Fairy Gardens & Writing: how they relate

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Planting fairy gardens is one of my favorite things to do every spring. I do this for one of my jobs and on occasion, I teach how-to’s.

I’ve planted countless container pots over the seventeen years I’ve been doing this, but planting fairy gardens feels completely different and is always exciting to me.

Here’s why:

I escape into the mini world I am planting. Just like I escape into the worlds I create while writing.

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The writing and planting connection didn’t come to me until recently, while teaching a customer how to plant a desert landscape fairy garden.

“That’s the fairies’ winter home,” I said to her. “They go there when the frost covers their forests.”

The woman looked up at me with big eyes. “Ohmygosh. Yes! I didn’t think of that, but yes!”

I twirled over to another customer. “Oooo,” I said. “I like how those stepping stones trail off beneath that maiden hair fern. Where is it leading to?”

The girl looked up at me and showed her toothy grin. “A waterfall.”

And that’s when years and years of why I love planting mini landscapes, clicked.

It all stems from creating a believable SETTING!

Now, there are rules to planting fairy gardens, just like there are rules to writing.

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1- Scale: Nothing bugs me more than having a huge fairy, or dog, or bird bath right beside an iddy-biddy fairy house the same size. You need to have stepping stones in relation to the fairy house or have people bigger than animals. So, look for trinkets and decor that are to scale.

Scale in writing: This is called world-building. What are the rules, the magic system, the laws? Keep it consistent, and tight, and to scale. Don’t make the reader confused with things that don’t make sense.

 

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2- Plants: To set your fairy garden up for success, the plants all need to be able to survive in one pot together. Don’t plant outdoor with indoor. Or succulents and cacti with ferns. Or sun plants with shade plants. I know this seems like common knowledge, but this is the #1 issue I’ve seen. People buy plants just because they are pretty and then wonder why the beautiful flowers aren’t blooming inside in a dark room.

Plants with writing: I could go on, and on, and on about setting. In fact I have, many times on this blog. Here’s an award winning article I wrote about setting, if interested. I am extremely picky of the plants I see in novels. If the author names a real plant, in my mind, it better be able to grow in that realistic setting. If it’s fantasy, well, go crazy.

 

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3- Layers and texture: A woman I helped the other day was creating an herb fairy garden. She had rosemary, lavender, and curry all grouped together. She asked why it wasn’t working. I moved a few things around and added parsley, basil, and thyme between them. “It’s because all those plants have the same, slender leaves. See how they stand out now that they are next to other, cohesive plants with different texture?” I said. Think how a real forest grows with tall trees, shrubs, then ground cover. Add layers.

Layers and texture in writing: Resonance. Hints. Metaphor. What are you trying to say to the reader? What is the underlying theme? That’s the layers. – Voice. Substance. Emotion. How do you want it to make the reader feel? That’s your texture.

 

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Now, the fun part about fairy gardens is the play time. It’s the escapism. I made this one of The Shire. The whole time I was planting it, I thought about how much I love Tolkien and the vibrant way he creates setting. A customer came in and bought it right as I put it on the table to sell. She was a huge Tolkien fan like me. We were kindred spirits right away and it was because of the playful, whimsical thing that I’d created. It was cool.

As authors, writing should be fun. Creating things are fun. You have the power to create a world that others can escape into. I watch kids, and adults, play with the gardens I create, just like people can read the books I create.

And giving people that escapism to another world, is pretty cool.

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Here are some of my Instagram photos. You’re welcome to follow me for other planting, art, or writing tips.

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Thanks for stopping by!

  • Tara

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Thankful

During this weekend of Thankfulness and full heart, I reflect on what I am most grateful. The things which fill me with immeasurable joy are my husband, children, family, and friends. I know I can be a selfish creature, artists usually are. I have had many discussions at length about how the life of an author is all consuming and can leech from relationships if not placed in check.

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To illustrate my point, here are a couple examples:

While sitting at a restaurant on a long overdue date, my husband was telling me about his day and an exciting new client. Beside us sat a group of women who were obviously on a girls night out to escape from their daily lives. I found myself in the middle of two conversations. Nodding blankly at my husband, while listening to the fascinating dialogue between those women. Their dialogue was snappy, concise, and hilarious. My mind began to file away bits and pieces of their brilliant dialogue to use for future reference for a novel. My poor husband stopped talking and that is when my eyes focused on his grim set mouth.

“You aren’t even listening,” he said.

“I’m so sorry, please start over,” I replied as the women’s conversation vanished in a poof.

“No, the moment is lost now.”

And so it goes…

Another selfish experience was when I asked my husband for a kiss. I never need to ask for kisses, he just does. Anyway, he leaned in and brushed his lips against mine. I pulled back. “Add a bit more passion,” I said. He didn’t need to be asked twice. The kiss deepened and he placed one hand around the small of my back and another behind my head and pulled me in close. Good, I thought. But, hmm… what would happen next in the scene?

Oh I am terrible, I know. I wasn’t kissing my husband, I was recreating a scene for my work in progress. There must be some corner in heaven or hell reserved for people like me. I pulled back again and left my husband short of breath.

“Okay, now, graze your thumb over my lips.”

He lifted an eyebrow, but did as he was told.

“Not like that, maybe slower,” I said. I closed my eyes and my wonderful husband created the scene perfectly and even enhanced a few things. I mean, it was fantastic and exactly how I had imagined the scene in my novel to unfold. “Thanks!” I said, jumping back out of his fervent arms.

“Wait! You can’t just… leave me like this.”

I giggled and ran to my computer to write a scene that involved kissing and grazing a thumb over lips.

And so it goes…

My poor, wonderful husband and family are guinea pigs for my novels. That is so wrong, but the selfish part of me says it’s alright. I gather inspiration for love, joy and happiness from my family and loved ones. I gather inspiration for hate, anger, and hurt from the news, strangers, and painful memories. I grab bits and pieces for character development from people I admire or people I don’t care too much for. Then I place them into the puzzle of my novel along with the pieces of setting, theme, voice, and storyline.

I have really tried to be more thoughtful and conscious in my relationships. It is easy for everyone to get swept away in things that distract us from one another. Everywhere we turn, there are interferences with social media, TV, media, and for an author, it is the writing itself that puts you apart. I find myself constantly nagging my teenager to put down her smart phone and be with the family. I realized I was doing the same thing, only with stories in my head. Sometimes I have to consciously tell my mind to not focus on my fictional story and live my non-fiction life.

Above all, I am thankful for loving kindness from my family.

I am thankful to be a creator of life and art.

I am thankful for inspiring people and in turn, thankful that I may inspire others.

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.

-Tara

Writing Fact… Mingled With Fiction

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I’m sitting here writing this post on my front porch while the moon turns to blood. October 8th at 5:00 am and my imagination is crawling with ideas looking at the lunar eclipse of the

Blood Moon.

I’ve incorporated the Blood Moon into my YA fantasy novel, Vagabond, which I started years ago. Now I might have to change it up because I worry that it might turn cliche because of the popularity. Anyway, I have done extensive research about the strange celestial phenomenon taking place within this year. Four blood moons have correlated with Jewish holidays. This October moon I’m looking at now, is also the hunter’s moon and I can’t help but think of the movie Predator as my gaze darts into the shifting shadows. 

What is a blood moon and tetrad? 

On April 15, 2014, there was a total lunar eclipse. It was the first of four consecutive eclipses in a series, known as a tetrad. Today, October 8, 2014, was the second one. April 4, and September 28, 2015 are the third and fourth. The red color is caused by Rayleigh scattering of light or electromagnetic radiation through the Earth’s atmosphere, the same effect that causes sunsets to appear red.

Signs of the times, maybe?

The idea of a “blood moon” as an omen to the ushering of the apocalypse, comes from the Book of Joel, where it is written “the sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” Some believe that something huge is afoot in Israel. I have loved finding heated sermons of gyrating pastors who have flailed their arms, asking for repentance during this ushering in of the end of days.

The four blood moons of 2014 and 2015 have and will appear on Passover and Sukkot, also known as Feast of Tabernacles (Passover celebrates the Jews’ liberation from Egyptian slavery and Sukkot commemorates the Jews’ 40-year wandering in the desert). A strange coincidence, but Jewish holy days are based upon a lunar calendar anyway. Passover is during the first full moon after the spring equinox and the Feast of Tabernacles is usually during the first full moon (harvest moon) after the autumnal equinox. You decide if it is only a coincidence or an omen. I have my opinion, but that is not what this post is about.

I want to talk about writing fact into fiction…

I wrote the Blood Moon into my novel before I even knew about any of these strange occurrences happening this year. I have written on a blog post before that research is one of my favorite parts about writing. My advise is to dig deep. Don’t only focus on one linear thought or what you find in Wikipedia. Find the mythology, the fables, the altered stories.

By digging deep, we unearth all sorts of creepy and interesting things. That is the fun part of being an author. We take those truths and distort them to our will. I love playing God, and so when I wanted a blood moon in my novel, I made up a lunar eclipse called a Lunar Caulum that happens every thousand years and ushers in a new reign of shadow.

Know the truth, so you can write the fiction.

Know the speculation, so you can build upon it.

Know that there will be people who said you got it wrong.

Know that you can smile at those critics, because you created your own history.

Here is a glimpse into my novel Vagabond at a part where I talk about the blood moon:

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“The moon is red—blood red,” he said glancing up at me. “The weird this is, this photo was taken two hundred years before the actual Lunar Caulum happened. It’s like they were prophesying that this blood moon was going to be different.”

“Or warning us,” I said with doubt, but then an unpleasant feeling grew inside me, making the hairs on my arms stand up. I looked down at the black and white photo to where the swatch of scarlet in the sky stained the antique page.

“If NASA actually existed anymore, lets just say they’d be geeking out about all of this,” he said.

“Since when did you become our resident astronomer?” I asked, teasing him as I sat up.

He stared at me intently. “Living up here has turned me into one. Don’t you think that the remaining survivors have used the knowledge of land and stars, and that’s the only reason why we are alive and most everyone else is dead?”

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Now go create some fiction based off of some fact! Thanks for stopping by and I’d love to hear if you have similar ways you’ve written fact into fiction. 🙂

Tara

The Importance of Setting in a Novel

UPDATE: This blog post won an award for “media post” at the 2015 LUW writers conference.

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Write what you know. How many times have I heard that? Oh man, probably at every conference I have ever gone to, multiple times.

I know setting.

Long before I was ever an author, I would surround myself in settings which filled my soul with wonder. I would cover my limbs and face with autumn leaves to feel the smell. I would spend many nights under the stars, listening to the scurrying of little animals and the sounds of wind applauding my appreciation through the trees. The stillness would settle in my heart and when I began to bring pen and paper with me to different settings, my world became magical.

To me, setting should breathe like a character. It isn’t just streets, buildings, and names of towns — it is the lifeblood which weaves your characters and plot together. It shouldn’t be tacked in, but rather an integral part of the story. It grounds the reader.

It should also ground the author. The author carries the responsibility to bring details that are often overlooked. Especially, in my opinion, when it comes to nature.

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Pilot and Index Peak – Cooke City, Montana

Recently, I returned from a long trip through Montana and Yellowstone. I have visited many times and even lived there at one point. Those wild, rustic places are some of my favorite spots in the world and I felt the heavy burden to show my love for it in one of my novels. I hadn’t been up there for over a dozen years and I started creating the setting for my novel through memory. When I had finished my book, I was satisfied. But something tugged at me to visit those places again. Either my wild heart, or the pull to immerse myself in those mountains.

Arming myself with laptop, pens and journals, I was ready to take my story to battle and add details that were missing and change a few things. I was surprised when I came home and realized that I had never even written one word when I had surrounded myself in the nature I so dearly love. Why? It wasn’t a conscious decision by any means, but looking back, my body and soul yearned to feel the lifeblood of the setting. I didn’t need to muddle it with words, I needed to experience it and let the setting wash through me.

In this world where setting and placement are so often overlooked or replaced with handheld devices that capture our attention, authors need to work harder to ground the reader. We need to scream at our readers to notice detail. It breaks my heart every time I see someone surrounded by stunning scenery and their faces are aglow with the pale light of a handheld device.

Here are a few ways you can bring your setting to life in your novel, followed by some examples I have written.

*Be specific – it isn’t only a flower, describe the details. example: The vibrant purple petals stretched beneath an indigo hat which drooped over a white lip and a yellow bearded pouch. (Calypso Orchid)

*Sprinkle in similes and metaphors to connect – example: His temper was like a loose cannon. It could explode at any given time and I would be the set target.

*Use the senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, feel – This one is huge! I love to incorporate the senses. – example: My stomach was empty, which was good, because the smell hit me, and I heaved once more against the vacant remains of my belly. The putrid, decaying stench of rotten flesh made my eyes water.

*Show, don’t tell – instead of stating that its raining, describe the dripping trees, the puddles gathering in the crevices of rock, and the pattering on tin resembling tinkling bells.

Here is an excerpt from my novel Broken Smiles. The setting is in China, another one of my favorite places. I hope you can feel my love for it as you read my words.

Here and there rocks were covered with ancient moss. Orchids blossomed spontaneously upon the trees. Vines hung like ropes and twine, twisting upon the rubber and the banyan trees. Bamboo stood proudly against the moonlight, casting shadows that had been the same for thousands of years. Away from big city lights and pollution, it was easy to be transported back in time to ancient China. This land had managed to remain untouched throughout the different emperors and dynasties. As they walked, they passed a small ancient graveyard built against the hillside. The limestone shrines glowed mysteriously in the moonlight. Chinese characters and mini-sculptures were carved in the pale rock. Incense smoldered on the top of an old gravestone…

Thanks for stopping by –

Tara

Gardening and Writing – how they relate.

I love to garden. I’ve always kept my fingernails as stubs because the feel of dirt between my fingers, invigorates me.

I’ve posted how teaching guitar and writing relate HERE.
I’ve posted how skiing and writing relate HERE.

Now I want to make the connection with writing and gardening.

I’ve worked on and off in garden centers for over fifteen years. I’ve narrowed it down to five stages of being successful in a garden and how it relates to writing.

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*Planning your garden:
Is it North facing? – re-think. How is the soil? – enrichment is key. What plants do you want to see in the fall? Think ahead. Envision your garden in its bounteous splendor! Envision what that homemade salsa is going to taste like. Can you taste it? “Hmm… maybe another plant of cilantro is needed.”

Envision your full grown garden.

*Planning your novel:
Basic bones here. Is it sci-fi, fantasy, romance, children’s, young adult?
Some authors are outliners. Some authors are pantsers. I am a hybrid between the two. I am too spontaneous to completely stick to an outline. When a scene strikes, I have to write it right then, on a napkin if I have to, just to get it out.
But, I am also a loose outliner. I have the outline to my novels hanging as butcher paper on my bedroom walls. Read more about that process HERE.
Also, when I write a scene, I have an outline below my cursor so I know where the story is going. If a word, or phrase, or dialogue strikes me and I am not in that part of the story yet, I put it in my bottom notes that just moves along with my writing.

Envision your story.

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*Planting your garden:

These little seedlings look so small and helpless. They need good soil, fertilizer, sunlight, water, and some need staking. It is a lot of hot, dirty work. (the part I love)

Set your baby plants up for success!

*Planting your novel:
We all start out uneducated and naive. We need to do the work and learn the craft. So go to conferences, join a critique group (or three, like me), build relationships in the writing world. It is a lot of work, and sometimes this stunts the creative flow, but your writing will get better.

Set your novel up for success!

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*Caring for your garden:
Sometimes the plants just need to grow. Make sure they are taken care of, then leave them alone to do their thing. You can love plants to death. In fact, I saw that more often, then with the neglected plants. Root rot is the cause of many a poor plants death.

Step away for a time!

*Caring for your novel:
After you have finished the novel, or the scene, or whatever you feel is done – leave it alone. Work on something else, go to classes, learn, get second opinions. Come back and look at it with new eyes. You will notice things that were not there before. This is so important to me. I often get so wrapped up in the details and the thrill of putting words on paper, that I don’t see the overall problems.

Step away for a time!

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*Harvesting your garden:
This is the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor! You can see what plants did well and what struggled. Take notes for next year. You can share your bounty. (I mean who has ever had zucchini growing out of their ears!)

Share your talent and hard work!

*Harvesting your novel:
You have accomplished something that 81% of people say they will do, but 2% of people actually pull through! That is a huge accomplishment! Don’t focus on other people. Be happy with what you have accomplished. It took many seasons, rainstorms, weeds, bugs, whatever, to get to the end result.

Now share your talent and hard work!

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*Canning your harvest: (this is bonus)
Once you’ve harvested your garden, toiled endlessly over it, now is the time to package it into pretty canning jars.

This is for the future.

*Canning your novel:
No matter how you go about publishing, whether it be with a big or small publisher, self-publish, or just print a few copies for your family or generations to come. You have packaged it, preserved it in a timepiece.

This is for the future.

I love this quote:

‘I shall live beyond death, and I shall sing in your ears
Even after the vast sea-wave carries me back
To the vast sea-depth.
I shall sit at your board though without a body,
And I shall go with you to your fields, a spirit invisible.
I shall come to you at your fireside, a guest unseen.
Death changes nothing but the mask that covers our faces.
The woodsman shall be still a woodsman,
The ploughman, a ploughman,
And he who sang his song to the wind shall sing it also to the moving spheres.’

– Kahlil Gibran

Happy planting!
Tara