Landscaper Woes: Part Two

The second landscaper arrived in a battered truck, one door of which had a massive dent roughly the shape of Australia. A broken window was held together with a cunning arrangement of duct tape and plastic sheeting.

At the back of the truck was a ferocious dog of dubious lineage. The landscaper, Hiram I. Swindell, was a gloomy looking man with a hacking cough–helped along by an ever present cigarette. The cough was rich sounding and productive. It started innocently enough with a slight wheeze, then degenerated into a deep rumbling sound. This soon turned into a frenzied sputtering with a gasping Hiram doubled over. This awesome sound stopped traffic in two counties.

Hiram set fire to another cigarette and introduced me to his “designer” Etta Mae–and their grandchild, a small snuffling child whose nose needed attention. Etta Mae measured the area and jotted the result down on a scrap of paper; she conferred with Hiram. The estimate was very reasonable and Hiram offered an extra 10% discount if the total amount was paid. I accepted, for hadn’t my mother always told me that a penny saved is a penny earned? Looking less gloomy than when he’d arrived, Hiram pocketed the check and handed me a card which said,

El Cheapo Landscaping/Sewer Maintenance

Thousands of SATISFIED Customers.

Before they left, I emphasized the importance of being careful with the sprinkler system.

“No sweat,” said Hiram, puffing on his cigarette.

“No problem,” said Etta Mae.

The hound barked and the child sniffed. He, Etta Mae, and the child whose nose now needed urgent attention got into the truck. Hiram promised to start on Monday. I believed him…

2 to 4 weeks later, the crew arrived; the “foreman” with a long ponytail and a beefy man with snakes tattooed on his bulging biceps. They both wore T-shirts that announced their preference for a certain brand of beer. They embarked on the most important part of the project–an early lunch. 3 hours later, they returned feeling refreshed from their watery “lunch.” I reminded them to be careful with the sprinkler system.

“No sweat,” burped the “foreman.”

“You betcha,” grunted the beefy one. He set to work with a vengeance, using a sort of rototiller to rip out the lawn while the so-called foreman studied “the plan.”

Two hours later, I discovered that they had ripped out not only part of the sprinkler system but also 3 valuable shrubs.

They headed for their truck saying they’d be back in the morning “to fix things up.” I never saw them again.

Jane Austen – An Appreciation

While I am not a scholar or expert on Jane Austen, I am an appreciative reader. It’s remarkable to think that the novels she wrote 200 years ago are still relevant today. The human condition hasn’t changed; jealousy, spitefulness, gossip, hypocrisy, and rumor mongering are the traits still prevalent in today’s society.

How was she able to capture all these characteristics while living in a vicarage within an isolated village? She had no formal education, but with the encouragement of her brilliant father she started to read at an early age. She devoured books, and as a young woman she became a master of the English language.

This branch of the Austen family was poor. However, they were upper class; many of their relatives were gentry and aristocrats.

When Jane and her sister Cassandra visited these relatives at their large estates and grand houses, they were exposed to a wide variety of people in these social settings. Balls, dinners, card parties, and picnics were the settings for many of her novels.

With her satirical eye and sharp wit, Jane observed and made mental notes. When she returned to the vicarage, she used this knowledge in her novels.

The family also visited Bath, the beautiful town with its exquisite architecture, its squares and crescents. Here was another opportunity to study the foibles and peculiarities of the gentry and leisured classes. Balls and concerts in the great assembly halls, the constant parade of elegantly dressed men and women–all were grist to her mill. Everything she wrote about is still pertinent in today’s society.

And the mothers–oh, those mothers! Vying with each other, scheming to ensure that their daughters would capture the most eligible (and rich) bachelor.

The famous first sentence in Pride and Prejudice says it all: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

A hundred years from now, when all the bestsellers of today are long forgotten, Jane Austen’s novels will still be read and enjoyed.

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel? Who is the classic author that continues to inspire your work today? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Unwelcome Guests

I looked out the window and to my surprise,

I saw a deer of tremendous size,

It was well-fed and sleek, it had quite a girth,

It ate all my tulips–200 dollars worth.

Planning garden beds is similar to planning a party. Combing through your list, you will have chosen the most amiable and interesting of your friends and relatives. However, because of circumstances beyond your control, you find yourself having to invite your best friend’s cousin–she’s the one with the purple hair and pierced body parts. She not only drinks herself under the table, but sometimes under several guests as well. To avoid hurt feelings, Aunt Edith’s doddering brother also has to be included. And Uncle Howie’s interminable stories of his camping trip to Dry Gulch Park can empty a room faster than your sister-in-law’s offer to sing an aria from Aida. These guests may be unwelcome, but they are nonetheless invited. It’s the gatecrashers who are the problem–people you have never met who arrive unannounced.

In the case of my garden, the welcome guests are the roses, clematis, perennials, and annuals. The gatecrashers are slugs, deer, and rabbits; added to this dreary list are the weeds, those ruffians of the garden. See Too Late for Regrets, page 216, for a vivid example.

Slugs will chew their way through a bed of annuals in a few days. These horrible hermaphrodites come out at night and are most prevalent after it rains. To deal with them, I go out with my trusty scissors and emulate Henry the Eighth–decapitating as many of them as possible. Soda cans cut in half and then partially filled with beer can be effective. Every morning when I inspect and find dozens of corpses, I rub my hands with glee and dance my way around the beds.

Deer are charming creatures, but they can devour all the tulips in your beds. A friend told me that allowing chewing tobacco to steep overnight in a bucket, then spraying the emerging foliage in early spring would deter them.

Weeds should be dealt with early in the season; the soil is soft and weeds are easy to pull out. Closely planted perennials and annuals will shoulder out the weeds, depriving them of nutrients and light.

Have you ever had any unwelcome guests–either at your party or in your garden? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Closely planted perennials deter weeds.

Closely planted impatiens deter weeds.

Lucky tulips which have escaped the attention of browsing deer.

Lucky tulips which have escaped the attention of browsing deer.

On Writing: Introducing a New Character

In Too Late for Regrets, I allowed Timothy and Elizabeth the luxury of developing their relationship in the first few chapters. Then I gradually developed Sir David Knightley’s character; the reader becomes aware of his importance in this story when he visits South Africa (page 97). Before flying back to the U.K., he sits in his hotel room thinking of Elizabeth. How he has adored her for so many years, his determination to marry her. He resolves to be more assertive with her when he next visits Hamilton City. Surely he will be able to persuade her and make his dream come true? When he meets Timothy and Elizabeth at the Botanic Gardens, it becomes obvious to him that this is no light romance. The sexual charge between Timothy and Elizabeth is palpable, and David mourns his loss.

“Elizabeth, why did you go for a walk that day?” (Page 112)

As he comes to know Timothy, David’s admiration for him increases. He admires Timothy’s keen intellect–his heroism and his devotion to his duties. When David realizes that Timothy is in danger of losing everything, he devises an ingenious plan to thwart the villain’s intentions.

David is an aristocrat and successful business man with a military background. He is a gentle man. What reader could fail to feel a fondness for him? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

On Writing: Villains in Novels

As in most novels, there is a villain in Too Late for Regrets. I don’t want to reveal the plot, so I’ll say no more. But the reader will spot this villain immediately. At the top of my list of  favorite villains in literature is Mrs. Danvers in Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca.”

Mrs. Danvers is the embodiment of evil; spiteful, manipulative, and filled with hatred for the second Mrs. de Winter. This innocent and inexperienced young girl is thrust into a situation which she is unable to handle. Mrs. Danvers, soft spoken and persuasive, convinces the girl that Max de Winter was obsessed with the beautiful Rebecca and is brokenhearted at her death. However, it is Mrs. Danvers who is obsessed with Rebecca. She wants to oust the young girl from Manderley, thus keeping Rebecca’s memory alive. Mrs. Danvers’ last tragic act destroys her and Rebecca’s legacy.

Can readers share with us their favorite villains?

On Writing: Character Background

As much as any author would love to include a character’s background in the finished draft of her novel, there is simply no time or page space to go on and on about the characters we have so carefully conjured. This is why blogs are so important; even after the novel has been published, the author can keep the spirit of the characters alive.

With his superior intellect and college degree, Timothy is soon promoted. He is fearless and is recognized for his natural leadership; his loyalty to his fellow officers is unswerving (see chapter 18, page 144).

But on his days off, he wastes his time in bars picking up unsuitable women who usually take advantage of his trusting and slightly gullible nature. His gentleness is part of his appeal, and also his weakness.

It is only when he meets Elizabeth and falls in love with her that this poor behavioral pattern changes. A whole new world opens up to him.

As for Elizabeth, the reader will learn more about her background in Chapter 12, which is titled “David in South Africa.” This chapter describes the suburbs of Johannesburg and the house she grew up in, as well as the reasons why she and her husband Hugh emigrated to the U.S.

Her beauty and outgoing personality captivates everyone who meets her. Is it any wonder that Timothy quickly falls in love with her?

Blogging and fan fiction have not only generated interest in existing novels, but helped to inspire new ones. What are some books or beloved characters that you have wanted to create backgrounds for? If you could write the prologue or epilogue for any book, which would it be? Discuss in the comments below!

On Writing: Choosing Your Cover Photo

One of my favorite parts of the publishing process is choosing a cover photo. Like clothes to a person, a cover represents the book and affects how readers will perceive the story. With my gardening books, Celebrating a Small English Garden, A Medley of Gardens: Denver Style, and Magical Gardens: Denver Region, the task was much easier because flowers are always undeniably beautiful.

Elizabeth as I had always imagined her.

Elizabeth as I had always imagined her.

As for Too Late for Regrets, the cover photo would forever influence how the reader imagined our main characters. I could describe their every inch in the text, but the cover photo would be the image emblazoned in the reader’s mind.

From the four photos sent to me, I chose this one for Elizabeth. The other three faces were beautiful, but they seemed to be too sophisticated. This photo looked like the Elizabeth I’d imagined and written about. Lovely, natural, and with an intangible sense of innocence; a joy in living that seems to shine through her ethereal expression.

Timothy’s photo on the back cover was–I thought–perfect. He is handsome, with strong features, and the characteristic slightly brooding aspect. Yet there is a certain wistfulness in his expression

The brooding image of Timothy that I always envisioned.

The brooding image of Timothy that I always envisioned.

which I thought embodied all of his characteristics.

What do readers think of my choices? If you had read the novel prior to seeing the photos, would the faces you imagined for Timothy and Elizabeth be similar or different? Which celebrities could play Timothy and Elizabeth in a movie based on the novel? I want to hear your thoughts in the comments below!