A mixed bag.
Our food principally comes from what I can grow or raise or catch or shoot. The things we can’t do that with (cereal crops – just not practical) and life’s essentials – coffee and chocolate (the climate just isn’t right – not that I wouldn’t like to try someday) we tend to buy in bulk so our lives are little atypical at least for most urban folk. If the economy goes the way I suspect it will, may become a lot more common. We shall see. It’s a good realistic background for fantasy or frontier or colonist stories I suppose.
But what I was going to write about was a feature of this way of life (which has its strength and weaknesses) which is the mixed bag. Few large farms have this situation – it’s a beef farm or grain farm or apple orchard… and while some of those will still do small-scale other things for their own use, the strength of these large farms lies having economies of scale, and a single product they do well and very efficiently. To be honest, I have a lot I do badly or with moderate success (and a few really too well). On the other hand I don’t have the acres to do large scale farming, or the capital – and frankly I would be afraid of the fragility.
Yes, fragility. Such farming is deeply bound into the whole formal economic system. If that gets shot to hell, for reasons entirely beyond the farmer’s control, the farmer goes down with it. He might have wheat, or cows to eat, and probably a slew of debts too. He’ll have to trade for most of what he needs. Equally if Beef or wheat suddenly crash in value or demand or both… he’s in a world of pain. Likewise, if (and it has happened to me) some pest or problem specific to that crop/animal… and you’re toast.
If it all goes south tomorrow… well, we should still be able to eat, and while there is no formal barter –there are a fair number of us and we already have a situation where if I have too many fish I give them to others, most of whom give some form of produce or service back (ok so there are few older folk I just like to support – but generally, you give back at least what you thought that was worth to you, and I decide, next time around if that was worth it). If you never give back into the system you rapidly find yourself not getting. But even without that… the mixed bag always means something does reasonably well this year, even if there is no excess to exchange.
It also means there is a variety to put on our table, a variety that changes with the seasons and weather. We could have spent the day fishing for yellowtail kingfish (the prize target among that bag) – but we left off trolling and fished for bottom fish after catching 4 different species, trolling, got another four species of differing desirability out of that. We put in a dive and came home with spiny lobster, and abalone. Which added up to a lot of food and one hell of a lot of cleaning, processing and sharing out.
It means we’re less good at trolling than those who only troll, and less good at the bottom fishing than those who only do those. We’re moderately good divers. But there are things we’ve learned from each way of fishing that help with the other techniques and success rates. And you never really have a chance to get sick to death of any one food type. It’s not boring.
This I hope spills into my writing. You see I like to write a mixed bag too. I’ve written everything from High Fantasy (DRAGON’S RING, DOG AND DRAGON,) to Alternate History (HEIRS OF ALEXANDRIA), from relatively hard sf (SLOWTRAIN) to rollicking Urban Fantasy (BOLG PI) to a ‘Cosy’ mystery about a rural priest to Military SF (RATS BATS AND VATS), from Humor (PYRAMID SCHEME) to pathos (THE ROAD TO DUNDEE) and a few more betwixt. Some have worked much better than others for me. And some have worked better for readers in general (not always the same as for me) – and in specific (I have some readers who will try it if I write it, and others that only follow a series/type) Look, bits of my writing and the different genre and styles spill over. There is usually an element of humor there, even if only in the dialogue. As likely as not a bit of murder-mystery in your Alternate History – or Urban Fantasy, and so on. I’ve read all of them, studied the techniques in all of them and learned something from all of them. I don’t have to like a genre or a book to learn useful tradecraft from it.
I think it makes for more depth in my writing, and kinda like the lotto numbers means I might be right place right time right book one day. Okay, probably not – but it’s a comforting rationalization of my genre hopping. But, vitally, it stops me getting stale and getting bored, even if (maybe) it stops me getting good.
So: at the moment I am working on a light sf/humor book (think Laumer), a YA fantasy set in Norse Mythology, a MG story about wombats (that I think adults will enjoy for the subtext and humor) and a Historical Romance. This is partly because real life keeps messing me around, not helping my focus, but, on the other hand, it does mean some work is happening and I always DO finish any book I start.
So I am looking at an even bigger mixed bag. How do feel about this? Should you focus on one type of book only?