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.