tall purple aster fading

Final Flowers

The last blooms of the season…

Purple delphinium

Purple delphinium (although it looks blue in the photo). Grown from seed last spring.

 

autumn crocuses

Autumn crocus, lavender purple (true crocus, not Colchicum)

 

"Fragrant Cloud" rose fallen petals, fruit bowl, purple African violet

Last bloom from rose “Fragrant Cloud”

 

Moving forward…

cotoneaster leaves and berries

Cotoneaster berries.

 

pumpkin

Happy Halloween!

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A podcast series for writers intending to self-publish ebooks!

Details at the Smashwords Blog.

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Heads up. This Friday October 27 we’re kicking off the Smart Author Podcast!

Hosted by Mark Coker, The Smart Author Podcast guides writers step-by-step from the very basics of ebook publishing to more advanced topics. It’s a free masterclass in ebook publishing best practices.

Whether you’re new to publishing or you’re already a New York Times bestseller, the Smart Author Podcast will help you reach more readers. You’ll learn practical, no-nonsense advice on how to make your books more discoverable and more desirable to readers.

campion, fireweed and mixed fall foliage closeup

Fall Fever

I love fall. The season of active gardening is winding down, for better or worse. The triumphs and tragedies are in the past, to be fondly remembered or recovered from. It’s too soon to think about next spring. This is a time to savour.

Which is what I’ve been doing, camera in hand, taking snaps of anything that looks even fleetingly beautiful. Actually, most garden beauties are fleeting. A few seconds later, the light has changed. A day later, those leaves have faded or fallen. Now is the time.

We’re moving from early to mid-fall —  60 mm (more than 2 inches) of rain and lots of wind. The garden is changing even as I write this.

So here are the best of my recent photos, carefully “curated” (my first chance to use that word in a sentence):

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Bergenia foliage turning colour.

 

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Front garden: bergenias and asters.

 

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Nerines, bergenias, curry plant and senecio ‘Sunshine.’

 

santolina foliage and plumbago flowers

Santolina foliage and plumbago flowers and foliage.

 

pond water dark fallen leaves and duckweed

Reflections, fallen leaves and duckweed on the pond.

 

black mondo grass (ophiopogon) and other foliage

Black mondo grass, lamb’s ears and various leaves.

 

Chines witch hazel foliage

Chinese witch hazel turning colour.

 

pond area, fall

Pond area (the pond is behind the big fern).

 

Western Screech Owl on trellis

This Barred Owl paid a visit one afternoon.

 

maple leaves turning colour

One of the maples coming into fall colours.

 

 

frog on toilet

Unmentionable?

“Write what you know.”

And something everyone knows is you have to go to the bathroom several times a day. When you gotta go, you gotta go. It’s non-negotiable.

So why do fictitious characters hardly ever need to do this?

Not that I’m keen to know every time someone in a novel needs to take a whiz, but considering how awkward it is to be “took short,” wouldn’t authors who want to make their characters suffer take advantage of physiological realities? Especially when you consider the amount of coffee imbibed by some characters and their creators. What about a detective hot on the trail of a suspect who has to stop and look for a washroom? Or a romantic scene short-circuited by a call of nature?

And what about villains? There may be other ways to foil their evil plans.

Hmm.

Seriously, I’ve read advice to the effect that readers relate better to characters with real human imperfections than to flawless types who never mess up or encounter any of the annoying little problems of life. Like running out of TP. Or making an entrance trailing some from one’s stiletto heel.

So what prompted these scatological speculations? The main character of my current work in progress is right now in a situation where the facilities are minimal and basic. No hot shower, no triple-ply TP, and maybe no toilet as such — awkward for a young American woman visiting a village on the west bank of the Nile in 1962. And things are going to get worse.

I suppose the reason for the absence of bodily functions in fiction is obvious: “Eww, who wants to read about that stuff?” Well, hardly anybody, including me. As a fictional device, this is one where “less is more” applies. Which is why my character will have to cope with the lack of facilities off-page. Besides, if I do my job right, she’ll have a lot more to worry about.

 

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Images courtesy of Pixabay

 

 

blue flames question mark

Pictures in Posts: Add Them AFTER The Text!

A Revelation (otherwise known as a “duh” moment): First you write the text, and THEN you add the pictures.

Blindingly obvious stuff follows. Expert WordPressers may wish to ignore.

Full MoonI’ve been writing posts for this blog since 2010. Most of them, and especially the Garden ones, include photos or other images. When I wanted to get the effect of text wrapping lovingly around a couple of well-chosen shots, I tried the alignment feature — left, right or centre. But it never worked for me. The text would be awkwardly placed, or pictures would end up on top of each other. Aargh. Rather than stop to figure it out, I just centred all the pics with text above and below.

Last week I actually looked at some of the Help notes WordPress provides. Turns out the alignment refers to text, as in, “Do you want to insert the image to the left or right of the text?” Which suggests the text should be written before the images are added.  I’d been creating posts this way: Type the title in the “Title” space. Type text in the post text space. Insert a photo. Type some more text. Insert another photo. Type more text.Crescent Moon

No. Text first, pics later.

Like this. When I inserted the crescent moon picture, I selected “align right,” which put the picture to the right of this text. For the full moon picture above, I chose “align left.”

Okay, so I’m a slow learner. If there was a Clueless Blogger Award, my blog might be a contender (if it wasn’t Award Free, that is).

 

Papaver rupifragum

Spanish Poppy (Papaver rupifragum)

Now that I’ve figured this out, I can have a bit more fun putting posts together.

Moon images courtesy of Pixabay

SWCF manuscript and notes

Slogging Through the Mushy Middle

Nothing is as easy as not writing.

My current work in progress is at the 60% point, based on my scribbled outline. The word count is approaching 60,000, with a goal of 90,000 to 100,000, allowing for trimming off 10,000 words in rewrites. The crisis and climax are crystal clear in my mind, glowing like the Arkenstone in the dragon hoard of Smaug.

So what’s the problem? Or am I just gloating?

No gloating here. Sixty thousand words in eight months doesn’t warrant it. (“Gloat today, grieve tomorrow,” as someone said, or should have). The problem is I have only the fuzziest notion of how to get my character from ‘here’ (the village of Sheikh Abd el-Qurna near the Theban Necropolis) to ‘there’ (the… oh, wait — can’t reveal that. No self-spoilers!)

This is the manuscript that was abandoned on page 17 for a couple of years. Almost a year ago, I decided to go against advice and offer it to my critique group at the first draft stage, section by section.

So far, I’ve written ten of fifteen sections (five to seven thousand words each). I scribble each part in longhand first, just to splash something onto the page. Keying it into Word, I make it real, adding material as needed and changing details. After a bit of polishing, off it goes to the group, to be critiqued at our next monthly meeting. This creates a deadline, which has worked well to keep me slogging forward.

It’s a scary feeling, as each critique meeting winds up, to know I have to create at least five thousand more words of coherent narrative in less than a month. Somehow, during the summer, I managed to get ahead by one chunk, which lessens the panic a little. Of course, if I fail to deliver, it doesn’t really matter. The group won’t mind; it’s one less thing to read before the meeting, and allows more time to discuss the pieces put forward. But it’s still a public no-show — same idea as exercising with a buddy. You don’t want to look like a quitter, so you show up.

But the mushy middle part of a novel — that’s perilous territory. Self-doubt migrates to it and lurks there. Little imps pop up and whisper things like, “Boring!” “Slow!” “Too much ‘telling,’ not enough ‘showing’!” “Why bother writing this? You’ll just have to cut it.” And the biggest imp of all comes up with, “Just give up already. There are already too many books out there. No one’s going to read this, so just give up.”

This recent post from blogger K.M. Allan was really helpful.

Like a mudhole, the mushy middle isn’t the place to stop and brood. I tell myself to keep slogging and just get through it before I sink. I’ll bet many novels are abandoned at this stage. Never mind if it’s not my best writing, never mind if I get all the details right. Just get the plot line laid out. Once the climax is in sight, the magic will take over and I’ll run, leap, fly to the scintillating conclusion! (I hope).

 

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I’ve said it before, and think it every day — plotting is hard. This novel, like my others, contains elements of the supernatural, but it’s set in the real world, which means I can’t routinely invoke magic to get things done. I have to pay attention to details like distances between real places, modes of transportation, weather, and technology circa 1962.

I have no problem writing scenes I find compelling. They arrive fully formed in the cranial inbox. All I have to do is sit down and render the mental pictures into prose. Then I go crazy trying to stick them together in a coherent sequence without resorting to tedious glue-like (i.e., boring) prose.

The best way is to move directly from one high-interest scene to the next, adding the minimum of transition text, just what’s needed to avoid confusion. I’m going to do that! If more glue is needed, I’ll apply it in Draft #2.

Then there’s the plausibility issue. I don’t know if this happens to other writers, but it’s amazing how easy it is to lay aside logic and reason to get my characters into the situations I’ve planned for them. I have to keep asking myself, “Why?” Why would she decide to leave Situation A and seek out Situation B? Why would something of vital importance in Chapter 3 become totally irrelevant in Chapter 7? If the answer is something like, “Well, it just has to happen, because they have to be in the…” it’s back to the Plot Plan and Character Profiles scribbled in blunt pencil on the back of a piece of junk mail.

Keep slogging! The ground seems to be rising a bit here. The crisis and climax will soon emerge over the horizon.

balloons luxor

The scene of the WIP: west bank of the Nile, near Luxor. (Image from Pixabay)

asters, nerines, senecio 'Sunshine', fall

Poppy Pagodas And Autumn In The Garden

Now that the seven remaining blue poppy plants have been rescued from maple and magnolia roots and given deluxe accommodations in a couple of half-barrels, I thought they should also have protection from excessive winter rain.

In their native environments (Tibet and the Himalayas), rainfall distribution is exactly the reverse of Victoria’s — wet during the monsoon season (May through October) and pretty much dry from November through March. Here, the dormant poppy plants are bathed in rains during the winter months, which often results in crown rot and death, even in my sandy soil.

The solution? Poppy “pagodas” — charming little roofs on stilts that fit over the half-barrels.

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They’ll remain in place until next spring, making sure the soil around the precious poppy roots is damp, rather than sopping. If it seems to be drying out, I’ll dribble in a bit of water.IMG_2480

After all this fussing to accommodate them, I have great expectations of these plants. We all know where that can go, however, so I’ve reserved a bit of cynicism, just in case.

Otherwise, the garden is going through its usual autumn process. I wouldn’t call it “decline,” because I love fall, and because from certain angles, the garden looks better than it did a few weeks ago.

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Aster “Pink Cloud” living up to its name.

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Pink nerines finally blooming well.

I’ve hung the hummingbird feeder out again. Back in May it became obvious that the hummingbirds were more interested in flower nectar than the sugar water in the feeder (and why not?), so I removed it for the summer. Now they are visiting again, and this morning a crowd of bushtits showed up. They don’t have the right sort of beaks to use the feeder, but seem to get something from it, so good for them. Dark-eyed juncos are back in town after spending the summer elsewhere, and I’ve heard robins calling in the evenings, a particularly plaintive song that seems right for this time of year.

It’s the first full moon of autumn tonight — not to be missed!

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Image from Pixabay

 

3 Reasons Why You Need to Finish Your Writing Project

At the 2/3 point through a first draft that’s getting to be a tough slog I found this inspiring. Writers, read this before you think about quitting!

Knowledge is Power

Have you ever wondered why starting a project can be so full of ideas, motivation, focus, and commitment, only to later on land into an overwhelming state of pressure, agonizing middle, and a completely dispirited end? This scenario occurs more often than not, and am moved to refer to it as the curse of the writer.

Stumbling blocks characterize almost all writing projects, so badly in some situations that they completely disorient what was once a comprehensive research, sleepless nights, sincere effort, and immense sacrifice, just to name a few. Ranging from lack of time, family issues, writers block, running out of ideas to fear of rejection, stumbling blocks can easily lead to an incomplete and stagnated end.

Every writer’s desire is to start writing a book or an article, and most importantly to finish it. Here are 3 reasons that should make you reconsider completing your project.

  1. You Owe…

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Ray Bradbury's The Golden Apples of the Sun

Old Stories, New Thoughts

After various distractions, I’ve finally resumed an exercise program I started early in the year. It’s a strength-building regimen by physical therapist Ming Chew, author of The Permanent Pain Cure.  There are two sets of three different exercises, some involving weights. Between sets of “reps,” one is required to rest for ninety or forty-five seconds. It’s amazing how long these rest periods feel if I just sit there, so I grabbed a book to read from the huge and random accumulation of old paperbacks that lives in our basement.

The Golden Apples of the Sun is a collection of stories by Ray Bradbury originally published in the 1940s and ’50s. The scribbled “50” (meaning 50 cents) on the cover indicates my copy was a used bookstore find — probably 30 years ago.  Between exercises, I sit down and read a page or so, and I must admit sometimes the rests are extended a bit if the narrative is too captivating to interrupt.

I was surprised how applicable some of these stories are to present-day concerns. “The Murderer” is about one man’s way of dealing with intrusive communication technology. “The Big Black and White Game” is a charming yet disturbing look at race relations in America through the eyes of a child at a baseball game. “I See You Never” is about a Mexican man in Los Angeles facing deportation. And “Embroidery” tells how three women spend the last hours before a nuclear explosion. Bradbury’s writing is fresh and delightful. I recommend tracking down this book, The Golden Apples of the Sun, or at least the stories I’ve mentioned.

A while ago, I bought The Cthulhu Mythos Ebook Bundle from Dark Regions Press. (I think it’s still on sale for $15 US — a deal at that price). Two of the books in this tentacled treasure chest are compilations of weird fiction that impressed and influenced H.P. Lovecraft, the master of the weird tale. They are edited and introduced by Lovecraft scholar and aficionado S.T. Joshi. The authors include M.R. James, Ambrose Bierce, Robert W. Chambers and Algernon Blackwood, plus a few until now unknown to me, such as Fitz-James O’Brien, Ralph Adams Cram, and A. Merritt. Merritt’s story, “The Moon Pool,” contains a reference to an ancient being called Chau-te-leur. Sounds a bit like “Cthulhu,” doesn’t it? Another story, “Ooze,” by Anthony M. Rud, contains a creature that may well be the ur-Shoggoth. And the main character of Blackwood’s “Ancient Sorceries” reminded me of HPL himself.

Cthulhu Mythos Ebook Bundle

All these stories have been around for a while, and many of them show their age, a few in rather unflattering ways, but Lovecraft fans will appreciate most of them, as well as the other offerings in the ebook bundle. I know I’m looking forward to working my way through them.

 

dry leaves, drought

Coming to Terms…

This hot, dry summer — and the likelihood of even hotter, drier ones as the climate warms — has forced me to come to terms with the realities of gardening in this place: four big Norway maples on or near my 6,000 square feet; only six millimeters (about 1/4 inch) of rain from mid-June to mid-September; thin, sandy soil into which compost is instantly absorbed.

I’ve lost my inclination to struggle against these facts.

The essence of gardening is creating artificial environments — making plants grow in places they would never exist under natural conditions; tinkering with plants to change their natures; assembling plants into unlikely combinations for aesthetic purposes. That takes cleverness, imagination and energy. Doing what it takes to keep a garden going is the whole point of gardening. A garden is a place in which to dig, plant, weed, prune, edge, trim, water. And, for a few minutes every now and then — admire the results. That’s the payoff (and, of course, edibles in the case of food gardens).

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The trouble for me is that the combination of shade and dry, root-filled soil has made gardening here more of a slog than a pleasure. Those withered August leaves in the featured image perfectly represent the situation.

An obvious solution is to have all or most of the trees removed, but that’s a huge, expensive and disruptive undertaking. Moreover, the trees are inhabited by a myriad of life forms — bugs, birds, squirrels and others. And mature trees take up more carbon than young trees, so cutting them down — even non-native, “junk” trees like Norway maples — isn’t a good thing to do, simply for the rather frivolous reason of growing better perennials.

Another obvious solution is to give up. But I can’t even articulate what that would mean in practical terms, so it’s no solution at all.

No. The only solution is to work with what I have, adjusting my expectations accordingly (sort of like self-publishing, actually). I’ve already identified the plants that tolerate the conditions here. Any that can’t cope have either vanished from the scene or, in the case of must-haves, been moved into pots. Delphiniums, blue poppies and a couple of hostas grow here in pots (or barrels) or not at all. That’s the way it is.

October 2016

Potted Hostas near pond.

Another approach would be to dig up roots, pile on fertilizer and pour on water to counteract the natural tough conditions. But digging in rooty ground is a miserable business, and I already pay enough for water. Besides, the trees would love extra water and fertilizer.

I must accept the conditions as they are and use techniques that work within them to achieve results that meet realistic expectations.

In thirty-five years of gardening, I have learned how to arrange plants in beds and borders, and how to make those beds and borders look good, no matter what they contain. I could make a garden out of utter weeds if I had to — spurge laurel, thistles, dock, brambles and bindweed. “Weed” is only a label.

Some of the plants that do well here, that actually prosper despite the shade and the poor, dry, root-infested soil, are what I consider near-weeds. The two champs are campion (Lychnis coronaria or Silene coronaria) and toadflax (Linaria purpurea). Having worked with them for a couple of decades now, I know how to manage them. Left to themselves, they get seedy and show their inner weediness by midsummer, but deadheaded and cut back at the right times, they are long bloomers that maintain colour in beds that are otherwise a mass of blah by late July.

June 2010 019

Campion

In fact, I’m envisioning a set of posts for next year that will feature these plants and how to grow them well. With pictures showing the different growth stages and effects of deadheading/cutting back.

I recently read something that suggests true gardeners have an insatiable appetite for new plants. They pore over catalogues and nursery websites seeking the latest varieties. Well, I consider myself as much a gardener as anyone, but I don’t buy many plants. Many just can’t take the conditions here, especially since most nursery plants are grown in super-fertile, moisture-retentive growing mediums (or is it “media?”) that are the horticultural equivalent of steroids. Transplanted into my ground, even into spots prepared with hearty digging and added compost, many new specimens either cling to their original clump of super-dirt and slowly dwindle, or go into shock and don’t bother dwindling but die immediately. Any plant I buy now is one I have researched thoroughly and can reasonably expect to do well here. One piece of advice I’ve heard is to wash off the growing medium nursery plants arrive with and plunge them right into the dirt that will be their new home (after reasonable preparation, of course). They have to adapt or die, and if chosen wisely, they will prosper.

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Oriental Hellebore (in March)

 

Another fact I have to live with is that this is a spring garden, not a summer one. From March through May the soil retains moisture from the winter and early spring rains, but from June to late September, water comes from a hose or not at all. Late-blooming herbaceous plants (asters, dahlias, colchicums, autumn crocus) are fairly reliable, but shrubs and trees are not. I once lusted after Franklinia alatamaha, a small tree that produces white camellia-like flowers just as its foliage begins to turn red and orange. I wasn’t able to obtain one, which is just as well, as it’s native to the southeast U.S., where summer rain is not unknown, and it’s generally reputed to be hard to grow. In autumn and winter, my trees may be appreciated as colours and shapes, but forget about fall bloomers here.

Norway Maples

The Norway maples. Imagine the roots!

What about native plants? I planted Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus). They do well — too well, in fact. I’m always digging out their suckers. I also have some native ferns, camas, barrenwort or inside-out flower (Vancouveria hexandra), and a patch of salal (Gaultheria shallon). But this was disturbed ground long before I arrived on the scene, so making a garden of native plants alone wasn’t practical. Those Norway maples, remember? And anyway, our native landscape in late August is pretty brown and uninspiring. In spring it’s a different story, of course. So on my patch, natives and aliens have to rub along together.

Today I moved some colchicums to spots where they’ll show up better and add zing to the late summer scene.

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Colchicums, called “autumn crocus” by some, but they’re not crocuses at all.

Asters are starting to bloom.

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Aster frikartii “Monch”

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“Pink Cloud” and “Monch” asters with fading peony foliage and a few Rose Campion flowers.

October 2016

Those asters again.

As long as I can find a thrill in scenes like this as the seasons go by, I’ll keep gardening.