -- never mind the handful of fans who are eager to read more.

But even authors with the best of intentions can fall victim to real life. Serious illness, natural disaster, even a computer virus can upset the best-laid authorial plans. Hopefully, fans would be understanding and willing to wait -- and would still be there to read the next book whenever it comes out (a significant concern in today's nanosecond-attention-span culture).

As for me? Of course, I'm in this to sell books; if I wasn't, I would just shove my manuscripts in a virtual drawer instead of publishing and promoting them. But that's not the only reason I write.

I like to think that I'm writing the books I wish I could read. In that sense, I have a contract with my own internal reader: to keep writing to find out how the story ends. I would never intentionally bail on that contract. So you guys, gods willing, will reap the benefit.

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Don't pamper me, or: Whaddya mean, it's not Sunday?!?

I took today off from work, which gave me a four-day weekend from the day job. It didn't even occur to me that I owed y'all a post yesterday until I was heading for bed last night.

Clearly, I'm still in vacation mode. A week and a half off work, followed pretty closely by an extra-long weekend, will do that to a person. But tomorrow I'll be going back to the day job, and I'm not sure when I'll be taking my next vacation. So it's Back to Real Life Night here at hearth/myth.

Which segues nicely into a post I've been thinking about writing for some time, i.e.: the problem with America's culture of celebration.

The illustration above, which (if memory serves) originated on The Mind Unleashed's Facebook page, got a number of likes when I reposted it on my own timeline last week. It's a great sentiment, right? It's all about living life to the fullest, enjoying every blessing that comes your way, and so on. Right?

But like anything else, "celebrating everything" can be taken too far. That's how we end up with graduation ceremonies for kindergarteners, and with Bridezillas who expect all their elderly relatives and their friends with little kids to pony up to attend their destination wedding in Zanzibar. It's how we end up with a cake a week at work -- a birthday here, a shower there -- and the accompanying squeeze to contribute toward a gift card for the honoree.

Marketers love this, of course. Every special event is an opportunity to convince us to part with some of our cash. Parties need decorations; kids' birthdays need a clown and a moon bounce rental, along with gifts for the birthday boy or girl; and so on. It's tempting to blame the marketers for starting it -- but the truth is that they're just playing into our desire to each have our own special day. We all want to be special, after all. Even the rugged individualists among us sometimes want somebody to fuss over them.

Which brings me to the word "pamper."

I hate that word. Not just because it was the name of a popular disposable diaper when my kids were growing up (although the diapering flashbacks I get when I hear it probably don't help). What really bothers me about it is that I only ever hear it in conjunction with sales of beauty products or services for women. "This product will let you pamper yourself," or "Let us pamper you!" And it's usually followed by, "You deserve it!"

You know. Live a little. Treat yourself. Any time is a good time.

Celebrate everything.

I feel like a curmudgeon for suggesting this, but maybe it's time we ratcheted back some of our celebratory culture. Yes, we all work hard; yes, we deserve to be recognized for a job well done, or a milestone reached. But pampered? Come on.

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