Sunday, August 25, 2019

Molten Trail: It's just one smoking hot crater after another.

Last week I sorta kinda promised you guys a sneak peek at Molten Trail, so here it is.

If you've read the first two Elemental Keys books, you'll know that our Elemental heroes -- Raney, Collum, Rufus, and Gail -- are chasing after Raney's father to find various Keys to a door that will unleash the Earth's destruction. They've already been to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the Water Key was hidden, and to County Kilkenny, Ireland, where the Earth Key was kept. Book 3 takes them to the Big Island of Hawaii for the Fire Key. Fire is Rufus's Element, so he's pretty excited about it all.

One of the joys of writing this series is that I get to use places I've been as backdrops. So of course the gang stays near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which I visited in 2010. Here's a photo I took of the smokin' hot crater Rufus is so excited to see. The landscape is different now, though, after Kilauea's eruption earlier this year, and that's part of the story in Molten Trail, too.

Anyway. The photo, with the excerpt below it:

Copyright Lynne Cantwell 2010
Gail sprang for our lodgings. I think she saw my face when I paid for the business class airline tickets. Or maybe it was when I suggested we stay in a hostel near the national park. Anyway, she went online and booked a place, and then told us about it.

“You didn’t need to do that,” I’d said.

“Look, Raney,” she said. “I may be on a fixed income, but you’re unemployed. Let someone else do the heavy lifting for this trip. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Secretly, though, I was relieved.

So anyway, what we got were rooms in a renovated historic hotel just inside the boundary of Volcanoes National Park. The dining room overlooked the smoking hot Halema’uma’u Crater – and when I say smoking hot, I mean the crater was actually smoking.

Rufus was beside himself. His room overlooked the crater, too. “I’ve never been this close to a volcano before,” he said, beaming. “This is awesome!” He dropped his stuff in his room and immediately ran outside to goggle at the blasted landscape.

“Don’t get so close that your shoes melt,” Gail called after him. Then she shook her head in amusement. “He’s like a big kid.”

“That’s our Madman,” Collum said. He’d regained what equilibrium he’d lost on the flight over, and now looked like the fierce mountain gnome I’d grown to love.

We had some time before lunch, so we dragged a reluctant Rufus away from his contemplation of the crater and trekked over to the visitor center. There I found an arresting sight of my own: a painting of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.

“That’s her home out there,” Rufus said, startling me. He pointed out the windows behind us.

“What, the crater?”

“Yep. According to Hawaiian mythology, Kilauea is where she lives.”

I turned my gaze to the blasted landscape, and back to him. “Has She spoken to you?”

“Not so far. But there’s time.” He grinned at me.

“Hey, where do your relatives live, anyway? You never said.”

“Not here,” he said with a laugh. “They’re all up on the North Shore of Oahu. And before you ask, they’re not Elementals.”

“Are they Native Hawaiians?”

“Nope. As far as I know, they’re haole, like all of us.” He twirled a finger to include me and the other team members. “That branch of the family came here in the ‘60s for the surfing and never left.”

“Sounds like the sort of people you’d be related to,” I said with a smirk.

“Yep, we’re all lazy jerks,” he replied cheerfully. “But seriously, I think that’s why my mother didn’t keep in touch with them. They were a little too counter-culture for her taste.”

“Gotcha. So you’re Elemental on your dad’s side?”

“Exactly. We’re Pennsylvania coal miners from way back. Fire is a great talent to have for that – setting charges to blow new seams open and that kind of thing.” His gaze drifted to the window. “Volcanoes are several magnitudes greater, though. This is real, raw firepower.” He focused on me again. “Hey, let’s get going. I’d like to get out into the park. There’s a road that circles the crater – we should have time to do that before lunch.”

“You’re kidding,” Gail said as she joined us. “Rufus, putting off a meal? Are you feeling okay?”

“He’s jonesing for Pele,” Collum said.

“You guys are all assholes. You know that?” Rufus said, but he was smiling. “Come on, let’s go. I’ll drive.”
Pele, Goddess of Fire by Herb Kawainui Kane
Photo copyright 2010 Lynne Cantwell
Speaking of traveling, I'll be on vacation next week. Enjoy your Labor Day! See you in September.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Did someone say "knitting?"

I know you're all here for the knitting, but first: I finished the first draft of Molten Trail, the third book in the Elemental Keys series, earlier this week. It's shortish -- just over 41,000 words. But I'm confident I'll be able to add another 5,000 or 6,000 words in my next pass, which will be happening here presently. In any case, we're still on track for a late September-ish release. More news as it happens -- maybe even next week.

In the meantime, I offer you a post filled with lovely knitted things.

Time sure flies when you're having fun. My last kniting post was in March, and here it is, late August. Summer isn't the best time to knit, and certainly not to knit with wool. But that's why the gods invented air conditioning, right?

These last five months have been all about shawls. I already have about 30 shawls and shawlettes, which is a little embarrassing to admit. I keep thinking I should stop making them. But then some lovely new skein of yarn catches my eye, or I see an intriguing pattern, and I'm off.

Speaking of intriguing patterns: Last time, I showed you the Level in progress. Here's what mine looks like, now that it's finished:

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
In this project, I learned the importance of using yarns with more or less the same heft. The copper yarn, it turns out, is a DK; the blue is fingering weight; and the speckled yarn is single-ply that's more of a light fingering. I found I had to duplicate-stitch over some of the places where the yarns met, as the slanted ends of the lines weren't as obvious as they were meant to be. The colors go well together, at least. (And isn't it impressive how this shawl coordinates with our circular rug?)

The next project falls into the "lovely skein of yarn caught my eye" category. There I was at my local yarn store, minding my own business, and this skein of fingering-weight yarn nailed me at the door. So I brought it home and looked for something to make with it. The Hitchhiker Beyond pattern won.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Unlike most shawl patterns where the detail is at the lower edge, this has straight lower edges and a sawtooth design along the top. It was fun and quick to knit -- all good things.

The pattern for the next one is called the Ridgeline. The designer is in British Columbia, and had the Canadian Rockies in mind when she created the pattern. But I had yarn in my stash in Southwestern colors, and the Rockies stretch into New Mexico, so I thought my color choice was justified. And I love the way it turned out.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Finally, we come to the Amulet. Now, alert hearth/myth readers know that I'm not a lace knitter. And I also never knit with black, except under extreme duress -- it's hard to see the stitches and makes what's supposed to be a fun hobby way less fun. But then I realized I could use a black shawl. Then somehow the black yarn I found (the colorway is called Raven - I can't imagine how that caught my eye) got paired with a skein of red yarn. And as long as I was going there, I figured I might as well go completely nuts and add beads, too. 

I finished knitting it a couple of weeks ago. But thanks to Molten Trail and life in general, I didn't get around to blocking it until yesterday. It doesn't go as well with the rug as the Level, but you win some, you lose some.

Copyright 2019 Lynne Cantwell
Earlier today, I pulled out the blocking wires and pins and put it on. Instantly, I was in love. I'm sure I'll find somewhere to wear it.

The more I think about it, I think I may post an excerpt from the new book next week. 

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

On the "r" word.

I expect I'll get in trouble for this post.

This past week, Toni Morrison died at the age of 88. She was one of my favorite authors. When I was in grad school, I wrote a paper about her -- which in no way makes me an expert, but it did give me an enduring appreciation for her work. 

Morrison was a major voice in American literature. The power of her prose was strongest when describing and explaining what we might call the black experience -- including the effects on blacks of racism, as in The Bluest Eye, and of the institution of slavery, as in Beloved.

I was reading a whole bunch of hyphenated-American literature back then: among them, Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, and Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (which he later adapted into the screenplay for Smoke Signals, a movie I highly recommmend). All of these books are magic realism, and so too is Beloved. And in all of them except Allende's book, racism plays a role.

I grew up with the classical definition of racism -- which, according to Merriam-Webster, is:
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2a : a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles
b : a political or social system founded on racism
3 : racial prejudice or discrimination
But the "r" word has gotten thrown around a lot in recent years, to the point where it almost means anything the writer or speaker wants it to mean. I know English is a living language and the meanings of words change -- but too often, over the years, racism as a term has been co-opted and redefined to benefit a particular political agenda. 

Ten or twenty years ago, I was running into conservatives who would call me out for my support of things like diversity policies in the college admissions process and accuse me of reverse racism -- of favoring other races over my own, to the point of advocating discrimination against whites. At the time, I filed their opinions under Things that make you go "Huh?" Nowadays, it appears conservatives have shortened the term to just racism, which is really confusing to those of us who are used to hewing to the dictionary definition of the word. Of course, for folks who like to keep people they think of as smartass liberals off-balance, that obfuscation is part of the charm.

Lately I've been seeing a similar but opposite co-opting of the word on the left. Many African-Americans correctly maintain that many white people don't understand or acknowledge the privilege their pale skin affords them in our society. But then some make a sweeping generalization and say all whites fall into that category -- that is, no white person anywhere understands or acknowledges their white privilege. And then some black folks go even further and say all whites, by definition, are racists.

That seems like an unfair generalization -- particularly when racist has, for years, been an insult. But pointing that out opens me to a charge of trying to move the focus back to me and my experience as a white person, which is not my aim at all. And let me make it explicitly clear that I am not equating this usage of racism with the pretzel logic conservatives employ when they use the word.

But we can all agree, I think, that sweeping generalizations are almost always wrong. I think we can all agree as well that the word racist has historically been considered an insult. If you want to keep your allies on your side, insulting them is not a winning strategy.

Certainly, there are racist white people out there who Just Don't Get It, like the interviewer in this video of Toni Morrison that went viral in the days following her death. But not all of us are like that woman. We get where you're coming from. We support you. Please don't run us off.

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

Sunday, August 4, 2019

On peak retirement age.

My head is full of Elementals and my Facebook feed is full of the mass shootings over the past couple of days, neither of which I want to talk about right now. So for this week's post, I'm going back to an idea that I threatened to write about a few weeks ago.

Gerd Altmann | CC0 | Pixabay
What piqued my interest was an article in The Atlantic about how long people should plan to keep working. The article is not about finances. If you talk to any financial planner, they will tell you to keep working and saving 'til you have a million dollars in your retirement account. Right? And how realistic is that when the average amount people ages 55 to 64 have in savings is $107,000? (Even the article at the link is on this train; it says people in their 60s need to have saved eight times their annual salary. Yeah, right.) The longer you listen to these folks, the more depressing it gets. You may end up feeling like you'll never have enough money to retire.

That's not realistic, either. Most American workers retire at 62, which is not-so-coincidentally the age at which Americans are first eligible to collect Social Security. Often, people intend to work longer, but they underestimate how long they'll stay healthy enough to keep their jobs. The most realistic approach, then, would be to figure out what your retirement income will be, given where you are right now, and rearrange your lifestyle to make that work.

But that's not what the Atlantic article is about, either. In a sense, it's about people who work too long -- folks who try to keep up the pace they sustained when they were younger.

The author is Arthur C. Brooks, a former president of the American Enterprise Institute. He says in many fields, people do their best work in middle age.
Looking at major inventors and Nobel winners going back more than a century, [Benjamin Jones, a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management,] has found that the most common age for producing a magnum opus is the late 30s. He has shown that the likelihood of a major discovery increases steadily through one’s 20s and 30s and then declines through one’s 40s, 50s, and 60s. Are there outliers? Of course. But the likelihood of producing a major innovation at age 70 is approximately what it was at age 20—almost nonexistent.
The outlook isn't much better for writers, according to Brooks: "When Martin Hill Ortiz, a poet and novelist, collected data on New York Times fiction best sellers from 1960 to 2015, he found that authors were likeliest to reach the No. 1 spot in their 40s and 50s. Despite the famous productivity of a few novelists well into old age, Ortiz shows a steep drop-off in the chance of writing a best seller after the age of 70." (So maybe don't leave writing your Great American Novel to after I retire.)

It's a long article and has a lot of interesting ideas in it. But Brooks does finally get down to a prescription for coping with this earlier-than-you-want-it-to-be decline: walk away from the hard-driving career world while you're still at your peak; take time to think about your spirituality and what you'd like for folks to say about you in a eulogy; and connect with others, and not just your friends and family. He suggests older folks should serve as mentors or teachers, and thereby pass their hard-earned wisdom along.

I'm not suggesting all of us old farts take up teaching. But if you feel yourself slowing down at work earlier than you thought you would, know that you're pretty typical -- and that there may be life after whatever job you have right now.

These moments of encouraging blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who's still contemplating whether to write a Great American Novel, and what it would be about if she did).