Living on 9 Acres

Blackberries!

Our house on 9 acres.

When we moved to Texas about two and a half years ago, I was excited to buy a house with a bit of property. 9 acres! This was a huge step up from our tiny suburban homestead on a third of an acre in Clinton, Utah. Looking back now, I can see just how unprepared I was for the task.

9 acres. It still sounds pleasant. But what I was about to slowly, painfully, realize was that we had moved to a land of scarcity. Many of the conveniences we had taken for granted were no longer available to us. There was no broadband internet, for one. Connection to a public sewer system, nope. No natural gas on-demand. No sprinkler system, or even secondary water for irrigation. There was a surprising lack of trees on the property, except for a corner of unwelcoming and thorny mesquites and the rare and ominous-looking honey locus, a strange, small oak tree in the front, and a handful of crepe myrtles that are altogether too close to the house for comfort. I thought I could plant more trees, as I had in Utah, but this was easier said than done.

With time, the realization of this scarcity began to encroach. Perhaps a better man could have tamed the land where I failed. Numerous trees died shortly after I planted them. The property would be flooded one month, with inches of standing stagnant water, only to become so dry the next that deep cracks would form in the dark, black clay. I stood above such a chasm that first year and watched the stream of water from my garden hose disappear into the endless depth. The land would not be quenched. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around such a thing.

Another important consideration was that I didn’t have access to the resources that I would need to fully utilize a property of this scale, let alone the know-how. To this day, two and a half years later, I still only have a push mower and the grass is an un-tamable beast. The most reasonable solution would be to buy a tractor with the needed attachments, dig a pond for rain catchment and irrigation, and put in a large swath of fencing. But is this what I want?

Is this the 9 acres I want to invest in and live on long term?

The land would not be quenched. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around such a thing.R. Brady Frost

Not all of my farm and garden attempts have failed.

I think it’s important to note here that I haven’t been a complete failure these last few years on our haphazard farm. I have seen some successes on these 9 acres. While I may be unhappy with the rate of improvement, I have actually accomplished a fair number of things.

The Jerusalem artichokes my dad sent me, also known as sunchokes, have done amazing here, and I just found a bunch of blackberry canes we brought from Utah that I thought had been drowned out by weeds. Due to Tara’s insistence, and better judgement, we now have four raised beds up and running. Our patch of blackberries (the ones I bought to replace the ones I’d lost in the growth) has been incredibly fruitful this year. The new variety also has absolutely no thorns, which is a significant improvement to the slightly thorny canes we brought down with us. The tomatoes are doing great. And I just added Eclair strawberries and comfrey to the the mix this weekend (for it’s value in home remedies, animal fodder, and compost).

One of the goji berry cuttings I picked up off eBay has thrives and is doing wonderfully this year, much to my middle son’s delight. I even managed to get three grape vines I had in containers since last year planted. I’ve built three chicken coops and set up an electric fence system so the largest coop can free range without as much worry about being killed by dogs.

On top of all that, I still have several mulberry trees growing in the yard, and while they’re pretty small, they seem to be doing quite well. I think the next lesson I need to learn is how and when to fertilize. Maybe that will help my trees do better in this unforgiving black clay. I’ve lost a nectarine tree, several peaches, a Chinese chestnut, several pecans, a pear, two apples, and a couple of figs, but I’m trying to overcome these losses. One of my saving graces was purchasing several of the trees from Home Depot and then returning their corpses within the year for my money back. It was still a painful experience, but at least it gave me the opportunity to keep trying.

Painting the first chicken coop.
Beekeeping with my kids.
Blackberries!

Where do we go from here?

Much of my recent soul-searching has lead me to pursue an attitude of abundance. That may sound a little ridiculous, but by focusing more on what I have available to me, things have started to change. Since letting go of the list of roadblocks in my path, I’ve managed to find some great resources I’d never have found otherwise. I started looking at the local Facebook groups I’m a member of and reached out to ask for recommendations. The first was a request for info on mulch. I ended up getting in touch with a couple who run a small business building outdoor kitchen cabinetry. They send the rough cut lumber they buy through a planer and they offered up their wood shavings! What a huge boon! Turns out, they were looking for a way to off-load a whole lot of the stuff and were even considering trying to burn it if they couldn’t find someone to take it off their hands. Talk about awesome!

You see, mulch has been a huge problem for us. We’ve called arbor companies and spent endless hours looking for free or reasonably priced mulch that would suit our purposes within the local area. Most of the resources seemed to be in neighboring cities (residents only) or too pricey for large-scale mulching. Tara, my wife, did get the green flag to pick up from a location about a half an hour away and she’ll be experimenting with that on her next specialty grocery run to Winco. But all other attempts had failed up to this point.

Bolstered by my small success with the mulch find, I decided to give it another go. I was pretty sure this request wasn’t going anywhere, but I asked if anyone had an established fig tree they wouldn’t mind providing cuttings from. It took a little while to work out the logistics, but just over a week after my request, I had more cuttings than I could shake a stick at! Now it’s time for me to learn how to root some figs! Heck yeah!

It’s truly amazing what a change in attitude and some hard work can do. Sure, we’ve still got a lot to work through, but things are getting a little better, and that’s something. Maybe it isn’t paradise, but it doesn’t mean these 9 acres shouldn’t be home… at least for the time being.

Choosing the Right Title for your Book

What's in a name?

What’s in a name, and how do you choose the right title for your book?

I intended to cover this topic in my last post, but I’ve been running into some issues with Cornerstone lately and it looks like most of the section I wrote didn’t end up going live. So, instead of crying over words that have slipped into the ether, I decided I’d just write another post to cover my recent decision to change the titles of my upcoming books.

For those of you who’ve been following along, I was going to release the first book (or novella, depending on the length it finishes out at) in the Chlorophyllium Collection here pretty soon. The title of that work was Distant Worlds, with the following entry in the series titled as Final Hope.

Recently, though, and after dedicating a lot of thought into the matter, I came to the conclusion that both of the titles actually better represented the ideas behind the other book.

You see, Final Hope is the name of the ship where the first story takes place, and this corresponds perfectly with the first book.

Likewise, Distant Worlds (which was supposed to be the title of the first book) better represents the story line and ideas of the second book!

So, what’s the big deal? It’s just a name, right? Is it worth going back and changing the covers? Would anyone really notice? How could something so simple possibly impact the series that much?

I’m not sure I have the right answers for those questions. I’ve read about several instances over the years where an editor has recommended title changes to authors, and many of those cases went on to see at least a modicum of success. So, it certainly stands to reason that book titles do matter.

What I can tell you, though, is that the title change feels right. Maybe I feel this so strongly because I’ve been spending so much time recently going through rewrites and examining my characters and the story as a whole.

Anyway, I apologize if this switch confuses anyone out there.
The good news is that by the time the books release, this won’t really be an issue. And, hey, at least I’m coming up with this now instead of regretting my title choice after the books have already launched, right?

So, what do you think?

Can you name the titles of some of your favorite books? If so, what do you think the title brought to the table in influencing your desire to read the book? Did it add a layer of meaning to the story?

I’d love to read your comments below!

April Writing Update – Distant Worlds

Distant Worlds - a novella by R. Brady Frost

Strap in, folks! It’s time for a writing update.

Why do writers write? Better yet, why do aspiring writers fail to write? And if you really want to push the barrier, why is it that so many people think writing a book is a simple endeavor, something they might do someday if they ever feel like wasting a massive chunk of time?

Oh, hell. Let’s just get it out there! What ever possessed me with this idea that I wanted to be a writer? I’m a failure. A flop. A complete and utter wannabe.

Except, I guess I’m not.

I’m still here.

Distant Worlds - A novella by R. Brady Frost

This update actually started out as post on a private Facebook group I started for other writers, but the more I wrote the more I realized that it was much better suited for a blog post. I started writing this post prior to leaving for two weeks on a vacation with little Internet connectivity, but I wasn’t able to finish it before we set out, so it’s a little late. Sorry about that.

My word count hasn’t done a whole lot lately. I’ve been getting caught up in my editing process, and I think I’m finally ready to admit that my idea for this book was far more complex than it needed to be.

You see, my original plan was to write a short story. I wrote it and published it on Amazon.

Then I got the “brilliant” idea to turn it into a novel. That flopped when I realized how different the two forms are, especially when you have to leave some holes in the story for the twist at the end to work in the shorter format. For me, short stories are about brevity and impact, but when you move to a novel that punch begins to raise questions that interrupt the longer narrative. Individual motivations become a much bigger concern; at least, they did in my story.

The next evolution was to expand the short story into a novelette. What started as ~6.5K words turned into about 15k. The plan was to publish it separately and then include it as Part 1 of Book 1 when I published the cumulative work. Again, I published the changes to Amazon. I thought it was an improvement, but it was still too hard to pick up the rest of the story from what I had. Still too punchy. Still too many holes. The nature of the story made it so you had to wait until the whole novelette was over before you could get invested in one of the main characters. Since she’s so central to the plot, that just wouldn’t do.

The novelette is now in the novella range, sitting at around 30K words. It’s still not quite there. The primary thread is looking a lot better. Just last night I went on a mission to find and eliminate over 20 instances of ‘really’ and it showed me how silly some of my dialogue was; not on its own, but some bits were very repetitive throughout. That’s an easy fix with a bit of polish. But my secondary MC still needs to be strengthened. The second thread in the novella is from the point of view of the primary MC. I considered changing the POV, but if I do that, I’m afraid I’ll lose some of the initial spark of the story. I think I need to add more of MC 1’s observations, slow it down a little so it isn’t just drama. This will show the reader why he cares about her so much, and that will expose more about who she is. This is something I’m still struggling with. I printed out all of the secondary thread chapters this afternoon. I hope to dive into them this weekend.

I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself as a writer these past few years. I was beginning to build parts of the e-book just before I left for vacation and it hit me. I can’t publish this the way I’d planned. See, the idea was to publish Distant Worlds as a standalone novella, then include it as Part 1 of the first book in the Chlorophyllium Collection series. I guess I could still do it, but sticking to my guns on this would have a cost.

Invariably, a whole section of potential readers would feel incensed by the idea of purchasing the same novella twice.

I’ve been playing around with pricing structures and trying to figure out a way to make it work. Distant Worlds could have been $0.99 and then Final Hope (which would’ve included Distant Worlds) would’ve been something like $2.99, while the rest of the series might be $3.99 or $4.99… but it just doesn’t matter. With Kindle Unlimited, where authors are paid by page reads, there will always be the impression that I’m trying to game the system. Something that would have likely been inconsequential when Distant Worlds was much shorter becomes a much bigger deal to some readers, but probably a lot more to other writers who earn money out of the pool based on their page reads as well. While gaming the system was never my intention, the perception is certainly there and that’s something I certainly want to avoid.

How does this change things?

Well, I don’t want to give away any spoilers, so I’ll have to be careful what I say. The idea for Final Hope was to pick up the secondary MC’s thread and alternate it with a mid-point in Distant World’s story line, weaving the two together to reveal even more about what happened aboard Final Hope and how it impacts the rest of the world.

If I make these two parts separate books, I can’t weave the two story threads like I’d planned. The responsible thing, given that not everyone reads books in order, or sometimes it can be months or years for readers between books, would be to set up Final Hope so it isn’t so confusing if you haven’t started fresh on the heels of Distant Worlds. That means the chapter order has to change.

[Deep Breath.] It’s okay, I can do that.

What’s in a name?

While working on finalizing the cover art for the novella, I started to wonder if maybe I should swap the names of the novella and the novel.

I know, right? Am I overthinking all of this? Maybe, but when you’re planning a series, the little things do tend to matter. And at least I’m not facing that sort of question after hitting the publish button. I hope I’ve learned that lesson enough this far into my writing career.

Other stuff I’ve been up to:

I taught my first Creative Writing course this semester at our homeschool co-op. It was such a great experience. Honestly, I learned so much from the kids in my class. Each student brought their own unique talents and expectations. Some had to face their doubts and insecurities, while others seemed to have a never-ending supply of passion.

What surprised me the most came when I was running through a back-to-back edit, putting the stories together to create the student anthology. Despite being so young, these kids wrote some amazing stories. Each one had an emotional impact and struck different chords all along the spectrum. Was the prose perfect? No, but that wasn’t as important as the storytelling. I mean, I didn’t actually have to edit that much, and the stories worked.

I guess the biggest thing for me going into the class was confronting my earliest writing fears. I wanted these kids to be brave, and they were. Oh, were they ever brave. You see, it’s the little things that stop me from writing the most. The tiniest insecurities halt everything. So, we attacked those things. We examined them and then we stole their power.

Don’t know how to spell a word? Don’t worry about it. Get as close as you can, and we’ll figure it out when it comes time to edit.

Don’t know how to punctuate dialogue? Don’t worry about it. Get as close as you can, and we’ll fix it in the edit.

And on and on we went.

Trinity Heritage Creative Writing Anthology

Getting ready for summer!

We just got back from our trip and Distant Worlds and Final Hope got a bit of a breather. I think I’m going to move forward with the title swap. The novella focuses on the events aboard Final Hope, so using the ship name as the title makes sense. The novel actually starts on Earth and moves us forward, through the events of the novella and to its conclusion. Since the fate of two worlds seem to hang in the balance for that story arch, Distant Worlds seems to fit.

Aside from minor changes, it won’t take much work to make the swap.

Of course, with summer there will always be projects around the house to complete and activities for the kids. I’ll try to do better about sharing more here on my blog. Maybe I’ll try to make it a goal to post some flash fiction pieces regularly. We’ll see how things go.

Thank you for taking the time to stop by. I’d love to hear what content you enjoy reading the most here on my blog. If you have a moment, please leave a comment below.