It's no coincidence that the heroine of my first book was an herbalist. I been fascinated for more than a decade by the use of plants in healing. I had the pleasure recently of working with one of my favorites: the lovely St. John's Wort.
St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
This plant grows in sunny fields and can spread vigorously from short runners and as many as 30,000 seeds per plant in a single season. Unfortunately I haven't had any problems with this particular plant trying to take over. It's a hardy short-lived perennial that can be easily identified by holding the leaves up to light. They will appear to be marked with tiny pinhole dots.
Harvesting should be done on a sunny day at mid-day. This herb is often ready to be picked around the summer solstice. Pick the flowering tops of the plant, flowers, buds, and leaves. It should be made into whatever formula it's supposed to be used for right away. Fresh plant is supposed to be much better than dried.
St. John's Wort's most well-know use is for treating depression. But it is also commonly used for muscle aches, nerve damage, nerve pain, as a tonic for nervous system health, as an antiviral, and even as a sunscreen.
CAUTION: Due to it's drug metabolizing enzymes it can cause increased metabolism of certain drugs lowering their effectiveness. This herb should be taken with extreme caution if you are taking any necessary lifesaving medication. St John's Wort is well known for having quite a few drug interactions and should not be taken with antidepressants, birth control pills (makes them ineffective), cyclesporine, digoxin, indinavin and other drugs used to control HIV, irinotecan and other drugs to control cancer, warfarin and other anticoagulants, but this is by no means the whole list. Check with your healthcare provider for any known drug interactions before you begin taking this herb. Overdose can lead to anemia and liver damage. In large quantities St. John's Wort can be a nerve toxin. Always start any herbal medication with small doses and work your way up to an effective dose. Livestock should also not be allowed to graze freely on fields of St. John's wort as the amount ingested can very quickly become toxic.
After taking all due cautions into account, if you still want to use this very effective herb, the tincture is the easiest method I know for making medicine out of St. John's Wort. My second favorite method is to make an infused oil, but that's a different experience and medicine for a different day.
Making the tincture is simple: First chop the flowers and upper six to eight inches of plant material:
Next put this plant material in a jar. It should be packed loosely. Not so tight that you can't push your finger down through it, but not too fluffy and loose.
Mark where it comes to on the jar and fill to just a bit (maybe a half inch) above that line. Sorry for how imprecise my methods are. I not very formal when I do these things.
Finally label the jar with the contents because wilted plant material all starts to look similar over time. Leave the plant material in the alcohol for four to six weeks to extract, shaking daily for the first couple of weeks. It should turn a deep red. Then strain out the plant material and keep in a tightly lidded container. Tinctures have a very long shelf life, and can be used with little worry for a year or more.
The beasts have arrived and they seem perfectly content to disrupt my life. Their names are Mercury and Pluto and I'm kitten-sitting them for a friend. How does one get talked in to kitten-sitting you ask? Simple I'm a sucker for cute little animals. No really, ask my husband or the divorce lawyer he's threatened to get if I bring home any more cats.
As is my nature, I figured out how to push that envelope. These cats are perfectly (purr-fectly) safe to bring home because they will leave again soon. I have them until the twelfth of June. That's just long enough to induce a melt-down in all four of my own cats, and to try to get the kittens to accept dogs. They have a dog at their own home who isn't as persistent, (or terrifyingly large) as my dogs.
In case you're wondering my dog's opinion of all this nonsense. He LOVES baby animals more than I do. All he wants is to love them, and all they want is to live through the encounter. He snuffles them whining and they fling themselves into his face as shrieking, sharp, little floofs. Poor Hector, he's wearing them down.
Are you still thinking about those names? Are you still as enchanted with Mercury, and Pluto as I am? It's my understanding that these cat's names aren't planetary, they are mythological. I love a good myth so I had to see what I was up against here:
Mercury - An ancient Roman deity who ruled over commerce and often served as a messenger between the gods and mortals. Son of Jupiter and Maia. His Greek equivalent was Hermes. So far so good, until I read a little further. Good ole Mercury was known to be cunning, swift, and prone to playing pranks. Also the patron of shepherds, thieves and cheaters.
How does Mercury the kitten compare? So far he's hasn't done anything for my pocketbook, but he has been the messenger of cuddles for us mere mortals. He's swift, cunning, and prone to running off with my pens. So... the name seems to fit him.
Pluto - Also an ancient Roman deity and the ruler of the underworld, who was also the god of wealth as he was lord of all the metals that lay underground. Son of Saturn and Ops. His Greek equivalent is Hades. He wasn't as frightening as Hades, he was a fair judge of the departed souls.
The kitten Pluto has also done nothing to bestow wealth upon me, but I have seen him send a couple of flies and one spider to their end. He's wildly tough, willing to take on my monstrous, 118 pound dog. All-in-all I think the names work.
What I didn't know when I agreed to watch them, is that I would get a pair of beta eaters (er readers) and editors of my work. These cats are vintage enthusiasts. How's that? They seem to prefer the analog to the digital.
Not once have these cats given in to the technological siren song of my computer on the table. My phone might as well not exist to them. But the moment the typewriter comes out to do some work they (Pluto especially) come running from wherever they are in the house to be a part of what I'm doing. They are there to help, no task is too large for them. It doesn't matter if it's trying to grab the typeslugs before they can hit the paper, or blocking the end of the carriage so it doesn't move, they are there to help.
I guess it's a good thing that they will go back home to a house where an aspiring writer has her own typewriter. We wouldn't want them to miss it.
I know it sounds like I'm admitting to a personal problem, but really I'm not. What I'm referring to is the title of a book that a long-time friend of mine wrote.
"Twelve dark, disturbing and often amusing stories from author and screenwriter Wes Laurie. In “Country Girls Can Survive” two teens become the first line of defense against an alien invasion. “I Burn,” adapted from the screenplay in which a pyromaniac seeks to burn down everything between him and the woman he is obsessed with. Travel to Missouri in “Mo” where a group of friends must face a monster of Midwest legends. Journey into the dark tunnels below Los Angeles for “A Hot Meal.” Bear witness to the blood that a webcam model is willing to spill in order to bring her best friend back from the dead in “Wretch.” These tales plus a quick trip down to the convenience store with the Father of Evil himself right before the man-eating squirrels arrive."
The book sounds great. I'll admit I haven't read it yet but I've really enjoyed some of his other books. The reason I'm on here making a blog post that's not a review is pretty simple. I'm on the cover.
Yup that filthy psycho is me.
There is a funny story behind the actual cover of the book. Wes and I were talking about what he wanted and it was going to be fire-related since the name of the book is "I Burn." I live somewhere that I can reasonably light a fire so I did. Some of the filth on me is charcoal, some is mascara because the charcoal wasn't dark enough to show up outside on camera. You use what you have. Once the makeup was finished, I snapped a quick picture on my way out the door so Wes could see it. Then I spent the better part of an hour trying to get good pictures outside around the fire in the fading light, looking like a crazy person.
Turns out I could have ultimately saved myself a lot of time because the selfie I sent that showed my makeup was the way he wanted to go. It's funny how things work out sometimes. I hope you enjoyed that peek behind the scenes of a book cover.
Buy the book because you want to read a good story, or buy the book because I'm on the cover. But don't forget to review the book. If you enjoy a story the best thing you can do for the author is leave feedback, on Amazon, on Goodreads, and anywhere else you can think of. It really helps indie authors and authors who have a small publisher (like me) more than I can say.
Every author is different. If we were all the same there would be no point in reading books, they'd all be the same too. One of the things that makes me unusual as an author is my use of a typewriter for my first drafts.
I know it's part of the author stereotype. There's a college degrees on the wall, a vintage typewriter, maybe even some tweed, with a nearly-empty bottle of bourbon on the desk. It's supposed to be late in the evening while I pour my tortured soul out into my novels, drinking heavily and watching my world turn to ruin. My isolation and dark sense of humor robs me of my friends on my way down.
I can't speak about the mindset of most authors. The ones I've met are pretty normal people. I do have a dark sense of humor, but I hardly ever drink, don't own any tweed, and actually didn't get the chance to finish college. I hardly ever write late at night. Mostly I work in the early hours of the morning, just after the kids go to school. I can say that the reality about modern writing is that it's mostly done on a computer. So the melodic clack of typewriter keys is replaced by the insect-like ticking of the computer keyboard. Maybe that's why in fiction, writers always use a typewriter. The computer is quieter, but I would argue that it's not more pleasant to listen to. I know at least one author who still writes everything out long-hand first, but mostly it's just the ticking.
So the question becomes why do I choose to write on a typewriter over a quick, convenient, computer?
The answer is that I have lots of reasons. The chief among them is that it allows me to actually finish what I start. Can't I do that on a computer? I guess I could but I have a problem with trying to say everything "just so." When I write on a computer I'll save what I'm doing, second-guess, then rewrite half of it before I ever get started with the day's work. The more I've written, the more I second-guess and re-write. Yes, that is the point of editing, and I'm more than happy to edit with a computer, but it's death for a first draft. If I'm too concerned with perfect dialog, or the necessity of every sentence to move the story forward...I don't move the story forward. With a typewriter I would have to re-write entire pages just to change a sentence. My rational mind can be reasoned with, even it sees that as too much work. So, I can tell myself I'll fix it in editing later and just move on.
Secondly, I like a hard-copy of my work. I don't trust computers not to lose files, or me not to accidentally overwrite, or forget to save something important. On the computer that means I have to print as I go along, but do you remember what I said about needing to re-write, and re-write. It leaves me only a couple of options. I can print immediately for my peace of mind, but my environmentally conscious self squirms while I print and reprint my page as it changes over and over again. Or I can choose not to print for chapters on end hoping that when I finally do it's the final version of that chapter in my draft. If I'm still re-reading it I can assure you it isn't. Aren't I worried that my print copy is the only copy of my book. No, because it isn't. I scan my pages as I write them so there are always backups.
The third reason I do it is that when I start work on my second draft I can't be lazy about it. Every page has to be typed onto the computer. When I'm doing that I have to go over every sentence. I'm going to get agressive about cutting things out that are not necessary just so that I don't have to type it in.
In the end I think the typewriter makes me a better writer.
I wrote my first book "As It Ends" on my Olivetti Underwood Lettera 33. Now my second novel is being written on the Smith Corona Corsair Deluxe that I found at an antique store and bought for myself to celebrate the completion of my first book.
The last time I posted here I was in the process of psyching myself out about my upcoming book release party for my first novel, "As It Ends." I was worrying about the arrival of my bookmarks, and what I was going to wear, and what I was going to read. If I had ordered too many books, or not enough. Even what the actual plan was for the party.
The funny thing was, I forgot what a wonderful group of friends I have, and how supportive and inclusive the arts community in my area is.
So really. I had nothing to worry about.
Also, I know this is going to sound strange, but I'm really happy that I did this in a bar. I know the pictures aren't as pretty as they might have been if I'd done this at a library (or suitably 'author-ish' venue) but I think it was more fun for the guests at my party. People chatted, and laughed, ate, and drank; played pool, and games. I realized that I accomplished what I set out to accomplish. People had gathered and were enjoying themselves. I just gave them an excuse to do it.
By the end of the day I was overwhelmed by how supportive everyone was about my book and I was grateful for everyone who came out to celebrate this accomplishment with me, everyone who wanted to go but couldn't for an assortment of reasons, and even those who wished me well with no interest in attending my event. I appreciate you all! Thank you.
My book release party is this weekend! Can you believe it's nearly here already? Not going to lie it crept up on me. I've been distracted by a whole host of things lately, not the least of which is my children having their thirteenth birthday! I have teenagers!
The good news is that I did take the time to order more books. A new shipment arrived last Friday. I made sure I'd have plenty of books on hand beyond the pre-orders so that I shouldn't run short.
I'm holding my book release party at a Pub called Padgett's Place in Belle so that I don't have to worry about refreshments, music, or entertainment. So that's all checked off the list. I did order some bookmarks that I hope to put into books as giveaways with all my social media info, but *looks sheepishly at the floor* I'm not sure they will arrive before the party. I ordered them pretty last-minute.
I'm excited about, and love the idea of everyone coming out to celebrate the release of my book with me. I'm nervous about being the center of attention. I have a tendency to creep off around the corners of a room and mingle there, due to having some social anxiety. At an event like this there will be no mingling at the edges, it's my event! I'm a big girl. I've decided to embrace it. I'm going to wear a look-at-me dress and some bold make-up so that people can find me in the crowd.
So, wish me luck. The only thing I have left to do is to figure out what excerpt from the book I'm going to read. If you'll excuse me I need to do that.
That's right, yours truly participated in a writer's workshops as one of the professionals that aspiring writers could talk to about our experiences. Look at me, sitting there like I belong and I'm not secretly terrified that the nice folks in the audience will learn that I have no idea what I'm doing.
Okay, I know that's not true. I do know some things about the business of writing. I've been an officially published author since March fourteenth. I mean, I have three solid weeks of experience trying to make a name for myself. Three whole weeks older, three weeks wiser. Three weeks.
Three weeks doesn't seem like a lot. What the heck am I doing sitting in front of people among these other novelists, poets, screenwriters, publishers, and journalists with years and years of experience?
Does it change the narrative a little if I said that my book was officially accepted by the publisher May 1st of last year? The time from May to March was spent doing the editing, revising, finishing, blurbing, cover design, and marketing plan that comes with the birth of a book. Before that I spent three years writing, rewriting, and rewriting again. I'm green enough as a published author that I still have that new-author-smell, (fresh ink with a slight undertone of panic in case you're wondering.) I guess if pressed I do have enough experience to sit among "real" authors. Does it help that I count these professionals as friends? Absolutely.
Did I learn as much from the experience as the audience? It's possible. Three weeks as a published author isn't much but I do know a thing or two about perseverance. I set 'author' as my goal and I'm going for it wholeheartedly. That is the only difference between a writer and an author, and the biggest hurdle. Pushing past the fear of rejection, the fear of failure, and becoming published. Submit, get an agent, find a small publisher, self publish; each is a valid path, and all will take a person from unpublished writer to published author.
Then the real work begins.
Do you know what I find so amazing about the month of March? It seems like every year I forget what the arrival of Spring looks like and every March I find myself amazed anew. Somewhere between last week and this week, the world around me went from the dull washed-out colors of winter to a vibrant green so intense that it is achingly beautiful. In just one week. One week has transformed mud into a bed of growing things. One week and I need to change the entrance reducer on our one remaining bee hive. One week and my herbs are coming back to me.
Aren't they beautiful? Each of them with their own uses, waiting to aid my family in the coming year. Do you use any herbal remedies for your family? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.
A muddy driveway is one of the charms of country life as I said recently on this blog, but it's fine only just so far. Today is a brief break in the rain. Of course I say that through gritted teeth because the dark clouds were spitting little bits here and there while my husband and I worked.
Over and over, it was up the driveway and down to the gravel pile by the front gate. We couldn't opt for the rolling pour that made the driveway in the first place because I'm not sure they could have done it without getting stuck. The dump truck left it at the end of the driveway for us instead. I don't blame them, they weren't the first vehicle not to make it up my driveway.
I'm very happy we were able to borrow a tractor for this work. I've done it with a wheelbarrow and a shovel before and I DO NOT recommend it. Am I crazy? No, yes, maybe, I don't know; that's a complicated question. It's just that the problem with farm work is that when something needs to be done…It really needs to be done.
Now I need to go back for a second and point out what I said. "We were able to borrow a tractor." It says a lot about having good friends, knowing good people, and living in a good area when you can borrow a tractor to get your work done without having to rent it. It's one of the things I like so much about living in a rural area: the sense of community. The willingness to help another person out without any personal gain. It's one of the main themes of my novel: how much we all need each other to survive.
So on a farm, you do what needs doing, when it needs doing. Sometimes you get help, sometimes you don't. But now that it's done, it's back to my writing desk; because I'm going to do what needs doing when it needs doing.
I'm going to tell a little story today. It's not a nice story. It's not a feel-good story. So if you want to skip this one you can. I nearly skipped it myself. I wrote this post a few days ago and couldn't bring myself to upload it. But I realized that you guys are tough, you can take it; and the reality is that farm life is almost always a mix of beauty and tragedy.
I broke the cardinal farm rule. I was away from home during kidding season. This mistake cost a life. I know it seems harsh but that is part of having a small farm. "If you have livestock, you also have deadstock," as my mentor always says to me.
I was out doing the day-to-day tasks that pile up and need doing. I got caught up talking because I didn't realize it would be the day my goat gave birth. Had I been more observant I would have guessed, but I wasn't. My husband and I didn't arrive home until after seven thirty in the evening. He went out to do the feeding while I caught up on some work that needed doing.
When he came back in he had a baby goat in his hands. She was limp, unmoving, silent. None of those things are good. He stood holding her while she blinked at me, her eyes rolling, a small pitiful sound escaped between her fuzzy little lips. I turned on the water in the kitchen sink. Warm; warmer than body temperature, but not too hot. I'd have measured the temperature, but in these instances there is no time for precision. Obviously we were at the point where seconds count.
I plunged her little body into the water and held her head above it. My husband and I took turns rubbing her limbs and body, keeping the water circulating around her. Warming the water every time it felt cool. The inside of her mouth was cold, not just cool. I've seen mild hypothermia before, but never anything this extreme.
Twenty minutes passed, since she was still alive I called my mentor. She talked me through the rest of what I needed to do. She's been saving baby goats for more than twenty years. We did what we could. Seconds mattered, and we were not there in those crucial seconds. We got her warmed up, and her heart rate up, but she didn't improve.
We got her dry and settled in wrapped up with some hot water bottles; again warm, but not too hot. She maintained her body heat, but gained no strength. I was rubbing her gums with colostrum from her mother, and molasses; hoping she would gain some strength. She did not improve.
After an exhaustive four hours she took her last breath. I cried and my dog whined. We both knew the sound, we've heard it before. I know in my heart I did everything I could for her except the most crucial thing: I was not there before it became an emergency.
Only after all of this did my husband lead me out to the farmyard to see what I didn't get the chance to see before. The twin who survived. She is warm, loud, healthy and lurching around on her little goat legs as I write this. Very few things are all bad, or all good either.
I have an ongoing interest in dystopian fiction, both reading and writing it. I’m a fan of simple living and draw inspiration for my writing from my love of old-fashioned skills and my small hobby farm.
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My first book is available on Amazon