Interview with Karen Hugg

One of the things I am really missing during our Shelter-In-Place is the library. Sure, I can listen to audio books and download books onto my devices, but I continue to love real, paper, in-my-hands books. When Karen Hugg reached out with a request that I review her book “The Forgetting Flower” AND offered to send a real copy, I jumped at the chance.

Karen Hugg writes literary mysteries and thrillers inspired by plants. Born and raised in Chicago, she moved to Seattle and worked as an editor before becoming an ornamental horticulturalist and master pruner. She earned her MFA from Goddard College and is the author of The Forgetting Flower and Song of the Tree Hollow.

What inspired you to start writing? 

I’ve been writing ever since I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy when I was ten. I got lost in that magnificent world and realized I could escape my not-so-great life by creating my own world through words.

My latest novel is called Harvesting the Sky and is about a botanist who discovers a medicinal apple tree in Kazakhstan. After he comes home to Paris to propagate the tree, a mysterious stranger keeps trying to break into his greenhouse and destroy the trees. He’s mystified as to why though he suspects it may have to do with a serious mistake he made in his past. 

What influenced the way you tell a story?

Well, I’ve always been enchanted by the natural world. When I read The Lord of the Rings, I was especially impressed with the Ents, that they were so ancient, and spoke their own language, and had created their own culture. That’s all figuratively true. So, when I visited the Pacific Northwest decades ago, I fell in love with the giant majesty of the forests here. Eventually, I became a professional gardener and later, when I combined my love of plants with my fiction writing, my stories flowed with a strange magic.

How do you approach the art of writing?

I approach it like a job in that I try to stay disciplined and be professional. Usually, I write when my kids are at school and my husband’s at work. I try to get in front of my laptop by mid-morning (depending on if I exercise beforehand). I aim to write five days a week and take off weekends to spend time with my family and play in my garden.

My favorite place to write is in a large green chair that’s next to my favorite books and overlooks my garden. My cat Maddie usually keeps me company. My tips for writers are to read often and write often. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

What do you read for pleasure?

I like to read crime fiction, mysteries, thrillers, literary novels, and almost any story set in France. I lived and worked in Paris briefly and that city still has my heart. I’m a Francophile.

For growth, I like to read books by Brene Brown, Gretchen Rubin, and Seth Godin, some writing craft books like The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. My favorite author is Tana French whose prose and plot expertise I aspire to master as a writer. 

My latest recommendation is a book called The Paper Garden. It’s about a woman named Mary Delany, who at 72, started creating botanically accurate paper collages of plants. She’s a fascinating and inspiring person. The poet Molly Peacock wrote it and it’s really lovely.

The Forgetting Flower is the story of a young woman who has fled an undesirable situation. There are a lot of flashbacks in the story. How did you decide on the format of flashback, vs. just telling the story in a single timeline?

Well, I knew I wanted to write about the estrangement of these twin sisters. And once I started diving into the details of why they were estranged, I realized that Renia’s sister’s life as it related to the forgetting flower plant was a story in itself. I originally had them sketched out as separate chapters but my editor noticed I triggered the flashbacks through a scent at each chapter’s end and so helped me to enhance that aspect.

Also, I think the flashbacks deepen the character of Renia. You learn who she used to be in her old life in Poland versus who she is now in Paris. They’re very different lives. And ultimately, why she left Poland, which is the heart of the story’s mystery. Then, as the story progresses in real time, the backstory progresses as well until the two timelines come together in the present at the end.

You wrote another book as well, “Song of the Tree Hollow: Book One in the Verdant Souls Series” Are you working on more for this series?

Because I’ve been focused on Harvesting the Sky, I haven’t drafted the second book yet, but plan to later this year. I have the story arc idea. That novel will focus on Vero’s visit to her grandpa who’s returned to France for health reasons. And near his house, she runs into a very special field of sunflowers.

Any upcoming events?

In this time of the pandemic, the only “event” I can think of is the transformation of The Forgetting Flower into an audiobook. I’m very excited about that!

How about some final words of wisdom?

I would just encourage writers to forgive themselves for not writing if they’re not writing right now. I know that sounds counterintuitive but I hear a lot of guilt coming from moms and other writers who find it hard to focus during this time of the pandemic. To them, I’d say, it’s really okay. Forgive yourself. The stories and ideas will always be there. In fact, I think there’s a real value in not writing and doing something else. Your well of inspiration fills up, so relax and let life fill it for you.

You can find out more about Karen at the following links: