“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is… But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.” — George R.R. Martin
Me, too. I have often wondered if I took my college writing teacher (the wonderful poet Robert Hayden) too seriously when he strongly suggested that I stop trying to be an architect and answer my true calling as a gardener.
After I completely re-wrote my first novel, You, in your Green Shirt, a soul-killing third time –we’re not talking about major editing, we’re talking about a complete re-write – I swore that I would architecturally plan my next novel. I didn’t. When I hit a dead end with A Little Birdie Told Me that stretched out for well over a year, I once again swore that I would never plant a seed again and wait to see what grew.
Though my third novel Pushing the River “showed up” somewhat more intact, as it was inspired by real events, it was, in every way, the result of long years tilling the soil and caring for the seeds. Although I sometimes dream of note cards, and plot outlines, and lengthy character profiles with extensive back stories, I have come to terms with the reality that I am, and will always be, destined to plant seeds, tend them, watch for signs, and let them grow.
Here is the latest snippet from my fourth novel The Rocky Orchard.
Mazie waited at the porch door, standing on her tiptoes and watching for Lula to come through the orchard at her usual time. When Lula was close enough to hear, Mazie called out, “Lula, do you know what I just realized? It’s blueberry time! It should be just about peak blueberry-picking. Right now! You probably haven’t even seen them. They grow along the bank on the far side of the road – the stretch of road that runs right along the length of the orchard! See what I mean? If you’re walking through the orchard itself, you’d never even know the bushes were there!”
Lula turned her body around. “Ah, right as rain, Mazie. Sure enough, I’ve never seen a single bush.”
“That’s because the road at the far end of the orchard – where you come in over yonder — it’s deep in the shade of the woods. The orchard opens everything up. A little patch of sun hits the bank, and Voila! Wild blueberries!” Mazie regarded Lula, noted how heavily Lula leaned on her walking stick. “Are you tired, Lula? Do you want to rest up with a tall glass of water? I was thinking I might go and pick some. Was thinking that I would whip up some blueberry pancakes for us. Have us a true hearty breakfast, if you’re game.”
“My word, that does sound lovely,” Lula said.
“You can wait here, if you want. I’m happy to go and pick them. If you want to sit a spell.”
“Oh, heavens no. Not so tired that I can’t pick a blueberry off a bush. Not to mention, can’t trust a weekender to tell a truly good ripe berry from a bad one,” Lula said.
“Oh, ouch,” Mazie said. “I was wondering how long it would take you to bring up the ‘weekender’ thing, me being an interloper and not true country and all that.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. Just meant to say that of course I want to come along,” Lula said. “Assuming you have a proper berry-picking bucket, that is.”
Mazie sighed playfully and did an exaggerated eye roll. “Gosh, let me go look. You stay here and rest; don’t strain yourself trying to think up any more witty-but-caustic things to say.”
“Do you have any idea why some blueberries have that white coating-like stuff on them and others don’t? Should I stay away from the whitish ones?” Mazie asked Lula.
“I do know!” Lula said. That white coating is called the ‘bloom.’ It’s a slightly waxy substance that the berry produces; the bloom protects it from pests and bacteria that might harm the berry. Isn’t that amazing?” Lula’s delight radiated from her. “It’s also a sign of freshness. It’s the other blueberries that we should stay away from. The berries start out with the bloom when they’re beautifully ripe, but it fades as they sit on the bush past their prime.”
“Do you know everything, Lula? Cause it’s really starting to seem like you know everything,” Mazie said.
“Heavens no, dear,” Lula said. “But like I told you, I know a lot about things from around here. I’ve always been here, like I said!”
“What’s the tenth decimal place of pi?” Mazie asked.
“Five,” Lula said.
Both women stopped picking and looked at one another. “Well, I’ve studied a few other things along the way, I suppose,” Lula said. She spread her arms and shrugged her shoulders. “My bucket is getting pretty full, Mazie. How about yours?”