SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Welcome, Barbara Early! (AKA, Beverly Allen — Roberta/Lucy, you'll relate...)
Barbara and I met at Bouchercon last fall. It was about three in the afternoon — we'd both gotten cups of coffee and found a table near the booksellers. We both gave the same heavy sigh. We both had the same sore feet. But then, we started to talk.
Lo and behold, our fatigue dropped away as we discovered we had a ridiculous amount in common. Such as — we're around the same age, we're both from the same itty-bitty suburb of Buffalo, New York, and not only had we written novels, but we'd both written novels using flower symbolism! Barbara's is Bloom and Doom, a delightful cozy mystery set in a flower shop.
How did she get the idea? Is she a gardener? A florist? In charge of filling the vases at a country manor house? Read on....
BARBARA EARLY: Since the release of Bloom and Doom, I’ve had a couple of people ask me about flowers, as if I were a florist. After all, “write what you know” is probably one of the more bandied about writing rules. But before you hire me to make the bouquet for your daughter’s wedding, perhaps you should know the truth…
I was overjoyed when one of my manuscripts attracted the attention of an agent. “I’ll work with you on it,” she said as she detailed its flaws (ouch!). “But I loved your voice, and I think you’d be a good match for a series that Berkley is looking for someone to write. Would you like to prepare a proposal?”
Now, cozies often revolve around popular crafts and pastimes. In my mind I ticked off the various skills I’ve dabbled with over the years. I’ve sewn, cross-stitched, embroidered, and knitted. I’ve cooked, baked, churned my own butter, decorated wedding cakes, made homemade chocolates, gardened, and learned how to can and preserve. I’d scrapbooked, decoupaged, made stationary from recycled paper, and dipped candles. And I have cats.
“The protagonist is a florist who specializes in bridal bouquets.”
Whoosh. That was the air being let out of my ego and enthusiasm at the same time.
What in the world did I know about flowers besides the fact that they made my nose run and my eyes red and watery, so much so that my husband was strictly limited to gifts of chocolate?
But bridal bouquets?
“Do you think you can do it?”
“Absolutely,” I said.
So I stuffed wads of tissues into my purse and visited florists. One let me poke around the back room and watch them work. Yes, I took notes of what tools and supplies they were using and witnessed the techniques I’d read about. But I was enthralled with the knife the florist was whipping around like the master chef in a Benihana restaurant. (You probably know where I’m going with this…)
After the contract, I managed to find a florist that was starting a new floral design school. I enrolled in their very first course. I got some hands-on experience with fresh flowers. I even left with an idea for a character: a chief of police who has terrible allergies. All of a sudden, every crime scene in town is filled with flowers.
Poor guy. I know how he feels.
When I first met Susan Elia MacNeal at Bouchercon in Albany, we both were writing novels that touched on the language of flowers. There’s something inherently mysterious and romantic about attributing meanings to flowers. I’m not talking about the modern florists’ version, where everything means some kind of love. (They’re out to sell flowers.)
But to many Victorians, flowers had distinct meanings. And not all of them were quite so romantic. Yes, red rosebuds meant “You are young and beautiful.” But the suitor who wasn’t careful could send the wrong (or maybe right) message with a few blooms. A spider mum (Fuji mum) might get the girl packing. It can mean “Elope with me.” A crabapple blossom, although pretty, could say “You are ill-natured,” while the ice plant says, “Your looks freeze me.” Ouch.
Some flowers are even well suited to mystery. I had fun in the second book with foxglove, which can mean “insincerity.” Coltsfoot says, “Justice shall be done.”
And Monkshead warns, “A deadly foe is near.”
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Lovely readers, do you have a black or green thumb?
Would you rather have a bouquet or chocolate as a gift?
And what kind of flower do you think would best symbolize you?
Beverly Allen (aka Barbara Early) grew up buried in the snowy suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where she developed a love for all things sedentary: reading, writing, classic movies, and Scrabble. She holds a degree in engineering, but her creative streak caused her to run away screaming from the pocket-protector set. She taught secondary English and science for several years before home schooling her daughter successfully through high school. When not reading or writing, she enjoys cooking, crafts, home-improvement projects, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and four naughty, but adorable cats.
She cooks up cozy mysteries with a healthy dose of comedy and sometimes a splash of romance. Bloom and Doom, the first book in the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mystery series, released from Berkley Prime Crime in April.