In northern climates, the mid winter celebrations were traditionally a welcome respite, an opportunity to rest and forget the harsh realities of climate and circumstance for a short while. But our ancestors also knew, that once the holidays were done, winter was just beginning. They were facing several long, cold months where they would significantly rely on the preparations and plans they had made the previous season, and hoped they would be enough.
So they settled in for the long haul, mending nets, carding, spinning and weaving, cutting next winter's wood and hauling it out of the forests, setting snares, playing games and telling stories as the days slowly got longer. Neighbors would help each other out, sharing what they had, to ensure the community survived the bitter winter. And if times were hard, come spring, communities would look at how they might be better prepared, for there always was a next time.
In the modern era, we in North America have largely been spared from many of the harsh realities of our ancestors. And then 2020 arrivethd, and much that many of us had taken for granted was hit hard. Scarcity and rationing became the norm in many areas. Jobs and businesses changed or disappeared. Travel was restricted. Isolation became the norm for most people. The rules of engagement were rewritten. Death was suddenly at the front door of many homes in ways not experienced for at least several generations.
As 2021 begins, many parts of the continent and the world are still in lock down. Travel restrictions are still with us. Unemployment is still high and things are far from what they were. But hope is also on the horizon. Vaccines are being distributed. More areas are getting control of their COVID19 infection rates. But we are not out of the woods yet.
Like our ancestors, we need to realize that we are in this for the long haul. And once our situation stabilizes globally, we need to seriously consider what our next moves need to be. For as some epidemiologists have pointed out, COVID19 will not be the last threat we face. And climate change hasn't disappeared either. We have a lot to consider as a species.
I think that's why I've spent so much time on my Forgotten Worlds series over the past few years. We've got a lot in common with the crew of the Reacher and its fleet.
Life was far from perfect before their journey began. Groups of people within their society were exploited and oppressed. There was a lack of appreciation for environmental balance and the rights of sentient beings. Then suddenly things changed. The oppressed rose up. Groups of people who once thought working together as equals was impossible were suddenly thrust together, dependent upon one another for survival.
These are the types of circumstances that bring out the best and worst in people. Some will frantically hold on to outdated ways of thinking and living, blind to the fact that those will just not cut it anymore. Circumstances have irrevocably changed. There is no going back to the way things were. Collectively we have to dig deep, face up to some inconvenient truths about ourselves and our societies, and find enough in common to move forward.
Sometimes, growth like this can be painful. Some people will flatly refuse to move forward. The people of the fleet faced similar challenges. While every opportunity to help people face the new reality must be afforded, like the crew of the Reacher and the fleet, we cannot allow the survival of our species to be threatened by the stubbornness of the few. Difficult decisions may need to be made.
What gives me hope is my faith in people. I believe that like the crew of the Reacher and the fleet, we have it in us to rise above our current challenges, to look after one another better, to find new ways to let people shine and make a place for themselves and their families.
Our ancestors kept moving forward without the benefits of history, science, technology, and communications that we have.
If they could settle in for the long haul, so can we.
There is a longstanding tradition to make resolutions as one approaches a new year. Too often, I've set lofty goals, struggled to keep them for a few weeks, then succumbed to the mundane challenges thrown in my path and settled for less. Sound familiar?
I think a lot of the problem has been the type of resolutions I make. It is so easy to set oneself up for failure, isn't it? I know I'm guilty of that. And too many goals seem to come from a place of lack inside me. "I will lose 20 pounds." "I will be more productive at work." "I will be a better person."
Each of these suggests that I don't think I am enough as I am, or that somehow I'll be so much happier once I get to this "new" place. I've lived long enough to understand that this is not how it works. And this past year was a stark reminder that life is what happens while we all make plans, and so many things that impact our lives are completely beyond our control.
Interestingly, my dog had a pretty good year. She enjoyed the company of her humans. She learned new ways to amuse herself at home. She enjoyed her walks as much as she did in 2019, maybe more so. She took pleasure in the daily rituals of home life, such as meal times and naps. She paid attention to her surroundings and her people, doing what she could to be supportive and to uplift us.
As I observed her throughout the year, I realized that we could learn much from our furry friends. So this year, I've decided to be more like a dog. My first two resolutions for 2021 are as follows:
In the mad search for an exercise routine that could hold my interest as well as be practiced safely during a Newfoundland winter, I discovered something called "techno shuffle".
I figured, well, I'm over seventy, I shuffle every day, should be a natural, right? I've found some tutorials on YouTube and if it works, I swear there will be video; if not, I'll deny everything.
Wish me luck!
What's that? What about writing in 2021? You want more books? Okay, I've got two first drafts ready for editing and another half written as well as several others under construction. I asked the dog for career advice and she just offered to share her favorite cushion with me. So I guess I'm on my own with this one.
So on with the show, Bring it 2021. We are all strapped in and ready to go for another year.
What resolutions have you made for the new year?
Today is the shortest day and longest night of 2020. It is the heathen New Year, for those who follow the old ways and mere days from Christmas, Kwanza, Ramadan, to mention but a few.
Even in this modern world, most cultures still celebrate the turning of the year, the natural cycles of the sun and the earth and the changing seasons. In good times, these are opportunities to strengthen family and community bonds, to celebrate bounty, and count our blessings. In trying times, our festivals and rituals offer a welcome respite from our troubles. They can be a moment to think back to better times and to be reminded that the wheel will continue to turn, and bring new hope with it.
In our home, decorating for the holidays has always been a cornerstone of our celebrations. Each year, my partner takes charge and organizes the unpacking of our Christmas things, sets up the tree and does 99% of the decorating. She so enjoys the decorating process! And I have always taken great joy in watching her, and in making sure she has a good meal, takes breaks and has plenty of help with any heavy lifting that might be needed.
Two years ago, she was in hospital for the holidays having survived a near death experience mere months before. That year, the tree went up later than usual. I wasn't sure if we'd have one at all, but she was determined to have Christmas, albeit a little late. I erected the tree and it took her days to decorate it, as she was only able to do a little each day. But she was so determined!
Most years, our tree was an exercise in reminiscing, as she handled the ornaments and talked about them. We have pictures of beloved critters who have passed on, ornaments given to us as gifts in previous years, some handmade ornaments, you get the picture. But in 2018, the Christmas tree took on new significance in our home, becoming a symbol of resilience and hope for the future.
This year, my beloved has not been sick or hospitalized. Yes, she still battles with her damaged heart, but she is stronger now and has approached the annual decorating with much of her old gusto. As I watch her trim the tree and hang cards and other decorations around our home, I realize that these are the private rituals that really ground the holidays in my heart. These are the moments that become treasured memories that will stand the test of time.
And as a wise old wizard once said, "...that is a comforting thought."
Wishing you and yours peace, good health, love and joy now and in the year to come.
Since the pandemic got rolling, creativity of any kind has been a challenge for most. And this writer has been no exception.
While we've all been isolating and altering how we live in different ways, based on how the pandemic is playing out in our respective areas, there has been little peace and quiet within the relative peace and quiet. I found myself limiting my consumption of news reports for a while, not because of a lack of compassion for others, but because of it. In some parts of the world, COVID19 has literally been allowed to run rampant, infecting and killing the most vulnerable in society. As someone who writes about ordinary people, this has been a hard pill to swallow.
So I cocooned, focussed on the home front and those I love, immersing myself in things that could make a difference where I am.
The world issued a collective sigh as the American election wound down. Those of us living to the north especially so. While their new administration is still several months away from being sworn in and things are far from fully settled, I didn't realize how much the politics of a foreign nation impacted how I felt about the world and my place in it, until now.
Here in Canada, we have struggles of our own. The second wave of COVID19 has hit some areas hard and provinces are scrambling to curb the spread as the midwinter holiday season looms on the horizon. I live in the Atlantic bubble and we have been blessed with lower rates of infection than most places. That being said, we also have a large transient work force that regularly travels between here and hot spots, so we can't afford to let down our guard.
Still, as the leaves turned and the cold settled in, I've felt the warmth of hope seeping into my bones again. We've made it this far in 2020 and I've managed to carve out some happiness with my family on our little island, despite everything. I've never been as grateful for the comfort of mundane, domesticity as I have this year.
The morning coffee ritual with my partner and our three critters has done more to sustain me than I can describe. Walking with the dog in our favorite familiar places, drinking in the long sight lines and salt water views afforded along those routes, and watching the seasons change is a blessing each and every time. Puttering around the house with DIY projects has let me "nest" with my partner, and reminded me that I can still create beauty using paint and a little elbow grease.
The stress of 2020, has not helped my writing, at all. For months, I wrote nothing. I was completely dry. I'd sit in front of the computer, waiting for the stories to flow. The silence in my head was deafening. Most of the year was spent tidying older manuscripts as I waited for something to give. I'd had dry spots in the past, but this time, I was more anxious about it. My partner counselled patience. Not my strong point, ever. She insisted that once I was ready, the stories would return, as they always did.
Happily, she was right. (There, I put it in writing, LOL.) But when I thought about it, the creative difficulties this year make perfect sense.
Bringing a story to life for me is a labor of love. The characters are real to me, as real as anyone can be. I feel their struggles, their fears and their joys. I laugh with them, cry with them and stand shoulder to shoulder with them as they face their fears. This year has been hard on everyone. We've all been more fearful, anxious. The changes to our routines, to our family and work situations have been profound. In short, we've had a lot less to give to the creative process. I believe this is why mine shut down for a while. I had to give myself time to create my "new" normal, to walk a while in those shoes, before I was steady enough to wade into the tangled lives of new characters once again.
As this year winds down for me, I'm happy to report that I seem to have turned that corner and am writing new stories again. It was no surprise that my return was in the company of old friends, so to speak.
I'm pleased to share with you Book Seven in the Forgotten Worlds series, Igen.
The hopes, dreams, and ambitions of one generation are not easily passed on to succeeding generations. In the enclosed world of Igen they failed, the people weakened and faltered, staggering to the brink of extinction. Their only hope lay in the arrival of their greatest fear, the Outsiders, but did they come to save or destroy?
The past year has taught me that hope and resilience are intrinsically linked. Igen is a story about letting go of the past to embrace a better future. Not bad advice as we head towards 2021.
According to a 2018 CBC article by Deana Sumanac-Johnson, it's not easy being a fiction writer in Canada. Her article leading up to the Giller Prize awards that year talked about the hard financial realities of being an author. In 2018, earnings were down 27% from three years prior. She writes:
"....tales of financial hardship extend to writers who are established, have published several books and even those who have won major prizes.
When the Writers' Union of Canada recently surveyed its members about their incomes, the results were sobering: an average writer made $9,380 a year from his or her writing. That's 27 per cent less than what writers made three years ago, and a whopping 78 per cent less than they made in 1998."
My own experience bears out this truth, and I have often been asked why I started out writing to "niche" markets, such as the LGBTQ2 community, if it is so hard to be a successful author.
Firstly, being an author is about having stories to tell. Long before I ever sat in front of a keyboard, I told stories to whoever would listen. Sometimes I told funny stories, sometimes poignant ones. Can't help myself. Stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things has long been my passion.
Having grown up in a small, rural community at a time when neither the laws of the land nor public awareness fostered compassion and understanding toward those of us who are "different", I lived a lie for many years, as I neither knew nor believed that any other way was possible.
Then came the internet and my world opened up, as did everyone else's, and I learned I was not alone. The over the past 25 years, the internet has opened my eyes to many things, including the injustices still faced by the LGBTQ2 community world wide.
According to Deborah Dixon, a guest on Angela Ackerman's Writers Helping Writers, there are two main reasons why inclusivity and representation are important.
"Seeing people who look, act, and experience life like them in media makes a person feel included in a society, and it reinforces positive views of themselves and what they can achieve in society. Also, members of other groups, especially majority groups, base their ideas of groups on what they see in the media."
I couldn't agree more. So I write fantasy, urban fantasy, romance, and science fiction stories that include a variety of people, both human and non-human, with different sexual orientations and gender identifications, doing ordinary and extraordinary things.
I will confess that to date, people of color have not been featured on my book covers as often as I would like. I was surprised to discover the reading public is more accepting of supernatural or extraterrestrial cover models. So despite the breakthroughs and progress made in my lifetime, we still have long way to go.
And given the financial realities facing writers, even well established and award winning ones, we all take real risks every time we choose to be inclusive in terms of our stories' characters and story lines. For any writer who themselves have felt unrepresented in society, in the media, or in books, this is as much an act of protest as it is a labor of love.
Inclusive media does influence how a society views itself and its members. And readers who support authors working to ensure all people are represented in books, are vital to the continuation of this good work.
In my last blog post I introduced you to my latest book Dragonae, written as J.L. Crandall.
It's a story about a man who has become an almost invincible warrior, someone who would have been just as happy to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become a blacksmith. Despite selling his skills and strengths to reasonable leaders, neither he nor their armies could stop the southern legions of from overtaking their lands. He turns his back on war for a time and instead finds himself on another quest: to find the Lady of the Axe.
We shared an audio clip of the first few pages to give you a sampling of the story. Shortly thereafter, my publisher got an audition tape from someone wanting to narrate the story for Audible.
You just have to love serendipity. I'm happy to report that he and my publisher came to an agreement and Dragonae will be coming out as an audio book very soon. The narrator's name is Jeffrey Persson and I think you will agree that his performance adds a new dimension to the story.
Here's a link to a fifteen minute sample.
Hi there, I’m J.L. Crandall, a long time writer you’ve never heard of.
That’s because for the past fifteen years I’ve been publishing under the Prudence MacLeod name. I’m over 70 years old, and I’ve been a reader for at least 66 of those years.
This recent pandemic has forced a lot more isolation than before and I’ve had time to think and get inspired. As a result I’ve sort of returned to my first love - fantasy/sci-fi - in a big way. The next few books I release will be in a slightly different vein from my previous books, so I decided to use my own name on the cover.
For those of you who enjoy my work as Prudence MacLeod, don’t worry, there will be more, lots more, but for now, something new and different.
The first step into this brave new adventure is the story of Duggal, a reluctant warrior who would rather be a blacksmith. However, the gods of fate have decided otherwise. Whether Duggal will become a savior or oppressor is to be decided by another; a woman who will be impossible to find, yet find her he must.
And the time to do so grows short.
To find it on Amazon, click on the cover picture. To check out what my publisher is sharing about this book by clicking here.
My name is Katherine. I've been Pru's other half for 24 years. She has been writing for almost as long as we've been together.
People sometimes ask me what it's like to live with a writer. Well, I can't speak about other writers but living with Pru's vivid imagination has been interesting. She people watches incessantly. Sometimes we might be sitting somewhere, chatting. If there is too long a lull in the conversation her writer's mind will kick in and poof! She's off world in her imagination chasing down a story line. But I can't complain. Before my recent health issues, I was an artisan jeweler and equally prone to flights of fancy. So I get it.
Of course, things aren't as they usually are these days. Here in Canada (Newfoundland and Labrador in particular), we are in self-imposed isolation because both she and I are in a higher risk category for the darned virus-which-shall-not-be-named. While we are somewhat accustomed to a semi-hermit existence over the past year, even we find it quieter than usual.
To help keep our spirits up, we are taking the time to exercise gratitude for the everyday moments of beauty that grace our simple life. This includes taking care of the small critters who frequent our yard. Watching them through the window brings us joy. We thought it might brighten your spirits and give you a small window into Pru's home life.
Click here for the video clip.
I'll be checking in here from time to time to share what we're up to and to offer you a chance to virtually visit with us.
See you soon!
We are living in unusual times, aren't we? Who knew it would take a worldwide pandemic to draw people and countries together in ways we couldn't imagine. Seems life and death situations cause people and countries to reevaluate priorities in the face of an enemy that can kill indiscriminately.
The Forgotten Worlds series are sci-fi stories set in an equally unusual time. Humanity as we know it on this planet is gone and the last remnants of that world have banded with augmented humans (SUVIs) and aliens to create a new society. Floating through the galaxies, they face many difficulties as they struggle to survive.
Unite is the latest installment in this series. The SUVIs and their companions meet a new people and once again find themselves on the defensive. And as usual, they end up learning as much about themselves as they do this new world, its gods and tribes.
“Approaching planet One, Captain.”
“Thank you, Three.” Morthel’s next sentence was lost in the frightened wail of the baby in her arms. Her eyes snapped back to the child for only a moment. “Dammit. Shields!”
The shields went up just as the first salvo hit the ship. Further fire was erratic and scattered as a shielded ship is nearly impossible to target. “Get us on the ground, find a spot where we can inspect for damage.”
As the agile ship dropped toward the planet her captain turned back to the child in her arms. She was quiet once again. “So, you’re another intuitive like Eighteen and Twenty are you. Good to know.”
Morthel turned to Connie and Thirteen, the baby’s parents. “Twenty-One is SUVI, as we know, and I believe she’s a full intuitive. She was fussing because she sensed danger. I was able to distract her for a while, but her sudden cry of alarm clued me in. She’s quiet now, so I’m guessing the immediate danger is past.” She rose and handed the baby back to its mother.
Sometimes, even the littlest ones in the fleet can steal center stage!
On another note, I've been working on some new stories in the fantasy genre and will be posting more about this in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!
And of course stay safe! Follow the guidelines of your local public health officials, practice social distancing, wash your hands often and take good care.
Oh, and read books. Lots, and lots of books. <grin>