Six on Saturday: Azaleas and Clematis Take the Stage

We had some torrential downpours which flattened many of the bearded iris. That’s a shame, but we needed the rain. I was out early in the week taking some photos and am glad I did. We have now had close on five days of almost solid rain (over 16″) and things are getting beaten up.  Despite the weather, the azaleas and clematis are taking center stage and I will have azaleas blooming until the end of June.

  1. My favorite azalea is Martha Hitchcock. It layers easily so I have propogated multiple plants that are now through out my garden. This is a lovely place to sit unless the wren nesting in the bird house above the bench gets upset. Another wren built a nest in a pot turned on its side on top of the woodpile which is under roof. I don’t know if these are house wrens or Carolina wrens. I’m no better with bird names than I am with plant names. And birds don’t sit still while I consult my bird book.

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2. Clematis Abilene. The perennial orchid below the clematis was given to me by a gardening friend for my May birthday several years ago. I don’t know the name, but I think it is a native. It has colonized enough that I will have some to share. The color of the orchid mimics the color in the clematis and the strappy foliage adds a different texture when both are through blooming. A happy coincidence. You can see more azaleas behind the clematis blooms.

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3. Azalea Rosebud: My high school boyfriend gave my mother this cultivar as a gift when she was first beginning to propogate azaleas. So ever after it was known, in our family, as Rosebud Don Park. None of my other boyfriends — or husbands for that matter — ever got an azalea named for them by my mother.

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4. I bought this clematis on a Green Thumb bus trip. I searched to see if I had been smart enough to stick the tag in the ground, but I couldn’t find it. It is the palest of blue fading to white. The flowers are six inches across. This is climbing on an obelisk on the edge of my azalea garden. Honestly, this photo is just flower porn.

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5. Another nameless clematis is now blooming on one of the trellises at the back of the garden near the shed. These SoS posts are going to shame me into keeping better records. It looks sort of purple where the sun is hitting it, but it is a deep true blue.

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6. False Cypress Lemon Thread: the plant in the foreground in this photo was given to me last week by the same friend who gave me the native orchids in #2 above. She said it would grow 5-6′ tall and 6-8′ wide. I wondered where I could put something that would get that big. I did a little research and those sizes are what it might grow to in thirty years. It will be someone else’s problem long before then.

I found a spot where it will give me a lemon pop when nothing else is demanding attention. The location gets morning sun and then dappled shade through the river birch clump. I’ve learned not to plant dark foliage in the shade where it is difficult to see in the shadows.

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That’s my Six on Saturday for this week. The meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday: Hiring a Script Consultant

When Laura Ambler and I finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script which was ultimately called Santa, Flawed.

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Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch. It was a better book because of the money we spent and went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie script he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will Hawes is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

Note: This blog was first published June 14, 2013. Gosh, almost five years ago. The script was eventually titled Santa, Flawed. No one bought it, but you can buy it on Amazon formatted for Kindle for $3.99. Using a script consultant was a great learning experience. In reading this post again, I am struck by the importance of theme. Whatever kind of fiction you are writing, figuring out your theme is paramount.

Six on Saturday – May 12, 2018

This is the time of year when I take a walk around the garden in the early morning and then again in the late afternoon. There is something new to see every day.

  1. Amsonia –  I have several Amsonia hubrichtii, commonly called bluestar. A friend gave me several and last year I shook the seed heads around, but I don’t see any volunteers. I would love to have more because the thread like leaves turn golden yellow in the fall. The fall foliage photo was taken at Chanticleer, a garden in Pennsylvania. You can see why I would want more. The flowers are brief and a pale blue. This year I’m going to save seeds and try to start some plants in pots.

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I have another kind if amsonia that I dug from a local garden that was going to be bulldozed. It also has blue flowers in the spring but the foliage is different than hubrichtii. It also self-seeds with a vengeance and once a clump is established it is difficult to remove. I keep a couple of clumps in some areas of the garden where not much else will grow, but I don’t let them go to seed. Eventually I’d rather have all hubrichtii.

2. Viburnum plicatum Kern’s Pink  – this lovely viburnum opens with pale pink petals, then turns to white. It is also a plant I brought with me to this house. Another tiny plant purchase that was worth the wait.

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3.  Bearded Iris  – the ones on the right looks more pink than they are. They are not my favorites but they do well in a dry area of one side of the house and aren’t susceptible to borers. I’ll keep them. I have a number of varieties, all of which came from friends or the plant sale at the Woman’s Club of St. Michaels.

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4. Pumpkin contest – my writing partner, Laura Ambler, has a sister who keeps trying to have an annual pumpkin contest. A couple of years ago she gave a bunch of us pumpkin plants and we were to see who could grow the biggest pumpkin. All the plants were doing well and then, almost overnight, all succumbed to borers. Not one of us got a pumpkin. We are trying again and were able to choose our pumpkin plants which Julia had named. I picked  a pot that had two plants. They went into the garden on Tuesday. I am declaring war on borers, so any suggestions are welcome. I will consider noxious chemical warfare.

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5.   A hardy gardenia has replaced the Korean Spice Viburnum (carlesii) which used to be outside our bedroom window. It grew much to big for the spot where I’d planted it. And it bloomed on last years wood, but I never could get the hang of when to cut it back. The gardenia was a gift from my new neighbor who has a blank canvas garden and is thrilled to have anything I dig up to share. She took the Korean Spice and planted it in a more suitable spot in her yard. Last weekend I watched as her husband moved 7 cubic yards of topsoil to the new planting bed by their back fence. Heroic effort! The spots on the leaves are pine pollen.

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6. This is a section of the back yard of St. Michaels Woman’s Club. An activity of the club is the Green Thumb group which meets monthly with a variety of gardening programs. Each May we have a plant sale in which members bring divisions, plants they no longer want, or the extras they have grown from seed. Most of the plants sell for 1 or 2 dollars. We raise a little bit of money for the club, but the real benefit is that club members can purchase plants they know do well in our area.

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For a number of years I was in charge of the plant sale and joked that my garden is a memory garden, planted with the leftovers from the plant sale. I may not know the scientific name of the plants, but I know the names of the women friends whose gardens they came from.

That’s my Six on Saturday, a meme started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – May 9, 2018

Finding the time…

If you are a writer who is passionate about gardening or a gardener who is passionate about writing, spring is difficult. Finding/making time to write has to be slotted in between garden tasks that must be done at a certain time. And often that timing depends on the weather.

We’ve had a cold, wet spring so many garden tasks were pushed forward. Now there seems to be a brief spell of relatively dry days with temperatures in the mid 70’s. I have tomato plants that need to get in the ground so they can have a week of cooler temps before it goes into the 90’s. And seeds that need to be planted. Some of these tasks can be accomplished when I have a half hour. It doesn’t take long for me to put in a row of pea seeds. And sometimes you just have to spend a little time in admiration mode because gardening can be meditative and therapeutic.

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I suppose there are writers who can write in ten-minute slots. I am not one of them. I must shift gears in my brain and “be” in the story. It’s not always so easy to come out, either. So, unlike planting a row of lettuce, writing for me needs a chunk of time. More than an hour if I’m honest. Otherwise I’m just proofing what I wrote the last time I was at my desk.

And it’s not just gardening that gets in the way. Appointments and volunteer activities vie for attention. My daughter-in-law blogged something that hit a nerve. “Sometimes I wish I were not quite so disciplined. It’s like when I tell the husband that I wonder what it must be like to be incompetent. No one asks you to chair any committees, no one expects you to show up and do what you said you would do…people just give you a pass and you can do whatever you feel like doing. The husband says he doesn’t think incompetence sounds that attractive but I’m not so sure.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve gotten pretty good at only raising my hand for volunteer activities I want to do, but I do get asked because people know I’m organized and will do what I say I will do. And sometimes what I’ve said yes to gets in the way of my writing. The thing I am not good at is putting my writing at the very top of the list.

If you have any tricks about carving out your writing time and putting yourself first, please share.

 

Six on Saturday – May 5, 2018

Spring/Summer has arrived on the mid-shore. Temperatures by the end of the week were in the high 80’s. I think we had five days of Spring. The gardens are popping now with azaleas and bearded iris. We always called them flags when I was growing up. I am going to use these posts to try and find — and possibly remember — the scientific names of some of my plants.

  1. Solomon Seal was planted several places around my garden last year. I marked the spots with a small landscape flag because I was given roots and needed to remember where I had planted them. These little plastic flags are available by the bunch at my local hardware store. You can see two splotches of pink in the upper right corner of the photo. I use these a lot for things that come up late or things I am watching. Supposedly the little bell shaped flowers on Solomon Seal are fragrant, but I’d have to lie on the ground to get a whiff.  I believe this is Polygonatum odoratum variegatum although photos from plant sources show two bells instead of one.

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2. New varieties of azaleas bloom every day. Lots of hostas emerging and the slugs have not attacked them….yet. You can see a pink flag where another Solomon Seal is emerging.

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3. One of my favorite hostas is Frances Williams. (Hosta sieboldiana ‘Frances Williams’) I bought a tiny plant thirty years ago at a stand by the side of the road and carried a clump it to our new house eleven years ago. It is suscepitble to sun scald and the slugs think I plant it just for them. For now it looks lovely.

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4. A repeat blooming yellow bearded iris (species – Iris germanica) was the first to open in the garden. I am a sucker for pops of yellow. Just behind the iris are some of those allium schubertii I planted last fall. Most are coming up, but not all of them have buds. Odd. At the top of the photo is soldago or golden rod. More yellow in the late summer garden against large clumps of miscanthus Morning Light. The wire cage is to protect a fall aster from the bunnies.

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5. The azaleas got thru the winter just fine but my one rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense ‘Roseum Elegans’) did not fare so well. It set lots of buds, but decided December was a fine time to bloom. So there are not many blooms and some are deformed because the bud began to open too early and then it got really cold. This was the best bloom I could find.

We have lots of pines in our area and the yellow pollen coats our cars, plants and eddies in the parking lots. You can see it on the rhodo leaves.

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6. The river birch (Betula nigra) in the middle of the picture below is leafing out. I top mine every two years so they stay in scale with my garden and take on a more weeping form. I didn’t do enough research when I planted them. They can grow to 70 feet which would be fine for a two story house but not next to my one story rancher. The tree on the left with the reddish leaves is a flowering cherry that is getting ready to bloom. It’s gorgeous briefly. The small leafed maple near the deck is from a 6″ seedling that someone gave me. I put it in a small pot, then a larger one, and finally in the garden about four years ago. I don’t want it to get much larger.

Seeing this view of the garden gives me pleasure. It doesn’t show the barren plot on the right, near the shed, that sorely needs my attention and is not, at the moment, a pleasure to look at. I’m in contemplative mode about that bed, thinking about what I should do with it. For the moment it is not under water.IMG_6036

That’s my Six on Saturday, a meme started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday: Association of Writers & Writing Programs

Last year, in February, I attended the American Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. AWP. People had been telling me about this conference for years – that if it ever came close to my geographic area, I had to go. Last year it was in DC. I could stay with my brother in Georgetown, so I registered. The conference welcomed between 12K and 14K people in the Washington Convention Center and the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Just a few more than the 200 plus at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College, in Wye Mills, Maryland that I attended in March.

You have to be a member of AWP to attend the conference. One of the benefits of membership is their bi-monthly magazine, The Writers Chronicle. It’s an excellent writing resource.

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All the sessions I attended were panels  with four to six participants. These folks had impeccable credentials, MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degrees and multiple publications. MFA’s seem to acquire a special language with that degree. I had to think hard about fictive culture, breaking the fourth wall, distant third and character maps. Most of the authors who spoke about fiction, wrote literary fiction. A couple of sessions I attended had authors who wrote Middle-grade and Young Adult fiction, but there was not a Paranormal Romance (or any kind of romance genre for that matter) session to be found.

I did think I was going to get close with the session titled “Writing Female Desire.” But my notes only indicate the title of that session, not that I got anything helpful from it. A week later, I couldn’t remember anything about it. Maybe I bailed and went to lunch.

For the most part the presenters were accessible and self-deprecating and regardless of the topic listed in the program, they talked a lot about their writing process.

Here are some of my favorite take-aways about process:

  1. Write for good friends first and, then, the rest of the world.
  2. Write “your” book, not what is currently in vogue.
  3. “I have a turtle tattooed on my back” was what one writer said about the pace of her process.
  4. If the door is stuck [in the plot of your book], don’t bang your head on it, go around and jimmy a window.
  5. What is the “river” that is pulling your book forward? In other words what is the book really about.
  6. Failure is part of the process!
  7. Be prepared for multiple rewrites of drafts. Not three or four but sometimes as many as forty. (That made me want to take a nap!)
  8. Several presenters had taken 10 years to complete a book, although they may have had other things published along the way.
  9. On the panel about women publishing after age fifty, one of the presenters said the pub date of her first novel was a week before she was eligible for Medicare. The room erupted in applause. This session was packed, standing room only and part of the discussion was how women find time to write with career, kids, family, aging parents, etc. #womenwritingafter50

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All in all, I’m glad I went to AWP last year. It won’t be close to me again until 2022 when it will be in Philadelphia. But truthfully, I get more that is helpful to me in terms of writing craft from the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College. And that’s just half an hour away. And at that conference no one turns down their nose at those of us who write romance.

 

Six on Saturday – April 28, 2018

Here are my Six on Saturday…mostly photos of things in my garden, but sometimes beyond.

  1.  A neighbor’s tree is full of red maple fliers. It is a different kind of maple than my silver maple as the fliers on my trees are green.

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2. Tulips are blooming all around my yard. The Angelique peony tulips are now fully open.

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3. The front lawn has been seeded. We dethatched, added two yards of top soil,  scattered grass seed and raked it in, then straw was strewn on top. We had rain a couple of days later so I’m hoping the effort will be successful.

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4. “Lipstick” peppers. The seed package tells me they are Capsicum annuum. Really? Doesn’t that mean annual pepper? These are “a delicious pepper with 4″ long tapered, pimiento type fruit, that are super sweet. This fine pepper is early and ripens well in the north. A flavorful favorite with thick, red flesh.” I don’t like spicy peppers so these seemed worth a try. And the picture on the package was pretty.

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I first started these pepper seeds in the bio dome in plugs. The pathetic seedling in the front (on the left) was planted on February 13th. It never really developed, but it just didn’t quite die either. So I put some seed starting soil in a rinsed out plastic tofu container and planted six seeds six weeks ago. No heat mat, but under lights. Quick germination and after four weeks I transplanted them into the larger containers on the right. They will go in the garden as soon as the temps are reliable. For now they are in the garage and moved in and out during the day depending on the weather.

5. The raised beds coming together. All have been dug and a support for sugar snap peas added (on the right). Pea seeds were planted six days ago and when I checked late yesterday afternoon, I could see germination. That support is made from 1/2″ metal electrical conduit slipped over rebar stakes. The corners are metal “inside corner” elbows for 1/2″ metal conduit. All those things are available at your local hardware store. The netting is something I had. This trellis outfit had been in another bed for several years and I had a terrible time getting it off the rebar. Lesson learned. Move it every year or at least pull the conduit off the rebar so it doesn’t adhere.

The metal support on the left is one that I got from a friend. It doesn’t seem very stable in the ground. Perhaps I will take down the soft netting for the peas and wire this metal trellis onto the metal frame which isn’t going anywhere.

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6. And, finally, the lilac is blooming. This shrub is one that came with the house. Two years ago I removed the dead wood and cut it back. It has begun colonizing with lots of new growth from the ground around the original plant. It is beautiful and fragrant. The variety is Dunno Natacluevia. It’s lovely after the rain, and I just noticed the spider in the upper left corner. I had my macro lens with me, but didn’t see it until just now. Missed photo op, Fred.

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That’s my SoS for this week. The Six on Saturday meme was started by The Propogator. If you’re interested, this is the link with the rules.