Growing Books

Edith here, writing north of Boston – with a giveway, so keep reading!

New Englanders who garden finally have their vegetable gardens planted, and I am one of them. My lettuce went in a while ago, because it’s cold hardy, and of course I planted the garlic last fall. This week I put in all my tender veggies now that both the soil and air are warm enough. I’m talking about the plants that don’t tolerate cold weather: tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, basil, cukes, and more.

I will nurture these babies along, water them when it doesn’t rain, prune the tomatoes to two main stalks, mulch the soil to keep down weeds and conserve moisture when it’s hot and dry, and generally take care of them so in a couple months I can head around to the back and harvest our dinner (or part of it).

My annual planting ritual (and I’ve had either a garden or a farm since I was in college) led me to thinking about how it’s similar to – and different from – writing mystery novels or short stories.

Planting. For me, starting a story isn’t as straightforward as pressing a seed into prepared soil or tucking a seedling into same. Certainly, I have to prepare my mind and my environment. I’ll have sent in the last manuscript due, taken a couple of days off, even straightened my desk. Sometimes I know exactly where to start the new book and what’s going to happen, and the planting is easy. Other books take more pondering, more waiting for the story to reveal itself enough for me to begin writing.

My 23rd novel awaiting its beginning

Nurturing. Ah, the nurturing. Every writer is different. In my case, the best way for my story to unfold is for me to show up for work every day by seven in the morning and set my fingers on the keys.

Writing the story feeds it. Immersing myself in the first draft keeps the ideas flowing even when I’m not at my desk. Also, as many of you know, I love to take myself off for a writing retreat, either solo or with others, several times a year. On retreat I write all day and all evening. I’m so immersed you can almost see the smoke coming off my fingertips.

Watering and pruning. This would be my revision process. Because I write such spare first drafts (that is, way too short) so fast (in under two months), I need to go through and check all those bits of research or words I didn’t take time for the first time around. Make the language more elegant, more expressive. Include the senses and my protagonist’s feelings and reactions. Assure that the puzzle works and backfill both clues and red herrings. But I need to prune, too. I work through my list of overused words and clip them out. I make sure every scene moves the story forward and has the biggies: conflict, action, surprise, turn. If not, bye-bye scene. And so on.

Harvesting. In the garden, I can pluck off a few outer leaves of lettuce for a salad while leaving the head to keep getting bigger. I can gather today’s ripe tomatoes and know I’ll have a bunch more to pick in two days. The book harvest can also have many stages and forms. I first harvest a manuscript when I send it to an independent editor. Again when I submit it to my editor at the publisher. Again after copyedits and again after proofs, my very last chances for final pruning and watering. The final harvest is when its out in the world for you all to read and enjoy. That’s the best part!

My 2019 shelfie (including ARCs)

I seem to have one last ARC of Strangled Eggs and Ham, my next book to be ready for final harvest (June 25 release, and your preorder is much appreciated). I’d love to send it to one of you (US only).

So, readers: What’s your favorite harvested vegetable, fruit, or metaphorical thing?

74 Thoughts

  1. My favorite harvested fruit are the wild strawberries that grown in the cleared area of my property in Maine. Nothing tastes so sweet, but you have to be quick and careful. They are a favorite of the bears as well. Fresh corn runs a close second. Having spent time on a farm as a kid we learned that the first ear off the stalk was for immediate eating. Sounds strange to eat raw corn, but the sugars are still running and that ear will be the best tasting of the batch.

  2. When I was a kid we used to pick wild blackberries. Not a lot of them made it home.

  3. Lovely to talk gardening as well as books in this late, late spring! The task you list that struck me to the heart was “assure that the puzzle works.” I’d love to hear from the Wickeds about some of their adventures on that job! I’ve been running in circles in my own attempts. Every change trashes something else!

  4. We love the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. We don’t have a large garden but enjoy the fresh vegetables, especially on BLTs and cucumbers in sour cream. Makes meal planning easy…..just add the meat! dbahn(at)iw(dot)net

    1. Ah, BLTs. My guy eats one every day in the summer. I try to restrict myself to weekly – but the smell of bacon frying at lunchtime is hard to resist!

  5. My favorite vegetable out of the garden are cucumbers. I love dipping slices of cucumber in ranch dressing, or just having plenty of cucumber on a good salad. Thanks for the contest!

  6. I love all vegetables fresh from the garden but tomatoes and corn on the cob are to favorites. There is nothing like fresh beets once cooked and cleaned then sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. I also love harvesting good books each month and it’s wonderful when this includes one of your’s, Ms. Maxwell. robeader53(at)yahoo(dot)com

  7. I can’t wait to pick all the different variety of tomatoes, from tiny yellow pears to the large beefsteaks! I have some purple and striped heirlooms this year – can’t wait!

  8. I don’t have a garden any longer, but fresh cucumbers were lovely in a light salad. And fresh green beans! Something else that didn’t need cooking. And of course fresh strawberries. I remember going berrying with my grandmother when I was little Settling up was always a challenge because we’d eating so many during the picking process!

  9. Love to grow tomatoes, though we have finally given up on growing them, as we always seem to be traveling when the harvest is finally here! And we have a big deer problem, so it got really frustrating trying to get the ripe ones before the deer ate them – even with a fence around the garden!

    1. Yes, critters can be a real problem. I finally built a box raised a few feet off the ground (with metal legs) to keep woodchucks and bunnies away from my lettuce!

  10. I plant a garden ever year love tomatoes ,sweet corn ,zucchini. This year with all the rain the plants are looking great .

  11. It doesn’t seem like summer without tomato plants, but for most summer vegetables and fruits we frequent our fantastic farmers market. We eat from it most of the summer; fresh and locally grown tastes and is so much better.

  12. Nothing is better than fresh veggies out of the garden! Well, maybe getting a quiet spot and the time to read that book you’ve had your eye and heart on reading for months. 🙂

    We use to garden and had a large garden plot that we grew all we needed plus furnished veggies for several elderly folks. Our thought is to share the bounty of Mother Earth and maybe when we can no longer garden that someone will share with us. <3 When we moved two years ago, the first year we were busy moving and it was the first year we didn't have a garden. Missed the delicious taste of fresh tomatoes and all the rest as the season came and went. Even the farmer's market isn't the same as going out and picking your own, bringing it in washing it off and fixing it right away for the table. Since then, we decided that if we were going to travel and see this great nation while I was physically able, we better be a doing it. So last year and this year we are doing just that. There's not much use to planting and doing all the work only to leave it for weeks at a time in the heat of the summer. Sadly no garden this year, but determined that next year if we are able to travel to do so either before or after growing season. On top of that we have moved to a different climate and definitely different soil type so it will be a whole new learning experience for us too. For now I'll dream of that fresh, acidity taste of a fresh picked tomato and of the time when we can get down and dirty again.

    Can't wait for the opportunity to read "Strangled Eggs and Ham". Thank you for the chance to win a copy.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  13. I used to plant tomatoes and had a decent harvest. A few years ago after we moved to one of the most plant friendly places in the nation, I planted 5 tomato plants. I ended up harvesting 450 tomatoes. I canned and canned and canned. We finally ate the last can this year (after giving away a bunch of them). Now I just buy them at local veggie stands. Just as good and a lot less work. I also get locally grown corn as soon as it is available. I used to stop at a local stand and buy fresh strawberries. And I do mean fresh. The field was next to the stand and they boxes were brought directly to the stand as you watched. They were still warm from the sun. I would always buy two – one to eat on the way home. The box never make it that far and we live only a couple of miles away. Unfortunately, the land was sold and a warehouse is going up in it’s place. They were the sweetest, juiciest strawberries I have ever eaten.

    Now I’m looking forward to your latest juicy cozy!

    1. That’s a lot of tomatoes! I no longer can, but will freeze them whole or roast them, blend into sauce, and freeze that. I can’t wait for our New England strawberries in a couple weeks.

  14. We have had a huge problem with the tomato blight here in VA. We’ve tried all kinds of things, so this year we have gone totally crazy and are trying aeroponics. What a contraption it is! Wish us luck. I have already preordered Strangled Eggs and Ham. I love the series. I also have the entire Local Foods series sitting on my shelves (many shelves) ready and waiting. If only we could harvest more free time!

  15. I like green beans fresh from the garden. Unfortunately, they are difficult to grow in AZ. Thanks for the article and looking forward to the new book inthe series.

  16. For almost 24 years we spent our family vacations in upstate NY at a place called Golden Acres Farm and Ranch. In the early days the staff was made up of the local farmers children. They were the waiters, desk staff, and room cleaners. They were the counselors in the camp and the baby sitters at night. Since this was a Kosher resort many of us rented the “You Cook” apartments I decided that apart from the meat and chicken parts of our meals we would shop local.

    The staff would tell us which farm had their stands open and where. The parents of these children taught us how to pick the best produce and in many cases the best way to cook or prepare them. I still pass these lessons along to young married women I see in the supermarket.

    The larger part of our food budget is fresh fruits and veggies and I thank those farmers every day for teaching us how to eat healthy.

  17. I love fresh-picked strawberries. One of my fond childhood memories is picking them as a family. Legallyblonde1961 at yahoo dot com

  18. Nothing beats a fresh tomato still warm from the sun sliced up ohI can’t wait. Second is corn from stalk to table in 10 minutes.

  19. I like the analogy, nurturing and cultivating words. I used to advise students before peer editing to begin with something they like and also to suggest anything they’d like to know more about . . . and of course to correct errors, just as you’d tell a friend about spinach on teeth, but gently, citing an proverb that “a friend does not us an axe to remove a fly from your head.” I also learned to specify a “good draft, the best you can do alone” for peer editing day because students’ concept of rough draft was far too broad.
    My CSA providers have cut back this year, for which I do not blame them. I’m using up the surplus in my freezer, and I put a few pet kale plants in pots on the deck.

  20. How to choose? So many good things grow locally. Asparagus, raspberries, pawpaw, tomatoes, corn, green beans. One of my favorites this time of year is the scapes that grow on hardneck garlic. They are delicious no matter how you use them: chopped fresh into salads or on eggs, or sauteed and used like onions. Last year I made chard and garlic scape pesto that I froze, and am still enjoying.

    1. Raspberries! I just had re plant a dozen or more asparagus crowns that had died since I planted them six years ago. The rest are yielding nicely.

  21. Cucumbers and tomatoes are my favorites, yum yum. I’m reading a series now about a woman who runs a farm in the Texas hill country. Makes me hungry all the time!

    1. People have said that about my Country Store mysteries, Katie – don’t read them hungry, because you’ll just get hungrier!

  22. I love freshly harvested carrots. They have a richer, sweeter taste. I’m sure some of that goodness comes from the knowledge I grew it from a seed. 😉 I loved your comparison. You put a lot of thought into it! Thanks for this giveaway!

      1. The year I had all the tomatoes, I also had a bumper crop of carrots. I’m not even all that keen them. I was just filling a small empty corner. Didn’t expect much. I didn’t think I would ever get rid of all of them.

  23. I’ve always had houseplants, but was never a gardener – just started a few years ago and I grow tomatos and some herbs – love my tomatos but now storebought ones just are too bland – also have raspberry plants that should produce this year – I could eat a quart a day, or more. – Love your books. Thanks for the contest.

    1. I almost planted raspberries when we moved here seven years ago and then realized I didn’t want to deal with the thorns and pruning, so I planted blueberries. MUCH easier to maintain!

  24. I don’t plant a garden anymore, but I do have a raspberry patch. It is so nice to go outside and pick fresh raspberries.

  25. I love fresh garden tomatoes, yellow squash, zucchini and cucumbers!

  26. Gloria Browning is our randomly selected winner! Congratulations, Gloria. Please check your email. I wish I had an ARC for everybody.

  27. I bow to the expertise and green thumbs of vegetable gardeners. I’ve tried in-the-ground, on-the-deck, and a variety of other experiments. Bugs get ’em every time, no matter where I have lived. But, having eaten fresh out of the ground at relatives’ houses, fresh beats store-bought every time. It’s like they are different veggies altogether. Grow on!

  28. Edith, your comparisons about gardening and writing are wonderful. You are amazing! As to my favorite vegetables those would be just picked sugar and butter corn, ripe juicy tomatoes, tender young green beans, fresh small beets and summer squash (small ones). We had a garden from when we bought our first home in 1965 until we moved to our retirement home (a townhouse where we can only plant in one or two planters/containers in specific spots. Our lot has a lot of trees so nothing has grown other than a pot of chives for 12 years, and I miss having a chance to go to a garden and pick my herbs for my recipes and to have those freshly picked tomatoes especially. We live rhubarb and we gave our daughter some of our plants before we moved here so she has a rhubarb patch that we pick from, which is our only garden item. We do have a nice farm stand about 10 miles away so at least we have fresh picked produce which is preferable to that at the grocery store!

    I’d love to be chosen for your book. Thank you for your great thoughts today!


  29. I just wrote a small book here and it just disappeared prior to filling in my info.

    Short version:
    Great article
    Favorites:sugar and butter sweet corn and tomatoes

    No garden due to townhouse/condo living

    Sad not to have a garden after having one almost ever year suce 1965 or when we were moving a few times.

    Would live your book. TY

  30. Growing up my dad always had a big garden! My absolute favorite is still cucumbers!!!

  31. I don’t have a garden. My dogs would eat everything. But, strawberries…yum.

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