Hey everyone, I’ve published a short novel called Song of the Tree Hollow. It’s a literary mystery about a young woman who discovers she has a magical touch with plants — and unfortunately, a dark family history. It was fun to write, and one of my warmer, quirkier stories. I thought I’d offer this post on the origins of it. The book is available on Kindle for 99 cents, free on Kindle Unlimited. Please check it out! Thanks.
Even though I grew up in a big Midwestern city, I’ve always been drawn to evergreen trees. When I was little and we traveled to northern Wisconsin to visit relatives, we’d drive through coniferous forests and as soon as the landscape changed from open prairie to enclosed greenery, I felt different, moodier and dreamy. It was as if I’d come home, disappearing into a natural wood that was grand and dark and dared you to enter. The trees were powerful and inspiring. I even found them more reassuring than people. They were my friends, albeit silent ones that lived far away from where I lived.
It’s no wonder that a decade or so later, I landed in the Pacific Northwest. Here, trees grow as tall as buildings and as wide as cars. Thanks to all of the rain and mild temperatures, conifers, mainly cedars, firs, and hemlocks, thrive and the result is spectacular. It’s why they call Seattle “The Emerald City” (even though we logged all of the trees over a century ago). But Seattleites still value trees and many homes feature a towering old tree, especially in the northern suburbs where I live. Regardless, it’s soothing to know you can drive to the mountains in a half-hour and lose yourself in a sea of green at any time of year, even in winter.
A Ravine of Mystery
It’s even more soothing for me because I can look out my back window and see a ravine of cedars and firs. The ravine, a slope of land that leads down to a creek, is part of our property. Occasionally, I wander through to check what smaller trees may have fallen in the last windstorm or how badly the ivy has spread.
A Hollow of Imagining
One day, I imagined what would happen if one of my large cedars had a hollow, how fun that would be for my kids. Hollows are dark and scary and mysterious. A dangerous animal might live there, a creepy goo might be on the inside walls, spider webs might slap you in the face, your hand might sink into mud. All aspects of the imagination light up.
Science Fiction Leads to Speculation
Meanwhile, last year my husband and I had watched the film, Arrival. Arrival is a speculative story about what would happen if aliens actually came to earth. We would most likely send our military to try and communicate with them, drawing on linguists and other experts in the private sector to help. Amy Adams plays such a linguist who learns to communicate with the aliens. The creatures look like a cross between upright squids and tree trunks with vertical roots. When they make noise, they rumble like a bomb. The sound vibrates through the viewer’s stomach. It was fantastic.
How Plants Speak
I knew that scientists had confirmed that some plants create acoustic vibrations in their cell walls and I imagined that that’s what enormous trees might sound like if they could speak. A low massive vibration, not too far removed from the aliens in Arrival. Then I wondered what if someone was born, through maybe a genetic mutation, who could feel and hear those vibrations? Hence, my protagonist was born.
Still, I didn’t have a story. Until my cat Maddie died – and came back to life. I’ll write about that in Part Two of my series on my novel, Song of the Tree Hollow, in the next few days. In the meantime, you can order the book here.
In these last few weeks, I’ve shared the origins of my novelThe Forgetting Flower. It’s a story about memories, about a botanically unique plant, about sisterly relationships, and about Paris and Poland. It’s even about an immigrant’s dream of having a better life, which I haven’t touched on that much in these posts but is a driving theme throughout the novel. I hope you enjoy.
The Forgetting Flower Excerpt
Renia doubted her sister would answer, but every week she called anyway. That Friday, as the clerk packed up the plants, she stood at the wholesale counter waiting through the rings: one . . . two . . . three. By four, she knew chances were slim. When the voicemail clicked on, she knew nothing had changed in eight months. At the tone, she said warmly in Polish, “Steri, the fall perennials are in. New cultivars you’d find interesting. And the city, it’s still hot, but beautiful. The flowers in the squares have such bold colors, there’s even a palm tree. So . . . if you’d like to visit, please visit. Come. Let’s talk things out, okay?” She ended the call and headed to the métro, carrying her heavy crate of mums.
She went down the stairs into the dim subway, smelling the stale air, ripe with dried urine and rotting food, telling herself Estera hadn’t meant what she’d said. “Never” was a long time. Still, Renia couldn’t escape the ache in her chest, so as she sat on the train, she focused on the little perennials she’d purchased: ten ‘Misty Secrets,’ four ‘Javelins,’ six ‘Ruby Gems.’ They were lovely chrysanthemums in fresh bloom without dry leaves or disease. They had been arranged in neat rows with newspaper in between to prevent tipping and keep the soil secure. Their tidy cheeriness gave her relief from the untidy aspects of her own life.
As she came out of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés station, she vowed to leave her longing behind and enjoy the summer day: the ornate buildings, cobbled sidewalks, welcoming shade of a tree. At the café, a young couple read a shared book as they ate lunch. Three businessmen climbed into a taxi, laughing about a missed flight. A grocer helped an elderly woman untangle her dog from a post. The scenes lightened her spirit though she couldn’t fully relax, couldn’t fully exhale, not yet. But at least she lived in Paris.
She was about to cross the street and go in her plant shop when she noticed a dark spill on a building wall. Paint had rolled down the limestone in streaks, tarnishing the façade. Such a strange color. Not bright like the Polish flag or carmine like military coats, but scarlet like the Kordia cher‐ ries she ate as a girl in Kraków. She paused, shifted her crate, and touched the liquid, rolling it between her fingers. It was thin with a weak metallic scent. Looking up, she saw it had spilled from a deuxième étage apartment. The balcony door was open and a Rachmaninoff concerto stormed in the air. Through an iron railing, orange petunias jittered in the wind.
That was Alain’s apartment.
Odd. He never opened his balcony door.
She called his name, set a hand on her forehead to block the sun, waiting for him to come outside and apologize for knocking over a can of paint. Laugh off some clumsy thing he’d done. But he didn’t. Instead, the trumpets blared, the piano banged. The violins swooned over rolling tympani. It was as if the music answered in a language she couldn’t understand.
“Alain! It’s Renia!”
A rising panic swelled inside. Last month he’d had that relapse. And he’d switched medications. He’d wanted a natural cure. He’d tried St. John’s Wort and saffron and who- knew-what, but Renia knew there was no magic cure. Some‐ times one simply had to change their attitude. She had, more or less. He’d wanted what was hidden in the atrium and she’d helped him with it before. But she wasn’t a doctor, and his condition was too serious for amateurs and—oh lord, was it still there?
Come to the door. Please.
The blue sky sat like a giant shroud. The concerto roared, the No. 2, his favorite. The liquid streaks, so scarlet red. He couldn’t have done it, he couldn’t . . . but he might have. With her hand, she shielded the sun from her eyes and strained to see through the balcony railing. There seemed to be a hand with fingers, an arm stretched out on the cement floor. Diffi‐ cult to . . . was that an arm? Yes, it was an arm.
Oh hell. She turned and darted to the street, paused for a scooter to whiz by, and hurried to the door of Le Sanctuaire.
She fumbled in her bag for the keys and after a moment dropped the crate to better search. With dirt at her feet, she found it and stuck the antique trinket in the hole, jiggling while pulling the door in a stiff hold. Finally, the lock opened and she raced around the counter to her phone by the computer. Dialed 112 and waited. The fountain at the room’s center, a cement bowl with a goddess and her urn, trickled water like a pep talk. When the dispatcher answered, she explained that her neighbor, who lived at 35 Rue Sereine, was bleeding and needed emergency care.
The dispatcher asked questions about location and her name, but when the dispatcher asked how the man had been injured, Renia went mute, staring at the phone unable to speak. How had he been injured? Renia knew how, at least she thought she did, but how to explain it? And did she want to?
The goddess of the fountain stared with graceful ease as she poured her steady water. Better not. Better not be sure, because after all, she didn’t know how or what had happened exactly, whether he’d gone mad or fallen asleep or done the one thing he’d agreed not to do. No, she didn’t know how he’d injured himself but she had an idea.
“Please come,” she said. “There’s blood.”
What is a vacation? By my definition, it’s a place where you go to relax and feel happy. In that case, writing is my vacation. It’s where I’m in a “flow” state, where I’m not concerned about every day tasks and feel spiritually at ease. This year I’m taking a Provence vacation as I write this novel. I imagine its countryside, its delicious food, its charming villages. Yes, I want to be there in person, but I can’t, so as I’ve mentioned before, I travel in my mind. I sit outside during the Seattle summer evenings and write. In fact, I came across this quote by Mark Twain that nicely sums up my outlook. Here it is.
The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.
I hope you can take a “vacation” by enjoying your passion this summer.
(Photo of Gordes, France by Freddie Marriage via Unsplash)
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