Notes about writing, landscape, and life in the Texas Hill Country


"We keep each other alive with our stories. We need to share them, as much as we need to share food. We also require for our health the presence of good companions. One of the most extraordinary things about the land is that it knows this—and it compels language from some of us so that as a community we may converse about this or that place, and speak of the need."
Barry Lopez

"As much as we live in a place, we live in place; we inhabit a condition of the soul. We live where we have made definitions, and in the process of making definitions, we create a place in which to live."
Sallie Tisdale

"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."
Rachel Carson

"I can see myself beginning to fashion what I need: new pathways to solitude, new ways of looking at time and at time alone, new ways of conceiving a notion of place, and other ways, if not new ones, to create places apart."
Jacqueline Jones Royster

"There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story."
Linda Hogan


Susan's Hill Country Journal
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Susan Wittig Albert
Ph.D. UC Berkley

author of
China Bayles Herbal Mysteries
Robin Paige Victorian Mysteries
(as Robin Paige)
Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter
Writing From Life
Work of Her Own

Contributing editor:
Country Living Gardener Magazine
writing teacher
garden columnist
Founder: Story Circle Network

Bulletin Board
A Map of MeadowKnoll
All text/photos
©2003-2005 Susan Wittig Albert

The Edwards Plateau, Central Texas
The Edwards Plateau, Central Texas

Familiar Plants of the Edwards Plateau
History and Change on the Plateau
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
(10 miles south of MeadowKnoll)
habitat description, wildlife lists
The Edwards Aquifer
The Trinity Aquifer
Our Weather

Story Circle Network
The experience of Katrina is an experience of place, located at the intersections of the natural and human-made worlds. If you have a Katrina story to tell, the Story Circle Network invites you to record it here, and to read others' stories:

Killer Plants

Ecotone: Writing About Place

Tuesday, April 27, 2004  
It's a shame to cut down a big bloomer, but that's what I did today--I cut down two strong honeysuckles, both blooming furiously. They're located on top of our storm shelter (an in-ground arrangement that we call Archie Bunker) and were destined to do exactly what they were doing: cover the mound of earth that covers the shelter. However, they were meant to be coral honeysuckles, not the invasive white variety. In fact, they were labeled as coral honeysuckles, and priced as coral honeysuckles--although a close look at the leaf should have tipped me off. I discovered the sad truth last fall, but put off cutting them down until I couldn't put it off any longer. Sad business, and I hated doing it, but if I didn't, we'd soon have a couple of acres of the stuff. What's more, there's a new clematis nearby, just getting off to a good start. I'd hate to see it overrun by that darn honeysuckle. Here's the clematis, in the company of a few daisies.

Carolina jessamine update. This is the second time I've had to cut down a vine this spring. In February, a strong wind ripped a trellis off a wall, taking most of a fully-mature Carolina jessamine with it, covered in beautiful yellow blossoms. I chopped the jessamine off at the root, and waited. Now, I'm happy to report that it's making a comeback, big time. We'll soon have to put up another trellis, or repair the old one.

On the road again. It's Malice Domestic time again. (Malice is an annual mystery conference for writers and fans.) I've skipped the past few years, but with Beatrix coming out in September, I need to go. Not crazy about the airplane trip, and definitely not crazy about going to D.C., which is full of soft targets. However, it has to be done, and we can't change the way we live just because of . . . well, just because. But there's a bright side. I have a lunch date with Linda Lear, who wrote the much-admired biography of the much-admired Rachel Carson--and who is currently working on a biography of Beatrix Potter, focussing on her life as a naturalist and conservationist. Linda and I been emailing for nearly a year, and I'm very eager to meet her at last. Also having lunch with my editor (just might have a new idea to pitch her way), and dinner with a group of my favorite mystery authors. Bill isn't going on this trip, so I'm on my own. It'll be fun.

Today, I worked on the presentation I'm going to give at the Herb Society of America in June--slides of Beatrix's garden. Got all the stuff together--lists of plants she wrote about in her letters, lists of plants in her garden, lists of plants in her "little books"--and pretty much organized. Next big challenge: getting the digital photos onto a CD, so they can be projected. Ack. Wish I felt more confident about that process.

Also today, I finished up my reading of the submissions for Story Circle's new anthology, and collated them with the reading of one of the other judges. One more judge to report in, and we'll be able to see what we have. Too many words, to paraphrase a famous line. Too many words is what we have. 273 submissions, when we expected around a hundred or so. Ah, the power of the Internet to get the word out....

If you don't hear from me for a few days, it's because I didn't get to write before I headed off for D.C. I'll be back on Monday--which is when we start the next big project: our new laminate floor, which will replace the very old carpet! Yay! In preparation for this momentous event, I crated up books today, to empty the bookcases so they can be moved out. Now, the living room is filled with stuff on the way from where it previously lived to temporary quarters elsewhere. Lady (our nervous black Lab) is having hysterics about the boxes. She'll just have to live with the confusion for a while, I'm afraid. Meanwhile, all the dirty little corners and rolls of dog fur and dust bunnies are coming to light. Ugh. Funny thing. I can see them, Bill can't. Nice for him.

Reading notes. Okay. The major issue facing a man and a woman who decide to live together is: Dirt. I am serious. Men and women do not feel the same way about dirt at all. Men and women don't even see dirt the same way. Women, for some hormonal reason, can see individual dirt molecules, whereas men tend not to notice them until they join together into clumps large enough to support commercial agriculture...--Dave Barry

4/27/2004 06:28:00 PM

Thursday, April 22, 2004  
Flowers and more flowers. Everything is blooming this year. This pyracanthus is trained along a fence. This is its best bloom ever--and the bees and nectar-swigging insects are going crazy. It's interesting to think about the consequences of this extraordinarily heavy bloom: more food sources for bees and insects, which leads to more bees and insects, which leads to more meals for insect-eating birds, which leads to more birds. And eventually, of course, the blooms lead to fruit/seed. Already, the Texas mountain laurel is setting seed--more seed than the bushes can support. I'm eager to see if all these pyracanthus flowers produce a major crop of those gorgeous red berries in the fall.

The beautiful red shrub in the background (about twelve feet tall) is a flame-tipped photinia. We started this one from a cutting about 15 years ago.

Between books, still cleaning house. I've now gone through all the bookshelves, weeding out books we no longer want or need. Bill has carted them off to the local library--boxes and boxes of them. Next target: my yarn stash, which is almost as bad a situation as the books. Not sure how much longer this housecleaning stint is going to last. Could the closet possibly be next?

Fan mail. Sometimes I think we should take our email address out of the books. Yesterday, we got an email from a person who said that he had read 100 pages of Hyde Park and was already bored. Today, we got an email from a person who said that she loved Hyde Park, but she thought China Bayles was "shallow" and that there was "way too much sex." Mmmm....

Snakes alive. I saw a snake today, black with yellow markings, making a casual retreat under the porch. Large, beautiful, slithery. I'm not on familiar terms with most snakes, so I had to come indoors and look him up on the Internet. Looks like a blacknecked garter snake, maybe. But I didn't get a good-enough look to make an identification, just a guess. Nice thought, a snake making his living under the porch. There's room enough at MeadowKnoll for all of us. Unless, of course, this is one of our rare poisonous snakes (a coral snake?), in which case, I'd prefer that he find another place to live. Here's one of the sites I found while I was looking for our Mystery Snake: Austin Snakes. You might want to read the text. There's an interesting bit about a black snake falling on her shoulder as she was hiking.

Reading Notes

A Narrow Fellow in the Grass
Emily Dickenson

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him,--did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,--
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

4/22/2004 04:21:00 PM

Wednesday, April 21, 2004  
When I'm not writing, I get into trouble. My latest scheme is a new living/dining floor. The carpet is nine years old and looks pretty much the way a nine-year-old carpet that's lived in a high-traffic area ought to look: tired, worn out, ready for a change. The new floor is going to be wood laminate, which is guaranteed not to mat, pill, stain, trap cat hair, and smell like wet dog when the humidity is high. Ah, joy. But I'd better get back to work pretty soon, or I'll spend the whole family fortune. I'm already eyeing the kitchen cabinets.

Zepherine Drouhin, my favorite climbing rose. This is one of our antique roses--it dates back to the middle of the 19th century. Very sturdy, few problems, undaunted by drought. No wonder it's been around for such a long time. Wish I could look this good when I'm 150+. Of course, now that I look at the photo, I see a little bit of black spot. Uh-oh. Time for the bicarbonate of soda.

When I'm not writing (2), I'm usually thinking book stuff. Today, I was thinking postcard stuff with Peggy Turchette, the artist who did such a nifty job on the Cottage Tales bookmark. She's made a stunning painting of Hill Top Farm, for the postcard we'll be sending out to promote the first book in the Beatrix Potter series. (If you've tuned in late, you can get the scoop here:, click on "Cottage Tales.") Gavin Faulkner, who handles the bulk mailing for Sisters in Crime, is going to send the cards to the SinC list, plus libraries and mystery bookstores. I'll be mailing to my list (which includes the people who are requesting bookmarks). There's a lot more to being a writer than you thought, isn't there? Actually, I've always seen this part of the business as fun and interesting. Books don't survive without readers, and I'm positive that there are a lot of people out there who would like to read this series if they only knew about it. The postcard is designed to pass the word.

More bluster. The wind is STILL blowing. I've taken to going out of the house on the north side, rather than the south, because every time I go out the south door, the wind whips the door out of my hand. We feel the wind more here than people do in town, because there are no buildings to break the flow.

The wind doesn't seem to bother the purple martins, though. They swoop and swirl and pirouette, playfully surfing the invisible waves of wind. It's as if they own the sky, the meadow, the whole wide, wonderful world--and who's to dispute them? It's pure joy to watch, as if I'm waking up, seeing something new with new eyes, a new mind. There are now four couples, very sociable, very vocal. They've all set up housekeeping in the Big House. Today I blocked the openings in the Little House, to keep the sparrows out. There are enough Big House apartments to accomodate eight more couples, so I think we're okay. No eggs yet, but soon. I'm finding leaves in the nests when I check them, so it'll soon be time for the moms to get down to work.

Reading Note. It is a small awakening, to surface from thoughts of myself and my kind and rise up into the blooming, darting, singing world. The experience is ordinary, yet each time the waking feels fresh, as though I never quite believe that the creation keeps dancing while I sleep. As I move on, I resolve to stay alert, knowing that I will fail, knowing the resolve itself will cloud the windows of perception and shut me up once again inside the house of thought.--Scott Russell Sanders, Writing From the Center.

4/21/2004 06:48:00 PM

Tuesday, April 20, 2004  
Blustery. It's a Texas spring, which means that the wind blows, day after day. Nights, too. Our front porch is roofed with corrugated tin, and it rattles when the wind blows from the south. If I partially shut the bedroom window to keep out the sound of the rattling roof, the window whistles. If I shut the window all the way, the room is stuffy. Ah, well. The wind will stop blowing in a couple of weeks, and I can sleep with the window open. Then I'll be able to hear the great horned owl who calls from the oak tree at the edge of the wood.

Photo shoot. The folks from the Texas Coop Power magazine--a photographer and the art director--came out today to shoot pictures of Bill and me to illustrate the article that will be appearing in the next month or two. It was fun to show them around MeadowKnoll, which is at its most beautiful, and talk about the plants in the gardens, especially the native herbs. There's so much in bloom and everything is so spectacular that Gino (the photographer) found dozens of good places for shots, in the garden, along the creek, and the obligatory pose in the bluebonnets. The dogs had to get in on the act, of course. This isn't the sort of thing we usually enjoy, but Gino and Suzi made it fun. Thanks, guys!

Aggie bluebonnets. Yes, truly. A few years ago, the plant folks at Texas A&M, not to be outdone by nature, developed this maroon bluebonnet. (Can you guess that the school colors are maroon and gold?) I bought a packet of seeds, planted them, and waited. The first year, there were only a few plants; many more the second year. By the third year, though, the reseeded volunteers were pink, not maroon--they were reverting to the original pinkish color that the plant geneticists had started with. This year, though, the maroon plant in this photo reappeared among the blue and pink. There's a moral here somewhere, even if it's only something like "You can't keep a good Aggie down."

Reading notes. Spent an hour in the garden today, pulling Johnson grass. Came in and looked for this passage, in Stein's My Weeds: A Gardener's Botany. "To rip a weed from the earth is satisfying. There is a pale, crackling sound heard in the head and felt in the hand as the tenderest root fibers break from their holdfasts; then a bright, cheery crunch as the clump itself gives way. I like the weightiness of the clump; I like the way the weight lightens as the soil, shaken out, beaten out, spatters its sustenance back to ground. There is a fine sensation of murder." Say what you will, when it comes to Johnson grass, murder is no crime.

4/20/2004 06:25:00 PM

Sunday, April 18, 2004  
Sweet Potato Vine. Bill and I drove to Marble Falls for dinner at our favorite Chinese restaurant on Thursday and stopped at Walmart and bought some summer annuals--petunias, marigolds, etcetera. I was delighted to find some small pots of Ipomoea batatas, both the chartreuse ("Margarita") and the dark purple ("Sweet Caroline Bronze"). I fell in love with these non-flowering "sweet potato" vines a couple of years ago and planted them in all my window boxes. They've been hard to find, but now they've obviously hit the big time: Walmart, for heaven's sake. I snatched up a half dozen and brought them home. James Duke says that the plant is used in folk remedies in Malasia for tumors of the mouth and throat, and for asthma, bugbites, burns, catarrh, ciguatera, convalescence, diarrhea, dyslactea, fever, nausea, renosis, splenosis, stomach distress, tumors, and whitlows. Whew. All this from a pretty little vine.

I potted everything up today, although it wasn't much fun because of the wind. It's really whipping out there--35 mph maybe. Not a good day to be out on the Highland Lakes, unless you're a sailor who loves a strong blow. (That was me, 30 years ago--I sailed M16s and Thistles for six or seven years. Learned to sail on San Francisco Bay when I was in graduate school.) But today I was glad to finish up the planting chores, put the newly potted plants in the shelter of the house, and come indoors.

Picture of the day

These are rock daisies (Perityle emoryi), the small (the plant is no more than 8" high) wild daisy you see blooming along the roadsides in the Hill Country in spring--that is, if you can tear your gaze away from the bluebonnets and the paintbrush. No medicinal uses that I know of, and not a "real" daisy. Just for pretty.

Spring cleaning, Part 2. Friday, the walk-in closet in my office; yesterday, the bookshelves. The number of books in this place is astonishing, and some of them haven't been looked at in . . . oh, a decade or so. Time for these neglected treasures to find new homes at the library or via the thrift shop. If I don't clear out the shelves, there won't be room for the books I want to acquire--since there is definitely no more room for bookshelves.

Spring cleaning, Part 3 is outdoors, where I've been moving on my hands and knees through the garden, armed with one of these pointy, curvy, hand hoes and a pair of clippers. Three hours yesterday yielded three wheelbarrows full of stuff, including at least one load of garlic chives. Myohmy, how those things proliferate!

Reading Notes. Weeding reminded me of a favorite gardening book by Sara Stein, My Weeds: A Gardener's Botany, and I dug it off one of the shelves. (This book is definitely NOT going to the library.) The real work is weeding. On mornings of determination I load the cart with an arsenal of gardening tools: loppers and pruners, rake, spade, fork, and hand tools, as well as hoes. This is because weeding is like housecleaning. Cleaning reveals messes one hadn't known were there. The alternative to setting out with many tools is to set out with one, and one by one fetch all the others anyway.

4/18/2004 02:10:00 PM

Friday, April 16, 2004  
Yellow rose of Texas. Isn't she a beauty? This nameless rose (I bought it from a little herb shop in Lampasas, unlabeled) is climbing into the mesquite tree, draping its limbs with yellow gold. Luscious.

Almost all of our roses are "antique" roses--roses that date back a century or so. These are grown on their own roots, unlike the patented roses that you buy in the nursery or at WalMart. Most of them are highly tolerant of our soils, our summer droughts, and our heat. For lots about antique roses, go here. Click on "About Us" and you'll see some beautiful photos.

Spring cleaning. Now that the book is finished and out of here, I'm doing some long-overdue housecleaning. Yesterday, my office. Today, the office closet. I try to go through everything once a year and throw out or give away anything I haven't touched in the last 12 months. Lots of stuff on its way to the Bertram Thrift Shop, books going to the library, and a couple of cans of trash on the way to the landfill. Whew. Feels good, though--or it will, as soon as my back recovers from all the heavy lifting. Next: bookshelves. Oh, gosh. That will be a HUGE job.

Malice Domestic. This is the big annual mystery conference, always held in D.C. at the end of April/beginning of May. I haven't been going, because of a conflict with the Writing From Life workshop I lead for Story Circle. This year, the WFL workshop will be in October, so I'm free to go to Malice (April 30-May 2). For those of you who are also attending, I'll be participating on a panel on Sunday 10:30-12, and signing on Saturday at 10. Stop by and say hello. (These times may not make it into the program, since I registered late. I'll post them on the website, too.)

Reading Notes. We are all trying to find a past that belongs to us. To assure ourselves that we are not alone. Thinking we can shed light on the darkness that was the world before our birth, that will be the world after our death.--Mary Gordon

4/16/2004 04:56:00 PM

Tuesday, April 13, 2004  
Tragedy Update The wild turkey was a hen. Bill found a couple of egg shells, and figures that she was on her nest. The more we think about this, the more it seems like a wild animal--a coyote or a bobcat--since both the turkey and the goose were so completely consumed. Dogs are pretty well fed, and tend to kill and leave both the meat and a mess. I hope it's not a mountain lion.

Jerusalem sage. No, it isn't a sage, although the fuzzy sage-green leaves are certainly a look-alike for sage leaves. It's a Phlomis This plant is prettier every year, bigger, with more blooms.

There's another, really striking photo here. This one likes its spot, and is going to grow to its full height of about four feet. I usually leave the dried flowers in place--they're pretty even in the winter.

Book work. Yay! Done, done, done! I finished going through the glossary this morning, and printed this afternoon, and the manuscript is already packaged for Fed-Ex drop-off tomorrow. 85,000+ words, 61 working days, lots of research, and a very good feeling about the project.

I never finish a book-length project without thinking back to the "old days," when finishing a book meant sitting down to TYPE the complete manuscript all over again, so it was clean and pretty enough to hand in. Remember that? I bought an electric typewriter in 1971 to type my dissertation, and wrote a couple of academic books on that machine. And then in about 1976, I got an IBM Selectric--oh, what a machine. Loved the feel of it. And then there was my first little Apple IIc, in 1984 or so, on which I wrote my first young adult novel. I could get a couple of chapters on a floppy--can't even remember what kind of printer I had, but it was slooow. Then a IIe in 85. Then I married Bill, who was a PC person, and had to give up Apples. . . . all of which just led to an interesting conversation with Bill, who remembers all the machines after that, a Kaypro (that was Bill's machine when I met him), and eight IBM machines, including two laptops. But everybody who uses computers probably has the same story--upgrades from one system to another, one machine to another, speed, miniaturization, bells and whistles. Amazing, the changes in our working technology over the last couple of decades.

Weather report. Back to the mundane. The weekend storms (we were out of power for about 2 hours on Sunday) were triggered by a cold front, which dropped the temps about 20 degrees below normal. We didn't get a freeze, only down to about 38, but it was certainly cold enough. Bill had already put the furnace to bed for the summer, and he had to relight it. We would have had a fire last night, but he put the fireplace to bed too. (He cleans out the chimney and puts a plug in it to keep the birds out and the air conditioning in.) It warmed up this afternoon, though, and the rest of the week should be nice.

Reading notes. If you want to write, if you want to create, you must . . . write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads . . . . -- Ray Bradbury

4/13/2004 07:09:00 PM

Monday, April 12, 2004  
Tragedy. Remember that setting goose, Mama Superior, the one with the false pregnancy? Now she's a dead duck. We found feathers this morning, scattered for twenty yards along a trail from the nest. Found a wing and one foot--not even enough to bury. We thought the other goose was a goner, as well, but she showed up later today. The survivors all seem quite subdued and sad. We are, too. Also gone: a wild turkey, whose flight feathers Bill found this afternoon. Don't know whether it was a hen or a cock. We saw a hen turkey a couple of days ago, across the creek, and I've been hearing a cock gobbling in the early mornings. Not sure whether the culprit is dogs or a coyote, both of which we have in abundance. The coyotes occupied this habitat before we did, and I can't be sad to lose birds to them--they have to make a living too. But the townies who move to the country seem to think it's cool to let their dogs roam loose at night--we have several of these $#%& jerks in the neighborhood. She was a good goose, with a passion for motherhood.

Here's something pretty that takes some of the bad taste out of my mouth and cheers me up a little.

Agarita Agarita is a native shrub with prickly leaves, related to the barberry, that grows westward from the Hill Country as far as the Trans-Pecos--and nowhere else, as far as I know. It's blooming now, at the edge of our cedar brake, and will produce its sweet-tart red fruit in early summer. The local Indians used Agarita wood to make a yellow dye. It can be used to make wine and jelly. Gathering the berries is a challenge, though. I've seen people spread cloth under the bush and beat it with a stick to knock the berries loose. There are some other good photos here. If you can get it to grow for you, it's an attractive, deer-proof shrub. They don't like those prickly leaves, either.

Speaking of bad taste, I read today that the president (whose ranch is about 40 miles to the north of us) had a special Easter dinner at the ranch yesterday: gingersnap-and-apricot-crusted ham and green chili cheese grits souffle. Green chili cheese grits souffle? I scratched my head over that one, since it sounds pretty dad-blamed ridiculous to me. However, a search of the web turned up a recipe for chile cheese grits that looks like a match. Wonder how all them Washington dudes gathered 'round that ranch table liked eatin' grits fer Easter?

If it weren't for the goose, I'd be celebrating today. Beatrix is done--well, all but. Tomorrow I need to work on the glossary, and do some touch-up on the dialect. Wednesday is Story Circle's Reading Circle and I'm having lunch with Peggy, webmistress extraordinaire. So it will be Thursday before I can print and Friday before I can give it to Fed Ex. Which means that it will be in New York on 4/19, the day it's due. Pretty good timing, I'd say. If it seems to you that this book has taken forever, though, you're just about right. According to my handy-dandy writing log, I began this project on the day after Christmas, 3 1/2 months ago. However, the Dilly book tour ate up about 3 weeks and the Story Circle conference consumed another week/plus. The book has actually taken only 60 working days--62, by the time it's printed and shipped. 85,000 words. I really like the way the ending played out. Bill gave me an idea for how to reunite Beatrix and her five lost Herdwicks, and his suggestion was just what I needed. No writers' block around here. If I get stuck, I know who to ask.

Funny thing, too: the scene didn't work until I could hear that sheep's voice. Yes, that's what I said. Once I could hear that, the whole scene crystalized. What's more, an earlier scene in which this sheep appeared now makes a lot better sense, now that I've "fixed" the voice. There's a lesson here somewhere. Maybe when I've gotten over feeling sad about the gone goose, I'll be able to celebrate.

Reading Notes. It's in the voice. You get a call from a friend, you know right away who it is. One paragraph, you know the voice.--Donald Newlove

4/12/2004 06:58:00 PM

Thursday, April 08, 2004  
Blue skies, smilin' at me. The wisteria on the front porch. The plant is about five years old, and this is its best bloom ever. Yum yum.

Silly goose. There are no eggs in her nest, but she's been sitting on it for the past week. In all the years we've had geese (15?) I've never seen a goose with a false pregnancy. Maybe she knows something I don't? Or maybe she's just a silly goose with a gosling obsession. Maybe I should go to the feed store and get her some goslings.

Book Work. Coming down the home stretch, with revisions. In yesterday's work, I found a place that needed more than a little painting and fixup. there was a hole in the action, and a new chapter was needed to plug it. Got up this morning and wrote the chapter, and feel good about it. I knew when I put this part of the book together that I was leaving something out. Now it's fixed. 80 more pages of revision to do, then the last chapter and the end notes. This is my favorite moment in the writing process, when I can finally see the book whole, and get a sense of its totality, the sum of all its parts. Of course, it's only a favorite moment when I like what I see. If I didn't, I'd have to scrap it and start over again. Ack!

Reading notes. The real writer is one who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.--Marge Piercy.

4/08/2004 06:35:00 PM

Tuesday, April 06, 2004  
Rain, big time. 5+" in Cedar Park, about 20 miles from here. A house struck by lightning in Round Rock, 35 miles away. We got about 2.5" and lots of lightning, much to Lady's dismay. She woke us up at 3 a.m., took her thunder pill, and went to her closet--but the light show (with sound effects) was so violent, none of us got any sleep after that, including Lady. All part of a band of slow-moving storms spawned by a low-pressure area in West Texas. We loved the rain, but could have done without the high-powered drama. Bill says that the lake will fill if we get another 3" in the next week or so. A possibility, since more rain is forecast for next weekend. Bring it on (ah, famous words), but leave out the special effects.

Isn't this a pretty bloom? It's a Rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum). The little tree (about 10 feet high) has "alligator skin" bark--blocky, fissured, rough. And these beautiful blossoms. The bees adore it. An uncommon tree, as it turns out, although we have five of them, scattered through the woods. The prettiest blooms are on the tree closest to the edge of the woods, which gets the most sun, which stands to reason, I suppose. You can see its fruit here. I've read that the bark has been used medicinally, as an aid to digestion--but don't try it on my say-so. Still, it's nice to know that this tree isn't just beautiful, but useful, too.

Book work. About 25 pages revision today. I would have done more, only I ran across a scene in which the badger is working on his family genealogy. Turns out that these badgers have a coat of arms-- twin badgers rampant on an azure field--and a family motto: De Parvis, grandis acervus erit (From small things, there will grow a mighty heap). I found the motto in a Renaissance book of "emblems"--online, of course. What amazing stuff is available online these days! Anyway, I got tickled when I was working on this and probably spent more time embellishing it than I should have. I love it when things like this pop up, though. Keeps me energized, keeps me smiling through a long work day. (If I were a badger, I'd think that was a fitting motto. Also works for writers, maybe.)

Reading notes. What does it mean to be alive in an era when the earth is being devoured, and in a country which has set the pattern for that devouring? What are we called to do? I think we are called to the work of healing, both inner and outer: healing of the mind through a change in consciousness, healing of the earth through a change in our lives. We can begin that work by learning how to abide in a place.--Scott Russell Sanders, Staying Put

4/06/2004 06:39:00 PM

Monday, April 05, 2004  
Bluebonnet jam. No, not that kind. I'm thinking of the bluebonnet jam I saw on the way back from Leon Valley on Saturday, just north of Marble Falls, on 281. A couple of dozen cars parked along the shoulder, on both sides of the road, and people dashing across the highway with cameras in their hands. Like a bear jam in the Tetons, only more colorful and a little less . . . well, physical. Bluebonnets don't get up on their hind legs and rock your car, looking for peanut brittle.

Here are the bluebonnets around one of Bill's pecan trees. Gorgeous. We have fewer this year, but they're larger and darker. Worthy of a bluebonnet jam.

Leon Valley. I spent Saturday at the Leon Valley Library (Leon Valley is a suburb of San Antonio), leading a workshop on memoir writing for the Story Circle Network. It was interesting and fun, and I got to meet some women who are genuinely dedicated to life-writing--as you know, one of my own commitments. Many thanks to Joyce Miller Trent, who organized the workshop; to the Friends of the Library, who funded it; and to the women who participated and made it such a wonderful day. We were a bit concerned about the weather, because the forecasters were saying that we'd see big-time storms on Saturday morning. So I decided to drive down on Friday night. Bad decision. Saturday was bright and sunny; Friday night was a deluge. Not only that, but the hotel prices in San Antonio were sky-high, because of the basketball tournament there. $140 for a Motel 6. $280 for a Best Western. A Best Western! Would you believe? Seems to me there's a name for this: price-gouging.

Book stuff. I'm doing revisions now, aiming for 40 pages a day. By Tuesday next week, I'll be finished with the revisions. The rest of the week (except for Wednesday, when I have an obligation in Austin), I'll spend working on the final chapter, the historical note, and the resources. Should be ready to send out via FedEx on 4/19. Then I get to catch up on all the things I've postponed while I've been totally focussed on Beatrix.

About writing a series. Somebody emailed this morning to tell me that she didn't like Bloodroot because Ruby wasn't in it. Well, drat. Sometimes I wish that readers would stop to think what it means to write a series. I am NOT going to write the same book over and over again. And if I had to repeat the combination of characters in the same setting book after book, I'd never be able to continue the series! I couldn't do what many series writers do (the same book over and over)--it would drive me crazy. So there will be more books in the future with a variety of characters and setting--just to keep MY interest and creative energies alive and flowing.

One more thing that needs to be said here. Writing a long-running series is a long-term commitment, and it means that the writer has to give up other writing opportunities in order to work on the series. It's like a soap-opera actor who works for a couple of decades in one role, and turns down other projects in order to stay with the series. The actor is probably doing it for the same reasons I'm writing series mysteries: she enjoys the work, she likes the characters she's working with, and she appreciates the financial security she's found in an insecure business. She's practicing her craft and getting paid for it; she gives up experimenting and playing around and doing lots of other wild stuff. Like the soaps actor, the series writer opts for stability instead of wide variety. And like the actor, the series writer has to find ways to stay fresh, stay creative.

I do it by working in three different series, in two different time periods (contemporary and Victorian/Edwardian), and in historical fantasy (Beatrix). And I also try to vary the China Bayles books, by working in different tones (sometimes comic, sometimes deadly serious), in different settings (Mississippi, Indigo, the monastery in Rueful Death), and with different character ensembles. I HAVE to do this! If I had to keep China in Pecan Springs and have Ruby and the whole gang doing their thing in every book, I'd go stark raving nuts. It would be nice if readers could understand this. Maybe saying it here will give people something to think about.

Bookmarks. Wow. These are going so fast that I have already reordered. If you haven't got yours, go to our website and follow the Cottage Tales links. Peggy Turchette, the artist, is now working on the postcard, which is going to be even niftier than the bookmark.

Reading notes. I think of two landscapes--one outside the self, the other within. The external landscape is the one we see--not only the line and color of the land and its shading at different times of the day, but also its plants and animals in season, its weather, its geology, the record of its climate and evolution. . . . The second landscape I think of is an interior one, a kind of projection within a person of a part of the exterior landscape. . . . The interior landscape responds to the character and subtlety of an exterior landscape; the shape of the individual mind is affected by land as it is by genes.--Barry Lopez, Crossing Open Ground

4/05/2004 06:40:00 PM


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