Crisis and Creativity

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but I contend that actually it’s crisis that’s the real mother of invention.

Lately I feel like I’ve hit one crisis after another—getting Covid during the busiest season in the garden, having book sales completely tank in the lead-up to Christmas, having a critical component of a week-long science lesson be unavailable anywhere last week …

In the garden, I cut corners, laying compost on top of the soil rather than incorporating it as I usually do, in order to save time and limited physical energy. It’s something I hoped to be able to start doing, but figured I still had years of breaking up clay before it would work. Surprisingly, while the soil is a little harder than I’d like it to be for planting, it’s not terrible. If the plants do okay, I may have just changed my garden routine for good, saving me lots of work.

For my books, I’ve taken a step back from the ‘usual’ marketing techniques that have been costing me more than they’ve been bringing in. I’ve analysed what I’m good at, what I enjoy doing, and how I can incorporate those things into my marketing strategy, rather than banging my head against marketing strategies I’m no good at and hate doing. It will take a while to implement my new plan, and even longer to know if it works, but I’m having a great time working on marketing at the moment, rather than dreading every second of it as I usually do.

In the classroom, with less than 24 hours until my science lesson, I launched into preparations for plan B—activities I hadn’t run in 30 years. I felt completely unprepared, and kept realising things I’d forgotten to prepare or forgotten to do—each time I looked around at the resources to hand and got creative. The result was a set of fabulous lessons that didn’t look at all like I’d planned, but which worked well and were fun for everyone.

I really hope next week isn’t as full of crisis as the past several have been, but if they are, I’m pretty sure that as long as I keep moving forward, creativity will blossom and I’ll end up in better shape than before.

Here’s to crisis and creativity!

Five Spring Haiku

Today is the first day of spring, blown in by a warm and gusty nor’westerly wind, as if to say, “Take that, winter! Your time is over.” Here are five haiku inspired by the day.

Ngā koru

Swirls of yellow pollen
ripple in winter’s
vanishing puddles.

Te rā

Sunshine filters through
branches still winter-bare.
Wind rattles a welcome.

Kākāriki

Bright against dark soil,
leaves unfurl and
quest toward the sun.

Ngā puaka

Heads nod to the breeze—
frills of yellow, white, purple—
decked out in Sunday’s best.

Mahi māra

Cracked nails underlined
with dirt. Hands pressed to
the Earth’s heartbeat.

Fun Fantasy reads for young and not-so-young adults!

Young Adult fantasy is a popular genre, not just among the teens it’s primarily geared toward. Who can resist a good coming-of-age story or a swashbuckling adventure?

Here are some YA fantasy books from authors you may not have heard of before. They include all sorts of awesome things like dragons, samurai, mermaids and Greek gods. So whatever your tastes, there’s something for YA fantasy lovers here.

The Dragonaxi Challenge by Leslie E. Heath 

The last thing Marella wants to hear is that they’re moving halfway across the ocean during her senior year. But her father’s been posted as Ambassador to Pharlandzi, a rival mermaid kingdom, and no amount of pleading is going to change the inevitable: Marella is leaving her school and all of her friends behind to swim in strange waters.

As an ambassador’s daughter, she’s expected to know all the etiquette, curtsy to the right people and bite her tongue around others. But that tongue of hers has always gotten her in trouble, and now she’s in too deep. She doesn’t know who submitted her name into this challenge, but the one thing she knows? It’s death, or victory, and her father didn’t raise a loser. She’ll come back a dragon-riding warrior, or not at all.

Chain of Loyalty by Amanda Ward 

She must enter the realm of the dead, or lose the one she loves forever.

Grief becomes revenge when Shou vows to kill the kami king. Only one weapon can destroy him, and it is lost in the realm of the dead. Driven by her hope to save the one she loves, Shou goes where even the kami cannot follow.

But the realm changes those that enter it. And a price must be paid, one that Shou’s allies do not want her to accept.

Further betrayal awaits Shou. And a final decision as the prophecy is unveiled. For with the death of the kami king, another must rise to take his place.

The epic conclusion to The Kami Prophecy, a YA series full of action, mythical creatures, and romance, all set in a fantasy world inspired by feudal Japan.

Champion of the Gods by Julie L. Kramer 

The fate of the kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young warrior touched by the gods…which prince will she choose?

Ilia is Gods Touched, a young warrior who has spent her entire life sequestered behind the walls of the temple of the goddess of war. The goddess herself brought her there, leaving her in the care of two other misfits, with only the warning that her visions of the future would put her in the path of the gods. Now, so many years later, that prediction has come true.

Prince Aristo has been raised to be king, but when his parents put together a tournament for the eligible young ladies of the kingdom to fight for his hand and an unlikely enemy appears instead, will Ilia’s help be enough to spite the gods and help Aristo keep his kingdom, or is there something deeper at play?

Ignited by A.M.Deese 

An Eternal Flame.

A Powerful Secret.

The Republic of the Sand Sea is a dangerous land where fire wielders are forced to battle dragons for the entertainment of wealthy families. None are wealthier or more dangerous than the Thirteen.

Water is currency and enemies lurk around every corner. The stakes are high in the games of court and the players are running out of time before everything is…Ignited.

When the first of the Thirteen goes missing, Jura, the only heir, is thrust into a world of political intrigue and assassin’s threats.

In the arena, Ash, a retired Fire Dancer, is determined to reclaim his glory, no matter the unthinkable cost. Might the life of a captured child be the ultimate price?

Beshar, Tenth of the Thirteen, knows that true power comes from knowledge. But is information worth sparking a dangerous new friendship with the First family?

A Drop of Magic by Janna Ruth 

Magic, Demons & High School Drama

All Lucille ever wanted was a perfectly normal high school experience, but her town doesn’t do normal. Not when a few Latin words set her hand on fire, the entire town gets possessed by evil spirits, and the cute guy she’s got her eyes on brings a freaking sword to the battle.

Now Lucille has to make a decision: return to her cushy, and safe, life-style at the boarding school, or face the monsters that hunt her and the magic that lurks inside of her.

A Drop of Magic is the first of this action-packed YA fantasy series with the wit of Buffy, the magic of Charmed, and all the drama of the Vampire Diaries.

You can’t always do what you’re supposed to do

papers on a desk
Some of the notes about this story I’ve been scribbling over two years.

There’s a live Arlo Guthrie album (I can’t remember which one) in which he’s talking between songs, and at some point he says, “I know I’m supposed to be singing. But you can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.” To which the audience roars approval.

It’s true. You can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.

The second Fatecarver book (Fatewalker) is with the editor, and I really should be working on book 3 if I want to keep the books in the series coming out at a reasonable pace for my readers.

But a couple of weeks ago when I sat down to start book 2, a different book began pouring out of my fingers onto the keyboard.

It was like a flash flood. Within a few days, 15,000 words of a book I shouldn’t be spending time on right now had flowed out. I gave in and have let it flow. I don’t even have a title for the story, which has been kicking around in my head since New Zealand’s first Covid lockdown in 2020, but it’s already over a third written.

Here’s the gist of the story. I can’t wait to be able to share it with you. If things carry on this way, it won’t be long before I can.

Alex Blackburn has inherited all her Grandmother’s possessions. And all her secrets.

When she discovers an ancient book on summoning spirits among Gran’s books, she … sort of accidentally summons one of them.

It’s three metres long and looks like a centipede. 

And it’s just eaten Gran’s dog.

She drags Gran’s neighbour, Shelby, into the drama because the book came from his great-great-great-grandmother. Alex can’t work out how to get rid of the demon, but maybe Shelby’s inherited some of his ancestor’s ability with magic.

Or maybe he’s just terrified of centipedes.

While the demon munches its way through the neighbourhood pets, Alex and Shelby scramble to find a way to send it back to where it came from before it …

Has babies.

This fantasy set in small-town New Zealand will have you sitting on the edge of your seat (while checking underneath it for centipedes), and cheering on Alex and Shelby as they bumble their way around magic and each other.

10 Garden Hacks

A few days ago on an online group I’m part of, someone asked about people’s life hacks.

I thought about it for a while and realised that I spend so much time in the garden, that my ‘life’ hacks are mostly garden hacks.

So here is a list of 10 of my many garden hacks:

  1. Cut up empty milk bottles to use as plant tags.
  2. Give your chickens the run of the vegetable garden during winter—they’ll keep pests and weeds down and make springtime garden prep easier.
  3. Recycle old cotton sheets and clothes, and raffia baskets as biodegradable plant ties.
  4. When picking carrots, water well about an hour beforehand—the soft soil will make the carrots easier to pull.
  5. When thinning carrots, remove the largest plants first—the small ones will grow, and you’ll be able to eat your thinnings.
  6. Instead of tossing empty juice bottles in the recycling bin, fill them with water and line them up in the greenhouse—they’ll store heat during the day and release it at night. Paint them black for even more heat absorption.
  7. Fill plant pots with cement to use as weights for things like bird nets and row covers. Give them wire handles threaded with a short section of irrigation pipe so they’re easy to move around.
  8. Whenever you cook something, like pasta, that is boiled and drained, save the boiling water and pour it on weeds to kill them instead of sending it down the drain.
  9. Plant summer lettuces in the shade of tall crops like corn to keep them from bolting too quickly.
  10. Plant rangy crops like pumpkins next to early crops like brassicas—by the time the pumpkins grow large, the brassicas are gone and the pumpkins have space to sprawl.

Guerrilla Art

We spent a night in Wanaka last week before our tramping trip. While wandering around town looking for a likely spot for dinner, we came across some poems stuck onto a bridge railing. 

Like a Banksy painting, the poems were certainly not ‘legal’ and were no doubt frowned upon by the local authorities. But also Banksy-like, they made passersby smile and think.

Years ago, when my husband and I lived in State College, Pennsylvania, we regularly took our walks in the agricultural fields near the edge of town. Along the path, shortly after leaving the neighbourhood, someone had installed a tiny section of sidewalk. Embedded in the concrete was the poem ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ by Shel Silverstein. There was no indication of who had installed the poem, and it was tucked away beside the field as though it had been surreptitiously installed in the dead of night. 

There are municipally sanctioned examples of Guerrilla art—art that appears in unlikely places. The poetry among the rocks along Wellington’s waterfront is one example. But there’s something particularly delightful about the non-sanctioned art—the amazing sand sculptures people create on the beach, the sidewalk chalk drawings that proliferated during lockdown, the splash of graffiti on train cars. It’s an expression of life and spirit, a proclamation of something uniquely human, a statement about human lives.

I think we all could use a little more guerrilla art in our lives. Thanks to the Brownston Street Bard for your lovely contribution. May the ink continue to flow from your pen.

The Little Things–Hakatere Conservation Park

As usual, I spent most of the long Labour Day weekend in the vegetable garden. I weeded, prepared garden beds, and planted my cucurbits in trays.

Lake Clearwater with mountains
Lake Clearwater was a mirror in the morning’s still air.

But as they say, all work and no play … I didn’t want to spend the whole holiday weekend sweating in the garden.

So on Monday my husband and I went to Hakatere Conservation Park and sweated on Mount Guy instead.

The Ashburton Lakes region is a glacially formed landscape dotted with lakes and tarns. The land around the wetlands is largely tussock grassland studded with spiny matagauri bushes. An unforgiving, windswept landscape that can feel downright bleak.

That was my impression the first time I visited. Fifteen years ago, I was hired to develop an interpretation plan for what was then a proposed park only. I had the great fortune to tour the area with a Department of Conservation ranger who had worked in the area for decades and had a great love of the landscape. He showed me the little things—not necessarily obvious at first—that set the region apart. Rare insects (including an aquatic moth!), waterfowl and lizards. Unique and diverse plants. Historical use of the land, and massive changes over geologic time. There’s a lot more than meets the eye.

skink
One of the many skinks we saw.

On Monday, we were treated to a glorious day—sunny and calm at first, with a brisk breeze kicking in just when the day began to feel too warm. We parked at Lake Clearwater and hiked the track to the summit of Mount Guy. On our return, we followed the tussocky ridge down to a saddle where we picked up Te Araroa, following the track back to the edge of Lake Clearwater where we completed our large, loopy circuit of the lake.

mountains and river valley
View from near the top of Mount Guy. Mount Sunday is a small mound in the river valley, just to the right of centre in the photo.

The hike afforded stunning views of jagged, snow-capped peaks, and a view of Mount Sunday down in the river valley.

Oddly, out of all the “mountains” in the park, Mount Sunday may be the most famous. The hill was used as the location for Edoras in the Lord of the Rings movies. In the enormity of the surrounding landscape, however, it is an insignificant lump of rock.

Perhaps, like the hidden insects, birds, and plants, it is the little details that are the interesting bits.

October Book Promotions

Whether you’re heading into autumn or coming into spring, October is a great month for reading. (Okay, EVERY month is a great month for reading!) This month, I’m participating in a pair of promotions with other authors, so if you like fantasy, get ready to go wild, because there are some fabulous reads here.

The first is a selection of free Fantasy books for Children and Teens. The selection includes The Dragon Slayer’s Son and a whole bunch of other great books. Definitely worth checking out!

The second is a fabulous group of fantasy books ranging from teen to adult titles that includes Fatecarver. Check out the list. Who knows? You may find your new favourite author here!

Inspiring Landscapes

When I was writing my Dragon Defence League series books, I delighted in placing my characters in some of my favourite places in New Zealand—the mountains of Fiordland, Kahurangi National Park, Waimangu Volcanic Valley, and many others.

But New Zealand’s landscapes infuse my latest book, Fatecarver, even though it is set in a purely fantasy world.

While I was writing Fatecarver, I kept imagining specific places in New Zealand. I sat on a peak near Arthur’s Pass and imagined my characters there. I scribbled down descriptions of real views, storms, trees, and hikes to use in the book.

I took the New Zealand landscapes and mixed and mingled them with favourite places in the United States, Panama, Peru and Bolivia until the Fatecarver world included elements of a lifetime of adventures. 

Many of my fellow authors are adventurers like me. We take inspiration for our writing from dramatic landscapes and other settings we’ve experienced. The landscape becomes a character in its own right, thwarting other characters’ plans, throwing up challenges, or providing aid at a critical moment. Just like real landscapes do.

Natural landscapes play a huge role in my own real life adventures—it’s only natural to include them in my fictional ones.

Lichens Rule

Not long ago, I spent a glorious sunny day wandering around Cass Field Station while my husband met with some students there. It was nice to take a solo walk and go at my own pace, stopping at whatever plants, bugs or rocks caught my fancy.

Once nice find was this beautiful lichen, Rhizocarpon geographicum.

Lichens are strange organisms comprised of an alga living within a fungus. The alga provides food through photosynthesis and the fungus provides protection and nutrients for the alga.

R. geographicum is an alpine/subalpine lichen and, like many lichens, is sensitive to air pollution, thriving only where the air is clean. It is not, however, a fragile organism.

In 2005, R. geographicum was one of two lichens launched into space. The lichens were exposed to 14.6 days of open space—vacuum, wide temperature fluctuations, intense UV light and cosmic radiation. Upon return, R. geographicum showed little harm from the experience.

Not only is R. geographicum tough, some individuals in the Arctic are estimated to be 8,600 years old, making them the oldest living organisms on Earth. Their longevity and predictable growth rate make them useful tools for determining when glaciers retreated from an area.

But I didn’t know all this about R. geographicum when I found it on the rocks at Cass. I simply admired its beautiful mottled colours and soft texture.