Sunday, December 27, 2015

Second youth, vehicle edition.

I seem to be posting a lot of memoir-ish stuff lately. I hope it doesn't mean I'm entering my second childhood. Although maybe I am.

This photo shows one of my Christmas acquisitions: a toy car. More specifically, a blue 1964-and-a-half Mustang coupe. It's about five inches long -- much bigger than a Hot Wheels car -- and it has a friction gizmo hooked to the back axle, so that if you roll it backward and let go, it will run forward under its own power.

I'd been eyeing this car at the grocery store for several weeks -- because, you see, I used to drive a vintage Mustang, back when they weren't quite so vintage.

I think I might have mentioned previously that my father was an auto mechanic by trade. He worked for a dealership, but he also tinkered with our family vehicles. He'd pick up a car with some kind of problem, then spend his own time fixing it. We always had two cars in the garage and another one or two parked in the driveway.

At some point in the late '60s, he procured a 1967 Mustang coupe, green (although I guess Ford called it "lime gold" -- the things you learn on teh intarwebz!), with a bashed-in door on the passenger side. Pre-wreck, I expect it looked like this:

Due to his work, Dad knew the guy who owned the local junkyard. The guy found him a passenger door from another lime-gold Mustang, but there was a superficial problem. Ford made the car with two interiors: black and lime-gold. Our Mustang had the lime-gold interior; the replacement door had the black. But it fit. And it's not like anyone would notice it when you'd pass them on the street.

Dad gave the Mustang to Mom. I was relegated to driving the '62 Ford Falcon, which had a manual choke. Peppy it was not; it went from zero to 60 in about an hour and a half. Anyway, eventually we got rid of the Falcon and sometimes I'd get to drive the Mustang.

It was a lot of fun to drive. It sat pretty low to the ground, and it had a shift lever on the floor despite the automatic transmission. But by the time I got to drive it, it was already almost ten years old, so it had the usual issues -- as well as some unusual ones. One day, I noticed the passenger-side carpet was soaking wet. I duly reported it to my father, who let loose his usual string of obscenities and accused me of driving too fast through a puddle and forcing water up into the passenger compartment. Then he pulled up the carpet and discovered the floor had rusted through. Luckily, he had some spare sheet metal from our old shower stall; he riveted it in place and caulked it up, and the car was ready to roll again.

I left the Mustang behind when I went to college, but I always thought of it as my car. So imagine my dismay, around 1980 or so, when Dad told me he'd sold it for $2,500. "You wouldn't have wanted it, anyway," he said when I complained. "It was all rusted out, and it would have cost too much money to keep it running."

Well, maybe. But it would have been nice if he'd given me the option.

Fast-forward to the grocery store on Christmas Eve. We were on a mission for a few things we'd forgotten, as well as a stuffed Darth Vader toy that my daughter Kat had seen on the previous trip. As she hunted for her toy, I ran across the car. So I got it. 

They didn't have any green ones, so I settled for blue. The trunk doesn't open, but the doors do, and there are suitcases in the back seat. Where should we go?

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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Yule: a festival of Light.

I am almost ready for Yule. The cookies are baked (and mostly out of the house); the tree is up and decorated; the gifts are wrapped. Well, mostly -- I need to go out and pick up a few odds and ends tomorrow.

We wrap ourselves in hubbub at this time of year: concerts and pageants at church and school, cookie exchanges, gift buying and giving, travel plans, cooking and cleaning, lists and more lists. It's easy to forget, surrounded as we are by lights and noise and our self-enforced busyness, why humans first began to mark the winter solstice at all: the dying of the light.

Cultures all over the Northern Hemisphere mark celebrations at this time of year. Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are the best known in the United States, but there are others. Encyclopedia Britannica lists several winter solstice festivals around the world: Dong Zhi in China, a family end-of-harvest celebration; St. Lucia's Day in Scandinavia; Saturnalia, popular in ancient Rome, although not so much anymore; Yalda, the birthday of the sun god Mithras, in ancient Persia; and Soyal, celebrated by the Hopi and Zuni in the southwestern U.S. They left out quite a few, of course -- including the celebration known by various Neopagan groups as Alban Arthan, Yule, or simply the winter solstice.

As diverse as these celebrations are, a singular idea stands behind them all: on the shortest day of the year, things look bleak for humanity. It's going to get cold, and stay cold for some time. It won't be as easy to stay warm and comfortable. Things won't grow as well, if they grow at all.

So they lit their candles and bonfires to call back the light. And today we do the same: we light our candles and our fireplaces, and limn our houses and trees with light.

As modern people, we know, of course, that the sun will return -- that if this Tuesday is indeed the shortest day, then the hours of light can only get longer from here. Much is made of the ancients coming up with these celebrations in fear that the light would never come again, but that seems condescending to me. I think, once ancient humans had lived through a few annual cycles, they would have been smart enough to figure out that the sun's return wasn't a fluke. Still, winter was a dangerous time of year, and it might have made sense back then to throw a party to appease the gods, so They would be encouraged to come back.

Even today, it's not a bad idea. So I suggest that each of us light a candle this holiday season. If nothing else, we'll make the world a brighter place.

And to further encourage you, I offer this song, which I listened to earlier today while wrapping gifts. Happy holidays, everybody.

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The tinsel debacle.

Mom would have approved.
It's a Sunday night in mid-December, which means I should have our Yule tree up by now. But the calendar messed me up this year. I usually wait 'til the weekend after my birthday to put up the tree, which would be this weekend -- but I also needed to bake cookies for gifts for various folks at work, and this was the only weekend for that project before everybody scooted out the door for vacation. Alas, cookies take precedence. And there's one more weekend before Yule for purchasing and decorating the tree.

We used to put up a Christmas tree, but somewhere between the kids leaving for college and me realizing none of us were Christian anymore, I switched to putting up a Yule tree. It looks the same, but it's a little heavier on the non-religious symbols -- birds, pine cones, holly, candles, and so on. You might think you see some ornaments that look like angels, but really, they're goddesses. No, really, they are.

Also, I need to have a real tree every year. Like just about family in the '60s, my mom switched over to an artificial tree as soon as we could afford it. She hated finding dead needles in the carpet in July, I guess, but I always missed the smell of the real thing.

After we got the fake tree, it wasn't long before Mom handed over the majority of the setup task to me. (The tree was women's work; my brother might have participated when he was a kid, but once we switched to a fake tree, my father was never involved.) Assembling the tree itself was okay, I guess, if you didn't mind the branch-A-into-support-A aspect of it. And hanging the ornaments was kind of fun, even if there wasn't much room for creativity. If you have the same tree with the branches in the same places every year, and the breakable ornaments go close to the top, and Angie the Christmas Tree Angel gets pride-of-place near the tippy-top, and all the plastic Santas and snowmen go on the bottom -- well, it gets to be the equivalent of a paint-by-number exercise after a few years.

Mom kept two jobs for herself: the lights and the tinsel. Like everybody else in the '60s, we had light strings with those big, fat C7 bulbs -- the kind that burned hot, so you had to be careful about what you put next to them. The strings were also wired in series, so that if one bulb went out, the whole string went out -- affording endless hours of fun, unscrewing each bulb and screwing in a new one, to find the one that had blown. Rarely did two bulbs blow at the same time, which was a Very Good Thing for obvious reasons. Anyway, I suspect Mom kept the task of putting on the lights to herself because she believed me incapable of evenly distributing them on the tree.

She did let me try the tinsel -- once. For the uninitiated, the kind of tinsel I'm talking about came in long, shiny strands that were draped over each tree branch to mimic icicles. Wikipedia tells me the stuff is properly known as lametta, but we always just called it tinsel. Today, it's is made of either PVC or mylar, but it doesn't drape the same as the old stuff, which was made from metal -- aluminum, or sometimes lead foil, although the lead was phased out in the '70s over concerns it could give kids lead poisoning.

Anyway, as I said, what you're supposed to do is take one strand at a time and drape it artfully over each branch -- maybe three or four strands per branch. It was the last step in decorating the tree, other than setting up the little houses underneath, and it took a massive amount of time. The year she handed me the tinsel boxes, I was determined to find a faster way. It wouldn't make a difference if I put several strands on each branch at once, would it? And who cared if they were kind of squished together?

Mom cared. A lot. I was dressed down and dismissed, and she took off all my wads of tinsel and attempted to straighten the strands and apply them, one at a time, to her own satisfaction. She never let me do the tinsel again, which was fine with me. The whole project was way too fussy for my taste.

Next weekend I'll go out and get a real tree, as I always do. I've switched to LED lights now, after using mini-lights for many years. I still put Angie the *cough*Yule Tree Goddess*cough* near the tippy-top; the glass ornaments go close to the top, and the plastic Santas and snowmen go at the bottom. It will smell terrific, and I'll find needles in the carpet in July. But I will never put tinsel on my tree.

These moments of bloggy lights and tinsel have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Mellowing in my old age (maybe).

Vladimir Nikulin | Fotolia
Tomorrow is my birthday. I won't quite reach "old fart" status this year, but I'm getting pretty close. And I find that while I'm less tolerant of certain things (racism, misogyny, oligarchy, and people who make me jump through hoops for what I'm due instead of just giving it to me) as each birthday passes, I'm also more willing to let some things go.

Take, for example, the use of certain words. No, not those words. 

Here's what I mean: On Monday, Chuck Wendig put on his crankypants and vented about this Wall Street Journal article, which talks about how language teachers are restricting their students from using certain words. Good, bad, fun, and said are out; instead, these fifth- through seventh-graders are being encouraged to use longer words. (At least one teacher has even banned you and I from classroom writing. How do you get around pronouns, for goodness' sake? I'm envisioning the class turning in work in a sort of Japanese style: "Why did honorable friend not answer when this person texted?")

The WSJ story makes it out to be a new thing, or at least a new-ish thing. But when I mentioned the furor to my daughter Kitty, she said she'd gone through the same thing with her teachers. That means this pedagogical idea has been around for at least 15 or 20 years.

I know why the teachers are doing it. Kids that age ought to be expanding their vocabularies, especially if they want to do well on the SAT in a few years (and if their teachers and parents want them to do well on the SAT, which of course they do). Short, punchy Anglo-Saxon words will only get you so far on standardized tests; you need to be able to wheel and deal with more complex words, and writing them is one way to learn them. But I worry whether these teachers are teaching precision in vocabulary. Okay, maybe you don't want the kid to use said if they're shouting. But an across-the-board "pick another word" edict can get you some pretty odd juxtapositions: something like "Deal me in," he beseeched just isn't going to cut it in most situations. 

The biggest problem, however, is that the kids internalize these rules, and then have to unlearn them later. Good and bad are perfectly fine words. In some cases, they're the perfect word. You don't have to call your salad magnificent unless it actually is. And embroidering on bad can be a lot of fun, but it can also go over the top pretty fast.

Said, too, is a perfectly fine word. In journalism, it's considered the perfect word for attribution. In fact, journalists like all sorts of short, punchy Anglo-Saxon words. Of course, they have some dumb rules, too. I vividly recall one writing expert telling us not to use the word feel when referring to a person's opinion. You know how people sometimes say, "I feel this is X because..."? That sent this guy through the roof: "YOU FEEL WITH YOUR HANDS!" he wrote in the class handout.

But going back to said: Many creative writing types recommend its use in dialogue tags, almost to the exclusion of anything else. Said blends into the background for the vast majority of readers, letting you -- and them -- get on with the story. Lately, I even find myself using said sometimes when a character asks a question.

Then there's another type of crankypantsy vocabulary practice: that of putting one's nose in the air and declaring this or that not a word. Self-appointed word police will even check the dictionary for words they're suspicious of, and the Oxford English Dictionary is one of their go-to resources. 

It turns out that the folks at the OED don't consider themselves any sort of authority on whether something is or isn't a word. Their take is that words are invented all the time. If someone uses it, it's a word. If a lot of people use it, it might get into the dictionary. But if it's not there, it doesn't mean it's not a legitimate word.

(Take that, Chrome! Crankypants is too a word!)

Anyway, my gift to you on this birthday eve is to use whatever words your teacher tells you to use -- in class. Outside of class, you have my permission to use whatever word you want. Including those words.

These moments of not-so-crankypants blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell

Sunday, November 29, 2015

NaNoWriMo -- the home stretch, or: Don't hit publish yet!

I wrote a lot of words this weekend. A lot of words. When I went to bed Wednesday night, my NaNoWriMo total was 43,800 words. Between cooking the Thanksgiving meal and visiting with family on Thursday, I managed to add just 200 words to the total. But by midnight Friday, I had comfortably crossed the 50,000-word threshold and validated this year's NaNo novel. And I kept writing Saturday to finish up the last chapter or so. So the final word count for Spider's Lifeline is either 55,756 (my count) or 56,095 (NaNo's count). I dunno where NaNo found the extra 300 words, but I wasn't inclined to argue with them since the difference was in my favor -- and I was over 50K either way.

(As most of you know, I think, my daughter Kitty is also doing NaNo this year. She blew past 50,000 words long ago, and won on the 20th, the first day validating was allowed. But her story wasn't done at 50,000 words, so she's still writing. And writing. Her goal is 150,000 words by midnight tomorrow. And she says her story won't be done even then.)

Some of you reading this may be doing NaNo for the first time -- or maybe you've done it before, but this is the first year you're going to win. Congratulations!

Now, I'd guess, your friends and loved ones are reacting in one of two ways:

  1. Wow, that's a lot of words. So can we resume Real Life now? You need to clean out the gutters before we put up the Christmas lights...
  2. OOOOOH! That's so cool! I want to read your book! Gimme gimme gimme!
As flattering as reaction #2 is, I'd recommend you tread even more carefully with this one than you would with reaction #1.

I'll be blunt: Writing 50,000 words in a month is a notable achievement -- but it doesn't mean you've written a publishable novel. At best, you have a first draft. More than likely, it's what my indie author friend Alexes Razevich calls a zero draft. It's the thing you need to have so you can start shaping it into a novel.

Our friends at NaNo will be posting a whole range of winner goodies on Tuesday. In the past, the prizes have included a free paperback of your book from CreateSpace; I think I heard that this year's prizes include a free hardcover from somewhere-or-other. Please, please, please resist the urge to order a copy before you have edited your book. If you publish it right away, there's a really good chance you'll re-read your book six months from now and say, "You know, really, this thing is a steaming pile of crap."

Or worse, someone else will tell you.

The NaNo folks know this to be true. On Tuesday, they'll have a bunch of suggestions for what to do with your book next. But I guarantee their number-one suggestion will be to leave it alone over the holidays. Close the file and set it aside until after New Year's. That will give you some distance from the work, and will give you a better chance to see its problems.

On January first, when you crack open your draft for the first time in a month, read it critically. Try not to get swept up in the story. Look for missing words and homonyms -- spellcheck and grammar check will not catch everything. Watch out for dangling plot threads; places where you've said the same thing two or three different ways when one way would suffice; characters you never properly introduce; characters you introduce too many times; and so on. 

Once you've been over your book a few times, find some beta readers. And I don't mean your mom. Look for people who will give you an honest opinion -- people who will tell you where the trouble spots are. Once you have their feedback, edit your novel again. The rule of thumb with beta readers is that if one person says something is a problem, it might just be them -- but if several people say something is a problem, it's a problem.

At this point, you might want to hire a professional editor. Lots of indies don't -- but lots of indies do. And don't hire your high school English teacher, unless he or she has professional editing experience. Novel editing requires a different skill set than term paper editing.

Then there's cover art. You might have mocked up something for NaNo, but compare your mockup to books in your genre at Amazon -- and be honest. If your cover looks amateurish, hire an artist to make you a better one.

Only after you've gone through all this will you be ready to publish your book.

But you don't have to worry about any of that until New Year's. For now, bask in the glory of your accomplishment. You wrote 50,000 words in a month! Tons of people have tried and failed -- but you've done it! Congratulations!

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

How I earned the NaNoWriMo Farting Car badge.

Got your attention, didn't I?

The people who run NaNoWriMo have all sorts of ways to make the 50,000-word trudge more fun. They have in-person meetups and an online chat board, encouraging emails from published authors, t-shirts and mugs and posters and pins. And this year, they've started giving out badges for various things. (Disclaimer: They might have started issuing badges last year, but I skipped NaNo last year so I can't say for sure. Please feel free to set me straight if they did, in fact, start last year.)

The Writing badges are awarded automatically for meeting milestones -- setting up your novel, entering your word count every day, and so on. You can also win Participation badges for things like filling out your profile and donating money to the Office of Letters and Light, which runs NaNo and its affiliated programs.

And then there are the Personal Achievement badges, which you get to award yourself. The achievements are sometimes whimsical, the rules are merely suggestions, and the NaNo Police don't come to your door and demand you relinquish any Personal Achievement badges you claimed but didn't actually earn.

So I thought I'd talk about how I earned a couple of my Personal Achievement badges -- mainly because the other alternative is to talk about the Syrian refugee situation, and when I said I wasn't going to get political on this blog, I meant it.

(Yes, yes, the farting car is coming. Patience, grasshopper.)

So the two purple circles up top are the badges in question. The one featuring the orange vacuum cleaner is the Procrastination badge. "Give yourself this badge if you've put off noveling in new and exciting ways," the rules say. I almost skipped this one, because I don't really consider vacuuming a new and exciting way to avoid writing. Heck, it's practically a truism that if I'm doing housework, it's because there's something else I need to do but want to do even less. However, last night, my daughter Kat and I found ourselves wandering through the grocery store, looking at all the things we could buy to, you know, make Thanksgiving dinner really memorable. Like a jar of Nutella dressed up like a snowman. Or cranberry-and-sage-flavored Triscuits. (I recommend against those, by the way.) I think expeditionary grocery shopping qualifies as a new and exciting way to avoid writing, so I gave myself the badge.

The badge that looks like a game of Pong is the Game On badge. For this one, you have to participate in a word war, dare, or sprint. NaNo has a page on their site dedicated to listing these sorts of things, but Kat and I did our own.

We both signed up for NaNo this year. A couple of weeks ago, Kat mumbled something about a weird noise in her music. (She writes to a soundtrack and I prefer silence, so she uses headphones.) I had just heard a truck make a weird noise on the highway, so I told her it wasn't in her music, it was a truck outside. "It sounded like it was farting," I said.

"We should totally put a farting car in each of our stories," she said.

"Deal," I said.

I wrote mine in yesterday. So when Spider's Lifeline hits the virtual bookshelves in the spring, keep an eye out for that farting car. When you find it, you'll know why it's there. You're welcome.

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Why I don't believe in writer's block.

Tomorrow starts the second half of National Novel Writing Month. If you've been participating, it's possible that your book has been going along tickety-boo, more or less, until now, and you should be close to that magical halfway mark of 25,000 words.

But maybe you're not. Maybe, for whatever reason, you got started late. Or maybe your characters are running off in a completely different direction from what you envisioned, and refuse to be corralled. Or maybe you're getting bogged down in editing -- going back to what you've already written and adding or deleting stuff -- and now you despair of ever finishing your novel at all, let alone by November 30th.

These problems can stymie a writer, and even lead to what some refer to as writer's block.

I don't believe in writer's block. Here's why.

When I worked in radio journalism, I had a deadline every hour -- sometimes multiple deadlines every hour. Sometimes during morning drive time, I'd have to write headlines that aired at :15 or :20 past the hour; as soon as I was off the air, I'd immediately have to start writing a five-minute newscast that would air on the half-hour. You haven't lived until you've had to write five minutes' worth of news copy in ten minutes. And when you're under those kinds of deadline pressures, let me tell you, you don't have the luxury of writer's block. You go through the newspaper or the latest wire copy or the stories your reporting team gathered the day before, and you write like the freaking wind, and you take the first draft you've just pounded out and you slam the headphones on as the news sounder is fading and you key the mic and start reading what you just wrote -- and you hope to gods you didn't do something stupid like forget to include somebody's first name. And if you discover you did, the guy's first name is now Fred, because there's no time to go back to your source copy and look it up.

The thing is, though, you can put together a five-minute newscast in ten minutes because you've prepared ahead of time for it. You've scanned the newspaper and looked at the wire copy, so you have some idea of the big stories of the day. Your crack reporting team has left you fresh news that you can just plug-and-play. In other words, you have a game plan.

Just like my old days in radio news, one of the keys I've found to winning NaNo is to have a game plan. I start the month knowing who my characters are. I also start with a rough outline of my plot. If I find myself staring at a blank screen, I pull out my outline and figure out where I'm headed next. And then I just start typing. If I realize I'm going to have to do some research to flesh out a scene, I plug in a placeholder and keep going. Because unlike when I was in radio, I'll have a chance to edit this puppy and fill in all those holes once NaNo is over. For right now, my job is to key the mic before the sounder runs out at midnight on November 30th.

So what do you do if you're not at 25,000 words yet? Take a little time to map out your game plan for the rest of the month. Identify some days where you can put in a long shift on your novel. Write yourself a rough outline of your plot. Then sit down and start typing your novel.

Good luck, and see you at the finish line. You can do this.

These moments of game-planning blogginess has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The World Fantasy Convention Report.

This year's haul is noticeably smaller than in years past.
Warning: If you're looking for nuggets of writing advice, they're here -- but you'll have to put up with a fair amount of fantasy-fiction name-dropping and some fangrrl squeeing before we get there.

Sorry that I'm a day late in posting this week. Today is my World Fantasy Convention hangover day. I've been to enough of these now that I've learned to build in a post-convention day off, to help ease my re-entry into the normal world. This strategy first paid off after the WFC in San Diego, where guest of honor Neil Gaiman was treated like a rock star. I described this to an attorney I was working for, whereupon she said, "I don't know who that is." If we'd had that conversation the day after convention's end, I might have broken down sobbing. As it was, I was able to feign a simple case of mild surprise. (The sobbing came later, in private.)

This year's convention felt kind of thrown together from the start. There were fewer than the usual number of communiques from the organizers before the convention, and the book bags were a lot smaller than usual. At past conventions, I'd received between twelve and fifteen books in my bag -- some ARCs (advance reader copies), some overstocks, some because the author was a guest of honor. My hardback copy of Gaiman's American Gods came in my book bag in San Diego. This year -- well, reference the photo above. I bought the Donaldson volume in the dealers' room; four of the others came in my bag, together with a paperback copy of a book I got in hardback last year (David Baldacci's The Finisher) and a mass-market paperback of a book I'd received in my bag a few years ago (Peter Brett's The Warded Man). I picked up the Novik from the book exchange table. The author of Without Bloodshed, Matt Graybosch, told me his publisher had ordered enough books for every bag, but never heard where to send them or when the deadline was.

(The peppermint pig wasn't in the bag, either. It was a freebie at the registration desk.)

Anyway. As a member of Broad Universe, I participated in their Rapid Fire Reading Thursday afternoon. I had about five minutes to read, and chose the scene from Dragon's Web in which Rafe first meets Sage's father at the pizza place. I was gratified that the audience laughed in all the right places. (Note to authors: Broad Universe has a special rate at NetGalley, and you don't have to be a speculative fiction writer -- or even a broad -- to take advantage. The rate is $25/month for members and $45/month for non-members. Full details here.)

Once my reading was over, I was able to relax and be a fangrrl. Of course, that meant attending every panel Stephen R. Donaldson was on, and first up was a geek girl twofer: Donaldson interviewing guest of honor Steven Erikson, whose ten-book Malazan Book of the Fallen series is well on its way to becoming a classic of the grimdark subgenre. (Yes, grimdark is an actual thing.) Erikson's books are doorstop-sized tomes, running a thousand pages or more. He explained that he kept his editor from cutting them down to size by insisting that this scene here in book A was crucial to understanding a scene in book G -- which may or may not have been true. Donaldson (who has been known to say, of his own ten-book series, "internal consistency is a bitch") wanted to know how Erikson keeps all the details straight -- to which Erikson said, "Oh, please - when one character changes gender? Twice?" Turns out he has great intentions about note-taking, but lousy follow-through; the assistant he hired to organize all the details of Malazan discovered 50 or 60 notebooks, each containing about three pages of notes.

I ran into YA fantasy author Sarah Beth Durst in the elevator, and later saw her on a panel with Donaldson about whether quest narratives are in or out of fashion. Sarah, bless her heard, said she really enjoyed The Martian because everyone in it was so nice -- prompting Donaldson to blurt, "I was so bored!" He then invoked the spirit of Lester del Rey, who ran the Del Rey imprint at Ballantine in the 1970s and '80s. Donaldson said del Rey believed there were three types of conflicts in fiction -- man against others, man against nature, and man against himself -- and that while just one will make a good story, you need to include all three for a great story. Clearly, in Donaldson's estimation, The Martian fell short.

The other "quest" panel I attended was not nearly as interesting. Moderator Jeanne Cavelos, who runs the venerable Odyssey workshop program, kept a tight focus on the topic of what to take on a quest -- even though authors Carol Berg and Catherine Cooke Montrose kept trying to steer the discussion away from a packing list into more interesting territory. After all, the key element of any quest is the questers themselves: not the physical things they bring along, but how they survive, what they find, and what they bring back with them -- and that includes self-knowledge and maturity as much as it does whatever McGuffin the party has been sent off to fetch.

Finally: Walking back from the art show Saturday night, I stumbled across an impromptu concert featuring six or eight convention attendees (one of whom, I learned later, was Charles de Lint). Among the songs they sang was one called "The Family Car". I didn't get a video, but here's one of some other people performing it on "The Prairie Home Companion" a few years back.

Yes, there's irony in people who work in traditional publishing singing heartily about the car as America's safety net. Publishing is a tough business, no matter how you do it.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NaNoWriMo recipes for success.

Yes, folks, it's November 1st, and you know what that means: It's NaNo time!

For those just joining us, November is National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. NaNo. This thing has morphed into a pretty good-sized event, with thousands of writers around the world taking part. The idea is to write 50,000 words in 30 days -- 1,667 words per day. Fifty thousand words is a novella -- or a really good start on a longer novel.

Now, just because you've spewed 50K words on a virtual page by the end of November, it doesn't mean you can upload it to Amazon immediately. Well, you can, but it's not a good idea. It's a much better idea to consider your NaNo work a first draft -- or, as some writers call it, a zero draft. Let it sit for a few weeks (at least!) -- until January, say -- and then dive into it and start hacking it to pieces. Eventually, with a number of rounds of editing, you'll have something you can be proud to publish.

But the thing is, you can't edit a book until you have a draft. That's the real value of NaNo -- it gives you a reason to write the first (or zero) draft in the first place.

I didn't do NaNo last year, although I did Camp NaNo in the spring, and I've done several of both over the past few years. The last couple of times I did NaNo, I thought I could beat the system by ignoring my book all week, and then writing like mad on weekends. The flaw in that plan, I discovered, is that people want to do stuff with you on weekends, and it made me cranky when I couldn't get my writing time in. So this month, I'm going to try pacing myself a bit better, by aiming for 1,667 words on as many days as I can and writing ahead when I can. I know already that writing ahead will be necessary, as I've managed to schedule myself out of town for not one, but two long weekends this month -- and the first one is next weekend, when I'll be attending the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY. (I'm participating in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading Thursday afternoon at 3:00 pm -- if you'll be at the convention, join us!)

Keeping yourself well fed is another thing to consider during NaNo. Novelists do not live by caffeine and junk food alone -- or they shouldn't, anyway -- and cooking from scratch doesn't really take that long. No, really. Stir-fries are ridiculously quick. Here's a basic recipe that I made for dinner tonight, in fact.

  • 1 cup of uncooked rice (brown or white - your choice)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 lb. protein of your choice (beef, chicken, whatever - you could even use tofu, but I've never done it)
  • 1 bag of vaguely Asian-style frozen vegetables (I used Trader Joe's Harvest Hodgepodge)
  • Ginger-garlic sauce (see below)
First, put your rice and water a 3-quart pot. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for however long the rice bag says. If you have a rice cooker, it's even easier: plug in the cooker, put rice and water in the pot, and hit the start button.

Now, mix up your sauce. I use a half cup of water, about 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch, 2-4 Chinese restaurant packets of soy sauce (so maybe a tablespoon?), and about 1/2 teaspoon of powdered ginger and granulated garlic. Stir it up in a one-cup glass measuring cup, then taste to see if you need more spices. Once you're happy with the taste, set it aside.

Go write while the rice cooks.

Cut your protein into 1-inch cubes (a little bigger or smaller doesn't matter). Spray the bottom of a wok or large frying pan with cooking spray. Dump in your protein cubes and saute (that means cook over high heat while stirring them around) until the sides are browned, which will take a couple of minutes. Dump in the frozen veggies and saute the whole mess for about a minute. Stir your sauce again, and pour it over the protein and veggies in the pan. Once it's bubbling, let it cook for another minute or so, until the sauce thickens. Serve the stir-fry over the rice. Makes about four servings. 

Now you've had a good dinner (with leftovers for later in the week) and you even got some writing in. Nice job! Now go write some more!

In other news, A Billion Gods and Goddesses dropped this week at Amazon and Smashwords, and the paperback is out, too. I've been gratified by the response so far; in fact, the book even made it onto Amazon's Hot New Release list in a couple of categories. Thanks very much! You're all my new best friends.

There appears to be a snafu with Smashwords' distribution system to other retailers -- so if you're interested in the epub version, you might want to buy it at Smashwords and sideload it to your device. Let me know if you need directions on sideloading.

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

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Confessions of a marketing skeptic.

So here we are, in week two of my test run for sharing my blog posts as Facebook Notes. It seems to be as good a time as any to make a confession: This is basically the only marketing-type thing I've done for my books in months. Why? Because I have an innate suspicion, bordering on irrational fear, of anything that has to do with marketing.

There, I said it. And I apologize in advance to my friends who work in marketing, because the rest of this post is going to be about why this is so.

For starters, I came up through journalism. It's hard to believe now, but in those days journalists thought themselves above any involvement with filthy lucre. Yes, we did our jobs and got paid for them -- but we were supposed to be discerning about the topics we covered. If we were asked to write about a new store or a new product, it had better have something more interesting going on than just being new. It had to be unique, or very nearly so. The redevelopment of a decrepit retail block? We're in. A mac-and-cheese box whose perforated, thumb-sized "open here" button actually worked? We'd like to talk to the inventor. A product that would keep one's shoes from coming untied during the course of a day? We'd be all over that. (Am I the only grownup who has trouble with her shoes? Even if I double-knot my Keens, they untie themselves in a matter of hours.)

Anyway, the point is that we had standards against running stories that amounted to unpaid infomercials. (That's one big reason why so many news releases end up in the trash: the hook is too weak. If there's no real news in your news release, it's going in the circular file.)

Sometimes it was someone from the sales department who would try to sell us on doing a story on his/her client's new something-or-other. Unfortunately for the client, the same rules applied: No hook, no story. And "cool new store in town that's going to buy a lot of advertising from us if you put it on the news" was, unfortunately, not a hook. Sorry/not sorry.

From news, I jumped into the simple living movement. And among that movement's tenets -- besides downsizing your life and reducing your footprint on the earth -- is keeping an eagle eye on your discretionary spending. Don't buy something just because your neighbor bought one; analyze your spending habits and stop buying stuff you don't need; buy the store brand if the quality's the same; kill your television; and so on. These things were pretty much second-nature to me, as my parents grew up in the Great Depression. And I never made a fabulous salary in radio, so I was doing a lot of them anyway, out of necessity.

Fast-forward to today: I've let up on simple living and I no longer work as a journalist. But I still have the sort of inquiring (all right, maybe cynical is a better word) mind that asks what's so new about this thing and do I really need to spend money on it.

And yet here I am, writing novels, which are pretty close to the top of the "stuff no one needs" pile, and asking complete strangers to take a flyer on them. Karma sucks.

Plus, to get my name out there so that people will know about my books, marketing is a necessary evil. But now I'm doing business with people whose messages I've spent decades resisting, and I am skeptical of all of them. Will Marketer X give me the return on my investment he/she claims? (Doubtful, in most cases.) How much is Marketer Y relying on me to get the word out about the promotion I'm paying him money for? (Crowdfunding sites, I'm looking at you.) Why does Marketer Z insist that I must use a particular blogging platform/book distributor/etc., even though other marketers argue for a different one? Whose pockets are being lined by all this advice, and how?

Last fall and winter, I put a fair amount of time and money into marketing, and didn't get much in return. There are a number of reasons why I've pulled back since then, the Denver saga being one of them. But I'm not planning a big push for any of my books this fall -- despite the fact that A Billion Gods and Goddesses will be out in the next week or so, and I expect to release a Pipe Woman's Legacy set for Kindle just before Thanksgiving.

Which is why I'm counting this blogging experiment as marketing. It's another avenue to get my name out there -- and a fairly unique one right now. And it's free.

Anybody else feel the same push-pull about marketing that I do, or am I the only one?

These moments of skeptical blogginess have been brought to you (on multiple platforms!) , as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

When social media worlds collide.

Crab Nebula | NASA
Starting tonight, and for the next few weeks, I'm going to try an experiment. Instead of posting at my blog and sharing the post via links on Facebook and Google Plus, I'm also going to try posting a copy of the blog post itself to Facebook's new and improved Notes feature.

You guys remember Notes, right? Back in 2009 or so, it was a place on Facebook where you could post lengthier things: screeds, diatribes, and "how many of these 100 speculative fiction books have you read?" lists. Then Facebook quietly extended its number of characters per regular post to 60,000, and Notes became kind of redundant.

This summer, Facebook resurrected Notes, and turned it into a sort of blogging platform right inside Facebook. It even looks like a Wordpress blog. It's not as robust, obviously, as a regular website -- you can't add tabs and "buy my books" buttons and all that jazz. So why would somebody want to blog on Facebook instead of, say, Wordpress or Blogger?

In a word: eyeballs. Marketers advise that you limit the number of clicks someone has to perform before you get them where you want them to go. Wherever your blog is hosted, you need to attract people to the site before they can read what you wrote. Usually that means posting a link on social media. But unless you're a blogging superstar, not many people will click through. My blog gets a little more attention since I linked the comments function with Google Plus (which you can only do with a Blogger blog), but it's still not widely read, shall we say. So I'm wondering whether cross-posting to Facebook will encourage any more interaction.

I got the idea from Mitch Joel, who wrote in a Facebook Notes post this week that he sees value in putting your posts where the readers are. People have so many choices these days in where they spend their time on social media. If they're comfortable on one platform, they may not feel comfortable clicking a link to go somewhere else. They may even be leery of external links, when so many websites annoy you with autoplay video ads and popups -- to say nothing of viruses. But a lot of people are already on Facebook; if you post a blog there, your readers don't have to leave Facebook to read it.

So I figured it's worth a try. Tonight, I'm going to post this at as usual, and also as a Facebook Note on both my author page and my timeline. Let me know if you see it, would you? Thanks!

This bloggy supernova has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Killing one's darlings, book cover edition.

Book covers have been on my mind lately. It's mostly because I'm getting ready to publish A Billion Gods and Goddesses, but also because other indie authors are also readying their fall releases and looking for feedback on the drafts of their covers in various Facebook groups.

Despite what you've heard about stuff that's been designed by a committee, soliciting opinions on cover design can be a useful exercise. I'm no artist (I'm still pretty proud of that C I got in art class in eighth grade), but now that I've been doing this indie-author gig for a few years, I'm getting better at seeing problems in my draft designs. 

Even so, I like to run my ideas past others before I pull the trigger. Moreover, I think it's a good idea for everybody. Other authors will see flaws that you've completely overlooked. The biggest problems usually surface when the image is reduced to thumbnail size, or the size you see on Amazon. Oftentimes, particularly with newbie authors, one or more important elements of the cover will fade into obscurity when reduced to thumbnail size. Like the title. Or the author's name. Or people will pick a boring font for their cover, instead of one that says something about the genre and what's going on in the story. 

Anyway. Sometimes you can get it all right and design a kickass cover that gets everybody's seal of approval, and still the book doesn't sell.

Which brings me to the Land, Sea, Sky books. When I started to envision the cover for Crosswind, I decided I wanted to differentiate this new trilogy from the five Pipe Woman Chronicles books. So I stepped away from the glowy-animal concept that I'd used for the first series, and went for something more realistic. Crosswind got a wind turbine silhouetted against an ominous orange sky; Undertow got a bridge under a roiling cloud bank; and Scorched Earth got a menacing seedling growing in the parking lot of a bombed-out apartment building. Each cover said something important about the plot of that book.

Unfortunately, sales have not been great, and I've known for a while that I need to swap out those covers with new ones -- especially after I went back to the glowy animals for the Pipe Woman's Legacy duology. And with the god guide's imminent release, I knew it was time to make all the books look like they're part of a whole -- because they are.

Now there are authors who will change their covers at the drop of a hat, like they're rearranging the living room furniture or something. But I've been digging in my heels partly because wrestling with GIMP is not at the top of my list of things to do for fun, and partly because I really like the old covers. The one for Undertow, especially.

Anyway, enough whining from me. Here are the new covers for the Land, Sea, Sky books. (Bonus points if you can tell me why there's now a cat on the cover of Scorched Earth. Anyone? Bueller?)

You should be seeing these live at Amazon and Smashwords tomorrow, and at other retailers within the next few days. 

I'll probably be designing a new cover for the Land, Sea, Sky box set pretty soon -- even though I really like that cover, too.

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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

In praise (more or less) of trying new things.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I've been working on a companion guide to the Pipe Woman Chronicles, so that folks who aren't up-to-speed with all the gods and goddesses in the series can have one place to look them all up. I'm happy to report that A Billion Gods and Goddesses is now in the capable hands of my editing team, and I'm aiming for release sometime at the end of this month.

No, really. I'm very happy to report that. Pulling this thing together was nothing like writing the novels themselves.

The writing styles are different, of course. With fiction, you just put your fingers to the keyboard and start typing, and with any luck, a story comes tumbling out. There are stops and starts, of course, and digressions, and blind alleys, and characters who creep up behind you and bash you over the head so they can run away with the story. But you don't have to stick to the facts if you don't want to. The characters' emotional reactions have to ring true, yes, but you can pretty much make up everything else.

I think most of you know that I was a journalist in my younger days. Journalism (ideally) deals in facts and only facts. Even when you're writing about someone's emotional reaction to an event, your best bet is to stick to a dispassionate reporting style. Plus the factual details are right there in front of you, or at least fresh in your mind.

Writing the god guide was like neither of these -- and like both of them, a little -- and also like writing a 20,000-word thesis. Except more entertaining than a thesis. At least, it had better be. I'm certainly not using academic prose, and mythology is fun.

The thing is that I did the research for the earliest books in the series three-plus years ago. And in the god guide, I'm reporting on mythology, if you will, rather than using the myths as a springboard for my own creative interpretation, as I did in the novels. So I didn't just have to review my sources -- I had to keep checking the details as I wrote, to make sure I wasn't going too far afield (as well as to make sure I wasn't unconsciously plagiarizing a source when retelling a myth).

In the end, though, it was a good exercise. Authors sometimes talk about the differences in writing short stories vs. novels vs. screenwriting vs. poetry. Each of these types of writing stretches different muscles. Journalism stretches yet another type of writing muscle. And a book like A Billion Gods and Goddesses is an exercise of yet another sort.

Many years ago, when I worked for WKEE Radio in Huntington, WV, one of my co-workers was Toria Tolley, who eventually went to work for CNN Headline News. She made the jump from radio into TV with an anchor job in Charleston, WV. A few weeks after she made the move, I asked her how it was going -- and she said, "Now I can go work in a bank."

That's kind of how I feel about the god guide. It was an interesting project to take on, and it was a good excuse to stretch those non-fiction-writing muscles. But now I can go back to writing novels.

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

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A little autumn flash.

It's been entirely too long since I've had time to be a regular at JD Mader's blog for his #2minutesgo feature on Fridays. I hate that. The writing challenge is fun, yes, but it's also fun and awe-inspiring -- and a little daunting -- to read the great pieces everyone else in the group turns out.

I had to go this week, though, because Leland Dirks used a photo I'd shared on Facebook last week as a prompt for a poem that he posted on JD's blog on Friday. Not to be outdone, I wrote a little flash fiction piece of my own. Here's the photo (if anyone knows who the photographer is, please let me know -- thanks!) and my story. For Leland's poem (and everybody else's work), you'll have to click here and head over to the blog.

Happy autumn (the equinox -- the holiday known as Mabon in some circles -- was this past Wednesday), happy last weekend of September, and I hope you get a glimpse of the supermoon eclipse tonight. Stay warm...


At first, all I saw was a leaf on the warm, late summer sidewalk. But then the leaf spoke.

"Chilly enough for you?" it said in a rich contralto, parting along the spine to form lips.

To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. "I..." I could manage nothing more. But as I stared at the apparition, a sharp breeze blew across my knees, revealing black eyes slanted in merriment, a hint of a nose, curls the color of aspens in the fall.

Her mouth parted again. "Just wait," the leaf said. "It will get colder." And indeed, the crimson lips were now tinged with black. Frost rimed her golden curls.

"Who are you?" I managed at last.

But she didn't reply. Instead, she laughed and said, "Stay warm." And as I crossed my arms against a sudden chill, a gust blew the leaf away.

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

How many books a year is too many?

Is the whole dust-up a load of sheep?
You decide.
Because I only blog here once a week, sometimes I miss the opportunity to talk about an issue when it's hot. By the time I get around to talking about it on Sunday night, everybody has already weighed in and moved on, and it feels like talking about it here will just rip off the scab.

Sometimes -- but not often -- it keeps me from talking about the issue at all. This week, as usual, it won't.

So here's the thing: Last Sunday, indie author Lorraine Devon Wilke wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which she basically told indie authors to slow down. Her post breaks with the advice-mongers who have been telling indies for the past few years that the way to success on the indie train is to write a lot of books and shove 'em out there. How many is a lot? She quotes one source who quotes some indies as saying they write and publish four books a year. Lorraine said in her post that four might well be too many for some folks -- that that sort of publishing schedule doesn't leave a lot of time for letting the prose ripen, working diligently with an editor to make the book the very best it can be, finding a cover artist, mapping out and executing an effective marketing strategy, and all the rest of the stuff that goes into making a book. 

I'm convinced she meant well. I believe she believed she was letting writers off the hook -- that people were feeling pressured to keep to some grueling, arbitrary publishing schedule and were freaking out and releasing their books before their time. She wanted those authors to know it's okay to write and publish more slowly.

But y'know, it's teh intarwebz. If people can get offended, they will. Some folks felt the tone of the article was condescending -- that perhaps Lorraine didn't believe anyone could turn out quality prose so quickly, and that maybe even she believed that the only sort of books worth writing were those slow, meandering, literary novels with exquisite words strung together in exquisite ways but with no actual plot to speak of.

I am pretty sure she didn't intend to say any of that, but that's what a number of folks got out of it. Chuck Wendig, who has had a fair amount of success with his own books lately, weighed in on Tuesday, suggesting the best course of action was this: You do you. In other words, write as many books as you're comfortable with, and take however long or short a time makes you comfortable doing it. My fellow minion at Indies Unlimited, Shawn Inmon, said much the same thing in a post on Thursday. I'm sure other bloggers piled on, as well, but those are the ones I saw.

By the time Shawn's post ran, Lorraine had gotten the message and then some. She posted a follow-up on her own blog Tuesday, saying that even when she tried to clarify her post at HuffPo, people got mad all over again. Like I said, it's teh intarwebz.

So what's my take? As I said above, I think Lorraine meant well. And all of the posts I read -- even Lorraine's -- came to same conclusion: Your publishing schedule is nobody's business but yours. You should publish as many books per year as you feel capable of producing without the product suffering in some major way. That doesn't mean your work has to be worthy of winning a National Book Award. But if you write slowly, own it. If you write fast, own it. If you write genre, own it. You do you, as Chuck says, and don't let the people with well-meaning advice tell you any differently. Indie Author Land is a big, big place, and there's room enough here for all of us.

I'm still on track for my usual and customary three books per year, by the way. I have a little more work to do on the first draft of a companion guide to the Pipe Woman Chronicles books. It will feature some extra info about each of the gods and goddesses in the ten books of the series. I expect to make it a stand-alone book, and I'll probably also include it in the Pipe Woman Legacy set, which will be out sometime in November.

I had meant to make the companion guide a leisurely summer project, and write a new novel this fall. But when I blinked, it was mid-September. Ah, well. I won't have a big novel launch for the holidays, so maybe I'll do NaNoWriMo in November and have something fresh to start off the new year. I'll keep you posted.

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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

How much would you pay for a verified page?

An odd thing happened to me this week. All of a sudden, out of the blue, I started getting a ton of likes on my Facebook page.

I'm not the sort of writer (yet!) whose fans are racing to sign up for my Facebook page. Oh, I get a few new fans every now and then -- and I love each and every one of you! Have I mentioned that recently?

Anyway, the point is that my page typically doesn't attract likes in droves. The only time I get a lot of action is when I participate in a like-fest, either at Indies Unlimited (where we run them pretty regularly) or some other group where participants agree to like each other's pages. When that happens, I can tell where the likes are coming from, because I recognize the names.

But this week, I got a whole bunch of new likes -- all from India and Pakistan, as near as I could tell, and none of them were names I recognized. I wondered what was going on. I know I haven't sold enough books there to account for that much attention.

Then I started getting messages from people I'd never heard of: "Hey i am ur fan...plz help me...I Want To Be A Editor on yr Page...I will xchange for thousands of likes!!!" Stuff like that.

At that point, it all came clear. These people weren't fans at all. They'd likely never heard of me. What they wanted was my verified page.

See, Facebook doesn't give that little blue checkmark out to everybody -- only to people with pages whose identities they have verified. And even then, you have to be an American. And even then, not everybody gets one. (Frankly, I have no idea why they gave me one. I suspect they looked at my LinkedIn profile and saw I'd worked at CNN and Mutual/NBC Radio News once upon a time.)

So my guess is that some folks on the other side of the world have hit on a brilliant (to them) idea: Contact the admins of verified pages and pester them for access to the back end. Everybody wants likes, right? So offer hundreds of fake likes in exchange for that access. No, thousands! A million!

One guy claimed he was trying to set up a verified page for Kristen Stewart -- who, as an American and an honest-to-goodness celebrity, wouldn't need to hire some guy in Pakistan to do it for her. Another guy asked me to apply for a verified page for him. I tried to explain why that wouldn't work -- Facebook would need to verify his identity, not mine, and I'm not going to submit a fake ID with a US address on his behalf. I think that's when he offered me the million likes.

As entertaining as all of this is -- and it is -- it's also kind of...hmm. Worse than surprising, but not quite all the way to horrifying. Let's call it "causes concern." Because if someone asks you to break the rules to get into the back end of your page, it's pretty much guaranteed that they're not going to play nice with it once they have access. Here's what an editor can do on a Facebook page:
Can edit the Page, send messages and publish as the Page, create ads, see which admin created a post or comment, and view insights.
In other words, if I'd let that guy in, he could have changed stuff on my page, spammed it with his crap, created spammy ads and had Facebook charge me for them, and on and on. And who would Facebook come after? Not Editor Boy, that's for sure.

So far, "Go away or I'll report you to Facebook" has been working pretty well as a deterrent. I hope I don't have to get to the point of blocking whole countries from liking my page. Some day I might have actual fans there.

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

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Are editors negative people?

I saw an intriguing topic in a LinkedIn group a couple of weeks back. The title was something like, "Editors spend all their time finding other people's errors. Does that make them negative people?"

Gee, I hope not. Because Kat, Suzu, and I are officially hanging out our shingles (at long last!) as honest-to-goodness editor-type people. We kicked around a bunch of names, and concepts for names, and finally I just said, "Let's call it hearth/myth since it's kind of a brand already." So that's what we're calling it: hearth/myth editorial services. Or Hearth/Myth Editorial Services, if you want us to go all title case on you. Here's the logo (drumroll, please):

There's a tab up top that will take you to our bios. And there's contact info there, too, in case you're intrigued enough to want more information.

But getting back to this idea that editors might be negative people: I don't think that's true at all. And I know several authors who also do editing work, and they're actually very pleasant people. Detail-oriented, for sure. Funny, occasionally. Interested in helping others make their work look as good as it can, definitely. That's certainly what we're aiming for.

Now news editors might be a different story. Those folks are usually working under a tight deadline, so they're not going to suffer fools gladly. Still, I wouldn't call them negative -- just busy. Harried. And again, generally nice folks once the deadline is past.

I saw the link to that discussion in an email, and saved it because I didn't have time to read the thread right then. Now I wish I had moved faster, because the whole thing seems to have disappeared. I'd be interested to hear what you all think: Do negative people gravitate to editorial work? Or do editors become angry, cranky people because of the work they do? Or...? 

I promise we'll take any horror stories as object lessons.

I've still got some free copies of The Maidens' War to give away. Let me know if you're interested. Thanks!

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Our West Virginia vacation, and hey! Another contest!

Most of us, I suspect, have a place or two in the world that we revisit over and over again. Either its natural beauty speaks to us, or we associate it with good times, or both.

Alert readers of hearth/myth know Colorado is one of those places for me. Another one is Pipestem Resort State Park in southern West Virginia. I even set my first book, The Maidens' War, there. And that's where my daughter Kat and I went on vacation a couple of weeks ago.

The first time I went to Pipestem, I was in my twenties and working in the news department of WKEE-FM in Huntington, WV ("KEE 100 FM -- it's a monster!"). The West Virginia Associated Press Broadcasters Association held its annual meeting at Pipestem for a couple of years running. Every time we went, my co-workers and I would talk about how beautiful it was, and how we wanted to go back in the summertime when everything was open -- including the lodge at the bottom of the Bluestone River Gorge, the one where the only way in or out is by riding the 3,600-foot-long aerial tram. It's a steep trip -- you gain about 1,100 feet in elevation from bottom to top.

Try hauling a suitcase across that.
To be fair, there's a trail, too. But you wouldn't want to haul your luggage down the trail. It's five-and-a-quarter miles long, downhill all the way, and you have to ford the river at the end of it to get to the lodge. Better to pack light and take your stuff down on the tram.

Anyway, some years later, when Kat and Amy were small, I remembered Pipestem. It's only about a four-hour drive from DC and the rates were extremely reasonable. Plus back then, the park threw in some nice perks for lodge guests: free admission to the pools, free tennis, and free mini-golf. Not to mention the free tram rides for guests staying at the lodge down in the gorge. I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but free is my favorite price. Plus at the time, I was pretty much broke. So we stayed at the lodge, ate lunches out of a cooler and dinners at the snack bar, did all the free stuff, and had a great time.

I've lost track of how many times we've been back since then. Once, we got a cottage and brought Suzu along. Another time, I dropped the kids off at college and went by myself; I hiked every day, including the five-mile downhill run with the walk across the river at the end, and drafted the outline for The Maidens' War.

The tram stop at Mountain Creek Lodge.
This most recent trip wasn't anything that momentous -- which, after the year I've had so far, was perfect. Kat went with me -- Amy had to work -- and all we did was read books, sit on our balcony, and ride the tram up to get lunch at the other lodge. Very restful.

You're waiting for the contest part, aren't you? Okay. It's easy. I'm not even going to do an annoying Rafflecopter this time.

The Maidens' War gets no love at all. It's my first book, published by a small press, and nobody ever reads it. The poor thing has only one review on Amazon. So I'm offering a free Kindle copy to the first five people who ask for one.

Also, I picked up two fun Pipestem souvenirs while we were there earlier this month. If you post a review of the book at Amazon, send me a message (email or Facebook or here on the blog -- wherever) and I will send you one of them. But you have to be one of the first two people to post a review.

Got it? Okay. In sum:

  • Free Kindle copy of The Maidens' War to the first 5 people who ask.
  • Pipestem tchotchke for the first 2 people who post a review at Amazon.
While you're deciding whether to play, here's a video of one of our tram rides this year. Flora, fauna, a view of part of that five-mile downhill trail, and massive rattly noises as our tram car goes over the support towers. Enjoy! And good luck!

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

Sunday, August 23, 2015

We have a winner and Webb has a birthday!

First things first: Congrats to Chelsea Lawson, who won my bloggiversary contest! I let Rafflecopter pick the winning entry -- which is a good thing, because they were all so awesome that I would have had to give each of you a prize.

Chelsea picked July 18th because, she says, Webb was conceived on Halloween, thereby giving him the connection to spiders. My astrological resources say this would make his sun sign Cancer -- sensitive and emotional, and very attached to home and family.

In addition, Taurus and Cancer are compatible as friends -- which bodes well for Sage and Webb to continue being friends all their lives, once they get past the annoying-sibling stage.

This certainly takes a load off my mind. Thanks to everyone who entered. Webb and I really appreciate it.

Now I'm going go and get all philosophical on you. Sorry in advance.

This graphic came across my Facebook newsfeed this week. It looks to me like the PostSecret page shared it originally, but as with many things social-media-related, who can tell for sure? In the same vein, the quote in the graphic is attributed to Buddha -- but like Abraham Lincoln says, just because you saw it on the intarwebz doesn't make it true.

According to Bodhipaksa, a Buddhist monk who blogs at, the quote is actually from Jack Kornfield's Buddha's Little Instruction Book -- which, according to Bodhipaksa, is not so much quotes from Buddha as it is Kornfield's re-interpretation of some Buddhist teachings.

He goes on to say that the same sentiment turns up in one of Carlos Castaneda's books, Journey to Ixtlan -- which might be why it rang a bell with me, as I read a bunch of Castaneda's books, once upon a time.

In any case, Bodhipaksa says the quote strikes him as a "deepity" -- something that sounds profound but, when you look deeper, ends up being trivial to nonsensical.

I dunno about that. If you read the sentence as saying we don't have as much time as we think we do, well, yeah, okay. That's a big duh. We often find that we don't have enough time to catch the bus, or to do the laundry, or to pursue our dreams -- big stuff and small stuff, we never seem to have enough time to get it all done.

But the quote seemed to me to be tweaking a mindset that a lot of us have, that someday, one of these days, we'll get around to all those big plans. We have a tendency to put off certain things that are important to us because we're sure we'll have time later. Right? Life is long, after all. We'll do it after the kids go off to college, or after we retire.

As I get closer to retirement age myself, I've been noticing a disturbing pattern: women who have worked in office jobs for decades are dying just a few years after they retire. Maybe two or three years after. Relatively few make it to a ripe, old age, and the ones who are living longest seem to be those who go into retirement with a reason to get up in the morning. I've read research fairly recently that seems to bear this out.

I'm not about to argue with a Buddhist monk about the profundity of a misquote I found on Facebook. But I figure it's not a bad idea to be reminded occasionally not to put off the important stuff.

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

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Happy birthday, hearth/myth!

I had a little time on my hands before we left for West Virginia. Can you tell?

Well, the blog is four years old as of today. I thought it was time to spiff things up a little. So I gave hearth/myth a makeover for a bloggiversary present.

But of course, the best birthday parties involve gifts -- and not just for the birthday boy girl blog, but for the guests, too. You know, like a door prize. Or if we're going to be truly classy, a schwag bag.

I'm fresh out of fancy totes and million-dollar watches, but I did manage to put aside $10 for an Amazon gift card, as well as a set of paperbacks of the Pipe Woman's Legacy duology, which of course I will sign for the lucky winner. All you have to do is help me figure out when Webb's birthday is.

See, when I was plotting Annealed, the final book in the Pipe Woman Chronicles, I had to know when Sage would make her appearance. She had to be born at pretty much the same time as Naomi was brokering the power-sharing agreement between Jehovah and the pagan pantheons. That put her birth in the general vicinity of May 2013. I also knew that I wanted Sage to be born on the Taurus/Gemini cusp. Gemini would make her creative and adaptable, while Taurus would make her grounded, but stubborn. After looking at the calendar and what I needed to accomplish between the end of Tapped and the mediation, I settled on May 15, 2013, as the date of Sage's arrival. And it fits her, doesn't it? Sage is creative, forthright, pretty well grounded for somebody who's been told since birth that she's slated to save the world -- and stubborn as the day is long.

Then, when I was planning Scorched Earth and realized Tess would need a lawyer, I decided to bring Naomi and her family to Washington for a visit. And I didn't want Sage to be an only child; a kid with a pedigree like hers needed a younger brother to annoy her. Hence, Webb.

The events in the Pipe Woman's Legacy books occur primarily in the fall of Sage's junior year of college, which makes her 20 years old. Webb is a senior in high school, which makes him 18. There's no discussion of a birthday celebration for him in either book, so his natal day cannot be any time from late August through early December. He's crafty in multiple ways -- he's a Trickster, allied with Iktomi, and of course his superpower is knitting and other types of fiber art. He knows the future. And he's extremely loyal.

So your task, should you choose to accept it (and I hope you will!), is to assign Webb a birthday. Post your suggestion someplace where I can see it -- in the comments below, ideally, but I'll accept suggestions at Facebook and Twitter, too, as long as you also enter the Rafflecopter.

Now, I know y'all will be tempted to give Webb your own birthday, or your brother's or whoever, but that's not going to cut it unless you can back it up with a reason. So: not just "it's my birthday!" but "Webb reminds me of So-and-so because (s)he knits/loves spiders/is very loyal, and So-and-so's birthday is this date." Or you could do some astrological-type research. Or whatever.

I know that's a lot of parameters, but you've got a week to work on it. Contest closes next Sunday, August 23rd. Good luck!

The usual and customary hearth/myth giveaway rules apply, to wit:

1. Friends and family may definitely enter.
2. Winners of previous contests may win again.
3. There will be a winner. I am getting these books out of my house, one way or the other.
4. As always, the judge's decision is arbitrary, capricious, and final.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

These happy bloggiversary moments have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Headin' for the hills.

As I said last week, hearth/myth is taking a break today. Go read a book! Preferably one of mine, of course. But if you're all caught up on my work, head over to Rursday Reads -- you're sure to find a book (or several!) there that you will enjoy.

See you back here on Sunday, August 16th, for a special celebration.

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

Sunday, August 2, 2015

First harvest's in.

Yesterday was Lughnasa, one of the big Neopagan holidays. Legend has it that August 1st was set aside by Lugh Lámhfhada (or Lugh of the Long Hand) as a day to honor His foster mother, Tailtiu. There were to be games and feasting to mark the occasion. In addition, the festival celebrates the first harvest: wheat and other grains, as well as the first apples.

Lugh is an interesting fellow. His father was Cian, one of the Tuatha Dé Danann -- in other words, the ancient Irish gods -- and His mother was Ethniu, daughter of a Fomorian chieftain named Balor. He was sent out to foster with Tailtiu, who was of the Fir Bolg -- and that rounds out the three tribes or ethnic groups that were vying for control of Ireland at that time.

When Lugh first came to Tara, the seat of the high kings of Ireland, the guard at the gate wouldn't let Him in. Our multi-talented hero offered his services, one after the other, to the gatekeeper, as recounted by Lady Gregory in Gods and Fighting Men. (Tara is spelled Teamhair in the original, but I'm using the modern spelling. Also, grammer nerds, please excuse the lack of paragraph breaks between speakers -- it's the original text, not me!)
"What are you skilled in?" said the door-keeper; "for no one without an art comes into Tara." "Question me," said Lugh; "I am a carpenter." "We do not want you; we have a carpenter ourselves, Luchtar, son of Luachaid." "Then I am a smith." "We have a smith ourselves, Colum Cuaillemech of the Three New Ways." "Then I am a champion." "That is no use to us; we have a champion before, Ogma, brother to the king." "Question me again," he said; "I am a harper." "That is no use to us; we have a harper ourselves, Abhean, son of Bicelmos, that the Men of the Three Gods brought from the hills." "I am a poet," he said then, "and a teller of tales." "That is no use to us; we have a teller of tales ourselves, Erc, son of Ethaman." "And I am a magician." "That is no use to us; we have plenty of magicians and people of power." "I am a physician," he said. "That is no use; we have Diancecht for our physician." "Let me be a cup-bearer," he said. "We do not want you; we have nine cup-bearers ourselves. "I am a good worker in brass." "We have a worker in brass ourselves, that is Credne Cerd."
Finally, Lugh said, "Go and ask the king if he has any one man that can do all these things, and if he has, I will not ask to come into Tara." So the guard went in and delivered the message to Nuada, who suggested that the guard try Lugh at chess. When Lugh won every game, Nuada relented at last and let Him in. Later, Lugh became high king himself and ruled for forty years -- and fulfilled a prophecy by killing Balor, His grandfather, in battle.

Lugh is sometimes referred to as the Irish sun god, but He's not. Belenus, or maybe the Dagda, hold that honor. No, Lugh is the god of light -- as well as the patron of all the other things He told that gatekeeper He was good at: smithcraft, music, poetry and storytelling, medicine, and all the rest.

When men came at last to Ireland, the Tuatha took their royal court and retreated "under the hill" -- and Lugh of the Long Hand, the god who could do anything, shrunk in both stature and importance. Today, He's known as the leprechaun.

Neopagans celebrate Lughnasa -- or as it's also known, Lammas -- by baking bread or oatcakes, and by taking stock of their own personal harvests. Alert readers of hearth/myth know that my own harvest this year is spotty: I haven't yet made a permanent move to Colorado, but I've finished the ten-book Pipe Woman Chronicles cycle with the publication of Dragon's Web and Firebird's Snare this spring. I'm planning one more book before I let Naomi and her family alone for a while, but it won't be a novel. Instead, it will be a companion volume to the series, consisting of information on each of the gods and goddesses who have appeared in the story. (This post gives you a taste of what readers might find in such a book.)

Aside from that, I'm planning to write one more novel this year. It will probably be magic realism, although I don't know the plot yet. Or any of the characters. But I've never let that stop me before -- why stop now?

A blessed Lughnasa to you all! Next week, hearth/myth will be on hiatus; I'm going to West Virginia to unplug for a few days. See you here in two weeks!

These moments of multi-talented blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell