Potatoes in a Barrel

I used to think that potatoes were a lot of work to grow and took up more space than my garden had to offer. About two years ago, I picked up a copy of the Farmers Almanac while waiting in an accountant’s office – the last place I expected a garden revelation. I ended up reading a brief how to article about growing potatoes in trash barrels, and have used that method to successfully grow potatoes for the past two seasons.

The process is fairly simply. First you need to drill or poke holes in the barrel so excess water can drain. DSC_0449.JPG

Next, put rocks in the bottom of the barrel. This will not only provide better drainage, but it will also help keep the barrel in place.

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Once you have your rocks in place, you will need dirt for the potatoes to grow in. I’ve found that buying a bag of “garden soil” or “raised bed” soil.

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Empty a bag of dirt into the barrel, filling about a third of it  up, and then go get your potatoes. The ones that have been in the fridge for a long time and are growing eyes or sprouting roots are good candidates. Keep in mind that whatever kind of potatoes you plan are the kind you are going to get. It’s not necessary but it is a good idea to cut them in half. DSC_0453

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Burry your potatoes under two or three inches of dirt. Then water them. DSC_0455.JPG

Keep the soil moist, and as the green tops grow, “hill them.” This means adding soil and burying some of the leaves, always careful to leave at least five inches of green exposed. When the plan flowers, the potatoes are ready to harvest. The most efficient way to do this is to just dump the soil and sift through it. I usually add it a raised bed that looks like it is getting low on soil when I am done.DSC_0457.JPG

Anxiety in the Margins

 

Lately, I’ve been participating in opportunities to help marginalized writers get published. Sometimes when I share this with my writer friends, they give me funny looks. They don’t say anything, because I’m a pain in the butt to argue with, but I can see their discomfort, see comments lurking in their eyes.

What is a white, middle-class girl like you doing taking advantage of those things? You always get your way. You’ve published more short stories than anyone else in our group. You’re so sneaky…trying to take advantage.

When I see agents and authors tweeting about how many non-marginalized participants they saw, I wonder if they mean me. When I ask how they know people are not marginalized, I get answers that seem like they think I am stupid for asking.

Or

Maybe I can’t see those words dying to escape their lips and those comments are not directed at me. Maybe my anxiety is just making me think they disapprove. It’s hard to tell, because anxiety makes me think I’m a failure, that I’m a monster, and that sooner or later, I am going to ruin EVERYTHING but it never tells me what everything is.

It does make it hard to breath every time I send out a query letter or enter a pitch contest or submit a short story. It makes it hard to get up and go to work where I have to interact with people. It makes it physically painful to go food shopping, walk through a crowd, or go to a conference.

I called in sick today because I have an upset stomach. The thing is, I honestly can’t tell if it is a virus or my anxiety.

Anxiety makes it hard to not only do things are necessary, but it also holds me back from things I love. Anxiety is a disability.

It’s not the only reason I enter things like #DVpit or submit my work as #ownvoices.

I have a freaking master’s degree in English, but time and time again, I fail catch the most random, stupid errors in my own work. I’ve probably tried every proof-reading strategy ever invented, but in the end this is what it comes down to: I don’t like grammar, therefore I cannot focus on it. I also cannot have someone re-read a query or story EVERY SINGLE TIME that I make a change, because I never stop editing and revising.

I’ve over a decade of my professors and mentors complaining about my errors, and after successfully teaching other people to edit, I have come to realize I cannot produce error free prose anymore than a paralyzed person can walk.

And I KNOW I’ve gotten rejections simply because of errors in my work.

OK – maybe if took Adderall or Ritalin, things would be different, but just writing the names of those drugs makes the anxiety monster roar. Drugs scare me, even the ones I already take for my anxiety. I’ve found other ways to cope, but they can only get me so far.

Even if I did overcome my anxiety about certain medications, I would still have to get an official diagnoses to get the prescription. Two years ago, my primary care physician recommended a neuropsychologist who did ADHD in my area. Have called to make an appointment? No. Why? Anxiety.

It’s a vicious cycle that always holds me back one way or another, keeping me in the margins of the places I want to be.

In many ways, I am fortunate and privileged. My parents loved me. They always found a way to get me the things I wanted. I never went hungry. I’ve always had at least one or two good friends. However, I’ve also faced barriers and fallen through cracks.

I wasn’t poor enough to get financial aid, but not rich enough to afford anything but community college and state schools that offered transfer scholarships.

I was too smart and proud for extra help in school, but my GPA wasn’t high enough to get into top colleges, let alone get scholarships.

My parents did their best to research college, but they did not have the inside knowledge of people who went and graduated.

My anxiety makes in-person networking almost impossible. It keeps me out of writing conferences and most Academic conferences.

I may be more privileged than someone with a different color skin, but I do feel like it is ethically okay for me to participate in things like #DVpit, and #ownvoices when it’s relevant because I need the extra boost to even the playing field.

Should I worry every time someone tweets about privileged people posting where they shouldn’t ? No. Will I worry? Yes.

Perhaps the day I stop worrying that I don’t belong in events for marginalized writers will be the day that I actually don’t belong.

Micro Fiction: Solicitation

Here is another fun snippet of micro fiction that started with on of Cracked Flash’s prompts.  This story was a runner up in the Year 2, Week 30 competition.

Solicitation

By Sara Codair

“Like pain? Try wearing high heels,” she said slipping one nylon clad foot into a glittering stiletto. The way her long fingers danced the laces around her ankle up her calf made me think that my eyes were supposed to be following her hands up her leg, possible further, but I was more interested in the heels.

“What would you say if I told you I had worn heels, and loved them?” I risked eye contact just long enough to make her think I was interested in her body, then returned my gaze to the shoes.

“I’d say you were a kinky fellow.” She lifted her leg in the air, probably trying to get me to look up her skirt, but it was the perfect opportunity to see what size the shoes were.

An 8.5. Just one size too small. I sighed, reached into my pocket and fingered the bills there. “I’ll pay you for two hours if you tell me where you got those shoes.”

“I’ll show you,” she said and pulled me closer.

I backed away. “I’m serious. I have no interest in your services. Just your shoes. I’ll pay you, and you can spend the two hours doing whatever you like. I was going to buy your pair off of you, but they won’t fit.”

“For real?” she asked sitting up straight and folding her legs.

“For real,” I said taking a couple fifties out of my wallet.

“Stella’s boutique, on the corner of 6th and Rockland. Tell her Caty sent you. She’ll give you a deal.”

I handed her the money, left the hotel room and hailed cab, feeling like I was one step closer to finding the holy grail of high heels.

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© Sara Codair 2017

Micro Fiction: Migratory Blues

Here is another little story from Cracked Flash – this one was a runner up.

Migratory Blues

By Sara Codair

They unfurled their wings, shifted their weight and lifted off the rotting branch. Fuz smiled as the north wind hit their face. It was damp and mild, a sure sign spring had arrived in mid-regions. Circling high above the mud-sodden earth, they searched for one last southern meal.

They dove when they spotted slow movement – a tiny rodent whose legs were getting sucked in with every step. Within in seconds, the little critter was in Fuz’s claws, being carried back to the their nest.

After a hearty, albeit muddy meal, Fuz sprayed the nest with their scent and flew north.

#

Three days later, Fuz arrived to the mid realms, only to find the ground there had already turned to claw sucking mud. Their stomach grumbled as they circled over mud and water. They plucked an eel out of a pond and perched on a damp rock to eat it, but it wriggled all the way down.

Each year, it seemed the mid-realms spring got closer to that of the southern realms.

Fuz signed, flapped their tired wings and was airborne once again, hoping the north was having an early spring too, or else he would freeze to death.

#

Touching down in the north, Fuz was glad to have solid ground beneath their claw’s. The sun was shining, and prey animals were scurrying about – a living buffet. They feasted on rodents, lizards and insects until their belly felt like it would burst. Then they found a solid tree branch – one they noted was still devoid of leaves, and sprawled out for a nap in the sun.

Later, the howling wind woke them. The sun was gone, and frost coated the edges of their feathers and beak. They stood, struggling to take off, but the wind was too strong and cold.

Dystopian Gardens / Micro-Fiction:Lying in the Dirt

I’ve noticed that whenever a writing prompt leads me to some kind of dystopian or post-apocalyptic story, there is always nature or garden imagery. It happened with the prompt that inspired me to a story that grew into “Necromantic Buzz.” It happened with a piece of flash fiction that was published in Burning Waters Magazine, and  happened again in this week’s cracked flash competition. My story didn’t win, but it was an honorable mention.

I’m starting to think this is my way of smothering fear with hope. The political turmoil and climate problems make me fear some kind of societal upset or end of the world as we know it is coming. I’ve placed my hope for the future in nature’s resilience, and in local, sustainable food.

While the following story isn’t directly about food or an apocalypse, it is packed with garden imagery and hints at some kind of corporatism
gone wrong.

Micro-Fiction:Lying in the Dirt

By Sara Codair

“You lied to me?” Carrots hung from Donn’s hands like the flop over ears of a pathetic puppy. “Why lie about that?”

Susie shrugged, watching the way Donn’s fingers curled around the carrots. His nails dug through the dirt and pierced the bright orange beneath. His eyes widened. He pursed his lips.

“I just couldn’t disappoint you.”

“Well, you did.” Donn looked at the red boxes brimming with carrot tops, the cucumbers climbing a white trellis and tomatoes bursting out of their cages. “If you told me, I could’ve helped.”

“How?” Susie looked down the driveway, where the bank men were coming to take the keys, the house, and its contents.

“I have a few secrets of my own.”

He placed the carrots on the potting table, picked up a shovel, and zigzagged through the labyrinth-like garden to a spot where nothing was growing. He dug. The bank man came with his suit and guns.

“Sir and madam, you must vacate the property.”

Donn laughed and kept digging.

The man crossed his arms. “Unless you can produce 200,000 Cred in the next 60 seconds, you are leaving.”

“Give me five minutes and I’ll give you 250,000.”

He watched as Donn dug until he hit a wooden box, brushed it off, opened it, and pulled out stacks of green bills. “Now, what is the conversion rate for old USD these days?”

The man gulped. “This morning, a single was fetching a 1,000 on the market.”

Donn handed a banded stack to the to man. “Here are 20 for your bank, and 5 to keep. Get off my property. I’ll expect the deed tomorrow.”

The man scurried off. Donn glared at Susie. “Next time you have problems, tell me.”

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Can on only child mentality be the key to a successful writing career?

Writing and Publishing with an Only child Mentality

By Sara Codair

Only children, especially those of the millennial generation, have a reputation for being spoiled: needy, narcissistic, socially awkward brats who always get what they want.

While some of the stereotypes may be true for some people, only children have strengths too. We are often comfortable being on our own, imaginative, and self-motivate.

Many of the writers I interact with in “real world,” meaning people I speak to in-person, not online, often seem to marvel at my ability turn out a high volume of stories, handle rejection, persist, and get my work published.

While I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pen, I’ve only been publishing for a little over a year. I’ve done well for my first year, but I still have a long way to go before I reach my goal of being a full-time, professional fiction writer. I’m starting to think that my initial success, and potential for further successes, is tied into my only child mentality.

To start off with, I’m used to getting my way.

“No” was not a word I liked hearing as a child, and often, I could turn a “no” from either parent into a “yes.” At first, I worried this would hurt me. I do hate rejections, but more a market rejects me, the more determined I am to get published by that market. I know I cannot argue with rejections, so I just keep writing new stories so I can send that editor more stories.

I’ve been sending Daily Science Fiction at least one story a month for the past year, and in December, I made it to their second round for the first time. In the end, they didn’t buy my story, but I know I came close, and sooner or later, they will buy one of my stories.

This past fall, I got a rejection from Dark Magic: Witches, Hackers and Robots, an anthology I wanted to be, so I sent them another story, and got another rejection, then sent them a third story, and got an acceptance.

Growing up getting the things I wanted didn’t turn me into a weak, whiny person who cries when someone tells her no. It taught me that persistence, determination, and hard work lead to success.

In addition to being stubbornly persistent, my imagination and comfort with solitude also help me write. When there weren’t other kids to play with, I would entertain my self by making up stories. When there were kids, or adults willing to play like kids, I often directed them in acting out my stories. It was like Live Action Role Playing (LARPing) using my imagination instead of dice or game cards.

Making up stories is a habit I never got out of. I do it when I am sitting in traffic, running, waiting for an appointment and trying to follow asleep. Whenever the current task I am doing is not occupying my full attention, I have a story going in my head, and I don’t mind staying home on a Friday night to type out the story I made while commuting instead of socializing, especially since my friends aren’t really into LARPing.

Even the worst qualities associated with only children can be useful.

A small amount of narcissism can be useful, or almost necessary for anyone who goes into novel writing. The concept writing/publishing is narcissistic at its roots. I have to be a little in love with my self and my words in order to think that anyone would want to PAY for the things I made up while sitting on Boston traffic.

Some might say this is simply confidence, but to me, confidence is believing in your skill to write and tell a story. Believing your imagination is something that needs to not only be shared, but also sold, crosses the line. As long as it doesn’t get out of hand, a drop of narcissism can be the difference between wishing you were writer and actually becoming one.

Like other aspiring writers, I have plenty of self-doubt and anxiety. However, I think the difference between me and my colleagues who “want” to write but never finish anything is that I have that annoying drop of narcissism and entitlement that allows me to believe I can and should sell my work.

I’ve grown up believing that with enough persistence, I can get anything I want. Rejection discourages some writers, but I am fueled by it. This mentality has gotten me published in token and semi-pro markets, and its even led to a few pro-sales. Hopefully, it will eventually lead to a career writing novels.

The Dreaded Short Story Query

The Dreaded Short Story Query

By Sara Codair

Querying short stories is the most stressful part of the publication process for me.

The word query has a slightly different meaning in the world of short stories than it does for novels.When you query an agent of publisher about a novel, you are essentially submitting a cover letter and sample to see if they are interested. However, when you submit a short story, you generally include an extremely brief cover letter and the full manuscript. Writers refer to this as a submission, not a query.

 

The short story query is actually a follow up letter. If the publisher does not respond to the story in their advertised timeframe, then you are allowed, and in some cases, expected to follow up with an email. For me, this is more stressful than the actual submission.

The longer a market takes to respond to my story, the more I start over-analyzing their silence. Did they forget about my story? Did they put it in their maybe pile? Are they just really backlogged? Any of these are equally possible.

If they are just backlogged, I feel bad adding more material to their reading list, even if it is just one email, so I always keep my query email short.

I take cues from their submission guidelines regarding how and when I can query. Most publications will provide some information about querying in their submission guidelines. For example, Firefly has this near the end of their guidelines: “if a month has passed from the day you have submitted to us and you haven’t heard from us, please feel free to send a query with either “Query” or “What The Heck” in the subject line. We find the latter more cathartic.”

I queried them once, but in the end, they were just backlogged and rejected my story. Other markets, like the Sockdolager and Museum of Science Fiction, have responded to queries telling me my story has made it past their first round and is being held for further consideration. The most successful querying experience I had was with Helios Quarterly as it turned into an acceptance.

Some markets have made querying unnecessary with extremely specific guidelines and efficient submission managing systems that allow writers to track their stories progress through the queue. However, many smaller and/or new markets can not afford said software, so they rely on email.

The best advice I can offer is keep it short, and make sure you read the guidelines first. If a market says “don’t query until three months have passed” then make sure three months have passed before you query.

Most of my queries look something like this:

Dear Editor (s),

I sent you my story, “The Best Short Ever,” on June 4, 2016, and have not heard anything. Could you please confirm you received it and provide an update on its status?

Thank you,

Sara

Or

Dear Editor (s),

I sent you my story, “The Best Short Ever,” on June 4, 2016, and have not heard from you. Are you still considering it?

Thank you,

Sara

If I addressed my cover letter to a specific person, I will use their name. Otherwise, “Dear Editors” works fine.

I’ve never had an editor get made at me for querying. Most of the responses I get are sympathetic or apologetic. If a market says you can query after X days or months have passed, then do it. Just keep your letter short and polite. It will give you peace of mind and remind the editor you exist.

A win on Cracked Flash with “Survival 101”

Cracked Flash’s writing prompts have been part of my weekly writing routine on and off for about a year now. Over the summer, I had stopped writing for them because I was judging. They had a brief hiatus in the fall. When they started up, it took me a few weeks to work in back into the routine. The few pieces I wrote were political rants pretending to be stories. Last week, I wrote a real story, and it won.

Here is it:

Survival 101

By Sara Codair

“Try a different one.” Joe frowned as the wriggling worm fell into the bucket of dirt.

I arched my eyebrows. “A worm is a worm.”

“The fat ones are juicier and slower. Easier to hook, more likely to attract fish.”

I sighed. “I don’t even like fish.”

“Would you rather eat the worm?”

“I’d rather eat nuts berries.” I gazed at the sun glistening on deep blue, vibrant leaves with orange-tinted tips and wispy seeds forming atop grass.

“Those’ll be hard to come by next month.” Joe dug weathered fingers into the bucket, pulling out a short worm barely able to wriggle, and handed it to me. “You want to survive, don’t you?”

“I used to be vegan.” My stomach wriggled like the obese worm, half-heartedly threatening to eject raspberries.

Joe’s laughter shook the remains of his shrunken belly. “Just hook the damned worm.”

Despite its protest, my stomach knew food was hard to come by, and held the berries while I jabbed the rusty, barbed metal into the worm, scrunching it like I was forcing a new curtain onto an old rod.

“That’s the spirit. Plant your feet and cast like I showed you.”

I obeyed. My tortured worm plopped into the shimmery blue. I watched the ripples grow as they approached shore. “What now?”

“Now we wait.” Joe lowered his raisen-like body onto a silvery rock. “We wait and we pray.”

I nodded, but remained standing. Winged-insects flittered across the water close to shore. A water-strider fell victim to a frog blending his body with a rotten log. A dragon fly landed on my nose, its wings tickling a smile out of my face. The last scientist I met said the human population might never recover. Nature, though, was doing just fine.

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See the original post here: http://crackedflash.blogspot.com/2017/02/year-2-week-25-results.html#comment-form

Micro Fiction: Voter’s Remorse

Voter’s Remorse

By Sara Codair

“I can’t answer that! You’ll beat me up!” He looked up at Evvie, wondering if he needed to get down on his knees and beg. She was as arrogant as she beautiful, as passionate as she was tall, and as violent as she was smart.They had been dating for a couple months now, and he didn’t want to jeopardize the fiery roller coaster their relationship was becoming.

She glared at him.

His face flushed. He resisted the urge to get on his knees and crossed his arms. “You won’t like it.”

She glared at him.

“Just trust me, alright?

She glared harder. “Tell me who you voted for or I am going to walk out of this apartment and never come back.”

They stared into each other’s eyes. She didn’t blink. His palms began to sweat. His lip trembled. She didn’t blink. He glanced down at his feet. “I voted for…for him.”

She punched him in the face and walked out of the room muttering. “Effing Nazis.”

“Please don’t tell anyone,” he pleaded as he wiped the blood off of his nose. “It was a dumb idea. I’ll go to the protest with you and donate to the ACLU. If I could go back in time, I’d do it differently. I didn’t know he’d be like this.”

She paused in the hallway, turned around and stared daggers at him. “We warned you.”

“I wish I listened. Please, forgive me.”

“I’ll think about it.” She turned her back on him and walked out the apartment, locking the door behind her.

He laid back on the floor, not caring that blood was running from his nose to his cheek. She had said maybe.

***

I wrote the following story a couple weeks ago for Cracked Flash in response to the prompt “I can’t answer that! You’ll beat me up!”It’s a snippet of satire with a touch of hyperbole that simultaneously abusive relationships and the divide politics can cause in them. I’ve changed the title and made some revisions. If you want to see the original and/or how other writer’s responded to the prompt, click here