June 1, 2019 • 2 Comments
I love illustrated books, especially older ones with hand-drawn and tinted plates. While lots of my favorites are illustrations of novels and children’s stories, I’m fond of old scientific works as well. Botany texts, seed catalogues, and gardening manuals offer a wealth of gorgeous illustrations (as well as information on how to grow things without a boatload of chemicals). Some varieties that show up aren’t that common in modern gardens, so they are great references when looking for heritage specimens.
Recently I brought home a lovely old English (1843) volume because, y’know, book research.
Here’s a sample page of The Floricultural Cabinet and Florist’s Magazine, conducted by Joseph Harrison, editor of the Gardener’s Record, etc.:
I find a quick dose of happiness in the New York Botanical Garden page a day calendar (willowcreekpress.com). It alternates modern photographs of their amazing facility with antique botanical illustrations. I keep this on my desk at the day job so I can take a quick mental vacation to a beautiful green space as required.
Here’s a link to the garden itself: https://www.nybg.org/. The online shop is fun for gardening fans.
May 22, 2018 • No Comments
We all know the past has a pull on us. We write about literal ghosts, but there are plenty of metaphorical ones as well. Some are even more powerful and/or frightening than a chain-rattling specter. These haunts are the echoes of past selves that—for good or ill—we’ve somehow left behind. Memories, emotions, past selves we’ve given up for a higher good or a harder road—nothing is ever truly gone when it’s a part of our soul. Sometimes that’s a relief, or an ache, or both.
Dreams delayed are the strangest of these shades. This weekend was full of open-air concerts and sunshine and the first flush of the festival season. I took time away from my desk to bask in the warmth and watch one of my favorite bands. As a creative, I had two loves—writing and music, and I had to make a choice between the two. I could only nurture one properly and still hold down a full-time job. I chose storytelling, in part because it was an easier fit with a workaday schedule, and I still believe it was the sensible choice. I can’t say that music is a road not taken, because I took that path as far as I could go at the time. I think of it as a road with a bridge temporary closed for maintenance. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel the ache every time the ghost of my musical soul stirs.
I’m not alone, of course. The demands we face as creative entrepreneurs aren’t easy, especially when responsibilities tie us to corporate jobs and all that reality entails. Creativity in that context is an extraordinary quest—one that takes us through feats of time-bending, identity-shifting, and fiscal sleight-of-hand. We transform in metaphorical phone booths, unleashing our true selves in the privacy of hidden spaces. We might not conquer literal armies, but we defend our kingdoms all the same. There are precious things inside us, and creatives fight to keep them alive.
We live in hope for eventual freedom, of a victory before it’s too late. Only then can we be whole again, returning all those lost ghosts to the hearth of our souls.
It’s a dream, but we have to believe it.
March 19, 2018 • No Comments
March is springtime, the moment of renewal, the return of cherry blossoms and the perfect excuse to refresh our wardrobes. After a winter of rain and gloom, blue sky and flowers are welcome indeed. For the locals, there is also the annual running of the goats.
In the spirit of sparkly new things, there was of course our weekend retreat detailed in our newsletter, plus the standing room only Collaborative Creativity workshop March 10 in Nanaimo. Note the celebratory beverage:
Other new things include many plans for future stories—more Corsair’s Cove as well as my solo projects. There’s a brand new calendar on my wall, and I spent part of this past weekend making sure all my dates are captured in multi-colored inks. I also amalgamated a zillion notes, lists and stickies into a coherent one-pager. Now I can see at least a little of my desk. It would be easier if I was able to use electronic prompts effectively, but I seem to enjoy the comfort of physical lists that I can scribble on and cross out.
I’d say this was simple in the extreme and not worth mentioning except for the amount of paper I recycled by the end. Trees died in the name of my productivity. So here you go–proof of the semi-tidy desk with obligatory teacup, stuffed toys and the topic list to the right. I can actually see wood!
January 8, 2018 • No Comments
Monday is back to work for me after a nice long vacation. I realized how much I needed the break based on how much sleeping I did. Now that I’ve caught up on some R&R, I notice myself doing two important things: dreaming and having ideas. Apparently whatever passes for my subconscious mind is showing movies again.
To stave off the post-holiday blues, I’m reviewing the things I accomplished over my break. I’m focusing on the boxes checked, because there were definitely some nice wins. And yes, of course I need a plan to finish up the almost-done stuff. What’s that they say about 10% of the work takes 90% of the time?
I also need a plan to cover everything I want to do in 2018, and there’s a lot on that list. Some of that’s just my A-type personality, and some is a reflection of my well-rested enthusiasm. I have a shiny new planner, and I’m not afraid to use it. I’m on the alert for opportunities.
Sure, there will be obstacles, but if there’s a wall, there’s a door. If there’s a door, there’s a way through it. That sounds a bit like a motivational poster, but this is the point in the year when optimism is key to jump-start all my plans. The impossible is always subject to redefinition. It just hasn’t met me yet.
October 30, 2017 • No Comments
Hallowe’en is almost upon us and I thought, “Oh, this post should be easy.” After all, the events of Kiss in the Dark revolve around an October 31 ball, complete with curses, ticking clocks, and doomed spirits. Plenty of material there. And, in truth, many of my books reference Samhain or Hallowe’en, and most of them have some supernatural goings-on. Plus, I live down the street from a graveyard in a very haunted town. I am spoiled for choice of spooky material.
So, I’ll restrict myself to two favorite images I’ve taken in the cemetery. Both were taken with an older camera and aren’t the best resolution, but to me they show the fantasy world peeping through to our own. The crow on the obelisk should definitely be quoting Poe. As for the angel–could the sky be any more perfect for a heavenly backdrop?
Sure, on Hallowe’en the veil between the worlds is thinnest. That doesn’t mean the other 364 days are completely free of magic sprinkles. We just have to stay alert.
August 18, 2017 • No Comments
Those who follow me on Instagram (RowanAshArt) will know that I have a great interest in plants and flowers. It’s not just because the botanical world is photogenic enough to overcome my poor photography skills. Somewhere in the distant mists of childhood I decided I wanted to become a herbologist. Why? Maybe it was all the herbal healers that showed up in the fantasy books I read. Anyhow, herbology got laughed right out of the career counsellor’s office and I took an English degree instead because, y’know, we have to be practical.
Fast forward to the present. I’m still interested and have done some learning along the way. I’m in a pitched battle with Things That Munch in the garden, but have had a few victories, including a very healthy bay tree and a rosemary that will eventually take over Vancouver Island. With luck, I may even have tomatoes this year. It’s all about figuring out what plants go in what location and how many plants it takes to yield enough material to be useful once the deer, bugs, and rabbits help themselves.
But beyond all that, I’ve grown interested in the history and literary applications of gardening. There’s the whole murder mystery connection, with Brother Cadfael and his herbarium. There’s also the metaphor of gardening and the mind. I’m in the very early stages of developing a character with an exceptional garden, but it’s as much an expression of her past and her aspirations as of her green thumb. It’s a historical setting, so the extravagant Victorian glass houses and hand-drawn etchings of botanical specimens are part of her world. That Victorian mix of science, superstition, and adventure—not to mention their mania for collecting and codifying everything—are intoxicating to me. It’s great fun to have something in common with a character because we can both enjoy ourselves during the research process.
June 19, 2016 • No Comments
Father’s Day is an odd thing for me. I’ve grown used to the endless advertisements celebrating Dads. I certainly don’t begrudge the holiday, but it does highlight the fact that my own father passed away some time ago and each reminder gives me a twinge. But, I’m happy to say I remember the good times we shared more strongly than any sadness I might feel. I adored my father. Yes, I saw his flaws and the chaos he sometimes caused but I was still a Daddy’s girl. He taught me a lot, including how to cling to my round-peg self in a world full of square holes.
He would have been an inveterate steampunk given the chance. He loved Monty Python, waistcoats, the Pre-Raphaelites, marmalade, British mysteries, tea, sausage rolls, and books. And books. And books.
Happy Father’s Day. Surely the afterlife is a library with easy chairs and a tea trolley.
June 11, 2016 • No Comments
I watched the latest episode of Houdini & Doyle last night. I like the show. It’s fun and colourful with likeable characters and good acting and I can get my history geek on. Sure, I want to rush in and fix plot points for them, but that’s another issue. What I wanted to mention was there was a moment in this episode in which Houdini talks about being born in Eastern Europe and emigrating to the New World. In particular, he tells a story about how an American shopkeeper refused to sell his father food because they were foreigners.
This struck a chord with me, because I’ve heard that story before about members of my own family. A farmer refused to sell my ancestors potatoes despite the fact they were dirt poor and with many children to feed–just because they were first-generation immigrants who spoke oddly and probably went to a different Church or maybe just because they had the bad taste to be penniless. Who knows. But refusing to let people buy food for their children? Seriously?
I don’t understand how people can think that way, but obviously they did and some still do. It was a passing mention, but on behalf of my forebears, thanks to the show for speaking up for those who were in such a hateful situation.
Now, if only the writers would dig into the Society for Psychical Research and their doings. It would be a shame if they passed over the actual paranormal investigations going on at the time.
June 10, 2016 • 2 Comments
I may as well resort to crinolines and corsets, because at least dressmakers paid attention to fit. Seriously, I’m done with the notion creeping into retail establishments that one size will fit any woman—small, large, tall, or petite. Trust me, that would be a NO.
This rant is brought to you by my recent agonies looking for decent summer garments. I’m not a fashionista per se, but I do have strong opinions about quality. I sew. Therefore, I expect a garment to be put together with actual seams and stuff. I won’t go crazy and expect darts and gussets, but enough stitching to hold the thing together in the wash would be nice. And while I appreciate flirtation, not everything should look as if it belongs in a night club. At least a few items must be office wear. Nor should garments be made from shiny, scratchy artificial materials that look like they came off the 99 cent reject rolls at the back of the local fabric store. In point of fact, not absolutely everything on the planet needs to contain Spandex. Just saying.
I should counter all this grumpiness by saying that I did eventually find enough fun, rather bohemian outfits to carry me through the warmer months (hot weather is always a relative thing in the Pacific Northwest) but it took a great deal of looking and walking and rolling of the eyes.
Sad to say I may have to break open the warehouse of yard goods I’ve had carefully aging to perfect ripeness. (Why, yes, of course every seamstress knows freshly cut fabric is too green to use and must be stored for several years. One simply cannot use FRESH cloth!)
November 27, 2015 • No Comments
The last while I’ve been pulled into a day-job project that has monopolized a lot of my time. It finally came to fruition this week and now I’m on the other side blinking like some small, furry creature plucked from its burrow and into the daylight. As well as relief and some satisfaction, I’m feeling the OMG of everything I let slide until “after.”
Work projects are an opportunity to show what you’re capable of doing, and for that I’m grateful. I’m also humbled by the number of willing hands who pitched in to make it happen. I work with kind and brilliant people. And, in the end, we had a days-long training event with speakers and food and hotel and travel and hospitality suite and recognition–all with very little budget to speak of. Folks came from many cities to take part and seemed to actually enjoy the experience, if rumors of cartwheels in the lobby are to be believed. It’s all good. No doubt I’ll eventually forget the hours of nail-biting and remember only the fun stuff, which is how it should be.