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February 9, 2024
By Marian Amo
A writer explores trauma and second chances in her debut novel.

In Emma Stone’s The Blue Iris, Tessa Lewis—at a crossroads following graduate school—impulsively takes a summer job at a flower shop and becomes immersed in the dysfunctional lives of the staff. BookLife called it “a gorgeous literary novel with a nostalgic aesthetic and themes of complex friendships, family trauma, and healing through self-discovery” and named it an Editor’s Pick.

What inspired you to write The Blue Iris?

The Blue Iris was born out of personal crisis. A rare tumor in my head, successfully removed years ago, resurfaced out of nowhere, and suddenly my long-held dream of becoming a writer felt very now-or-never. I paused my corporate career to see if I could give that dream a proper go. I never imagined I had a whole novel inside of me, but the seedling of this story took root, and I couldn’t look away. I worked on the manuscript nonstop. Months later, the orbital tumor stabilized— in fact, it appeared to be inexplicably shrinking. At that point, The Blue Iris stopped feeling like a decision; no matter how many revisions it took, I knew I was never giving up on it.

Which character from The Blue Iris would you be if you existed in your own story?

"Your path will always find you"
What a great question! Every character has pieces of me sewn into them somewhere, but I’d have to say Tessa, because my younger self relates so closely to her struggle in figuring out what’s next post-academia. Also, many of her first impressions of life at a flower market—the grit, but also the unexpected magic in it— were informed by my own experiences while working at one in my 20s.

What do you hope readers take away from The Blue Iris?

Forget the pressure to have it all “figured out” by age 30 (or 40, or 50). I walked from my career at age 37 to start over as a writer—a terrifying unknown, but at the same time, I’d never felt more fulfilled. Work hard, keep showing up, and when something lights you up inside, figure out ways to make room for that. Your path will always find you. Second, there can be a lot of power and beauty in letting go. We often think of it as sad, but sometimes it’s in doing just that—letting go of past trauma; toxic patterns; faulty definitions of success, love, family—that incredible things start to bloom. Finally, I’d love for readers to turn the last page believing a little more in second chances. I like to think when those are earned in earnest, there’s always room for redemption.

Can you share an uncomfortable truth you have learned to accept in your own life?

Your future will never outrun your past. I had so much unresolved trauma surrounding the health issues I’d had when I was younger, and my solution was to avoid talking about it or even looking at my scars, ever (which is pretty ridiculous when you consider they’re on my face!).

Fast forward 15 years, and I’m genuinely shocked to find that the finished draft of the manuscript in my hands is, at its heart, about a bunch of deeply scarred people learning to own their hardest truths. To quote a line from The Blue Iris, “clearly, the only way out was through.” I realized I had to get good with all of it.

Will there be any sequels to The Blue Iris?

Yes! In book two, a decade has gone by, and we’re headed for a very crowded waterfront cabin two hours from the Blue Iris. We find some familiar characters who have changed drastically, as well as some new ones. All are questioning the paths their lives have taken—and whether they got it wrong the first time around.

Why did you pursue the indie route for your book?

I had a really hard time figuring out how to pitch this book. I probably sent 150 queries over three years, reworking the package many times along the way. When it did finally start gaining traction, I received a few offers from small publishers, and a handful of agents expressed interest but felt the book would be an easier sell to Big Five publishers if I’d be willing to forego the ensemble aspect, keeping the focus on Tessa’s journey alone. For me, the ensemble aspect was, and is, the heart and defining characteristic of the book. I understood that meant it wasn’t going to be for everyone, but then, no book is for everyone.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors contemplating the possibility of writing and publishing their own books?

Be in love with your book. You will spend more time than you can possibly guess with it, so write the story that keeps you up at night and then kicks you out of bed in the morning. The one you cannot get out of your head. Then, be absolutely relentless about getting it right. You may need to restructure the entire first act, reinvent a character (or five), or rewrite a whole arc. But if you’re in love with that book, and relentless about making it work, that’s an unstoppable headspace. There’s just no way you don’t get there eventually.