Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

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:

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

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 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?

Bitten Off, Coming Back

May 2, 2020

Frost-blackened Accented with Renewal Green

We’ve had a warm spring, which meant that a lot of our perennials started leafing out on the early side.  Then, in mid-April, we had just enough of a frost that many tender leaves were killed.

Sometimes, even if a plant is well-established, a sudden chill like this can kill not just the leaves, but limbs.  Sometimes you can lose the entire plant.

Jim and I have been watching carefully and, as of today, we have seen evidence that although we lost leaves, we haven’t lost any plants.  Yay!

Pictured is our pomegranate shrub.  Whether or not we get fruit will be the next question, because pomegranates produce leaves first, then flowers, then fruit.  (Unlike, say, cherries or apricots, which flower before they leaf out.)  Our pomegranates usually need the length of the summer to ripen, and this year they’ll be getting a late start.

But the shrub survived.  That’s what’s important.  We’ll rejoice at the leaves, hope for the flowers, dream of the fruit to come.

Thyme For Irony

April 22, 2020

Pink Chintz Thyme

I’ve had a twist in my stay-at-home, work-from-home, whatever you want to call it, lifestyle.  Before I tell you about that, an update.

The cover for Wolf’s Soul,  the sequel to Wolf’s Search, is still not right, so I’ve ordered Proof Three.  So I don’t bore the folks who tuned in last week, here’s a link to a mysterious masked writer and a copy of Proof One.

I’m thinking about using the proofs as one-of-a-kind giveaways.  Does that sound interesting?

(If you’re really eager, sign up for my mailing list, because at least one giveaway is going to be exclusively offered there.  There’s a link on my website.)

So, now for the twist….

I’ve been very careful about self-isolation because I have allergy-related asthma.  For five days of the week, not much changed.  My office is in my home.  I work for myself.  Jim is retired and took over most of the errands about a year ago.

Weekends changed, absolutely.  That’s when Jim and I would go out, see friends, host our gaming group.  Going anywhere or having guests ended for me over a month ago.

This year, maybe because of our wet (for us) winter, allergens are at a high level.  So despite my being careful, my asthma ramped up.  About two weeks ago, I had to add a medication that has taken about half my voice.  The half that remains sounds as if I’ve swallowed a rusty scrubbing pad.

Okay.  Maybe not that bad.  Well, not all the time.  However, if I talk for more than a few sentences, my throat gets tight.  So here I am, now properly self-isolated because I can’t even take a phone call without scaring the person on the other end.

But I’ll manage.

Two more weeks to go on the meds (which are helping a lot) and I should be back to what passes for normal.  Meantime, our gaming group is now experimenting with meeting on-line via Zoom.  When we did, I kept the hot drinks on tap and managed all right but, later, my throat called me a few choice names.

So there you have it.

Oh, the picture?  That’s pink chintz creeping thyme.  To me creeping thyme is a great plant to illustrate irony because—ironically—it doesn’t much mind being stepped on.

Or maybe I should think of it as a thyme of fortitude.  Yeah, I like that!

Okay, I’m off to romp with the treecats.  The yet untitled Star Kingdom novel 4 (in collaboration with David Weber) is taking shape and I want to see what happens next.  Later!

Seeds of Hope

April 8, 2020

On The Edge of Hope

If there ever was a hobby—or craft or skill or activity, whatever you want to call it—that is based around hope it has to be…

No.  Not writing. (Although there are days…)

No.  I’m talking about Gardening.

There’s a traditional rhyme about why you plant four seeds.

One for the blackbird

One for the crow

One to rot

And one to grow

There are a lot of variations of this rhyme.  I’ve heard “mouse” instead of “blackbird.”  Or “pigeon.”  Or even “farmer.”  Or “for the wind” rather than “to rot.” But the message is always the same.  Plant four times what you hope to end up with, because three-quarters of your effort will not benefit you personally.

I know that every garden I plan is—when looked at statistically—a preordained failure.  Nonetheless, I keep on planting.  Four times the seeds.  Extra plants.  This past weekend, we planted the containers that will hold flowers.  Since my allergy-related asthma has been revved up, I spread a tarp on the kitchen table, and brought the window boxes inside.

Last night, waking up in the dark hours, I realized I’d seriously over-planted marigold seeds, even by the guidelines of the aforementioned verse.  Oh, well.  If too many come up, I can always transplant them and give marigold plants to my friends, right?

As you can see from the picture, my new copy of DreamForge magazine arrived this week.  I think editor Scot Noel must have precognition because, long before the current national emergency, he had chosen “Tales On the Edge of Hope” as the theme for this issue.

What people miss so often is that there are two things we call by the word “hope.”  There is the dangerous hope, what you might call a gambler’s hope.  Roll the dice and hope for the best.  Believe things will get better, but don’t do anything to assure that they will.

This last sort of “hope” is typified by the “gardener” who tosses seeds in unprepared soil or in where there is too much or too little light.  Then forgets to water.  Then floods.  And says, “I hope I get some nice tomatoes this year…”

Call it hope, but you know what it really is, don’t you?  It’s wishful thinking.

The hope I advocate isn’t some light fluffy warm-and-fuzzy belief in the best.  Real hope is a fighter.  Hope is facing that you’ll plant four seeds, get one plant—and even that plant might not make it.  Hope is doing what it takes to tilt the odds in your favor.  Hope builds a lighthouse, draws maps, patches the roof. Hope says “What four seeds I can plant to assure that I have flowers and fruit?”

Don’t be fooled by wishful thinking. Make the real hope your battle cry.

As Green Leaves Fall

November 13, 2019

Autumn Has Arrived!

Although the ash tree in our front yard changes color, one of the weirdest things about autumn in New Mexico is how many trees shed green leaves.  Imprinting as I did on autumns where leaves turned red or yellow, sometimes brown, then dropped off the trees, walking through my yard and scuffing my feet through green leaves still feels subtly wrong, even after more years in New Mexico than I lived in D.C.

Many of the leaves that stay green are from trees that are not native.  Mulberries, in particular, tend to drop massive quantities of dark green leaves, often within a few hours.  Native plants, by contrast, tend to go brown, then quietly lose leaves a few at a time.

At this moment, we’re pretty much done with our garden.  We have a few determined radishes, which we’ve framed with bricks to help retain some daytime heat in the hope that they’ll continue to grow.  Otherwise, it’s clean-up time.  This was a great year for wild asters.  By the end of summer, it was hard to walk in the yard without pushing them aside.  Many of the plants grew over five feet tall.

Jim’s been pulling them, and after making several shirts unwearable because of the amount of aster seeds that stuck to the fabric, he’s decided to dedicate one shirt to this job.  He’s also dug our first compost trench, and a lot of these plants will go in there to become the basis for next year’s soil.

Hmmm… This reminds me…  Now that we’ve had frost, we really need to dig the Jerusalem artichoke tubers.  We store these in a bucket of loose dirt.  Over the next couple of months, we’ll add them raw to salads, or toss them in to bake with chicken.  Raw, they have a texture a lot like water chestnuts; cooked, the texture is more like a cooked carrot.

As our surroundings shift from summer into autumn, with a few days that distinctly feel like winter, I’m shifting from writing to editing, with some forays into research and development.  Wolf’s Soul has now been read through by me twice (once on my computer, once printed out and marked with a red pencil).  I’m currently making hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of small changes.  Then Jim get his reading copy.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the next Stephanie Harrington novel.  (For those of you who missed the news, David Weber and I have signed contracts to write three more.)  Weber and I have worked out the main plot element.  Much of my creative process right now involves working slowly backwards, creating story elements, especially about characters, that will help make the story “real” to me.

It’s fun.  Demanding, but the sort of challenge I really like.  I see a trip to the library in my immediate future…  But first, more manuscript grooming.  Catch you later!