What Would You Do?

blog june 040I’m putting the electrodes to this old blog to attempt revivification – there’s a word for you. Here’s the premise: Creative folks like to do things their own way. Here, I’ll tell you how I tried to do something, how I attempted to solve a problem. Comment if you like or help if you can; I get stymied.

I only get to be home on the weekends, something about needing to work and my job is an hour and a half away. It made more sense, with calculations and references, to buy a cheap place up there to live in during the week. Fine, but that means I only get home late Fridays and need to leave early on Monday morning. Hence the need to maximize my chore time.

I write science fiction. To give me enough time for that, I need to be efficient. I also don’t make the big bucks, so whatever I do I need to be frugal about it. For example, I repurpose the plastic jugs fruit juice comes in to bottle my wine – it’s worked okay for years now. You might say I’d save more if I didn’t have any wine at all. My quality of life view includes both ales and wine. I’d have more time if I didn’t write, too. Don’t go there.

blog june 082There was a Hostess outlet on my way home from work in town for several years, so I bought the best 50 cent loaves they had. When Hostess went belly-up, I dug out my ancient bread machine and made some substandard items. Quality of life: What would I rather have? Buy pricey bread at the store every week or invest in my own means? I chose the latter and now make bread I love.Hovel 002

On the other hand, I lived in that house in town with no heat or cooling, no running water and no gas. The electricity in the 100+ years old place was scary and would not support even a small microwave. I cooked dinner for the week at the cabin and ate it at work, using the office microwave. Yes, the water in the toilet (I packed water from the cabin or work) would freeze every winter. I lived in austerity for eight years. When Ma needed to move in, I had the money saved to fix the place up. I had meant to do that anyway, eventually.

I have solved a ton of problems…whether in the best way or not may be disputed. Still, I’m not too proud to tell you folks about it anyway. Writing all of this out is therapeutic. And who knows, maybe I’ll get some good ideas back from my readers. That would nifty, by golly!

BB Blueberries

blog june 058
I have bought more blueberry plants than I care to admit. I got six low bush beauties for this zone from Stark Brothers a few years ago and put then in perfect pH, good soil. They lived one season, all dying before bearing the next year. As these were planted around a flowerbed, I shelled out for six more from Stark but put them in large containers. No good, death followed. I purchased several four-foot tall high bush plants from a Tennessee greenhouse outfit, thinking a bigger size would be heartier. I put them in a completely different place, in the prepared ground. They died before the first frost and did not come back out in the spring. I contacted the Kentucky Blueberry Growers Association this year and bought ten supposedly perfectly suited bushes. I put them in containers so I could acclimatize then better. In three weeks they were shriveled sticks although I followed conditioning instructions to the letter.

A sane person would give up on them. I hate giving up. This lay on my stubborn mind as I went out to pick strawberries last Sunday. Sure, the strawberries are taking over creation. Weeding around them, I was astounded to see two of the original Stark bushes in pots I had abandoned as doomed had ripe berries.
blog june 032

I had left those pots in the strawberry enclosure just in case, but held out no hope for them after so long. That area is a purgatory for failed roses, raspberries, grapes, a fig, altheas and blueberries, the last step before oblivion. There they are anyhow, spindly and sparse but alive. The fruit is not much larger than blue BBs. Gee whiz, I love the little guys, how could I not?

Does It Hold Water?

blog june 017

Today I really ought to start a batch of porter. Hot near-summer days with no air conditioning are great for fermentation. I have my fermentation buckets clean and sanitized. All of the ingredients are at hand, rarin’ to go. I can almost taste the deep brown brew.

My well water is muddy green. It flowed crystal clear, better than anything from a plastic bottle, only a month ago. Then we had two bam-bam deluge rainstorms that flooded fields around for miles. My well head is situated high above that, however some of that fast flowing water washed into the well anyway.
blog june 065
The well is only cased (PVC pipe) 40 feet down, the other 120 feet is just drilled. My theory is that that the saturated groundwater may have caused the drilled walls to erode inward at some level. I know the whole well did not collapse because I can still pull plenty of water from the submersible pump that remains at about 150 feet down.

After the first flood I ran copious amounts of the muddy water out to flush the well. It began clearing. The second storm flooded quickly with the ground so saturated. I tried flushing again, getting much more mud out. Now the water is a little muddy with a green tint.

I know how to use bleach to shock the well, killing the green, I simply hate resorting to that. Any other ideas? Does my cause theory hold water?

Little Ita Whams Solomon Islands, then Australia

galleryA-4[1]blog change

As cyclones (southern hemisphere hurricanes) go Ita packed strong winds into a tiny package.  Cyclone Ita drowned the Solomon Islanders, then zeroed in on Cooktown in Queensland and blew trees and roofs around before heading south for the city of Cairns. Haiyan (super-powerful) recently smashed the Philippines, Sandy (super-sized) inundated New Jersey and New York last year and the Gulf Coast including New Orleans hasn’t recovered from Katrina yet. Some data says we’re getting stronger storms because of climate change while other data implies that there is too much natural variation to confirm one way or another. Weather Underground has a great discussion on the question.

In Neighbors, the fourth of my Elise t’Hoot science fiction books, I had the north Atlantic coast of South America hit by two Ita-sized hurricanes in a row, destroying all the families there possessed. They became refugees and were exiled along with lots of other ‘excess’ people. It may be hard for scientists to state for sure that any given hurricane or cyclone or typhoon is more vicious because of climate change, but when the sea level rises a few feet, these storms and their flooding storm surges will certainly get closer to more people. With the jet stream going loopy, these storms may romp outside their typical tracks. For example, three strong wintertime storms just pummeled England only a day or two apart, revealing World War 2 ordinance and 10,000 year old forest remains.

Folly Beach in November

Just Us
Just Us
Why would anybody vacation on Folly Beach, a barrier island off of Charleston, South Carolina, in mid-November? I just got back from two weeks there; three days were wet and rainy, no higher temperature than the 50s, with a chilling wind. The festive juice and snack stands were closed. The beach was empty but for bundled up dog walkers.

I went with my 82 year old mother who was born and raised on the barrier islands of John, James and Wadmalaw. She married a sailor who carried her far away to the bluegrass of Kentucky. I remember as a child frequently hearing her yearn for the smell of the marsh and the crash of the surf; she kept that Low Country accent and I learned of her childhood back in the alligator infested waterways.

Dad died at 46 and Mama immediately moved back to South Carolina with my two younger sisters – I came home for a short Navy leave and found the old house deserted and ransacked because she just abandoned it but left all of my things and no message.

She lived on Folly Beach as she was able on Dad’s Veterans benefits and low-paying jobs. As soon as I could, my new husband and I bought her a house on Folly. She had a job at Pete’s Grocery and raised hot peppers in the back yard. After Hurricane Hugo, I flew out from California and help her recover from three feet of water in the house and the ruined furniture and appliances. She had two Boogie Boards and used them often, and gathered oysters in season, too.

Years passed. When my sisters moved out, she moved to an elder-friendly apartment and got involved with the local Salvation Army church. She got a uniform and went bell ringing, the whole thing. She missed the surf, but James Island still felt like home.

One day my youngest sister, who now lived with her family in Pennsylvania, called me in to say they were moving Mama up with them, that her health was too poor for her to live alone any more. I began taking Mama on vacations, starting with the auld country of Scotland. We went to Hawaii, Australia, Holland and Florida in alternating years. This year I strongly felt Folly was the right destination.

We went when there were no crowds, when it was not too hot and muggy. Most days were beautifully sunny and in the 60s or 70s. Every day she would stop and get teary, saying, “I can’t believe I’m back on Folly.” We went to Magnolia Gardens where she’d fieldtripped as a schoolgirl. We went to the Charleston Tea Plantation, a place she’d always wanted to see. We visited family, we drove around for the scenery. We communed with the majestic Angel Oak. She ate fried oysters for supper four times and we remarked on the height of the tide in the marsh each time we drove to a restaurant. When we went to church she wore her uniform and many friends remembered her with hugs and cheer.

The place we rented supplied no beach chairs. The first day to the beach, we stood on the sand and eyed a large log of driftwood dubiously. Then a young woman got up from a beached Hobie Cat where she and another young man and woman were lounging. She smiled and invited Mama and me to have a seat on the boat. Mama was thrilled at their friendliness and generosity; we went back to that perch nearly every day for an hour or a few and she basked in the wonder of the waves and the pelicans and the intrepid surfers in their wetsuits.

Ma Kickin' Back
Ma Kickin’ Back

Seeing Mama happy every day was well worth the vagarities of the weather. She felt like a local again, not a tourist. There were no crowds and the restaurateurs and shopkeepers were glad to see us. Borrowed wheelchairs made her inability to walk far moot. Her friends let her know she would never be forgotten. We won’t forget our marvelous November trip to Folly Beach, the Edge of America.

A Planet of Our Own – Ready and Waiting!

Hark! The third installment in the Elise t’Hoot series, A World of Our Own,  is now buyable in print and in the ever-popular Kindle format on Amazon. Elise and her comrades find out that Independence isn’t easy. There’s guerrilla action and alpine adventure…of course Elise gets run through the wringer again.

It was great fun figuring out how the different characters would respond to  adversity. Elise crashes into frozen mountain peaks at the same time Mort and crew struggle to make some progress with the sun-blotter volcano. Barto bravely takes the reins as the Amigo handler and loses control when the whole mess of them is dropped into the liberation of Alcatraz.

What about the indomitable Alvin Wing?

Elise finds bounty for Tenembras, and something even more precious, then nearly loses it all. Ricky’s psychotic episode just about does him in, blood-stained lullaby and all. Doc Trogden learns what XXX means on a whiskey jug. Naomi gets out of jail scot-free and vows to be a happy single, for all of two seconds. Lottie Floating Feather of vicious tomahawk fame shows her more peaceful side. A World of Our Own introduces odd characters (Potters okay, but Eskimos?) and really gets inside the characters’ heads. 

Here’s one of my favorite parts (although it sends poor Ricky way off the deep end…):

A Grand Birthday Present!

What personal thing could I wish for on my birthday? Well, getting a fabulous review on one of my books is a wish come true. Tenembras just got a grand review by Kirkus Indie…Here it is:

TENEMBRAS

An Elise t’Hoot Novel

Wall, Mary Ellen
CreateSpace (428 pp.)
$14.99 paperback, $2.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1469942995; April 24, 2012

BOOK REVIEW

A rollicking interplanetary tale of cunning, gumption and the human spirit.

In the not too distant future, Earth is environmentally wracked, with much of its population corralled in refugee (i.e. prisoner) camps or dispatched to colonies on far-flung planets. Wireless-network monitoring and mind-reading scans are the norm, tactics for totalitarian “Patriots” to rein in rebels who revere the Constitution and to keep earthly ethnic and geopolitical loyalties alive in outer space. After one outpost goes down in flames, spacecraft arrive on the planet Tenembras with a doomed settlement’s few remaining vestiges—the exact nature of which must stay off the Patriots’ radar. The band that rallies to protect the payload is wide-ranging enough to warrant the introduction’s playbill-like character list. At the group’s core is Elise t’Hoot, a gutsy technological genius and all-round survivor with a knack for bridging language and cultural barriers between peoples, not to mention between her species and the nonanthropomorphic aliens who are infinitely better-intended than most humans. Not immune to the ravages of harsh politics and terrains, t’Hoot succeeds as a poster child for girl power. Wall’s (The Distant Trees: An Elise t’Hoot Novel, Pre-Elise, 2012) Kentucky roots and pride help illuminate her heroine and the folksy, fast-moving narrative, which pits greed and oppression against ingenuity and the basic goodness of humanity. Her high-spirited, irresistible storytelling extrapolates an all-too-possible future from current political and environmental conditions. She fleshes out this could-be world with pitch-perfect dialogue and characterizations, song lyrics that enhance the plot instead of stalling it, and an astute yet accessible command of technology, science and human nature. Despite its length, this unflagging novel invites a one-sit reading.

A stellar sequel that can stand on its own.

Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Media LLC, 6411 Burleson Rd., Austin, TX 78744

Science Fiction and Social Responsibility

Hey, isn’t science fiction just for entertainment? Maybe not. If you think about it, what do you know about robots? Aren’t we familiar with sentient, friendly servants that come in handy to heroes? How about Azimov’s Three Laws of Robotics? If a robot didn’t bow and scrape in a friendly manner we’d know there was a mightly big problem somewhere because sci-fi has shown us what might happen. Whereas in reality, most robots perform inspections in small or dangerous areas at the direction of handlers or are anchored to a defined area to repetitively build sections of cars with less innate intelligence than a bedbug. I think that robot engineers are working hard on that science fiction vision of a robot, that some of them picture CP3O as the goal. Too bad we don’t have Artificial Intelligence to guide the robots from science fiction.

Gee, science fiction warns us about Artificial Intelligence too, doesn’t it? We know not to let AI take over our military. We also know that AI could take a big load off of folks in charge of very complex operations like power grids. Science fiction informs our questions as current scientists work toward artificial intelligence; AI will be better because science fiction has explored the good and bad aspects and we’ve already seen many of the pitfalls.

How about Mars? Mars is an inhospitable little crust of a planet but we think of Mars as a DESTINATION. Why? I think it’s because so many science fiction stories have led us from initial exploration through terraforming and on into Martian society. Science is planning exploratory missions and is working up to sending humans there. Sci-Fi makes us believe it is doable and worth it for a grand big pay-off. Science fiction doesn’t stop with Mars, either. We know about other planets in our Solar System and even about societies on planets light years away.

We’ve learned quite a bit about society through science fiction from reading about or watching those characters in Dune or Star Wars or Serenity or Tenembras or in hundreds of other examples. How many stories tell of wars over resources? Or ruined climates that hurl the poor inhabitants into famine and rampant disease? We can use science fiction to help us see how destructive changes in weather patterns and rising sea levels will be. We know it’s a fair possibility that millions of people all along the coasts of every continent will be drowned or battered brutally with ferocious storms. Right now science tells us of record high temperatures for summer and winter and about tropical diseases reaching further north every year. Climate change is here, now.

Science uses actual to tell us the threat from climate change is real and that  a bleak future is very possible. Science says we can affect the severity of what happens in the next 100 years right now.  Science fiction illustrates that bleak future so we can feel the hot wind, taste the dust in the air, hear the cries of the orphans and smell the sickness from the refugee field hospital. Science cannot be 100% certain people are causing the climate to get mean, but the probability is very high. I believe it is my social responsibility to limit that harsh future any way I can, and the science fiction picture of our failure drives me to get up off my patootie and act on that belief.