• Books

    Harvesting the Sky Hits Shelves in September!

    Harvesting the Sky cover

    Hey everyone,

    Just a quick note to let you know my new novel Harvesting the Sky has a cover! Here it is above. I’m very excited. The talented Jessica Dionne, who created The Forgetting Flower, also designed this one. It’s ominous and threatening and mysterious and I love it.

    Here’s the jacket copy:

    Botanist Andre Damazy lands on the opportunity of a lifetime when he discovers a rare medicinal apple in Kazakhstan and brings back tree cuttings to his hidden greenhouse in Paris. Growing the cuttings into trees is personal for Andre since the apples can heal people with serious illnesses, like his sweet mother who’s suffered a stroke.

    But a mysterious stranger constantly thwarts Andre’s work, sending harassing calls and menacing effigies, stalking Andre, and vandalizing his trees. Andre doesn’t understand why anyone would do this, but he wonders if it’s related to a project from his past that went all wrong and resulted in a deadly mistake. So with the help of his new friend Renia (The Forgetting Flower) and her street smarts, he works to outmaneuver his enemy while uncovering a larger, more dangerous plot that threatens the foundation of all that Andre holds dear, including the woman he secretly loves.

    Harvesting the Sky is the second book in the Botanique Noire series that combines vivid literary prose and a thriller plot, while enticing readers with the wonder and magic of plants.

    Here’s a post on my inspiration for writing the book. And if you’d like to pre-order a copy, go here. I can’t wait to share this story with you all!

    Karen Hugg, sig, http://www.karenhugg.com #author #books #fiction #Paris #journal
  • Books

    News About My New Novel, Harvesting the Sky

    Apple in Leaves (by Janos Patrik), News About My New Novel, Harvesting the Sky, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2020/12/20/harvesting-the-sky/ #books #fiction #KarenHugg #HarvestingtheSky #Paris #thriller #mystery #crimefiction #author #novel
    Apple in Leaves (by Janos Patrik), News About My New Novel, Harvesting the Sky, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2020/12/20/harvesting-the-sky/ #books #fiction #KarenHugg #HarvestingtheSky #Paris #thriller #mystery #crimefiction #author #novel

    Hi everyone, I’m excited to tell you my new novel, Harvesting the Sky, will be published in fall, 2021! This book holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons.

    The First Novel That Melded my Plant Passion With Fiction

    Some of you know that I resisted focusing on plants in my fiction for years. I saw plants as soothing and beautiful, which they are, and so I struggled to find the darkness. Then I reworked the novel that was my MFA thesis with a botanist at the center of the story. Everything clicked. The story brimmed with stronger danger, atmosphere, and intrigue. Plus, it had this alluring premise related to a special plant. Instead of feeling sheepish about the book, I felt proud. I shopped it to agents in 2016 but couldn’t find a home for it. But now, post The Forgetting Flower, and thanks to my publisher, Woodhall Press, I can properly share it with the reading world.

    A Very Special Apple Tree

    Harvesting the Sky is about Renia’s professor friend, Andre Damazy, who appeared in The Forgetting Flower. In this book, he finds a medicinal apple tree in Kazakhstan and brings branches (also called scions) back to Paris so he can propagate the tree. It’s a personal mission for him as his mother had a stroke and he hopes to help not only her but many others who suffer from illness. But a stranger constantly harasses Andre and vandalizes his greenhouse. He can’t figure out why. Not only does he have to battle this mysterious person but other dark forces as well until the tension and anger and intrigue all culminate one warm fateful night.

    Renia Plays a Key Role

    One unexpected surprise I learned about The Forgetting Flower was readers really liked Renia. They rooted for her and wanted her to succeed. Well, I’m happy to let you know she’ll return in this book. At first, I struggled with how to fold her into the story but then suddenly found a logical way that felt perfect and obvious. You may remember Renia had a secret crush on Andre in TFF. Now in this story, that relationship grows through his perspective as well.

    Set in a Secret Greenhouse

    Though the book is a stand-alone read, it’s set in the same world as The Forgetting Flower. The story picks up about ten months after TFF ends. While outlining the plot, I realized Andre would be propagating special, coveted trees and therefore needed a hidden greenhouse in Paris. After some research, I found a real-life work yard with a greenhouse. It’s out of view from the public and available only to parks department employees. This real-life place provided the inspiration for the area called “L’Enclos” where most of the mystery and action takes place.

    More Updates Coming

    My publisher and I have completed some preliminary work on the novel so I’ll have more to share in terms of release date, cover, and other details soon. You can sign up for monthly updates if you’d like here. And in the meantime, you can read my three-part series of posts about Harvesting the Sky, which cover how I got the idea for the novel and created its characters and plot. It includes an excerpt from the first chapter at the third post’s end.

    Stay well,

    Karen Hugg, sig, http://www.karenhugg.com #author #books #fiction #Paris #journal

    Apple photo by Janos Patrik

  • Plants & Gardening

    How a Mild Obsession With African Violets Led to the Fantastic

    Pink African Violet, How a Mild Obsession With African Violets Led to the Fantastic, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/07/15/african-violets/ #AfricanViolets #houseplants #plants #gardening #indoorplants #pinkAfricanViolet #books #bookssetinParis #Paris #flowers #TheForgettingFlower

    I’ve grown African violets as houseplants for years. I love them because they like indirect light and don’t mind drying out between waterings. They bloom in lovely little pops of color and aren’t fussy about soil (lighter is better). So, it’s not too much of a surprise that as growers have diversified the plants via its flowers, I’ve acquired those new introductions.

    As a plant geek, you have to have all of the cultivars, you don’t know why. And you don’t question it. It just is. The good news though is through my deepening adoration for this simple genus (Saintpaulia) of plants, I created a kind of African violet that growers hadn’t created yet. One that only lives in my mind. And for me, a writer, the ability to play with that imagined plant was a thrill.

    Early Common Delights

    I started with the deep purple African violet most commonly grown. It has dark velvety petals and simple, cupped flowers. Its deep beauty hypnotized me. I couldn’t stop staring at its lush depth. I can’t tell you what cultivar it was because African violets are rarely marked at nurseries. But you’ve probably seen it. Most are derived from Saintpaulia ionantha. At any rate, I was able to enjoy it while it required so little to set flowers that lasted for weeks.

    As the years went on, I bought African violets whose flowers were a more magenta shade, or had rose-shaped flowers, or frilly petals, and on and on. They rarely died because their care was so low-maintenance (indirect light, weekly or biweekly water) but a few times the cat did get to its stalks and I had to toss a couple. But mostly, those fuzzy petioles didn’t taste good in the cat’s mouth. For the most part, the plants grew happily.

    The Oldest African Violet

    Later, that initial purple plant tripled in size. Because African violets don’t like their leaves getting wet with cold water, I often lifted up the plant’s green skirt of leaves and watered the soil. At one point, I noticed it was growing in two stalks that were beginning to look like branches. They curled slightly, kind of like a yucca or wild dracaena, but being herbaceous, weren’t true “branches.” They weren’t woody.

    African Violet Stalks, How a Mild Obsession With African Violets Led to the Fantastic, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/07/15/african-violets/ #AfricanViolets #houseplants #plants #gardening #indoorplants #AfricanVioletstalks #books #bookssetinParis #Paris #flowers #TheForgettingFlower

    But what if those branches hardened off to the point where the plant grew higher and its stems held lignin, the hard stuff that makes a woody branch woody. And what if it didn’t need to naturally mutate like that but was crossed with another plant that gave it that contradictory form? What if that other plant had a scent that gave the African violet its scent? As far as I knew, no one had successfully hybridized an African violet so that it emitted a fragrance. But what if someone could?

    A Plant at the End of the Mind

    These “what if” questions occupied my mind for a weeks. It was a fun botanical puzzle to imagine. One that couldn’t exist in the real world. It just couldn’t because of the difference between woody and herbaceous branches (one containing lignin, the other, cellulose). But my imagination didn’t have any bounds. I pictured what the plant would look like. It would be lovely and awkward at the same time: a jade plant with African violet blooms at the branches’ ends.

    I loved the idea, that it didn’t exist but could in a world that I made. I could create any situation I wanted. And I did. The world I made for my unique plant was in Paris: the most beautiful city in the world to house the rarest plant in my story’s world. And as I thought up who would take care of my imagined plant, I started spinning a plot, then I threw everything else I loved into the novel. And it became The Forgetting Flower.

    Purple African Violet, How a Mild Obsession With African Violets Led to the Fantastic, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/07/15/african-violets/ #AfricanViolets #houseplants #plants #gardening #indoorplants #purpleAfricanViolet #books #bookssetinParis #Paris #flowers #TheForgettingFlower

    Do I still grow African violets now that I’ve created the penultimate plant in my mind? Absolutely! I just saw this gorgeous beauty the other day (above) and had to have it. There was no reason behind it, there was no justification. I simply became entranced by its uniqueness. I’d never seen its kind before and wanted to incorporate that into my life. And that’s the thing about plants: their loveliness doesn’t have to fade and die quickly, it can expand and enlarge and delight your soul for years to come.

  • Books,  Writing

    Why I Wrote a Novel About a Unique Apple: Excerpt

    Apple on Branch, Why I Wrote a Novel About a Unique Apple: Excerpt, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/07/07/apple-novel-excerpt/(opens in a new tab), #book #fiction #HarvestingtheSky #novel #KarenHugg #Paris #apple #botany #excerpt #origins #thriller #crimefiction #mystery #botaniquenoire
    Apple on Branch, Why I Wrote a Novel About a Unique Apple: Excerpt, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/07/07/apple-novel-excerpt/(opens in a new tab), #book #fiction #HarvestingtheSky #novel #KarenHugg #Paris #apple #botany #excerpt #origins #thriller #crimefiction #mystery #botaniquenoire

    During these last few weeks, I shared two posts about the origins of and botany in my novel about a unique apple, Harvesting the Sky. The first article covered how I merged issues of an emotional past with plants and the second, my inability to eat apples and subsequent fascination with them. This week I’m posting the final segment of this series with an excerpt from the book’s first chapter. It takes place in Kazakhstan while the rest of the novel, as in The Forgetting Flower, takes place in Paris.

    I hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!

    Karen Hugg, sig, http://www.karenhugg.com #author #books #fiction #Paris #journal
    Harvesting the Sky, Chapter 1 Excerpt

    Autumn

    Chapter 1

                For months, Andre had imagined what the apple would look like and now as he crested the mountain ridge, he was about to find out. He doubted it would be truly white, the “pearl” Nes had described. He guessed yellow with hints of cream. That would be more realistic. Then again, what was realistic about a white apple that healed people in a matter of hours? He dragged his aching body through the rain, his heart beating with an excited tic as he followed Samal, the team guide. She seemed unaffected by her tall bulging backpack and heavy wool coat, ambling up the slope like a dragonfly zooming over grass.

    In Kazakh, she said, “This way, soon, I think.”

    Andre’s pack, heavy with equipment, pressed on his shoulder blades, bonier from walking thirty miles into the forest for three days. His stomach grumbled. He was ready for whatever ramen soup they had left and a good night’s sleep.

    At the ridge’s top, Samal paused and pointed at a foggy light illuminating a cloudy opening, her black eyes alert. “Tengri!”

    In the distance, the top of a tree, much broader than described, stood.

    “Is that the tree? Are you sure?”

    “Yes, very sure.” Her favorite tin cup for cooking and eating and washing bumped against her black braid.

    He searched his mind for the Kazakh words to say the tree didn’t quite fit the description but failed to piece them together, glancing back through the dense crowns for Vlad. The translator was plodding along sixty feet below, too far for earshot, and Nes, well, he was bringing up the rear to make sure Vlad didn’t wander the wrong way again.

    “Alright,” he said, trying to lighten his voice. “Let’s find out.”

    Soon, the forest trickled away to a field of artemisia and herbs, rolling gently downward to an expansive field. About a quarter-mile off, the Tengri tree stood exactly where the old villager had said it would be, on a small hill between a cherry thicket and crooked stream. Good God, it was there. Out in the open. For anyone to study. They’d struggled through wind and snow and searing sun to find it. Paid bribes at highway checkpoints, even smoked dirty crumpled cigarettes and eaten sheep’s head soup out of courtesy for information. Now, he’d be part of the team that brought it to the Western world.

    “Holy…” He dropped his head in relief. What a gift. He whispered his thanks: “Raqmet.”

    As they wound their way into the field, he studied the tree. It grew sturdily with a wide trunk and sweeping crown, branches evenly spaced so it gained all of the light and air it required. No bare patches in the bark. No canker or cracking. Somehow it had survived decades of lightning and wind and late frosts without the protection of other trees. His dad would have clapped his hands and said, “Ah, what a lucky stick!”

    Still, the leaves had turned a reddish-orange color. Late-season color, about-to-drop color. And where were the apples? He scanned the branches. None. A lump of worry solidified in his gut. The tree was going dormant. If it was going dormant, that meant it had dropped its fruit. If it had dropped its fruit, they’d have no apples to bring home and the project was screwed.

    As he neared the hill, its size grew, looming 30 feet in the air. The slopes sharply surged up, covered in tangled dense shrubs. They reminded Andre of the chaparrals near his family home in California. As a child, he would roam the countryside beyond Suntime Orchards, coming across brambles where he’d peer into dark silent holes. He always expected a vicious little animal to jump out and snap his hand. “Great. A hill of rocks and thorns,” he said, wiped his forehead with a sleeve. At least the rain was letting up. They picked their way through boulders to the stream. Samal ploughed into the water. Andre paused. It was a foot deep, about eight feet wide. Fast-moving. He stepped in the freeze and it soaked his boots as he hobbled across, the creek’s bottom a scattering of slippery stones. He leaned forward, worried about keeping his pack dry…


    Publication Update

    I’m happy to share some exciting news about Harvesting the Sky and 2021!

  • Books,  Writing

    Why I Wrote a Novel About a Unique Apple: Botany

    White Apple, Why I Wrote a Novel About a Unique Apple: Botany, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/06/29/apple-novel-botany/ #books #fiction #novel #HarvestingtheSky #KarenHugg #apple #Paris #botany #origins #writing #botaniquenoire
    White Apple, Why I Wrote a Novel About a Unique Apple: Botany, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2018/06/29/apple-novel-botany/ #books #fiction #novel #HarvestingtheSky #KarenHugg #apple #Paris #botany #origins #writing #botaniquenoire

    Last week, I wrote about the origins of my apple novel, Harvesting the Sky. I covered my resistance to putting plants in my fiction, how I developed a main character who was a composite of plant people I knew, and why I decided to set the story in Paris. The next step I needed to decide was the novel’s botany, what plant my main character, Andre, would be discovering.

     A Fascination With a Fruit I Can’t Eat

    As an adult, I’ve never been able to eat apples. While I know they’re good for me and certain cultivars like ‘Honeycrisp’ and ‘Red Delicious’ are tasty as heck, I have trouble digesting them. I get an instant stomach ache. My abdomen feels like it’s been tied in a knot. I’ve tried to overcome this by eating apples with cheese, eating apples after a protein-based dinner, etc. but I always end up in sharp pain.

    It may be that apples have too much raw fiber for my body, I’m not sure. Regardless, because of this, I’ve always been fascinated with people who can grab an apple and happily munch away. The idea that this portable, hardy fruit keeps a long time on a counter until you’re ready for it seems so pure and beautiful. The facts of how healthy they are is amazing. And Biblically speaking, apples play a huge role in the creation story. All this tumbled around my mind. I started thinking about what if I could not only eat apples easily, but what if they could give me an exagerrated boost to my immune system?

    The History of Apples

    The history of apples is long and interesting as well. Grown mostly for cider in the 19th Century, most varieties of apples weren’t sweet. They weren’t appealing to eat until breeders started grafting and growing cultivars specifically for culinary pleasure. That’s when they exploded in popularity. Michael Pollan wrote a great chapter on this in his book, The Botany of Desire.

    What’s even more interesting is the earliest apples grew in Kazakhstan. I won’t go into too many details, but scientists genetically mapped out various cultivars and traced the earliest trees to the Alatau Mountains in Kazakhstan. In fact, the only forest of apple trees in the world grows there. A professor named Aimak Dzangaliev mapped and recorded many of the trees. And unfortunately, development has destroyed much of the forest. Still, there are a few groups working to protect this amazing area of the world.

    Natural Mutations

    Because there are hundreds of varieties of apples in this Kazakh forest, I started thinking about plant mutations. Plants naturally cross-pollinate to form new plants all the time. And in the Kazakh forests, it’s happened in spades. So, because I was thinking about how I can’t eat apples and how apples are incredibly healthy for you, I began wondering what would happen if a naturally mutated tree occurred that could seriously boost the immune system. Someone, maybe a plant explorer, would discover it, and afterward Western botanists would discover it too. The plant I wanted Andre to discover was a medicinal apple.

    Plant lovers are always in search of that “special” plant. They crave the unknown plant, the rare plant few others have, the plant that only grows under certain conditions. It’s an addiction, this quest to attain the unusual. We plant geeks are fascinated by all the mutations, natural and bred. We want the blueberry that actually produces pink berries (Vaccinium ‘Pink Lemonade’). We want the hydrangea with purple leaves (Hydrangea aspera ‘Plum Passion’). I could easily name a hundred even rarer examples. And so, it also occurred to me this medicinal apple would be extra valuable and extra interesting if it were an unusual color. And as far as I know, no one has discovered a truly white apple yet.

    Where to Begin

    So because I wanted Andre’s life to change because of a white, medicinal apple, I knew the story had to begin at the point when the apple came into his life. Of course, that had to be in Kazakhstan. Also, I decided that rather than sending him solely as a representative of his university, he’d have to have some monetary incentive in attaining it. And so, I decided he’d be beholden to a pharmaceutical company in Paris. Because I knew he’d need even more conflict than a corporation breathing down his neck, I created a mysterious villain. These ideas launched the first chapter and story arc. You can read the novel’s summary here.

    Next week, I’ll post an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Harvesting the Sky.

    Publication Update

    Check out the exciting news about Harvesting the Sky and 2021!

    Photo by Aaron Burden