Swashbuckling in the 21st Century: Basil Plants and Other Occupations


But then again, many swashbucklers before me have had stranger occupations and hobbies when not employed at their adventurous callings. In an interlude between naval wars, Horatio Hornblower was laid off from sailing and earned  his living as a professional gambler. This wasn’t as irresponsible as it sounds. In the novel Lieutenant Hornblower, the title character frequented a few whist games at a local club and was asked by the proprietor of the establishment to sit in as a fourth player if any party was lacking in one. And he got paid for this, the lucky sea dog!

aquamaniac-a-teamWhile gambling seemed tempting, I didn’t go quite that far. I am currently employed in something almost as exciting and dangerous, namely appearing as an extra on various movie sets. Last week I was a wealthy socialite, and this week I am just a “passer-by” on the set of an upcoming sci-fi show. Earlier this summer I appeared as a citizen of San Francisco in the upcoming Godzilla film.

I couldn’t help but think of the A-Team, in which Hannibal Smith moonlights as “the Aquamaniac” in the interludes between helping the oppressed. The A-Team being sort of a modern-day swashbuckler, I think this is ample proof of movie-making as a veritable swashbuckling pursuit, at least in the temporary absence of greater adventures.

Anyways, I began this blog post with horticulture because this has been another way this swashbuckler passes the time.

It all started with a job fair…

I attended said job fair seeking a full-time job, but did not succeed in that regard.

In any case, I was given much swag at this job fair. One of the things I was given was a small envelope containing basil seeds courtesy of the City of Vancouver. The website for seeking civic jobs was inscribed on the envelope, but being the flaky writer that I am, I forgot to look for civic jobs, and instead, I decided to plant the seeds. I had had a rather unsuccessful string of horticultural experiments in elementary school that put me off attempting to grow anything for a long time, and so about 15 years later it was with trepidation that I planted these City of Vancouver seeds into four small pots on my balcony.

This time, however, I did not fail. So amazed was I by the progress of my plants that I documented their growth photographically.

Basil 1

It’s important not to pour vast torrents of water on the seeds to avoid displacing them. They need to stay close to the surface for the sprouts to make their way upward. I made various small punctures in the plastic cap of a water bottle and thus gently watered the seeds with lukewarm water. Amazingly, after just a few days, sprouts pushed from under the earth!


And soon developed their first leaves.


With more watering and plenty of sunlight…


this was the result. Finally, I decided they deserved a bigger pot, so I repotted them. Re-potting proved very daunting, for it required separating some of the plants whose roots had become rather intertwined. I separated them very carefully, though a few roots got ripped in the process, but the basil thrived nevertheless!


I also added mulch (mowed grass) to keep the water from evaporating.

basil plant

And here are the plants in their current state!

I took this amazing success as a sign that gardening is indeed a swashbuckling occupation. Like all swashbucklers, I endeavor to protect the oppressed, and in these times of pollution and clear-cutting it seems that plant life is very much oppressed. So, I try to support it, as well as giving myself extra credentials as an author of a novel about dryads.


An Ocean Story

This is kind of a blast from the past… I couldn’t decide what to blog about today so I thought I would post this story I wrote one night in 2007 in Dublin, Ireland. I’m usually more comfortable writing novels, the longer the better, but I think this is one of my few good short stories. Have you ever been fascinated by the ocean? What’s your favorite ocean story?

Oceans: A Geographic Fable

fijiIt was midnight over the Atlantic, but the sun was just beginning to rise on the islands of Fiji, a sight that never failed to gladden the lackadaisical Pacific.

“Woo-hee!” it cried, rejoicing in its air-headed way, “Canoe racing galore! Don’t forget to slap on that sunscreen!”

You wouldn’t think that oceans accepted the names humans had given them. After all, since their beginning they were all one mass of water, one entity. Even now, there is no clear boundary between, say, the Atlantic and the Arctic Oceans. And yet, if you are called something for a long enough period of time, you begin to identify yourself with the name and the personality that goes with it.

In the 21st century, it was especially easy to hear human voices. Radio waves snaked their way between continents, cell phone conversations rebounded off the stratosphere, and satellite signals beamed down like so many heavenly decrees. Even now, the Indian Ocean was discussing an episode from a television show.

“I just don’t like the way Seinfeld treated that Pakistani,” it complained.

“Dude, he was only trying to help,” the Pacific soothed.

“Yes, but look how it turned out. That whole episode – no, that whole show just gives me a sinking feeling. It’s like he can never do anything right.”

“That’s because it’s a comedy,” the Mediterranean put in its two cents’ worth, “an ancient form defined by Aristotle. In a comedy, the main character must be morally and intellectually at a lower level than the audience.”

“Seinfeld has no morals at all!” intoned the Atlantic. “I’ve seen that show. It is like a swamp, a fetid sludge filled with iniquities.”

“There is too much demoralising sexual content in today’s television,” boomed Arctic, “It is polluting our culture.”

“No, dude,” the Pacific chimed in, “you’re talking about, like, oil spills and stuff like that. You’ve got too many oil refineries off your shores.”

“I have to agree with the Arctic,” the Atlantic said, “Thirty years ago, they wouldn’t have allowed shows like this on the air.”

The Atlantic always claimed political neutrality but was secretly a Republican and, like the Arctic, a bit of a Bible-thumper. It couldn’t help it: after all, so many people had prayed on its crossing.

“Characters in today’s television shows have no honour!” the Sea of Japan exclaimed.

“You’ve got to chill out,” drawled the Tasmanian Sea.

“Don’t tell me to chill out, you,” the Atlantic roared back, “Don’t even talk to me. You keep sending shitloads of this cheap beer that tastes like piss onto my waterways. It’s embarrassing to me, and it’s unfair to the Europeans.”

“Right, because you are so refined and European,” the Tasmanian mocked. “Tell me, how many Europeans are shitting on you right now? You’re full of shit!”

“We are all full of shit,” the Pacific announced in its sing-song voice, “People piss and shit on us all the time. But who can complain about that when they also surf?” Suddenly, it broke into song, “If everybody had an ocean across the USA, then everybody by surfin’ like Californi-a!”

The Arctic was still ruminating on the subject of failing moral standards. Oceans are often reluctant to let go of a subject. They like to conserve things. That’s easily seen in the way they conserve the warmth of the sun’s rays for much longer than the land does. “Thirty years ago a show like Will and Grace wouldn’t have—”

“According to Aristotelian logic, that’s not a valid argument,” the Mediterranean lectured, “If you say something was not permitted thirty years ago, it does not immediately follow that this same thing should not be permitted in the present.”

“Yeah, well, we’re independent now,” ” the Tasmanian exclaimed, “We don’t need none of that British logic. Britannia don’t rule the waves anymore.”

“Nobody rules the waves,” the Adriatic tossed out happily.

ocean-story-moon“Except the Moon,” the Indian Ocean said softly.

“The moon does have a certain attraction, I’ll admit,” said the Mediterranean. “But does she rule?”

“With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb’st the sky,” the English Channel began.

“If you think about it, it’s actually not the Moon herself but the force of gravity that pulls the tides towards it,” said the Arctic.

“That’s deep,” the Pacific commented.

The Atlantic had a good view of the full moon at this moment. There she floated, silent, seemingly out of touch with the world around her. She didn’t claim to rule anything.

Drenched in moonlight, the Atlantic decided to have a few hours’ nap before daylight arrived. It zoned out the buzz of human voices and music, and only the distant song of the Pacific lingered in its consciousness.

“Everybody’s gone surfin’, surfin’ USA… ”


The Nature of Dryads

dryad-eurydice-orpheusThe main character in my new novel Dryad is, of course, a dryad. But what are dryads?

In Greek mythology, they were the nymphs or spirits protecting oak trees. Eventually the term dryad came to mean any kind of tree nymph.

Eurydice is perhaps the most famous mythical dryad. She was beloved by Orpheus, a famous singer and musician. However, on the day they got married it just so happened that Eurydice accidentally stepped on a snake. The snake promptly bit her, and she died.

Orpheus then went on a quest down to Hades in an attempt to get her back. He put on quite a concert for the king and queen of the underworld, so they agreed to allow him to take back Eurydice, but under some conditions: he was to walk in front of her and never look back to see if she was following. Of course, like an idiot, he looked back and Eurydice was promptly sucked back into the underworld, while Orpheus was never allowed to go back there again or put on another concert there (maybe his concerts were attracting too many hipsters).

Eventually Orpheus encountered a savage group of Maenads (drunken women who were prone to randomly killing things and having wild orgies) and was killed by them.

In some interpretations of the myth this was the punishment decreed upon him by the gods for not simply killing himself after his true love had died but instead trying pathetically to get her back. Thus he was killed by a group of women — how embarrassing for an ancient Greek dude.


On a side note, more heroic heros than Orpheus did manage to have more successful dealings with the underworld.

Hercules once strolled into the underworld and dognapped the three-headed hound Cerberus, with permission from Hades himself.

Hercules wrestled the fearsome dog and captured it with his own brute strength and thus was allowed to borrow it. (He later returned the hound).

The New Dryads

I made some additions of my own to this mythology concerning dryads specifically for my novel.

The tribe of dryads described in my novel resides deep in the Amazon rainforest.

These dryads are wild, boisterous, and whimsical. They obey no one except for the Great Tree which has watched over their forest for millennia. Occasionally, they also obey the priest of the Great Tree.

Oh, did I mention that there are male dryads as well as female dryads?

This is not very true to the original mythology, but I would rather they reproduced sexually for it will lend much more excitement to our narrative.

Amazonian dryads can live up to several centuries, and they’re about five times as strong as humans. They are also experts in climbing, dancing, and magic. They have beautiful round green eyes and greenish skin. So on the whole, it’s pretty good to be a dryad. If only the nefarious Timber Corporations didn’t threaten their forest!..


Where Does an Idea for a Novel Come from?

idea-for-a-novelI’ve just finished reading To Live by Yu Hua. This was an amazing epic novel that made me think of a Chinese Forrest Gump. The main character is not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but he lives on through many different historical events in 20th century Chinese history and manages to survive despite the various upheavals in governments and political systems.

Yu Hua says that his inspiration for this novel came from an american folk song. No wonder it made me think of Forrest Gump’s Alabama.

I once heard an American folk song entitled ‘Old Black Joe.’ The song was about an elderly black slave who experienced a life’s worth of hardships, including the passing of his entire family – yet he still looked upon the world with eyes of kindness, offering not the slightest complaint. After being so deeply moved by this song I decided to write my next novel – that novel was To Live.

One would think that China and the old South would have very little in common culturally, but on a basic human level, a meaningful connection can be made. I’m also fascinated by the way a song can inspire a novel, and vice versa: just think of all those Lord of the Rings-inspired Led Zeppelin songs.

Speaking about all his novels in general, Yu Hua describes the way ideas are crystallized from the simplest and smallest things:

For an author, the act of writing always begins with a smile, a gesture, a memory on the verge of being forgotten, a casual conversation or a bit of information hidden in the newspaper — it is these tiny pearl-like details that sometimes transform one’s fate and spread like waves into magnificent vistas and scenes.

Coincidentally, Janna Noelle has written on writers’ ideas recently in her blog, Rules of Engagement:

My ideas are like – to borrow from the libretto of Les Misérables – a little fall of rain: sufficient to get your attention when it speckles the side of your face, but not substantial enough to convince you that anything more will come of it.

For all you know, maybe you were standing too close to a conversation and just got spat on.

Once the idea is born, I carry it with me everywhere.  Like a child, I’m trying to help it grow well-rounded by exposing it to numerous perspectives and experiences.

As for me, my ideas take ages to turn into workable novels. Usually they’re not even my ideas but something someone suggests to me. It usually takes me two to three years to realize that the idea has potential. Then I take that original idea, make it more crazy, weird, and complicated until it becomes truly my own.

So for those of you who are working on a novel of your own, where did your idea come from? And is it more like a pearl or like a child, or perhaps another thing altogether?