Friday, December 21, 2012

My Little Shop of Horrors

I have several other hobbies that I enjoy aside from writing: I love to travel, I'm a foodie, and I'm a serious gamer.  As if I weren't busy enough, I recently jumped into the strange but fun-filled world of carnivorous plants (CPs for short).  I remember watching a National Geographic special when I was just a kid, maybe 8 or 9 years old, about animals and plants that live in bogs.  The show featured venus flytraps as an example of how some plants adapted to the nutrient deficient soil found in this ecosystem.  I became entranced as I watched the footage of a VFT snapping shut and capturing an unsuspecting fly.

That summer, I spotted VFTs for sale at Lowe's, and I managed to persuade my parents to buy me one.  I had a great time feeding it ants and watching the traps send the insects to their doom.  There's just something incredibly cool about watching a plant eat an animal.  Most people think of plants in the traditional sense: slow, helpless, and perhaps even boring.  CPs shatter those perceptions.  I was hooked.

Sadly, Mr. Fang (as I called my VFT) eventually died after a few months and the ant problem in my parents' house never truly went away.  Now, nearly two decades later, I've finally jumped back into the hobby.  This time, armed with the knowledge gleaned from Peter D'Amoto's incredible book, The Savage Garden, I've become a proud owner of three healthy, fun carnivorous plants that I've had since June: a tropical pitcher plant, a Mexican butterwort, and a cape sundew.  And none of them have died! It's a minor miracle.  I've been growing my plants on a sunny windowsill during the summer (my apartment has no private outdoor space), and now with winter here, I've placed them into a terrarium to maintain some humidity and provide plenty of light.  Of course, nothing beats real sunlight, but the plants seem to be doing incredibly well under the florescent bulbs I purchased.  I don't get many bugs in my apartment (thank god or I would have to buy an iguana), so my plants get fed freeze-dried bloodworms.  These can be found in almost any pet store, as they are a favorite food for beta fish.

Here's a closer look at my strange collection of plants:

My Mexican butterwort.  It produces small sticky drops of dew that captures gnats and fruit flies.  Prey gets digested right on the surface of the leaves (you can see a bloodworm getting eaten in this pic).

My cape sundew.  It creates large drops of dew at the end of these feathery, red "tentacles" that attract flies and ants.  The leaves fold over and digest the struggling prey.  Look closely, and you'll notice a couple of leaves folded in half, filled with tasty bloodworms.
My tropical pitcher plant.  The little pitchers it produces lures flies, wasps, and other critters with the sweet scent of nectar.  The inside is slippery, though, and the unsuspecting insects end up falling to the bottom where digestive juices drown them and feed the plant.

I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog about writing.  So how are my strange plants related to that? Well, I think Peter D'Amoto is proof that writing can be combined with any of your other passions.  His guide to growing CPs is one of the most comprehensive works written on the subject, and it's already in its seventh edition.  Just goes to show: you don't have to write a traditional novel to be a successful writer.  Just write about what you love.

On the off chance that you're interested in owning your own "Savage Garden," I highly recommend reading D'Amoto's book first.  Then check out California Carnivores to see what they have for sale.  It's a great company that Peter runs himself, and the plants I bought from there are doing really well.  Even if you're not going to buy anything, it's fun browsing through the different kinds of plants they offer.

Monday, December 17, 2012

I Don't Care If It's Clichéd

I'm a guy who likes animals.  That's always been the case since I was a wee lad.  Some of my earliest memories involve feeding the neighborhood stray cat, which I named "Meow-Meow Mix."  He and I got along swimmingly.  Until he bit me.  And I had to get a rabies shot from the doctor.  Damn, that was a horrible day.

Despite all of that, I'm still a huge fan of animals.  I watch Animal Planet on occasion and even took animal related courses in college.  One of my class high-lights was dissecting a cat for my Animal Morphology class.  Karma is a bitch, Mr. Meow-Meow Mix (actually, I was quite said having to do that particular assignment, but alas it was necessary to pass the class).

Seriously though, I love animals and find them to be fascinating.  It's no surprise that I end up writing a few stories that have them as minor characters or even as main characters.  One story, in particular, involved a well-spoken cat with a bit of an evil streak.  I presented this story to one of my writing classes one day, and most people were supportive in providing me with advice.  I have no problem with criticism; this wasn't the first workshop I've been in.  However, I did get hammered for writing a story that a couple of people proclaimed was "too clichéd."  To be honest, that's a fair point, and I agree to an extent.  However, it doesn't help me at all when the only advice I'm given is to "write something original."

A lot of people have found success by writing stories about animals, whether realistic (i.e. Jack London's Call of the Wild) or speculative (i.e. George Orwell's Animal Farm).  Let's also not forget how much money Walt Disney made off of an animated talking mouse.  Yes, I know stories about animals, verbose or silent, have been done before.  But guess what? They'll continue to be produced because there's a demand for them.  I'm not the only animal lover on this planet (check out the Ikea monkey for proof).  I don't care if my story is based off of a clichéd concept.  I care if my story makes a point.

Ultimately, isn't that what every writer hopes for?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Review

I'm a member of Goodreads, which is a social network focused on books.  Even if you're not into the whole socializing thing (and most writers aren't because we're shy and awkward, unless drunk), it's a great way to organize your book collection and keep track of what you've read or what you plan to read.

You can also win free books! A couple of months ago, I entered a giveaway for Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys.  I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but the book was a fun read overall.  You can check out my entire review for my thoughts on the first teen paranormal romance book that I've ever read.  It may also be my last.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Welcome, welcome, please make yourself at home in my virtual cave dwelling. Can I offer you the gift of fire? Perhaps a giant, stone wheel to impress your friends?

Thanks for visiting my primitive blog. I've been hoping to put one together for years, and I've finally decided that there's no time like the present (which means I've stopped being lazy for once). So who am I, and why are you here? Well, to answer the first part of that question, allow me to introduce myself. My name's Lew, and I'm a writer who's hoping to eventually get my stories some considerable exposure. Now, exposure on the level of, say, J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin would be nice, but I'm going to try and aim a little lower than that first. Everyone had to start somewhere, right? Besides, I don't have any cool initials that stand for "just kidding" or "rest & relaxation" like the previous writers do.

I began writing at a young age, putting together fan fiction stories centered around Ninja Turtles. Yes, I was (and still am) a huge TMNT fan. If you haven't been watching the new show on Nickelodeon, please do yourself a favor and check it out. The writing is smart and funny, and the voice actors are doing a fantastic job of reviving this old franchise. However, if you're one of those people who gaze at your childhood through rose-colored glasses, please stay away. I can't stand reading any more "OMFG Nickaelodeonz rap3d my chidho00dz!!!!1" comments that seem to flood the forums and fansites. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, writing! So I started with fan fiction (embarrassing, I know), and then I began trying my hand at original material during my early college days. Just when I was getting into the groove of things, I had to step away from writing for a few years while I focused on finishing college. I survived, barely, by eating Mac 'n Cheese, Slim Jims, and Mountain Dew. After getting a shiny piece of paper that I worked so hard for, I found a wonderful job with lots of interesting people, some of whom drove me crazy. Instead of turning to the silver flask full of happy juice, I decided to focus my energies on something more positive: writing. I signed up for the Writers' Program via the UCLA Extension and found an incredible community of writers who shared some valuable tools of the trade. I thought being a writer of speculative fiction would alienate me, but that wasn't the case at all. The classes I took at UCLA Ex helped to transform my writing from total garbage (like Aunt Petunia's "tuna-less tuna casserole"), to something a little more salvageable (like Uncle Rob's "liquid dinners"). Since then, I've been trying to get my stories published with very little success. Only one, "The Passenger," was published online in 2010, and the literary magazine (AKA lit mag) died about a year later, thankfully. Looking back, that story wasn't one of my favorites, heh. Right now, I have one story on hold for an online lit mag (I hope they decide to publish it), and I'm working on refining 2-3 more stories for submission next year. I'm also revising, albeit slowly, a horror/action novella.

Now that I've answered the first part of that question (yes, there were two parts, remember), allow me to address the second part. Why are you here? Well, why are you here? I can only think of two possible answers: 1) You and I are well acquainted, and you're kind enough to support my crazy endeavors (hi Mom!); or 2) You're incredibly bored, wandered into my virtual cave by mistake, and we still might be well acquainted (hi Dad!). Whichever answer you find suitable to your situation, I do hope that you'll be stopping by on occasion. I plan to use this blog as a way to vent my insanity as I pursue the American dream of writing a novel and making piles of money. Won't you join me on this adventure? Or maybe you already have. If that's the case, bring some potato chips. I'm running low. See you next time!