I used to go crazy in February. In order to get the full benefit of my February blahs, I'd start gearing up in mid-January, staring out at all the endless gray days, unrelieved by holidays or feasting or the company of guests. When February arrived, with all its cold and gray and misery, I was ready to sink deep into existential gloom, plump, inert, feasting on chocolate and sometimes beginning to dream about cocktails around ten in the morning. Then I caught the writing bug, as dangerous a disease as any flu, but I didn't want to be cured. Gradually, as I was subsumed deeper and deeper into the world of story, January and February came to look like other months. The question was not when would the weather break or would I get stuck in the driveway, it was would I get my obligatory five pages done, and would I get stuck in Chapter Sixteen.
These days, if I weren't such a compulsive gardener, I wouldn't notice winter. I'd just write my way through the year without pause. But I do pause for gardens. In the spring, summer, and fall, my writing breaks all involve drifting out into the garden. In spring, I love the fact that things change every day. I hover over my dead-looking brown flowerbeds, eager to see who has survived the winter and will be back to provide another year's entertainment, thrilled to the core to see the tiniest green sprouts around the stalks of last year's plants. I'm surprised and amused by the plants that have willfully moved to new locations. I tenderly pick dead fall leaves off the tiny crocus and miniature daffodils so they can pop out into the sunshine.
In the summer, my usual routine of staggering from bed directly to the computer gets changed. No longer can the UPS man catch me in my nightgown at one in the afternoon, a scenario in which I look like a lazy slug but have probably been at work six hours. In order to get the gardening done before the heat of the day, I head out into the garden to water, weed, and deadhead early in the morning. Sometimes, because I inadvertently drift out there without thinking, I find myself standing in the garden in my nightgown, staking a drooping flowerhead or an overabundant plant that has swooned onto another. Once, to my shock and outrage, while I was pinching back the mums, a large spider crept up my thigh and bit me. I have to be very disciplined, and very much in love with my writing, to come inside and sit down at my desk when rows of gaudy flowers want me to stay and play. It's hard to leave a riot of Stargazer lilies and Echinacea and Balloon Flowers and Coreopsis to come inside and write about bad guys cooking Meth, but discipline is how writers get books done.
In the fall, I can drift back to my traditional rhythm, going out in the midday sun to divide and replant, to deadhead so the flowers will keep coming. I think I have a particular affinity for my fall-bloomers because the brilliant crescendo of fall is my favorite season. I have to admire the patience of these plants that came up along with the others so many months ago and only now are bursting into bloom. I have lovely petal pink mums that bloom in October and November. Marvelous, stately anemone that grow as tall as I am, and bloom and bloom and bloom. Foot-tall periwinkle ageratum run rampant in September, such a pleasure to see that I find it hard to be ruthless when they invade neighboring territories. The gaillardia and the last of daisies have gone mad with bees.
As the days grow cooler, my spring bulbs will arrive—giant cardboard boxes filled with daffodils, crocus, lilies, anemones, and allium. They always arrive when I'm too busy to plant—coming into the end zone on a book, or going to a writer's conference, or doing the "buy my book" dance at fine bookstores and libraries everywhere. Inevitably, I will be planting them just ahead of the first snow, bundled up, scrabbling with frozen fingers to get them into the ground so the cycle can begin again in spring.
Then, the frost and the snow put an end to diversions, and I am back at my desk without a break, sinking ever deeper into the world of story and the pleasure of playing with my imaginary friends. November's sere grays and browns are a perfect accompaniment to my mood as I transition from writing in balance to being utterly writing obsessed. The holidays are a pleasant interruption—I have to leave my desk to procure turkeys and presents. But then January rolls in, and I am alone with my computer, with story and character. With the challenges of writing scenes that will make my reader want to turn pages, NEED to know what happens, to force them to read breathlessly onward.
And then the postman brings the flower porn. Anyone who has ever seen a Goldsmith's catalog knows about flower porn. I don't visit real porn sites, but it's possible that the thrill is similar to mine when I open the catalogs and look at the new offerings for 2008. Miss January is a dahlia the size of a dinner plate. Miss February is a shrub which grows tall and then bends down again to make a perfect natural arch. Miss March not only has flowers but leaves that are green, and white, and red. Miss April will be another cranesbill geranium—my current favorite plant family. This one has creamy white leaves with purplish splashes. My garden beds are full but someone's going to have move, because I've got a serious case of the wants. I want new plants.
I also, of course, want the answers to three forensic questions. I want to find a cop who will patiently explain interview techniques. I want to go to blood school and learn about spatter. I want to get over my fear of firing a handgun. I want a medical examiner to be my new best friend so I can ask about sectioning the liver and the effects of drowning on lividity, rigor, etc.
Probably most people wouldn't find my peculiar combination of loving flowers and writing about the dark side of life quite normal, but I'm happy. I think I may have found the perfect balance.
Kate Flora is the author of PLAYING GOD, a Joe Burgess mystery. For more info on Kate and her books, check out her website.