Sunday, September 24, 2017

Down the research rabbit hole we go.

One of these days, I'm going to finish the research for a book before I start writing the first draft. I used to be really good at that. Not so much any more.

One problem is that I'm starting to run out of locations I've lived in. Even places I've visited and liked well enough to set a story there are getting thin on the ground. So I have to rely more on research for details about the places where I want to set the story. Take the book I'm writing now -- Maggie at Moonrise

By the way, I need to clarify something. I've been calling this third book of the Transcendence trilogy Maggie in Moonlight, and I realized the other day that's wrong. My original concept was to show, with the titles, something of the progress Maggie makes in her journey from a woman with a lot of baggage to someone who's capable of renewing the Earth. At Moonrise fits the concept better -- and it's actually the title I intended to use to start with. So henceforth, Book 3 shall be known as Maggie at Moonrise.

Anyway, I knew that in this book, Maggie was going to need to hit the road to see two of her children: Emily, who lives in the Los Angeles area; and Tim, who lives in Mexico City. The trouble is that I have very little acquaintance with either locale. I've been in L.A. exactly twice. The first time, I was in high school and on vacation with my parents. We drove up from San Diego and stayed in an RV park that had orange trees at every campsite -- pretty exotic for a family from Indiana. It wasn't until the next day -- a Sunday -- that I realized we'd stayed across the freeway from Disneyland, and moreover, my father didn't intend to stop there. He wanted to get through L.A. as quickly as possible, and on a Sunday morning when traffic would be light. But c'mon, Disneyland!

My father's been dead for more than 30 years, and yes, I'm still holding this against him.

My second trip to L.A. was when my friend Kim lived in near Santa Barbara. Unfamiliar with L.A. sprawl as I was, I assumed that if I flew into LAX on a Friday, she could come and pick me up, drive back to her place, and we'd have a lovely weekend before she drove me back to catch my flight home on Sunday. Yeah, no. It turned out out it's three hours one-way from her house to LAX, and she was not willing to spend twelve hours on the road in the space of three days. So we got a hotel room near the airport, did the Getty Museum, and went to Redondo Beach. She still gives me a hard time about my 36-hour trip to L.A.

Anyway, I basically had no idea about where anything was in L.A., so I put out a call for information on Facebook. Thanks to those of you who offered suggestions and set me straight on my misconceptions.

Mexico City was another challenge. I minored in Spanish as an undergrad, but I was more interested in Spain at the time -- so although I knew bits and pieces about Mexico, there was a lot I didn't know. In addition, ancient Native cultures are a big thing in this series, and while I'd learned something about the Aztec pantheon to flesh out the character of Jack Rivers in the Pipe Woman Chronicles, I'm reaching farther back for Maggie's story -- to Teotihuacán.

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Like ancient sites around the world, from Stonehenge to Cahokia to the Newark Earthworks, no one knows who built Teotihuacán. Construction on the pyramids began around 200 BCE, and eventually the city was home to 125,000 people. It was sacked and burned around 550 CE, and abandoned about a hundred years after that. Centuries later, when the Aztecs stumbled across the ruins, they considered Teotihuacán sacred -- maybe built by giants. They adopted many of the gods and their imagery from the site and incorporated them into their own bloody religion.

Teotihuacán is now a national archaeological site -- and as at Cahokia, new discoveries are still being made there today. And now that I've done so much reading about Teotihuacán, I'm putting it on my bucket list. But unlike Maggie, I am not even thinking of driving there.

Speaking of Maggie at Moonrise, I'm making good progress on the first draft. I'm about 45,000 words in. This one is likely to be a tad longer than my usual 50,000 words -- I have about four important scenes left to write. But I'm still hopeful that I'll have it done by the first or second of October. Maybe by this time next week, I'll be able to call it done. 

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How the Equifax debacle reminds me of traditional publishing.

gagnonm1993 | Pixabay

Y'all already know my brain makes weird connections, so I'm not gonna apologize for this post.

By now, I'm sure you've heard about the Equifax hack (sorry about the paywall). The credit bureau -- one of three that aggregate consumers' credit histories so that businesses can deem us worthy of a new loan -- was hacked earlier this year, sometime between mid-may and the end of June. The breach was not announced, however, until last week (giving two of the company's top executives plenty of time to unload some of their stock, but I digress). The hackers gained access to confidential information belonging to 143 million Americans -- including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and birth dates. They also lifted credit card information belonging to about 200,000 consumers. Several hundred thousand people in the UK are also affected by the breach.

The hackers got in by exploiting a security flaw in an open-source software package called Apache Struts. The manufacturer had released a patch for in March, but Equifax hadn't bothered to install it. Two of the company's executives -- the chief information officer and chief security officer -- are already gone.

When people got upset about it, Equifax's reaction was not exactly helpful. For starters, their handy-dandy "how to check if the hack exposed your security info" site asked for more security info than people commonly have to hand over to anybody. Coming from a company that had already proven itself incapable of keeping consumer information secure, the request seemed clueless at best. Then, for those affected, Equifax generously offered a year of free credit monitoring -- and were happy to take the opportunity to offer the paid version to everyone else.

This lack of concern for consumers has been annoying for years, but the hack has raised it to DEFCON 1. It's particularly galling that we, as consumers, have almost no control over the information these companies have on us. We can't even choose whether to do business with a particular credit bureau -- or with none of them.

But Equifax's point of view is understandable if you squint just right. We're not the customers of any credit bureau. The businesses that buy our credit reports from them are their customers. We're the content. We're the data.

So what's the connection to publishing, you ask? Well, readers have always considered ourselves consumers of books. So we could be excused for thinking we were the publishing industry's ultimate customers. After all, publishers want to put out books we want to read, right? So that makes us the most important player in the transaction, right?

Um, no. Publishers don't sell their books to us -- they sell them to bookstores. Now, bookstores do sell to readers. But the big stores don't see us as individuals. I mean, Amazon sends me an email (or two! or three!) every day with things they think I might be interested in buying, but it's all computerized. It's not like friendly Mr. Bookseller down the street, who would set aside a copy of an author's new book because we had a lovely conversation about the last one by that author. It's Amazon's algorithm telling Amazon's email client to suggest a bunch of stuff to me because I'd searched for something similar on the web.

Bookstores are the publishers' clients. Readers are the data.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West once said, "Oh, what a world! What a world!"

In case you missed it, I've been featured by Fiona Mcvie at Author Interviews. I haven't done an interview in quite a while, and this one was fun. Thanks again to Fiona for hosting me.

Work on Maggie in Moonlight continues apace, although not as quickly as I'd hoped. I keep falling down research rabbit holes (more on that next week). However, I'm still on track to finish the first draft by the end of this month, although that may slop over into the following weekend. Stay tuned!


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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hats off to intrepid journalists.

I've had my head down in the first draft of Maggie in Moonlight all weekend (which is at just about 22,000 words right now, thanks for asking), while most of the United States has been watching the progress of Hurricane Irma, our second major hurricane this year. Irma follows Harvey, which caused massive damage to southeast Texas just a couple of weeks ago. Still mostly offstage is Hurricane Jose, which forecasters now say will probably meander off the East Coast for most of this week.

At the same time as these storms are drawing a bead on the southeastern United States, much of the West is either battling wildfires or coughing from their smoke.

As often happens, many folks are fighting their anxiety with gallows humor, liberally laced with references to the End Times. I spoke to a friend in Michigan the other day. She was saying how her state looks like a pretty good place to live right now, and I said, "Don't get complacent. You guys are on deck for the boils."

Among those who employ gallows humor are journalists, because they're so often in the thick of things, and sometimes humor is the only thing that will get you through a horrific event. I remembered earlier today that I wrote about a news network's hurricane coverage in Undertow, the middle book in the Land, Sea, Sky trilogy. This book is one of my favorites. So in lieu of a post, I'm presenting to you the planning meeting where Tess Showalter, investigative reporter for the New America News Network, volunteers to help cover Hurricane Hubert in 2023.

The air in the newsroom felt even more frantic than usual. More people than just the standard weekend crew were bustling around. Every so often, someone would stop and stare at the monitors at the producer’s desk; then they would walk away, shaking their heads.

Tess made her way around the desk to see the monitor. One look, and she knew exactly what was making everyone pop-eyed.

“Is that the hurricane?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.

“Oh, hi, Tess!” said Schuyler, who had stopped next to her. “Yep, that’s Hurricane Hubert.”

“Somebody drew that thing, right?” she said. “It can’t be real.” The ring of clouds was very nearly a perfect circle, with what appeared to be a small, round hole in the center.

“Oh, it’s real, all right,” the producer on duty said. “It’s the biggest storm to hit the U.S. since Katrina in ‘05. Or will be, if it makes landfall here.”

“Do we know where it’s headed yet?” Schuyler asked.

One of the writers popped her head up over the console. “It’s still pretty far out to sea. NOAA says it looks like it’s heading for the Caribbean right now. But it could always turn and make a run up the coast.”

The producer punched up a graphic from the NOAA website. “Here’s one scenario.”

Tess gasped. “We’re right in its path.”

“Nah,” Schuyler said. “If it makes landfall south of here, it’ll break up a lot before it gets to D.C. We’d get a ton of wind and rain, but nothing like the lashing those poor suckers at landfall will get.” He glanced at the producer. “Have we sent any crews out yet?”

The man hooked a thumb down the hall. “Ash and Antonia are setting it up now.”

Tess and Schuyler traded a look, and took off together for Antonia’s office.

“Tess!” Antonia called as soon as she spied them through her open door. “I’m glad you’re here. I was just about to call you at home. Hello, Schuyler.”

“Hiya, boss lady,” Schuyler said, perching on an end table. Seats were at a premium; Gil, Antonia’s producer, and Ashton, the newsroom manager, had commandeered the guest chairs, and all the unit producers were crowded onto the couch. Tess took a seat on the arm of the couch next to her producer, Tracie.

Ashton was running down a list of personnel on his tablet. “As far as stringers are concerned, I’ve contacted Boz Jaegers in Houston and Ebony Jackson in New Orleans.” At Antonia’s nod, he went on, “And on the Atlantic side, we’ve lined up somebody in Charleston.”

“The same one we had last time?” Gil asked. “Fred Michaels? He was good.”

“He was,” Ashton agreed. “We need to think about bringing him on board permanently, if he’s as good this time.” He looked at Antonia.

“Noted,” she said. “Let’s see how he does, and then I’ll see if there’s room in the budget. What about Florida?”

“I want to send Heela Shahin to Miami and Stu Levinson to Jacksonville,” Ashton said. He nodded to their respective producers. “That should cover the Atlantic side of the state, if Hubert takes a right turn. And if not, they can both get across to the gulf side pretty quickly.”

“So Heela in Miami, Stu in Jacksonville, Fred Michaels in Charleston….” Antonia was ticking them off on her fingers. “We need somebody at Hatteras.”

“Jeff Donohoe,” Ashton said, as if it were obvious. His suggestion met with groans of approval. The joke was that if there was a street sign in the path of a hurricane anywhere on the East Coast, you could count on Jeff to do a live shot hanging from it sideways.

Antonia’s lips twitched. “Of course,” she said dryly. “I don’t know what possessed me to ask. And in Virginia Beach?”

“We’ll go,” Tess said. In response, Morrigan’s crows raised a ruckus in her head. Ashton simply shrugged and typed her name in.

Antonia shot her a what the hell? look. Tess gave her what she hoped was an I’ll tell you later look.

A few minutes later, the meeting broke up. “I’ll go and see about travel arrangements for us,” Tracie said. “Hotel rooms ought to be easy to get. They’ll have a bunch of cancellations as soon as people get a load of the weather forecast.”

“I hope you guys aren’t mad that I volunteered us,” Tess said.

“Are you kidding?” Schuyler crowed. “You picked the best possible place. Hurricanes almost never come ashore at Virginia Beach. If they get that far north, they do a right turn at Cape Hatteras and head out to sea. We’re getting a vacation on the network’s dime.”

“Yeah, well, don’t pack your boogie board,” Tess said. “I have an ulterior motive for picking Virginia Beach.”

“Oh?” asked Tracie.

“Darrell called last night,” she said. “Quinn is in Virginia Beach. And something is definitely going down.”

“Spectacular!” Schuyler said with a happy grin. “We get a big story either way!”

“That sounds promising,” Antonia said as she came up behind them.

“Wait’ll you hear!” Schuyler said.

Tess rolled her eyes. “Come on in,” she said to her boss, and led the way into their office.

Antonia’s reaction was more muted than Schuyler’s, but just as enthusiastic. “Go get ‘em,” she said, grinning from ear to ear.

Tess grinned back. Don’t worry, Darrell. The cavalry’s coming.

Tess, Schuyler, and Tracie end up getting more hurricane than they bargained for -- although Tess never actually gets to cover the storm's landfall, because... 

Ohhh no. I'm not going to give away the story. You can buy it and read it yourself here. Or buy the whole series here

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

We have winners! and a knitting post.

First off, thanks to everybody who participated in the giveaway for the launch of Maggie on the Cusp. I've emailed all the winners, so check your inbox -- and don't forget to send me your street address if I don't have it yet (you know who you are).

I got a ton of good ideas for Maggie's road trip. In case you were curious (because I was), here's how the vote broke down:

Serpent Mound, Ohio: 3 votes
California: 2 votes
Cahokia: 1 vote
Mexico City: 1 vote

And for the "tell me where to send her" option, I received votes for the following destinations:

Bear's Ears National Monument, Utah
Canyon de Chelly, Arizona (Spider Rock)
Witch Mountain (see below)
Mackinac Island, Michigan (a.k.a. Turtle Island by the Ojibwe Indians)
Sedona, Arizona
Pacific Northwest

Witch Mountain sounds intriguing, but I'm going to need more info. I found a reference on this page to a Witch of Cedar Mountain, in Georgia. Maybe that's what the contestant was thinking of.

In any case, the suggestions are all awesome and much appreciated. And the timing couldn't be better -- I'm about 7,500 words into Maggie in Moonlight and she'll be hitting the road pretty soon. I may not get Maggie to all of these spots, but I'll definitely keep them in mind when I'm location scouting for future books. Thanks again, everyone!

And I keep forgetting to mention that Maggie on the Cusp is just 99 cents right now at Amazon -- as is the first book in the series, Maggie in the Dark. I'm going to leave the first book at a buck, but the price for book 2 will go up on Tuesday -- so if you don't have a copy yet, now's the time.

And now to the knitting portion of this post.

You may recall that I was working on a very cool shawl called a Fire Dragon Wing, but I was running out of yarn. Well, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the maker of Lemonade Shop yarn did send me another skein -- yay! And the project is finished -- yay!

The bad news is that the colors aren't a very good match. Here's a shot of the part of the shawl with yarn from both skeins. The red from the new skein is pink and the orange is MIA.

But hey, it's done, and I'll wear it, and it's all good.

And I have moved on to another project. This one is called the Main Street Shawl. It's constructed very much like the Eden Prairie, which is still my favorite thing I've knitted. Here's what I have done so far. The lighting is bad in the top left corner of the photo, so I'll tell you that the square that looks maroon is a deep rose, and the triangle that looks black is actually purple.

My next step is to pick up stitches along the inside edges of the big V where the white yarn is sitting, knit a few rows of black for a border, and then fill in the empty space with the white yarn. Then I'll pick up stitches along the left side of the rainbow strip, do a black border, and knit a big chunk using the lavender yarn. Then I'll pick up and knit a black border around the whole shebang and it'll be done.

This one, I have plenty of yarn for. As long as I don't run out of black...

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