Archive for April, 2019

FF: Shelter From The Storm

April 26, 2019

Kwahe’e Dreams of Directing Films

News Flash: I’ll be at Page One Books this Saturday (April 27) as a guest bookseller helping celebrate Independent Booksellers.  There will be door prizes!  Best of all, I’ll have a chance to chat because I don’t need to do a panel or sign anything (unless you want me to).  I’ll be there from 1:30 to 2:45.

This week has been very stressful, so I’ve mostly been re-reading.

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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:

In An Absent Dream: Wayward Children 4 by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell.  Novel.  Re-read, but it’s been a long time.

In Progress:

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett.  Re-read.  Not one of my favorites, but good.  It introduces Gaspode, who will become a recurring character in the series.  I’d forgotten the pre-Watch Detritus, too.

Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya, this week volumes 11-18.  Manga.  Re-read.  The story is moving from slice of life, romantic comedy into the more serious part of the story, including backstories for a several characters.

The Life of Greece by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  I’ve read parts of this, but I don’t think ever the whole thing.  Jim gave me a set for Christmas.

Also:

A few new magazines came in, and catalogs.  Who ever knew there was so much stuff in the world!

Catnip, Italian Parsley, Zinnias

April 24, 2019

Alyssum, Hollyhocks, Marigolds

Catnip, catmint, Italian parsley, garlic chives, tomatoes, alyssum, blanket flowers, cardinal vine, chocolate flowers, Cyprus vine, hollyhocks, marigolds, portulacas, zinnias.  Other than all being plants, what do these have in common?

If you guessed that these are all domestic plants that already have or can be expected to volunteer in my yard this year, you’d be right.

As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, my yard does not provide the most gentle of climates.  Over the years, I’ve come to treasure those plants that seem to have domesticated us as much as we have domesticated them.   The results are often surprising and even quite lovely.

Often by late summer the vegetable bed on the east side of our shed looks as if portions have been quilted because of the amount of alyssum that volunteers from seeds scattered by past generations.  Yes, the alyssum takes some of the water that could go to my peppers and eggplant, but the plants also provide a natural organic mulch that keeps our sandy soil from becoming burning hot during the day.  And, well, they’re pretty, too.

Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy these volunteer plants quite a bit.  Sure, some get weeded out, but a lot more get transplanted or just enjoyed where they’ve sprouted.  Does this make for a rather chaotic and disorganized yard?  Only superficially.  I tend to think of it as working with nature, rather than forcing nature to work with me.  And since I’m the one who introduced the majority of these plants to the environment, well, this strikes me as making a compromise.  Maybe the parsley isn’t growing quite where I intended but, hey, I have parsley.

Not surprisingly, my stories come to life in a very similar fashion.  I come up with ideas, but how they germinate and the way they fit together often surprises me.

That happened this past weekend.  I’d been sliding elements for the final section of Wolf’s Soul around in my head, waiting to see how they would fit together.  Then, last Friday, as Jim and I were putting dinner together, I had one of those “aha” moments.  Leaving Jim to handle the final touches, I went and scribbled all over a piece of scrap paper and tucked it under my monitor.  I pulled it out on Saturday morning, crossed out one line, added a couple more.  Now I’m merrily writing away.

Is the story what I thought it would be when I started writing it?  Absolutely not, but like my alyssum quilted vegetable bed, the results are turning out surprising and even quite lovely.

FF: Modesty and More

April 19, 2019

The Novel Is Peeking Out At The Top

Until recently, it was more common to see a novel series adapted or expanded into graphic novels rather than the other way around.  Modesty Blaise anticipated the trend.  Interestingly, both were written by Peter O’Donnell, rather than one being farmed out to someone else as is common today.

I’ve featured a cover from a collection of the newspaper strips here because, frankly, the novel had a trashy cover that misrepresents the novel entirely.

Oh…  And if you miss the usual pet portrait, go to the end for a photo of our cat Ogapoge taken about a year ago…

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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:

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursual Vernon).  One review called this a screwball comedy with serious undertones.  That’s a good description.  Laugh out loud sometimes, edge of the seat at others.

In Progress:

In An Absent Dream: Wayward Children 4 by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell.  Novel.  Re-read, but it’s been a long time.

Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya, this week volumes 6-11.  Manga.  Re-read.  The story is moving from slice of life, romantic comedy into something far darker and outre.

Also:

Writing, writing, writing….

Ogapoge Amid Towels

Easter Bunnies and Beta Readers

April 17, 2019

PF As The Easter Bunny

First, a follow-up to last week’s WW about Skinny the Thrasher.  The day after I wrote about Skinny’s rivalry with PF the Cottontail Rabbit for access to the bird block, we spotted them both eating from the block at the same time.  If we see them again, we’ll try for a picture.  In the meantime, as we lead into Easter, here’s a picture of PF as the Easter Bunny!

As some of you already know, last week a short post on my FB and Twitter feeds accidentally triggered something I feel is only courteous to address in more than a few sentences.

When I posted a brief comment about how I’d just realized that I’d forgotten to put chapter breaks into the manuscript of Wolf’s Search that I’d sent to my secret beta readers, I expected to be teased about my forgetfulness.  What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of requests for information about how to become one of my beta readers.  Some requests were from people I recognized as long-time readers, but others were from people for whom this was the first time I remembered seeing a comment.

When these requests continued, even after I’d responded in the Comments, I decided I’d better explain.

Here’s the short answer.  You probably cannot become a beta reader for me.  Unlike some authors, I don’t solicit comments about my work from the general readership.  I never have.  I am not likely to change.  My first reader has always been my husband.  After Jim, I usually ask a few friends for feedback.  Who these are varies widely, according to the project.

(If you’re still interested in why I work this way, read on…)

For example, one of the people I asked to read the manuscript of Asphodel was Alan Robson, with whom I collaborated on the Thursday Tangents for close to seven years.  From our many discussions, public and not, I knew that Asphodel was the sort of book Alan didn’t usually read.  When he read it and liked it, my feeling that I had something special in Asphodel was reinforced.

For Wolf’s Search, you’d probably be surprised to learn that none of my secret beta readers were fanatical about the series.  One hadn’t even read the last several books.  This was because I wanted to make sure that Wolf’s Search could serve as a “gateway book” into the series.  (Admittedly one with some spoilers, but still more a stand-alone novel than otherwise.)

Yes.  I do know some authors regularly send out copies to beta readers who are strangers or rabid fans of the series.  For some authors, especially those writing long series with long, long books, this helps them to catch continuity errors so they can focus on the new material.  For others, I am sad to say (based on hearing them say this), soliciting beta readers is merely a marketing ploy – an attempt to make readers feel they have been part of the writing process, even if they have not.

Maybe my attitude toward showing a book before it is polished was influenced by my relationship early in my writing career with Roger Zelazny.  Roger generally didn’t share his completed manuscripts with anyone except his editor.  When he did, he usually had a specific reason, up to and including impulsiveness.  (Full disclosure: I read the manuscripts of his last several novels well before publication.)  Roger also didn’t belong to any writers groups.  Hard as it is to believe in these days when social media makes it seem as if every writer shares everything, including deleted scenes and false starts, there are many writers who want their readers to see only the finished story.

More likely my choice then and now to keep unfinished drafts to myself is simply one of the many ways that Roger and I were alike.  Writing for me is not a collaborative process.  I don’t belong to writers’ groups because comments on a work in progress would stall me, not encourage me.  Even Jim doesn’t hear much about a story until it has been completed.  And after the work is completed, a very few readers are all I need to assure me that I haven’t missed some really obvious error.

Writers are very different in what they need.  I am the type of writer I am.  I hope you will not be offended if I continue as I have for these twenty-five or so years that I have been offering you my stories and unveil my works only when they are complete.

FF: Curl Up With A Book

April 12, 2019

Kel In Cute Company

This week I’ve really wanted to curl up with a good book.  Although I haven’t indulged as much as I’d like, I’ve at least had some good choices when I do.

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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:

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller.  Creative dystopian setting.  Interesting characters.  Not recommended for those who don’t like multiple points of view or a plot that takes a while to come together, but if you can, it’s worth the journey.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  I very much enjoyed, although the final section on Japan, speculating what might happen as Japan was showing a need to compete for Asian markets for surplus goods, as well as for raw materials, was rather creepy given that it was written in 1934 and called some future events all too well.

In Progress:

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursual Vernon).  One review called this a screwball comedy with serious undertones.  Thus far, I can’t disagree.  I’m enjoying.

In An Absent Dream: Wayward Children 4 by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.  Just starting.

Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya, volumes 1-5.  Manga.  Re-read.  The story is moving from slice of life, romantic comedy into something far darker and outre.

Also:

Coincidence is weird.  I decided to re-read Fruits Basket because I like to read something familiar before bed.  (That way I don’t start worrying or stay up too late reading!)  I just happened upon a notice that a new Fruits Basket anime started broadcasting in this month.

Skinny the Thrasher

April 10, 2019

Not Quite So Skinny Skinny

The last thing we expected when we impulse-bought a bird block at Costco was that we would save the life of an orphaned thrasher.

When I first spotted him tearing into the block, my first thought was “That’s the skinniest bird I’ve ever seen!”  My second thought was “Could that be a thrasher?  It’s too small!”  But the bright eye and the distinctive curved beak were visible, as was the energy and enthusiasm that we’d noticed in the pair of thrashers that had frequented our yard for some years.

That’s when I realized that we hadn’t seen “our” pair for a while.  Curve-billed thrashers nest relatively close to the ground on cactus or in shrubs.  It seemed possible that a predator – for example, a roadrunner – had taken out the entire family except for this one young survivor.

Skinny’s determination to get enough to eat overcame any shyness he felt about living so close to humans.  After a while, he would only make a token retreat when we came in or out of the front door – usually up into the branches of the ash tree that the bird block is under.  After a while, he took to greeting us when we came home.  Or he’d come over to watch from a safe distance what we were doing when we were working in the yard.

This spring, when I was weeding, Skinny perched on the peak of our roof and started making a variety of very conversational sounds.  When I looked up, he posed and then started up again.  Clearly he was saying “Don’t we have a nice yard?  I really like it.”

Thus far, Skinny has not established a family.  He (courtesy pronoun; thrashers are  not markedly sexually dimorphic) hasn’t seemed to welcome any of the other thrashers we’ve seen coming through.  However, he’s far from lonely.  He shares our front yard with any number of sparrows, finches, and doves.  He doesn’t seem to mind the quail or robins, even though they’re closer to his size, eat similar diets, and so could be considered competitors.

The one co-resident of our little bit of wild kingdom Skinny does resent is PF the cottontail rabbit.  As noted elsewhere, PF enjoys foraging from the bird block.  While Skinny is happy to share with the other birds, he does mind PF.  The other day, we watched from our front window while Skinny sulked, making occasional darting forays at the bird block in an attempt to get PF to move along.

So far, it hasn’t worked, but somehow I don’t think Skinny is going to give up!

FF: Completed!

April 5, 2019

Under The Kindle Tree, Ziggy Eats

This past week I finished off a bunch of books…

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  Style reminded me of Patricia McKillip.  I’m still thinking about this one, but I’d probably read something else by this author.

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Sword and Skate by Henry Lien.  The title makes this book sound a lot lighter weight than it is.  SF with some serious politics.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Rohani Chokshi.  Part of the new Rick Riordan Presents line, and seems to take “let’s imitate Rick Riordan” a little too seriously.  Structure and even major plotpoints are highly derivative.  Uses Hindu myth eclectically.

In Progress:

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller.  Creative dystopian setting.  Interesting characters.  Not recommended for those who don’t like multiple points of view or a plot that takes a while to come together, but if you can, it’s worth the journey.

Our Oriental Heritage: The Story of Civilization by Will Durant.  Audiobook.  Into Japan, currently on non-fiction.

Also:

Looking for something either familiar or lighter to read before bed.  I’m considering re-reading one of my favorite manga: Fruits Basket.  Tohru’s encounters with a very strange group based around the characters of the Chinese zodiac isn’t exactly “light” (she starts out orphaned and homeless) but it’s very warm.

Germination

April 3, 2019

Eggplant Seedlings

Hi!  I don’t suppose you’d like to hear about the relative germination percentages between tomatoes and eggplant, would you?

The seed starter was getting crowded, so last weekend we finally got around to taking out the plants and moving them into their next generation containers.  These are repurposed yogurt containers: not fancy, but they do the job.

The seed starter has seven rows with room for seven plants per row.  We gave one row to cherry tomatoes (Sweet Million), three rows to Roma tomatoes, and three to ichiban eggplant (Millionaire Hybrid variety).  Well…  That was the plan, at least.  It’s possible that we planted two rows of cherry tomatoes and two of Roma, and if so we’re going to have too many cherry tomato plants.  We’ll know later on…

Why so many eggplant?  Because we expected what happened: while 100% of the tomato seed germinated, only about two out of seven eggplant seeds germinated.  We’ve resealed the seed starter and are giving the slowpokes a chance to germination.  Meanwhile, Jim is eating more yogurt because we’ve run out of containers.

So, we do have at least fifteen eggplant seedlings, but we can’t count on all the plants surviving.  This is the thing about gardening.  Not every plant survives.  It’s completely possible that by the time we move the seedlings into the ground in May, we might have half of what we started with.  The same could be true of the tomato plants.

Why did we start our own seeds?  For the eggplant in particular, we were looking for a particular variety.  For the tomatoes, variety is one issue, but another is that we’ve had some problems with finding what we want from greenhouses, especially now that a few franchises seem to have taken over supplying just about everywhere.  These franchises aren’t sensitive to what will do well in our particular climate.  Then there’s the problem that we’re seeing more evidence of disease in these plants than when we were able to shop for locally grown plants.

Aside: We grow a lot of other plants from seed, but those seeds (radishes, carrots, beans, squash, various herbs, numerous flowers) will go directly into the ground, rather than being started in advance.

Also, growing plants from seed is fun.  It’s fascinating.  It’s rather – if you’ve stayed with me this long – like writing.  Not every idea germinates.  Some seem promising, but wilt after the first few lines.  Others are crippled by complications along the way.  But those that work out are very satisfying, indeed.

Last week’s writing was definitely a difficult one for idea germination, but once I gave up on a couple of approaches and found my way, I was very satisfied.  Now, I’m off to see if I can pick up where I left off.

Remind me and, in May, I’ll tell you how many plants survived to being moved outside – and then, later still, I’ll let you know how many took and bore fruit when faced with the myriad challenges of a New Mexico summer.