Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

Triskadekaphobic Beware

January 18, 2023
Coco Contemplates

Why?  This week marks the thirteenth anniversary of these Wednesday Wanderings.

Once again, despite deadlines, deaths, doom, and destruction, I haven’t missed a week.

This year, I’ve been happy to announce the release of three new books: Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan (with David Weber).  I’ve also let you know as my backlist releases expanded, most recently with cult favorite, Child of a Rainless Year.  I’ve alerted you to on-line interviews, and where I’ll be showing up in person.

You’ve been among the first to know about upcoming releases, such as the third “Over Where” novel, House of Rough Diamonds, which is scheduled for October of 2023.

And you get to hear about what I’m working on as well.  This week, I’m still immersed in the page proofs for the mass market edition of A New Clan, as well as writing on SK5.

But I’ve also shared my garden with you, including experiments with growing tomatoes in increasingly hot summers.  And my various craft projects.  And sometimes just plain odd things (like the word “triskadekaphobia”).

My non-human co-residents, both ostensibly domesticated (cats, guinea pigs, fish) and ostensibly wild (lots of birds, the occasional rabbit, lots of lizards) have made repeated appearances.  If you want a weekly hit of animal cuteness along with an update about whatever I’ve reading, check out the Friday Fragments.

Oh, and I do talk about writing, especially when some new element occurs to me or someone presents me with a really neat question.  Some past bits on writing are included in my book Wanderings on Writing, which is definitely not a “how to” book, but more in the way of a bunch of short essays talking about various aspects of writing as an art, a craft, and a lifestyle.

This year, I hope to continue along that course… I welcome questions, either on individual posts or about topics you might enjoy hearing me wander on about.  I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer all of them, but I can promise to try.

Now, a little about how Stephanie and Karl made it back to Sphinx, then off to work on those proofs!


Always Something New

December 7, 2022
Jerusalem artichoke tubers

This last week, I took a break and went out to dig up our Jerusalem artichokes.  We’ve been growing these for a good number of years, having gotten the tubers from my friend, Sally Gwylan.

This year, I was astonished to find the large clump featured in the picture.  Actually, it was even larger when I pulled it out, but a fair number of tubers fell free. 

One of the reasons I enjoy gardening is that there are constant surprises, often good ones.

I enjoy writing for much the same reason.

And, with that in mind, I think I’ll go write.

Jerusalem artichoke plants

Rocks On!

November 16, 2022
Cobbles, Coyote, and Puerco Real

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Jim and I had scored a very large amount of chipped and shredded wood mulch.  We moved somewhere between ninety and a hundred garden carts of it to our back yard, and spread as much as we could without interfering with plants that hadn’t yet died back for the winter.

As our temperatures drop (we’ve hit the low twenties) and the summer plants die back, we’re slowly finishing spreading the mulch.  As we finish up an area, we’re also placing and replacing the river cobbles we use as garden borders.

You might wonder why, given how hot our climate can be, especially in summer (last summer’s high was a relative cool 107 F), do we landscape with rocks?

It may seem odd, but our river cobbles help our local ecology in several ways.  One of the most obvious is helping direct moisture, both when we get rain, and when we water.  But rocks can also serve to help ameliorate our temperature shifts, which routinely shift at least 30 degrees between night and day, and not uncommonly shift 40 degrees or even 50.

Years ago, Jim and I planted a Tuscan Blue rosemary.  Initially, it did well, but then it began to fail.

“Give it a rock,” said our friend Erich.  “It will help the rosemary deal with temperatures shifts.”  We were dubious, but we did.  The Tuscan Blue rosemary is still with us, still thriving.

The use of rocks as a means of retaining moisture and managing temperature shifts goes way back.  Jim has excavated sites going back 700 or more years, where the indigenous population created “waffle gardens” where river cobbles were often used to border gardens, sometimes covering much of the surface area.  There are also examples of gravel mulched gardens as well.

So, as I crawl around my yard, moving river cobbles here and there, not only am I creating visual accents, I’m helping the wild plants to thrive, and participating in a longstanding gardening tradition.

Pretty cool, right?

More Mulch

November 2, 2022
Spoor of the Mulch Mole

Last week, we got a call from a local tree service, asking if we could use some mulch.  I’d been reading Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon), a Beauty and the Beast retelling in which the “Beauty” is a gardener.  I was in the mood for mulch.  And while I did not have a Beast to help with the shoveling, an archeologist is nearly as good.

Ninety or so garden carts later, I will admit, Jim and I are much less in the mood for mulch.  Our back yard will soon be lightly quilted in a variation of shredded, chipped, and sometimes nearly sawdust wood matter, leaves, and in some instances dirt and gravel, probably scraped up from someone’s landscaping.  Hey, it’s free, so you can’t expect it all perfectly shifted and graded.

However, at this moment, much of the yard rather looks as if we’ve been visited by a very large, very strange mole.

I’ve finally caught up on a great deal of the paperwork and other chores I’d let lie fallow while finishing House of Rough Diamonds, the stand-alone sequel to this year’s new releases Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge.

I have a couple ideas for short stories.  Maybe I’ll see about writing one of those next.

Frost Warning

October 26, 2022
Last Blooms

Back date: Monday.  Wind is up and rattling the windowpanes.  Frost warning for tonight, so I’ve been darting out to pick and cut.  The flowers are some of our late season zinnias, with a few random marigolds.

We have some green tomatoes to pick, a few peppers, a single eggplant, about three inches long.  I’m always reluctant to pick, because a freeze here might not kill the plant, and we’ve been known to go to mid-November before we get a decisive killing frost.

On the other hand, that wind is cold.  Green tomatoes will sometimes ripen, and even it they don’t, I have a great green tomato cake recipe.  I also have a great green tomato relish recipe, but I don’t think we’ll have enough for that this year.

This summer we experimented with a couple of new varieties of tomato from Native Seed Search: Punta Banda and Texas Wild.  Both were small varieties.  Punta Banda’s largest fruit was maybe golf ball-sized.  Texas Wild were very small, but with a delightful smokey sweet flavor.  They handled our hot summer pretty well, slowing down when we hit 105, but recovering much more quickly than other varieties did when temperatures dropped into the high nineties.

Most of our green tomatoes will come from a volunteer San Marzano I put in as a filler when we had a gap in one of the rows.  This didn’t handle the heat well, but when temperatures dropped to the low nineties, it really took off.  I’m almost reluctant to pick, because if the cold snap passes, these could continue to ripen.

On the other hand, if we do get that freeze…

Update: Tuesday.  Hit 28 last night.  Most of our vegetable plants are gone.  Birdbath froze.  Some of the local plants are still thriving.  Often proximity to a source of radiant heat (like the side of the house), or shelter from the wind (ditto) proved to be a contributing factor.

Y’know,  being a professional writer is hardly the world’s most predictable, profitable, or stable profession, but compared to gardening, it’s practically punch clock regular!

Autumnal Wanderings

October 12, 2022
Maximillian Sunflowers

Thanks to all the kind souls who came out in the rain, dealt with nearly impossible parking, and joined me at Beastly Books this last Saturday for my book event.  I enjoyed the chance to spend time with you all.  A reminder: Beastly Books specializes in autographed books.  They also do mail order.

In addition to an amazing collection of works by the store’s owner, George R.R. Martin, there is an increasing selection of works by other authors.  Consider Beastly Books this holiday season, when you’re stuck on a unique gift for the readers on your list.  And, yes, I signed stock, and so several of my titles will be available, as soon as they can get them on their website.

Rain isn’t really usual here in north-central New Mexico at this time of year.  We often get just enough to annoy the people visiting for Balloon Fiesta, but not enough to shut things down.  Jim and I didn’t have a lot overall, but probably all the little rain showers added up to about eight-tenths of an inch.

Temperatures are now dropping into the low-forties, mid-fifties at night, with daytime highs in the seventies and eighties.  Basically, this is one of the best times of the year.  However, the rain is really ramping up the allergens, so Jim and I are doing a lot of sneezing.

Our garden has slowed way down, but we still have enough to accent our meals.  The arugula, which had gotten very, very spicy during the hottest part of the year, is now mellowing—although the older leaves can pack a real bite.  The rain helped our late planting of radishes to develop, and I have some hope for the languishing carrots.

We have some flowers, too.  Featured in the photo are Maximillian sunflowers.  This plant produces a rhizome, not unlike that of a Jerusalem artichoke.  They tend to handle our hot, dry climate fairly well, as long as they get some extra water at the hottest time of the year.  A bonus is that they tend to start flowering in late summer, early autumn, when many other plants are fading.

It’s a nice time of the year…  Very inspirational.  I think I’ll go see what inspiration may bring!

Rats, But No Rain

August 31, 2022
Me and Sheila Finch on “Worlds Apart” Panel

Bubonicon weekend went very well but, except for a few sprinkles, we didn’t get our hoped-for rain.  This meant that we’d come home from a really busy day and needed to spot-water the suffering greenery. Then in the morning, before we set off for another really busy day, we’d be out there watering, or harvesting, or simply being amazed at what had happened while we were gone. 

It’s that time of year in New Mexico.

The mood at Bubonicon this year was one of merriment and hilarity, with an undercurrent of melancholy as we had to face that Roslee would not be there behind the table in the art show (but Kathy Kubica did a great job) or fans who’d become friends like Wanda June Alexander and Kevin Zander wouldn’t come wandering over to catch up.  And, oh my, were the panels sadder for Sally and John and Jan and others not being there to offer comments.

So, we were blessed beyond all hope by having as our featured stars four people who seemed determined to make us laugh, as they took on a ton of panels.  I had the pleasure of being on one panel with co-writer GOH Rae Carson, who managed to be thoughtful and very silly at the same time.  I didn’t get to be on a panel with our other writer GOH, Keith R.A. DeCandido, but I did get to let him know I’d discovered we just missed each other as students at Fordham.

Artist GOH, Chaz Kemp was stylish, cool, wise, and funny, whether when on a panel or hosting his table in the Dealer’s room.  And Toastmaster A. Lee Martinez, who I’d met a long while back when he published his first novel (Gil’s All Fright Diner) which both Jim and I loved, reminded me of that meeting and credited me with a lot more wisdom than I ever knew I had.  Thanks, Lee.

I was thrilled to hear from the con’s official booksellers, Who Else Books, that they’d sold out of Library of the Sapphire Wind, and were rapidly running out of Aurora Borealis Bridge.  Please, folks!  Give them and all the other booksellers an excuse to order a lot more.  The future of Over Where isn’t in the hands of Meg, Peg, and Teg—it’s in yours.

And you’ll do yourself a favor, too.  As I discovered when I did my reading and none of those who’d heard me read the same bit before at ASFS walked out, these are books that are not only worth reading, they’re fun to re-read, too.

My panels seemed to be focused this year on the nuts and bolts of writing: world building; the complexities of writing epic fantasy; the ups and downs of the writer/editor relationship.  Putting all this to the test, I joined SnackWrites once again.  I might even share some of my five-minute stories one of these days, if anyone reads far enough in the WW to make a request.

We went without meals to go to various readings, ate too many meals to hang out with friends.  Pity the scale didn’t average this out.  But seriously, I have a whole new appreciation of how readings may be the secret pleasure of a convention.

Now we’re back home, riding herd on the burgeoning tomato army, and finally able to settle in and write for a bit.  I finished a very rough draft of the next Over Where novel, House of Rough Diamonds, just a couple hours before departing for Bubonicon.  Now to go back and start polishing the words.  The diamonds will stay rough.  Wonder why?  You’ll get your chance to learn that in just a bit!

Zinnias! Book Event!

August 17, 2022
Just Add Water…

Possibly the only thing that can compete for colorfulness with the zinnias growing alongside our front sidewalk are Tom Kidd’s cover art for my new books, Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge.

I’ll be doing a book event this coming Saturday, August 20, 2022, at Noon, at Half Price Books Flagship store in Dallas, Texas.  (5803 E. NW Highway Dallas, Texas, 7532).  Copies of Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan (the fourth Star Kingdom book, with David Weber) will be available.

The schedule for the event includes my giving a brief talk and reading, followed by a question-and-answer session.  Then I’ll sign books.  I’m always happy to sign my older works as well, but you might want to check with the bookstore in advance, as policies regarding books not purchased at the store do vary.

I’ll also have goodies to give away, including bookmarks, post cards, and some very cool buttons featuring the cover art for A New Clan.  Even though David Weber won’t be there, I have stickers that he has signed, so that those of you purchasing A New Clan can have it signed by both authors.

Hope to see some of you there!


Green Tomato Stage

August 10, 2022
Green Turning Red

Right now, I think I’m at the green tomato stage of my current book.  Like the tomatoes in this picture, it started as a tiny seed.  Now, as I’m almost done with my rough draft, it’s shiny and bright and full of potential, but needs a lot of ripening.

Aside for the gardeners among us: The tomatoes in the photo are Punta Banda, the seeds of which I purchased from Native Seed Search, as part of my quest to find tomatoes that would handle the very high temperatures we’ve been having.  As you can see, they’ve done very well.  Our high this summer has been 107F, so slightly cooler than the last two summers, where we peaked at 112F.  We had a brutally hot May, followed by an early onset monsoon that helped a bit.  Temperatures have settled into a, for us, relatively moderate high 90’s to low 100’s, and Punta Banda seems to love this.

If you want to know more about tomatoes, ask in the Comments, and I shall happily natter on.

As to the book…  I started my rough draft about a year ago, but I had a considerable number of interruptions, including dealing with editor’s notes on A New Clan (the fourth Star Kingdom book, written in collaboration with David Weber), producing new e-book editions of Artemis Awakening and Artemis Invaded, writing the short story “Fire-Bright Rain” (a prequel telling what happened when the Library of the Sapphire Wind was destroyed), working on a new e-book edition of Child of a Rainless Year.

I also did a lot of promotional work for my three new book releases: Library of the Sapphire Wind, Aurora Borealis Bridge, and A New Clan.

In January, after the holidays and final revisions to A New Clan, I immersed myself in my current novel.  I realized that I needed to shift one of the major elements of the plot, and once I did that, the characters started doing things, and I started merrily writing away.

Then, in February, I had Covid.  One of the odd ways it hit me was that I couldn’t use any back-lit devices, especially computer screens, without getting a headache.  What did I do?  I shifted to handwriting, which I actually enjoy.  I stayed in this mode for several weeks.  When I could bear the computer screen for more than a short while, I typed up what I had written.

I have great hopes I’ll get a lot closer to the end of the manuscript this week, so I’m off to find out what happens next!

Toadaly True Encounter

July 27, 2022
Signing at Poisoned Pen… (but first, toad encounter)

On my way out to pick liana beans, I went into the garage for a bag.  As I paused in the laundry room (right off the garage) to do a few things, I heard a very gentle thump from the door into the garage.  I opened it, looked down, and discovered a medium-sized toad sitting on the doorsill, waiting to be let in.

During the hottest part of the day, we often open the garage door just a few inches, so air will circulate and some of the heat will bleed off.  Obviously, the toad had come in then, and had spent the night in the garage.  Now that the garage door was closed, it wanted to leave and had politely knocked—probably because it was too short to reach the controls.

Mildly astonished (this happened once before, years ago), I gathered up the toad and carried it to our backyard, which offers much living better conditions for a toad. For the duration of the summer, we have resolved to leave the garage door open just a little during the day, so any venturesome toads don’t cook when the temperatures rise.

(We’ve been pretty routinely hitting a high of 105.  Since this is cooler than the high of 112 we hit in July the last couple of years, we’re not complaining.)

The bunny continues to reside in the yard.  It is getting bigger.  It also has a friend, a much smaller bunny who probably came through the same mysterious gap in the fence.  We will do our best to relocate them but, for now, thanks to the monsoon rains, there is more than enough natural forage for them, and they’re not dining on our veggies.

The first bunny has become, if not tame, at least less inclined to immediately run for cover when it sees us.  Hopefully we’ll be able to eventually herd it out through the gate.

As mentioned in the caption, the picture above is from my recent book event at Poisoned Pen.  Much praise to Patrick King, who put in a lot of advanced work on his interview questions, so that we had a lively and non-generic chat.  You can view the interview here.

I’m reaching the final stages of my current rough draft (set in the world of Library of the Sapphire Wind and Aurora Borealis Bridge), and am eager to find out exactly how the story will resolve itself.  The characters have dropped a few hints, but one of the things I really like about writing is watching exactly how the resolution ends up happening.