Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

Tales from the Annexe 0.99 March 1-7

My story collection, Tales from the Annexe: seven stories from the Herbert West Series and seven other tales, is available at Amazon.com at the reduced price of $0.99 for the week of March 1st to 7th, 2021.

From Goodreads reviews–

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…great examples of the range of the author’s imagination.

“The Night Journey of Francis Dexter” is a must-read for Herbert West fans.

Short stories filled with interesting and unusual characters.

Each tale is unique, and they range from creepy to bone-chilling!

All in all, a wonderful collection of short stories.

Amazon.com

spade digging perennial bed

Digging and Renewal

My garden consists of seven or eight beds, inhabited mainly by perennials and bulbs.

Here is a description by Eleanor Perényi (in her book Green Thoughts: a writer in the garden) of what was necessary to maintain the classic English herbaceous border*:

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For a start, it was double-dug to a depth of several feet, then filled with well-rotted manure, ashes, sand, etc., and as if that weren’t enough for a lifetime, it was taken apart every third year, dug over, replenished with huge amounts of fertilizer and fresh soil. At that point, new plants were put in, old ones in need of dividing were broken up and reset, and the whole elaborate complex reassembled.

*A perennial border. Herbaceous plants are those whose top growth dies down in the winter.

If I managed to do even an approximation of this, my perennial beds would no doubt be glorious. Deep digging would remove the mat of feeding roots put out by the Norway maples that shade the beds. All the extra fertilizer would mean those roots would return, but a three year renewal cycle would ensure reasonably root-free soil for the perennials.

When should this operation be carried out? I suspect early autumn would be the best time. Many perennials would be at the end of their blooming seasons, and all spring bulbs would be dormant. There would be enough good weather left for plants to re-establish before winter. But what about those dormant bulbs? I can tell a daffodil bulb from a tulip or crocus, but unless there was a detailed and up to date map of the bed, or excellent labels (both unlikely at my place) it would be impossible to know which varieties they were. So much for any carefully worked out colour schemes.

So am I planning to dig up my beds any time soon? Not on your life.

For one thing, I’m not Superwoman (or Super-Gardener, for that matter). Digging up tree roots–or more likely sawing and chopping them–is brutal work. I’ve done it in small areas when moving or dividing plants. I can’t imagine working over an entire bed. My beds are up to 5 feet by 20. The grand gardens of England had small armies of gardeners to do stuff like this. In this non-grand garden of Canada, there’s just one gardener–me. Yes, there are a lot of spades-for-hire in the form of landscaping and yard maintenance companies, but they seem to fall into two groups: the mow the grass and trim the edges crews, or the ones that install instant gardens around new houses built on lots where old gardens have been stripped away to make room for the new. I’d rather not deal with them.

Another problem is my beds aren’t exclusively herbaceous. Some include shrubs, which would be impossible to dig up and replace. I would have to work around them, which would further complicate matters.

And yet, just reading the paragraph I quoted above, and imagining how the renewed beds would look, and how the plants would burgeon forth and bloom the following spring and summer–that brings on an intense bout of gardener’s guilt.

My practice is to apply an annual mulch of compost enriched with a variety of organic supplements such as alfalfa pellets, aged manure, kelp meal, bone meal, or soy meal, and inorganics like lime and all-purpose fertilizer. When I plant something new, I dig up the immediate area to the depth of the spade (about a foot, maybe 18 inches) and add compost and whatever of the other goodies I happen to have on hand. And of course I cut and remove any tree roots that have invaded the spot since it was last dug. (This is why I know I could never renew a whole bed at once; a 2 x 2 foot area is an all-day project.)

Feeding mulch ingredients in wheelbarrow with spade near compost heap. Alfalfa pellets, soy meal, lime, steer manure, compost.
Compost pile and wheelbarrow full of mulching mixture.

The above-quoted Ms. Perényi goes on to endorse this practice in her chapter on perennials, where she offers her thoughts based on experience in her own Connecticut garden.

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Nor is it necessary to double-dig. Ordinary digging in of natural fertilizer at the start, and liberal additions of enriched compost after that, are perfectly adequate.

It’s reassuring when another gardener, especially a noteworthy one, says it’s okay to do things the way one already does them. And gardening should be a life-enriching activity, not ache-inducing, heavy labour.

She Who Comes Forth by Audrey Driscoll

I was thrilled to read this review by J.F. Kaufmann of She Who Comes Forth. Of course, I have to share it!

The Red Cliffs Chronicles

The first book I read this year left me frustrated. I was way more fortunate with my second read in 2021 – She Who Comes Forth by Audrey Driscoll.

I really enjoyed this mystery novel set in the early 1960s Egypt and was sorry to part with it, which is always a good sign – an emotional and mental relationship with a book doesn’t happen out of nowhere.

It has a thrilling plot, believable, multifaceted characters, and a delightful touch of spookiness. It also has somethingelse, and I’ll try to explain it.

I’ve been dazzled by Ancient Egypt since I was a child. You don’t need to believe in pseudo-scientific hypotheses about its origins to become fascinated with Egypt – I certainly don’t — but once you learn a little bit more about this incredible civilization, you can’t ignore the mysteries, the unknown and unexplained that surround it…

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Cursed, Dumb, or Unlucky? Making Trouble for Your Characters

“Torture your characters” is advice I’ve seen so often I think I should add it to my ever-increasing list of Advice to Question. Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age, but this one does have some merit.

For one thing, if the story’s goal is achieved or the problem solved too quickly, the novel or story ends up being too short and possibly boring. Boring the reader is a cardinal sin of writing. So it’s pretty much a given that the writer must create an obstacle course their characters must negotiate to achieve whatever it is they want or need.

Two problems I’ve experienced with doing this:

  • In real life, I make efforts to avoid problems when I’m planning a DIY project, a road trip, or cooking a dish I haven’t tried before. So it goes against the grain to create problems for my main characters, with whom I tend to identify because I often write in first person.
  • I don’t like making my characters look dumb. In She Who Comes Forth, for example, France Leighton does things that may be described as unwise. One reviewer expressed concern about this; another just called her stupid. On the other hand, she is not a “Mary Sue.”

Like any other plot device, the obstacles, difficulties, or perils we create for our characters have to serve the plot. The bumps along the road must be consistent with the plot and advance it, rather than be obviously stuck in to follow the “torture your characters” rule. A deus ex machina is a deus ex machina, even if the god intervenes to mess things up rather than fix them.

If a story involves life-threatening situations, escape and flight, or the schemes of an evil antagonist, perilous situations are essential parts of the plot. But what if your story is about ordinary life? Well, there’s always the difficult boss, the unexpected guest, the leaky roof, or the machinations of bureaucrats.

In addition to fitting the plot, the obstacles have to be appropriate for the character and situation. A flat tire is a mere annoyance if time isn’t of the essence. Climbing a high ladder and crawling onto a steep roof packs more punch if the character who has to do it is terrified of heights. The best obstacles are the ones with no good or safe choice. They may include all kinds of hard choices, not only physical dangers.

Putting characters in trouble can benefit the plot in ways other than creating tension. Negotiating with the boss, accommodating (or ejecting) the unexpected guests, or figuring out how to deal with bureaucracy would be opportunities to

  • show characters’ flaws and fears
  • show how they cope with adversity
  • show how they change or grow over the course of the story by developing skills or changing attitudes.

Does anyone else have a problem with making their characters struggle? Does anyone love doing it? Share your torture tips!

Image from Pexels

writing notebook pen computer keyboard

Calling All Writers!

Writers Supporting Writers is a site for writers to share thoughts and ideas.

We extend an invitation to all writers to

  • write a guest post
  • join a video chat
  • ask us a question about writing or publishing
  • suggest topics for discussion
  • read posts, watch video chats, and contribute your thoughts in the comments.

Contact us! Email: WritingHelp2021@gmail.com

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A Video Chat — What We Like About Writing

Here’s another free-wheeling discussion among three writers about what they like about their craft.

Audrey, Berthold, and Mark take on a topic. To get away from the rules of writing and what can sometimes be too much focus on the negatives about writing, we decided to talk about what we like about writing. We spent a few minutes on that topic. The conversation eventually morphed into a conversation about how we write, primarily Audrey’s method. Take a look and let us know what you like about writing.

Continue reading and watch the video at Writers Supporting Writers.

Updating an Ebook is Harder than I Thought

One of the good things about self-publishing in ebook form with Amazon KDP is you can correct typos and other errors easily. Make the changes in your base document, upload it to KDP, press Publish and you’re done, right?

Yes and no.

Readers who buy your book after you publish the corrected version will get that version. But what about everyone who pre-ordered it or bought it before you discovered those pesky typos? You’ve assumed the corrected version will be automatically delivered to their reading devices, right?

Probably not.

One of the authors whose blog I follow recently published an updated and corrected version of an ebook. Being aware of this, I was eager to reread the book in its new form. When I checked my Kindle library (note: I don’t own a Kindle reader; I read Kindle books on a tablet using the Kindle app), I found only the original version of the book.

I thought, Okay, I’ll just buy a copy of the improved edition. No luck–Amazon told me I already own the book. So I went to “Manage Your Content and Devices,” where I found all the Kindle books I’ve ever bought. One of them–just one!–had “Update Available” below the title. The others did not, including the title I wanted to update. Yes, I have Automatic Book Update turned On in my Amazon account. And yes, I tried clicking Select next to the title and then clicking on Deliver at the top of the page, then designating the device I wanted the book delivered to. No soap; I’m guessing that because the ASIN is the same, I’m stuck with the original version.

This was confirmed by further digging in KDP’s Help pages, where I found one called Send Updated eBook Content to Customers. This page specifies exactly what an author has to do to enable an automatic update to be sent to people who have purchased the book.

You have to contact Amazon. The errors have to be “serious.” “You need to provide us detailed examples of your improvements regarding the quality errors.” And “You need to send us the ASIN, detailed examples of the corrections you made, and the Kindle location number. Location numbers are the digital equivalent of physical page numbers and provide a way to easily reference a place in your reading material regardless of font size.” I’m quoting from the page I linked to in the preceding paragraph.

There is also a list of changes Amazon will NOT accept. One of them is “significant changes that warrant a new edition.” I’m guessing a new edition would be an entirely new book, with a new ASIN. That’s where I gave up.

My takeaway from these investigations is: Make sure your Kindle ebook is perfect before you publish it for the first time. Or be prepared to make a case to Amazon for pushing out your changes to customers. Almost like in the bad old days of offset printing, where making a correction was difficult and expensive.

I would be delighted if anyone can tell me (on good authority) that the above is all wrong. Has anyone been able to download a corrected copy of a Kindle ebook you’ve purchased? And finally, has anyone gone through the steps described above to correct a book you’ve published?

Front arches and cotoneaster with snow February 2021

First (and Last?) Blast of Winter

Until last week, the winter of 2020-2021 was a mild one here on the west coast of Canada. That’s the way it should be, right? A couple of weeks ago, I was anticipating spring.

But this is a La Niña winter. You know La Niña–she’s El Niño’s evil twin sister. Her style is to hold back until spring is just around the corner, and then to descend on the unsuspecting saps who’ve been busy sending photos of stuff blooming in their gardens to folks in places that always get real winters.

miniature daffodils
Early daffodils in 2019. This year they didn’t quite get to this stage before the snow.

Last week, temperatures as low as -9C (16F) were forecast. I raced around the garden, lugging pots into the basement and moving other pots into what I hoped would be sufficiently sheltered spots to withstand the predicted northeast winds that were supposed to produce a wind chill well into the minus degrees. Then I covered up plants that couldn’t be moved with odds and ends of pruned twigs and things like old bath mats and car seat covers that I keep in the shed for these weather eventualities.

Snow on front garden shrubs February 2021

I kept hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as predicted, and it wasn’t, but a low of -4.5C (24F) is pretty cold, especially with a wind gusting to 70 km/hr (35 mph). Having done what I could for plants, I worried about how birds were faring. I made sure the two hummingbird feeders went out first thing in the morning. On Friday, February 12th there were three Anna’s hummingbirds tanking up at the same time at one feeder, a sight I haven’t seen before, since each feeder is usually hogged by one aggressive dude who chases any others away.

Hummingbird at feeder February 2021
Anna’s hummingbird tanking up.
Hummingbird in cotoneaster February 2021
Keeping watch on his (or maybe her?) feeder.

On Friday night, snow began and fell steadily until after noon on Saturday. Total was 30 cm (1 foot). Fortunately, the wind diminished and the temperature rose to an almost tolerable -1C (30F). Rain is predicted for next week, and a return to normal temperatures, meaning lows of 2C (36F) and highs of 8C (46F).

Bird bath and snow February 2021

Returning to plants, I would have been happier if this wintry blast had turned up in December or January, before plants were starting to sprout and even bloom. Now the hellebores, which were in bloom, have gone limp. I know they’ll rebound once it warms up, but it’s still depressing to see them lying on the ground. Buds of Clematis armandii, the evergreen clematis that’s the first to bloom, may have been blasted to the point of no bloom at all by that cold northeast wind. Some of those potted plants may have suffered as well.

Snow on front steps February 2021
Pots near front steps. You can see limp hellebores hanging over the edges of the pots on the left.

While distressing, this sort of snow and cold event is by no means unheard of here. We get one every couple of years. I just wish La Niña had better timing.

Snow on front walk February 2021