Friday, October 19, 2018

Mechanical Animals - Two Bees Dancing

Preorder MECHANICAL ANIMALS here and here.

Two Bees Dancing is the first (and only) story I've written since "all that stuff happened". There's a reprint of Acception coming soon, but reprints require exactly zero angst on my part, so in this instance it doesn't count.

Angst, man. What even.

How long have I known the story was accepted for publication? Ages. Um, possibly more than a year.  How long has the cover art been sitting in my inbox, with links to the preorders? Months. Have I advertised the anthology? Nope.


This is not bog-standard writer insecurity, which I've had. And to be fair, still have, but it is entirely eclipsed by this dread sitting heavy in my belly and choking my words. I just...can't...draw attention to myself.

So this isn't a post letting all know that I've a story coming out. This is a record documenting the evolution of the story, and it's just for me. Just a little bit of sleight of mind.

I'm always surprised when editors solicit me to submit. It's not that I doubt my craft - I'm not winning awards, but my writing doesn't suck - it's just that my publication record is so very thin and sporadic. My rate of production is so low I'm surprised I remain on anyone's radar. But S did ask me, and the theme for MECHANICAL ANIMALS is just, I mean, c'mon. How could I not?

I had no story lying around to cannibalise, so I had to start from scratch. Pretty early on I settled on mechanical bees as a tool of state surveillance. Metadata and the government's desired powers over it were topical at the time, so privacy was high on my mind. I spent months fleshing out the infrastructure of these bees, brainstorming sessions with friends and so many pages in my notebook just thinking in longhand. Concept is my strength. Finding the narrative/plot in that concept is not. The bees were not telling me a story.

I don't remember how or when the narrative actually came to me. I think I recognised that, still burnt and wounded from "all that stuff that happened", the narrative structure needed to be simple, and the voice not so removed from my own. At that point, I didn't have a voice. To a point, I still do not. But this felt like learning to trust myself as a writer all over again. Small steps. Strip the concept down to bare bones and bloody hell don't make the POV some corrupted AI bee-bot.

The conflict between surveillance and privacy remains in the narrative, but now playing harmony with the disempowerment of the disabled and chronically ill.

Because I was, then, just dragging myself out of deep incapacitation. Trying to conjure a future for myself when my present was still open wounds and trauma and the horror of minutes that never end, knowing that if there was only a little more support, I could-

Two Bees Dancing feels like the spiritual sequel to Acception. Actually I look at them and I'm like, Tessa, you've written the same story twice now. Perhaps that's simply because the journey to the end product was so similar. Perhaps because they're both born of deep-welling magma. But they aren't the same story. (THIS ONE IS ACTUALLY WITHIN THE WORD LIMIT. IT IS ACTUALLY A PROPER SHORT STORY. ARE YOU PROUD OF ME I"M PROUD OF ME.)

S gave me a chance to prove myself, to myself. It's surprising to be invited to submit, but also gratifying and humbling that an editor have faith that the story produced will be worthwhile. This opportunity gave me far more than publication. I've no idea how to make 'thank you' convey everything I want to convey. Two words and I'm a writer undone. Regardless, thank you.

MECHANICAL ANIMALS offers a table of contents that is quietly jaw-dropping and promises to offer a deliciously diverse range of interpretations on the theme. And the titles! Gracious, the titles. Not going to lie, a good title will win me over every time, as coming up with even just an 'okay' title is hard. Like this, The Hard Spot in the Glacier. How enticing and tantalising is that? I need exams to be over so I can eat this.

MECHANICAL ANIMALS will be shipped on 27 November. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Plant Notes

To mark the beginning of mid-semester break, I gave myself some long lazy playtime on campus. A bucket of water and secateurs and a ramble around the gardens. A snip here, a snip there. Propagation is a hell of a drug, especially when your campus is nestled within a botanical garden that is quite literally packed full of uncommon and unusually beauties.

Plants have this magic power called 'totipotency' which enables them to revert a cell that already has a specialised function back into a sort of primordial undifferentiated state, and then change that cell yet again into a new specialisation. This is why you can cut a sprig of rosemary, and even though what you have in your hand is a branch that has never touched the ground, it will nonetheless grow roots where previously no roots would grow. They're wizards. Plants are wizards.

That said, the power of this shapechanging ability does vary from species to species, and some plants are better at it than others. My previous attempt to strike cuttings of Carissa macrocarpa failed, which was partially expected as the literature indicates as much. But, it's spring, and the time of year, particularly the time in the plant's growth cycle, one attempts to propagate via cutting, can influence success. Hopefully the warm weather and a little rooting hormone will up my chances. There are also some seeds, harvested from the few fruit I could find, sitting in a greenhouse. They have a long germination period however, so it will be some time before I know whether or not they took.

I've also propagated Bambusa oldhamii previously as well, although only one of those cuttings took. Again, the time of year may have influenced this. It's a marvellous bamboo. The sort of bamboo one dreams of, if that dream is a painting and the painting is the idealisation of a bamboo forest. More than one plant would be nice.

Calothamnus quadrifidus is new to me. I'm a sucker for those incredibly unusual Western Australian plants. I have no room for these larger shrubs and trees, and don't want to put them in the ground here, but still... An individual branch looks as though it should be a conifer, but it in Myrtaceae. The flowers have a touch of Grevillea to them, surprising red things that erupt from the stem. Did no research on propagation by cuttings on this one, so we'll just wait and see.

Always make sure your containers have drainage holes. The take away tub I used for some tassel fern cuttings did not, and when I wandered by the fog house to see how they were going, I discovered they were in fact swimming. Didn't seem to bother the cuttings in the slightest, but I repotted them all the same. The cutting I have in water propagation at home hasn't done anything yet, but hasn't wilted either. That's not nothing.

I ventured down to the field station and hacked at the Malva parviflora around my veggie plot. I'd let it go far too long, and it was beastly. Did not attempt to pull out the roots. Smaller plants put up an incredible fight, so I'm content to cut its head off whenever it pops up instead. Planted some Sugar Snap peas and this time remembered to put a bird net around them. The ducks on campus are greedy little buggers. Harvested some silverbeet, poked at the garlic, sprayed myself in the face with a leaky hose.

There were orphan plants on offer outside the nursery when I got back from the field station. Calothamnus gibbosus, sibling to the one I'd just taken cuttings off. These were incredibly pot bound. Incredibly. So much so, they'd grown well out of their tubs and were in fact pot bound in the tray they'd been sitting on. Had to cut them out of their plastic, and cut the root ball. It was so incredibly hard and tight. Like weaving, one said. I saw topographical lines in the tightly packed roots. I don't know if they'll take kindly to the root damage, but free plants. Why not?

Today I tackled some of my projects at home. I potted up my Pseudopanax ferox into an air-pruning pot significantly bigger than its current pot. Got potting mix everywhere. It'll be happy in there for good few years go come, and I won't have to worry about the roots girdling. I don't think I've really shared any photos of this plant. It's just...very difficult to snap. Really needs a photography backing sheet to show its bizarre form. I do love it. Ma calls it my 'minimalist Christmas tree'. It looks like a drawing of a tree. A very simple drawing at that.

The elkhorn fern I've had for more than a year, and have had no troubles with it at all. It grows beautifully. I just haven't been able to mount it successfully. Partly my own ignorance. It had come away entirely, so I gave it a clean up, cutting away most of the rooting mass at the back and dividing the fern, as it turned out there were actually 3 all smooshed together. I bound them to the mount with old stockings. Hopefully, especially being as its growing season now, it'll root in this time.

Potted up some tubestock I picked up from Bili Nursery & Landcare. They're indigenous to the area, which in this case means the SE sandbelt, not the clay soil I'm on. None of these darlings will be going in the ground. Not until I pull my thumb up and start doing serious soil work. Anyway, what's particularly cool is that these plants are propagated from local remnant growth, and they're unexpected for an area I think of as being entirely urbanised.

I picked up Eryngium ovinium as I do love a spikey sweetheart. I have another Eryngium - not native - which does not at all cope with our summer. In fact, I thought it was dead, except it started suddenly growing back beautifully in winter. I'm hoping this native Eryngium does better in summer, so it's a wait and see plant.

I was very excited to find an Isopogon - Isopogon ceratophyllus - which occurs naturally in Victoria, so I had to grab that as well. Its leaves are wider than those of I. formosus, which is now fairly well known in cultivation. They could almost be mistaken for Grevillea leaves.

Acrotriche serrulata was new to me. Or, at least, if I'd seen it before, I hadn't noticed it. It's a meek little thing, with quite a cute little habit - almost looks as though its bonsai'ed itself - but the selling point is the nectar pods it puts out after flowering. I'm told these taste like crème brûlée. Yeah. You read that right. Damn straight I'm giving that a go.

And finally, I repotted my Acacia aphylla. Bought as tube stock ages ago, now a good little plant with only a little bit of weird sideways growth due to odd positioning.

I'm actually terrible at "not acquiring any more of those WA specialist plants that look so cool".

It was a really nice day. Warm bright sun, a light breeze, and the magpies sussing out the birdbath. There's an old apron I use when mucking about in the dirt, but it doesn't stop me from getting dirt up my nose and in my socks. Sometimes I wear gloves, but it doesn't feel proper unless my fingernails are black and brown. And bugger, I forgot to put the shade cloth on the greenhouse. Tomorrow. I'm well pooped now.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Plant Notes

Amophorphallus bulbifer had finished rotting out its leaves, so it was time to move the pot out of the fernery. One nice little corm of good health in the palm of the compound leaf. These corms drop to the ground when the leaves die out over the dormancy, and go on to make new tubers. I don't know if this one is big enough to do so, but I popped it down on the pot anyway. Pot has been moved beneath a table, outside. There it will be protected from the frost and getting too much rain, but still get some good cold temperatures.

Pulled out the Ginkgo biloba. Roots were just starting to peek out the drainage hole. It's fully dormant at the moment, so a good time for it to move house. I'm a little concerned about the roots. They're marvellously healthy, but will of course go woody, and I couldn't help thinking about the issue of root girdling which occurs with woody plants. The roots grow around the circle of a pot because there's no where else to go, and with age they thicken and end up strangling the plant. An airpruning pot could help this...except that Ginkgo really wants to keep its feet wet. I'm not sure how it would like all that drying out. Possibly, I may just have to accept that this particular Ginkgo will not be a giant in the ground, but stay wee in a wee pot for its life. Hmm. When I potted it up last time, I put a chux in the bottom of the pot, specifically to retain water down there. That does strike me as a rather daft move, but the plant apparently loved it and had no problem just busting through it. So. No harm done? Not a move I repeated this time, but the roots were so knit through the chux I didn't take it out.

For the time being, it's now in a bigger pot. Gave it a small prune, watered it in, and have put it back in its place to be ignored until it wakes up again in spring. I'm trying again to root the cuttings. They didn't take last year. We'll see.

Finally remembered to bring nail scissors into the greenhouse, and gave a lot of plants a nice tidying. Lots of dead inflorescences that needed snipping. Amazing how removing the scruff makes a plant look so much perkier.

I've learned so much about plants, but I still don't feel like I know what I'm doing.