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Showing posts from April, 2018

Flora, Rose, Violet: Researching popular flower names for “olden times”

When I heard Flora was the topic for April, I didn’t think of my backyard. Instead, I thought of era-appropriate names for the women characters who populate the setting I write about—the late 1800s U.S. Flora sounds so “old-fashioned.” Surely there was a blooming of Floras, Florences, Roses, Violets, Daisys, and all those floral-type names during this era? Faced with that question, I did what I usually do when musing on the unknown: I went a-researching and geeked out a bit… My first stop was the Social Security Administration, which has a great site for researching popular baby names for any decade going back to 1880. I pulled up the ranking of names for babies born in the 1880s in the U.S. here . And then, I made a little chart of all the flower names I could identify, plus the ranking for "Inez," the name of my Silver Rush series protagonist:  Most popular name for baby girls? Mary. Out of 1,399,571 female births, 91,668 little ones were Marys. (Ida came in at

Flora on the Dinner Table

With the emphasis we hear and read regarding the health benefits of a plant-strong diet, we would be remiss were we not to mention edible flora and how we can use them in our writing. For instance, in my second book a main character is vegan, and her food choices are woven into the story line. Whether the genre is romance, thriller, murder mystery, fantasy, or some other, flora on the table can play a minor or a major role, perhaps adding an interesting twist when employed as a method to sicken or even eliminate one or more characters. Consider the nightshade family: white, yellow, red, or purple potato (not sweet potato or yam); tomato; all kinds of sweet and spicy peppers; eggplant, okra; tomatillos; goji berries; paprika; and cayenne pepper.This partial list represents the wide range of foods that fall into this category. Popular as many of them are in various cuisines, they come with a mixed blessing because they contain alkaloids such as solanine that, in large quantities, are

A Cup of Poison, M'dear?

This month’s theme is flora in novels. I know many writers who build their stories around gardens and flowers, but I’m not one of them. One of the most famous was Nero Wolfe, created by Rex Stout. Wolfe rarely left his New York west side townhouse for anything that would keep him from tending to his orchids. Flowers have also been popular in titles: The Black Dahlia, White Oleander, and The Name of the Rose to name a few. I wracked my brain to recall if I had used any type of flora in my books, and I found a couple: poisons, of course. In my latest novel, The Scent of Murder (spoiler alert if anyone intends to read the fourth book in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series—blatant self-promotion here, pardon), I use both the scent of flowers in perfume, a deadly flower’s poison, and a highly spiced fruit from a pepper plant, capsaicin. My heroine, Diana Racine, tracks down the scent of a perfume at a New Orleans perfumery, where the scent had been concocted specifically

Resources to Enhance Setting Descriptions

When I wrote my first amateur-sleuth mystery, The Prairie Grass Murders , I chose central Illinois for a large part of my story. I grew up there, was familiar with the terrain, and felt I could make setting important enough to the story that it would almost qualify as a character. To accomplish that goal, I made an element of the native flora and its environmental issue a key part of the plot. The tallgrass prairies have slowly disappeared under the onslaught of farms and towns, factories and parking lots. Attempts to recreate stands of tallgrass prairie and invite the living creatures that inhabit those fields to return have been quite successful. Apparently the land does not forget its past. My father was interested in the land’s history and worked on community projects and committees to restore natural areas wherever possible. The Harry L. Swartz Campground is part of the Middle Fork River Forest Preserve in east central Illinois. From the website: The campground was named

Landscaping Your Story World

I once read a book in which an author waxed prolific about plants for pages upon pages. It did nothing to inform the plot, he just loved plants. I don't remember the title, author, or story line, just the excruciating experience. So my first piece of advice is resist detailed botany lectures unless the specifics of a plant play a part as a poison, medical experiment, or man-eating villain. Whether your story world is real or fictional, the challenge is to make the setting come alive for readers who have never been there. Here are a few examples: “As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of winestains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.” —Willa Cather, My Ántonia "It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed t

April Showers, May Flowers, and the Role of Flora in Writing

April is "flora" month at Blood Red Pencil. Many of us have heard that April showers bring May flowers, but how about April flowers? Depending on the part of the country (or world) we live in, we may or may not have the opportunity to enjoy early spring flowers in April. Whimsical weather that time of year, as well as opposite seasons in the northern and southern hemispheres and the length of those seasons, dictate when (and if) such flowers will grow in our climate. Flora—the term encompasses all plant life—has played a significant role in both literature and song. We have "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," "The Rose," "Edelweiss," "Green, Green Grass of Home," and these are but a few of the musical tributes to flora. Poets, too, incorporate plant life in their works. Consider "The Daffodils" by William Wordsworth and "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer." Then there are the books: Wilson Rawls' Where the Red F