Images for Tales from the Annexe

Pictures for Several Thousand Words, Part 2

Pictures for Several Thousand Words, Part 1, with images for stories from the Herbert West Series, may be found here.

The first two speculative fiction stories in Tales from the Annexe predate my acquaintance with Canva, so I did not have images for them when I began putting this post together. I decided to do something about that, and I am pleased with the results.

Image #2 for Welcome to the Witch House story
As if moving into a dump of a haunted house isn’t bad enough, Frank Elwood discovers conceited math student Walter Gilman is already living there, for his own peculiar reasons.
Image for The Deliverer of Delusions story
Miranda Castaigne gives up her romantic life with artistic ex-pats in Paris to discover the truth about her eccentric brother’s death in a New York City lunatic asylum.
Friends Will and Doof investigate a mysterious ice cream truck that cruises their town at night.
Image for The Colour of Magic story
Things get weird when the tenant in Marc’s basement suite insists on painting her bedroom with a very special paint.
Image for A Howling in the Woods story
When Doug’s son Todd keeps playing a recording he’d made in the woods, of a strange howling sound, Doug orders him out of the truck–and into those woods.
Image for The Glamour story
Fifteen-year-old Ann, convinced she was switched at birth with the daughter of a wealthy family, sneaks into their home on the evening of a party.
Image for The Blue Rose story
Deon the Fabricator’s obsession with creating a blue rose leads him to make a perilous journey to the Blasted Lands. His childhood friend, Luna of the City Guard, undertakes a search for him and learns hard truths about love and duty.

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

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Amaryllis "Apple Blossom" August 2020

Rescue Amaryllis: “Apple Blossom”

Last January I noticed a couple of amaryllis plants on sale in an unlikely place–a building supplies store. They were well past their blooming time, which likely happened before or at Christmas. I bought one.

The label said it was called “Apple Blossom,” white with pink stripes.

Amaryllis "Apple Blossom" Label

On investigating, I found the cute little pot had no drainage hole, and instead of soil, the bulb was stuck into pure peat and nothing else. Clearly, the unfortunate bulb was intended to be a one-bloom-wonder decor item, to be pitched out when the show was over.

I repotted it into a good soil mix in a clay pot. I watered it and watched it grow long floppy leaves. In June, it went outside along with my other amaryllis, a bright scarlet specimen.

By the end of July, both plants were showing signs of approaching dormancy. Their leaves were turning yellow. I reduced watering and prepared to stash them in a cool basement spot for a couple of months’ rest.

“Apple Blossom” had other ideas. First I noticed a couple of new leaves sprouting, and then a bud. I resumed watering. Now it’s in bloom.

Amaryllis "Apple Blossom" August 2020
Amaryllis "Apple Blossom" August 2020
Amaryllis "Apple Blossom" August 2020
Amaryllis "Apple Blossom" August 2020

I’m glad I rescued “Apple Blossom.”

Chronological disclosure: I took the photos and wrote the post between August 15th and 20th. The plant has pretty much finished blooming by now.

Images for Tales from the Annexe

Pictures for Several Thousand Words, Part 1

Somewhere in the process of becoming an indie author, I discovered I enjoy messing around with images. I’m not talking about the photos of my garden I post on the blog. I hardly ever do any post-processing on those.

But ever since I found out about Canva, an easy-to-use graphic design tool, I’ve been creating images to represent my writings. Often, I complete one or more long before I finish writing the novel or story to which they belong. The image-designing process must use different parts of the brain than whatever it is that transforms ideas into words.

When I published four of the stories in Tales from the Annexe as separate ebooks in 2016, I made cover images for them, and I designed the cover image for the collection years before I needed it. More recently, while writing the the new stories that completed the set, I created an image for each of them as well. I didn’t need cover images for these stories, but I did need regular breaks from writing them.

My first idea was to include all these images in the book, but I didn’t want to swell the ebook’s file size to the point it incurred a hefty delivery fee. Moreover, not all e-readers display images in colour. I decided to feature them here on my blog instead.

Below are the images for the first seven stories, which are by-products, off-cuts, spinoffs, or supplements (I haven’t found a congenial word for this concept) to the four novels of my Herbert West Series.

They appear in “chronological” order, i.e., the first three happen during the time period covered by the first novel. The fourth, fifth, and sixth happen between Books 3 and 4 of the series. The last story of this group takes place decades later, following She Who Comes Forth, the novel that’s a kind of sequel to the series.

ebook cover image for The Nexus
A 101-year-old professor reminisces about his most memorable–and dangerous–student.
Image for Fox and Glove story
To win a bet with his friend Alma, librarian Charles Milburn seeks the help of a dead man.
As if a relationship with a part-time necromancer isn’t complicated enough, what if it were more than friendship?
A climb up a hill near Luxor, Egypt leads to an encounter with bandits and supernatural entities.
One of the Fourteen ebook cover image
A chance meeting in a pub brings reformed necromancer Francis Dexter to a perilous realm between life and death.
Image for The Night Journey of F.D. story
Determined to confess one of his worst crimes, Dr. Francis Dexter is subjected to a terrible revenge.
Image for The Final Deadline of A.G. Halsey story
A dying newspaperwoman struggles to figure out what happened to her granddaughter in Luxor, Egypt, and to warn her of threats to her heart and soul.

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

Available at a special pre-order price of $0.99 USD (or equivalent) from these Amazon outlets
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Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

New Book: Tales from the Annexe

Tales from the Annexe, a collection of fourteen stories, is now available for pre-order.

Seven stories from the world of Audrey Driscoll’s Herbert West Series, followed by seven other tales of illusions, delusions, and mysteries from the edges of logic.

Discover Herbert West’s connections to Egypt, and how a dead man can help solve a mystery.
Share Charles Milburn’s ruminations as he explores another dimension of his friendship with Herbert.
Experience the horror of a long-anticipated revenge.
Sample the treats on offer from the ice cream truck from Hell.
Ride along with a dad who abandons his ten-year-old son in the woods where something howls.
Find out why a woman paints her bedroom a very special colour.
Accompany fifteen-year-old Ann as she tries to prove she belongs to the glamorous family on the other side of town.

These and other curious encounters may be found in this annexe to the ordinary.

Available at a special pre-order price of $0.99 USD (or equivalent) from these Amazon outlets
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Cover image for Tales from the Annexe
Garden shed

August-itis

It happens every August. I decide the garden is a mess, a failure and a burden. The season is drawing to a close, and has not lived up to expectations.

This garden looks best in spring and early summer. Given our climate and the Norway maples that shade the place and suck more than their share (so say I) of water and nutrients from the thin, sandy soil, the August decline is inevitable.

dry leaves, drought
Maple leaves that fall before turning colour are often seen in August

Add to that the fact that many plants have achieved their maximum size and leafiness by now, and many of them look weary. Windy days aren’t unusual here, pummeling the plants and making them lean. Many just stay that way, as though resigned, giving the garden an unkempt look. Yellowing leaves on perennials that have been there and done that add to the effect. The gardener, already tired from lugging watering cans and dragging hoses, says, “To Hell with it,” and goes inside to commune with the computer.

I noted at least three major pruning projects that will have to be done sooner rather than later. The magnolia is a hulking monster, despite annual attention with the pruning saw. The trellis is getting shaky. The pond has a bad case of duckweed. Too many plants, such as Russian sage and Japanese anemones, that are in glorious bloom in other (sunny) gardens, barely manage a meager handful of flowers here. Why bother?

The tomatoes are smaller than last year, both in size and number, because of cool weather in June and early July. The plants are showing signs of late blight, so it’s not likely they’ll produce many more tomatoes. Daylilies failed to bloom this year. Nine tenths of an old climbing rose died after being blasted by cold winds in March. My latest (and maybe last) attempt to grow blue poppies has failed. Why bother?

Plants don’t say “Why bother?” They just get on with it.

August-itis is a disease of the gardener, not the garden. Despite failures of individual plants, the garden itself is just fine, going through its annual process. This is the way it’s supposed to look in August, and in fact it looks better this year than it has in Augusts past. There have not been a lot of faded green leaves falling.

When I allow the ideal of green perfection to interfere with my expectations, I regard that normality as a failure. Looking at other gardens, especially the ones perfectly manicured by hired gardeners and watered by elaborate irrigation systems, only intensifies that feeling.

There’s only one cure for August-itis. The gardener must engage with the garden and do something that improves its appearance, even a little. Something straightforward and not too difficult. Clip that lawn edge. Do some deadheading. Cut down the wilted stalks.

After that depressing tour in the glare of noon that concluded with, “To Hell with it,” I took another look at the place late in the day, when the magical light of near-sunset transforms everything. I did a bit of deadheading and a little raking. I noticed buds forming on the Chinese witch hazel. They will bloom in January. I saw a new frond unfurling on a struggling little fern. I topped up the pond and scooped out much of the duckweed.

I noted plants that are looking good.

Hosta "Stained Glass"
Hosta “Stained Glass,” a new addition last autumn, has done well.
Blue lacecap hydrangea
This hydrangea is blooming well due to diligent watering and removal of lilac suckers.
Pink dahlia and Echinops ritro
Old reliables–pink dahlia and Echinops ritro.

I’m on good terms with the garden again. For now, I’ve recovered from August-itis.

Cover Reveal: Tales from the Annexe

Remember those four stories I unpublished a few weeks ago? They’ll be back soon, along with ten others, behind this cover.

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

Seven stories from the world of Audrey Driscoll’s Herbert West Series, followed by seven other tales of illusions, delusions, and mysteries from the edges of logic.

This collection of fourteen short stories will be available for preorder within the next ten days.

Perennials in the front garden, notably Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)

Gone for a While

I will be skipping my usual posts for a few weeks while I wrestle hoses and watering cans in the garden, and unruly words and formatting challenges at my desk.

I’ll return clutching a soon-to-be-published story collection, about which I’ll have lots to say in the next few months.

(Actually, I just wanted a reason to feature this photo of my garden gate.)

Side gate between front and back gardens with fern and peach-leaved bellflower

Enjoy the days, be they hazy, crazy, or lazy!

Last Chance for Free

The four stories I’ve called Supplements to the Herbert West Series are free on Smashwords for one more week, until July 31st.

After that date, they will vanish. I will be unpublishing them as separate titles. Re-edited and reformatted, they will reappear later this year as part of a collection called Tales from the Annexe.

In addition to the four Supplements, the collection will include three newly-written spin-off stories from the HW Series and seven other tales. More about that later.

But wait — there’s more! All four ebooks of the Herbert West Series and its sequel, She Who Comes Forth, are at half price for the duration of Smashwords’ Summer/Winter Sale.

Lily "Golden Splendour" and Dryopteris fern

Lily Month

We are in high summer now, if you reckon by the meteorological calendar, in which the summer months are June, July, and August.

July is lily month in this garden. Spring and early summer bloomers are fading off and tiredness is creeping into the scene. But the trumpet lily “Golden Splendor” adds a flourish of drama, as well as an incredible scent. It drifts through the window as I write.

Lily "Golden Splendour" and Smoke Bush

This lily is one quality plant I’ve manage to grow successfully, despite dry, rooty soil. It declined for several years, but has recovered due to my efforts in removing some of the invading tree roots, adding compost and fertilizer, and paying attention to watering.

Lily "Golden Splendour" and Dryopteris fern and Meconopsis cambrica flowers

This summer has been relatively cool, with slightly more rain than usual. The lilies have responded with extra buds. Again, I’ve taken the precaution of draping light plastic netting over them to deter munching deer. We have a small herd of does (one or two with fawns) and at least three bucks that cruise around the neighbourhood.

Urban deer (doe)

I’m still learning what plants they like, although their preferences change from year to year. Last summer the bronze fennel was eaten to the bone. This year, fennel is ignored, but the flowers of Crocosmia “Lucifer” were nibbled. I hastened to apply deer repeller (smelly stuff made of eggs, garlic, and wintergreen). It works, but it’s best to apply it before the damage is done.

Crocosmia "Lucifer" with flowers eaten by deer
A close look reveals bare stems where blooms used to be.
Heuchera Dolce "Key Lime Pie"
Heuchera “Dolce Key Lime Pie” shares the big blue pot with Hellebore “Ivory Prince.”
Pelargoniums and other potted plants near front steps
A gang of pots by the front steps. I’ve managed to winter the pelargoniums (non-hardy geraniums) in this spot for several years now. The other plants are Rosemary, Santolina “Lemon Fizz,” and Dusty Miller (Jacobaea maritima)

Sunny and warm is the forecast for the next week. Perfect July weather as garden and gardener move through the season.

My copy of Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and my glasses

Rule-Quibbling and the Science of Reading

Any writer who follows blogs has seen advice that certain words “stop” your reader: adverbs, “weak” words, “filter words.” Dialogue tags other than “said.” The word “that.” The word “was.” Writers carry out search and delete missions in their documents, hunting down these toxic words. No one wants to take a chance of alienating a reader.

As some of you know, I am a self-declared rule quibbler. Not that I’m a fan of bad writing, but when I read these sermons from the blog, I wonder what evidence supports their declarations. Has anyone carried out a scientific study of reading and how readers actually process written fiction?

Book sales may be taken as an indicator of effective writing, but as most of us know, buying a book does not necessarily equal reading it or enjoying it. Maybe sales are more an indicator of effective marketing than of brilliant writing.

There are peer-reviewed academic journals on the subject: Reading Research Quarterly, for example, and the Journal of Research in Reading. From my admittedly cursory look at the sorts of articles that appear in them, the main focus of the research they publish is how people learn to read and comprehend written language, and not so much what constitutes compelling fiction.

Is there a way to quantify good writing? Do certain words bore or otherwise alienate readers? How might such a study look?

My copy of Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and my glasses

Here’s my idea and thought process: test subjects are given two different texts of a piece of writing long enough to require a reader’s attention for more than a few minutes. A couple of thousand words, perhaps Chapter 1 of a novel. One version follows all the rules about words not to use. The other breaks them. Both texts have the same storyline, but different vocabularies.

After reading, test subjects would be asked which version of each piece would incline them to read further. But wait — would a single test subject see both samples or only one? By the time they read the second, they will have an idea of the plot, so there would be a spoiler effect. So maybe we have two stories, i.e., four different texts. Each subject gets a text from each story, one that follows the rules and one that does not. Because the stories are different, the “I’ve seen this already” effect is avoided.

But surely it would be necessary to minimize differences in reader preference? The test subjects would have to be matched with their preferred types of fiction. If a subject reacts unfavourably to the genre of the text rather than the words used, the test wouldn’t be valid. Okay, the researcher would have to interview potential subjects so the members of the subject pool would be similar to one another, in how much time they devote to reading, types of fiction preferred, etc.

Carefully devised follow-up questions would be needed to elicit and quantify the effect of specific words on individual reading experiences. Formulating questions for studies is a field of study in itself.

My conclusion: devising, carrying out, and writing up credible experiments is not a simple matter.

The closest I got to an actual study of the kind I’ve envisioned is a paper published in 1988, entitled The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure: Needs and Gratifications. It describes five different studies on different aspects of the reading experience. The two that seemed most relevant to my question examined reading speed and readers’ rankings of texts for preference, merit and difficulty. There was even a study of readers’ physiological reactions to reading different texts. Even a cursory look at this paper shows how complex and elaborate a scientific study of reading can be.

The works from which texts were obtained for testing are varied, including fiction and nonfiction, literary fiction, classics, and genre fiction. Authors include Jane Austen, Saul Bellow, Louis L’Amour, Ayn Rand, Graham Greene, Hunter S. Thompson, James Michener, Ian Fleming, Essie Summers, Arthur Hailey, Joseph Conrad, Agatha Christie, and W. Somerset Maugham. The most recent publication date is 1975.

One thing I found interesting was that some of the books are labelled “trash” by the study’s author. The test subjects showed a preference for this “trash” as pleasure reading material, but at the same time they assigned higher ranks for merit to “elite” works that were harder to read. The final page of the paper shows extracts from three of the works, along with the ratings they were assigned.

Despite labelling certain books as “trash,” the study does not analyze the writing, only the test subjects’ responses to it. While the studies documented in this paper don’t answer my question, they are examples of the kind of effort needed to obtain solid data on reading, and by extension, on writing.

The paper does contain some great academic terms. One that jumped out at me is ludic reading, which means “reading for pleasure.” Books can be called “ludic vehicles.” So, fellow writers, that’s what we’re trying to do: turn our books into ludic vehicles to transport readers into realms of the imagination.

My final thought (for now): Read this blog post, which contains a short piece of fiction that deliberately breaks all kinds of writing rules. I couldn’t stop reading, which suggests the words an author uses aren’t as important as the way she or he arranges them (and a few other factors too, of course).

Is anyone aware of any scientific studies on the effectiveness of specific words on recreational reading? Is there any objective science to back up the “rules” for writers? Or is it just a matter of, “Well, everyone knows…”?