Just a quick note to let you know my new novel, The Dark Petals of Provence, is now available in all formats: paperback, ebook, and even audiobook. As I mentioned in my newsletter, I was terribly disappointed when the physical book was out of stock for a while but it’s now available. Whew!
Dark Petals was inspired by the evocative yet sinister books by the French writer Marcel Pagnol. Pagnol grew up in Provence and created stories based on his childhood experiences for both literature and film.
One of the more famous of these is the book Jean de Florette, about a city lawyer who inherits his family’s country farm and decides to be a simple, gentleman farmer. But the small-minded prejudiced town blocks his progress at every turn until things come to a dramatic head. It’s a study in dark group mentality and revenge against the strength of familial love and personal dreams.
The Idea Behind the Book
I was inspired by how people behave when a newcomer arrives to disrupt things. And so, I created April Pearce, a modern-day American photographer who visits Provence to take photographs for a travel magazine. April’s in her late 30s and struggling to secure a permanent place at this company to prove to herself she’s not a career failure. But it seems all of the most fascinating shots she finds lead to trouble.
In the book, I tried to bring the hot weather, rough terrain, and alluring culture of Provence to life. I also tried to draw interesting characters whose secret pasts raise questions for the reader. April’s character reaches into my own past feelings as an outsider. And of course the story pivots on one particular plant. How else would I write a novel? haha.
Anyway, if you want more information, check out the jacket description here. And by the way, I do realize the paperback cover is not as beautifully saturated with color as the ebook cover, not sure why nor is my publisher. Regardless, you can also read tidbits on my Instagram feed or read the first chapter here.
And if you’d like to buy it, click here.
In the meantime, have a great day!
Sophie Kinsella’s novel, The Undomestic Goddess, starts off with the question, “Would you consider yourself stressed?” I smiled when I saw that. It was a question the main character Samantha reads on an intake form before her massage appointment. And it so resonated with me considering this stressful pandemic life I’ve been living, that we’ve all been living, since 2020. I couldn’t stop reading. I mean, my answer to that question was “yes, without a doubt!”
As the massage starts, Samantha grows so worried about an email she forgot to send that she simply leaves the table before she can even relax. Ha, I can relate to that one. Later, after bombing out at work, she heads out of the city and is mistaken for a housekeeper applicant at a wealthy home. Can’t relate to that one, but not against it. The premise of a city attorney being mistaken for a housekeeper is pretty implausible for sure, but I ended up suspending my disbelief and going with the flow. The silly domestic life Samantha suddenly landed in mirrored my own experience well.
Trapped in a House with Lots of Housework
First of all, Samantha’s voluntarily trapped in a big house. During the pandemic, I’ve been trapped in my house, at least to varying degrees. I so related to being thrust into a situation where one’s anchored to the every day tasks of domestic life.
Second, Samantha struggles with cooking. Though I knew how to cook long before the pandemic, I leaned on eating out in restaurants and getting carry out to buffer the constant work of preparing and cleaning up after meals. During the height of the pandemic, I had to buy more groceries and plan more meals. I got more acquainted with a wider variety of foods. We ate carry-out meals a lot less often and never went to a restaurant (at least until that summer when cases were down and outdoor patios popped up). The book spoke to me there too.
And third, Samantha struggles with cleaning chores. She has trouble with the washing machine and iron and such. During the pandemic, I got more acquainted with my vacuum and dishwasher than ever. We got a new washing machine because the old one got hampered by me constantly washing clothes. Plus, with overall house cleaning before the pandemic, my kids and husband or an occasional house cleaner always helped. But with the kids stressed out over online learning and my husband working late every night, I was head house cleaner.
A Handsome Man and Hearty Humor
There’s also a romantic story line between Samantha and Nathaniel. This subplot was fine enough though the constant will-they, won’t-they question was a little tiring, maybe the only flaw of the book. The whole house and its distinct personalities were enough for me. Still, it kept the book light and sweet and I appreciated that.
Where Kinsella really shines is in the humor department. She knows how to write in a super funny voice and keep that bouncy rhythm going. Anyone who’s read her books knows she’s the queen of this quirky chick-lit style. And this book was definitely funny. Samantha’s perky personality and chatty manner charmed me.
Overall, I recommend The Undomestic Goddess. Even though the book was published in 2005, finding it now seemed like kismet for me. As Samantha switched from a super-busy work situation and highly social life to a remote country home with quotidian tasks, so did I in a sense. It was the right book at the right time for me.
Hi readers, just a quick note to let you know that I interviewed the author Wendy Webb for the November, 2020 issue of The Big Thrill magazine! Wendy writes suspenseful stories set in the upper Midwest, Minnesota to be exact. Some folks call her the “Queen of Northern Gothic” fiction and for good reason. She knows how to spin a tale that dovetails eerie history with contemporary times.
Lake Superior: A Dangerous Force All Its Own
The setting for many of her novels is a fictional small town in Minnesota, nestled on Lake Superior. Lake Superior is a vast, deep, and foreboding body of water. Moreoever, it’s dangerous, rich with stories of people drowning and boats capsizing. Many years ago, I encountered it when I was in Duluth on a cold blustery day. Its stormy waves created white caps in the cloudy light and crashed onto cold shores. I knew instantly I never wanted to go swimming in those waters. They could kill a person. Conversely, the city of Duluth charmed with surprisingly quaint architecture and soft hills.
The Haunting of Brynn Wilder
Anyway, I was delighted to interview Wendy for the International Thriller Writers association. You can check out our fun little chat here. And if you’d like to participate in a giveaway for Wendy’s new book, The Haunting of Brynn Wilder, please tell me in the comments below. Happy reading!
I have watched every episode of the show Parks and Recreation, many of them twice. And yet I never remembered Leslie Knope talking about Galentine’s Day. What is Galentine’s Day? Well, as Leslie says, it’s ladies celebrating ladies. A day, right before Valentine’s Day, when you recognize those special female friends, or “gals,” in your life. The friends who have supported you through thick and thin.
Coincidentally, I’m seeing a friend tonight. A friend I admire and a friend who is dear. A friend who has helped me along my writer’s journey and even helped me venture out into related ventures. We’re meeting up for drinks before attending a celebration of a local Seattle writer who, sadly, passed away this last December.
Seattle Author and Teacher Waverly Fitzgerald
Waverly Fitzgerald wrote historical fiction, mysteries, nonfiction, and more. She was a pillar in the Seattle literary community, having taught at Hugo House, the Hedgebrook retreat, and various conferences. Though I didn’t know her, I’d attended Sisters in Crime meetings, a writer’s organization she volunteered for. I always admired that she wrote about nature and was an advocate for the environment. Especially urban ones. But in December, she unfortunately died at the too-early age of 68 from illness. A huge loss to the Seattle writing community.
So when my friend asked if I wanted to meet up before attending a celebration of her life, I eagerly said yes. That the date coincides with Galentine’s Day makes it even better. Though the giving spirit of Waverly Fitzgerald is gone, I think she’d approve of two friends celebrating Galentine’s Day by attending a book reading in her honor.
Sue Burke has spent a lot of time around words. She’s worked as a reporter, editor, translator, and writer. A Clarion alum, she’s published over 30 short stories and now two science fiction novels. The first, Semiosis, focused on a group of people who leave Earth to colonize another planet. Her new novel, Interference, centers on a follow up team’s time on Pax where a clash of cultures ensues. In both novels, Burke brings plants to life as characters, which I, as a horticulturalist, found fascinating. Plants don’t have brains but someday they might! Here’s our interview.
Your two books are both science fiction. Were you always interested in sci-fi novels or is this a relatively recent passion?
The “golden age” to discover science fiction is usually considered to be 13 years old. That’s when I found it, and I devoured the science fiction section in my junior high school library—a well-curated selection, I later realized. (Thank you, librarians!) It’s been a love affair ever since.
Inspiration In Her Own Home
You’ve said you got the idea for your first novel Semiosis from your houseplants. Can you tell us more about that?
Years ago, one day I discovered that one of my houseplants, a vine, had wrapped around another plant and killed it. Then it almost happened again with different plants. I began researching plant behavior and discovered they will ruthlessly kill each other to capture sunlight, among other complex and often aggressive behaviors toward each other and toward animals. I became intrigued. I also began supervising my plants very carefully. You can’t trust them.
When I read Semiosis, I was delighted that the plants have their own sentience and interests. Because in real life they actually do! Plants don’t have brains like humans but they have enough awareness to reproduce, migrate, heal, communicate, defend themselves, etc. Did you do any research about that concept before writing the first novel?
The research inspired the novel. The more I learned about plants, the more kinds of conflicts I saw—and conflicts are what drive stories. I began to wonder: What if plants, in addition to their awareness and abilities, were intelligent like humans? Science fiction gave me the tools to explore that idea.
Are Plants People Too?
You elegantly explain that sentience by briefly mentioning that Pax was a billion years older than Earth, thus implying the plants have had time to evolve into more sophisticated beings. Which might truly be happening somewhere else in the universe right now. Does that idea interest or excite you?
Yes! The idea of alien life fuels science as well as science fiction. Astronomers are searching hard for other planets in the “habitable zone” around stars that might bear markers of life, such as oxygen in its atmosphere, which could indicate photosynthesis. What would those life forms be like? Science fiction writers are boldly going wherever their imaginations can travel to find out. As a science fiction fan (all authors are fans, as George R.R. Martin says), I love to travel with other writers, too, as they explore the wild, wonderful universe.
I also like that Stevland is a bamboo. It allows for him to see far and wide and to highly function. And let’s face it, bamboos are really monsters of plant life. At least they are in the Pacific Northwest! (not to mention China) How did you come to choose bamboo?
Research told me that plants are naturally impatient and aggressive, which helped me understand Stevland’s personality. A bamboo has those and many other characteristics that I needed for my protagonist, including size, beauty, and tenacity. My brother, who used to live on the West Coast, says the only way to get rid of bamboo in your yard is to move.
Semiosis focused on a group of colonists surviving the first few generations on an Earth-like planet. So, the chapters jump in time to the main characters of this new civilization’s history. Have you ever thought of writing more, maybe shorter, stories about the Pax people?
I’ve posted a couple of short stories on the Semiosis website. I have plenty of other ideas, too. Ideas are the easy part. Turning ideas into stories is hard.
The new novel, Interference, follows a group of Earthlings who come to Pax to check on the original colonists. An interesting clash of cultures ensues. What inspired you to explore this premise?
Even before I started work on Semiosis, I wondered what people from Earth would think about the colony and the way it had adapted to its new environment. Our history here on Earth suggested that this contact would go badly. Soon I wanted to explore exactly what could go wrong.
A Writing Journey
For the writers out there, can you tell us about your publishing journey? How long did it take to write Semiosis? How long did it take to get it published?
I began writing Semiosis in 2001. With generous help from the members of my local critique group, I finished in 2004 and began searching for agents and publishers. In 2008, I found a publisher. Then the Great Recession hit and the publisher delayed and finally dropped the book. In 2014 I began marketing the manuscript again and eventually found a great agent who found a new publisher. Semiosis appeared in stores in 2018. My advice for other writers, based on experience: Be tenacious and have faith in your dream, and be patient with the process and with yourself.
Are you working on anything new? Or working on any projects you’re excited about?
I’m working on a novel totally unrelated to the world of Pax (now in yet another rewrite), as well as a historical novel about a medieval Spanish queen. “In the Weeds,” a short story with an ecological theme, will appear in the SFFworld.com anthology Dying Earths in December. And I have lots of thoughts about what might happen next with the characters and worlds in Semiosis/Interference. I can’t imagine not writing.
Where can people find more information about you? Are you doing any events we might like to know about?