Instructor Spotlight

An Interview with Renee Studebaker

Renee can’t imagine writing (or living) without daily inspiration from her garden. Even during the high-pressure, deadline-driven years when she was writing, editing, designing, or teaching (at the Austin American Statesman, Texas Monthly, and the University of Texas) she couldn’t keep her hands out of the dirt. Today, Renee’s garden still feeds her work, which has recently appeared in the American-Statesman, Acres U.S.A., and Fine Gardening magazine. Currently, she is working on Getting Real with Food from the Garden, a sort-of coming-of-age cookbook novel, and Ancient Planter/Modern Gardener, a historically accurate but fictionalized family story that traces a contemporary gardener’s obsessions back to her great grandfather x12, Ancient Planter John Proctor, one of the first colonists (and gardeners) of Jamestown.

Renee’s class, “A Gardener’s Tips for Novelists: Sometimes You Have to Get Your Hands Dirty to Make a Scene Real,” will begin with a guided tour of Renee’s garden and conclude with a workshop focusing on tips and techniques for writing about nature. For more information and to sign up, visit the event’s page here.

Gardening and writing: an unlikely pair, but you seem to have hit a sweet spot. What has gardening taught you about writing, and vise versa?

rs garden mugRenee Studebaker: Writing is about exploring and making sense of life, and so is gardening. When I combined the two, I found it easier to find the words I needed to tell stories.

In gardening, attention to detail and all five senses are important — how does utilizing the five senses influence your writing?

RS: The writer, like the gardener, can draw valuable information from all the senses — sounds, smells, tastes,  textures, colors — when trying to figure out this crazy world we live in. In my garden, after a rain shower, the ground looks and smells wet. But if I look a more closely and press my finger into it, I may find that the rain left only a thin veil of moisture that did not penetrate the layers of bone dry dirt below. If I hadn’t stuck my finger in the dirt, I might have wondered, but I wouldn’t have known for sure. When I’m writing, I also want to know as much I can know about the subject at hand. Sure, I look in all the usual places, but I also keep my senses open to the odd bits of information that can suddenly cross my path while I’m busy looking for something else. Some of those odd bits end up becoming the basis for a more accurate, and meaningful, understanding of what I”m writing about. Of course, sometimes those bits take me down a long bunny trail to nowhere, but that’s OK, because I sorta like bunnies.

For you, what makes a scene “real”?

RS: If I feel I’m living and breathing in that scene while I’m reading about it or writing about it, then it’s real.

Looking ahead to your upcoming class, can you share a tip for those wanting to write about nature?

RS: Take a camera outdoors and, using all your senses, scan every square inch of your surroundings as you walk along. Take pictures as you go. The camera, especially if you’re using a macro lens, will force you to look more closely for meaning in the littlest of details.

It’s officially Spring! What’s in store for your garden?

RS: My spring garden is coming alive after a hard winter, and by workshop time it should be exploding with all the colors and textures and smells of spring: bright red Swiss chard, tiny baby green pears (if the squirrels don’t eat them all), patches of Blackfoot daisies and burgundy lettuces. Green tomatoes. Stink bugs. Lacewings. Ladybugs. Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars feasting on fennel fronds. Pale lavender phlox and dark purple larkspur. Poppies. Weeds. And more…..

Thanks, Renee!

You can register for Renee’s class via this link.

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