A friend is visiting Detroit this spring and asked me where to stay and what to do.   I sent her this list with some links.  If you are ever in the Motor City try a few of these.

For an all-around great experience, there is no place better to stay than Downtown.  With the river front, the casinos, theaters and restaurants, downtown has the best ‘walking around feel’.  A lot of my favorite restaurants downtown have closed so I’m not up on the best ones at present.

I can endorse the Brazilian Steakhouse several friends have gone to and raved about.

Of the restaurants that I have been to and recommend.

Fishbones is an old favorite for Cajun seafood

I would suggest the Parthenon in Greektown (Downtown) it is the last of the original Greek restaurants left.  It was always my third choice but now it’s the only authentic Greek food you can get there.  Order the Saganaki.  Nice place for lunch.

That said.  My alternative place to stay, very safe and a little weird is Royal Oak.  Hotels are cheaper out there, its close to the zoo and it has a small college town/ alternative feel to it.  The restaurants out there are better than any you will find anywhere.  But you can stroll through Royal Oak in a few hours (so long as you don’t get lost in Noir Leather).

Plymouth is also very nice, but small, the same goes for Novi.

It really depends on what you like to do.  For shopping I’d say Novi, it has the mall.  For food, I’d stay near Royal Oak.  For entertainment, downtown is your best bet.

If I had to list the things one must do in Detroit it would be.

a.  Picnic on Belle Isle before it’s bought by a billionaire.

b. Go to the Detroit Institute of the Arts and stare at The Nut Gatherers

and The Starry Night

c. Have a Coney Dog  at the Lafayette Coney Island Downtown

d. Take a picture in front of Joe Louis’s Fist.

e. Take a nap in a 1934 Packard at the Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village

f.  Ride the People Mover for a full circuit.!.id.2.htm

g. See a movie at the Detroit Film Theater.  Sit in the balcony.

h. Walk through the Eastern Market on a Saturday Morning

i. Have a coffee in the RenCen

j. Eat at the Himalayan Restaurant in Windsor Canada.  Passport or enhanced Drivers License needed to cross the border. Take the Tunnel. Order the Lamb Briani

k.  Buy a house for a dollar

l. Buy a Lottery Ticket at a Party Store.

m. Eat a bag of Jays or better Made Potato Chips everyday you are in town. Everyone else does.

n. Drink a half pint of Mohawk Red out of a paper bag.  NO MIXERS!

o. Drive past an auto plant in a foreign car, if you can still find an auto plant still open.

p. Visit Hart Plaza during a music fest.

q. order a plate of the Smoked Kielbasa at the Polish Village Cafe.

r.  Buy a book at John Kings

s.  Attend service at a mega-church and or a store-front church.  You can do both on the same day, the services go on ALL day.

t. Go to the Detroit Central Train Depot, a modern day ruin.

u. Visit an open mic night at a local comedy or poetry club, check listings they open and close like a floating crap game.

v. Go to the The Park West Gallery during an opening.  If not the Park West, then any gallery opening that serves free wine and stinky cheese.

w.  Take in  a game at Ford Field, Comerica Park or Joe Louis Arena.

x.  Order a taco at  Xochimilco’s in Mexican Village

y.  See Puccini or Verdi at the Opera House

z  Make a friend for life, tell a native that Detroit isn’t the scary hellhole that people think it is.

This is not a complete list of things to do, just the stuff that come off the top of my head.  Also I ain’t getting any kickbacks for any of the links to local venues, these are the places I like to go.



Pots and Plots


So, a week ago I was sorting through the new seeds and stuff that I ordered this winter, getting all the ducks lined up when I came across a plastic bag filled with roots.

“What the…?  Oh crap!  It’s the strawberries!”

I totally forgot about the 25 strawberries I ordered.  They came with some other live plants that I rushed to get potted and the strawberries languished in a sealed plastic bag next to the seed potatoes for nearly a month.  Opening the bag, I saw they were still viable but not looking too good.

How was I going to plant all those strawberries with the weather as wacky as it has been?  Sure, strawberries are a hardy plant, but these were young and distressed.  Then it hit me.  I can make paper pots.

You see I picked up this pot maker real cheap. pot maker

And making starter pots with it was simple. pot maker 2pot maker 3pot maker 4

I made 25.pot maker 5

Then I tried to pot the strawberries.  The roots were way too big to fit the little paper pots.

Fortunately I had just ordered 23 larger pots and they fit perfectly.  But I didn’t have any soil for the plants at the time.  But I did have coconut coir, and lots of it.  But I didn’t need much, just one brick of coconut coir was enough for all 23 pots.

strawberries 1strawberries 2 coconut coir

Tragedy averted, but what am I going to do with all those paper pots?

I find that in my writing I tend to do too much work on a draft getting it just right.  A few pages later I find my character going down a totally different path.

“Hey stupid!”  I want to call out to him.  “What about that town I just created, it’s over there!  You’re going the wrong way!”

All the work I put in designing the town square, populating it with quirky and colorful characters, adding a long and diverse history to the place, all gone to waste.  The hero follows some stray dog into the woods instead.

Sure the dog leads him on an adventure that changes his life and he ends up falling in love with the dog’s owner.  But what about the town?  What am I going to do with all those paper plots?

The pots and plots will eventually get used (fingers crossed).  But in the meantime, I’ve wasted too much time on unnecessary projects.  This is why I can admire writers who race through a manuscript, damn the torpedoes.  A first draft is like a starter pot.  Just get it down, get the plant in there and worry about the details later.  Otherwise, if I had waited until everything was perfect, the right pots, the right soil, the right time, all my plants would be dead.  And then what would I have to put in my daiquiris?


Update:  As you can see, I did use a few of the paper pots.  I have some smaller roots left over and put them in the paper pots.  I watered all the plants equally, gave them the same amount of sun.  Here are the strawberries 5 days later.

IMG_20130421_174134_609   Here is the only paper plant still alive. IMG_20130421_174210_158So far, the coconut coir is working better than any potting soil I’ve used.  The jury is still out on the paper pots.

Leggy plants and runaway characters


Years ago I wrote an urban romance with lots of sex and one-dimensional characters like the bestsellers of the day.  Anyhow, a minor character, a security guard, whose only role was to watch the hero bang a woman in the parking lot, ended up taking over the whole book.  Knowing the story got away from me, I abandoned the novel.

When I tell people (non-writers) this they look at me as if I started speaking Martian.

“How can a figment of your imagination get out of hand?  Don’t you have control over your thoughts?”

The answer to that is, “Not really.”

Sometimes a character takes on a life of its own and can steal the spotlight from the main characters.  Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean was supposed to be the lovable sidekick.  Steve Urkle from Family Matters who was slated to appear on one episode.  Wolverine, Boba Fett, Elmo, Fonzie, Popeye, Spock, Porky Pig, and dozens of others began as minor characters that took off way beyond what their creators ever designed.

Plants can get like that too.  I’m talking about seedlings that grow too tall too fast.  They get ‘leggy’.  When a plant gets too leggy, the stem can’t support the leaves and eventually fall over, or they wither up and dry out because the thin stem can’t support the leaves.  Either way it’s bad news when a plant gets too skinny for its own good.

Leggy Transplants

Break-out characters can ruin a book or make it a success.  Just as leggy plants can waste weeks of effort and resources or give your garden a head-start on the season.  Both have challenges and rewards.  The key is to know when to give up and start over or when to push through.

When a minor character’s storyline becomes more entertaining than your hero’s story, it’s time to let the hero fall into Mark Twain’s Deadly Well.  You could then be free to tell the better story.  That’s not to say that shifting to a whole different story is easy.  Neither is nurturing and training a leggy seedling.

Honestly, it’s easier to replant the sprout rather than nurse a leggy plant to health.  But the things that one does to get a leggy plant off the ground make it a healthier and hardier plant.  I prefer the resistance method.  I place an oscillating fan over the leggy plant and let the gentle breeze blow that stringy stem.

Fan on plants 2

The air flow release hormones to make the stem stronger.  If they haven’t started standing after a week, it time to bury the stem and give it chance to grow a thicker shorter stem.

But here is the thing.  I almost always baby my leggy plants.  I never toss them out until they are dead, dead, dead.  I know that I can start over, do it better this time, pay closer attention.  I just can’t kill my darlings, just like I let some characters run roughshod in a story, when I know I should bury them up to their necks and see what the tide does.

When you find characters stealing the spotlight, throw some resistance their way.  If they survive, they can take their rightful place by the side of the hero.  But if they thrive, then it’s time to rethink who is the real hero.

Flowers and Foils

Flowers and Foils


What good are flowers in a vegetable garden?  I asked this of myself a few years back when trying to get more tomatoes and peppers and corn out of the ground.  Planting flowers seemed a waste of time and effort.  Sure they look nice, but you can’t eat them.  Well, actually you can eat them, but would you want to.

Aside from being edible flowers provide more benefits to a garden than just being dirt candy.  They are invaluable companions to the veggie and fruit plants than most people imagine.

Just like a good character foil, flowers protect and nourish their neighbors.  A character foil is the sidekick whose personality, while different from the hero’s, brings out the best in the main character.  Think Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  Holmes would still be a brilliant detective, but without Watson to remind him of his humanity, Sherlock would just be a brilliant smartass.

Last year I did some companion planting in the garden.  Peas and corn (the peas adds nitrogen that corn can’t get enough), and the scent of onions growing in your strawberries will deter pests.  But by far the most useful plant in any garden is the marigold.  Those little orange and yellow puffs have kept my patio mosquito free for two years and now they have driven out more pests than Orkin.  The real proof came when I had one patch of greens totally infested with insect eggs while across the yard another patch that had marigolds next to them were bug free.

In my novel, I have the hero pegged, your typical pacifist forced into action.  His companion is more of the burly hero type, quick to act, slow to speak.  In my latest chapter I have tried shifting the POV to the foil to give him a voice.  I have come to discover his voice is thin and tinny.  Now, I have gone over his character sketch, gave a good backstory, have him with his own agenda, quirks, weaknesses, strengths, etc… but he still comes off as two dimensional.

I’ve spent so much time in the head of my protagonist that I have short-changed a great character and the readers as well.

When I plant marigolds, I start them from seed.  I get two or three dozen of the plants going and I nurture them when they are young.  Once they can fend for themselves I just water them and leave them be.  The time invested in their budding weeks pays off dividends.  Even when they wilt and the petals are gone, the marigold leaves behind dozens of seeds at the base of each flower.

So, if my companion plants can do so much and provide many benefits to my garden, why shouldn’t my foil?

If you are planting anything this year, add some marigolds to the mix.  You will love it.

If you have a foil, develop them and put them to work.  Your readers will love it.

Planning to Finish

Planning and Finishing


It’s April now and spring planting is only a few weeks away.  I’ve already got some seedlings started in a grow tray and a handful of melons dying in peat pots.  There are big plans for the garden this spring and all that work starts now.

I have to rotate the plants from year to year and planning where to put everything requires a small map.  We’ve taken the success of last year’s companion planting and merging it with this year’s attempt at vertical gardening for more yields.  It’s been a long road from planting a few tomatoes and some onions to now cultivation more than thirty fruits and vegetables.  The complexity of such a garden requires a lot of fore thought and serious planning.

Ahh, but the end result will be worth it.  At least I hope so.

We can always have a late frost like last year that ruined half the garden.  Then there are the pests that multiply as the garden expands.  But mostly it’s the time that a big garden takes that is the biggest threat.  Will I have enough time to do the things I want and will I want to keep doing it all summer long?  I admit that I get garden weary by August and I start to let things go.  But that is the time that a garden will really start kicking things out.  Giving up near the end is a waste.

The same goes for novels.  I’m coming to the end of my novel and I just want to slap on a quick ending just to get it done with.  I find myself changing the ending everyday – well not the ending but how the hero gets to the end, you get the idea.  I see so many ways to get there and I really want to a Hollywood montage showing the hero developing, becoming better and coming up with a brilliant plant to get him out of the mess.  I want to do this without really writing it.

I could do it, after all this is just a first draft.  The real work comes in the second or even third go round.  Why not slap an ending on and be done with it?

That would be like leaving my August garden to wilt in the sun, to leave the ripening fruit to rot on the vine and let the vermin in to have their way with an untended garden.  I wouldn’t be a gardener then, I’d just be a wannabe who gave up when it got tough.

We all have projects that require time and planning.  It’s fun to plan out the first few weeks, or chapters but not so much the intricate details of the ending.  But the chapters before ending, the week before the harvest is where it counts the most.  This is when the fruit is ripest and the story the sweetest.  If we take our time, even on a first draft or a starter garden, the following season will be easier and more bountiful than we could have imagined.