Love, Death, and Lonely Bouquets

A conversation between Elisheva Heit, flower artist, and Tali Himmel, author

Elisheva Heit grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her mother used to forage for edible and medicinal plants “deep into the country and on the edge of forests.” Medicine was hard to get, and her mother treated their childhood illnesses with teas she steeped from dried plants and flowers. To this day, dry flowers remind Elisheva of medicine. Fresh flowers are a whole other story.

“When you were invited over for dinner in Russia, you always brought a bouquet of flowers with you.  It was the appropriate thing to do.” Elisheva explains, as she works on her day’s creations at Flamenco Flowers and Sweets. “There was no flower delivery, you went to a specialty flower store or to one of the little stands that dotted the streets of St. Petersburg. Flower choice depended on what was in season.”

Photo Credit: Shev Green – Used with permission

“Were there other customs you remember?”

“On the first day of school, each child would bring flowers for the teacher.”

“A single flower?”

“Oh no!” Elisheva laughs. “Every child brought a bouquet.”

“What would the teacher do with all those bouquets?”

“You know, I never thought about it. What I remember is that most of the kids would bring Gladiolas, but my Mother hated Gladiolas, so I brought Asters.”

It’s interesting to me, what we associate with flowers, and what social norms are at play whether we are aware of them or not.

“People use flowers to commemorate the big events: Birth, Marriage, Death.”

“What do people usually order flowers for?”

“Love, marriage, birth, death: the big occasions. What other big occasions does a person have? What else is there?”

“Are there certain flowers that are associated with specific events?”

“For funerals, you’d need a big display, vivid, big pieces – so you’d use cheaper flowers. Carnations for example, are very popular for funeral arrangements. And so I get a lot of people who tell me not to put carnations in their bouquets – it reminds them of death and loss. Although I think carnations are lovely. Look,” she opens her cold storage, “see how many colors they come in: the purples, the reds. Those are not painted, those are all naturally colors.” Continue reading

Writers Need Research – Researching Dialogue

Writersneedresearch3FIN-01Every aspiring writer should try their hand at playwriting. Even writers with paralyzing stage fright and an aversion to jazz hands can test the strength of their dialogue by resting the full weight of their story on it in the form of a play.

The lessons I learned in the playwriting classes I took in college have spared me from many a weak line of dialogue (though the pesky things sometimes manage to wriggle their way in).

Successful dialogue is a triple-threat, in that it:

1. Builds character

2. Heightens conflict

3. Progresses plot

This time I will provide you with playwriting exercises intended to help strengthen your dialogue by focusing on each of these areas.

One of the first lessons you learn in playwriting class is the difference between text and subtext.

Text = what your characters are saying

Subtext = the meaning or significance behind what they are saying

None of us say what we’re thinking at all time. Thank you, filter! Without filters, my friends would have to endure a lot more talk about my bewilderment about tapioca pudding and the anatomy of camels.

Your characters shouldn’t either.
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Writers Need Research – Write What You Know

writersneedresearch2-2-01We all know the old adage, “Write What You Know.” Countless writers have argued either in favor or against the advice. I hope you’ll humor me as I add one more opinion to the fray.

Is this still good advice? Was it ever? Like all advice, it ought to be taken with a grain of salt.

Bret Anthony Johnston, a creative writing professor at Harvard, hands out a bulleted list of common mistakes to avoid at the beginning of each semester. His list ends with “Don’t Write What You Know,” which (you’ll be pleased to know) also scares the fancy pants off ivy league undergrads. You can read more of his writing philosophy here.

Or, if you’re like me and would much prefer writing about things that haven’t happened yet and most likely never will, B.A.J.’s advice comes as a relief.

B.A.J suggests that personal experiences and emotions form the scaffold upon which writers can construct stories and ought to be demolished before the story is complete.

It goes without saying that “what you know” has a broader implication than simply writing about events through which you have lived. To the best of my knowledge, Mary Shelley never animated a piecemeal corpse; J.K. Rowling never caught a golden snitch; and Douglas Adams probably never traveled via infinite improbability drive.

At this point you might be asking why this topic is even included in a blog about research. As suggested by its prefix, research requires that we “search again.” To effectively write “what you know” we must first re-search the experiences, encounters, and emotions and consider them in ways not previously considered.
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Writers Need Research

Dig into the methods and reasons for research with Abigail.


As you probably gathered from the title, this blog is about research. Before you run screaming for the hills, hear me out.

Research has gotten a bad rap.

My guess is the last time someone asked you to conduct research, the experience culminated with a lengthy essay (properly cited with 12 pt. Times New Roman font) or a presentation and Q&A session where you were grilled on the finer details of 16th century maritime law or the mayfly life cycle.

But the truth is, writers need research. And not just writers of biography or historical fiction, all writers need research. I’m looking at you, sci-fi/fantasy crowd; fantastical and futuristic settings are no excuse for shirking writerly responsibilities.

I won’t promise that it’ll be easy. I do promise a richer story.

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