Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Lord of Cries.

 I may have mentioned that this summer is shaping up to be a summer of vampires. The Atherton Vampire is live now at Amazon and on the Kindle app for iOS devices in the United States, and many thanks to those of you who have taken a look at Jerry's story so far. In addition, I'm in the midst of writing the second novella in the series. And last weekend, I saw the world premiere of The Lord of Cries, an opera based partly on Bram Stoker's classic novel Dracula, at the Santa Fe Opera.

I'm not a massive opera fan, but I've seen a number of them over the years. This one intrigued me not only because of the subject matter, but because librettist Mark Adamo has written a mashup of Stoker's story with that of  The Bacchae, a tragedy written by Euripedes that had its own premiere in 405 BCE. Adamo has been quoted as saying he was intrigued by Dracula's status as an outsider in Victorian London, which seemed to him to  correspond pretty neatly with Dionysus's status in The Bacchae

For those of you who haven't read the play, I'll recap: Dionysus is the Greek god of wine and wine-making, revelry, and religious ecstasy. His father was Zeus; his mother, Semele, was mortal. The kingdom of Thebes, under the rule of King Penthius, has forsworn his worship -- supposedly because he's not really a god due to his mixed parentage, but really because all the women in the kingdom, who are dubbed the Bacchae, are following him into hedonism. Dionysus wants Thebes to recognize him as a god, so he appears before Penthius as a stranger who supports the god's claim. Alas, Penthius cannot be swayed, so Dionysus decides to teach him a lesson -- one that leads to Penthius's destruction.

To get the Dracula tale to fit the bones of The Bacchae, Adamo made some key changes. He rolled Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra into a single character: Lucy Harker, wife of Jonathan Harker. In the novel, Jonathan comes back from Dracula's castle with his mind intact, but in the opera, he has been driven mad with, y'know, lust and stuff by Dracula's three vampire women. Also in the novel, Van Helsing is the main vampire hunter -- but here he's demoted to assisting John Seward, the head of Carfax Asylum and (because reasons) the de facto mayor of London. Seward is determined to do his duty and save London from Dracula, and that means denying his passion for Lucy. We discover that Lucy is also crazy about John, but she must do her duty and tend to her husband -- who, by the way, was driven insane because of the warring desires within his own soul. 

Into all this drama strides Dionysus in the guise of Dracula himself. He intends to wake up Victorian Londoners to the dangers of denying their baser instincts and desires in the service of "doing good", because that way, literally, lies madness. Neither Seward nor Lucy will abandon what they perceive as their duty, and so they are destroyed.

A lot has been made over the years of Stoker's setting for his novel. The Victorian era seethed with sexual repression, and literary critics have long seen Dracula as a target for fear and disgust because he challenged Victorian notions of propriety.

Of course, Adamo uses that. But what interests me, as a modern-day Pagan, is the vehicle he chooses for the message: a pagan god. In our present era, in which conservatives are fighting to repress social progress of all sorts, it's heartening to hear someone say that the pagans had it right.

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These moments of bloggy ecstasy and ruin have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Destiny vs. Tricksters.

First things first: At long last, The Atherton Vampire is out! Go here to find Jerry's story. The first ten episodes are live right now; Episode 11 drops next Monday, July 26th, and new episodes will be released every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through the end of August. Enjoy!

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Xochicalco | Deposit Photos
Speaking of episodic fiction: All six of the episodes of the Marvel Classic Universe's newest TV show, Loki, have been released on Disney Plus. (I would have used a graphic with scenes from the show, but I didn't want to get a letter from Disney's lawyers about copyright infringement.) 

I am going to do my best to avoid spoilers (but no guarantees!), as the final episode just dropped Wednesday and a lot of people probably haven't seen it yet. Here's the show's premise, as laid out by the first couple of episodes: Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, does something that changes the original timeline in the Avengers movies, thereby running afoul of an organization that calls itself the Timeline Variance Authority, or TVA for short. The purpose of the TVA is to prune people who create offshoots of the "sacred timeline." As we all know (from reading the Pipe Woman Chronicles books, if nothing else), Loki is a Trickster. So of course there are a bunch of Loki "variants" that have done stuff that would change the timeline, and they have been pruned. The MCU's original Loki is spared by a TVA agent named Mobius, played by Owen Wilson. Then our Loki runs into a renegade version of himself who escaped from the TVA. This Loki is female; she calls herself Sylvie. And hijinks ensue.

Am I in spoiler trouble yet? Oh well. Onward!

Reviews of the show have been split. Folks who were fans of the comic books were generally disgruntled; they saw who the Big Bad Guy would turn out to be a mile away and/or they're unhappy with the depiction of Loki's character, including one reviewer who wanted more of an emphasis on Loki's gender fluidity. (Even in Norse mythology, Loki had the ability to morph into a female -- and without benefit of having to create a new timeline.) Some folks thought it was lazy storytelling for Loki to take a liking to another version of himself. (Yeah, yeah, spoiler, I know. But I rolled my eyes when I read this. He's a narcissist -- of course he'd fall for himself!)

Folks who never read the comic books have generally been charmed by the show, although -- like me -- they're annoyed that the writers couldn't have wrapped up something in the first six episodes. Episode 6 ends with a giant cliffhanger and the second season probably won't start airing for another year and a half. 

Anyway, there's a big philosophical question underlying the structure of the series, and I don't think it's much of a spoiler to point it out. What the TVA is doing, essentially, is putting the kibosh on free will. Somebody has assumed the mantle of God, decreeing which events fall within the sacred timeline. Does that mean everything that happens is predetermined? What does that mean for free will?

Clearly, in the MCU everything is predetermined by the writers. But I think every fiction author has had a character go rogue on them. Sometimes they'll do what you want them to do, but not for the reason you thought. But sometimes they just flat-out refuse to follow your outline (assuming you have one) and then you're left scrambling to get everything to turn out the way it needs to.

In real life, though, the battle between free will and predestination gets murkier. And it's a big argument among Christians -- do we make our own decisions, or are our lives preordained? In other words, has God written the whole script ahead of time? And if so, can we change our destinies? Is it worth even trying?

As a Pagan, I don't worry about any of this. There's no Creator God in my personal pantheon, so there's no one available to write the script. I tend to think more in terms of people behaving in predictable ways. That means free will is a given. We have the ability to change our ways and hopefully create a different life, a different outcome. It's difficult -- but there's no doubt in my mind that it can be done.

Regardless of my personal beliefs, though, I enjoyed this first season of Loki and I cannot wait for season two.

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These moments of Tricky blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The vampire is (nearly) loose.

Are y'all tired of me talking about The Atherton Vampire yet? If so, sorry -- I'm doing it again.

But this time, I have excellent news. Amazon announced a few days ago that Kindle Vella will launch this coming week. And Jerry's tale is in the queue and ready to go. If you're in the US, and if you have a Kindle app on your phone or iPad, try this: Open that Kindle app, go to the search function, and type in "atherton vampire" (yes, in quotes; no, it doesn't need to be capitalized). You should get a result that looks like this (although the resolution should be better):


Clicking the link gets you an error message right now. But sometime this week, I'm told, it'll work. And then Jerry Atherton will be released upon an unsuspecting public, muahahahaha.

Well, you won't be unsuspecting because I've told you about it. 

Oh, you know what I mean.

Anyway, I'm making outstanding progress on the second Atherton Vampire story for Vella. My goal is to write one episode per day for Camp NaNo this month; today I'm at almost 17,000 words. So I should be able to start publishing episodes of the second story as soon as all of the episodes of the first story have been released. 

It also means the first Atherton Vampire story will be published as a regular Kindle ebook around the fall equinox in September, with the second story released as an ebook just before Halloween.

All this, and I've started a part-time job, too. I'm working for the New Mexico Legislature as a legal proofreader again, but the hours are a lot more forgiving right now than they were during the legislature's session last winter. Which it looks like I will be doing again this coming winter. Which is good, actually, because I'm buying a condo and the extra money will come in handy.

To be honest, a lot has been happening lately. And the rest of this summer is going to be busy, too. This is how retirement is supposed to work, right?

***

I hope you haven't forgotten about the hearth/myth Summer Reading Challenge. There's still plenty of time to increase the number of books on our list that you've read. You can find the list and the rules here. Good luck, and happy reading!

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These moments of anticipatory blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Happy not-COVID-freedom day.

Gerd Altmann | Pixabay

On Thursday, New Mexico officially lifted all COVID-19-related restrictions. Stores and restaurants are back up to full occupancy, attendants are no longer wiping down the handles of shopping carts at the grocery store, and a whole lot of people have abandoned their masks.

We got here not by ignoring the virus, as other states have done, but by pushing vaccinations hard. As of early last week, 71% of eligible New Mexicans had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and 62% of those eligible were fully vaccinated. The numbers across the state are not even, of course; we have a lot of rural land, as well as our share of anti-vaxxers. Just 29.9% of eligible folks in Roosevelt County are fully vaccinated, compared with 82.6% in Los Alamos County. (I live in Santa Fe County, where the full vaccination rate is 69.5%. The statewide dashboard is here.)

I've been out and about a bit over the past week, and it appears that stores and restaurants here are now defaulting to the CDC guidelines: If you're fully vaccinated, you don't need to mask up. That's true even in regard to the variants; all three of the vaccines approved for use in the United States are effective against the delta variant, which is the one causing the most trouble right now. In fact, virtually all of the people dying of COVID-19 in the US right now are unvaccinated. The Associated Press story I just linked to observes that if everybody eligible for the vaccine would just get the shot, deaths from the virus would be virtually zero.

And yet we still have a sizable percentage of people that haven't gotten a shot. The percentage varies from state to state; the states with the worst vaccination rates are mostly in the South. Holding the bottom spot is Mississippi, with just 38.3% of its adults fully vaccinated.  

I feel terrible for my friends who live in states that haven't pushed vaccines as hard as New Mexico has. Here we are, 16 months into this pandemic, and too many fully vaccinated Americans are still scared to leave their homes. But now it's not because of the virus running rampant, but because you don't know whether the unmasked person next to you at the grocery store is fully vaccinated or just living in denial.

Today we're celebrating the 245th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence -- yet in a lot of ways, and despite the cheerleading from Washington, this virus is still holding America hostage. I wish we could reach herd immunity without losing too many more people to COVID-19, but I don't see how we can. The unvaccinated are in for a terrible fall and winter. And to be honest, I can't feel sorry for them anymore.

***
More Atherton Vampire news: Of course as soon as I said that Amazon's rules required Kindle Vella stories to be exclusive to that platform, the Zon went and changed the rules. Now they're going to allow authors to publish episodes in a single volume 30 days after their Kindle Vella release. That means I'll be able to publish The Atherton Vampire as a regular old ebook in oh, say, late September or early October. The exact date will depend on when Kindle Vella goes live. I'll keep you posted.

In addition, The Atherton Vampire 2 is progressing nicely. I started the first draft Thursday, the first day of the July Camp NaNo session, and I'm already 5,000 words in. If I stick to 25 episodes for this story, too, and if I write an episode a day, I'll have the whole thing drafted well before the end of July. 

*** 
These moments of independent blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

A moment of serendipity.

Sometimes a scene just comes together. 
Lynne Cantwell | 2021

Earlier this week, Big Al's Books and Pals re-ran a review of Spider's Lifeline, the third book in my Pipe Woman's Legacy series, which came out in 2016. It was a moment of serendipity for me, as I'd been thinking about the book just a few days before. And that reminded me of a moment of serendipity that occurred while I was writing the fourth and final book, Turtle's Weir

You may have heard the term "Easter egg" in relation to movies. An Easter egg is a scene in which the filmmakers have included an inside joke, or a moment that makes a reference that only diehard fans would understand. Here's an example of one that occurred in Raiders of the Lost Ark: Hieroglyphs cover the walls of the room where Indiana Jones finds the Ark of the Covenant -- and among those hieroglyphs are drawings of R2D2 and C3PO, two of the most beloved droids in the Star Wars movies. It makes sense when you realize George Lucas both invented the Star Wars saga and co-wrote the story on which the Indiana Jones movies were based, and Harrison Ford starred in both movie franchises.

Writers include Easter eggs, too. Often, it's intentional, but sometimes the moments write themselves. The latter was the case in Webb's half of the Pipe Woman's Legacy

There's a scene in Spider's Lifeline in which Webb and his mother, Naomi Witherspoon Curtis, attend a reception hosted by former President Brock Holt and his wife, Antonia Greco, in honor of an Icelandic princess named Ingrid. Brock and Antonia's sons, Rex and Roman, are also there. Roman is a free spirit -- a musician who is as much of a Trickster as is Webb himself. There's a moment where Webb goes to the bar to get himself and his mother something to drink. Roman joins him there, and while they're chatting, Naomi shakes hands with the princess and then drops to the floor.

Antonia and I reached her at the same time. I helped her to a sitting position as Antonia clucked over her and called for her husband to get their physician. Cameras clicked again; I expected we’d be the top story on tonight’s news.

“No doctors,” Mom said crossly. “I’m fine. I just took a tumble, that’s all – it happens when you’re old. Thank you, Roman.” She took her drink from his hand and sipped.

“Yeah, thanks, buddy,” I said, accepting my own from him.

“I’m here to help,” he said, in a more serious tone than I’d ever heard him use before. “Remember that.”

What caused Roman to turn serious right then? I had no idea at the time.

But then in Turtle's Weir, Webb made a return trip to the moment via time travel get a better view of what had happened, and Roman's reaction became a little clearer.

As Webb-in-the-timeline broke from the bar to scramble toward Mom, I glanced around the room. Ingrid watched what she had wrought with satisfaction in her eye. But then she glanced up from the tableau on the rug at me – not Webb-in-the-timeline, but me, Webb-the-observer. Her eyebrows shot up and her mouth dropped open. Then her forehead creased in anger.

I covered my own shock with a jaunty little wave. Then, as I got ready to spring up out of the timeline, I noticed someone else in the room was watching me: Roman Holt. He was crouched next to me on the floor, holding my drink and Mom’s. And of the three of us – Roman, Ingrid, and me – he was the only one who didn’t look surprised that I was there.

In real life, right after he’d handed us our drinks, he’d told me, I’m here to help. Remember that. The comment had seemed to come from out of the blue at the time. Now, at least, I had a little context.

I gave him a shrug and a grin, and got out of there.

Thanks, Webb, for clearing that up for all of us. And thanks to Big Al and the pals for the reprise review.

***
I'd like to say I've made progress on the second Atherton Vampire story this week, but I'd be lying. Real-life events have sucked up much of my focus for the past few days. But serendipity strikes again! The next session of Camp NaNo starts Thursday. So all I have to do is draft an outline for the story by then. Piece of cake.

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These moments of bloggy serendipity have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, June 20, 2021

A big week in the skies above.

Cue the fanfare: We have a launch date (kinda sorta) for Kindle Vella. It will debut sometime in mid to late July -- next month, in other words -- and The Atherton Vampire will be available for your reading pleasure on your iOS device (or from Amazon's website) then. 

Once you've raced through the first ten episodes, there will be three new episodes per week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

I'm so excited. I can't wait for y'all to meet Jerry and the gang.

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Yurumi | Deposit Photos

There I was, scrolling through the Father's Day posts on Facebook earlier today and noticing that several folks had posted about the summer solstice. "Y'all are a day early," I said aloud. "Litha is tomorrow." I knew that, see, because every year when I get a new wall calendar, I mark the dates for the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days. And my calendar clearly says the solstice is tomorrow. 

But then I looked up the time the solstice actually occurs, and guess what? For North America, it's tonight. Time zones are stupid.

I'm doubly annoyed because I've booked a session in a salt cave, and I set it up for tomorrow because I thought it was the solstice. I've never done halotherapy before. To be honest, I'd never heard of it until I picked up a flyer about our local salt cave. Here's how it works: a machine pulverizes salt and aerosolizes it in a very dry room; then you sit in the room and breathe in the salt air for a certain period of time. It's supposed to be good for everything from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder to allergies to depression. I don't really expect it to improve my allergies and I don't have any of those other things, but I figure sitting for forty-five minutes in a room in the dark ought to be good for something, salty air or no. I'll report back.

The equinox isn't the only big celestial event this week; the full moon is Thursday and Mercury retrograde ends Tuesday. I will be very glad to see Mercury go direct -- I've been champing at the bit for the past several weeks, itching to make some changes here at home and waiting for things to get moving so those changes could happen. I'm not saying Mercury retrograde has caused the delays, but I'm pretty sure it hasn't helped.

In any case, it feels like things are breaking free here, including in relation to the virus. Our governor announced Friday that New Mexico has fully vaccinated 60 percent of the population, ages 16 and up, and that means all COVID-related restrictions will be lifted July 1st. Some businesses may still require people to mask up indoors, and of course the CDC guidelines haven't changed. Variants are still a concern. And for unvaccinated folks, infection rates are still as awful as they have been all along. But to this fully vaccinated individual, it feels like liberation.

Here's hoping the rest of the world will soon feel the same way.

Happy solstice! Blessed Litha!

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These moments of anticipatory blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Comfort movies: a listicle.

Quick update, first, on The Atherton Vampire: I've had quite a productive weekend. I wrote episodes 22 and 23 yesterday, and episodes 24 and 25 today. That means the first draft of the whole novella is done. I wasn't wrong about the length -- it has come out to 40,800 words -- but I was wrong about the lengths of each episode; almost as soon as I said none had gone over 2,000 words, I wrote one that was 2,500 words. A couple of subsequent episodes also top 2k words. So sue me.

Anyway, I still haven't heard a launch date for Kindle Vella. At least my whole story is drafted and will be ready for upload, whenever Amazon rolls it out.

***

At some point this week, I saw someone share a list on social media of what they termed "comfort movies." It's the same idea as comfort food -- it's a thing you turn to, again and again, when the world has been a little too much. So comfort movies would be those you've seen several times and would watch again in a heartbeat, because you love them so much.

I don't own a ton of DVDs. I only buy the ones I know I'll watch again. So it was easy for me to suss out a listicle of my comfort movies: Just catalog what's in the DVD drawer. It turns out that I do own a few movies that I would only rewatch when I'm in a certain mood. But for comfort flicks, you cannot go wrong with the following list -- or at least I can't.

Devon Breen | Pixabay | CC0
My Comfort Movies (in alphabetical order) (feel free to let me know yours):

The Avengers: The Marvel series, not the Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg TV series. Not that there's anything wrong with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. I loved this movie for the dialogue, which is full of snappy comebacks. Thor's deadpan delivery of "he's adopted" always gets a laugh from me.

Bells Are Ringing: I love me some old musicals, especially if they're also screwball comedies. I can take or leave Dean Martin, to be honest, but Judy Holliday's rendition of "I'm Going Back" is a showstopper. (The link is to the song on the cast album; I couldn't find a clip from the movie itself. Do yourself a favor and rent this flick.)

The Blues Brothers: This movie has so many great moments, it's impossible to name them all; I'd actually forgotten about the scene where Carrie Fisher pulls a rocket launcher on John Belushi until the last time I saw it. Plus it's set in Chicago, one of my favorite cities. And the Nazis get what they deserve.

The Big Lebowski: Jeff Bridges turns in a bravura performance. That rug really did pull the room together. And I can't help it: I love it every time John Goodman tells Steve Buscemi to "shut the fuck up, Donny!"

Continental Divide: I doubt you've heard of it. John Belushi plays Ernie Souchak, a hard-charging newspaper guy in Chicago (the character was modeled after Mike Royko) who needs to lay low from a crime syndicate for a while. So his editor sends him to Colorado to interview Nell Porter (Blair Brown), a wildlife researcher who lives in a cabin on top of a mountain. It's a fish-out-of-water rom-com - Souchak is a city guy who hates the great outdoors, and Nell just generally hates people, but reporters most of all. The ending is completely ridiculous and so much fun.

Fargo: The Coen brothers have done some weird movies, but this one hits all the right notes for me. Here's my favorite line: When Frances McDormand sees William H. Macy driving away while she's standing in his office, waiting to talk to him, she says, "Oh, for Pete's sake!"  It's such a wholesome thing for a character in a crime drama to say. 

Gigi: This was my all-time favorite movie for years and years. Then I grew up and realized what Madame Alvarez was training Gigi to be. Still, the music is great, and the scene where Gaston realizes he's in love with Gigi is so much fun to watch. Plus Gigi goes against Aunt Alicia's wishes and refuses to be Gaston's courtesan, so yay 1950s feminism?

Guardians of the Galaxy: Another Marvel Studios entry. Goofy goings-on in space as the Star-Lord tries to gain himself a reputation. Groot's sacrifice will tear your heart out, but the closing credits kind of make up for it. Plus the soundtrack is amazing -- I actually bought that before I bought the DVD.

Indiana Jones: Any of of them except for Temple of Doom; somebody needed to give Kate Capshaw something to do other than scream at the top of her lungs. I recently saw that Harrison Ford's donning the fedora and bullwhip for a fifth movie in the franchise, but supposedly he'll be digitally younger-fied in at least some scenes. I'm not sure how I feel about that. The new movie's due out next summer.

Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte's novel was my favorite book from eighth grade until I discovered the Thomas Covenant series. This novel has had a ton of film adaptations, but I think the 2011 version, with Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester, is the best. Wasikowska gives Jane an almost otherworldly air. (I never could warm up to George C. Scott as Rochester. Whose bright idea was that, anyway?)

Little Shop of Horrors: A sci-fi musical mashup with a carnivorous plant and a sadistic dentist -- what's not to like? (My kids' high school did this as their musical one year. My daughter Amy got to keep one of the Audrey props -- the hand puppet, not the ginormous beast.)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: I also love Life of Brian, but this one wins for being such a great send-up of the Middle Ages. And who can forget the killer rabbit? Or the Knights who say "Ni"? Or the Frenchman who hurls insults off his castle wall? Or the "bring out your dead!" scene? I'd better stop now or we'll be here all night.

Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen just keeps having her day. This novel has also been adapted about a bazillion times, from Hollywood to Bollywood. I know Colin Firth is the sentimental favorite for Darcy, but my favorite version is the 2004 film with Winona Ryder. When she first glimpses Darcy's estate -- and realizes what she's lost by turning down his marriage proposal -- her reaction is priceless. (I couldn't find a clip. Just watch the movie -- it'll be along.)

The Princess Bride: This is another film with too many great scenes to list, from "As you wish" to "My name is Inigo Montoya..." to "Have fun storming the castle!" and on and on. By the way, if you haven't read the novel the movie is based on, you should -- it's fun and charming in a wholly different way.

Romancing the Stone: I was a confirmed Kathleen Turner fan after seeing this movie the first time. It's so much fun that I found I could even forgive Michael Douglas for mispronouncing Cartagena throughout the entire movie. (The sequel is terrible - don't bother.)

Star Wars: And by that I mean the 1977 film that's now known as Episode IV - A New Hope. The special effects are old hat now, but they were mind-blowing at the time. And George Lucas let his actors have fun in the first three films, unlike in Episodes I to III where he seemed determined to saddle everybody with Performances with Serious Import (other than Jar Jar Binks, about whom the less said, the better).

Thor: Ragnarok: Marvel Studios again. This one is a buddy movie with Thor and the Hulk as the buddies. The dialogue shines in this one, too. Plus we get to see an actual Valkyrie -- how cool is that?

Young Frankenstein: Mel Brooks has made some outstanding movies and at least one clunker (History of the World, Part I). I know a lot of people consider Blazing Saddles to be his masterpiece, but I prefer this one -- not just because I like horror better than Westerns, but because of all the hilarious scenes. And that's just a small sample. 

White Christmas: I know, I know. It's extremely dated with its stereotypical airheaded showgirls and stuff. But the dance scenes are still stunning, and the title song gets me every time. 

Y'know, I finished drafting a book today. I think I might watch a movie tonight.

***

These moments of comforting cinematic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!



Sunday, June 6, 2021

Writing episodic fiction for my new guy.

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to put in a plug for our Summer Reading Challenge. It's been going on for just over a month and I've read, uh, one new-to-me book on the list. Oh, wait -- actually I'm still reading it. Whoops. I have another one queued, though. 

Anyway, I can't win any of the prizes. But you can! Hop on over to the link, check the list, and get cracking. The contest ends September 4th.

***

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2021
So here's my new guy. His name is Jerome Reed Atherton, a.k.a. The Atherton Vampire -- Jerry to his friends. Looks like a charmer, doesn't he? I'm writing his story now for Kindle Vella, a new platform that Amazon is developing.

We don't have a launch date yet for the platform, although one blog has speculated it will be sometime this month or next. What we do know is that Amazon is aiming Kindle Vella at people who read on their phones or other mobile devices, and it will work a little differently than a regular Kindle ebook. For one thing, the story will be doled out in episodes of between 600 and 5,000 words apiece. For another, readers won't be able to purchase the whole story at once, the way they do with an ebook; instead, they'll buy virtual tokens, and then use those to buy the episodes. The episodes are priced by length, with one token worth 100 words -- so an episode that's 1,200 words long would cost a reader 12 tokens. As usual with these sorts of things, the more tokens you buy at once, the cheaper they will be. 

Don't take the prices for tokens at that link above as gospel; Amazon hasn't finalized them yet. But using that chart as a rough example: it looks like Jerry's story is going to end up being about 40,000 words long. The first three episodes of every story will be free; in Jerry's case, that's about 2,500 words lopped off the total, so you'd be paying for 37,500 words. The whole shebang would cost you 375 tokens, or (according to that chart that hasn't been finalized yet) between three and four bucks.

Another thing that isn't super clear is how much authors are going to be paid. We'll get 50% of what readers spend on each episode, but the formula has variables that include the price a reader paid for their tokens and the fee charged by the sales platform. That's not as good a deal as the 70% royalty that authors get for ebooks, but it's not nothing. And it's a way to reach a whole new readership. Assuming this thing takes off.

And assuming people like Jerry's story well enough to keep reading it. That creates a bit of a challenge in terms of structuring the story. I'm keeping my episodes on the shorter side; none has hit even 2,000 words yet, which is shorter than the chapters I write for my novels. And each episode needs to end with something that will compel the reader to buy the next episode -- a cliffhanger, say, or a surprise of some sort. I'm thinking I'll end up with 25 episodes. That's a lot of cliffhangers.

I'm not allowed to publish a Kindle Vella story as a regular Kindle novel unless I unpublish it from Vella first. So we'll see how it goes. If Jerry doesn't get many fans to bite (sorry not sorry), I'll pull the story from the new platform and publish it as a regular ebook. Either way, I think Jerry's story has legs, as we used to say in journalism; I have a whole bunch of ideas for sequels. 

I'll let you know when Kindle Vella launches and how things go from there. Or as they used to say on TV, stay tuned for our next exciting episode!

***

These moments of episodic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Mulling over vanlife.

First things first: I was interviewed this week on NFReads. It was a great experience. Of course, I forgot to mention The Payoff (duh, Lynne) but I did provide some hitherto unannounced details about my Kindle Vella project, The Atherton Vampire. Click through and check it out. Thanks!

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Dmitry Y. | Pixabay | CC0
A couple of nights ago, I watched Nomadland via pay-per-view. It won the Oscar for Best Picture this year, as well as a slew of other awards. 

The plot intrigued me. Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her performance as Fern, a woman who loses her home and her husband within the space of a few months during the Great Recession. She makes some improvements to her van, puts the majority of her stuff in storage, and hits the road -- piecing together odd jobs and falling into a culture of folks living what's come to be called #vanlife.

The reasons these people decide to live in an RV are varied. Some, like Fern, are forced to do it when their finances turn against them. Some would rather travel than be tied down to a house and everything that entails. A woman named Swankie, diagnosed with terminal cancer, decides to live out the rest of her life seeing places she's always wanted to see. (Most of the people in the movie play themselves; they were featured originally in the 1997 nonfiction book the movie is loosely based on. The only honest-to-gods actors in the film are McDormand and David Strathairn, who plays a fellow traveler who falls for Fern. But the real-life Swankie didn't actually die; in fact, she attended the Oscars ceremony as a guest of Chloe Zhao, who won the award for Best Director.)

All this has got me thinking -- again -- about tiny living. My place is already pretty small -- 500 square feet, give or take -- but I still feel a pull sometimes toward going smaller, although I don't know that I'll ever be ready to refit a van and move into it (and I hope my financial circumstances don't ever turn so bleak that I'm driven to that extreme!). 

But there's a certain feeling of purity, too, in ditching the life that society expects us to live -- the single-family house with the two-car garage and the stuff to fill it and the soul-sucking job to pay for it all -- and "living lightly on the land," as they say. Some of the folks Fern meets on the road are living as nomads for that reason. And in the movie, at least, it doesn't seem like making that choice would be the end of the world.

Back when I was involved in the simple living movement, I knew of a woman who retired from the military and set herself up to live on her pension -- which, if I remember correctly, was $500 a month. This was twenty years ago, when $500 went farther than it would today, but it still was nowhere near a fortune. But she made it work, at least for a little while. I lost touch with her when I dropped out of the movement, so I don't know how it's going for her these days.

Longtime readers of hearth/myth know I've been a sucker for tiny homes for many years. (For those just joining us, you can get up to speed by clicking here, here, here, and here.) My conclusion after years of research was that tiny homes are adorable, but they have some significant drawbacks: Cities in general don't want them (typically you can live in an apartment or condo with the same square footage as a tiny home, but a standalone dwelling of the same size is verboten) except as housing for the homeless; rural areas have begun to zone them out, with minimum square footage requirements and such; and because they're built of wood and not the superlight materials RV manufacturers use, you need a beast of a truck to pull one. I really like Eli, my Kia Niro hybrid, but I can't attach anything to him that's heavier than a bike rack. It's true that I could buy a truck to pull a tiny house -- or any other sort of trailer -- but buying another vehicle that I'd have to insure and maintain seems like it would complicate my life instead of simplifying it.

Motor homes have their own drawbacks. Most localities don't want you living in one of these, either; you're often limited by the number of months per year you can live in an RV, even if you own the land it's parked on. And they get terrible gas mileage. Considering we appear to be lurching toward a future of all-electric vehicles in this country, buying a gas guzzler seems like a bad idea right now. 

And I really like living in Santa Fe.

In the article I linked to above, Swankie is quoted as saying it took her ten years to transition to living in her van. In the movie, Fern put all her stuff in a storage unit until she was ready, emotionally, to let it go. 

I guess I still have some thinking to do.

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These moments of vanlife blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Taking a pandemic breather to review.

geralt | Pixabay
It sounds like most folks had the same reaction I did to the CDC's recent declaration that anyone who's fully vaccinated can (mostly) stop wearing masks in public: Eh, not so fast. We're now at the point where either you throw caution completely to the winds and go without, or wear one anyway and risk those you meet thinking you're either: a) an anti-vaxxer or b) a Republican. I feel like I need to get a t-shirt that says, "I'm fully vaccinated but I have trust issues about everybody else."

I'd get a button, but I don't think all that would fit. Or at least not in a big enough font to be readable from six feet away.

Anyway, it appears that in the US, at least, as vaccination rates go up, the number of COVID-19 cases is going down, and the death rate attributed to the virus is going down, too. I don't want to jinx things by speaking too soon, but we may be emerging from the woods.

Regardless of how soon our lives can safely go back to normal, this seems like a good time to sit back, take a deep breath (masked or un-, your choice), and see whether we've learned anything from the past fourteen months. Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, wrote a Facebook post earlier today that's a pretty good summary of the economic lessons learned due to the virus. While I agree with his list, I decided to come up with my own. There's some overlap, but I think he missed a couple of things.

1. How nice was it to show up, get your government-provided vaccine, and not have to pay a penny for it? Nobody asked for your insurance information. Nobody asked you for a co-pay. You didn't even have to contact the vaccine administrators to find out whether they were in-network or out-of-network. You just showed up, got the shot, and went on your way, right? Now think about how wonderful it would be if all health care in America was offered the same way. It can be -- if we would just institute universal health care. We're the only major nation that doesn't have it. It's beyond ridiculous. We need to do whatever it takes to get this done.

2. We need to continue to appreciate our essential workers -- and by "essential workers," I mean all the people who had to show up for work during the pandemic while the rest of us stayed safely at home: the health care providers, the delivery drivers, the warehouse workers, the grocery store clerks, the cashiers at stores deemed essential businesses, and the teachers who had to go back to in-person instruction not knowing for sure whether it was safe. Other than teachers and health care workers, most of these folks don't have job security -- they're typically not full-time employees and they receive minimal, if any, benefits from their employers. We need to fix that. At least give everybody free health care (see point 1).

3. I have zero patience for people who made a buck off of others during this trying time. I don't mean just the idiots who bought up all the hand sanitizer and wipes at the start of the pandemic and then tried to sell them for a premium -- although they're on my list. Nope, I'm also including the billionaires who have increased their wealth by more than $1.6 billion over the course of the past year and change. In many cases, their gain has come at the expense of their employees, many of whom are considered essential workers. Economic inequality was already off the charts in this country before the pandemic, and now it's worse. There's no excuse for that. 

4. As for the employers who tried to roll back hazard pay for their essential workers after a couple of months? Hello, the pandemic is still happening -- they still deserve that extra pay. And if you can't get people to come to work for you now? Maybe don't be so chintzy with your pay and benefits, and treat your employees like they're human beings and not interchangeable cogs.

5. When it comes to those who've been working remotely for the past year, now that they've had a taste of the good life, employers are going to have a hard time convincing them to go back to the office full-time. It was gospel at my old law firm that secretaries would never be able to work from home. Our job duties simply wouldn't allow it. Well, here we are, fourteen months into the pandemic in which everybody's been working remotely -- including secretaries at my old law firm. Not everybody thrives in the office fishbowl. Employers need to be flexible when it comes to bringing people back into the office.

6. I admit I wasn't nuts about the idea of having to wear a mask when it first came up. But when it became apparent that either I needed to mask up or hermetically seal myself in my apartment to avoid getting the virus, I got on board. But some people have been absolutely desperate to avoid reality, to the point where they have convinced themselves that masks are useless and the vaccine is dangerous. I'm all about "live and let live," as long as people's choices don't impact me. This does. If you're not going to get the vaccine, wear a mask. If you won't wear a mask, get vaccinated. And for gods' sake, don't lie about having gotten the vaccine so you don't have to wear a mask. 

7. The January 6th insurrection happened. It was not a "normal tourist visit." It seems logical to assume that anyone who objects to an investigation into what happened that day, including a thorough probe of who was behind it, probably has something to hide. 

Okay, that last point doesn't have much of anything to do with the pandemic. I'm leaving it on the list anyway. After all, this is just a draft. I'll come back to it once the virus has well and truly ridden off into the sunset.

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Speaking of lists: How's your progress on our summer reading list? I'm not nagging, I swear.

In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, here's a link to the list and info on the contest. That's right! Prizes! Now go forth and read!

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These moments of bloggy listicle creation have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaccinated and good luck!

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Mask whiplash.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention threw us quite the curve ball this week. Just a couple of weeks ago -- on April 27th -- the CDC issued an infographic with cute red, yellow and green icons that described the situations in which fully-vaccinated people could go without masks outside. We had barely parsed that news by this past Thursday, when the CDC basically said never mind: If you've been fully vaccinated, you don't need to wear a mask at all. You can also drop the physical distancing. If your local or state ordinances require you to mask up, you still have to. But otherwise, go out and live your life like it's 2019!

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2021
I don't know about you, but this has given me a case of whiplash. It feels a whole lot like the case I had in March of last year, when suddenly we were all either working from home or, if we couldn't work from home, hoping we didn't catch the virus and die.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the decision to drop the mask requirement isn't a surrender to the mask-averse or a nefarious way to encourage people to get the vaccine if they haven't already. Instead, she says, it's grounded in science. Results of numerous studies announced over the past several weeks have indicated that vaccine immunity is lasting longer than some had expected, and that the vaccines approved so far are effective against at least several of the virus's variants. Moreover, while a fully-vaccinated person can still catch the virus, the odds that he or she will need to be hospitalized for it are pretty darned small. For example, at the Cleveland Clinic, since the start of this year, just one percent of patients admitted because of the virus had been fully vaccinated -- and among their employees, 99.7% of cases of the virus occurred in those who hadn't been vaccinated.

All that's swell news. But I've still got that case of whiplash.

How are we supposed to know who's been vaccinated and who hasn't? Dr. Walensky says it's going to have to be up to individuals to be honest. My immediate response: Because that's worked so well so far. The federal government decided against creating a database of those vaccinated, citing privacy concerns, but that leaves us with no official way to keep track of who's gotten the jab and who hasn't. The card you get when you get your shot is not an official government record. Even so, people reportedly have been trying to counterfeit the cards ever since states began rolling out the shots -- to the point where the FBI had to announce that it was illegal. 

If the vaccines are as effective as the research suggests, and if the mask-averse are likely to lie anyway, I'm inclined to let the liars play their stupid games and maybe win the stupid prize. But that's easy for me to say; I'm fully vaccinated and I live in a state where nearly 63% of those eligible for the vaccine have received at least one shot. New Mexico has been doing so with with the vaccine rollout that our governor had been planning to lift all restrictions next month anyway.

But then Thursday happened, and now I've got this case of whiplash.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story yesterday called, "How to Handle Your Re-Entry Anxiety as the Pandemic Recedes." They talked to several experts -- a neuroscientist, a therapist, a behavioral scientist and a psychologist -- and came up with some tips for easing back out into society. Here they are:

  • Set boundaries. Decide what you're comfortable doing and let folks know. If they push back, stand firm. And don't push others to do things outside their own comfort zone.
  • Calm your brain. Relaxation exercises can help here, as can repeating a mantra like, "I'm fully vaccinated, my friends are fully vaccinated, and the danger in this situation is minimal." Another suggestion, which I really like, is to approach situations that scare you with curiosity. One expert says, "Curiosity feels better than anxiety."
  • Look on the bright side. That's what the WSJ article called it, at least. I kind of hate the phrasing. But the idea is to talk yourself into looking forward to a get-together or event and anticipate having fun. Then, at the event, pay attention to the fun you're having, and replay it later by thinking about and talking about how much fun you had.
  • Don't let life get too hectic again. Which kind of speaks for itself.
Now for my two cents: Change is hard, transitions are hard, and they're harder when changes are sprung on us. It's going to be tough for all of us to find our comfort zones in the post-pandemic future, so be kind to yourself and understanding of others. And if you still feel the need to wear a mask, you'll be in good company -- I'll be wearing mine for at least a little longer, too.

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These moments of scary blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Wealth is what we say it is.

My father was not a fan of President Franklin Roosevelt. I guess there was a lot he didn't agree with him on, but the thing I remember hearing most often is how FDR should have never taken the United States off the gold standard. That is, between 1879 and 1933, the dollar was backed by gold, the federal supply of which was famously held at Fort Knox in Kentucky. (The country's golden wealth nowadays is held in three locations: Fort Knox, Denver, and West Point, NY.) But in June 1933, Congress abolished the right of creditors to demand payment in gold. Severing the value of the US dollar from the price of gold allowed the Federal Reserve to inflate the money supply more easily, giving it another tool to fight inflation.  

Of course, the price of gold -- like that of any commodity -- is arbitrary. And to take the argument even further, the use of gold as a basis for measuring wealth is also arbitrary. We could have picked some other substance. Silver, maybe. Or something ancient societies used for trade -- like cacao beans.

Several weeks ago, I toured Chaco Culture National Historical Park. To say it's an amazing place is an understatement. The biggest ruin is Pueblo Bonito, which was built of adobe and was four stories high in places. Ancient Chacoans lived there, but most of the rooms were vacant most of the time. Our guide, who is Navajo and Zia Pueblo, suggested it might have been used as an inn, with many of the rooms only used by folks visiting for religious festivals and market days. 

On the cliff wall behind Pueblo Bonito -- just like at many sites around the Southwest -- are ancient pictographs (painted on) and petroglyphs (carved into the rock). Take a look at the petroglyph in the center of this photo -- the one with half-circles on either side of a vertical line: 

copyright Lynne Cantwell 2021
Looks kind of like a bug, right? That's what archaeologists thought it was. 

Well, in 2003, a researcher named Patricia Crown examined a cache of cylindrical pottery vessels found in the 1890s in one of the rooms in Pueblo Bonito. The Chacoan vessels had been dated to around 1100 CE, and it occurred to Crown that they were similar to vessels found at sites built by the ancient Mayans during their Classic period, around 900 CE. The Mayans used these vessels for drinking chocolate -- not hot chocolate as we know it today, but a fermented drink. Alcoholic, in other words. The source of the beverage was the same as our hot chocolate today, though: the cacao bean. Cacao beans grow on trees in pods. And take a look at how they grow:

Eric Freyssinge | Wikimedia Commons | CC4.0
Looks like that petroglyph, doesn't it? 

Crown had some potsherds of Pueblo Bonito vessels tested, and sure enough, traces of cacao turned up. Some ancient Chacoan had liked his fermented chocolate so much that he carved a cacao branch into the wall behind Pueblo Bonito.

It's about 1,200 miles from Chaco to the Mayans' cacao trees. But these two cultures were trading partners, and this happened hundreds of years before horses were introduced to the New World. Moreover, it's obvious that Mayan xocolatl would not have made the trip in its liquid state, so a Mayan must have taught a Chacoan how to grind the beans and make the drink, and then sent him home with a supply of beans -- for a price.

It turns out cacao was important to the Mayans as far back as 2000 BCE. Mayan kings used to pay their debts to one another in cacao beans.

So what valuable currency would the ancient Chacoans have traded for those yummy beans? Turquoise. There's a room in Pueblo Bonito that's referred to as the treasury, where archaeologists found a cache of turquoise beads. And some of the turquoise had been imported -- the closest turquoise mine to Chaco Canyon was in Cerrillos, NM, more than 150 miles away, but Chacoans also possessed turquoise mined in Colorado, Nevada and California.

But getting back to the chocolate: The ancient Mayans had a goddess named Ixcacao. She figures briefly in the Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation myth. (The author of the article at the link calls her Ixcocoa and, later, Ixcacau, but it's the same goddess.). 

The other thing about Mayan xocolotl is this: it's not sweet. Not at all. The Mayans would add chile to the drink to hide the bitter taste. That probably sounds kind of gross, but remember, this stuff was alcoholic. Lots of folks hate American beer because it's bitter, but they still drink it.

Anyway. Ancient Mayans used cacao as money; the ancient Celts used cows; we use paper and coins. Truly, wealth is what a society says it is.

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How's your summer reading going? Don't forget about the contest. Here's a link to the reading list and the rules. 

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These moments of chocolatey blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up, social distance, and get your vaccine ASAP!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A summer reading list for you (with prizes).

First: Thanks very much to everyone who picked up a copy of The Payoff! You're all my new best friends. I know I always say that, but it's true for every book I release.

Second: You might have noticed, if you bought your copy within the past few days, that there are three editions of The Payoff available at Amazon: Kindle, paperback, and -- ta daaaa! -- hardcover. Now, this isn't a super-fancy hardcover with a dust jacket and stuff. But if you prefer hardcovers, the option is there for you.

I don't know that I'll be doing hardcover editions for my other titles. But if there's a particular novel of mine that you would like to have in hardcover, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

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Third: My novels never take very long to read. And we have a long summer ahead of us, with at least a chunk of it still spent away from other folks. So I offer you a reading list.

This all started when I saw one too many iterations of the BBC's top 100 books on Facebook. These lists are always heavily weighted with hoary old tomes written by dead white guys. Plus the BBC always leans on British authors (as well they should, since they're based in London, but still). And then you have the other issue: not nearly enough speculative fiction entries. I'm defining speculative fiction as science fiction, fantasy, horror, and any combination, including all subgenres, thereof. (See the Venn diagram below.)

Anyway, I saw that list and I snapped. See, I have a lot of well-read friends who read speculative fiction all the time. And I was certain that if I asked around, I could come up with a list of 100 speculative fiction novels -- and not only that, but our list would be a whole lot more interesting and fun than the BBC's list.

So I took nominations and posted the list on Facebook. That drew more nominations, so I added them and posted it again -- which drew more nominations. We ended up with 147 entries for our list of top 100 speculative fiction novels. (Which reminded me of the marketing hook for Douglas Adams's So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish: "the fourth book in the trilogy!" That trilogy, of course, was Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which of course is on our list.) It's actually way more than 147 books, because I insisted on each series being one listing, or else we'd have gotten to 100 too fast. (I mean, if you count each of the 41 Discworld novels separately, you've got nearly half the list already.) 

Here's our list. And here's the best part: Just like the summer reading programs your library always runs, I'm going to award prizes! 

Rules for the hearth/myth Summer Reading Challenge:

1. The contest starts now and ends Saturday, September 4th, 2021.

2. Count how many books on the list you've read and either leave a comment here on the blog or email me at lynne.cantwell@hearth-myth.com.

3. The top six readers will get a thing from me. The grand prize will be a signed hardcover edition of The Payoff. The next five winners will get a Pipe Woman Chronicles mug from my Zazzle store (my choice of design, sorry).

4. You don't have to read them all this summer; if you've read the book in the past, count it.

5. If you've read a single book in a series, you may count the series. 

6. If you nominated books for the list, you may still participate in the contest.

7. The list is final until the after the contest is over. I'm not taking any more nominations. (You people...)

8. As always, the judge's decisions are arbitrary, capricious, and final.

I'll announce the winners on my blog on Sunday, September 5th. Get ready, get set - read!

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Top 147 Speculative Fiction Novels, in no particular order (according to Lynne & Friends)

1. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien

2. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever – Stephen R. Donaldson

3. Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

4. The Tooth Fairy – Graham Joyce

5. The Foundation series (7 books) – Isaac Asimov

6. The Robot series – Isaac Asimov

7. The Malazan Book of the Fallen – Stephen Erikson

8. Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling

9. Dracula – Bram Stoker

10. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

11. The Inheritance Trilogy – N.K. Jemisen

12. The Broken Earth Trilogy – N.K. Jemisen

13. The Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

14. Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein

15. The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury

16. To Your Scattered Bodies Go – Philip José Farmer

17. Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut

18. Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut

19. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut

20. War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

21. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne

22. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

23. Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis

24. Riftwar Saga – Raymond Feist

25. The Sun Wolf and Starhawk series – Barbara Hambly

26. The Darwath Trilogy – Barbara Hambly

27. Dragonsbane – Barbara Hambly

28. The Mysterious Stranger – Mark Twain

29. Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank

30. Dune – Frank Herbert

31. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman

32. Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb

33. Liveship Traders Trilogy – Robin Hobb

34. The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. LeGuin

35. Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. LeGuin

36. The Earthsea Cycle – Ursula K. LeGuin

37. Little, Big – John Crowley

38. Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente

39. Habitation of the Blessed series – Catherynne M. Valente

40. The Second Apocalypse – R. Scott Bakker

41. Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger

42. Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy – Cixin Liu

43. Culture Series – Iain M. Banks

44. Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake

45. A Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

46. Bless Me, Ultima – Rudolfo Anaya

47. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

48. Winter’s Tale – Mark Helprin

49. Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel

50. The Tempest – Shakespeare

51. Lucifer’s Hammer – Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven

52. Earth Abides – George R. Stewart

53. A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller Jr.

54. The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia – Ursula K. LeGuin

55. The Gate to Women’s Country – Sheri S. Tepper

56. Grass – Sheri S. Tepper

57. Cat’s Cradle – Vonnegut

58. A Wrinkle in Time – Madelaine L’Engle

59. Tales from the Arabian Nights 

60. The City and the City – China Miéville

61. The Wormwood Trilogy (Rosewater is book 1) – Tade Thompson

62. Books of Blood – Clive Barker

63. The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

64. American Gods – Neil Gaiman 

65. Anansi Boys – Neil Gaiman

66. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

67. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

68. The Road – Cormac McCarthy

69. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

70. Neuromancer – William Gibson

71. Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury

72. New Crobuzon series (includes Perdido Street Station) – China Miéville

73. Black Leopard, Red Wolf – Marlon James

74. The Stand – Stephen King

75. Carrie – Stephen King

76. The Pern series – Anne McCaffrey

77. The Mirror – Marlys Milhiser

78. Among Others – Jo Walton

79. My Real Children – Jo Walton

80. The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

81. The Mermaid’s Daughter – Ann Claycomb

82. Vorkosigan Saga – Lois McMaster Bujold

83. The Fionavar Tapestry - Guy Gavriel Kay

84. The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

85. We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson 

86. Grendel – John Gardner

87. Feed – Mira Grant (a.k.a. Seanan McGuire)

88. October Daye series – Seanan McGuire

89. Mercy Thompson series – Patricia Briggs

90. The Walker Papers series – C.E. Murphy

91. A Boy and His Dog – Harlan Ellison

92. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski

93. Miss Luddington’s Sister – Edward Bellamy

94. Dr. Heidenhoff’s Process – Edward Bellamy

95. Outlander series – Diana Gabaldon

96. Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

97. Discworld series – Terry Pratchett

98. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

99. Wanderers – Chuck Wendig

100. The Miriam Black series – Chuck Wendig

101. The Finishing School series – Gail Carriger

102. The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher

103. The Dresden Files series – Jim Butcher

104. The Last Unicorn – Peter S. Beagle

105. Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

106. A Song of Ice and Fire – G.R.R. Martin

107. Mordant’s Need duology – Stephen R. Donaldson

108. The GAP books – Stephen R. Donaldson

109. Song for the Basilisk – Patricia A. McKillip

110. In the Forests of Serre – Patricia A. McKillip

111. Neverness series – David Zindell

112. The Chronicles of Amber – Roger Zelazny

113. Memoirs of an Invisible Man – H.F. Saint

114. The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells

115. Hyperion – Dan Simmons

116. Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand – Samuel R. Delany

117. Nova – Samuel R. Delany

118. Odd John – Olaf Stapledon

119. Star Maker – Olaf Stapledon

120. The Stars, My Destination – Alfred Bester

121. Magic Kingdom of Landover series – Terry Brooks

122. His Dark Materials series – Philip Pullman

123. The Thursday Next series – Jasper Fforde

124. The Athena Club series – Theodora Doss

125. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke

126. Rama series – Arthur C. Clarke

127. Childhood’s End – Arthur C. Clarke

128. The Prince of Nothing series – R. Scott Bakker

129. The Book of the New Sun series – Gene Wolfe

130. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

131. Watership Down – Richard Adams

132. The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series – Douglas Adams

133. Radix Tetrad – A.A. Attanasio

134. Imperial Radch trilogy (book 1 is Ancillary Justice) – Ann Leckie

135. The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

136. The Uplift Saga – David Brin

137. The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton

138. Gaea Trilogy – John Varley

139. Thunder and Lightning series – John Varley

140. Snowcrash – Neal Stephenson

141. Wool series – Hugh Howey

142. Demon Seed – Dean Koontz

143. Whispers – Dean Koontz

144. The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series – Carlos Ruiz Zafón

145. Mistborn series – Brandon Sanderson

146. Rivers of London series – Ben Aaronovitch

147. Kitty Norville series – Carrie Vaughn

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These moments of reading-challenge blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell (who has read 89 entries already). Here's hoping that by the time the contest is over, we'll be back to normal. Get your vaccination ASAP!


Sunday, April 25, 2021

The Payoff: Patience rewarded.

The preorder is up and the wait is nearly over. The Payoff  goes live this Friday, April 30th. Thanks to all of you who have preordered already! I'm grateful to each and every one of you.

Cheetah 123 | Deposit Photos
Patience is a virtue, or so I've been told. We have all been forced to practice patience during this past year plus, waiting for our vaccinations to take effect and for the world to reopen. Some of us have been more gracious about this down time than others, it's true. But whether we grump or whine or take more drastic measures -- or sit back and resign ourselves to waiting -- it's all really just the way we choose to pass the time until the pandemic is over.

Even before the virus hit, we had a choice about how to react to waiting. There are all sorts of coping strategies available, from meditation to creative crafting to kickboxing. But really, the only thing that will fix the problem is the passage of time.

In The Payoff, Janis and Jan have had a lot of time to practice patience. Forty years, in fact. Raised together at a quasi-research facility called the Institute, they fell in love -- and then to protect themselves and each other from the woman who tormented them there, they split up. Four decades later, they have reunited to finally right the wrongs that were done to them all those years ago.

Seems like a ridiculously long time to wait, right? I received some similar complaints about Naomi Witherspoon's ten-year romance with Brock Holt in Seized. Why did she wait around so long for him to ask her to marry him? Why didn't she dump him when she realized he was a jerk? Well, to be honest, it was partly because that was the timeline that the story demanded. 

But the book's critics also didn't seem to want to give enough credit to inertia. You know, you're in this thing and it's not great, but it's really not that terrible if you squint just right, and you can manage it okay or anyway you tell yourself you can. And life happens and pretty soon you realize you've been with this guy for ten years and nothing's happening, and why is this owl dive-bombing you in downtown Denver?

Naomi was not so much practicing patience as she was practicing inattentiveness. She woke up pretty fast when Joseph showed up, though.

In The Payoff, Janis Fowler and Jan Marek are in a completely different situation. As children, they mentally granted outsized power to Dr. Tandy, who had total control over their lives. They weren't much more than children when they left the Institute -- they were certainly naive about how the world worked -- so they never had the chance that you and I have had, as adults, to recast our mental picture of the adults in our young lives as fallible people who don't control us any longer. And Jan had Seen that he and Janis would be reunited someday, and that would be the time they could finally give Tandy what she deserved. 

So they've waited. For forty years.

There are lots of true-life stories about couples who split up when they're young due to circumstances beyond their control and reunite decades later. Usually, in the meantime, they've gotten on with their lives: they've married somebody else, raised a family, worked, or gone to war. In these tales, when the couple gets back together again, they often find that while they're different people now than before they split, their reunion was worth the wait.

Janis and Jan seem to think their reunion was worth the wait. I'm hoping you, dear readers, will agree.

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I don't have a link for the paperback edition yet. I'll share that next week. And not to be too much of a tease, but I might even have news about a special edition of The Payoff then, too. 

Sounds like it's a good week to practice patience. See you next Sunday.

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These moments of impatient blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and social distancing! And get vaccinated when you can!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Payoff: Justice.

So here we are at week two of the big lead-up to the publication of The Payoff. Our target release date is Friday, April 30 -- less than two weeks from now. I do intend to put the book up for pre-order. I'll send out a newsletter as soon as it's available. (You say you're not on the list? I can fix that! Click here to sign up!) 

So what's this book about? Here you go:
Janis Fowler and Jan Marek grew up together, the only two students at the Institute, a research facility and school for children with paranormal abilities. Or so their parents were told. In reality, the Institute’s director, Dr. Denise Tandy, had her own plans for their talents – Janis can read a person’s past and Jan can see a person’s future – and when the kids resisted her, she was ruthless at getting them to comply.

At last, Janis and Jan escaped – and split up, knowing it was the only way to protect both themselves and each other. But they knew they would reunite someday, when they time was right. 

Forty years later, the time has come. Their old tormentor has turned up again. Her game is the same, but her newest ruse is more dangerous than ever. And she’s recruiting more victims.

Jan and Janis must use their powers to put an end to Dr. Tandy’s vile scheming – without risking each other. It’s a tall order for two people who have been hiding in plain sight for four decades. But with age comes wisdom. And they have waited long enough to see justice served.

As I said last week, justice is one of the three big themes of this book. The obvious association here is with punishment for criminal -- or at least unethical -- behavior. I don't want to venture into spoiler territory here, but Dr. Tandy deserves whatever Janis and Jan can dish up for her.

But it's not just punishment they're after. Janis's creed is that choices have consequences. She can read an individual's past. She knows the situations they have been in, and the choices they have made in those situations. For her and Jan, the future isn't predestined; rather, it's predictable, given the human propensity to do the same thing we did in a previous, similar situation, even if we didn't particularly like the result last time. Dr. Tandy has so far escaped any consequences for the way she treated Jan and Janis when they were children, and our heroes think it's high time she pay.

The usual symbol for justice is a set of scales, often held by a woman who also carries a sword. She is the Roman goddess Justitia, and her Greek antecedent is the goddess Themis. These days, Lady Justice also wears a blindfold, but that's a modern addition.

S. Hermann & F. Richter | Pixabay | CC0

In A Billion Gods and Goddesses, I talked about the pleasant fiction that the statue atop the U.S. Capitol represents freedom, when anyone with half a brain can see that she is Columbia, the goddess of the United States. It turns out Columbia isn't the only goddess in D.C.; Lady Justice is at home in the Supreme Court Building, and unlike Congress, the high court freely admits it. No fewer than three images of Lady Justice grace the place: as part of a statue at the entrance, on the base of a lamp post, and in a frieze in the courtroom itself.

Her scales represent balance, which was our theme last week; her sword shows she is ready to mete out punishment; and the blindfold indicates her intention to be fair. Rich or poor, weak or powerful, all are supposed to be equal before the law. The key there is "supposed to be"; fairness, like justice, is an ideal we strive for, and often we don't hit the mark. And sometimes justice is slow in coming. That's where our final theme -- patience -- comes in. I'll tackle that next week.

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In the meantime, I'm set to receive my vaccine booster on Tuesday (go Team Moderna!). I got a sore arm from the first shot. From everything I've heard, the second dose packs more of a wallop -- but better that than a ventilator. Or a permanent dirt nap.

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These moments of judicious blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell, who will be masking up and maintaining social distancing, even after she's fully vaccinated. You too, okay?