Buds and Anticipation

Anticipation is one of the great pleasures of gardening. You plant, water, feed, weed and hover. You watch the little plant grow under your care. One day — it has buds! Already a reward for your efforts. Watching them swell, and develop colour, and begin to open — I find this almost better than the period of full bloom. It’s like the excitement you feel before going on a vacation; experiences yet-to-be-experienced are perfect and unbroken, without disappointments and, of course, the inevitable aftermath (returning to home and work, or fading and deadheading).

So far this spring, quite a few plants have budded, bloomed and faded already in my garden. Some, such as snowdrops, crocuses and tulips, are now dormant. Lilacs, fragrant and beautiful just a few weeks ago, are now entering the ugly brown stage and becoming an item for the Unpleasant Things To Do list, because clipping off the faded blooms is a tedious job done from a ladder.

But there are buds, hundreds of them, maybe thousands, such as those on this extremely tough, dependable rose growing into a Norway maple. (You can see a bit of a browned-off lilac bloom on the left).

May 18, 2015

Clematis “Pink Fantasy” has lots of promising buds this year.

May 18, 2015

Nearby are delphiniums and snapdragons, both in bud, with pink snapdragons already blooming in the background.

May 18, 2015

I like lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantia) best just before they bloom. They start to look tired once a few of the small flowers fade, although they do go on blooming for weeks, and the bees love them. Right now they are exquisitely velvety.

May 18, 2015

Mulleins do a great job preparing to bloom. You just know something big is coming, like the long crescendo in Respihghi’s “The Pines of the Appian Way,” a great buildup to a magnificent flourish. They also bloom a long time and are popular with bees.

White mullein, Verbascum chaixii

White mullein, Verbascum chaixii

 

Great big mullein, Verbascum olympicum

Great big mullein, Verbascum olympicum

Rose campion, Lychnis coronaria, is indecently happy in this garden. Here is one of many plants, developing dozens of buds that will soon be magenta or white flowers, next to an already blooming Dutch iris. (Note the wire fences around the perennial beds, and the rather large dead patch in the lawn — both due to the presence of Nelly the Newf, the canine member of the household).

May 18, 2015

Finally, some actual blooms…

Helianthemum nummularium

Helianthemum nummularium

And now, back to bee-watching.

Small bumblebee in Ceanothus.

Small bumblebee in Ceanothus.

#Authors – Especially #Indies – Please Note…

Audrey Driscoll:

Indie authors! Here is a valuable resource for you, thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape!

Originally posted on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog:

YOU are invited to take advantage of the following:

Thanks to all my blog contributors, followers and visitors since The Story Reading Ape Blog began in April 2013 (just over two years ago), the posts have received a total of over250,000 views (increasing daily).

The breakdown of statistics are as follows:

Number of views in 2013: 30,412

Number of views in 2014: 125,910

Number of views in 2015: over 93,000 so far

Current number of views per day: Between 700 and 1200.

Current number of followers: over 7,45

So, if YOU would like to boost YOUR blog traffic, following and promote your books – FOR FREE – why not do one of the following:

NEW Authors:

Overcome your shyness and send me YOUR Guest Author article to introduce yourselfclick HERE to see what is required.

EXISTING…

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Local Author Book Review #2: The White Limousine by John R. Paterson

Time travel. Second chances. A lost love and a new love. These are the compelling elements of The White Limousine, a science fiction romance by Victoria author John Paterson.

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The plot revolves around two couples: Lisa is part of a genius team that creates the world’s first working time machine, and Eddie is an adventurer who takes a job as a very special kind of chauffeur. They give Fred a chance to fix the worst mistakes of his life, the biggest of which is losing his true love, Kimberley. But things go wrong.

The white limo of the title, which reads like something designed by Elon Musk with help from James Bond’s “Q,” is the vehicle that whisks the characters from 2014 into the past. Complications arise when the limo returns empty except for bloodstains, and Lisa becomes part of her own experiment. From that point two stories unfold, one in 1950 and the other in 1985.

Science definitely takes a back seat to romance here. Paterson offers just enough scientific-sounding information to maintain plausibility, but keeps the focus on the characters’ emotions and their relationships with one another. Underlying the story line of The White Limousine is a sincere concern with values and ethics, which manifests in a lurid subplot involving a rather bizarre church. A car chase right out of the movies concludes this episode. Even though some details strain credibility, the story is engaging enough to ride smoothly over these bumps.

I noted a few problems with editing: inconsistency with the surname of one of the principal characters and frequent instances of missing or misplaced quotation marks that make it difficult to tell who is speaking when.

It’s tempting to compare this book to Stephen King’s 11/22/63, since they share the premise that time travel is possible, and both feature characters that fall in love while visiting the mid-2oth century. King, true to form, takes the shadowed side of the road, while Paterson mostly sticks to the sunshine and takes the reader on an entertaining excursion.

My rating: 7 out of 10 stars.

The White Limousine is available at the author’s website, and one copy is in the Emerging Local Authors collection at the Greater Victoria Public Library.

 

 

Indie Novels Are Like Organic Apples

Audrey Driscoll:

Here is an analogy that is close to my heart. Indie novels as organic creations, not sanitized “products.”

Originally posted on Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained--Books & Writing at Middlemay Farm:

Gentlemen Harvesting Hops and Stories Gentlemen Harvesting Hops and Stories

Wednesdays at the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm where I worked were packing days when no matter the weather or the raspberries left rotting on the bush, we met in the cool, dark room to sort and pack pesticide-free, non-migrant labor harvested produce to be delivered to starry-eyed customersin the morning.

Our Harvard-educated, Russian-Lit major boss told us not to worry too much about dirty garlic as the customers were customers because they wanted to feel part of the farm-to-table process.

new camera 083Some customers visited the 200-year-old farm to see up close the dirty business of nutrition. They gazed in wonder at the strawberry fields alive with jewel-toned fruit only a day or two away from collapse and decay. They enjoyed getting pricked by the thistles as they reached for a berry and tossed the juicy, warm fruit into their mouths. Misshaped berries…

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One Perfect Poppy

I have often grumbled about the difficulties of growing blue poppies (Meconopsis species). Over the past 20 years I have grown numbers of plants from seed obtained from two plants I bought — Meconopsis betonicifolia and Meconopsis x sheldonii ‘Lingholm.’ Most of my plants now are seedlings of Lingholm; all traces of M. betonicifolia have vanished from my place.

On two occasions in those 20 years I have had spectacular success (in a relative sense, of course) with my blue poppies. In May 2000 I had seven plants blooming well in a small rectangular bed. I did not take any pictures, expecting a repeat performance. Ha. In 2013, after working hard at producing more seedlings and preparing a bed for them near a large magnolia, I had 7 or 8 plants in bloom, This time I did take pictures, but because the bed was long and skinny — crescent-shaped, in fact — the effect was not as wonderful as when the flowers were massed together in a smaller space.

This year, I have one plant in bloom. Only one, but I have made sure to take pictures of both blooms.

April 19, 2015

This was the first one. As it faded, the second bud began to open.

001Fully open, it proved to be a much better flower than its predecessor.

003That colour! The ethereal texture of the petals! Definitely worth the trouble.

I hope to obtain some seeds from these two flowers, to plant next January or February.

Local Author Book Review #1: Clamming Up by Lee-Anne Stack

Since the recent launch of the Emerging Local Authors collection at my local library, I have decided to read some of the 174 books and write reviews of them. I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to get through, but I’ve noted at least half a dozen that seem worth checking out (literally). Expect reviews here in the next few months. This is a personal commitment!

And since I frequently find the 5-star rating system inadequate, I’ll use a ten-star system, thus: 1 = abysmal, 2 = barely readable, 3 = mediocre, 4 = not bad, 5 = OK but not great, 6 = good but unremarkable, 7 = pretty good, 8 = really good, 9 = remarkable, 10 = superlative.

Enough preliminaries!

First up is Clamming Up by Victoria author Lee-Anne Stack. Right from the get-go I’ll reveal that I was a beta-reader for this book months ago, but this review is based on my recent reading of the published book.

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Lee-Anne Stack really knows how to write a good time. Her characters, business partners Kate and Pearl, take their two-woman home reno business to Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, to do a job for a rather… memorable couple. (Here I’ll just digress for a moment to say that Tofino, along with Pacific Rim National Park and the neighbouring community of Ucuelet, are magical places. Getting there is a journey — through a mountain range, past pristine rivers and lakes and what remains of the magnificent coastal rainforest. Tofino is a quirky mix of locals and tourists, with endless beaches, surfing, resorts, restaurants, and even a hot spring in the vicinity. It’s one of my favourite places).

Kate Nia O’Malley is quite a character. She tells the story, and her narrative voice moves the plot along briskly, with considerable verve. The opening scene gets things off with a bang and they don’t slow down much until the final epilogue.

As Kate and Pearl work on the interior of a guest house — sawing, nailing, mudding, sanding and painting — romance and adventure swirl around them. Two personable guys make the scene — doctor Colin and boat owner Andrew — leading to fun times. Sitting on my couch, I vicariously went surfing, diving and clamming (of course!), and enjoyed superlative meals in a variety of situations. The book reads as fast as a screenplay; much of the narrative is carried by snappy dialogue. These women are as competent with one-liners as they are with power tools!

The mystery is fairly subtle until the last few chapters. The death of a fisherman before the book starts casts a shadow, especially over Andrew, since the dead man was his uncle. The presence of some shady (but colourful) characters adds a bit of menace. Sinister hints accumulate to the bursting point, precipitating a frantic search and the final denouement. To be quite frank, I found the resolution of the mystery a bit weak, but that didn’t matter because getting there was so much fun. The characters are distinct and memorable, and their interactions with one another are almost more important than the plot. This is a fun read, perfect for beach, bath or boat.

My rating: 8 out of 10 stars.

Clamming Up is available through Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Other ebook formats may be purchased at Smashwords and the ebook stores it distributes to. And folks who use the Greater Victoria Public Library may check out the copy there.

Spring in the Garden

Spring hit really early this year on southern Vancouver Island. I’m still trying to catch up.

Things in the garden are racing ahead. I saw a note in my garden and weather book from April 24, 2013: Apple tree starting to bloom. This year, the apple tree has finished blooming. The flowers have faded and leaves are growing (as yet uneaten by little green worms).

002

A couple of weeks ago, it looked like this. So we are three to four weeks ahead of schedule (assuming nature has a schedule, which is doubtful).

The garden is almost through its blue-and-gold period, now that the daffodils are finished. Blue is still dominant, what with bluebells (Scilla), forget-me-nots and abundant rosemary flowers. But the star of the show for me is the single blue poppy (Meconopsis), a triumph after no blooms at all last year.

April 19, 2015

There is one more bud. The other blue poppy plants don’t seem to have any plans to bloom, but with blue poppies you are grateful for whatever you get.

The so-called “neckless” gentians (Gentiana acaulis) are more dependable. I suspect the buds of my main planting were nibbled by deer, but these young transplants are performing well.

April 19, 2015

And I’m happy to report that the great camas (Camassia leichtlinii) are also in fine form, showing lots of buds. One especially tall plant is already in bloom.

April 19, 2015

And there are roses! Roses in April! (And blackspot starting too, I see. In gardens, perfection is to be sought but rarely attained).

April 24, 2015

 

 

Local Writers Meet Local Readers at the Library

A few evenings ago I was milling around with dozens of other writers in a truly genuine celebration of the written word at my local library — the Greater Victoria Public Library. The entrance rotunda of the Central Branch was transformed by low lighting, electric candles and a jazz trio into something like a club for literati to meet and mingle. The centrepiece was a shelving unit full of books written, and in many cases, published, by us — the authors.

“Local” is a concept that has garnered considerable cachet in recent years. Eating local is now considered a Good Thing, as is patronizing local businesses. Supporting one’s local community is the thing. Taking up the theme, the Greater Victoria Public Library established a Local Music collection a couple of years ago, featuring CDs created by musicians residing in our area. The collection was launched with performances by some of the featured musicians. Local Authors was the logical next step.

The Emerging Local Authors Collection highlights self-published, independent, or small press print works (fiction, poetry, non-fiction) by local authors, for readers of all ages.

Authors residing in our region were required to donate one copy of books published between 2010 and 2014. The books were entered into the library catalogue (by me) and the collection is now featured on the GVPL website.

Having catalogued all 170 books, I was able to appreciate the variety and different types of creativity they represent. There are novels, short story collections, poetry, memoirs, travel writing, young adult novels, chapter and picture books for children, even a graphic novel. Production values range from basic to elaborate. The authors’ ages range from the teens to the eighties.

The prevailing mood of the launch event was one of delight and celebration.  We authors were truly chuffed to be honoured by our community in the presence of friends and family members. One of the most popular spots was a screen featuring a gallery of all the book covers (courtesy of Library Bound Inc). Authors waited, cameras at the ready, until their book came up so they could capture the image for posterity.

Cover image for The Friendship of Mortals at the Emerging Local Authors launch event

Cover image for The Friendship of Mortals at the Emerging Local Authors launch event

Compost: Brute Labour of Love

Recently, I spent a weekend spreading an enhanced compost mulch over some of my perennial beds. While I filled the wheelbarrow, spadeful by spadeful, chopped and blended the rough compost, and then spaded it all out again onto the beds, it occurred to me that I was doing brute labour, the kind of thing one associates with medieval peasants.

But it’s worth it.

I can’t imagine gardening without compost. Making and using it is fundamental to the annual cycle of this garden, from gathering spent plant material throughout the summer and fall, to distributing the resulting compost the following spring.

It is true that making and using compost does involve episodes of vigorous work. But that can be said of gardening in general. Only the mildest types of gardening activities — buying pre-potted plants, plunking them on the patio and administering water occasionally (and it’s debatable whether this is really gardening) — are labour-free.

Composting is also burdened with the perception that it’s an esoteric, complicated process, involving strict proportions of materials, added chemicals, and right or wrong ways to put them all together.

I can say from my own experience that it’s really quite a simple process. The one critical element (aside from plant material) is the gardener’s labour.

So here’s how I make compost…

First, I must explain that I do cool, slow compost. It takes a full year to break down to a usable state. Fast, hot compost is a different process, involving (you guessed it) more work and possibly special equipment, such as a rotating compost drum.

I have two heaps, the working heap and the in-process or finished heap. Each one occupies a space about 5 feet (1.5 metres) square. The main inputs are perennial stalks and spent flowers, accumulated through the deadheading process in spring, summer and fall, weeds (of course!) and a huge raft of leaves at the end of the gardening season in October and November. Kitchen waste —  fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and eggshells — are a minute contribution throughout the year.

Collecting the stuff — cutting down, raking up and lugging — is just the beginning. I don’t put long, tough stalks into my heaps intact. They break down much better if I chop them up first, and the best way I’ve found to do that is to lay them on top of the pile and whack them with a machete. I have a nice one — nearly a yard long, handle wrapped with copper wire. It’s definitely one of the essential composting tools, along with digging fork and heavy pry bar (whose function I’ll get to shortly).

The current working heap, with essential composting tools

The current working heap, with essential composting tools

Because my compost piles don’t heat up sufficiently to kill seeds, I try to avoid adding material containing ripe seeds. Three plants that are stalwarts of my garden — lamb’s ears (Stachys betonicifolia), toadflax (Linaria purpurea) and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) — seed vastly, so I have to make sure I cut them down before the seeds ripen. (Needless to say, I don’t always manage this, which is why they are “stalwarts”).

It’s best to chop up plant material when it’s fresh. Once wilted, it’s harder to cut through. That doesn’t stop me from piling up stuff to be dealt with later — sometimes weeks later. (Perfection, though desirable, is not always achieved). Things get messy all the time in the compost area, as when I cut down all the lamb’s ears, toadflax and campion before they go to seed, creating a backlog of stuff that needs to be processed for the heap.

Once or twice a season I do a big compost heap cleanup, chopping, forking and stacking everything into an organized pile, making sure I incorporate some finished or at least half-baked compost in with the fresh stuff, along with water when needed. A compost pile should be damp, like a squeezed-out sponge, not wet.

One often sees instructions about the proportion of brown and green material, with admonishments to get it right, or a smelly mess will result. I suspect this applies only to those who put lawn clippings in their compost heaps. Large amounts of fresh green stuff (as opposed to material higher in cellulose such as perennial stalks) may result in anaerobic decomposition which does produce slimy, smelly results. Or so I hear, never having experienced this myself. My lawn clippings stay on the lawn, and because said lawn is never fertilized or overwatered, it’s not thick enough for thatch buildup to be a problem. (Sometimes the lazy way is the better way).

Things (aside from ripe seedheads) that I don’t put in my compost heaps: woody material such as twigs or branches, dandelions (which can ripen seeds even after being pulled up), and noxious weeds such as bindweed and creeping bellflower, which can sprout from the smallest root fragments. All this goes to the municipal compost program. There, composting is done on a grand scale, resulting in temperatures high enough to kill weeds and seeds. (Or so one hopes; I never buy any of the stuff myself). Something else I keep out of my heaps — those little plastic stickers on fruit. They never break down and are offensive to see in the garden beds. Not all members of the household bother to peel them off and put them in the garbage, however, so they creep in too. Most annoying.

The pile in the picture above includes all of last fall’s leaves, with a layer of freshly added stuff on top. By now the leaves have packed down solidly and are probably not yet rotted. Oxygen is needed to promote decomposition, so I use the giant pry bar to poke holes into the heap, working the bar right down to the bottom as well as sticking it horizontally and lifting the layers. It’s encouraging when this is fairly easy to do, indicating that breakdown is occurring. It’s even more encouraging when the end of the bar comes out warm or even hot, meaning that some heat is actually being generated. Most often, though, that is not the case.

After the spring mulching process, I like to keep some finished compost handy to add to planting holes or incorporate into soil mixes for pots. But by early fall, it’s pretty much used up. I make a point of moving the working heap into the resulting empty space, anticipating the deluge of leaves that will come in the next few months. The newest stuff ends up on the bottom of the pile, with the old leaves of the previous autumn on top. This gives me a chance to see how things are rotting, adding water to any dry layers and thoroughly aerating everything. Once done, that heap is “locked up,” becoming the in-process pile. Then I start accumulating new material for the next working heap on the other side.

By spring, the finished pile has rotted down, ready for use.

Finished compost

Finished compost

I can still recognize some of the elements — fern stems, the chicken-bony joints of the thickest campion stalks, skeletonized maple leaves — but mostly it’s blackish-brown, crumbly and perfect for mulching. I add alfalfa meal, kelp meal, lime, bone meal and other goodies to give it more nutritional value, blending it all into each wheelbarrow load. For use on potted plants, I screen the compost, throwing the coarse remnants into the current working heap. Screened compost is also perfect as a base for potting soil.

My compost is not perfect. It always contains seeds, despite my efforts to keep them out, so little surprises are always sprouting in my pots and beds — not always a bad thing. I’ve actually potted up some of the volunteers, such as hellebores, for use in the garden.

As for the brute labour aspect, it amounts to four or five days a year of moderately vigorous effort — mulching in spring, heap maintenance and turning in late summer and leaf management in the fall. Each of these is a milestone of the gardening year, the circle from life to death and back again.

Are Free Ebooks Evil?

Free ebooks! It’s a hot topic among indie authors these days, as we try to bring our books to readers’ attention.

Many authors say they would never give away their books for free (except for brief promotional periods). They believe this devalues the hard work of writing and publishing.

Others claim that making the first book in a series “perma-free” is a good way to generate reader interest in the other books in the series.

Who is right?

Arguments against free:

1. The time and treasure you put into writing and publishing the book is worth something.

2. People don’t value the ebooks they download just because they are free, and most never read them.

3. Free books cheapen the written word for everyone, harming authors who depend on selling their books for a living.

Arguments for free:

1. Free “outsells” any non-free book. People love free.

2. Free is frictionless. To buy a $0.99 book you have to go through the payment process. Free is an instant download.

3. People do read free ebooks and some return to buy either the print version or other ebooks in the series.

Now to my own experience: I have written and published a four-book series. In one 18-month period (September 2012 to February 2014) that the first book was free, it was downloaded several thousand times. And that was when it had its original homemade cover image. Sadly, only a small fraction of those who downloaded it returned to purchase the other 3 books in the series. But I was thrilled at the numbers that did.

Every year, Smashwords offers its authors two opportunities to make their books available in a special catalogue at reduced rates (Read an Ebook Week in March and the Summer/Winter Sale for the month of July). Prices may be reduced by 25% to 100% off the regular price. In my experience, there is little uptake for books at 50% off, but those at 100% (i.e., free) are snapped up. I suspect there are many readers who visit Smashwords only during these events, trolling for free ebooks.

Some say that making an ebook free should be part of a marketing plan, in which readers who get free books should be required to offer up something other than money in exchange — a review or an email address. A good idea, except it depends on the goodwill of the recipient reader. If a reader doesn’t produce a review, the author can’t get the book back. As for email addresses, when someone downloads my book from the Smashwords site, or from B&N, the Apple iBooks store or the other outlets to which Smashwords distributes, I have no idea who those readers are. All I see are the numbers of downloads; the readers are invisible to me. The only way I can think of to get their email addresses is to put a note at the end of the free book offering the reader the second one for free by sending me a message. (Have I done this? Not yet.)

Many authors buy advertising, which may or may not pay for itself in book sales. It may end up being a financial loss, so really, how is that different from giving away books for free?

Conclusion: do what works for you. The beauty of self-publishing is that you call the shots. If you have a number of books available, try making one of them free. Or write short prequel or spinoff story and make that free.

Of course the downside of calling all the shots is  ever-present doubts, second thoughts and what-ifs. I frequently have arguments with myself that go something like this:

If I were charging $0.99 for that book, I’d be earning $0.60 per sale. Sure, there are lots of downloads, but I’m losing $0.60 on each one!

Yes, but if the book cost even $0.99, the uptake would be way less. And so would the number of readers buying the next book.

OK, but what if it’s true that hardly anyone actually reads free ebooks? If only a fraction do, and only a fraction of those return to buy the other books in the series, is losing the $0.60 worth it?

Well, but don’t you like seeing all those downloads pile up? It’s depressing to see no sales week after week. Better to keep the first book free for a few more months.

OK, but what about…

And so it goes. For now, The Friendship of Mortals ebook is free. For the next month, anyway. Or maybe the next 6 months. Or maybe just a few more days, depending on how that argument turns out.

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