New Walls

Moving into a fixer-upper is a lot different than buying one and working on it while living elsewhere. We bought our new house on a land contract and had two weeks to get it ready to occupy. With the rest of our savings and the help of some good friends we got moved in just before my wife had to go in for major surgery. For several weeks we lived in the guest bedroom, half of the bathroom and part of the kitchen while the rest of the house was either packed with boxes or getting renovated.

Part of that renovation was tearing out old drywall that had black mold and putting up new drywall.

We made a lot of discoveries in the process. The previous owners sealed up four windows, a doorwall and a hidden room behind the bathroom that was soundproof and had curious eyebolts on the wall and a padded area in the back. Now, I haven’t read 50 shades of anything but my mind went right to a gimp box or a screaming closet. Anyhow, the windows are uncovered and the hidden area is opened.

Nearly every wall has been replaced, taped and mudded, painted and trimmed out. Gone is the 1970’s paneling and in with a more modern paint scheme.

Like the novel that I’m working on. I wrote an original version fifteen years ago and now the only thing that remains the same is the title and one character. And I’m about to change the title.

Like the walls in my house, sometimes it’s best to tear out all the old moldy crap and start over. The new rooms look fantastic. Now we sleep in a spacious master bedroom and there are times I find myself looking at the walls, the perfect ones as well as the ones with nicks and dents. I know these walls like I know my characters inside and out.

To date we have put up 85 sheets of drywall and we will probably need another 40 sheets more before we are done. The old sheets went into a dumpster, totally useless, but old stories still have their place.

I’ve began posting stuff on Wattpad. I won’t get paid for them, but hopefully I’ll attract more readers. We’ll see. If nothing comes from it, no big loss.

If you want to see an example of my style, here’s the link to Idol Hands:

http://www.wattpad.com/story/30354074

Trunk Novels and Abandoned Gardens

 

Sometimes you lose. Be it in writing or gardening, nothing is guaranteed.   Sometimes a garden no longer works, is destroyed or in my case, lost.

Like so many home owners, I fought the bank over an upside-down mortgage for the past few years. I lost. The garden I spent seven years nurturing is no longer mine. It’s like discovering that a novel I’ve worked on for seven years was just published by someone else.

Novels get trunked every day. Any novelist that has been at it for any length of time will have a couple of novels in the bottom drawer, or in my case on an old floppy disk. Just as most gardeners will have left behind some earlier attempts at horticulture.

It is a bittersweet thing. I hate leaving behind something I put so much of myself in, but at the same time, the garden had reached its limits. I yearned for more land to try out different plants, more space to spread out than a few hundred square feet to grow in.

I now have a few acres to work with. The possibilities with this land are endless. Visions of my own personal Eden taunt me. Starting from scratch fills me with both joy and dread.

But all of that will have to wait. The new land comes with a house that had been empty for five years and has more challenges to not only bring it up to code, but make it ours. The past four months have been packed with projects, daily visits to Home Depot and acting as my own general contractor.

The novel I have been working on has been on the back burner until now. This month I plan to dedicate half my free time to home renovation and the rest to completing the book. The garden might seem to be a distant project considering all the work that’s needed inside the house, but it’s not. Far from it.

This garden, possibly the last garden I will create will be a part of the house – somehow. I don’t really know what I’m going to do in it just yet.

For now, this blog that has been neglected for too long, will change it’s POV from one that grows words to one that builds stories.

Killing Darlings and Weeds

A weed is just a plant growing where you don’t want it to grow. I’ve got hundreds of chives growing the the cracks a place where I don’t want anything to grow in. Herbacides do nothing to them – at least not the ones I use. The only way to get them out is by hand. A tedious job but one that needs to be done.

 
I also have a character that needs to be extracted from my novel (and my worldbuild). The character is Lilith. The reason is overexposure.

 
As much as I’d like to keep my Lilith character, there are far too many incarnations of the ancient demon/demigod/first woman etc… She appears in video games, comic books, everywhere you look. She’s like a teenage vampire, so… steak through the heart, rip her out of every scene in the book and come up with something more original or – in the case of the garden- nothing at all.

 
If you are like me, when you write, the story takes on a life of its own and sometimes gets away from you. More characters want stage time, sub plots begin and go nowhere. Sometimes it’s best to just yank out the mess and get on with it. In my case I dredged up an older character that just mucked up the plot even more.

 
I try very hard to make my antagonists empathetic. I give a reason why they act the way they do. I want their ‘evil’ to be logical and obvious. But sometimes, evil is just evil, the way a weed is just a weed – even if the same plant is fine so long as it grows twelve inches to the left. I don’t care if the chives are perfectly normal and doing what chives do. I don’t need them there. I have more than enough chives dried out to last years. Just as the world has enough supernatural Liliths.

 
Time to weed them both out, darlings or not, they have to go.

Evil Twins

I’ve got some plants growing in the garden that I am pretty sure are tomatoes.   I think they are because I grew tomatoes there last year and I left fruit behind.  Plus they look like tomato seedlings.  Still, I yanked them out.  But that’s because I’m growing spinach in that bed this year.  I spared a few of the hardier ones and potted them.  If they turn out to be the real thing, I’ve got extras.  But I’m still wary.

I’ve been burned by look-a-likes before.  Years ago I planted June-bearing strawberries next to Ever-bearing ones.  Turned out the Ever-bearing strawberries were Barren strawberries, a wild plant that grows here in Michigan.Image

 

http://www.annarbor.com/home-garden/barren-strawberry—an-unforgiving-name-for-a-nice-native-plant/

 

 

It took me two years to root them all out and there are still more growing in a field behind the house.  It is the evil twin of the sweet strawberry that experienced gardeners recognize immediately and weed out.

And that got me to thinking about the problem of the evil twin/look-a-like in literature.  Fooling a novice or a stranger that a character is who they pretend to be is fine.  But, fooling a spouse of loved one is just plain stupid.

Many years ago I led a youth group at my church that met in a cavernous room on an upper floor.  Nearly every one of the girls in the group could tell who was walking up the stairs by the sound off their footsteps and they got it right every time.  Even if it was a group of kids coming up, they could discern each pattern in seconds and call them out by name.

Identifying a person by just the sounds of their steps on a set of stairs was beyond my sensory perception, but not by your average fourteen year-old girl.  I could. however identify a co-worker from half a mile away, in the dark, by the way they guided in an aircraft (I work at an airport by-the-way).   It manner in witch the lighted-wands moved was ad individual as fingerprints.

This is why I can’t stand TV shows, movies or books that show a husband totally fooled by a look-a-like.  It doesn’t work in the real world, it shouldn’t work in fiction.  

As writers we need to weed out the tired memes that wouldn’t fool a fourteen year-old.  We need to kill off the evil twins.

Unknowable Trends and Weird Patterns

 

 

Anyone who has tended a garden the past few years or stuck their head outside this past winter knows that the weather has gone crazy. The unpredictable patterns of weather can wreak havoc on fruit trees and ground crops. A few warm weeks that get the blossoms going with a promise of a bumper crop can be dashed with one late frost. Fortunately, we dodged that bullet here in Michigan, I can expect cherries and apples on my trees for the first time in three years.

Gardening can be a hit or miss thing when it comes to unpredictable weather. Late frosts, wet springs that promote mold and fungus, dry summers, blistering hot days that drag on and shrivel everything in sight, are just a few things to worry about. We still carry on and hope for the best only sure of one thing, nothing is certain.

Writing trends are no different. The teenage vampire love story is dead and now love triangles are being strangled to death. Authors who have been working on such stories have a hard time at publication. The trends are shifting. The independent heroine is spiking. Give a girl a bow and arrow and have her save herself and you’ve got a hit. Problem is, it won’t be the trend three years from now.

Writing to the market is like planning a garden three years out. There is no way to tell if a soil fungus will prevent you from ever growing tomatoes again or not. No way to tell if YA dystopias will be over in 2017 and everyone is on the Urban Fantasy bandwagon.

They say, never write to the market, write what you love. But what if you love Western Adventures or Vampire love triangles? Sometimes you have to look at the trends that are actually selling and write accordingly. Sometimes you have to give up on growing bananas in Chicago and settle on blackberries.

You don’t have to copy the trends, maybe make your vampire a cowboy, and maybe freeze those blackberries for a smoothie. Sure you can write what you love, but don’t ignore the trends. Make those trends work for you.

 

Challenges

Challenges

I started gardening because I refused to pay more than a dollar for a tomato. Cost played a lot into my decision. Since that first year I have spent way more than I have saved. This year is going to be different. This year I’m going to challenge myself and try to grow everything without spending a cent.

I’ve got seeds galore, and I harvested seeds from last year. Got a worm farm making castings all winter long and two compost heaps to amend the soil. Still got organic pesticides and antifungal sprays left over but I’m using companion planting to keep from using that stuff too much.

The real secret to low-cost gardening is to make it productive for my tastes. I can’t have too much salsa or spaghetti sauce that means growing plenty of tomatoes, onions and peppers. I can only eat so many pickles, so I’m cutting back on the cucumbers this year. By growing only the things that I really like and is easy to store, I can make the garden work for me rather than work for it. Sure, it’s good to know that I can grow muskmelons and peanuts, but I’m not all that crazy over them.

So that’s the gardening challenge. For writing I need to do something along the same lines.

I’ve been sitting on some stories for a while now. I got a few rejections and that stopped me from sending them back out as well as not sending out newer stories. So in order to get over that, I’m going to submit one story a day for the month of June. I’ll keep you all updated on the progress and link any of the accepted stories.

It’s important to set goals. Daily word counts are as important as spraying fruit trees before they blossom. But unless we also set challenges, push ourselves into doing tough and uncomfortable things we may never grow as writers or gardeners. There was a time I couldn’t stand editing a story. I wanted everyone to love the first draft. That was foolish. Editing is as important as weeding. Now I can’t post a thing unless I edit it a few times.

We learn by experience, we grow through difficulty and we get stronger from challenges.

 

Kahn!

Just got back from my first Star Trek con and had a blast. My wife and I decided to go to the Tampa Away Mission for out 12-year anniversary (yes she is a Trekkie too). We decided to splurge and get the ‘Platinum’ package and it was worth it. Not because we got photo opts and autographs that more than made up for the higher price. Not because we had great seats up front and didn’t have to wait in line for anything. No, the thing that made it worthwhile was getting to hang out with some of the celebs at a mixer.

 
While I was smoozing with John Delancie (Q from Star Trek TNG and Voyager), my wife was flirting with Kevin Sorbo (Hercules and Cpt. Dillon Hunt from Andromeda). We also had drinks with Saul Rubinek and Eddie McClintock from Warehouse 13 and I had a long conversation with Sasha Jackson (Blue Crush 2) she’s hilarious and really nice.

 
Most of the celebs were very nice, open and approachable for the most part, I found that surprising. Kevin Sorbo is funny and engaging. I talked to Delancie about Italian opera and he showed me pictures on his phone of his production of Tosca and Madame Butterfly. I nearly had a fangasm.

 
I attended a few panel discussions held with some writers. None that I knew about, they all appeared to be self-pub authors – nothing wrong with that. But their discussions didn’t go that in-depth or get into the nitty-gritty or writing.
The brightest part of the weekend wasn’t the Skyping with Leonard Nimoy or sitting within spitting distance of William Shatner as he goofed on staged and wowed the crowd.

 

No, the best part was meeting a couple from Tampa who shared our love of all things SciFi and geeky. During the con we hung out together and afterwards had a great dinner at a local restaurant they suggested. Many thanks to Mike and Deeanna for making our trip fun, relaxing and memorable.   They made the con priceless.

 
Cons can be great events for fans and writers just as they can be huge wastes of time and money. But then, writing itself can be a huge waste of time and money the same way gardening can. It all comes down to what you get out of it.
Sure, can sell my autographs online and make a few bucks the same way I can sell a story or blackberry jam for a few dollars. What I can’t sell are memories.

 
If you haven’t been to a convention, get to one. You won’t regret it.