Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

Opening a Vein?

April 19, 2017

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”  So said Ernest Hemmingway.

Where I Write

Actually, there’s some doubt that Hemingway actually said this.  Variations on this statement have been attributed to a wide variety of people for a far longer time than you might imagine.  These include sports writer Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, poet Reverend Sydney Smith, philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and writer Paul Gallico (to provide a not at all conclusive list).

If you’re interested in variations on the quotation and where it might have originated, you might like to look here.

What I want to talk about is not the source or who said it first.  I’m more interested in the concept.  Do you need to be seated in front of a typewriter – or at least have some writing implement (computer, tablet, pen and paper) at hand?  Do you need to bleed to write?  If you do need to bleed, how much blood do you need to shed?

As with most statements like this, I both agree and disagree – but more importantly, I think that many people misunderstand what Hemmingway and the others who have made variations on this statement mean.

Let’s start with the simple part.  Do you need to be parked in front of your writing device of choice to write?  Yes and no.  I’ve done a tremendous amount of writing far away from any writing device.  Maybe “writing” is stretching the point.  “Composing” might be more appropriate – and that gets to the heart of what’s meant by “bleeding.”

The Hemmingway quote above apparently appeared first in a book published in 1973.  (Hemmingway died in 1961.)  It – and many unattributed variations of the same – link the physical act of writing (on typewriter, computer, or whatever) and the “bleeding” of composition so tightly that I believe the meaning of “bleeding” has become distorted.

An earlier version of the same quotation – quite possibly material Hemingway may have unwittingly paraphrased – came from then-famous writer Paul Gallico.  In his 1946 book Confessions of a Story Writer, Gallico wrote:

“It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.”

Note that although Gallico mentions “the page” and “good white paper,” his emphasis is not on the physical act of writing but on the emotional investment.  The really important statement is the first part of the second sentence.  This is so important that I’m going to repeat it:

If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells…”

Here it’s made clear that by “bleeding” these writers didn’t mean putting oneself through some sort of endurance trial.  They’re not talking about staying locked in place until you write your quota or do your homework or whatever metaphor you prefer.  Yet lately, on panels, on social media, I keep encountering the idea that what defines “real” writers is that they produce quantities of words on a page (or a computer file or whatever).  The question as to whether these words mean anything, whether they have any heart, gets lost in an emphasis on production.

I have several works in progress right now.  One of these is beginning to look as if it may be a new novel.  I’m in the exploratory stages now and so I’m not putting as many words down on the page as might be expected.  Instead, I’m busy bleeding…

This weekend I landscaped a portion of my yard.  (Go look at the photo.  Doesn’t it look pretty?)  While I was weeding, raking, prying up the roots of bunch grass with the tip of a shovel, I was also composing.  I was thinking about the six characters around whom the story appears to be taking shape.  Each of them have different goals.  Many of them have secrets.

But I’ve been thinking about little things, too.  The things that make me believe in the characters.  What will the chain smoker do when her cigarettes run out?  What will the knitter bring with her?  How do the three characters who didn’t plan on this turn in their lives feel about it?  How do those who did plan deal with disappointment?

When I think about these things, I’m not chalking up any word count or page count, but I am bleeding.  I’m also getting excited, looking forward to the time when I’ll get back to the keyboard and see how the words fit around the idea.

Meantime, I can enjoy the landscaping, rather than having frustrated myself by trying to come up with words for no other reason than I’m “supposed” to do so to be a “real” writer.

My Thyme Garden

March 29, 2017

News Flash!  This Sunday, April 2nd, at 1:00 pm.  I’ll be joining editor Gerald Hausman and some of the contributing authors to the anthology Guns at the Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe.  Plans include a discussion followed by Q&A, culminating in a group signing.  Go here for more details.

You Can See the Sundial’s Shadow

This weekend we went out plant shopping.  In the process I managed to combine two of my great loves: gardening and books – of one book, especially, in particular.

Despite my dire predictions last week, we did not get snow.  However, I feel somewhat justified in my doom and gloom because the temperatures did drop, and snow was even predicted for one night.  It didn’t happen, but it was predicted.  What we did get was the horrible howling winds that distinguish New Mexico springs.

By Saturday, the winds had decided to go bother someone else, and the temperatures were predicted to be moderate.  Jim and I saddled up (figuratively) and went on a quest for an apple tree.  Now, as you may know, most apple trees need a compatible tree for reasons of pollination.  Even “self-fruitful” or “self-pollinating” trees do better if they have a partner.

Since our remaining apple tree is a Gala, we were restricted a relatively limited list.  Eventually, at Alameda Greenhouse we found three options.  We didn’t want a Granny Smith because, while those apples are tasty, they’re tart, better for cooking than eating.  (Unless you like really tart apples.)  That left us with Jonathan and Fuji.  The Jonathan trees looked nice, but they were obviously younger, with more slender trunks.  So we settled – quite happily, actually –on a nice semi-dwarf Fuji.

You’d think putting the new tree in would be easy, because we were using the same spot where we had taken out the previous tree.  Hah!  When I went to dig out the area, I found it was completely infested – there’s really no other word for it – with Bermuda grass roots.  Since water is precious here in the southwest, I didn’t really want the new tree to have competition.  So I started digging out the roots.

Several hours and six gallons later – I know, because I was putting the roots into buckets, and those had a measurable volume – the ground was finally more or less clear of Bermuda grass roots.  I then dug a hole twice as wide as the tree’s base and somewhat deeper.  This was then lined with fresh compost from our own bins.

(Jim had been emptying these while I’d been engaged with the Bermuda grass.)

We then set the tree in place, refilled the hole with a mixture of sand (which is what we have here rather than soil) and various amendments, then soaked with a mixture of water and root stimulant.

We’re debating whether to take off an anomalous, but sturdy, lower limb as the woman at the greenhouse said she would if it were her tree.  On the one hand, she’s right, that would encourage the tree to grow a solid upper crown.  On the other hand, that would leave us with a very silly-looking stick with a ball of leaves on top, sort of like a poodle’s tail minus the poodle.

The jury’s out for now, but I’d welcome advice.

While we were out questing for apple trees, I spotted some lovely thyme plants.  Last summer, we finally lost the plants that had flourished at the edge of our tiny pond for several years.  I was determined to plant more – not only because it’s an attractive, heat-hardy plant, but also because thyme is a key element in one of my favorite self-created recipes: Scarborough Faire Chicken.

If you’ve guessed that the key seasonings are parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, you’re right.  The fact that I grow all of these myself adds savor (pun intended) to the mix.  I also use ample garlic powder (not garlic salt) and fresh onion.  Bake covered, skin-side down at 350 for about 45 minutes, then remove cover if you want the onions to brown.  Cooking time, obviously, will vary according to the size of your pieces of chicken and other such factors.

It’s good, though.  Very.

So I wanted thyme.  Why then did I get not just one thyme plant (which would be ample), but three?  And why didn’t I get all of one variety, specifically, the English thyme that has done well at the past?

Blame it on a book called The Time Garden by Edward Eager.  If you didn’t know it already (and I didn’t when I was a kid) “thyme” is pronounced “time.”  And The Time Garden is about three pre-teens and one teen who spend the summer at a house where the thyme garden proves to be a means of time travel.  When you go depends on the type of thyme you pick.

In the best tradition of E. Nesbit style fantasy novels, the thyme garden also has the Natterjack, a guardian who explains – grumpily and reluctantly – the rules of the magic.  A Natterjack, if you don’t know is, as he himself explains, a very superior sort of toad.  This one is descended from a London toad from Covent Garden who emigrated to the New World.  “Any magic as I ‘ave,” he explains, “I puts right into this ‘ere garding.”  The kids are quick to pick up on the hint.

The first thyme picked – appropriately by impulsive Eliza – is “wild thyme.”  After that, although the children take great care with what sorts they pick, they still manage to have some interesting adventures.

When I saw that in addition to the English thyme I’d intended to get, the store also had lemon thyme and gold lemon time (this last with lovely yellow veins in the leaves) I couldn’t resist.  I planted all three varieties near the pond where – just by chance, of course – we have a sundial, and where, again, just by chance, Jim has built what he calls his “toad temple.”

If they take, I’d like to add more. Wooly thyme is lovely, as is silver thyme.

Of course we won’t have magical adventures…  That doesn’t happen to grown-ups, or so I’ve been told.  But then, as the Natterjack says in The Time Garden, time will tell!

Does Spring Seem Ahead of Schedule?

March 22, 2017

Spring is advancing ahead of schedule, or so it seems here in our corner of New Mexico.   Temperatures already have repeatedly hit the 80’s.  We’ve seen the first toad of the year soaking in our pond.  Last year, according to our records (yes, we keep records of such things), we didn’t see the first toad until well into April.

Apple Buds, Ready to Open

All around us we have seen cherry blossoms, pear blossoms, peach blossoms, and even apple blossoms.  Pretty as these are, this is a disturbing development because, if we get a cold snap – and I have recorded snow at my house as late as May – then we’re likely to lose much of our fruit and even some more tender plants.

I’m debating whether or not to plant cold weather crops such as carrots, radishes, and arugula.  Usually I’d wait – mostly because the high winds can bury the tiny seeds if I plant too soon –but I’m wondering if I wait if I’ll miss the best time to get these plants started.  Radishes tend to bolt and go woody if planted when the temperature has already risen.  Carrots don’t do much better.

It’s funny to realize that if I had a chance to gaze in a crystal ball, what I’d want to check would be the temperature trends for the next four weeks.

This winter finally did for an apple tree Jim and I put in over twenty years ago.  That tree had never been strong, but we kept working with it.  Still, this year I could see that the fight was over.  Last weekend, we dug out the base, then loosened up the soil, removing as many Bermuda grass roots as possible.   (No.  I didn’t plant the grass.  It’s the unwelcome heritage of a prior owner.)

We figured that we’d have plenty of time to get a new tree.  Most years, our apple tree doesn’t flower until mid or even late April.  This year, our remaining apple tree is already  budding and looks as if it could burst into flower any moment.  Even if we get a new tree nearly immediately, the chance for the necessarily cross pollination (something that is a good idea even if one has “self-pollinating” varieties of apple) to happen is greatly reduced.

However, when we went out to buy a new tree, we found the garden centers nearest to our house (we checked three) hadn’t yet received their full deliveries of fruit trees.  What they did have were mostly earlier season plants.

Well, I have the arugula seeds.  I can plant those.  Then watch, it’ll snow next week…

Stay tuned!

Off to Pittsburgh!

June 29, 2016

Last week, Jim and I spent several days in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  There’s nothing like travel to remind you how varied the U.S. can be.  We left Albuquerque during a series of dry days where temperatures topped 105  degrees, then arrived in Pittsburgh to rain and 72 degrees.

Me, Scot, and Jane Among the Dinos

Me, Scot, and Jane Among the Dinos

On Friday, our friends Scot and Jane Noel picked us up and took us to see some of the sights of downtown Pittsburgh.  As you may recall, I worked with both Scot and Jane on the computer game Chronomaster.  After the game was released, we stayed in touch. Since then, we have worked on a variety of projects, including an art contest for which I wrote the short story “Born from Memory” to go with the first place winning piece.

Last time we saw Scot and Jane was in New Mexico where we took them to see various things, including the petroglyphs near our house.  This time, the sights were a lot greener and more brightly colored.  We started at the Phipps Conservatory which amazed and delighted us with its marvelous variety of plants and sculptures.  Again I was fascinated by what a difference a shift in climate can make when growing the same plants.   I grow Swiss chard, but I’ve never had any success with the “Bright Lights” variety.  At Phipps, not only were they successful, their chard had leaves big enough to wrap a baby in!

After we’d finished with the Conservatory, we moved on to sample the Carnegie Museum.  We didn’t have time to see anything close to all of the exhibits, but we very much enjoyed the dinosaurs, gems and minerals, and a few other fascinating and beautiful things.  We also enjoyed what we saw of Pittsburgh itself, especially the widely varied architecture and numerous bridges and tunnels.

On Saturday, my sister, Susan, and two of her kids took us to Meadowcroft rock shelter.  In the world of archeology, Meadowcroft is famous for being one of the places where their discoveries broke the “Clovis first” theory of human habitation in the New World, pushing back the span of human habitation by several thousand years.

We were extremely lucky that James Adavasio, who directed the excavations at Meadowcroft, was in the area and giving a lecture.  Adavasio is an excellent speaker, with a wide breadth of interests.  One of the elements of his talk was showing how the theories put forth in early archeology – in which the work was done almost solely by men – were shaped by the male perspective to the point of ignoring the contributions of women and children.  He managed to be humorous, as well as informative.  I know that Jim and I enjoyed the subsequent tour all the more for having heard his talk.

Afterwards, we toured a model Indian village complete with a variety of dwellings.  I found myself taking feverish mental notes (and asking Jim to take a few photos) of some of the different types of shelters.   We also had a chance to throw atlatl darts at a deer-shaped target.  We all missed…  According to the docent, this meant we should all have only salad for dinner, as a reminder of how hard it can be to put meat on the table.

The weekend wasn’t all museums, conservatories, and academic lectures, of course.  We went and watched my young nephew play baseball, hiked, talked about books, and even played Clue.  This last led to us renting and watching the very silly movie based on the game…

I discovered that, after something like thirty years, I still remember how to play badminton.  Jim’s whiffle ball pitching got a thumbs-up from our baseball loving nephew.

Now that we’re back in New Mexico, those rolling green hills and that strange atmospheric phenomenon called “rain” seem more like myths than reality.  And I have a short story to review.

Funny thing.  Much as I enjoyed my holiday, I’m looking forward to getting back to the writing.  Life is pretty sweet.

Mission Accomplished (Almost)

May 18, 2016

This weekend, Jim and I finally got most of the garden in.  Most of what we plant is seeds because in this dry, hot climate we find that the plants do better if they have a chance to establish from seed.

Look Carefully for the Giraffe

Look Carefully for the Giraffe

*This is probably a metaphor for writing, but I’m not sure exactly how to work it out. *

We purchased seedlings from a local nursery for peppers and eggplant and, this year, most of our tomatoes.  For some reason, the tomatoes we started from seed didn’t do well this year.  Unlike last year, when we planted twenty-one seeds and ended up with twenty-one plants –  most of which grew up to monster bushes that produced lots of fruit – this year we planted twenty-one seeds and ended up with only three surviving plants.

*There is a reason I would not want to be a farmer.  Farming makes writing for a living seem almost like a sane and predictable career choice.  Kindly note, I said “almost.”*

Now the fun begins.  I’ll start my morning by opening the blinds in the bedroom and looking out.  First a quick count to see if the seven tomato plants I can see from there made the night.  Next, have any of the beans sprouted?  We plant the climbers to grow up a net right outside our window.  By midsummer, if all goes well, we’ll have a natural curtain of green livened with lavender (liana) and red (scarlet runner) bean flowers.  Oh, and lizards.  They like to climb the bean vines.  And hummingbirds come by to sample bean nectar.  The cats love it.  So do we.

But that’s later.  Right now, the game is spotting what’s coming up.  The squash bed is a bit further away, but zucchini seedlings have fairly large leaves, so sometimes I can see what’s come up from a fair distance.  Carrots and radishes, however, require a closer inspection, as does basil, chard, cucumbers, and various herbs.

*I suspect this is also a metaphor for writing.  Probably something to do with coming up with ideas that aren’t obvious.  Hmm…*

We didn’t quite finish planting this weekend.  Many of our perennial flowers are already doing very well.  The lilies are shooting up, and we should have blossoms in a couple of weeks.  The window boxes have been spruced up with snapdragons and dianthus that we purchased leafed out and budding.  We’ll plant a chaotic assortment of zinnias and portulacas in other planters,  as well as among the hollyhocks, so we have color when the hollyhocks are done with their first round of flowers.  We’ll also plant more zinnias along the sidewalk leading to the front door.  By the end of the summer, getting up that path will involve skirting flowers.

*Probably another metaphor, although whether for writing or for life in general, I can’t say.*

So, we planted most of the garden this weekend.  Of course, that’s just the beginning.  Persistence and patience will be needed if we’re to see fruit and flowers, rather than just dust and dry stems.

*And this is truth and also a metaphor.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?*

Flowering Determination

April 6, 2016

On Sunday night, we heard our first toad of the year singing in our tiny (120 gallon) backyard pond.  This makes it officially Spring.  Mind you, nighttime temperatures still frequently drop to below freezing.  Forty-degree temperature shifts are not at all uncommon here, where a mile-high elevation means I can find myself wearing a short sleeved tee-shirt in the daytime and a sweater at night.

Amaryllis with a Twist

Amaryllis with a Twist

So I’m fighting a desire to put in a garden because, even though part of me is dancing around saying “Spring is here at last!”,  it’s quite likely that seeds would rot in the ground and plants just sulk and/or get frostbite.  Or broken in half by high winds.  Our catalpa trees made the mistake of starting to leaf out and currently show some bad burn.  They’ll recover, though.

As a sop to our gardening Cerberus, we’ve planted some tomato seeds in our little seed starter.  Are you familiar with Miyazaki’s film My Neighbor Totoro?  If you are, imagine me as little Mei checking the garden after she and her sister Satsuki have planted the nuts and seeds the totoro gave them.  I don’t quite hunker down like a crab and stare, but I do check the seed starter several times a day, just in case.  I will not admit to whether or not I do the “totoro dance.”  My dignity needs some preservation.

A much more rewarding plant-watching activity is watching our two amaryllis grow.   Amaryllises surge forth visibly in the course of a day.  On the first day we brought them out, only one bulb showed a tiny green leaf tip.  Today – about two weeks later – they’re already flowering.  Very satisfying indeed.

These amaryllis plants are descended from one given to me for Christmas by a friend many years ago.  Last year, I had to split the bulb, which resulted in the very odd stalk that you can see in the accompanying picture.  I like the determination it illustrates.  Visual depictions of determination are something every writer needs.

Yes…  It’s spring in New Mexico, which is about as different as you can get from the “drip-drip-drop little April showers” you may remember from Disney’s Bambi. Still, it’s nice looking out the window and seeing some green, even if the green is largely what most people would call “weeds,” but we consider valuable stabilizing elements in our very sandy yard.

What else is going on?

This coming Saturday I’m the “Featured Speaker” at the UNM writer’s conference.  My slot comes up right after lunch.  I’m still putting my talk together, but I’ve collected some neat material and looking forward to it.  Perhaps I’ll see a few of you there.

I heard from David Weber, and he likes my story for the forthcoming (but as of yet unscheduled) “Safehold” anthology.  My story is called “Brother Against Brother,” and is set during the colonization of Safehold.

I’ve also finished typing up the “handwritten project” and started reading it aloud to myself.  It came in at around 54,500 words.  No idea whether my read through will end up making it longer or shorter.  What I do know is that I’m feeling increasingly excited about it.

Yes.  It does have a title: Asphodel.

Now I’m going to go emulate my amaryllis and see how I can make my writerly garden grow!

How It Goes… Or Grows

June 18, 2014

Life here has continued insanely busy… I’m happy to report that the two events this weekend for Artemis Awakening went really well. I had a great time talking with the folks at the Albuquerque SF club on Friday evening. The questions were wide-ranging and thoughtful. Answering them gave me an opportunity to talk about some world-building considerations, including oddities like linguistic drift. I must have not been the only person to have fun, since a bunch of those attending also showed up at Page One Books on Sunday afternoon to buy copies of the novel and get them signed. It was also great to both catch up with some of my long-time readers and meet some new ones.

Replanted Radishes

Replanted Radishes

Remember the Cover Art contest I talked about a of couple months ago? (If you don’t, see the WW for 1-29-14.) The winners have been chosen and are really amazing.   If you’d like to see which pieces won, you can look here: www.sffcontest.com. It’s amazing how many really good pieces were submitted. I’m still mulling over which of the winners will inspire my promised short story.

However, writing that will need to wait until I respond to my editor’s comments for the second Artemis book (probably to be titled Artemis Invaded). I’ve been so busy with promotional stuff (including the Tor.com pop quiz, two short essays for the Writer’s Read site, and a completely different Q&A for the Riffles site)that I’ve had to put my writing more or less on hold. I’ve promised myself that this week writing moves back to getting priority.

Here at home, Jim and I are viewing our garden with some anxiety. First there was the plague of grasshoppers, then the hail storm, and now our already-battered plants are being harassed by high winds. We had to replant a lot of seeds – probably because the winds have been persistent enough that the seeds were buried beyond their ideal germination depths. This past weekend, we went out and purchased three tomato plants to replace ones the grasshoppers harassed and the hail finished. We also over-indulged in jalapeño pepper plants.

I’m pretty worried about two other tomato plants that are holding their ground, despite nearly having their stems snapped. I’ve been tempted to give up (except I hate giving up on anything that’s struggling to stay alive) and buy new, large plants. Of course, those might not handle the winds as well… If they got battered, they’d break, not bend.

As I was writing about my concerns regarding our garden,I realized how similar they are to worries I have – and have heard other writers express – when a story is “planted,” but doesn’t seem to be thriving. So often the impulse is to rip out and replant, rather than trusting that with time and effort the plant – or story – will survive and thrive.

Certainly, especially after the hail storm, our east bed looked very pathetic. The pepper and eggplants had shredded leaves and bruised stems. In two cases, the stems on pepper plants had snapped. The temptation was to give up on them entirely. But, as I said, we have a lot of trouble giving up on something that’s alive and trying to keep living. We decided to give them a chance. Now, a couple of weeks later, all but the two plants that had their stems snapped have recovered. We have a Hungarian pepper just about ready for picking. A few eggplant have set. The rest of the plants have flowers.

If we’d torn them out and put in new plants, would they have done better? Not necessarily. These plants, battered as they were, had put roots down, roots that sustained them when the winds have blown. Admittedly, the situation has been harder on the west side of our yard, since winds here are often from the west or south. Still, roots are often a lot more important than foliage, especially when the going gets tough.

That’s true with stories, too. Sure, revising is valuable, but I’m a firm believer that you need to have something to revise before you start in on the story. It’s one thing if you realize that what you’d thought was a vegetable plant is a weed, but too often writers get insecure about the value of what they’d initially “planted.” Maybe they think about it too much or talk about it too much, and don’t write very much. A story can lose its freshness that way.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is see if with a little attention the story will start growing again. At the very least, your efforts to take the project forward may help you see if you need to rip out the whole garden or maybe just a plant or two. One thing is for sure, if you keep ripping out, your plants will never flower, much less set fruit.

The same, or so I’ve found, can be true for stories…

Fragments: Rain, Page Proofs, and Vegetables

July 17, 2013

We had rain this week.   Sunday night was particularly memorable.  We got over half an inch.  Most of that fell within an hour.  The rest drizzled down over the next few hours.  Male and female rain, as I’ve been told our Navajo neighbors would term it.  We just call it good weather.

Mystery Squash (about five inches, top to bottom)

Mystery Squash (about five inches, top to bottom)

Several times Sunday evening, Jim dashed out between the raindrop to check our fancy digital rain gauge (a very useful tool when most rainfall is under an inch), finally returning to announce triumphantly, “We just hit exactly half an inch!”

I may not have been born a “child of a rainless year” as was Mira, the protagonist of my novel of that name but, during the nineteen years I’ve lived in New Mexico, I’ve really come to appreciate rain.  These last couple of years, when we’ve been in drought conditions, every rainfall is a reason for celebration.

Living here has really reversed how I see rainy days.  “Back East” where I grew up, a rainy day mood meant feeling gloomy.  Remember Joe Btfsplk, the character in the cartoon Li’l Abner, the one who had a raincloud hanging over his head all the time?    No one needed to be told that he was perpetually down. The symbolism just doesn’t work here.

Soon after I moved to New Mexico, I read a newspaper column by Jim Belshaw in which he commented that New Mexico was the only place he’d ever lived where when it rained people just got up from their desks, stood by the window to watch it rain a while, and went back to work – and no one thought this at all strange.

When Jim and I went to ride our bikes on Monday morning after the big rain, the skies were still overcast, but everyone we passed was smiling broadly.  “Great weather!” more than one person called out.  “60% chance of more today!” someone shouted.  Yeah…  Live in the desert long enough and all your symbols get screwed up. It’s pretty fun, actually, since it makes you take a fresh look at all your preconceptions – never a bad thing for a writer.

Speaking of being a writer…  The page proofs for Treecat Wars, my second collaboration with David Weber, came in on Saturday.  Page proofs are the pages of the book set up pretty much as they’ll be printed.  Reviewing proofs is the last stage in an author’s work on a book.  I never skip proofs.  Most of the time, everything is great, but there was the time I found that the first paragraph in every chapter of The Buried Pyramid had been left out.  I’ve found some other weird errors.  Most have crept in during production, usually the result of some odd keystroke globally changing the spelling of a word to some other word.

So, even in these days of computers – maybe especially in these days of computers – I don’t skip the proofs.  Yeah, I’d rather be writing on the sequel to Artemis Awakening, (still AA2, though I’m trying out different titles), but duty calls.  My plan is to do new writing in the morning and proofs in the afternoon.  Plans rarely work out, but, hey, you gotta have a plan, right?

I’ve come to think that every writer should have a garden, because gardens are a wonderful reminder that planning only goes so far.  After a slow start, our garden is taking off.  Monday morning I picked nine small ichiban eggplant and a substantial zucchini.  Jim picked about two cups of string beans.  We had stir fry for dinner.   I’m guessing we’ll have it again sometime around Thursday.  But I can only guess…  Zucchini, in particular, seem to go from “Nice, pick that in a few days” to “Holy cow!” faster than even a long-time gardener can predict.

Sunday we had a salad with our first tomato of the season as well as our own Swiss chard and radishes.  Cucumbers are behind schedule – but since when have we been able to predict them?  Some years they take over.  Some, like this, they poke along.

And then there are the mystery squash.  We couldn’t resist planting some squash seeds that came in fund raiser packet.  The package showed a variety of types – both summer and winter – that I recognized.  These don’t match any of the pictures.  Jim has been taking photos in to his office and consulting both the ethnobotanist and various other colleagues. The best advice so far has been, “Hmm…  Looks like a winter squash variety.  Sometimes those are better when picked young, before the rind gets too hard.  Why not just try one?”

So, we probably will…

It’s all very amusing.  Life is like that.  Rain to celebrate.  Symbolism to contemplate.  Jobs to do.  Gardens to enjoy.  Oh, yeah, and writing…  Always and forever, writing.  It’s what I do, and a large part of who I am.

Weeding and Writing

July 3, 2013

I’ve been very restrained this year.  It’s already July and I haven’t talked about my garden yet.  I’ll admit, part of the reason is because it was a very hot, very dry spring and the official start of summer wasn’t a lot better.  I wasn’t quite certain I  was going to have a garden to talk about.

Lilies and Trumpet Vine

Lilies and Trumpet Vine

However, a couple nights ago, we got our first measurable rain since May 10th.  True, it was only four hundredths of an inch.  (Yes.  That’s correct.)   However, it was rain.  Also, last Friday, we picked our first vegetable: a couple of red radishes.  Tuesday we picked our first couple of zucchinis and four ichiban eggplant.  I think we officially have a garden.

This isn’t to say we haven’t had a hard time of it.  We’ve lost three out of our eight tomato plants.  However, with the sort of whimsy only known to the garden goddess, we have quite a few volunteer tomato plants coming up in the narrow strip by our front sidewalk, probably from seeds that were in the grey water I watered with last year.  If this week cools off as predicted, I’ll transplant a few of these tomato plants elsewhere.  I just might leave a few more out front and see what they’ll do.  After all, last year, as some of you may remember, we ended up successfully raising cantaloupe there.  (See WW 8-08-13, if you’re interested in how this unlikely situation came about.)

We’ve also been struggling with our cucumbers and chard…  The catnip and Italian parsley seeds never did germinate…  However, that means I do have someplace to transplant some of my sweet and cinnamon basil seedlings.  These are coming up nicely, but the area they’re in is being shaded by a combination of desert four o’clock and oriental lilies.  These latter seem to think they’re supposed to be trees…

And, of course, there are weeds.  New Mexico specializes in wind, so even if we didn’t fertilize with manure and other organic material that contains seeds, we’d still have weeds.  This year, perhaps because their less fortunate relatives are not germinating at all (the majority of our yard – where we don’t water – looks like a sandbox), the weeds in our garden beds are sprouting with rare vigor. And that means weeding.

Sandy soil means that weeding is relatively easy.  Additionally, our guinea pigs like some of the weeds (grass, young tumbleweed, and wild portulaca are all favorites), so there’s an added incentive.  Nonetheless, I end up feeling a bit sorry for the weeds.

And so, to distract myself, I find myself thinking about writing and how writing is very much like gardening.  For one, as I have noted elsewhere (WW 1-27-10 and WW 5-16-12), preparing the foundation is important, otherwise, your story is not going to grow strong.

Then, as with my volunteer tomato plants, you need to be open to ideas that sprout up where you didn’t plan for them to go.  Maybe they’re just fine where they are.  Maybe they need to be transplanted.  Either way, they shouldn’t be ignored or destroyed simply because they weren’t part of your original plan.  Sometimes the best ideas are volunteers.

And then there is weeding…  Sometimes, hard as it is, you need to get rid of things that don’t belong in the story at all.  Often, as with weeds in a garden, these ideas may be lush and strong, but they may also be choking to death the rest of the tale, stealing water and nutrients that are needed by what you started out to grow in the first place.

Worse, some weeds look a whole lot like the plants they’re competing with.  This morning I pulled a lot of wild mallow.  Especially in the early stages, these look so much like hollyhocks that I’ve heard them called “wild hollyhocks.”  But, if you’re hoping to grow hollyhocks, mallow won’t do.  It’s strong and tough, and it’s going to kill the rest of your story…  I mean, the rest of your plants.

Learning to tell what’s a valuable volunteer and what’s a strangling weed takes practice, both in gardening and in writing.  Sometimes the only difference is whether or not that plant (or idea) is what you need, where you need it.  Figuring this out often requires going back to your original vision and deciding how far from that plan you want to deviate.

And remember, hard as it may be to pull those weeds, when you’re looking at your strong, well-focused, and dynamic story, you’re not going to regret it in the least.

So is it silver bells and cockles shells and pretty maids all in a row?  What do you writers and readers like in your garden of prose?

Accidental Christmas Tree

December 19, 2012

Last week I mentioned that because of our rambunctious kitten, Persephone, Jim and I weren’t planning on having a Christmas tree.  Turns out we ended up with one after all.  The story begins in the spring of 1996.

Oh, Christmas Tree!

Oh, Christmas Tree!

When I moved into this house a few weeks before Christmas 1995, the yard was a wasteland.  On the east side there were two rose bushes, both dying.  On the west side only a single scraggly juniper shrub tucked back in the far south corner survived.  I say “survived” rather than “was growing” very deliberately.  This juniper was so small and bent that we assumed it was one of the miniature, ground-hugging varieties.

In the Spring, Jim took a pruning saw to the juniper and removed about ninety percent.  We didn’t dig out the stump then because we had a lot to do elsewhere.  Anyhow, we figured the job would be easier if we waited until the plant finished dying.  A strange thing happened, though.  Without any further care, the juniper kept living.  Given the general condition of our yard, we left it alone and worked on parts of the yard closer to the house.

Occasionally, we’d toss a little mulch back there.  We planted a water-hardy chaste bush behind the juniper, figuring that it could take over when the juniper died.  The juniper didn’t die, though.  Maybe the little bit of water we gave the chaste bush had something to do with the juniper’s survival, but I firmly believe that the real reason was that plant was just determined to keep going.

As the years went by, the little juniper began to fill out.  Back-dropped by the chaste bush, it gave us some silvery green in the far end of the yard.  However, I didn’t realize just how big the juniper had become until just a few days ago.  I was looking out our bedroom window, enjoying the antics of the birds as they hopped on the ice to drink from our little pond.   The exodus of a bunch of juncos toward the back of the yard drew my attention to the corner.

To my astonishment, a Christmas tree stood there.  It was a bit oddly shaped – more as if one of Tolkien’s Ents decided to masquerade as a Christmas tree, rather than the classic living room ornament –  but it was green, at least eight feet tall, and had the right shape: high in the middle, tapering down along the edges.

“Jim!  The juniper’s turned into a Christmas tree!”

Jim wandered over.  “You’re right.  We should get some ornaments.”

And we did.  We purchased  a container of weather-hardy ornaments, bright in silver, gold, red, and green.   There were enough to decorate the desert willow outside the office window, too.  The long seed pods provide a sort of natural tinsel.

It’s very festive.  And it’s very nice to have a Christmas tree (or two)  after all…