Sunday, April 11, 2021

On balance, some book news.

Just last week, I promised that I would write about writing again, and here I am, doing it. You're welcome.

Authors are often asked where their story ideas come from. It's not a question most of us enjoy answering. Oh, sometimes we can pinpoint the moment or event where the first germ of an idea originated (the Transcendence trilogy, for instance, sprang from a wholly unplanned stop at the Newark Earthworks in central Ohio, and Seasons of the Fool came about because I wanted to write a novel set in the neighborhood where I grew up). 

But sometimes there's nothing in the real world to point to. Once in grad school, when I had a short story due, I wrote an opening sentence by stringing a bunch of words together and then wrote a story to fit the sentence. The story came out okay, but how would I explain how I got there? The Muse works in mysterious ways.

And so it is with my upcoming novel, which I drafted during NaNoWriMo this past November. I was pretty sure, when the first draft was done, that I'd written a steaming pile of crap. But after a couple of rounds of self-editing, I decided it wasn't as bad as I thought -- and could even be salvaged. So I sent it along to my editor late last night. And I now feel confident that The Payoff -- yes, at long last, the book has a title! -- will be published on or about Beltane, May 1.

The germ of the plot was a Facebook post or meme or picture -- which of course I can't find now -- about how readers would love to have a story about an elderly woman who solves mysteries or crimes or something. Hey, if there's a market for books where the main character is old, I'm happy to oblige. So the main characters in The Payoff are a man and a woman in late middle age who haven't seen one another in forty years. Deliberately. Because they didn't want to run afoul of an older woman who tormented them all through their growing-up years. Now this woman is back, and she's causing trouble for someone else who doesn't deserve it, and Our Heroes have decided it's payback time.

After the first round of editing, I sat back and thought about the novel's themes. I came up with three: balance, patience, and justice. Having those concepts in the back of my mind helped me shape my steaming pile of first draftedness into a novel that I'm pretty proud of. So I thought I'd talk about each of them in turn.

This week, the topic is balance. 

ElisaRiva | CC0 | Pixabay
(I could have gone for a pile of rocks beside a rushing stream to illustrate this post, but this image feels more true-to-life to me.)

The main characters are Janis Fowler and Jan Marek. Jan (who is male) has the ability to See people's futures; Janis can See people's pasts. Their talents cannot be called up on command; they happen when they happen. But over the years, each of them has figured out how to create circumstances that will kick their talents into action. 

In a way, Jan and Janis are a matched set. They balance each other. Together, they have a full picture of a person -- the experiences that shaped them, the choices they've made in critical situations, and how all that will play out in their future lives. Janis and Jan realized early on what takes some of us a lifetime to figure out: Choices have consequences.

While balance within ourselves is always worth cultivating, it isn't enough to ensure a peaceful life. We have to interact with others. Some of these others are seriously unbalanced; sometimes they have power over us, holding the tightrope we're forced to walk. One unhinged choice on their part and boom! Down we go.

If we're lucky -- if we live long enough -- we may get to see that person suffer the consequences of their bad choices. We might even be given the chance to deliver the consequences ourselves. And if we do it right, our balance can be restored.

That, right there, is The Payoff

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I'll put the book up for preorder here shortly. I'll let you know when that happens.

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These moments of balanced blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Keep masking up and social distancing! The end is in sight!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

QAnon and the New Age.

You would think a person who purports to dislike DC so much would have raced to eliminate all ties to the city (other than those to friends and relatives) immediately upon moving away, wouldn't you? And yet I still have a digital subscription to the Washington Post, and probably will keep it for the forseeable future. It's not super expensive (I'm looking at you, NewYork Times) and their coverage of national news is excellent.

Sometimes, however, they kind of go off the deep end. So for the second time in as many weeks, I'm using a WaPo story as a springboard for a blog post. (I'll get around to writing about writing again eventually, I promise.)

PublicDomainPictures | Pixabay
This week, an article in their Sunday magazine set me off. It's entitled "QAnon's Unexpected Roots in New Age Spirituality," and in it, the author strives to make a connection between the New Age movement and the guy in the furry headdress who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. I'd read a little bit about this character, whose real name is Jacob Anthony Chansley but who goes by Jake Angeli and who is also known as the "QAnon Shaman." I'm sure you've heard about him, too; he's the guy who complained that his jailers wouldn't serve him organic food, so a judge ordered him transferred to a different jail.

The get-up he wore to the insurrection was a mishmash of quasi-spirituality: the horned headdress was a call to Native Americans, sorta kinda, and among the tattoos on his torso is a rune associated with white supremacy that Heathens in the Pagan movement have disavowed. The author of the WaPo article, Marisa Meltzer, says she recognized the combo as a "cringeworthy and offensive display of appropriation." I agree with her. She goes on to say that Chansley is the founder of the Star Seed Academy, a New-Agey place in Arizona that promises to help people "awaken, evolve and ascend!" His lawyer told Meltzer that Chansley is committed to ahimsa, a principle in some Asian spiritual traditions that relates to nonviolence.

When I read that, I said aloud, "Then what the hell was he doing in the Capitol on 1/6?" 

Well, he's also a follower of QAnon. And Meltzer says that fits because of this thing called conspirituality, which she describes as a "politico-spiritual philosophy" based on two beliefs: that humanity is undergoing a profound awakening in consciousness, and that there's a shadowy group out there somewhere that's controlling society.

She says Robert Bly's 1990 book, Iron John, is one of the seeds of conspirituality. Bly's book created a counter to the women's movement by highlighting masculine tropes in Jungian archetypes and fairy tales. In order for men to claim their true masculinity, he claimed, they needed both to perceive themselves as warriors and to make themselves emotionally vulnerable. 

I remember when Iron John was published. It sold really well. And there's nothing wrong with a man being emotionally vulnerable in his relationships; it kind of helps, actually. 

But then Meltzer tries to tie this view of masculinity to those held by groups like the Proud Boys and evangelical Christianity, where the ideal of men as women's protectors morphs into a belief that women should stay home and shut up. From there, it's a short hop to QAnon. 

Okay, but QAnon attracts a lot of women, too. And whatever happened to Bly's belief that men need to be emotionally vulnerable?

Look, there are some shady New Age characters out there. In my opinion, the New Age movement is less a religion than a self-help phenomenon; misappropriating Native American practices is just one of the sketchy things I've seen. I'm not against self-actualization, but you have to be really, really careful when you search for a "guru"; a fair number of them are only in it to separate you from your money.

And I'm thinking the QAnon Shaman might need to spend some of his time in prison reading Iron John

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These moments of appropriate blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Mask up! Wash your hands! And get the vaccine when you can!