A blog about the hearths we come from and those we make for ourselves; the myths we create, both cultural and personal; and the stories I write about them.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Camp NaNo, Day 13, or: My head is filled with Scorched Earth.

I have had to drag myself away from my new book in order to write this post. You may take that as an indication that the first draft of Scorched Earth, the third and final Land, Sea, Sky book, is rocketing along.

As I mentioned last week, Scorched Earth is my Camp NaNoWriMo project for this month. I am more confident than I was last week at this time that I'll finish the first draft early. I wrote 10,000 words last weekend, give or take. And I've done more than 12,000 words this weekend, even if I don't write another word tonight (which is not guaranteed -- I haven't closed the Word file yet).

I posted the cover on Wattpad, so I might as well share it here, too:


The plant in the foreground that looks like corn is called ayalendo, and yes, it plays a significant role in the book. This is the "Land" book, after all, so you can bet the bad guys will have it in for the Earth before it's over.

Speaking of having it in for someone, although maybe not deliberately, I would draw your attention to this blog post by my IU colleague Chris James. In it, he talks about a new contest sponsored by the Guardian, a newspaper in the UK, that's aimed at honoring indie books at the rate of one per month. On the surface, the contest looks like a huge step up for indies: the Guardian is a pretty well-respected newspaper with a decent book section, and a review there might be helpful to an indie's career.

But it turns out the Guardian is co-sponsoring the contest with Legend Press -- a publishing conglomerate with five imprints, one of which offers what amount to vanity publishing packages. It doesn't take much imagination to conclude that Legend Press will be collecting the email addresses of everyone who enters the Guardian's contest and will thereafter spam them with "helpful" emails, suggesting they spend hundreds or thousands of pounds to buy services for stuff they can do themselves.

I've said before (although perhaps not here), in my best world-weary voice, that I'm probably in the wrong end of this business. Authors, by and large, don't make a lot of money from their work. The stars do, of course, and the star machine (read: the traditional publishing industry) pumps up that possibility to everyone who's ever written a book; it keeps the tap flowing, so that they never run out of material to publish.

In addition, there are plenty of ancillary service providers out there who are out to make a quick buck from authors who dream of hitting the big time. Many service providers are legitimate, and most authors who go indie will have to hire at least some help -- editors and cover designers in particular. And I've worked with blog tour operators and publicists who I would hire again in a heartbeat. But it's so much work, any more, to separate the wheat from the chaff. It seems like a new "helpful" website pops up every day. Even NaNoWriMo got into the act last fall, offering winners (among other prizes) a 30% discount on an "ebook publishing package" at Book Country, Penguin's vanity publishing arm, which is tied closely to vanity publishing megalith Author Solutions (which Penguin also owns). And it's so easy to convince yourself that you need to hand over cash to somebody because you don't know what you're doing or can't possibly learn how to do it yourself.

That's why I'm so pleased to be involved with Indies Unlimited. One of our missions is to encourage indies to learn how to do-it-yourself -- and, if you're dead set on hiring someone, how to spot the good guys from the "service" providers who only want to fleece you.

I didn't mean to turn this post into a commercial for IU. But seriously, if you've written a book and you're thinking about self-publishing it, start there. We have a wealth of information on how to do it, and it's all free.

Now then: should I write some more? Or knit? Decisions, decisions....

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These moments of cautionary blogginess are brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Works in progress.

Welcome to April. It's only day 6, and it's already been kind of a crazy month.

For starters, you'll be glad to know (I hope) that I have indeed started on Scorched Earth in earnest. As of right now, I'm more than 12,000 words into the first draft, which is ahead of where I need to be today. (I find it's a good practice during any NaNo event to write ahead when the opportunity arises. It's insurance against the inevitable days when real life gets between me and my work-in-progress.) I'm hoping to finish before the end of the month. Let's see if the writing gods cooperate.

Also, thanks to a follow-fest yesterday at Indies Unlimited (and a bit of gentle nagging from K.S. Brooks), I've joined Wattpad. The first draft of the first chapter of Scorched Earth is now posted there. It's slightly revised and lengthened from the back-of-the-book sample in Undertow; feel free to click through and read the new version, and leave me a note to let me know if you think I'm on the right track.

I got a nice surprise yesterday, when Carol Wyer featured me in a new thing on her blog called "Have You Read...?" I really appreciated her thinking of me.

But there's more than one kind of work-in-progress in my life. And since I can't say much more about the new book, I thought I'd fill out this blog post with some pictures of my knitting.

I finished the Celestarium shawl a couple of weeks ago. Here's a shot of it while it was being blocked. The little whitish dots scattered about are beads, and the whole thing is a re-creation (in yarn and beads, yet) of the night sky as seen from the North Pole. I did not chart this myself, thank you very much -- I found the pattern on Ravelry, and I only agreed to do it because my daughter Amy was leading a knit-along for the project for the yarn store where she works. And it turns out I've got a couple of places to wear it this spring.

Once that was out of the way, I started tearing through some other projects. The pattern for the shawl on the right is called New Edge. I've dubbed mine the New Edge Alpenglow because the colors look a little like sunrise in the mountains, when the sun is hitting the snowy peaks and turning them pink and purple, but the valleys are still in shadow. That's my story, anyway. (Side note: This shawl is only supposed to have 4 wedges. I didn't realize that the pattern started at the top edge; if I had, I would have begun knitting with the purple yarn. By the time I figured out my mistake, I was already into the second wedge of the shawl. Instead of frogging the whole thing and starting over, I decided to add a small extra section of the multicolor variegated yarn at the bottom, which in this picture is at the top. Hence, the knitter's motto: "It's not a mistake -- it's a design element!")

The New Edge Alpenglow took me only four days to knit -- which meant I then needed to find another project. Luckily, Amy gave me a skein of yarn for Yule. So I used it to cast on for a shawl called the Canyonlands. It's still a work-in-progress, as you can see at left. The top part of the shawl is garter stitch and the bottom edge is a seriously textured knit-purl design that's meant to mimic the flowy sandstone formations in the Southwest. You can't see it as well in this picture as I'd hoped, but there are traveling curves throughout, and the bottom edge will be wavy when it's done. I'll post a pic of the final result, if I ever get it done. This border is taking way longer to knit than the top part did. (Side note: Typically, knitting patterns put all the shaping stitches on the right side of the work. This one, however, has just as much shaping on the wrong side. You've never lived 'til you've had to do a slip-slip-purl stitch; I didn't know my wrist could bend that way....)

So that's a preview of my April in a nutshell: Whatever free time Camp NaNo doesn't suck up, the bottom edge of the Canyonlands shawl will.

(For the yarn geeks: I used Dragonfly Fibers Djinni Sock in Solstice for the Celestarium; Dragonfly Fibers Djinni Sock in Rocky Top for the Canyonlands; and Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend in Purples and Stellar for the New Edge. More details on my Ravelry project page, if you care.)

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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour.

I've been tagged by Yvonne Hertzberger to be one of the next stops on the Writing Process Blog Tour. Thanks for the opportunity, Yvonne. And a hearty hearth/myth welcome to any newbies who have found their way here from her site.

By the way, Yvonne writes some pretty awesome epic fantasy; click on the Rursday Reads tab above and look for my reviews of her "Earth's Pendulum" series. She's also a fellow staffer at Indies Unlimited.

Now then, to the main event -- which is for me to answer the following four questions:

1. What are you working on?

Alert readers of hearth/myth already know that Scorched Earth will be the third and final book in my Land, Sea, Sky trilogy. What they don't know (because I just signed up yesterday) is that I've made this book my Camp NaNoWriMo project for next month. My outline is already done; I still need to fill in the pertinent dates on my dry-erase calendar, which I will do before I go to sleep tonight, and then I will be ready to kick this thing into overdrive on Tuesday.

2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This question assumes I've settled on a genre. The Pipe Woman Chronicles were easier -- Native American mythology + handsome shapeshifters = urban fantasy/paranormal romance. Land, Sea, Sky has some Native American mythology, but none of the sexy Plains tribes are involved; instead, Darrell is a Potawatomi Indian, a tribe which almost nobody has heard of, and his sponsoring deity (if you will) is the Ojibwe culture hero Nanabush. I've also got the Morrigan, who's the Celtic goddess of war and who is allied with Tess (to Tess's dismay); and Gaia, who is more or less a Wiccan Earth goddess, and whose human avatar is Sue. The plots of all these books involve a fair amount of intrigue and political maneuvering. So I'm calling the series contemporary fantasy.

If pressed, I'd compare Land, Sea, Sky to Neil Gaiman's American Gods, or to some of Charles de Lint's books. But my books are not enough like those to make a fair comparison. I don't really think anyone else is doing what I'm doing.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Because it interests me. I began studying various Pagan pantheons as part of my own spiritual journey several years ago, and I'd been reading up on Native American spirituality for many years before that. As a news reporter and editor, I spent a couple of decades covering politics (along with a whole bunch of other stuff). I've lived in all the places where the books in both of my series have been set (so far...).  And I read a lot of fantasy.

4. How does your writing process work?

I have discovered that I work best on deadline -- a holdover from my years in journalism. So the NaNoWriMo template seems to work best for me: I churn out a first draft of 50,000 words or so in three or four weeks. It's an intensive process, obviously. I don't have much of a life during the weeks when I'm writing the first draft; I typically spend several hours each night and all day on the weekends at the keyboard.

I do work from an outline, although it's a general, beat-style outline rather than a really detailed one. I write that, and I put the big events of the narrative on a dry-erase calendar that hangs above my desk, before I start writing the first draft. I also collect my research notes in a OneNote notebook. But that's pretty much it for my "writing process." Other than that, I just write.

Tag -- you're It!
The next thing I get to do is tag three authors to be the next stops on the Writing Process Blog Tour. They have all agreed to post their stuff by April 7th. Do stop by and visit them!

1. Laurie Boris

Laurie is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels: The Joke's on Me, Drawing Breath, Don't Tell Anyone, and Sliding Past Vertical. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she enjoys baseball, cooking, reading, and helping aspiring novelists as a contributing writer and editor for IndiesUnlimited.com. She lives in New York's lovely Hudson Valley.

2. John R. Phythyon, Jr.

John wishes he were a superhero or a magician, but since he has not yet been bitten by a radioactive spider or gotten his letter from Hogwarts, he writes adventure stories instead. He is the author of the Wolf Dasher series of fantasy-thriller mashup novels, as well as several short stories, a two-act comedy, and numerous game manuals. He won awards for the latter and hopes to make millions with the former.

In the meantime, he lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, their children, a dog, and a cat. His current projects include the next novel in the Wolf Dasher series, world peace, and desperately wishing for the Cincinnati Bengals to win a Super Bowl before he dies.

3. Alesha Cary

Alesha Cary grew up reading mysteries and she still loves a good who-dunnit. But she's also a romantic at heart and believes we all deserve our own happily-ever-after -- we just have to find the right person. She writes her books with a bit of romance and a bit of mystery ~ and sometimes a splash of paranormal.

The mixture is different for each book, but you can expect to find some of each in every story.

Just like her characters, Alesha lives on the Pacific Northwest Coast with her husband and two cats. Their neighbors are deer, raccoons, skunks, foxes, mountain lions and bear, and far too many birds to list. From her window she gets to watch the whales playing as they migrate.

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These moments of bloggy process -- or maybe it's processed blogginess? Anyway, here they are, brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

She who expects nothing...

First and foremost, thanks to everybody who came to the Undertow launch party on Facebook yesterday! I had a blast, and I think the folks who came did, too. Best of all, I gave away all the prizes, including the door prizes. Congrats to Greta Burroughs and Illume Eltanin, who won the $5 Amazon gift cards, and to Chris Lewis, who won the $25 Amazon gift card.

It was so much fun, I'm thinking of doing it again when Scorched Earth is ready for release. Good thing I have a few months to rest up first.

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I am not sure now where I saw the quote. Probably on a poster when I was in college. I don't think I owned the poster; it must have been a friend's, or maybe I just saw it in a store. But anyway, the quote is this:
It's meant to be funny, of course. I think the accompanying photo illustration was a woeful beagle with his head on his paws. But often, humor works because there's at least a grain of truth in it.

There was an article floating around Facebook a couple of weeks ago (which I can't find now, of course) about traditionally-published authors who are having trouble making a living from writing books. Several authors -- midlisters and literary writers -- were quoted in the article as saying they had gotten used to getting big enough advances from their publishers that they were able to support themselves on them. That allowed them to live and work as writers, without a day job; they could devote themselves to their art without having to worry about working for The Man in order to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Those halcyon days are apparently over. Advances from traditional publishers have been shrinking over the past decade or so, as those publishers pour more and more of their resources into big advances to already-famous people to pen blockbusters (or, more accurately, books the publishers hope will be blockbusters). This means midlist writers who have gotten used to living off the income from their books are being forced to recalibrate. They're either cutting back their expenses or -- the horror! -- having to take a day job.

In short, they had come to expect that they could make a living wage from their work, but their publishers are disappointing them.

The implication of the article was that maybe society has lost something by not paying our creators of literature a living wage for their words -- that what we're seeing is the passing of a golden age for the life of the mind.

The truth is, though, it's not the first time the paradigm has shifted for those who work in the arts. During the Renaissance, artists and composers sought wealthy patrons who would support them. The artists turned out stuff their patrons ordered, and wrote or painted or sculpted their pet projects on the side. That sort of patronage eventually went out of style. In the centuries since, artists, writers and composers have largely lived hand-to-mouth in pursuit of their art. There's a reason, after all, for the term "starving artist."

Then when capitalism became the New Hotness, people began make a habit of quantifying the worth of the worker's produced goods -- an attitude that still exists today, even when we're talking about service workers. "Do novelists contribute as much to the general welfare as doctors or lawyers?" people want to know. "Aren't police more critical to society than people who write books? What about firefighters? What about teachers?"

Yeah, yeah, I get it. All these people deliver work that provides an obvious benefit to society. They may not be making widgets, but they do provide services that we, as a society, have deemed important: healing the sick, helping us get out of trouble, protecting us, teaching us. The impact of writers' work, and its contribution to the greater good, is much less direct.

And too, books require thought in order to reap their benefits -- and that's not something we seem to value these days. I mean, who wants to have to think? We're tired when we get home from work, for goodness' sake. We just want a beer (or two or three) and a diverting TV show (or two or three). We might read for ten minutes before we fall asleep, assuming we can stay awake that long, but that's it.

So what does this mean for indie authors? A lot of us dream about kicking the day job to the curb and making a living from this writing thing someday. We have some things going for us in that regard that trad-pubbed authors don't -- higher royalties per book sold, for one thing. But I do sometimes wonder whether our society isn't sliding back into another "age of the starving artist." And I think it's probably prudent, in any case, to have a Plan B in our pockets, in case this writing-for-a-living thing doesn't pan out.

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