Today I’m celebrating a birthday, not mine, but a bunch of printed words (about 100,000), and I’m their birth mother. The story and creative journey of my eleventh book has ended, at least its gestation. Today, Tuesday July 21st, it officially goes out into the world, to perform on its own, with readers and reviewers in the USA and around the world.
A few weeks ago I’d opened a carton of advance books from the NYC warehouse, and saw my new literary child for the first time. I liked the fonts, the book design, the weight and feel of the paper, inhaled the fresh printer’s ink, and enjoyed the satin feel of its black cover and floral art. Paging through the book, I paused to read and remember, and smiled. Yes, I’m proud of this book with its broad sweep of human flower culture, botany, wildflowers, people and pollinators. July 21st indeed seems more like a birthday celebration than just the first hardcover publication date for a new book.
I don’t remember exactly when, but about four years ago, I mentioned the idea of switching from writing mostly books about bees, to a “single topic” book about flowers with my literary agent, Judith Riven-- all the ways flowers have influenced humanity from antiquity to modern times in most cultures. She liked the idea and I began to research and write a book proposal that she could represent to a non-fiction trade book publisher.
I wanted to cover everything about flowers, but that quickly became overwhelming and unruly. Even something as simple as “gardening” soon became too much to tame, especially given the rich gardening traditions we inherited from the Greeks and Romans (e.g. topiary and statues). No, I abandoned that all-inclusive idea and drilled down.
I decided on five parts for the book: Sexuality and Origins; Growing, Breeding and Selling; Foods, Flavors, Scents; Flowers in Literature, Art, and Myth; and Flowers in the Service of Science and Medicine. I would have to digest, review and discuss my topics in fourteen short chapters. Many favorite personal floral trivia wouldn’t make it to the final edits. As with any book; the rewrites, edits and drafts seemed endless, a long journey until the first and second pass pages were proofed and ready for my editor and then the printer.
Flowers are misunderstood, or at best taken for granted. Basically, flowers are the sexual organs of flowering plants, living billboards advertising for pollination services, yet they are so much more. Their fruits and seeds feed the world’s animals, including 7.2 billion people. Their uncommon beauty has for the past 130 million years beguiled insects, other pollinators, and human admirers.
It was my pleasure to remind readers of the joyful ways in which flowers have inspired great works by creative individuals in the fine and decorative arts, in photography, prose and poetry, by chefs, by painters and perfumers, and even scientists. I’m a pollination ecologist, so the chapters about insect and other flower visitors came easily and I tell about some of the ways I’ve used flowers in my own scientific research.
There was a longer research period, and steeper learning curve, as I came to understand the global production and transportation of cut flowers, or how the perfume industry’s “noses” create their evocative blends. I want my readers to visualize flowers as bees see them, but also how flower growers, Dutch auctioneers, florists, gardeners, naturalists and others appreciate and use flowers.
We just think we’re in control. Flowers actually get us to care for them, pollinate or bring pollinators to them. Using all forms of transportation, we’ve spread them around the globe by the billions. They have prospered. In turn, we derive much pleasure from flowers. We delight in their fanciful forms, colors and scents. They evoke true smiles, enhance our health and perhaps even improve our memories.
I’m pleased with favorable early reviews from Kirkus, the Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Science News Magazine, by reviewers who were sent advance readers copies (ARC’s) months ago. The book will “live or die” on its own merits, resonating, or not, with different readers. I breathed a sort of prenatal life into it. Now, it must learn to crawl, then walk.
Happy Birthday flower book!