“Precious Autumn Sunshine…”

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This is the tree I see out my office window

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

A tree on Bowdoin College campus (where Nathaniel Hawthorne went to college)

A tree on Bowdoin College campus (where Nathaniel Hawthorne went to college)

I find myself thinking of the Hawthorne quote again and again as I go through fall this year. The foliage started turning very early, and we’re having a particularly mild fall—we’ve barely had a frost and usually have had a hard freeze by now—so spending my daylight hours in the open air (to borrow Mr. Hawthorne’s words) has been quite enjoyable. Leaf peeping season is in full swing. And boaters are enjoying the long fall to get out on the water as much as possible.

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This sundial is on the Bowdoin College campus. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also graduated from Bowdoin College. He and Hawthorne were classmates!

Our long fall has lead to a wonderful season for photography. This post has some of my favorite photos of fall and the coast (in no particular order). I hope you enjoy looking at them even half as much as I enjoyed taking them!

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The iconic leaf on the water, as MEH (My Engineer Husband) says

 

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Sunsets have been spectacular as the sun shifts south…

 

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Another view of last night’s spectacular orange juice sky and water (no filter!)

I think orange would be a good word to describe the season for me right now. What signals the turn of season in your corner of the world? What color? Are you spending time outside enjoying the changes?

Cheers,

Julia

Amidst Swirling Words & Leaves





Yesterday MEH (My Engineer Husband) and I went “leaf peeping,” which is to say we went out for the sole purpose of looking at the changing fall foliage. In this small and excellent adventure, words became a central part—as they often do for me. Because it’s funny how we use words without thinking (and when I say “we,” let me be clear, it’s the universal “we”). In other words, words and expressions become second nature to our daily life—yet others may have no idea whatsoever what we’re talking about.

And so it was with leaf peeping, which (it turns out) is a bit of a New England colloquialism, something I found out when I told Arizona writer friend Melissa Crytzer Fry we were going out to do some of the aforementioned leaf peeping. Thank goodness for Google so Melissa could figure out what the heck I was talking about. Otherwise she may have thought I was peeping through the leaves to spy on neighbors (although if you recall previous posts, I do that too…).

But my story doesn’t end there. Our leaf peeping travels took us to nearby Bowdoin College where once again I found myself thinking of words. This time older ones, because some years ago Bowdoin College graduated some pretty noteworthy writers: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Turns out these two great literary men (along with Horatio Bridge and Franklin Pierce) were good friends and graduated in Bowdoin’s class of 1825.

Bowdoin College’s Massachusetts Hall 

As we strolled and took photographs, we walked the paths they’d walked. And in addition to the leaves, we peeped the original three buildings that comprised the Bowdoin campus during those long ago years: the chapel, Maine Hall, and Massachusetts Hall (that now houses, appropriately, the English department). While we walked, I thought about words these early writers might have used to describe what we were seeing, and when I got home to my computer, I was delighted to learn that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote a poem about autumn.

Autumn

Thou comest, Autumn, heralded by the rain,

With banners, by great gales incessant fanned,

Brighter than brightest silks of Samarcand,

And stately oxen harnessed to thy wain!


Thou standest, like imperial Charlemagne,


Upon thy bridge of gold; thy royal hand


Outstretched with benedictions o’er the land,

Blessing the farms through all thy vast domain!


Thy shield is the red harvest moon, suspended

So long beneath the heaven’s o’er-hanging eaves;

Thy steps are by the farmer’s prayers attended;

Like flames upon an altar shine the sheaves;

And, following thee, in thy ovation splendid,

Thine almoner, the wind, scatters the golden leaves! 

And while not all the words in Longfellow’s poem are in common use today—Samarcand, almoner, wain, as examples—the verse is clearly English. Still, the language has changed enough over time that I had to read through it more than once and look up some of the words on Google—just like Melissa when I told her we were leaf peeping—to fully grasp its meaning.

This photo reminded me of the descriptions
in Longfellow’s poem.

All this made me realize that whether by distance of time or geography, words can take on different meanings or at times make no sense at all. Yet as writers this is our purpose and daily endeavor: to take words and make them meaningful, to help them take on a life of their own, and to ultimately help others feel the things we felt when we wrote them.

All in all it was a wonderful day amidst swirling leaves and words: “the golden leaves,” as Longfellow said. And as Hawthorne penned (and I can’t disagree):

“I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.”

What are some words and phrases (whether colloquial or from another time or language) that you’ve labored to understand? Do you think by exploring and stretching they make you a better writer—like I do? As for autumn, is it autumn where you are? Or do you live somewhere that you don’t experience the changing seasons at all?


Cheers,
Julia

What’s Rain Got to Do with It?

“…Into each life a little rain must fall…”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It’s raining this morning. And I’m glad. It’s not only that I love the rain—honestly I love a rainy day almost more than a sunny one.

But more importantly, it reminded me: I forgot to have any rainfall in my recently-completed first draft WIP (Work In Progress), that I blogged about here. Maybe it shouldn’t matter—I mean does every single novel need to mention the weather? Not according to Mark Twain, who reportedly received complaints from some readers about not including enough weather in his books (others complained there was too much mention of weather!).

I didn’t realize this about Mark Twain until I talked to MEH (My Engineer Husband) about my rain omission. He said it reminded him of the forward Mark Twain had in one of his books, The American Claimant. Consider this excerpt from a section called THE WEATHER IN THIS BOOK:

“No weather will be found in this book. This is an attempt to pull a book through without weather. It being the first attempt of the kind in fictitious literature, it may prove a failure, but it seemed worth the while of some dare-devil person to try it, and the author was in just the mood….”

Unlike Mark Twain, I’m not in the mood to exclude the weather. In fact, I am particularly surprised about my weather omission because my main character spends a lot of time outside in the natural world. Further, a house is being built. And both these things are affected by the weather, especially in a place where there are seasons.

Fortunately I am editing and rewriting my draft and can easily work in the rain and how it affects, motivates, and propels my main character—and my story.

But, more, today’s rain served as a reminder to me that I need to pay close attention to the details, and that these very details will help me create a more realistic, believable, and captivating story.

As Mark Twain said: “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.” Do you talk about the weather in your writing? Is it pertinent to your story or irrelevant?

Cheers,

Julia

The Inspiration (and Distraction) of Nature’s Beauty

This view of a near-by island (and all the photos in this post)
are a five-minute drive from where I live

It’s really no wonder that the natural beauty of Maine has produced and inspired many writers, as diverse as poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, children’s book writer Barbara Cooney and horror-writer Stephen King. Awe-inspring beauty is all around us and can invade our every thought as writers, in what we write and how we feel. Inspirational but also potentially distracting.

Consider this short excerpt from Longfellow’s poem, “The Secret of the Sea”:

Ah! what pleasant visions haunt me

As I gaze upon the sea!


All the old romantic legends,
  

All my dreams, come back to me.

Sails of silk and ropes of sandal,

Such as gleam in ancient lore;


And the singing of the sailors,

And the answer from the shore! 

The lure of the sea is very real; every week for the past almost-four months, I’ve posted a video of just one of the many beautiful natural locations in this state. It’s one tiny corner of the natural beauty of what inspires me in this state, where I live and and where I write.

Within a two-minute drive, I can be to coastal locations that look like they belong in a movie—inspiring as a writer, creating a strong sense of place. And at the same time, the sea air and beauty can be incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating, breathing new life into a tired writing mind.

Sometimes, as with the history that steeps the buildings, the natural beauty can overwhelm me and become either intoxicating or all-consuming. And, at it’s worse, it can be all-demanding: look at me. You must!




In one of my WIPs, this creates problems for my main character. She is drawn to Maine because she sees what she wants to see: an incredibly beautiful place, only that. She can’t or won’t see the things that are bad or not so good about the place. She is so infatuated with the image in her mind that she cannot see the reality of what really is.


If this this intense lure and beauty of place can overwhelm someone who lives here or a character in a book, is it possible that writing with a strong sense of setting can throw off the balance with other elements in a novel, like character development? This is one of the dangers that I find as I write with a strong sense of place.

Do you write in a beautiful natural environment that is distinct in its own voice? Does it affect how you write or what you write about? Do you ever find that the balance between setting and other elements become out of kilter?

Cheers,
Julia

"Easy Reading is Damn Hard Writing"

Yesterday morning’s sky glowed beautifully pink. Every time I see a sunrise or sunset like that, I think of my grandmother who used to say this old weather lore every time she saw a pink sky:


“Pink sky at morning, sailors take warning;

Pink sky at night, sailors delight.”

I’ve often wondered whether there was any truth to this saying, and yesterday, after a quick look at wikipedia I discovered maybe so—because weather systems usually move from west to east, pink (or red) clouds “result when the sun shines on their undersides at either sunrise or sunset.”

Most quotes or sayings probably have origins in reality. On a roll, I decided to do some research on a quote that I only recently came acrossattributed to Robert W. Service—that I really like and can relate to:
“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”

Robert W. Service, from wikipedia
The reason I like this particular quote is that I often let small, daily concerns take up too much of my time and energy, and then when I look up, I realize I’ve frittered my time away with unnecessary worry or stress. In the process, I have let go some of the larger tasks at hand. In essence, I choose to let the grain of sand wear me down. But I wondered…is that what Service meant, too?

A little research revealed that this quote is from a larger poem:

“Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out, it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”

After reading this, I surmised that is probable that Service was thinking along my same lines. But I also learned more. For example, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of the name Robert W. Service until I read this quote! You probably already know this, but it turns out that Robert William Service was a writer, considered the “bard of the Yukon.” He wrote many things, including The Cremation of Sam McGee. I’ve read this ballad a number of times, so I was especially surprised I didn’t recognize the name.

Another thing I learned is that although Service might have shared my annoyance with the grain of sand, he possibly did not find writing difficult! In fact, quite the opposite, as evidenced by this, that he supposedly said about writing: “For it came so easy to me in my exited state that I was amazed at my facility. It was as if someone was whispering in my ear.”

Although writing often feels like second nature, I would never describe it as easy. This feeling is shared by most writers I know, and it brings me to my final quote, one I love, attributed to Nathaniel Hawthorne:

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne, from wikipedia
Interestingly, Nathaniel Hawthorne spent some of his youth in Maine. He also attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were classmates and became lifelong friends. On a recent campus tour, the guide pointed out the corner dorm room that Hawthorne had lived in. Legend has it, the guide shared, that every student who’s lived in that room became an English major. I wonder what Hawthorne would say about that?

What are your favorite quotes? Are there some that have special meaning to you? Do any apply to the writing process? I’d love to hear!

Cheers,

Julia