It was Ernest Hemingway. It was typewriters and fresh white paper. A special hat, a cold drink and a rolled-up copy of Esquire’s Summer Fiction issue under my arm.
For me, writing fiction will always be the fruit of a summer season. It was the season I began to write; it is that one crystalline period in my life that now forever links the inchoate desire to tell stories, by placing one well-earned word in front of another, to my present vocation.
It was about reading new authors – John Cheever, Toni Morrison, and Brett Easton Ellis, alongside vanguards of the art – Hemingway, Austen, and Salinger. This was when you carried around thick paperbacks, the pages rippled with the humidity. Pages dog-eared, coffee-stained and scribbled upon. At work, on the beach, on the road, summer meant fiction. It was a time to review your writing career, even if you were only pretending to have one—and taking its temperature against the white-hot stars of the page. Only the high pile of pages, boldly composed, filling the days and summer nights because you simply had to get the words out, matched the stack of books for the season. It was summer and the heat was there and your imagination only needed the shade of a good story. Summer is the what if…
Still, summer means fiction.
Even though I write every day and I’ve published a few novels and received a rich education in creative writing, I always find summers a time for digging deeper, for reigniting the original passion fueled by good books from the past and, let’s be frank, the sneaky reads from the dangerous summers between wonder and reality. Every summer I compile a list of books I’ll read, all of them fiction; and I’ll set aside time every day to work on my craft, to hone the characters, ponder the plot and fiddle around with points of view. I consume eBooks now by Stephen King, Junot Diaz, George R.R. Martin and Alice Munroe, alongside a few well-thumbed old favorites who deserve a revisit. And so slowly over the succession of summers my own voice and understanding flourished like one of those bright clouds growing in immensity over the scorched earth. Each summer I again tend to the creative ground of fiction, this long tradition, this writing life.
Being a writer means knowing where you came from, and where you intend to go from there, if only in a loose kind of way. For me, that’s summer. Fiction is summer. And as I write this I am revising my debut novel, The Jenny Muck, which is to have a new life very soon, and as I do the toil day in and day out, I marvel at how the summers have taught me to be a writer.
To never give up.
To work with generosity.
To work ceaselessly at the craft like someone learning piano learns the chords and the keys – slowly, persistently, until noticing music.
To write utter nonsense at times and still be happy because it’s mine and no one else’s.
And so much more, of course. Summers taught me to write for myself. And they taught me to write for someone I love. To write the books that weren’t written. Summer toughens me against rejection and brings me joy in reading and writing. Summer: a time to recall the thrill felt opening a new book on a steamy night under the stars years ago, and feeling it again now—my fingers hovering over the keyboard. These are the stories of summer.
Summer is fiction.
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