The Naked Gardener

August 27, 2009

You ask, what does this title have to do with writing?  Quite a bit actually.  I have reason to believe that I am not the only writer that needs long breaks between writing frenzies to recharge my batteries, my writing, and my soul.  What helps me a great deal toward this goal is my avid gardening interest.

Cool and often foggy mornings are spent indoors in my favorite writing room or managing the other affairs of life.  I spend most sunny afternoons in my garden.  I prune, dig, plant, harvest, or just breath deep of the fresh air.  My wife shares this interest in all things living.  But alas she works and has less time to work in the garden, even though she enjoys the garden immensely when she has the opportunity.

Do I garden naked?  Why, yes I do!  As often as I can.  But seldom in the fleshy sense (I shall get to that in a minute).  Gardening naked to me means that I use only organic soil conditioners, mulches, composts, and fertilizers.  Pesticides are strictly prohibited, but I employ fly and yellow-jacket wasp traps that lure these overabundant insects to their demise with attractants.  They do not pollute the earth with toxic chemicals.  I allow natural predation to keep the other insects and rodents in check.

How does the naked gardener prevent mildew, black spot, and other fungal problems on roses?  My answer to this common issue is simple.  If my rose bush suffers from  any of these ills on a continual basis, it was planted in too shady a location.  I move it into a sunnier spot during its next dormant season.  If the specimen still doesn’t improve, I yank and toss it.  I know this sounds harsh, but plants either survive, flourish, or languish in my naked garden.  The laggards do not belong here.

I am about to adopt the same strategy for my writing.  Some of my pieces merely languish or survive.  They do not flourish.  It’s time to throw out, delete, burn, or dismember those pieces.  Perhaps I’ll post them on this blog, which is the literary equivalent of throwing them to the wolves.  (Dear reader, I didn’t mean YOU of course.  I meant those other readers that criticize good writing and good writers for self-interested reasons.  I am very much interested in YOUR comments and feedback about my writing and gardening practices.)

The next time you peek through your back fence and see the fleshy, sun-starved parts of your neighbor as he leans over to yank a laggard rose from the ground, think of me and my new strategy for writing.  And celebrate the freedom of organic living!

– David.

Maracaibo Oil Brat – a Boomer’s Memoir

August 21, 2009

I thought it was a good idea to apply for a copyright for “Maracaibo Oil Brat – a Boomer’s Memoir,” my book.   An on-line application comes at the bargain price of $35.00 versus the more expensive $50.00 by way of snail mail.  On-line is cheaper and promises faster processing time.  Couldn’t be that difficult, could it?

I read all the instructions on the US copyright website, printed out “tips” and copyright basics, read a hundred Frequently Asked Questions, and went through the on-line tutorial.  By then, I’d come to the conclusion  that the US Copyright office is a combination of 1790 language infused with 2009 technology.  So help me, I thought I  would come across words like “vouchsafe” and “verily” before I finished reading all  the instructions.

There are three parts to the process:  the application, the payment, and the depost.  What?  Money twice? Nope.  “Deposit” means to submit whatever it is for which you want a copyright.  Could even be a Ship Hull Design.  Who knew?

Armed with a good glass of Merlot, I began the copyright application process in earnest.

First thing?  Sign-on and a password.  No problem, I said to myself.  I clicked letters at lightning speed and pressed “enter.”  The red error message told me I had done something wrong.  Surely no one else has my sign-on or password.  I clicked on the “give me more information” message.  Alas, I had not read all the instructions regarding the sign-in rules.  Ye old copyright password must (1) have eight spaces, (2) contain a character, (3) have at least two numbers, (4) have at least two lower case letters,  (5) have at least two upper case letters, and, tahhh-dahhh, (6) not contain a known word in any dictionary.  Any dictionary?  How would I know that?

Where did my wine go?  A trip to my kitchen to refresh my glass, grab a handful of low fat Cheez-Its for fuel and back to my laptop.

At last I created a sign-in and a password that satisfied the copyright office.  OK, Susan. write down your password.  How about you start a folder, a real folder with paper, and pockets and clips and thing?  From my rough start, I’d begun to think I needed some real live place to house everything together.  Fortified with a mouthful of Cheez-Its and another sip of wine, I typed my way into the application process.  I fearlesslyanswered questions and filled in blanks.  So heady was I with the completed the application, I hit the “next” button with a flourish befitting Liberace.

What’s this?  Two red error messages?  But. where?  When I order something on line and leave out the zip code, the little red message says, “Honey, you left out your zip code, darlin'”.  The two red messages in front of me on my computer had no such information, just that I’d made two errors.

I took a deep breath, another sip of wine, straightened my back and plunged back into the application section to find and correct the two errors.  I redid everything and double checked every entry.  I held my breath and clicked “next” again.

Still two red errors?  How can that be?  Two error messages in a row?  Were they the same ones?  I sneered at my laptop?  Another sip of wine.  Well, control, alt, delete yo’ mama-board, on-line copyright application.  Me thinks I’ve had enough of thee for a while.

I’ll try this process again – when the moon is in a different phase.  And, when the wine cabinet is locked.

Is it in the Cards?

August 15, 2009

I happened to be up in Ashland Oregon over the fourth of July weekend for a family reunion with my sister and niece. On a whim, we decided to have our Tarot cards read. Something I had never done before, but you know what they say: When in Ashland…

So I sit down before a woman with dark wavy hair. I admit skepticism settled in right beside me. I’ve never been much of a believer in psychic phenomenon.

The cards were larger than I expected, about the size of my entire hand. Could the other side of these purple rectangles tell my life’s secrets? Could the images on the reverse side really predict the future?

After choosing three cards, I turned over the first as instructed. This picture indicated change. Fair enough. I’d lost a great deal of weight lately and my daughter would soon be leaving the nest for college. Hmm. Maybe there was something to this process.

The second image took my breath away. This rectangular portend depicted a woman with a flower in her hair in a tropic setting. I have a character in my Hawaiian novel, a femme fatale, who routinely tucks a hibiscus behind her ear. And then there was the butterfly. The literal translation of one of my other characters is butterfly. And, of course, my novel is set in Maui.

Because of my strong reaction to this card, the Tarot reader indicated she was going to do something she didn’t normally do. She plucked that card from under my nose, picked up the remaining stack and shuffled them. She spread the cards out once again (probably close to a hundred cards, mind you), then instructed me to ask a question. Well, what’s the one question a writer wants to know? Dare I ask it?

“Will my book be published?” The words tumbled from my lips before I could stop myself.

Why had I asked that? Did I really want to know? Would I get the death card that would tell me not in this lifetime?

The Tarot reader inclined her head, her meaning clear. My fingers gravitated to three random cards. The woman sneaked a peek at what I’d chosen and laughed.

Why had she tipped her head back and guffawed? Oh dear. I pictured a card with the image of a court jester, smirking with a thought bubble and the words: You? Published?

My three selections were placed face down before me. I flipped the first card as instructed. The card indicated delay. A length of time would pass. Nothing would happen anytime soon. Well, that wasn’t much of a surprise. I’ve been working on this novel for over a decade. I flipped the second card and gasped.

The reason the Tarot reader had chuckled was now apparent. Out of all those cards, I’d once again found that Hawaiian card. What were the odds? Skepticism opened her wings and took flight. Perhaps there was something to this psychic process after all.

Good news came with the final card. This one held the promise of success. My hard work would eventually be rewarded.

Will my Tarot reading come true? Is the future publication of my book now pre-ordained? Only time will tell….

A new plotting approach

August 14, 2009

For several months now I’ve been trying to define a plot line for a new novel I’m working on dealing with the United Nations.  I have a beginning, and end and one or two middle events – but no path, just a collection.  Like building a brick wall, I’m building brick equivalents.  I needed a plan.  What will this wall (story) look like.  From this I can build it.

Some time ago I read a treatise on plot development that caught my eye.  The writer had suggested that when a problem such as mine emerges, consider the reverse approach – start at the end and work backward being careful to fit in all the sub-plot elements.  Sounds clumsy since I’m accustomed to following a plan or blueprint, but I’ve tried it and so far it seems to be unlocking the mental block that has frustrated me for some time.  Should you find yourself in a similar quandry, give this “backward” approach a try.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words, or is it?

August 14, 2009

 “A picture’s worth a thousand words” or so the saying goes. If so, I must have millions of words in pictures. I’m the family scrap-booker. I don’t mean in the crafty sense with embellished pages and such. Mine are fairly unadorned. Just pictures with a few labels. Family ‘archivist’ might be a more accurate description. I have a bookshelf overflowing with albums, cataloguing every vacation and family event.

However, as time goes by, my memory gets a little less reliable. I find that pictures alone are not enough. Oh, I remember going to this place or that, and an anecdote or two. But the details are forgotten.

I was reminded of this on a recent trip to my childhood home. My dad had been cleaning out the closets when he discovered old letters and other wonderful treasures. Among them was a letter I’d written to my grandmother while I was on a college term abroad. In it, I described places I’d been, things I’d done, and most importantly my impressions of the trip — feelings no picture could recreate or capture. The missive was a small time capsule of that moment in my life. And it brought home the importance of narrative as a record of experience. A record that a photograph alone, however beautiful, could not convey.

Top 10 Dog Books

August 3, 2009

I love everything about dogs. Well, maybe not everything. There is that “what you can step in” aspect. But I do love the way dogs can coax you out of a bad mood, the way puppies smell, the unselfless ways of canines, and then there is the entertainment value.  Whatever will they do next?

I also love to write about dogs – which is why one of the key characters in my young adult novel is based on my crazy pooch, Shadow. Shadow is a border collie mix with loads of personality and a gigantic heart. I got to thinking the other day that one of my favorite novels also had a border collie as a pivotal character (Nop’s Trials). That lead me to create a list of my favorite top ten dog books of all time (in no particular order):

1). Nop’s Trials by Donald McCaig
2). A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs and Me by Jon Katz
3). Marley and Me by John Grogan
4). Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
5). The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
6). The Poky Little Puppy by Janet Sebring Lowrey (A Golden Book Classic)
7). Old Yeller by Robert Stevenson
8). Because of Winn Dixie  by Kate DiCamillo
9).  The Call of the Wild by Jack London
10). Cujo by Stephen King

Do you have any favorite animal stories? Cats?  Horses?  Maybe a tiger (as in Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi).