Monday, March 30, 2009

Ho gardening

After an afternoon of spring planting, this is practically a glamour shot. Forgot the feather boa--maybe next time. My assistant, Otto, as unflappable as always, helped me dig a few holes. Mostly I've been spreading compost, mulching with pine needles, before the real fun begins--planting.

And yes, as a matter of fact, that IS a Hoegaarden in my hand. It's my favorite beer--and not just because of the, ahem, name. It's a belgian white--pronounced WHOgarden-- whatdja think?

Rigorous outdoor work--thrusting your gloved hands in the soil--sure helps you keep perspective, and stay thankful. Keeps you earthy, you know? Reviews for Secret Keepers are coming in-- and today I'm thankful for the generous praise from Booklist and Publishers Weekly:

Publishers Weekly

Secret Keepers
Mindy Friddle. St. Martin's, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-312-53702-9

In her second novel, Friddle (The Garden Angel) returns to the family plot for the surprising story of a dysfunctional Southern family, a long-buried secret and the possibility of redemption. Aging housewife Emma Hanley lives in Palmetto, S.C., but dreams of traveling the world; unfortunately, her long-planned European vacation must be postponed when her erstwhile husband up and dies after his regular Saturday coffee klatch with a gaggle of female admirers. Left alone, Emma must learn to deal one-on-one with her mentally troubled son Bobby, born-again daughter Dora and the ghost of son Will, who was killed in Vietnam. While her family goes to pieces, Emma lets her yard go to seed; enter gardener Jake Cary, Dora's old flame, whose efforts to cultivate Emma's garden soon spill into her family life. With fluid prose and telling details, Friddle deftly captures the downward pull of the past and the Southern penchant for mythmaking; transcending the easy stereotypes of Southern dysfunctional family sagas, Friddle's clan is a genuinely quirky lot with its own unlikely ideas of happiness. (May)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Slow Gardening & Fast Writing

I have an excuse for saving all my Jameson Whiskey bottles for a new bottle tree! Man, it's gonna be a big tree.

Now I know there's a term for my yard: slow gardening. LOVE this profile in the NyTimes today on Felder Rushing. (Pictured at right)

I'm mulching over the last remnant of lawn this week, and have always been a big fan of outsider garden art--using what you have on hand for containers and decor.

Now that I think about it, my obsession--er, interest-- in "slow gardening"-- reared it's flowery head while I was writing SECRET KEEPERS. A major theme: manicured lawns and landscapers versus wild beauty and the stubborn grace of plants.

I think surrendering to the rhythms of nature is tremendously gratifying-- aligning yourself, really, with the seasonal cycles and inherent design unfolding right there in your garden or clay pots--without imposing by adding chemicals or pruning something to a nub.

It's all about letting go, being open to what is.

I've found there's a similar kind of alignment in writing. Ironically, getting in "the zone" is often, at first, fast and full of energy. Not editing or revising, which comes later with subsequent drafts, but honoring the flow of pure inspiration in first drafts, of surrendering to characters who take on a life of their own.

As the prolific Stephen King writes in his memoir, ON WRITING: A MEMOIR OF THE CRAFT, "Writing is at its best--always, always, always-- when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it's fresh and almost too hot to handle."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Moon Vine, anyone?

I've harvested lots of Moon Vine seeds from last year's beauties. If you'd like some, let me know your mailing address and I'll send you some--while quantities last, as they say. I've included a few photos here from last year's Moon Vine in my garden.

Soak in weak tea overnight and plant after all danger of frost. [For example, I'm in zone 7, so our safe-from-frost date is April 15.]

Moon vine is one of those poet's posies--sensuous, each bloom opening at night, a tender, fragrant flower attracting night pollinators. [Gosh, that sounds sort of...erotic]. It's a fast growing annual--related, oddly enough, to the Morning Glory, which is the flip side flower--blooming only in the sunlight. You can grow them on the same fence or trellis, one blooming in sun, fading out just as the other pops open at dusk.

Guaranteed to inspire.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Here are some upcoming book tour events I've got scheduled. Hope, hope, HOPE to see you there. More to come.

Thursday, April 2

2009 Clemson Literary Festival

Downtown Reading--Abernathy Waterfront Park
4:30 - 7:30 pm

Monday, April 27
Emrys Reading Room [Books available for purchase by The Open Book]
Public Reading
7 pm at
The Handlebar
304 E.Stone Avenue, Greenville, SC

Thursday, May 14
Quail Ridge Books & Music
7:30 PM
3522 Wade Ave
Raleigh NC 27607
(919) 828-7912

Friday, May 15th
McIntyre's Fine Books & Bookends
2 pm
2000 Fearrington Village
Pittsboro, NC 27312

Sunday, May 17
Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe
3:00 PM
"Writers at Home" Public Reading
55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
Tel: (828) 254-6734

Monday, May 18
7:15 pm
Decatur Literary Festival
Hosted by Georgia Center for the Book
Decatur Public Library
215 Sycamore St.
Decatur, GA 30030

Thursday, May 21
Book Launch Party
6-8:30 pm
Metropolitan Arts Council
16 Augusta St. in the historic West End
Greenville, SC 29601
Books available for purchase on site
contact mindy AT mindyfriddle Dot Com for more information

Friday May 29
Litchfield Books
Moveable Feast Luncheon
14427 Ocean Hwy Unit G
Litchfield Landing
Pawleys Island, SC 29585
Litchfield Landing
Pawley's Island, SC

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Bootylicious Cover Story of Secret Keepers

My publisher has been terrific about soliciting my ideas for the book jacket of Secret Keepers.

Originally, I shared some images I had in mind: vintage seed catalogs, seed packets, outsider garden art.

The first cover idea looked like this:
Charming, lovely, and "iconic," as a friend of mine said. But after an informal poll among some friends and artists familiar with my novel, the thinking was that this cover might be a tad old-fashioned for the story. True, there is much about the past and its intrusion into one family's present-day conflicts, but there is also a range of characters in SECRET KEEPERS-- feisty widows, a love-sick landscaper, a wayward teen, a women trapped in shopping addiction and a loveless marriage, a homeless, gifted plantsman--characters who aren't...dainty. Characters eventually brought together by the mysterious plants from a forsaken, forgotten garden.

I was asked to send in more ideas, and I shared a range of website links [rusty lawn chairs, vine-covered iron gates, etc.] and a few photos from my own garden that I thought might illustrate a sort of ruined finery, weed-swallowed-but-rescued theme. What a cool surprise to see a photo I took used on the cover. As I write this, those succulent-filled boots are on my front porch.

Monday, March 9, 2009

On bluebirds, bats, and short-short stories

A charmed day. Fickle March was running hot. A record 85 degrees today in these parts. Good things happening:

1. Sapphire Wink. Another pair of eastern bluebirds have apparently taken up residence in the second birdhouse, this one in our front yard. Unusual, since bluebirds are pretty shy about coming to feeders, and prefer meadows. The two of them sat on the power line, swooping down to gulp insects. Beautiful plumage. A sapphire wink, every time the male fluttered by.

2. On winning garden gloves and other cool stuff. I am honored that two of my short-short stories--the ones in the previous entry, in fact-- were chosen among the winners of Gardenrant's first short-short fiction contest. Check out all 100-plus entries.

3. Batty Love. Okay, and on this balmy night, sitting on the front porch under the moon with a glass of wine, I watched two bats zig and zag in that loopy, erratic, confident way. So happy they're back out this spring...hope they've checked in our bat house out back.

4. First Drafts. And now for something completely different. Well, tangential. Sort of. Speaking of rousing from hibernation...Spring is so full of awakening, potential and birth and energy and blinking in the sun, it seems to me a perfect time for first drafts. To quote John Dufresne (again), "In the first draft, rely on spontaneity, rely on inspiration, follow your tangents, pursue your blunders...all first drafts are experimental, chaotic, messy, and all take time, energy, patience, persistence, and devotion...The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written."

Friday, March 6, 2009

Part 2-- Horticultural short-short story contest

Okay, last two short-shorts...for now.

both, 99 words:

After her husband ran off with the pool boy, Ellen found comfort in gardening. Alas, she discovered Japanese Beetles had infested her New Dawn roses. A disconcerting sight: shiny green beetles, their spurred legs clasped together in insect ecstasy. Curling themselves up in the pink petals, like sultans in silk.

“Fornicating!” she told her friend, Sue, “on my best climbing roses!”

“I know just the trick,” Sue said. “I’m sending over my yard man. He’s got quite a six-pack.”

“I don’t drink,” Ellen said. Sue laughed.

When the Happy Ending Landscaping truck arrived, the shirtless, muscular man in tight jeans strode over to Ellen, her infestation worries already forgotten.

* * *

Lila had never been so embarrassed. She’d arranged for this speaker for the Senior Center’s luncheon, having no idea he was such a coarse man.

“They are so fierce and clever,” the speaker said now from the podium. “All that finery to entice pollinators! Flowers are scented, glowing, magnificent reproductive organs.”

Lila, shocked, stood abruptly. She attempted to bring the talk to a close, but the audience would have none of it.

“The perfume, the nectar, the colors, the mimicry, the trickery. The lips on orchid! Exploding seed pods. I’ve seen pleated downy petals fragrant as a woman’s--”

Lila fled the room. She’d resign from the entertainment committee, and go back to finance.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Horticultural short-short story contest

Over at Garden Rant--one of the most informative and FUN Grogs [er, that' blogs] around-- there is a short-short fiction contest going on. Horticultural shorts-- 99 words or less.

Hop on over to read the entries--they're great. And enter! I did. Here's my contribution--exactly 99 words-- taken, albeit loosely, from Secret Keepers:

Jake bragged his Blooming Idiots Landscaping was growing like a weed. But Gordon, his best employee, was eccentric. He’d refused to trim certain trees, for example. “I don’t ever lift the skirts of a magnolia,” he said.

Now, Gordon was drawing a crowd at the country club, spooning clumps of compost into fishnet pantyhose.

“What in Pete’s name are you doing?” Jake asked.

“Making tea,” Gordon said. He dunked a stuffed stocking in the watering can. “Not for you, either.”

“Well, that’s a relief. Whose legs did you peel those things off of?”

Gordon laughed.

“Anybody I know?”

Gordon glanced over at the cosmos and cone flowers. “Compost tea. They’re gonna soak it right up.”

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