Map Quest

Is there anything more potent, more magical, more surreal than a map?

Some may think maps mundane, the stuff of Google, soulless grids charting featureless terrain, mere means to an end. But a good map can do so much more than just get you where you want to go. It can tell you what to look for, what to avoid, where the hidden treasure lies, where the roads end. And in a work of fiction a well-drawn map can open a whole new world in your mind.

Of course, not every genre lends itself to mapping. But none has done more to chart the unknown than fantasy. I recently finished reading “The Elfstones of Shannara,” a 500-plus-page journey into the misty domain of writer Terry Brooks, whose bestselling books have won legions of fans in the sword and sorcery camp.

I must confess that although I’d seen Brooks’s works around for years, until recently I’d never summoned the will to commit to reading one, due to an attitude I acquired while reading “The Hobbit.” This was back in the day when Tolkien worship was white hot and fresh on college campuses, and I dutifully tried to feel the passion. But I found it a trial, slogging irritably through the page after page of repetitive scenery descriptions, waiting in vain for the appearance of a single admirable female character. Seriously. Swept away I was not.

Of course, in principle I enjoy the classic fantasy tropes of an epic journey, a battle against overwhelming odds, and magical weapons to ensure victory in the struggle between good and evil. But really, all those dwarf songs? Hardly karaoke material.

However, map-wise “Lord of The Rings” set a new standard for those of us who like to boldly read where no one has read before. And Terry Brooks has a firm grasp of the map element. Also, to his credit, he crafts some engaging female characters, so that, on the whole, I think I prefer his Shannara to Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

But while maps enrich works of fiction ranging from the sunny innocence of Winnie the Pooh and his 100 Acre Wood to the dark twists of Neil Gaiman’s alternative London underground in “Neverwhere,”  the power of maps transcends fiction. In fiction maps often lead to treasure or talismans of power. In real life, a good map is a treasure in itself.

So much of life is uncharted. The perilous path of parenthood, for instance, can be a twisting, gut-wrenching trial no matter how many guidebooks you read. Jane Hamilton’s brilliant, heartbreaking “A Map of the World” takes the reader through a nightmare of parental fears, but the author leads us out into the light with a flickering torch of hope held high. Though her work is nothing like escapist fantasy, it offers a similar redemptive resolution by suggesting that no matter how carefully you work to guard and protect your children, things happen over which you have no control.

Ultimately, there are no maps for parenthood. Every child is a whole new world, one that you may spend your life discovering. As Dr. Seuss noted, “Oh the places you’ll go!” We went to Los Angeles recently, on a sort of post-graduate parenting mission. Our daughter was running in her first marathon and, knowing that running 26 miles would be a challenge, we wanted to cheer her on. What we didn’t anticipate was the challenge of driving in downtown LA on a major holiday during the marathon when countless streets were closed and barricaded. Luckily, I had a map. Not a bad map, but sadly lacking in the kind of useful tips that set apart great maps from the mediocre. Your great maps offer helpful bits of advice such as, “Here be dragons.” In our case, one that warned, “Here be traffick barriers” would have been nice.

As we waited out the hours while the marathon progressed, our quest was more modest than that of Frodo or Wil Ohmsford. We simply wanted to find an open coffee shop, a public restroom, a route to the finish line of the race. Unfortunately, I was hampered by the fact that we had parked in an underground lot, and the overcast early morning skies offered no sunshine to help me get oriented. Normally I feel fairly confident about my sense of direction, but no matter how long I stared at the map I couldn’t figure out which way was up. My head was spinning from lack of sleep and coffee. What I needed was a magic ring, or, failing that, an enchanted sword, but there’s rarely one of those around when you need it.

Unless you’ve got a volume by Terry Brooks in your backpack. In which case, no worries. You can fight your way out of the blackest pit of underground parking and climb into higher realms of glory. Or at least find a place to grab some lunch.

As The Worm Turns


It’s springtime in Seattle at last. May finds us stumbling out of our burrows, blinking in the unaccustomed glare of bright sunshine. We’re digging, mowing, spraying, playing. There’s a sort of frantic sense of urgency to it. We know it can’t last.

All the more reason to throw our backs out today, for tomorrow the clouds and showers will, in all likelihood, roll back in, the temperatures will sink into the sullen forties, just cold enough to ruin a picnic.

But it’s all good. The days are getting longer, the Mariners haven’t started losing daily yet, and the roses are just beginning to throw caution to the winds and embrace the fleeting season.

Many people tout Seattle’s weather, dreary as it may be for eight or nine months of the year, as the reason for the region’s seductive charm. And it’s true that when it’s good around here, it’s really good. No humidity, few bugs, no need for air conditioning, brilliant vistas in all directions. What’s not to like?

Well, I could start that list too, but I don’t have time to spare. My garden is a mess. So what else is new, you say? Hey, just because I can’t keep a clean house is no reason to assume my garden will reflect the same casual attitude toward symmetry and style. No, my garden suffers from the same syndrome that dooms my wardrobe: I’m a sucker for impulse buys.

In my closet a lifetime of dubious choices has left me with a collection of mismatched tops, skirts and pants, to say nothing of footwear. It’s a cacophony of colors, patterns and styles, none in harmony. Sadly, the same can be said of my garden. I have, of course, made attempts to bring some sense of order to the chaos. But no matter how firmly I set out on the path of discipline and simplicity, I end up in the Bermuda Triangle of gardens. Plants go there and disappear.

I’ve tried to correct this. And judging by the collection of landscapers’ business cards which flutter onto my doorstep like confetti, the professionals look at my garden and see a cry for help. But, I really don’t want someone else working in my garden. The whole point of it is that I get to play in it. It may be a mess, but it’s a reflection of what I am – a sinkhole of desires, dreams and delusions. For me, the garden is a metaphor for life. The point is not to get it finished, but to keep at it.

So I’ll leave it to the horticulture experts and the hired landscapers to create garden perfection, while I stick to what I know – making messes, thankful that, though I may never escape my own folly, at least I’m still digging it.

A Tale of Two Cats

In general, I approve of cats, feeling that their artistic merit and entertainment value far outweigh the minor annoyances which inevitably arise when sharing a home with a cat. I’ve had a cat most of my life. Not the same cat. They come and go. The best one died at age 17 a few years ago, and in my grief I vowed that as soon as we were back from our travels I was getting a kitten. My husband, who is allergic to cats, sighed heavily and hoped I would give it a rest. Naturally, I did not.

However, what I didn’t know when I brought home this adorable, albeit insane, calico kitten, was that within a month we would be moving across the country. But as we went through the grueling process of selling our Virginia house, packing up, moving to Seattle, living in temporary housing, finding a rental, etc, etc, our new kitten Gabby took it all in stride, gaily tearing apart furniture and toilet paper wherever we happened to be.

Eventually we bought a house here, and Gabby has learned to bask in the sun breaks and endure the relentless rain. So far, so good.

Then last summer one of our daughters had to move across country to a housing situation which did not accept cats, and I, idiot mother that I am, offered to give her cat a home if she couldn’t find someplace else. That’s how it began. In my cheerily delusional way, I assumed that, although the cats might have some reservations about sharing our small house, surely they would work things out in time. Now, after nine months, it appears they have worked things out. They’ve got me trained.

They ring their little bells and I jump to let them in, out, up, down, to fill their bowls and clean up their messes, to comfort them when they have esteem issues, to yank their strings when they tire of clawing the furniture. All of this sounds fairly routine, and, of course, it is, until you realize the one thing the cats will not do. They will not tolerate each other’s existence. They cannot be in the same room without a referee vigilantly maintaining the peace with a firm hand and a full squirt bottle. Thus, if cat A, for instance, wants to go outside, but cat B is lounging in the room that contains the door, I must resort to wiles and stratagems to effect the change.

Cat B, aka Domino, is bigger and arguably crazier than Gabby, and she’s made it clear that this house isn’t big enough for both of them. Which is funny, when you consider that Domino is, for the most part, a very sweet and easy-going feline, never happier than when curled up inside her Eddie Bauer bag. She loves that bag with a passion. She disdains the over-priced feathery catnip-laced playthings we’ve bought to try to limit her impact on what’s left of our furniture. She’d rather climb in the bag, wrestle with it, sneak across the room under cover in it, poke holes in it and occasionally nap in it. But she’s not about to share it, or anything else.

Happiness is in the bag.
Happiness is in the bag.

It was funny at first. But you know how it is with a running joke. Eventually even the best joke needs a nap. I sure do. I tell myself things are going to get better, any day now. They’ll have some sort of breakthrough, look into each other’s mad yellow eyes across a crowded room and realize, hey! Let’s give peace a chance!

Sure. It’s going to happen. Spring is here. Love is in the air, floating like pollen. Or fur.

Don’t get me started.

There’ll Always Be A Festival

The fortieth anniversary of Woodstock is coming up this summer. Got your tickets yet? Or planning just to crash it?

I didn’t go to Woodstock. At the time, other diversions claimed my heart. But lots of people I know went. One of them, Gayle Nourse, wrote a short story called “Peace, Man” about her experience there. The story was selected to be included in Woodstock Revisitedwoodstock-revisited, 50 Far Out, Groovy, Peace-Loving, Flashback-Inducing Stories From Those Who Were There by Susan Reynolds, which will be released this summer, just in time for all the nostalgic hoopla. Love that hoopla.

While the original spirit of Woodstock may have been corrupted by the corporate takeover that brought us five dollar bottled water, ATMs and eventually fiery rebellion at the thirtieth Woodstock, the current of countercultural idealism still runs deep and strong. But, while many of my generation recall the heady late sixties fondly, few of us wear flowers in our hair anymore, and even if we may don the occasional tie-dyed T-shirt, it’s not easy to recapture the extraordinary shared sense of innocence and optimism that flourished in those years before the internet, the cell phone and the iPod came along, ushering in a strange new world of insulated detachment.

There will most likely be some sort of Woodstock commemoration this summer. But as for peace and love? I wouldn’t count on it.

However, that somewhat unhinged but powerfully positive spirit yet lives in Britain, where since 2003 an alternative music gathering called The Green Man Festival offers those who can manage to get there a chance to revel in music, film, theatre, literature, and comedy for three days in the sequestered pastoral Glanusk Park, Wales. The event has already been blessed by the local Druids, to ensure lovely weather for the campers. With its five stages of indie, psychedelia, folk, and “americana” music, not to mention the all-night bonfires and earnest environmental and social justice agenda, The Green Man Festival appears to offer a glimpse of the starry-eyed dream of Peace on Earth.

Will we ever see it for more than three days at a time? And will it ever feature better portable toilets?

The dream is alive.

Finding My Nietzsche

I take comfort in geology.

It wasn’t a science in which I excelled. Let’s face it, there is no science in which I excel. However, among the handful of science-like subjects I studied in college, only geology spoke to me. And what it said was: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Actually, what it said was more like, “There’s no point in worrying about the future of mankind, Con, because in another million years or so humanity will be gone, the only evidence of its brief existence a slim stratum of compacted plastic and radioactive waste in the layer cake of geologic sediment.” Yum.

My geology professor said that humans were a “niche species,” likely only to be around for a million years or so, the blink of an eye, geologically speaking. In the 80’s, I found this idea strangely liberating. Back then there were plenty of experts predicting the end of life as we know it (though none of them seemed to see the internet coming, or reality TV, so, once again, we find that the world is full of experts, whose sound and fury don’t necessarily count for much). Yet in spite of the gloom sayers, the greater number of Americans were blithely consuming non-renewable resources as if they were serenely confident that, when the time comes that we actually do run out of petroleum, clean water, air, etc., there will be another planet coming on the market in our price range, fully furnished, with cable.

Yeah. The Reagan years. Good times for some.

But though I, too, am a hopelessly deluded escapist, even I know that a Battlestar Galactica finale isn’t likely.

Nope. I’m all about acceptance now. President Obama recently compared the task of trying to change the direction of the economy to trying to turn an ocean liner—a slightly more complex maneuver than reversing a rowboat. But, even if that were true, it’s impossible to turn anything around if the people holding the steering wheel won’t cooperate. And, in our current financial and social mess, an unholy alliance of corporate and congressional “experts” have driven our ship of state into pirate-infested waters and the prospects for a happy ending look slim.

I love humanity. Really. I’m just enough of a sap to feel a shiver of hope and courage whenever William Shatner, as Captain James T. Kirk of the original Star Trek, launches into one of his trademark, “what makes humans great is that they thrive on challenge” speeches. I believe it’s true often enough to make it worth holding onto—the idea that when the going gets tough, the tough get going and all. But, I also think that when the going gets tough, the tough damn well ought to lend a hand to the ones who aren’t quite tough enough to stand on their own yet.

There’s no doubt in my mind that when we put our minds to it we humans can accomplish great things. But unfortunately our best intentions don’t protect us from making catastrophic errors. Sure, we put a man on the moon. That was pretty neat. But meanwhile, back on Earth, in our efforts to “improve” the food supply, our corporate farming policies in the last forty years have driven almost all of America’s family farms off the land. And our new “improved” food supply hasn’t solved the problem of hunger in America, although it has led to making us more obese and increased the risk of food-borne diseases.

Still, I guess it doesn’t matter, since in the long run, geologically speaking, we may be on our last legs. I never studied Nietzsche in college, when the phrase “God is dead” got a lot of lip service. These days more people seem to be calling on the god or gods of their choice to help us find our way back to the glory days of peace and prosperity that some like to think of as America the Beautiful. I don’t know if God is dead, but He sure doesn’t seem to be returning His calls these days, so I think it might be up to us to sort this mess out ourselves.

Yeah. It looks pretty bad in places. But, you know, we humans, we do our best work when the stakes are high. Sure, one person alone can’t do it. But if we all push really, really hard, maybe we can turn this beast around and ride it into the sunset. Now that’s a finale William Shatner would pay to see.

Trowels Up!

It’s Earth Day, a time when thousands of people who regularly eat at McDonalds, drive SUVs and spray chemicals on their lawns take a moment to reflect on the miraculous planet on which we all depend.

blossomAnd then the moment passes, and we go back to our spendthrift ways, shopping for stuff we don’t need, and eventually tossing most of it into landfills buried like ugly secrets in every part of this beautiful nation.

Such a short-sighted species we are.

But, on this day, I choose to be optimistic, in part because I’ve brought children into this world, and I have to hope that we’re going to be able to keep it going for them, and all the children on the planet.

One bright shining change I see, from the ways things were almost forty years ago at the first Earth Day, is that awareness is finally growing faster. Back then, I witnessed the first Earth Day celebration at a concert in the shadow of the Washington Monument attended by only a few hundred rag-tag hippies and a small core of a new group of specialists called environmentalists. The word ecology was new to most people. The concept of recycling was widely disdained as ineffectual. We took diversity for granted.

Now we seem to know better. The world has changed, is changing still, and I believe there’s reason to hope that the planet, at least, will survive. Whether humans do remains to be seen. But, if they do, I think gardeners will play a big role in the realignment process of the skewed perspective that has gotten us into this mess.

Gardeners, like farmers, know that you can’t really fool Mother Nature. You might manage a joke now and then, but ultimately, unless we respect the fundamental balance of nature, and how interdependent we are with other life forms, we stand in real danger of poisoning the roots of the tree in which our human nest is delicately balanced.

In 1970 pockets of passionate gardeners recognized the danger of destroying diversity in the lust for corporate profit. Now, millions of dedicated gardeners and visionary citizens around the world are working together to protect the environment and to encourage more people to understand the vital links between all growing things.

The internet has facilitated this process, connecting gardeners worldwide through a vigorous network of sites dedicated to the idea that, as one of my favorite sites,, puts it in their manifesto: gardening matters.

I used to get a certain amount of grief from various people about my compulsive gardening, my oohing and aahing over plants, as if I had some sort of mental problem. Well, I can’t deny that I may have some issues with detachment. But, I stand by my conviction that gardeners are needed, more gardens are always welcome, and there can never be too many flowers.

It’s Earth Day. Today, tomorrow. Hopefully, next year, next millennium.
There’s still time to grow a better world.

Play Ball

In the study of  baseball, as Yogi Berra once noted, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

With that in mind, I embarked last spring on a leisurely course of spectatorship to enlarge my understanding of the game. My prior personal experiences had been limited to watching my older brother pitch during his Little League days, cheering for my son in his short-lived experiments in T-ball, and, for one lackluster season, attempting to master the skills of batting and fielding while on the freshman softball team at my high school.

Since then, my interest in the national pastime had waned, occasionally sputtering into life during the World Series, but never catching fire.

Until last spring.

At first, when I began idly tuning in to watch the Mariners play ball, I  justified the wasted hours on the couch as research for my new book, which revolves around a softball game. I told my husband I needed to refresh my understanding of the game. He found this mildly amusing, and seemed to enjoy clearing up my confusion about the ins and outs of rules and strategy, as I tried to get a grip on the infield fly rule, the purpose of the bunt, and the mystery of the knuckleball.

The addiction came on gradually. The soothing sound of Dave Neihaus‘s voice, the hypnotic rhythm of the ball being struck and caught, the thrilling pulse of the crowd chanting “Ichiro, Ichiro” like some thunderous heartbeat.

Yeah. I could quit anytime.

But, whether or not that’s true, watching all that baseball last season did help me to recognize the vast difference between what the pros do, and what passed for sport back home in rural Virginia, where the most important  result wasn’t who won or lost, but who brought the beer, or whatever.

My new book, Potluck, is a story of Duggie Moon, a cheerily unflappable low-achiever who gets by on his charm and his willingness to work for minimum wage as long as he’s free to live the life he’s chosen as a slacker entrepreneur in the idyllic mountain county of Rapidan, Virginia. Duggie has a soft heart, and some of his best friends would tell you he’s got a soft head too. But he’s always willing to put his own interests aside for the good of the team, and that team is the Moonlighters, sponsored by his older sister Glory  under the banner of her Moonlight Café.

In the town of Dudley, the highpoint of the social calendar is the annual Fourth of July softball tournament, but dark forces are gathering for this year’s normally easy-going event. When his ace-pitcher and longstanding unrequited love Jenny Carson is forced to play for the competition, and a team of  thuggish ringers enters the tournament, Duggie has his hands full trying to keep tempers from flying higher than the homers. And he’s having a tough time focusing because he’s a little paranoid about the  booming crop of pot he’s secretly growing in an old school bus behind his house. All will be well if he can just get it harvested before the Sheriff’s men get wind of it.

In an ordinary steamy  July in Virginia, even the coolest characters find it hard to avoid getting baked. And for Duggie Moon, this summer looks to be a scorcher.

Will he save the day, win the girl, and avoid prison? Try Potluck and find out.

Adios, Fabio

Dear Fabio,

I will never forget the breathless nights we spent together. You with that chest, those eyes, that chin, that hair. Me imagining us galloping off toward some castle in the air where you would do all those things implied in the covers of thousands of romance novels.

I can almost laugh about it now. Maybe, after my tears have dried, I’ll look back on our brief wild fling and be thankful to have known you at all.

But not yet. Though the passion that once burned so brightly still smolders, I can no longer pretend I don’t know that it’s over.

When, a few years ago, in a desperate and calculated move to improve the odds of getting published by a traditional publishing house I joined the Romance Writers of America, I was, as usual, naive about romance. I thought you would understand. To me, romance meant Jane Austen novels, in which no one ever embraces, much less gropes, on the page, and every discourse is civil and literate; yet, in spite of, or perhaps because of this, the reader is keenly aware of the passions cloaked by good manners.

But as I came to know you, and learned of the millions of romantic conquests you have made, I realized it would be a challenge to hold your interest with good conversation and manners. How quickly I learned the folly of my illusions.

I could blame my foolishness on the countless fairy tales I read when I was a young girl, stories from which I absorbed the idea that to make great sacrifices for love was thrilling. However, as I grew older, I learned that in real life happy endings are temporary at best.

Sentimental fool that I am, though, I still believe in true love and still fight tears during weepy reconciliation scenes any astute observer of current culture could have predicted from reading the liner notes. But I am growing weary of the lust for…well…lust.

Do I protest too much? Perhaps. I only know that I can no longer pretend I’m one of them – the romance writers. I tried to read their books. I tried to engage with heroines whom, quite honestly, I found either unsympathetic or unbelievable or both, who were pursued by or pursuing male characters who struck me as either arrogant jerks or charmless oafs.

I guess I should have known this would be the case. Sometimes you really can judge a book by its cover, and I should have realized that if the majority of romance readers yearn for a man like you, I’d be a fool to stand in their way.

I’ll always be a romantic, wishing the world were a bit kinder and gentler. But I’m through trying to pass myself off as one of the thousands of women who churn out “blazing hot reads” for the rapacious editors and agents who are convinced that, in order to succeed in these challenging times of decreasing literacy, they must entice readers with soft porn. Their heroines do it in the elevator. On the road. On horseback, at the castle, on the misty moor. But you and I, Fabio, will never do. I can see that now.

I want you to know that I will always remember what we never exactly had, and wonder what on earth I was thinking.

Don’t take it personally, my love. It’s not you. It’s me.

Adios, Fabio.

Paradigm Now: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Self-publishing

My love affair with men of the woods began with a man in green: Robin Hood.

When I was twelve years old my family moved to a brand new neighborhood, where I had to go to a new school, in my new glasses and my new five inches of height, clothed in my customary shyness. During that lonely transition period, each day I came home from school, made myself a cup of cocoa, and curled up in front of the television to watch The Adventures of Robin Hood, where right always triumphed over might, and Maid Marion managed to be both alluring and resourceful even though she never let her hair down. At the time I preferred the television version because it never went into the sad final chapters of Robin’s life as related in the book. On the small screen, Robin and his merry men never shed a tear. I longed for such a life.

Well, time passed, I got contact lenses, got noticed, and things changed, but my passion for men of the woods never stopped growing. The journey from the green wood  to the Green Man was a short flight of fancy, with stopovers in The Secret Garden and Terry Pratchett’s Disc World.

I know I’m not alone in my love of magic trees. A recent news story that lit up email boxes around the world told of the plight of the real Sherwood Forest in England, where environmental degradation, developmental pressure and inevitable old age have combined to reduce the once four-thousand-strong legendary woods to a stand of barely more than four hundred massive oaks. Many of these ancient giants have names and are beloved by historians, English majors and environmentalists for the sense of solid truth they lend to the flimsy stuff of legends and folklore. Perhaps Robin of Loxley wasn’t all that we would like to think, but the woods in which he hid demand reverence.

And what, you might ask, does all this have to do with the chaotic state of modern publishing? Well, there’s never been a better time to be a Robin Hood of the written word — to infiltrate and outfox the system that once made it impossible for any but the well-connected and the very fortunate to get published. Thanks to modern technology we are in the midst of a redistribution of power, if not wealth. Never has it been so easy for so many to reach so many readers. With online publishing, blogging, print-on-demand options and internet marketing, the barriers to the open market are falling, and this opens up a whole new world of opportunity.

But of course, all that glitters isn’t sold. And if a book gets published in the forest and nobody hears about it, will it ever be read? Probably not. Without a brilliant marketing strategy, a new book has little chance of getting past the dungeons and dragons of the publishing world unless the author is an actual wizard or sorceress,  or can make a deal with the devil, or Oprah, who might be more powerful.

Scrambling to keep up with changing trends and marketing tactics, few conventional publishers can afford to process and evaluate the deluge of new material being generated on all fronts. Consequently, though the  publishing tree has sprung many new branches, it’s not yet clear how many of them will bear fruit.

Like many an aspiring author, I first tried the conventional, recommended route to getting my fiction in print. I sent out query letters by the dozen to agents and editors. I attended conferences and had pitch sessions with more editors and agents. I entered contests and got evaluations from other writers higher up in the food chain. But, although I had a lucky break and managed to get a novel published by a traditional publisher, the experience didn’t lead to quantifiable success. I sold a few books. But the leg up I had hoped this would provide proved inadequate to keep my later submissions from sliding right back into the slush pile.

Meanwhile, the clock kept ticking, and I began to  feel a sense of urgency. What if I died without ever getting my stories out to the reading public? The world would be none the worse, no doubt. But, who can say? If my small fantasies could lift the gloom from a few readers’ hearts, surely that would be worth all the humiliation and effort it took to get them in print. Wouldn’t it?

Yet, like most would-be authors of a certain age, I had been taught to consider any form of self-publishing as a craven act of pathetic vanity.

And then I read The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, chief editor of Wired magazine. The book makes a clear and persuasive argument for the validity of the new world of self-published works, from music to literature to independent movies, as the new paradigm for creative enterprise. Anderson argues that this new paradigm is made possible by the modern miracle of the internet, and it’s impossible to read his book and not feel a spark of Judy Garlandish optimism: Let’s put on a show! Or record a CD! Or publish a book! All these things are possible now, in part because of the unlimited virtual shelf space of online commerce.

The Long Tail of the title refers to the graph of supply and demand, which, in pre-internet days was ruled by the iron constraints of actual shelf space. If your book, CD or whatever didn’t sell in appreciable numbers, it wouldn’t be stocked. But now, the virtual shelf extends almost infinitely, like a long tail, and retailers can afford to “stock” an item which might sell at the rate of one or two copies a year, at the far end of that long tail.

Once I embraced this concept, I followed through by contacting one of the new online self-publishing businesses. I chose to work with iUniverse mainly because they have an arrangement with Barnes&Noble which offers certain qualified self-published works a limited trial stay in an actual brick and mortar B&N store. Although the process of qualifying for that “Publishers’ Choice” designation turned out to be a lot more demanding and expensive than I had  expected, after many months of painful editing I finally qualified, saw my book on the shelf at my local Barnes &Noble, and enjoyed a brief glow of accomplishment.

However, doors haven’t swung open. Most newspaper and professional reviewers refuse to deal with self-published works, and the market-driven demand for entertainment saturated with violence, sex, horror or suspense has little patience for small tales of restrained wit and compassion. Bigger, faster, badder. Those are the guidelines which rule.

But, I do not despair. My Green Man lives. His tendrils spread quietly, branch to branch, hand to hand, word of mouth. My hope has always been that he would be discovered by passionate gardeners, and passed along, like heirloom seeds.

I know Alice and The Green Man will never be a bestseller. But, I harbor the hope that somewhere down along the long tail, it may eventually grow into a minor horticult.

The Green Fuse is Lit

He’s lean, green and on the scene.

It’s been almost four years since he first showed up in my head, his green eyes twinkling with amusement, his bare skin scented with ferns and fresh cut grass. It took me a few months to get him down on the page. And then a few years to chisel away the excess verbiage that shoots from my pen with all the vigor of witchgrass in the border. Then the long process of trying to find some editor or agent who felt the same way I did about him, and well, as the children say, let’s not go there.

But, now, at last, another spring is upon us, the cherry tree outside my window is swollen with fat pink buds, and the pace is picking up. Today is the Vernal Equinox. It’s a good time for a Green Man.My new book, Alice and The Green Man, is about a woman who belongs in a garden. It’s the story of what she learns about herself when she has to fight to save the garden she has created on an abandoned lot. It’s a love story, of course. But in many ways, the love at the heart of the story is the love of gardens, of growing things, of touching the earth and feeling its deep healing power.

Okay. Those of you who don’t garden are right now fidgetting and looking for the remote. I know gardening isn’t a passion shared by everyone. But, for those who know the thrill of it, nothing else comes close. Well, maybe sex. But it could be argued that that is just another name for gardening. You sow seeds. With luck, they grow into wonderful new living things.So, it seemed to me, as a writer, that if you put gardens and sex together in a story, you could really have some fun.

I’m not the first one to think of this, of course. But I believe I am the first one to give the Green Man a chance to show what he can do. I see my new book as a kind of hybrid. It’s a cross between The Secret Garden and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. For many gardeners, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden stands alone as a kind of rich allegory about the transformative power of a garden. But, like many books we read as children, the text remains locked inside that innocent place where only children belong. Once a reader grows up and discovers that the world isn’t quite as civilized as one might wish, it’s hard to feel at ease in a garden, however secret.In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a truly adult classic, a woman rediscovers her own earthy passion through her relationship with a sexy man of the soil. Compared to the modern anything-goes-and-farther-than-you-would  style, DH Lawrence’s lush brooding prose is probably too slow for an audience geared to the frenetic pace of Sex and the City.

In Alice and The Green Man I have attempted to break new ground, to make a secret garden for modern adults. A place to have some fun, enjoy a few moments respite from the headlines, and to feed the childlike hope that it is not too late to save the garden that is this Earth.With the mounting evidence that global warming is not some fuzzy  theory but a hard fact, and that mass extinction of countless plants and animals is already underway, there has never been a more important time for readers to become gardeners and vice versa.

I do believe one person can make a difference. Maybe a small difference. But, even small differences can add up to something measurably wonderful. Planet Earth is, in essense, a small garden. Now is the time for all of us to nurture the greenness on which our lives and the lives of future generations depend.

Dylan Thomas once famously described “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” the mysterious power that pulses through our lives, taking us toward the unknown future. Humankind must learn to cherish this power if we are to save our planet for future generations. Now is the time for all Green Men to come to aid of the party. The Green fuse is lit.