Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why I write magic realism.

I'm writing this in anticipation of this year's Magic Realism Blog Hop, which starts Wednesday. Kudos to Zoe Brooks, who has once again organized what promises to be a wonderful event. You'll see a link at the bottom of this post to the rest of the posts on the hop. If they're not showing up today, come on back Wednesday and give it another try.

I suppose you could think of this as a companion piece to my post at Indies Unlimited last week about why I write fantasy. I've dipped my toes in the waters of magic realism, too, and so I thought it might be interesting to talk about how the two genres complement each other.

Well, it will be interesting for me, anyhow, and it's my blog.

Why would a fantasy writer want to bother with magic realism, anyway? It's not like it sells any better. Certainly the critics like it better, if what you're after is literary-snobby critical acclaim. But really, what can you do with one that you can't do with the other?

I can think of a couple of things. For one thing, magic realism is more subtle. Let's say your characters are doing their best not to talk about the elephant in the room -- alcoholism, say, or child abuse, or murder. In fantasy, chances are that the magic solution would be big and unmistakable: a wizard turns the wine to water, or the abuser gets his comeuppance when a magical creature mauls him. In magic realism, you might have a character like Toni Morrison's Beloved -- a baby whose death haunts her mother so much that the baby's ghost comes back. At first she looks like a blessing, but then she grows and grows, becoming so huge that she takes over the family's house and calls all the shots.

For another thing, the gee-whiz factor in fantasy can sometimes hamper you from doing what you'd like to do. In fantasy, non-magical people basically have two reactions to magic: either they're totally wowed by it (or pretend not to care while secretly being wowed by it), or they fear it. Which sets up that old good vs. evil dichotomy: "Burn the witch!"/"No, you don't understand! She uses her magic for good!" Same/same with paranormal creatures: either they're misunderstood, or they should be destroyed. Think Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," or any paranormal romance in which the "good guys" are after the hunky vampire/werewolf/fae.

If you've read any of my books, you know I don't have a lot of use for that classic dichotomy. In my opinion, even the bad guys believe they're doing the right thing. And magic realism allows even the villains to be more well-rounded characters. It puts the magic in the background, so that it becomes part of the fabric of time and place. And that allows the author to paint with a finer brush. If I'd written Seasons of the Fool as a regular fantasy, Dave's wife, Nina, might have been portrayed as the equivalent of the wicked stepmother. As a work of magic realism, Nina takes on depth and becomes a tragic figure (or that was my intention, anyway). Instead of being a stock character or a caricature, she becomes a person who might be reconciled with her kids someday.

Don't get me wrong -- I love writing fantasy. It's a lot of fun. But I also enjoy writing magic realism, and I expect to be doing more work in that genre, too, in years to come.


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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Roses and daisies: life goes on.

A couple of weeks ago, still in rather a funk over the whole mess in Denver, I bought myself a dozen roses at the grocery store. This was partly to cheer myself up and partly to make up for missing the lovely bouquet that my daughter bought me for Mother's Day. I did get to enjoy her flowers for a few days, but the week after Mother's Day was crazy, and then I went back to Denver for another three weeks and by then, well, you know. Cut flowers only last so long.

Anyway, the roses. The floral department had them in a number of colors: red (of course), white, yellow, pale pink, and a deeper pink among them. I picked the deep pink ones, brought them home, and plunked them in a vase.

The thing about cut flowers -- particularly when you get them at the grocery store -- is that they're kind of hit-and-miss, in terms of how long they'll last. Hydrangeas usually wither and die right away for me. Gerbera daisies seem to lose their pluck -- the flowers stay bright, but the stems collapse. Tulips, on the other hand, keep growing, their stalks elongating like some mutant thing. Typically, roses fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: the buds will start to open, but they crumple into a withered mass before they can reach their true potential.

Not this bunch, though. This bunch of deep pink roses opened beautifully. And they smelled nice! Once upon a time, all roses had a lovely, heady fragrance. But for decades, they have been bred for visual beauty, not for scent. My mother had a rose bush; it produced lovely red roses that smelled like old cigarettes.

So I was pretty pleased with my vase of roses. And then, as the blooms finally faded, I noticed something odd: tiny buds seemed to be swelling on the stems. Sure enough, a couple of days later, new leaves were popping out on my store-bought cut roses.

It reminded me of the time when my mother received a daisy for Mother's Day. We'd gone camping that weekend, and the campground was giving a daisy to every mother in honor of the day. Mom, whose thumb was much greener than mine will ever be, stuck the flower in some water in a two-liter soda bottle -- and it rooted. She planted it after we got home, and we enjoyed those daisies for quite a number of years.

So I did some quick internet research about roses grown from cuttings. Then I filled a pot with potting soil and stuck the budding stems in it. I don't know whether they will take -- some of the new leaves have died already, probably from the shock of transplanting -- but if they don't, it's okay. Deep pink means gratitude in rose talk, and I'm already grateful for the reminder that even after it looks like it's all over, life still goes on.

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

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hot off the (knitting) needles.

I haven't done a knitting post in a while, have I?

This is my latest project, which I just finished today. The pattern is the Spirit of the Southwest Shawl. The way the front panels hang reminds me of a serape, but the back has stitches added in each of the contrasting bands so that it drapes the way a tiered skirt would. If you click through the link above and look at the second photo, you'll see what I mean about the back.

Anyway, I'm not much of a fancy-edging fan. So I skipped the designer's edging for fringe. I thought it would be simpler. Oh haha -- it took me all freaking day today to cut and tie on the fringe.

The giant silver thing stuck sort of randomly on my left side in the photo is an etched metal button. After this photo was taken, I rigged up an I-cord loop for a buttonhole and attached it to the opposite side.

Disaster only struck once during the making of this shawl. I was antsy about how long it would be, so I tried to drape it around my shoulders not long after I'd finished the fourth section in the contrasting color -- and succeeded only in pulling a bunch of stitches off the needle. Recreating the lace diamonds where I'd dropped stitches was no fun at all, let me tell you.

Anyway, I'm pleased with the way it turned out. Especially the fringe -- it gives the shawl quite a '60s hippie vibe. Now I can't wait for fall so I can wear it.

My other recent project was this stupid easy cowl, which I completed on one of my flights to Denver and immediately put on -- not so much for warmth, but because I'd managed to spill something on the shirt I was wearing and the cowl covered the stain. (You can't take me anywhere...)

When I say this project was stupid easy, I mean it. It takes one ball of yarn. You cast on 150 stitches with big needles, join to make a circle, and go 'round and 'round in garter stitch 'til you run out of yarn. No muss, no fuss.

So now that I've finished the Southwest shawl, I need to figure out what to make next. Whatever it is, it's going to be a shawl. I've had my eye on the Dreambird for quite some time, and I finally purchased yarn for it last year. Another one I've been thinking about for a while is the Ojo de Dios shawl, and recently bought a kit to make the jewel-tone version.

In addition, I've been playing with the idea of seasonal shawls. I'm already halfway there -- I have the Celestarium, which could be for winter, and the Maple Leaf for fall. So all I'd need would be spring and summer. I have some yellow-gold yarn that I could use for the summer shawl. And I think I'd make the spring shawl a bright green. Now to find suitable patterns...and green yarn. Decisions, decisions...

Oh, right -- publishing news: Five59 Publishing's latest anthology, Other Realms, is available for pre-order at Amazon. This one is fantasy, and I'm pleased to report that I have a story in it. Release date is this Wednesday, July 15th, so the time to pre-order is now!

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

Sunday, July 5, 2015

KU changes, or: for the love of the gods, please stop freaking out.

It's been almost three weeks since Kindle Direct Publishing announced it was changing the way it pays authors for borrows of their ebooks, and not quite a week since the new policy went into effect. You would think by now, people would have calmed down about it -- but you would be wrong.

I did a post for Indies Unlimited right after KDP emailed everybody to explain the change. My fellow minion RJ Crayton followed up with an IU post about how authors who don't like the new terms can opt out now, with no penalty. Since then, David Gaughran has weighed in, urging everyone not to panic. Hugh Howey blogged about it on day 2 of the new regime, urging everyone not to panic. I'm sure other author/bloggers have counseled caution and prudence and adoption of a wait-and-see attitude.

And yet, a whole lot of authors are losing their minds.

Here's what's happening: KDP sets aside a fund each month out of which it pays authors for borrows of their ebooks. Borrows happen two ways: Amazon Prime members get one free borrow per month; and people who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited can borrow as many books as they want for a flat $9.99 per month.

Under the old system (which is to say prior to this past Wednesday), KDP would pay on a borrow whenever a reader got to ten percent of the book. Unfortunately, that encouraged folks out to make a quick buck to "write" 10- or 20-page pamphlets, so that they would get paid for a borrow as soon as a reader opened the book. I think we can all agree that's unfair.

Under the new system (which has been in place only since Wednesday), author payments will no longer be based on the percentage of a book read; instead, they will be based on number of pages read. But that's not all:

    • Amazon has developed an arcane formula of calculating ebook pages that results in something called the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count, or KENPC. It is different than the number of pages that would be in a print edition of the same book. A print edition of The Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus would be about 840 pages, but its KENPC is 1553. A print edition of The Land Sea Sky Trilogy would be about 500 pages; its KENPC is 951.
    • The per-page payment will be calculated by the amount in the fund divided by all of the pages read during the whole month. And the only entity that can make an educated guess about how many pages of borrowed ebooks are read in an average month is Amazon, because it has heretofore not shared that information with anyone else. Presumably a few months down the road, we will have pages-read-per-month numbers to crunch to arrive at an educated guess about what the per-page payment will be. But even then, it will depend on the size of the fund, and KDP has not been giving out that information until a couple of weeks into the following month.
    • The bottom line is that this penny-per-printed page figure that's been floating around the intertubes is a guesstimate based on fuzzy math. Don't get your heart set on it.
Here's another thing: Just because your book has a KENPC of x, it doesn't mean your payment will be x times whatever the multiplier of the month is. You'll only be paid for the pages your readers have read. So this would be an excellent time to make sure your book's editing is good and the story moves along. Readers can bail on a book for any number of reasons, from real life complications to "it's not my cup of tea" to "this book is unreadable." The only one of those three you can control is the last one. Make sure your book doesn't suck.

If you're one of those authors who enrolled a bunch of short stories into KDP Select, or who released a novel chapter-by-chapter, I'd suggest it's time to rethink your strategy. Put your novel back together. Collect all of those short stories into an anthology.

And for the folks who put Wikipedia articles into ten-page "books" to make a quick killing on Amazon? I got nothin'. Sorry/not sorry.

My heartfelt thanks to those of you who have already downloaded Firebird's Snare. I'll be bumping the price up to $2.99 tomorrow, so if you haven't bought it yet, now would be an excellent time.

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