After I got married in 2003, my wonderful husband, Ryan, and I moved to St. Louis, where he was attended Concordia Seminary for the next four years. I had gone from living in Colorado, surrounded by family and friends, to living in a very bad neighborhood in St. Louis where I knew nobody aside from my husband. Ryan had to jump right into rigorous schooling, and I was often left alone, afraid to go outside and stuck inside, trying to find a job, spiraling into depression.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had my degree in English, but I didn’t want to be a copy writer or a teacher. My true heart cried out to be a novelist—a writer—but I was insecure and unsure of how to move in that direction. I didn’t have a story to tell yet either, and where there is no story, there can be no inspiration. Having just gotten married and loved the planning, I started thinking about the wedding business and what I would like to do if I got into that sphere. One word came to me again and again: flowers.
I adored my weddings flowers. I couldn’t stop thinking about them—how they were put together, how there was such tiny piece of God’s perfect creation in each and every one. Lonely and desperate for a job, I began calling florists in the
St. Louisarea. I got to the “S’s” before someone would even talk to me, a florist in a lovely suburb called Clayton.
After an awkward interview, I was amazed that I was offered a position at this chic, downtown florist. I had no experience, and at first I wasn’t even allowed to touch the flowers. All I did was place or take orders, clean vases, or sweep up stems. The grunt work, basically. My love of flowers grew from there, and in a year I was a designer. We moved to Connecticut for my husband’s one-year internship in the ministry. I got a job at a huge florist there, this time as a head designer. I flourished in the hard, sometimes back-breaking, work. I would fall into bed at night, numb and exhausted, my hands and arms smelling of earth and stamen. I loved it. I had found my creative outlet, and for a long time, designing satisfied me. I returned to St. Louis and got a coveted job at a very high-end wedding florist, the largest in St. Louis. From there, I was able to see even more of the inner workings of the wedding business and the work that went on behind the scenes: stressful, beautiful, driven work, not for the faint of heart. It was the pressure of the perfect day, every day.
One night, after working late, I was driving home and listening to Missy Higgins. An idea came to me as I drove and sang, the wind tossing my hair in the spring breeze. The idea was simple: What if someone was hired to design their lover’s wedding? How would they express that frustration in floral design? Would they do it? What if the wedding was extremely profitable? Would they turn it down? The idea was intriguing, and as soon as I got home, I sat down at my computer and wrote the opening scene to Elly in Bloom.
As much as I wish I could tell you I wrote the entire book in a sudden flurry of activity, I would be lying. I let the book sit then for about three years. I always knew it was there, waiting for me, but I just wasn’t ready. My husband graduated with his masters in theology, and we took a call to Colorado to his first church. I was thrilled to be home, amongst family and friends again, and quickly opened my own wedding florist. Within the first year, we had done ten weddings.
Business thrived. It grew exponentially, until we were one of the top-rated boutique wedding florists in Denver. At first, the work was satisfying and profitable, and I was flying high. But I always had this nagging doubt that was constantly poking inside of my chest, reminding me of those pages that I had written for Elly in Bloom. It seemed my true passion was calling, and though to many, my job working from home as a wedding florist appeared to be a dream job, I knew the truth—this was never my dream. Was it a wonderful job? Yes. But it wasn’t my dream. Writing a novel, now that was my dream.
Two years ago, I was talking about those pages with a new friend, who had her own idea for a book. We decided to write our books together, as writing buddies. It was glorious, and we worked so well together. Together, we wrote, edited, and critiqued, sometimes harshly. Working with a friend worked. A year later, Elly in Bloom was finished, a perfect melding of story, flowers, and humor. The book surprised me—she had a few tricks up her sleeve, after all this time! It was a love letter to St. Louis, the town I had grown to adore. It was an ode to flustered wedding vendors everywhere, and it was a reminder to women everywhere that they can overcome their past and return to their childhood faith. The book seemed to write itself at times, more proof that I was doing exactly what God has called me to do in my vocation, my passion. My book was released this September, and I recently just sold my florist business.
I still love my hands to smell like dirt and tulips, and a well-designed floral arrangement can still make me swoon, but they are nothing compared to holding my new book in my hands and signing it over to people that I love.
This is me, in bloom, in a way that only God could imagine.
Elly in Bloom by Colleen Oakes is now available on Amazon.com, in both the paperback and Kindle versions.
Summary: Surrounded by lush flowers and neurotic brides, chubby 32-year old Elly Jordan has carved out a sweet little life for herself as the owner of Posies, a boutique wedding florist in
St. Louis. It’s not bad for a woman who drove away from her entire life just two years ago when she found her husband entwined with a red-headed artist.
Sure, Elly has an embarrassingly beautiful best friend, a terribly behaved sheepdog and a sarcastic assistant who she simply calls “Snarky Teenager”, but overall her days are pleasantly uneventful. As a bonus, her new next door neighbor just happens to be an unnervingly handsome musician who has an eye for curvy Elly.
Just when she feels that she is finally moving on from her past, she discovers that an extravagant wedding contract, one that could change her financial future, is more than she bargained for.
With the help of her friends, staff and the occasional well-made sandwich, Elly bravely agrees to take on the event that threatens to merge her painful history with her bright new life, and finds herself blooming in a direction she never imagined.
Elly’s voice, both charming and hilarious, will appeal to those readers who have been looking for a new voice in chick-lit, and will give women of all sizes the realistic heroine they’ve been waiting for.