clarentine: (cavalier)
A friend once observed, while critiquing one of my novels, that I appeared to be using one of the pair of main characters as a whipping boy. Bad stuff always fell worse on the one character, not the other, though the other is the one who instigated the situation. The other, in fact, often was being forced to watch as a punishment; the bad guys explicitly damaged the one to hurt the other. Which called into question why the whipping boy was there at all - what was their purpose, aside from soaking up punishment I subconsciously did not want to inflict on my chosen character? A very good question.

(An excellent critique overall, and a good friend for being willing to pull no punches. I needed to hear that.)

In revising the current novel, Switchback, it occurs to me that I'm still exploring the dynamic between two main characters, one of which inevitably becomes my favorite by the end of the first draft. I'll probably always be re-learning the lesson of that earlier critique, I'm afraid - I've done it again here, trapping the secondary protagonist and leaving the primary character to dig him out - but I am at least aware of what I've set up (and why robbing that character of agency is not a good thing for either character or story).

So here I am, on rewrite, considering that secondary protag. I can't do the obvious thing and combine the two characters, not in this story; it needs to remain a story about two brothers. What I can do, though, is build in goals for that secondary character. What is being trapped doing to him and his goals?

What I can't do is consider the scene solely from the standpoint of how it affects my primary character.

I'm going to go make some pound cake and think on that.
clarentine: (cavalier)
On a farm, even a small farm like mine, there's always something needing to be done. This weekend, we wrapped up preparations for the first frost, forecast for Monday morning. This meant checking windows in the chicken house, picking the last little bits of the summer garden, and laying in a bag of wood for this year's inauguration of fire season. We finished filling the woodshed last weekend, with the help of a neighbor and his wood splitter.

As if that wasn't enough, we also set the footers for the final three pairs of posts for the greenhouse. I was warmed at first with the digging and hauling at the start of Saturday afternoon's project time. By its end a couple of hours later, my hands were chilled and I was ready to head indoors.

With all of the produce gathered late on Saturday, I needed to find something to do with a bumper crop of tomatillos. I ended up making a small batch of tomatillo salsa and canning it - fabulously tangy stuff! The tomatillos were one of my test crops this year. They've earned their spot next year. I have one last batch of tomatillos to can up, and am looking forward to sharing their goodness this winter.

And's greens season. I'll find out in the next couple of days which greens (seeded earlier this autumn) will be freeze-hardy.
clarentine: (cavalier)
It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and in place of a bunch of really bad puns I offer you (courtesy of the Decemberists) some song lyrics that get at the heart behind what creates a pirate. Along with "Where's all the rum gone?" ::wink::

Get the rocks in the box
Get the water right down to your socks
This bulkhead's built of fallen brethren bones
We all do what we can
We endure our fellow man
And we sing our songs to the headframe's creaks and moans
And it's one, two, three
On the wrong side of the lee
What were you meant for?
What were you meant for?
And it's seven, eight, nine
You get your shuffle back in line
And if you ever make it to ten, you won't make it again
And if you ever make it to ten, you won't make it again

(Decemberists, Rox in the Box)
clarentine: (cavalier)
Summer garden report; I'm on the verge of fall planting, so might as well report while it's relatively fresh in my mind.

Starting at the lower end of the garden:

Corn, Silver Queen and Augusta. It was a good year for Silver Queen. Even the ones I had to rescue from the self-sown cosmos roared back, despite the dry year (and no, I don't water the corn), and produced plenty of nice ears. We put up 14 cups of cut corn. Augusta did not fare so well - thin germination to begin with, and it tasselled earlier than the Silver Queen I'd planted to pollinate it, so we got few ears and none I'd call well filled out. If I grow this again, it needs to be started two weeks before Silver Queen (which I will absolutely be growing again). Note: there are honeybees in the area, all on their own. We know this because, while the Silver Queen was full of pollen, the entire bed was positively vibrating with honeybees. I find this interesting because corn is an ancient, wind-pollinated crop; it didn't need those bees at all.

Summer squash. None of the summer squash did well. We had a strong showing of squash bugs rather early, plus a lot of heat and dry weather, and that did it for the squash plants before most of them produced much. The grey zucchini I'd specially sought after produced some of the weirdest fruits I've ever seen, curved and corrugated - not what I'd wanted. Only one of the dark green zucchinis fruited at all, and it succumbed quickly to disease. It's a good thing I still have zucchini in the freezer from last year.

Tomatoes, cherry. We grew three varieties this year, two seed-saved here and one I ordered from Fedco. ( The Rose cherries I've been saving for three years produced, but succumbed early to disease. The Kumquat cherries (also seed-saved, though I only selected these last year) were an odd pinky-orange color, strongly productive, strong grower. The fruit cracks quickly after rain (though not as quickly as one of its parents, Sungold). Not sure about this one. The Pink Princess from Fedco was an exceptional grower and producer of gorgeous dark-pink fruit, and I think this variety will be taking over from Rose; Pink Princess showed none of the disease issues that knocked Rose down, despite a planting location with less air circulation (upwind of the early corn).

Tomatoes, main crop. We grew five varieties, two plums and three slicers. German Johnson still gets top marks for productivity and flavor; this tomato remains the backbone of the tomatoes that go in my freezer to make up sauce. Cherokee Purple will never be high on the production list, but the fruits are flavorful and the plants keep going despite disease issues and dry weather. (Most definitely not a tomato for a wet year, as we discovered last year.) The new slicer was Illini Star, which was (and still is) solidly productive of smallish, perfectly round red tomatoes that are a gorgeous dark pink inside, lovely to see on the plate. The two plums, Illini Gold and Black Plum, were quite productive this year; I've already put up 11 half-pints of tomato paste using just these two tomatoes. Black Plum was the only tomato I had that produced in last year's washout season, and only then because the fruit came on early and tends to be small. If any of these plants gets substituted out next year, it'll probably be Cherokee Purple.

Peppers, hot. We grew poblanos and jalapeños. Both have been very productive. The poblanos seem to want drier weather, though; they keep rotting on the plant before coloring up at all. It's definitely not sunscald, as the plants are heavily leafed and somewhat shaded by a massive tithonia plant. By contrast, the jalapeños have already gone red on the plants, which are growing right next to the poblanos. We also had volunteer Cayenettas show up in the herb bed (which had been the pepper bed last year). I'll probably dry whatever hot pepper fruits don't get used, sold, or given away and make up more deer bombs with the resulting powder. It was wonderfully effective this past winter at keeping the deer and rabbits away from the overwintering kale.

Peppers, sweet. Ashe County pimentos and my favorite Corno di Toro were the varieties we chose, and I'm pleased with both plants, though I could have done with more pimento fruit, as they came in very early and it would have been nice to have fresh sweet peppers in salads over the summer. The Corno di Toros are already coloring beautifully; have to go pick some to take in to work for gloating over.

Beans. I planted one wax bean and two of the Grady Bailly pole bean plants; as anticipated, I cannot keep up with Grady Bailly, and the wax bean is already done. Both took a battering in the early-and-heavy Japanese beetle attack, but Grady Bailly keeps its flowers up under the leaves. The butterbeans (limas) I put in by customer request also got pretty badly chewed up by the beetles. I think we might be starting to finally get some production on them.

Herbs. I put in Genovese basil, some Italian flat leaf parsley, and the pitiful remnants of the cilantro I started in pots; the cilantro bolted and disappeared. The basil has all but filled the area, duking it out with the volunteer Cayenettas and an enormous mound of volunteer marigolds. I'll be trying again with the cilantro over the fall. I know it overwinters pretty well, and will self-sow if it has a long enough season. I don't like cilantro, but a lot of other people do, so I won't mind if it shows up next year.

The tomatillos are in the herb bed, too. This is a new crop for me. All three varieties - a green, a yellow, and a purple - are interesting, and I'll probably plant all three again next year. I'll take some to work with me and see if I can drum up interest. Fortunately, they're not heavy producers, or I'd really be at sea. Points for the purple variety: I came upon a praying mantis laying eggs on one of the stems yesterday.

Winter squash. We planted Seminole and Waltham butternut again this year. The effects of much less rain are pretty stark where the Seminole plants are concerned; hardly any fruit, unlike last year, where we had boxes of it that went to the chickens because we couldn't use it all up. The butternut is a reliable producer. Interestingly, some of the fruits which rotted in the beds last year sprouted in amongst the corn this year; they hybridized into something very odd. If they taste good, I guess I'll save the seed and see what they do next year!

Greens. The summer greens were Senposai, Scarlet Charlotte swiss chard, and a perennial chard called Gator. Senposai got off to a roaring start, but then had a bad period where the cabbage loopers ate holes through all of the leaves. It's a very strong grower, though, and it's come back nicely. I'm having to pull the last plants out to make space for the fall planting of kale and other greens. I'll probably grow it again next year, as the chickens like it (and so do the dogs), but must remember to either cover the rows when the cabbage butterflies show up or spray with Bt. The chard both grew well, though I like the texture of Gator better than Charlotte. Charlotte's awfully pretty, though; it'd make a nice planting in a perennial border, I think. Neither had real problems with cabbage loopers or Japanese beetles, and are both growing very strongly now. It's nice to have plants that don't require coddling.

Onions and garlic. I had some small sets leftover from last year's late planting of yellow keeper onions; those grew to massive proportions once in the ground this year. I also bought some sets from the co-op, and we've been eating off both since earlier this summer. The garlic planting was in the top bed this year, and it did a lot better there than in the bottom bed where it had languished last year (to be fair, the bottom bed was the wettest last year, so that probably didn't help). Last winter's test planting of potato onions did okay after I repelled the voles, so I have starts to put in the ground next month with the garlic.

Other things grown and not accounted for elsewhere: Lemon Queen sunflowers, which took a while to settle in, flowered nicely, and then died back earlier than I'd expected. The plants also have a tendency to get heavy early on and end up sprawled across the planting bed, never making the tall central stalk I'd expected. The local goldfinches were quite pleased I'd planted feeders for them. *g* Cleome is flowering nicely at the other end of the bed from the sunflowers; it'll get invited back next year (will probably self-sow, anyway). The tithonia got huge points for being the one plant which attracted Monarch butterflies - well, that's appropriate, given they're Mexican native wildflowers and they grew so large they towered over my head.
clarentine: (cavalier)
I just caught up with this year's Hugo awards - yay for Liz Bourke and her second-place finish in the Best Fan Writer category! And WOW! XKCD's Time panel was deservedly awarded a win for Best Graphic Story; what a fabulous series of panels that was. (If you haven't seen it, run don't walk - it's that wonderful. And time-consuming. :-)

Congratulations to all the rest of the winners and nominees. What a talented group of people make up the SFF genre.
clarentine: (cavalier)
…to the water hose, that is. One of the (many) things we brought back from my parents' farm last week was a large quantity of soaker hoses. Four lengths of hose are now repaired and deployed in our garden in the beds holding tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, and tomatillos. It was so wonderful to turn on the water this morning and then go about the rest of my mid-day, not having to stand over the beds and drag 100 feet of hose behind me. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
clarentine: (cavalier)
Wow, I'd love to have a writer's den inside some of the circular structures designed and built by Bill Coperthwaite way up on the coast of Maine! I could so see myself holed up in one of those, scribbling away. Low roofline cutting a new horizon, light pouring in from all around, rain or snow like a curtain dripping down...beautiful.

BLDGBLOG recently posted an entry about the structures. (The entry's here, if you want to take a look for yourself:

(And I should credit Jay Lake for the nod toward BLDGBLOG; it was his list of websites he tracked that pointed me toward them. Jay's legacy lives on.)


Jul. 4th, 2014 08:08 am
clarentine: (cavalier)
This is my favorite part of a hurricane: the morning after a rough night, with strong cool breezes rushing through the treetops like surf. Windows open to catch the fresh air. Everyone smiling as the hurricane's potential transmutes into could-have-been. We were too far away from this one to be dealing with any real aftermath, but I'll take this bit.
clarentine: (cavalier)
Someone on another blog suggested that perhaps people might be returning to LiveJournal, having grown tired/annoyed/exasperated by the dangerously loose privacy controls on other platforms. I am, therefore, helpfully passing along that rumor in hopes of giving it legs. >:-) Come home, exiles - my Friends List misses you. (And it would be really nice not to have to use a third-party RSS reader to keep in touch with all of those folks who've resorted to blogging elsewhere, because a writer must write.)
clarentine: (cavalier)
I’ve come to the conclusion that texting is a conversational medium best suited to those whose conversational styles are less prone than mine to including multiple angles in the same snippet of text. Half the time, I can’t figure out which of my conversational angles a correspondent is replying to. And who wants to retype enough context from the previous message so the person you’re replying to can make sense of your response?

Give me email or a chat window any day.
clarentine: (cavalier)
Don't forget your safety goggles. >:-)

Okay. I've now got a first draft of both Switchback and Lynch, so it's time to work on the rewrites for both...before the third in the series gets up enough steam to force me to pay attention to it.

First step (for me) in the rewrite process: prepare a synopsis. Nothing lets me locate plot holes better than a tightly-written short synopsis; synopses are geared to focus strictly on the plot and to step outside the sorts of point-of-view-related blinders that can keep me from seeing where I've left something out.

And, in order to prepare a synopsis, I need to know where the various important parts of the story are. I use Alexandra Sokoloff's story elements list as a jumping-off point. Last night, that meant I was sorting out Act 1 and 2 turning points, story midpoint, themes, and a bunch of other stuff. I know what the story is, sure, but for purposes of condensing all those pages of text down into a two-page synopsis it can be helpful to have to put things down on paper.

This will be the first time I've tried to write a synopsis for a series, on top of the synops for the first two books. I doubt much of what I write now about my expectations for the series's third book is going to survive the actual first draft, but I do have some idea where the first two books' events are pointing, so it'll be good to have that down as well.

Then, with refined synopses in hand, I should theoretically know where the first drafts are weak and where they need smoothing out. I know better than to set firm dates as goals, but I think I'm going to aim for a week or two to wrap up the synopses--and do my best not to let this become an exercise in avoidance, despite how much I both dread and dislike rewriting. It has to happen if I want to share the stories.

So: onward.
clarentine: (cavalier)
If I don't put this down here, I'm going to forget it, and then I'll be mad at myself next spring, so:

2014 garden log

March 15: Sowed tomatoes and peppers in pots, two seeds per pot, four pots total each variety - Corno di Toro and Ashe County Pimento sweet peppers; jalapeño and Tiburon poblano hot peppers; Kumquat cherry tomato (selected from last season's self-sowers); Pink Princess gene pool cherry tomato; Rose cherry tomato (selected from last season's Rose tomatoes); German Johnson and Cherokee Purple, and Illini Star main crop tomatoes; and Black Plum and Illini Gold paste tomatoes. Sowed Premier kale and Georgia Southern and Champion collards in winter-killed garden beds.

April 20: Transplanted Lemon Queen sunflowers to larger pots. German Johnson tomatoes have poor germination and growth. Rose tomatoes have decent (but below average) germination, slow growth. Others at least average.

April 27: Sowed Senposai, Scarlet Charlotte swiss chard in garden bed. Sowed first patch of Silver Queen and Augusta sweet corn.

May 4: Sowed Seminole and Waltham Butternut winter squash and Tender Grey, Costata Romanesca, and Green Gourmet summer squash; Gator perpetual chard; echinacea from seed gathered in my mother's garden; Genovese basil; borage, cleome, nicotiana, and Spanish Brocade marigold in pots. Senposai is beginning to show. No sign of Scarlet Charlotte.

May 11: Planted out the sunflowers and some of the tithonia. Sweet corn germination is really awful - probably too dry.

May 13: Planted out more tithonia, the tomatoes, and the peppers. Scarlet Charlotte is starting to be noticeable. Started harvesting the Premier kale which survived the winter.

May 18: Set up fence for climbers; planted Grady Bailly "greasy" pole bean, limas King of the Garden and Violet's Multicolored, and cucumbers H-19 Little Leaf (pickling), Garden Oasis (beit alpha), and Chelsea Prize (English). Transplanted extra tomatoes and peppers in larger pots for giving away. Some of the spring-sown Premier kale has already bolted, argh.

May 24: Some of the cucumbers and beans are starting to break the ground, yay!

May 25: Planted out summer squash, winter squash, perpetual chard, and one of the flowers grown from seed (didn't mark them as to species, and now I can't remember which pot is which; mark them better next year Cleome!). Sowed in pots tomatillos Dr. Wyche's Yellow, Everona Large Green, and Purple, and cilantro, all to eventually go out into the garden. Cilantro should have been sown in the herb bed(s), but that part still needs to be cleared of lingering winter greens. Spotted first of the cabbage looper butterflies around the kale.

May 26 (plan): Clear the rest of the winter greens and plant out parsley, basil, more cilantro. Thin Senposai. Weed around Scarlet Charlotte. Plant second round of Silver Queen and Augusta corn. Put up poles for Florida weave tomato trellis.

(No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy - in this case, the heat.)

May 29: The slower cukes appear to be emerging. The new perpetual chard appears to be doing very well, as are all the planted-out squash seedlings. Tomato growth has increased exponentially, so am going to assume they're settled in well; time to get the first layer of trellis weave up, before they flop over. No further damage to the potato onions, so perhaps clearing straw away from them and using shovel to cut any vole tunnels is working?


May. 22nd, 2014 08:30 am
clarentine: (cavalier)
Another effing earthquake last night just as I was going to bed - this one was a 3.2, centered in the next county down from us. It was validating to hear the meteorologist on this morning's news remind people, when asked if this was an earthquake or "just" an aftershock, that technically they're all earthquakes. If we can feel it, it's not "just" anything, damn it.


In other news, the pole beans and cuke seeds are in the ground, the tomatoes and peppers are all doing well, the potato onions seem to be next on the voles' taste parade, and the pollen count is kicking my ass this spring.

Oh, and I appear to have written all but the epilogue on the WIP, codenamed Lynch. :-) Go me!
clarentine: (cavalier)
For the record, last night was the first night this year we've been able to have the windows all open. It was, therefore, also the first night we've had the full range of sounds available to us from the rural land around our house.

At about 1:45 AM this morning, that meant we were treated to the serenade of a whippoorwill who's obviously fighting his Circadian clock. I woke up and spent some groggy time trying to figure out whose electronic device had that very odd alarm and what it would be going off for at that hour. ;-)


Apr. 7th, 2014 08:55 am
clarentine: (cavalier)
Seen on the side of a tractor trailer this morning en route to work: "Kain is Able!"

clarentine: (cavalier)
It feels like this whole winter has been a huge blur of cold, wet, snow, and more wet. Can't get into the garden to plant early spring stuff because it's too cold and wet. Severe cold (three nights of temperatures at 4 degrees F!) killed off almost all the kale and collards I had planted with the expectation of harvesting for the chickens over the winter and early this spring. Snow collapsed the low tunnels I'd erected over my winter greens-for-people beds not once, but twice, tearing holes in the cover. The wet killed off a lot of the winter lettuce and all of the beets. We have burned through so much wood keeping the house warm; it's a good thing we had extra stockpiled.

I rescued the low tunnels by laying plastic netting - the kind I use over the sweet potatoes to keep the deer off - over the hoops, then putting the second layer of frost blanket over top of the netting. Thus far, that's worked; where the frost blanket tore more, or tore in different places, the second layer seems to have stayed intact, and the netting kept further snows' weight from tearing more holes between the hoops.

I'm harvesting greens from the tunnels now and have replanted the tatsoi, which has already bolted, and the beets, and have reseeded the chicken kale and collards in the exposed beds. It's been so cold in the past couple of weeks, though, that I'm seeing no growth at all from the seeds.

Supposedly next week (well, beginning today, really, with yet another rain event) the weather's expected to give us temperatures more like what we should be seeing at this time of year - lows in the 40s, highs in the mid 60s. Maybe next weekend - barring more damned rain! - I might finally get to till the beds to remove the mole tunnels riddling them, and then I can get a late start on spring-plated things. Maybe.
clarentine: (cavalier)
“Male writers, and their male protagonists, are expected to be flawed and complex, but reader expectations for women writers and their characters tend to be far more rigid. Women may stray, but only so far. If they go on deep, alcoholic benders, they best repent and sober up at the end. If they abandon their spouses and children, they best end tragically, or make good. Women must, above all, show kindness. Women may be strong – but they must also, importantly, be vulnerable. If they are not, readers are more likely to push back and label her unlikeable.”
(, Kameron Hurley as guest post author)

"Well-behaved women seldom make history." (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich)

I write what I hope are realistic characters. Men and women, all of them real people, with real flaws, making decisions which span the range from inspired to really problematic but which are driven by their backgrounds and personalities and the intolerable situations in which they find themselves. Character, more even than plot, is what drives me to write about these people, and character is what makes me want to read someone else’s stories. I don’t want to read, or write, about characters whose edges are smooth and fit into society’s little boxes. What fun would that be?

(What's the worst thing someone can hope for you if you're female, IMO? "Stay out of trouble.")

So, am I going to be polishing off the edges on my "unlikeable" female characters? Hell no. They are who they are, just as is every flesh-and-blood woman not afraid of demonstrating independence from the expectations of others. I firmly believe we should all be who we are, and my characters stand in testimony to this belief.

Or, as Roxane Gay said in her article on BuzzFeed (, my protags are not here to make friends. They're here to live their lives, and I’m going to let them - just as I'm going to let myself.
clarentine: (cavalier)
Accomplishments for 2013:

-- A harvest which, despite the wettest year on record, is still filling boxes. Who knew winter squash liked so much wet? Who knew about peppers' love of moisture?

-- Marmalade, which was actually not the most difficult preserve I've put up thus far in my rather short career.

-- Three-quarters of a new novel. It's still fighting me every inch of the way, but we're getting there. Which is convenient, because I really want to get back to the first in the series and do some revision. You know, so it's presentable for company?

-- Conquering my fear of markers in color-rendering a drawing. In fact, if it wasn't for the contest I'm entering this drawing in, I might never have even tried. (I made three copies of this drawing so, if I screwed up two of them learning to color-render, I'd still be able to enter the contest with the black and white third. Thus far, I'm actually very pleased with the first attempt.)

Challenges yet to be conquered:

-- Learning to balance my time better. Just because I can do three things at once, two of them in my head, doesn't mean I'm more efficient that way or that the things I'm simultaneously working on are better for the split attention. I need to focus on just one thing at a time. Which means....

-- Not feeling guilty when I can't actually think about the current novel. The constant low-level current of thought about whatever scene I'm working on, circling endlessly without progress, robs me of the ability to focus deeply on my active project, which is usually active for a reason. So, yes, I need to just let it go every once in a while and not fret over the absence of those characters in my mental space.

-- Finishing what I start. Not ever going to conquer this one, but it's worth looking at every once in a while. Plus, notice how it feeds directly into the one above? Just one damned thing after another. ☺
clarentine: (cavalier)
A mini cat emergency – two people distractedly trying to anoint four* animals with flea-killing elixir while one of the dogs is determined to make a getaway, resulting in a cat getting tagged with flea stuff intended for the beagle – turned into a rather different evening than I had expected, once I realized the mistake. (Mistake; cue shocked realization that this stuff can be toxic to cats, grab for cat, cat ducks out of kitchen and ends up under bed, is dragged out and finally washed off with a soapy washcloth.) Heigh ho, off to the emergency (e.g., expensive) vet’s, where they informed me that we had a lovely young lady who would be just fine, as we’d acted fast enough and she’d gotten a dose far below the danger threshold.

I promptly asked them whose cat they were talking about. Surely they had hold of someone else’s animal, because they couldn’t be referring to the cat who’s named Luna and referred to, often, as Lunatic.

The tech brought her out, purring and calm in his arms. Yep, our cat. But she was friendly and interested in perfect strangers! And you know what? She’s still behaving like that.

I may have to take her back there in the future. You know, the next time she decides to be a screeching hellion. Well, when my wallet can afford the fee for whatever magic they applied, anyway. >:-)

*Four animals - three dogs, one cat - only because the fifth, the old ginger tom, has an open wound near the spot where you apply this stuff, and we didn't want to risk it. That cat's been through enough already this year.

**Anyone who's taken one cat out of a household of multiple cats and then brought the traveled cat back, only to find the others think it's been turned into an alien, will understand the title of this entry.
clarentine: (cavalier)
First fire of the autumn - chilly outside, nice and toasty inside beside the woodstove. Not exactly in my chair, because the dog beat me to it. >:-\ And, tomorrow, when we wake up to a world gone frosty, I'll still be grateful for the warmth.



clarentine: (Default)

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