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.

Advertisements

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.

There’s no Writers Block in Gardening

So, I’ve been stuck on one scene for the last three weeks.  I should have blasted past it and finished a couple more chapters but I can’t move past it.  I could ‘hang a lantern on it’ or type out a paragraph of blank lines to be filled in later, but I’m not that kind of writer.  I go to sleep at night with the scene in my head trying to make my unconsciousness figure it out.  I have tried those wonky methods to break out of the block, but I have worldbuilded my way into a corner.

In gardening, there are no blocks.  Nature does not allow it.  You have to plant in the spring.  You have to water.  You have to weed.  Your personal life doesn’t matter to the plants, they need care.  Sure, you could throw in the trowel and go play Xbox but then you wouldn’t be a gardener.  Not writing when you have a block is an excuse not to write.

I’ve written two short stories since the blockage and I like them.  I thought they would get me over the hump but it didn’t pan out.  Getting something done while the scene remains dead gives me a sense of accomplishment but it’s just a panacea.  I still feel stuck in my novel.

Normally, this time of year I’d be getting the seedlings going inside, but with this cold, I could probably put that off for a few more weeks.  Timing is everything in gardening.  Starting plants too soon leads to leggy, weak plants.  Starting too late leads to buying tomato plants at Home Depot.

Writing a weak scene leads to rewriting more scenes later on, more editing, more plot holes and basically starting the chapter all over again.  I used to joke to my writing group, when someone was faced with a block, to throw a few zombies at it.  So, it’s a good thing that my world has plenty of undead in it.  I’m hoping those slouching eating machines can tear through my block and get me back on track.

Worldbuilding 5: Economics

You can’t get something for nothing.  Not in the real world or in a magical one.  A sure sign of a novice fantasy writer is the way they treat their economics in their world.  Everything is traded in gold coin just like in the video games.  That’s because they have borrowed their economy from the same video games.

I had a tough time working out an economy in a utopian society (Heaven before the Fall).  I asked myself how would someone buy an apple in my world?  How would they buy a house?

We use stuff (metal coins and paper) to represent money.  In fantasy worlds it is preferable to use things that have real value to represent currency.  Historically people have used other things in lieu of coin.  Roman soldiers were paid in salt, that’s where we get the word salary.  Spices like pepper, cloves, and cinnamon were more valuable than gold.

And then there’s the economics of writing itself.   Yes, everyone wants to get rich by selling their story.  Only a handful of people actually get rich writing books.  You have a better chance of being a professional athlete than being a professional writer.  So why do it?  I’ll tell you why.

Writing is the hobby of a cheapskate.  It costs nothing to sit for hours pecking away at a keyboard.  Who knows, maybe one day, one of us blind monkeys will tap out the next billion dollar franchise.  No other past time gives so much joy, causes so little physical pain and has better odds at making money than the Lottery.

Even gardening cost more money to grow your own veggies than it does to buy them at the local BigBoxMart.  I confess, I have spent thousands in my garden over the years.  And the seed companies know this.  Here is a single week’s worth of catalogs I’ve received.seed catalogs

Growing fresh fruits and veggies is its own reward.  Writing is just as rewarding, but even if it doesn’t cast much, it ain’t free either.  Your time has an intrinsic value.  The time you take to write could be used to sell crap on Ebay or sell pencils on the street corner.  And even if the chances of making it big are less than it is getting struck by lightning, it’s still worth something to me.      

Worldbuild 3: Maps

 

Who doesn’t love maps?  I am a self-professed cartophile.  As a teen I had AAA state maps alongside my posters of Frodo, Pam Grier, and Isaac Asimov.  I still have one of those old-world maps in a frame I got as a gift seven years ago.  I really have to hang it up one of these days.

For anyone who has read an epic novel, your first experience is the map at the front of the book.  The little graphic depiction of the world you are about to immerse yourself in sets the stage for all the lands you will travel through.  The same can be said for gardens.  Mapping your beds is key for a productive garden.

This is the time of year that my wife and I pull out a large sketchpad and make out where the seedlings are going.  garden map 2013     We check it against the last few years’ maps to make sure we don’t put the same plant in a bed that had it there recently.  Tomatoes are particularly sensitive to blossom end rot from being planted in the same soil year after year.  You also don’t want incompatible plants growing next to each other like melons and potatoes.   A wise gardener will put a nitrogen hungry plant (corn) where nitrogen fixers (beans) grew the year before.

I’m a pro when it comes to mapping out a garden but I suck at mapping out my worlds.  I draw out a rough sketch and that does it for me.  world sketch 1The big temptation is to download or (bleh) purchase a map making software.  Don’t do it, unless you want to waste an incredible amount of time learning the software only to end up with a crappy map.  Leave it up to the publisher to finish a map.

Garden and author maps are not meant for the general public.  They are messy, often inaccurate things that can confuse those not living in our worlds.  With a map you can (generally) see where you are heading.  Without one, it is very easy to get lost and even easier to give up.

Worldbuild 2 Foundations

 

Writing, like gardening, can be a dirty and tedious business.  Hunched over a bed of lettuce or a laptop we labor for hours and weeks and months for a big payoff.  More often than not, our labors do not live up to our dreams and yet we persevere.

My first year of gardening I began with two beds, tomatoes in one peppers and onion in the other.  It went so well I expanded to four beds the next year, then seven the third.  By the fifth year the old beds began to fall apart and it was time to think about gardening design.

Like building a world for my fiction, building a garden required planning and years of trial and error on what grows where and alongside what.  Like a good fictional world, a nice sized garden should have separate environments.  I visualized what I wanted my garden to look like as much as I imagined what my world would look like.

I didn’t have to start from scratch with either world.  The novel was built from a number of other stories that came before, from characters that I knew for years, just as I used urbanite (broken concrete) to build new beds and pathways.

Before

back 40 beforeThe Grotto after

After

 

This project took me several weeks to complete and I got a chance to dig deep and got to know every square inch of this section of the yard.   The urbanite was free.  All I had to buy was a dozen bags of sand to level the stones and pea gravel to fill in the gaps.  All the excavated soil was used in other beds.

Like writing a novel, this was a solitary project that went from a back-breaking task to a labor of love.  I put more than just blood sweat and tears in the project.  I signed the foundation.

Urbanite Star stones

 

Your fictional world needs a solid base for your characters to thrive in.  The occasional weed or plot hole may show up as an eyesore, but with a good foundation they can be seen easily and yanked out.

Worldbuild One

So it’s been a while since I last posted. Actually two months to the day and I apologize for the long absence. I did not participate in NaNoWriMo as you would assume, but I did spend that time engrossed in my new novel. It is half done and if I can keep to the outline (I think it’s outline #8 by now) I should be done by the end of February. They say that beginning a new novel is like falling in love. It’s true, but the honeymood is over and this draft now holds the allure of watching televised fireworks.

The story is chugging along towards its inevetible end and the engine that carries it along is the world where it takes place. The world, or in my case the Netherworld. In my novel, a sixteen year-old girl is mistakenly dragged to Hell. Her brother, blamed for her dissappearance has to go to the Netherworld, find his sister and get them out.

A story like this requires more than a good plot and dynamic characters, it has to have a believeble world to take place in. Worldbuilding is required to develope such a world. It’s really not much different than mapping and planning a garden. Some worlds are easy, just tweak a few things to our present world and you have The Hunger Games. Others can be as elaborate and diverse as Dune or Star Trek.

The important thing about worldbuilding is consistency. One simple plot device can destroy the most complex world.

Just as a simple mistake can ruin a garden. The first few years we attempted to grow blackberries, we cut the canes down every fall. For three years we didn’t get any fruit until I read that the canes that come up this year, fruit the next year. Also, planting tomatoes in the same spot year after year will guarentee a fungal infection.

Small decisions can ruin both worlds and gardens. It takes patients and more than a little God-complex to attempt either. Over the next few weeks I’ll go over some aspects of worldbuilding that I learned the hard way.

For those novice worldbuilders and gardeners on their first creation, start small. Begin in one village, one culture, one garden bed. The more time you spend there, the easier it will be to expand your garden and your first worldbuild.