Lynsay Sands

Newton's Third Law

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I'm not much for science. Haven't studied it since high school and did not excel at it even when my brain was younger. But it turns out that sometimes what we learned in high school math and science can be useful, contrary to what we thought to ourselves (or even dared say out loud) during Algebra II, "This is so DUMB! When will I EVER need this in real life?"  Come on, all of us said it. We were wrong. Today I'm contemplating Newton's Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This holds true in real life, and it more or less applies to my beloved paranormal and urban fantasy novels. Even in my make-believe worlds, what goes up, must come down. 

This truth in fantasy is what separates the high octane from the decaf among authors, in my opinion. I love it when writers offer a pseudo-scientific explanation for the paranormal quirks and characteristics of their characters.  In John Hartness' Quincy Harker series, Q is the son of Jonathan Harker and Mina Murry Harker, both of whom served as snacks for Dracula. Apparently the regular donations affected the DNA of Quincy's parents, resulting in a human child with a little something extra in the magical ability, strength and longevity departments. Another example, Lynsay Sands' Argeneau vampires, are the product of scientists on Atlantis mixing nanobots with mitochondria, giving them long lives, superhuman strength and vitality in exchange for replenishing their blood through ingesting that of humans. Cool stuff.

But I digress. I know you're flabbergasted. Back to Newton's third law and how in the real world it posits that you cannot create something out of nothing. Nor can you do something without some sort of karmic retribution, whether of the positive or negative variety. Karma's a bitch, baby, don't you forget it. 

This truth also holds in the paranormal and urban fantasy arenas. In most of the books I read, balance must be maintained. The most explicit expression of this is in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by JR Ward. In her world of vigilante vampires protecting their kind from soul-less humans intent on their destruction, everything comes with a hefty price tag. Save your beloved from death by disease? Okay--provided you forgo the possibility of children. Bring a ghost back from the dead? No problem, if your mother is willing to sacrifice her most prized possession. Obtain the power to inhale the life force from your enemies? Piece of cake, as long as you understand that it will taint your own life essence in the process.

It turns out that Goethe got it right--if you want an extra serving of whatever earthly delights tempt you most, you gotta make a deal with the devil. As I've written about before, there ain't no free lunch. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We need to obey gravity, you know, because it's not just a good idea, it's the law.

So where does that leave those of us who ride the see-saw of life going endlessly up and down?  Well, to begin with, we shouldn't be surprised when the other shoe falls-- we tossed it to the sky in the first place, after all. What goes up must come down. Secondly, we need to savor, savor, savor the high times, knowing they will inexorably be followed by the inevitable lows. Whatever is happening will stop at some point, and whatever wheels we set in motion will continue to turn -- until they don’t (which may actually violate Newton's First Law of Motion, but I'm not sure--I think I mentioned I wasn't a science geek).

Sometimes, however, it appears as though the world doesn't really work this way. Some people seem to have a disproportionate amount of grief and trouble, while others seems to perch on top of the world and remain there. For me, I always think that these instances of putative inequity might not be what they seem. Alternatively, we may all be living out our karma from past lives or alternate universes. I don't really know, except to say that on most days, I prefer to think there is a big weighing scale with two side-by-side plates, racking and stacking our actions and responding with equal and opposite reactions. Anything to believe that it's not all just random chaos out there. That would be depressing. 

So for today, I'm going to choose to give credence to karma as if it were dogma--I believe in the power of balance; I worship at the bottom of the apple tree where Newton was inspired to articulate his Third Law of Motion; and I will continue to read fantasy books that reinforce my concepts of truth.

It's Good To Be A Guest

I'm a city girl, through and through, Manhattan born and bred. But last weekend, I had an opportunity to experience life in what I have previously (and inappropriately) termed "fly-over" country. I spent the weekend in Northern Mississippi. Which of course inspired me to reread the Southern Vampire series by Charlaine Harris, and to contemplate the concept of hospitality and what it means to be a guest. Coincidentally (or not, as this is my life we're talking about), the first entry in the Argeneau Vampire series also deals with the issues related to the correct way to treat guests. Apparently, there's a lot more to it beyond telling those who visit to "make themselves at home." Of course I knew that, but these books and my recent visit have really brought the point home, so to speak.

n Dead Until Dark, Sookie Stackhouse and her grandmother, Adele, are poor but proper.  When they plan to entertain, the house gets cleaned from top to bottom and the best dishes, linen and flatware are taken out for use.  In the south, only the best will do for guests. Moreover, there is an unwritten code of generosity that underscores the hospitality—no matter how much or how little one has, it is shared with guests.

I experienced this kind of hospitality when I lived in Israel. I was privileged to visit many homes, some prosperous, but the majority humble. And no matter where I went, I was offered tea and something to eat, and in ways large and small I was made to feel not only welcome, but that my presence in the abode was a distinct honor, regardless of whether they'd met me before or knew me from Eve. Didn't matter—I was treated to the best chair, the best place at the table, and the best morsels of food.  If my visit was expected, it was clear that an effort had been made to create a beautiful table for my pleasure, and that the everyday accouterments were replaced with the special fare saved for guests. Which, of course, made me feel special.

It was the same in Northern Mississippi. Our hosts were the parents of one of my close friends, and they had clearly gone all out for us. When we arrived the table was laid out with gorgeous dishes, fine silver, and a resplendent buffet, to sate our hunger after our journey. Fresh flowers graced the fireplace in our room, and an assortment of toiletries were provided lest we had forgotten something essential. What a far cry from my own (Northern) ‘etiquette’ of pointing my visitors to the linen closet and instructing them to find whatever they needed.

In so many different ways, our hosts’ actions let us know that great effort had been expended to ensure our every conceivable need was met even before we were conscious of it. Normally, this level of attention and generosity makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable—beholden – like I'd put people out, been a burden, owed a debt I didn't necessarily initiate borrowing. It's different in the South. Despite the obvious effort that had gone into preparing for our stay, and the energy required to host us at such a level of hospitality, my friend’s parents never made it appear as a burden. To the contrary, they made us feel like it was their privilege and pleasure to entertain us in their home. Neat trick. Wish I knew how they did it.

In truth, it seems like a skill specific to Southerners, like our hosts, Sookie and her grandmother. Or maybe the skill  belongs to a more gracious era, like Marguerite Argeneau in Lynsay Sands’ entertaining vampire series. I also think that authentic gentility stems from a genuine pleasure in being a host—being proud of one's home and heritage and the desire to share them both with others. I think for me, all of this falls into my severe domestic goddess deficit, about which I’ve written before, and my complete inability to cook, clean, decorate or garden. Makes it harder to be a gracious host.

But it is good to be the guest of someone who knows how to do it up right. I felt like the most important person in the world, and that I'd made these people's day by showing up to their home, sleeping in their beds and eating their food. I felt valued and wanted. And how lovely is that?  I was the gal who warranted breaking out the good china, the one who inspired fresh flowers to be cut from the garden, and for the best linen to be ironed and used on the table. I was offered the best wine in the house, and someone made a run to get me coffee when they discovered that there wasn't any because I love my morning Joe.

I’m home now, eating takeout on our everyday china with a paper napkin. But it's nice to know that I don't have to travel back in time to party with the Argeneau Vampires or to Bon Temps, Louisiana to experience true hospitality and gracious living. It’s reassuring to discover that such gallantry exists  outside of Martha Stewart's magazine.  Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be able to up my etiquette game to the level I found in Northern Mississippi right here in little old Annapolis.

Don't Fear the Reaper

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I’m reading a book about a vampire with a blood phobia, which is amusing, as I recently wrote about commitment phobias hereA Quick Bite, by Lynsay Sands, is a ton of fun and there are many additional books in the series—hallelujah! Other favorite authors, including Karen Marie Moning and Lilo J. Abernathy, have also written about fear. So, I've decided the Universe is asking me to look at fear in general and my fear in particular, which may or may not interest you, but which will give you a little insight into the way my brain works (I'm all about the burning bush). There was a time when I was afraid of everything. It was paralyzing. I was raised by a fearful mother, who passed her fear on to me. My mother taught me to be afraid of strangers, which I guess is understandable in New York City.  She also taught me to be afraid of nature, what little there is in NYC (I love nature; provided I’m safety protected from the realities of actual nature—like bugs and dirt and stuff). She taught me to be afraid of men, my body and other people's motives. She taught me to fear rejection. I was taught to fear people in authority, dark corners, what others really thought of me and what they said behind my back. I was taught to fear travel to distant places and trying new foods, styles and experiences. In the beginning, I learned well. As a child, I was so shy and fearful that I wouldn't come out from underneath the dining table when we had guests to dinner. Today, the child I was would have been shipped off for psychological testing and therapy, lots of therapy.  I was not normal (one could argue that this is still true, I know.)

hen, I hit puberty.  ‘Things’ shifted. A lot. I shed the skin of the nervous Nellie I had been and emerged as a more confident teenager. In fact, the transition was sufficiently profound that my academic aptitude scores (who remembers the ERBs?!) changed so radically, the school was convinced there was a mistake and I was retested. Twice. I think the reason behind my percentile jump was that I finally figured out that the only thing I really needed to fear was my mother.

I was definitely still scared of my mom back in those days. I was almost 18 years old before I finally asked the $64,000 question:  “What could she actually do to me?”  When I realized the answer was, "Not much, without risking shame and embarrassment for her," my world tilted on its axis— positively. But I became more confident in my cognitive capabilities, which translated into more general confidence. As I grew more accomplished academically and intellectually, I became less fearful; for me, knowledge and analytical skills translated into power and control, which helped me feel less afraid.

But I was still an insecure wreck when it came to men and romance. Insecurity is just another word for fear. I was afraid men wouldn't like me once they really knew me.  So I hid my authentic self.  I was afraid men wouldn't find me attractive if they saw me without makeup. So I never went without.  I was afraid that if I didn't flaunt my body, no one would want it. I remember one particularly awful episode when I spent an entire night calling around looking for my boyfriend at the time, only to discover he'd spent the night with another woman. When I finally got him on the phone, at 4:00 AM, after his other girlfriend picked up and handed him the phone —"Oh, sure. He's right next to me; let me give him the phone…"— I apologized for bothering him because I was so scared he'd leave me.

I'm happy to report that I'm not that bad anymore. Fear is still my companion - I used Find My Phone last night to locate my husband, who is traveling, because he hadn't texted after dinner and I was afraid he was dead. I know, I know, silly—he thought so too, but my sainted husband is quite used to my paranoia about his safety. But mostly— mostly—I can face my fears and put them to rest. I don't let fear run my life (how I wish I could go back in time and give that no-good, cheating rat bastard a piece of my mind—except I just found out that he died last month, so that won't work).

Today, I can act as if I’m not afraid. I fly. I endure boats. I tell people things they need to hear even if I'm terrified they will shun me as a result. I no longer fear discomfort. I don't love it, but I can tolerate it. Because it turns out that many of the things we fear are mostly just unpleasant, and we like to avoid discomfort. But life is full of unpleasant realities, and facing these unpleasantries (including dirt and bugs in the wilds of my own back yard) is what makes life worth living.

Facing our fears and doing it anyway, whatever ‘it’ is, is the secret sauce of life. It can be letting go of a bad relationship (like the rat bastard), or a bad job, or a friendship that no longer serves. Fear of letting go is a big one, I've found. Almost as big as fear of holding on. 

So I appreciate the opportunity to see how the other half—the paranormal one—lives and deals with fear. I'll continue to enjoy Lissianna Argeneau in A Quick Bite, and wait to see how she overcomes her fear of blood (‘cause I suspect she does). And I'll continue to think about how I can face fear and prevent it from running— or ruining— my life as it did for my poor, misguided, fearful ‘Mommie Dearest’. The good news is, she's not afraid anymore, and neither am I.  I get to enjoy life at the table rather than under it.

Timing Is Everything

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I’m in between books right now and it’s agonizing. I finished the new Thea Harrison novella, Dragos Goes to Washington (sublime), and the next installment of Rose Montague’s Norma Jean's School of Witchery (fun). And then …  the purgatory of no books to read.  I've written about this malady before once or twice, and it just doesn't get any easier. If fact, if anything, the whole experience gets more frightening and depressing each time. Frightening because I've read that many more books and I’m afraid I'm about to run out, and depressing because if I ever do exhaust the universe of good, fun, compelling paranormal fantasy, what will become of me? I'll be forced to fall back on my previously preferred genres:  mysteries; police procedurals; and international intrigue. But because I spent so many years ploughing through those categories, I feel like those wells are dry too. I've got to stop going down this rabbit hole before I become utterly despondent. If you have any suggestions, for God's sake, please pass them along. 

There is a faint light at the end of the tunnel, however. In desperation, I revisited a book I'd read, or started to read, in the past. I remember buying and beginning it. I also remember that it just couldn't hold my attention at the time. But I visited the usual suspects in my reliable book-finder sites like Maryse’s Book Blog and I Love Vampire Novels, and didn't come up with much I hadn't read and re-read. But then an author and her series I had explored and rejected before floated to the top of my consciousness. I did my due diligence, reading reviews and summaries. And I decided to give the series a second shot. I'm glad I did. Because what I "discovered" was something I already knew:  timing is everything.  

The Argeneau Vampire series by Lynsay Sands is on almost all the top ten best vampire series lists. It's always mentioned as being fun and funny, lighthearted and exceptionally entertaining. So I bought the first book in the series, A Quick Bite, and dug in expectantly. Except that at that time, I was disappointed. I remember that I read the same early pages over and over and just couldn't get into it. I tried, I really did. But then I gave up and went on to greener pastures. And now I'm back, getting on the horse that threw me. And, what do you know, there's a reason that's a cliché. It's important to get back in the saddle—lest we miss out on a great experience because of negative, past associations.

Timing is everything. Have you ever had the experience of reading a book that changed your life because you read it at a critical juncture, only to revisit it later and say, "WTF? Was I on something at the time?" (Always a possibility for me during my misspent youth). I felt that way about Atlas Shrugged. I remember going into my Literature Humanities class in college waxing poetic about the brilliance of Ayn Rand and how I had totally drunk the Kool Aid about her philosophy and economic theories. And my professor let me rant a while and then calmly asked, "But why do you think she’s so brilliant?"  So I upped the decibel level of my voice and again engaged in rant mode. To which he replied, "Yes, Anne, I understand what you are saying. Saying it louder doesn't make it persuasive." I felt about as high as an ant with dwarfism.  But I'll never forget the lesson—and now when I make an argument or posit a theory, I back it up till it won't back up any more. I also learned that 19-year-olds can be very passionate and dramatic for no good reason. When I reread the book many years later, I couldn't understand why it affected me so. Yes, it was good and interesting and raised thought-provoking ideas. But it wasn't nearly as profound as I recalled. Timing.

I read Bright Lights, Big City when it came out in 1984, and wondered how Jay McInerney had crawled into my life and into my head and extracted my thoughts and experiences and put it in a book. "All messed up and no place to go."  That was me, all right. I loved it. I read it three times successively. I recommended it to my friends. But when I went back to re-read it many years later, it left me cold. I wasn't in that place any more and I wasn't that person anymore. So the book didn't speak to me in the same way, thankfully.

When my twin boys were born almost 16 years ago, I read to them compulsively. I was determined that they would love books and learning as much as I did. I read to those children every single day for almost 11 years. And now they don't like to read. Almost killed me. But they are amazing kids and I love them within an inch of their lives. Even though we don't share my obsession with books. But I digress.  My point (I swear there is one) is that having children means we get to rediscover delightful children’s books and enjoy them from an adult perspective.  My burning passion for Dr. Seuss was born from reading him as an adult—to my kids.  I’ve pretty much memorized Oh, the Places You’ll Go, and Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? is an all-time favorite (and don’t get me started on If I Ran the Circus!). Appreciating these books as a grown-up has opened a new world of thoughts and ideas and a beautiful philosophy of life that I wish to live up to—and that I hope my children will absorb through the osmosis of my reading to them— and which may become manifest when the angst of the teenage years are behind them. I’m still hopeful despite my boys current non-reading ways maybe their ‘book-loving’ time hasn’t arrived yet?

Timing is everything. With books and with life.  As the Tarot teaches us, "As above, so below", I think is also true for the truth and fantasy found in reality and in my beloved fiction: as in books, so in life. I knew this.  But I had forgotten.  Many thanks, Ms. Sands for the reminder – and the series. So happy to remember that timing is everything.