Tuesday, June 28, 2011

maze of mazey words

Since today I am kind of achey and grumpy, I will think happy thoughts.
First being that I had a lovely weekend, with a Saturday trip to Oldfield Road farms and nurseries, though I restrained myself and did not buy another fruit tree. This time. Or another old rose. The greengage plum tree I bought last visit is planted in the front lawn, and doing all right so far.
Sunday Anna and I visited Damali Lavender farm for a fundraiser for the Cowichan Valley hospice. A low-key, relaxed event, with tables of rummage-sale goodies and baskets, musicians and storytellers.
The site is gorgeous, an older house with pillared veranda at the top of a rolling slope planted with lavender (more kinds than you could guess, all neatly labelled) and rows of trellised grape vines, as they've moved into winemaking. The slope runs off into a meadow (or hayfield, depending on time of year I suppose) where visitors' cars are parked. We arrived a bit early, and were the first car directed into the field. One of those moments where you're not quite sure you're in the right place, or whether you're being set up for some sitcom moment of mistaken identity ("Ah, you must be here to apply for the position of governess!")
We visited the lavender shop, where I bought a copy of Labyrinths of British Columbia and a little gauze bag of lavender. As a child I bought my mother a lavender sachet each summer, so the smell is a sentimental one for me. Though I have to say, after a few minutes in the shop I couldn't smell the lavender at all, it was so pervasive.
At the bottom of the hill is a simple Cretan labyrinth, as shown in the pic above. I trotted down the hill to walk it, while Anna listened to the harpist up above. The pattern is one I've seen before, and I will have to get my mazes books out and identify it before it drives me mad. A pleasant meditative walk, though I never get any particular insights or enlightenment walking a maze. (I can't meditate worth a damn either.)
Back up the hill to hear local author Carol Matthews speak about mazes and memoirs, using Ariadne and her thread as a metaphor for choosing a path through all the memories and possible beginnings.
Then a drive to Cowichan Bay for lunch and some shopping. Bread, and cheese, and crafts at Spinning Ninny boutique, where we both loved the needle felt dolls by Anne Fulton - I wish I had pictures to show you how cheerful and comic they are. Plump roguish angels, chubby ballerinas who embody 'dance like nobody's watching', all so happy in themselves.

Writey stuff, also happy. Well sort of. I mean, it made me happy to have it work out. As you know Bob, I've been expanding The Cost of Silver, and that means I've been tossing plot threads out like fishing lines, unsure which ones would catch. (possibly more like grappling hooks, the sort that will pull free when you haul on them, and fall onto your foot in a slapstick fashion.)
A scene added in the fenland draining sequence brought in crook-backed Nell, who taught Griffin how to cast his spirit into a bird's body and 'ride' it, which they did together to fly over the dykes and discover something creepy and plot-relevant.
That meant Nell would be one of the witches hanged in the witch-hunt sequence, hitherto unnamed. But, I thought, what if...
What if Griffin called a bird, and 'rode' it to the gallows, and snatched Nell's spirit from her body?

Over roofs of tile and thatch, over the fallen stone of the Abbey lying like a mason's sketch beneath, the swallow's wings resolute, swift as its heart.
May be thou shalt die when thy mortal frame hangs, Griffin said, and she knew him beset more by curiosity than grief.
May be I shall turn bird and forget woman, she answered. But my end shall come winged and not choking.
She forgot her companion a while in the joy of air, riding the buffet of gust and pull of wind. A hawk cried somewhere behind and the swallow's unthinking craft dropped her low among alder, darting and fleeting between branches.
Griffin's body lay in bracken, sprawled long-legged and awkward. She fell from the air onto the broad hat that lay across his face, feet scratching and sliding before she found their workings.
I am sorry, she said within herself. I grieve for Nan and would have given myself for her an I could.
Aye. He withdrew, pulling himself from the bird as a man thrusts off a rain-soaked coat. Dost forgive me, Nell, that I leave thee bird-shaped? 'Tis a poor rescue.
Have done with regret, she said. What shall I do with wings but fly?
He loosed her and fell away into his body. The swallow-woman sprang onto an alder twig and waited for the man to stir and roll over.
Griffin lay on bracken, wearied to the marrow. He tipped his hat back to watch a swallow dip and swing in the air, higher and smaller until his eyes watered and he lost the black speck into the blue.
In Bury's market place, one of the condemned witches had fallen into so deep a swoon that she could not be made to climb the ladder and stand for the noose to be tightened about her neck.
At last the hangman lowered the rope, two men held the woman upright between them, and he fixed the noose there upon the ground. With a haul and a grunt, he dragged her up. She did not kick nor thrash, only swung neat as a bell-rope to and fro.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

red rose and the white

One of the backyard gallicas, with bonus ladybug.

One of the backyard albas, half open.

Bonus book link: if you are interested in diversity in YA general fiction (as well as fantasy), have a look at Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books recent post on the Nerds Heart YA contest. Both books discussed look like ones I'd pick for my occasional forays into non-genre reading.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

just a little reader rant

As you, my hypothetical reader, probably know, I'm into history, or at least, I'm interested in several historical periods, and I'm a material-culture geek in a small way.
I also read fantasy.

One heck of a lot of fantasy is set in medievaloid or at least pre-industrial world.
WARNING: Gross oversimplification to follow!
Much of the subgenre of epic fantasy (aka Big Fat Fantasy, aka Extruded Fantasy Product) is set in what looks like Saxon-to-Tudor Northern Europe, with a sprinkling of apostrophes across the naming system. There is usually magic, because magic is what makes things go. Sometimes magic and technology are outright enemies and one rules out the other. But for certain sure, there is no industrialisation. Imports and exports may be handled by perilous caravans, less often by ships.

In the historical real world, people in pre-industrial societies did not have cheap consumer goods. Every thing that anyone owned was made by hand, usually by hundreds of hours of labour of several people.
There were no factories turning out cheap shoes and watches and tableware. If you were wealthy, you have some remarkably fine tableware of precious metals, and lovely expensive tapestries and paintings. If you were middle-class you have cheaper imitations, still hand-made (of course) and painted or gilded or whatever you can afford to look like your rich neighbour's goods.

You have a shirt? It was made by growing, cutting, retting, beating, hackling of flax or nettles or hemp into fibre, that was spun thread by thread with a spindle, later with a wheel. That's months before it could be woven into cloth. You have a woolen gown? First someone grows a sheep, then shearing, washing, carding, combing, before the spinning. After weaving, woolen cloth is fulled, combed, and sheared to make it soft and water-resistant. Oh, yeah, then it's cut and sewn into a garment.
When your shirt gets worn, it may be 'turned' (taken apart and rearranged so the worn bits are less visible), then patched, then cut down for another garment, and so on. If you're reasonably well-off and charitable, you may give that shirt to a beggar, or you may sell it to a fripperer (dealer in used clothing) One of the frustrating aspects of studying medieval everyday life is that everyday things didn't get preserved in waste-heaps or attics. They were in use until they were destroyed.

Cloth is valuable. When soldiers looted a city, they didn't just grab gold and jewels (that's for officers...) they carried away clothing and bolts of cloth. Servants and apprentices were paid in cloth, 'enough for a suit of clothes', once or twice a year. Well into the 1800s, the stealing of clothing drying on hedges was a specific criminal trade, and small children were sometimes abducted, stripped, and released--their clothing was worth more than them.
Cloth, ironware, leatherwork, even pottery was repaired and re-used. The upper and middle classes might discard something that was unfashionable or unwanted, but the lower and criminal classes were waiting to snap it up, sell it, use it themselves, take it apart. Kind of like the ocean, with food descending from one level of fish to the next, less and less each time.

Sure, even a generic fantasy world is not actually pre-industrial northern Europe. But if your fantasy world is pre-industrial anywhere, you need to bear in mind that it will not have cheap consumer goods. Not until the Industrial Revolution does home decor achieve the clutter of a Victorian interior. Look at Dutch interior paintings.
See a lot of stuff? No.
See many things that are purely decorative and have no useful purpose? No.
Do you want your fantasy setting to be different from the modern world, to have its own texture and existence? Maybe not. And maybe the majority of readers don't worry about it. I can only speak for what I like to read. But would you lose anything by imagining your world just that much more consistently and plausibly?

This rant triggered by two stories read recently. One was by an unpublished writer on a display site, the other by an established writer in a fantasy magazine.
One story began with two young knights riding into a city. The path to the city was strewn with discarded belongings: knives, goblets, bits of clothing. No beggars had come to carry these things away and sell them. No rag-and-bone man. No mudlarks. (I'm getting 19th c. here, but my point is that even into the 1800s broken cutlery and rags had resale value). For the opening of the story I thought the city had been emptied by plague and the fleeing populace had dropped their belongings as they fled, but no.
The other story began with a corrupt city watch hassling a poor householder, demanding protection money. He refused, saying they'd taken everything. The watch roughed him up and threw him against a small table, knocking down the vase that stood on it. So, what was this everything they had taken? How well off was this poor man, to have a vase? Did he buy cut flowers to put in it, or have an extensive garden?

One of these stories I continued reading (but it was a near thing) and it turned out to be good. I just couldn't believe in the setting.
Would either story have suffered if the author had thought a little harder and made the setting work?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

roses in bloom

The inevitable rose pictures, since it was sunny today.
Here's the Dortmund, blooming like mad despite its chewed-up leaves. It will keep on with this into the fall. But this year I really will prune it before winter. Really.

Below is Bourbon Queen, and despite the horrid wet cold spring she is blooming. Hurrah! I was worried for her. You can see Dortmund intertwined with the Queen - mesalliance?

Sorry the focus is a bit off. I was so excited to see a bloom on the Rosearie de la Haye that I wasn't careful. I wish I could capture its scent for you. mmm.

Sir Clough, not as huge as last year but still impressive to me. This one needs pruning badly, it's getting top-heavy canes.

Just for a change, the front-steps peony, climbing towards the house instead of out to the garden. My other photo is head-on and makes it look vaguely threatening - maybe I should have posted that one?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

it's a rosebud in june

It's June, and that means ... it's time for flower pictures!
Here's one of the first blooms on the garage-whelming alba, just opening from fist to spread palm. I'll put up a more recent pic soonish, showing it spotted all over with white. The arched trellis we shoved in between the two bushes is completely hidden now.
The cold damp spring that we've had means not all the roses are going to bloom, but the Dortmund and the albas are showing off, and the Blanche Double that I planted last year has taken full advantage of its nice sunny location and bloomed like heck.

After three months or so of trying to dedicate every weekend to wordcount, and ending up burning myself out after a few hours and going online to look at lolcats or whatever, I decided to accept that Cost of Silver was going to take longer than I hoped, and let myself do other things on weekends.
Last weekend I drove the Malahat twice, once to visit my brother and his family, and once to visit my friend Anna.
The weekend before, Mark and I took the ferry to Vancouver and visited Chris and Shannon (which would be, for those who haven't made notes, our son and his girlfriend).
This weekend a much shorter drive into Saanich to the farmers' markets, with a last visit to Babe's Honey Farm for its last sale. Very sad about this. Babe's was founded in 1945, and went strong until Babe died a few years back. Then it was bought up, and kept going, but the accountant(?) stole about a million dollars, so now it's going under for good, and I don't know what's happening to the bees and so on. Hang on, I'll find some news stories for more accurate information.

While I was at my brother's, I dug up a row of the raspberry plants he's giving away (to replace with blueberries, a decision my husband strongly approves) and got to see his pictures of their bees swarming in the summer. Pretty amazing - a cloud of bees leaving the hive, settling on a tree branch nearby, then Pete and Laura cutting the branch off, and shaking the bees into a cardboard box, then tipping them back into the hive, where they settled again happily.
Sometimes I wonder about setting up a hive in our yard. We've had bees crawling in and out of the front porch roof, last year, and this year into the roof by the back door. I see them bumbling about the sweet rocket and the comfrey in the back yard. But I'm not sure how much attention they need, and I'm worried about pests and disease.
My plum tree, which I've mentioned before, is suffering from caterpillars (I hate caterpillars. Lots. I don't care how fluffy they are, they're evil.) and from what I fear is bacterial canker. I've been up on the stepladder trying to reach the diseased branches and cut them off, which is breaking my heart because some have plums on them. Last year the plum harvest tanked, after a few bounty summers, so every plum lost hurts. Worse, there's only a poor chance that this pruning will save the tree.

In cheerier news, I scored a free rocking chair from UsedVictoria, and passed my 20 yr old jade plant on to someone who'd just lost her 30 yr old jade plant, so that karma should be nicely balanced. I have now a rocking chair on the front porch, and have sat and read there on a few mornings already, and in the back yard I have my hanging chair, ditto. The hanging chair is becoming a lovely Secret Hiding Place as the sweet rocket grows up around it and the grape vines begin to spread over the posts.
This pic was taken at dusk, because I liked the effect, so you will just have to imagine it in full daylight.

Cost of Silver is nudging 130k at present, and I'm not at all sure I'll be able to wrap it up under 150k. I've had some plotty stuff that made me happy, so I'll post about that next time, maybe.

Photo credits this time are mine. The previous cat pic was by Mark Shier, and I should go back and add that info.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Asafia's bargain

There's a discussion over on the Clarion Foundation blog about teasers, which in this case means choosing excerpts for brief readings.
The following may be too long, but I think it stands reasonably well on its own. I may be too close to the story to judge.
A scene added in the last revisions of The Willow Knot to flesh out the Wicked Aunt:

Asafia stepped into the marshwater, and black mud rose about her bare feet, dabbled at the hem of her white shift. The fat moon bleached hair and skin to like pallor with her linen. In her arms she bore bundled cloth.

"I have woven," she said to the darkness. "I have woven strong within and without, for the love I bear you and for the gifts you give."

"Weaver woman," said the darkness. "What do you bring me?"

Asafia shook her burden out, in meshes that caught moonlight with shadow. "A net to snare birds. To snare frogs. And those who pass between shapes shall not pass through this."

The darkness reached out with hawk's talons to hook the net, with stumpy fingers to worry at the knots, with a blunt muzzle to snuffle at the cords. "The strands sting. What virtue have they?"

"Strands of courtesan's hair for the snare of lust, plied with threads of shrouds for the grave that none escape. Washed in the tears of an infant, the monthly blood of a virgin, and the spittle of a crone."

Could she have learned the craft of House Sallew, those knots that sealed the king's secrets, how much more power would her net have? But that was an old grievance, and Asafia put her niece's sullen obstinacy out of her thoughts. This prince of the marshes was cunning, and she must not be careless.

Its tongue rolled out, touched the net and shrank back snail-like. "What ask you for this?"

"A flask of nix-water." She added, "And safe departure from your lands."

The muzzle flattened to a child's pouting mouth, sharp teeth showing as the upper lip drew back. "The night'll come that you forget, and I'll have your blood and bones."

"Then who should make you a net to snare the silver birds?" Asafia threaded scorn into her voice. "You'd sooner have one dish than a hundred meals?"

It squatted at her feet, shapeless as a trick of weary eyes. "Such a dainty dish that one would be, white as swan's flesh." A stinking sigh fluttered her damp skirts. "Well then, clap hands on a bargain." It held out fingers like rotted twigs, and Asafia took them in her clean hand, felt them yield in her grip like a cluster of frog's eggs. It giggled. "Be one with me, you'll need no nix-water to change your shape."

Asafia said, "To be consumed comes to all mortal flesh without your aid. Give me my flask."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

bike to work week

So I have been biking to work. So far (cross fingers, knock on wood) the weather has cooperated by not actually raining, and not being too hot for comfortable bicycling.

Registrations have opened up for the 3-Day Novel Contest, so I will be getting mine in. I wish I had any sort of idea for this year, whether plotline, conceit, opening scene or character. The last few mornings I haven't even been able to remember my dreams.

The weekend before last I cut about 4 inches off my hair, by the expedient of braiding it tight to the end, and cutting across the braid. Now my brushed-out hair is only to my waist, and braided hangs to the middle of my back. It is even across the bottom, which it has never been, creating the illusion that my hair is unexpectedly thicker.
I find myself fiddling with the tail of it, and having odd tactile memories of my mother's hair. She had the most gorgeous thick auburn hair, shoulder-length and wavy. The very tail-end of my hair verges on her colour, but mostly mine is duller and browner.
My mother was the last person to cut my hair, in September of 1974, shortly before she died. I wondered if I would have a massive spasm of regret after hacking off the bottom part, but so far I haven't.

In other news, I still haven't finished The Cost of Silver. It is the book that never ends.