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!
You know I love visiting gardens so when thriller author J. A. Jance invited me to tour her Seattle-area garden, I jumped at the chance. It’s a wonderfully imagined colorful space inspired by an epic poem by C. Day-Lewis. Jance fell in love with the poem decades ago at a reading.
“Baucis and Philemon” is based on Ovid’s mythical tale, which tells the story of how Zeus and Hermes visited a town where Baucis and Philemon, a simple couple who lived in a rustic cottage, took them in and showed great generosity when others in the town would not. Because the couple were kind, Zeus spared their lives when he destroyed the town because of its residents’ selfishness. He flooded it, killing all but Baucis and Philemon whose cottage was transformed into a temple. The poem ends with the touching image of the couple each transforming into a tree whose roots were intertwined forever.
A Garden of Words
When hired to landscape the garden, Jance’s designer wisely noticed she was a writer and asked whether she wanted words in her garden. She presented him with C. Day Lewis’s poem. The crew got to work, organizing the yard around that theme while including several points of interest. Take a look at this special outdoor sanctuary.
Though the garden features several Northwest plants, it also features some plants and colors that recall Arizona, where Jance grew up. Windmill palms line the pond and brightly painted stucco surfaces form a backdrop for plants and art.
These slabs carved with lines from the poem offer contemplative pausing points. As you read the words, you hear the trickle of the pond and smell the blooming wisteria. You’re surrounded by a tapestry of varying green, red, and blue-foliaged plants that together soften the view and make the visitor feel warm and serene.
It was late afternoon in St. Petersburg, Russia. A cloudy day but warm. I was walking back to the inn where I was staying for a writer’s workshop through the Summer Literary Seminars program. Soon, I came to a strange dried puddle on the sidewalk and almost stepped in it. I had to take a wide turn into the street to go around. Red and crusted, about a two-foot-wide blob, I thought it was paint. I looked up at the line of apartment windows, wondering where the scaffolding or ladders were. There were no workers in overalls or any such thing, so I walked on, wondering where the paint had come from but ultimately thinking nothing of it.
A Friend’s Story
Later that evening, after a group of us writers had had dinner and were chatting, my friend Adrian said he’d seen the craziest scene earlier that day. He was in a nearby bar having lunch when he saw a man beat up another man across the street. “Oh God, the one guy just kept pounding the other guy, so viciously, over and over and over,” he said. He shook his head as if to clear it. “Ugh. It was like the sound of a club hitting raw meat.”
Apparently, a woman had been at the fight too, trying to pull off the aggressor from the victim. After the guy beat the hell out of his nemesis, Adrian said, he did something that struck Adrian as funny. “He went over to his car, unlocked the trunk, and took off his T-shirt. It was soaked in blood. Then, he took out a fresh T-shirt, put it on, closed the trunk, and walked across the street into the bar,” Adrian said. “He just sat down and ordered a drink like what he’d done was no big deal.”
Shocked, we laughed and shook our heads. We’d all seen intense, crazy things in St. Petersburg but this was truly the story that epitomized Russia. It could be a mean nasty place where somehow life went on. A few minutes later, I realized something. I asked Adrian where the fight had happened. He said about 50 feet from the inn, on the same side of the street. Where I’d been earlier. It dawned on me: that dried stain on the sidewalk hadn’t been paint. It was blood.
A Lasting Image in My Mind
That realization stayed with me for years. The image of the dried blood on the sidewalk that had drained into the street. It was so big! The brutality of it was extraordinary. Still, I’ve always wondered how I could have mistaken blood for paint. It was so obvious after Adrian told the story. But the dark stain looked exactly like scarlet paint. As if someone had accidentally kicked over a bucket. I didn’t think in a million years it could be blood.
So when I started outlining The Forgetting Flower, I had this experience sitting in the back of my mind. And when I started drafting the first chapter, it just came out in the story. Renia walks by a building, sees a streak of red liquid rolling down a building. She thinks it’s paint. What else could it be, right? Well, she figures out soon enough that it’s not, and when she figures out what it is and where it’s from, her entire world turns upside down. It’s not from a fight, it’s from a different kind of event. And the rest, of course, is the unraveling of events that make up her story. If you’d like to read it, click here.
If you’d like information on the Summer Literary Seminars, which is a fantastic, supportive program for writers, go here. I highly recommend it!
Reading a Cara Black mystery is like a brisk jog. You trot alongside private investigator Aimée Leduc as she pieces together clues and sometimes runs for her life while solving a murder. Meanwhile, the sights and sounds of Paris go by: hot bread, honking horns, lovers in a park. It’s always a chic, action-filled journey and Black’s latest novel, Murder on the Left Bank, is no exception.
Book number 18 of the Aimée Leduc Investigation series focuses on the murder of a young man tasked with transporting a very desirable notebook. It contains decades worth of corrupted business deals. The information is so dangerous that a secret crime organization called The Hand is willing to kill people for it. It’s Aimée’s job to find the notebook and bring the killers to justice.
Savvy Writing Style
What’s so strong about this story, and most of Black’s work in general, is the author’s ability to bring Paris to life in a quick short hand while unspooling a fast-paced plot. We get brief notes on the history of fascinating Parisian institutions like the Gobelins tapestry workshop or the community pool at Butte-aux-Cailles. A compact paragraph deftly creates a character snapshot and occasional asides describe Aimée’s outward appearance and emotional interior. Having lived for a few months on the Left Bank, I have to say I did crave more words to draw me into that richly historic, vibrant area. I wanted to relish the setting. But Black expertly knows how to include just enough to hold a mystery/thriller reader’s attention. And after all, these are straight up mysteries, not literary explorations.
A Broad Cast of Characters
So how does this novel compare to the others in the series? I’d say it shares the same pace and love of arrondissement. But readers new to Cara Black may be confused by the numerous characters. Morbier, a police colleague of Aimée’s father makes an appearance, as do lawyer Éric Besson, her partner René, her mother, and others. If you haven’t read Black’s work before, your head may spin at the numerous people. But if you’re familiar with their histories as they relate to Aimée, you’ll enjoy the reuniting while appreciating the deeper meaning.
All in all, I enjoyed this latest addition to the Leduc series. And if you’re looking for a lively story that features a hip sleuth while spotlighting the hidden gems of Paris, you’ll like Murder on the Left Bank too.
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!