Five weeks of garden pictures

I thought people might enjoy seeing some pictures of this year’s garden. I spent much of March anxiously gazing out my window into the yard, first wondering if the snow would ever melt, then wondering if it would ever get warm enough to plant anything. Once the snow was gone, I would go out every day (sometimes more than once) to poke at the hard, frozen dirt in the raised bed. Is it thawing yet? How far can I stick my finger in before I hit ice?

Well, as it always does, spring has come to New England. I started planting hardy, cool-season vegetables on April 4th, a few days after I noticed the first crocuses blooming in our neighborhood. I put in fava beans, spinach, radishes, parsley, chervil, and komatsuna. Three days later, I added chives, baby bok choy, red giant mustard, and mizuna.

Garden, 04/07/14

Here’s a picture, from April 7th.  Gardening experts among you may notice that I’m using the square-foot gardening method.  Sort of.  I don’t bother with a permanent grid to mark out the squares, I just used tomato twine strung around some small nails that I hammered into the frame of the raised bed.  I don’t have the complete grid yet in this picture, just enough to mark the areas I’ve planted.  Actually, three of the planted squares are not completely delineated by grid.  Wonder of wonders, the plants still came up and thrived.  The world did not end.  (If you’ve ever read Mel Bartholomew’s blog–he’s the founder of the square-foot gardening technique–you’ll notice that he’s quite opinionated about the Only True Way to do square-foot gardening.  And about a lot of other things.  Others who promote the square-foot gardening approach, like Boston area non-profit The Food Project, are less dogmatic about it.)

The chicken wire is there to keep squirrels from digging up the newly-planted bed.  I was too lazy to make a chicken wire cover for both sides.  Actually, I already had the one chicken wire cover I made last year (it wasn’t wide enough, so I had to snip wires and twist them together to make a cover that would go over one entire half of the bed).

Garden, 04/14/14

One week later.  I’ve planted more stuff (beets, carrots, Swiss chard, and a second square of radishes).  You can see I’ve finished the grid, and covered the second half with chicken wire.  You can also see a dusting of cayenne pepper on the southern side of the bed (top).  The chicken wire wasn’t quite as effective at keeping squirrels out as I’d hoped.  They were apparently able to sit on top of the mesh and poke their miserable little paws through the holes.  They do much more extensive digging without the mesh, though.  It helps a bit.  Like most mammals, squirrels hate the capsaicin in cayenne pepper, so it can keep them out of your garden for a while.  Unfortunately, they do get used to it, as I discovered last fall when they were frantically burying hickory nuts among the newly planted lettuces.

You may also notice that the grass is ever so slightly greener in the second photo.

The third photo (below), is from April 21st.  We had snow and a hard frost between photos 2 and 3.  Yeah.  Gotta love New England weather.  I’ve taken the chicken wire off the northern side because, although you can’t really see them in this picture (they’re too small), the spinach seedlings are up, and the dirt isn’t entirely level in the bed, so the spinaches (in an area where the dirt was higher) were poking up through the holes in the wire.  And I needed to cover up the mustard seedlings in that half (the 4 tiny dots in the row second from the bottom, on the left), since the temperatures were dropping below 30.  I just used upside-down drinking glasses.  For the side that still had chicken wire, I put a doubled sheet of black plastic over it, resting on top of the mesh, weighted down with bricks.  (One of the cold nights was very windy.)

The uncovered spinaches and radishes ended up with a half inch of snow on top of them.  But they were fine.  And the seeds that hadn’t come up yet did eventually emerge.  Except for the chives, but I’m not sure what’s going on with them.  The seed may have been too old.

More cayenne pepper, around where I’ve planted the fava beans.  Because I really didn’t want to have to replant them, due to squirrel activity.  I’m not sure I’ll get a crop to begin with; they prefer temperatures below 70 F, and Boston doesn’t have a lot of days in the spring between when the ground is frozen and when temperatures are well above 70.  Also, I don’t think I really get 6 hours of sunlight in this yard, so crops take longer to mature.  We’ll see.  I really like fava beans, so I’m hoping to get some.

The plastic wrap weighted down by small stones is over the chervil.  Chervil needs light to germinate, so you’re supposed to press the seeds into the soil surface.  But it’s hard to keep them moist enough.  I’m using the Saran wrap to create a mini-greenhouse.

Garden, 04/21/14

Below, a week later.  Even more green grass.  You can see the fava beans easily now, in the lower left corner and the one next to it.  I’ve taken away the second chicken wire cover, because the beets (which are still difficult to see, in this picture) were poking up through the holes.  Also, I’ve switched over from the Saran wrap greenhouse to ones made out of drinking glasses.  Some of the chervil came up, so you’ll only see 2 glasses in the chervil square instead of 4.  The other glass is covering some newly-sown marjoram, which also requires light.  I replanted the chives that never came up, with fresh seed.  And I’ve planted a third square of radishes, and some cilantro.  Dill, too, but that’s in one of the pots that you can’t see in this view.  There’s a bunch of stuff in pots, along the edge of the yard, and on my patio, but I’m just focusing on the raised bed here.

Garden, 04/28/14

And, finally, a photo from May 5th, 4 days ago.  More cayenne pepper, marking sites of past and continuing depredation by pesky squirrels.  You can see a lot of changes from the previous week.  Things are really taking off now.  I’ve been thinning the greens and adding the thinnings to our salads, or just using them to garnish whatever vegetable side dish I’m serving for dinner (microgreens!).  I ate a radish, but it really wasn’t big enough.  The first square of radishes is growing rapidly, though.  I think they’ll be ready next week.

Garden, 05/05/14

Sometimes I write, too.  It would be fair to say I’m more excited about the gardening right now.

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Frozen is no Snow Queen

Donald and I recently saw the latest Disney animated feature, Frozen, and while it had some good moments and one great song, we didn’t enjoy it as much as some of the other recent Disney films (Wreck-It Ralph, for instance).

The biggest problem was the writing.  A major plot twist was not foreshadowed at all, the pacing felt off during the first quarter or third of the movie, and the tendency of characters to break out into song at the least provocation felt forced and awkward.  (Yes, I realize that it’s a musical, but ideally it should either feel somewhat natural that someone has started singing, or the song itself should be so memorable that you don’t care.)  Early in the movie, I felt myself inwardly sighing every time a character started to sing, and waiting for the plot to pick up again.

For me, the movie also suffers by comparison with the Hans Christian Andersen story that inspired it, “The Snow Queen”.  This isn’t the first Andersen tale re-imagined by Disney, but Frozen has even less in common with the original story than The Little Mermaid did.  “The Snow Queen” is about the epic quest of a girl, Gerda, to rescue her childhood friend Kay after he’s kidnapped by the eponymous queen.  It’s one of Andersen’s longest fairy tales, and the one that made the strongest impression on me.  I always liked that the girl got to be the one doing the rescuing (my Barbie dolls went on a lot of quests to rescue captive princes from evil sorcerers); also there are a lot of memorable characters, like the robber girl and the talking crows.  And some wonderful scenes.  The scene where the Snow Queen steals Kay away reminds me of Edmund meeting the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; although of course Andersen’s scene was written about 100 years earlier.  I wonder if Lewis was either consciously or sub-consciously inspired by it.

So, see Frozen if you need your Disney fix, but I don’t think it’s one of their better movies.  And go read “The Snow Queen”.  Right now!

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Kaleidotrope Winter 2014

I mentioned in my last post that I have a story in the Winter 2014 issue of Kaleidotrope.  Definitely check out the other stories in that issue if you have the chance!  My favorite was Josh Storey’s “Phantasy Punk”, although I’m still not sure I quite understood it after two read-throughs.  It’s very meta, full of geek culture references and great lines, but also fast-paced and fun to read.

In the poetry department, I loved Ada Hoffmann’s “Memo From Neverland”, a brief and eloquent meditation on the story of Peter Pan and what it really means to grow up.

Kaleidotrope publishes 4 times a year, and their Spring 2014 issue should be out sometime in the next few weeks.  But they keep the older issues archived and free-to-read.  For instance, you can still read “Camouflage”, by my Clarion West classmate Eden Robins in the Autumn 2013 issue.  I admire Eden’s writing a lot, partly because it’s so different from my own style.  I think I take myself too seriously (and not in a good way) to write stories like this one.

Anyway, check out Kaleidotrope!

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New story out in Kaleidotrope

My story “City of the Dying Sun” is now out in the current issue of Kaleidotrope.  Click on the link to read it!  It’s set in the same world as the novel I’ve been working on forever, but takes place many years earlier.  There’s an elf in it, but I avoided using the e-word or mentioning his pointy ears.

“The Shoemaker’s Daughter” and “The Year of the Bear” are also set in this secondary world, but are closer in time to the events of the novel.

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Shameless commerce department

Check out the t-shirt Donald and I are selling on Zazzle!  It’s the perfect 2nd anniversary gift for yourself, your spouse, or a friend.

We designed it because we wanted them for ourselves and couldn’t find ones we liked online.  There was one, but it ruined the joke by explaining on the shirt that the traditional 2nd anniversary gift was cotton.

White t-shirts are shown, but you can get pretty much any color, any size, even a different style of t-shirt than the ones we used.  You could even get our design on a t-shirt that isn’t 100% cotton.  But that would be silly.

Hopefully if we sell a few t-shirts we’ll actually get some money, but I have to admit that I didn’t read the details of the agreement closely enough to ascertain whether any royalties will be paid in money, or Zazzle store credit.  (No, I’m never that careless about signing contracts for my fiction!)  Donald doesn’t think it really matters; he thinks we’re going to make so little money from this that we might as well use it to buy a t-shirt or mug.  But I admit, I have grand dreams that we’re tapping into some hitherto unmet need for creative 2nd anniversary gifts.  (My overactive imagination is very helpful in writing fantasy and science fiction.)

The traditional 3rd anniversary gift is leather.  Hmm….

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Ancient Roman Pork Kebabs, Apicius 8.1.9

I’ve written elsewhere (here, here, and here) about my attempts to cook ancient Roman food.  Until now, I’ve followed adaptations of ancient recipes worked out for use in modern kitchens, with quantities and preparation notes.  But I was making grilled pork kebabs as one menu item for a dinner party with friends and I wanted to try something new for the dipping sauce, something I hadn’t tried before.

Donald always appreciates ancient Roman food, and there are four sauce recipes in Sally Grainger’s Cooking Apicius that would have been appropriate.  I’d already tried two of them, though (I liked one but not the other, possibly because of all the tinkering I had to do with the recipe due to not being able to acquire all the ingredients here in the US).  And of the others, one calls for myrtle berries, which we can’t get (we bought a myrtle plant that we’ve been babying along and carefully moving inside each winter, but still no flowers or berries), and the other for hard-boiled eggs, which I don’t like.

Also, I’ve been going to the trouble of growing rue and pennyroyal from seed so that I have them on hand for the recipes that require them, and I wanted to use some of the fresh rue.  So I went back to Grocock and Grainger’s straight-up translation of the Apicius cookery manual to see what I could find.

8.1.9.  Another sauce for boar:  pound pepper, lovage, oregano, celery seed, laser root, cumin, fennel seed, rue, liquamen, wine, passum.  Bring it to heat; when it is simmering, thicken with starch.  Pour the sauce into and over the boar and serve.

Sounds promising.  I was using ambiguously labeled “pork kebab meat” from our meat CSA, not wild boar, but it was free-range pork.  And the Romans often cooked food over charcoal (many of the more convenient methods not having been invented yet).  Laser is silphium, but that was already extinct by the time most of these recipes were being written down, so they were using asafetida instead.  Liquamen is fish sauce, and ancient Roman fish sauce was pretty close to modern Thai or Vietnamese.  Passum was a sweet wine made from dried grapes.  I always use Passito di Pantelleria, which is probably the best modern approximation (Wikipedia says so, anyway).  The one made by Cantine Pellegrino is available at a local wine and spirits retailer (this is the modern, fancy term for liquor store).

I didn’t follow the instructions exactly.  Partly because I wanted to marinate the pork in the mixture before grilling it, as well as using it as a dipping sauce.  Here’s my recipe:

1 tsp. lovage seed
1 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. cumin seed
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
1/4 tsp. ground asafetida
1 tsp. peppercorns
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh lovage
1 tsp. minced fresh oregano
1 tsp. minced fresh rue
3/4 c. dry white Italian wine
1/4 c. Passito di Pantelleria
2 tbsp. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/4 lb. pork kebab meat (I wouldn’t be so vague about where on the animal the meat came from, except that I don’t know. Legs, maybe? Loin? Anything you’d use for grilling, frying, or roasting (rather than braising or stewing), cut into approximately 2-inch chunks, is probably fine.)

In a small skillet over moderately low heat, toast lovage seed, celery seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, and ground asafetida until fragrant, while stirring. Cool slightly, then grind with the peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add wine, Passito, fish sauce, and fresh herbs. Divide mixture into 2 equal portions. Reserve half of the mixture to use as a dipping sauce. To the other half, add the olive oil. Marinate the pork kebabs in the mixture that contains olive oil for 2-24 hours (In the fridge, of course. Ancient Romans didn’t have fridges, but the ancient text says nothing about marinating in this mixture, either.)

Thread the pork kebabs onto skewers and grill to desired doneness. You could broil them instead, if it were raining or too cold to grill. I’m not giving precise instructions here based on what I did, because I was trying to grill-roast a whole chicken at the same time (that’s another possible blog post), and my grilling of the pork didn’t receive the close attention it deserved. My kebabs were cooked through more than I like (medium-well rather than medium-rare, though if you’re still afraid of trichinosis this may be more to your liking (ancient Romans were probably afraid of trichinosis, too)), and not seared enough on the outside because I was using briquettes instead of hardwood charcoal to get the chicken right. Also, the pork got cold before we got around to eating it, because the chicken took longer. But the hickory wood chunks I was using to flavor the chicken gave the pork a nice, smoky flavor.

Serve the grilled pork with the dipping sauce.

If you compare this to the original Apicius recipe, you’ll see I didn’t bother heating the sauce once it had been assembled, and didn’t bother thickening it, either.  I could have, though cornstarch isn’t strictly authentic, as the ancient Romans didn’t have corn.  You could use wheat starch, often available in Asian grocery stores near the rice flour, if you were striving for verisimilitude.

Of course, you’re going to have trouble duplicating this recipe if you don’t grow your own lovage and rue, as they’re not easy to find.  I have seen fresh lovage, still growing in little pots, at the Lexington farmers’ market here in Massachusetts.  You could substitute celery leaves for the fresh lovage, or just leave it out.  I used organic lovage seeds sold for planting rather than culinary purposes, and lovage seeds are not too difficult to find.  If you haven’t just spent the last several months growing your own fresh rue, you’re probably out of luck, though some friends of mine who used to live in Park Slope, in Brooklyn, told me they’ve seen it at the farmers’ market there on occasion.  Before we had rue, we would substitute fresh fenugreek leaves in ancient recipes that called for it (fresh fenugreek is available at well-stocked Indian grocery stores), or dandelion leaves.  Rue is quite bitter, so you’ll get some of the correct flavor that way.  You’d probably want to use a tablespoon of either of these substitutes, as neither is as astoundingly bitter as rue.  Rue also has some interesting flavor notes that you might describe as citrusy, though, so I don’t think any substitute will be quite right.

If you want to use rue, keep in mind that it’s, um, mildly toxic.  And should probably not be consumed by pregnant women or those attempting to become pregnant.  It had medicinal as well as culinary uses, and one of those medicinal uses was as an herbal abortifacient.  I’m pretty sure that a teaspoon mixed into a cup of liquid and shared among 3 or more people as a marinade and dipping sauce is not going to hurt anybody or their unborn child.  But I have no real knowledge on the subject.  I informed all our dinner guests of the potential toxicity issue, and you should do the same.

How did it turn out?  Everyone seemed to enjoy the pork kebabs and dipping sauce.  There are a lot of different flavors in there, but they seem to meld well together.  Donald wants me to try the sauce again, this time using rue in one batch and a rue substitute in the other, to see if there’s any noticeable difference (Donald’s blog post on the dipping sauce is here).  Maybe he’s wondering if growing fresh rue is worth the effort.  It’s supposed to be a perennial herb, though, so I think we’ll have fresh rue as long as we remember to water it from time to time.

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New Fiction from DC Harrell

My friend DC Harrell has a story in the latest issue of Swords and Sorcery Magazine; read it here!  I saw an earlier version of this story when we were in a writers group together, years ago, and it still makes me choke up a bit to read it.

This is the first story she’s had published, and I hope there will be many more.  Because then I’ll get to read them.

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New Approaches to Not Writing

I thought I would post some pictures of my latest way to procrastinate from writing:  gardening!


chives, shiso, sorrel, lettuce


Donald and I live in a rented apartment, so I couldn’t very well dig up the side yard and plant a vegetable garden without first asking the landlord’s permission.  And by the time I got inspired (mid-May), it was really too late for that.  So I went with containers.  These are on my front porch.  From left to right:  chives, shiso, sorrel, and lettuce.  You can’t see the shiso too well because the seed packet had both green and red shiso, and when I initially planted, only the red came up.  Actually, I thought I had a red and a green for a while, but it soon became apparent that what I’d assumed was green shiso was actually clover (hmm, I wonder why the green and red seedlings look so different).  I’m not sure where the clover came from, but I’m hoping it was the Organic Outdoor Container Mix, not the shiso packet.  Unfortunately, I wanted green shiso more than red, so I had to do a second planting.  This time two green shiso seedlings have come up.  At least, I hope that’s what they are.  They’re very tiny, so you can’t see them in the picture.

Shiso turns out to be a bit of a pain to start.  The seeds require light in order to germinate, but you also have to keep them from drying out.  Initially, I followed the packet instructions and pressed four seeds into the soil surface.  But I think they got covered with dirt later while watering, and only one ever sprouted.  I don’t know where the others went.  For the re-seeding, I tried to be more careful, and this time I only lost three seeds under the dirt instead of all four.  After that, I sprayed it with a gentle mist of water twice a day instead of trying to use a gentle spray from the watering can that turned out to be not so gentle whenever the surface looked a bit dry.  Days went by and no sprouting.  Finally, I put a sheet of Saran wrap over the one remaining visible seed, weighting it down with coins at each corner.  I still sprayed it twice a day, lifting up the plastic wrap and then replacing it.  This worked, and the seed sprouted.  And one of the buried seeds came up, too.

Here’s the rest of my porch garden:

English pennyroyal and lovage


The one on the far right that’s partly cut off is the empty pot following my unsuccessful attempt to grow spinach.  I think it was too hot.  Apparently spinach is very sensitive to hot weather.  I had some plants, but they were leggy and floppy, with tiny leaves, and it looked like they were on the verge of bolting.  So I pulled them and tossed the leaves into a salad.  I guess spinach needs to be planted in early April, not late May.

The next one over is English pennyroyal.  You probably can’t see any plants.  I can barely see them, and I know where to look.  They’re very small.  I started them inside and just transplanted them yesterday.

Finally, lovage.  You might notice that the leaves look vaguely like celery leaves.  Supposedly lovage grows to be six feet tall, but right now I’m skeptical.

I don’t think the patio actually gets enough light for gardening.  The lettuce is doing okay, but everything else is growing very slowly.  These pictures were probably taken at about the sunniest time of day for this location, and you can see there’s no really direct sunlight falling on them.  Next year, I think I need to reserve the patio for shade-loving plants.  Leaf lettuces and baby salad greens are probably fine, and I think the lovage pot is too heavy to move (fortunately it’s a perennial, so I can just leave it out there all winter).  But herbs may need to go outside.

Fortunately, the outdoor containers along the edge of the side yard are doing much better.


tomatoes and green beans


The three on the left are tomatoes (Black Krim, Brandywine, and Sun Sugar (a yellow cherry tomato hybrid; the other two are standard-size heirloom tomatoes)).  I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but they’re taller than I am (at least if you start from the bottom of the container, which admittedly is at least a foot below the soil surface where you’d usually start measuring).  The other two containers have green beans, first a bush variety, then a pole bean.


Brandywine tomato close-up


None of the big tomatoes are ripe yet.  This is a close-up of the Brandywines.  Don’t they look tomato-ey?


cherry tomato close-up


The third ripe cherry tomato.  I’ve already eaten two.  I hope at some point I get more than one every 2-3 days.  There’s another that’s turned a bit yellowish, but the others are all still green.


Bush beans and pole beans


I don’t think the beans are doing quite as well.  The leaves are a bit yellowish, and I seem to be getting a lot of aphid damage with the pole beans especially.  You can see how they’re climbing the poles.  The bush plants have started to produce a few beans, but I’m very disappointed with the productivity.  I have three plants in the middle and then one on either side, smaller ones that I planted later.  So far I’ve gotten three beans from one plant, and one bean from another.  They all have small baby beans on them, but not as many as I’d hoped.  I’m not sure why.  I was fertilizing them once a month like the fertilizer bag said, but I decided to increase it to twice a month, in case they’re not getting enough nutrients (though I worry about this more with the pole beans, since I have eight plants crammed into that container).  Beans fix nitrogen from the air, though, and aren’t supposed to need a lot of fertilizer.  I did see some insects on the bush bean flowers that looked like tarnished plant bugs.  If you don’t feel like reading the Wikipedia article, the gist of it is that there’s no good way to get rid of them except multiple applications of insecticide, and I’m trying to keep everything organic.  They feed on the flowers and inject their toxic saliva.  I’ve definitely seen some flowers with brown, sticky bug residue on them, and those flowers later fell off without producing beans.

It’s also possible that it’s too hot for green beans right now.  The package warns that they won’t set fruit if daytime temperatures are consistently above 90 degrees, and we’ve had a lot of really hot days right as the plants were at their peak of flowering.  Also, soil in containers set on a concrete ledge heats up more than it does in a garden plot, since the heat can’t dissipate into the ground as effectively.  Fortunately, tomatoes love the heat.  My sister used to live in Tucson, and she says tomatoes do really well there.  Not surprising, as it’s close to their ancestral habitat.

Myrtle and Rue


Finally, in another particularly sunny ledge spot along the yard, you can see the myrtle plant Donald and I have been coaxing along for a little over a year now, and a pot of rue.  Myrtle can’t survive cold temperatures, so it over-winters in the house with us.  I transplanted it into a larger pot this spring.  We were hoping it might flower and produce berries this summer, but so far, no such luck.  I might have stressed the plant by moving it outside all at once, though.  Apparently you’re supposed to gradually ease plants into a new environment, which I only learned after it was too late.  It’s hard to find information on the Internet about growing common myrtle.  Most of the search results you get are for crepe myrtle, which is completely different.

If you’re wondering about some of the unusual herb choices, lovage, pennyroyal and rue were common in ancient Roman cooking, but you can’t really buy them anywhere, not easily.  We were able to order seeds online, though.  Actually, after we already had the seeds, I discovered that you can buy lovage seeds at Mahoney’s Garden Center in Winchester, where I purchased most of my garden supplies.  Oh well.  The Internet seeds worked, too.

My new gardening hobby has helped me to have just about my least productive two months of writing since going full-time!  Yay!  Actually, there are other factors, which I may write about at some point, or maybe not.  The plants have helped to keep my spirits up, though.  And, vegetables!

I’m definitely planning to expand the container garden next year.  I want fresh okra, which I can occasionally get at farmers’ markets here, but otherwise is of poor quality.  (The ideal vegetables to grow in your garden are the ones that are expensive at the store, or deteriorate rapidly after being picked, or both (unsurprisingly, the two issues are often related).)  And maybe some fava beans or edamame, though the poor showing of my green beans has made me nervous about trying to grow legumes in containers.  And some herbs.  Also, if our landlord doesn’t mind, my downstairs neighbor and I might do a garden in the side yard, so that would be fun.  Although the challenge is to not go overboard right away.  I made up a list of things I’d like to plant, and had something like 50 different things.

Yeah, I might not get much writing done if I did that.


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Some evidence that anyone can learn to write fiction

Presented to you in its unvarnished glory*, as it originally appeared in my 5th grade yearbook, the very first fantasy story I ever wrote.  I was 9 or 10.

The Fairy Princess

Two new people had come to our school.  Becky Harris and Jimmy Patriquin.  Becky was 11 and Jimmy was 9.  I liked them.  Becky had brown hair and brown eyes.  Jimmy had red hair and black eyes.  One day they came up to me.  “Could you come to my house after school tomorrow?  We need you urgently,” said Becky.  “Yes, it’s important,” said Jimmy.  So the next day I went to see Becky.  It was the last day of school.  Waiting for us was a tall boy about twelve with black hair and green eyes.  “That’s Peter Andrews,” Jimmy told me.  When we got out, Peter told us to come with him.  “I’ve got a picnic lunch here,” he told me.  After walking through the forest awhile, we came to a clearing.  In the midst of it, was a wooden vehicle.  “What’s that?” I asked in amazement.  Becky replied, “That’s our invention, we’re going to use it.”  Peter said, “Now, listen.  The princess of fairyland has been captured by witches.  We must rescue her.”  “How?” I asked.  “You’ll see.  We’ll go in our vehicle.  All aboard!”

We climbed on.  There were four seats.  Becky and Jimmy sat in the front while Peter and I sat in back.  Then we started.  I had my seatbelt on.  Suddenly we crashed.  Then we bumped around for five minutes.  Then we went more smoothly.  “That’s the barrier,” Peter explained.  “Now we can go anywhere, the barrier’s tough.”  “Here we are,” said Becky.  Then we glided and landed.  We stepped out.  It was beautiful in fairyland!  “How do we rescue the princess?” I asked.  “Winged horses,” Jimmy pointed to a herd quietly grazing.  We sneaked up and each grabbed one.  We leaped on and away we flew.  When we got to the castle we stopped.  We knew we would have to swim across the moat.  It was cold water.

Peter spotted a secret door.  We jumped in and ran through the castle.  We rushed down a flight of stairs.  There before us, was the door to the room where the princess was.  I tried to open it, but it was impossible.  Then Peter tried it.  After a good deal of pushing, he opened it.  I said, “Peter, you could do anything.”  “Not quite,” he laughed.

Then we took the princess, ran down the hall, and swam across the moat.  Then we took the horses back.  The fairy had wings, so she flew.

When we were back, the fairies thanked us.  We had some food they gave us.  Then we climbed into the vehicle and went home.  I had to go home, but I remembered the fun I had had.

The End

Many things are unclear about this story.  What sort of wooden vehicle was it?  Why did Becky, Jimmy, and Peter require the assistance of the unnamed narrator?  Did the witches set the whole thing up so that the children could have an enjoyable adventure?  They can’t have been too determined to keep the fairy princess prisoner, seeing as how she was in an unlocked room that a 12-year old could open.  I won’t even mention the incorrect paragraph formatting or the irrelevant details about everyone’s hair and eye color.

Other things are clearer.  Apparently I already liked boys, and liked ’em tall.  And, um, able to open doors?  Yeah, let’s not get too Freudian on that.

Not that I’m the world’s greatest writer or anything now, but I have at least written stories that editors were willing to pay me for.  I offer this “gem” as evidence that writing ability has more to do with persistence and hard work than any innate talent.  I honestly believe that most people, if they’re willing and able to put in the time and effort required to learn the craft, can become decent fiction writers.  Maybe not the best in their field, but competent, at the very least.

It can take a while, though.

* I did correct spelling errors and some egregiously bad punctuation.  I’m not sure whether I’m to blame for those, or the teacher who typed this up from my handwritten submission.  Oh, those pre-computer days!

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Boys will be…?

There’s a lot of discussion about the inappropriate sexualization of little girls through media and advertising images, but maybe we should also be talking about the inappropriate sexualization of little boys.

At Walgreen’s today, I saw a toddler-sized t-shirt that read, “I think your girlfriend is checking me out”.  A few weeks ago, I saw one with the caption “Lock up your daughters”.

Am I the only one who finds this problematic?  Despite Toddlers & Tiaras and sexy fairy Kinder Surprises, I think most people in our society would still consider it wildly inappropriate to put a 2-year old girl in a t-shirt that joked about sexual attraction between her and grown men, or suggested that she needed to be locked up to protect her from amorous boys.  If we want to move towards a more equal world, we need to stop giving boys the message that the rules about sex are different for them than for girls.

We certainly don’t need to start giving them that message before they reach the age of 3.

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