Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bye bye, "alternate history"! Hello, "it's fantasy, stop bugging me about facts"!

All right, so I didn't get any writing done this summer (unless I do some this final week!), but I did end up randomly reading a bunch of books as "research" for the NaNo I was working on last year. Too little, too late, one could say, but hey, it was fascinating stuff: the history of slavery in Maryland and Virginia, the relations between the Africans and the Native Americans. In school and in popular consciousness we usually get the European-African and European-American angles, but not so much the one between the two "Other" groups. And it's relations between various "Others" that I wanted to explore what with the whole H.P. Lovecraft pastiche I was doing, inserting my own invented eldritch horrors into the mix, and seeing how each culture would deal with it.

Well, clearly, I didn't get very far with that, did I? Never even got to 50000 words last November.

But now after a summer of not writing, the plot bunnies are jumping on my head again. I think I will revisit. Only this time I'm mixing the 2012 and 2013 NaNo settings and doing everything in a complete fantasy setting.

No more worrying about "authenticity". It was never going to be authentic anyway. Worrying about it doesn't help me. I'd do the research whether I worried or not, and still get things wrong whether I worried or not.

Here we come, eldritch horrors in crazy wuxia hero land. Err. What?

No, no, it's like this. I didn't like any of the novel plots (what plots? I can't even remember what they were supposed to be, that's how good they were) I tried. I'd rather do episodic adventures around a central gang of heroes (or whatever). I have a few ideas in mind. Ideas, but no names yet. We'll see where this goes.

Apple season... and paw paws!?

Never mind the writing or coding or whatever, today (well, it was "today" when I first wrote that, now it's "a few days ago") was the perfect day to go to the farm and pick apples. Even our newspaper now has the weather report as "beautiful". (Since when did they start that? "Beautiful", "pleasant", "nice", etc. in the weekly forecast along with the little sun/rain/cloud symbols?) For an hour or so, one can indulge in the fantasy of having a big orchard full of fruit.

I should have more fruit trees in my stories... mmm... fruit trees... In real life I have a few fruit trees (planted a couple of years ago), but I'm really bad at this. My harvest this year consisted of a few mulberries and maybe two pears. Woot. Hence the trips to the local pick-your-own farm. So yeah, we came home with about thirty pounds of fresh apples. So much tastier than the waxy apple-shaped objects from the supermarket available during the rest of the year.

But wait... the farm is not the only source of fresh food! Ok, so, we've had berries and things from the woods before. But what about these paw paw trees I've heard about? That are supposedly native to the area I live in? Yeah. I planted a few of those in the yard, too. The good part: they tolerate shade and the deer don't touch them. The bad part: they seem to grow awfully slowly. So can I find some "in the wild"? (That are big enough to bear fruit.)

Can I?

I thought I remembered coming across them before, once, while walking with my kids. We found them on the ground and opened them, but discarded them, not knowing what they were... hmm. Now I know what the trees look like, I can try to find some with fruit...

So can I find any growing nearby?

Do these trees really exist?

Will I see any?

Oh. My. God.

The woods are filled with paw paw trees. It's a whole freaking forest of paw paws! AGH!

All those previously unidentified plants that I mentally categorized as "boring shrubs that grow in the understory"? Paw paws! More paw paws! Paw paws everywhere!

Look up, and there are the fully grown ones! Agh! All over the place! The deer must have eaten all the other trees!

Ok, yeah, time to point and laugh at idiot me. That's what I get for not knowing my trees (if it drops acorns on me, it's an oak. If the leaves look like the Canadian flag, it's a maple. Or something like that.)

That's the power of knowing what you're looking at, and of knowing where to look. (For paw paw trees, down by the Potomac, in the low, shady areas between the river and the C&O Canal.)

So yes, I did find some paw paw trees... big ones... with fruit growing on them. Apparently they aren't very good at pollination, so there's only a few fruit per tree. Luckily, it turned out to be easy to acquire the fruit: you just shake the tree until the paw paws fall out. And here I thought shaking fruit trees was just something you did in the Animal Crossing game! The paw paw trees don't get that big, so even I was able to shake them hard enough.

The ripe ones turn out to be all mushy: you can just squeeze them and split the skins open, then eat the yellowish goop inside. The taste was... sweet, not too sweet. My younger daughter said they tasted like figs. (But I think the paw paws are bland compared to figs.) Soft flesh, with big smooth seeds inside. Cool.

Three cheers for local fruit!

New this year for us (these are small, unripe examples):