Book Talk: Speaking the language of flowers

Thu Dec 1, 2011 4:10am EST
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Marigolds for grief, purple dahlias for dignity, periwinkle for tender reflections. Basil for hate.

The meanings attached to each flower underpin the life of Victoria Jones, the prickly and suspicious heroine of Vanessa Diffenbaugh's "The Language of Flowers," who uses blooms and bouquets to say what she cannot force herself to speak out loud.

A veteran of the foster care system released upon turning eighteen, Victoria struggles to find a place for herself in San Francisco, working for a florist and discovering she has a talent for changing peoples' lives through the flowers she chooses for them. Her own past is a different, harder issue.

Diffenbaugh, who has worked extensively with foster children, spoke with Reuters about the Victorian language of flowers and the role it plays in her debut novel.

Q: What made you come up with this particular character?

A: "I was home with my kids, I had two babies and two foster kids at the time, and I just finished writing a book I pretty much knew I wasn't going to sell. It was pretty horrible and I didn't believe in it from the very beginning. So when I sat down to write this one, the seed idea was that I wanted to write about a character who had never loved or attached to another person, and write about what it was like for that person to learn how to love and attach again. I didn't really set out to write about the language of flowers, but the character of Victoria really came to me first, and whole.

"Actually, I just put her in San Francisco -- it was the very first scene I wrote, and I put her on the street. A young man looked at her in a way that made her very uncomfortable, and instead of responding with words in the way that someone might who was well adjusted, she left and came back a week later with rhododendron, which means 'beware.' So that happened spontaneously and then the whole book evolved from that point."

Q: Have you known the flower symbology for a long time?   Continued...