Archive for the ‘Wildlife’ Category

Skinny Has Friends!

May 15, 2019

Skinny Shares Lunch With A Friend

Our co-resident Skinny the thrasher has been expanding his social circle!  As I told you in a Wandering about a month ago, we first met Skinny when he was using our bird block as a source of food during his struggle to survive after being orphaned.  He has since claimed our yard as his territory.  Until this spring, Skinny didn’t seem to have many friends, but now things are changing.

Last week, we saw Skinny not only sharing “his” bird block with another thrasher, but actively feeding it.  We think, but aren’t certain, that Skinny’s friend is a juvenile.  However, some courting behaviors mimic parent/child behaviors.  Our guess is based on how, in the photos Jim took, the bird being fed seems to have a shorter, less curved beak, which is one of the few ways young thrashers differ from fully mature.  If so, then Skinny may have a family.  Adult thrashers take turns minding the nest and the young, which might explain why we haven’t seen two adults foraging together the way we did the two thrashers we assume were Skinny’s parents.

Skinny has also come to something of an agreement with P.F., the cottontail who likes to hop up on the bird block and stuff himself.  Possibly because an earlier incarnation saved his life, Skinny considers the bird block “his.”  Although he has never seemed to mind sharing it with the sparrows, finches, quail, and doves, he was not happy to have this large, furry creature plop himself on top and munch away.

However, last week, Jim got pictures of P.F. and Skinny sharing the bird block.  This doesn’t mean they don’t still compete from time to time.  We’ve seen Skinny sneak up on P.F. and poke him right on his fuzzy rump.  And we’ve seen P.F. launch himself for the top of the block, never mind who else is there.  All in all, Skinny seems the more territorial, while P.F. is simply opportunist.

Skinny and P.F. Have A Lunch Date

Our toads are also back, and our teeny-tiny pond is once again hosting both nightly singalongs and copious quantities of tadpoles.  We saw one of last year’s tadpoles perched on the edge of the pond, contemplating whether he could manage to leap down into the water.  Hey, four inches is a long way when you’re only about half an inch tall!

Wolf’s Search is now off to the copy editor, and I’m reviewing Wolf’s Soul before moving along to writing the conclusion.  Time to curl up with a stack of paper and a red pencil or three.  Catch you later!


Easter Bunnies and Beta Readers

April 17, 2019

PF As The Easter Bunny

First, a follow-up to last week’s WW about Skinny the Thrasher.  The day after I wrote about Skinny’s rivalry with PF the Cottontail Rabbit for access to the bird block, we spotted them both eating from the block at the same time.  If we see them again, we’ll try for a picture.  In the meantime, as we lead into Easter, here’s a picture of PF as the Easter Bunny!

As some of you already know, last week a short post on my FB and Twitter feeds accidentally triggered something I feel is only courteous to address in more than a few sentences.

When I posted a brief comment about how I’d just realized that I’d forgotten to put chapter breaks into the manuscript of Wolf’s Search that I’d sent to my secret beta readers, I expected to be teased about my forgetfulness.  What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of requests for information about how to become one of my beta readers.  Some requests were from people I recognized as long-time readers, but others were from people for whom this was the first time I remembered seeing a comment.

When these requests continued, even after I’d responded in the Comments, I decided I’d better explain.

Here’s the short answer.  You probably cannot become a beta reader for me.  Unlike some authors, I don’t solicit comments about my work from the general readership.  I never have.  I am not likely to change.  My first reader has always been my husband.  After Jim, I usually ask a few friends for feedback.  Who these are varies widely, according to the project.

(If you’re still interested in why I work this way, read on…)

For example, one of the people I asked to read the manuscript of Asphodel was Alan Robson, with whom I collaborated on the Thursday Tangents for close to seven years.  From our many discussions, public and not, I knew that Asphodel was the sort of book Alan didn’t usually read.  When he read it and liked it, my feeling that I had something special in Asphodel was reinforced.

For Wolf’s Search, you’d probably be surprised to learn that none of my secret beta readers were fanatical about the series.  One hadn’t even read the last several books.  This was because I wanted to make sure that Wolf’s Search could serve as a “gateway book” into the series.  (Admittedly one with some spoilers, but still more a stand-alone novel than otherwise.)

Yes.  I do know some authors regularly send out copies to beta readers who are strangers or rabid fans of the series.  For some authors, especially those writing long series with long, long books, this helps them to catch continuity errors so they can focus on the new material.  For others, I am sad to say (based on hearing them say this), soliciting beta readers is merely a marketing ploy – an attempt to make readers feel they have been part of the writing process, even if they have not.

Maybe my attitude toward showing a book before it is polished was influenced by my relationship early in my writing career with Roger Zelazny.  Roger generally didn’t share his completed manuscripts with anyone except his editor.  When he did, he usually had a specific reason, up to and including impulsiveness.  (Full disclosure: I read the manuscripts of his last several novels well before publication.)  Roger also didn’t belong to any writers groups.  Hard as it is to believe in these days when social media makes it seem as if every writer shares everything, including deleted scenes and false starts, there are many writers who want their readers to see only the finished story.

More likely my choice then and now to keep unfinished drafts to myself is simply one of the many ways that Roger and I were alike.  Writing for me is not a collaborative process.  I don’t belong to writers’ groups because comments on a work in progress would stall me, not encourage me.  Even Jim doesn’t hear much about a story until it has been completed.  And after the work is completed, a very few readers are all I need to assure me that I haven’t missed some really obvious error.

Writers are very different in what they need.  I am the type of writer I am.  I hope you will not be offended if I continue as I have for these twenty-five or so years that I have been offering you my stories and unveil my works only when they are complete.

Skinny the Thrasher

April 10, 2019

Not Quite So Skinny Skinny

The last thing we expected when we impulse-bought a bird block at Costco was that we would save the life of an orphaned thrasher.

When I first spotted him tearing into the block, my first thought was “That’s the skinniest bird I’ve ever seen!”  My second thought was “Could that be a thrasher?  It’s too small!”  But the bright eye and the distinctive curved beak were visible, as was the energy and enthusiasm that we’d noticed in the pair of thrashers that had frequented our yard for some years.

That’s when I realized that we hadn’t seen “our” pair for a while.  Curve-billed thrashers nest relatively close to the ground on cactus or in shrubs.  It seemed possible that a predator – for example, a roadrunner – had taken out the entire family except for this one young survivor.

Skinny’s determination to get enough to eat overcame any shyness he felt about living so close to humans.  After a while, he would only make a token retreat when we came in or out of the front door – usually up into the branches of the ash tree that the bird block is under.  After a while, he took to greeting us when we came home.  Or he’d come over to watch from a safe distance what we were doing when we were working in the yard.

This spring, when I was weeding, Skinny perched on the peak of our roof and started making a variety of very conversational sounds.  When I looked up, he posed and then started up again.  Clearly he was saying “Don’t we have a nice yard?  I really like it.”

Thus far, Skinny has not established a family.  He (courtesy pronoun; thrashers are  not markedly sexually dimorphic) hasn’t seemed to welcome any of the other thrashers we’ve seen coming through.  However, he’s far from lonely.  He shares our front yard with any number of sparrows, finches, and doves.  He doesn’t seem to mind the quail or robins, even though they’re closer to his size, eat similar diets, and so could be considered competitors.

The one co-resident of our little bit of wild kingdom Skinny does resent is PF the cottontail rabbit.  As noted elsewhere, PF enjoys foraging from the bird block.  While Skinny is happy to share with the other birds, he does mind PF.  The other day, we watched from our front window while Skinny sulked, making occasional darting forays at the bird block in an attempt to get PF to move along.

So far, it hasn’t worked, but somehow I don’t think Skinny is going to give up!

Cedar Waxwings! Flickers!

March 6, 2019

Cedar Waxwings Outside My Office Window

Sometime this last week, my little corner of New Mexico decided that Spring just might be a good idea.  For those of you who don’t know New Mexico weather, let me clarify…  This doesn’t mean we won’t have more snow.  Since I’ve lived here in Albuquerque, we’ve had snow as late as May.

It doesn’t mean we won’t have frost.  One year, after I planted my seedlings, in early May, we had a cold enough night that all the leaves were nipped off my peppers.  Oddly enough, the stems were fine.  I babied the shorn plants along, and we ended up with a good harvest.

Spring in New Mexico is not a gentle season with drip-drip-drop little April showers.  It’s a season of violent winds, dust storms, hot days, and freezing nights.

The signs of spring are subtle, but no less exciting for that.  One of my favorites is when the migrating birds start passing through and our summer residents return.  Just this week we saw our first quail, possibly the couple who routinely use our yard as one of their foraging areas.  We also saw the flickers (a sort of woodpecker) who have been co-residents of our yard for years.

Our winter resident juncos haven’t moved on, but we’re seeing some of the early migrants coming through.  In addition to the tough gang of juvenile robins who usually move in for a few weeks to take advantage of free water and great bathing facilities, we had new visitors.

When I first saw the cedar waxwings drinking from the pond, what clued me in that these slim brown birds were not our usual house sparrows and finches wasn’t the brilliant spots of red on their wings or the fact that the tips of their tails looked as if they’d been dipped in a bucket of bright yellow paint.  It was the way they drank: dipping in their beaks, then tossing back their heads with the enthusiasm of college students doing shots.

Then I took a closer look and saw the bright splashes of color, grabbed our favorite quick-ID bird book (Birds of New Mexico by Stan Tekiela) and made an identification.

Although most of the native trees and shrubs have the good sense to wait until later to start putting out leaves, the weeds and ground covers are starting to leaf out.  Wild mustard is a pain, but I do like spectacle pod and some of the other weeds which will give us our first flowers.

The calendar indicates that several more weeks must pass before Spring officially arrives, but the promise is flying through and splashing down in my birdbath.

PF Discovers the Bird Block

November 28, 2018

PF, a Junco, and the Bird Block

I’ve known for a long time that squirrels will poach from bird feeders, but I never realized that cottontail bunnies would.  Then PF came into our lives.

We first met PF early this summer when he’d sneak between loose boards on our fence to graze on the native plants that make up a good portion of our landscaping.  This was fine with us.  Native bunny.  Native plants.

Then PF discovered string beans.  This was not so good.  We grow the string beans for us.  The guinea pigs get an occasional treat, but if PF kept eating the better part of a plant at a sitting, then no one was going to get any string beans: not us, not the guinea pigs, and not PF.

By this point in our relationship, PF was nearly tame, so finding out how he was getting into the yard was very easy.  I would walk out into the yard, then PF would hippetty-hop slowly toward the closest exit: usually a part of the fence with a loose or missing board.  I would then block the opening and, if a new board was needed, Jim would put it in that weekend.

It turned out that PF had numerous ingresses to our yard but, through process of elimination, he showed them to us one by one.  The hardest one to fix was the gate, where he proved able to squeeze through a space that seemed far too narrow for such a robust cottontail.

Finally, we closed all the gaps.  PF was not pleased with us.  When I discovered he had been trying to dig through the gravel and under the gate (a task that proved impossible because the gravel bed is too dense), he earned his nickname: Persistent Forager or PF.

PF did not abandon us, returning repeatedly to eat the grass that grew up through the landscaping gravel in the front yard.  I appreciated this.  It saved me weeding.  I even worried a little about what PF would do when the grass was killed back by the cold.

PF Takes a Closer Look, Supervised By a Ring-necked Dove

I need not have worried.  A few weeks ago, after we put out a bird block for the winter birds, we noticed an odd sculpted panel along lower sections.  We figured it was caused by smaller birds that could perch on the edges of the concrete birdbath we used as a pedestal for the bird block.  Then we noticed PF was coming by, and soon after we caught him in the act of, once again, persistently foraging.

PF Takes a Bite

The birds don’t seem to mind, and we find PF’s company amusing, so we don’t plan to create any barrier to his enjoyment. That’s probably a good thing. PF, the persistent forager, would probably find a way around it.


What the Cats Think

November 7, 2018

Kel and Ruby: Supervisors of PT

Many thanks to all who sent Jim good wishes for his knee replacement surgery.  I’m happy to report that overall things have gone well.  He’s up and walking again (with a walker) and diligently applying himself to his PT.  Sure, there have been rough times, and there are certain to be more rough times, but he’s doing as well as could be expected.

Before the surgery, Jim and I did everything we could to prepare our household for the disruption that was certain to follow.  We stocked up on groceries.  We did lots of laundry.  We made up the bed in the guest room, just in case one or more of us would need it.  (We have.)  But there was one important issue we couldn’t deal with in advance: We couldn’t prepare the cats for all the changes to come.

(This is not to slight the guinea pigs but, although they interact with us, as long as someone shows up with treats and rotates them through their various domiciles, they’re not too picky as to which of their humans it is.)

Halloween night, when I staggered in from more than twelve hours at the hospital, the immediate question of “Where’s dinner?  In fact, now that we’re on the topic, where was lunch?” rapidly changed to “What did you do with Jim?”

The most immediately upset was Ogapoge, who thinks Jim is his personal property.  However, when I crawled into bed, I felt every cat take a turn walking up the bed and inspecting where Jim should be.  When they didn’t find him, they came and poked me, as if I might be hiding him.  However, they weren’t overly upset.  The last few months, Jim has had to be away for several days at a time, and they figured that this was more of the same.

They were more indignant when I vanished again on Thursday to spend most of the day at the hospital with Jim.  I work at home, you see, so I am supposed to be available at all times.  It probably didn’t help matters that I came home with Jim’s scent on me.  I found myself imagining the cats conferring, wondering if I might be keeping Jim imprisoned somewhere.

When on Friday I brought Jim home, the cats’ initial jubilation changed to consternation.  Jim smelled wrong.  He was walking funny – and never without this horrible rattling thing in front of him.  Again, Ogapoge was the most upset.  His pet was back but changed.  Kwahe’e was fairly mellow about matters but, at sixteen, he’s seen the world.  He came over, buffed Jim’s shoes, then went back to his basket.  Keladry was watchful, while Persephone – who is the most social – was mostly concerned because Jim would not let her jump up to sit on his lap from the right (the surgical side), only the left.

By this writing, the cats have all adjusted to the change.  Keladry has appointed herself Supervisor of PT.  Ogapoge forgave Jim when he learned Jim could still play with him and feed him – and that the rattling monster didn’t seem inclined to do anything without Jim’s supervision.  Kwahe’e figured out he could get up on the guest bed to check on Jim, so that was fine.  Persephone decided that the amount of time Jim spends sitting means there is more lap time available.

So we’re settling into a new normal here.  I’m not back to writing yet, and I probably won’t be for a while more, since my creative energy is going into finding new ways to do old tricks.  However, like the critters, I’m relieved to have Jim home again – and I appreciate how the rattling of the walker lets me know when he’s up and about and might need my help.

I hear it now.  Later!


Visiting the Wild Spirit Pack

May 2, 2018

Welcoming Wolf

A while back, our friend Melissa Jackson suggested that we plan a road trip out to Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary in Ramah, New Mexico.  Jim and I had been out a couple times before, but we hadn’t visited for several years, so we were eager to go.  But one thing led to another, and we never quite got around to making plans.

However, as I started working on the newest Firekeeper novel (working title, Wolf’s Search), the urge to see some wolves up close and personal became very strong.  I spoke with Melissa and we firmed up plans.   Last weekend – in company with Rowan Derrick and Cale Mims – we made the two-plus-hour  drive out from Albuquerque.  (For those of you who might want to visit from out-of-town, estimate a drive of two and a half hours from the Albuquerque Airport.)

Wild Spirit has a spiffy new website that explains its mission in detail, but it can be summed up by their slogan: Wild Animals Are Not Pets.  This is a message I’ve tried to share via essays prominently displayed on my website.  I’m fully aware that lots of us – me included – would love to have the sort of relationship Firekeeper and Blind Seer share, but I’m also very aware that what I’m writing is Fantasy fiction, and that such relationships are more likely to end up in tragedy – and often with the wolf or wolf-dog dead.

That’s what makes going to Wild Spirit so special.  The wild canines there are not expected to perform for humans.  Even those on the tour trail have places where they can retreat if they don’t feel like company.

Jessica’s Pal Flicker

The basic tour is very affordable and includes a slow ramble with a knowledgeable guide.  On this trip, our guide was a relatively new volunteer named Jessica.  Jessica had only been at Wild Spirit for a month and a half, but she knew every one of the many wild canines on the tour trail by name, as well as some tidbit of personal history.  It was evident that the wild canines knew her, too, and considered her a friend.  Several came over to say “hello” with no other incentive than a chance to greet Jessica.

All the pictures featured here were taken by my husband, Jim.  He has a nifty new telephoto lens that enabled him to focus past the chain link fence, so you’re actually seeing the wolves without the impediment of the barrier.

Although every enclosure was a delight, there were a couple encounters that will stick with me for a long time.  One was when we stopped to see wolf hybrid, Koda.  Koda is a magnificent creature whose great size actually comes from his dog heritage, not his wolf.  He was up close to the fence (which is why Jim couldn’t eliminate it from the photo) and seemed to be posing.  At one point, he did something incredibly cute that caused all the humans in the group to coo “aww…”  Immediately, he snarled.  Apparently, Koda doesn’t like “baby talk” one bit.

Koda: Don’t Babytalk Me!

Another encounter was more personal.  Any of you who have gone to my website have seen the picture of me with a very large wolf puppy named Dakota in my lap.  I’ve retained a fondness for Dakota all these years.  In fact, I’ve been one of his sponsors for most of his life.  I didn’t expect Dakota to remember me, but I did hope we could see him, since I hadn’t for a good many years.  As Jessica brought us to the enclosure where Dakota lives with two of his childhood buddies, she said, “This is where Dakota lives.  He doesn’t usually come down when I do a tour but…”

She trailed off because Dakota was making a beeline for the fence, his nostrils flared, intently sniffing.  Maybe I’m just indulging in a sentimental moment, but it seemed to me that he remembered me and Jim perfectly well, and was coming over to say “Hi.”  Yeah.  Melt…

(I don’t have a picture of Dakota here because he was so close to the fence and so active, we couldn’t get a really good shot, but you can see him on the Wild Spirit website.  He’s grown up to be a very good-looking fellow.)

At the end of the tour, as we were viewing the Nola Pack – a group of very wolf-like dogs, Wild Spirit’s director, Leyton Cougar, came wandering out with a tub of a new, very green, health food he’d been making up for some of their residents.  He offered me and Jim a taste, and we took the dare.  It was actually quite good – like dense scrambled eggs with a dandelion tang.

After our trail tour, we had arranged to have an “extra” – a private educational lecture.  This was conducted by the Assistant Director, Crystal Castellanos, and her husband, Research and Development director, Ramon Castellanos.  Crystal and Ramon told us they had a new presentation on the Canine Continuum they’d like to try, and asked if we would be their first audience.  Needless to say, we were thrilled.

Me and Leia at the Educational Talk

The focus of this talk was about the connections between different types of wild canines.  We began with three of the resident New Guinea Singing Dogs, moved to the wolf/ wolf-dog, then moved to the dingo.  For each part of the presentation, Crystal brought out a leashed representative.  The educational encounters are “hands off” with the caveat that if the canines are interested in looking at the humans, and the humans welcome the chance connection, then this may happen.

We five humans sat in a row on the bottom of the bleachers, ears, eyes, and hearts open.  We were very lucky and had a chance to get closer to our canine hosts than we had dared hope.  The most out-going was Leia, the wolf-dog, who at two is still young enough that she is inclined to trust.  Ramon and Crystal’s talk was very informative – even for me, who is something of a wild canine junky – which is a high recommendation, indeed.  I’d happily listen to the same talk again, just to soak in more.

As you probably can tell, we had a wonderful time.  Many thanks to Josh who helped me with reservations; to Tina in the gift shop, who helped us in many ways; as well as to Jessica, Leyton, Crystal, and Ramon.  We’ll definitely be coming back, and we hope to encourage many of those who are reading this to visit as well.

Come and See Us!

Zoos: Changing Faces

April 25, 2018

Tiny Teacher

I’ve almost always lived near a good zoo.  I grew up in Washington, D.C.  which hosts the National Zoo.  My dad took us there frequently when we were small.  These were the days when you were still encouraged to feed the elephants peanuts, so my first memories of those magnificent creatures includes looking up into questing trunks while my feet crunched on peanut shells.  We also always made a point to go visit Smokey the Bear.  My dad would hoot at the howler monkeys and they would hoot back at him.

For the longest time, I treasured a memory of patting a white tiger kitten that had been let run around in an enclosure that was little more than a chain-link fence surrounding a grassy area.  I squeezed through the towering adults, hunkered down, and pushed my hand through to pat the big kitten.

As I grew older, I decided that I had probably imagined that incident.  Then, when I was a freshman at Fordham University, I went to the Bronx Zoo, which was an easy walk from campus.  There, in the building that housed the big cats, I read on a sign how the magnificent white tiger lounging on the other side of the bars had been born at that National Zoo at just the right time to match my memory.

What do you know?  I probably did pat that tiger.

As much as I treasure those memories, one of the things I am happiest about zoos is how I’ve seen them change.  When I was a child, many animals were kept in iron-barred, concrete-floored cages.  The exception to this were hoof stock.  They at least had dirt-surfaced or grassy holding areas.

The change started when I was a kid.  Signs began to include the little antelope head emblem that indicated an endangered or threatened species.  Holding areas began to include toys or play areas.   The message that the older style “zoological garden” had sent was “Here are animals for you to look at, just as you might go to a flower garden to look at flowers.”  Now the message was, “Here are rare creatures.  Treasure them.  They might not be around much longer.”

Change was a slow process and one that didn’t happen overnight.  My first visit to the Bronx Zoo was definitely a mixed experience.  While I delighted in finding my childhood dream had been a childhood reality, I also teared up when I saw that many of the big cats were being held in cages of the sort that had long vanished from the National Zoo.   However, during my eight years in the area (I stayed for graduate school), I saw exhibits change.  By the time I left, the concrete-floored cages were either empty – their occupants moved to much nicer areas – or the cages were being used to house much smaller creatures.  Enclosures had also been adapted so that vertical as well as horizontal space was useable.

Jim tells me that the Rio Grande Zoo – now part of the Albuquerque BioPark – has undergone a similar transformation during the years he’s been going there.  I’ve certainly seen changes during my twenty or so years as a visitor.  Many of the larger animals are housed in exhibits that are lower than the walkway, giving the animal room and privacy, freeing them from being encased within four walls and a ceiling.  Even those animals that live in more traditional “cages” often have access to more than one exhibit area.  Best of all, they can take themselves off exhibit if necessary.

I’ve heard some older people complain about how these changes make it harder for “the kids” to see the animals.  Funny, but I don’t see “the kids” doing much complaining.  In fact, they seem delighted with the need to search for the animals.  What used to be a shuffle from cage to cage is now closer to a treasure hunt.

During our visit to the building that housed reptiles and amphibians, we were right behind a trio of energetic kids – probably eight or nine years old.   They paused at every exhibit, no matter how small, searching for the snake or lizard or turtle or frog.  Every discovery was crowed over, the cleverness of the creature’s natural camouflage a never-ending delight.  Often they paused to read the sign, exclaiming over what the creature ate or some other neat fact.

There’s also a greater emphasis on preservation and breeding programs.  No longer are we just warned that a creature is endangered, we’re given a chance to be part of saving that species.  Recently, the Albuquerque BioPark has hosted events encouraging responsible purchasing, recycling, providing education about renewable resources, and similar topics.

In addition to giving humans a chance to see living representatives of exotic animals (as opposed to the taxidermy displays that were common in museums when I was young), zoos also provide homes for representatives of the local ecosystem.  On our last visit, Jim and I had a very nice visit with a Western screech owl who – because of a damaged eye that meant she couldn’t be safely released into the wild – is now a member of the education staff.  Several avian exhibits housed injured roadrunners along with the more exotic birds.  On another visit, we met the education team’s porcupine.

Zoos are no longer gardens for viewing animals; they’re places that seek to educate humans about the vast biosphere in which we live.  It’s a change I really enjoy, and one reason that – even though I usually don’t have time to visit the zoo more than a couple times a year – I have a membership that costs me more than the price of admission would.  It’s my way of saying I appreciate what they’re trying to do.

Love and Writing

February 14, 2018

This week I have good news to share.  My short story, “Can’t Live,” has been accepted for publication by Lightspeed Magazine.  I’ll definitely let you know when it’s available.

Pretty Persistent

I’ll come back to “Can’t Live” in a moment.

First I’d like to mention that a piece by me is featured in  Lawrence M. Schoen’s “Eating Author’s” blog.  In this regular feature, he invites authors to talk about memorable meals.  Since Lawrence has a wide view of what makes a meal “memorable,” I decided to talk about teaching Roger Zelazny to cook crepes – as well as a few other things that happened during the year we lived together in Santa Fe.  If you’re interested, the full piece is here.

Those of you who are regular readers of my Friday Fragments, where I list what I’m currently reading, may recognize Lawrence M. Schoen as the author of Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard, which I finished a week or so ago.   Barsk shares the same line between hard science fiction and sociological science fiction occupied by works such as Dune, where precognition and the question of what would happen if people could reliably foretell the future play a central role.  However, Barsk takes the concept in a complete different direction – for one thing, some characters can talk to the dead – providing an interesting read.

Since today is Valentine’s Day, I’d like to talk about love – in this case the love an author feels for a story – and how that love is tested when the author sends the story out into the world with the intention of placing it in a commercial marketplace

I’d love to brag that “Can’t Live” sold the very first time I sent it out.  Instead, I’ll note that the story was completed on December 2, 2016, sent out immediately, and whenever it came back, it went out as soon as I could manage.  I finally sold it on February 9, 2018 – some fourteen months later.  Along the way, “Can’t Live” had several near-misses, mostly of the “I love this but it doesn’t quite fit our needs” type.  It also suffered from a perception by some editors that it was horror, while purely horror editors did not see it as such.

I felt confident that “Can’t Live” worked.  Did this mean I didn’t feel doubt when it was repeatedly rejected?  I did.  At one point, after several rejections,  I sent “Can’t Live” to a friend who admitted she didn’t get what I thought was an obvious reference.  I considered her comment, then added a sentence to clarify.

I didn’t want to, but I did because her comment reminded me that writing is about communication, not about showing off how clever you are.

In August of 2017, when “Can’t Live” still hadn’t found a home, I decided to make it my reading at Bubonicon.  To my relief, the response was not only enthusiastic but spontaneous, generating a lot of discussion.  If you were in that audience, let me offer my sincere thanks.

At this point, this Wandering is probably looking like an object lesson in persistence.  Write.  Send out.  Send out again.  Eventually, you’ll find the right editor.  Happy ending.  And you’re probably wondering why I included a picture of a hawk.

(Other than that it’s cool, which it is.)

Persistence is not what I want to talk about.  What I want to talk about is how love can be blind.  Persistence is not a virtue if a writer refuses to think that her precious darling of a story is anything but flawless.  I’ve met far too many people – and not just writers – who think that pushing toward their dreams is in and of itself a virtue.  They love the dream, not the reality.

The best love you can give your dream balances a solid dose of realistic assessment against persistence toward a goal.  Don’t abuse your dream by refusing to see that maybe you need to make a change, add a sentence, cut a clever phrase.

Be like a Cooper’s Hawk that hunts not only by the classic soaring associated with hawks, but also by diving into bushes and shrubs, and even stalking on foot along the ground.  (We watched the hawk in the photo do all of these things in the yard right outside the office window.)

Love doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry.   Love means being adaptable.  Love means doing the very best you can.

Tiny But Amazing (Toad)

August 16, 2017

Life lately has definitely been a celebration of the microcosm.  The little guy in the picture is a New Mexico Spade Foot Toad.  He’s taken up residence in the alyssum bordering our patio; his entire realm measures about four inches wide by eight feet long.

Tiny Toad

Some of the bricks in the wall against which the alyssum grows are beginning to crumble.  One has a hollow in it.  When he’s startled (as when we start to water the alyssum), the tiny toad jumps up and takes residence in the hollow.  When he does this, he looks rather like an amphibian variant on a Mesa Verde or Puye cliff dweller.

In addition to tiny toad, we have numerous first-year lizards (both blue tails and fence) racing around the yard.  They don’t hold still long enough for pictures.  Speed versus stillness as defense mechanisms.

The baby birds are now mostly fledged out and are learning how to be birds.  It’s a good thing that the monsoon rains have started, because we have plenty of grass seed and bugs for them.

Tiny Toad in Cliff Dwelling

After an unusually hot early summer, we’ve settled into high nineties, with the high temperatures remaining at their peak for a much shorter duration.  That’s a relief both for me and for the garden.  This year I discovered that when the temperatures go about about 106, thinking becomes a real challenge.

And I have been thinking, researching, and even writing.  I made significant progress on a few reprint projects over the last few weeks, including reaching a new stage in the production of Asphodel, the novel that is in line to be my first self-published original novel.

After a couple of very stressful weeks – including the phone company accidentally disconnecting our phone and internet for four days (which, when you run your own business out of your home, is not trivial) – I’m hoping to settle in and get more writing done.

In fact, much as I enjoy chatting with all of you, that’s what I’m going to do now.