Good things

Just to show that it’s not all ants and wasps around here, I’m celebrating these good things:

1. New books! Look for Lynn Viehl’s
and Ilona Andrew’s Magic Bleeds on shelves this week. And in the coming soon category, we have two long-awaited series installments to look forward to: Cryoburn from Lois McMaster Bujold in November 2010 and Jean Auel’s final Children of Earth release in 2011.

2. My oldest child is having a birthday. She wanted a chocolate cake with frosting flowers and sprinkles. It’s hidden in the house to be whipped out at the appropriate time.

3. Did I mention the garden is done? Tilled, mulched, tilled again, planted, mulched with straw and organic fertilizer, beans and peas staked, tomatoes caged, and there are two kinds of berries ripening while we wait for the final seeds to germinate and sprout. A garden is a very good thing and every day there’s something new to see. Although we’re about to have a metric ton of kiwi fruit and I don’t know what to do with it. Still, that’s a good problem, yes?

4. We found a smoking deal on a
for the kids and it’s en route. With free shipping. And as a bonus, shopping at Target means you’re giving back to your community.

5. My dad is having surgery this week to cure a problem that could have killed him if neglected, courtesy of his annual checkup. Had yours recently? It can save your life.

Bringer of death, the kinder gentler version

The big holiday weekend approaches, and instead of planning swimming and picnic playtime, we are contemplating annihilation.

We have an ant and wasp problem here. We had a guy come out and spray earlier in the spring, but the bugs are not deterred. Wasps are nesting in the gazebo and the siding of the house and ant hills are every-freaking-where. There are lots of chemicals for insect death squads, but we don’t want to harm other creatures in the yard, the dragonflies and butterflies and birds and frogs. And kids and cat. This has posed A Problem. I want the wasps and ants to die screaming but not hurt anything else in the process. I need the kinder, gentler bringer of death.

Turns out there is an organic spray for wasps and yellow jackets which we’ll be trying out. And if you mix Borax with sugar, that’s supposedly effective for the ants and seems like the best combo of ant-ageddon with the least environmental impact.

This should be interesting. Anybody out there have stories of organic success rooting out ants and wasps? And in any case, enjoy the holiday weekend. Preferably without ants in your picnic or unpleasant stinging episodes.

More about books and plants and dream insight

As a sign that I spent a lot of time working in the garden lately, last night I had gardening dreams. I dreamed that the people who brought over their tractor to till up our plot came back with lots and lots of starter plants. And I was torn between genuine gratitude (it was a lovely and thoughtful gesture) and wondering where to PUT it all because our garden may be big, but it’s full. Well, almost full; I have one row left to dedicate to all the varieties of herbs. And they brought me kittens. I couldn’t say no to starter plants or kittens, but now I had to sort them out and settle them somewhere.

It’s the same with ideas. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out what I should focus on after the two books on the table, and I have a bazillion ideas. Like the dream kittens and starter plants, book ideas need space and attention to grow and flourish. Hopefully my mind is well-mulched with all sorts of odd bits of information and experiences to give the book ideas fertile soil and let them establish strong roots. But the brain can only hold so much at a time, much like a garden row can only grow one thing at a time, after which it’s time to re-mulch and rotate. You can’t grow the same thing in the same place over and over. It exhausts the soil. And my brain has been somewhat exhausted by writing in one genre for some time.

The problem of how to rotate between genres has been a struggle for me for years now. You establish a name and people link expectations to it. Reader confusion is bad, and it takes time to establish a name in a genre, so the genre becomes the focus. This is especially problematic in romance, because if you want to build a name you have to write and release a lot of books close together. It might be possible to build a name in other genres with a book a year or every 18 months, but romance is more demanding. Tess Gerritsen blogged about how she changed genres from romance to suspense because she couldn’t write more than a book a year. This means that the time it takes to write in multiple genres makes it very difficult to keep up one genre while starting another, unless you are Paperback Writer.

I’ve tried to work around this by writing in different subgenres; I’ve done contemporary, historical fantasy, time travel, and paranormal/urban fantasy romances. I’m most at home in the paranormal/urban fantasy romance subgenre. But the problem remains; my garden is full and I have all these adorable kittens and tempting starter varieties that want my attention, too. And I need to find a way to rotate so that my brain is enriched instead of exhausted without losing the name I’ve built in one genre and without working 24 hours a day.

It’s a problem. But it’s a benign problem, in that all the things that want to come and grow in my mental garden are good ones and I want to somehow accommodate them all. And I think if I can figure it out, the rotation will bring good things to the established genre and a new one. If nothing else, the dream showed me that the possibilities are friendly and well-intentioned and really, who can say no to a kitten or a new kind of plant?

Garden, book, process

For those who’ve asked, garden pictures! Note my helpers, a small child and a cat. And Gardenia, the Gardening Bear*. (Not pictured: the two nice gentlemen who rototilled the garden plot with a tractor and the husband who brought me bales of straw and the older child who helped spread straw and plant marigolds) The pot of petunias next to the swim shoes I’m wearing in the garden (because it’s wet in there in the mornings, that’s why) came from a neighbor. Came out one day and found petunia starters saying “pot us”. We have awesome neighbors.

The garden process is much like the process of writing a book. The idea, it’s so entrancing! Imagine the fresh fruit and vegetables! (And if you have never had fresh-picked peas, really, you don’t even know what to imagine.) Choosing and ordering organic seeds and heritage strains to try out, wondering what they’ll taste like. Considering the structural requirements, laying out a plot, getting it tilled and mulching. The little starter seeds in their tiny pots, so manageable. You can carry the whole baby garden in your hands.

And then it goes to the next stage. Bales of straw everywhere. Stakes and netting and tools. Tomato cages. Stringing the rows, spacing everything out, drawing and redrawing plans to make sure there’s enough room. Planting and mulching starters and after days of work, seeing how much is left to do and feeling hopeless.

It was such a good idea, but it grew and got out of hand. It can’t be picked up and carried around anymore, it’s too big. It has a life of its own. There’s so much work left to do after days of labor and it’s overwhelming. It will never be done, never.

You keep throwing yourself at it, getting the hoe and turning earth and laying down straw and planting seeds, carefully spaced and with a label. And then, suddenly, it is really truly almost done. The peas are planted in twin rows next to two barrels of potatoes (which are full of green leaves and flourishing), and there’s netting between two stakes for them to climb. The beans have their staked net to climb, too. Carrots and radishes are planted in neat rows, and broccoli is germinating and pepper plants are thriving in the heat while the squash looks wilty. Berries are ripening, and before long the zucchini will appear and I will have to sneak it onto my neighbor’s decks in the dark of night to get rid of the excess.

Just like that, it’s a garden. Just like that, it’s a book. When the mess of assembling all the various parts is strewn around and some things are growing faster than you can get them into the ground, it’s frantic and enormous and complicated. And then it isn’t. Then it’s a series of neat orderly rows, all growing as designed, leading to early harvests of berries and radishes and rhubarb. Or it’s a neat series of scenes building on each other as designed, leading to the inevitable conclusion.

The trick to both is to not give up in the middle stage. Just keep picking up the tools and throwing yourself at it.

*If you want your own gardening bear, visit the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory. All bears handmade and guaranteed for life, shipped in boxes with airholes so the bears can breathe until you unpack them.