Urban deer (doe)

Everything Eats!

It’s a fact of life that all animals (including humans) must eat. No eating, no life. But for some reason, in my garden this spring more plants than usual have been gnawed, nibbled, and chomped.

To wit:

  • A small plant of Rosa chinensis “Mutabilis,” purchased last summer and carefully planted in autumn, was chomped to 2″ above ground level last winter by a deer who found its little green twigs a nice snack. It survived and is even blooming now, but it’s half the size it should be.
  • The potted delphiniums sprouted out beautifully, but sparrows decided their new leaves were a delightful salad green in March. Netting to the rescue!
  • A tomato seedling was reduced to a stub by a slug whose presence in its pot was overlooked by the gardener when lugging the pots inside for the night. Amazingly, the seedling survived and has actually sprouted a new leaf, but I don’t think it will fully recover.
  • A group of sunflower seedlings vanished overnight, eaten by something. Fortunately a couple of new ones sprouted late and survived.
  • Siberian and Pacific Coast irises budded up nicely, but several buds were found on the ground or hanging by a thread, victims of so-called “climbing cutworms,” which are actually larvae of various moths. Like the other eaters, they dine at night. They don’t eat the flower buds themselves, but chew through the stems just below the buds. For some reason this is especially infuriating.
  • The rose “Fragrant Cloud” for once escaped defoliation by black spot and developed several buds earlier than it ever has. Unfortunately, something drilled holes in a couple of them. Aphids invaded the holes and ants showed up to manage the aphids. Needless to say, the resulting flowers were rather poor, but there are some healthy buds developing now.
Flower of rose "Fragrant Cloud" damaged by bugs
O Rose thou art sick.
Image from Wikimedia Commons

All this eating had me self-castigating for carelessness and resorting to defensive measures: grinding Perlite to use as a gritty deterrent around irises, lugging pots into the shed every evening, squirting deer repellant, and creeping around at night armed with a flashlight and scissors, looking for caterpillars. I dispatched several, and most of the irises bloomed well in the end.

Blue bearded irises

Thinking about it, I’ve realized a few things:

  • It’s not surprising that the fresh growth of early spring coincides with the emergence of life forms whose sole mission in life is to eat until they move on to the next stage, which is to reproduce.
  • Buds are high-value items. Plants put a lot of energy into buds, so it’s logical that they would be targets for eaters.
  • Once leaves and stems toughen up, they are no longer of interest.
  • It’s a good idea to plant a few extra seeds, just in case.
  • Most plants survive.
Perennial bed on west side of house, looking north

Nature Photo Challenge #14: My Haven of Peace

This week’s challenge from Denzil Nature is photos of a place where we find peace. So this is my garden, where I experience peace as well as face challenges, deal with problems, and figure things out.

This is where I struggle and strive, dig and swear, and, on windless evenings or summer daybreaks, experience peace (until I see something that needs doing).

(Blog followers have seen these photos before; hope you don’t mind.)

Back garden
Garden pond
Blue Siberian irises

Mental Illness in Fiction

I’ve been seeing a trend in book reviews questioning the use of mental illness in works of fiction, as a plot device or even the main theme of a novel. (And yes, that includes reviews of one of my books.)

Also, it happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month, so this is a good time to address the topic.

This post has more questions than answers.

Some reviewers declare they will not read or favourably review any book that uses mental illness as a plot device to create tension or conflict.

But what about the unreliable narrator? What about the psychological thriller? What about the character who does terrible or puzzling things because of mental illness?

When might it be OK?

  • Never?
  • If the writer has experienced mental illness and writes from that experience
  • If the writer has done extensive research on the specific illness in their story and/or interviewed people who have experienced it, and writes about it respectfully
  • If the writer has had the manuscript reviewed by a sensitivity reader
  • If the writer avoids stereotypes or tropes associated with mental illness
  • If there are trigger warnings in the book description and/or at the beginning of the book
  • If mental illness is not explicitly mentioned in the story, even though one or more characters display what might be termed symptoms?

If it’s never okay, that means writers are limited to pure evil (whatever that is) to motivate the serial killer, or inexplicable confusion for the unreliable narrator. Or simply an inexplicable tendency to lie. Is it okay to leave it up to readers to carry out a diagnosis?

And why is it okay to show murder, bloody combat, and child abuse in fiction, but not mental illness?

What about all those characters who remember or discover terrible things that were done to them as children?

Psychological conditions are common in real life and therefore in fiction. It’s just as unacceptable to pretend they don’t exist as to treat them casually and thoughtlessly. But I see objections, in recent reviews and articles, to writers using the terminology or descriptions of symptoms because it’s “unfair,” or because it might “trigger” a reader who has experienced or is experiencing mental illness.

And what about suicide? Is it ever okay to mention or depict that in fiction? Strangely enough, even though a search on “mental illness in fiction” brings up many articles that say don’t do it, a search on “suicide in fiction” yields lists such as “the 10 best suicides in literature.” Is suicide just too useful as a plot device?

And what about trigger warnings? How detailed should they be? What about spoilers?

For what it’s worth, I think it’s undeniable that a greater awareness of mental illness requires us writers to avoid treating it casually in our fiction. We must think of it as something that can affect any of us, rather than a peculiarity of people who are “not us.”

Have you read or written books that mention or include mental illness? Is anyone prepared to revise their published works to address issues mentioned here?

For a more extensive look at the issue, have a look at this post from Rabbit With a Red Pen.

The Wikipedia entry titled “Mental disorders in fiction” lists numerous works that include mental illness.

Nature Photo Challenge #12: Trees

Another week, another photo challenge from Denzil. This time, it’s big life forms, i.e. trees.

Vancouver Island is famous for its coniferous rainforests (what’s left of them), but all three of these trees are deciduous types. The oak and maple are native to the region; I’m not sure about the birch. The first photo was taken in spring, the other two in autumn.

An ancient Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) at the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve
Top of birch tree in back garden with a few remaining leaves
A birch tree at the back of my garden
Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) at McKenzie Bight yellow leaves fall 2021
Bigleaf Maples (Acer macrophyllum) on the McKenzie Bight trail near Victoria, BC
open book against blue sky with white clouds

Reading Trad vs. Indie

Much of my reading is fiction by indie authors, but lately I’ve read several traditionally-published books. Two are recent nonfiction, one recent fiction, and another fiction originally published more than a century ago, reissued in the 1960s. Reading these books has given me an opportunity to compare reading experiences, trad vs. indie. Here are my observations.

Trad books have more precise editing and are better designed and formatted, with professionally designed covers. Consider that it takes a year or more between acceptance and publication, with teams of editors, designers and publicists involved in production of a trad-pubbed book.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Let’s face it, though—the purpose of the cover, book description, and overall design of a book is to attract attention and sell the book. Once a person has purchased it, those elements don’t really matter. They are sizzle; the story itself is the steak.

Recent traditionally-published fiction presents urgent stories with high drama, aiming to hook and hold readers, because books have to earn their keep immediately upon release. Publishers no longer want to carry a bunch of mid-listers. Go big or go OP.

Self-published authors also produce stories with hooks, conflict, and gripping prose. But indies can take more chances to produce unusual stories, i.e. ones with leisurely pacing or a contemplative tone, or just offbeat. Imagination isn’t exclusive to writers with publishing contracts. Unless the prose is so clunky that the story gets bogged down by it, there are some fantastic stories published by indies.

Indies aren’t pressured into the “book as commercial product” mold. They don’t have to adhere to someone else’s schedule and crank out stories with rushed endings, or recycle their characters and plots until they’re threadbare.

Trad books have better visibility. Publishers are linked to distribution networks and have established procedures for distributing advance review copies. The publisher-funded book tour may be a thing of the past for most authors, but publishers do contribute to building buzz. Indies, on the other hand, have to do all the work themselves (if they choose to).

In the end, it’s all about the reading experience.

So did the trad-pubbed books I read offer a better reading experience than the indie authors’ books? Once I was into a book, did I look forward to reading trad more than indie? Did I give higher ratings to one or the other?

The answer to all three questions: No. I’ve rated and reviewed both types of books similarly, and once engaged with a book, I’ve been equally keen to continue reading it, regardless of which end of the publishing spectrum it came from.

Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Pexels.com

Writers who publish their own books can now offer a reading experience equal or superior to that provided by traditional publishers, even the big corporate outfits. There is a greater variation in quality among self-published books, both in writing and in presentation, but there are many self-published books equal in all aspects to the traditional publishers’ product. They are harder to find than trad-pubbed bestsellers, however, because of less exposure and the sheer number of books available.

Reading time is constricted by the huge variety of other entertainment options available. If potential readers’ attention is taken up by traditionally-published books, they are not likely to discover great indie-published ones. This is why word-of-mouth (or on blogs and social media) recommendations are so important to self-published authors.

Apparently April was the month to celebrate indie artists and authors everywhere, something I didn’t know until I read this post by Mark Paxson, who is also an indie author. But let’s make every month Read an Indie Book Month!

Fellow readers (and writers), do you prefer to read traditionally-published books or those by indie authors? How would you compare them in terms of reading experiences?

Small Amanita muscaria mushrooms near the pond with Hosta leaves in background

Nature Photo Challenge #8: Fascinating Fungi

Yet another photo challenge from Denzil Nature. All photos are from my archives, because there are no mushrooms visible here now (unless you know where to look).

Fungus on log
Leathery fungus (name unknown to me) on a section of log
Amanita muscaria mushroom
A cute little baby Amanita muscaria
Boletus mushroom October 2020
A mushroom in the genus Boletus. Species unknown to me, but it’s obviously edible by something!
Mystery mushroom; turned out to be Battarrea phalloides, July 28, 2019
The “mystery mushroom” that popped up near my garden shed in July 2019. A mycologist identified it as Battarrea phalloides. A very strange life form indeed.
Giant specimen of Boletus edulis at SVIMS Mushroom Show Nov. 3, 2019
A gigantic specimen of Boletus edulis on exhibit at a mushroom show put on by the South Vancouver Island Mycological Society in 2019, where I had my mystery mushroom identified.
Amanita muscaria mushroom
Amanita muscaria all grown up!