Thursday, May 20, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

-- by Alice Valdal

It's seeding time in my neck of the woods. Time to break up the crust of winter, bring in fresh compost, dig out the old and plan anew.

I love the garden, both in real life and as a metaphor for writing. I consider this preparation time like the dreaming time for a book. The time when all things are possible. The time when characters and settings and themes and the perfect hook float in my conscience, as enticing as the packets of seeds at the Butchart Gardens.

I can't wait for the days to get warm enough, so I start some seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill. My heart lifts when I see those first green sprouts.
In my writing life, I go out and buy a new notebook, one with a pretty cover, and I write snippets of dialogue, character interviews. I try out a few titles, play with names. I draw a picture of the town where the book is set, or sketch out the heroine's house. Ah, my story is coming to life, just like my little seedlings.

Once the garden is up, the weeding and hoeing become reality and I question my decision to plant such a large area! Can two people really eat four rows of green beans, not to mention turnips, onions, lettuce, beets, carrots, corn, peas. . . Like I said, I get carried away in the planning stages.

In my "great Canadian novel" I'm running into similar difficulties. Too many characters, too much useless detail. I have to yank out these "weeds" as ruthlessly as I attack the thistles in the strawberry patch, and we all know how that can hurt.

But finally, as the days grow hot and the dried up seeds respond to light and water and heat, my garden grows. I harvest those first tender leaves of lettuce. Onions and radishes adorn my salads. I feel rich as a king when I pluck the fruits of my labour.
My book takes shape. There is a beginning and middle and an ending. Somewhere among the tangle of words a theme emerges. The "weeding" becomes more like flower arranging. Move a word or phrase. Tidy up the syntax. The slash and burn of the first edits is over.

When I began my garden I envisioned something like the picture above, or maybe this one at right.

I dreamed of bidding wars for my novel. Saw it crowned with a "best-seller" sticker. Imagined the millions of people ( no point dreaming if you don't go big!) who would be moved by my words.

My garden, as seen below, doesn't quite measure up to the Butcharts. But it's pretty and it feeds my body and my soul.

Full of hope, I send my book to editors and agents. So far, no bidding wars, but I've written something I'm proud of. The work of creating the story has fed my soul and humbled my pride. I'm thinking it's time to buy a new notebook. Do you like the name Daria for a heroine?

The Bible is full of garden metaphors. "A sower went out to sow." The mustard seed. The Garden of Eden and the barren fig tree just to name a few. In John 12:24, Jesus spoke of his own death as resurrection in gardening terms. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (KJV).
As a gardener and a child of the land, all of these passages speak to me. But what of the inner city child who thinks milk and bread come from the store? I cannot think of a metaphor that would resonate with that urban child. Can you?

To read more of Alice's adventures in publishing land or in the garden, check out her website


  1. Hi ,

    I am a new follower.

    I am also trying to introduce Christian Fiction here in Malaysia. Would love a chance to review any books and post a review as well as do an author interview on my blog and with my student reader groups.

    please get back to me.


  2. This is a great analogy to our writing I hadn't thought about before. Taking the weeds out of my writing and only leaving the flowers and fruit. Thanks.

  3. Since I love gardening, I enjoyed the analogy, too. Great post!

  4. Thanks for the kudos, ladies. But I'm still looking for the analogy that speaks to inner city kids about the Resurrection. Any takers?

  5. I am jealous of your garden as I had to give mine up. I was taught many things in my garden. I think it's no coincidence that after his Resurrection Jesus appeared in the form of a gardener.

    As far as Inner City kids go, I believe there is at least one Christian rap artist on the international music circuit. They might relate?


  6. Hi Alice,

    This portion encouraged me : "... I write snippets of dialogue, character interviews. I try out a few titles, play with names. I draw a picture of the town where the book is set, or sketch out the heroine's house. Ah, my story is coming to life, just like my little seedlings"

    I'm getting married again, to an ex boyfriend 30 years ago. My fiance believes I can write a book about us. I am overwhelmed thinking that my 20 years of working for TV has ruined my literary sense. Your post reminds me that, yes it's seeding time again.

    And, I like Daria. :)