Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

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 1996.  In 1997, 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.

Virtual Bubonicon and a Couple of FAQ

August 26, 2020

Prickly But Lovely!

I really thought that once I finished SK4 and turned the manuscript over to David Weber (which I did last Wednesday afternoon), I’d be taking a break.  Instead, a short story idea leapt out from the underbrush and insisted on being written.  I’m still working on that now, so today’s WW will feature a couple of updates.

Bubonicon is going virtual this year, and I’m on one of the live panels.  The topic is “Creating Worlds: Fun With Flora & Fauna.”

Here’s the description:  “Okay, you’ve created your alien world. How difficult is it to fill with believable flora and fauna? Is it necessary for most or all of the fauna to be predators? Do all the plants need teeth, poison, or strangling vines? Yes, heroes need problems to overcome, but do we fill our worlds with flora and fauna for the purposes of entertaining the reader or to make everything more believable? “

We’re on at 6:00 pm, Saturday, August 25th.   Attendance is free.  For more information check out their website.

Ever since Wolf’s Search came out, and even more since Wolf’s Soul came out, I’ve been repeatedly asked a couple of the same questions.   (If you haven’t heard about Wolf’s Search and Wolf’s Soul, the two new Firekeeper novels, there is a lot of information on my newly updated website: www.janelindskold.com.)

Q: I want a hard cover.  Where can I get one? 

A: For now, you can’t.  If you prefer print to e-books, you do have the option of purchasing trade paperbacks via Amazon.com.

However, if there is sufficient interest in hard cover editions, I’ve spoken with a small press publisher who has agreed to work with me. One option would be an omnibus volume featuring both novels.  Another would be separate volumes, with maybe the option of a slipcase.  One thing.  Since I would be working with a small press, these would not be cheap.  They would be pretty, though…

Q: Are the Firekeeper books available as audiobooks?

A: No, they are not, nor do I intend to do them as such myself, even though I have been assured I am an excellent reader.  If you are interested in audiobooks of the Firekeeper Saga, the best way to get them is to approach the audiobook publisher of your choice and express your interest.

Firekeeper pack member Michelle Marks recently did this.  She made an appeal to other Firekeeper fans in a Comment on my Facebook page.  I’m taking the liberty of sharing her post here:

“Hi all. If any of you wish to lend your voice to mine and request the Firekeeper series on Audible, you can e-mail the request to content-requests@audible.com. I would love to share this series with those in my family who prefer Audiobooks. I e-mailed them today and they have sent an initial response but the more requests we have, the more likely it will be to happen. Thanks for your time!” 

Remember, publishers rarely listen to authors (because it is assumed we love our books), but they will listen to readers (who it is assumed will spend money on a product).  Speak out!  If I’m approached by an audiobook company who offers to pay me for the rights to make audiobooks, I’ll definitely be receptive.  (I’m an audiobook fan myself.)

On that note, I’m going to go finish writing my story.  Since it’s a space western, today’s photo is of the magnificent prickly pear in our side yard!  Tune in next week for some chat about the craft of writing!

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!

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.

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

Microcosmic Drama

June 17, 2020

Teeny-Tiny Toad (actual size 1/4 inch)

Jim and I have a very small pond in our yard: 125 gallons empty, a lot less water when one accounts for displacement from plants (blue pickerel weed, aquatic plantain, underwater grass) and the dirt they hold, creating a little marshy section at one end.

Nonetheless, it has become the key element in the miniature ecosystem that is our yard.  One of the many native creatures that benefits from it are New Mexico Spadefoot toads.  This year, we have an ebullient population of tadpoles that are in the process of turning into toads.

The toadlings are super tiny (less than a quarter inch) and easily mistaken for insects.  Until we started watching them go through the various stages from black dots to “Hey, I have legs!”, I never realized all the hazards they face.

Monday morning, I saw a teeny-tiny toad hopping from boulder to boulder that is the small gravel around our pond.  I scooped it up, intending to either to either place it back into the water or into shelter under one of the spreading squash leaves.  To my horror and astonishment, I discovered that it was being attacked by ants.

Not big ants either.  Two really little ones.  One ant each had grabbed each hair-sized hind leg (actually, hair-sized is probably too large) and was holding fast.  Being on the side of the toads, I dropped the toadling into the pond, where it succeeded in kicking loose the ants and diving under a lily leaf.

I think I’ll lower the water level a few inches to keep ambitious toadlings from hopping out until they’re a wee bit larger.

Yeah.  I can’t save them all or the world.  I know ants need to eat, too, but there’s plenty for the ants to eat without eating toads.

Silly?  Sure.  But then, I write books for a living.  Do you expect me not to be silly?