Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow? The Ugly Monsters Hiding In Your Plot

by Mindy McGinnis

Spring has most definitely sprung, and I'm going to follow up Barbara's wonderful gardening post with one of my own.

We've all got 'em. Those ideas that spring up in the middle of the night from a dream, or right before bed, and suddenly it's like somebody poured MiracleGro on your brain and those seeds of a story have turned into a novel without a lot of help from your gray matter. And sometimes, a seed that we purposely planted sits there calmly looking back at us, unsure of what it's supposed to do, while we stare back at it, wondering what happened to the MiracleGro nozzle. For everyone's benefit, I decided to share a picture of my garden.

So you'll notice the planned stuff - strategically placed clumps of daffodils and tulips (story ideas), a carpet of muscari to set it all off (little blurbies of dialogue flying out all over the place), a stone bench for me to rest on when I can't make it those last two steps to the car (chapter end). Those tulip and daffodil type stories are the best. The idea went down into the dirt of my brain and came out a season later in boom and ready to go - all I had to do was enjoy it.

But if you look close you'll also notice things like - THIS GUY:

In the Midwest we call that a "barn cat," which means a wandering stray who eats my food and lives in my barn, and I let him, cause he keeps down the mice population. But this particular fella has tangled with something bigger than a mousey once or twice, which is why (as you can see) he no longer has any ears. He's feral as hell and ugly like Satan, and he just loves to plop himself down in my nice garden and ruin the view. I've got a name for him, but I can't share it on the blog.

I've got a few stories like that. They've taken up residence in my brain, among the daffodils and tulips. They eat my food and I try to give them medicine but they spit at me and refuse any kind of assistance. They're always going to be ugly, and feral, and they're always going to be taking a crap in the flower bed of my brain and then looking at me like, "What you go gonna do about it?"

If you look again you can spot: THIS LADY:

She's another rover, a wandering butthead that decided my five acres should be her home. I got close enough to ascertain she was female and caught her skinny rear in a live trap and had her fixed.  She shows her thanks by refusing to acknowledge my existence. When she wandered onto my property she was all bones and big eyes - crazy big eyes, oogly-googly. So I named her Ugly. Over the years Ugly has turned into a sleek machine. A groomed, efficient hunter, Ugly's midsection now sets off her eyes nicely and she's turned into the best looking outdoor animal I have.

I've had one or two ugly, unmanageable ideas morph into something awesome once or twice. I just had to set that trap and show them who was boss. After that, they fed off what was leftover in the brain and took their time evolving into something better than what they were. They like to show off by setting themselves down nearby THAT GUY and saying, "See? And you thought I was bad?"

In the end, I prefer those tulips and daffodils that are naturally beautiful, and require little work. But those irritating, ugly ideas have their place too - if nothing more than to remind me of the effortlessness of the first type.

Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. Her debut, NOT A DROP TO DRINK, is a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent, available from Katherine Tegen / Harper Collins September 24, 2013. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book PregnantFriday the ThirteenersFrom the Write AngleThe Class of 2k13The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can also find her on TwitterTumblr & Facebook.


  1. Great post, Mindy! And you're absolutely right. Those ugly ideas do have a place, even if its just to spur us on!

  2. Oh, I have so many of those whacked out ideas... my problem is, I usually try to make something out of them--silly me! Thanks for a great post!
    Oh, this is Anne Barnhill--I'm always anonymous :)