Sue faces the biggest challenge of her career: she has three weeks to raise millions of dollars for research into a supergrain that promises to end world hunger. But ayalendo has some distressing — even dangerous — qualities. And Lucifer means to exploit them to control the world’s food supply and become a god at last.
When Tess learns the identity of the shady corporation pushing ayalendo’s development, she realizes her own livelihood may be in jeopardy. She and Darrell embark on a cross-country journey to her parents’ farm to gather information for a congressional committee investigating the ayalendo project.
The gods are bringing in some big guns to help. But it will be up to Sue, Tess, and Darrell to defeat Lucifer, once and for all.
Welcome, Lynne! It’s great to have you. When did you begin writing?
I was in the second grade. The kid who sat in front of me brought in a book he’d written and illustrated, and I thought, “I could do that.” So I did. And I’ve been writing one thing or another ever since.
Can you tell us about your most recent release?
Scorched Earth is the third and final book in the Land, Sea, Sky trilogy. The plot of this book is Lucifer’s end game. For millennia, he’s been trying to gain enough followers to ascend to godhood, and the gods have succeeded in keeping him out. Since the gods’ return to Earth, he’s been encouraging the political, corporate and military leaders to plot against Them in order to stay in control. Unfortunately for him, the gods have positioned three humans to foil all those plots. So now he’s turning to blunt force. He intends to get humanity used to depending on a miracle grain called ayalendo for its primary food source, and then he’ll withhold the supply from all but his followers. And Tess, Sue, and Darrell are called upon again to stop him.
How did you get the idea for the book?
I wanted to write a follow-up series to The Pipe Woman Chronicles that was set some time after the gods came back to Earth. I figured the politicians and the military-industrial complex wouldn’t just hand Them the keys – there would be a battle for control. The characters and the plots of Land, Sea, Sky snowballed from there.
If you could recommend just one of your books to my readers, which book would you choose?
You want me to pick amongst my babies? Really? Okay. Start with Seized, the first book in The Pipe Woman Chronicles. That will give you a sense of what I’m up to with both series.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
It’s always a little nerve-wracking to wrap up a series. The author needs to make sure all the plot lines from all of the books are tied up and all the reader’s questions are answered. But the most challenging aspect of writing Scorched Earth was getting the scenes in Kansas right, as I’ve never done much more than drive through the state. This is the first book I’ve written in a while that isn’t set in a place where I’ve lived. Google Earth and I got to be really good friends!
What is your primary goal as an author?
Anne Lamott has said you should write the book you wish you could read. That pretty much sums up what I’ve been doing with these two series.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m one of those writers who works on just one idea at a time. I’m always a little afraid that a new project will crowd the old one out of my head and I’ll never get back to it. But now that Land, Sea, Sky is done, I have some space to start thinking about what’s next.
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
Read everything you can get your hands on – but read it as a student of writing, not as a fan. And read outside your favorite genre, too. Then just sit down and start writing. There’s really no substitute for it.
Learn more about Lynne Cantwell:
Calderwood Books author page: http://www.calderwoodbooks.com/#/lynne-cantwell/4526227421
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/lynnecantwell
It was a beautiful mid-September morning: the sky was a clear blue and the air was warming rapidly, but without the stifling humidity that plagued summers in D.C. Tess thought she might have to shed her jacket on the way back to the car. She glanced from side to side, identifying the crops planted in each field without conscious thought. She had missed this, she realized – the clear air, the scent of freshly-watered soil and growing things. It reminded her of home. With a pang, she calculated the number of years it had been since she last visited her parents in Kansas, and promised herself a trip home soon.
And then she got a grip. It won’t be the same. It’s not like this anymore. All of her parents’ fields stood fallow now. Her father couldn’t farm them – not since MegaAgriCorp sued them out of business and forbade her parents from speaking out. She had been twelve years old – just a kid, really – and still half in love with her father when it all came down. She had learned too young that her parents were not gods, but people. Flawed people. People who preached that truth was the most important thing there is, and yet gave up the right to preach their truth when a bully threatened them.
That was why Tess was a journalist: to speak the truth.
She took a deep breath of the morning air and focused on the task before her.
Ahead, Dr. Halvorsen waited for them. “Here we are,” he said when they were within hailing distance. He swept one arm proudly toward a field of plants that towered over his head. “Here’s our ayalendo.”
Tess stopped long enough to grab the microphone Schuyler offered her. She held it out toward Halvorsen and said, “It looks a little like a corn plant.”
“You’re right. It does.” He broke off an ear and peeled back the husk. “And the grain looks a little like corn, too, doesn’t it?”
Tess sidestepped slightly so Schuyler could zoom in. “It does. Is it related genetically?”
“A distant cousin,” Halvorsen told her. His face was alight; Tess changed her estimation of him from nerd to plant geek. “Ayalendo’s propagation differs from corn, though. In addition to growing from seed, under the proper conditions, it can send out spores.”
“Spores,” she repeated. “Like a mushroom?”
“Yes, exactly.” Halvorsen beamed at her. “The spores burrow into the ground and spread below the surface until conditions are right for the plant to sprout.”
“Wait,” Schuyler said. “Mushrooms do what?”
“The bulk of the fungus is under the dirt,” Tess told him. “What we pick and eat are sort of like its flowers. You didn’t know that?”
“No. That’s freaky.”
“Horticulture is a fascinating science,” Halvorsen said with an indulgent smile. “Although the study of fungi is actually a different discipline called mycology.”
Tess led him gently back to the subject, before he could descend further into biological geekery. “So ayalendo can propagate by spores,” she said. “I would guess that makes it very easy to grow.”
“Indeed it is,” he said. “And when it takes root, it grows like a weed. We are carefully controlling the plants you see here – varying the amount of water and fertilizer each test patch receives. We’ve even got some under cover in a greenhouse, where we’re keeping it desert-dry. And it doesn’t seem to matter.”
Halvorsen shook his head. “Nope. Hot or cold, wet or dry, fertilized or not – we get virtually the same yield in all cases.”
“Sounds like a miracle grain,” Tess said, reaching for the ear.
Halvorsen held it out to her. “Yes. And that’s not all. Taste it.”
With her free hand, she pulled one of the kernels loose from the cob and popped it in her mouth. As she bit down, her eyes flew open. “Oh, my God,” she said. “That’s amazing.” Ayalendo had a rich, multi-layered taste – almost meaty, but with a hint of tartness and salt, and an indefinable something else. “It’s umami,” she said, and Halvorsen nodded vigorously, his dark curls bobbing up and down.
“Can I…?” Schuyler said.
“Yeah, sure,” said Halvorsen, offering the cob.
Tess waited for Schuyler’s reaction, and was rewarded handsomely: surprise and pleasure dawned on his features as he chewed. “Tasty,” he said.
Halvorsen grinned like a co-conspirator. “It’s also a complete protein. That’s really rare in plant-based food sources – the only other grain that comes close is quinoa, and its optimal growing conditions have been too difficult to replicate on a large scale.”
“So what’s the down side?” Tess asked as she helped herself to another kernel. “Allergic reactions?”
Halvorsen shook his head. “Not that we’ve found. It seems to be well tolerated by people with gluten sensitivities. But that’s based on a small study. We want to run more extensive tests to see whether that’s true on a larger scale, and also whether the environmental conditions make any difference. And so on.”
“And that’s where Earth in Balance comes in, I guess,” Tess said. “They’ll be using the money they raise, in conjunction with your grant money, to conduct this kind of testing.”
“In part, yes,” Halvorsen said. Tess thought she detected caginess in his manner, and she also thought he hastened just a bit to change the subject. “Do you have enough pictures here? I’d like to go back to the car and take you to the lab.”
“I’m good,” Schuyler said. “Can we take that stuff back with us so Tracie can try it? She’s not going to believe it.”
“Sure.” Halvorsen handed the cob to Tess. “It’s yours to keep.”
“Thanks,” Tess said, stowing it in a jacket pocket.
“Although I don’t know why she deserves any,” Schuyler went on. “Wearing goofy shoes to a farm. She ought to know better.”
Tess glanced significantly at Schuyler’s loafers, which were caked with mud halfway up the sides. “Uh-huh,” was all she said.