The Story Behind the Stories
To Tend a Garden by Filip Wiltgren
I seldom remember my writing. The characters, the stories, the imagery and settings, those
remain. But the actual typing, where I was and how it felt, that's are all gone.
For Anna (which was my mental name for "To Tend a Garden," since I'm lousy with titles), I
remember the image of the garden, dry, sandy earth, thorny brambles, a rough, field-stone wall
cutting it off from more sand, and a line of jagged, dark mountains in the distance. The feeling of
digging in the sand, of roots and stones snagging on hands, of desperation. All of it started the
flow. The mountains, however, never made it into the story.
I didn't know there was going to be a child in the story, or another witch, or the smell of
spearmint and thyme. Somehow, there popped up a Swedish doctor, a school teacher, and a bowl
of soup. Where did they come from? I have no idea, but once they were there, they felt right.
The story came together in a, for me at the time, record breaking three days.
Fortunately, I wasn't aware that it stunk. I loved it. I loved the characters, loved the way they
interacted with each other, loved their struggle and pain. I loved it so much, I wanted to send it
My critique group put a stop to that. They pointed out, rightly, that the story was confusing,
didn't lead anywhere, and was hard to visualize. So I added a word here, a word there. Didn't
work. When I write a story, it gets set in concrete in my mind. Hard to change.
Luckily, time is the best jackhammer of them all. Give it a couple of months, and suddenly the
mental concrete is flaking away as I start to forget the minutia of the story and only remember its
feeling. I added to Anna. A lot. And came up with a title with the word "garden" in it.
And sent it out.
It got rejected. And rejected, and rejected, and rejected. For over a year, it bounced around, until
Scott found something in it he liked.
Not enough to buy it, mind you, but enough to ask me to clarify a few things in a rewrite.
Yay! Chance to be published in a major magazine!
Wait! Rewrite! Scary, scary! Writerly brain weasels and infernal editor chomping down on my
It took me six months to rewrite Garden (as it was now called in my mind). Or rather, it took me
six months for Garden to go from "Help! I don't know what to do!" through "Oh, God, not this
thing on my To do-list again." to "Damn it! I'm a writer, I should be able to make a few changes!"
before finally landing on, "Bah, to hell with it, I'll just do it. How scary can it be?"
Turns out, not scary at all. Scott has an eye for how to improve a story, his comments were spot
on, and once time jackhammered away the big lump of brain weasels in my head, the story turned
into something I could really enjoy.
And I hope you do, too.
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