Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Blogger Margot Berwin

Hi readers! Earlier this summer, a publicist for novelist Margot Berwin contacted me to review Margot's novel. Margot has an MFA in creative writing. I read the book and decided it would be best if Margot took the floor and wrote about the book herself. So please give a "Gods Are Bored" welcome to Margot Berwin!

I’m new at guest blogging so I want to start by saying thanks to Anne for giving me space on her blog! I’m so excited—I get to reach some new people and actually say the things that I want to say.

So my book is called Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire. It’s been published by Random House, Its been translated into 15 languages and it was optioned (just once) by Sony pictures.

Hothouse is the story of a woman and two men who meet in NYC and travel to southern Mexico in search of the nine rarest plants on earth. As they say at Sony, think The Orchid thief meets The Alchemist. Two of my favorite books by the way so I didn’t mind the standard Hollywood descriptor.

The woman, Lila Nova, works in advertising, Armand owns a Laundromat, and David Exley works in the green market in Union Square. Lila is not the most adventurous woman going and she more or less gets shoved onto the road less traveled as opposed to taking it, herself.

The book moves from the advertising and modeling world of New York to the rainforests of the Yucatan peninsula. From the plant dealers at the green market in NYC to the curanderos, healers and herbalists of Mexico.

A lot of people are curious about how I managed to get my first novel published. I have to correct them immediately and let them know that this was the THIRD novel I wrote and the first and only one that was published, so the road was rather…um…arduous. While I was writing Hothouse Flower I said to myself, Margot, this is your third book, if you don’t get a green light on this one, it’s going to be your last. Thankfully it was published so I can go on writing and now guest blogging too.

I’d been interested for a long time in all kinds of paranormal experimentation. I’m a huge fan of Carlos Castaneda whom I did my graduate school thesis on (much to the chagrin of the fiction department). I was focused primarily on shamanism and various techniques of plant and trance induced ecstasy.

I didn’t know quite enough about plants at the time to write a book so I had to do a huge amount of research.

I spent a year in the south of Mexico and several months in Guatemala where I became more and more fascinated by the magical, spiritual, and scientific properties of plants-the way they could affect the physical, emotional and mental states of human beings as well as the symbiotic relationship between people and plants especially through, of course, medicine.

A lot of people including writing teachers will tell you to write about what you know. Personally, I think that’s kind of boring. The joy in writing for me is that I can learn new things all the time. In this case I learned a lot about plants.

But that said I couldn’t quite figure out how to write a novel on this topic without sounding annoyingly new-agey until one night I had the following experience:

I was at a birthday party in the east village for my very best friend; the party was in a hot, smoky bar, on a warm may night. It was very crowded so we decided to go outside and take a walk.
As we were strolling down the block I noticed an old, decrepit Laundromat. Not unusual for the neighborhood, except for the fact that this one was both open and filled to the brim with plants. I wanted to go inside and check it out. My friend of course had no interest in spending the night of her birthday in a Laundromat, so she said goodnight and I went inside.

Even though it was very late the owner happened to be there and I asked him why he had so many plants in his laundry. He said he was from Colombia and they made him feel at home. He told me that the mist from the washing machines and the heat from the dryers created a perfect greenhouse for his plants and he considered his Laundromat to be a greenhouse with some clothes going around in circles. He gave me a cutting and told me to come back if it took root and he would give me another.

I left the Laundromat clutching the cutting to my chest like a lunatic and I walked home the 14 blocks to my apartment. During that walk the entire book downloaded into my head like it was coming from a piece of computer software. I began writing that night and didn’t stop until the book was done. Now I had a place to hide the nine plants of desire, a myth I had already created, I would put them in a back room of a Laundromat in Manhattan. A place no one would ever think to find rare tropical plants.

And that’s the story of how the book really came about.

I would also like to say that one of the most consuming problems I had at the time of writing this book was a kind of desperate need to escape from Manhattan.
I was living in a tiny studio and I was experiencing an illness that everyone in this city has had at one time or another. It’s called
I-must-get-out-of-new-york-or I’m-going-to-kill-someone-itis.

I would lay on my bed for hours, avoiding both the thought of employment and unemployment, which I think is quite a talent, and dreaming about getting away. Beaches, jungles, beautiful men, blue, blue water. My brain was a font of stock photography. In fact a lot of reviewers have called this book escapist, which of course really annoyed me-this was my literary baby, not a work of escapist commercial fiction. But then I thought yeah, it kind of is. It’s a bit of a romp through New York City, the world of advertising and high fashion modeling, and then it moves into the magical world of plants and the rainforests of southern Mexico, so I’ve learned to live with the escapist description.
I was personally in the mood for adventure, so I created this myth of the nine plants of desire and I used plants as a way to discuss shamanism, magic and ecstasy. All of the things I’m trying to get closer to in my life.

Someone asked once me if I believed in magic and I said yes, it’s what keeps me going. It’s what keeps me interested.

I have this feeling, and I may be the only one who does, that as a culture it’s not only celebrity we’re after, or fame and money. But underlying all of those things what we really want is magic.

 We have a deep desire for ecstasy and dreams and visions. We want to be surprised! We want gods and demons and spirits and myths. We want to dance around fires on sandy white beaches and sing until the sun comes up. So I thought a lot about magic while I was writing this book. And I came up with the thought that magic is simply the feeling of surprise. And that’s what I wanted for Hothouse Flower and the nine plants of desire. I wanted the people who read the book to be surprised.

Before I close, I’d like to share some thoughts on getting published.

If you’re out there trying to sell your work, I’ve got a few tips I’d like to pass on. And believe me I know they work because I spent many years trying just about everything.

1.      Get published in smaller venues first. I went right for the big novel but I might have gotten published sooner if I’d had some smaller pieces out there. Getting published in journals or magazines, literary or otherwise, online or off, lets editors and agents know that you have an audience and that someone else believed in you enough to publish you. They love this.

2.      I really hate this one but it works. If at all possible, get an MFA. While it’s true that no one can teach you to write, editors use this degree as a weeding out process. They’ll say they don’t, but they do. They get so many manuscripts; they have to separate them out in some way, and having an agent plus an MFA and a few published short stories, really helps. On another note, people in MFA programs become very close. They share information. Three people in my class of twelve have the same agent and two are being published at Random House. It’s a place for serious networking that actually works.

3.      Go to readings. Read your work at readings. Network at readings. Being on the shy side, I never read out-loud. I was the only person in my class who skipped the reading portion of the MFA graduation. When I finally got published and Random House called me to tell me they were sending me on an 18-city book tour, I acted excited and then immediately got a prescription for beta-blockers. It was terrifying and I wish I’d practiced all along. And besides, I met my agent at a reading for Amy Hempel and he’s since signed two of my MFA classmates.

If anyone wants to connect and chat more about publishing or my novel, contact me on facebook. I get back to everyone. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the book!


Kathryn said...


I just recently read your book and loved it. I recommended it to a friend whose family owns a flower farm and has tree spirits living on the property she and her husband own.

Good luck on the sales of the book and getting a nice, juicy movie deal.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Hi Margot! Sounds like a great book. Loved the description of your creative process!

Margot:)) said...

Hello Anne,
Thank you so much for having me as a guest blogger! It's very exciting to see it live. I'm enjoying your blog and will be reading it from now on..

Kathryn-I'm so happy you enjoyed my book! Thanks so much for passing it on. With so many books out there it's hard to get the word out so I really appreciate the word of mouth..

Debra-I hope you get a chance to read the book. Glad you liked the post!

Author-Hothouse Flower

The Wizardess said...

Ah-ha...leave comment here to win the review copy?? That's what I'm thinking. This novel sounds great, and I loved the writing tips.

Heather J. @ TLC Books said...

Thanks for featuring Margot on your blog and helping get the word out about her book!

Viscid said...

Oh my, this book is my new obsession, and to think I wasn't even aware of it. I'm going to UF for botany and chemistry, intensely interested in entheogens, and this sounds like the perfect fairy tale, I cant wait to check it out. Ill have to contain myself and keep from it before I get to read it. Imagine, a laundromat greenhouse, fantastical!

Emily VanLaeys said...

Just found this book in the library and enjoyed it very much. I love romance adventures with a bit of mysticism and magic thrown in! Recommended it to my friend in California who ordered herself a copy immediately.

Do you have another book coming out, Margot?