Friday, August 3, 2012

What writers observe

It's that season when I can hear the buzzing of cicadas, the chirping of crickets. They form the constant soundtrack of mid- and late summer, and one of the many things I dislike about air conditioning is that it cuts me off from that song.

I mentioned the cicadas and crickets many times in Try Not to Breathe. Much of that book takes place outdoors in August, and that sound was a part of the setting as real and vivid to me as any sight or scent. Perhaps even more so, because when I think of August, I think of two things. The first is heat, and the second is the songs of crickets and cicadas.

Through writing and publishing, I've become aware of just how much attention I pay to the natural world (at least, as natural as I can get where I live). My books are full of weather and seasons, insects and plants and fungi, mud and rock, even though none of my characters live in the wilderness. It's in my writing because it's part of my life. I'm always looking at the plants and soil and weather around me. When I was in Italy, I looked closely not only at the fountains and the ruins, but also at the umbrella pines and the wildflowers. "They have dandelions here, too," I remember thinking, because that is the kind of thing I pay attention to, and unsurprisingly, a lot of my characters pay attention to those things also. Even though I am coming to realize that not many US visitors to Italy notice whether there are dandelions there, or care if they do notice.

We all have these little--well, not quirks, but it's the best word I can think of now. But we all look at the world in a certain way, and one nice thing about writing is that it lets us share our particular focus and viewpoint. I get a kick out of the fact that the leaves of trembling aspen really do tremble, and that some sassafras leaves look like mittens. It's part of my worldview, and including such things is part of what makes my writing mine. What do you notice that flavors your voice and makes it yours?

Bonus links:

This photo of a bridge in Iceland sparks my imagination. It could even serve as a writing prompt.

Here's an awesome writing contest for new writers who would like to place a YA short story in an anthology. As editor Saundra Mitchell says: "And while the prize is open to all ages, it is limited to authors who have NOT made more than $2000 in publication, under this name or any pseud."

On Saturday, August 4, there will be a big YA author festival, aptly named YA Fest, in Easton, PA.


  1. Loved reading this! I delight in the small pleasures and beauties of life. I often think they are where truly living lies.