Inspiration to Publication – A Ghostly Experience by D. K. Christi

Ghost Orchid, published by L & L Dreamspell in September 2009, is a case study in taking an inspiration to publication.

Authors often respond to the question:  Where do you get your inspiration?  There are a plethora of answers; but in the case of Ghost Orchid, one flower was all it took; one rare and endangered ghost orchid in an exquisite location.

Blair Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, located at the edge of the Everglades in Naples, Florida is an official Audubon bird sanctuary on the migratory route of wood storks, ibis, herons, cranes, roseate spoonbills and a long list of winter visitors, observed from a nearly three mile wooden boardwalk that winds through ancient cypress, alligator flags, blood-red swamp hibiscus, pure white swamp lilies, purple hyacinths  and seasonal changes of wild sunflowers, blue iris, purple morning glories and silvery cymbidiums.

Over twenty years of residence in Southwestern Florida, I have enjoyed this boardwalk often, sometimes thrilled by the sighting of a brown bear, a panther, deer and of course, alligators.  I often laughed at the antics of the squirrels and anoles.  I always disliked the narrow, two-lane road to get there and the left turn on a dangerous curve.  I noted the markers from accidents, draped in faded, artificial flowers, provoking driving care and somber thoughts.

On a rather melancholy birthday in July of 2007, I treated myself to that walk and became obsessed by the exquisite beauty of an orchid plant, the ghost orchid, high in the cypress canopy all by itself, dancing in the swamp breeze.  It captured my soul on my first view.  It was amazingly high and alone, pure white against the deep green canopy, the dark brown host and the deep blue sky, yet dancing away from the tree, held by a barely visible slender, leafless stem.  It was the first day of its discovery, the only ghost orchid in the sanctuary.

 I knew it was a birthday gift to brighten my spirits on this hot and humid summer day.  It had more blooms in one season than any ghost orchid on record, was higher than any other ghost orchid and was unique in its accessibility to viewing at all.  This rare and endangered flower was the subject of a non-fiction novel made into a movie about poaching in Fakahatchee Strand, a very inhospitable swamp.

The discovery also made the national news.  I had the chance to walk in the swamp every day of its blooming, July, August and September, for as many as 20 blooms a season in the summers of 2007, 2008 and 2009.  Each view presented new, mystical experiences that took on a life of their own.  As I walked the three miles, I observed other walkers and overheard snippets of their own wonder.

My ghost orchid was no longer my own.  All around me were the stories, the life stories, of those who came on a quest to enjoy this once in a lifetime flower phenomenon.  By the end of the 2007 season, I had written a story about two people, incorporating my love of the boardwalk and my fear of that left turn into the sanctuary.  The more I viewed the changing blooms on my ghost orchid, the more I felt its power in the lives of my two characters whose story expanded to include several generations with personal quests brought to fruition in the aura of my ghost.

For me, it was impossible to spend countless hours in the swamp without being touched by the life forces pulsing there and the obvious regeneration of life in all the unfettered flora and fauna.  It was also vibrant with the love of families and couples who shared that beautiful place.  I wondered:  Is life eternal?  Is love eternal?  These thoughts accompanied me on my daily pursuit of the ghost orchid’s antics high in the cypress canopy, like a sentry watching all of us below, watching her.  As sure as I saw the ghost orchid’s graceful dance, I knew whatever life force filled her with beauty was feminine.

I wrote around the clock, with occasional naps, during a vacation from my day job, my muse on the other end of the phone urging me on, helping me search for character names and missing pieces to back stories.  It became a story that not only expressed the search for meaning in the lives of its characters, but a testament to the impact the natural environment has on the human spirit.  It incorporated the mystical elements of the ghost orchid, often associated with the manifestation of the soul and unrequited love.  

Writing Ghost Orchid became a labor of love, capturing the beauty of the Everglades, the magic of the ghost orchid and the unfolding of a mystery between its pages.  As long as the ghost orchid blooms in Corkscrew Swamp, she casts her spell on all who observe her, and to fix the concern of a reviewer who didn’t want the story to end, it continues.  This year, another surprise, the ghost orchid bloomed early, the end of March.  For my fourth July birthday with my ghost orchid,  it has fourteen buds opening.

Ghost Orchid is the story of the human heart and the relationships that give life meaning, including those with the natural environment.  Are we so separate from the plants and animals that share our planet?  Ghost Orchid is intended to reach a new audience of potential environmentalists who didn’t know they had a passion for natural habitats and will go on their own quests to heal the human heart and find their ghost orchid.

For more information, check out D. K. Christi’s interview on the Dames of Dialogue!