FF: Plants and Unicorns

August 14, 2020

Mei-Ling Reads!

Being a gardener, I started by reading the portion of Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province in the section about specific types of plants.  I skipped trees.  This week, I went back and started from the beginning and finished off with the trees.  Side bonus: I learned something about the various ways hides can be tanned.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Song of the Wanderer by Bruce Coville.  Second book in the Unicorn Chronicles. Audiobook.  An actual song is key to this story and Full Cast Audio’s cast included several people who could sing, so this was an audiobook that was more than simply narrated.  If you listen to it, make sure you go to the end, because the entire song is performed there.

A Place at Mother Earth’s Table: Edible Wild Plants of the Rio Grande Region by Lisa W. Huckell. This slim book—probably technically a booklet—was so well written that I read all of it and in the process identified one of the plants in our yard as “Green Thread” aka “Indian Tea” or “Navajo Tea.”  We’d just been calling it “that pretty plant w/the yellow pom-poms.”  I now have some drying to try.  And the bibliography led me to read…

Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province: Exploring Ancient and Enduring Uses by William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney.  Centered around four parks in New Mexico, this books looks at various plants and how they were used by a wide variety of indigenous peoples.  Since one of the parks—Petroglyph National Monument—is very close to my house, I also ended up identifying several more of the plants in our yard, including scorpion weed, which is a far easier name to use than “that annoying plant that, although it has pretty purple flowers in the spring, gets all prickly and, worse, sticky, so let’s pull it.”  I started with the chapter on types of plants, but found the book so well-written, I’m reading the whole thing.

In Progress:

Dark Whisper by Bruce Coville.  Third book in the Unicorn Chronicles. Audiobook.  As with any good series, solving one set of problems created new ones.

DreamForge Magazine, issue six.  My copy arrived and is part of my relaxation reading.

Also:

Jim is reading my manuscript of SK4 (fourth book in the Star Kingdom series I am collaborating on with David Weber).

Unexpected Smile

August 12, 2020

Roary Admires the Cover of Wolf’s Search

Last week ended with an unexpected bit of good news.

The cover for Wolf’s Search (seventh book in my Firekeeper Saga) was one of the works included in the long list for the Chelsea Award in the Best E-book or Paperback Cover category.  Wolf’s Search is in very fine company as you can see here.

The credit for this achievement goes not to me, other than in that I had the very good sense to select a lovely piece of art, but to artist Julie Bell, who gave me permission to use her “Andre” for the cover art.  If you’re interested in owning a print of the piece, it’s available at her on-line shop.

Further credit goes to Linda Caldwell, who did the cover design, including the titles, format, and otherwise adapting Julie Bell’s art to the needs of my novel.

What else?  SK4 (the fourth book in the Star Kingdom/Stephanie Harrington series I’m collaborating on with David Weber) is now in Jim’s hands, and I’m using my “free” time to do a bunch of things to prepare for the next book.

Although these books are set in the Honorverse, they’re prequels set some 400  years in the past.  This means that, while much of the world building  must be done from scratch, it also must be careful not to violate anything in the future.  Another challenge is that this series features treecats in a more central role, which means developing an alien culture and its first contact with humans—while, once again, not violating anything that happens later.

So my current task is gathering together the results of numerous scattered conversations with David Weber, then creating reference documents.

I’m also working with my friend Jane Noel (art director of DreamForge magazine) on updating my website.  She’s doing all the pretty stuff, and I’m writing text.

Anyhow, I’d better get back to it.  Catch you later!

FF: Sidetracked!

August 7, 2020

DreamForge Among the Identified Mystery Plant

While looking for a completely different gardening book, this week I got sidetracked.  But, happily, most of the time my reading isn’t homework, so I can switch as I wish.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville.  First book in the four volume Unicorn Chronicles. Audiobook.  I enjoyed enough that I’m now on to Book Two.

A Place at Mother Earth’s Table: Edible Wild Plants of the Rio Grande Region by Lisa W. Huckell. This slim book—probably technically a booklet—was so well written that I read all of it and in the process identified one of the plants in our yard as “Green Thread” aka “Indian Tea” or “Navajo Tea.”  We’d just been calling it “that pretty plant w/the yellow pom-poms.”  I now have some drying to try.  And the bibliography led me to read…

In Progress:

Wild Plants of the Pueblo Province: Exploring Ancient and Enduring Uses by William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney.  Centered around four parks in New Mexico, this books looks at various plants and how they were used by a wide variety of indigenous peoples.  Since one of the parks—Petroglyph National Monument—is very close to my house, I also ended up identifying several more of the plants in our yard, including scorpion weed, which is a far easier name to use than “that annoying plant that, although it has pretty purple flowers in the spring, gets all prickly and, worse, sticky, so let’s pull it.”  I started with the chapter on types of plants, but found the book so well-written, I’m reading the whole thing.

Song of the Wanderer by Bruce Coville.  Second book in the Unicorn Chronicles. Audiobook.  So far, I’m enjoying.

DreamForge Magazine, issue six.  My copy arrived and is part of my relaxation reading.

Also:

I’ve finished my read-through of SK4, and am now doing lots of line edits.  I hope to finish and give Jim his copy later today.

Little Sparkles

August 5, 2020

Kumihimo bracelets, lanyards, and key-chains

A lot going on here…  I’m now immersed in getting a copy of SK4 (the yet untitled fourth book in the Star Kingdom series I’m writing in collaboration with David Weber) into Jim’s hands.  My website is undergoing some revision, so it’s going to look a bit weird for a few weeks.  Also, I appreciate how many of you have signed up for my mailing list.  I will be doing a drawing for a giveaway before the end of summer (I hope), and mailing list people will get their own special “thank you” at that time.

Lately, when I’m not being a writer, a small business owner, or cat wrangler, I’m definitely spending a lot of time on my garden.  Monday night, it got bombarded by hail, but most of the plants have survived.  Yay!

Another favorite hobby activity is beadwork.  A couple of years ago, courtesy of a birthday gift from my sister, Ann, I became devoted (Jim would probably say “addicted”) to doing kumihimo with beads.  I mentioned my new interest at the time, but I thought I’d share where that has taken me nearly two years later.

The photo shows a limited assortment of the pieces I’ve created: limited, because I’ve given quite a few bracelets and several keychains as gifts.  Recently, I graduated to making longer pieces.  Ironically, I’d intended to use these as badge lanyards for future conventions but, now that everything has gone virtual, I guess I’m making them so I’ll be ready when there are conventions again!

I will admit, as much as I enjoy the bracelets, there’s something very satisfying about making a thirty inch or so rope.  These involve approximately 1,800 beads per finished piece, each of which is braided in individually.

Unlike my writing, which takes many months before anyone other than me gets to see the finished project, or a gardening project, which also takes a long time to develop, kumihimo gives me something to look at and enjoy within a few hours (although the complete project takes longer, depending on length and complexity).

There’s probably something profound there about creative contrasts, but I haven’t figured it out.  What I do know is that I really enjoy my little sparkles!

Tuesday “Tah-Dah”!

August 4, 2020

Roary: Officially Ours

We have been informed that Roary the kitten, who came to us as a seven week-old medical foster from the City of Albuquerque’s shelter, is now officially ours!

He’s about 19 weeks old now.  When he came to live with us, he was recovering from a gloved left hind leg.  When the time came for him to be neutered, he turned out to have a cryptic testicle.  This meant that what should have been a very routine surgery turned out to be a bit more complex and include ten days of isolation post-surgery.  If you’ve ever tried to keep a four month old kitten from jumping, leaping, and racing…

Let’s just say, we did our best.  And our best seems to have been enough.

Welcome, Roary!

FF: What Is Old Is New Again

July 31, 2020

Mei-Ling Reads!

Mostly, actually, I’m reading , proofing, and line editing SK4 (the yet-untitled fourth book in the Star Kingdom series I’m writing with David Weber).  However, for a few moments here and there, I’m taking time to read for fun.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson.  Sequel to Skyward.  Space opera that isn’t military SF, even though military action is an element.  Very character driven.  I quite enjoyed, despite one technological element I couldn’t quite buy into…  Thanks again to the FF reader who recommended this series.

In Progress:

Into the Land of the Unicorns by Bruce Coville.  First book in the four volume Unicorn Chronicles. Audiobook.  I read this series years ago, and all I remember is that they were good.  Let’s see how they hold up to a second pass!

Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy.  Re-read also.  After enjoying The Magician of Hoad, I had a great desire to re-read this.

Also:

Oddly enough, the most recent issue of Vogue had some of the most thoughtful essays I’ve read so far about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on lifestyles and attitudes.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Non-fiction.  I got through the post-Crusades, but I needed a break from accounts of nations founded on hope and idealism that crashed after about 200 years.

Don’t Be Discouraged

July 29, 2020

Roary Naps Next to Part of the Manuscript of SK4

Last week, after I wandered on about adapting my garden to the heat, I received a very humorous e-mail from a local friend who, like many people this year, decided to dive into gardening for the first time.

For weeks she had posted about buying “grow kits,” germinating seeds, sprouting plants, cutting herbs.  Then she started posting about how things were going wrong.  She’d misread the instructions as to how much room her plants would need.  The heat hit.  Everything wilted, and most of what she planted died.

She called herself a failure.  I call her a success.  Why?  Because she learned a whole bunch of things that, if she decides to try gardening again next year, will serve her well.

Learning to accept that failure is a form of success, if you choose to learn from it, applies to writing—or to any creative endeavor.  Success isn’t something that should be measured in word count or finished projects or sales or sales figures or awards.

If you measure success that way, the one thing you’re always going to be is a failure.  Why?  Because there’s always a higher bar to jump.  One day you’re going to find the bar you can’t jump—or maybe you will jump it, but only after a lot of falls.

As with gardening, success in a creative endeavor should be measured by what you learned and whether you want to try again.  Even deciding you don’t want to try again doesn’t make you a failure.  You’ve learned something about yourself, where you want to put your energies, and what excites you enough to be willing to fail again.

This week I’m immersed in proofing the rough draft of SK4, the still-untitled new Star Kingdom novel I’m writing in collaboration with David Weber.  Some people would see the many, many little red marks scattered on every single page as marks of failure, because these are all things I didn’t get right the first time.

I see them as marks of success, because they show how much I’ve learned over the years about all the aspects of telling a story, as well as that I love telling stories enough to keep learning about my chosen craft.

FF: Ebbing

July 24, 2020

Persephone Recommends

As Jim gets better, Roary the kitten recovers from a complex neuter, and elderly Kwahe’e holds his ground, I feel my stress levels ebbing.  And, as a bonus, we had rain!

One of the books on this week’s list is an indirect recommendation from an FF reader, who recommended Skyward.  I never would have tried it without her, so thank you!

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

The Estate of the Beckoning Lady by Margery Allingham.  A jump to a later part of the series.  I love her quirky characters.

In Progress:

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson.  Sequel to Skyward.  Space opera that isn’t military SF, even though military action is an element.  Very character driven.

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Non-fiction.  The Crusades.  Pure depression.

Also:

I’m also spending a lot of time doing my first pass read-through of SK4.  So far, I’m enjoying!  This is not a lack of modesty on my part.  If I can’t enjoy what I wrote, how can I expect anyone else to do so?

Adapting To the Heat

July 22, 2020

The Garden’s Bounty

This year we lucked into ping tura eggplant, originally from Taiwan, that handles heat and arid conditions far better than the usual.  The plants weren’t cheap, but their productivity is high, and the flavor is good, without the bitterness often associated with eggplant.  In fact, they’re quite sweet.  While the “Black Beauty” types we bought when we couldn’t find our usual ichiban have produced two fruit among three plants, the ping tura are so prolific that I picked three fruit off of just one plant.

 One thing we’ve been exploring as our summer temperatures have mounted over the last decade (our summer high so far is 113 F) is finding plants that will not only tolerate the heat but will thrive in it.

One of our first discoveries was the liana bean (sometimes called yard-long or asparagus bean).  They’re a climbing type, fast growing, and provide the bonus of a very pretty large lavender flower.  Two years ago, we found a variety called “red noodle” that is also very colorful.  Lianas are the only climbing bean we now plant.  We also plant some bush beans.  For the eat-fresh variety, we have come to like Contenders or, when we can find the seeds, Matador, both of which handle heat fairly well.  (Although not as well as the lianas.)

A couple of years ago, I was researching desert ecosystems for the roleplaying game I was running.  (I write the adventures just like I do stories, complete with research; this one was called “The Desert of Nightmares.”)  In a book  published by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, I came across a reference to tepary beans.  I was intrigued, because they apparently love high heat, and low water.  There was one section of our garden bed where anything planted there died, probably due to reflected heat and lack of shade.  Why not give these a try?

After some experimentation, I’ve settled on “blue speckled” as my favorites.  If you look in the second photo, the tepary beans are planted in the middle row (tomatoes to the left, lianas going up the net to the right).  Impressive, yes?  Even more impressive is that they haven’t been directly watered for a month…  All the water they’ve had is from a few tiny sprinkles.

Tepary beans aren’t meant to be eaten fresh, but they dry well and triple in volume after being soaked and cooked.  Since we regularly make both bean soup and humus, they will get used.  Added bonus: nitrogen fixing in the soil.  Added bonus: all that foliage shades our very sandy, heat-retaining soil, making for a cooler environment for the tomatoes.

Next on my list…  I’d like a more heat-resistant tomato, preferably one resistant to curly-top virus, which is common here, but not in enough other places for breeders to routinely breed resistant varieties.  Bonus would be a type similar to a roma that can be cooked as well as enjoyed fresh.

I’m also thinking about looking into some different squash, especially summer squash types, since even hardy green zucchini is feeling the heat.

But for this year, ping tura eggplant is my hero!  I must remember to reward it with a good dose of compost tea!

Teparies Down the Middle

FF: More Mellow?

July 17, 2020

Dandy and Coco Contemplate Eating a Good Book

Update from Wednesday.  Jim is slowly getting his stamina back, but there’s still a lot of resting going on.  I completely approve, especially since his resting meant he finished a novel that I’ll be reading after I finish my current read!

New med is helping sick elder cat, so while the start of the week was stressful, I’m beginning to feel more less stressed.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

I’m always interested in hearing what you’re reading, too!

Recently Completed:

Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham.  Back to classic British mystery.   Enjoyed.

In Progress:

The Age of Faith by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Non-fiction.  Looking at how secular and sacred entered into uneasy alliances in the political arena.

The Estate of the Beckoning Lady by Margery Allingham.  A jump to a later part of the series.  I love her quirky characters.

Also:

Dipping into July magazine arrivals.