Bloodlands and Stick Season

Writers gotta write but they also do a gaboonload of reading. We read books our friends have written because we love them. We read books for blurbs because everyone needs blurbs. We read within our genre to scope out the competition and outside of our genre for fresh ideas and for fun. And we read for research. 

I'm working on a story partially set during World War II: in Germany and on the Russian Front. My research reading has included novels (Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum is my hands-down favorite), firsthand accounts by German soldiers, on-line war history forums and straight-up history books. I can't get enough of the history. Just when it seems everything about WWII has been written, someone finds another angle.

For the last few weeks, I've been making my way through Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin, written by Timothy Snyder in 2010. 

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The book is brilliant and absolutely devastating. I have to ration how much I read at a sitting and I can't read it at night for fear of nightmares. But I must read it.

Snyder chronicles the policies and actions of Hitler and Stalin that led to 14 million people killed between Berlin and Moscow. Part of this was, of course, the Holocaust and it is a central piece of this history. I did not know, for instance, that most Jews and other targeted groups were not taken to camps but rather killed where they lived. And before Hitler unleashed his evil, Stalin had already killed and deliberately starved millions. The scale of the brutality and the personal stories Snyder includes are harrowing. Like I said, I can only stomach small doses.

The antidote to such reading, to such truths, is found outside. For me, a ten-minute walk in the woods reminds me of the world beyond the influence of men and war (at least for now). I find it hard to express without sounding vapid or melodramatic but nature, and particularly woods, calm me so profoundly and rapidly I suspect magic.

But I don't believe in magic. I believe in trees. Even when they have dropped their leaves to the ground, I believe in them more than I believe in goodness. 

These are my woods. It's officially stick season. 

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I hope you have something akin to these, a place of respite. I hope you seek it out when, as Wordsworth said, "the world is too much with us."

As for Bloodlands, I cannot recommend it more highly: it is brave and scholarly and eloquent. If you do pick it up, remember to also put it down. Go outside. Find sun and earth and air. Stand amid fallen leaves and the stillness of bare trees. Embrace stick season.

 

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! 

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!

 

Show us your #MiddleofSomewhere giveaway: Week 1 winners!

In case you missed it, my publisher and I are giving away five copies of my new book, MIDDLE OF SOMEWHERE every week on Twitter. All you have to do to enter is tweet a photo of your favorite #MiddleofSomewhere and include the hashtag. That's it! 

Thanks to everyone who entered. We've picked the winners for the first week, but don't worry if your photo wasn't chosen; you can enter again! In fact, do it now so you don't forget. We'll wait for you.

Welcome back. Without further ado, here are the winners!

What a photo! What a spot! Let's all pack our bags and meet there. I'll bring the wine.

I don't think we need a long discussion of what we like about this shot. Nicely played!

We loved this #MiddleofSomewhere selfie. She looks relaxed and happy and ready to explore the outdoors.

Lake Michigan as you've never seen it before, plus some boulder Jenga. Look at those colors!

A different take on #MiddleofSomewhere. This road leads to the entrant's home. Because sometimes your favorite place is where you already are. 

Congrats to the winners! You can email me your mailing address through the contact page and we'll send a book to right away!

And don't forget to tweet your #MiddleofSomewhere for next week's giveaway. Have an adventurous week!

Pigeon vs. Hornworm

My husband calls me "Pigeon," not as a term of endearment but in recognition of my visual search abilities. I'm good at spotting things and so are pigeons. In order to survive, a pigeon must be skilled at detecting the edible crumb or seed amid a background of inedible stuff. They are so adept at this that Navy researchers have trained them in search and rescue. The pigeons sat in an observation bubble aboard a helicopter and pecked a disc when they spotted a colorful speck in the vast sea. Read more about Project Sea Hunt here.

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I haven't been trained in search and rescue, but if you lose the back of your earring or need help finding a cryptic bird or animal, I'm your pigeon. This skill came in handy during field work, when sneaking up on things was my job. 

My powers have been stretched to the limit lately, however. Something was chewing my tomato plants. 

The nerve! The garden has been so prolific, and I was determined to stop this munchery. Brace yourself now as I reveal the culprit.

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The tomato hornworm. They can be five inches long! Let's say it together: YUCK!

The problem is they are very hard to see. They crawl down into the dense part of the plant during the day, then come out and eat the tender bits at night. I'd search and search and never find any. Their crypticity was defeating even this pigeon.

Then I saw one that looked like this.

A little research told me this hornworm had been parasitized. Yay! Meet my new BFF, the braconid wasp.

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They lay their eggs on hornworms, paralyzing them. So if you are hornworm hunting and see one with white eggs on it, leave it there. Help, in the form of more wasps, is on the way.

But of course the wasps can't find all the hornworms or I wouldn't have a problem. So I did a little more research and found help of a technical, rather than a biological, nature. 

A hornworm detector, aka, a UV flashlight! I was so excited when it arrived in the mail. As soon as it was dark enough, I went hunting. It worked! I found six hornworms the first night, two the next and only an occasional one since. Which is fantastic, because they really are gross.

So, if hornworms ever plague your garden, you know what to do. You're welcome. And this parable serves as a reminder that nature has the power to humble even our best talents.