Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas vacation.

Today is Christmas Day, and while I don't personally celebrate the holiday anymore, I know that a lot of my readers do. And by Christmas night, I think we're all feeling a little like Santa here.

So hearth/myth is taking a break this week. Have a good nap by the fire -- with a cat on your lap, if you can swing it -- and I'll see you in 2017.

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

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Happy gluten-free holidays, part two.

Clockwise from lower left: spiced nuts, lemon-poppyseed cookies,
chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, almond horns, peppermint bark,
raspberry bars. Fudge is in the fridge and meringue cookies are in
the oven.
This year's holiday prep is winding down at La Casa Cantwell. I finished the shopping yesterday, and the baking today.

Now don't put out a contract on me -- I'm not as far ahead as you might think. After all, Yule is Wednesday. And tomorrow is my last day of work before Christmas, which meant the baking had to get done today so I could deliver treats tomorrow.

I've always been old school about baking. I've never had a fancy stand mixer, preferring instead to use a pastry blender for creaming butter and sugar, and a wire whisk for beating eggs. I've even been known to sink my fingers into a stiff cookie dough in order to work in the chocolate chips. It seemed like cheating to use a power tool for the job, when I could get in an upper-body workout by baking.

But this year, I ran short of time, and had to do a bunch of the treat-making today. So I resorted to the mixer for some tasks I usually do by hand. It turns out that you really do need to have room-temperature butter if you're going to try to cream in the sugar with a hand mixer; the mixer only has so much oomph. Lesson learned.

Anyway, about the gluten-free treats: Because I'm making these mostly as gifts for the attorneys I assist, I've steered clear of most recipe adaptations. I don't use Splenda or stevia in place of sugar; I use sticks of butter instead of soft margarine; and I have yet to substitute regular flour for gluten-free. But as I said last week, some of the things I've been making are GF anyway.

Take, for example, the peppermint bark in the photo above. It's white and dark chocolate with a little flavoring and some crushed candy canes on top. I got the recipe from a simple-living bulletin board; the woman who developed it said she saw Williams-Sonoma selling the stuff for $18/lb. and realized she could make it for a lot less.

When I first started making it, I used chocolate breakup -- blocks of Ghirardelli white and dark chocolate -- which Trader Joe's sold cheap. Then Ghirardelli discontinued the product and started selling their own peppermint bark, which is okay, but not as good as mine (and I'm not the only one who thinks so). We passed a dreary, dismal holiday season with no homemade peppermint bark. But then I discovered the Ghirardelli folks sold what they call melting wafers that work pretty well as a replacement for the old chocolate breakup. Of course, the wafers are a lot more expensive. This is what passes for progress in our day and age.

Anyway, here's the recipe.

Peppermint Bark

1 10 oz. bag dark chocolate melting wafers
1 10 oz. bag white chocolate melting wafers
A few drops of peppermint extract
Candy canes or starlight mints

Line a cookie sheet (I use an 11" x 17" sheet) with aluminum foil. Melt the dark chocolate wafers in the microwave according to package directions. Stir the peppermint extract into the melted chocolate, and spread the mixture in the pan. Let sit 'til it hardens.

While you're waiting, place the candy canes or starlight mints in a heavy-duty zipper bag and crush them (I used the bottom of a coffee mug today, but whatever works). Then melt the white chocolate in the microwave according to package directions. Spread the white chocolate over the dark chocolate in the pan, sprinkle the candy cane pieces on top (push them down with your fingers, if you want), and allow to cool and harden. Break into random-sized pieces.

Enjoy! Happy holidays!

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Happy gluten-free holidays, part one.

It's beginning to look a lot like Yule here at La Casa Cantwell. Kitty and I picked up the tree today. It's a Fraser fir, between three and four feet tall. It's so short that our old tree stand would have gobbled up about a third of it, so I bought a new stand, too. The nice young man at the tree lot even put the tree in the stand for us. All we had to do when we got home was take it upstairs and set it on the coffee table.

The good thing about a little tree is that it takes no time at all to decorate; I even put on the lights by myself. The bad thing is when you realize you've collected enough ornaments over the years to decorate a ten-foot tree, but you only have a little tree to hang them on. A whole lot of ornaments got left in the box this year, but all of the most important ones made it on the tree -- including our 2016 dumpster fire.

I heard that: "You just need to set up another tree!" Feel free to come over to my apartment with that second tree and find a place to put it.

Anyway, the next step in the festivities (besides shopping and wrapping gifts and attending fun parties) is making cookies and other treats, which is what I'll be doing next weekend. I've always made cookies, but over the past few years, several folks I know have developed a sensitivity to gluten, including my daughter Amy. So these days, I include gluten-free treats in my repertoire.

Luckily, it's not difficult -- and it turns out I'd been making some anyway. Here's one that's always a hit, and it's really easy to make. The toughest part is paying for the pecan halves (they ain't as cheap as they used to be).

I got the recipe from the Washington Post in 2002. (Apologies if there's a paywall.) I've edited their recipe a little; for one thing, the original says to use a large bowl for the sugars and a medium-size bowl for the nuts and whipped egg white, which seems backward to me. Anyway, here you go. Enjoy.

Spiced Frosted Nuts

Butter or nonstick spray oil for the baking sheet
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 large egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound (about 4 1/4 cups) pecan or walnut halves (note: I always use pecans)

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Lightly coat a large rimmed baking sheet with butter or oil.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sugars and cinnamon until well blended. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg white and salt until foamy. Add the nuts and toss until each nut is completely coated.

Add the sugar mixture to the nut mixture and stir until each nut is completely coated. Turn the nuts onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading to form an even layer. Bake the nuts, stirring well every 10 minutes, until crisp and dry, 30 to 40 minutes. Stir again and transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Pack in an airtight container. Store for up to a week at room temperature or for up to a month in the fridge.

This claims to make about 16 servings, but I find that highly suspect. You might want to double the recipe -- but if you do, use two baking sheets.

These moments of spicy-sweet, nutty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Good journalism requires audience participation.

Opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline received good news today. The U.S. Department of the Army announced it was denying the permit to build the section of pipeline that would have crossed the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. The fight isn't over, but still, this is a huge win for the thousands of Native people, and their allies, who have opposed the project.

This story has been covered much more thoroughly on social media than by mainstream media, for a number of reasons. For starters, news organizations have been doing more with less for at least twenty years. One of the reasons I got out of the news business in 1998 was that I was tired of getting laid off every couple of years. News organizations kept consolidating, cutting personnel and even whole bureaus, in an effort to make more money for shareholders. And so here we are today: There aren't enough bodies left to cover everything that deserves to be covered. If you've wondered why Donald Trump's Twitter rants get more attention than the Dakota Access Pipeline, that's the reason. It's much cheaper to have an intern sit in an office and monitor Twitter than it is to send a microwave truck, an engineer, a producer, a camera operator and a reporter to the back end of nowhere to take pictures of Indians dancing in front of cops in riot gear.

I'm not denigrating the water protectors; I'm on their side. What I'm trying to do is explain what goes through news executives' minds when they decide what to spend their scarce resources on. Trump's Twitter feed = guaranteed story. Sending a crew to North Dakota for weeks in hopes of "war" footage, not so much.

So it didn't surprise me that CNN, et al., didn't start sending crews to the Oceti Sakowin camp until last week. It was clear things were coming to a head: The Army Corps of Engineers had announced the "protesters" needed to move, the governor of North Dakota was threatening to send in troops to clear the area (although he said later that was just a misunderstanding), and a cadre of volunteer veterans was due to arrive.

As soon as pictures began showing up on the networks, people could see that something was off. The sheriff of Morton County, ND, kept saying that his officers felt threatened by the Sioux, but the photos and videos from the site showed armor-plated police vehicles looming over unarmed people praying. 

More than one person has criticized those media reports, saying the journalists weren't doing their jobs.

Well, actually, they were.

Bear with me while I digress. In 1954, a U.S. senator named Joseph McCarthy made a name for himself by accusing anyone he didn't like of being a Communist. First, he claimed more than 200 Communists had infiltrated the State Department -- a claim he couldn't substantiate. Nevertheless, he was awarded the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Government Operations in 1952, and used it as a bully pulpit to ruin hundreds of people, including many working in the film industry.

Edward R. Murrow | Wikipedia (Public Domain)
Television was his downfall. In March 1954, Edward R. Murrow devoted an entire episode of "See It Now" to McCarthy, eviscerating the senator by showing his methods in detail. Predictably, McCarthy attacked Murrow, accusing him of being a Communist -- a charge Murrow easily refuted. (George Clooney directed a terrific movie about Murrow's battle with McCarthy called "Good Night and Good Luck".) Shortly thereafter, an attorney named Joe Welch took on McCarthy in his own committee chamber, asking him on live television, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" At that point, McCarthy's name was mud. 

What the big-name news organizations at the Oceti Sakowin camp have been doing for the past few days is exactly the same thing Murrow did to McCarthy: they've given the cops just enough rope to hang themselves with. 

Journalists are supposed to report on all sides of an issue. The sheriff's statements were news; so were the protests. But it was no accident that reporters were reading the sheriff's inflammatory words over video of what was actually happening at the camp. As news consumers, we're supposed to make the connection ourselves.

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The 2016 dumpster fire.

It all started a few days ago, when I saw a photo on Facebook of a festive felt dumpster, with felt flames filling the interior of the dumpster, and "2016" embroidered in gold on the front.

I laughed in empathy, because this year really has been a dumpster fire. From the multitude of musicians and actors we've lost (Florence Henderson of "The Brady Bunch" and Ron Glass of "Firefly" being the most recent), to this month's election results (I mentioned I'm a progressive, right?), to the standoff over the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota (#waterislife), this year has been miserable and disheartening in ways too numerous to count.

It might not be the sort of year you want to commemorate on a Christmas tree. But if you were going to do it, this is the ornament that would sum things up.

I showed the photo to my daughter Amy and said, "Do you have any felt?" Not only did she have felt, but she had more fabric paint than any normal person should own. And a hot glue gun. And a red jingle bell. And my daughter Kat came up with sparkly ribbon.

In short: It was on.

The creator of the original dumpster fire ornament, Jennifer Brooks, published her step-by-step directions in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune today. Hers are way funnier than ours, so please go and read them. (Besides, I'm indebted to her for checking the AP style manual to see whether "dumpster" still needs to be capitalized. It doesn't.) But I think ours is prettier, if you can say a dumpster fire is pretty. Here's how we made it.

1 Sheet of copy paper or notebook paper
5 sheets of felt -- 1 each of red, orange, yellow, and white (ours is white with sparkles), plus 1 color of your choice for the dumpster
Needle and thread
Fabric paint (we used red, gold, and blue, but whatever strikes your fancy) or embroidery floss
Hot glue gun
Jingle bell (optional)
Something to hang it on the tree with (we used 1/8-inch-wide metallic gold ribbon)

1. Draw pattern pieces for the dumpster, the snow, and the flames on the copy paper and cut them out. I made the front of the dumpster 3" x 2" -- the size of a standard business card -- and attached a parallelogram to the left side. Amy drew patterns for the snow, and cut out the flames freehand (which is why I got her involved -- I knew I would be topping out my drawing skills with the parallelogram). She cut enough for 7 flames total, but feel free to go crazy and stuff in as much fire as you think the year deserves.
2. Cut 2 pieces of felt using the dumpster pattern piece. Pick 1 to be the front of the dumpster. Use fabric paint, or backstitch with embroidery floss, to outline the dumpster panels. Draw 2016 on the right-hand panel with a pen or pencil, and go over the numbers with fabric paint or backstitch. If you used fabric paint, let it dry for several hours or overnight.
3. Sew the front dumpster piece to the back dumpster piece. I used buttonhole stitch, but use whatever you can do that will hold the thing together. Don't sew the top shut -- that's where the flames go.
4. Sew or hot glue the snow to the top and bottom edges of the dumpster.
5. Stack your flame pieces (never mind what Jennifer did -- yellow is the hottest part of the flame, so it goes closest to the wick) and tack or glue them together.
6. Glue a row of flames to the back side of the front dumpster piece. Then glue the next row of flames to the back of the first row, and so on, 'til you run out of fire.
7. Affix your hanging loop. I cut a length of ribbon that was about 13" long, doubled it, and tied the cut ends together to make the loop. Then I cut a tiny slit near the top of the back dumpster piece and threaded the loop through, so the knot was hidden inside the dumpster. Amy then glued the dumpster back to the last row of flames, and also glued the loop to the middle flame in the back row.
8. Thread your jingle bell, if you're using one, onto the hanging loop. Then hang the whole shebang on your tree.

The other thing I've been doing, when I'm not helping to create dumpster fires, is working on the NaNo novel -- and I'm pleased to report that I finished it tonight. Maggie in the Dark, the first book in the Transcendence trilogy, is 50,670 words (according to NaNo's official validator). It's another urban fantasy, and it's kind of a dumpster fire right now (for one thing, I'm pretty sure I've named two characters Aaron). Editing will commence in January. But the first draft is in the can, and normal life can now resume.

Rest assured that I'll have more to say about this novel later. For now, happy writing, happy crafting, and come on, 2017.

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The clickbait election.

Remember last week, when I said I was going to skip that post about politics? Well, it's been another week, and things haven't gotten any better. And it's not really about politics, anyway, but about politics on social media, and how we've come to be where we are right now.

A whole bunch of Obama-Biden memes like this one have been popping up lately. I trust there have been just as many in favor of President-elect Trump, although I haven't seen many because I'm a progressive (sorry if that's a spoiler) and so Facebook doesn't show me too many things I don't already agree with.

That's part of the problem. Facebook makes money by drawing eyeballs to flashy content, figuring out who's attracted to each type of flashy content, and then marketing products to users based on that information. Not too long ago, I filled out a form for a Facebook ad for my books (sorry in advance...). You know all that identifying information that privacy advocates are always haranguing us to limit Facebook's access to? Those are the parameters, pretty much exactly, that Facebook presented to me so I could tailor my ad to people who would be most likely to buy my books.

In addition, once Facebook figures out what you like, its algorithms will dump more of the same into your newsfeed. So a liberal won't see much in the way of opposing viewpoints unless, say, a conservative friend or relative posts in response to a liberal post. Because we tend to live in an echo chamber on social media, these posts from the other side can seem to come out of left field. "Do people really believe that stuff?" we wonder. Well, yeah, they do. We just never see it, because Facebook algorithms.

Here's another wrinkle: there are people whose business model is solely to post links to attractive and/or outrageous stuff on social media, because they get paid every time someone clicks through. You've probably heard the term clickbait. That's the sort of stuff I'm talking about. How lucrative is it? The Washington Post published an interview this past week with a guy who runs a whole host of clickbait "news" sites. He makes $10,000 a month, just from Google ads. It's not exactly chump change. And he doesn't have anything complimentary to say about Trump's supporters. "I can write the craziest thing about Trump, and people will believe it," he said. "I wrote a lot of crazy anti-Muslim stuff -- like about Trump wanting to put badges on Muslims, or not allowing them in the airport, or making them stand in their own line -- and people went along with it!" He's actually worried that Trump won the election because of fake stories he wrote and disseminated on social media -- although he's not worried enough about America to stop doing it, because $$$$.

Facebook and Twitter have both announced crackdowns on these purveyors of fake news, although I haven't seen any evidence that they've begun. One thing they could do is label each post from a purported news site as either real or fake. That shouldn't be too difficult; a team of college kids figured out one method during a recent contest, and it only took them 36 hours.

In the meantime, it's up to each of us to evaluate the links we see before we share them. You can click through the following link to find an evolving list of fake or slanted news sites. You can also check to see whether something is true, and check the original publication date to make sure you're not recycling an old story. Here's a handy reminder for all of this advice -- and yes, I found the meme on Facebook.

Go forth and post responsibly, everyone.

A quick NaNoWriMo update: As of tonight, I'm at 33,500 words or so -- right where I need to be in order to finish NaNo on the 30th. I think I'm just about where I need to be in terms of the plot, too. Typically, I begin writing faster once I get between 35,000 and 40,000 words, which means I may get on a roll and finish over Thanksgiving weekend. I'll keep you posted.

Oh, and happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

These moments of sensible, fact-checked blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The obligatory NaNoWriMo post.

I was all set to do a post about the election this week. I had a not-very-political topic picked out and everything. But then today rolled around and I decided most of us are sick of hearing about it, one way or another, by now. So I'm going to write about National Novel Writing Month instead.

You knew this was coming, right? I mean, we're nearly halfway through November (and how did that happen?) and I haven't done a single post about NaNoWriMo, even though I've alluded to the fact that I'm participating again this year.

And it's popular on writing blogs and writers' blogs at this time of year to break out all the hoary advice about winning NaNo. There's plenty of stuff on what to write about and how to structure your story -- or, heck, forget structure and write whatever pops into your head. (We don't need no stinkin' outline!) And there's even more advice about how to stay on task, why you shouldn't give up if you fall behind, and how to catch up. As you may know, I believe weekends are made for this: schedule a day with just you and your computer, shut the door, and bleed as many thousands of words onto the virtual page as you can manage. I've gotten so I do this even when I'm not doing a NaNo-type event, and sometimes I go a little overboard. This past June, I wrote 8,100 words in a day. I don't think I'll ever do that again; I spent a good twelve hours at my desk that day, and by the end of it, I was exhausted. So this time, I'm trying to pace myself.

Just like with any major project, there are two ways to tackle NaNo: you can do a lot of work in an intense burst; or you can work on it steadily, in bits and pieces. The dumbest way to do it, I've found, is to not write at all during the week, and then cram a week's worth of word count (11,669 words) into a two-day weekend. It can be done, but you lose your whole weekend for other things, like real life. Plus it takes more time to get your head back in the story if you haven't touched it for five days.

So this year, I'm trying to write at least a little each day -- maybe not the full 1,667 words you need in order to finish by November 30th, but a few words. My challenge to myself is to not fall behind by more than a single day's word count; that's a relatively easy amount to make up on a weekend day, assuming you can make a date with your computer and shut the door and all the rest.

We're nearly two weeks in, and so far it's working pretty well. I was behind when I started yesterday, but I caught up pretty easily. And today, I'm right where I need to be: just under 22,000 words.

I do love a day when I can set the world aside, immerse myself in the world I'm creating, and write. So I expect I will keep doing those days occasionally. But this slower pace, especially for this first book of the series, feels right to me.

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

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Music, mounds, and atheists: A World Fantasy roundup.

Last week at this time, Kitty and I were wending our way across Pennsylvania, coming home from this year's World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio. So this week, I thought I'd mention a couple of convention highlights before they recede into my memory.

Convention panels, I find, are hit-or-miss. Sometimes you get a really super-fantastic panel that's into having a conversation about the topic, both with each other and with the audience; and sometimes you get a panel with a blowhard who considers himself an expert on the topic and/or simply doesn't know when to shut up. My editor Suzu Strayer, who attended the conference with me, chalks some of this up to a lack of intellectual rigor: panelists, she maintains, should be required to back up their assertions by citing facts. That sounds like an awful lot of work to me. All I really expect from a panel is to have my thought processes kicked a little -- and to be entertained.

Now that my criteria for judging have been established, my two favorite panels (besides the one I was on) at this year's convention were "Fantasy and Music" and "Atheist Fantasy: Is God Dead?"

First, the music panel. The entertainment factor was established from the outset, when the panelists "tuned up" vocally. That was followed by a discussion of the way writers use music in their works of fantasy. I picked up one tip that I wish I'd known about before I wrote SwanSong: Mercedes Lackey puts the full lyrics to the songs her characters sing at the back of each novel, and only uses pertinent portions of each song in the main part of the story. That was followed by a discussion of authors, or fans, who have written music to go along with the songs in novels.

I was fascinated by a quick mention by Fred Durbin (I think) of the Shepard tone, which sent me Googling because I had never heard of it before. It's an aural illusion akin to Escher's famous staircase to nowhere -- you think you hear the music going up and up, endlessly, but it's not. (Here's more info on it, and how it was used in a Super Mario game.)

In nearly the same breath, he went on to talk about the tritone or devil's tone, known musically as an augmented 4th or diminished 5th. This is created by playing two notes together -- say, a C and an F# -- that create dissonance, a sound that leaves you dying for resolution to a prettier chord. (Wikipedia has some examples here, if you'd like to take a listen. Mental Floss has a much less technical discussion here.) Back in the Middle Ages, the Church prohibited the use of the tritone, as much because it was difficult to play as anything else. Today, you hear it a lot in heavy metal music and the blues, as well as in classical pieces when the composer is after something sinister.

Speaking of the Church: the atheist fantasy panel was scheduled, aptly, for Sunday morning. The question here is that if your world is full of good and evil, or even people who act on moral values, do you need to have gods in your story? Of course, someone can be morally good yet not be religious; morals are societal constructs that religion simply enforces. But if you have a character who is religious, do you have to have the gods show up? In the Pipe Woman Chronicles, my answer was yes; that was pretty much the point of the whole series. But in a different type of story, of course, the gods never have to make an appearance at all. The panel gave me some points to ponder for future novels.

And speaking of future novels, Suzu and I took a side trip on Saturday morning to find some mounds. Our first stop was the Shrum Mound, an Adena burial site in Columbus. The Adena lived from about 1000 B.C. to about 100 A.D., before the Hopewell, who built the Newark Earthworks. The Shrum Mound isn't on anybody's list of significant sites, but we thought it felt peaceful.

From there, we proceeded to Chillicothe and Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. The site we visited, known as Mound City, originally had at least 23 mounds surrounded by a nearly square earthen wall. A number of the mounds were destroyed in World War I when the Army built Camp Sherman on the site, but some have been excavated by archaeologists and then rebuilt. In other words, the site is in nowhere near the shape that the Hopewell left it in; all the artifacts they buried with their dead have been dug up. Still, some things are authentic. In this photo, you can see a grassy mound on the left -- but beyond that, there's another one under the trees. The signage says the whole site was wooded like this when white settlers first found the site.

Besides the mounds, there's also a path down to the Scioto River. The route is one that the Hopewell would have taken to get from the river to Mound City. I believe all of the major Hopewell sites are situated along rivers or creeks, and archaeologists speculate that making the journey by river may have been part of a vision quest or coming-of-age ritual. In any case, the weather was beautiful, and I learned more stuff that may show up in the new series.

Which, by the way, is progressing. I passed 10,000 words today on the NaNo novel and I think it's going pretty well. I'll let you know next week if I still feel the same way.


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

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Dakota Access Pipeline - the final harvest?
I'd like to say I waited deliberately to post to the blog today so that I could post on Halloween -- but it's not true. The truth is that Kitty and I spent last night driving home from Columbus, Ohio, and this year's World Fantasy Convention. The panel I was on went very well, judging by the fact that a few people I'd never met came up to me afterward and told me they enjoyed it. Maybe it was because I got to mention Nanabush.

Anyway, I had a swell time at the convention, but was glad to sleep in my own bed last night.


Samhain is the Pagan version of New Year's Eve: the final harvest on the Wheel of the Year. And I think that makes this a good time to talk about something that's been going on in North Dakota for the past several months: the Native American actions against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Earlier today, a post encouraging people around the world to "check in" at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota flew around Facebook, and tens of thousands of people did. The post said the idea was to confuse the Morton County, ND, sheriff's department into believing the crowd protesting the DAPL was much larger than it actually was. While a spokesman for the department said they don't use Facebook for such surveillance activities, the technology does exist. And the Standing Rock protesters said they're grateful for the publicity.

What's this all about? Briefly: The $3.8 million project is already under construction. When finished -- assuming it's ever finished -- the pipeline would stretch 1,172 miles, bringing crude oil from northern Montana and North Dakota to Illinois. There, the DAPL would hook up with existing pipelines to route the crude to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.

The project has won approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But the pipeline route crosses a corner of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, threatening some of the tribe's sacred sites. In addition, the pipeline would cross the Missouri River twice, endangering water for crops, livestock, and people (not all of them Indians - the Missouri River watershed is home to some 12 million people) if the pipe were to spring a leak, which happens more often than pipeline advocates care to admit. The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, David Archambault II, says the government didn't follow its own rules for negotiating with the tribe. Members of the tribe have been protesting since April, blocking construction crews and prompting police to beef up their presence at the site. Protesters and police have clashed several times since then, resulting in arrests, injuries, and compelling photos of unarmed Indians facing cops in riot gear. Last week, police arrested more than 140 people blockading a road, first subduing them with pepper spray and tear gas. In September, Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman was arrested while covering the protest. A judge later dismissed the charges against Goodman, but the fact she was charged at all is troubling to this former journalist.

Indigenous peoples from across North and South America have announced their support for the DAPL protesters, as have A-list actors, numerous politicians, Muslims, gay pride groups, and many others. The United Nations International Indian Treaty Council is investigating reports of human rights abuses at the site.

Fibonacci Blue | CC 2.0 |
Those speaking in solidarity with the Standing Rock protesters have focused largely on environmental issues: not just the danger to the watershed -- #WaterIsLife, as the hashtag goes -- but also climate change, and our continued reliance on oil and gas rather than developing cleaner sources of power like wind and solar. But the environment is not the only issue at stake -- and for the Standing Rock Sioux, it may not even be the most important one.

Not long ago, I read a book called The Shawnees and the War for America by Colin G. Calloway. It's a quick read, but it highlights the way the white man -- from the British to the French to the American government -- have been lying to Native American tribes ever since whites first came to North America. In treaty after treaty, Indian nations agreed to give up some of their hunting lands in exchange for other lands, beads, and money -- and the government has lived up to the terms of none of them. Now, again, with the DAPL, the United States government is violating a treaty with Native Americans and skirting its own rules. But this time, in a way that has been impossible until the advent of social media, the whole world is watching -- and this time, finally, the U.S. government may reap what it has sown.

Blessed Samhain, everyone.

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Life and its passages.

I have news!

  1. Next weekend, I'll be attending the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio. I'll be on a panel called "The Fantasy of the American Heartland" Thursday afternoon, Oct. 27th, at 4:00pm. If you're planning to attend the convention, I hope you'll stop by and say hi.
  2. At long last, the omnibus of the Pipe Woman's Legacy series is just about ready to go out the door. Release day ought to be sometime this week. Keep an eye on the usual social media sites.
  3.  I'm also overdue for sending out a newsletter, so be on the lookout for that, too.

Maybe it's the time of year -- Samhain is only a week away -- or maybe it's that we have lost so many great people in 2016, and we still have two months to go. But Death seems to be on my mind a lot lately. (Witness my Mabon post of just a few weeks ago.)

But death isn't always bad.

Take the Tarot, for example. This is a photo I took of the Death card from the first Tarot deck I ever bought. When this card shows up in a reading, people who are unfamiliar with its meaning have been known to freak out. And why not? It's the thirteenth card! Everybody knows thirteen is an unlucky number! And there's a skeleton on a horse! And the sun is setting on the horizon!

Really? Maybe it's rising.

And what about that flag Death is carrying? On my card, the flower is red, but in regular Rider-Waite decks it's white. (What can I say? It was a cheap deck.) White is the color of beauty and purity, and it can also symbolize immortality.

The thing we tend to forget when we get all worked up over death is that something has to end before a new thing can begin. What this card actually signals is the start of a period of transformation -- the death of old ways of thinking and habits that have been holding us back. Or it can mean the end of a season of life -- say, the transition from high school to college, or from childlessness to parenthood, or from the working world to retirement. Of course you're glad to be on the threshold of this new phase of life, but it's also a bit frightening. Once the old way is behind you, you can never really go back.

On the card, Death is wearing armor because it's invincible. Nobody yet has gotten out of this life alive, and nobody living has escaped profound change of some sort.

In that sense, Death is just a phase. We're standing on the threshold of the transition from the old way of life to the new. Negotiating the transition may be tricky, and it will likely be painful. But it's going to be worth it in the end.

Speaking of beginnings, NaNoWriMo starts in a little over a week, and you may have guessed by now that the cycle of death/transition/rebirth will be one of the themes in my NaNo novel this year. But don't worry -- I promise it won't be too serious.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Behind the brown door.

I had every intention of writing a blog post last weekend while I was away, but time got away from me as I visited with friends, and I forgot to even put up the "on vacation" sign. I'm pretty sure it's the first time I've completely missed a week in the five years (five years!) I've been doing this blog. Still -- sorry about that. I hope I can make it up to you with this week's post, which is about Georgia O'Keeffe.

O'Keeffe is probably my favorite painter. I can take or leave her flower paintings -- which, by the way, she never meant to be sexual. "I hate flowers," she's quoted as saying. "I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move." The art world pinned the "girl painting girl parts" label on her because her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, had used her as a nude model for his photography.

My favorite O'Keeffe works are those she painted after she discovered New Mexico: the bones, the amazing landscapes, and this one window. I loved the window painting so much when I saw it at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe that I bought a print and framed it. It's called In the Patio II and she painted it in 1948.

That wall fascinated O'Keeffe. She painted and sketched it at least twenty times. It's the reason she spent more than ten years convincing the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to sell her the crumbling ranch house with the patio -- a courtyard, really -- in the center.

The wall fascinated me, too. I wanted to know what was on the other side of the window. I was sure it was something magical.

But when I took a tour of her house and studio in Abiquiu, NM, this past week, I discovered it's not a window at all. It's a door. Here's a link to what the real thing looks like. I'm resorting to a link so that I don't violate any copyrights -- but I encourage you to click through so you can see what I'm talking about. In the photo at the link, see how the shadow of the adjoining wall slants across the wall with the door? Well, when I was there, the wall with the door was itself casting the shadow. Adobe is the same color as the dirt in the courtyard. And O'Keeffe was a Minimalist; she left out details to get at the essence of what she was painting. So for In the Patio II, she left out the line where the wall ends and the patio starts. The dark stripe under the door is the shadow of the wall; the brighter stripe beyond is sunlit dirt.

So what's behind the door? It's a storage room, according to our guide. O'Keeffe hated clutter. She kept all her extra canvases and brushes and paints and stuff in there.

Some folks might have been disappointed to hear that, but not me. I was charmed. For the tools and supplies are what O'Keeffe used to make her art. She kept magic behind that door -- just as I'd suspected all along.

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

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Yes, it's another knitting post.

It occurred to me last week, after I wrote about those cute alpacas, that it had been a while since I talked about the stuff I turn all this yarn into. And knitting is on my brain anyway, since I've been doing a lot of it lately (knitting is a stress reducer! The New York Times says so!) and also since I've been evaluating my project queue with an eye toward packing for a trip later this week.

Since my last post on my projects in May, it turns out, I've been pretty darned busy. First up is the Pogona shawl, which I mentioned in that post.

There's a story behind the yarn I chose for this project, and it begins when I was in college. Back in 1975, freshmen at Indiana University came to campus for a few days over the summer for orientation and to sign up for classes. Back then, there was no such thing as online anything. Registration was a real-time event. Each academic department set up long tables with boxes and boxes of IBM punch cards, organized by course number and section; to sign up for a class, you went to the department's table and told them which class and section you wanted. If there were punch cards available, you were in; if not, better luck next semester. Anyway, after all that, you were funneled into the Financial Aid line, where they gave you actual cash money; unfortunately, from there, you went immediately to the queue for the bursar's office, where you handed over all the money that Financial Aid had just given you. The very last thing you did was to get your photo taken for your student ID. "Stand right there," the photographer said, and pointed to a pair of barefoot footprints painted on the floor of the gym. After the gantlet I had just run, I thought those feet were hilarious. The resulting goofy grin graced my student ID for the next four years, and earned me the nickname Chesh -- short, of course, for Cheshire Cat.

So when my daughter Amy spotted a yarn called Cheshire Cat at the shop where she worked, she alerted me, and of course I had to buy some. And I used it to make the Pogona.

Moving on...

I brought a lot of yarn back from Ireland, but I kept just two skeins for myself. I used it for an asymmetrical triangular shawl that I'm calling Emerald Hills. The pattern is called Winter Sea, but mine is green. I think the chevron design looks a little like trees marching up a hillside, if you squint just right. Here's a close-up so you can be the judge.

Then I decided I wanted something big and navy blue that I could wrap up in and wear with jeans. So I bought a bunch of aran-weight yarn in a dark blue and made a Guernsey Wrap. The big challenge with this project was reading the charted directions correctly when I turned the work to knit back. I ripped out more than a few rows of knitting before I got the pattern settled in my mind.

Here's the final result, stretched across the back of my loveseat (pardon the mess!). I'm looking forward to wearing this when it gets a little cooler outside.

Before someone asks: Yes, I made the cover on the pillow in the foreground. As for the ripple afghan: I made part of it. My mother bought me a kit so I could learn how to crochet. I got maybe a third of it done before she realized I was going way too slowly to finish it before I headed off to college, and took it back. So Mom made the afghan, but I helped.

One more: the project I finished tonight is called the Vee Vee shawl, and it, too, comes with a story. The dark yarn is a qiviut sock yarn that I bought in Alaska. It's beautiful stuff, as you can see from the photo. I knitted it up into a shawl right after I bought it, but either the pattern was screwy or my gauge was way off. In any case, I had only half as much yarn as I needed to complete the project, and I ended up never wearing the shawl. Last year, I reclaimed the qiviut yarn and paired it with this lighter variegated yarn, and last week, I decided to make them into a Vee Vee. The knitting took no time at all, even though I made a mistake about halfway through and had to rip out one whole section of the dark yarn. (The photo is not great; the parts that look green are actually gray. But you get the idea.)

Have no fear -- I'm working on story ideas, too, while I've been doing all this knitting, and I plan to bang out the first draft of the next book during NaNoWriMo. I'm pretty sure nobody in it will be a knitter.

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

There's a fiber festival? Alpaca my bags.

Autumn may have started last week, according to the calendar, but today was the first day that really felt like fall in the mid-Atlantic. So of course, I used it as an excuse to trek west for the annual Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival.

We've been attending this little sibling to Maryland Sheep and Wool for the past couple of years. When I say they're siblings, I don't mean to say they're run by the same people; what I mean is that they both cater to fiber arts enthusiasts -- knitters, spinners, and weavers. However, there are also a few exhibits for farmers who own sheep or other fleece-producing animals, like these alpaca, as well as contests for sheep farmers and sheepdog trials.

Maryland Sheep and Wool happens at the beginning of May. It's an easy drive from my house, but every year, we talk about making a weekend of it because the fair is so darned big. They have more than 250 vendors (and, according to their website, more than 600 sheep). By the time you've seen the whole thing, you have to think long and hard about whether you want to go back to get the perfect yarn you saw but didn't buy because it was at the first booth you visited -- a booth that's now about a mile away, on the other side of the fairgrounds. Well, maybe it's not quite a mile away, but it feels like it.

Dude, comb your hair...
The Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival is much smaller -- only about 125 vendors, and in a much smaller area. You can scope out all the booths before lunch, if you push it, and then have plenty of time to weigh your purchasing priorities before heading home. Plus it's fall, not the beginning of summer. And the part of the fairgrounds where the festival is held is mostly under trees. In all, it's a less overwhelming experience.

That's not to say the selection is lacking. I still saw a lot of yarn today. A lot of yarn. And I managed to find everything I was looking for (and a few things I wasn't, like a beautiful new wooden spindle with a Tree of Life design etched into the whorl).

I find myself buying most of my yarn at festivals these days, rather than at boutique yarn shops. The selection is wider and the prices are about the same, And at a festival I'm typically buying from small producers who not only spin and dye the yarn they sell, but are also behind the cash register (well, the iPad with a credit card reader attached). Which is not to say that local yarn shops are a bad deal; they're convenient, they have knowledgeable staff, and they're small business owners, too.

I used to be frugal -- okay, cheap -- when it came to buying knitting patterns and yarn. But after I became an indie author, I realized that knitting pattern designers and yarn spinners and dyers are in the same boat I am: we're all producing a quality product, and we deserve to be compensated for our time and effort.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mabon's coming, or: posting in the Dark.

It's been several years, it turns out, since I've done a post about Mabon, a.k.a. the autumn equinox, which is coming up on Thursday. In 2011, I talked about its significance as the second harvest. Pagans recognize three harvest festivals in our Wheel of the Year: Lughnasadh, at the beginning of August, for grains mostly; Mabon, at the equinox, for the last of the summer fruits and veggies; and Samhain, at the end of October, for apples and pumpkins and things that go bump in the night.

Well, okay -- we don't often set out deliberately to harvest the things that go bump in the night. But maybe we should. And if you're going to begin, Mabon is the time to do it.

The equinox is all about balance, as you know; we have two each year, and each has an equal number of hours of daylight and darkness. The difference is in the trend. In the spring, we are heading into the lighter half of the year. In the fall, we are heading into the dark.

It's easy to chirp about balance in terms of our personal harvests -- the things we've done in the light. What's not so easy to talk about is the dark side of the equation. That's where the scary stuff is: the parts of our lives we'd rather not think about. Our dark nights of the soul. Time's toll on our lives. Death.

When I say "death," I don't simply mean shuffling off this mortal coil, although that's part of it. Many of my indie author colleagues and I have spent this week mourning a friend and fellow traveler, Rich Meyer, who died unexpectedly earlier this week. Rich was a trivia whiz who wrote and published a bunch of trivia quiz books -- but he was also a top-notch e-book formatter who was always willing to help authors with their problem children. He saved my bacon last year while I was in Denver and trying to get a book published. Plus he was hilarious. I miss him.

But physical death isn't the only challenge. I'll be honest -- even though it's been more than a year, I'm still reeling a little from losing that job in Denver. I'm coping; I've been spending time with good friends, and I ticked the last big trip off the bucket list in April when I visited Ireland. But every now and then, I remember, and the memory still feels like a punch in the gut. I suppose it will for a while. Grief is like that.

Time's passage is another one of those Dark Side things, particularly for women. Pagans have this thing about threes, as I've mentioned before, and one way we express it is to split women's lives into thirds: the Maiden years are all about attracting a man; the Mother era is when we bear and raise our children (and sometimes raise our husbands, too, but I digress); and the Crone years are when our looks are fading, but our wisdom and life experiences make us valuable in a new way. Crones have been the victims of bad press for centuries, of course -- see that picture of Baba Yaga above -- so one of the aims of this triplicity is to remind the world at large that older women deserve not derision, but respect.

About five years ago, I suggested to some Pagan women friends that I was thinking about declaring myself a Crone. My 50th birthday had come and gone, my kids were in their 20s, and I felt ready to move on to the next stage of life. My friends were kind of horrified. We were pretty close in age, but none of them felt anywhere near ready -- partly, perhaps, because none of them had had children, but also I think partly because society has us programmed to want to be desirable Maidens forever. (Never mind that Mothers must have sex, too; they don't harvest those babies from a turnip patch. And never mind a chief benefit of Cronehood: birth control measures are unnecessary.)

Anyway, after that, I dropped the idea. Maybe it's time to revisit.

A blessed Mabon to each of you, and may your harvests be bountiful.

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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Rounding the Great Circle.

When I was a little kid, studying Indiana history in school, there were a few lines in our textbook about some Indians called the Mound Builders. They lived in southern Indiana and they built mounds. Probably burial mounds. But they were gone now, and nobody knew who they were or where they went. Dead Indians in a burial mound didn't sound all that exciting to me, growing up amid giant sand dunes next to a Great Lake, so I pretty much forgot about it.

Then last weekend, enticed by a sign for something called the "Great Circle Earthworks," I made a detour off I-70 in the middle of Ohio. I figured it might be a hippie colony or something. What I found was a monumental remnant of those Mound Builder Indians, and it pretty much knocked my socks off.

The Great Circle Earthworks is part of a larger complex known as the Newark Earthworks. It's located in present-day Newark and Heath, Ohio (the Great Circle is in Heath). The Newark Earthworks were designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006, and it's been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.

The builders are known to us as the Hopewell culture, and they constructed the site between 100 and 500 AD. Another monument on the site, the Octagon Earthworks, was designed to line up with the northernmost point of the moon's rise -- a cycle that takes 18.6 years. Some sites on the intarwebs have made a big deal of the fact that the Newark Earthworks are in line with the Pyramids in Egypt -- which sounds really cool and woo-woo-ish until you realize that moonrise would be on an 18.6-year cycle in Egypt, too. I mean, I don't know enough about the pyramids to know why their site was chosen and how their orientation was settled on. But I'm pretty sure the whole "chariots of the gods" theory has been debunked multiple times by now.

What it did put me in mind of, however, was Ireland's Newgrange -- a structure that's thousands of years older (it was built around 3200 BC) and that's oriented to catch the first rays of the rising sun on the winter solstice.

Anyway, I spent most of my time at Newark Earthworks at another of the site's major structures -- the Great Circle Earthworks, the one that lured me off the interstate. Behind the placard in the photo just above is the entrance to the Great Circle. The circle itself is 1,200 feet across, and that mound you see at the entrance is 14 feet high. The mounds taper in height toward the back of the site, where they drop to four feet high. And there's a five-foot-deep moat that begins just inside the entrance and circles the ring of mounds on the inside. At least it used to be a moat; centuries of tree roots have cracked the clay bottom of the trench so that it no longer holds water.

Keep in mind that the builders used rudimentary digging tools and baskets to move all that earth.

The Great Circle is no burial mound. This was a ceremonial site. There's another mound in the middle of the circle that archaeologists have named the Eagle Mound. When the circle was in use, a wooden structure sat there, with wings extending to either side. I could envision shamen conducting rituals at the site and using those screens to shield their secret activities from the attendees. In any case, the wooden structure was dismantled at some point and the mound that exists today was created on top of it.

Anthropologists say many Woodland Indian tribes view waterways as a way to reach the Beneath World -- the world of the spirits. Archaeologists speculate the moat was meant to bring the Beneath World into the sacred circle.

As I walked around the perimeter of the Great Circle, I was reminded of another site I visited in Ireland in April: Tara, the home of the ancient Irish kings. There, too, the visitor finds a series of concentric banks and ditches, and a sense of sacredness. But the Great Circle is more recent, and the experience I had there was more visceral than the one I had at Tara.

I'm told these types of mounds are all over Ohio. One of them is Serpent Mound, near Chillicothe, which I think I've heard of but have never been to. And there are those mounds in southern Indiana, too -- and Cahokia, the abandoned city in southern Illinois that's a thousand years newer than the Great Circle. I am seriously thinking about a trip to visit as many of these sites as I can. And you can bet one or more of them will turn up in a book at some point soon.

Have any of you ever visited any of these sites? Anybody got any travel tips?

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A case study in conflicting motivations.

I may have mentioned before that I have something of a background in music. So it was with some trepidation that I saw the new Meryl Streep movie, "Florence Foster Jenkins," over the weekend. Streep plays the title role; her character is a socialite who cannot sing, but her husband, St. Clair Bayfield -- played by Hugh Grant -- builds a cocoon of sycophants around her. They praise her supposed ability while he's paying them handsomely for it. In the movie, the situation reaches the height of absurdity when Mrs. Jenkins takes it upon herself to rent Carnegie Hall for a recital, and gives away tickets to soldiers and sailors -- none of whom are part of the cocoon in any way.

The movie is based on a true story. Mrs. Jenkins -- who preferred to be called Lady Florence, according to Wikipedia -- was a fixture on the New York City music scene from the 1920s through the '40s. She began her musical career as a sort of child prodigy in piano, even performing at the White House, before an arm injury made it too painful for her to play. She eloped with a man who gave her syphilis, and ditched him immediately thereafter; it's unclear whether they ever divorced, and equally unclear whether she was actually married to Bayfield. He was a Shakespearean actor whose career was only so-so, so he mostly gave up acting to become her manager. With Bayfield behind her, Lady Florence took singing lessons and joined a number of social clubs centered around music, and even founded her own.

Streep turns in her usual wonderful performance; I had to keep reminding myself that she really can sing. But the surprise was the way the subterfuge was treated. Streep's Mrs. Jenkins had no idea she couldn't sing; Bayfield knew, and certainly Mrs. Jenkins' accompanist (played delightfully by Simon Helberg) knew. The easy out would be to say Bayfield was in it simply to line his own pockets. After all, Mrs. Jenkins set him up in his own flat (where he'd stashed a mistress) and gave him access to her sizable trust fund.

But Bayfield did truly care about Mrs. Jenkins. If money was his motivation at the start of their relationship, it had long since stopped being the only one; at some point, he had begun to love her. And his love for her -- his insistence that his Bunny must be surrounded by happy thoughts -- seems to encourage everyone else around her to love her, too.

Well, except those sailors. She really was a terrible singer.

As a writer, I found Bayfield's complex motivations fascinating. My hat was off to the script writers, and to Grant, who kept Bayfield from being nothing more than a grasping impresario. Mrs. Jenkins was the star of her own firmament, but I found Bayfield's role the more compelling one. All Streep had to do was show up and sing off-key; Grant had to make us believe he built the fragile production around her not for money, but for love.

Yes, I know, it's not Sunday, nor even is it Monday. I was out of town over the holiday weekend and am just now getting back into the swing of things. I'll be back on schedule next Sunday, I promise.

These moments of slightly off-key blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Stitching memories.

You may recall that I was out of town a couple of weeks ago. One of the things I did was to stop by the house where I grew up, and pick up my mother's old sewing machine.

Here it is, ensconced temporarily in my daughter Amy's room. It's a Kenmore Imperial, model number 117.591, manufactured by the White Sewing Machine Company (which also manufactured sewing machines under its own brand) and sold by Sears only in 1942. Which means my mother bought it when she was single; she and my father didn't get married until 1947.

These machines were all steel, and they were workhorses. I found this video where a guy demonstrates a restored one. He got it to sew through four layers of khaki, and even two layers of garment leather. Mom never would have tried sewing leather on this machine, but I'm pretty sure she sewed vinyl upholstery material on it at least once. It doesn't do zigzag or any other fancy stitches, but it can make buttonholes with a massive contraption that you hook up in place of the presser foot.

It's in the original cabinet, and I had never realized how small that cabinet was because Mom always had the leaves folded out like this. The cabinet is only about 32 inches wide when closed. To close it up, you drop the sewing machine on its hinges and then fold the tabletop extensions in. It looks like a small desk, and I suppose you could use it as one if you didn't want your sewing machine on display all the time.

The machine has no foot pedal. Instead, there's a switch that you control with your knee. Another unusual thing about it is that the hand wheel -- which on this machine is the bulbous extension on the left -- turns the opposite way from most machines. So instead of pulling it toward you to start stitching, you push it away from you.

I have a lot of fond memories of this machine. My mother sewed most of her own clothes and mine, too, and I would often stand next to her while she worked. I don't think I learned how to sew on her machine -- I'm pretty sure I learned in home economics in junior high -- but I made my share of stuff on it before Mom bought me a sewing machine of my own. She continued to sew for herself as she got older, but she suffered from dementia in her later years and eventually gave everything up. After she died, I was the kid who sorted through all of her stuff, and I held it together pretty well until I saw cobwebs on this sewing machine. To me, that was the true measure of how far she had slipped away, even before her death. The machine would never have been still long enough to gather cobwebs in the old days.

Anyway, it's here now. I'm tempted to have someone restore it, even though I don't really have a place for it and I rarely sew anything anymore. I'll let you know what I decide to do.

Three bits of news:

  1. The second edition of  A Billion Gods and Goddesses is out! You can get a free copy at Smashwords with coupon code NA58R. The coupon expires Sunday, September 11th, so don't wait too long to use it.
  2. I'm honored to have been featured on The Heroine's Journey today. The organizer, Peter de Kuster, has featured more than 125,000 professionals in his Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey project to date.
  3. Yesterday, I was live on Facebook! The opportunity to be the guinea pig for the Authors Live! group popped up midweek, so I didn't have a chance to blog about it until now. Here's the video, in case you missed it. (I hope the link works. Technology: It's here to help us...) Enjoy, and I'll see you next week.

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

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Time flies when you're having fun.

I am grateful to Facebook today. The first thing I saw in my newsfeed this morning was a reminder that five years ago -- on August 21, 2011 -- I notified all of my friends that SwanSong would shortly be available for purchase at Smashwords. 
Just like that, I became an indie author.

I don't think I've ever mentioned this here before, but publishing a novel had been on my bucket list since my twenties. Well, okay, we didn't call them "bucket lists" then; that wasn't until that movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman came out in '07. But the concept of making a list of lifetime goals has been around forever.

Here's the list I made back then, as near as I can remember it, and very likely not in order: 
  • Get married and have kids.
  • Make $20,000 a year.
  • Travel to all 50 states.
  • Visit Ireland.
  • Visit Czechoslovakia (yes, it was still Czechoslovakia when I was in my twenties).
  • Write a novel and get it published.
  • Lose twenty pounds.
There may have been a couple more, probably relating to getting out of the city I was living in at the time, but that should give you the gist of it. 

It's kind of fun to look back on, now that I've nailed all of the items on that list. Of course, the marriage didn't stick and the pounds didn't stay off (and brought friends when they came back...), and my salary goal seems ridiculously tiny now (and it ought to give you an indication of how much I was making back then).

But this put me in mind of another goal. Not long after I started this indie author thing, I told myself I would publish three novels a year. So far, I've kept to that schedule -- and when I add in the omnibus editions and short-story collections, as well as all the anthologies I've been a part of over the past few years, my publishing schedule looks crazy: thirty-three titles in five years. And 2016 isn't over yet. I've spent this weekend updating A Billion Gods and Goddesses; the new version should be out later this week. (I'll send out a newsletter when it's live.)

I've learned a lot over the past five years, and there are some things I don't yet have the hang of. Sounds like it's time for me to make a new bucket list -- and here's hoping I'm as successful at completing it as I've been at nailing the old one.

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

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Travel, punctuation, etc.

I'm on a road trip this weekend, so for tonight, I've renewed an old post. (The original post is here, if you're the sort of person who likes to see what has been changed.)

This allows me to:

  1. Point you to a cute, new Grammarly article that goes into further detail about the difference between et al. and etc.;
  2. Have an excuse to remind you that hearth/myth Editorial Services are available to serve your editorial needs (click here for more info); and
  3. Get out of writing a whole new post while avoiding yet another reuse of my On Vacation graphic. You're welcome.


    Not many indie authors use the abbreviations etc. and et al. -- but I do see them at work. Et al., particularly, is used in formal writing. But just so we're on the same page, punctuation-wise, I thought I'd explain a few things about them.

    First, et al. means "and others." Et is the Latin word for "and." It's not an abbreviation. Okay? So it doesn't ever get a period after it. That would be like putting a period after "and" every time you use it in a sentence.

    The al. part of et al. is, however, an abbreviation -- for alii (masculine plural), aliae (feminine plural), and/or alia (neuter plural). I'm not going to try to explain masculine/feminine/neuter nouns here; suffice it to say that Latin has 'em (as does Czech, by the way). As English speakers, all we really need to be concerned with is that al. is an abbreviation and et is not. So the proper way to punctuate the phrase is like so:
    et al.
    Clear so far? Excellent.

    So now, clever thing that you are, you have recognized that the first two letters of etc. are the same as good old et that we just talked about. And you're correct. In Latin, etc. is short for et cetera, which means "and the rest" or "and other things."

    "So how come," you are now going to ask me, "etc. gets slammed together into one word and et al. doesn't?"

    Good question, and the answer is probably similar to how, in English, "has not" turned into hasn't and "I am" turned into I'm: etc. is a contraction. Typesetters, who liked to save a space anywhere they could, dropped the space in et c. at some point, and etc. eventually became common usage.

    Got that? Et al. is a two-word abbreviation with no period after etetc. is a one-word abbreviation that gets a period. Good. Okay.

    Now. There's one more sticky thing about these two, and it comes up when you stick them in the middle of a sentence. They take commas on both sides. If you have a phrase like "the rain, the park, and other things make me very happy," and you want to replace and other things with etc. to save space, you need a comma both before and after etc. Like so:

    The rain, the park, etc., make me very happy.

    Don't be tempted to forget that second comma. Just like with a quote or some parenthetical material, you need to mark off the end of the Latin you've just inserted. Hence, the closing comma.

    Okay? Cool. Here's your reward for suffering through this post. Have a great week, everyone.

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

    Sunday, August 7, 2016

    In which I go (green) bananas.

    Some of you may have already seen this photo when I posted it on Facebook yesterday. I bought this bunch of bananas last Monday. They were really green, so I let them sit for a few days to ripen.

    Five days later, they were still green on the outside. The fruit inside is ripe, but the peel is still mostly green -- and it's remarkably tough. Not tough like a regular green banana peel, but tough like the peel has gotten denser. It's older, but it's not ripening the way it should. It's weird.

    Nobody who commented on the photo had any idea what could have caused this to happen, so I turned to the intarwebz. In one article (most of which was over my head), I learned that wholesalers expose green bananas to ethylene gas before they're shipped to market. That encourages the fruit to turn ripe, as long as the bananas are kept thereafter at temperatures between 16 and 24 degrees Celsius (or 61 to 75 degrees, for those of us of the Farenheit persuasion). If the treated bananas are stored at temperatures above 24 degrees Celsius, however, the peel doesn't turn yellow, even though the fruit inside ripens normally. The article goes on to say that this phenomenon costs the banana industry big money in lost sales. Anyway, I figure that's what happened to my bananas: they were stored somewhere that was too warm for them.

    But that brought to mind another weird produce-related thing. Last fall, I think it was, I cut open an apple and let the two halves sit for a while while I did something else. When I came back, I noticed that the apple's flesh had not turned brown. So I let it sit for a while longer. It never turned brown.

    Thus reminded, back I went to the intarwebs. There, I learned that a couple of years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture started test-growing a genetically-modified apple that doesn't turn brown. The process involves inserting extra copies of the gene responsible for the enzyme that encourages oxidation. The apple tree reacts to those extra copies by shutting off production of the enzyme entirely. The apple will eventually rot, but it won't turn brown. And further, I learned that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the process last year -- as well as a similar one that keeps potatoes from turning brown when sliced or peeled.

    I'm sure this is not news to some of you. I confess that I have not been closely following the debate over genetically-modified foods; I knew that GMO foods sold in the U.K. must be labeled, but here in the U.S., the government has sided with growers and resisted calls for labeling these foods -- so far. Apparently three of our four current candidates for President support GMO labeling, with only Donald Trump opposing it.

    I like knowing what I'm eating, so I suppose I'm in favor of GMO labeling, too. But I'm especially in favor of fruits and vegetables that ripen naturally, because they taste better. My still-green bananas are okay, but that non-browning apple didn't taste like anything. My biggest fear is that we're breeding produce for shelf life at the expense of taste. Fresh fruits and vegetables are certainly healthier than the sugary/salty processed foods that jam our grocery store shelves. With obesity such a problem, maybe tasty produce ought to be a matter of public policy.

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

    Sunday, July 31, 2016

    Finding magic in the real world.

    There's a dragonfly hanging around the parking lot of my apartment building. I've been seeing it every afternoon when I come home from work. Usually it simply crosses my field of vision, but sometimes it zips past me to really make sure it gets my attention.

    I tend to think of dragonflies as liminal creatures, right on the border between reality and the fantastic. Part of it is their appearance: their bulbous heads, long, slender tails, and iridescent wings make them look less of this world and more of some unaccountable one. Part of it is the way they zip through the air, ducking and hovering in ways that we think we might be able to understand, if only we could read them as well as (or better than!) we read other humans.

    Dragonflies need to stay near water, because that's where they lay their eggs. The element of water is linked with the emotions, which might make dragonflies suspect to the rational-minded. And in fact, many cultures have superstitions, most of them unflattering, about dragonflies. I wrote a story about them once -- or rather, I wrote a story in which dragonflies play a significant role. I made the main character a news reporter partly so I had an excuse to do a brain-dump of all the fascinating things I learned about them. (The story's called "Lulie." You can buy it for 99 cents at Amazon.)

    But my story was strictly fantasy; the dragonflies in it were real, but they carried a magical message that my main character, Artie, resisted all the way. If "Lulie" had been magic realism, Artie would have been a very different character, and the dragonflies' message would have been less overt than Come down to the family farm and meet your cousin by the light of the moon. It would have been less insistent, more intriguing, and more of an answer to a deeper dilemma Artie himself was wrestling with.

    Because magic realism works best, I think, with characters who are on the verge of something: a difficult transition from childhood to adolescence; an insistent need to escape an intolerable situation, whether domestic (physical or emotional abuse) or on a wider scale (war, racial hatred, etc.); or a cognitive dissonance that may be close to manifesting as mental illness (the movie Birdman comes to mind). The characters have to be open enough to magic to not shy away from it. They need to be in a liminal frame of mind.

    I've been sufficiently intrigued by my dragonfly friend to investigate why he or she has been trying to get my attention (other than as a subject for this blog post, I mean). In Animal Speak, Ted Andrews says Dragonfly, as a totem, is about the power of light:
    Dragonflies remind us that we are light and can reflect the light in powerful ways if we choose to do so. "Let there be light" is the divine prompting to use the creative imagination as a force within your life.
    Tomorrow is Lughnasadh, the Pagan first harvest. For those of us in North America, the celebration comes at the height of summer. On this Lughnasadh eve, I'm going to try to remember to let my light shine. I hope you do the same.


    This post is part of the 2016 Magic Realism Blog Hop. In fact, it may be the final post, time-wise, in this year's hop -- which means you can click through the list below and catch them all at once! Big thanks again to Zoe Brooks for organizing another intriguing hop.

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