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,
I just turned in the follow up to The Forgetting Flower to my publisher. Keep your fingers crossed for me. I hope the team greenlights it soon. In the meantime, I’ve thought of several ideas for a new novel but I’ve struggled with which one to focus on next. The ideas are really characters, a main character who might star in my next story, set where I don’t know, in what time, I’m not sure, in what genre, I have only a small clue. All I know for certain is I have these new characters and no story in which to plop them down inside.
Spotlighted People on Display
In my mind, my characters manifest like wax figures in a museum. They stand on a round platform under a spotlight, slowly rotating so I can get a better look at the their faces, their clothes, their accessories. As they move, they’re not real yet, simply statues of potential. They don’t shout, “Pick me!” or flirt or wink. They only stand in silence with a blank stare, waiting to be activated, waiting for me to point at one and say, “You, come with me.” Then they’ll animate, maybe shake their head out of slumber, and step off the platform to join me in the darkness of the story’s creation.
Photographer in Provence
The first figure is a 30-something woman in a thin skirt and flowery blouse and cloggy shoes. Her hair is pinned up because she’s hot. It’s sunny wear she is. She wears sunglasses and a necklace with a special pendant, carries an expensive camera and a backpack full of photography gear. She’s seeking a unique scene in Provence to shoot, a photo that will forward her career, which has been a failure thus far. But what she gets is a different kind of gem. A cognitively delayed teen will change her life.
A Princess in a Plant Fantasy
Second, a young princess stands in a scarlet dress made of leaves. With a green complexion, she stands out among the other people in this magical world. Her eyes are as dark as ebony, her finger nails are uncommonly hard, and her hair, the color of straw, is thick and silky like grass. Her kingdom is in disarray and only she can save it through political and marital maneuvering. That she may have to sacrifice the creatures of her own culture to do it, rips at her soul. But an ancient hidden tree may be the secret to solving her dilemmas.
A Haunted House of Orchids
An eccentric, curly-haired lord waits in a top hat and black suit. With white gloves in one hand and dissecting kit of tweezers, magnifying glass, and scalpel in the other, he stares off in the distance, awaiting a ship to come into harbor. He’s just hired a young governess to care for his three children because he’s about to embark on an exploration of South America. He’s told her she can enjoy his roomy comfortable mansion but must never go into the orchid greenhouse where a dark secret from his past lurks.
The Botany Detective
In the early 2000s, a dashing 30-something detective leans against a post with his linen blazer hooked over a shoulder. He’s handsome and he knows it, appreciates fine wine, cars, and women. But the death of his beloved gardener mum haunts him every day. He uses the plant knowledge she taught him to solve cases and bring justice and closure to victim’s families. He just wishes he could do the same for himself since his mother’s death, which he believes is a murder that’s never been solved.
Botanique Noire in Paris
On a Vespa scooter, Renia and Andre sit. She drives in a tapestry coat, corduroy overalls, and Doc Marten boots. Andre sits behind in his black racer jacket and brown canvas pants, a leather bag slung across his chest, machete in hand. He’s careful to hold on to the bar behind him instead of her waist, though both wish he’d rather not. They’re headed toward a last adventure in Paris that will test their crafty intelligence and strong resolve to protect plants against organized danger.
A Murky Time
While each of these characters excites me, I also feel a terrible angst. I can’t decide who to invite to step off the platform next. Therefore, these riches haunt me. The indecision is agony. There is one character(s) I’m particularly drawn to. I keep stepping around to inspect the person on their platform again and again. But I’m unsure if that choice is the right one. Still, I think about them and their situation often. For now, I’ll leave the wax museum and head to the garden. There I’ll work until I figure it all out.
Does one of these characters interest you more than another? If you have an opinion, let me know in the comments below!
Hey all, a quick post today to announce I’ve received my first reviews of The Forgetting Flower. Any author will ask their family and friends to review their books (and I certainly did) but when reviews come in from folks an author doesn’t know, that’s when true feedback comes. I’ve been feeling nervous about it. But the first few arrived and they weren’t that bad! So I thought I’d share.
Diving Deep Into the Issues
The poisonous plant was a great hook, but the pile of mysteries, elegantly foreshadowed . . . kept me reading long past my bedtime.
Hugg unfolds the layers in an even, measured pace, giving the reader time to relax into Paris’s charm while she lifts the cover to show the dark underbelly that could be any large city: the immigrants barely scraping by, living off the books; the poor, trying to make their lives in the expensive city, always at the whim of the wealthy who don’t think enough about the misery their inattention creates.A.G., Goodreads Reviewer
In Renia, Hugg captures the conflicting emotions of a non-Parisienne in Paris, the sad distance between the natives and all others, mellowed by the overwhelming charm of the scenes on the street. Who wouldn’t want that life? Her estrangement with her twin, the despair of their lives before Paris, makes Renia likable from the beginning.
Short and Sweet
And another shorter review whose last line really made my spirit soar:
A very interesting and unique story. Quite a slow build but well paced and very beautifully written. Recommended for a different read. Like nothing I’ve ever read.G.N., Netgalley Reviewer
After I read these, I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m bracing myself for criticism because I know it’s coming, but in the meantime, I’m letting these reviews ground me. As the launch of my book nears, I won’t soar, I won’t sink, I’ll just use the kind words to steer forward.
Photo by Elena Ignatenko
I’m not really a New Year’s resolution kind of person. I try to keep little resolutions throughout the year like exercising every day and not spending too much time on social media. But in reviewing my 2018 year, I realized I did have one resolution: to change my intention. It wasn’t anything big but, like a weird kind of magic, it changed my writing career.
A Year’s Journey
I started out 2018 realizing that though I was a writer, I didn’t have a book to offer readers, I didn’t have a product. I had enough short pieces published but those lived on other websites and in journals and anthologies. I also had a gardening blog but that was full of how-to articles. They didn’t feature the one thing I was aiming to share with the world: my ability to entertain.
So, I shifted into a new gear. I put my writing more front and center and myself truly out in the world. For years, I’d been quietly writing and editing and submitting to agents. But in 2018, I decided to publicly declare myself an author and publish a book, whether with a press or by myself. I created a plan and jumped into the game.
I spent the better part of spring writing Song of the Tree Hollow. By summer, I furloughed my gardening website and focused on creating a site that featured my writing. I researched branding and hired an author coach. I educated myself about marketing and created a strategy for growing my readership.
In fall, I edited Song of the Tree Hollow and published it with KDP. As I mentioned earlier, I priced it low, hoping to attract readers. I did giveaways and promotions. By mid-December, I had a healthy amount of downloads. Things were buzzing along. I was satisfied. I finally had a book to offer readers.
Then something happened that I didn’t expect. Throughout 2018, I’d continued querying my longer, more polished novel, The Forgetting Flower, to agents and small presses. All to rejection. But in November, I received an offer from a small press to publish it.
Intention or Hard Work?
It was such a surprise. I had the strangest feeling in my gut, as if as soon as I’d decided to truly reveal who I was and what I could do in the world, I received a response. What?!
I can’t prove that my 2018 intention of jumping into a more public game aided me in getting a book contract, but it made me happy to follow through on a plan. It was as if once I’d decided to truly go for it, with or without the universe’s help, the universe then helped! Weirdly magical.
Now, in early 2019, I have a new intention: to make The Forgetting Flower the highest quality and most successful novel it can be.
Do you feel rumblings to change your intentions? I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts as we go into 2019. Tell me in the comments below.