Monday, September 8, 2008

On summer's end

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability. ~Sam Keen

JAN: I biked down to South Beach this morning to get my last glimpse of the ocean before heading home. And now I'm laundering beach towels and packing up coolers with all the windows and doors open so I can get my fill of sea breezes.

And you know what I feel? Relief.

I loved the crystal clear days, the strong sun, the stars at night. But now? Enough of that.

How can I focus on the right name for a character or the clearest definition if all I want to do is get on my bike and ride to the beach? How can I puzzle out a workable plot when someone needs a fourth for doubles on a beautiful day? Clearly to get anything done, I need a chill outside, lots of clouds, and preferably a downpour.

In fact, I do my best writing between January and March just because the weather is so bad. Obviously, I have issues with self-discipline -- I've had to remove Solitaire from every computer I've ever had. I also get bored easily, have little tolerance for routine, and need a change in seasons just so I don't have to eat barbequed food for another eight months.

So it could just be me, but does anyone else look forward to cold weather for its positive effect on productivity?.

ROBERTA: Funny that you're so patient with slogging through tedious or difficult reading, Jan! You saw with Friday's post how much I'll regret the end of the summer produce season. (that's me, eating first!) We had to pull our cucumber plants out, and the zucchini, and the beans are looking peaked. And like Hallie, I hate winter. The thing that bothers me even more than the cold is the light. Or lack of it, I should say. It gets dark here in Connecticut by 4:30 in the worst part of the season. And that makes me feel like hibernating, not writing.

HALLIE: So THAT'S why I haven't gotten but a piddling amount of my new book written for the last three months!

For me, end of summer means college starts and my husband goes back to work. Which is one fewer distraction in the house but no one to hang out with at lunch. The worst thing about summer ending is winter is not far off. I hate hate hate winter. Hate ice, hate snow, hate being cold cold cold.

Ro: Summer started late for me and in the past few years it's ended late. In September I rent a house in Wellfleet. Most of the other renters and tourists have gone home and I get to pretend that I live in a small town with a general store that just happens to have a beach outside. The restaurants start to close and as the days go by there a fewer and fewer people on the road and on the beach. It's wonderful. I finished my first book at the house so it will always be special to me.For me the worst thing about the summer ending is that everything else is going to come so fast...Bouchercon, Crimebake, holidays, then the conferences start...aaayyyy!!

HANK: A box arrived at our porch in mid-July. Usually I'm the one who orders things, but I wasn't expecting a parcel. My husband said--oh, this is a surprise for us. Huh.

Inside was a turquoise blue two-person swimming pool float. Like a floating double chaise, where the two people are facing each other as they float. It's perfect for reading, and even has little spaces that are just the size of a diet coke bottle. Heaven.

All my vacation, 17 wonderful days from mid August til Labor Day, I'd write in the morning, we'd have lunch by the pool, then I'd come back in and write til 4. Then from 4 to 6--floating and reading.

Today, we're putting our float away. (After the football game, Jonathan says.)

Sigh. My white skirt is looking tired. Gin and tonics seem a little too chilly. My bathing suit is hanging on the shower rack, and hasn't budged for a week. We cook inside. Transition is transitioning.

But the dahlias are still blooming like mad. And the air is clear and dry. And I don't have to face a new math teacher or clique of classmates. I like it.

JAN: Oh dear, Hank. Now you're making me miss summer, when I was so determined to do away with it. But I must remind myself that the swimming pool float would be useless to me -- what without the pool. And of course, as you remind me, Patriots are on this afternoon -- and although I don't watch football -- I do make nachos at halftime. A perfect transition!


  1. What a difference lines of latitude make!

    Summer here in Texas is intense and lovely -- if you can spend the entire summer perpetually buttered with sunscreen and one foot dangling off a boat -- but much of June,July, and August is almost too hot to be borne. Humidity hangs, gardens shrivel, the dogs slink off to lie beneath air conditioner vents on cool bathroom tile.

    Summer for us is the season of heatstroke and rattlesnake bite (if fields are your inclination or occupation), of exertion heart attacks that hit a neighbor hours after he has has mowed his lawn after supper. Summer is the season of road rage and poor impulse control.

    I write very well in the summer because when I'm out of the search field or not up in an airplane, I'm hiding out somewhere cool, with an iced coffee and a cookie, tapping away on the laptop. I wrote 84,000 words (all chapters) between May 12th and August 1, and only 30,000 words between January 1 and May 12th (two magazine articles and three chapters), so the difference is pretty visible.

    Of course, I was also off this summer-- no teaching-- and off allows all that magical head time for writing. And when it's 105 outside, and the movie theatres are full of nothing but car chases and big bangs, not much competes.

    I love autumn and tolerate the brief, mostly-drippy winters here, which are very short and hint of spring in late January. We're lucky--we can have winter gardens that bloom. And sweetly, too. Pansies! Violas! Tulips! Narcissus!

    Writing in these seasons is manageable once I've wrangled the demands of the class schedule, but it's always more tempting for me to be out in the winter. When the wind lifts and the temperatures drop, this is when I want to get out with the pack on and push through terrain. Shake things up a bit. Walk my thoughts to a new place. Backpack, thermos, coaty Golden Retriever with her tongue out sideways. Deadlines ignored. No laptops allowed.

    It'll probably be two years before I see that kind of autumn again. Not that I'm complaining.

    And cheers to the JR group, whatever the season.

  2. beautiful descriptions Susannah, and wow, i'm very very impressed with your word count!

  3. Hey Susannah,
    I've always wanted to go to Texas, but now I think I'll plan a WINTER trip. I love the idea of the cool winds and the winter gardens.

  4. Yes, Susannah, latitude makes such a difference! Detroit at 42.4 deg. north, on a par with the New England area is gloomy at best in what we call "Winter". It should be called "pineal gland" suffocation time. In fact the western part of MI may not see the sun for days at time. "Lake effect" they glibly call it. I call it depressing!

    I know I've been silent awhile for various reasons, but I had to chime in here. Jan really brought home the dilemma. When you know gloom can descend at any moment after October, you become a sun worshipper. Just call me Mayan Mike.

    Very, very hard to write in the summer - mea culpa, mea culpa!! I'm beating my chest, Jan!! Now that you've fessed up, I too can confess. I have been working on projects - just not writing. When you realize how incredibly good the sun is for you and you live as far north as we do - there's no contest when faced with summer choices. You should know however, there is hope - a new generation of computer screens that get brighter in sunlight!!! Yesssss.... Think about that - sun and writing in a cohesive environment! And, keep your backpack handy as well - for a quick interlude. Ah... you CAN have it all. These screens can't get here fast enough for me. Then, too as Jan points out, a clear mind, a soft breeze and either the ocean or lush green meadow can become the siren's song that lures you to "presence". To God's very doorway. In the words from "Porgy and Bess", 'who could ask for anything more'.


    Roberta - congrats on your book! I didn't get a chance to comment!!!

  5. Come Jan! Come! -- late January /early February is a good month to visit Texas -- the Dallas Arboretum and other venues have some stunning bulb gardens and the like, and the Carolina Jessamin is already in bloom.

    Even better than North Texas, the Hill Country -- Austin. Now there's a sweet late winter/early spring in a city that's impossibly cool. Homegrown music, the arts everywhere, great restaurants, public gardens, and the famous bat bridge in the twilight.

    Here's a shot of the writing life in Texas at that time. Not a far throw from Mike's description. My mini-muse, Tupper, a rescue pup is also in the shot.

    (I am chagrined to note that almost everything showing on that outline of the book has since been scrapped. Spring is the season for revision, apparently!)


  6. I just deflated the biggest pool float we've ever owned. Tom Hanks could have used this baby to get off that island in Castaway. Instead of tossing it in my garden shed, I decided to bring it to the Cape. We'll see how it makes out on the ponds...
    I'm glad to hear Texas is nice in's on my schedule for next year.
    Just saw Roger Federer win the US Open....(the man's a god) I guess the summer really is over.

  7. Mike,
    You got it! It feels like a crime against humanity to sit inside in front of the computer when its gorgeous outside. I was actually LOOKING forward to minor foot surgery because I knew it would force me to STAY INSIDE and write. Geez, what surgery should I plan next?

    And Susannah,
    I have always had this incredible fascination for Texas. Probably because Lonesome Dove is my favorite book. Not to mention the Alamo stuff. And Austin City Limits. But you make it sound incredibly beautiful as well as intriguing. I'll have to talk to Ro about her February trip. If its book related, maybe I could tag along.

  8. If you do come to Texas and do book events, let me know -- particularly if you're in the Dallas area. I can always roust a fair-sized group for events: writer friends as well as students in my mass media courses, who study publishing and promotion as part of course scope. Mystery writers are always favorites!

    Ah, Austin. I use any excuse at all to go there.

  9. Now I REALLY, REALLY want to go!
    Thanks Susannah hope to meet you soon!

  10. Jan & Susannah

    I was just reminded of that Jimmy Buffet album - "Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude".

    We spent some time in San Antonio taking the old mission trail. Got some awesome pics of the missions, including the Alamo. We did the riverwalk thing and that was lots of fun too.

    I imagine there is lots of neat Texas stuff up in the Dallas area as well. I Liked that pic of Susannah in the Pastry Shop in McKinney, TX.

    By the way, we went in December one year and January the next. Nice weather then. Stayed at a BB just outside of downtown San Antonio.

    My wife's sister lives in Waco. Her husband is a professor at Baylor University. He teaches Middle East history.

    Interesting aside here. He just got a Fulbright Scholarship to study Turkish History in Turkey for a year. We are going to meet them in Istanbul at the end of October. Just starting to study Turkish. Seems like Chinese might be easier. Hey, it's all Chinese to me at this point:-)!!

  11. Hey! I'm a Baylor alum.

    Sic 'em Bears. :-D

    Safe travels to you and family!

  12. Yeah - Susannh -

    Sic 'em bears!

    When Dr. Greorge gave us a campus tour we actually saw where they keep the bears on campus!! Who knew!

    Thanks for the good wishes for safe travels. I did have some misgivings about Istanbul!! Both Joan and George lived in Turkey before and speak Turkish - thank goodness.

  13. Hey Mike,
    Good thing I read Susannah's last post because I previously missed the part where you were going to Istanbul this October (need reading glasses --thought i'd read you already went).
    My mother once told me it was the favorite place of all her travels. She brought me back a tiny, little rug!
    Have a great time! I can't imagine learning Turkish.

  14. Jan -

    Learning Turkish? I can't imagine it either. However, I'm taking a shot at it. I had my Chinese cab driver in stitches - He told me my Chinese was good. So I then told him in Chinese that his Chinese was very good! We were both rolling. It was so absurd to even suggest that I was qualified to make that assessment.

    It's something I have committed to - whenever I visit a foreign country - I make an attempt to learn the basics of the language. It's my small attempt at showing that the US does care about other cultures. I figure I may not speak a given language all that well - but at least I do my best at trying to connect. Except for the issues I ran into in Paris - usually people in foreign cultures appreciate it.

    Then too, remember, my middle daughter speaks perfectly fluent French, very good Chinese, fair Spanish, and good Thai. She loves the influence of culture and has given me an appreciation for it.