Kate Flora here, bookending the week with another post. Lately, life has felt like I’m impelled forward by some unseen hand that is shoving and nudging me along from one task to another. My to-do list seems endless. I would like to be in the garden, bending down to peek at what is coming up. Staring at the soil wet from yesterday’s rain and wondering if last year’s favorite perennials will come back or I’ll have empty places to fill in the border. Instead, I’m composing e-mails to bookstores, asking for a place in their fall schedules.
I’m organizing interviews, from the utterly frivolous ones that begin with the question: What is the title of your autobiography? And my answer: “Chicken Farmer’s Daughter” to the very detailed and serious ones that explore my journey from the fictional amateur detective in my Thea Kozak series to the very real details of the crime in Death Dealer, my September true crime from New Horizon Press Books and my parallel journey from writing what we call “strong, amateur female P.I.” to writing gritty police procedurals like my October book And Grant You Peace.
I’m organizing my lecture notes on writing dialogue from my Tuesday class at Grub Street (GrubStreet.org) in Boston titled: I’ve Always Wanted to Write, But … and planning what their next exercise will be.
I’m tweaking my notes on plotting a mystery novel for a class called Crime Fiction 101 and discussing the final programming details for this fall’s New England Crime Bake (crimebake.org) with the rest of my committee. There are edits for the short story, “Girl’s Night Out,” which is being published next month by Shebooks. More edits for the e-book and POD versions of my first three Joe Burgess mysteries. I have a note that says compile financial information. Another that is the outline of an emergency management plan for a fiction school that Thea is consulting with. The treadmill beckons. My desk is buried in filing that needs attention. There’s a small wedding picnic to plan. Phone calls to return.
Okay. You get the picture. A writer’s life is just like any other. We’re not just sitting around waiting for the fluttery little muse to land and whisper in our ears. We have all the stuff of life to manage while holding off the urge to be creative, dive into our imaginations, and finish the next darned book.
In a little while, I’ll cross two more things off the list and let myself go outside. Going out into the garden isn’t really an escape from writing. Sometimes I think it is an immersion into writing. Maybe in part because my mother was a garden writer. A woman who wrote about country living and the changes in the seasons, a close observer of nature and weather and wildlife. When I’m in the garden I become a better observer. I practice the exercise I recently gave my students. Isolate the senses and use them once at a time. Sight brings the shapes of the leaves. The many colors of emerging green. The way that buds arrange themselves on the branches of shrubs. Sounds lets me hear how the wind moves through the trees. A roar. A whistle as it streaks around the corner of the house. The creak and crack as broken branches shift.
Around me, robins are rustling under the shrubs. An insistent cardinal is not so much singing as bellowing. In the distance, doves are cooing and an owl is hooting “who cooks for you?” A squirrel scolds from a high branch, while two more chase each other through the dried leaves. A runner pants past, shoes slapping the asphalt. A cyclist goes whooshing down the hill. A piece of metal rattles. Old leaves rustle. A Prius sneaks almost silently by.
Mentally, I rearrange the position of my shrubs for better symmetry and order, much as I sometimes have to rearrange scenes in a chapter to get the flow of action and reaction right. I study the tiny green spears poking up through the mulch and see that, just like the beginnings of a novel, they will fill out and grow until there’s a mature plant or a finished story. I see the beginnings of an attack by insects or predation by bunnies or the woodchuck and am instantly put in touch with the kind of anger that leads to murder. As is the case with many villains in books, any act of destruction that will bring an end to my plant’s tormentors seems entirely justified.
Then, refreshed by the air, and new ideas, my senses tuned up, I will go back to my desk, shove “to do” aside, and write today’s thousand words. And by midsummer, the garden will be lush and full and humming with bees, and the first draft of the next Thea Kozak mystery, Death Warmed Over, will be finished.