Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

Dancing in the Rain

June 22, 2022
Lilies in the Rain

This week, the big news is we finally, finally, finally got RAIN!  It started on Friday, and has continued for several days, bringing along with the moisture lower temperatures, and, even better, for wildfire beleaguered New Mexico, a reduction in fire risk.

When Friday evening brought us the first of several possible storms, I headed out while it was still raining to start moving water out of the 32-gallon trash barrels under our downspouts to additional containers.  Yes.  It was dark. Yes.  It was wet.  But this was a cause for celebration.

Several subsequent storms have definitely brough rainfall at our house to up over an…  inch.  Yes.  You read that right.  Over one inch.  Not yet to even one and a quarter, although we have hope.

For all of you who are in flood zones or places that get a lot of rain, more than an inch of rain in one series of storms is a big deal for our area.  My part of New Mexico is classified as “high altitude grassland” because we “average” 7.5 inches of rain in a year.

That half of an inch is what keeps us from being classified as desert.  Lately we haven’t been getting it.  Jim and I have most of our yard mulched and landscaped with native plants, but even those have been suffering.   I’d been worried we were going to lose a couple of trees because we couldn’t give them enough water to help them deal with temperatures over a hundred, high winds, and no rain.

There are lots of songs that associate “rainy days,” and sad times, but let me tell you, that isn’t the case in New Mexico, especially in this year of record fires. 

Saturday night, we joined some very kind friends for a ballgame at our local minor league park.  The game was rain delayed, but I didn’t see a single sour face from the ticket takers getting drizzled on, to the littlest kid.  Instead, there was a definite party atmosphere.

So, with a feeling of celebration, I’m off to do my writing. 

Bunny, Treecats, and More

June 1, 2022
Mei-Ling Dives into a Good Book

Let’s start with the saga of the bunny, and move to news about treecats and then a little more fun.

Last week, I told you about how a tiny bunny had gotten into our yard and was eating our seedlings, specializing on beans, but not hesitating to eat Swiss chard and sample eggplant (plants) as well.

Jim worked hard getting to critical areas of our garden beds fenced off.  Wednesday (after I had posted the WW), Jim’s hard work paid off in a really weird way.

The baby bunny was back in the garden bed, but had trapped itself.  Our guess is that it used the higher ground outside of the fence to jump over the fence, then couldn’t get out.  Jim had the bright idea of using one of our cat carriers to trap it, and between us we managed.  The bunny was small enough to fit in my hand, and very, very soft.

Jim then carried the little bunny off to a park/empty lot near of us that has a fair amount of cover.  I waited to post until today, while we waited to see if it had siblings, but we seem to be bunny free.  The fences, however, will stay in place until the seedlings are large enough that an opportune nibble will not kill the plant.

(We didn’t get any photos of the bunny this time.  The little critter was pretty scared, and we wanted to get it moved before it panicked itself to death.)

There are no treecats in our yard (at least that we’ve seen), but June 7 is the official release date of A New Clan, formerly known to dedicated readers of these WW as “SK4.”  It is the fourth “Star Kingdom/ Stephanie Harrington” book, written by me and David Weber in collaboration.  It picks up right after Treecat Wars.

If you’re interested in a sample, here’s a link to an advertisement that, in turn, will provide a link to a sample.

As for the “and more,” I’ve been doing a lot of interviews.  When Aurora Borealis Bridge came out, I had a request from to do one about unusual portal fantasies.  I quite enjoyed myself, and found some good examples both past and more current.

In the background, as I type this, I hear Jim clicking away, trying to get some photos of the quail family (mom, dad, a dozen striped chicks) who are currently residing in in the big Russian sage in our front yard.  Keep your fingers crossed.  Maybe they’ll hold still long enough for us to share a picture or two!

Toads and Bunnies

May 25, 2022
Look on the Roof!

Interesting wildlife news from our yard…  Topping the list is this adorable toad sitting on top of the Toad House that our friends Gail and John Miller gave us many years ago after we expressed our enthusiasm that our little pond had attracted real, live toads!

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which is officially “high altitude grassland,” because we’re supposed to get 7.5 inches of rain a year.  Lately, we’ve gotten quite a lot less, but haven’t been reclassified to desert, yet.  Therefore, toads and tadpoles (of which our tiny pond is currently supporting quite a few) are very exciting.

Less exciting is discovering after several bunny-free years, a juvenile rabbit has gotten into our back yard.  So far it has eaten the newly sprouted Swiss Chard and arugula; two eggplant plants (which retailed at something like four dollars apiece, so definitely not cheap); and portions of two rows of newly sprouted tepary beans.  We can replant the beans, thank heavens, and hopefully we’ll be able to score more Swiss chard seeds, but I am less than enchanted—especially since I can’t find out how it got in.

I mean, just because my latest releases—Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge—are portal fantasies doesn’t mean I want my yard to be a wild rabbit’s magical kingdom of Lunch.

I’ve only seen the bunny twice, and maybe it spotting me will convince it to go elsewhere.  However, as a precaution, Jim is busy with chicken wire and trying to block gaps in the fence. We can hope, but hope can always use a little help.

Off to go look for it again…

Gardener: ’Tain’t Whatcha Think

May 11, 2022
Chocolate Flowers

Monday morning, as I was out in our yard, preparing various containers for seeds while on stand-by in case Jim needed help as he set up our swamp cooler, I found myself thinking about the term “gardener,” as applied to writers.

As you may know, in this context, “gardener” is used as a synonym for what I prefer to call an “intuitive plotter,” but is often referred to by the inelegant term “pantser,” which in turn is short for “seat of the pants plotter,” (a term that in my opinion is only slightly better).

Whatever you call it, a gardener is a writer who does not outline in advance of writing, and may not seem to plan much in advance at all.

So, it was when I worked out my novels, Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge, which have been praised by award-winning reviewer Alan Robson, who noted that the story elements “have very significant roles to play in advancing the plot, and every time the plot advances the story exposes another intricate layer and we learn more and more about the way that the world of Over Where works. I’m astonished that Jane Lindskold managed to hold a structure as complicated as this one in her head while she was writing it, and I’m impressed at the skilful way in which the twists and turns reveal themselves so gradually and yet so inexorably.”  (Phoenixzine, May 2022)

By contrast, when I worked with David Weber on the forthcoming A New Clan, my natural tendency to not plan in advance had to be moderated by the need to work with another author.  In turn, Weber moderated his own desire to brainstorm in exhaustive detail to accommodate the fact that if I have it all figured out in advance, I feel the story is told, and am less enthusiastic.

Well, as I knelt there in my yard, stirring up dry soil, adding additional potting soil, soaking the planting medium in stages to make sure it was uniformly damp, and only then adding in the seeds—these spaced according to their specific needs, and those needs dictated by where that particular planter was going to be placed—I found myself thinking for the hundredth time how inappropriate the term “gardener” is for an intuitive plotter.

I wandered on at greater length about this subject here, so I’ll point you that way, and summarize.  (The first part of this other post is about our garden that particular year, but I suggest you read it, especially if you don’t garden yourself.)

Just as a gardener does not plant without acquiring a lot of advanced knowledge, so an intuitive plotter does not get ideas from some abstract ether.  A lot of work goes into preparing the “soil,” to learning about what the seeds need, to learning about the environment in which the plant or the story will grow.

A great example are the chocolate flowers featured in the photo above.  Jim and I like flowers, but we also like to work within the needs of our environment, which is hot, dry, and fairly brutal.  Chocolate flowers thrive in poor soil, without need for additional watering once they are established.  A bonus is that local birds love the seeds, so we not only get to watch the birds, they help spread the plants in our yard.

(The name “chocolate flower” comes from the scent of the flowers, which is not unlike bittersweet chocolate.)

So, for all you folks who think you can just zen your way into a story, without any foundation at all, remember, the planning goes in, whether before, after, or along the way, but one way or another, you’re going to need to do the work.

Speaking of which, I’m off to pull out scrap paper and work on one of my least favorite jobs…  Maybe I’ll talk about what that is next time.

Spring Brings

May 4, 2022
Mystery Lizard

We’re having a very dry spring here in our corner of New Mexico, but our little pond (128 gallons empty) is nonetheless home to a ridiculously large crop of tadpoles.

We also seem to have a new—to us, that is—type of lizard which has taken up residence in our yard.  It’s not either our two usual types: the blue whiptail and the fence lizard.  It’s featured in the picture above and I would love if anyone can help us out with figuring out the type.  It seems to have settled in on the west side of our yard, and even chosen a favorite basking rock.

Winds have been high, and temperatures all over the place, so other than a bit of transplanting, we haven’t yet put the garden in.  However, we’re getting ready.  I’ve started some tomatoes from seed.  We’re going to try two new, to us, varieties this year, both of which we acquired from Native Seed Search, and which are supposed to handle high temperatures well.

Now that the excitement (and considerable extra work) related to the releases of Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge only two months apart is ebbing, I’m segueing into more writing. 

Whenever I need to think, I wander outside, weed a little here, water a little there.  It’s definitely nice to have a chance to spend more time outside. Be well

I’ve Lost Another Friend

October 13, 2021
Sally at the Bubonicon Tea

Last Friday, one of my best friends, Sally Gwylan, was hit by a car and killed.

Many of you know Sally’s work, even if you didn’t realize it.  If you’ve read one of my novels in the last ten or more years, Sally was quite likely one of the beta readers.  If you read my new Firekeeper books, Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul, Sally was the copy editor.

Copy editing is one of those jobs that can ruin a friendship.  Last week, I explained that the job of a copy editor is.  Copy edit is when someone goes through the manuscript and nitpicks it to death.  A good copy editor catches little inconsistencies, asks weird questions, and makes certain that how you punctuate is consistent.  The copy editor also puts in notes for the people who will be formatting the book.

Sally was amazing.  She liked the quirks of punctuation rules.  She was patient with my inability to hyphenate consistently.  We had great chats about optional commas.  She loved looking up obscure data points.  I always felt my books were secure in her hands.

Sally was such a talented copy editor that she did copy editing for other writers, including Carrie Vaughn.  So, if you’ve read some of Carrie’s small press works, you’ve also read Sally’s work.  She also work-shopped over the years with many of New Mexico’s writers, and you’ll find her listed in their acknowledgements, too.  One of the things Sally planned to pursue after retirement (she worked for a law firm doing data control) was copy editing and proofreading.  Now she’ll never have the chance.

Oh, and Sally was a writer in her own right.  The same perfectionism that made her a perfect copy editor made her quite possibly the slowest writer in creation.  Nonetheless, she completed and sold several works of short fiction: “Salt” in Infinite Matrix (2002), “In the Icehouse” in Asimov’s (2003), “Rapture, Parts 1 & 2” in Strange Horizons (2004), and “Fleeing Olsyge” in Clarkesworld (2018). 

She also indie pubbed a Depression era alternate history novel called A Wind Out of Canaan, about a runaway from an abusive home coming to the realization that she’s gay.  In her journey, Philippa joins a group of hobos and, while with them, accidentally stumbles onto the fact that there are people from another world on Earth, and that their activities may have a great deal to do with the severe changes in the weather, and some of the political movements of the time.  It stands alone, more or less, but Sally was working on a sequel.

I’m talking about all these dry things because I’m hiding from a grief so huge that, if I admit to it, it’s going to swallow me whole.

Sally and I met over twenty years ago at a party at Walter Jon Williams’ house, sometime in the late 1990’s.  I’d moved to Albuquerque in late 1995.  In 1996, I started my first garden.  I had a lot of questions, and whenever I’d ask one, the one asked would inevitably end with, “I think that’s what I’d do, but Sally Gwylan would know.” 

So, I went up to her, introduced myself, and thus started a discussion about gardens, and weather (especially wind and rainfall).  She did know a lot, having been a market gardener for a while. She also gave me the tubers for my Jerusalem artichokes, known to some as “sunchokes.”  Our garden chats only stopped this week, because she wasn’t here on Monday for our usual call.

We talked about other things, too, of course.  Books and movies.  Gender identity.  Animals, wild and domestic.  Hobby activities.  Each week we blocked out an hour and a quarter for our call.  It was rarely enough.

I also helped Sally build her house, quite literally.  Usually when people talk about building a house, they mean they’ve hired contractors to do so.  Not Sally.  She built hers with adobe mud and straw.  She took living off the grid seriously, but managed a very tidy lifestyle with a solar panel for electricity, water she hauled from town, a composting toilet, and propane for cooking and to run her fridge.

Sally loved figuring out how things worked.  Unlike me, she did her own formatting and cover design for her e-books.  She sewed or retailored (on a treadle machine) clothes for herself.  She built her solar oven.  And the toilet.  And a water-wicking system for her plants.  Many of our conversations were about her building projects.  The most recent was figuring out the most efficient way to do laundry by hand.  (Why?  Because she hated how the machines at the laundromat left her clothes smelling.)  She was delighted to report that a standard salad spinner worked pretty well as a “spin cycle.”

Even in her late sixties, Sally was energetic.  She rescued her cat, Horace, in the middle of rush hour traffic out on I-40.  Horace had been hit, and she got him to the vet.  Later, when one leg failed to heal properly, she sewed him booties to protect his paw.

The picture above is from the Tea at Bubonicon, where she always worked backstage, helping Pati Nagel make tea.  At some point, she’d excuse herself to go participate in one of her other passions, “shape note” or Sacred Heart singing.

Okay…  That’s about all I can manage without breaking down.  Again.  Thanks for listening.

This Year’s Jerusalem Artichokes

Mixed Impressions

July 28, 2021

“So, this is where the magic happens,” said a guest upon seeing my office for the first time.

I agreed, because I knew this was meant as a compliment about my writing.  Even then, though, I was thinking how, weirdly enough, my office is where the least magical part of my story creation is likely to happen.  My office, my desk, my computer, are just where the stories get written down.

Well, most of the time.  Actually, a lot of my stories start out handwritten because, as I’ve mentioned before, there seems to be a more direct channel between my imagination and a form of transcription when pen and paper is involved.

Where does the magic happen?

On the edge of falling asleep.  In the shower.  When weeding the garden.  Cooking.  Washing dishes.  Folding clothes.  Doing something crafty.  In the middle of a conversation, when something said sparks an idea…

I rarely have a magical creative moment when staring at the computer screen, willing myself to write.  On the other hand, I do set myself goals when working on a project.  An artistically poised dilletante is definitely not how I see myself.  I’m proud of the fact that I make deadlines, and that I work hard to make sure that I do.

Does this give you a mixed impression of what it’s like to be the writer that’s me?  If so, perfect!  I am nothing if not a suite of contradictions that come together to create stories.

I’m curious.  Where do your “magical moments” happen?  I’m definitely not restricting this to writing.  They might be related to some other art.  Or even something to do with your job or the classes you’re taking.  Inspiration belongs to all of us.

Oh!  The associated photo is of a goldfinch among the Russian Sage in our yard.  I thought the mingling of tiny bird and even more minute flowers had a definite impressionist feel.

The Value of Unlearning

June 30, 2021

In many ways, I live on an alien world.

Last Thursday, our eighteen-day streak of temperatures over a hundred (usually with highs between 103F and 108F) finally broke.  Okay.  Our high was still 98F, and the next day we went back to 100F but, as many people in many locations unaccustomed to these highs are learning the hard way, there’s a lot of difference between 108F and 98F.

(We’ve had a high this year of 112F, and I’m really hoping not to top that.)

Our weekend actually was, for us, cool, with highs in the high eighties, and lows in the sixties and even, one astonishing night, the high fifties.  We’ve even had clouds, although, as of this writing, no rain that wasn’t in the form of individual, nameable drops.

People often think that my part of New Mexico is like the stereotype of Arizona: hot, no “real” winter, towering cactus, like that.  Leaving aside that the stereotype of Arizona doesn’t apply even to Arizona as a whole, it certainly doesn’t apply to my part of New Mexico.

We get cold temperatures well below freezing.  The only reason we don’t get more snow is because on the whole our climate is too dry.  And, as mentioned above, we get hot enough that we could probably (although I’ve wondered why anyone would want to try) fry eggs on the sidewalk.  Our rain comes in seasonal monsoons, the establishment of which watched for with a fervor that goes back long before the arrival of colonists from Europe.

The opening photo illustrates the extremes that our yard has to deal with.  On the left is our pomegranate shrub.  If you look carefully, you can see the dead limbs poking out of the green.  That’s cold damage, a result of our nighttime temperatures in October dropping without warning from the high forties to well below freezing for four nights.  It also hit our ash tree and apples, as well as killing a couple of established shrubs.

On the right you can see our squash plants.  The yellowing on the leaves is not a result of insect predation or disease; it’s from dealing with temperature extremes.  Even with only a few days of temperatures below a hundred, we are seeing indications of recovery.  If we’re lucky, the zukes will start setting fruit.  The plants only twenty feet or so further east, that get less sun, grew much more slowly, but seem to be setting.

When I first moved to New Mexico, back in mid-1994, I came from a very pleasant area in south central Virginia, where growing things was almost ridiculously easy.  Here I had to learn a bunch of new skills, new plants, and face new challenges.

Of course, there are bonuses, too.  One of Jim and my dreams was to create a habitat that would invite quail to come into our yard.  When we achieved that goal, we hoped that someday they’d actually bring their chicks to visit.  As the picture below shows, we have achieved that goal, too!

In a way, my move to New Mexico gave me a lot of insight into what it would be like to be a colonist on a planet ostensibly “hospitable” to humans.  The ability to adapt would be as important, maybe more important, than any suite of technological skills or access to a databank of knowledge.  Unlearning would be as crucial as learning.

On that note, I’m going to enjoy every breath of cooler air while I dive into the final push to address the editorial notes on the second of my forthcoming “Over Where” novels, Aurora Borealis Bridge.

In the Pink

June 23, 2021

Life here has been busy, with activities on many fronts.

The interview I did with the podcast Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy went live on Friday.  You can go here and listen to me talk with host David Barr Kirtley about writing, including some background anecdotes about how some of my stories came to be, as well as how I fit writing into my life. If you don’t have time to listen, he’s transcribed some of the interview as text, including comments about living with Roger Zelazny and one of the few occasions I saw him get really angry; the time my character out-smarted George R.R.’s in a role-playing game, as well as my archeologist husband, Jim, on finding dead bodies.

I also spent some time this week setting up to participate in the SF/F Libertycon, which is virtual this year.  I’m on two pre-recorded panels: one on the space western anthology, Shootout at Europa Station, and their traditional “Meet the Newbies,” which introduces guests new to the LibertyCon experience.  On Friday, June 25th, I’m scheduled to do a live reading at 6:00 pm EST/4:00 MST.  I plan to read from my forthcoming novel, Library of the Sapphire Wind.  If I can figure Discord out, I might be able to take questions!

I’m also still finishing setting up my new desktop.  It’s in place so that I can write and do e-mail, but there’s tweaking to do.  The adventure in finding a new printer was definitely worthy of Kafka, but it should arrive this week. 

There was silly fun, too.  Last Saturday, we had dinner with friends who make incredible gelato.  The visit before, we had brought iced tea flavored with prickly pear cactus juice.  The discussion segued into what gelato made with prickly pear cactus juice would be like, so they had the custard prepared, we brought the juice, and they finished the gelato after dinner.  It was terrific!

The photo shows a glass of lemonade with prickly pear cactus juice, and the remaining pint of gelato…

Despite all of this, I did continue working on the editor’s notes for the sequel to Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge.  These two “Over Where” novels are due for release Spring of 2022, so I’d better get back to work, so I don’t miss my deadline!

Hope to “see” some of you Friday at Libertycon, but if that’s not likely and you have any questions, feel free to ask them here!

It’s That Time Again!

May 5, 2021
Alyssum Among Hollyhocks and Baby’s Breath

Putting in the garden always reminds me how similar writing and gardening are.  It’s really no surprise how many writers are also gardeners.

Over the last few weeks, Jim and I have been doing a lot of gardening, none of which involved going to plant nurseries and picking up flats of plants.  Nor, until this past weekend, did we do much with the seeds we purchased earlier this year and set by.

Instead, what we’ve been doing is getting the soil ready for those plants.  This has involved trips to get horse manure, doing so early enough that it would age before we dug it in.  We’ve been emptying compost bins.  Digging compost trenches.  Emptying containers of the old potting soil and replacing with fresh.

Note: We live in a part of Albuquerque, New Mexico, where “soil” is a misnomer.  We have pretty much pure sand.  If we don’t “amend” (to use gardening  jargon), our plants don’t have a chance.  Even native plants struggle.

As of this past weekend, we’re finally putting seeds in (radish, carrot, squash).   Eventually, as nighttime temperatures warm, we’ll put in bean seeds.  And we’ll see what the plant nurseries have to offer by way of starter plants.

So, what does this have to do with writing?  Well, writers also need to prepare their “soil,” and I’m not certain that any genre is as demanding in this way as Science Fiction and Fantasy, because in order to “just make it up,” it’s necessary to know how things happen, why things happen, and a lot more.

For that, you need to do a lot of solid research.  One thing that concerns me is how many of budding writers who came to the genre through visual media (movies, television, computer games) don’t understand that these are not great sources for how the universe—or even our own single planet—works.

Spaceships do not “swoosh” when in flight through the void.  Horses cannot be left saddled, bridled, ready to go, as if they are organic cars.  And some of the armor and weapons, especially those in computer games, may look fantastic, but they wouldn’t be functional, much less practical or protective.

I spent much of the last week and a half reading and researching so that I can make a relatively small point in the manuscript I’m revising not only cool, but plausible.  As with my garden, I do my best to make sure my creative “soil” is amended, so my that story can grow stronger and flower forth.