“Writing fiction, for me, is somewhat of a subconscious process,” Seattle author Bharti Kirchner says. “I dream up a certain element and have no idea why I did so. Years ago, a young woman had come to my mind, someone who has been sent to Alaska at a tender age by her mother. I didn’t know who she was. Only after I’d been well into “Tulip Season,” did I realize that Mitra was that person. Her mother had sent her away right after she’d graduated from high school. “
“I have traveled in Alaska, but never lived there” she continues. “ That’s the beauty of a novel. Unlike a memoir, you don’t have to have actually gone through the experiences of your character. You can apply your imagination.”
And Bharti Kirchner certainly has. Author of four cookbooks, four novels, and now the mystery set in Seattle and India, “Tulip Season,” her imagination has taken her and her readers from a young woman’s escape from an arranged marriage in an Indian village to a pastry chef’s kitchen in Seattle.
Although her focus in the past has often centered on culinary matters, Tulip Season’s heroine, Mitra, is a landscape architect whose life is centered around making green plants come into blossom. “For years I have enjoyed doing flower gardening and so it pleased me when it turned out that Mitra’s vocation was landscaping. A garden setting helped in revealing Mitra’s feelings and dilemmas through elements of nature, her tulips failing to bloom, for example.”
Glamorous Kareena, Mitra’s best friend who disappears at the onset of Tulip Season, is cast as a domestic violence counselor, and a threatening undercurrent of physical abuse is palpable throughout the mystery.
“Years ago,” Bharti says, “some friends who volunteered for a newly formed South Asian domestic violence prevention organization asked me to join them, and I obliged. As a volunteer, I took workshops and learned as much as I could. Then came a time when I was asked by the International Examiner to do a piece on this issue. This resulted in my interviewing more DV advocates and more survivors. It was like I’d stepped onto another world. The article got published. Eventually, I stopped volunteering for that particular organization because of a lack of time. Soon I got busy writing another novel on another topic and put my research away and forgot all about it. Years later, I started Tulip Season, discovered its DV angle, and remembered that I’d already done part of the research.”
A strong sense of place anchors Tulip Season from its beginning to its very satisfying conclusion. Whether in India or Seattle, Bharti Kirchner pins down a precise description swiftly and vividly, in a well-turned phrase. “India grabs me, the heat, noise and dust. My senses are assaulted every second. Crowded streets, a variety of languages striking your ears, bright colors, and spicy smells—these things are absent in Seattle,” she explains, “One misses the sights, sounds, smells, and even the feel of the soil of one’s birthplace. However, this is a common human longing, not limited to Indian-Americans. One can relocate from Michigan to New York and undergo the same sense of loss.”
I’ve lived in Seattle since 1985,” she continues, “the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. I came here from San Francisco when my employer, IBM, transferred me. (I worked in the software field.) Over time, as I got into writing, I found a wealth of resources. The city is well set up for writers. The libraries are user-friendly. The population is literate and book-loving. What more can a writer wish for?”
Perhaps Seattle, with its perfect gardening weather, has provided Bharti Kirchner with yet another fulfilled wish to help with the writing process. Only a gardener could give her heroine the thoughts Mitra gives voice to in Tulip Season, thoughts that also apply to a novelist. “Plants had always occupied a special place in her heart; it was even more so now…she had finally acquired some insight into what her efforts were about: to seek new connections and broader perspective. Some might even call it a quest for love. You worked through cycles of growth, bloom, decline, death, and challenge. Eventually, balance was achieved, beauty awakened, a miracle birthed.”