• Books

    Where in the World Is The Forgetting Flower T-shirt? Poland

    Branicki Palace, Poland, Where in the World Is The Forgetting Flower T-shirt? Poland, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/06/13/t-shirt-poland #Poland #Bialystok #BranickiPalace #TheForgettingFlower #books #travel

    Today, The Forgetting Flower T-shirt is in Białystok, Poland with my friend Ula Drapała. The above photo shows Ula at the Branicki Palace. She and I talked about life in the UK, why she wants to live in a house made of clay, her medium format photos, and the Polish naturalist Simona Kossak.

    Who are you and what do you do for fun (either in your job or outside of your job)?

    I’m Ula, a thirty-three-year-old woman. A few years ago, I moved from Poland to England to work as a nurse. I’m currently a cardiac specialist and I am passionate about my job. I decided to become a nurse after watching a movie about World War II where a young nurse helps soldiers. I got inspired by this movie and decided I wanted to help others too.

    I love mountains and forests, to be surrounded by any type of nature, especially trees and animals. I love hugging trees. My favorite tree is the silver birch tree. There is something magical about this tree. I like gardening in my free time. When I lived in Poland, I was doing a lot of pottery.  I love clay and my dream is to live in a house made of clay. There are few people in Poland who can build them so I hope that my dream will come true one day. 

    Why do you live where you live? What do you like about it? What’s not so great?

    I live in a town called Yeovil in England. I found that being a nurse in the UK is easier, mostly for economical reasons, but I also enjoy spending some years of my life in another country. It gives a different perspective. But I can truly say I miss my home country. I understood that now after being a few years away from it. England is my second home now. I really like many things about it, starting from the mild climate to the amazing people who I met here and who made me feel at home.

    One of few things that I don’t like here is the amount of artificial food products. When I go to the supermarket here I always take a jacket with me because there are so many alleys with freezers and ready made food. Healthy and organic food is quite expensive and I am the type of person who usually reads food labels. 

    Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Białystok, Poland, Where in the World Is The Forgetting Flower T-shirt? Poland, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/06/13/t-shirt-poland/ #CathedraloftheAssumption #Bialystok #Poland #TheForgettingFlower #books #novels
    Ula at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Białystok, Poland
    You’re an EU citizen working in England. Has Brexit affected your life at all? Do you think Great Britain will really leave the EU?

    Brexit hasn’t affected my life yet and if it does, I’m not scared. I try not to worry about things that I can’t change. That is my life philosophy.  I really don’t know if Great Britain will leave the EU but I am pretty sure that it will have a big impact on Britain’s economy. 

    What are some of your favorite books and why?  

    When I was little, I wrote poems and I still like reading them. My favorite poets are Wisława Szymborska and Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński. I prefer reading nonfiction but don’ t have a favorite book. I read a book, fall in love with it, and then I read a next one and that’s how I find a new love.

    Currently I am reading a book written by a Polish author named Anna Kaminska: The Extraordinary Life of Simona Kossak. As Culture.pl said: “They called Simona Kossak a witch because she chatted with animals and owned a terrorist-crow, who stole gold and attacked bicycle riders.” I love this book because Simona Kossak can describe the beauty of Polish nature and the Białowieza forest like no one in the world. She inspires me and makes me to go out and be surrounded by nature more often. 

    Horses Poland, Where in the World Is The Forgetting Flower T-shirt? Poland, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/06/13/t-shirt-poland #Poland #Horses #Farm #Rural #UlaDrapala #photography #mediumformat
    Photo of horses in Poland by Ula Drapała
    What are your side hobbies or interests? Do you have a website or project you’d like people to know about?   

    In my spare time, I like to take pictures. I’m interested in medium format photography. There is something magical in black and white square photos. I use a very old Mamiya camera, which needs physical film. I need to think carefully before I take each picture as there are only 12 pictures on each roll. I am also fascinated by Polish folk culture, especially folk music and two-wrap cloth weaving of Janow. Janow is a village where I spent every beautiful summer with my beloved granny. 

    You can find my pictures on my website here.

  • Books

    Where in the World Is the Forgetting Flower T-Shirt? Seattle

    Karen Hugg in Garden, Where in the World Is the Forgetting Flower T-Shirt? Seattle, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/05/24/forgetting-flower-t-shirt/ #KarenHugg #author #books #novels #gardening #plants #TheForgettingFlower #literary

    Hey everyone, I’m sharing the fun that my friends, family, and I had by wearing The Forgetting Flower T-shirt in our respective cities and countries. I’ll kick off the book fun with a photo of myself in Seattle before we move on to New York, England, Poland, and Paris!

    Who am I? What do I do?

    I’m Karen Hugg, a writer who loves to garden or a gardener who loves to write, depending on how you look at it. I’ve written stories since I was a child. Later as an adult, I became an editor and then an ornamental horticulturalist, which is a fancy way of saying garden designer. I did a lot of weed-pulling too! During my years as a professional gardener, I found myself with lots of down time during our rainy Northwest winters so I started writing stories and novels.

    Now, as you probably know, my novel, The Forgetting Flower, will be published on June 18th, 2019 by the small publisher, Magnolia Press. I’m excited because yes, publishing a novel is special, but moreso because this story combines all of who I am and what I love. It’s set in Paris and Kraków, two cities steeped in history and culture that I adore and where I lived briefly. It’s about an alluring plant, which embodies my speculative daydreams about what plants might exist in the world but don’t. And lastly, it’s about familial relationships and our need as humans to seek better lives.

    From Chicago to Seattle

    I created my main character Renia with some of myself and some inspiration from stories and people I knew. For instance, like Renia, I’m a migrant of sorts. I grew up in Chicago but moved to Seattle in my early twenties. It was the best decision I ever made. All kinds of things fell into place that I was seeking: I got a job as an editor, I lived in a cool rental house, I met my husband, I lived near spectacular natural beauty. I created the life I’d always wanted in a place that matched my soul.

    Renia grew up on the outskirts of Kraków but moved to Paris to better her situation. What that situation exactly is is complicated. But to learn more about the situation and how it changes, you can check out The Forgetting Flower here.

    From Seattle to New York

    Any author knows it’s hard enough to write a strong novel. But then to give it its public due is difficult. You need the support of family and friends who believe in you, fellow writers who’ve been in the same trenches, and the general good will of those out in the book world. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of those good will souls and I thank you.

    Another such good soul is my nephew, Benny Martinson. Benny is a talented composer and singer who makes his living as a tech brain for Google. He took a photo of himself in The Forgetting Flower T-shirt in his beloved New York City. He’s excited about the book’s release too. So watch for next week’s post when I feature Benny!

  • Books

    Who is the Enigmatic Renia and Her Sister?

    Twin Sisters, Who is the Enigmatic Renia, and Her Sister? Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/04/26/renia-estera-character/ #TheForgettingFlower #novels #books #fiction #crimefiction #thrillers #Paris #Renia #Estera #character

    Hi everyone, as we get closer to the release of The Forgetting Flower, I thought it would be fun to do an introduction for a few of the characters. First up is my protagonist, Renia, and her sister Estera.

    Renia Baranczka is a young woman who grew up on the outskirts of Kraków in Poland. She comes from an intact family, albeit a working class one, and has one sibling, a twin sister. Renia’s mother named Renia the Polish word for “queen” and her sister Estera the word for “star” because she’s old fashioned but aspires for her daughters to be special. Plus, she believes that God blessed her twice with the birth of twins. When her daughters were young, she raised them with a stern, religious hand. There was no misbehaving, no loud rude voices, no fighting, and lots of chores and hard work. Plus, mass every Sunday. Also, because the family lacked money, the two were expected to earn good grades so they could grow up and find sufficient jobs.

    Twin Girls, Different Personalities

    While Renia was obedient and learned at an early age that bickering with her parents wasn’t fruitful, her sister, Estera, did not. She was more extroverted and emotional. While Renia was shy and examined each move she made in life, Estera often dove in on impulse. These two approaches followed them through their schooling and sometimes got Estera into trouble with her teachers. Then, at age 18, Renia applied to earn an art history degree at a university and Estera went to vocational school for horticulture. This led to Estera later landing a job on an estate as a gardener and Renia essentially being unemployed. She worked at odd jobs in a museum, as a gardener, and an office assistant at the hospital where her mother worked.

    While growing up, both Renia and Estera heard stories about Paris and France from their uncle Feliks. As a young man, he’d met a French student in Kraków who he’d followed back to France and eventually married. Nanette. She was the daughter of a farmer and Uncle Feliks helped her father by working on his farm for a few years before he started selling vegetables and flowers on the side. He soon started a wholesale plant nursery, growing vegetables, perennials, and annuals. After another five years, he and Nanette inherited a small bit of money and bought a few acres in the countryside outside of Paris. There, they grew their nursery into a large business.

    The Dream of Paris

    At hearing the stories of Paris and Uncle Feliks’s success in France, both Renia and Estera longed to go there. Paris captured their imagination. Later, as teenagers, they visited their Uncle and Aunt on their small farm during a few summers. Renia fell in love with the art and culture of Paris, Estera fell in love with the worldliness and vibrancy of the city. At that point, they made a plan to move there someday. Renia would work in some capacity related to art and Estera would work somehow with plants.

    Unfortunately, by the time their mid-twenties rolled around, both women were working but with their parents’ lack of funds and opportunities, much of their money went to keeping the family afloat. Their father, Feodor, worked in construction management but would sometimes be let go when the economy weakened and building suffered. He had long bouts of unemployment. Though their mother worked as a nurse steadily in a hospital, the family didn’t have enough money to pay for a broken car or plumbing around the home and so Estera and Renia had to financially help with those emergencies. They didn’t have much money to help their parents buy groceries, let alone move to Paris.

    An Unexpected Gift

    In their late twenties, life changed drastically for both sisters. Estera was given a special plant by the old estate owner that she worked for. It was a unique hybrid he’d made that was both ugly and beautiful at the same time. Estera adored this plant. She loved that the owner had made it for his wife and she loved that she, a nobody in the horticulture world, was given the opportunity to care for the plant while she worked on the estate. But that gift ended up complicating both women’s lives. Those complications are what form the story, The Forgetting Flower.

    If you’d like to read about what happened to Renia and Estera, click here. Thanks!

    Photo by Daiga Ellaby

  • Books,  Writing

    Bruno Schulz Imagines an Insane, Ecstatic World

    Bruno Schulz Imagines an Insane, Ecstatic World, Karen Hugg, https://karenhugg.com/2019/01/23/bruno-schulz #BrunoSchulz #StreetofCrocodiles #Poland #writers #Polish #novels #books

    Bruno Schulz was a writer, painter, and literary critic in early 20th-Century Poland. I’ve always admired his work. It’s surreal and strange but amazingly compelling. The other day I came across my copy of Street of Crocodiles, a collection of short fiction that’s his signature creation and couldn’t resist sharing my ideas about it here.

    Wild Words That Resonate

    When I read it years ago, the book rang in my soul like a large brass bell. Days after reading it, I could still feel the sound resonating in my chest. Even now, reading some of the words, I’m swallowed into his world of madness and beauty. The book is a kind of crazy masterpiece, blinding its readers with a relentless white-hot light of words to create a searing maniacal portrait of a family and its daily routines. Because Schulz’s father’s insanity is at the heart of the book, the story almost glows with intensity.

    Not Quite a Stream of Consciousness

    Schulz describes the full spectrum of his father’s wild behavior, from how “tears would stream from his eyes” during the mundane act of room cleaning to how he waves “his arms as if they were wings, and emit a long-drawn-out bird’s call.” Most events are not just unfortunate but tragic, not just happy but ecstatic, and not just off or weird but utterly nuts.           

    It was for this reason, and Schulz’s magnificent way of seamlessly slipping from one surreal image to another, from one mythic idea to another, that I had trouble intellectually making sense of the book. It’s almost as if the book is a dream, where the reader passively experiences the action and the words flow through the mind rather than function as a means to comprehending something. When my rational brain said, “Wait, stop, what is actually happening?” my intuitive mind had to intervene and say, “Let go. Run with it.”

    A Dream to Experience Rather Than Read

    This creates a new and original reading experience. The words evoke impressions, feelings, ideas and rhythms that all tumble together in a dance of language and connection that oftentimes charges forcefully forward or slows to a discreet intimacy. It’s almost orchestral in its bold variations, like a Beethoven symphony. At one point, the narrator’s mother is suffering from a migraine in the drawing room (a slowing point) where Schulz describes the room’s orderliness. But then the dance flows faster when Schulz describes how the peacock feathers in a vase are “winking, fluttering their eyelashes, smiling to one another, giggling and full of mirth…. They pushed … peeped … made signs, speaking to each other in a deaf-and-dumb language full of secret meaning.”

    The movement then slows again, “I let the silence drag on for a long moment” as he speaks to his mother before spiraling the energy upward again in a remembrance of the cockroach invasion: “…each crevice suddenly produced a cockroach, from every chink would shoot a crazy black zigzag of lightning. Ah, that wild lunacy of panic … ah, those screams of horror … leaping from one chair to another with a javelin in his hand!”

    Amidst this symphony of images and linguistics is Schulz’s brazen insight that pops up in phrases that explode and bloom like fireworks. In describing the dog, Nimrod, he calls it “that crumb of life” and says, “His exclusive preoccupation with longing for a return to the maternal womb gave way before the charms of plurality.” This is such a fresh way of describing how the unsure and trembling puppy grows into a curious dog.

    An Unleashing of Images

    One difficulty I had, which is a testament to the book’s imaginative power, was sorting out what literally happened in some situations. In the tailor’s shop, during the sale it’s difficult to discern whether the setting in the following passage is literal or what it represents: “…the fathers of the city … walked up and down in dignified and serious groups…. Having spread themselves over the whole extensive mountain country, they wandered … on distant and circuitous roads. Their short dark silhouettes peopled the desert plateau over which hung a dark and heavy sky…”  The shop has earlier been likened to a landscape where the folds of fabrics were like “mountain ranges,” but still it’s difficult to discern as the next passage refers to a group of people literally pointing at the sky whether the landscape Schulz describes is inside the shop or outside in the city.

    Regardless, I love Street of Crocodiles. Fans of Italo Calvino will love it as well. SoC taught me to open up and allow my own “Demiurge” spirit to set aside its self-conscious rational persona and instead unleash its inspiration and create words. It’s a book I can’t recommend enough, especially to fellow writers.

  • Writing

    Why a Novel About a Flower That Makes You Forget? Part 3

    Geranium, Why a Novel About a Flower That Makes You Forget? Part 3, Karen Hugg, The Forgetting Flower, https://karenhugg.com/2018/07/27/the-forgetting-flower/ #TheForgettingFlower #flower #novel #book #plants #scents

    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
    Chapter 1

    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!”

    No response.

    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.”

    Thanks for reading! If you’d like to read the rest of The Forgetting Flower, click here.