About Mala Burt

Mala Burt writes fiction and non-fiction, screen and stage plays.

Six on Saturday – June 23, 2018

  1. I begin with one of my concrete leaf castings in an elevated box hanging on a fence. I like the color with the nasturtium blooms and the soft yellows on the weathered fence. I planted seeds of ‘Peach Melba’ in the box in the early spring. I suspect bought this variety because of the name. I never pass on dessert.

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2.  Verbena Boniarensis is the tall purple flower. I started out five years ago with one plant leftover from the Woman’s Club annual plant sale. Now it is seeding all over the garden, living up to its reputation as invasive. The blooming lily is one someone gave me.  Only two blooming stalks survived the rabbits this spring. The small pops of red are Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria).

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3. The day lilies are starting to bloom. I love the green throat on this one. Garden porn.

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4. Another day lily that appears darker in reality. It’s prettier in the photo than in real life. I like the lighter colored lilies so a large patch of this may be relegated to the compost.

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5. This clematis (on a trellis that obviously did not get scrubbed with bleach this spring) is Arabella. It bloomed all last summer and twined into the Limelight hydrangea on the other side of the lattice. A very happy combination. I just found the plastic tag that came with this clematis and its claim that it blooms June through September were accurate.

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6. While cleaning the garage this spring I found some white sweet potatoes that I bought last fall. We didn’t like them so much so there were still quite a few in the cardboard box. I threw them in the compost but they seem determined to survive, and are no doubt growing white sweet potatoes in the compost bin. I may leave them to freeze over the winter. We much prefer the orange variety. Observe the very healthy maple seedlings at the bottom of the photo. I took the photo and them pulled them out.

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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: “Aha” moments

As a former therapist I can tell you the “aha” moments in therapy are relatively easy. It’s changing beliefs and behaviors after the “aha” that’s the hard work.

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Writing is not so different. You start out with an idea. If you’re lucky you may know where the story begins and where it ends. My fiction writing always seems to have “aha” moments in which a character realizes something important. This is usually the beginning of a conflict for the character that will then be played out until a resolution is reached. It’s my job, as writer, to get the character to implement the “aha” realization into their everyday lives. And I have to make that interesting or my reader will put down the book.

But the kicker is that the “aha” moment is often something I didn’t plan on. It just showed up. And I may not know until the end of the book why it happened. In the novel I’m working on a main character gets a specific tattoo on her leg. I didn’t know why. It just wanted to be there.

It wasn’t until I was at the end of the book that I realized there was a reason for that tattoo. Once I knew the reason, I had to go back to into the middle and write scenes that supported the ending. It’s a giant puzzle and sometimes the pieces almost fit…but not quite. I’m still working on it. Getting it perfect is what I’m after.

Damn. Could it be that my own need for perfection is not totally sorted out. It is in most areas of my life, but I want my writing to be as good as I can make it. That doesn’t sound like perfection, so why does it feel like that’s the goal?

 

 

 

Six on Saturday: June 16, 2018 – still too much to do…

The to-do list keeps growing, but the good news is that the gardens have dried out enough to be able to do some work. I’m realizing that while sharing my gardens with other Six on Saturday gardeners, the real benefit is for me. The photos, often close-ups, make me stop and  take the time to look more closely at my plants. I see things I would otherwise miss.

  1. A friend gave me some  hydrangea stems. These are a week old. The trick is to dip the cut stems in alum before putting them in the water. They last much longer. Alum is used in canning and can be found in the spice section of your grocery store.

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2.  Three years ago I bought a package deal of six different clematis. This vine struggled and bloomed for the first time this year. I think it is Pink Mink. The bird netting behind it was an idea a took from another Six on Saturday posting. I stapled it to the fence to give the vine something to climb on when they overreached the trellis.

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3.  My Jackmani clematis has moved with me three times in the last fifty years.  It is glorious this year. This is the backside of the latice — right by one of my compost bins. Maybe that’s why this vine is so happy. The front of the lattice, which I see from the house, looks good too, but the backside is even better.IMG_6533

4.  Tomatoes in pots are blooming and the Sungold has small fruits. The blue tarp in the background covers 6 cubic yards of mulch yet to be spread. Currently the gardens remind me of my children’s bedrooms when they were kids. Dirty laundry on the floor and beds unmade. The gardens will finally look dressed when the mulching is done, but there still is weeding to do before that happens. I wanted to get mulch before the local landscaping supplier ran out. I like “pine fines” but can’t get it anymore. This mulch is triple shredded hardwood. I mulch beds every two to three years with perhaps a line of mulch along the edges in the more visible areas in the off years. We always seem to have piles of something in our drive. The neighbors don’t complain. They know they are welcome to wander in the garden.

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5.  The shasta daisies are getting ready to bloom. This is the first one this summer. When we moved to this house there was one clump. Over the last twelve years they have been divided and moved multiple times and survive in very inhospitable conditions. This clump is in partial shade and never gets watered or fertilized, but the white punches needed drama into the shade.

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6. Daylilies are starting to bloom. I was going to post a photo of the Stella d’Oros but this photo was too lovely not to share. I have no idea of the variety or where it came from. I doubt I bought it.

 

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I hope you’ve enjoyed my Six on Saturday for this week. The meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener. It’s a great place for new ideas.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

Write on Wednesday: Keep the Headlights On

At one of my Working Writers Forum group, one of our members brought in this quote. “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  — E. L. Doctorow

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I thought about that again this week. I am now polishing and rearranging scenes so the time line works in the first draft of the third novel in my Caribbean romantic suspense series. The novel takes place in the summer of 2004 on the island of St. Lucia in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean. There is a beginning date and an end date.

Things were getting a little foggy so I googled a calendar for that year. I was also able to find out when the full moons happened. I had put full moons in several of the scenes and needed to find out if they fit in the timeline. If they didn’t it required a decision about putting the scene in a different place or not having the full moon be an important plot device.

It’s been eleven years since the last book (Circle of Dreams) and it often feels like I am writing in the fog. So it was heartening to hear a writer like E.L. Doctorow remind me that the whole book can be written that way.  I am hoping the sun will illuminate the final draft.

 

 

Six on Saturday: too much to do

We’ve had five days with no rain. A record for this very wet spring. We may be able to mow the grass seeded section in the back yard that has been a soggy mess since we put 2 cubic yards of top soil on that area and seeded it. It now looks like a maple tree reforestation project. If we can’t mow it soon, we’ll need a bush hog.

The drip irrigation system hasn’t been turned on or tested. I planted window boxes for the front of the house, but they have to be installed (which involves the irrigation system). Bean seeds are germinating on my kitchen counter and need to be planted in my community garden bed. I haven’t been over there in a week so it surely needs weeding. Last time I looked the tomatoes were blooming. The home garden beds desperately need attention. Mulch needs to be ordered and spread. Two writing projects are languishing on my desk as other, more pressing, garden tasks go to the top of the “to do” list.

It’s June, I remind myself. It’s always like this. I wish there was time to sit in this part of my garden and take a breath. Oh, and out of town family is coming to visit this weekend. That will make me stop for a little while.

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2. The peony root that I planted last fall has made an appearance. Tiny, but there. I had given up.

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3. A bed in the front of the house is always full of self-seeding cleomes. But in the spring the beds look like this. The volunteer maple trees and rudbeckia have to come out. This area has to be hand-weeded and when the cleome seedlings are a little larger, they will be thinned. That bed will be glorious by mid-summer and full of humming birds and butterflies.

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4. I finished painting the cement leaf castings I made last fall. The issue now is where to place them in the garden. The big ones are elephant ear leaves and the smaller ones are hostas. Last fall I had thirteen different “workshops” where I taught friends how to make leaf castings on a table set up in my driveway. My friend, Gail, made the largest one. It was 40″ long. The leaf casting workshop is closed this year.

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5.  My Francis Williams hosta is blooming. I think it’s early.

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6. This is a very confused azalea. All those different colored flowers on the same plant. The rosy ones at the top look like the Macrantha Rose that is next to it (with a gazillion cleome seedlings that need to be pulled surrounding it. I quite like the pink and white flowers. I’ll try and peg a branch down and root it.

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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: Soul: the Stax Musical

Going to the theater is always a treat. For Laura Ambler and for me, it’s also educational. As playwrights we watch to see if there’s something to learn — and there always is.

Sunday afternoon we saw the World Premier of Soul: the Stax Musical by playwright Matthew Benjamin. It was a great show. The narrative arc was the origins and life of Stax Records in Memphis. Stax began as Satellite Records in 1957, founded by Jim Stewart — a banker by day and a country fiddler by night. Stewart had a dream, but no knowledge of the recording industry. With the help of his older sister, Estelle Axton (who mortgaged her house to buy recording equipment for the studio) they set up shop in an abandoned movie theater in Memphis, Tennessee.

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These two white people (who didn’t know that what they were doing was impossible)  launched the careers of of iconic artists—Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MG’s, Rufus & Carla Thomas, David Porter, Wilson Pickett, Johnny Taylor, and Eddie Floyd—artists who made American Soul Music mainstream. What a great story!

This show had a large cast — twenty people were on stage at the standing ovation curtain call. We were interested to see how that many people were handled as our two plays also have large casts. Many of the performers in this production had multiple stage, tv and film  credits but were having their debut at Center Stage Baltimore. These actors had to be outstanding singers as well as great dancers. The show featured exceptional choreography by Chase Brook. I predict it will be a hit on Broadway and then tour. The music will keep you clapping. See it if you get a chance.

The two plays Laura and I have written were Christmas shows written with Community Theatre in mind. Community Theatre works with limited budgets and local (often exceptional) talent. But these theaters have constraints. Christmas shows are frequently fund raisers so in the case of our first play, The Santa Diaries, anybody who wanted a part got one.  Large casts are great for ticket sales to grandparents, aunts and uncles and next door neighbors, but large casts create staging problems and parts that were written originally for one theater may not work for another.

The idea for our next play has been germinating for a while. It will have just four cast members. We’ll start work on that soon. In the meantime we see as much theater as we can. We have a lot to learn.

 

Six on Saturday: June 2, 2018

Here are my Six on Saturday. There’s no over arching theme this week. Some of the photos were taken on days when we had a couple of hours of no rain. Everything is sodden and the mosquitos are breeding like crazy. That makes it difficult to work outside unless you are covered in bug spray and don’t mind being in the mud. I’ve never seen such a wet spring.

  1. An Eastern garter snake was sunning itself on the woodpile behind my shed. Unlike most snakes, garter snakes do not lay eggs. Females give birth to a litter of 10 to 40 live young in summer. The young are five to nine inches long at birth. I haven’t seen any babies.  These snakes feed during the day on earthworms, millipedes, spiders, insects, salamanders, small fish, frogs and toads. I don’t suppose this snake is up for baby bunnies. I wish some black snakes would move in.

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2. I don’t have a strawberry bed any more. The slugs, squirrels and birds finally won that garden war. These  beautiful berries came from the local Farmers Market last Saturday. Eight quarts were turned into jam to enjoy and give away and we feasted several nights on strawberry shortcake. It has been so wet that I thought we might not have any strawberries this year.

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3. Hyacinth vines are beginning to climb on supports made of electrical conduit placed over rebar stakes in the ground. Notice the hosta in the pot on the lower right. Lots of baby maple seedlings have sprouted. They are everywhere. Sigh!

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4. The Macrantha azaleas are blooming: Macrantha Red Orange and Macrantha Rose. The flowers are hose in hose and are easily layered by pegging a low branch to the ground. I prefer the Rose to the Red Orange. They are side by side in one section of my garden. I really should move the Red Orange to another spot or put a white azalea in between which would involve moving both of these plants to make room. Moving one plant to another area seems the better idea. If it ever stops raining…

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5.  We are eating kale, lettuce, radishes and arugula from the veggie beds. I always have problems with Green Cabbage worms but very little damage at this point. I need to start dusting with diatomaceous earth. I meant to get a summer row cover over the plants, but didn’t get around to it in time. I’ve been seeing the little white butterflies, but no worms yet.

The sugar snap peas are beginning to climb the trellis. I have planted bush beans several times now with only a few plants coming up. I think perhaps the soil has been so wet the bean seeds rotted. I wondered if the seeds I had (from last year) were viable, but I got germination when I put some on a wet paper towel in a small zip lock bag. I stuck them in the garden this morning.

A few rose campions germinated in one of the raised beds. I’ll pull them out before they seed. I do love the gray green foliage and that magenta flower. I brought seeds from our old house twelve years ago when we moved to St. Michaels. The volunteers are easy to see and pull from unwanted places.

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6.  I saw a hummingbird at the hanging basket of fuscia yesterday so I moved the humming bird feeder next to it. In two weeks I’d only seen two hummers at the feeder. Maybe I put it out too late. The thing the feeder is hanging under is something that keeps the ants out of the feeder. Before I had this gizmo the ants would clog up the feeding holes. This morningI saw a hummer at the feeder while I was standing at the kitchen sink. I think moving the feeder was a good idea.

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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.