Loot and Pillage like a Viking!

shades eVersion

Do you like Vikings?

This is your lucky week, because “The Shades of Winter” – a fantasy novel based on the world of the Norse of the Viking Age, but set in a universe where magic is real, and so are the monsters – is on sale for a whopping 99 cents (USD).

 

The Shades of Winter

An aging band of sea raiders set out on one last voyage of revenge, and get a whole lot more than they bargained for.

Tam Isliefsdottir wasn’t planning to end her life in a futile attempt for vengeance, but when your brothers- and sisters-in-arms need you, what can you do? Leaving her son and her granddaughter behind and sailing to the shadowy island of Alvandir, she expected to die gloriously for the sake of her country, her king, and her own reputation.

Nothing is as it seems, however, and it hasn’t been for the last twenty years. Tam and her Kyndred are in for the surprise of their lives.

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-shades-of-winter-a-novel-of-averraine

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp-B07VYX1247/dp/B07VYX1247

Print  https://www.amazon.com/Shades-Winter-Novel-Averraine/dp/0995036675/

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/767385

B&N: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-shades-of-winter-a-novel-of-averraine-morgan-smith/1132774536

We have the tools to remake the world

Car_crash_1

 

Back when I was kid, cars didn’t even have seat-belts, and people used to brag about driving drunk.

We changed all this.

It isn’t that we brought in laws requiring seat-belts, or stiffened the penalties for driving while under the influence.

We did do that, but the laws came later.

What we did was change the majority attitude about those things.

We harnessed the existing media, and we educated ourselves and nearly everyone else around us, until those laws became what we asked – no, we demanded – our governments to do. To enact legislation that reflected our changed attitudes about these things.

It took dedication.

It took guts and determination on the part of small groups that grew into those majorities.

It took years.

But it worked. It worked so well that probably 90% of the North American world buckles up as soon as they get into their cars, without even thinking. It worked so well that no one even talks about it anymore. People who swore that no matter what the “law” said, they were going to do what they damned well wanted…do it, because now “not dying in an avoidable fiery car-crash inferno” is, in fact, what they want.

We trained ourselves to want what was best not only for us, but for everyone.

We could do this with all kinds of things we have finally begun to realize is holding us back.

We could train ourselves out of racism.

We could train ourselves out of seeing poor people as not deserving of basic necessities, and we could train ourselves out of treating people in certain job categories as “lesser beings”.

We could train ourselves to treat this planet with respect, instead of pretending it’s an infinite rubbish dump.

And we could do it, do it ALL,  in much less time, and more completely, because we have so many more (and more effective) tools to communicate the messages we need to hear.

In fact, it’s starting to happen, without even tacit or covert support from our governments, and with far less money, because social media means that more of us have platforms and farther reach beyond our own family/friend circles.

We could save the world.

If we really want to.

Why RPGs matter

mythic journey

 

Back in the 80s, there was a lot of backlash against D&D and all the copy-cat games and systems that followed.

You can read about some of it here  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons_controversies#Mazes_and_Monsters

And here  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons_controversies#60_Minutes_special

And here  https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26328105

As well as many other articles.

It’s never really gone away, despite the never-receding popularity of the games.

 

But the fact is that RPGs serve a lot of very valuable purposes.

They allow people to explore sides of themselves, to play out fantasies of violence, to understand teamwork, to value skills they don’t have that other people might have.

They let people confront issues in their own lives, and often provide useful lessons in how to cope with those issues – to recognize and at least partly understand other people’s issues.

And they provide an arena in which participants can see and experience the consequences of their own actions.

The games can stir up deep emotions – feelings they might not have yet felt in real life. Trial runs, to allow people to think about how they will react if and when those experiences become reality.

Sometimes, they can even allow players to come face to face with ideas about mortality – their own, and others’, mortality.

 

And the gamers can do all this without harming themselves or others.

 

A child or adult with fantasies about violence can get a taste of what that violence does to others around them. They can hear from other players what that violence means to other people.

They can play out what that violence says about the violent person. They can discuss in a safe way (because it’s just a game) whether or not that violence was justified. Did it help solve a question? Did it get them closer to completing a task? Was there another way to accomplish the goal?

(No one who has played for any appreciably continuous campaign will ever forget the first time they knee-jerked their response to some alien thing popping up by instantly killing the “thing”, only to discover that this was the contact they needed to listen to in order to avoid some major trap, or hear the clue they needed to solve the problem. Good GMs, when they realize the party is getting way too trigger-happy to make the game interesting, never miss an opportunity to throw one of these in.)

RPGs consist of a group of individuals making choices, and then having to live (or sometimes “die”) with the results.

It can be cathartic. A learning experience. A way to “try on” different personalities.

It can be revealing. It can be empowering. It can open someone up to wider understanding of themselves and others.

Which, upon reflection, actually explains the antipathy that so many people have to this form of entertainment.

Truth is always uncomfortable to liars.

How marketing works…

7070885-picture-of-woman-with-megaphone-over-white-Stock-Photo-girl

So there was this tweet saying that retweeting links about other authors’ books was no good, and that it would be better to buy the book – that the RTs were basically useless….

And there I was, gobsmacked and basically “I.Can’t.Even.”-ing all over the place.

Because one of the things that every writer is nagged at in tweets and adverts and writing videos about getting a following and becoming successful is about MARKETING.

And marketing is just how to get your name and work/title recognition out to a significantly large number of people so that enough of the people who would like what you write get to hear about it and consider buying your stuff.

Every day, my email in-box is stuffed full of services wanting – for a price – to tweet out my links to their thousands of subscribers, in order to generate not only sales, but wider reach so that more people who like the kinds of stuff I write have a chance to at least think about buying something. (I know. I’m repeating myself. But it needs stressing, apparently.)

Advertising/marketing is, at its core, pretty simple.

The more people know about a thing that is for sale, the more likely it is that someone will at least consider purchasing the thing.

The more times they see it, the more likely it is that they will consider it more seriously.

The stronger the association they have with “things they are interested in” and “the things you are offering for sale”, the more likely it is that when they do decide to buy a thing, your thing will be the one they choose.

Big corporations spend millions of dollars on this stuff.

Us smaller fry also spend a lot on these things. Bookbub has this reputation of making authors a lot of money by tweeting  their book links (plus some other stuff they do) but they are expensive, and an impoverished writer might feel they can’t afford a $500 dollar risk, so they either go with less expensive services, or with the free ones, and hope that it will work a bit.

But really, the #writerslift thing often does just as well, and reaches entirely new pools of readers/buyers, and in a somewhat more organic and less impersonal way.

 

I began my self-publishing life getting perhaps one or two buys in a month.

Five years on, I sell at least one book most days, and often three or four in a day. It’s not much, but it has grown, and I can see that this growth is at least 80% due to an ever-widening reach, and name recognition.

I never ran a Bookbub thing (I never got accepted, and eventually, I decided the outlay probably wasn’t worth it, anyway) but I’ve used free services a fair number of times, and a few inexpensive paid ones. The tweet thing, though: that’s been incredibly successful for me.

But that’s because I know, now, how this works.

If someone on a “writers’ lift” tweet RTs my link, I don’t expect to see any instant buys. First off, because most people, but especially other writers, cannot afford to buy 40 books every week, let alone every other day. Secondly, the people seeing my link may not like the things I write…but when they RT, it goes out to a couple-three thousand other people, some of whom might look at my link and think “Oh. That’s exactly what I’m in the mood for!”

But not all of them can afford to buy it right then and there.

Hell, a lot of them might not even see that post or link on the same day it goes out (some people are not connected to Twitter by an umbilical cord. Shocking, I know, but there it is.)

And there are days when people buy, and days when they do not. Weekends are better than other days…except not always. Wednesday seems to be the day when people are less inclined to buy my books, and I do understand that one. Wednesdays are the worst – most of us would rather just stay home and weep.

And it often/mostly takes people about a dozen moments of “That looks interesting” before they really are ready to buy an unknown author’s work.

 

Look, this is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. Word of mouth does more than any fancy ad campaign, and Twitter is the electronic version, with the potential to insinuate your name/book/brand into tens of thousands of complete strangers’ consciousness…for free.

 

From the “I cannot even” files

cops

I’m sure every good cop thought the same, once.

There are some problems involved, mainly born of naivete, one of which is that cops hire new cops based on their perceived similarity to themselves.

One would have to pretend for many, many weeks/months (interviews, training, probation) to be the same kind of person as those already on the force. It couldn’t be just a light surface thing: in order to convince the people already in charge that you are like them, the person pretending would have to pretty much be like an underground operative/spy. They’d have to convince themselves as much as the people around them.

I’m sure you can see the pitfalls here.

They would have to do things (like stand around watching assaults and murders of innocent people, and then lying to cover these things up) that are in direct opposition to the stated goals. “The ends justify the means”, etc.

And to absolve themselves of those acts…well, many, many undercover cops (irony intentional) find themselves fixing their psychic turmoil by succumbing and becoming criminals themselves.

So the chances of any one of us making it through all this with both morals and goals intact is minuscule to begin with, and then, as has been seen numerous times, revealing oneself as a “good cop” has led to harassment until the “good cop” quits, or some trumped up charges leading to being fired.

Reform from within won’t work, for these and other reasons (like the fact that despite outlawing choke-holds, nothing has stopped police from using them and mostly getting away with using them).

Because the people who caused the problem in the first place are still there, still in control, and still going to be the same people they were before.

We need to start fresh, and with a much clearer idea of what the job is and is not, as well as what kind of people we want performing those tasks. They definitely cannot be the same people who were part of the toxicity to begin with, and since we cannot tell who is redeemable and who is not, the best bet will be to remove all existing officers from top to bottom, and change everything about policing culture.

Edit: There are innumerable links I could use to support this, but here’s a start.

Not a Good Look for Indie Authors

snakeoil

Back a couple of months ago, when people were just starting to social distance/shelter in place/self-isolate, various sectors of the economy started to “give back” – understanding that with people suddenly bereft of income, and  because we all needed to do some stuff to at least slow down the spread of a deadly disease, museums put digitized collection stuff on line for free, on line colleges put up courses for free, and writers – especially indie writers – lowered their e-book prices  and put more books on for free.

Sure – in some cases, organizations and individuals hoped that some of this might pay some dividends further down the road, but mostly, we just wanted to do something, contribute something, and make this enforced separateness and anxiety-inducing crisis just a teeny bit easier.

Things are going on much longer than I think any of us anticipated, and now, anti-racism protest and the concomitant backlash of white supremacist-led vandalism and looting, not to mention increasing violent reactions by police and some government authorities, even people who were coping fairly well are upset, freaked out, depressed, demoralized.

The hole is being dug deeper and deeper for us all.

And then, creepily, some – only some – indie authors thought they might actually be able to capitalize on that collective state of mind by social media ploys like this:

“You’re struggling through yet another week of endlessly tumultuous social, economic, and political insanity while social & physical distancing from family and friends during an apocalyptic pandemic, and you just want to kick back in a comfortable chair with your favorite beverage close at hand and escape into another world with a good book.”

Followed by advert links to their books.

There are two facets here, and both are really egregiously insidious and ugly.

First off: it’s a pretty blatant shill tactic. It’s got a kind of snake-oil salesman feel to it, as if you can cure the world’s ills by reading a book completely unrelated to the here-and-now.

I don’t know about you, but I have to say that when I see this, I resolutely do not buy. Because I won’t support anyone who wants to take advantage of people’s enforced discomfort.

But the real problem is that it trivializes the current turmoil, unrest, and uncertainty. It makes it seem as if at least some people can “escape” from what is happening – just turn away and pretend it isn’t happening at all.

If – as the kinds of announcements that writers used around the beginning of April showed – you offered the book as a “break” and as a way for the author to give you something (a free or very cheap book), then it could be viewed kindly. It could be viewed as an attempt to alleviate the boredom of the complete lack of routine that people were experiencing.

But now?

Now it obviously is an appeal to those whose privilege enables them to ignore very real crises happening all around them – not just to step back, maybe have a couple-three hours to de-stress, but to just completely check out.

Now it just looks like a cynical attempt to get someone to buy stuff and pretend that nothing is wrong in the world.

That’s not going to play out well over the long haul.

I just can’t even.

wasteland

2020 is going to go down (if there even is a “down” that will have any kind of witness to it) as a turning point year, that’s for sure.

 

The pandemic is part of it. A big part.

The economic depression that will follow will also be a part of the equation.

And the moment when people of colour said – once again – that they simply could not put up with the current and very lethal conditions they were being forced to live with in every industrialized/post-industrial western and very white nations they reside in – that’s a huge factor, and as of this writing, we none of us know what the true fall-out will be.

Factor in the now very apparent fact that white supremacist groups and military wannabees are committing acts of vandalism/arson/terrorism in hopes of starting their longed-for race war, a President of a country with massive military and nuclear capability who supports those people (while cowering in a bunker – doesn’t THAT sound familiar?) and we have ourselves what is popularly known as “Interesting Times”.

Meanwhile, the environmental disaster we have created goes on. And on. On its own, it had/has the power to end the world as we know it, so throwing everything else into the mix makes the idea that the species will be here in fifty years extremely doubtful.

We may, as a species, survive all of this, in some way.

We may not.

But if we do – even if there is some huge, fascistic interregnum or a real-life Mad Maxx movie before it all settles out – if we survive, this year is going to be something that will serve up an almost endless set of possibilities for PhD theses for many decades to come.

 

And that’s about the only “plus” we’re going to get, because short term?

We’re in for what Dickens referred to as the “worst of times”.

Cooking Tip for Vegans

 

Miso_Paste_1kg_dark_copy_1200x1200

I’m not a vegan, or even a vegetarian (although there was a long-ish spell when I did stop eating meat), but my mom was, and I grew up with a lot of ideas and tricks.

It’s difficult to adapt recipes, or get those comfort jolts, but I do want, since we’re all at home and changing our lives (all that breadmaking, and baking, and experimenting with the sou-vides, oh my!) to give you a really good way to make sauces and gravies with that rich, beefy taste you might be craving.

To make a really terrific “beef stock substitute”:

1 carrot, cut in quarters

1 small onion, cut in quarters

2 stalks celery, cut into sizable chunks

1 tsp each oregano, basil, thyme (and/or whatever else you think might be what you’d like. Tarragon. Savory. Dry Mustard. Rosemary. All good.)

2 bay leaves

3-5 cloves of garlic (or more, what the hell)

4-6 cups of water

Couple-three glugs of Worcester sauce (optional) or some freshly ground pepper

Soy sauce to taste (the miso should be salty enough, though)

½ cup DARK miso paste (or more…it depends a lot on the brand’s concentration level. Add the whole darn package if you want. You can always add more water if you think the stock is too strong.)

 

Lightly sauté the veggies and herbs until soft and beginning to caramelize, add the water and miso paste and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the paste thoroughly. Simmer for 2 hours. Taste occasionally, and adjust the seasoning as you wish to.

Cool the stuff down to around warm/room temperature. Discard the cooked chunks of carrots et cetera.

Now,

Method 1:  sieve the liquid through a wire strainer lined with cheese cloth till you get a clear, dark brown broth. You will probably have to do this twice, and wash out the cheesecloth in between rounds. At least twice. Maybe three times.

Method 2: Strain it through a non-electric Melita coffee filter system if you have one. You will almost certainly need to change the filters a couple-three times, but this works really well. (Send the coffee purist out for a walk while you do this, so everything is washed up and looking completely innocent by the time they get home. Trust me, you don’t want the argument that inevitably happens if they catch you doing this.)

Use now or store in a tightly lidded glass jar in the fridge for 3-5 days. Can be frozen.

The broth will be strong and delicious, and makes an awesome “beef” gravy base, also perfect for barley soups etc. Basically, anywhere where you used to use beef stock, this will do the trick. It makes a super tasty stock for sweet and sour bean balls, as well as upping the ante for wine sauces.

I’ve had any number of confirmed steak addicts swear they can taste the meatiness.

Plus, miso is good protein.

Canaries in the coalmine…

canaries

I’ve stopped thinking about what I’ll do when this is over.

At the beginning, self-isolating seemed like it would have a for-seeable end. A few weeks, or maybe even a month or two, and then we’d be out and about again.

And then it was “Well, August, I guess.”

But I’ve dumped this.

It does no good. Every time the local stats suggest we might be making some progress, my province starts trying to re-open things, and then the stats start to rise again, and I realize now that we won’t see daylight till Christmas, at the earliest.

So I’m not looking ahead. I’m just moving along, day by day, with the fact that I cannot see my friends in person, that going to the grocery store requires a MacGyvered version of a hazmat suit, and that even the mildest suggestion that we possibly in some not-too-distant-future relax even the tiniest bit means that 50% of the population will drop any pretense of social-distancing and stop washing their hands, and we are all right back in the soup of germ transfer again.

It’s just the way things are, and because I have so many immune-compromised people in my life, I refuse to be Typhoid Mary, and must maintain my stance that masks and hand sanitizer and not going out anywhere unless I absolutely have to.

And I hope you will, too, because the alternative is madness on a worldwide scale.