Michaeline: Nothing to Say

Baby lemon balm plants with about six leaves each, peeking through the mulch

So, here’s a bonus nothing: I am a terrible gardener. Lemon balm, which is viewed by most as a pernicious weed, is something I need to baby with frequent mulching, and every year, I worry if it will come up again. I’m safe this year!! Hoorah! Unless we get a sudden frost, I think I’ll have enough for tea and insect repellent. Also, in further nothing news, I was afraid that my husband had killed my bee balm (Oswego tea) last year with a good application of herbicide. But, no . . . that stuff apparently LOVES herbicide! While mowing, my first hint was that lovely smell of crushed bee balm . . . and when I looked down, I saw clump after clump of beautiful, healthy, 15 cm tall bee balm! It’s taken over almost a third of the back yard, which is wonderful news for me, because then I won’t have to mow it — just around the lovely little clumps. Unless my husband applies another dose of herbicide . . . but if it’s mowed, he won’t be tempted. Good lord, give me the ankles to keep this mowing up and save my beautiful bee balm! (E.M Duskova)

I haven’t got anything to say this week, so I thought I’d spin a little bit of nothing out into a few paragraphs. Frequent readers of the blog may know that I left my job at the end of March. I wallowed most of April, and in May, I started to get stuff done – but all the wrong stuff.

I’ve decided I like gardening again, and I want to have flowers and a relatively kempt lawn this summer – there are several ceremonies attending my father-in-law’s death this year, and the next one coming up is the 100th Day on July 5, and the first Obon in August. (I’ve written about ghosts and Obon before. But more of the nitty gritty about dead relatives returning during the Obon season can be found on Wikipedia.) Coronavirus concerns will mean we have fewer guests than we might have had, but I’m sure we’ll still have guests.

And they have appreciated the flowers I’ve bought and arranged for the first 49 days of weekly ceremonies. To tell the truth, it’s been a comfort for me, too. My father-in-law was a man of few words, but he showed his love for his family and his community through doing things, and doing them right. I could sit in front of the family altar and tell him how much I appreciated him, but it just seems right to let the flowers do the talking. I hope he would have liked them.

So, I just completed the first lawn mow of the season yesterday. It took four days and a lot of ice on my ankles and muscle recovery meditations, but I survived it. Barely. I hope that now it’s done, it’ll be my daily 30 minutes of exercise and also thinking time for my writing. But if we get several days of rain . . . I’ll be back to mowing knee-high grass for hours and hours again.

I can’t remember which book I read where a man talked about how physical labor drove all the dreams and imagination out of his head. I want to say Thoreau, but that doesn’t sound like a Thoreau sort of thing to say. Quite the reverse, if I remember my Thoreau. (It’s entirely possible that I’ve made up a False Thoreau in my head, based on a few facts like his mom did his laundry while he was playing survivalist on Walden Pond.)

I’ve forgotten how to Continue reading

Michaeline: For the Love of Barbara Allen

Pretty young lady with a check or plaid dress.

An autumn version of Barbara Allen/Barbara Allan. (via Wikimedia Commons)

There are a lot of different variations of the old Scottish/English/Appalachian song about Barbara Allen, but I was first exposed to the lyrics through a Bugs Bunny cartoon. (0:14) Porky Pig was dressed Friar Tuck, and strolled around singing about the merry month of May.

It was a great tune, and memorable lyrics. “A young man on his deathbed lay, for love of Barbara Allen.” (“Robin Hood Daffy,” 1958.) 

Later in high school or college, we sang a different version in choir. The lyrics could be sung to Porky’s melody, though, so I’d switch between the two in the shower, depending on if I wanted to be light and lovely, or dark and mournful. Continue reading

Michaeline: New Penric Novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

a plague doctor in a long beaked mask with a robe, gloves and hood

The doctor is in, and I think I’ve found the cure for my reading blahs! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

All right, book fans, I have been out of action for 42 days. No writing, and as for reading, I only did about four days of the 10-day-long Decameron. It’s been a rough quarantine for story for me — I haven’t even watched any TV stories or movies aside from a special Quarantine tribute to Lil Sebastian by the Parks & Recreation cast. (2:44)

And this week is not going to be any less busy. My father-in-law’s 49-day death anniversary is coming up this week, and the crops have to be in the fields, and my daughter is starting online Quarantine College classes . . . .

But it looks like I could bust right out of this horrible, boring rut I’m in. I write this on Friday evening my time; by the time it posts tomorrow at 5 a.m. GMT, there could be a new Penric novella by Lois McMaster Bujold out! Details about The Physicians of Vilnoc are in her Goodreads blog here. You can read the first section on Patreon here. (I’ve been seeing Tweets about The Decameron Project for days, and it sounds like a wonderful way to sample a lot of the people writing fantasy and science fiction today. 

I have, and the first 100 words had me squealing in delight. Oh, this is going to be a great book, and perfect for the times we live in. I’m hoping it’ll prove inspirational as well. I don’t know if I can write a physician in a time of plague, but I bet I could find a journalist character who reports on a plague during an era of magic and upheaval. Steampunk? Contemporary urban/rural fantasy? Or maybe something set on a space station?

At any rate, I’ll put The Decameron aside for a few more days, and dive into a wonderful read after I’ve done my duty and my chores on Saturday. Fingers crossed!

(I’ll update with Amazon info as soon as I have it!)

Michaeline: Reading Rainbow May


Lady reading in a midsummer meadow of roses and bell flowers

I’d love to spend some of these early summer days reading in the backyard with roses and fairy bells. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Well, April is done and over, and I had a terrible month for reading. I don’t think I finished a single book – only a few chapters of the Decameron, and I put off any other books because I like to read one book at a time.

In the past, I have had an upstairs book, a downstairs book and a bathroom book going at the same time, but I’m just not up to multi-tasking these days. Perhaps it’s because online reading has taken over so much of my life. I wake up and check Twitter and one online newspaper, then go to the bathroom and scan the headlines of a couple of wire services. This takes a half an hour to 45 minutes, and uses some of the same multi-tasking skills that I used to use for multiple fiction books. I’m following two or three big news stories, and maybe another two or three Twitter narratives.

There are pros and cons to everything. The online reading brings constant surprises, and sometimes I can use those things in real life (I’ve been interested in sourdough bread for years, but only in the past six months have I seen THAT story online; I may actually do make a sourdough starter this summer if I keep reading). But the coincidences! The really too-stupid-to-live characters who would never pass a gate-keeping publisher’s crack editorial team! The lack of happy endings, or even endings at all. A lot of times, stories online just trail off into obscurity to be replaced with the next story-of-the-day. If we’re lucky, Continue reading

Michaeline: What We Really Need Right Now

The Universe from von Bingen's Scivias showing a vulvular universe full of stars and surrounded by fire

The Universe from von Bingen’s Scivias, showing the feminine nature of the universe. There are stars and moon and divine fire. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

In times of trouble, I find looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to be a useful filter. Essentially, it ranks human needs and wants into a pyramid. The theory used to be that if the needs at the bottom of the pyramid aren’t fulfilled (for example, one doesn’t have enough water or can’t breathe), the higher needs and wants can’t be realized (cooperation with others, for example, or creative pursuits).

Current theory, according to Wikipedia, allows that these needs and wants may be overlapping. I think, also, there’s a gray area. You can achieve top-level goals like creativity without fully enjoying the needs and desires of the lower levels. Of course, you need food and water, but you don’t need brownies and milk. You may need a degree of safety, but your mind can trick you into thinking you are in imminent danger – in return, you can double-trick your mind into thinking Continue reading

Michaeline: Font Size Matters


Japanese newspapers see caption

These are two of the newspapers we get at home — above is The Japan Agricultural News (Nihon Nogyo Shimbun), and below is the Hokkaido Shimbun. Both carry the same headline outlined in black: Nationwide State of Emergency Declaration. The agricultural newspaper’s headline takes up about a sixth of the front page, while the regional newspaper allots about an eighth of the page for the headline. (E.M. Duskova, taken April 17th)

Just a quicky today, but the newspaper we got yesterday caught my eye. Look at the size of that headline! Even if you don’t read a word of Japanese, you know that some editor thinks this story is a big effing deal – that’s the size of font usually reserved for war. In this case, both headlines say the same thing: “Nationwide State of Emergency Declaration.” For more information, here’s an article from the Mainichi Shimbun with the same headline. 

So, what’s the font size on your book? If you are mostly interested in self-publishing ebooks, I don’t know if the font size really matters anymore on the inside of the book. The reader can adjust it. You do want to make it friendly and inviting, though, so don’t go for 8 points or smaller. (For reference, the default font on my Word Document is 10.5 when it’s at 100 percent. A point is about 1/72nd of an inch, or around 0.353 mm according to Wikipedia.) 

From what I’ve seen, the biggest element on the book cover for many authors is the picture. A picture can convey a feeling, a genre and a whole lot of information. If the title and author’s name are too big, it will leave less room for the illustration to communicate.

However, for some big name authors, the name IS the selling point. And, in a few rare cases, the title might be the best way to grab attention.

Cover Design Studio recommends 48 pt or larger for the keywords of the title, 18 to 36 pt for the author name and subtitle, and 10 to 12 pt for blurbs, promos and descriptive texts. 

You can see how big fonts play out in this humorous BBC article about modern book cover clichés.  In particular, note how LARGE FONTS = GIANT AUTHOR in the heavy-weight literary category, and how in the thrillers, Little Known Author gets a relatively small font.

I also find the Lee Child book cover interesting – KNOWN AUTHOR is huge, the title is fairly large, and the series title (JACK REACHER) is definitely large and readable. If you look at YA series, such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, the series names dominate the cover completely in many editions.

Also interesting: you can kill two birds with one stone by incorporating the title into the artwork. The “female-orientated fiction” uses silhouettes with huge fonts for the titles, and the name (our friend, Little Known Author) gets a much smaller font.

Anyway, just a short little meditation on something we all know. I must admit, my mind has not been on writing very much this week. I’m nesting – grooming dogs, cleaning house, and spending an hour or so recuperating under cats in the evening. So, here. Have a picture of a Good Boy and a Good Girl.

Doggies with somewhat long fur, freshly brushed and the wind ruffling them up.

OK, to make up for the shortness of the piece, have a double doggie picture worth at least 1,000 words. Rex, front, has been betrayed by me because I shampooed and rinsed his back. Nana, who was not betrayed today, gnaws on a fake bone. The weather is lovely, but as you can see by the ears and fur, windy. (E.M. Duskova)

Michaeline: Is it April already?

Nana dog is yawning in the spring sunshine; snow in the background

At least I can’t complain that the weather has turned bizarre. It’s always bizarre in April in Hokkaido. You can see we had snow recently, but now Nana is yawning in the sunshine and I’m barefoot. It’s snowing again as I type this, and Nana and Wonderdog Rex are huddling under the yew tree for now. The swans are heading north for a cool Russian summer, and we’ve got geese passing overhead as well this year. (E.M. Duskova)


I think SF author John Scalzi summed it up well on Twitter: “This fucking year I tell you” (in response to the 2020 volcanic activity of Krakatoa – the volcano that also brought us the Year Without a Summer back in the 19th century).

It’s been a few weeks for me, as well. April is traditionally “back to school” time for Japanese students, but back in 2019, I decided I was done with teaching, and ready for a change. So, no back to school for me this year – and none for several students on the main island of Japan. The kids of Hokkaido are back to school, but it’s really up in the air as to how long they’ll stay in school – it all depends on the coronavirus.

Then, on top of transitioning to a freelancer and adjusting to the new realities of life under the cautions of Corona, my father-in-law passed away at the end of March, and life as we know it took a further turn into the bizarre. My FIL didn’t talk much, and was very much in favor of letting people figure out their own lives. But he was a solid, kind presence for all that, and now he’s gone. And although people should expect that an 83-year-old who spends most of his time commuting from couch to table to bed is going to die someday, we just didn’t realize that the day was coming so soon.

Why? I ask myself. Why did he have to go so soon? Spring was just around the corner, and he could have had one more season of strawberries and walks around the farm. But maybe he just didn’t have the energy to face one more month of 2020. I can understand that.

So, I’ve been immersed in the simple pleasures – arranging the funeral flowers as they wilt – after two weeks, we still have some hardy blooms hanging around, and the flowers have been a bright spot. I’ve been doing dog care. And my kids are safe for now. My oldest is living with her husband and his grandmother, and taking a lot of precautions as they work and study from home, and my youngest is back in Hokkaido, waiting to see if her university will restart in May (a month

Digestive biscuits with lemon zest frosting

AFI (Aw, eff it) digestive biscuits. The dough had been chilling in my fridge for WEEKS, so I said, “All right, these are getting baked TODAY.” No faffing around with rolling them out and cookie cutters — just slice and bake. And they turned out wonderfully! Like a cross between graham crackers and sugar cookies. They just look horrible, like a true 2020 kind of cookie. Fortunately, they taste like 1991. (E.M. Duskova)

late) in the traditional face-to-face mode, or if they’ll be dragged kicking and screaming into the digital age with online classes.

If they are online classes, she can stay in Hokkaido, and I think you can guess which I’d prefer.

Things are getting done here, just not the things I dreamed I’d be doing way back in January.

So, here. Have a doggy picture and a cookie. Take a nap, drink a warming beverage, and take care of yourselves – it’s OK, whatever you are doing. What you are doing right now is just fine.