Saturday, August 25, 2012

Finding My Way Through My Fiction and Through My Garden by Meredith Cole

Meredith Cole started her career as a screenwriter and filmmaker. She was the winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic competition. Her first book, POSED FOR MURDER, was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in 2009. She was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery Novel in 2010. Her second book, DEAD IN THE WATER, came out in 2010, and continued the adventures of Lydia McKenzie in Brooklyn. She teaches writing at the University of Virginia and lives, gardens and writes in Charlottesville.

Finding my way through my fiction and through my garden
By Meredith Cole


The other day a friend remarked that it was funny, seeing that I was a mystery writer who killed people in my books, that most of my Facebook posts were pictures of flowers in my garden.


It didn’t seem strange to me. Gardens are, after all, bloodthirsty places. Plants, bugs, and animals are all battling for supremacy, and plants are always turning brown and dying. Gardening is also full of disappointments, so it’s certainly not for the faint of heart or the squeamish.


I knew I wanted a garden when we lived in New York. Surrounded by concrete, we dreamed of having a green space of our own. But I didn’t know how obsessed I would get with plants and flowers once I had my own garden. Fifteen minutes quickly turns into hours as I hack at weeds or dig up our lawn to put in more flowerbeds.


Gardening is a great contrast to writing. I’m on my feet rather than sitting in a chair, and I’m outside instead of inside. I may be stuck in my story, but there’s always plenty to do in the yard.


But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that gardening and writing have  quite a lot in common, too.


They take patience.


Did I mention that gardening wasn’t for the scared and timid? It isn’t. And neither is writing. It always takes way longer than you think it will to finish a book, and then far too many rewrites before your editor/agent/readers say it’s good and you feel that it’s really finished.


Like gardening, I start various projects only to see them wither on the vine. It wasn’t the right spot or the right time for the idea or plant to flourish. If you don’t want to fall into complete despair, you move on to another idea or try a different plant in that cursed spot. Eventually you learn something or you get lucky.


Experts are helpful. Sometimes.


I used to think that if I could just find the perfect writing book or class, I would somehow figure out how to write a novel. But I never did. I just had to keep trying things and figuring it out myself.


Gardening experts are useful and can share their expertise and advice. But in order to figure out what works in your yard, you just have to try things. Sometimes you’ll fail, but when you have a success you feel like a genius. Or like you have a green thumb.


You have to do it for yourself.


Only a few times in the past few years have I looked at my yard with total satisfaction and been eager to show it off. The rest of the time I see the flaws and I’m busy trying to fix bare patches in my yard. So if I relied on the admiration of strangers to make gardening worthwhile for me, I would have quit after that first spring so long ago. Same with writing. You have to develop a thick skin because not everyone will love what you write. You can’t write simply to hear applause.


I love seeing crocuses bloom and trees flower, and plants thrive. But I realize that I love digging in the dirt and dreaming of what I’m going to plant even more. In the end, it’s the act of gardening and writing that give me pleasure in the end and inspire me to give up hours of my evenings and weekends


Kaye George said...

Great analogies, Meredith! I love gardening, too, but haven't lived in a good climate for it in way too long. Someday I'll have another garden!

Anonymous said...

This piece is very insightful. I love the way you smoothly draw the comparisons and deal the pithy bits of advice. You should enlarge this and send it to Writers Digest... Thelma Straw, MWA-NY

Beverle Graves Myers said...

Finding your own way really resonates. I think that's true with a lot in life, certainly with writing.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Meredith - Welcome!!! what a terrific piece this is. And oh my, the flowers! They're gorgeous, as is your writing.
I appreciate you stopping by.

Barb Goffman said...

Gardening, fiction, life in general, it all boils down to the same thing: You should enjoy the journey, because the desired ending isn't guaranteed. Unless we're talking about my garden. Then the ending is guaranteed. Dead flowers. Dead grass. But a whole lot of living weeds.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks all of you for dropping by today! It was really fun to write about two of my favorite things--gardening and writing. Kaye's blog has always been so inspiring!

You're so right, Barb--gardens and stories don't always end up exactly the way we want them to. But they're both so much fun for me to try to do!

Patty said...

Very nice piece. Of course, I don't write or garden! Still, I'm considered a tenacious reference librarian, never give up or quit is my motto.

Meredith Cole said...

That's a great motto, Patty, for anyone! I always say I'm too stubborn to give up--which explains a lot of my garden projects, I'm afraid...

BPL Ref said...

Lovely post, Meredith! I've read both your books and enjoyed them. You might add that like a garden and a novel, others might not like what you create. It's hard to have someone-- even someone who means well-- that this plot device doesn't work or that bottle tree is just tacky when you personally think it's a delight. The hardest part is deciding honestly in they have a point or not. Sometimes the answer is yes (I really should have made that bed rounded instead of square) and sometimes the answer is no (I like my bottle tree). But judging from your glorious garden, you have no such problems!