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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed writer and founder of Gardenerd Christy Wilhelmi about her life, what inspires her, and writing her debut novel, Garden Variety.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I’m Christy Wilhelmi, founder of Gardenerd. I teach people how to grow their own food through classes, consulting, and food garden design. I also host a podcast called the Gardenerd Tip of the Week, and have a YouTube Channel, a blog, and several non-fiction books about gardening as well as Garden Variety, my debut novel.

When did you first WANT to write a book?

Christy Wilhelmi, author of Garden Variety, Interview on The Table Read
Christy Wilhelmi

I always wrote short stories as a child and teenager. I honestly don’t know if I ever thought I would write a book or wanted to. I was happy writing short stories. I was also an actress and dancer, so my focus was primarily on those creative pursuits.

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When did you take a step to start writing?

I had intended to write Garden Variety as a screenplay, but when I read it to a few friends, one of them said, “this should be a novel, not a screenplay.” So I took the leap during November (NANOWRIMO) to outline the whole thing.

I had a cache of stories from the garden that needed to fit into that outline / timeline. Once I had a rough chapter outline, I took the month of December that year to write a first draft.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

Well, this is embarrassing, but it took well over a decade. You could even say 20 years. I wrote the first scene in 2001, but then went through a huge life change and put it away for 8 years. The first draft came to fruition in 2009. Then, I was interrupted when I was approached to write my first non-fiction gardening book. I would put the book away for a year at a time, then would take it out and work on it between other projects. I found that I needed to step away from it for a long time so that when I looked at it again, I could see the problems and figure out how to fix them.

I then took writing courses At UCLA, editing classes, joined writers’ groups, learned about the market, and publishing, etc. After 15 drafts and 89 rejections from agencies, I found my agent. We worked together with an editor on a few more drafts, then she sold it within 2 months to Harper Collins. Worth it!

What made you want to write Garden Variety?

It started when I obtained a plot at a local community garden in Los Angeles. That place is chock-full of fodder for story. I knew then that I had to write a book about the place one day.

What were your biggest challenges with writing it?

Because I structured the book in chronological order following Southern California’s growing seasons each calendar month, I wrote myself into a corner a number of times. I had to work hard to make backstory function in a useful and interesting way, and I ran into problems with “too much time” passing between events with certain characters. It’s flawed, but I fixed most of it over many, many rewrites.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?

As with many first novels, my main protagonist reflects my own inner world at one point in my life or another. The other characters in the ensemble cast are composites of people I have encountered at my community garden. Each character is a blend of 3 or 4 people, with a bit of my own heart and brain in there somewhere. It is truly an example of “author surrogates”.

Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?

The antagonist in Garden Variety is based on a real person, but is really a combination of a few people who have been a thorn in my side long enough to merit turning them into villains. I had a lot of fun fleshing him out, making him questionably redeemable, and using him to move the story forward.  

Christy Wilhelmi, author of Garden Variety, Interview on The Table Read

What is the inciting incident of Garden Variety?

Each character has their own story arc with their own motivation and inciting incident. But the overarching inciting incident is that the community garden is threatened to be sold and developed out from under its members.

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What is the main conflict of Garden Variety?

Again, each character in this ensemble has their conflict, whether it’s two of them vying for the same leadership position and power, or a love relationship where one character butts heads with a love interest who tests her ability to trust. I would say, Lizzie’s trust issues get in her own way when love is pounding on her door.

Did you plot Garden Variety in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?

I’m a plotter. Which I suppose is why I take long breaks between writing. I need to think about things for a while before the solutions and storylines come to me. I do try to do the “vomit draft”, an unedited first pass just to get the words on the page. But I usually end up pausing to think a lot more than I’d like.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Garden Variety need?

YES! I hired 2 editors at different points in the process. The first was after I received a healthy number of rejections. The second was once I got my agent. I did two rounds of editing with each of them: overall, and then line edits. There were several drafts between those two. Early on, I had a test group of readers to whom I gave the manuscript and then met with them to take notes on their thoughts and reviews after a couple months. All of these were invaluable to the process of polishing the work.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?

As Mary Heaton Vorse once said, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” That, and writing is rewriting.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I am working on the second volume of Garden Variety. My plan is to make it a trilogy, each with the bent of a different genre while still being solidly women’s fiction.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

The day I turned my final draft in to the publisher, I felt that if I were to die that day, I would die happy. I am beyond proud of this book, and I hope others will find it as delightful as I do. Worth it? Yes. I wish it hadn’t taken as long, but you can’t rush the creative process.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you: and are my websites

IG & TW: @gardenerd1

Facebook: (that’s for Gardenerd, I don’t have an author page or fan page for myself but you can find me by name).

Book page:

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