She passed on in February. I still think of her. Still miss her.

We were critique partners, writers who appreciated each other’s work. Though we knew each other’s real names, we connected and communicated by pen names, Anna Castle and Amber Foxx. We never met. Our friendship, though we shared other interests and agreed on some major issues, was centered on writing. Sharing your work in progress with another writer takes trust and respect. She critiqued my short story suite, Gifts and Thefts. She followed and appreciated my blog post essays. I was honored to critique Anna’s Francis Bacon mysteries, to become a beta reader when I was already a fan of the first books in the series. I love the characters, the historical depth, the wit, the originality, the settings—I could go on and on. To be able to contribute to her next work in any way, when the work was as good as hers was, meant a lot to me. I miss that partnership.

I also miss the social media interactions, the humorous exchanges, even the updates on the progress of the grass paths in her garden. I believe her fictional characters miss her, too. She told me how the Bacon series would progress, what would happen in future books. Books that will never be written. The real Francis Bacon went through difficult periods in his life which were going to make their way into the series. Perhaps the fictional Francis is spared those challenges, but Tom Clarady will never complete one of his great life goals. Perhaps in the world the characters inhabit, they carry on—and he does. Anna planned that he should.

Elizabethan healer and herbalist Jane Moone must miss her author, too. I had an inkling where the Cunning Woman series was going, and was eager to see its fulfillment. These historical paranormal cozies set in a village where magic is real are as fully researched as the Bacon books. I admit the Moriarty series didn’t hook me, simply because I’m not fond of the Victorian period, but the one story I read was as brilliantly crafted as the rest of her work. Her cozies set in Lost Hat, Texas were her only modern mysteries, and I delighted in those.

I may always miss our exchange of creativity as writers. The trust with each other’s words.

This isn’t an anniversary of anything. It’s just something I needed to say, and have needed to say since February. I was prompted by a post on the blog Pleated Stories about friends we meet online and friends we lose.

Note: Alas, Anna’s web site address seems to have been taken over by some strange, rather frantic entity in a language I don’t speak. Her Goodreads page is still there, though. If you have not yet discovered her books, I encourage you to explore. Honor her memory through her characters. They live on.

Farewell, Darling Pomegranates

I nurtured them, marveling at their numbers as I watched them change from flowers to fruit. Last year, the two trees produced a total of five pomegranates. This year, I counted seventy-five. It was hard to see them all. Some bunched together in fours, their bottoms mashed flat against each other. I had to prop branches up on chairs to keep them from breaking under the weight of so many fruits and to keep the low-hanging ones from rotting in the bed of succulents below during the rainy season.

This bumper crop happened by accident. One day in the spring, I forgot to turn off the hose. It ran for over twenty-four hours, exactly when the flowers were about to emerge. The trees got excited and flowered like mad. These are not my trees. They live behind some friends’ Airbnb. I water the plants, since the owners reside in Las Cruces. I was proud of the pomegranates, if apologetic about the water bill.

But no one wanted them. Their owners have pomegranate trees at home in Las Cruces. I ate part of one fruit, but I don’t like the taste or texture. I offered them to neighbors and yoga students. No takers. One neighbor did accept one but then confided he was afraid of getting appendicitis from eating seeds. Another friend told me, “No one really likes pomegranates. They just grow them.”

I feel guilty when I throw the perfect ripe fruits away. If I don’t, though, they attract insects. One day, I was heading for the dumpster in the alley with an armful of pomegranates when I noticed a young man walking from the grocery store carrying one small bag. I’d never seen him before in the neighborhood, and guessed he was one of the many the creatives and remote workers who have moved here lately. A Black man of about thirty wearing an old fedora and sporting a goatee, he reminded me of one of my series characters, Jamie. I asked him if he liked pomegranates. He said yes. I gave him some. We made small talk. His accent was Southern, not Australian. Jamie hadn’t come to life off the page. But someone finally wanted some pomegranates.

I’ve discarded more into the dumpster than I’ve ever found homes for. The process reminds me of writing a first draft and then cutting. I nurture the book, but it grows too many subplots and loose ends. Much as I like the look of the glorious full tree, I have to pluck pomegranates and toss them with regret, after gazing at the gleaming red seeds in fruit that cracked itself open in the sun. Such a beautiful achievement for those hard-working trees, those trees I so lovingly cared for. Such unwanted excess. My darlings. The portions of a first draft that I keep are like the fruits I gave to “Jamie.” Not many, but they’re the parts I finally share.