[Name] trees and [something] bushes
What happens after the first draft? (CW: Cyclone Gabrielle)
First bit of great news: those of you who would like a non-Amazon/Kindle version of Bespoke and Bespelled can pre-order now! You can click here to find links to Apple Books, Rakuten Kobo, Smashwords, Angus & Robertson, and more.
(And if you do want the Kindle version and haven’t grabbed it yet, that’s here.)
Second bit of great news: I finished the first draft of Kate Healey’s first novel yesterday!
Persephone in Bloom is a contemporary romance reimagining of the Hades/Persephone myth, set in the modern day workplace of Olympus Publishing, and my best friend assures me it’s quote REAL GOOD unquote. You might regard this as a sign of partisan affection rather than critical appreciation, but since Robyn is also brilliant, discerning, and an excellent writer herself, I take her opinion seriously.
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Now I’m onto the next stage of Persephone in Bloom, which is filling in gaps and fixing obvious errors so that the manuscript is ready for the first editing round. In the process I curse Past Me for all the square brackets that Present Me has to deal with.
I do enjoy a research hole, but when I’m in the flow of getting words on the page, the last thing I want to do is stop writing for long enough to look up an appropriate name for a university that doesn’t already exist, or what kind of birds live in cypress forests, or which haute couture designers make clothes in plus sizes (almost none, it turns out, which is both ludicrous and shameful).
So when I come to that kind of detail, I will [put something in square brackets]. When I’m finished with the first draft—now—I hit that Find button and go looking for the brackets.
Today, I keep hitting sentences like this:
“Right,” Hera said, and tapped a laptop key. The screen behind her displayed the [something something] banquet hall floorplan.
“The sender tried to alter the metadata, but there’s a [tech thing].”
The corridor led to an empty staff break room, and then out an unmarked door to a small courtyard, ringed with thick [name] bushes and [something] trees.
I easily came up with “the Minos Centre” for the location of the Olympus end of year party, and I can leave the [tech thing] for now, because that’s going to require some assistance from someone who actually knows something about email forensics.
The last sentence required research that I wasn’t allowed to put off any longer.
Persephone in Bloom isn’t set in New York City, and it isn’t set in Vancouver, BC, but it’s also not-not in those cities. So that was a reasonable starting point: type in place names + trees and see what I get.
What I got first was the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Trees page, which gave me the NYC Tree Map. This astonishing work logs every tree (nearly a million of them!) managed by the Parks and Rec team, whether that’s on a sidewalk or in a park. The map includes a lot of detail about each tree, including stewardship efforts by local tree-fiends and notes about recent inspections and work.
Ōtautahi doesn’t seem to have anything that comprehensive, but this did remind me of the City Council’s Fruit and Nut Tree Map, which locates the council-maintained trees that produce edible food (and also walnuts). I’ve heard that a lot of these trees were planted beside footpaths so that children would be able to grab some fruit on the way to or from school, though for a lot of them the birds definitely get there first.
There are even more trees available for public consumption than this map suggests. When the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 made it unsafe to live in large areas of the city, over 7000 homes were demolished. Whole neighbourhoods disappeared, creating the space that eventually became the Residential Red Zone, a green common space that’s easy walking distance from my own home.
People took their delicate or cherished plants from their gardens, but a lot of roses, rhododendrons and hydrangeas remain in the Red Zone. And there are hundreds of trees. A twenty minute walk can glean me apples, figs, pears, plums, peaches, apricots, feijoas and elderflowers - not at the same time, of course, but when they’re in season. Right now it’s apples, apples everywhere, and the pears will be next. I’m keeping my eyes open.
It’s a fascinating way to look at a city - where are the trees? How did they get there? What are they doing?
(And I’m more than usually aware of how lucky I am to have them. Amid the horrible human tragedy of Cyclone Gabrielle’s grim fatality numbers and shattered livelihoods in the North Island have been smaller sadnesses; the gardens smothered in silt, the backyard climbing trees knocked over by the wind, the family orchards drowned in the deluge. I’m human, and I care about human lives more, but I hope that one day there will be trees again.)
[Name] bushes and [something] trees.
Okay, so that was an entertaining hour of clicking around and going “ooh, trees” and “oh, that hazel tree is really close to my house!”, but I still had a blinking cursor hanging over that sentence.
I reminded myself that in the story, there is someone hiding in those trees and bushes, and it’s wintertime. My trees couldn’t be deciduous; my hiding person needs cover. “Vancouver conifers” got me Tsuga trees, which have several variants which would offer a good hiding place. My search also informed me that the common name is hemlock trees. Not because they’re poisonous, but because the crushed foliage apparently smells like the toxic weed.
However, even the name hemlock is associated with death, particularly classical deaths, and that's just perfect for this story. I refrained, with great difficulty, from checking whether we know if Socrates really did drink hemlock or if that’s a myth that’s grown out of his death.
Bushes. Well, hemlock trees would provide sufficient cover for my hiding person, and they get pretty big; you probably wouldn’t plant anything else sizeable in a courtyard garden. I have hellebore in my own garden, and know that it stays lush (and blooms!) in winter. Hemlock and hellebore has a nice alliterative flair without being obnoxiously matchy-matchy. It’s a fun classical reference, and it’s realistic for the time, place, and action of the story.
So, after nearly ninety minutes of “research”, I wrote: “The corridor led to an empty staff break room and then out an unmarked door to a small, paved patio in a courtyard garden. The paving edges were planted with hellebore, and two weeping hemlock trees dominated the far end of the space.”
Not too bad. And definitely worth the effort; I got to look at a lot of pictures of trees.
Weeping hemlock sargentii: Alexander Lorenz
Okay, obviously I looked it up just now, and the answer seems to be probably, but it was also probably not nearly as dignified as Plato made it out to be.