Saturday, March 19, 2016

Late Bloomers By Margaret S. Hamilton

Full of optimism the first week of November, I made a special trip to a Cincinnati nursery that specialized in properly chilled amaryllis bulbs. This was the year I would have an amaryllis plant in full, glorious bloom for Christmas. I found a bright red container and potting soil in the garage, planted and watered the grapefruit-sized bulb, and placed it in the south-facing front hall.
And waited. How difficult could this be? I’d forced paperwhite narcissus bulbs with great success for years. A month later, in early December, a smidge of green pushed up from the bulb. The bulb was alive, starting to unleash its amazing power. By Christmas, the smidge was half an inch high, showing no inclination to send up stems and leaves, let alone flower buds. Disgusted, I watered it and left town for a week.
On New Year’s Day, the smidge stubbornly remained at the half-inch mark. I made a note on my calendar to give it one more week before returning it to the nursery, and focused on writing. The following week, I finally saw progress. Inches a day, first the stem and leaves, then the buds, and finally, a tantalizing week watching the buds burst into glorious “Double Dragon” bloom, a full ten weeks after I had planted the bulb. The flowers were seven inches across, double blossoms of vivid scarlet edged in white.
Just when I thought I had amaryllis growing under control, the main stalk supporting three blooms and two buds collapsed under its own weight. I cut it off and put it in a vase. Nothing, not even forcing an amaryllis bulb, goes according to plan.

The amaryllis bulb evokes launching my mystery-writing career, a half-inch at a time. After my youngest left for college, I settled down to write my first amateur sleuth mystery. I’ve marked the past four years with rejections, revisions, nasty comments, and acts of genuine kindness, freely offered. Supportive friends and editors. My first published stories and my first print publications. The bar continues to be set higher, with more expected of me. It’s tougher than anything else I’ve tackled, including raising three children.

But it’s my life, and with patience and tenacity, yielding results. Would I have the same plot ideas as an English major straight out of college? Probably not. I’ve lived all over the country, worked many jobs, known many individuals. Are my characters based on real people? A snatch of dialogue, a beautiful hair clasp, the death of a close friend. I mine past experiences and build characters in my mind. I created a small Ohio college town for my novels and stories, based on a similar town where we once lived. I worked in custom decorating sales management, and possessed enough knowledge of the industry to have my amateur sleuth to manage an interior design shop.

We have family ties to New Orleans. I know the city well enough to use it as a setting for some of my short stories.

The last of the amaryllis blossoms crumpled like damp tissue paper at the end of February. I will repot the bulb with its luxurious two-foot long leaves and follow the instructions for nurturing it the rest of the year, hoping for a reblooming next January.

Are you a late bloomer? Have you taken on a challenge, horticultural or otherwise, with satisfactory results or a struggle along the way?

Margaret Hamilton Turkevich, writing as Margaret S. Hamilton, has published short stories in the Darkhouse Destination: Mystery! Anthology and Kings River Life. She is revising the first two books in her amateur sleuth series, Lavender Cottage Interiors Mysteries, utilizing the same characters and setting as her short stories.



  1. Your analogy between the amaryllis and your writing career is intriguing. The image of launching career a half inch at a time is wonderful. There's a reason that many novelists are of a certain age and I'm not sure it is a condition of late blooming so much as needing seasoning to find a voice. The richness of life translates into some wonderful stories. Great post, Margaret.

  2. Hey Margaret -- I like your nice bright pictures. One needs bright colors to survive Cincinnati winters.

    I started writing fiction late in life. I'm a believer that it takes time to learn to do anything well, which requires persistence and patience.

    Bests of luck in finding a wonderful home for your series.

    ~ Jim

  3. Your amaryllis was gorgeous. I love the bright red ones.
    Your blog was so uplifting. Writing a book and publishing are such long, mysterious processes. But like the growth of a plant, so much is happening that we do not see and, frankly, cannot control. All we can do is be faithful, persistent gardeners. And keep writing!
    BTW I enjoyed your story "Killer Pie" in Kings River Life. If any other commenters haven't checked it out, here's the link:

  4. Kait, Jim, and Shari, thanks for your kind comments.

    Here's a link to my Kings River Life stories, which "fill in the gaps" celebrating seasonal events that aren't in my novels. Pi Day, March 14th, was always a big day for my kids, with pie for dinner and dessert. This year, 3.14.16, was such a special day I wrote a story about it.

  5. Writing is definitely a marathon rather than a sprint. Great blog. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Margaret, although I have a house full of plants in the winter - most go outside in the summer - I have never had luck with amaryllis. Maybe I should try it again next year.

    This was a great blog, I could relate to since I'm also a late bloomer to writing. I think it really adds to our writing skills with so much life experience behind us. Yes, I wrote some
    poetry and short stories as a teenager, but when marriage and raising kids became a major
    part of my life, I didn't have time for writing. Still those life experiences, people met,
    things that happened all eventually entered my stories, poetry and books.

  7. Warren, reading all the golden oldies you write about is a marathon too!

    Gloria, the key to amaryllis success is a properly chilled bulb. What I didn't realize is that the bulb would take a full ten weeks to bloom, which means a mid-January to end of February bloom time.

  8. Thanks for the reminder that perseverance is a major component of success in writing for most of us, and that things never turn out the way we'd planned.

    I love your flower pictures! As someone who gave up on photography years ago, I am delighted when I see someone who can capture the beauty in pictures. Just as you capture bits of life in your stories.

  9. Kathleen, thanks! Your career furnished you with enough material for many books.

  10. Kathleen, not only am I a late bloomer, I'm late reading your blog! I can so appreciate your road to publishing AND amaryllis blooming. (Publishing my sixth book - in my 80s, after a trickle of articles and short stories through the years since my kids were in high school.) I only vaguely remember the amaryllises of past years.
    Norma Huss