Monday, December 19, 2011

Writing’s Gifts

This Christmas Eve, with all its promised gifts and with the year’s end soon to urge individuals into introspection, I find myself reflecting on what writing has given me. My ninth-grade teacher would be gratified to know improved grammar is one blessing. To be published one needs to know grammar, plus all the proofing and editing involved demands it. This gift led to a teaching job, a huge gift, but there are many others.
Writing gives my imagination free reign; for once the world is mine (insert evil laugh) and I can do with it what I like. Writing gives me a voice. Does that equate to imaginary power, or power through imagination?
Having a book published, even one not on the NYT Bestsellers list, gave me innumerable insights. The biggest gift writing bestows is not the celebrity or notoriety some writers receive, but satisfaction. Satisfaction in finishing work and conquering the struggles that erupt throughout the project. (Don’t you struggle at some point in every writing project?) Satisfaction came when a publisher accepted my manuscript, and those readers who have bought my books seem to enjoy my words! Along with satisfaction are closely related aspects of pleasure, perseverance, and accomplishment.
I’ve received more than satisfaction. When I began to recognize my mistakes and learned to correct and improve my work, I learned the craft. As I now tell my classes, writing teaches thinking, like following a logical order and looking at all aspects of a situation to discover both the subtle as well as the obvious choices. I also learned about criticism and rejection, and while difficult to accept, they offer a challenge to do better.
Once introduced into the publishing world, another gift emerged -- a community of writers as varied and interesting as the characters found on a library’s bookshelves: some helpful, friendly, and supportive, some spicy with strong opinions, and others quiet and slow to engage.
Everyone believes they have a story inside them. (If you think the plural pronoun agreement with indefinite singular antecedent is wrong – check out Merriam Webster’s Ask the Editor – it’s such a relief!) I was determined to write mine. I’m sure many writers have similar feelings, and most likely have discovered other gifts. What is stopping you from writing your story?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sharing

Today is my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. It's about sharing, and although giving is a form of sharing, Thanksgiving doesn't seem so commercial. (However, if I hear one more Black Friday commercial in Broadway's best musical form, I might scream.) I love cooking this meal, love sharing it with family and friends. We started yesterday. Bill cleaned. I made two pumpkin pies and an apple pie. (Finally found someone who still sells Spy apples -- best for making pies!) I also made two dozen dinner rolls, for this, I tried a new 'quick' recipe. They turned out pretty good. I'll give the kids half of them to take home. They're already wrapped up. I finished off making pumpkin bread, but I screwed that up by putting in some dried apple. Great taste but didn't bake right; so I'll try again next year.

We got up relatively early and finished cleaning. (One thing about entertaining -- at least the house gets cleaned!) I put the turkey in the roaster and the dressing in the crockpot. That's another new recipe I tried, and it turned out very good. Oops! Just burned the potatoes, How did that happen? I just checked them! I guess we'll have to have instant, and I'm using a dressed-up canned gravy this year. The soup pot is already simmering for the turkey bones. The only family coming today are here, the last guest just called and they're sick. So food is warming, the candles already lit, dinner is at 3:00, gave one pie away, the kitchen is clean until after dinner, I've had neither breakfast or lunch, so I'm ready to eat!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Memorable Characters

No matter how many stories I read or write, a few characters never leave my soul. Matter of fact, they sometimes seem to haunt me. I first read Elizabeth Bennet's (yes, another Pride and Prejudice fan) in tenth grade, but I've revisited her often, like twenty-plus re-readings and I never miss a movie. The new books carrying her story, or her sisters' stories, forward and other plot and setting machinations, do not interest me as much. Other readers, I know, don't care about her so much, but I'm certain they have one character who they always remember or one who plays a part in their imagination, dreams, or subconscious; for many it might be Harry Potter stars in this role.

Many other characters haunt my subconscious, popping out at the strangest moments, but usually when I'm taking a long walk. It's not only good characters, either, for I often find coercive, mean and twisted characters, who

se behavior I found reprehensible in a story, pop into my mind. Other times a character from an otherwise unremarkable story is so strong they break ground and plant themselves in my imagination.

What is this? Some sort of psychological archetype trick of the mind? If that is the case, I'm sure everyone has different characters hopping around in their cerebral cortex but isn't it rather interesting who shows up?

The trick, of course, for writers is to make sure those characters don't show up in one of their own books. Which is another interesting phenomenon, because often my book characters show up in my brain long before they do a book.

How about other readers? Do you have similar occurrences?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Crewkin an Epic Award Finalist



Crewkin is on the finalist list for the
Epic Award's best science fiction ebook.

Update: EPIC closed in 2018.

Where Science Fiction is Born

Our times and the world are rife with topics that boggle the mind and spur imagination. It’s not only the social and cultural customs and mores clashing as the planet effectively shrinks and the population grows. Science looms. Religions react. People wonder.

In August IBM announced the first computer chip made from DNA. Doesn’t a principle of life being used in a computer create all types of images in your mind?

Now, clearly, IBM is interested in improving computers: “The company is researching ways in which DNA can arrange itself into patterns on the surface of a chip, and then act as a kind of scaffolding on to which millions of tiny carbon nanotubes and nanoparticles are deposited. That network of nanotubes and nanoparticles could act as the wires and transistors on future computer chips,” (same PC World article by Agam Shah, IDG News ). Still, my imagination springs from the terror of machine images found in Terminator to humans with wondrous mental capacities, and in both cases all the steps from here to there. My reality marvels at the concept of an even smaller more powerful computer.

Every industry, every nation, organization, and individual, is always impacted by their acceptance or rejection of new technology; and these discoveries always give birth to even more imaginative ideas and devices -- and to public paranoia, or sometimes to justified condemnation. We never seem to know the repercussions until they have developed, even when warned by speculative writers. Just remind the government not to close the patent office when they might think everything possible has been invented—humanity’s creativity isn’t done yet. Which, of course, only leads to more speculative fiction, but it is interesting, isn't it? Trip to Mars, anyone?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Memoriam to Wendy and a Media Conviction

I love detective stories and find the real-life programs an irresistible draw. They say fiction can't be as bizarre as fact, and I often believe that.

Last night I couldn't sleep, so I turned on the TV. Two hundred plus channels and there were only movies I've seen at least three times each, reruns of programs I didn't like when they were new, and The Investigators.

On the show, Chuck Chambers at the behest of the husband investigated the murder of the man's wife in Florida. Okay. Good fodder for if I ever want to write a murder mystery. And then something I never expected happened. They mentioned the man and woman's names. I knew the victim. That changed everything.

Now, a few years ago my brother told me about Wendy's murder and that her husband Ed had been convicted. Seeing this information presented as a TV show rocked me, and not in a good way.  I did not know the details of what happened. So I listened with my media doubt alert on high.

Reading this, I hope you know not everything you hear is true, and that there are often multiple versions of true. The investigator raised doubt about the husband's conviction. What I heard and saw was one version of the truth. But an incontrovertible fact remained that Wendy was murdered.

I know others who have had acquaintances and loved ones murdered. It is a sad commentary on humanity and a strong comment on our culture that we use their tragic stories for entertainment. I hear you--guilty as charged.

So here is my testimony to Wendy. I graduated from high school with her. I can't say we were best friends, but perhaps good acquaintance-type friends. She was a lovely girl with a beautiful smile that lit up her eyes. Wendy was friendly and had a contagious laugh. There was often a spark of mischief in her eyes, but kindness lingered there, too.

Like so many others, I lost touch with even my closest high school friends. Some of my classmates, I must admit to my shame, I barely remember. I remembered Wendy. I just had no inkling of what happened in her life after graduation. Times change. People change. I hope I am a better person now. I'm sorry murder cut Wendy's life short. No one deserves that. I wish her peace in her afterlife, and I hope those who loved her found peace, too.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

8 Days to Publication

Made it!! Today I sent back the galley and other paperwork involved in the publication process. I feel a sense of accomplishment. Now it is up to the publisher to get the rest done by August 1.


I will receive an ARC (advanced reader copy) before then.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

11 Days to Publication

Okay, I've just received the galley, which is the final thing I have to work on for Legend's Cipher to make it's August 1 publication date. I have to go over the manuscript line by line to catch all those pesky little errors. Karen B. did a really great job as line editor and caught many things I missed, like different spellings of a character's name. So I guess I'll be busy for the weekend. I want this back to Wings on Sunday night.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

13 Days to Publication

I had a problem with the cover's dpi density and had to fix those and send front, back, and spine artwork back to the art department. There are always glitches that need fixing.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

15 Days to Publication Update

Finished edits tonight at 8:30 EST. Whew!!

It really paid to go over the manuscript and make track-able changes earlier in the month.

15 Days to Publication

I received the edits this morning, but the file wouldn't open. Thank you, Microsoft for making different Word version documents incompatible. That problem has been straightened out and I've gone through twenty pages of the manuscript (out of 126 pages). Going through the version earlier is making this process much easier and faster.

I follow my editor's recommendation closely. They read a manuscript with fresh eyes; however, I never just accept the editor's recommendations without reading the entire manuscript. No one is infallible, and typos are easy to miss. In the end, I am responsible for the content of this story. That's why in this crunch time frame I reread the manuscript ahead of edits so I could find changes I thought needed to be made.

Got to get back to work. I'd like this to be emailed back tomorrow!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

16 Days to Publication

Yikes! No edits to go through yet. Glad I've already gone through the manuscript and can do a comparison.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

27 Days to Publication

Today the final on the cover was accepted. Pretty much what the rough draft showed, but a little more refined. Half way through my edits of the manuscript.

Monday, July 4, 2011

28 Days to Publication

I learned today my editor from my previous books is editing Legend's Cipher. Leslie Hodges is an excellent editor, and I'm as pleased as punch to know she is working on one of my stories again. She emailed me she'd have the edits by the end of the week. This is going much smoother than I assumed. Oh-oh, did I say that? The pessimist in me says I'm tempting fate. NO, No, no! I'm going to be positive! This process is going to go as smooth as silk.

I'm also going through the anthology to catch errors. It's embarrassing what I missed! However, I know this is very common. When you're writing your eye and mind are closely connected. When you reread something your eyes see what your mind thinks is there. Now with several months passed since I last saw the manuscript, I can see what is actually there. Now I can compare what Leslie catches with what I've caught allowing me to be fairly sure of a clean manuscript.

Taking off today to go to Traverse City, see the Cherry Festival and tonight's fireworks. Happy 4th of July!

Friday, July 1, 2011

32 Days to Publication

Once an author receives notification of a contract, there is usually a long period before they hear from an editor. I'm sure within the next three weeks I'll hear, but I'm not waiting. I've gone ahead and started proofing my manuscript yet again. It's always amazing to find the things I've overlooked.

On the other hand, the book's promotion goes ahead. I've heard from the Wings representative about participating in author interviews so plan to get that taken care of ahead of time. Also, I have to make sure all my obligations for blog posts are scheduled ahead so I can concentrate on my manuscript when it comes.

Friday, June 24, 2011

37 Days to Publication -- the Cover

I worked yesterday afternoon and came up with the rough draft cover and have now submitted it to the art department for initial approval. I'm away for the weekend. There is always a lot of downtime after cramming to get something done.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

38 Days to Book's Release

Whew! Last night I sent an electronically signed contract and all the other forms, including the 'promo' pieces:

A 25-word blog line (what's the catchiest short sentence you can come up with to gain a reader's interest in your book?). Mine? What would you do – spy on others so you could publicly betray their secrets, or expose a secret that could destroy you? What do you think?
Wording for the back cover and for website blurb (No more than three paragraphs, and I went with the same three paragraphs paraphrased from the story). Mine: Magic makes you different, makes others look on you with suspicion. Many think those having such strangeness are dangerous, threatening, and also somehow undeserving of such a ‘gift.’ What Bertok had not related when the bishop gave him this mission was his greatest, most buried secret--he possessed such an unnatural ability. Now he must use his magic against others, expose them, and hope he would not be caught.
And a book excerpt of no more than 3 pages for the website. Too much information to give what I sent in here.


Sounds easy, doesn't it? I find it's one of the hardest parts of book management, harder than writing the manuscript, and I have some marketing background! These are the words that catch a reader's interest. I've made mistakes in this venue before. The promo pieces done yesterday were all selected in a matter of hours and reworked for what I thought presented this work best. I may have to revisit these words as this book goes through edits. Luckily, my publisher knows I'm in a crunch. I think they believe I can pull this off, and I know they will work with my changes up to the last minute. I hate last minutes and I'm sure they do to, so any changes will be completed long before the last minute.

Today I mailed in the printed copies of the contract. Now I'm going to search for images to use on my cover.

Wings lets me do my own covers, which I enjoy doing, and which I think make my stories stand out as part of a group and mine. What do you think? Are my covers up to par or should I let a cover artist do them? I have to say here, my other two publishers don't allow authors to do their covers because they like a specific look for their publishing houses, but I'm extremely pleased with the results.

With all this going on, I can also tell I'll be doing a lot of walking to relieve stress.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Very Busy July Coming Up!

I received and signed contracts today from Wings Press for Legend's Cipher, a fantasy anthology set the Aegis World of my other stories: Magic Aegis, Change and Acceptance. Publication date -- August 1, 2011. That's right, thirty-nine days from now. They had an empty slot and Legend's Cipher slid into it. I have a busy, busy month ahead. I'll make posts of how this progresses. I've never done editing and cover in this short a time frame. I'll be telling myself: I can do this... I can do this... I can do this...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Witch World

Fantasy is timeless because the worlds created have their own reality. It is escapism at its best.
newer cover
Witch World was the first volume of the Witch World series that launched several generations of teen and preteen readers into the genre of fantasy fiction. And yes, I was one of those teens. There were other fantasy novels around, but many of those were difficult to read, or aimed at adult audiences.

Witch World stories were classified as 'juveniles' because they didn't contain graphic sex, objectionable language or abusive violence, and they often revolved around coming-of-age journeys. However, these novels have much broader appeal. I've reread my copies through the years with as much enjoyment as the first time.

Simone Tregarth is a man marked for death in the mid-20th century. The ex-colonel fell afoul of what seems to be a criminal organization. Norton leaves this a little nebulous because it doesn't matter except that Tregarth is a hunted man, a former warrior seeking escape. However, Norton points out that Tregarth is of ancient Cornish descent, invoking times of King Arthur and Celtic magic. A stranger who considers himself a scientist, an explorer, and an experimenter promises Tregarth escape. He leads Tregarth to the Seige Perilous, a stone as old as Stonehenge, rumored to have the ability to "judge a man, determine his worth, and then deliver him to his fate." At dawn, the Seige Perilous delivers Tregarth to Witch World, a journey with no return.

Witch World does not have the technology of Tregarth's homeworld, but magic is abundant. There are witches, magic, telepathy, and an ongoing war between good and evil.

His first act in this strange land saves the life of a witch, who remains unnamed until the last page. She takes him to Estcarp, the "threatened, perhaps doomed" home of the witches. Of course, Tregarth doesn't speak the language, giving the reader an excellent opportunity to learn along with him. Here we meet witches, who only keep their power while virginal, and the dwarf guardsman Koris the Misshapen. There are other races in this world: the men called Falconers; the seafaring Sulcarmen, and about the evil coming from the lands of Karsten and Alizon. We also learn of the gates, portals that deliver people from other times and places, the price of magic, and of choices between right and wrong. WITCH WORLD serves as the reader's gate to numerous other books in this amazing, well-crafted world.

The thirty-two books of the Witch World are available used from online booksellers, but I've discovered them to few and far between in local used bookstores. Probably a testament to readers loving their books so much they don't want to part with them.

Sadly, Andre Norton died in 2005 at the age of 94. The list of her published books displays her impressive accomplishment.

Witch World by Andre Norton, Copyright 1963, many editions. Mine is from ACE Science Fiction.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Hope Pins

Some Guys look spiffy in Georgian
Vests and Neckties.
A 20's Flapper for Hope
For her birthday my sister Pat is having a fundraiser for Relay for Life. I want to help her and made a few "Hope Pins" to be sold for the effort, which is clothespin dolls. Something for a cancer patient to hang nearby and know others are there for him or her. Afterward, the pin becomes a Christmas tree ornament.

So Happy Birthday, Pat! Here is a preview and there are ten of them on their way to you. Hope all of them sell!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review for Crewkin!

Somehow I missed this and just found it today; it was worth the wait!

Crewkin by Rhobin L Courtright

                                        5 STARS +
This is a highly original story with a likable, if misfit, cast of characters. The story follows the adventures of Renna, a long-haul spacer, who was actually bred and nurtured (if you want to call it that) to be a part of an efficient team of enhanced humans, called Crewkin. Often referred to as Podders, a slang term of disparagement, by others in the space industry, Crewkin are bred and owned by Markham Corporation – an enormous and highly shady operation.

I thought the descriptions of this future society were just brilliant – strange, sweeping in scope, and yet, still, utterly believable. The author deftly, and seemingly without effort, created personalities and situations that were so unique but that still easily captured my imagination and held it in thrall. This is a wonderfully powerful novel that is populated with oddball characters I came to care deeply for, as they traveled through space, facing uncertainty and adversity. A journey during which each of them faced some ugly truths that could have easily destroyed them all but which, instead, forged them into a solid, formidable unit.

Science Fiction fans rejoice, for this novel is a solid masterpiece, sure to fire up your imagination and send it hurtling through space on a wondrous ride. Outstanding, Science Fiction as it is meant to be!  Read Full Review

Laurie-J

Reviewer for Night Owl Reviews

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Question for You

Today at school Father John Staudenmaier, Professor of History and Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity at the University of Detroit Mercy, spoke as part of this year's Big Question Talk series. His topic was 'Hospitality or Suspicion: the Nature of Borders.' The first question he asked was 'Where are you?' There was much more to the lecture as the title indicates, but my mind kept returning to this question.

Think about that and take a moment to answer the question.

Did you answer with your current location or another answer, such as where you are in your life's journey, or how far you are from something or someone you desire? There is no right or wrong answer, but there is the opportunity to take a step back from what seems to be everyone's extremely busy lifestyle and just contemplate a simple question.

I've often heard this question asked, but the change in context intrigued me. Since my initial answer, the question has come back to me several times, and my answer has changed with each answer. Yet, I still agree with all my responses. Where am I right now? Where I want to be.

So where are you?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Alien Wakeup Call

It's time everyone woke up to the fact that aliens walk among us. It seems recently that individuals are coming forward with alien abduction tales having taken place at some point in their life, but not me. I caught on to that alien game early on. You see, I have cats.

Maybe many of you other cat owners know what I'm talking about. Cats are inventive tricksters. They love playing with human minds, and that characteristic combined with a very demanding ego can create havoc. One of their eccentricities is that at some early morning hour they boldly go where others would fear to tread. Mine usually approach just before dawn. Sometimes they let me know they're coming, but often they just magically appear standing on my chest, their nose nearly touching mine. Their message is clear: "I'm hungry and the food bowl is empty," or "I want out. Now."

So far it's not too bad. Anyone with kids or dogs knows about early morning demands. Cats take it a step further. When their human comes awake from the weight on his or her chest, perhaps the touch of a cold, damp nose, or the tickle of a whisker against the cheek, the first thing the human sees upon opening their eyes is ... an alien! Sometimes, just for fun, they play this game in the middle of the night, waking their person from REM state. All the person perceives is large eyes and small nostrils, not a recognizable being. Don't believe me? Check out these comparison photos of mug shot versus police suspect drawing.
Suspects in alien abduction

This is your cat playing with your brain while you remain in some hallucinatory dream state. I wonder how many of those reporting alien abductions owned a cat?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Leaf Magician

How lucky we are that alien magicians are not a rarity. Each and every leaf performs the same magic feat: they make sugar. Every animal on the planet survives at some level on the sugar plants create, but that's just an unimportant side result in the plant's perspective. The vast majority of food that all the plants produce is inedible, transformed into other plant parts. All animals together use less than three percent of the total yearly production.

Scientists are working hard so that someday humans may learn this function, but to completely do away with leafy plants would be impossible. They perform another magical feat. Leaves produce all the free oxygen lacing the atmosphere as a waste product of making sugar. To do this each leaf has small pore-like doors that absorb carbon dioxide and release excess water vapor, and unneeded oxygen into the air.

Within each leaf are many cell specialists, but all those containing green chlorophyll perform photosynthesis. This mysterious process uses sunshine to combine six molecules each of water and carbon dioxide to create a molecule of sugar and some loose oxygen molecules as a byproduct. For a miracle, it sounds so easy.

Most of the plant is composed of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, but other chemicals are needed, too. The roots deliver most of these chemicals  but leaves also absorb some materials from the air. These chemicals are combined in many different ways to provide the plant all the parts it needs for growth and reproduction. It is those chemical combinations that provide humans the vast variety of substances and tastes we call vegetables and fruit.

The next time you see a human magician trying to flimflam his audience into believing something that isn't remember there are a host of alien beings making true magic. This is one reason I love plants, love gardening, and love science fiction-fantasy.

Spring is starting here at last. Now that I've made a connection between science, plants, gardening, aliens, fantasy, and science fiction, perhaps I'd better move on to the actual topic of gardening.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

More Illud Tempus

My e-book reader doesn't include the cover for the book. Not sure why, probably some techno-glitch I made myself since I used to get them, but now I feel positively deprived and dissatisfied. This made me wonder about covers and the importance of the illud tempus.

The illud tempus is simply a device telling listeners to suspend their disbelief-- that sense that what they are about to hear could never really happen. I say listeners because this all began with the oral folklore traditions of 'once upon a time.' That short phrase translates into 'just go along with this without asking too many questions about how and why.' The illud tempus told the listeners they were about to visit another realm, another time, even another dimension: a place of fairies, trolls, dragons, and now superheroes, impossibly beautiful characters, space travel and all sorts of bizarre settings and plots.

The best examples today are TV show trailers. We all know our favorite show's music. It calls us from loading the dishwasher or balancing the bank account. Those beginning images and sounds are the show's illud tempus, asking us to suspend our disbelief for another thirty to sixty minutes. We know the hero or heroine will again surmount terrible odds, or find themselves once more in some implausible situation.

As a reader, I want to suspend my disbelief, that's what getting into a story is all about. However, few novels or short stories today begin with 'in a kingdom far, far away.' Reading a story where I just cannot identify with the characters, or they behave in unbelievable manners shows I have not suspended disbelief. Stories like this dissatisfy me, the reader. I want to become each character and participate in his or her success and failure. I want to share the characters' emotions, feel their physical word, and sense their inner selves. It is escapism at its best. This involves the art of writing.

But what makes me chose a story? What is the illud tempus of written fiction? The illud tempus only takes seconds, so perhaps the book's cover best draws me into suspending disbelief. Covers give hints about characters, setting, genre, historical era, and plot. Certainly looking at another six-pack abs forces most women familiar with men's physics to suspend their disbelief (or, like me, question why they can't). Quite frankly covers seem to make me want to believe whatever the author says. Covers are in themselves fantasy images, but images often convey an impression of reality, so if I buy the cover, am I not more open to buying the story? I think so.

So is the cover an illud tempus?  "Once upon a time?"

My reader is so old it's out of production. If I want covers to draw me into a story, maybe I better invest in a newer reader.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Root of the Matter

Blogging at Night Writers on Roots, gardening topics with a touch of fantasy.

7/13/13 Update: As Night Writers is in Hiatus, I've posted the article here:

Some novels have characters who cannot survive sunlight or prefer to live in caves to hunt the Earth's treasure or to explore her dark recesses. Of all the great fantasy, adventure or suspense characters, none are as successful in these environs as roots.

When plants first took to earth from their sea habitat, roots were mere anchors. Certainly serving as support remained an important task. Roots kept early plants in place despite the action of wind or the waves of water. Moss, one of these primitive plants, still survives. Its roots don't absorb moisture, so the parts above ground must fulfill that task.

Through a few million years of design and development, some plants grew root tips. These cells outgrew the tough root covering most of the long tendrils, always growing a fraction of inch ahead of that impervious covering. They understood support in a different meaning from anchor. The tips absorbed and distributed the moisture needed for the plant. Nearly all plants today use this unique growth pattern, but ancient roots still weren't satisfied.

Even more generations later, some roots developed another innovation: root hairs. With this advance roots became miners. Now cells tunnel and excavate through soil using the hydraulic process of osmosis to move the treasures they find to the demanding horde of manufacturing cells living above ground. The root cells seek out water, oxygen, and the chemicals of life in the sustained warmth and dark of the underground. They either find moisture or die. When a root strand fails, new roots emerge from other roots, from underground stems, and in certain cases even leaves. They travel off to explore in new directions.

Growing roots release carbon dioxide into the soil. This carbon dioxide mixes with available moisture to produce an acid that dissolves soil molecules, even rock, freeing useful elements need to produce food. Root tips also release hydrogen, which exchanges place with nitrogen, potassium, and calcium in soil molecules, allowing the desired minerals easy entry into the root's vascular system. However, the denizens of the dark realm cannot make food like the upper echelon, sun-worshiping cells found in green leaves and stems.

These basement trollers often send so many raw materials upstairs, that food manufacture far exceeds the community's needs. The top story executives, rather than waste their production, send food back to the roots. There, a long time ago, the clever root cells developed another strategy--storage units for surplus food in the form of bulbs, rhizomes and tubers. These inventive cells still do more. Like in some apocalyptic novel, when climate changes make living upstairs tough, these inventive prospectors hunker down to wait the right time to send new shafts into the light of day.

Similar to many other underclass citizens, the mass of tangled roots below ground far exceeds the total of leaves and stems privileged to exist in the light. They often seek depths greatly exceeding the plant's height. Roots form the plant's structural foundation, they seek out the raw materials of life, can change the soil around themselves, and they store supplies for future needs. What greater heroic effort could any story character make?

Much of my knowledge about gardening comes from books. To learn more about how plants work, I recommend finding a copy of The How and Why of Better Gardening by Laurence Manning, an inspirational source for understanding plants.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Time Capsules

We had an ice storm yesterday, with snow today. Snow over ice, how great is that? Anyway, I'm staying indoors looking at seed catalogs, which always makes me think about what miracles those paper packages hold.

Plants existed millions of years before seed reproduction developed, and many of these ancient plants still exist. For instance, ferns produce spores, but spores can't survive harsh, dry climates. From this ancient background, almost every plant possesses more than one method of reproduction, and when it comes to cloning, they are masters. Most plants can spread through their root systems. They start as a single stem that grows into a clump. Once thriving, the clump expands into a thicket or grove. So why develop seeds?

Seed production involves sharing genes, which we now know expands the chances of survival by allowing plants to adapt in an entirely new way. Seed production is the only reproduction method that produces an entirely new plant. They may grow to look exactly the same to you and me, but I expect if they could see us, they'd say the same thing. We learn in basic biology class that pollen from the male plant lands on the stigma of the female plant. Soon afterward the male and female cells combine, sharing their genes. These genes create an embryo-like the parent plant, but different in some small way that might improve its survival. This embryo's chances are initially enhanced by encasing the tiny life in a spaceship filled with food and surrounded by a hard shell. When conditions outside are good, the shell softens, absorbs water and allows the embryo to develop.

How long can the embryo survive inside a seed? Viability changes from species to species. Most last at least one year. Vegetable seeds usually remain viable three to five years. However, there was a date palm seed found in Masada, Israel at Herod's palace. Carbon dating aged the seed at two thousand years old. To prove viable, the seed's embryo had to develop into a plant. A carbon-dated 1,300-year-old lotus seed has also proved viable.

Isn't it amazing that so many of the sciences man tries to invent like cloning, and longevity, plants have already accomplished? Besides their self-serving purposes, plant seeds provide human food. Wheat, oats, corn, rice, peas, cherries, and strawberries are all seeds. They also serve writers, providing great metaphors and similes. Another huge plus for humans from plants producing seeds--to make seeds, they must first make flowers. How wondrous is that?

Update 7/13/13: Night Writers in Hiatus, so I'm placing the article here.