Sleep, Creep, Leap

Gardening and writing. Amazing how similar they are in process. Writing seems to also follow the old adage when planting a new perennial (a plant that returns, year after year).

In the first year, the plant sleeps. Most of the process is happening below the surface of the soil, putting in roots, establishing itself in space. The second year, the plant creeps. Slowly, new growth appears. And finally, year three, the plant leaps into the glorious beauty it is meant to be.

Writing is a lot like that. First draft, getting ideas on paper (on screen). For a while, it may seem like nothing’s happening. Words and ideas get tried and tossed. The product at the end of that first draft may read ugly. Onto the revision—maybe one, maybe more. Ideas coalesce. The right words appear as if by magic. And finally, editing polishes the whole until the manuscript is ready for publication.

Sleep, creep, leap. Gardeners and writers require the same character qualities: patience, tenacity, and enough fortitude to not rip things or discard a draft too early in the process.

Still waiting for replies to the queries I’ve sent out. Meanwhile, a new WIP is far enough along to be in the “dirty middle” of the process. The character milestones and outline are done. I’m ready to start writing chapter seven.

Asymmetrical Parterre

I love parterre gardens. For anyone who doesn’t know, a parterre is a symmetrical garden on flat ground. The design is typically formal and ornate. Maybe French. Maybe Victorian.

My parterre started with a truck frame. I’m not sure where it came from, but it lay flat on the ground for years. Finally, Jim and I supported it upright so that it forms an archway for short people–we are short–with four openings.

And that’s why the garden is asymmetrical. With four openings, we don’t have a true middle.

For another few years, I turned this space into what I called The Garden of Rusty Things. I even had a sign made.

I planted daylilies, a climbing rose, and clematis Happy Jack under the truck frame. A rock pile supported a 500 gallon gas tank (subsequently sold), surrounded by myriad rusty items–old garden tools, a wagon, a sink, a gate, an iron bed.

This spring, I decided I had enough pavers and stepping stones to create a parterre. I wanted a pond or a fountain, a bench, some plants. Keeping it simple. We surrounded a square bit of level ground with the stepping stones, creating a walkway.

We had black plastic trash bags on hand, purchased last year to cover the raised beds in hopes of killing weed seeds. Bags went under the stepping stones, again as a weed preventer. Pea pebbles are planned between the stepping stones, with rubber edging on the outside edge and pavers along the inner to keep the pea pebbles in place.

Stay tuned. Next week–the pond.

Dreary Sunday

Another cold, wet Sunday with an inch of rain over the last 24 hours, and up to five inches expected through Wednesday. The flowers are loving it, but the warm-weather veggies–not so much.

I gifted tomato plants this spring, and one recipient complained that hers weren’t growing. They will, I told her, when it warms up. But so far, warming up hasn’t happened.

My tomatoes planted in raised beds look water-logged and scraggly. I have a micro-climate near the house where I planted tomatoes in pots. They’re doing well–less water, more heat.

Even so, summer is on its way and soon I’ll have more tomatoes than I can possibly use. It’ll be time to pull out the canning supplies.

External Events and Internal Reactions

I’ve written before about taking on the Ray Bradbury 52 stories challenge. I learned a lot in that 2017 experience, including why it’s important to balance external events with the characters’ internal reactions.

Fill a story with too many external events and the characters can end up flat and stereotypical. Focus on emotions and thoughts to the exclusion of action and–uh-oh–where’s the story?

When I’m drafting a piece, I tend to stick to what’s happening. For me, rewrite is the time to ask what’s going on inside the characters. Even then, I sometimes miss those all-important emotional beats. As a fix, I play a little mindfulness game, blending the external and internal. That’s what I did in my flash fiction, The Wishing Stone.

A story with simple bones, the main character is gifted with an heirloom pendant that grants her wishes. When things start to go wrong, she moves from intrigued to worried to terrified. In under a thousand words.  

Since the physiological responses often need naming to mean anything—think sad and happy tears—I concentrated on the character’s experience of the world. In this piece, the character’s terror is shown when the pendant becomes a live coal on her chest. Her nightgown smokes when she inadvertently wishes her mother dead.

Staying mindful of how the external and internal worlds play on each other, helps me maintain that balance.

Eggplant Worries

I’ve been waiting–and waiting and waiting–for the weather to warm up enough to put my Ophelia Eggplants in the ground. It’s been cold and wet, too chilly for Ophelia’s.

Deciding to wait till Mother’s Day to plant turned out to be easier than I thought. But today is the day after Mother’s Day, and it was in the 40’s when I got out of bed this morning. Still too cold.

Nothing for it, though. The plant roots are growing out the bottom of the pots. They’ve already been transplanted once. They are huge.

So this morning, I brought them out to the shaded, wind-protected area near my acer Bloodgood. Hopefully, they’ll harden-off without problem and I can plant them Thursday or Friday.

Any eggplant aficionados out there? Send advice.

Mother’s Day Sunday

We had a terrific Mother’s Day, starting with a 5k run/walk during which it did not rain. Followed by a family lunch. My daughter-in-law took this photo of my son, Gordon and me.

Looking at it, I’m amazed at how much I resemble my father’s mother–Grandma Ida. I tried to scan a photo of her at about the same age I am now, but that was back in the 19-hmm’s, and frankly, I wasn’t happy with the scan results. Just imagine a shorter woman with more gray hair and not as well dressed.

The beauties in my family were all from my mother’s side. But thinking today of Grandma Ida, I’m astounded anew by her determination and courage. She had the equivalent of a high school education back when women weren’t educated. She came to America as an immigrant, met and married my grandfather, and ran his milliner shop–allowing him to create fabulous hats while she took care of business.

Ida had a series of miscarriages and stillbirths, culminating in a child born by Caesarian section back when C-sections were dangerous. Tragically, that child was killed at age three or four when he fell out of a third-story window. Grandma used to say her hair turned white the day after Willie died.

Undeterred by the fact that no one ever–ever–survived a second C-section, she was determined to give birth to another child. And the family story is that she’s the first woman in America to survive two C-sections.

Courage and determination, two great characteristics. I’m lucky to take after her.

Heroes and Villains

Whatever happened to stories that distinguished the hero from the villain by the color of their hats? White for the hero, black for the villain. Where are the villains stroking their handlebar mustaches and laughing maniacally while tying the helpless, hapless heroine to the train tracks? And where the heroes galloping up on a white horse at the last possible second to save said heroine?  

For me, reading Sir Walter Scott’s Lochinvar—I think in high school—changed forever my perspective of what a hero could be.   Lochinvar comes too late to the wedding, forcing him to steal the fair Ellen from her family. Is kidnapping heroic?

I’ve written about the character milestones I use as a way to organize character arcs. In my latest work in progress, I discovered—with amazement—that my hero and my villain had virtually identical histories.

Both lost mothers. Both had emotionally unavailable—absent—fathers. Both had conditional love and support from replacement mothers. Both were sent far from home to learn their craft under the same demanding and morally-suspect teacher.  Both were forced to accept culturally defined roles that curtailed their freedom.

The difference between them, what made one the hero and one the villain, had more to do with conscious choices than with nature or nurture. Neither was born inherently good or evil.

Leaving me to ponder—am still pondering—the difference between them. Resiliency? Stubbornness? Positivity? Sheer dumb luck?

The challenge for me is to sort through the little choices they made and will make as I tell the story. I need to sketch their emotional connections to those choices, to get at what motivates them to be hero and villain. I’m a bit daunted.

Meanwhile, the query quest continues. No news on that front, but I hope there will be soon. Please keep fingers crossed for me.