Odd Miniature Landscapes

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When I was a kid, doll houses were elaborate things that wealthy kids had. It sounded pretty cool to have a small mansion all set up with tiny rugs, beds, little tables with dainty little china table settings, small furniture of every sort and dinky little landscaping details. Yeah, one of those would have been nice, but with five kids in the house having to share two bedrooms, it wouldn’t have lasted long. My parents, weighed down by the financial burden of so many children, made it clear to us all that money didn’t grow on trees. I knew better than to ask for one.

Ah, but we had a nice fenced yard and plenty of vacant lots, so we took our toys outside and made our own dollhouses in the great outdoors. I have fond memories of many hours of creative play, building little dwellings of mud and sticks for my little troll dolls, tiny tree houses amid the bushes, little roads for the toy cars filched from my brothers, and ice cream stick rafts to float across the fish pond in our back yard. My family nickname was Bee, and on any given day, little Bee could be found outside, playing in the dirt.

Well, I grew up. I went to college, worked an assortment of jobs over the years, (some of them even normal ones) and learned to make a pretty decent impression of an adult. I even raised a few kids, which can seriously tax one’s acting ability. Until a few years ago, I suspect I actually had them fooled.

I even started growing tomatoes. That’s grown up behavior, you know. Lots of retired people do it.

Then I began seeing pictures of fairy gardens on facebook. Little Bee started jumping up and down and there was nothing to be done except to indulge her. I began collecting little figurines and once more making my yard into a doll house.

That was about three years ago. The designated area in the back yard, a once barren and weed infested flowerbed, has become a verdant study-in-progress of miniature landscaping. There is a small hill covered in creeping flowers, a crescent moon topiary, a little creek, a castle on a cliff, a tiny birdbath and picnic bench nestled in the shade of a tree-like flowering bush. I’ve recently acquired more miniatures as well as new gardening tools and have plans to continue with my miniature landscaping, particularly in November during NaNoWriMo.

The promise of time spent in the garden serves me well as reward and motivation for writing. The garden is also a good place to find inspiration. As I dig and weed, I imagine pioneers clearing the wilderness and making homes for themselves. As I plant and arrange tiny landscapes, my mind wanders and possible story settings come to mind. I envision characters living in the tiny communities I am building, and tell myself little stories about them. My imagination, so often tied up in the straitjacket of discipline necessary to keep it on track while I’m editing and re-writing a novel, is free to wander and indulge in the kind of serious play kids do, something too many adults think they are no longer allowed to pursue.

Hogwash. What’s the fun in being an adult if you can’t play once in awhile? There are so many ways to do it. Some people play video games, some indulge in sports. I play in the dirt.

ROW#80 Update

  1. Get Hunt Club set up. I’m saddened to report that this is STILL not ready to go into print yet. I’m getting seriously frustrated. Editing seems to take forever. I have the cover done, the text re-sized, and am painstakingly correcting spacing errors and backward quotation marks and other troublesome cleanup issues. My husband refers to this as the “rat killing phase.” It’s stupid and tedious and necessary. I just wish it didn’t take so long. I want this book in print by the first of October, but it needs to look professional.
  2. Average ½ hour a day working on new novel. Not so much this week. I’m giving it a break until goal one is achieved.
  3. Average ½ hour a day on promotion and blogs. I skipped Wednesdays check in again because I’m such a perfectionist it was taking too long to write. I’m putting a time limit on my blogs in an effort to learn some brevity.
  4. Finish reading a book and write a review. Nope.

Due to the need to hurry and finish the first item, I’m going to hold off adding any new goals for a bit.  One thing I am rather proud of though is that I seem to have completed the “fact check” for my biography. Now I can move on to other blogging topics. 🙂

Dark Nightshades

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From the time I first spotted one in a seed catalog, I have taken an interest in black flowers. Black is often a relative term in the botanical world though. Black petunias and calla lilies were all the rage in plant nurseries a few years ago, but the more I looked at them, the less black they appeared. Burgundy or brown seemed to be more accurate descriptions. This was disappointing. I didn’t want a brown garden, I wanted a black one. Fortunately, I don’t give up easily and am now cultivating a sizable collection of dark plants.

It started with nightshades, specifically, Cherokee purple tomatoes and black pearl peppers. It has expanded to include other varieties. Opal basil, Purple okra, black sweet potatoes, purple cabbage, and dark, red veined chard. Alongside the fence there is a towering wild poke sallet bush, its deep red-violet stems and dark berries giving the back yard an autumn mood. Nor is the season over. I have seeds for black violets and pansies that I hope to get started soon. In the sheltered area of our east facing porch, the chances are good they’ll bloom well into November. .

I like dark, mysterious things, probably because they are my opposite. Halloween may only be on the calendar one month out of the year, but this doesn’t stop me from wearing black throughout the other seasons. Naturally, since I wear concert black while playing my harp and black silk shirts or tee shirts when I’m not clowning, it seems logical that certain areas of my garden should wear black too.

My favorite so far is the black pearl pepper. I bought one from a nursery last year and fell hard for the blue-black, almost iridescent foliage and shiny, color changing peppers. I even tried to eat one. It tried to burn my face off. They are more a novelty than a food crop, but I collected the seeds and, wonder of wonders, was able to cultivate more this season.

Some people claim to have a black thumb. I must have the blackest thumb ever. Every seed I planted in the flat sprouted. Since there were two or three in each compartment (They were slow to germinate, so I added a new seed each week), I ended up with more than a dozen thriving seedlings. Later in the season, I re-used the soil from the original plant pot for other projects. Low and behold, I began finding baby Black Pepper plants amid my verbenas and butterfly bushes. If last year was a good one for black pearl peppers, this year might be an even better one.

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Sadly, while the concept of a black garden is a popular one, examples of a successful execution are rare on Pinterest. I am having to make mine up as I go along. Hopefully, next year I’ll get some striped and speckled plants for contrast and a few accents. Currently, I’m setting pickle buckets in a row and considering planting arrangements for next year. Maybe some nicer containers or perhaps I’ll dedicate an actual patch of ground to the project.

Meanwhile, the year itself is growing dark. Gardening in an area with seasons is an ongoing race with the changing year. All too soon, the first frost of winter will be upon us and most of my garden will run out of time. It’s a metaphor, I suppose for my own anxious observations of a growing collection of silver hairs and wrinkles. Time has a way of moving forward and it’s something we cannot change. We can only make our own kind of peace with it. Perhaps this is why gardening is so popular with older folk.

It’s not winter yet though, so for now, I’ll take up my spade and do what I can in the time that remains. All any of us really can do in the long run is make the best use of the time given us. Perhaps, in nurturing dark plants and flowers, I’m making my own sort of peace with the ultimate mystery.

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ROW#80 Update

  1. Get Hunt Club set up. I’m making progress. There were a few days in which I had to play catch up on other projects, but I’m putting in solid time on the final clean up and format.
  2. Average ½ hour a day working on new novel. Yes! I had to put some solid hours into this in order to catch up, but this and the Hunt Club formatting are running even on time spent, which is how it should be.
  3. Average ½ hour a day on promotion and blogs. Up to date and then some. I skipped another blog because on my grid, the time spent blogging was overtaking my time spent writing. I’m putting a severe time limit on my blogs in an effort to learn some brevity.
  4. Finish reading a book and write a review. Nope.I understand this session is approaching an end and am considering with some excitement what my next set of goals will be. Meantime, I’m looking with a bit dismay at my unfinished ones. I need to hurry up and complete a few projects.

Pale Roses

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There are many ways to murder a rosebush. If brought up on charges, I would probably plead guilty, but not of the premeditated variety. I’d never kill a rose on purpose. I’m just terrible at keeping the plants alive, unless they decide for themselves they want to stick around. I’ve had that good fortune a time or two, so I just keep trying, failing, and trying again. Like any good psychopath, I’m a bit obsessed.

It started when I was a teenager. Inspired by an interest in heraldry and things medieval, I drew stars, gave them one or two layers of petals, and surrounded them with leaves that formed a softer star shape. These became a kind of signature for me. They decorated my notebook covers and the margins of my journals. When my family moved, I used a marker to put roses on all of my boxes.

This obsession continued through high school and into college. I bought a small rose banner at my first renaissance festival and put it on the door of my bedroom and later, my first apartment. I bought my first bottle of rosewater and began making things like rose lemonade and rose petal jelly. Miniature roses came into fashion and I kept a nice one alive in my window for many years. Proud of my success, I collected a half dozen others and promptly killed them.

Roses can be very difficult to grow. Normally, a multitude of failures with a plant helps me to level up as a gardener. I study up, learn from my mistakes, and get better. Not so with roses. There is always another disease, another fungus, another insect or arachnid. Too much rain, too much heat, too harsh a winter, the wrong kind of soil, too much or two little light, too much or too little humidity, the possibilities are nearly endless.

There is good ol’ human error, as in “Oops, I forgot to water it, forgot to feed it, forgot to mist it or prune it or sing it a lullaby.” There are times when I’ve done everything I can think of and the darn thing dies anyway, leaving me to conclude it doesn’t like me and is pining away for it’s previous owner.  I’ve lost quite a few rosebushes that appear to have simply lost their will to live.

This year I wanted a white rosebush and the plant nurseries had nothing of the sort. They were overflowing with Knockout roses, a beautiful, tough, bushy variety that grows well in this area. These are red and I love to look at them, but most of them have no scent. Fragrance is important to me and I wanted my rose to be white. I gave up in despair over the summer but then happened upon just what I was looking for yesterday. It’s a nicely scented, snowy white rosebush, theoretically adapted to this area and “easy to grow.” We’ll have to see about the relative value of that term.

I’m hoping to get it in the ground this evening. I’m hoping it likes me and wants to grow for me. I’m hoping I don’t make any massive errors that result in it’s death. Wish me luck, I’ll need it.  As was stated in the author’s notes for Hunt Club, I cultivate pale roses. Cultivate in this case would mean “attempt to grow.”

I do try. Sometimes I’m even successful at it. 🙂

ROW#80 Update

  1. Get the cover for Hunt Club set up. Done. It’s ready to go.  Now I need to proofread the text and make sure it’s ready for print.
  2. Average ½ hour a day working on new novel. Yes! I’m finally making progress in this area. Sadly, it is partially creative avoidance of another project, but at least it is a useful sort of creative avoidance. I’ll take what I can get.
  3. Average ½ hour a day on promotion and blogs. Up to date and then some. I skipped the last one because on my grid, the time spent blogging was overtaking my time spent writing. I gave it a break and let the guilt drive me to better productivity.
  4. Finish reading a book and write a review. Nope.

    The good news is I didn’t spend six hours this week trying to write the novel I plan to attack in earnest during November’s NaNoWriMo session. Nope, didn’t happen. Instead (bad news), I spent about four hours at plot crunching, figuring out who dunnit and how and where and whether the butler was involved. This is more difficult then the lovely rush of writing actual scenes, so that’s OK, right?

Aw, who am I kidding? I’m getting really excited about the next project on my roster, so much that I keep “cheating” and obsessing over it. The e-book has three five star reviews. Now I want to show the world I can write another one as good. I’m already planning to spend the month of October crunching out the details of the plot so I’ll have a good solid sense of direction and be able to make my NaNo session as productive as possible.

It’s all terribly exciting and I can hardly wait, but I really need to show a little discipline and get the darn print book out into the world. I should be able to get it done this week if I put my mind to it and stop succumbing to every shiny distraction on my desk.

Only Occasionally the Color of Blood

Some of my teas are red. Rose, hibiscus, cranberry, strawberry, there are plenty of tasty fruits and flowers that can impart a blood-like hue to my daily cuppa.

Some of my smoothies are also red. Strawberry, cranberry, blood orange, watermelon, ginger-beet, tomato, rhubarb, and so forth. They all make good smoothies and I do use them. Not every day, of course. My teas are more often than not amber-to-brown and my smoothies progress through a rainbow of colors, but I did say they were only occasionally the color of blood.

I am not the main character of my novel, but while putting together the promotional biography, it seemed appropriate to draw on some parallels. It’s hard to reduce a human life to one paragraph. You have to pick and choose and decide what the situation calls for. I selected a handful of active elements in my life and presented them with a certain tone to fit the genre of the story.

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Elizabeth Toll is usually hidden away in an office room, creating tales for her Manx cat. When not thus occupied, she plays a folk harp that is much smaller than the one in her novel, enjoys teas and smoothies which are only occasionally the color of blood, and cultivates a garden of pale roses, dark nightshades and odd miniature landscapes. Be afraid, be very… On second thought, be courageous and check out her blog. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye...

I felt strange about writing it. I’m from a background in which honesty is demanded and any indication of hype is sneered at. Faced with the task of promoting myself, I’d rather go hide in my walk-in closet behind the black silk shirts and velvet cloaks. Every word of the above biography is true, but it sounds a lot more romantic than my real life. I could just as easily have written the following:

Liz Funny1  Elizabeth Toll has operated rides at an amusement park, delivered singing telegrams, and more recently worked as a clown in party venues and large events. When not thus engaged, she can often be found dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, making outrageous puns or singing something ridiculous. She likes polka dots, Weird Al Yankovic, Marx brothers movies, and Terry Pratchetts Discworld series.

This just as true and yet it’s a completely different take, one on my silly side.  It’s the sort of thing that would be more useful to promote my entertainment business. Despite being a closet goth (translation, I have a bunch of dark cloaks, poets shirts, veiled hats, and wonderfully spooky, vaguely historic things I only take out of the closet when I’m in the right mood), I also have a lot of bright polka dots, colorful wigs, and funny shoes. Additionally, my wardrobe contains some simpler, more neutral attire, for times I need to go about disguised as a normal human being. (Not that it necessarily fools anyone. 🙂

My point is, no one is a paper cut-out. When writing a short biography, I did my best to pare it down to a few facts relevant to my writer aspect.

I write in the spare bedroom next to a snoring cat. I guzzle lots of tea and often substitute a quick blender drink for a proper meal.  Then, when I can’t take another second of writing, I escape outdoors to tend my garden or sit down and play something ridiculously inappropriate on one of my musical instruments.

Then I prettied the language up a little and posted it.

I looked at the resulting biography and the accompanying picture (taken on a day I wore something dark and delicious out of my goth closet) and said to myself, “What an interesting person. I’d like to meet her someday.” Since I already lived closely with her, this worried me.

Scroll down among the titles of my last several blogs and you may notice they follow the script of my author’s notes. That’s me going through and fact checking my own biography, looking for hype and exaggeration and trying to figure out how a boring person like me managed to look so good on a computer screen.

So far, it has survived every fact check. I actually am the romantic entity in the first biography. I am also the goofball in the second one, and the disorganized nerd in the third one. I could probably write a dozen more biographies in different tones and convey a lot of different first impressions using just the facts. They would all be true and accurate and none of them would really tell the whole story. A life story takes decades to develop and cannot easily be summed up in half a dozen lines on a page.

Ah well, if it’s hype, at least it’s honest hype. Greetings from your friendly neighborhood cozy vampire murder mystery writer. Of course I’m a little strange, look what I’ve been writing for the last five years. Get yourself a copy. Come on, you know you wanna. 🙂

ROW#80 Update

  1. Got the cover for Hunt Club set up. We’ve done three test prints and it still isn’t right. Upgrading the computer art for printing is becoming quite the learning experience. One thing I’ve learned from my e-book experience is patience is a big asset during the final phase of editing. As long as I don’t get discouraged and give up, every little step moves the process forward.
  2. “Average ½ hour a day working on new novel.” Nope.
  3. “Average ½ hour a day on promotion and blogs.” Up to date and then some.
  4. “Finish reading a book and write a review.” Nope.
  5. This wasn’t really on my list, but I’m going to acknowledge it anyway. I got in seven hours of work on the sequel to Hunt Club. I blame Isaac Asimov, who once said he fought insomnia by going over story plots until his mind, outraged at having to work at such a ridiculous hour, shut down and let him fall asleep.

    Sometimes the advice that works for our heroes doesn’t work for us. I plotted till four am, continued to plot in my dreams, then Saturday afternoon I was at the computer for six straight hours, absorbed in imaginary adventures as I tried to write the entire sequel to my novel in one day. It doesn’t work, but I sure had fun trying. It was a creative distraction from the boring task of trying to edit two manuscripts.  I really miss flat-out scribbling. It’s the most fun part of the entire process and sadly, the most brief.

    I intend to start plotting in earnest next month, but it was fun getting my feet wet again. Next time, I probably won’t count such a detour from my current goals, but just this once, I think I will.