Monday, July 6, 2015

How my writing is like my gardening


We all know people - or maybe you are one of those people - who have a beautiful yard. A showplace!

I don't.

We know people who have hired a landscaper or a designer, or maybe they just have a really good eye for where a nice flowering shrub should go.

That's not me.

Add to that that I have always been careful with my water use here in semi-arid Inland Valley California and... well, crab grass doesn't take much water, but we were trying to keep the lawn greenish. In fact, my kids prefer the grass the last couple of years, because watered crab grass sends up tall flower/seed shoots and needs to be mowed. Unwatered crab grass that takes advantage of the water for the trees needs to be mowed rarely and in small patches. If my mower were powered by complaints, we'd be golden.

Oh, and we rent - we've been in this house for eleven years - and aren't going to be making any huge changes.

So stack a bad drought on top of that, and my yard is... ah, less than a showplace.

When we moved in here, I got the owner's permission to get free shade trees from the electric company. Then I got his permission to put in deer grass (those tufty things to the right). We also planted a live Christmas tree to help the scoliosis-ridden Japanese maple shade the front window. It fell over in a windstorm a couple of years later and we used cables to hold it up. The cables rusted through after a few years and the tree is at an interesting, somewhat intimidating angle.

My woodland glen right outside the front window.

I put in low-water, low-maintenance shrubs out back and promptly killed all but one (but it's gorgeous in the spring). I put one of the same type in the front and it took me a few years to kill it (it never looked all that great, even in spring).

Today, I was buying an exacto knife at the hardware store and spotted the bags of bark mulch, so bought six. And had to go back for six more. I've been meaning to mulch the trees for over a year. Now I have. I didn't remove the grass or cover it with plastic or anything, I just dumped bark mulch and raked it around.

My landscaping has been done - dare I say it? - organically. Not that it's organic, just that it has grown up over the years, been neglected, fixed, added to, subtracted, hacked back, and yet somehow it works. I'd like to mulch the whole thing and put in more tufty and flowering plants, but would need a dump truck full of mulch and a way to keep the mulch from rolling down the hill. And a bigger budget. And more time.


We all know novelists who write amazing books, chef d'oeuvres, every time.

I don't.

We all know someone - at least most novelists know someone - who plans out every aspect of their books. They plot, they draw character arcs, they diagram the subplot in a different color, they brainstorm the childhood of all of their characters. Their characters do as they're told. No one demands to be heard unless s/he's supposed to be talking. When they finish a first draft, sure, the thing needs edits, but the bones are all there and the major plot points hit at the most effective moments.

That's not me.

Like a huge subset of authors, I fall somewhere on the spectrum of "plotters" and "pantsers".  Since I write romance, I know how the story ends: Happily Ever After. That's about it.

Early on as I write everything that comes to mind about what should happen at the beginning of the book and where it might go later, I tend to think of some future scenes: how about a duel? A forced wedding? And there definitely needs to be a big, chaotic fight scene! Oh, and they can go horseback riding together and share a breathless kiss full of attraction/love/lust.

I have to have the rough sketch of the hero and heroine in my head, a few future plot points, and then it just happens. Well, with hours and hours of work, it happens. Things twist and turn and change and I need to delete and expand and delete and fix. And how about a secondary character with his own point of view? And ooooh I need to put in some foreshadowing of this event which totally took me by surprise!

For me, the real struggle is edits. That's also where the magic happens.

You know, I really should mulch down this scene. I need to go mow the part where he broods about his childhood. I think I should stick a nice lavender plant in over here where he plays with his nieces and nephews.

I speed up the slow parts, I make sure important stuff gets emphasized, I more or less follow a four act structure. I will MAKE it fit.

Is the metaphor strained enough?

I spend a lot more time on writing than on gardening. Though I go through writing droughts where I don't have time or energy, I certainly feed the books more than any hobby, including what my poor yard looks like.

Then I do yet another edit, this time based on my editor's comments. And then another because I had more flashes of insight. And then another and then...

Please take this book away from me, because I could pick at it forever.

Each book ends up being what it is. Not necessarily a master work, but an acceptable, interesting yard. With flowers. And mulch. And tufty things. And maybe a master work after all? Maybe if I squint at it from the right angle. I'm pretty much a debut author, though I've been writing for about eight years. It's going to take time until I reach my peak. And that's OK.

A little garden path lined by thyme....

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