Lily-flowered magnolia "Susan" in April 2014

The Rites (and Wrongs) of Spring

Spring has settled in and I’ve done the usual things associated with the season: edging the perennial beds, distributing enriched compost, cutting the grass, seeding tomatoes (indoors), cutting down old dead stuff, and, of course, pruning. Pruning is always a challenge, often involving ladders, rose thorns, and holly prickles. Then there’s disposal of the trimmed off stuff — more thorns and prickles.

But now all that’s done, and the deadheading and watering phase hasn’t started. The garden is looking pretty good (except for certain spots to a discerning eye). Time to list the good and the less-than-good (i.e. bad) things I’ve noticed so far.

The Bad

  • poppy pagoda to protect blue poppies from winter rainAll except one of the blue poppies (Meconopsis) perished over the winter, despite (or maybe because of) being transplanted to deluxe quarters in half-barrels last autumn. Even the specially built roofs on legs, intended to protect them from winter rain, didn’t do the trick. I think my mistake was the pea gravel mulch, which kept the soil too moist through the winter. The sole survivor looks a bit feeble, but I’m letting myself hope it will survive. Local nurseries don’t as yet have any plants in stock, but I plan to give this fussy species another try.
  • The reliable-as-furniture ferns (Dryopteris species and others) haven’t unfurled their fiddleheads yet. Usually by mid-April they are well under way. They’re alive but dawdling. Why? The past winter wasn’t that harsh. Could it be because I cut down last year’s fronds too early, before the last hard frosts?
  • A potted delphinium has, like the blue poppies, succumbed to root or crown rot, probably because I didn’t repot it into fresh, uncompacted soil last year. Delphiniums need that near-mythical combination of “moist but well-drained” soil. If they’re grown in pots, the gardener needs to keep in mind that the soil becomes dense and less well-drained over two or three years. The next winter administers the kiss of death. Goodbye, delphinium.
  • A couple of tulips appear to have “tulip fire,” a disease caused by the fungus Botrytis tulipae. They will have to be dug up and disposed of. This problem is new to me. Those particular tulips have occupied their spots for years — which, I understand, is the problem. The longer they remain undisturbed, the more susceptible they are. If I decide to replace them, the new bulbs will have to be planted in different locations.

The Good

  • The winter massacre of crocuses (most likely by rats) wasn’t as bad as I thought. Some areas escaped completely.
  • A potted hosta I thought was a goner after it was dug and dumped by some creature (probably a raccoon) has sprouted out nicely.
  • The pretty blue* bindweed relative, Convolvulus sabatius, has survived the winter well, unlike other years when it didn’t show above ground until June. I also have hopes that Gaura lindheimeri made it. I still don’t know why this plant, supposedly hardy to Zone 5 or 6, has a habit of dying here in Zone 8. My soil is sandy and well-drained, which is supposedly what it needs.
  • Daylily “Hyperion,” which I dug up and divided in February because it seemed to be in decline due to pushy maple roots, appears to be doing well, both in its old spot (from which I removed a lot of roots) and the two new ones.
  • Clematis armandii foliage and flowers in holly bush

    Clematis armandii and holly

    I managed to prune both Clematis armandii and the holly that supports it without inflicting major unintended damage to the clematis. It tends to grow in loops and figure eights, so if pruning is needed (best done as its blooming period ends), you can’t just snip anywhere. My rule is never to make a cut unless I can see the end of the thing being cut. There’s nothing worse than seeing a whole section of the plant wilting a few days later because of a blind cut.

  • After a dry March, we’ve had an abundance of rain in April. The real test, of course, will be June, July, and August. At least one of these months will be rainless. If it’s two consecutive months, there will be groaning and gnashing of teeth by this gardener.
  • The pink magnolia is blooming heartily. So are forget-me-nots and bluebells. And gentians, which are intensely blue.*
  • The apple tree and lilac have obvious plans to bloom soon. In general, the garden looks fine.
Back garden spring 2018 birthday birdbath

Part of the back garden, featuring the birdbath that was this year’s birthday present. A few birds have actually used it for bathing purposes.

April 6, 2016

Gentiana acaulis

* Like many gardeners, I have a thing for blue flowering plants, many of which are hard to grow (blue poppies and delphiniums, for instance). One type of gentian (Gentiana acaulis) seems to do fairly well here, and forget-me-nots are practically a weed. For them I am grateful.

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A Book Series Infographic

A while ago, I read a couple of posts about creating infographics to promote books or enhance blogs. Being a keen user of Canva for the past couple of years, I suspected they had templates for that. They do — lots of them, including many free ones.

Here’s an infographic for my book series I whipped up using one of the Canva templates. I changed the background and text colours, and, of course, the text and pictures. It really was quick and easy.

Give it a try: www.canva.com

The Herbert West Series

 

 

type

Editing? Ask Yourself This. And This.

manuscript and notebook She Who Comes Forth work in progressI’m in the process of turning this pile of scribbled-upon paper into a book. In other words, I’m editing the first draft of my work in progress. (Well, okay, I’m actually working with a Word document, but it started out with pen on paper).

As I work through each of the fifteen sections that may very well end up being chapters, I ask myself questions like these:

blue flames question markWhy?

Is this logical?

Would it really take that long?

Could it possibly happen that fast?

Why this word/sentence/paragraph? What do they add to the story?

Why would he/she/they say/do/think/want that?

Does she know that yet? Why would she care?

Etc.

The first whack at the first draft is really hard. And annoying. Here’s why: to create that first draft, the imagining part of my brain worked full blast, making up scenes and putting down words. That was hard enough.

But editing that first draft is a negotiation between the Editor side of the brain — asking all those questions — and the Imaginer, who must re-imagine and re-create. “Hey you, this doesn’t make sense. Come here and fix it!” The two sides don’t always get along. The Imaginer is a free spirit and doesn’t like being ordered around. The Editor is a bit obsessive.

In fact, I started writing this post to get away from the situation. Sections #6 and #7 needed some significant tweaks to make plausible a really important scene in Section #14. Think Rubik’s Cube. And I finally got around to figuring out just how many days elapse over the course of the first ten sections. Surprise! There’s no way my character could get a reply on Day 19 to a letter she sent on Day 15. It’s a long way from Luxor, Egypt to Providence, Rhode Island, and no one was sending emails, texts, or even faxes in 1962!

Fix, fix, fix!

hammer and anvilI don’t know about other writers, but when I finish a scene or chapter, it’s tight, like a glued and clamped piece of woodwork. Each line cues the next one. There’s no gap into which a little extra can be wedged. If a scene needs to be adjusted or corrected, I have to wrench the whole thing apart and rebuild it.

Aaargh.

Creating a timeline was a great idea. Inserting DAY 1, DAY 2, etc. into the text was an even better one. At last I feel in control of chronological details. I wish I’d thought of doing this earlier. A bonus fact I’ve discovered is that 1962 and 2018 share a calendar, so I can even get days of the week right. But then there are those moon phases, which aren’t the same.

Copy of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes used paperback

From the basement’s random used book collection.

BTW, if you want to see writing with a lot of strong verbs and minimal use of that frowned-upon word, “was,” grab a copy of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and read the first couple of chapters. It’s amazing, full-tilt action writing, and yet poignant and poetic. Something to strive for while massaging text.

When Writing is the Cause of and the Solution To Anxiety

Here is a thoughtful post by indie author Chantelle Atkins, about writing and emotions.

The Glorious Outsiders

For a lot of people, writing can be incredibly therapeutic. It provides an emotional outlet, a chance to say what we think and feel, the opportunity to have a voice and be heard. Whether we publish our work or not, there is no doubt that writing provides an emotional release, as well as a creative one. Throughout my life, I have often turned to writing to soothe and comfort me. I’ve used it to combat and work through feelings of anxiety, loneliness and anger. As a young child, I wrote a diary religiously, and I still have them. Piles of notebooks filled with my inner thoughts and emotions, as well as my hopes and fears. There is no doubt in my mind that writing has helped me in my life and provided a kind of therapy when needed. For this reason, I would recommend it to anyone who needs to…

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Writing While Old

I had another birthday recently and celebrated two years of retirement a couple of days ago. I’m starting to think of myself as “older,” if not actually old. It seems most of the writers in my corner of the blogosphere are middle-aged or older. Younger writers must hang out somewhere else.

I knew all my life I wanted to write. Scenes and dialogue snippets would materialize in my mind, no doubt inspired by all the reading I did at the time. I kept a journal for decades, starting at age 13. I wrote poetry in my teens (who doesn’t?) and a little novel as a school project. I wrote essays and assigned papers in college, and memos and reports for my job. But I thought the only way to become a real writer was to make it a career choice at an early age, get a creative writing degree, live in a garret, and do nothing but write and hobnob with other writers. I missed my chance to do any of those things, so would never be a writer.

Until November 2000, when I finally thought, “Why not? Who’s going to stop me?” I had been nursing an idea for a novel for a couple of years. One day I started writing and haven’t stopped. The thrill of creation helped me finish that novel and write four more while I was still working full time. After diligent attempts to get published traditionally, I decided the only way that would happen was posthumously. The self-pub option came along just in time, as did blogging.

Am I a real writer? You bet. Am I a professional writer? No. I am lucky enough to have an adequate pension, so I have no need to make a living from my writing. (A good thing, too.) I have the freedom to decide what I write, and how I promote my writing. With time at my disposal, I can draw upon the experience, insights and wisdom of a lifetime to explore relationships and situations and spin them into stories.

Like most writers, old and not so old, self- or otherwise published, I write for the love of it. Some of the benefits are:

Learning stuff. I’ve learned how to create plots and characters, do research, rewrite and edit. I’ve learned how to wrestle Word documents into forms that can be turned into ebooks and printed books. I’ve put together some half-decent cover images. And I’ve maintained this blog for several years.

Personal connections. I’ve been a member of my local writers’ society since 2003, and several critique groups. That gets me out of the house and face to face with other writers and gives me the opportunity to read some of their writing and offer (I hope) helpful suggestions. I’ve also met some wonderful people through their blogs. (You know who you are).

An Active Mind. To keep my aging brain active, writing beats watching television, doing crossword puzzles, or working “brain gym” games. See “Learning stuff” above.

Books. Written, rewritten, edited, published, and available to readers. Unlike my younger self, thinking how I would never be a writer, now I am one.

Spark the imagination! Light that fire!

 

Fire adj2

chocolate eggs, Easter

Pastel Palette Pleases Palate

These little candy-coated chocolate eggs are almost more delightful to look at than to eat.

chocolate eggs, Easter, glass jar

 

It’s actually a good thing they’re a seasonal item, and the season will end soon. Chocolate eggs, however yummy, aren’t really a recommended food group.

 

chocolate eggs, Easter, glass jar

 

I’ll miss the colours, though. The blue, yellow and white match my kitchen perfectly. And the pink looks great with the current set of place mats.

The 2018 Interview Series Featuring Audrey Driscoll

By happy chance, my appearance on Don Massenzio’s blog coincided with my birthday. A birthday bonus!

Author Don Massenzio

It’s time for the next subject for my 2018 author interview series. Author interviews are posted every Friday throughout the year.

I am honored to continue this series with Canadian author Audrey Driscoll.

You can catch up with all of my past author interviews (nearly 200) on my Author Directory page.

If you’re an author interested in being interviewed in this series, I still have limited spots available for 2018. You can email me at don@donmassenzio.com

Now, please enjoy this interview with Audrey Driscoll:


Audrey Aug 31 2014 Crop (2016_07_22 03_09_15 UTC)Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

The premises behind my books don’t come from any sort of rational intention to deliver a product to a target market of readers. They all arise from some mysterious conjunction of ideas in my brain. Some of them are probably more original than others.

If you could tell your younger writing…

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An Interlude on Stage

Discouraged writers, read this piece before you throw away your pen or shut down your “battered device.”

heroicallybadwriter

Sometimes I indulge in a Shakespeare play session in my DVD collection, and there are effects on my writing which insist on being displayed….

*********************************************************************************

Stage directions:

A group of folk are sitting, forlorn.

Enter:

The Commentator:

Speaks:                Good-day to you my fellow Wordsmiths

Why these sombre faces?

What halts or confounds your pens?

Have you fallen out to dispute of

Those five particular sisters

Calliope of the wondrous images

Euterpe entrancing with the lyrical dance

Thalia ever humorous and irreverent

Erato sweet purveyor of heart’s feelings

Polyhymnia, solemn in her honoring of the divine

Spokesperson:                    Well for you friend

That you should still be light of heart

Feel all is worth the business

For us, we see no sign of reward

No one beckons us

And heartily cries

‘Come! We would read your words!’

We sit in small dark corners

And none notice, or care

For our efforts.

Commentator:                   …

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Seven Stones: The Complete Series Cover Reveal

I’m happy to share this great cover for Dave Higgins’ exciting serial. I binge-read it on his blog a while ago, and heartily recommend it.

Davetopia

Behold the front cover for Seven Stones: The Complete Series, a compilation of all ninety-seven parts of my weekly swords-and-sorcery serial, soon to be available in paperback and various eformats.

Book Cover for Seven Stones The Complete Series showing a rapier superimposed over standing stones (Dave Higgins)

The printers sent the proof copy out this morning, so—barring unexpected issues—it will be released this week or next.

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White daffodil with pale yellow middle near pond

Plant Material

Now that spring is imminent, perennials are poking their noses above the ground, telling gardeners that they are alive and ready for another growing season. Gardeners hover anxiously over spots where particularly fussy or cold-intolerant specimens were last seen, hoping for a sign of life.

003I’ve been hovering over my blue poppies. Late last summer, I transplanted them to what I thought were deluxe accommodations in half-barrels. Excellent soil, no tree roots, and a pea gravel mulch intended to prevent crown rot. Custom made roofs on legs to keep away winter rain. No efforts were spared. The plants settled in nicely and made new growth before they went dormant for winter. So far this spring, things don’t look good. I’m beginning to think the pea gravel was a mistake; it probably kept the top layer of soil moist enough for the dreaded crown rot to do its thing. If all seven plants are dead, I’ll have to acquire new ones and try again.

The white and yellow daffodil in the featured image has bloomed faithfully each spring since the mid 1990s. At first there was only one flower; a few years later, there were two, and the past two or three springs, it’s produced three flowers. So what? Daffodils are planted out by the thousands in parks and even in some private gardens. But this one plant is easily identifiable, and so regular, that I have come to recognize it as an individual.

This picture — of a gardener fussing over a few plants, or even a single one — is completely removed from the way plants are sold and handled on a commercial scale. We’ve all seen hundreds of potted plants for sale, not at nurseries or even garden centres, but at grocery stores, hardware stores, and discount consumer outlets. No one fusses over these units produced by mass propagation. They’re given minimal attention by busy staff, wheeled in and out of display areas daily, get knocked over by windstorms, and finally start to look a bit stressed. Plants that don’t sell by the end of July are put on deep discount and finally trashed. At least they’re compostable.

Then there are instant gardens installed by landscape contractors driving trucks with graphically designed logos on the doors. In a week, the job is done. A multitude of perennials and shrubs has been plugged into the ground in pleasing patterns. The operation has more in common with laying carpets or interlocking bricks than with my kind of gardening. Freshly finished, such gardens look lovely and (on a bad day) make me think mine — the result of a quarter century of earnest digging, planting, watering, and anxious hovering — looks pathetic by comparison. Of course, if not maintained by someone who knows what they’re doing, those installed gardens go downhill pretty fast. I’ve seen it happen.

Those who do large scale garden work seem to have a utilitarian or even disrespectful attitude toward plants. Often, it starts with razing and removal of every growing thing on a city lot — and of the original house too — followed by digging a great big hole, maybe a bit of blasting. A huge house is erected and landscaping installed by a contractor. Another contractor provides an irrigation system, probably programmed and controlled with a smartphone app. A truck pulls up once a week, disgorging fast-moving people wielding power tools who buzz through the place, mowing, trimming, fluffing up the soil and adding mulch. As long as the bills are paid, the place looks fine. In such gardens, you don’t see any shabbily-dressed figures (i.e., resident gardeners) drifting around, peering at plants and scuffling inefficiently, making repeated trips to the shed for yet another tool, a couple more stakes, or a ball of twine.

I want to say that the instant garden isn’t really  a garden, and those yard maintenance folks aren’t gardeners. I suspect this idea may be tainted with irrational sentimentality, but I’m clinging to it anyway. To me a garden is a patch of earth sweated over by someone who knows almost every plant that grows from it, who rejoices when those first shoots appear in spring and mourns when they don’t.

I suppose what I’m really talking about is analogous to the difference between the backyard chicken flock where every hen has a name, and the industrial poultry system. The small, personal garden and the installed landscape are really two different (if related) things. Each has a place, but in me they evoke opposite reactions.