Sunday, November 28, 2021

OMG, omicron.

First: Thanks to all who have bought a copy of the Atherton Vampire books 1 and 2. I'm grateful for your support and I hope you enjoy them. 

I didn't think I would be able to finish the third book in the series by the end of this month. But yesterday I stayed home all day, in case of a bad reaction to the COVID booster that I received on Friday (pretty much all I had was a sore arm, thank the gods), and wrote almost 8,500 words. With another 2,200 or so written earlier today, I'm at 38,250 for the book -- just 1,750 from my goal. 

The book will end up a little longer than that, though. I have two more episodes outlined and these later episodes are running about 2,000 words each. But the point is that I might just manage to finish the book in the next two days, after all. I won't win NaNo -- I never signed up and this book isn't going to be 50,000 words anyway. But when I get to The End, I'll still call it a win.


Starshaker | Deposit Photos
So the big news on Thursday, while we Americans were gorging ourselves on turkey and pumpkin pie, came out of South Africa: a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been identified. It's been dubbed omicron (they skipped a couple of Greek letters because reasons) and it exhibits a number of variations in its spike protein, which is the thing that the virus uses to hook onto human cells and infect them. 

I'm confident that I'm not the only person who heard the news and immediately thought, "Oh no, not again." I had visions of a forced return to the bad old days -- the early days of the virus, nearly two years ago now, when society virtually shut down because we had no idea what we were up against.

The good news is that science knows a lot more about this virus today than it did two years ago. Plus we have vaccines now, as well as treatments -- monoclonal antibodies and antiviral drugs -- that we didn't know would work against the virus back then.

But epidemiologists are calling this variant "concerning." Although they're saying we shouldn't panic. 

(I'm taking my information from this background article on the omicron variant from the Washington Post.) 

It's still very early days, but what doctors in South Africa are seeing is what we've been seeing generally with cases of COVID over the past several months: the people hit hardest are those who haven't been vaccinated. Some breakthrough cases are occurring among the vaccinated, but generally speaking, those cases have been mild. So the smartest way to protect yourself is still to get the jab. South Africa's vaccination rate is very low, largely due to vaccines being unavailable there. In fact, a company in South Africa is working hard to replicate the Moderna vaccine (with zero help from Moderna -- it says it needs to protect its intellectual property) so it can be manufactured and distributed to both South Africans and developing nations generally. 

Here's another thing: Remember the beta variant? It was concerning, too, at first, but it turned out that it didn't easily spread from person to person -- or at least not as easily as the delta variant, which is the one causing all the trouble in the United States right now.

Whether out of concern or panic, several other nations almost immediately enacted travel bans on people from a number of African nations. That feels to me like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. The omicron variant is already turning up in non-African countries -- including a case in Belgium of a woman who traveled there from Egypt via Turkey. 

In short, I think we should stay calm, keep an eye out for this variant turning up here in the States -- because it's inevitable that it will -- and otherwise keep doing what we're doing: masking up, social distancing, and getting vaccinated.


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

Sunday, November 21, 2021

A bad guy who wants to do good.

I was hoping to have exciting news for y'all on the Atherton Vampire front. Alas, I got going on editing and uploading the second book later than I'd planned. So I can't give you a link to the ebook edition of The Atherton Vampire: Out of the Coffin just yet. However, unless something totally awful happens, it should be live tomorrow. I'll post the news when I get it, including in the Woo-Woo Team group on Facebook. (What do you mean, you're not a member yet? Click the link and join!)

Here's the cover, anyway, so you know what to look for at Amazon when the book goes live:

I was also kind of hoping to give you an awesome report on progress for the third book, but I didn't write anything yesterday and I've been too tied up with prepping book 2 to do any writing yet today. That's next on my list after I finish this post. And by the time I go to bed tonight, I'm hoping to be pretty close to 25,000 words.


I've been talking a lot about Good vs. Evil for the past couple of weeks -- and it's not just because I'm writing a series about a bad guy who wants to do good (and probably for all the wrong reasons). Although come to think of it, that's not a bad place to start.

Jerry Atherton was a good guy, if somewhat naive, before he was turned. I'm not giving away too much to say that he had a privileged but troubled childhood and fell for the wrong woman. Now he's undead -- a freak who exists on blood and who cannot stand the light of day. In other words, he's Evil. 

At the end of book 1, Callie Dailey suggests that he could rehabilitate his image by becoming "the bad guy who does good." The idea appeals to him. Who wouldn't want to be redeemed after such a massive fall from grace?

But here's the thing: Capital-G Good, like Capital-E Evil, is defined by society, and in the case of Western civilization, those definitions are built on the framework of Christianity. Pure Evil is apparently attainable; start a discussion on this topic and witness how quickly Hitler's name comes up. (I don't know what happened to the internet rule that whoever first mentions Nazis automatically loses the argument, but it seems to have gone by the wayside.)

But is it possible to be purely Good? It seems like as soon as popular opinion anoints a saint, somebody discovers they have feet of clay. It happened to Mother Teresa in 2007

The epitome of Good is God. Of course we can't be God; ergo, we cannot be perfectly Good. We are human, and therefore imperfect, because we are not God. Right? But how Good is good enough?

I believe this idea that humans are necessarily imperfect has run amuck. We've all known exemplary people who beat themselves up because of imperfections they perceive in themselves. They worry that they're not trying hard enough. They question themselves and their behavior. They wonder whether they're not Bad, deep down.

And on the other side, we've all known folks who refuse to question their attitudes and beliefs -- to the point of denying reality outright -- because they're scared of finding out how imperfect, and therefore Bad, they actually are. 

None of this strikes me as mentally healthy. But our society is built on this framework. It's not enough to be "good enough"; we must strive for perfection, which isn't attainable because we're inherently imperfect. But if we don't strive to be perfect, then we're Bad.

And before you know it, we're not only judging ourselves as Bad, but we're comparing ourselves to other people and judging them to be more Bad than we are. From there, it's a short step to judging others whose skin color or native language is different from our own -- and deciding they're less than human.

I reject this framework. I reject the idea that humans are inherently imperfect. I reject the idea that we are inherently flawed. We are, period. And we all deserve kindness and respect. Including from ourselves.

Jerry Atherton, vampire, isn't ever going to be able to become Good. But he can be good enough. And so can we.


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

Sunday, November 14, 2021

More on why I don't believe in Good vs. Evil.

A couple of weeks ago, I said I'd probably write a post on why I don't believe in Good vs. Evil. I listed one reason for my belief in that post (you can read it at the link): it's that Evil is defined by the observer, not the actor. The people that society perceives as Evil never think they are. They believe their cause is right and just. And sometimes later on, society comes around to their point of view.

I saw an ad for this Christmas ornament yesterday, and it reminded me of another reason why I don't believe Evil is a real thing. I hope Hallmark doesn't sue me -- I lifted this photo from their website. It's one of this year's Keepsake Ornaments from their Disney Villain line. The bad guy depicted here is from the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in the original 1940 movie Fantasia. Hallmark is calling him Chernabog.

I was much younger when I saw the movie. While I remember the scene, I had no idea what the character's name was until I saw this ornament for sale. 

Even if I'd known this guy's name, it wouldn't have meant anything to me back then. Now it does, though, because in the intervening years, I've done some reading on Slavic mythology. 

Chernobog -- that's the correct spelling of his name, or anyway it's one of the correct spellings (Disney got it right when they released their own Fantasia ornament) -- is reputedly the Slavic god of darkness. His name literally means "black god." He's usually paired with Belobog, whose name literally means "white god." And it's a pretty good bet that real, actual Slavic pagans never worshipped either one of them.

The only account of Chernobog and Belobog comes from a German scholar named Helmold in the 12th century, several hundred years after Christianity had come to the Slavic lands. Helmold casts Belobog (who he never actually names) as the Good Guy and Chernobog as the Bad Guy -- concepts that were foreign to the ancient Slavs. Sure, there were dualities in Slavic belief; perhaps the best known of these is the annual archetypal battle between Perun, the thunder god, and Veles, the god of the underworld. Veles rules the dark half of the year, you see, and Perun rules the light half, and there's a big fight every year when they switch off. But Veles isn't a bad guy; he's also the god of forests and cattle. He's not Evil, any more than Perun is Good. Those concepts were imposed on the Slavs by Christianity and its insistence on the Good/Evil dichotomy.

It's pretty well accepted today that the villainous Chernobog comes from that same wellspring. The Slavs didn't have a devil in their mythology, so the Christian conquerors had to impose one on them.

This may be the biggest reason why I don't believe in capital-E Evil -- even moreso than the spectrum of behaviors I talked about a couple of weeks ago. Half of my lineage comes from a people whose original belief system didn't have devils or demons. Tricksters, sure -- but devils? Creatures that were purely evil? Not 'til Christian missionaries showed them what it was (ahem).

Other ancient belief systems also lacked the Good/Evil dichotomy. But at this point, we'll never know how widespread that lack was; Christianity did its best to smother these "incorrect" ways of viewing the world, and in the case of the Slavic lands, what the Christians didn't eliminate, the Soviets did.

Anyway, as tempting as it would be to have a Slavic god on my Yule tree, I'm probably going to pass on the "Chernabog" ornament. I might re-watch Fantasia, though, just to see him in action. Plus the music is really cool.

Oh, what the heck. Here's the scene.


Not-Na-No report: I'm closing in on 15,000 words on the first draft of the third Atherton Vampire book. I'm not keeping track as avidly as I do when I'm actually doing NaNo, but I think I've written pretty much every day this past week. I probably won't finish book 3 by the end of November, but I won't miss my just-before-Christmas deadline for publication. 

In the meantime, the second Atherton Vampire novel will be out of its exclusive period with Kindle Vella a week from today, so the ebook version will definitely be out before Thanksgiving. Let's call it November 24th for the release for book 2. I'll post here when it's live, and I'll send a newsletter, too.


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

Sunday, November 7, 2021

It's No-No-November.

Let's stipulate that I spend way too much time on Facebook and get that out of the way upfront. 

I usually enjoy looking at the memories that Facebook shows me each day, but the crop these past few days has been bittersweet. It's convention season, you see -- the two big writing conventions I've been in the habit of attending over the past ten years are always scheduled for late October or early November. Today's memories include a photo of the mass autographing event at the 2014 World Fantasy Convention in DC; a photo of the freebies table at the 2015 World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY; and some photos my pal KS Brooks took of me in Las Vegas when we attended the 20 Books to 50K convention there in 2017.

Checking my somewhat faulty memory and my contemporaneous blog posts, it appears that 20 Books to 50K event in 2017 was the last convention I attended. I'm not quite sure what happened in 2018. I believe I intended to go to 20 Books to 50K again in 2019, but ended up rolling my membership over to 2020. We all know what happened -- or more accurately, everything that didn't happen -- in 2020. When the 2020 event was canceled, I rolled my membership over again, to this year. 

This year, I'm not going. I'll be there as a virtual attendee instead. And I probably won't attend many of the virtual sessions.
IzelPhotography | Deposit Photos

I have reasons: 
  1. The convention is on the Strip this year, which is more expensive than where we were before. 
  2. I'm not a fan of Vegas; lots of people love it there, but I'm not one of them. (I don't really like amusement parks, either, for similar reasons.) 
  3. I'm working for the New Mexico legislature as a proofreader again this year, and I started full-time two weeks ago. I would have had to take the week off without pay to attend this year's convention. Plus my supervisor was really leery about my going to Vegas for a week and catching who-knows-what while I was there; she was ecstatic when I told her I'd decided not to go.
  4. That who-knows-what thing. Santa Fe has been a safe place to ride out the pandemic; Vegas, once it reopened, was definitely not safe. It may be better there now, but the thought of going out amongst the Great Unmasked and Quite Possibly Unvaxxed was just too unnerving for me. 
  5. November is also NaNoWriMo, and I always end up missing a few days at the beginning of the month for a convention and then spending virtually all of Thanksgiving weekend writing. 
Of course, I'm not technically doing NaNo this month, either. I'm up to 5,378 words on The Atherton Vampire 3, but there were a few days last week when I didn't write. I think I'll still be able to get the book done by the end of this month, although it doesn't matter if I'm a few days late because I'm not actually doing NaNo.

The bottom line is that I've said no to a number of things this month that I typically say yes to. No writing convention, no NaNo. It's No-No-November.

To be honest, I'm been rethinking this writing gig for a while now. I've been at it for more than ten years; I've written and published upwards of 25 books; I've made a little money; and I've earned a little respect from some of my fellow indie authors. I'm not sure what else I have to prove. 

When I was in my early 20s, I wrote a list of life's goals; then I spent the next 40 years pursuing them. I've reached each and every one of those goals, including this one: "Become a published author." The goal wasn't to make a living from my writing (and anyhow I did that as a journalist for 20 years). It also wasn't to write a bestseller. It was to get published. And I've done that.

Years ago, I took backpacking training for Girl Scout leaders. I was so out of shape that I had a hard time slogging along the trail with my heavy pack on my back. I kind of whimpered at every little rise we climbed. (Yeah, I know -- pathetic.) But the lodge at the end of the trail had an ice cream parlor, and I just kept thinking about rewarding myself with ice cream when the hike was done. It became my goal -- if I could finish the hike without dying, I could have ice cream! But when the hike was over, I forgot to get the ice cream -- and I wasn't mad when I remembered it later. For me, reaching the goal was the important thing. The reward was beside the point.

I'm going through the same kind of thing now with writing. I wanted so badly to retire and get out of DC that I promised myself that when I finally did, I would live the life of an author -- writing every day and promoting the heck out of my work and all that stuff. Then in the fullness of time, I retired and left DC. And what I'm discovering now, a year into retirement, is that maybe I don't want to be a full-time writer, after all. The writing life was like that ice cream I'd promised myself on the trail: it was the reward. But my goal was always to get out of DC. And from where I'm sitting, the reward is looking like a whole lot of work -- probably more than this retiree is interested in pursuing.

I expect I'll still keep writing. I'll definitely publish The Atherton Vampire 2 as an ebook this month and The Atherton Vampire 3 next month, as planned. But after that? I don't know. We'll see how it goes.

These moments of goal-reviewing blogginess has been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!