Sunday, May 29, 2016

Respect, and who deserves it.

Every now and then, a blog post topic whacks me upside the head. This might be one of those times. (There's a different topic that's been whacking me upside the head, too, for the past several weeks. But I need more time to gather my thoughts on that one. Maybe next week.)

Earlier this week, I think it was, I got into a discussion about political correctness with some of the guys at Kevin's Watch. For those of you just joining us, the Watch began as a message board for fans of fantasy author Stephen R. Donaldson, but over the years we have added several forums that have nothing to do with either Donaldson's books or fantasy in general. It's been a big part of my online life for more than 15 years, and it's brought me a ton of real-life friends.

Among the non-fantasy forums is one for political discussion. I'm told the tone in there is mild compared to other political forums on the intarwebz, and I guess I can see that, after having read some of the comments on political stories at various online publications. But still, people have strong opinions, and we've all known each other long enough that folks know where to sink the blade if they're in the right mood.

In any case, as I said, this particular discussion was about political correctness. One of the guys asked how much society should be asked to bend to accommodate transgender individuals, who make up a relatively small percentage of the population. I turned the tables and asked him, if he himself had some rare condition, would he want others to respect him enough to cut him some slack?

That set off another of our regulars, who wanted to know why he had to respect someone whom he disagreed with, or whom he just plain didn't like. Basically, his question was, "If I think you're an idiot, why should I respect you?"

And I responded that I thought everyone deserved respect, by virtue of the fact that we're all human beings.

Then a few days later, along came this meme on Facebook:

And I thought to myself, if Neil Gaiman gets it, that's good enough for me.

This post is late because I've spent most of the weekend writing like a madwoman. Book 4 of the Legacy series is just under 35,000 words as we speak, and I'm hoping to get another 5,000 on the virtual page tomorrow. With any luck, I'll be able to finish the first draft by the end of next weekend. I won't promise it'll be out by the summer solstice, but I think the 4th of July is doable. And surely by then I'll have settled on a title, don't you think?

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Lost: One giant ball of fire in the sky.

Hard to believe our pool will be open for business in 6 days.
This has been a tough month. There's been the whole going-back-to-work-after-vacation thing. And there's also the whole writing-the-first-draft-of-a-new-book thing (to say nothing of the whole writing-the-first-draft-of-the-last-book-in-this-series-and-I-mean-it-this-time thing). But then there's this never-seeing-the-sun thing.

I'm not what you'd call a sun worshiper, and I don't usually suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. But this is getting ridiculous. Here in the DC area, May is usually beautiful, weather-wise, with highs in the 70s and 80s and only a handful of wet days. Yeah, well, not this year. We set a record earlier this month for the longest stretch of days on record with measurable precipitation -- 15 days straight, from April 27th through May 11th. (Coincidentally, April 27th is the day I came home from Ireland, where the weather was beautiful for the whole week I was there. And yes, that contributed to the whole going-back-to-work-after-vacation thing.)

But don't think we were back to normal after the 11th, just because the sun came out that day. We have, in fact, had rain on 17 of the first 22 days of the month. Through the 17th, skies were overcast at noon on 75 percent of the days in May. And it's been chilly a lot. Today, for example, Washington, DC, was the coldest city east of the Rockies -- just 57 degrees this afternoon.

It got so bad at one point that Washingtonian Magazine published an "explainer" so we wouldn't be frightened when we saw the sun.

To make matters worse, the apartment management switched the HVAC system over to air conditioning while I was in Ireland. So not only has it been cloudy, damp, and chilly outside most of the time, it's also been cold inside our apartment. I'm currently wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt and a shawl. On the 22nd of May.

But do not despair, dear readers! For the weather guys say we have just one more day of this crap, and then our giant ball of fire will return to the heavens. We might even have a rain-free Memorial Day weekend to kick off summer.

I hold no illusions, by the way, about DC's chances for nice weather over the next three or four months. I'm dead certain that summer will quickly ramp up to its typical hazy, hot, and humid self, and I'll be dreaming then of chilly May days.

But for now, I'm so done.

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

Sunday, May 15, 2016

All the yarny goodness, all the time.

It's Sunday, which means I owe y'all a blog post, so I'm stepping away from the first draft of the new book (working title: Book 4) to write this. My head is full of Tricksters and sipapus and an Icelandic princess (oh my!), but I can't really say much about the book yet because I'm only about 15,000 words in and Webb's in the driver's seat again, so who knows where we'll end up.

So let's talk about knitting.

Back in March, I wrote a post about the Olympic Forest Baby Blanket pattern that I was in the process of turning into a Redbud Forest Table Topper. I did, eventually, finish the project, and right now it's gracing the top of my altar. Here's a shot of the a portion of the gazillion freaking French knots, together with the picot border.

So it turned out well, and I'm glad it's over.

When I was preparing for the trip to Ireland, I asked some people what sort of souvenir they'd like me to bring them -- and several said they wanted yarn. This, my friends, is how you know you've found your tribe.

As it turns out, there are thousands of sheep in Ireland, but not nearly as many yarn shops of the type you find here in the States. I did find a really nice shop in Dublin near Trinity College called This is Knit. But the surprise of the trip, yarn-wise, was the shop at the Kilkenny Design Centre, which sold not only finished knitted goods, but Irish yarn, as well. (Note to tourists: double-check the knitted goods for sale in some touristy gift shops. I discovered a lot of them are made from acrylic yarn, and acrylic -- although easier to take care of -- is not as warm as wool, and won't look nice for as long.)

I took a project with me to Ireland, although I didn't work on it much while I was there because I was too busy goggling at the sites. So I finished it this week. It's a cowl called the Olivia, and the yarn is cotton and bamboo, so I'll be able to wear it to work during all but the hottest months of the year.

One would think I'd have had my fill of yarn shopping while in Ireland, but au contraire, mon ami! Last weekend was Maryland Sheep & Wool, one of the biggest wool-related festivals on the East Coast. I only bought a little bit of yarn there, though. No, really. And some buttons made from honey-locust wood. And a small, zippered bag for knitting tools from a Navajo weaver. And honey from the Bee Folks.

My next project, which I've already started, is a shawl called the Pogona. It's by Stephen West, but it's one of his first designs -- before he went wacky and started designing stuff like swants.

What are swants, you ask? Just watch this. (No, I am not making any swants. Ever.)

My work here is done. I'm going back to writing now.

These moments of swants blogginess are brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

We come from the future?

Jonas de Ro | CC 3.0 |
I mentioned last week that I've begun work (at last!) on the final book of the Pipe Woman's Legacy series. One of my misgivings about writing about Naomi and Joseph's kids is that I'm having to think about their world as it will be then -- which is hard, because I kind of stink at writing science fiction.

My final project in grad school -- my novel-in-place-of-a-thesis -- was a sci-fi work called Information Overload. It was set in the near future -- I forget which year -- and the main character was a woman who worked as a journalist out of her home. Her job entailed keeping tabs on about a billion news sources at once, primarily by watching video news feeds on a grid of multiple virtual monitors that took up an entire wall of her home. I was told that wasn't futuristic enough.

Now, twenty years later, I'd argue the point. Home theater has evolved, certainly, with split screens and multiple windows open at once. But we're not yet to the point of having our video screens embedded in plaster, with the ability to show maybe a hundred live feeds at once. Think of the bandwidth that would require!

Maybe I just didn't explain it well enough.

Anyway, that experience kind of soured me on writing sci-fi. Post-apocalyptic fiction, maybe; ships zipping around in outer space, maybe, as long as nobody expects me to give a plausible explanation of how the FTL drive works. But near-future stuff? I'm not sure I'm imaginative enough.

And yet, here I am, writing sci-fi that's trying to pass itself off as urban fantasy. I've pretty much been writing near-futuristic stuff since the first Land, Sea, Sky book. That whole series was set ten years ahead of where we are today. And with Webb's half of the Pipe Woman's Legacy novels, I'm writing about events that are supposedly happening in 2051 -- thirty-five years from now.

That doesn't seem like much of a stretch, does it? Seems like technology then will be about the same as it is now -- that is, until you think about where were were technologically thirty-five years ago, in 1981.  MS-DOS had just been invented and IBM rolled out its first PC. Cellular phones were regular-sized handsets attached to a battery the size of a briefcase. Almost nobody had a fax machine. NASA launched the space shuttle Columbia -- the first reusable space vehicle -- that year. And not only was cable TV the big thing, but MTV was brand-new -- and it showed nothing but music videos.

So for the Legacy books, I've been thinking of what we have now, except a little smaller and a lot faster. Skype calls are holographic; laptop computers have given way to tablets. And cars can fly, although my characters have to pay a toll to use the levitation lane.

Am I missing anything? What do you think day-to-day technology will look like in 2051?

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

What I learned as a book cover contest judge.

I'm technically still on vacation, so today I'm reprising a post that ran last month at Indies Unlimited. I'll be back next week, rested and ready, if not tanned (come on -- I was in Ireland!).

You may be interested in knowing that I've started writing the final Pipe Woman's Legacy book. Oh -- and by popular demand, there's now a page here on the blog that lists all the books and short stories in the Pipe Woman Chronicles universe. Feel free to take a look; you may have missed the short stories that I put up at Wattpad.

Have a great week!

Among my favorite internet acronyms is AFLE. Translated loosely, the letters stand for another freaking learning experience.

I don’t know about you, but for me, that acronym perfectly sums up this whole indie author thing. No matter what your background, there’s going to be some component of this jack-of-all-trades business in which you’re going to need a crash course. Or professional help.

Art is one of those things for me. In school, I was an A or B student in everything but art. (Well, and physical education. But so far, nobody’s expected me to do pushups for my books, thank goodness.) So imagine my dismay when I realized I was going to have to design covers for my books. Luckily, I have a couple of friends who are much better in graphic arts than I am, as well as two daughters who know their way around Photoshop. I treasure their advice to this day.

Still, I had no business participating in a cover art contest – much less being a judge. And yet, there I was, in a secret Facebook group, looking over contest entries and discussing what made each a contender or – gulp – a failure.

And yet, I’m glad I had the opportunity, because I learned a lot about what makes a book cover great.

One thing that surprised me was that we weren’t just judging indie book covers. Some professional cover artists entered our contest, too, and that set the bar higher than perhaps some entrants expected. But on the other hand, it was probably a good thing, as it simulates what actually happens on the shelves of your favorite virtual bookstore. After all, your ebook is going to be sitting right next to books with pro covers in readers’ search results. So you might as well assume you’ll be competing against professional work from the get-go.

That’s the first thing I learned: Your cover needs to look professional. I hate to tell you this, but we rejected obviously homemade covers immediately. Here are the kinds of the things that got an instant thumbs-down:

  • A blurry photo, or a photo blown up to the point where it was grainy.
  • Badly-composed photos – often a landscape shot with no foreground focal point.
  • Nearly all hand-drawn artwork. We gave a little leeway here for children’s books, or if the artist was going for a cartoony feel (but the book’s category and blurb had better support that sort of lighthearted mood). Otherwise, anything hand-drawn had to be pretty close to perfect.
  • Photoshop collages – the sort of thing where the author wants to get every important element of the plot onto the cover, so they take a bunch of photos, trim them badly so that they look like they were cut out of magazines, and plopped them all onto some sort of background. The result is a cover that’s too busy and too difficult for a reader to parse at first glance. Plus the details will get lost in the thumbnail.

Which brings me to the second thing I learned: Your cover needs to be legible in thumbnail size. “How does it look in thumbnail?” was the one question that the judges most often asked. By “thumbnail,” I mean a picture that’s about an inch wide by about 1.5 inches tall. The most important elements of your cover – title, author’s name, and photos or graphic elements – all have to be legible at that size, because that’s how readers are going to see your cover first.

Here’s how to check: Open a new document in Word. Insert, or copy-and-paste, your cover image on the blank page. If you don’t see a frame around the image with little squares at the corners and a handle at the top, click on the image. Then click-and-hold one of the little squares at one corner – it doesn’t matter which one – and move it diagonally toward the opposite corner. Your image will start to shrink. Stop when it’s about an inch wide. Now, look at your cover again. Can you see what’s going on? Can you read the title? Can you read your name? If you can’t – even when you know what it says – imagine a reader coming to it cold.

AFLE, right?

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