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Here's the first chapter. See how you like it. 

Chapter One

Geneva

Dr. Geneva Novak stared at the x-ray clipped to the light box on the wall. She tilted her head sideways and squinted at the contents of the dog’s stomach. The iPod was obvious—it faced her—but the object protruding from the large blurry mass stumped her. Rectangular, with two bright white bars. Only metal lit up like that.

She clenched her jaw. This would be the third time she would have to operate on Zeke to remove things he’d swallowed, things his owner shouldn’t have left lying around. After the second incident, she had talked to the owner at length about how to protect his dog. She recommended he walk Zeke daily, so the dog wouldn’t turn to mischief out of boredom, and suggested he either keep his apartment orderly or confine the dog when he left the house. Nearly all dogs come to love their crates, she reassured him. Geneva had written down the instructions and told him he could call her anytime for help. But when Zeke’s owner brought him in this morning, he confessed he hadn’t followed through on anything. And the outcome was illuminated in black and white on the wall.

Eyes still on the x-ray, she pulled a hair band from the pocket of her lab coat and secured her dark hair into a tidy bun that would fit under her scrubs cap. Her cell phone, abandoned on the desk behind her, warbled. She touched the icon. A message from Dublin. It’s Mom, it read. Call me.

Geneva sighed. “It’s always Mom.”

Holding it by the edges as if it were rigged to explode, she placed the phone on the corner of her desk, and took a step back. Her mother, represented by three letters on a tiny screen, had intruded the sanctity of her workplace and unbalanced her. Exhaling completely, she pulled her broad shoulders down and back, a habit from her yoga days that helped her focus.

She didn’t have to call Dublin, not right away. For all he knew she could be in surgery or have back-to-back appointments all afternoon. She might have left her phone on the kitchen counter this morning, or the battery might have died. Whatever had happened—whatever her mother, Helen, had done this time—could wait, ideally forever. Geneva had Zeke to take care of and another surgery after that. Helen was better off in Dublin’s hands in any case. Hadn’t he been dealing with her for years? And what could Geneva do from 500 miles away?

Down the hall in the treatment room, a dog barked, setting off several others. Rosa, an intern from Marin High School, appeared in the office doorway, clutching a stack of files to her chest. She rocked on the toes of her red sneakers and grinned at Geneva.

“Zeke’s almost done with his fluids, Dr. Novak. He’ll be ready for surgery in about ten minutes.”

“That’s great. Thanks.” She turned toward the image of the mysterious object imprisoned in Zeke’s ribcage. “Hold on a minute, Rosa. If Zeke’s owner is still here, can you ask him if he’s also missing a charger?”

“Are you serious?”

“Bull Terriers are notorious for their dietary indiscretion.” She noted Rosa’s blank expression. “They’ll eat anything. Still, Zeke’s taste for electronics has less to do with genetics than boredom. Zeke was made a geek, not born one.”

Rosa laughed, tossed her braid off her shoulder and disappeared.

The call to her brother would have to wait. She took a last look at the x-ray, flicked off the light box and went to change into scrubs.

 

At three o’clock Geneva finally unpacked her lunch. Her cell phone vibrated under the paper bag. Dublin again. She couldn’t avoid this any longer.

“Hi. I was going to call you.”

“Yeah? You got my message? Good. Listen, I know you’re slammed at work. When aren’t you, right? But I just need a minute, okay?” Dublin’s tone sounded more frenetic than usual. She sat up straighter. “Here’s the story, Ginny. Act One. Lights come up. The set’s deserted but there’s an empty vodka bottle on a side table. You can’t miss it.”

“Dublin, just tell me what’s going on. You can write the scene later.”

“I am telling you. Welcome to Act Two. Mom crashed her car. One leg is pretty mashed up for starters. God knows what else. She wasn’t too drunk to remember her seatbelt, so we can expect an Act Three.”

The blood rushed from her head. She lowered the phone from her ear and stared at it with a mix of disbelief and anger. The seconds ticked by on the call timer. She listened to Dublin’s voice, now small in the palm of her hand. How easy it would be to quiet him, to hear nothing more about her mother. She could simply slide her finger an inch to the right. What was technology for if not such a convenience?

She raised the phone to her ear. “Sorry.”

“You okay, Ginny? Didn’t you hear me shouting? I was about to call reception and have them check on you. Don’t scare me like that.”

“I’m really sorry.” A car accident. How often had she asked her mother to get in the habit of taking taxis when sober, so she would automatically call one when she had been drinking? Helen’s opportunities to train herself were diminishing. Was it even noon when she had the accident? Geneva pictured the buckled hood of her mother’s blue Mustang, shattered glass on concrete, the rear doors of an ambulance. “Was anyone else hurt? Please tell me she didn’t kill anyone.”

“She didn’t kill anyone, but the cop at the hospital said she took out a few parked cars along Wilshire. The last one was an armored truck in front of a bank. The drivers thought she rammed them on purpose, so one of them drew his gun on her. That brought the cops pretty quickly. Everyone kept their heads, though. The only thing that went off was the airbag.”

“My God.” She dropped her forehead onto the heel of her hand.

“I know. Even I can’t write stuff this good.”

“Are you still at the hospital? Which one?”

“The Good Samaritan. And no. I was there but didn’t get to see her. I had to pick up Jack.”

When Dublin’s son, Jack, was diagnosed with autism four years ago, Dublin’s life had gone from rosy to harried. He and his wife, Talia, had a complex tag team schedule already subject to the mercy of L.A. traffic. A trip to the emergency room wouldn’t have been easy. Geneva felt a stab of guilt for Dublin’s burdens, then immediate gratitude for her two healthy children. Then a bit more guilt for that.

“What can I do, Dub?”

“Stay tuned.” He gave her the phone number of the hospital, and said he’d a leave message when he heard from the doctor.

 

Geneva called Zeke’s owner after the surgery and told the young man it had gone well. She gave him general directions for post-operative care and promised to leave a detailed instruction sheet at reception.

She was about to say goodbye when he asked, “Any chance the iPod still works? The way these vet bills keep piling up, I can’t afford another one.”

She suppressed the urge to hang up. “I didn’t test it,” she said evenly. “And I didn’t match up the socks I found in there either. There were three this time. And two pairs of women’s underwear.”

“For real? That dog is nuts.”

“Nuts? Hardly. Are you waiting for Zeke to reform himself? He needs you to take charge. Do the things I suggested before. Exercise him every day. A tired dog is a good dog. Don’t give him the run of the house when you can’t monitor what he’s doing. And, at the risk of sounding like your mother, pick up your socks.”

 

Geneva sent off the last urgent email of the day and noticed Constantine Corso leaning against the doorframe. Burly and square-jawed, “Stan” looked less like a veterinarian than a retired hit man.

“Zeke vacuuming his house again?”

“Yes. And he’ll be back. I’m not sure it was ethical to have sewn him up. Perhaps a Ziploc closure next time.”

“A lot of dogs eat things they shouldn’t, Geneva. Their owners can’t always stop them.”

“But they should try, Stan. That poor dog.”

Her cell phone buzzed from inside her lab coat. She pulled it out. Her brother again.

“You want me to show you how to answer that?” Stan teased.

“I’m not a Luddite.” she replied, more sharply than she meant to. “I just think connectivity is oversold. Case in point. Here we were, having a nice little chat about the moral quandaries surrounding sock-eating dogs, when this electronic buttinski interrupts with a message I know I don’t want.” She held the phone aloft. “I’m tempted to feed this to Zeke.” She slapped the phone onto the desk.

Stan lifted his eyebrows. She bit her lower lip and turned to the window. Outside, a woman in a blue coat holding a cat carrier walked down the path. A small girl skipped ahead of her. Geneva let out a long breath. Stan stepped into the room and sat in the chair across from her.

“Care to share with the class?” he said quietly.

In the three hours since she had talked to her brother, she hadn’t paused to think about her mother. In fact, she made a point of not thinking about her, and not only because of the demands of her job. The “It’s Mom” message gave her a familiar wrench-in-the-works feeling because each incident involving her mother upended her life. Last time Helen left a pan unattended, and while she was out cold on the couch, the kitchen curtains caught fire. Taking a nap, she had said. The repairs and insurance claim took weeks to sort out. A year before that, her mother was stranded in Vegas, having reached the cash limits on her accounts, hawked her jewelry and burned through the proceeds. As in the past, there would be consequences. Legalities. Arguments. Reparations. And, eventually, promises to do better. Those were the worst.

She considered what to tell Stan. A few years ago, he had met her mother during a rare visit. Helen had embarrassed everyone by flirting ostentatiously with Stan in front of his wife. But Stan knew no more about Helen than Geneva revealed—not a great deal.

“Geneva?”

She leaned back in her chair. “I’m sorry I snapped at you. My mother’s had a car accident.”

 “Oh, no. How bad is it?”

“Serious but not life threatening, as far as I know. My brother was updating me.” She tapped the phone on her desk.

“Can I do anything?”

It’s my life and I can’t even control it, she thought. What could anyone else do? “I’ve kept someone waiting in Room Two for twenty minutes. It’s my last appointment. You free?”

“You bet,” he said, getting up. “And let me know if you’ll need time off.”

Dublin’s message was a list: fractured knee and leg, broken nose (from the airbag, she presumed), dislocated shoulder, possible concussion, monitoring for internal injuries, stable. He had placed the word “stable” in quotes. She smiled thinly at the quip, then winced as she imagined her mother in a hospital bed, in a hip cast, her nose taped across the bridge and bruises blooming under her closed eyes.

 

Geneva lifted the leash off the hook behind the door and hung up her lab coat. She left her office and stopped by reception to remind the assistant to check on Zeke later that evening.

Outside the treatment room, she peeked through the window in the door. Rosa bent over a computer next to Diesel, Geneva’s Great Dane mix. The dog had recognized her footfall in the corridor and sat up expectantly, his ears like twin sails in a stiff breeze. She pushed open the door and called to him. He trotted across the room and sat in front of her, his nose at her waist, and lifted a paw. She held it and inspected the strip of adhesive tape on his forelimb. Tom, her husband, had brought Diesel to the clinic that morning to donate blood for a dog that had been hit by a car.

She stroked Diesel’s ears flat. “How’s my brave boy? Ready for that steak I promised you?”

 

The marsh wasn’t on her way home. By the time she stood on the path that ran along Pickleweed Inlet, the shadow of Mt. Tamalpais had turned the water midnight blue. A pair of kayaks, pointed toward Sausalito, slipped along the eelgrass at the marsh edge. She walked Diesel only a short distance, not wanting to tire him after the transfusion. Raising her binoculars, she scanned for unusual shorebirds. A dowitcher probed the sand and a handful of sandpipers huddled close before scattering like children at recess. The head of a harbor seal surfaced twenty feet from shore. It regarded her briefly, then vanished, leaving the merest ripple.

The binoculars were a ninth birthday present from her father, Eustace, who died less than two years later. The weight of them on the strap around her neck calmed her as she looked across water at the reeds on the distant bank, Diesel’s shoulder against her thigh. Her father had no particular love for birds, but Geneva tagged along when he hunted turkey or small game in the lush Carolina wood. He said searching for songbirds would keep her occupied during the long quiet mornings in the woods. Walking behind him on the narrow paths in the pre-dawn glow, his back as broad as the trunks of the ancient cottonwoods around them, she felt safe, and because of that, happy. They only spoke occasionally, when he would drop to one knee and show her some animal sign—a new opening in the bramble or a print in the dewy moss—his voice so low it sank into the damp mulch at their feet. He never minded when there was nothing to shoot, and she never minded when there was. The harsh crack of the rifle and the limp rabbits and doves represented the practical cost of the joy of those mornings.

That marked the beginning of her interest in animals, and the beginning of who she was to become. When her father died, she felt forsaken. A few years passed before she also felt cheated. Her eldest sister, Paris, was nearly an adult when he died, and his love for her was blinding, uncommon. Geneva, by comparison, was a child in the shadows. He had missed out on her entirely.

She turned toward the car. Tom would be wondering where she was. She would have to explain why she hadn’t called him about Helen. He would nod with understanding. And when he asked if she wanted him to go with her to L.A., she would watch for the measured disappointment on his face as she admitted she hadn’t decided whether to go.

Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me

Note: I wrote this years ago, before I was lucky enough to land an agent and become a published author. In a few days, my third novel will be released and yesterday I handed in the revisions for my fourth. I'm all out of words for now and my garden needs me, so you'll have to forgive this somewhat dated story. I hope it makes you laugh.

My youngest daughter is leaving for college in the fall. At least I hope so. Despite dire warnings issued by my friends about Empty Nest Syndrome, I figure that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I’ve done my job: she has all of her digits and no outstanding warrants. How can I be mourning her childhood when I haven’t figured out how to turn her room into a small-batch brewery? Besides, from what I understand I’ll be lucky if she and her sister don’t graduate from college and then try to crawl back into my womb.

I’ve got a bigger problem. After I had my teeth cleaned yesterday I chatted with the nice ladies at the desk. One asked if she could buy my novel yet. I told her I was still trying to land an agent, and that in the current publishing market that was like trying to become a supermodel. (I could have said that my book might suck, but she wants to believe in me, so I didn’t.)

“Don’t you have an agent from your last book?” I published a book about animal intelligence ten years ago. You can buy it on Amazon today for four cents. That’s right. You give them a nickel and they’ll give you my book, plus change. Still star struck? Anyway, like I said, these ladies are nice. I’m not just teeth to them.

So I explain that I sold the book directly to the publisher and that my editor now only sells health books (how annoying) and my junior editor founded some multimedia enterprise and…The dental ladies’ eyes are glazing over. Then I remember something about the junior editor.

“He married, um, that actress, you know, the one from, um…” They are looking more hopeful. Their good manners might earn them a tidbit. If only I could remember the name of the actress, or even the movie.

“The Breakfast Club!”

“Oh, her!”

“I know her!”

Of course we all know her. Everyone knows her. And it goes without saying that you know her, that you’re shouting her name in your head, or even out loud. And you’re wondering how someone as stupid as me even manages to find the letters on the keyboard to get this down. You are thinking that because you don’t have what I have, at least not yet. You don’t have Empty Brain Syndrome.

But the dental ladies do.

“I can see her face.”

“Me, too. She’s got red hair.”

“I’m going to google it.”

“No!” They stare at me. “I mean, let’s try to remember.”

I do this a lot. I’m not going down easily or quietly. I’ve discovered that most of the time I can retrieve the information I’m looking for. Eventually. As long as I can hear it breathing in the foggy swamp that is my memory, I will not rest. Yesterday I was on my game and hunted that sucker down.

“Molly Ringwald. That’s the one, right?”

“That’s her!” the dental ladies cheered.

Other days I feel like I’m on Jeopardy, playing against that guy that set the all-time record. You know the one. Ken What’s-his-face. I keep pushing my buzzer, standing there like an idiot with my mouth open until Alex Trebek (didn’t even have to pause for that one—hah!) gives me that supercilious little smirk and I step over to the podium and smack him.

The one person who admires my retrieval efforts is my husband. Days after we both fail to recall a name, or a place, I will tell him what it is and he will be amazed. Or pretend to be amazed, which is just as good.

“Well done!” Delivered in his BBC English, as if I had made an improbable whatever-you-call-it in cricket.

I left the dental ladies and stopped at the nursery to get a tomatillo plant. A thirty-something showed me where they were and pointed out a purple variety. Last year I made purple pesto from purple basil but this seemed wrong.

“It wouldn’t be salsa verde anymore, would it?” I mused.

“No,” she said. “What’s Spanish for ‘purple’?”

Hmmm. My poor brain. Barely had time to dust off from the last mission.

 “Is it marrón?” she offered.

“I don’t think so. But that’s close.” I liked that we were puzzling it out together, me and someone with a functioning hippocampus.

“I’m going to google it later,” she said.

“I’m going to think about it,” I said.

A guy walked by carrying a large plant.

“Hector, what’s ‘purple’ in Spanish?”

No! Don’t tell me! My hands flew to my ears and I hit myself in the head with the tomatillo plant.

“Morado.”

“It’s morado,” she said to me, rubbing it in.

Empty Brain Syndrome be damned. I would have had that before I got to the car.

 

 

The View from Here

I'm not sold on astrology but I'll cop to one thing: I'm a Capricorn and I'm truly a goat. 

I'm stubborn and will eat almost anything and, most of all, I like to be on top of things. Yes, "on top of things" as in organized and up-to-date, but also literally.

Beachy Head, East Sussex, England

Beachy Head, East Sussex, England

I know exactly where I got this proclivity: My father. He was a mountaineer with first ascents in the Alps. I haven't taken up technical climbing (although my daughter has), but I do like summits.

My father defying gravity.

My father defying gravity.

His idea of courtship was dragging my mother up a mountain. It worked.

His idea of courtship was dragging my mother up a mountain. It worked.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not a peak-bagger--someone who collects summits. I don't keep track of the mountains I climb; I just love being on them. 

Luckily, my best friend feels the  same way.

He doesn't like venturing as close to the edge as I do, though, which means I'm the one in charge of cleaning out the gutters. 

It's funny, isn't it? We inherit so much from our parents, through nature and through nurture, but it can be a funny little quirk that ends up meaning so much. Mountains speak to me, as they did to my father, and living in Virginia, where I can see the Blue Ridge Mountains every day, is paradise.

Wherever you are, I hope you enjoy the view. And don't worry about the edge. That's where you can see the best.

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How Not to Crash-land an Ending

Endings are my nemesis. The first indication came during The Call. After my agent-to-be went on at length about how much she loved my debut—hey, I wasn’t going to stop her—she asked if I might reconsider the ending.

“Of course.” At that moment I would’ve changed my gender, if she’d asked.

“It needs to be a little less tidy.”

“Rookie mistake. I’m embarrassed.”

“Don’t be.”

I rewrote the ending and she was happy. A year later, we spoke on the phone after she’d read my second novel.

“It’s wonderful,” she said, “but I’m wondering if you’ll reconsider the ending.”

“Too neat?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Sigh. Why did I make the same mistake again? In both instances, I’d created an ending reminiscent of the closing scene in a Hollywood film where the ensemble cast gathers around a table. Everyone is smiling, but there is a hint of sadness, because unfortunate things did happen. Perhaps someone died. The person known for joking tells a joke, the couple you wanted to be together is together. It’s a Heartwarming Moment. That’s the ending I wrote. Twice. With an actual table.

 

Here’s another thing: overly tidy endings are a pet peeve of mine.

I know why I fell into the trap. I’d spent 300 pages putting my characters through all the trouble I could dream up, one cartload of unmitigated misery and misfortune after another. My poor characters. I love them so. By the end of the book I had to make it up to them. I’d been cruel for so long and now it was time to say goodbye. I got soft.

When it’s time to wrap things up, you strive to let the air out of the balloon slowly and it comes out all at once. Pfffttt. The characters go flat. You want to get the reader out of the story, push them out of the airplane, and the ending is the parachute. It’s easy to make a mistake. Let them drift down too slowly and they’ll hang slack in their straps, napping. Or if the parachute fails, or you neglected to supply one, and the reader is in freefall to stony ground. I recently read a book that ended like this:

Endings, by their nature, are let-downs. A few chapters left, 85% on an e-reader, and if the writer has done a good job so far, the reader is wishing it weren’t so. But it has to end. It’s time to leave the playground and go home, where there are chores, where life is waiting. A successful ending eases this transition, but if it eases too successfully, the end of the book is as ordinary as life itself, and that’s not right either. The beginning of a book should feel like leaping onto a moving train; the ending is the opposite. Off is harder than on and it’s going to hurt. Some choices are better than others, but no one is going to approve of everything you have to do to get out of your story.

When I’m stuck for how to finish the damn thing, I look to the first chapters. I’m not suggesting you loop the story back to the beginning, rather that you might find a moment, a symbol, a snippet of dialogue that picks up a central theme, and that you can use as the final note.

If you’ve built conflict through the entire narrative, with luck there’s bit left as you near the end. Leave it there. Allow a secret to remain hidden. Let the door slam on someone’s ass. If you don’t, if you round off all the corners, the reader will turn the last page and eagerly rejoin the real world instead of lingering in her chair, wondering what has transpired and what might happen next. Even squirrels like to linger a bit.

That last line isn’t perfect but, like I said, endings are my nemesis.

 

 

 

Spring in November

Something strange has been happening in my garden and it's got me thinking.  Not surprising, really, because the garden is a beautiful place to have a ponder, and lately, when beauty and grace have seemed in short supply, I'll take it wherever I can find it, even if it means weeding. 

Like much of the East Coast, our unusually warm summer has segued into an unusually warm autumn. Our first frost is four weeks behind schedule and counting. Raised in a Vermont snowbank, I'm one of those freaks who loves the cold, but even so you won't catch me complaining about this weather. Because instead of succumbing to brittle brown dormancy, my garden thinks it's spring.

Seedlings are popping up everywhere, fooled by the warmth into putting down roots and reaching for the sun.

Cosmo seedling

Cosmo seedling

Sunflower

Sunflower

Coriander

Coriander

A veritable forest of baby dill!

A veritable forest of baby dill!

 

I belong to the Tall Poppies Writers, a collective of smart, energetic, talented women authors, and grew poppies from seed packet the members received at last fall's conference. In early summer, they bloomed magnificently and when the winds blew and the rain lashed down, the tall slender stem leaned on each other, just as they were meant to. Every time I saw the flowers, I thought of my Tall Poppy sisters, and was heartened. These seedlings won't have time to bloom but I know I will see them in a few months time. 

The weather has not only been warm, but also extremely dry. Every few days I water the fall vegetables I planted and take a few extra minutes to include the brave, misguided seedlings. I can't help it. 

And that's what got me thinking. A little extra warmth was all it took to make November feel like May. Most of it happened without my intervention, but sprinkling some water now and then has made a difference. Not everything will bloom again; most will need the patience to wait for spring. But the seedlings themselves give me hope and remind me it won't be brown and dry in the garden forever.

Just look at the bouquet from my November garden.

Like you, I've been appalled, dismayed, angered, and disheartened by acts of hatred, stories of abuse and crimes against decency over the last several months. On this Election Day, I'm taking a lesson from my garden. The days may still be getting longer, but with a little warmth and a sprinkling of generosity, we can't help but grow, lean on each other, and reach toward the sun.

It's spring in November. Go high.  #ImWithHer

Giveaways Galore!

Popping out of First Draft Prison to let you know about two giveaways. The first one ends tomorrow, so don't delay!

On Goodreads, I'm offering FIVE SIGNED ARCs (advance review copies) of ALL THE BEST PEOPLE, which will be published May 2017. Enter here for a chance to win!

And on my Facebook page, I'm giving away two books:  THE VANISHING YEAR, by New York Times bestselling author, Kate Moretti, and my second novel, MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE. Kate's is an homage to Du Maurier's Rebecca--nail-biting psychological suspense--and mine, well, you can read about it here. Giveaway ends 8 November. Both giveaways are US only. (Sorry!) 

Did you enter both? Good! We'll be having lots of giveaways for ALL THE BEST PEOPLE in the coming months, so if you add it to your To-Read shelf you will receive notification.

Back to prison for me, at least until I make my daily word count goal. Meanwhile, I will leave you with this, the view from my prison. :) 

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Show Me the Honey

The two hives of bees we installed in April are doing so well we decided to steal some honey from More Bees. (Want to start at the bee-ginning? Go here.) When we visit the hives for inspections, we use smoke to calm the bees. That's not appropriate for honey harvesting because the first thing the bees do when the fire alarm goes off is poke open the capped honeycombs and fill their honey stomachs. Don't you do that when you smell smoke?

Instead, we spray a felt-lined fume board with an almond oil concoction which drives the bees off that layer further into the hive. Worked like a stinky charm! Here is a single frame completely full of capped honey.

Capped honeycomb is not always pale; it depends on what the bees were feeding on. This frame has lighter honey at the top and darker at the bottom, showing how as the flowering plants change, so does the honey color.

Here's a close-up where you can see the color variation. Pollen is every color you can imagine and it does not necessarily correspond to the flower color. For instance, the borage flower is a gorgeous periwinkle blue and the pollen is grey.

We stole six frames, gave More Bees six fresh ones and high-tailed it to the garage. That medieval tool you see my husband employing below punctures the waxy caps of the honey cells. The extractor is a centrifuge; two frames go in at a time. 

It's meant to be hand-cranked but my husband got the brilliant idea of using a hand drill to speed things up. The honey gets thrown out of the cells, hits the wall of the extractor and runs to the bottom.

Bits of comb inevitably get mixed up with the honey and need to be strained out. 

Ta-da! Isn't it gorgeous? We extracted a quart of honey from each of the six frames and will keep a couple of the larger jars in reserve in case our bees need some over the winter. We hope they will have stockpiled the fifty pounds they need themselves, but we want to be sure.

Thank you, More Bees! And thanks also for pollinating our garden in the process. What a miraculous creature is the bee!

 

Gardenalia

I've clawed my way out from under an avalanche of summer squash to give a progress report on the garden. We've come a long way from the plotting and planning stage two months ago. Here's the overview.

The sunflowers (Velvet Queen) are over seven feet high.That's borage below. The bees love and so do we; it's edible.

The sunflowers (Velvet Queen) are over seven feet high.That's borage below. The bees love and so do we; it's edible.

We're growing three kinds of beans: Kentucky Blue pole beans, Romano bush beans and French dwarf purple velour beans. Intermixed are Limelight Four-o'clocks which help keep pests away from the beans. Japanese beetles are attracted to them in particular. If they nibble, they die! These flowers are not hardy so I will dig them up in the fall and store the roots.

We're growing three kinds of beans: Kentucky Blue pole beans, Romano bush beans and French dwarf purple velour beans. Intermixed are Limelight Four-o'clocks which help keep pests away from the beans. Japanese beetles are attracted to them in particular. If they nibble, they die! These flowers are not hardy so I will dig them up in the fall and store the roots.

So pretty!

So pretty!

The ten tomato plants are testing the limits of their cages and you can see the fruit near the bottom. Those two are Hillbillies, one of our favorites from the last two years. 

The ten tomato plants are testing the limits of their cages and you can see the fruit near the bottom. Those two are Hillbillies, one of our favorites from the last two years. 

The red onions are bulbing nicely.

The red onions are bulbing nicely.

Melon (French Chanterais) and summer squash (Delta crookneck) taking over the world, per usual. We're also growing Delicata squash, Early Butternut and Lambkin melon.

Melon (French Chanterais) and summer squash (Delta crookneck) taking over the world, per usual. We're also growing Delicata squash, Early Butternut and Lambkin melon.

Delta squash blossom with a bee inside. 

Delta squash blossom with a bee inside. 

My husband built this attractive ladder for the Eureka cucumbers. They are interplanted with nasturium and dill (BFFs). I made my first batch of bread-and-butter pickles yesterday.

As wonderful as the vegetables are, it's the flowers that make me smile, especially these poppies, a daily reminder of my friends at Tall Poppy Writers. 

As wonderful as the vegetables are, it's the flowers that make me smile, especially these poppies, a daily reminder of my friends at Tall Poppy Writers

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge my 50,000 little friends who helped make the garden such a success. Thanks, Bees and More Bees!

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge my 50,000 little friends who helped make the garden such a success. Thanks, Bees and More Bees!

One final shot so you can see why working in this garden is hardly work. 

One final shot so you can see why working in this garden is hardly work. 

How's your garden faring? If you don't garden, what are you enjoying most right now from the farmer's market? 

Have a lovely day, everyone! 

Oh, Happy Day!

Look what I have--a new cover! And under that cover, that is, inside the book, will be lots of words that I went to a lot of trouble of arranging in a particular order. When the time comes (May 2017, or sooner, if you win a copy in one of the many giveaways we'll be having), I hope you will like how I arranged the words.

For now, let's just stare at the cover.

What do you think? Don't go telling me my baby is ugly because I won't hear you. I love this baby.

If you'd like to win a rough galley (no pretty baby cover--sorry), I'm hosting a giveaway on my Facebook page until 9 July. Just comment and share the post to enter. Go on, I'll wait.

Want to read what other authors had to say about ALL THE BEST PEOPLE? The full quotes are here, but I'll give you a sample platter.

“Not just the best people, but real people: authentic, quirky and troubled. I cared for them all."           Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sleepwalker and The Guest Room

“All The Best People unfurls the truth of three generations caught in a grandmother’s mysterious madness. Sonja Yoerg spins the story of a family on the brink of collapse—writing with tenderness, grace, and truth.”
           Randy Susan Meyers, bestselling author of Accidents of Marriage

“All the Best People is powerful and haunting, a novel about betrayal and shame, acceptance and unconditional love. Book clubs will devour it.”
           Barbara Claypole White, bestselling author of The Perfect Son and Echoes of Family

"Deftly and with the delicate brush of a master, Yoerg draws us into this brilliant, multi-generational saga of love, madness, mysticism and the markings they leave on a family. Beautifully rendered and aching in its portrayal of a mother’s slide into mental illness, All the Best People is destined to be a book club favorite."                 
           Christopher Scotton, author of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

"This ambitious tale will enthrall readers with its lyrical prose and unforgettable characters. All the Best People is a mesmerizing read that will challenge, delight and redefine our notions of both weakness and resilience." 
           Lynda Cohen Loigman, author of The Two-Family House

“All the Best People is gorgeously written and chock-full of captivating and colorful characters. Unforgettable, your heart will break and swell in equal measure.”
          Kate Moretti, New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Year

"Yoerg has crafted a suspenseful and poignant tale of three generations of a Vermont family whose long-held secrets threaten to devour them whole. The novel is paced so perfectly and so dense with truly unique psychological drama, readers will need to be reminded to exhale.”             Amy Impellizzeri, award-winning author of Lemongrass Hope

"All the Best People is a powerful story of a family whose legacy of mental illness and betrayals nearly destroys them. Yoerg's writing keeps us on a high wire of tension as we seek salvation and hope alongside her characters. The lessons in this novel resonate long after the book is finished."                                                                                                                                                       Holly Robinson, author of Chance Harbor and Folly Cove

"With Yoerg’s lush and moving prose, the characters are realistic and bold, yet so compassionately portrayed that I fell in love with even the most unlikable ones. This book will stay with you long after you read the last page.”
           Amy Sue Nathan, author of The Good Neighbor and The Glass Wives

I'm grateful for the generosity of all these authors. They're busy people and reading a book is not a small task. I feel very lucky indeed.

I'm a pretty excitable person but I am VERY excited to share this book with you. In the meantime, Happy Fourth of July to you and yours! 

 

 

Greener Acres

You're all too young to remember, I'm sure, but there was a hilarious show called Green Acres about a couple, played by Eva Gabor and Eddie Alpert, who move from Manhattan to Hooterville for the farming life. My love of pigs undoubtedly stems from the show, which featured on  occasion the "son" of the Ziffles: Arnold, a very intelligent pig. Here's Mr. Douglas on his John Deere.

We don't have a tractor, but homesteading is nevertheless proceeding apace. 

As you can see, the greenhouse is replete with new life. I transplanted some of these darlings into the garden yesterday, so of course today it's been pouring nonstop. Luckily, the garden is on a slope. 

It's puddly! Potatoes are on the right. Those white domes are row covers--translucent cloth that keeps the bugs off plants, in this case the crucifery. What? Didn't you pay attention two posts ago? Cruciferous vegetables are cabbagey things. Shall we take a peek under the covers?

Look how happy they are! This trick won't work for every vegetable because some need pollination, like tomatoes and cucumbers. But if you're eating the leaves or the roots or the pre-flowers, or the roots, it's an option. It's a little warmer and more humid under there, which can also give plants a boost. 

Who's a pretty cabbage?

As big as the vegetable garden is, it's smaller than our ambitions. This plot, between two retaining walls, is ready for figs, herbs, flowering shrubs and berries: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, currants and gooseberries. I am a berry fiend and cannot wait for this to get going!

It's still raining in sheets as I write this but eventually the sun will return and those little transplants will start getting a grip. In the meantime, here's a sunrise shot from the other day. As Mr. Douglas said, "Green acres is the place to be!"

To all the moms, have a wonderful Mother's Day! 

Hive Talking

Yesterday morning the post office called to say our bees had arrived, so we jumped in the car, excited as little kids. We'd decided to become beekeepers last June while hiking in the Pyrenees, where it seemed every house had a couple of hives out back. In October, we'd ordered the bees as an anniversary present to ourselves. Finally the bees were here!

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My husband gave me this lovely card before we left to pick up our charges.

We put the bees in the basement where it was cool and dark and sprayed them first with water, then with sugar syrup, which had a calming effect. Don't try this on your children, however.

In the late afternoon we were ready to move the bees into their hives. Notice the electric fencing. Bears are around, and we all know about bears and honey! 

The queen for each package arrived in a cage, which included a few attendants. I thought I had a clear shot of the queen (she is marked with a tiny white sticker), but a bee photo-bombed it! We removed a tiny cork from the bottom of the queen cage to reveal the candy plug. The bees will eat the candy, releasing the queen into the hive. 

The moment of truth. Richard dumped some of the bees over the queen and the rest in the open space we created by removing a few of the honeycomb frames.

Here Richard is replacing the frames--slowly, so the bees move out of the way! The bees were very busy but not at all aggressive. That strip of metal is supporting the queen cage. When we check the hives in a week's time, we'll make sure the queen is out and remove it. 

In addition to provide our spoiled bees with ready-made honeycomb and hand-painted accommodation, we started them off with a stocked pantry--a gallon bag of sugar syrup.

A few bees showed a keen interest in reading the beekeeping manual and were shocked to learn we plan to use a smoker the next time we visit. 

Success! We'll leave them in peace for a week, then see how they are doing and give them more syrup. There may even be some eggs--more bees!

Happy spring, everyone, and have a bee-utiful day. 

Plotting a Garden

We moved into our new house! Nearly two years in the making, we are, at last, in our forever home. The furnishings are sparse, and there is some finish work to be done, but that didn't stop us from heading straight outside to work on our garden. For us, the garden--and the orchard and the fields and the woods--are as integral to our home as the kitchen or the laundry. 

On a day like this, who wouldn't choose to be outside?

That's the rototiller guy. Isn't he cute? The rototiller is called Attila, of course. You can't see how large the garden area is from this angle, so here's a shot from the deck.

Rototiller guy is still at it! And would you look at those redbuds. 

A garden of this size requires a plan.  I started with a border of flowers, then divided the rest into twelve 4-foot by 16-foot beds, with walkways in between. The flowers have been selected for their pest control properties, their attractiveness to bees (Next post! So excited!) and general loveliness. 

As I worked this out, I realized the parallels to sketching out a plot, not of dirt, but of words. Just as in writing, once I established the basic structure, I fleshed it out.

Warning! If you are not interested in plants, you might want to come back for the bee post next week. This is vegetable planning at the level of Badass. 

I divided the sixteen planting areas into four groups of three: one for nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, potatoes), one for legumes and light feeders (peas, beans, carrots, lettuces), one for crucifery (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, beets, kale) and one for curcurbits (squashes and melons). Why? Because diseases and pests tend to plague members of the same family, so each year I'll shift the groups over one column. I dare the baddies to follow! In veg-speak, this is called crop rotation. Riveting, huh?

But there's more. Asparagus gets its own bed because it's going to stay there for twenty years; eventually I'll be mashing the spears with my dentures. Also, you'll notice numbers under some plants, like carrots and arugula. Those are succession plantings. I'll seed a few rows every couple weeks so we're not buried under a pile of carrots in a single week. 

I like complicated plots, so I'm adding yet another layer to the design: companion planting.  Did you know plants have friends (and enemies)? Cucumbers like to hang out with nasturtium, and tomato adore basil in the garden, as well as on your plate. Beets, on the other hand, would like to wrap beans around their stupid poles and snap their heads off. Designing a garden at this level is like creating a seating chart for a Mafia wedding. 

If all goes well, I hope to have a harvest as glorious as this one from my California gardening days. I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, I'll be plotting, and planting, and maybe, just maybe, I'll sneak a little writing in on the side. 

Happy spring! 

 

 

Hope is a Thing with Branches

New year, new leaf. I will spare you the excuses for the hiatus, but assure you I was not lolling on a beach somewhere or hiking up a mountain or indeed doing anything more thrilling than trying to get the next book on its way to you. (MAD RIVER RISING. APRIL 2017. It's a date!)

I've been itching to write this post for a while, because I'm so excited to tell you the news: we planted an orchard! Yup. In November, we drove the truck to Edible Landscaping in Acton and hauled twelve fruit trees home: three apple varieties, three pears, two cherries, two plums, a mulberry, and a persimmon. 

Here's what it looked like after we got them in the ground.

What trees, you say? Yeah, you have to zoom in. They are tiny! But that's the best way to start. You can see my husband, digging the last hole. And, YES, I dug, too. I actually dug more because he was doing the technical work of installing the electric fence. I'm the grunt.

Each tree received a circle of hardware cloth to protect the trunk from nibbly mice. The electric fence is for deer (and groundhogs) but I read that it is best to train the deer. Animal behavior--right up my alley!

The idea is to attract the deer to the fence. I know, it's counter-intuitive. But if they see the white flags, they march over to investigate and...ZAP! I'm not a mean person, I just want apples. The deer are free to forage over our remaining 40 acres. Also, I put aluminum foil on there, smeared with peanut butter, in case they missed the white flags. According to what I've read, and basic principles of conditioning, a single zap should keep them away for a good long time.

Of course I don't know for sure that the deer came over to the fence for their lesson. However, after the recent snow, I did check to see if there were any tracks nearby. Those little buds would've looked mighty tasty.

But, no, not a track in sight. Success!

We do worry about our trees. Those spindly guys look awfully vulnerable. There's a saying that the best time to plant an orchard was 25 years ago, and the second best time is now. 

It may not yet be a thing of beauty, but planting our orchard was an exercise in hope. And even on a snowy winter's day, there is warmth in that. 

 

Shortlisted: Better than Short-sheeted

So this is cool. MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE has been shortlisted for Book of the Year by The Great Outdoors, UK's biggest adventure magazine.

How did THAT happen? I have no clue. Well, I have clues, but nothing solid. My husband, who is English, swears it wasn't him, and I suspect it probably took more than a single vote to get on the list. Maybe it was this article in the Huffington Post UK, on Five Books that Make You Want to Travel, written by a lovely young woman I met on Twitter. 

I meet everyone on Twitter. Except not my Englishman. 

If you'd like to vote for my book, I won't stop you. In fact, I will post some great photos as a thank you. Okay? Here is the link: VOTE HERE

Voted? Great. 

First photo. Me as Cleopatra. See? Aren't you glad you voted?

 A deer in the Sierra saying "WTF"?

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And, finally, in honor of deer season, some dogs with very poor choice in headgear. 

I can't top that, at least not today. Time to get back to work on my revisions. Enjoy your day and thanks for voting! xo

Writing about Writing

I've been lucky enough to have some writing gigs at other blogs, so if these topics interest you, take a gander.

ENDINGS: So Much for My Happy Ending... On the UK site, We Heart Writing.

SYMBOLISM: Meaning What You Say, and a Little Bit More. On Writers on the Storm.

FACTS in FICTION: Sinkholes and Breadcrumbs. On Women's Writers, Women's Books.

Please let me know if any of it was useful to you! 

Have a productive, joy-filled week! xo Sonja


Show Us Your #MiddleofSomewhere Twitter giveaway winners: Week 6

NEWS FLASH: It's National Dog Day and the kindle version of my debut, HOUSE BROKEN, is only $1.99! Check it out here

And now on to other news...

Sad to say, because it's been so fun, but this is the last week of the #MiddleofSomewhere giveaway. Well, in truth I'm only a little sad, because the reason it's ending is because next week THE BOOK WILL BE OUT! 

Yeah, that's me, psyched up about something. Unlikely it was a book, though. Probably a stuffed animal or chocolate raisins--I was big on those--or maybe my brother got his head stuck between the couch cushions. Doesn't matter, the feeling's the same. Psyched!

Back to the giveaway. As usual, lots of terrific entries. Let's start with this one, to remind us that although August is drawing to a close and the kids are heading back to school, summer is still with us. I suggest you keep this image in your mind while shoveling snow this winter. 

I'm a nature girl through and through, so it's good for me to be reminded that there are other somewheres, like our amazing National Historic Landmarks, and other heritage sites. Kennecott Mines is in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. I've been to that park, but not these copper mines.

The next entry was taken in Olympic National Park in Washington state. That's Hurricane Ridge in the background. We've had a lot of entries from the Pacific Northwest, and you can see why. So beautiful!

We haven't had a selfie somewhere in a while, and this is a beauty. I love her windswept hair and of course, the Grand Tetons are looking mighty fine as well, especially with their dusting of snow.

I've already mentioned snow twice, so please excuse me for mentioning it again. I admit I love snow, having been born in a snowbank in Vermont. I know it can be a nuisance to deal with, and anyone who lived through last winter in Boston is excused from agreeing with me, but snow is magical. Look at this!

Congratulations to this week's winners and thanks to everyone for participating in the giveaways and sharing your #MiddleofSomewheres! (Winners, please email me your mailing addresses here.)

I'll be traveling around the country on my book tour starting 1 September (launch day!), so please look at my event page and see if I'll be near you, okay? 

Enjoy the last of the summer and if you're travelling to the #MiddleofSomewhere, stay safe! 

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-aug-2015

 

Show Us Your #MiddleofSomewhere Twitter giveaway: Week 5

Well, butter my butt and call it a biscuit: only two weeks until MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE is out! To celebrate, my publisher has dropped the price of the e-book of my debut, HOUSE BROKEN, to $1.99. Yup, two-buck book. It won't last, so jump on it here.

Ready for the Week 5 winning photos? Here we go! The first is of Colorado's Red Rocks, where the entrants loves to hike. Easy to see why. I'm also a huge fan of our western mountains, and this reminds me it's time to visit Colorado again.

I was out working in the garden in 90 degree heat and 300% humidity, and came inside and saw this tweet. I wanted to dive right in! Not everyone can get to the beach, so it's good to remember how much pools add to our enjoyment of summer. The entrant said her son was having a swim. *waves*

This one's two photos, but well worth bending the rules for. The tweet quoted one kitten saying to the other, "I feel we're in the #MiddleofSomewhere..."

Ha! Love the expression on the donkey's face.

I don't like to play favorites (of course, every time someone says that, they ARE playing favorites), but this next one is phenomenal. The overexposed shot give it a dreamlike quality and captures the essence of summer by the sea. And those clouds!

The last winner for this week was taken on Hornby Island, near Vancouver in British Columbia. I'm ready to go there, how about you?

Thanks to everyone who participated and congratulations to the winners. You can send me your mailing address via the contact page.

Let's do this again! Tweet a photo of your #MiddleofSomewhere, include the hashtag, and you may be chosen as one of next week's five winners of a finished copy of my new book!

In the meantime, enjoy the last weeks of summer. Hope it's been a great one!