Finally, fall is here! The pumpkins, the crisp breezes and changing leaves, the waning daylight, the opening of the veil.... Fall is by far my favorite time of the year, and it's not just a seasonal change: it's one of the integral parts of the natural cycle of things, too.
Calendars throughout the world differ on the exact beginning and ending of fall, as it depends on culture as much as the physical changes generally associated with the transition from summer to winter, such as changing leaves and cooler temperatures. Before the Julian calendar was adopted in northern Europe, there were no exact dates for any of the seasons, and societies considered there to be only two - winter and summer - with transition points between them. In Scandinavia, winter was considered to have begun sometime in what is now mid-October, while the insular Celtic societies acknowledged the end of summer and the beginning of winter with the celebration of Samhain, the origin of our modern Halloween celebrations. Over time, the seasonal cycles were quadrisected into the current four seasons of equal length, and the Gregorian civil calendar in place today begins and ends the seasons on the equinoxes and solstices. But there are still are a few outliers that maintain seasonal beginnings based on custom, such as the Irish calendar that still sees fall as consisting of the months of August, September and October, with November 1 being the beginning of winter.
For most places, however, it seems that a universal calendar neglects the subtleties of place and the personalities of differing bioregions separated by climate as well as culture. Winter may indeed begin on December 21st in Louisiana, for instance, but by then it’s been snowing in North Dakota for nearly two months. Retaining a connection with place and the seasons means honoring them in the context our specific landbases and climates, as well as local culture. For spring and fall especially, this seems easy enough. Rather than these seasons being considered seasons of equal consideration with winer and summer, winter and summer should define the cold and warm halves of the year, respectively, with spring and fall being transition periods between the two. And how long that transition period is would depend on place, and be defined by the physical changes that we think of when considering the seasons. If this is the case, then fall would begin for a particular place when the temperature becomes noticeably and consistently cooler, and the leaves of deciduous trees begin to change and fall. It would end when the leaves are gone, the trees dormant, and the temperatures on the margin of wintry cold. This is inexact, of course, and thus potentially subjective, and would differ from year to year and place to place, which is where local culture comes in to define it for their region.
Another interesting fact about fall is that the season used to be referred to as harvest in west Germanic speaking languages, and is still done so today outside of English (cf. Dutch herfst, German herbst,and Scots halrst). As urbanization took over, however, harvest lost its meaning as the time of year (and because the word to describe the activity most associated with fall), and autumn replaced the moniker for the season. This took place after much of English emigration to North America, where fall replaced harvest and autumn remained in disuse.
History lesson aside, fall is important in our lives not only because of its meteorological and ecological role, but because it represents a shift from the hot days of summer and a gradual closing in of the family as days grow shorter, nights longer, and temperatures begin to drop. It’s the changes in tree color to rustic browns, vibrant golds and dry-blood red. Fall is sweatshirts and open windows. It’s crisp air and warm cider. It’s the scratchy sound of dried and curled leaves saltating along the pavement in the wind. It’s the psitherism in the forest overhead. It’s pumpkin patches, apple picking, and apple cider doughnuts. It’s withering cornfields and hay bales, dried corn stalks and cinnamon everything. It’s joy and abundance of fruit and grain from the harvest, as well as the anxiety and melancholy over harsh weather to come.
Fall is a perfect time to celebrate life. The world is dying, not to be renewed until spring. The days grow shorter and night takes over. But the world remains beautiful, and celebrating life in the face of death is a whistle in the dark that takes power away from the darker side of life, that empowers us in the face of our own mortality. Fall reminds us of the passing of time and the finity of life. It’s a time to take stock our lives, to take stock of our own harvests, what has fruited in our lives versus what needs culling. Maybe the job we have is making us unhappy, or our endeavors thus far have been fruitless. Maybe it’s time to plant new seeds and reap something fresh. Or maybe what we’ve done has been awesome, the fruits of our labors sweet, and it’s time to celebrate the harvest, the land, and nature. To embrace the cooler temperatures and crisp air, the falling acorns, the whirling leaves in downward spiral. To catch them for good luck. To stuff hands in pockets and stroll quietly along whispering walking trails, observing life as it prepares for the cold and scarcity of winter, as life has done for countless millennia.
With snuggles and hot mugs of cider, fall is an important time to celebrate our families and communities by bringing the ones you love together and celebrating your bond with good food and drink, mirth, and merriment. Family is the most important thing in life, and the season lends itself perfectly to human connection. As we settle into this wonderful time of year, grab a good book, a comfortable blanket, and snuggle up and celebrate the love of fall that waits inside us all.
This weekend is Penned Con, an indie book event that brings writers and readers together to raise money for autism (a cause near and dear to my heart, having an autistic nephew). Penned Con is in its fifth year, and this year's author lineup features over 150 authors, a lip sync battle, and a roaring 20s themed awards party--and if there's something I love, it's getting a little Gatsby!
While, unfortunately, I am not attending Penned Con this year, a lot of incredible authors are, and if you are heading out to St. Louis, allow me to tell you about some authors you Do Not Want to Miss! (I'll go alphabetically for the sake of equality!)
Five Penned Con Authors You Very Much Absolutely Must See
There are lots more authors to meet and get to know, too -- the full list is here. If you can't make it, and just need some new reading recommendations, you can also browse the Penned Con 2018 reading list and see all the books by all the authors, too!
Remember, this isn't just a wonderful event for authors and readers, but it's also a great cause. The goal this year at Penned Con is to raise $15,000 for autism, so every little bit counts--and every little bit could introduce you to your next favorite author!
Everyone (and perhaps especially authors) have their favorite books. Books that shaped us, inspired us, acted as our muses, whether they were written by our idols or people we don't particularly like. And sometimes those choices might be a little surprising, even to us!
In today's blog, I'd like to tell you about the six books that changed my life, and gave me the inspiration (and the courage) to first set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, whatever). They are, in no particular order:
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
No one will ever convince me that Anne Rice isn't the queen of gothic literature. She is. I always tell the story about how I found my first Rice book--which was actually The Vampire Lestat--on a flea market shelf. It was a tattered affair, with a ripped cover and pages that had obviously seen a puddle or two. I paid 25 cents for the copy (which I still have, snuggled right next to several signed first editions of Anne's other books.) I read it. Read it again. Devoured it. Then I went back to the beginning and read the entire rest of the series, still eagerly awaiting each new installation several decades later. I am proud to save I have been in madly love with Lestat since I was fourteen years old.
There are very few that can rival Anne Rice in her world-building, her prose, and her details. When I read one of her books, particularly those in The Vampire Chronicles, it's not as much reading a story as it experiencing it. Lestat, of course, remains my favorite of all who carry the Dark Gift, but it was Anne Rice herself who helped me to fall in love with rich descriptions, vivid detail, and emotionally complicated characters, and who gave me an appreciation for stories that tipped between fantasy, history, and horror. I am honored to say I've been so lucky as to have one online conversation with Anne, and it was the best few screens of text of my life.
Belladonna, Karen Moline
For better or worse, my parents never censored what I read, and I read Belladonna when I was way, way too young to be reading it--I think I was in seventh grade. The story, about a woman who is sold into sex slavery and then breaks free and seeks revenge, is dark, layered, haunting, and more than a little disturbing. That said, more than simply an appreciation for a book that makes 50 Shades of Grey look G-rated, this book taught me one very important thing: women are like bones. They might break, but they will reknit together with tenacity and become more durable than they were before. What was weak can become strong, and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!
Karen Moline inspired me to write women that endure, that overcome, and that seek vengeance. I still get pink cheeks when I read the parts of this story in italics, but I will refuse to ever write a woman that is less than the Belladonna herself.
The Shining, Stephen King
I have an undeniable love/hate relationship with Stephen King. I love that he is prone to penning subtle, slow-burning horror. I hate that he usually manages to scare absolute hell out of me. (There is a short in Nightmares and Dreamscapes that has given me a lifelong fear of plumbing problems.)
I have an unhealthy addiction with The Shining. I read it annually, watch the film (the Nicholson/Duvall version), have stayed at both The Stanley and the Timberline Lodge, and drink every day from a coffee mug that has the word redrum on it. It is also the only horror project involving a child that I will tolerate. Literally, the only one. (Unless you count It, which I will tolerate, but I won't enjoy it.)
I find it difficult to put into words my feelings on The Shining. It scares the crap out of me, and I can't stop loving it. I love the character of Jack Torrance, I love the concept of "the shining," and I love creepy old haunted places. I guess that's enough, really.
Coraline, Neil Gaiman
Coraline is a favorite that I didn't even know began its life as a book. Like many, I watch/ed the animated movie, and love how fantastically creepy and bizarre it is/was. Then I read the book. Then I read other Gaiman books. And I keep reading.
Even though I am a grown woman, I often read young adult fantasy/horror (I also have a small kid so we read together). Many times I find that it's more twisted and far less gorey than adult titles in the same genre, and there's something especially delicious about an author who can twist your ears in a book written for kids. I find Coraline, as I do many of Gaiman's books, to be fairly porous, with thoughts and concepts filtering and flowing through, making the entire experience temporal. As I've gotten older, I've started to interpret Coraline a bit differently, too, reidentifying as The Other Mother in a way that manages to scare me on a whole new level. Absolutely brilliant.
A Kiss of Shadows, Laurell K. Hamilton
It would be fair to say that I owe much of my literary career to Merry Gentry. I don't even remember how I got my hands on this book, but I remember I was home, pregnant, and somehow stumbled across this one. I started reading and never stopped. Merry Gentry led me to Anita Blake, who is one of my favorite female protagonists of all time (rivaled, ironically, by Merry). I also have an indescribable amount of respect for Laurell K. Hamilton. I'll probably eventually write the woman a sonnet.
Here's why: while Karen Moline taught me that the weak can rise, Laurell K. Hamilton showed me that even badass women (with a huuuuge chip on their shoulder, Anita) can still have a heart. And these layers are what make characters.
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
I would be remiss not to mention one of the classics that I so adore, Treasure Island. This book has long been one of my favorites, and arguably the thing that made me fall so hard into a love of all things pirates and nautical. I absolutely adore John Silver, and his sharp tongue and knack for staying alive through coup and mutiny alike. And event absent, one can't help but feel the presence of Captain Flint throughout the tale.
“That was Flint's treasure that we had come so far to seek, and that had cost already the lives of seventeen men from the Hispaniola. How many it had cost in the amassing, what blood and sorrow, what good ships scuttled on the deep, what brave men walking the plank blindfold, what shot of cannon, what shame and lies and cruelty, perhaps no man alive could tell.”
The topographical descriptions in this tale are as lush as the island itself (or, maybe a good juxtaposition), and I love the adventure and the bravery of all the parties--even the Squire. My favorite quote "dead mean don't bite" is antithetical to most of the other stories I love, too, so I tend to think this book is the confirmation bias I've formed all my other assumptions of paranormal beasties on, to cure the shivers of course.
Well, that about does it for my Top 6, though of course there are hundreds of titles more I could faithfully write about. Until then, watch out for drinks and devils, and when it doubt sing a pirate shanty:
Fifteen men on the Dead Man's Chest Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Well, here goes. This is the first real blog post I've ever actually written. Sure, people have been telling me to do it for a while, but frankly I am pretty terrible at blogging--and more than a little scared of it. So, here goes nothing.
With my debut novel, The Isle of Gold, releasing in a few short weeks (eek!), I thought the most interesting way to introduce myself to the blogosphere might be to tell you a little bit about the inspiration behind the book, and share of my favorite pieces of "pirate folklore" and the real research that was brought into the story.
First and foremost, I love all-things nautical and have always been enchanted my tales of the sea, particular things like sirens, krakens, and shipwrecks. One of the earliest creative fiction pieces I can remember writing was a story about a child aboard the Titanic who was rescued by a mermaid (I was also really into The Little Mermaid when I was a girl, both the Disney version and the original story). Since then, if it was a book, or a movie, or any other piece of media about pirates or life at sea, I've consumed it.
I am particularly obsessed with odd ocean phenomena, like flashes of green lights on the horizon at sunset (someone caught a gorgeous one here), frost flowers, and crazy things that might lurk in the deepest parts of the ocean (btw, if you've never seen the 80s class The Abyss, you should.)
A lot of research went into writing this story, and I tried to balance "real" history with fantasy. I spent time touring old wooden boats and asking way too many questions of anyone knowledgable who would answer. I went to Nassau to tour the pirate museum and sit on the beaches of the Caribbean. I drank a lot of rum. You get the picture.
In the folklore aspect, I wanted to bring in as many of the most quintessential legends I could--Davey Jones (a real sailor, a euphemism, you decide!), Charybdis, the kraken, the Caleuche, Melusine... all of these are very real, very old seafaring legends, and I wanted to be as true to their roots as possible, while integrating them in a new way. Of course, this is a story of connection--land and sea, love and loss, attraction and denial--and I wanted to weave those things throughout every aspect of the story. It is my hope that everyone who reads this book comes away with something a little bit different, and that the characters speak to them in a personal and profound way.
I'd always assumed I'd write a book, or maybe a series, about pirates at some point, but it was never something I thought I'd write first. In fact, I was working on a completely different project when the inspiration for IOG came, took hold, and usurped everything. The plot of the story was actually based on a dream I can now only barely remember, but the two things that stuck were the symbiotic and sometimes insidious love-hate relationship between the land and the sea, and the adventure of finding your own identity when the world seems to have decided it for you.
Well, that's it for the first blog of Writing in the Dark. Next time, maybe I'll tell you about some of my favorite books and the authors who have inspired me.