In August, Vanessa Diffenbaugh isn't just publishing her debut novel, The Language of Flowers (Ballantine); she's also launching a nonprofit organization, the Camellia Network, designed to support emancipating foster children as they leave the system and begin their adult lives.
The issue and the novel are not unrelated: Victoria, the protagonist of The Language of Flowers, is a former foster child. She uses the Victorian language of flowers to try to communicate with others and to understand herself. In the language of flowers, which Diffenbaugh calls "beautiful and romantic," each blossom has a meaning. A camellia signifies "my destiny is in your hands."
Diffenbaugh and her husband are foster parents in Cambridge, Mass. She explains, "Though Victoria is entirely fictional, I did draw inspiration in bits and pieces from foster children I have known. One young woman in particular, whom my husband and I mentored many years ago, was fiery and focused and distrusting and unpredictable in a manner similar to Victoria. Her history was intense: a number on her birth certificate where a name should have been; more foster homes than she could count."
Senior editor Jennifer Smith acquired the novel from Diffenbaugh's agent, Sally Wofford-Girand, at Brick House Literary Agents, in a heated auction. (Rights have been sold in 31 countries.) She calls Victoria "one of the most unforgettable protagonists I've ever encountered in fiction," adding, "It would probably take a whole bouquet for me to express how much I love this book."