Sunday, March 29, 2015

Finding balance.

James Jordan |
Last weekend was Ostara, the Pagan celebration of the vernal equinox. Spiritually, at least, if not in reality, the spring and fall equinoxes are the two days of the year on which daylight and darkness are of equal length. On those two days, the dark is supposed to be balanced with the light.

Pagans take that as a signal to try to find balance in their own lives. And I'm trying. Really, I'm trying. (All together now: "Yes, you're very trying.")

I'm working on a sweater right now that I'm dying to get off the needles. It's short-sleeved but tunic length, and so I won't have many more opportunities to wear it this season. (Although if the weather keeps shilly-shallying around about turning springlike here in the mid-Atlantic, I could get another month or so out of it. Thirty degrees at 9:00 a.m. today? Really?) But see, the problem is that I'm also supposed to be editing Dragon's Web, and drafting a rough outline for the book that comes next. And cleaning the house. And so on.

I've mentioned before that when I get into first-draft mode, I seem to work best by holing up in my apartment and writing for long stretches of time. If the writing is on fire and the words are coming easily, I can knock out a 50,000 word novel in three weeks this way, even with a full-time job.

But that practice doesn't leave much time for participating in real life. I tend to surface after doing that first draft and blink owlishly at the world, as if I've been in a dark cave and am just now coming into the light. And then I'll pick up a knitting project while the first draft ripens, and go at that every night until it's done. And any marketing I end up doing for my books is more or less an afterthought.

So with Dragon's Web, I decided not to set myself a hard-and-fast deadline. I decided to start the writing when I started it, avoid pushing myself to write every day, and finish whenever the book was done. Yeah, well, that gave me a little too much latitude. I found myself writing only every couple of days, together with one really long session on the weekends, and a lot of frittering around in between. It felt like it took me forever to get that book done. And even though I've had the edits back from my editor for several days, I've been stalling on addressing them.

I guess some people can live like that, but I hate it. I hate having stuff hanging over my head, undone. Whether it's a book or a sweater or some other project, I want to get it done and get it off my plate.

Which is why this sweater is driving me crazy right now. It's almost done -- all I have to do is knit the buttonhole band and the sleeve edgings, sew on the buttons, and weave in the ends. I could have finished it today -- but I had the edits for the book, and the outline for the next book, and this blog post to take care of first. The good news is that once I hit "publish" on this post, I'll have all of that done.

All of which is to say that I'm still trying to find a balance of writing, knitting, and real life that works for me. I know I'm task-oriented and deadline-oriented, so I've signed up for the April session of Camp NaNoWriMo. The structure should help me stick to the task better, and the deadline should keep me working toward the goal. But with any luck, I'll remember to come up for air once in a while, too.

It also means that I need to have the sweater done by Tuesday night at the latest. So if you'll excuse me....

Oh, right. I guess I should tell you that I'm aiming to release Dragon's Web sometime in May, with the follow-up book of the duology then coming out in June. I've never released two books back-to-back like this before. It should be interesting.

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

Sunday, March 22, 2015


My author buddy J.r. Barker has come up with a terrific idea for a new movement, and I'm happy to take part. She's calling it Respect Artists, and the hashtag is #RespectArtists.

She explained the impetus for her campaign in a post on her blog earlier this month. What got her going was an incident that happened to an artist friend whose work was plagiarized and harassed. The friend ended up removing her work from the internet over the incident.

This is just the latest in a long string of sad stories I've heard about people who have spoken up online about something, or posted creative work somebody didn't like, or -- horror of horrors! -- attempted to game online while female, and who have been called out, insulted, doxxed, and/or lost their livelihood. In some cases, the victims have needed mental health treatment. In other cases, they have taken out restraining orders against their stalkers.

Come on, people -- this is immature behavior. Bullying is bad enough in any context, but the internet makes it easy for people to bully others anonymously. However, that doesn't mean the bullies can't be found. My favorite story along these lines is the one about the Australian game reviewer who got back at the kids -- and they were, by and large, teen boys -- who sent her rape threats by contacting their mothers. Kudos to you, Alanah Pearce, for not letting these kids get away with it.

Any time you create something and put it out there for people to enjoy, you're going to find someone who doesn't like it. And that's okay. That's what makes the world go 'round. If everybody liked the same things, we'd only need one flavor of ice cream -- and how boring would that be, right? But just because you like butter pecan ice cream, it doesn't mean you have the right to make fun of, harass, stalk, or otherwise make life miserable for someone who hates it. And don't think the rules change just because you're hiding behind an avatar.

Okay? Okay. And just for the record, I can't believe we need to have this conversation.

Speaking of bullies: Just a note that #PublishingFoul month is still going on at Indies Unlimited. We had some trouble with our server earlier this week, but our tech wizards have moved the blog to an amazingly fast server, and now, in the words of K.S. Brooks, "IU be all like BAM!" And she's right -- it is really fast. Stop by and see -- if for no other reason than to read Brenda Perlin's PublishAmerica tale of woe. Talk about a bunch of bullies.

One other very important thing: In all the excitement in Tucson last week, I forgot to mention here on the blog that Scorched Earth has been nominated for a 2015 BigAl's Books and Pals Readers' Choice Award. Feel free, if you would, to click on the link and give my book a vote. You'll find it in the Fantasy category. While you're there, you should also consider giving a nod to several other authors whose books have been Rursday Reads: Laurie Boris, DV Berkom, and Shawn Inmon come immediately to mind, and I hope I haven't left anyone out.

Two years ago, Seized got skunked for this award by Wool. Last year, Tapped was nominated but didn't win. I'm hoping three's the charm.

Anyway, whatever you can do to help, I'd appreciate it. Voting goes through March 28th until midnight Mountain Time (thanks for the correction, Linda!), but please don't wait 'til the last minute to vote. And thanks!

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sorry, Dad.

I owe my father an apology.

I'm here in Tucson, Arizona, this weekend, mainly because I had a spot in the BookGoodies tent at the Tucson Festival of Books. It was an awesome experience, and not just because I got to meet a whole bunch of readers, but also because I met a number of other authors who I've only known from our Facebook group. 

But the trip has brought to mind another trip -- a vacation with my parents when I was in high school, when we finally made it all the way to California. (We had tried on an earlier trip, only to be waylaid by the charms of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. And if I haven't blogged about that yet, trust me -- I will eventually.)

My father was always hugely interested in the Old West. The guy watched two kinds of movies on TV, mainly: war movies (he served in WWII, which I think I mentioned earlier) and Westerns. Needless to say, he was a big fan of John Wayne, but that wasn't the only draw. The morality in all of those movies was pretty simple -- the good guys whomped up on the bad guys -- and I'm sure that had some appeal. But he seemed to like the whole Old West mystique. One of his favorite musical groups was the Sons of the Pioneers, who sang stuff like "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Git Along Little Dogie" in close harmony. 

So on this particular trip to California, he mapped out a southern route through Phoenix, and he talked about dropping south to Tucson (which he pronounced "Telsa" -- not only deliberately mixing up Tucson with Tulsa, but mispronouncing it, too, mainly because he knew it annoyed me). From there, we'd head west across the mountains to San Diego.

Besides the whole "Telsa" annoyance, two other things about that trip stand out in my mind. One was how freaking hot it was in the back seat of the car. We were pulling our trailer, and Dad didn't want to run the air conditioning because he was worried the car would overheat. So we traversed the Sonoran Desert with the windows rolled down, in the summer, and all that miserable heat was smacking me in the face. I finally pleaded with my parents to stop so I could get a drink of water -- and when Dad finally pulled over, I chugged about a half-gallon in about thirty seconds. They felt bad, obviously, but they didn't turn on the a/c; instead, they gave me a water jug and a cup. When we finally crossed the mountains and got our first taste of the breeze off the Pacific Ocean, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

The other thing I remember is my freakout over the length of the trip. I was playing clarinet in the Municipal Band that summer, and I'd told the director that I'd only be gone a week. When it became apparent that the trip would be two weeks long, I threw a fit as only a 16-year-old girl can. And I suspect that's part of the reason why Dad dropped the side trip to "Telsa."

So here I am in Tucson this weekend, looking at stuff to do in my downtime, and I discover that all of those old Westerns -- all the ones with the saguaro cacti in the background -- were shot here. And Dad didn't get to see the area up close and personal because I threw a fit about having to be back at work.

So I'm sorry, Dad. Here's a photo of a bunch of saguaros that I took on the University of Arizona campus yesterday. And I hope there's an internet connection where you are right now. 
These moments of remorseful blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What's this #PublishingFoul thing all about, anyway?

You may have seen the image floating around Facebook or Twitter by now. I mean, I sure hope you have. It's this one -- the ref throwing the yellow flag on scammy publishers. At Indies Unlimited, we're using it to tie together all the posts in FOULED! -- our month-long March Madness effort to bring rotten publishing practices out into the open.

So far, we've had a guest post from none other than David Gaughran, who blogs a lot on the vanity publishing industry; one by IU minion TD McKinnon; a guest post by Sophie Jonas-Hill; and the first of four posts by Yours Truly on what you can do when you realize you've been had by a scammer. And there's lots more to come -- including a post this week that will include a survey that we hope every indie author -- both those who have been scammed and those who haven't been -- will participate in.

The survey is important because we're trying to get a handle on how prevalent these ripoffs are among indie authors. Because it sure seems as if being scammed is almost a rite of passage. Scratch any indie author, it appears, and you'll see a tale of a book gone wrong underneath.

I think this is true for several reasons. The first is that until Smashwords and KDP came along, if you couldn't get a contract from a regular publisher, paying a vanity press was the only way your work could see the light of day. And I think a lot of older people with stories to tell have not yet heard that there is another way to go -- or else they don't think they're capable of learning everything there is to learn about real self-publishing.

Another IU minion, Melissa Bowersock, suggested another reason why these stories are so prevalent: most people are brought up to believe the best about others. They themselves are trustworthy, and so they expect the people they do business with will be trustworthy, too. Of course, that doesn't always happen -- but hey, that's why you have a lawyer vet your contract, right? But your publisher probably has a more expensive lawyer than you do. And in any case, you can bet the contract is going to be written to benefit the publisher -- not you, the author.

A third reason why so many authors have been scammed -- and why so many continue to be scammed -- is that the victims are ashamed of having been taken in. We have a culture of individual responsibility in the US, and there's nothing wrong with that. But people take it to an unfair extreme. There are times when a smart, savvy person who does everything right gets conned by an expert con artist. It's not the person's fault they've been victimized. But when they're then told they were too gullible and it's their own fault they were taken -- when the victim gets the blame -- that's not about the victim. It's about the person making the comment. Likely that person is using their attitude of superiority to cover a fear that they, too, might have been scammed in that situation. Or maybe they think they're smarter or more savvy -- as if either smarts or savvy will protect anyone against a real pro. Either way, the end result is that the victim is victimized twice: once by the scammer, and again by friends and family who rush to tell them how stupid they've been.

This sort of thing makes me crazy. And that's why I suggested to our admins that I do a series of posts on this subject. They expanded on my idea, and that's how we ended up with this month-long series.

The thing is that what these publishers do, for the most part, is legal. The vanity presses in particular are very careful to stay on the right side of the legal/illegal line. But just because a particular business practice is legal, that doesn't make it morally defensible. These guys have been playing an ugly game for decades. They've been stealing people's dreams by taking money from them without giving them any real success in return. We at IU aim to do our part to send this business model down the sewer, where it belongs.

News: This week, I'm packing for Arizona. I'll be at the Tucson Festival of Books next Saturday and Sunday, in the BookGoodies booth (we're number 112). I'll be signing books Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. Feel free to stop by and say hi, if you're planning to go to the festival.

More news: Seasons of the Fool is now up at Smashwords, and that means it should be available at iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo pretty soon. I'm knocking the price down to 99 cents through March 22nd -- so if you haven't gotten a copy yet, now's the time.

Still more news: The first draft of Sage's story is in the can. I'm hoping to publish it in May, with the second book of the duology coming fast on its heels in June. The series title is Pipe Woman's Legacy. Kinda catchy, don't you think?

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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"Use adverbs sparingly," she advised editorially.

This coming Wednesday, March 4th, is National Grammar Day, so I thought I’d celebrate by writing a post about grammar. Although it’s not really about grammar. It’s about one of those rules for good writing.

I learned a lot of writing rules back in broadcast journalism school: write short, uncomplicated sentences; don’t put more than twenty words in a sentence; write in present tense; don’t use the word “yesterday,” lest your listeners think you’re running old news; and on and on.

These particular rules are pretty much useless for fiction writing. Most novelists don’t write in present tense (although I hear it’s a thing in some circles) and nobody cares whether you mention “yesterday” in your novel or not. But among the rules that have stuck with me is this: Don’t use adverbs.

As I’m sure you know, adverbs are modifiers. Whereas adjectives modify nouns and pronouns, adverbs modify verbs (and adjectives, and sometimes other adverbs). Adverbs come in many flavors, including in conjunction with other words in adverbial phrases and clauses. But your garden-variety adverb is easy to spot: it’s an adjective with –ly tacked onto the end.

Right about now, you’re probably saying, “But why such prejudice against the poor adverb, Lynne? It never did anything bad to anybody, did it?”

Well, no. But it’s weak. If you dropped that adverb and used a different verb, your sentence would be stronger. Let me show you what I mean. Let’s say you wrote this:

Fred moved quickly across the field.

That’s an okay sentence, as far as it goes. But how did Fred move quickly? Let’s look at a few possibilities:

Fred hurried across the field.
Fred darted across the field.
Fred streaked across the field.
Fred galloped across the field.
Fred careened across the field.

See the difference? In each of these sentences, Fred is still moving quickly. But depending on the verb you choose, your reader will draw a slightly different – and more descriptive – picture.

Sometimes in writing fiction, though, you don’t want your verb to quite so obvious about pulling the action along. Sometimes you want your verb to fade into the background. Yes, I’m talking about dialogue tags.

Some people just hate the word said. It grates on them. The repetition makes them crazy. If you’re one of those people, I apologize, because I believe said and its cousin asked are critical tools in any fiction writer’s toolbox.

If you use strong verbs for dialogue tags, you run the risk of taking attention away from the dialogue. Plus, it’s too easy to stray into the hyperbolic (ranted? cajoled?) or the physically impossible (I’m sorry, but nobody can shriek through an entire sentence).

But if you’re going to use plain-vanilla verbs in your dialogue tags, you need to do something else to give context to your characters’ words. You can describe their body language – crossing their arms, tapping their feet, looking away, and so on. Or you can describe what they’re doing as they’re talking – peeling a label off of a beer bottle, making an omelet, cutting flowers for a bouquet. Or you can use an adverb:

“Is Fred going to be all right?” Sadie asked hopefully.
“He’ll be fine,” the doctor said briskly. “Just don’t let him careen into any more fences.”

I wouldn’t go overboard on putting –ly words in dialogue tags; I’d use them sparingly, and intersperse them with the other methods I mentioned. But my point is that adverbs do have a place in fiction writing. Just not a huge one. And do take care that you don’t stray into Tom Swifty territory with them – unless, of course, you want to.

Happy National Grammar Day!

(This post was originally published at Indies Unlimited.)

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