J.S. Fields is joining us today to talk about their novella, Awry with Dandelions. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Orin sells dandelion latex at a no-name market, barely scraping by.
Mette is a princess. Maybe. What Orin does know is that for thirty seconds every night, Mette visits Orin in xir dreams. Orin has long since written the fancy ghost woman off as a recurring nightmare, but when Mette insists upon meeting in real life, Orin’s inner world turns out to be more substantive than imaginary.
Along with best friend Blathnaid, Orin embarks on a journey to discover the truth behind xir otherworldly connection–determined to free xir mind and finally get a good night’s sleep. But it’s an ancient, planetary magic that binds Orin to Mette, and Orin’s dandelions may be their only chance to survive the separation.
What’s J.S.’s favorite bit?
Pollinators love them. Homeowners hate them. And they’re really, really cool.
I grew up in central Illinois. In the 1980s and 1990s most people had their lawns sprayed to kill weeds, and dandelions always seemed to be Public Enemy #1. My mother, hating the idea of lawn chemicals, pulled the dandelions by hand all spring and summer. My sister and I were often conscripted with the chore, although when the numbers spiraled too high the dandelions would get a bounty placed on their heads: $0.50 per grocery bag full. It was a quick way to rustle up movie money, especially if you hunted out the really big ones.
My hands always got sticky from the digging—covered in a white film whenever the stems broke. I used to call it dandelion blood, and was both horrified and fascinated by it.
Fast forward to adult life and now people…maybe don’t hate dandelions as much? You see them in overpriced salads and sometimes even in the supermarket. They’re rich in a bunch of nutrients, apparently, and when I started writing DANDELIONS I planned on having Orin, the lead character, sell the greens for salad. This was going to be just character backstory, I told myself. Not a plot point. How could dandelions be a plot point?
A few clicks and a childhood flashback later and I discovered that the white stuff that comes from the dandelion stems (the ‘blood’) is, in fact, latex. We get most of our latex from rubber trees (rubberwood is now a very popular material for children’s toys as you can only strip bark off a tree so long before it dies, so ye ole rubber trees don’t get very big), but there are plenty of other sources in the world. If you really, really wanted to, you could make rubber from dandelion blood.
I found this hilarious. I still find this hilarious. Dandelions as plot? YES. The entire novella AWRY WITH DANDELIONS is based on my inability to stop laughing at all the things we make with rubber in our current society, that could be made with dandelion ‘blood.’ Boots. Medical equipment. Sequins. Toys (especially bouncy balls). Possibilities? Endless.
This of course, then led to Orin becoming a dandelion peddler, and needing a solid sales pitch. A friend and I spent a lot of time workshopping how one would pitch dandelion latex to a dubious crowd (what would make the Midwestern lawn jockeys say yes to dandelion?). It would need a new name, surely. Lion Fern. The process to generate the latex? Milking. Milking lion ferns sounds like a legitimate job—at least as legitimate as milking a cow. Heck, I’d spend a summer milking lion ferns. I spent a summer detasseling corn. It couldn’t possibly be as scratchy as that.
The dandelions-that-should-not-have-been-the-plot then, like in most of my books, got a bit of a magical upgrade. But like with the wood cellulose in ARDULUM, the science fiction isn’t too far from science fact. Hopefully you’ll laugh as you try to sort out what a dandelion can actually do. But don’t laugh too hard because when the apocalypse comes and all the trees get totalled, I’ll be the one in the dandelion field, cackling as I bleed out dandelions and become the World Master of Really Low Yield Dandelion LatexTM .
J.S. Fields (@galactoglucoman) is a scientist who has spent too much time around organic solvents. They enjoy roller derby, woodturning, making chainmail by hand, and cultivating fungi in the backs of minivans.