At the Edge of the Orchard

Tracy Chevalier, Apple Trees & Me

At the Edge of the OrchardTracy Chevalier has published a book about apple trees and I’m jealous. I saw it a few weeks ago in my local, independent bookstore, Third Place Books. (I know I’m a bit late in noticing.) Multiple copies were nested in a large endcap display, sporting images of red apples, in all of its bulky, cardboard glory. The title is At the Edge of the Orchard. Wow, I thought. This is about a man growing apple trees. My book is about a man growing apple trees. Oh my God, Tracy Chevalier has thought up my idea. She’s written my story. Tracy Chevalier has written and published a book about apple trees before I have. And she’s published it because, unlike me, she has an awesome contract, several published books, and a glowing reputation! Ack, I’ll never have a chance to share my story!

Then I came back down to Earth.

I am not Tracy Chevalier. She is not I. I do admire her though. Her use of language constantly blows my mind. It’s insightful, economical. Her plots are thoughtful. Her knowledge of history, immense. And how she has used these tools again and again to create unique books that only she can write impresses me.

After my feet were firmly planted back on the bookstore carpet, I thought, Well, that’s a positive. Anyone bringing the natural world to the reading masses is good. Anyone sharing a passion for apple trees is doing us plant nerds a favor. I don’t have a shot in heck of landing Tracy Chevalier’s agent, but I left the bookstore, knowing that agents I do pitch will be more familiar with stories about trees. It legitimized what I think and do.

Now, as I read At the Edge of the Orchard, I smile. Her book is historical fiction for one, set in the 1800s and deftly done, while mine takes place in contemporary Paris and launches from a speculative question. Her story is about family, the frontier, America, the hardship of survival. Mine, to some degree, is also about family but my protagonist dominates the story. Her characters are survivors of early America, mine are multicultural, urban professionals. What we do share is the language of apple trees and reality of growing them. We share the idea of plant exploration, seed collection, the business of propagation. But ultimately, these are only pieces we share, not entire stories.

So, after a blip of jealousy, I feel excited. If and when Harvesting the Sky is published, I’ll share another, more important piece with Chevalier, that of the published realm. What a thrill it would be.

2 thoughts on “Tracy Chevalier, Apple Trees & Me

  1. Hey Karen–
    Tracy here! Yes, really. I saw your blog retweeted and read it and smiled. I understand only too well your panic about another author writing “your” subject. When Girl with a Pearl Earring was a few months away from being published, first Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach (about a Dutch painter and a model he falls in love with) came out. Then, even worse, out came Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, which is about a VERMEER painting! I thought, Well, that’s me done for, no one is ever going to read a third book about a Dutch painter. And of course I was wrong. Since then there have been other doublings – someone also wrote a novel about the fossil hunter Mary Anning at the same time I wrote Remarkable Creatures. But there is room enough for us all – and especially room for a novel about apples in the contemporary world. Please let me know when it is published!

    Very best to you–

    Tracy Chevalier

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  2. Thanks for your lovely note, Tracy! It’s inspiring and reassuring to hear your stories. Yes, the beauty of our artistic souls is though minds think alike, we each speak differently. By the way, I loved At the Edge of the Orchard. Cheers.

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