Monthly Archives: April 2013

April showers bring May flowers: here’s flower lady Lynne Schwartz-Barker

Lynne Schwartz-Barker is a garden designer and writer. She wrote Gardenscape, a freelance column for the Sunday Gazette-Mail for 21 years, retiring it in 2006 to work on a novel. She and her husband Jerry own Flowerscape, a garden design, planting and maintenance company.

What prompted you to write the story, “The Climb”?

In 1989, we adopted our son Rafael who was 4 years old. We travelled to Bogota, Colombia, and spent 10 days there, hosted by a wonderful family. One afternoon, Jerry took our older son Eamon upstairs for a nap and Rafael and I were alone on the playground. He was like a little expressionless robot climbing the steps to the slide, and sliding down, then going back to the steps to repeat the pattern over and over again. I thought, I bet no one has ever caught him and went to the bottom of the slide, crouched down and held my arms out. When he saw me, a smile lit his little face and he slid into my arms. That image has stayed with me all these years and was I where I began this story.

Did you envision an audience when you wrote this piece? If so, who?

I wrote it for every Mom and Dad who have struggled with parenthood. You don’t have to pass a test to become a parent. There are no guidelines. We’re all running on faith. And at some point, that faith is tested.  How are you going to reach your child, how are you going to affect positive change? In “The Climb,” Julia, who has no parenting experience, ponders these questions and has the glimmer of an answer at the end of the story.

I know writing is not your only passion (or your first amongst the creative endeavors). Tell us about your background with your first passion.

I’ve always been a writer. I wrote for a trade magazine covering store design when I lived in New York. I sold freelance pieces and did public relations after I moved to West Virginia in 1977. But my other passion is plants and so, despite my degree in English literature, I decided to go to work for a garden center and learn all about the plant business. Customers started to ask me to design their gardens and give lectures to garden clubs. After a few years at the garden center, I left to start Flowerscape. Then I took every class and went to every seminar I could afford to learn more and of course, read books and magazines galore. After 29 years in business, I still have a passion for plants and love designing gardens.

What is your current writing project?

I’m almost finished with my novel, Blackwell. It’s set in 1895 in the southern coal fields of West Virginia. The main character is a young New York woman who journeys to the town of Blackwell to design gardens for the emerging coal barons. It’s the story of what happens to her there.

What other writing projects are you planning?

 I envision Blackwell as the first book in a trilogy. I’m also working on short stories and have submitted a new one to the WV Writers’ Competition.

What other types of writing have you done?

 Mostly non-fiction. A travel article for an airline magazine. The articles for the trade magazine I worked for. Freelance features for the Charleston Gazette as well as my weekly gardening column. And I was assistant editor for a short-lived publication called WV Arts News and wrote features and reviews.

What author(s) do you admire the most? Why?

 I seem to gravitate towards dead women authors from the turn of the last century: Edith Wharton, Sarah Orne Jewett, Willa Cather. It’s a period of time that fascinates me and each incorporates the natural world into their stories. I’m currently reading Once Upon A River by Bonnie Jo Campbell and loving it for the same reason. I’m also crazy about Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana, Africa. He’s made me love Botswana, a place I’d never even considered before. I’m hoping my Blackwell series will do the same for West Virginia, my adopted state that I love with all my heart.

Who has been a mentor/adviser/coach for you in writing?

Dan Harrison, my editor at the trade magazine, taught me how to write coherently and how to explain complex ideas simply. Doug Imbrogno, my editor at the Charleston Gazette, taught me not to waste my opening lines on trivia. I took two classes with Geoff Fuller and they were a tremendous help in starting to write fiction. And my writer’s group, Sundays at 2, has taught me more than I can thank them for: how to write a novel that someone will want to read.

Write to this prompt:

Musette is a writer, a cook, and a gardener. She is meandering in her garden in early spring and happens upon a clump of jonquils, the first blooms she’s seen so far. She stoops to pluck them, but hesitates. She is remembering her mother, Jacqueline, who passed away a year ago. They were her mother’s favorite flowers.

            When Musette was a little girl, her mother would dress her in her Sunday coat, hat and gloves, and take her to a mansion on top of a hill. It was always a sunny, warm day in the middle of March. Jacqueline would ring the bell and a manservant would answer the door.

“Ah, Jacqueline,” he would say. “You are here for the jonquils. And who is this little beauty?”

“Musette,” the little girl would pipe up, and he would pretend not to recognize her since she’d grown so much.

“Musette,” he would finally say, “You look like a young lady that would like some tea. Shall you take it on the back terrace?”

And so Musette and her mother would walk around to the back of the mansion and there would be a table set with linens. The manservant would bring them a pot of tea, china cups with saucers, and the most delicious petit four cakes and marzipan sweets shaped like little fruits. From the terrace they gazed out on a vast lawn starred with jonquils of all types, large flowered and small, in shades of yellow, orange and white. Bees would buzz through the flowers and the sweet scent would drift up to the terrace. Musette ached to run down the lawn and roll in the sweet new grass, something she was never allowed to do.  After their tea, Musette and Jacqueline were allowed to pick exactly 24 flowers.

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Laura Treacy Bentley: Poet and Fiction Writer

Laura Treacy Bentley is a poet and fiction writer. She has served as writer in residence for three years at the Marshall University Writing Project, and she is the book editor for WV Living: http://www.wvlivingmagazine.com. Poetry is her first love, but writing fiction is her newest love. She has just published The Silver Tattoo, a dark literary thriller set in mythical Ireland and is hard at work on a second novel. She was born in Hagerstown, Maryland, but has lived most of her life in Huntington, West Virginia. Check out Laura’s website: http://www.lauratreacybentley.com/thesilvertattoo.htm

 Who or what was your inspiration for “Caving”?

I had major surgery a few years ago, and it took me months to recover. My friend Eddy unfortunately had a setback, too, so we decided to do something exciting/challenging/unique to celebrate when we were better. I think I had wanted to climb a mountain or do a zipline, but since she was afraid of heights and I had never been caving before, it became our goal to drive to Laurel Cave in Kentucky. I’m pretty fearless most of the time, but this pushed me to my limits. The experience stayed with me, so it eventually became a poem that turned out to represent much more than caving.

How long does it take you to write a poem the length of “Caving”? Poems in general?

Well, a long time. Sometimes weeks or months. Every time I return to a poem that I think is complete, I revise it again. There’s one poem that I’ve been revising for decades, so I think it’s time to just let it go. Most of the time when a poem comes together for me—I get a feeling when I read it aloud that tells me it’s done. Once a poem is published, I will never change it. Some poets revise their earlier work for new journals or collections, etc., but I think they need to accept that even though they have probably grown as a poet, their earlier poems reflect their life and thoughts and emotions at that moment in time, and there’s a beauty in that.

Who inspired you to become a poet?

One of my English teachers at West Junior High, Mrs. Barrett, used to read a few poems aloud to my class. One short poem, “The Pasture” by Robert Frost, remains indelible. She read it several times with such joy and wonder that I can still see her in my mind’s eye. Frost invited the reader to come with him to see the calf with her mother when he said “You come too,” I loved the invitation, the intimacy of it all. I later wrote my first poem at West for a poetry project, and I still have it somewhere. I think a teacher’s power to capture a child’s imagination cannot be underestimated.
Tell us about your books.

Lake Effect is my first poetry collection. Although I had been published widely in the United States and Ireland, the market for poetry is very small, so I was thrilled when Bottom Dog Press wanted to publish my book in 2006. Poems represent a poet’s journey, and if the poem’s words connect with a reader, make them feel something, that’s the very best part. A poet doesn’t have to have a book or ten books or be on a map or live in New York City to be a good poet. They just need to learn Emily’s definition of poetry: “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

My first novel is The Silver Tattoo, and it’s being released in early April 2013 in paperback and as an ebook. It’s a dark literary thriller set in Ireland. Talk about a roller coaster ride! You can read all about it in the Acknowledgements of my novel. Good things come to those who wait, or those who dream big!

What writers were an influence on your writing?

Oh, so many. Paula Meehan, William Stafford, Eavan Boland, Ted Kooser, Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury, Naomi Shihab Nye, Truman Capote, Jill Bialosky, James Dickey, Sara Teasdale, Dylan Thomas, Cynthia Rylant, Raymond Chandler, Amy Lowell, William Golding, Harriet Arnow, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Wolfe, somebody stop me!

Do you live the writer’s life? If not, then what would that life look like?

I think I definitely do! I’ve been the book editor for WV LIVING magazine since its inception, so I’m constantly reading, researching, writing, and revising my interviews and features for “Conversations,” the name of my series in the magazine. I’ve been editing The Silver Tattoo, compiling a new poetry collection, and preparing to present two workshops at the WV Writers Conference this summer, as well as to teach creative writing for three weeks at the West Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts at Davis & Elkins. I’m also helping plan the second Word & Song Café during Old Central City Days, and I participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote a draft of a new novel this past November in one month. I think I’m obsessed, in a good way!
How often do you write?

Almost every day, but I have lulls just like everyone else. Last year my mother, my sister-in-law, and Ray Bradbury died, so I couldn’t focus on writing for a long time. Death and disappointment became a sad refrain, but I’ve turned a corner and am excited about the future.

Write to this prompt: Dogwoods and Redbuds bloom in WV in profusion every spring. You are in a grove of these trees, a faint, early spring sun filtering through the blossomed branches. The air here is soft, and you feel almost as if you are floating. You turn and there is . . . an old woman.

Firsts

Each year an old woman marks her calendar

when fireflies first candle the dark,

when a veil of starlings

fold and unfold across the September sky,

when the mountain waterfall

finally surrenders its motion to ice,

and redbud blooms again

beside the wild dogwood.

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