Today’s blog guest is Cozy Mystery author Beverly Allen, whose book BLOOM AND DOOM is the first in a new series starring wedding florist Audrey Bloom. Below Beverly shares with us how she used flowers to boost meaning and symbolism via the book’s flower shop setting.
It starts with the cheerful “Welcome, baby!” bouquets. Then the sunny fistful of dandelions we present to our mothers on Mothers’ Day. Followed by the corsage pinned on awkwardly at the prom and the daisies held in sweaty palms behind the young suitor’s back. Full of promise and joy are the lush roses in an elaborate bridal bouquet. All too quickly follow the “Get well soon!” arrangements, complete with cheery balloons, and finally funeral wreaths. Each momentous step of our lives is marked with flowers.
When writing a cozy mystery with a protagonist who’s a florist–and one that specializes in wedding bouquets–I knew that flowers would be a big part of the plot. But I also didn’t want to lead the reader down the primrose path for no purpose. Flowers can function almost like characters: enriching plot, setting tone, evoking thoughts, even speaking dialogue. If we know the vernacular.
The slogan “Say it with flowers” is more than a clever marketing ploy. To the Victorians, flowers had meanings, and the language of flowers, although not universally agreed upon, was quite extensive. While many modern florists contend that each bloom usually expresses a different type of love, the floral dictionary of the past was much more expressive, including flowers that could mean anything from elope with me to a deadly foe is near. Or one of my favorites: Your whims are quite unbearable. Now we’re getting into fodder for a murder mystery!
The type of flower can set the tone for a scene. The presence of anemone in the bridal bouquet of Audrey’s friend immediately sends up red flags. The flower can mean forsaken. And while Audrey is incorporating sunflowers into a funeral arrangement for the murder victim, the meanings influence her deductive process. The dwarf sunflower represents adoration, while the tall, dominant variety expresses haughtiness. Perhaps from too much adoration? Was the victim’s haughtiness a possible motive?
Because flowers are present at the pivotal moments of our lives, they can also trigger relevant memories. A trip to her beloved Grandma Mae’s garden, although now untended and overgrown, still causes Audrey to reminisce. As she lifts a small cluster of flowers, she talks about “enjoying the heady fragrance of nostalgia” which evokes pleasant memories of sunny summer days with her cousin Liv, “dancing among the dandelions on the hillside, shoving buttercups under each other’s chins.” Those buttercups translate as childhood in the language of flowers, and Audrey would find it difficult to see those sunny yellow wildflowers without recalling happy old memories.
For the character who spends a good part of her day surrounded by colorful blossoms, people may also remind her of certain blooms. And the language of flowers can then color her impressions. The baker dressed all in white, for example, reminds Audrey Bloom of the moonflower, meaning I only dream of love. Romantic interest? While later a certain bridezilla reminds her of a dandelion (coquetry) “with her wispy, platinum blond hair but heavier makeup, as if she were trying too hard to prove herself a flower instead of a weed.”
Flowers can also foreshadow events. Old blooms, withered and dead, can be an ominous sign. While certain flowers, especially pure white blooms, often represent a restoration. For example, the lily of the valley (pictured to the right) can mean the return of happiness in the language of flowers. And when Audrey finds it in her grandmother’s garden, she focuses on that meaning.
To her peril, she ignores the rhododendron. The meaning, beware, is oddly brought to mind during the frantic, early-morning pounding at her door…
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