Dog Days of Summer

[August 2009] Last month’s essay would be difficult to top. The piece had more than triple the average number of views of an average Storytellers Unplugged essay, and it has garnered over eighty comments to date. That doesn’t take into account the number of other blogs where people used elements of the essay as the launching point for other discussions. It didn’t quite go viral, but it was at least mildly contagious. I think I would be safe in saying that it inspired more vigorous response than anything else I’ve ever written, and the scope of the topics that developed amazed me. Gender bias can be extrapolated to other kinds of prejudices and assumptions about people based on preconceived categories.

Like I said, a hard act to follow. I wish I had something equally profound to write about this month, but I don’t. At first I thought I would write a review of all of the interesting blogs that referenced my piece, but you can easily find those yourself if you’re interested. This link should get you started. Those other people express their opinions better than I ever could in a synopsis piece, and their points of view are worth reading, if you have the time. Suffice to say that the little hitch I encountered with one short story and one editor is small potatoes compared to what some people face regularly and persistently.

August is a lackluster month here in Texas. It’s hot, oh boy is it hot, especially this year. It’s usually already over 80 when I get up at 5 am for my daily writing session. Most days, when I leave work at 5 pm the digital readout on my car’s thermometer reads something in the 100-105 degree range. Hot and dry. It takes something out of a person, all this heat, even though we are air conditioned to the hilt. At least there haven’t been any hurricanes to worry about. Not yet, at least.

August is also a month of transition, though people don’t always make that association right away. For many, the real summer is coming to an end. School starts a week from today around here. Even though I no longer have school-age kids, that creates a subtle shift in my reality. Speed zones that I’ve been safely ignoring for a couple of months are reactivated. The loose, less scheduled existence that many other people around me have fallen into during the summer months all of a sudden snaps back into a more rigid state defined by the comings and goings of their children. Summer television series wind down in preparation for the fall season.

When I look back on July and August, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished very much. I got everything done I was supposed to—I even got a few things in early. I still have over fifteen short stories circulating, so I haven’t fallen asleep at the switch, though editors seem to be a little slower to respond during the summer so it hasn’t exactly been arduous keeping up with submissions. I’ve written or revised a few short stories, penned several reviews and essays, read a bunch of books, whittled my to-do list down to two or three items (and, once this essay is finished, it will be shorter still), but I feel like I’ve been treading water. I’m ready for the next big thing.

I have a new book coming out this fall, but it’s finished and copies should arrive from the printer within the next month, so there hasn’t been much to do with it lately. I’ve been spreading the word, but since the publisher, Barnes & Noble, isn’t yet accepting pre-orders, I’ve been holding back. Closer to publication date I’m sure I’ll be promoting it more aggressively, but the B&N model for their readers’ companions is to position them in prominent places in their stores and let them sell themselves. They don’t produce galleys and don’t seek advance reviews. It’s a completely different process than for my previous book, one that seems to contribute to the doldrums of these summer months.

I planned to start work revising a novel at the first of August, but that date has slipped past as other short-term obligations came and went. I had a long conversation with my agent about the book over a month ago. I have a strategy and several pages of notes for the rewrite, but I haven’t opened the Word document once since that discussion. I wanted my desk to be clear of distractions so I could focus on it exclusively, but I’ve discovered that such a state of nirvana, the clutter-and-obligation-free desk, doesn’t exist.

So, it’s back-to-school time for me. Time to put away the summer toys, the metaphorical beach balls and inline skates and picnic baskets, and get back to work. Anticipate that school bell each morning and show up with my pencils sharpened and my homework ready to hand in. Maybe even strive for some of those extra-credit problems I always used to like to do when I was a kid.

It would help greatly if it wasn’t still so hot out, but we writers have to create our own weather. If we wait for the dog days of summer to be over, we’ll never get anything done.

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