I don't know what it as about the autumn that always makes it seem like a new beginning. Some people use the New Year to make a fresh start, but for perpetual students, teachers, and professors like me, autumn is the time for new beginnings. I always speak of years in terms of school years, and probably always will.
You wouldn't know it was autumn here in South Texas. Like green, I miss seasons, but there is still a sense of palpable change in the air. Next week, I'll have completely new students, some of whom are attending university for the first time. That's always exciting--to be part of their freshmen experience. In addition to upper-division students, I've had the opportunity to teach freshmen almost every year I've been a college instructor, and their nervous excitement is catching. They come in, eyes wide and almost frightened, none of them knowing what to expect or how to behave. I like to think I have at least a small part in making them feel at home and challenging them to think in new and critical ways about the world around them. Besides being a writer, teaching is the best job, really.
This autumn is also a change for me in terms of my own writing. My new book, Gnarled Hollow, is a ghost story, and a pretty creepy one at that. There is a lesbian romance at the heart of the novel, but the paranormal/mystery genre is new for me as an author. The novel includes elements of everything I love--higher education, lesbian relationships, art, literature--but it's a completely new direction for me in terms of structure and mood. As I was writing it, I felt like I'd finally found my grove. It wrote quickly, faster than anything I've ever done, almost effortlessly. I think I've finally recognized that, while I love traditional romance novels, it was, perhaps, mystery and thrillers that I was meant to write. I felt good, excited, as I was writing it, and I've never been more proud of something I've written.
So this autumn really is a new direction, both for me as a writer and my for students. I can't wait to see what happens next.
I grew up in a small town in Northern Colorado near Estes Park. Anyone that’s been to Colorado, and even those that haven’t, think of Colorado as a nature-lover’s paradise, with the steep Rockies functioning as a background to everything that means anything to most Coloradoans.
What people who haven’t visited don’t tend to realize is quite how dry it is there. Much of Colorado, like New Mexico, is semi-arid, which means, apart from snow, there is very little precipitation. It only rarely rained there when I was a child, and generally only in May and August a few times. Most of the year is sunny, dry, and warm.
This is partly why my first significant move out of Colorado came as such a pleasant shock to the system. I first moved to Washington D.C., where, at least for the short time I was there, it rained almost every day. I’d never even owned an umbrella until then—my early twenties. I took the bus when I lived there, and often had to stand there waiting for it in the pouring rain. I loved every second of it.
With rain comes greenery, which was on an entirely new level compared to what I grew up with. The semi-arid climate of Colorado is great for cottonwood trees, willows, and, of course, pines and aspens, but little else. In D.C., for the first time, I saw elms and maples and oaks, along with the various mosses and vines that grow all over in wet places. I was in heaven.
My next move to New Orleans was even more dramatic. There were a few months there at the beginning when you could set a watch to the afternoon thunderstorm. I would wake up to morning fog in the warm, mild climate and ooze my way to the bus stop. Pure joy.
After this, I was on to New York, and then to Tennessee, both of which are incredibly wet and green places. Even at this point, over a decade after leaving Colorado, I loved the rain and fog, in part because of its novelty, and in part because of what it leads to: a world filled with the varying shades of green I only every saw on TV growing up.
Now don’t get me wrong—I love Colorado. It’s funny to say it now, since I was so desperate to leave when I was younger, but I suppose that’s what happens when you take wonderful things for granted. Anyway, I think if I moved back to Colorado, I could overlook that fact that it’s not as green as some of the places I’ve lived in part because of the natural beauty that’s simply everywhere, green or not.
I live in South Texas now, in what amounts to a desert. It almost never rains (even less than Colorado), and, unlike Colorado, there are really no trees to speak of. True, it’s warm, which I love, but I miss green, even the faded greens of my semi-arid home state. Drive two hours North of my place and green starts to creep back into the world, but it is a brown & yellow world I see now when I look out the window or drive to work.
This might, in part, explain why my novels so far, including my work in progress, have taken place elsewhere. I get to write myself back to the green.