I can’t believe it’s been a month since Misspelled: Magic Gone Awry was released!
I had so much fun participating in the promo events, although not quite as much fun as I had while writing “The Hidden Language of Flowers,” my short story included in this wonderful anthology.
I did a lot of research for this, and wanted to share some of it. Any errors I made are my own—and I did take some artistic license in various areas. There are no real people (living, dead or undecided) depicted in this story.
The Quick Summary
Cottage Grove, Oregon. It’s the last Friday of August, 1945, and someone from Edith’s past has set up a rival flower shop across the street. The war overseas might be over, but Edith’s war is just beginning, as her rival sends her a coded bouquet. The two enemies hurl insults at each other through coded and hexed floral arrangements, because this town just isn’t big enough for the two of them.
Yup, the story is as simple as that!
However, there is a code within the code (technically within the code), and that layer is a shoutout to the LGBTQIAP+ community.
Yes, I had to create a spreadsheet to keep everything straight (literally the only straight thing in this story) in my mind and to make sure that everything fit together.
Anywho, I highly recommend reading “The Hidden Language of Flowers” before proceeding, because spoilers abound from here on out!
Throughout history, messages have been encoded by the language of flowers. We all know that red roses mean I love you, but did you know that yellow roses mean friendship? And that in Victorian England, a single yellow rose was a sign of jealousy?
I can’t remember exactly how I became fascinated by the language of flowers (aka floriography, yes there’s a fancy name), but it’s an incredibly fascinating history that touches on multiple cultures.
And, of course, my brain was like fuck sending love notes—how about sending a beautifully arranged bouquet to your enemy that actually signals a really bold “FUCK YOU” message. Kinda like how in Ella Enchanted, Ella curates a lovely bouquet that has a smelly flower embedded inside.
And then I was like, omg, what about two people hurling insults at each other with floral arrangements, and then there are hexes involved because they’re witches but holy fuck there’s a twist because these two knuckleheads are using separate decoder books and one is hurling death threats and the other is sending love notes but their wires are both horribly crossed?
Yeah, that’s 100% how my brain works.
With this story, I took quite a few liberties in the meanings of my flowers, because each flower selected had to have two meanings. And, depending on the author, time period, and culture, specific flowers can mean different things. Aloe, for example, could either signal bitterness and grief or affection, which can give some incredibly mixed messages (also, now I’m super cautious about sending flowers to people because the meaning).
Additionally, the flower placement, arrangement type, and accessories used all meant things, too. A flower sent upside down means the reverse of the original meaning, and certain ribbon colors signal different things, too. It can get very complicated and confusing, especially when you’re working from two different translation books, as Edith and Alice are.
And then sometimes a flower is just a flower or included to add visual interest to an otherwise lackluster arrangement.
To learn more about floriography, here are some reading recommendations:
- Floriography by Jessica Roux (2020)
- Language of Flowers by Kate Greenaway (1884)
- The Old Farmer’s Almanac
So, a breakdown of the arrangements they send to each other—and my little special code to my lovely queer readers. The queer community has often had to use subtle signals in clothing, phrasing, signs and more to signal their identity without drawing harm or attention from homophobic bigots, and the “code” is a shout out to queer history.
Alice’s First Arrangement
A traditional bouquet in a purple vase with a purple ribbon. As the first “attack” in the war, I wanted to show how easily shared memories can be misinterpreted based upon the recipient’s mood, memory and interpretation—and that good intentions don’t really mean shit if the recipient takes it to mean something else. Alice meant for this bouquet as a symbol of remembrance and resolute commitment for what they once shared (and as an apology for being gone for so long without saying anything), while hurt and bitter Edith interprets it as more salt in the wound of her broken heart.
- Both: Remembrance
- Edith: A more sinister take on the memory, with implication of a forced outing
- Alice: To pull away pain and promote healing, and to remember happier times
- Autumn Crocus:
- Both: The shared memory of their last meeting
- Purple Fountain Grass
- Edith’s interpretation: indicates an initial salvo in this war
- Alice’s intent: to add visual interest and height
- Purple columbine, out of season
- Edith’s interpretation: Alice’s double resolution in punishing Edith
- Alice’s intent: resolution of intent in her love
Sent on the last Friday of August, the arrangement is mostly purple, and signifies Wear it Purple Day, an Australian day of LGBTQIAP+ awareness founded in 2010. It’s a day that is growing to a global day of recognition and unity, because purple is a symbol of unity.
Alice’s Second Arrangement
Edith’s response to the vase is not shown, but it was a strongly cultivated declaration of war (which Alice clearly either ignored—she knew exactly what she was up against and was determined to forge a path regardless). This is Alice’s response.
A corsage sent in a blue box with purple and pink ribbons.
- Pink carnations
- Edith’s interpretation: Alice will never forget what happened
- Alice’s intent: I never forgot you
- A single lavender rose
- Edith’s interpretation: capriciousness
- Alice’s intent: showcasing the fickle nature of first love, and the care that must be taken to make it bloom
- Blue hibiscus, out of season
- Edith’s interpretation: Alice agreeing to the war
- Alice’s intent: signaling delicate beauty, and grown out of season because they had to hide their feelings for each other for so long
- The corsage:
- Edith’s interpretation: a more personal insult to wear a curse at the wrist
- Alice’s intent: she is literally asking Edith to wear Alice’s feelings on her sleeve
Sent on September 23rd, which is Bisexuality Day. The colors of the box and the arrangement are the colors of the Bisexual Pride Flag.
Edith’s Response, Part 2
I personally love this section, because it showcases not only Edith’s extreme pettiness but also Alice’s love of the dramatic. Edith sends back a wearable arrangement to counter the corsage Alice sent—and they’re intentionally two things people give each other while courting to symbolize love and possible partnership. So another thing that is easily misinterpreted, as Alice sent a corsage and Edith responded with a boutonniere.
- Orange and yellow carnations
- Edith’s intent: disdain and rejection
- Alice’s possible interpretation: love, joy, and sorrow that they were apart for so long
- Red Chrysanthemums, reversed
- Edith’s intent: hatred
- Alice’s possible interpretation: hatred for their time apart (chrysanthemums are traditionally a symbol of longevity, happiness and joy, and the color red means love)
- Edith’s intent: bitterness from Alice’s long-ago rejection
- Alice’s possible interpretation: affection
- The pink ribbons
- They’re pretty, dammit
Edith sends the boutonniere on October 8th, International Lesbian Day, and Alice wears it out in town on October 11th, National Coming Out Day. The colors on the arrangement (minus the green of the aloe) are reference to the Lesbian Pride Flag. Ironically, Alice is bisexual and Edith is a lesbian, which makes the fact they send each other their respective identities a lot more fun (for me anyway).
Alice’s Other Arrangements and Edith’s Responses
Over the next few weeks, Alice sends a series of arrangements to Edith, who is busy gathering supplies to create her challenge.
Alice’s cactic pot: flowering pink, white and blue flowers, with prominent thorns. It was send in the middle of November. The second week of November is Trans Acceptance Week, and the colors of the cacti represent the Trans Pride Flag. The thorns indicate how marginalized communities often grow sharp to protect themselves—and are accompanied by Edith’s chamomile tincture indicating patience in the face of adversity. The fight for Trans Equality will not end until transgender people are able to live in a world free from disrespect, discrimination and violence.
Alice sends a single poppy on December 1st. December first is World AIDS Day, recognizing not only the fight to cure and treat HIV/AIDs, but also remember those who have died from this “silent” pandemic. While poppies often signal remembrance of those who died in military service, this meaning is remembrance for those who died while not only battling a deadly disease, but those whose homophobic actions prevented them from openly being their authentic selves.
Alice’s blue rose heart. Blue roses do not exist in nature, but can be created with dyes (recently geneticists created a “blue rose,” but it’s apparently more purple tinted). However, blue roses have a symbolic place in our collective imagination, signifying the impossible or unattainable—which is what Alice’s rose heart means. It’s her capitulation from this fight—but in true Alice fashion it’s glamorous and showcases both her prowess in magic and genetics—but blue roses also can mean true love.
Working in a real town during a real time period meant that while I could take some liberties, I wanted to ensure that most everything else was grounded in an element of truth. World War II had just ended, and rationing continued despite US citizens yearning for a return to normal in an area heavily stricken by the Great Depression. The Cottage Grove depicted in my story is a town in transition, from folks wanting to celebrate and go all out (the Christmas Bazaar spectacular) to the very real presence of military service members within the town.
Much of my research was done online by searching at the Oregon State Library, Cottage Grove’s historical society (and the town’s library website), Lane County’s historical societies and library. I searched both national, state and local histories to try to tie together a semi-accurate picture of the town. Edith and Alice’s shops are located in the downtown (and I actually found a map of 1940 Cottage Grove to kinda tie a location of things), and the Dutch Girl Ice Cream shop, hardware store, the Cottage Grove Hotel, and the Armory all existed, and several of the buildings are still there. Bisbee’s and The Flower Shoppe are entirely fictional.
The Christmas Bazaar is something that does take place, but I used a little artistic license and combined two different events into one, and fiddled with the timeline a little. However, the Christmas of 1945 was a huge event in the United States. And if the mayor is obnoxious and over-the-top, well, let’s just say that while the America of today is not immune to misogyny and in-your-face Christianity, neither was the America of 1945.
Bigotry in Oregon
I did not directly address homophobia in this short story, although it permeates every sentence and every page. Edith and Alice’s long separation, the miscommunication, Alice’s marriage and Edith’s spinsterhood (and the whispers about her), it is all a nod. But I gave them a happy ending because it was possible for two women to live together in a relationship, although it was hard and would only get harder during the Lavender Scare of the 1950s.
In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, I do mention Oregon’s racist past. Yep! Oregon had (and has) a big history of whyte supremacy, and there were many Black-exclusion laws in both written and “traditional” practices, to include sundown towns and other overt forms of racism. From what I could recover, Cottage Grove was not a sundown town per se, but judging from the nearby cities and towns that were in a county that was a sundown county by practice if not law, it’s not hard to imagine the difficulties of Black travelers looking for a place to stay the night. Edith has an overnight visitor, and her location is known as a safe haven—she is a witch used to finding creative solutions for her people, and someone with a family history of living on the outskirts.
I do also mention the Winefelly people, who lived in Oregon before the time of whyte settlers, along with other communities, to remind readers that while they might have ties that go just as deep as Edith’s, they are living on colonized lands.
Edith does not actually live in Cottage Grove, but outside the community of Hebron, which was destroyed by the Cottage Grove Dam in 1945. I conflated the construction of this dam with the Dorena Lake Dam (finished in 1949) to better fit with my timeline. The dams were constructed along Row River and the Coast Fork to help control the Coast Fork Williamette Watershed. Prior to the dams’ construction, the city of Cottage Grove flood quite often—I actually had an earlier version of this story where Edith’s tears and weather magic caused the actual flood of January 1946, but that didn’t make it into the story.
The Army Corps of Engineers built the dams, and the soldiers were probably invited to quite a few local parties.
About twenty families were impacted by the Cottage Grove Dam, and they would have all received eviction notices like the ones Edith got. Whether or not Edith’s house is impacted is up to the reader to decide, but I like to think she managed to live on her little house in the trees.
Edith’s Road Trip
I had a lot of fun writing about Edith’s excursion to gather supplies for her covered bridge arrangement. Cottage Grove is considered the Covered Bridge Capital of the West. I already mentioned the Cottage Grove Dam and the Coast Fork, but there are a couple other places I wanted to highlight.
Dr. Pierce’s Pleasant Pellets was an advertisement on an old barn visible from Highway 99 that became something of a local tourist attraction. The barn stood from about 1900 until its demolition in 2012, and bore the sign from 1903 (or 1908) to its bitter end.
Dr. Ray Vaughn Pierce and his “pleasant” pellets were part of the thriving business of quack doctors peddling cure-alls and other false medications in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Apparently, the pellets were supposed to cure a bunch of ailments like headaches, bloating and gas, appendicitis pain, jaundice and literally everything else, but they actually were a basic laxative filled with not-so-fantastic ingredients.
Toketee Falls is actually located along the North Umpqua River in Douglas County, but I had to include it because it’s my favorite waterfall. In 1945, the full force of the Umpqua River flowed through the falls. Now a dam moderates the flow and generates energy from the drop, and there’s also an aging redwood aqueduct in the parking lot that’s fun to climb on and get sprayed by (it leaks like crazy—has ever since my first trip there as a little kid).
Edith continues her journey to Crater Lake, traveling along what is now Highway 138 (part of the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway). Crater Lake is another location quite far from Cottage Grove, but anger fuels a lot of drive, and Edith is plenty angry and brewing up a very powerful hex.
She also travels closer to home, gathering items from the old growth forests in the Coastal Range and the Bohemian Mining District. I had no idea before writing this story that there was a gold rush in Oregon—despite growing up relatively close to it—or that the site was one of the richest deposits in the West Cascade Mountains. The site was in operation from the 1860s but petered out by 1900s, although there was a small resurgence during the Depression.
I also mentioned a white oak outside an elementary school, which has nothing to do with Cottage Gove and everything to do with my hometown of Elkton (located about 30 miles southwest). There were two big oaks behind the elementary school, and I spent a number of recesses behind one of them. So many hours pretending to play house and creating communities for the miniature toy horses I brought from home. I don’t think that that tree is there anymore, but it’s been several years since I’ve been home and longer since I dragged my wife to my old grade school (I was able to show her the mural the entire school painted in the covered outdoor section, and the part where I painted—this is also gone, now).
And with that trip down memory lane, that’s a wrap for my short story behind-the-scenes look!