Monday, March 05, 2007

"Wisteria" - by Ada Milenkovic Brown

People who don't write are always asking writers where we get our ideas. My personal writing process is this: Stuff happens. I look at the stuff from a weird spec fictional angle and it makes me think of a setting, a character, a situation. I write that down. When three or four things I wrote down look like they should be together, I figure out a story idea that incorporates them, write an outline, and fill in the gaps.

In this case the stuff that happened was:

1) I was thinking about how my husband is kind of like my own personal Green Man. He loves to garden and has taken the one and a half acres we live on and turned it from a lawn with two skinny saplings on it to this lush grove of sycamores, magnolias, pecan trees, fig bushes, and grapevines. I think of our yard as a personal metaphor of our life together.

2) A relative of ours felt guilty that she hadn't known how close to death her husband was in his last hours and had not stayed late enough at the care facility to be with him when he died.

3) I was driving through Grimesland, NC, and thought about the potential metaphor of setting a story about a gardener in a town named after dirt. (Actually, Grimes was a civil war general, but hey, this is fiction.)

My husband had recently put in a wisteria arbor in the yard, and I liked the Southern moodiness of the word wisteria, which conjures up other words like mysterious, hysteria, wistfulness, whispering. So I thought up a story idea about a woman married to a gardener, a woman who feels guilty that she wasn't with him when he died. She sees a Green Man sculpture and then begins to see her husband's face in the leaves of their wisteria gazebo.

Because I live in NC, I often write stories with Southern settings. The South has gothic and folklore elements that lend themselves well to fantasy. Since I was hoping to learn more about writing southern fantasy from Andy Duncan at Clarion West, I chose to write "Wisteria" his week, because it was my one southern idea. I got some additional feedback from Nisi Shawl, who was helping out at the workshop that week. She suggested using an African version of the Green Man in it, since I had made the protagonist African-American. She sent me reference materials on African agricultural deities.

Reading "Wisteria" made one of the other students at the workshop cry. I hoped that was a good sign.

And that's about it. Oh, one more thing. When I submitted the story to IGMS, the wisteria on our arbor bloomed for the first time, even though it was several months out of season. I wondered if that was an omen that Ed was going to publish the story. And what do you know? It was. I guess the Green Man is really out there.

No comments: