Tillandsias for the Highly Creative

Tillandsia aeranthos

Tillandsia aeranthos

Browsing the new books at Timber Press this winter, I found a fix for my garden longings–Air Plants by Zenaida Sengo. As a fan of the horticulturally unusual, I’m attracted to these spiky-sculptural plants. (Carnivorous plants also turn me on, and the undersea creature look of succulents mesmerize me.) The tallandsias we usually see at the nursery can be quite small, miniature marvels if you will, and the fact that they don’t require soil gives them the ability to go anywhere there’s good light. Pictures in the book show them wired to screens and collected in frames, dangling artfully from fishing line, in sand terrariums surrounded by gleaming quartz and fluorite. This was exactly what I needed: plants, creativity, and FUN.

sieisiek

A confession: I’ve bought a few tillandsias over the years, but none lasted. Contrary to my life’s work and passion, I am not a natural green thumb–all my plant successes have been hard won, with many casualties along the way. In this book I knew I’d find expert advice to remedy my failing. I sat down to read Air Plants, and I read it straight through in one sitting. (You know it’s good when that happens).

The author of Air Plants, Zenaida Sengo, is a long time tillandsia guru at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco. As an artist who fell in love with horticulture, this book is a perfect combination of her know-how and flair in both disciplines. It’s also a very beautiful book, thanks in large part to the talent of photographer Caitlin Atkinson.

I learned (in some cases, relearned), my air plant ABCs: that tillandsias are epiphytes (plants that anchor on other plants), but that they’re not parasitic, and they are of the family Bromeliaceae, kissing cousins to the bromeliads. Air plants come in two general types; xeric, those that can survive on less water, and mesic, those that need more moisture as they come from areas with moderate to ample rainfall. You can easily tell the difference between the two by their appearance: xeric tillandsias, like other xeric plants, have moisture-retaining leaves (called trichomes) that are more feathery or hairy in appearance, and this gives them a white, gray, or silvery color. Mesic tillandsias have smoother “slicker and greener” trichomes, because in their natural habitat, finding water is not an issue. Reading about their water requirements, I found out why my air plants had died. While I had been told “a dunk in a container of water once a week” would be sufficient, in Sengo’s book it says a soaking of 1-2 hours might be more desirable, up to 5 hours if the plant exhibits curved, dehydrated leaves. In Colorado’s dry climate, these plants need to be soaked. You can also hydrate air plants by misting them a few times a week (if they’re xeric, the mesic require more) or by holding them under a faucet for a couple of times a week.

Tillandsia regina, Curtis's Botanical Magazine, London., vol. 141, 1915, via Wikimedia Commons

Tillandsia regina, Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, London., vol. 141, 1915, via Wikimedia Commons

Those details will enable me to do right by my tillandsias next time. And there will be a next time, as I started hunting for specimens immediately upon finishing this book. That’s how inspired I was. Come to me tillandsias, I won’t hurt you ever again! The book is filled with exciting ideas for displaying these beauties in design and décor, and there are even crafts (I really liked the hair adornments). I’m thinking I’ll construct a screen structure that I can hang as an art object in our sunny east-facing dining room (perfect for winter interest), and I want to put together at least one “other worldy” terrarium.

Zenaida Sengo

Author Zenaida Sengo

To get a little glimpse of Senga’s air plant skills you can visit her website here (and here’s the page where the hair adornment is featured). And here’s the listing on Timber Press!

–Sandra Knauf

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Everything She Needs is at Her Feet—the Garden Poetry of Barbara Crooker

Small Rain by Barbara Crooker

I was happy to hear that Barbara Crooker, whose poetry has been read many times by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac and has also appeared in Greenwoman, has a new book out, Small Rain. Crooker’s sixth book of poetry, is described as “an exploration of the wheel of the year, the seasons that roll in a continuous circle and yet move inexorably forward. Here, gorgeous lyric poems praise poppies, mockingbirds, nectarines, mulch and compost, yet loss (stillbirth, cancer, emphysema), with its crow-black wings, is also always present.” I read her book yesterday and the writing is sublime, the themes deep. I recommend it highly.

Barbara agreed to share a couple of poems today, along with some insight into her gardening life. Thank you, Barbara!

—Sandra

Dianthus microlepis by KENPEI, via Wikimedia Commons

Dianthus microlepis by KENPEI, via Wikimedia Commons

DIANTHUS

My mother comes back as a dianthus,

only this time, she’s happy, smelling like cloves,

fringed and candy-striped with a ring of deep rose

that bleeds into the outer petals.  She dances

in the wind without her walker, nods pinkly

to the bluebells.  She breathes easily, untethered

to oxygen’s snaking vines.  Lacking bones,

there’s nothing left to crumble; she’s supple,

stem and leaf.  No meals to plan, shop for, prepare;

everything she needs is at her feet, more rich and moist

than a chocolate cake.  How much simpler

it would have been to be a flower in the first place,

with nothing to do but sit in the sun and shine.

Barbara writes:

The garden is a source of deep pleasure, and is also a source for many poems. In the front landscaping (azaleas, rhododendron, mountain laurel, holly), I usually plant annuals. When my mother was in a nursing home at the end, a visitor brought her a pot of pinks (dianthus), and she gave them to me to take home. After she passed, I planted them outside, and was delighted to see them come back after the first harsh winter.  She’s been gone almost seven years now, but I feel her presence keenly when they open their pink skirts, and dance in the May wind.

Sumac Leaf Circle by Rebecca Siegel via Wikimedia Commons

Sumac Leaf Circle by Rebecca Siegel via Wikimedia Commons

SMALL STANZAS IN AUTUMN

Autumn returns, and again we are cast thistledown together

on the winds, wrote Tu Fu in 755 AD, and I feel the cold air

blowing, the years falling by like so many yellow leaves.

Down in the meadow, some larkspur, a few black-eyed Susans

still bloom, but it’s late in the season, everything

going to seed.  The afternoon sun licks strips

of gold on my arms.  A drowsy silence, hummed

by bees. The thunk of an apple, finally ripe, falling.

We tilt at the balancing point, between summer’s too-much

and winter’s not-enough; the sumac flickers red in the hedgerow.

Last sweet raspberries.  The old cherry tree turning orange

peach orchid gold, a sunset of leaves.  Small sulphur butterflies

dance on the lawn.  Who could paint a sky this blue?

The pages of my notebook flutter in the breeze.

This poem pretty much describes my back yard, or some of it:  the little wildflower meadow I replant every year (corn poppies, California poppies (another poem in Small Rain uses them as the subject), Icelandic poppies, cornflowers, larkspur, coreopsis, rudbeckia), the old apple orchard (on retirement, my husband added two more apple trees, two pears, two peaches, one plum, one sweet and one sour pie cherry), the sumac (and goldenrod, thistle, milkweed) in the wild hedgerow, and the raspberry patch we put in almost forty years ago. When we bought this house way back then, the developer put sod in the front plus five small shrubs, and gave us a bag of grass seed for the back.  Everything else we put in ourselves, using a pick axe to break through the shale. The old cherry tree in this poem was put in the first year we lived here, but it split apart in a storm and has been replaced by a newer one.

The parts of my garden that aren’t in this poem are:  an iris bed, six mixed perennial beds, a row of flowering shrubs (red twig dogwood, two butterfly bushes (on purple, one pink), bridal wreath, tri-colored spirea, two weigela (one red, one pink with variegated leaves), forsythia, hydrangea, pussy willow, mock orange blossom, Viburnum, flowering quince, Viburnum Juddii, and sand cherry), a row of Rose of Sharons and lilacs, two day lily beds, a foundation planting of roses and mums, an herb garden, and a vegetable patch.

And a dogwood tree.  Hundreds of bulbs are mixed in; I like to have flowers from February to frost.  And there’s a compost bin (also a poem about it in this book).  Of course, you don’t see the enemies:  voles, rabbits, skunks (the callas need bone meal to flower; the skunks love to snack on this), and deer. . . .

—Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker’s work has been read many times by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac. Her other books are Radiance (Word Press), Line Dance (Word Press), More (C&R Press), Gold (Cascade Books), and Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems. She lives and gardens in rural Pennsylvania.

You can get a signed copy of Small Rain from Barbara at bcrooker@ptd.net, or via Amazon http://goo.gl/CvtA4W,

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To All the Lusty Gardeners: Fifty Shades of Green Interview with Publisher Sandra Knauf

Photo by Lily Knauf.

Photo by Lily Knauf.

Well, here I am, interviewing myself for a press release I put together for Fifty Shades of Green last fall. (When you hear self-publishers wear a lot of hats, that is the truth!) I was going to share this interview back with you then, but other things came up and it got stuck in the Drafts folder here on WordPress. Since the film of the other Fifty Shades book is out, I thought now might be a good time.

If you haven’t bought a copy of my book yet, you’re in luck. We have a special going on now – retail price is $15.95, sale price is $12.95 (and it looks like Amazon has taken another dollar off from there). Don’t delay; the savings will not get better than this! Here’s the link!

—Sandra Knauf

And Now . . . the Interview

What brought this book about? It started as a joke. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and was shocked. Not by the BDSM sex, but by the inequality in the relationship. I thought: This is what women find sexy? The story had no basis in reality and the heroine was the “submissive”—in bed, in experience, and economically and socially. What’s sexy about that?

I talked to friends and saw most had the same reaction. At first I thought it would be funny to do a parody, a novel with a female protagonist who was older and a billionaire, someone who had all the power in society, and in the bedroom, who would mete out discipline to a virginal, college-aged male love interest. But after exploring that idea, I found it didn’t hold my interest. So the idea changed to a collection of stories.

Where did the gardening theme come from? Gardening had to be a theme. It’s my personal passion and it’s the subject of all my publishing work. Plus, the garden is the perfect setting for sexual encounters. Non-gardeners may not know this, but the garden is a sexy, fruitful, lustful place. And besides, women and gardens have shared an intimate relationship since the beginning; starting, one could say, with Eve.

Can you tell us about the writers? I fell in love with all the writers. Most are seasoned erotica writers and avid gardeners, so they know what they’re writing about in both departments. Several are men, and it was wonderful to have that perspective; two of the writers are from Britain, and I found that thrilling as the British are known for their mad gardening skills. Another writer’s the editor for a regional gardening magazine, and one graduated from Harvard Law School. There’s an exciting diversity in styles and backgrounds.

Do you have a background in the erotica genre? No, and I honestly didn’t know a lot about the genre before I started this project. But I learned, and I read some of the best work out there, and the more I learned the greater my respect for the genre grew. This is my feeling on the subject: sexuality is one of the most important, powerful, and certainly one of the most beautiful aspects of our existence and the way it’s treated is sad. We have a culture where sex=porn and that is just not so. There needs to be a return to honoring sexuality and lovemaking. Placing sexuality in a dark, forbidden place breeds a lot of society’s ills.

How do you feel erotica fits into today’s literature and why is it becoming so popular? I feel that readers are looking for deeper connections, and when you have access to a character’s sexuality, you see the whole person. I think this is the reason TV shows have become more sexual—not for the titillation, though that can be a part of it, but because we want fully-developed characters. In a big way, A Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert validated this book project for me. Here was a story, from a respected author, about a virginal woman in the 1800s obsessed with studying, of all things, mosses. There’s a lot about horticulture and history and becoming a fully-realized human being, but Gilbert also explored her protagonist’s sexuality. It was enthralling, reading about this character’s sexual awakening and her desires.

What surprised you most about the stories you received? The imagination, and the heart. Eros is the god of love and where the word erotica originates, and there is a joy and a depth in these stories that goes far beyond the sex act. In pornography there is no heart; it’s only about the stimulation. I found myself moved by some of the stories, such as “Pulse of the Earth,” a healing love story between two men. “Love Lies Bleeding” is so beautifully written it took my breath away, and “Phallus Impudicus” is high comedy. “The Judgment of Eric” is a riddle. There are a couple of stories where love potions figure in and that’s always fun, both from an adult “fairy tale” perspective and from a psychological standpoint. The collection is a mix of many aspects of the sexual psyche.

Did you have a favorite? Yes and no. I hand-picked them all, and I love them all, but there are a few that are special to me. I won’t name my favorites, but what’s funny is they changed during the editorial process. One story I read aloud recently and just went, “Wow. I think this is my favorite.” I also find it interesting that there’s no consensus among those who’ve read the book. This tells me there’s something for everyone.

Do you garden? (And do you think gardening’s sexy?) Can I scream, “Oh YESSSS!”? I have been an obsessed gardener for over two decades, when we first bought a home that had a yard. I went through master gardener training twice, the second time as a refresher course. I remember the first cottage garden I saw. I was 19 and my soon-to-be husband and I were house-sitting for his brother and his wife. Victoria and Danny had little money but they had an amazing garden: chickens and flowers, a vegetable garden, fruit trees in barrels, a tiered strawberry bed. This was in Colorado in the 1980s and enjoying this humble yet wildly productive and beautiful garden I thought, “This is paradise. I want to do this one day.” And I did.

As far as sex and the garden go, there is no place sexier. Flowers are the sex organs of plants, you know. They are beautiful and many emit intoxicating perfumes. If you have a flower garden and a vegetable garden, you have an orgy going on during the spring and summer, right in your backyard! The bees and butterflies are pollinating, the flowers are cross-pollinating. It’s amazing. You’re surrounded by sex.                                                                                                                                                                                         

P. S. I thought you might find it amusing that the pose and setting for my press kit photo was inspired by one of my favorite garden writers—that true champion of organic growing, Ruth Stout! I love her so! It I wrote about her life last year in a mini-bio that you can read either in Greenwoman #5 or in the Kindle publication, The Whole Ruth: A Biography of Ruth Stout.

Thank you, Ruth. Your sexy good humor was just what I was looking for.

My sultry and sensual garden mentor, Ruth Stout. Did you know she enjoyed gardening in the nude?

I imagine Ruth Stout thought this photo funny and suggestive of a “roll in the hay” with the author of books on straw mulch gardening!
(Did you know she enjoyed gardening in the nude?)

And, once more, the link to buy yourself (or your lusty gardening pal/s) a copy. You know they make great gifts, too!

Poppy FInal June 17 copy

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Bilingual Gardens

Fawn Bell's San Luis Valley garden retreat.

Fawn Bell’s San Luis Valley garden retreat.

 

It was on a garden tour about fifteen years ago that I first enjoyed the landscape artistry of Fawn Bell. I fell in love with a Fallugia paradoxa (common name Apache plume) she’d planted, and admired the rabbitbush, or chamisa as it is called in Spanish. For the first time, I saw how drought-tolerant plants could be incorporated in a charming cottage-style garden plan. I made a list of ones that I wanted to try in my own garden, and did so.

Imagine my pleasure this month when I learned Bell also wrote poetry. Today I would like to share “Bilingual,” a poem that traces the Earth’s seasonal cycle. It is a sweet reminder of all we gain from nurturing, and how we are all in this together.

Sandra Knauf

 

BILINGUAL

Today I noticed how the sun has begun to travel lower in the sky; dusk came before dinner dishes were cleared. Done, the hot hours spent pulling tumbleweed from the gravel drive. Gone, our brilliant bluebirds that swooped the meadow singing all summer the songs I’d taught them. Resident hummingbirds’ incessant buzz of wings and frenzied feedings fall away. Left behind, a few straggler bees, a lazy beetle making its way across flagstones, a praying mantis clinging to the screen door and I, like countless mothers of the earth, dragging the garden hose, persistently tending the fading sunflowers, catmint gone pale, the purple Russian sage hedge, its blooms now receding to lavender. At their peak now the rabbitbrush dominate the garden, bellow in mustard yellow that they have no fear of frost.  Finally, the thirteen-stripe squirrel hides, making its presence known only in freshly dug holes and here and there a missing catmint.

Winter will close down the rest of our activities. Far away an unknown, dark-haired woman will watch after our bluebirds, a senora speaking in singsong cadences of Spanish. She will remark on their long flights and “how the family has grown.”  Our birds will bask on bougainvillea branches, get fat on mole of moths, and please her, saying, “Hola , buenos dias!”  and “Vaya con Dios.” Meanwhile, we are left with a birdhouse full of this year’s poop, silence, and our hope in instinct.

Each spring the little wooden birdhouse my husband put up comes alive with four or five pairs of sprouting wings, chirps of hunger beginning at dawn and the sighs of countless, captured moths. I circle the birdhouse pole and begin my words, annunciating my presence, enunciating strange consonants and vowels of the mother tongue. About mid-April, like an avian jack-in-the-box the first chick thrusts its tiny beak through the wood’s drilled hole, opens its throat, calls out in the barely decipherable English of migrating birds, “Hey, good day” and “Go with God.”

 

Male and female Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) feeding on the plume-like seeds of Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)}} |Source={{own}} |Author=Amaling |Date=2009/08/23 |Permission= |other_versions=

“Male and female Lesser Goldfinches (Carduelis psaltria) feeding on the plume-like seeds of Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa).” Photo by Amaling, Wikimedia Commons.

 

About Fawn:

As a young girl growing up outside Nashville I played, rode horses, picked vegetables, and did my chores in gardens that had formerly been the home of the “Dirt Dobber,” an educated horticulturist and gardener whose radio show on gardening was widely heard in the South.  So, I grew up with surrounded by plants.

After studying history of art and architecture I spent my 20’s living in Brazil, Germany, and France where I became intrigued with urban design.  I returned to university studies and took my second degree in Urban Landscape Architecture.  I became a licensed professional, working primarily on large systems, urban design, and master planning.  One day I received a phone call with the question, “Would you design my garden?” I honestly didn’t know the answer. That was not my focus or my training. But that inquiry sent me on a path of designing estates, a Xeriscape demonstration garden, and many residential gardensand a return to the simple joy of communing with and designing with plants.

There are two gardens in my life. My city garden is in an historic district in Colorado Springs. It’s a mix of references to Edwardian era order and plant lover’s  botanical chaos.  Five years ago my husband and I purchased a retreat in the San Luis Valleyand found ourselves surrounded by cacti, rabbitbrush, yucca, blue grama grass, coyotes, pronghorn, deer, elk, birds, lizards, and beetles. We began to rim our little retreat in a slender band of purposefully designed garden. We’ve enjoyed the challenge of gardening in almost pure sand, the extreme winds, freezes, droughts, and blazing western sun. We say good-bye to the plants that have not made it or have been chewed too frequently, and celebrate the beauty of the natives and adaptable species that somehow thrive and bloom despite the odds.

It is a meditative garden of deep quiet, expanses of nature, and a backdrop of  dramatic 14,000’ mountain peaks of the Sangre De Cristo range.  This poem came of my many hours of toil in the garden and sitting, observing and appreciating the spectacular sensory feast that nature providesif we will only pause to witness it.

—T. Fawn Hayes Bell

 

Fawn Bell Hayes

Fawn Bell

 

 

 

 

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Seed Library Update

Isn't it cool how seed packets fit perfectly in the old card catalogues? (Photo by David Woolley)

Old card catalog file turned into new seed library! Brilliant! (Photo by David Woolley)

 

About two and a half years ago I wrote a post on our first local seed library. It was installed at the public library in Manitou Springs, Colorado by David Woolley and Natalie Seals.

Here’s the replay on what a seed library is, if you haven’t been to one yet:

“. . . it’s a place where you can check out packets of seeds–flowers, vegetables, and herbs—to plant. In return you’re asked to donate seeds from your future harvest; usually twice as many seeds as you checked out. To some, having to harvest seeds may sound intimidating, but it really isn’t difficult. Many seeds, such as tomatoes, peppers, beans, radishes, and quite a few species of flowers, are easy to save . . . and one tomato or sunflower can produce enough seeds for many return seed packets. (If you’re still unsure, there is a lot of information online and in books on seed saving.)

What is exciting is that people begin saving and sharing their locally grown (and hopefully organically grown) seeds. It makes for stronger genetic stock that is adapted to local growing conditions. It helps people who can’t afford seeds to grow gardens, and it creates diversity, because if the library is successful many, many people will participate and share. Probably the most exciting aspect is that we can reclaim the power of owning our own seed stock and won’t have to re-purchase seed every year or be dependent on outside companies. There are myriad other benefits, but these are the ones that come to mind first. Viva la backyard farmer!”

Now for the update:

For the last three growing seasons I’ve enjoyed this library. I’ve “checked out” seeds, grew them in my garden, and returned seeds from my own harvests.  I’ve made it a point to return at least triple what I took each year. This year I brought in almost 40 packets of seeds from heirloom tomatoes, snapdragons, calendula, lettuce, hollyhock, Italian flat-leaf parsley, garlic chives, and more. Everything I bring back is organically grown and local, and that makes me feel great about being a part of this.

How’s the library doing? Well, I haven’t been able to have an in-depth talk with Director David Woolley, though I did speak with him briefly after a very well-attended talk on backyard gardening a couple of weeks ago. Woolley said the seed library was doing very well. There were many people coming in and getting seed packets. They were excited to be gardening. “Were there any problems?” I asked. Yes, he said, they are struggling a bit with getting in enough donations. There are too many who take out seeds and don’t bring back donations.

I told him I’d be happy to help, to send a few emails out to seed companies and ask them for donations. He said it was a little more complicated than that with the big seed companies, as you have to fill out paperwork, and show that the seed is going to a nonprofit. (Always, the bureaucracy!) I haven’t been able to connect with him yet to move further on this, but I wanted to get this post out today, to ask readers if perhaps they had connections with any seed companies (or perhaps seed from last year that won’t be used, or home-grown seed) for donations.  I imagine there are a lot of backyard farmers who would love to share.

A gentle reminder to those who might have forgotten to repay this service with a donation—free seed libraries will only work if we all pitch in. I know it can be intimidating, saving seed for the first time, putting them in packets and labeling them, but trust me, it’s easy! And once you do it, it becomes pretty fun.

If you haven’t yet, I hope you’ll come and check out the library. You don’t have to live in Manitou Springs as it’s open to the entire region. You don’t even have to have a library or an I.D.! How cool is that?

Check out their website for full details. There’s a wonderful FAQ written by Natalie Seals that details the process.

See you at the library!

—Sandra Knauf

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Alex Wrekk (Author, Entrepreneur, Gardener, Singer) & Her Stolen Sharpie Revolution

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Alex Wrekk - Writing Revoluntionary

Alex Wrekk – Writing Revoluntionary

 

Today I’m hosting an interview with Alex Wrekk, author of Stolen Sharpie Revolution, a D.I.Y. book on zine making. (If you don’t know what a zine is, it’s a handmade, self-published magazine.) Zines are important to me as they were my first independent foray into self-publishing. I published Greenwoman zine for a couple of years before tackling a more traditional magazine form, and it was the perfect way to test the waters. It was also empowering and thrilling to produce something “real”—a publication that I could hold in my hands, holding stories written over the years that hadn’t found a home in traditional publishing. I first heard about zines through Ariel Gore’s book, How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead (great title, don’t you think?). In essence she told writers, “Just get your work out there, make a zine!” I didn’t know what zines were, so I researched, read many of them, and learned about their history. I am still  fascinated with this personal, authentic art form.

Wrekk’s book was one of the first I sought out to help me with the nuts and bolts, so it’s a pleasure to have her on this blog. In my research, I learned Alex is an avid gardener in Portland, so of course I had to ask her about that, too. I hope you enjoy the interview!

—Sandra Knauf

Book Synopsis

Since 2002, Stolen Sharpie Revolution: a DIY Resource for Zines and Zine Culture has been the go-to guide for all things zine-related. This little red book is stuffed with information about zines. Things you may know, stuff you don’t know and even stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know!

Stolen Sharpie Revolution contains a cornucopia of information about zines and zine culture for everyone from the zine newbie to the experienced zinester to the academic researcher. Stolen Sharpie Revolution consists of thoughtful lists and step-by-step how-to guides on everything from definitions of a “zine,” where to find zines, why they are important, how to make them and how to participate in zine culture.

This book has everything you need to get started creating your own zine, or to figure out what to do with the zine you just made. Stolen Sharpie Revolution serves as both an introduction into the wide world of zine culture and as a guide to taking the next step to become a part of it.

* * *

Flora’s Forum Interview

First off, Alex, congratulations on your latest edition of Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Zine Resource. I am so impressed with the success of this book—26,000 copies, and on it’s 5th printing—it’s a huge success! I was thinking about how many writers and artists you’ve helped through the years, taking that first step in expressing themselves through zines. That has to be incredibly gratifying.

Now, on to the questions!

Flora’s Forum: As you’re a veteran in the self-publishing industry (zinesters were self-publishing way before Amazon and other companies made it easy for the mainstream) I guess I’d like to start with—what are the big changes you’ve seen in around 20 years of self-publishing zines and books?

Alex Wrekk: In general; technology. Digital layout is more accessible, photocopiers print crisper, and the internet has changed the way zine creators and reader can interact with each other. There was this whole “blogs killed zines” thing that people kept saying and it really bothered me for awhile. Blogs and zines aren’t mutually exclusive. If anything, I think blogs have made zines better. The people who wanted the quick outlet to say something could use a blog. Those that wanted to sit down and craft something physical could make a zine. If you really want to make a zine you have to spend time to do it from the writing, layout, getting yourself to a photocopier, and finding people to actually read it.

I’ve also seen a growing connected zine community. It is easier to find distros and new zines. There are also a lot more zine fest and it is easier to find out about them. [Ed.—I highly recommend Sweet Candy Distro as a great place to buy zines.]

Flora’s Forum: Making a zine is a very tactile experience. It’s a craft and an art. Even if you design and print out a zine on your computer, you still have to put them together with folding and stapling. If you’re artistically inclined, you go a lot further, with collages, drawings, and other artwork, special bindings. Can you talk a little about how this experience differs from, say, sharing your art and/or writing on a blog?

Alex Wrekk: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I just see them a different medium or vehicles to convey ideas. I can’t exactly explain how I come to the conclusion that something is meant for a zine page or for a blog page, it just seems like the idea is already settled when it comes to me. I know that when I write something for a zine I think if it like a letter where I’m sending it to a person and that person is going to hold it in their hand and read it by themselves in their own space. It creates a direct line from creator and consumer, often that line is blurred because the reader is also frequently a writer of zines as well. Who knows how many people could be reading a blog at the same time and if they will ever even touch the same handrail I have touched? I just love the tangibility of zines. Sometimes I even see layouts before I have the words for zines.

Flora’s Forum: How has putting out over two dozen issues of your own zine, Brainscan, through the years formed you as an artist and entrepreneur?

Alex Wrekk: I actually put out issue 31 of Brainscan last year and I’ve done dozens of one off zines. I can’t stop making zines! I think the DIY spirit leads me to do things myself. If you keep doing that, you’ll find your style and hone your version of the craft. I have a weird mental distinction between my zines and my book. My zines are my hobby, my book is my business. Strangely, the same sort of things goes for my shop. I’ve made custom buttons since 2000 but I opened a brick and mortar shop 3 years ago where I press buttons like a workshop, sell my own button designs, and I also sell zines and books. You can’t make a lot selling zines and I sort of think of that part of the store as my hobby and the buttons as the business.

Flora’s Forum: What are the best things about zines? For yourself? For readers?

Alex Wrekk: Getting a glimpse of someone’s world and then, when you keep reading new issues of their zine, you get to revisit that world. That’s why I like to read zines, I’m not so sure about everyone else.

I also love the connections I have made through zines. I was hanging out the other night with some friends and one of their friends who I had never met before asked how we knew each other. My friend and I looked at each other and at the same time said “zines” These were people that had just moved to Portland 6 months ago but I had known the, through zines for years. Through zines I’ve let strangers stay in my basement and they have become some of my best friends. I started a band (with songs all about zines) with members from 3 different countries. I’ve been flown to France to be on a panel to discuss zines. I got a free ticket to Coachella because I helped with a zine workshop at the festival. I’ve been on cross country zine tours, one of them was with 5 friends from the UK. I’ve met some of the most amazing and intereesting people through zines. It almost feels like zines have been the backdoor into a lot of really cool experiences for me and for others.

Flora’s Forum: Are there any drawbacks/pitfalls to zine publishing?

Alex Wrekk: We all cringe at our early issues. Also, it’s not really something that will ever make you much money if you keep to zines. I’m ok with that. I see it as a hobby for me.

Flora’s Forum: Will you tell us about your garden? I read about it and enjoyed the Facebook album of your beautiful cottage-style garden. You have ornamentals, herbs, vegetables, a hummingbird garden, a compost pile—it’s obvious you have a lot of passion for many aspects of gardening. What do you have planned for the upcoming year? And how are the arts of gardening and zine publishing alike?

Alex Wrekk: I feel really bad because after opening the shop I haven’t has as much time to spend in my garden. When I worked at home I’d just let myself get distracted for a bit of gardening when I had a few minutes. This year I plan to do better, I’ve already been looking at seed catalogs and I have a friend who wants to help out. This year is a year of judicious pruning. I have a wisteria that is trying to eat my house and cedar tree and needs to be taught a lesson. There is a shrub that seemed to grow a few feet while I wasn’t looking that could use a lesson as well. Once spring comes around I’m going to take stock of the hummingbird garden and see what made it through the winter and figure out what needs to be moved or added. There’s a honeysuckle that has gone a bit wild over there as well. I think a lot of my garden need some firmer borders. We’ve been talking about taking out our chain-link fence and putting in a wooden one.

Hrm, I suppose gardening is a lot like writing. You just look at all your beautiful words/flowers and think you want them all, but that foxglove really would be happier at the back of the house and sometimes there is such a thing as too many daisies. Sometimes as beautiful as wisteria is, less would be more.

Flora’s Forum: Are there any gardening zines out there you could recommend?

Alex Wrekk: Off the top of my head I can only think of one that I have in the Portland Button Works shop called Growing Things that is good, especially for beginning gardeners.

Flora’s Forum: Thanks for sharing, Alex. It was a pleasure.

* * *

Alex Wrekk’s Bio

Alex Wrekk’s life revolves around making things; primarily zines, custom pinback buttons(badges), vegan food, travel plans, and space for a cat in her bed.

Alex Wrekk has lived in Portland, Oregon since 1999 and has been creating the zine Brainscan since 1997. Brainscan zine has grown and changed with Alex over the years with stories ranging from travel, reproductive health, love and loss, emotional abuse recovery, zine culture, and even fiction all wrapped up in text and photocopier art. She also wrote the book Stolen Sharpie Revolution: A DIY Guide for Zines and Zine Culture that is now entering its 5th edition.

When Alex isn’t doing zine things she is doing other zine things like organizing the Portland Zine Symposium, establishing July as International Zine Month, commiserating with Zine Event Organizers around the world, updating the zine event listings on StolenSharpieRevolution.org, hosting the podcast Nobody Cares About Your Stupid Zine Podcast, fidgeting with her Risograph printer, reading from her zines out loud on zine tours or singing in a zine themed pop-punk band called The Copy Scams.

Alex has been making custom pinback buttons since 2000 under various business names. In 2012 Alex opened Portland Button Works and zine distro, an online and brick and mortar shop in Portland, Oregon selling zines and books and making custom buttons, bottle openers, and magnets in 4 different sizes. She also maintains an Etsy shop with the same name.

Alex Wrekk twitter http://twitter.com/alexwrekk

Stolen Sharpie Revolution Facebook https://www.facebook.com/stolensharpierevolution

Stolen Sharpie Revolution.org http://www.stolensharpierevolution.org

Portland Button Works Website www.portlandbuttonworks.com

 

GIVEAWAY INFO:

Alex is giving away 5 print copies of Stolen Sharpie Revolution + a Custom Stolen Sharpie with each one. This is an international giveaway! Please click the link below to enter.

Stolen Sharpie Book Sage Blog Tours

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

P. S.:  I couldn’t resist showing a couple of covers  from my Greenwoman zines. I went from full-color to a more traditonal, much less expensive b&w cover over the course of the two years that I was a zinester. It was a great learning experience and a whole lot of fun.

 

The artwork for my very first zine! You can still get a copy of it on my Greenwoman Magazine website.

The artwork for my very first zine! You can still get a copy of it on my Greenwoman website.

The last issue, #6. I would highly recommend zine-

The last issue, #6. I love this fairy girl with her basket of figs.

P. P. S. I just discovered that Comments was “off” on this post. I fixed that but it looks like it won’t change it for previously posted work. Sorry about that!

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Short and Sweet – Bruce Holland Rogers’ Fiction Subscriptions

Bruce Holland Rogers

Bruce Holland Rogers

 

For over a decade Bruce Holland Rogers’ fans have been enjoying his work in small, regular doses. For $10 a year he sends subscribers 36 amazing stories, three per month. The tales are described as an “unpredictable mix of literary fiction, science fiction, fairy tales, mysteries and work that is hard to classify.” Those who know his work describe them as addictive.

You can visit his site here and even sample almost a dozen stories for free. My favorites are “Dinosaur” and “The Bullfrog and His Shadows.”

Subscribers to short.short.short are encouraged to forward stories to friends; that’s how I was introduced to Bruce years ago. Once I got a taste I had to sign up. Bruce’s work is masterful, and there’s almost always a twist that leaves you viewing the world just a little differently. I wasn’t surprised to learn Bruce had won many awards: a Pushcart, two Nebulas, a Bram Stoker, two World Fantasy Awards, and a Micro Award. His work is known world-wide.

One day he sent a story about a depressed woman, obviously a victim of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), who finds her healing medicine in quite a surprising way—through the earth (literally). Garden writing! I wrote Bruce, suggesting that he send “A Fine and Private Place” to GreenPrints, which was then the only garden writing publication around. He did, and Pat Stone published it. When I started Greenwoman, I wanted to share Bruce’s work. I asked if I could reprint another story that he’d sent via subscription. Then another. And another.

I’ve always wanted to interview him, to introduce him in a bigger way to my friends. This winter we finally got together. I offer this small glimpse into his work.

Flora’s Forum: As you know, I was introduced to you and your fascinating work through shortshortshort.com—when a friend of mine, also a writer, sent me a story. How many subscribers do you have now and how many stories have you written since it began in 2002?

Bruce Holland Rogers: My high-water mark for subscribers was one thousand, but that was a few years ago. For the last five years, I have done little to promote the service or even to remind subscribers to renew, so the list has dwindled to about 330. Those remaining subscribers, however, are hard core!

I have written over 400 stories for subscribers now, and in recent years I haven’t been very good about submitting them to magazines and anthologies. I have quite a backlog to publish now.

Flora’s Forum: How did the idea for sending out three short stories a month to subscribers come about?

In 2001 I read a book called Guerilla Marketing for Writers that referenced someone who had sold his limericks by email. The story was that he spammed the world with emails promising a limerick a day to anyone who mailed him a dollar, and that he soon raised one hundred-thousand dollars this way. (This was in early days of the net, before spam was such a scourge.)

I liked the idea of selling directly to readers. I loved reading and writing very compressed stories. The stories demand so much that I knew I couldn’t write a story a day. I would even be hard-pressed to write one a week. But if I had, say, one subscriber, I would happily send him or her a story a year for three dollars. And if I had five subscribers, I could promise a story every quarter to earn their fifteen dollars in total. So I created a sliding scale: the more subscribers I had, the more stories I would send. Eventually, when I had a couple hundred subscribers, I settled at three stories a month. I felt that was about my limit.

Over the years, the subscription rate went from three dollars to five, and then ten. A few subscribers are patrons, which means they subscribe at the twenty-five dollar level, helping to keep me in tea and biscuits. (Tea and biscuits are essential to writing.) Other subscribers give subscriptions as gifts. It’s great to have an immediate and appreciative audience!

I launched and grew mostly through friends and their recommendation to their friends. Now I get new subscribers whom I think discover shortshortshort because they Googled me after reading one of my stories. Unlike the supposed limerick writer, I never spammed.

After I had been running shortshortshort.com for a few years, I tried to track down the limerick writer, to see if I could put a name to the story. I haven’t found any evidence that he ever existed. Perhaps he did. However, I like to think that my fiction service arose from my belief in someone else’s invented story.

Flora’s Forum: I like that idea, too. After hearing your story, I also tried to track down the limerick writer, with no luck. I think he’s a writers’ urban legend! Do you know of anyone else who has used your subscription model to bring in an income as a writer? (Yes, I’m personally interested!)

Bruce Holland Rogers: With fiction I have seen a couple of attempts that did not last long. It’s hard to say for certain why these efforts soon ended, but a lot of things have to go right. In these two cases, I didn’t like the writing very much, and that may have been the first thing that went wrong. But there may well have been an audience for those writers, and they just didn’t figure out how to find that audience.

There is a subscription program for children, Sparkle Stories, that sends weekly audio stories for a year and has several such series categorized by the age of the child.

For distribution by email or audio download, the nonfiction writer has all the advantages that a nonfiction writer has more generally. The audience is sorted by subject. The writer can more readily identify potential readers and go to wherever, online or off, those potential readers congregate. The readers of nonfiction are also more likely to find the writer while searching for information on the writer’s topic.

Flora’s Forum: You write short-shorts in many genres. Do you have a current favorite?

Bruce Holland Rogers: I am allergic to the idea of favorites. Maybe that just means that I’m indecisive, but I’m never able to name a favorite writer, a favorite move, a favorite shirt. So I’ve never been good at having a favorite genre. I started out in my teens writing science fiction, and I still write SF occasionally. But I like humor, contemporary realism, historical fiction, expressionism (which looks like fantasy), fantasy, mystery . . . I like being able to generate a story from whatever is going on in my life, including my imagined life. My readers don’t know what they are going to get.

Flora’s Forum: You are not kidding there! This week you sent us an adorable personal story that you’ve also published on eBay! “My Girlfriend’s Shoes* (or a deed thereof”  where you have put your girlfriends’ shoes up for bid! (Click on the title to get the story.) Is publishing a story on eBay a first? 

Bruce Holland Rogers: It is, but it may not be the last. Unless, of course, this is the last time I ever do *anything,* which several women have informed me is likely.

Flora’s Forum: Ha! Women and their shoes! You’re a gutsy man, Bruce.

Three of the four stories that have been published in Greenwoman focused on women with a unique connection to the earth, or, in “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk,” to cows! I thought it would be fun to get some insight into how a couple of these stories came about.

We published your story “A Human Birth” in issue #1 of Greenwoman. As I don’t want to give too much away, let’s say it’s about a woman who discovers her unique connection to the soil. Why did you choose that connection and what’s your connection to the soil—(or what are your experiences with women and gardening—or both!).

It’s hard for me to talk about this story without spoiling its effect, so if your readers want to experience the story, they should do so before reading my answer. [Editor’s note: you can purchase a PDF version of Greenwoman Issue #1 here for only $2.95.]

Bruce Holland Rogers: The origins of that story lie in a practice that my ex-wife and I had, a joke about reincarnation. If we had an encounter with someone who behaved very badly, we would forgive that person and speculate on what he or she had been in a previous life. Sometimes the promotion from a non-human birth to a human birth is difficult. That is, this life might be that person’s first experience with being human, and the life of humans is a challenging one.

We might say about the man who had yelled because a line was moving slowly, “He doesn’t have much practice with patience, but even so, he didn’t yell for the first five minutes in line. That’s pretty good for someone who was a grasshopper in his last life.”

My ex, Holly, was a gardener. So was my mother. So was my friend Kate Wilhelm until, in her eighties, the physical demands became too much. In my little corner of the universe, gardeners have been mostly women.

My own connection with the soil has come from digging. As a toddler, I tried to dig as my mother gardened. (As my mother told the story, I was right next to her when her spade turned up a white grub. I said, “Candy!” and ate it before she could stop me.) As an adult, I have dug holes for posts or footings, and I’m always interested to see who comes up with the shovel. There is so much wildlife under out feet. Healthy soil is heavily populated soil. As much as I enjoy turning up a shovel-full of earth, it’s been more than fifty years since I ate a grub.

Flora’s Forum: I love that story, Bruce. And so true about the soilI’ve read that the number of organisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil can number up to a billion. Now to switch to bigger organisms; in the lighthearted and charming “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk” (Greenwoman #3) you write about a college student, Brenda, who is studying Dairy Science. She grew up on a dairy farm and loves to name cows, a quirky habit that serves her well when it comes to romance. One of the themes here is how naming forms deeper connections—and more milk! How did that story develop?

Bruce Holland Rogers: I attended a land-grant university, Colorado State University. I enrolled with a double-major in technical journalism and zoology, but I kept changing my majors. I knew that I wanted to write, but everyone said I’d need something to fall back on. But what? Every semester, I scoured the catalog, looking for a more appealing major. Going to a land-grant institution, the kind of school that used to be an A&M [Agriculture & Mechanical], meant that I read the requirements for all sorts of practical majors. I had classmates who had grown up on farms. I walked by the animal sciences facilities, drank unpasteurized milk from the university’s herd. In all, I had five different declared majors, and probably another four that I intended to pursue but never got around to officially recording. After six years, I graduated with the only degree that worked for my mishmash of courses, with the singularly impractical major of Humanities.

I had a truly generalist education, ideal for a writer.

Flora’s Forum: I have to ask, what were those five declared majors?

Bruce Holland Rogers: The five declared majors were technical journalism, zoology, English, history, and humanities. Majors that I planned my courses around but didn’t formally register included computer science, Spanish, physical sciences, and psychology. I also thought long and hard about engineering.

Flora’s Forum: Could you give a little more background into “Cows With Names Make 3.4 Percent More Milk”? I know it’s a very whimsical piece, but was Brenda based on a real student? Where did the idea of the naming of cows come from?

Bruce Holland Rogers: The title for that story is almost word-for-word the headline of a news item. No one knows why this correlation was found. Since cows tend to be a bit skittish and lactate less when they are stressed, it may be that the sort of dairy farmers who name their animals are also gentler with them, and that difference shows up in milk production.

Brenda doesn’t have a basis in any particular person, but I have a lot of experience with giving and receiving nicknames in intimate relationships. When the nicknames are ones that both the giver and receiver like, those names can become a part of their private language, part of what becomes reassuring and comforting between them.

Flora’s Forum: What is it like, gardening-wise, food-wise, living in Oregon? 

Bruce Holland Rogers: Eugene is very garden-friendly. We get our hard frosts, and even the occasional severe cold. Last winter, my fig tree died back all the way to the roots, for example, and I lost many of my landscape plants. But that was the first intense die-back in many years. Winters are mild compared to much of the country. I’ll risk starting this year’s salad greens in March. We have rain in abundance much of the year, but then our summers are so hot and dry that you really can’t have a garden without irrigation.

We have a thriving Northwest cuisine featuring salmon, hazelnuts and berries. An invasive species of blackberry is a tenacious weed for us, but it also produces big, sweet fruit.

Flora’s Forum: What are your plans for 2015?

This week, for the first time in years, I rationalized all my to-do lists on a spreadsheet. It came to 320 items. So my plans are to do a lot. A part of those plans is to write my 36 stories for the year and to write a book about money, the other cabbage.

Flora’s Forum: Thanks for spending some time with us, Bruce.

 

 

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Filed under DIY, Garden Writers We Love