Novel Gardening

Welcome to my blog! This is my first post. Let me introduce myself. I’m a wife, mother of two adult children, author, attorney, walker, dog lover, and gardener.  I became a Girl Scout at age forty, survived breast cancer at forty-two, walked in a sixty-mile fundraiser at forty-seven, and learned the Thriller dance at fifty-seven. I’ve always been a writer.      

My debut novel, tentatively called No Brakes, is now being offered to publishers by my wonderful literary agent, Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency. My stomach is doing flips. I check my e-mails every hour and keep my phone in my pocket. I’ve been told the best way to make it through this anxious time is by writing the next novel. By coincidence, my new perennial garden is ready for planting.

In many ways, starting a new novel is like starting a new garden. When I wrote my first novel, I took the “seat-of-your-pants” writing approach. There was no plan, no thought. I sat and wrote, letting my novel take me wherever it wanted to go. By the time I tapped “The End,” I had a 136,000 word monstrosity. It took me a year to straighten out the mess.

I started an herb garden in the same haphazard way. The first herb was mint, planted straight into the ground, with Mojitos dancing in my head. A rookie mistake. The mint transformed into a wild beast. I sprayed, yanked and cursed.  Eventually, I slayed the beast, along with my taste for Mojitos.

These messes taught me a valuable lesson: I’m a planner not a seat-of-your-pantser. Believe it or not, one of the writing courses I took devoted a whole session to figuring out your writing style.  My daily to-do list should have given me a clue I’m not a pantser.   

Now I’m planning both my new novel and my new garden. Where do I start?  Foundation planting? The protagonist’s backstory?  This time I won’t plant perennials that spread through the garden like a virus. I’m determined not to introduce a subplot that twines throughout the novel, but goes nowhere. I don’t want to excavate either kind of mistake.

Each plant must contribute to the whole design. Each character needs to advance the plot. Otherwise, there’s no choice but to eradicate them later. Getting rid of hard work is a heartbreaker, whether it’s in the form of a plant or a fictional character. 

No more selecting an unfamiliar plant just because it’s pretty. This time, I’m researching each plant—sun/shade requirements, hot/cold tolerances, soil and water needs. Otherwise, my once-pretty plant will likely end up dead, dead, dead.  I learned this lesson with No Brakes. My protagonist, Lucy, pursued a path of investigation based on an intriguing fact I assumed was true. Oops, I was wrong. A week of Lucy’s life got deleted and she had to start her investigation over. My assumption caused me and Lucy a lot of trouble. This time I’ll research first—no matter how sure I am of an intriguing fact.

I’ll be saving all the identifying tags that come with the new plants. After many years of tending my first perennial garden, I had no idea what some of the plants were. Dawn, my wise agent, requires a list of every character mentioned in a novel, no matter how fleeting the character’s part. The list includes the full names, ages, occupations, and physical descriptions. I constructed my list after my novel was written. Oh my! Characters’ names had inconsistent spellings and physical descriptions varied. Sometimes I gave different characters the same name. It’s hard to keep it all straight as your writing thousands of words over a course of months. This time I’m making my character list as I write.

Here’s the beginning of my next novel:

 

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you’ll visit again. I’d love to hear about your gardening and writing mistakes.

Ellen

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