Since it’s apple season, I thought it’d be fun to offer some interesting facts about apples and Kazakhstan. For instance, did you know botanists believe apples first evolved in Kazakhstan in the Tien Shan mountains? Today, huge forests of apple trees stretch on for miles there. The trees, over the course of millennia, have cross pollinated like crazy, in turn bringing forth thousands of varieties. Apples range in color from yellow to green to russet to red. In size they vary from as small as acorns to as large as baseballs. They vary in taste too, from inedibly bitter to grocery-store sweet.
Inspired by the Search for a Cure
In my novel, Harvesting the Sky, a special apple plays a key role. Horticulture professor Andre Damazy discovers a rare medicinal apple that can boost the immune system within a day. His personal goal is to bring back the apples to heal his mother who suffered a stroke. His larger goal is to grow more trees so he can bring its medicinal properties to the elderly and ill. But a threatening stranger stalks and vandalizes Andre’s work, hell bent on stopping him from succeeding. Why he does this is the overarching question of the story.
Years ago, I grew fascinated by the simple apple’s complex start in Kazakhstan. Here are some interesting facts I discovered.
1. Botanists estimate apples in Kazakhstan have been evolving for 4.5 million years.
2. The Russian botanist Nikolai Vavilov catalogued Kazakhstan’s apple forests officially in 1929. Those writings appear in his book, The Five Continents.
3. Scientists believe the genus and species of Malus sieversii is the oldest species of apple.
4. Unusual flavors of Kazakh apples include hazelnut, honey, berry, and licorice.
5. The oldest apple trees in the Kazakh forests are 350-years-old.
6. Development during the Soviet Era destroyed 70-80% of the forests surrounding the city of Almaty.
7. The capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, means “place of apples.”
Because the forests of Kazakhstan are so rich with cross-pollination, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that a white apple with medicinal healing power could emerge. So even though people refer to my apple as “magical,” I actually think of it as “speculative.” Regardless, what that new addition to botanical science launches is a whole basket of trouble for Andre. While nurturing his delicate saplings with care, he must passionately battle dark forces to bring his special apples to the world.
Wow, writing is a long journey but sometimes hard work pays off. I’m excited to let you know I was featured in the The Big Thrill magazine this month. It’s the magazine for the International Thriller Writers Association. Author Jaden Terrell did a terrific job writing the article. We talked about plants, books, writing, me learning guitar (ha!), and more.
Oh, and we touched on my new novel, Harvesting the Sky, which comes out on Tuesday, September 7, 2021. It’s about a botanist named Andre who’s trying to keep his medicinal apple trees safe from a mysterious stranger who threatens him and thwarts his work. He doesn’t know why anyone would do that but suspects it might be related to a deadly mistake from his past.
Mark Pryor, who’s the author of the Hugo Marston mysteries, said the novel was “superbly balanced and delightfully complex, with finely intertwined roots of mystery, romance, and the drive for personal redemption. Hugg tells a captivating story in a novel brimming with elegant prose and lurking menace, and Paris feels as alive as the unique plants that make this book such an original delight.” Thanks, Mark!
The story was a labor of love. It started as my MFA thesis almost 10 years ago. Then I tore it up, pieced it back together, reinvented it to be about plants, and stitched it together again. Then I shopped it around and couldn’t sell it. Finally, I did a couple years ago. That it’s seeing the light of day as a published novel sends my heart soaring. If you’d like to check it out, you can go here to buy or at your local bookstore.
And if you write yourself, don’t give up! You never know what the future brings.
Have a good day,
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.
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.
Apple photo by Janos Patrik
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!
Harvesting the Sky, Chapter 1 Excerpt
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…
I’m happy to share some exciting news about Harvesting the Sky and 2021!