If you haven’t read Amy Stewart’s books, you might want to check them out. Her latest , “Wicked Plants,” takes a detailed look at the poisonous, illegal, and generally evil members of the plant world. Her earlier best-seller, “Flower Confidential,” is a fascinating description of the nursery industry, especially the global cut flower business. She is also the author of two other books of interest to gardeners, both of which I enjoyed reading, and she can be found on the blogs “Garden Rant “and “Dirt.”
Now, Amy has written what she calls “an experimental novel” that I thought you might want to know about. It is entitled “The Last Bookstore in America” and there are some juicy garden bits in this book, too. The story takes place in California and revolves around the demise of bookstores in the digital age, and the cultivation of a very popular and about-to-be legalized crop.
Recently, I asked her a few questions about the novel:
Given the subject/theme of the novel, why did you choose to release it electronically only? Deliberate irony, just being practical, or testing the waters?
“My idea was this: writers work in relative solitude, and we get little feedback on manuscripts in progress. My brother works in Hollywood and he can screen a film in front of a test audience. This doesn’t happen in the book world. I can send a manuscript out to friends and colleagues for feedback, but it’s far more interesting to find out what complete strangers think. The problem is, I don’t know any strangers. So I thought that by putting it out there in digital form I could get feedback quickly. It’s a great use of this technology.
It’s also true that the novel itself is about digital books, so I did think that people who already have a Kindle or use Scribd might be even more interested in the subject matter. Also, the book deals with two very timely issues: the rise of the digital book and the legalization of pot. Releasing it in some form now, rather than waiting two years for print publication, seemed to make sense given how current these issues are. Digital publishing allows a book to get into the world right away, and that does appeal to me.”
Are you planning a paper copy?
“Sure. I’m working on it. It will make the rounds of publishers in the usual way–but not before I incorporate some of the great feedback I’m getting from readers through this process. I see this digital edition as a near-final draft, a beta test, and I will definitely do some fine-tuning based on what readers are telling me. It’s very hard for a writer to get a fresh sense of, for example, whether something is suspenseful or surprising. I already know what’s going to happen, so I don’t get to experience it with fresh eyes the way readers do.”
You have said that writing this was really fun because you had more freedom with fiction. Does that mean you’ll be writing more novels?
“I hope so. I love fiction. When I’m reading just for pleasure, not for research, I always read fiction. As a nonfiction writer, I’m really more interested in the stories and characters and drama. That’s why I’ve never written how-to gardening books. I’m less interested in information and more interested in stories.”
That garden where the marijuana and other plants were growing sounded so idyllic. I think many gardeners would find the passage where Edith destroys the plants quite painful. Was it painful to write, especially in such detail?