Sunday, October 31, 2021

Samhain musings.


bigdan | Deposit Photos

Blessed Samhain! Happy Halloween!

Here's a reminder that Jerry Atherton requests the pleasure of your company this Halloween. The Atherton Vampire is featured at Book Doggy today -- and it's still just 99 cents. 


For the past few days, I've been watching some of the Dracula movies I've missed over the years. The 1977 BBC production with Louis Jourdan was...not good. Jourdan didn't do either menacing or sexy very well. 

Somehow I missed Frank Langella's Dracula when it came out in 1979. It was appropriately scary, and more overtly sexy than the original novel by Bram Stoker. I didn't like Langella's pop-eyed stare, but everything else was good.

The third movie I watched was Mel Brooks' take on the story. A couple of people have told me that it's their favorite, and I can see why -- Leslie Nielsen is a better Dracula than I expected him to be, and Brooks himself is hilarious as Van Helsing. 

But the common element of all these books is Stoker's original story. And it hasn't aged well. For starters, there's the obvious sexism -- both Mina and Lucy are victims (no matter which one Drac targets first, and why do screenwriters feel the need to swap them? Or combine them into one character? But I digress), and it's up to the manly men to save them. Just as in Stoker's novel, the women in these movies have no agency. At least in The Lord of Cries, the opera I saw this summer, Lucy actively chose her destiny. She made a lousy choice -- it wrecked her life as well as those of everyone around her -- but still, it was hers to make and she made it.

The other thing that bothered me about the legend, particularly in the BBC version, is its reliance on that old dichotomy of Good vs. Evil. This probably deserves a post of its own; maybe I'll get to it later this month. But I don't believe there is such a thing as capital-E Evil -- or capital-G Good, for that matter. Briefly, it's because the bad guys never think of themselves as bad. They always have what they believe is a good reason for what they do. Maybe they're mentally ill, or maybe they've just talked themselves into believing that what they plan to do is justified -- or someone else has talked them into believing it. 

The January 6th insurrectionists are the most glaring example of the latter; a number of them have asked the court for mercy, saying they believed former President Trump when he claimed the election was stolen from him and that they were convinced they were righting a grave wrong by invading the Capitol. (Now, whether you believe Trump himself is Evil or a narcissistic sociopath or just the sorest loser ever is a separate thing, and not where I want to go in this post. For this example, let's just stick to the mindset of the insurrectionists.)

My point is this: Even those we perceive as Evil usually have one or two good qualities, and those we perceive as Good often turn out to have bad qualities. Nobody is perfectly Good or perfectly Evil -- except in myth. And by "myth" I mean the stories that underpin religious beliefs of all stripes, even those of the Christian faith. One of the things that bugged me about the BBC production was that the Catholic Church had the power, through the crucifix and communion wafers, to combat Dracula. Interestingly, though, those talismans couldn't kill a vampire -- only sunlight or a stake through the heart could do one in. If the Church was so powerful, why did the cross merely scorch the vampires? Why couldn't it utterly defeat them? And why was that final power left to Nature, via a plain wooden stake or the light of the sun?

In the Dracula stories, the vampires are capital-E Evil and the church is capital-G Good. But in reality, we know the church isn't capital-G Good: witness the modern-day revelations about pedophile priests, to say nothing of the Inquisition. Farther back, we can see the cunning the church used to convert pagans to the new Christian religion, such as absorbing Samhain into a three-day church festival honoring the saints and the dead when the peasants refused to give up their end-of-harvest fire festivals. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I guess.

I suppose you can make the argument that the Church is made up of humans, and humans are imperfect by nature. I acknowledge that humans have flaws, but I don't believe we are fatally flawed. 

And keep in mind that it was the ancient pagans who knew how to handle a vampire -- and their solutions actually worked.


I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I'm not signing up for the official event. Here's why.

Alert hearth/myth readers know that the goal of the November event is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Unlike the Camp NaNo events, you can't set your own goal in November -- the 50,000-word thing is immutable. And my project for this month is the third Atherton Vampire book, which I know isn't going to be that long because the others have been in the 40,000-word range and I'm aiming to keep this one in the same ballpark. Besides, I've won NaNo every time I've entered; I have nothing to prove by signing up this year and setting myself up for failure thereby. So I will be keeping y'all apprised this month of my word totals, week by week, and I'll share the cover for the third book when it's ready. But I'm not going to do the official event.


These moments of hallowed blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. And a reminder that COVID-19 is scarier than any vampire -- so get vaxxed!

Monday, October 25, 2021

I don't care whether you read my books.

First, an apology is in order. You may have noticed that this is Monday night. And as y'all know, I always post on Sunday nights. I have no good excuse for not posting last night -- I stayed out too late, hanging out with friends, and didn't adequately plan ahead of time. I'll try not to do it again. Too often, anyway.


I might be losing it. I was cruising Twitter a few days ago, as one does, and I could swear I saw somebody mention something about some authors -- or maybe it was just one author -- who had complained about people who buy their books but never read them. 

Twitter isn't organized -- hashtags were literally invented by users so they could find and aggregate tweets on specific topics -- and while I have a vague idea of whose tweet it was that I saw in response to the original tweet, I can't find any evidence of it. Nor can I think of a hashtag that would cover it. And my Google-fu is failing me, too.

Anyway, let's just pretend this actually happened -- that some clueless author actually complained on Twitter that people were buying their book(s) but not reading it/them. And let me state further that I don't care whether you read my books.

Tigs says you should buy and read the hooman lady's books.
Lynne Cantwell | 2021
I might feel differently if I wrote nonfiction books full of original ideas and earth-shattering truths that would be a huge benefit to society, and published them because I needed the world to understand them so we could all live together in peace and harmony forever, and then...crickets.

But I don't write nonfiction (very often). I write fiction. Specifically, fantasy. More specifically, urban fantasy, and sometimes magic realism. Now, there are fiction writers who use their work to sell a particular philosophy or point of view (Ayn Rand comes to mind). But I'm not one of them. I write stories I would like to read myself. Moreover, even when I've stuck in an intriguing idea or several, I'm not so egotistical as to think everyone must read my priceless pearls of prose. 

The bottom line is I'm here to entertain myself, and by extension, my readers. If you want to buy my books and let them sit on your Kindle unread, I'm okay with that. I get paid either way.

And you can't judge people's motivations for not immediately reading every book they buy. One reader told me the other day that she's probably going to wait to read The Atherton Vampire until the other two books come out, so she can get the whole story at once. I respect that.

Oh, hey, I need to put in a plug for The Atherton Vampire, which is just 99 cents at Amazon through at least the end of this month. Here's the cover again: 

Okay, back on topic. 

I get that some writers have sweated bricks over their books, possibly for years, and it feels like a slap in the face when folks don't or won't read them. But then I think back on my twenty-year career in broadcast journalism and all the priceless pearls of prose I wrote for myself and others -- all of which have no doubt been bulk-erased long since -- and I just have to shrug. 

I write books now. Once you, Dear Reader, have bought them, it's out of my hands. Read them or not, as you choose. As long as you buy them, I'm good.


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

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Jerry's loose, or: The Atherton Vampire is available now.

 Remember when I said last week that I was setting myself an arbitrary deadline for releasing The Atherton Vampire? And that it would be out this coming Thursday?

Strike that. It's available now at Amazon. Here's the cover so that you know what you're looking for.

I've set the price for the Kindle edition at 99 cents and will leave it there through at least the end of this month. 

I'm not planning to release paperback editions for this series, but I could be persuaded to change my mind. If you're interested in a paperback, let me know.


The series is set in Atherton, a fictional town on the fictional Cabell River. Jerry's grandfather founded the town; he chose this site on the Cabell (it's pronounced CAB-ull, not ka-BELL) for his river barge factory and essentially built the town to support the factory. (The remains of the factory figure prominently in the plot for this book.) 

I had a model in mind for the town of Atherton: Huntington, West Virginia. I lived in Huntington for a few years in the early '80s, back when I was a radio news reporter. Like Atherton, Huntington was named for its founder: railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. He decided the area would be the perfect location for the western terminus of his Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Railway, so he bought some land and incorporated the city of Huntington in 1871. Unlike Jerry's grandfather, though, Huntington the railroad man moved on from his namesake city. He became one of the four rich guys who chipped in to build the Central Pacific Railroad -- part of the transcontinental railroad. (There I was, watching a Great Courses course on the American West not long ago, and lo and behold, who should pop up in the lecture about the transcontinental railroad but Collis P. Huntington. Small world, huh?)

The eastern terminus of the C&O was Richmond, VA, but Huntington later extended the line to Hampton Roads, VA. He was also instrumental in building Newport News Shipbuilding. As it happens, my next job after I left Huntington was in Hampton Roads. Who knew I was following in the footsteps of Collis P.?

Anyway, today's Huntington stretches for about fourteen miles along the Ohio River. It's the county seat for Cabell County, and its metro area includes Ashland, KY, and Ironton, OH.

In the series, the Atherton mansion sits on a bluff overlooking the town, the river, and the old shipyard. There's no view equivalent to that in Huntington, although the hills rise behind the town pretty fast. Situated up there is the Huntington Museum of Art, which is a decent museum for its size. I toured it with former Second Lady Joan Mondale when she was in town, stumping for her husband Walter the year he ran for the Democratic nomination for president. She invited reporters along on her tour of a visiting exhibition from the Armand Hammer Collection (speaking of wealthy industrialists). I liked one of the paintings so well -- Salome Dancing Before Herod by Gustave Moreau, a massive work of art -- that I bought a poster of it, had it framed, and hung onto it for many years.

Which has nothing to do with The Atherton Vampire, to be honest, unless I can work in a mention of John the Baptist's head on a platter later in the series. Hmm. Putting a pin in that idea.


Anyway, The Atherton Vampire is available now for Kindle for just 99 cents. Enjoy!


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

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Cooking with carbon steel.

For the past several years, I've been having eggs every morning for breakfast. (My doctor says my cholesterol level is just fine, thanks.) (I have theories about the fixation doctors and dieticians have on cholesterol, but that's a whole 'nother post.) I've also been a fan of nonstick pans ever since I bought my first set of cookware. So every day for the past several years, I've cooked my eggs in a nonstick skillet. And every year or so, I'd have to buy a new skillet because the nonstick finish would go hooey.

To be clear, I don't mistreat my nonstick pans -- I never use metal utensils on them -- but the finish only stays nice for a year or so, regardless. And once you can see it getting pitted and scratched, you kind of don't want to use it anymore, because how much of that stuff is getting into your food, right?

So a few months ago, when the frying pan I bought last year started to show signs of wear, I asked Mama Google if there was another alternative. "Carbon steel!" she said. "It's it's an alloy of steel and iron! It's lighter than cast iron and there's no chemical coating!" She then showed me a number of blog posts that rated the best carbon steel frying pans. Some were cheap, some were pricey, and I couldn't really tell what made one better than another. 

I dithered. Then I got sick of dithering and dropped the whole idea for a while. Finally, I went to a place at the mall and bought the brand they had in stock: A Ballarini Professionale 3000. (The link will take you to Amazon but you won't make me any money for buying a pan there; I don't do affiliate links.)

Photo stolen from Amazon.

The next step was to season the pan. I've never owned any cast iron, so this was a new thing for me. The pan came with instructions for seasoning, but the translation didn't seem to be the greatest, so back I went to Mama Google. Once again, there was tons of advice. The first instruction was always to scrub off the manufacturer's coating, which keeps the pan from rusting 'til you bring it home. But after that, things started to diverge: Coat it with oil, inside and out -- the handle, too -- but different people recommended different types of oils (canola, grapeseed, vegetable). And then came the actual technique: Heat the pan on top of your stove, but it's going to smoke like crazy! Or cook a mixture of oil, salt, and the peels from two potatoes in it! Or put it upside down in the oven at 450 degrees -- no, 400 -- no, 500 degrees -- and let it bake for an hour -- no, two hours! Then let it sit in the oven 'til it cools, and ta-da! It's done! Except you'll need to redo it several times in order to build up that patina so it's really nonstick.

And to clean it, don't ever soak it -- just scrape off the food residue with a wooden utensil and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. No washing with soap. Well, maybe use a little water, but then heat the empty pan over a burner again 'til you're sure it's dry. Then oil it again to protect it from rust. Unless you use it a lot, in which case you can skip oiling it.

The process seemed daunting. But I looked up smoke points for oils, settled on vegetable oil as my seasoner of choice, and picked the oven method. Set it at 425 degrees, if I recall correctly. Left it in there for two hours for good measure, then allowed it to cool for another two hours. When it came out, it looked gorgeous, all evenly dark like it was supposed to look.

I used it several times. And then I made chickpea and spinach stew in it, forgetting one of the other rules of cooking with carbon steel: if you put anything acidic in it -- like oh, say, sherry vinegar -- it'll take the patina right off.

The solution, it turns out, is to keep using the pan in order to build the patina back up. It took about a week of daily use. This morning, I made fried eggs in it. Even with the patchy finish along the sides, the eggs turned out beautifully and they didn't stick at all.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

I'm really starting to like this pan. I might even buy another one.


I'm going to have to give myself an arbitrary deadline for getting the Atherton Vampire books out or it will never happen. So let's say the first Atherton Vampire book will go live on Kindle next Thursday, October 21st, just in time for your Samhain/Halloween reading pleasure. The second book has to stay exclusive to Kindle Vella until late November, so I'll aim for a release for that one just before Thanksgiving (the American one, I mean, and happy Thanksgiving today to my Canadian friends!). That will allow me to write the third book during NaNoWriMo and release it just before Yule. 


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

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Ah, festival season.

Probably the thing I've missed the most over the past year and a half of this pandemic is outdoor festivals. Yarn festivals in particular, of course, but really any gathering in the fresh air where participating crafters offer their items for sale in booths. It's fun to walk around and see everything.

I hit the jackpot this weekend: the annual harvest festival at El Rancho de los Golondrinas in Santa Fe and the Taos Wool Festival in Taos. If I'd been paying attention, I would have gone to one yesterday and the other one today. Alas, I wasn't paying attention, so I ended up doing both today. 

Lynne Cantwell 2021

El Rancho de los Golondrinas (which means "the ranch of the swallows") used to be a stop on the Camino Real from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Now it's a living history museum. This was their 40th annual harvest festival, and it featured all kinds of craft demonstrations. But mostly, I took pictures of the animals.

At the sorghum mill, the interpreter mentioned that they had planned to make sorghum syrup but they'd run into several issues -- among them, recalcitrant burros for running the press. By the time I saw the critters later, they were okay with posing for photos.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

The burros live at the ranch, and so do these Churro sheep. The breed is descended from Churra sheep brought to the New World from Spain by the conquistadores. It's a popular breed around here -- the Navajo raise them, among others. They're prized these days for their soft woolly undercoat, which museum volunteers spin, dye, and weave into blankets and other items.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

Not far from the burros was a portable corral for a few alpacas. Some kids were trying to pet them, but the alpacas seemed more interested in their feed bags. 

Lynne Cantwell 2021

If there are sheep and alpacas, there must be yarn. And there was some yarn for sale from vendors at the museum, but I didn't pull out my magic plastic card 'til I got to Taos. The wool festival there is nothing like Maryland Sheep and Wool, which takes up a huge county fairground, but I managed to put a dent in my bank account anyway. No photos from Taos -- I was too busy petting the yarn. But I wish I'd gotten a shot of the gentleman who was leading around a yak on a leash. He -- the yak, not his owner -- was about five months old and looked a lot like a cow.

What was a yak doing at a fiber festival? Like sheep and alpacas, yak fur can be made into yarn. Their undercoat feels like cashmere, or so Mama Google tells me. It's pricey, of course, so I'm not in a hurry to buy any. Maybe next year. Or not.

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