AN AUTHOR'S DAY OFF by Margaret Mendel


My second novel PUSHING WATER, a tale that takes place in Vietnam in 1939, had just been published earlier in the week. The PR end of publishing a novel was next on my agenda. But before I got involved with what that entailed; the blog guest posts, interviews and talking up the new novel with strangers on the street (just kidding), it was time for a needed break.

It was a perfect winter day. So I decided to go to the Orchid Show at the NY Botanical Garden. The sky was brilliant. Not a cloud anywhere. The wind had died down and patches of snow dotted the landscape making it a lovely day to stroll through the gardens. 

This year marked the 15th instillation of the annual orchid show. The exhibition, always a beautiful spectacle, displays hundreds and hundreds of specimens from all over the world.

I had every intentions of taking a day off from writing, but authors never stop writing, not really. Even when they are not at the computer or sitting with pen and paper in front of them, the writer is seeking characters, developing plots and hunting new story ideas.

As I read the tags placed in front of the orchids that told of the exotic countries where the flowers originated, I found myself thinking about locations for a new novel. Perhaps my next story could take place in a jungle. Or maybe it could be set in a little known misty plateau above a Tibetan monastery.

It’s hard to stop writing once a project is finished. The editing and revisions seem to go on forever. As I stood in the midst of these beautiful flowers I couldn't shut off the internal author. I played with a science fiction story when I read that one orchid resembled a bee, a clever decoy to entice pollinators. The orchid show was rife with fascinating possibilities for the SciFi author, with plants that smelled of rotten meat in order to lure pollinators. There were even orchids that trapped insects inside their blooms.

Orchids are an ancient plant. Recently archeologists discovered a beetle encased in amber, dating back 20 to 45 million years. It wasn’t the beetle that was the major discovery, but that an entire eco system was so well preserved that the scientists could visually identify that the pollen on the beetles planting organ was that of an orchid.

Though the orchid has been around for many millions of years it wasn't until the 1800s that Orchid-mania, historically referred to as orchidelirium, took hold of the world. Queen Victoria enamored by the beauty of these exotic plants set in motion an era of flower madness. It all began in 1818, when the English explorer William John Swainson used a raggedy form of moss and debris to pack a crate of flora in a ship headed for England. When the crate was unpacked, the debris had grown into a fantastic bloom.
This discovery gave birth to the professional orchid hunter. From that point and for a hundred years, the intrepid, the fumbling and the wily fortune hunter traveled the world seeking the illusive, valuable orchid.      

A Czech gardener, Benedict Roezel, the most famous of these orchid hunters, a one armed man standing 6'2" tall, became a trailblazer in this endeavor. What a great character her would make. He traveled the world collecting orchids. In the early 1800’s this was no easy feat. The job of an orchid hunter was to scour the world's jungles, forests, and mountaintops to collect these exotic flowers, and then ship the new specimens back to Europe. It was a highly competitive endeavor. Often the orchid hunters would strip areas bare of entire populations of orchids to prevent them from falling into a competitor’s hand. 

Orchids sold like jewels, the more exotic the bloom, the higher the price. A plant that may be the only one of it's kind could bring untold amounts of money. But it wasn’t the orchid hunters who became wealthy from these exotic plants, but the dealers who arranged the exploratory endeavors. They were the ones who exacted the high prices and dangled in front of the breathless collectors the prospect that their expeditions would bring back unimaginable beauties from exotic locations. That was what kept the market poised and ready to spend a fortune on one plant.

The orchids in some strange way exacted their revenge. The exotic flower hunters rarely made enough money to live comfortably. They often met with grim deaths. Wild animals ate some orchid hunters. An unknown number of hunters fell to their death slipping off rocky cliffs. And then there were orchid hunters who were murdered by indigenous people in the jungles.

Roezel, the king of all hunters, never carried a gun and lived to be an old man.

I left the orchid show, my head swimming in possibilities for stories. A character, perhaps Roezel-like, I wondered, might fit quite nicely into the novel in progress that sits in a file on my desktop. The trip to the orchid show wasn’t exactly a day away from writing, but then I don’t think I ever do get far from my writing life.

VIETNAM, 1939. Sarah, an expat, working as an Archivist for the French Colonial Government in Hanoi, is devastated when she finds a Vietnamese co-worker murdered.


As Sarah seeks the murderer, she becomes more entangled in the Vietnamese people’s struggle for independence.

When the Japanese using Vietnam as a base to assist in their invasion of China demand the French Archives hand over important documentation, Sarah realizes she can no longer remain on the sidelines.  

Sarah’s life is further complicated by the arrival of an old friend, Julia, who reminds Sarah of a past she would rather forget.

When a close friend of Sarah’s is arrested and executed for revolutionary activities Sarah and Julia are heartsick. They decide to return to the States, but their plans are thwarted as the world is heading towards the unimaginable horrors of World War Two.

Margaret Mendel lives and writes in New York City. She is an award-winning author with short stories and articles appearing online and in print publications. Her debut novel, "Fish Kicker" was published in 2014. Margaret’s latest novel “Pushing Water” was published in February 2017.

She is a staff writer and photographer with the online magazine Kings River Life. Many of her photos have appeared in websites, online travel journals and book covers. Several of her photos have been exhibited in Soho Photography Gallery in New York City. Check out her photos at

You can read more about Margaret and her writing at:
PUSHING WATER is available here:   Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Scribd | Inktera | 24 Symbols

FISH KICKER is available here:   ~ Amazon ~ Barnes&Noble ~ Kobo ~ Apple iTunes ~ Omnilit ~ Bookstrand ~ Coffeetime Romance ~ Smashwords ~


margaret mendel said…
Thank you Marilyn for hosting me today on your blog.
Anonymous said…
Enjoyed your post, Marge.. And hi to you, Marilyn! I've been housebound with osteoarthritis and have not been on the internet much.. but always have enjoyed your posts! Thelma Straw in Manhattan
margaret mendel said…
Hi Thelma, It's always great to hear from you. Glad you enjoyed this blog post. Take care of yourself Thelma!

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