June 2009

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30 Jun Waiting

Waiting and hoping... for bunnies!I’ve been doing lots of waiting lately. In the meantime, I’ve been:

Writing: The first chapter of my new book. Actually I’ve been doing so much research and planning that I’m only doodling with actual narrative, a line here, a snatch of dialogue there. I’m definitely an outliner and I need a detailed plan with a lot of associated research and background before my stories form themselves into write-down-able words. The upside of this is that once the characters and setting and shape of the story are firmly fixed in what passes for my mind, the words themselves pour out.

Reading: actually re-reading. The World is Not Enough by Zoë Oldenbourg. Originally published in French as Argile et Cendres, translated into English by Willard R. Trask. One of my favorite historical novels of all time.

Also reading: Mary of Guise in Scotland, 1548-1560: A Political Career, by Pamela E. Ritchie. One of those satisfying combinations of reading for research and reading for pleasure.

Cooking: sautéed chicken breasts to be sliced over salads. I think I’ve discovered the secret to perfect tender sautéed chicken breasts: marinate or season to taste, then sauté the presentation side on high heat for three to four minutes, depending on the thickness of the breast. Creates beautiful color. Then reduce heat to low, turn the breast over, cover, and cook the second side twice as long as you did on the first side. Remove from pan and let rest for five minutes or so before slicing.

Eating: well, drinking, actually. A delicious wine sent to me by my friend, mystery writer Dana Fredsti. It’s Chariot’s Gypsy 2007, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese from California vineyards. Unfortunately we don’t have Trader Joe’s in Texas, or this would become my co-favorite red wine with Roditis.

Walking: early mornings and late evenings because of the 100° heat. There’s nothing like walking with a beagle or two to take one’s mind off… well… waiting.

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18 Jun The Natural Garden

This year I’m rocking a natural, low-maintenance garden. After reading The $64 Tomato, I decided I’d just stick in my plants, water them every morning, and see what happened.

Come on, tomatoes, ripen!

From every blossom, a cucumber.
So far it’s working. The tomato plants are strong and sturdy (well, other than the one “Early Girl” that Cressie trampled), with burgeoning fruit and blossoms. The cucumber vines are exploding, twining up their posts with a little help from some plastic tape, and covered with bright yellow blossoms as well.

As you can see, grass and weeds abound. I whack off a little grass every so often, but that’s all. I didn’t rototill, didn’t fertilize. So far I’ve spent $23.28 for six tomato plants (I’ll have to charge Cressie’s account for the plant she broke off) and $2.95 for a packet of cucumber seeds. So even if I only get one tomato, I’ll still be doing better than the $64-tomato guy!

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13 Jun There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding

Happy trails to me...A Google trail, that is. I’m stealing an idea from my friend and fellow Shrinking Violet P.J. Hoover, and tracking my “Google Trail.” What have I been Googling this past week in the name of research?

  • Wildflowers of sixteenth-century Scotland
  • Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard
  • Quatrains of Nostradamus
  • Lennoxlove House
  • Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchess of Guise
  • Battle of Corrichie
  • Clan Leslie

One of the great delights of writing historical fiction with sprinkles is that one can spend hours reading about the most fascinating bits and pieces of history and actually be working. Could there be any better job?

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10 Jun Style

Alexander Pope, by Michael Dahl

True ease in writing
comes from art, not chance,

As those move easiest
who have learned to dance.

’Tis not enough
no harshness gives offence;

The sound must seem
an echo to the sense.

—Alexander Pope
“An Essay on Criticism”

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06 Jun National Doughnut Day (A Day Late, but Who’s Counting?)

Sprinkles! My favorites!This morning at the crack of dawn (well, not quite, but almost) a little boy rang our doorbell and delivered a box of doughnuts. Why, you ask? Well, a couple of weeks ago that same little boy worked his little-boy wiles on the Broadcasting Legend™ and convinced him to buy a box of doughnuts for some sort of school fund-raising project. (We live a few blocks from an elementary school and the neighborhood is awash in cute kids selling stuff.) Why doughnuts? Because yesterday was National Doughnut Day. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as National Doughnut Day. The things you learn from second-graders!

Where did the word “doughnut” come from? Well, according to my beloved Online Etymology Dictionary, it was first recorded about 1809 by Washington Irving, who took a break from managing the first viral book-marketing campaign to describe them as “balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or ‘olykoeks.’” So clearly the first doughnuts were hole-less, and actually resembled nuts. And hog’s fat. Yum.

I’ll take Krispy Kremes, thank you.

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05 Jun Writing while Walking

No, not with a portable device of some kind. Although according to my friend, mystery writer Dana Fredsti, there is such a thing as a laptop harness. If I had something like that I’d be dangerous, because I get very wrapped up in what I’m writing.

I mean that I write in my head while I’m walking. It has to be solitary walking—when I walk with the dogs and the Broadcasting Legend™ it doesn’t work. But when I’m by myself and the sun is shining and a little breeze is blowing and I walk down along the creek, whole scenes unroll, mostly in dialogue. Being alone means I can “read” them out loud to myself as I go, listening to how the words sound together.

And the neighbors only kind of think I’m crazy.

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03 Jun The Stars of June

Stars, stars, stars of June

June’s a morning kind of month this year—if you’re not an early riser you’ll miss most of the stargazing fun. If you like to stay up late, well, you could always just stay up till dawn.

  • June 6th. One evening treat. The Moon, one day off full, will rise in the heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion. In many parts of the United States, the Moon will actually occlude Antares, the spectacular orange star that usually marks the Scorpion’s heart.
  • June 7th. The full Moon of June. Will post more about the lore of the June Moon (to which we croon a tune) on the seventh itself.
  • June 19th. Look to the east at dawn (which for some reason makes me think of Luke Havergal, although he was supposed to go to the western gate at twilight) and you will see the crescent Moon with Venus and Mars.
  • June 20th. At first light, the Moon, the Pleiades, and the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury will form an arch in the east. Unusual and beautiful. I’d like to try to get a picture of this.
  • June 21st. The Summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.
  • June 27th. Back to the evening. Saturn, which will look like a golden star, is to the upper right of the Moon. Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, is to the lower right.
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01 Jun Hello, June

What have you seen and heard? What has been tucked away inside you?And look, there’s summer, right behind you. One of my summer projects (in addition to my wonderful new book that I’m madly in love with but don’t really want to talk about too much yet for fear of jinxing it) is refurbishing some beautiful old pieces of family furniture I’ve had in storage for years and years. I’m starting with this chest—four large drawers and then two small drawers on top. It dates back to about 1910, and as you can see, it has actual shelves inside for each drawer to rest on. Solid mahogany. Weighs a ton, as the Broadcasting Legend™ and our neighbor the Proud Father of Twins™ can attest, after wrestling it out of the storage unit, onto the truck, off the truck, and into our front foyer. My first step is to take out all the drawers and give it a good scrubbing with Murphy’s Oil Soap.

What has it seen, in the century or so of its life? What stories could it tell? I dream as I work on it. What was folded away in its drawers? One element of my new book is an object (not really a piece of furniture, but definitely a personal object) that passes through various hands and affects each person, on its way to its moment of destiny on the world stage, and then back to obscurity. What could be more intriguing? (Oh, and it has Nostradamus, too.)