Dry green maple leaves.

Rain Envy

When I hear about devastating floods, as in Louisiana just now, I wish rain could be better distributed around the continent. Especially now, when I have just spent an hour raking leaves. Not yellow and orange autumn leaves, but dead, dry green leaves jettisoned by the Norway maples, along with zillions of maple seeds, as the trees respond to what has become a hot, dry summer.

Norway maple seeds and withered leaf.

Norway maple seeds and withered leaf.

In April and May we had at least three hot spells, with temperatures freakishly above normal for several days. June and July were relatively cool, with just enough rain to stave off a drought, but the last six weeks have been totally dry. I delayed starting my usual summer watering program well into July, hoping to encourage plants to toughen up and send their roots well into the ground. That’s the advice of seasoned gardeners such Beth Chatto, author of The Dry Garden. She claimed never to water once plants were established, but I can’t make myself do that. At first, I limit watering sessions with sprinklers to two hours every two weeks for each area of the garden (noting dates so I can keep the schedule straight). Eventually, though, it becomes clear that this isn’t enough. Either I have to start watering at least weekly or give up and let the plants struggle on as best they can. By late August, most have made as much growth as they’re likely to, and most have finished blooming, so they really don’t need as much water as they do earlier in the season. (That’s what I tell myself, anyway). But parts of the garden look really bad right now. I’m not going to post pictures — too depressing.

One of the joys of gardening is to see the plants one has chosen doing well, growing to their maximum sizes and blooming when they’re supposed to. Participating in the cycle of sprouting, growth, budding, blooming, withering and dormancy is what it’s all about. But a drought short-circuits the process and leads to oddball scenarios like raking up bushels of dry green leaves under a hot summer sun. And instead of a graceful transition into fall colours, I’m seeing an abrupt case of the browns.

The weather forecast for the next week includes three days with high temperatures between 27 and 30 degrees C (81 to 86 F). After that it will cool down to 21 (about 70 F) but there is no rain in sight.

On the plus side, tomatoes are ripening on the vine, and in the front garden (less beleaguered by Norway maple roots), asters are showing a million buds, some of which are starting to open. That’s where I go to reassure myself that some things are working out as they should.

Aster "Pink Cloud" starting to bloom, with lots of buds waiting to open.

Aster “Pink Cloud” starting to bloom, with lots of buds waiting to open.

 

Purple aster, pink nerines and ornamental grass "Little Bunny"

Purple aster, pink nerines and ornamental grass “Little Bunny”

Book Review: Fascination by Kevin Brennan

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Get ready for a road trip! Fascination is an odyssey around the quasi-wild West, on a mission of “self-realization and vengeance.”

Gorgeous Sally Pavlou, widowed by her husband’s fake suicide, sets out with insouciant PI (and punster) Clive Bridle to track down her errant spouse. From an unnamed Midwestern burg, the two hit the road in Sally’s ’63 Dodge Dart (nicknamed “Dot”). Readers get to ride along — to Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, L.A., San Francisco and various side trips to spots that may or may not appear on any map. Along the way, the pair encounters an astonishing variety of sages, sinners, eccentrics and downright lunatics who offer opportunities for enlightenment.

Sally is an aficionado of an old-fashioned arcade game called Fascination. Every now and then she just has to play, even if it means a considerable detour. Clive is fine with that; stretching out the trip means he gets to spend more time in Sally’s company. His cheerful exterior hides a wounded heart and a capacity for duplicity. Altogether, there are quite a few bumps in the road to self-realization and vengeance.

Kevin Brennan has created a finely-textured novel, with laughs (or at least smiles) on every page. Whether it’s groan-inducing puns or agile prose that creates vivid scenes in the reader’s personal mind-movie, the alert reader will find way more than the captivating plot to reward their decision to read Fascination.

Fascination may be obtained from only one source — the author.

Thinking Fiction: Fighting in Fiction

Here is a useful post about shoot-outs in fiction, something many of us try to pull off with limited or no experience and a bit of research.

An American Editor

by Carolyn Haley

I edit a lot of genre novels, and many of them include funny fighting. Not the ha-ha kind of funny, but the eye-rolling, groaning kind of funny caused by absurd or impossible situations. I believe some authors create such scenes because they have lived secure, nonviolent lives, and gained their impressions of battle from media. Young writers, in particular, are prone to composing fight and chase scenes that come across like video games. But young or old, many authors’ combat scenes show either a lack of direct experience or a failure to do research. As a result, the ordinary heroes they strive so hard to make human and believable suddenly become idiots or superheroes when faced with violence.

Editors sometimes allow fighting bloopers to pass unchallenged because they, too, have led secure, nonviolent lives. Editing is a desk job, and the types of people drawn to it…

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The New Garden Gate

The New Gatekeepers

I guess it had to happen. Technology opened the gate to all those writers who couldn’t get published the traditional way. Huzzah! But there are so many of us, cranking out books by the millions, that readers are overwhelmed. Most indie-published books join the blur and go unnoticed.

Except maybe the ones that get lots of reviews. Trouble is, it’s hard to get reviews, or at least the right kinds of reviews. No friends or family members. No “I’ll review yours if you review mine” arrangements. Brief comments by readers are fine; but thoughtful, thorough reviews by “official” reviewers are best of all — and almost impossible to get. Reviewers are the new gatekeepers. (As are a few advertisers, notably BookBub, which is pretty selective about which books it will promote. You need to pay them a non-trivial sum — but first you need a non-trivial number of good reviews).

You don’t have to look hard to find lists of rules and other admonishments directed at hopeful review-seeking authors. They look a lot like the submission guidelines and how-to-approach-publishers advice of the trad pub years. Some of these lists are lengthy and detailed, and a few verge on the offensive. Reading them conjures up a caricature of a desperate author approaching the enthroned reviewer, crawling on hands and knees while pushing a copy of their book along the floor with their nose. (And if your book is taken up by the reviewer, don’t even think about emailing to ask when the review might appear. Just. Don’t. Do it. Ever).

This is part of a bigger phenomenon associated with the self-pub revolution — the author as pest. It seems we’re a pretty annoying bunch: spewing out books full of typos and grammar no-nos, issuing endless “Check out my book!” tweets, approaching acquaintances with book in hand and big salesman’s grin on face, and bothering beleaguered book bloggers just like we did the beleaguered acquisitions editors of days gone by. (Remember all those tales of mail rooms crammed with unsolicited mss?) Maybe creativity generates a ferocious hunger for attention that overrides good manners. Book bloggers and reviewers have reacted predictably to the deluge of review requests by hedging themselves about with rules, just like publishers did.

But hey — at least now we writers are free to throw our books into the public arena. That’s way better than slinking back to our writing rooms to entomb the rejected manuscript in a cardboard box that once held dog food. The toughest gate has been breached. So what if there’s no sure-fire path to success? (There never was, actually). And a few of us have managed to get our books noticed, clearing the gates like so many hurdlers.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Re #guerrillapublishing

Here are some thoughts on #guerrillapublishing by the creative Kevin Brennan. And BTW, consider buying his latest book, Fascination. I did!

WHAT THE HELL

gorilla-610457_640 It behooves you to buy Fascination

One reason I decided to “publish” Fascination in this unorthodox way (selling it via my blog instead of Amazon) was to ask the question, “What is it to ‘publish’ anyway?” On the most basic level, it’s simply to “make available” or “distribute.” You can add “to sell at market,” I suppose, but technically no money has to change hands in a publishing arrangement with readers, as we indies show all the time with our giveaways.

It seems like that’s not quite enough to hang a hat on, though, since publishing seems to mean documenting a book, registering it, and making it searchable in subject categories, i.e., findable. Yet, there are so many indie books out there now that most of them are distinctly unfindable, except by direct recommendation or fluke. In that sense, “publishing” them by uploading them to Amazon and jumping…

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A Different Kind of Story

I have recently discovered a radio documentary that first appeared as a podcast by the CBC (Canada’s national broadcaster). It’s called Someone Knows Something, and describes a revisiting by independent filmmaker David Ridgen of the disappearance of five-year-old Adrien McNaughton in 1972. The boy vanished on a June day while on a fishing trip with his family at a small lake in eastern Ontario. Forty-three years later, Ridgen contacts the family, examines the search procedures and interviews people who were associated with the family and/or the search.

Each half-hour episode concentrates on various aspects of the case: the family’s memories, the theories around the disappearance (drowning, animal attack, kidnapping), consultations with psychics, artistic renderings of what Adrien might look like as an adult, searching the scene with cadaver-detecting dogs, and re-diving the lake.

Unsolved cases of vanished children are compelling and heart-wrenching. Ridgen’s take on the case of Adrien McNaughton unfolds slowly and methodically, revisiting and lingering on the scene at Holmes Lake, discussing the details with those who had participated in the extensive search, probing their memories for clue fragments.

All eleven episodes of Someone Knows Something are available on the CBC website. A bonus is the theme music created for the series by Bob Wiseman, and performed by the composer with vocalist Mary Margaret O’Hara. It’s wistful, heartbreaking, and a little weird — perfect for the subject matter of the series.

Listening to (so far) seven of the eleven episodes, I have been thinking how a story like this could inspire others — writers, poets, artists — to create new works. All art is rooted in some sort of lived experience, transforming it into something unique that adds to the shared entirety.

Missing

You did not say goodbye,

No door closed behind you.

You did not look back and wave

Before the world took you away.

The eye of the lake gazes at the sky,

The trees point upward and sway

As the wind shakes their limbs.

Snow falls, snow melts.

The small birds return.

Does the earth keep you close now,

In a deep embrace?

Or do you walk the days somewhere,

Wearing your own face, and a different name?

We do not know.

We do not forget.

November 9, 2013

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The Garden Goes On… And On

Gardens are collections of plants. No matter what the gardener does, plants grow, bloom, go to seed, and/or die, depending on the type of plant and whether it is getting the conditions it prefers. The gardener is a mere adjunct, trying with varying degrees of success to impose her idea of what the garden should be on a population of diverse plants. That’s the essence of gardening. It’s a constant struggle an intersection of plants, their needs, climate and weather, and the gardener’s desires and exertions.

Olympic Mullein -- gardener, look out!

Olympic Mullein — gardener, look out! Aaargh — too late!

Shortly after I retired at the end of March, I realized that as far as the garden was concerned, I was late to the party. Spring was early and warm, and growth was well under way before I had a chance to take a good look around. Too late for most pruning operations and moving plants around — two critical activities in this garden. Some plants — mainly shrubs — need frequent pruning, trimming and sucker removal. Others threaten to fade away unless moved to better spots, i.e., not overhung by trees or shrubs, in soil that isn’t full of maple roots.

I’ve spent the summer deadheading, watering, poking around and making plans for a grand game of musical chairs to be executed (what a word that is!) this fall and next spring. And a list of Things to Prune next winter. I’m keen to get going, but August isn’t the time for such exertions.

In the meantime, plants are going through their annual cycles, and so is the garden, which has entered what I think of as the brown season — late summer in a summer-dry climate. I’m getting tired of dragging the hose and hoisting the watering can. I know this happens every year. I know it will rain some day (and rain and rain some more). Hardy cyclamen will bloom. Mushrooms will sprout. Moss will green up. A few spring-blooming shrubs will send out a few flowers. The air will smell of coming autumn. But right now that seems far away.

Cyclamen, variegated hosta and hellebore

Cyclamen, variegated hosta and hellebore — in September, after rain.