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.
I began writing down the books I read in my late youth in college, about fifteen years ago. I was, at the time, obsessed with Virginia Woolf, in part because I was writing a thesis about her. In addition to her novels, I read all of her diaries and letters, as well as several biographies about her. She kept a private diary, but she also keep a reading diary. Unlike her personal diary, which she wrote in very frequently, the reading diary is clearly incomplete, and looks like it was something of a burden to keep up. She would list book she was reading and comment on it, and it appears that she often grew tired of keeping up with it.
My paternal grandmother also has a version of this. She writes down every book she reads, and has done so most of her adult life. It's fascinating. Cynic that she is, she finds the whole thing mundane. She keeps it only so she won't repeat the books she reads, as she thinks life is too short to read a book more than once. She can't understand why I'd be interested in her diary, but I've loved looking at it every time she's let me see it. Like Woolf's diary, it is a record of the hours and a snapshot into her life.
My own diary is much like my grandmother's--simply a list. When I first started, I tried to keep up with a review of each book, of sorts, but, as Woolf clearly found, the reviews quickly became tedious. So, instead, my reading journal is simply a list, with the author's name and the title and the month I read it.
Unlike my grandmother I frequently re-read books. One of my go-to, come back and re-read authors is Stephen King. I've read many of his novels multiple times, and most at least twice.
I also tend to get on a "kick" with an author. If he or she has multiple books, whether a series or not, I'll often read all or most of his or her books the same year.
The following the full list for 2016. I don't tend to include the works I teach or study in my journal, for some reason, so this list is partial.
The Passion of Alice, by Stephanie Grant
Collected Calvin & Hobbes, by Bill Waterson
The Sinner, by Tess Gerritson
Still Midnight, by Denise Mina
City of the Dead, by Sara Gran
Depraved Heart, by Patricia Cornwell
You’re Not Weird… by Felicia Day
Deja Dead, by Kathy Reichs
Body Double, by Tess Gerritson
You, by Caroline Kepnes
Vanish, by Tess Gerritson
Mephisto Club, by Tess Gerritson
Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson
Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith
Death du Jour, by Kathy Reichs
The Keepsake, by Tess Gerritson
Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
Run, by Blake Crouch
Hitler’s Furies, by Wendy Lower
The Whites, by Richard Price
Furiously Happy, by Jennifer Lawson
Last Salute, by Tracey Richardson
Weeping Walls, by Gerri Hill
Ghosts of Winter, by Rebecca S. Buck
Grave Talent, by Laurie King
Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb
My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warge
Ice Cold, by Tess Gerritson
Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Landing, by Emma Donoghue
More Happy Than Not, by Adam Silvera
Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
Descent, by Tim Johnston
Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, by Robert Kirkman & Jay Bonansinga
In the Unlikely Event, by Judy Blume
Vanessa & Her Sister, by Priya Parmar
Slow Regard, by Patrick Rothfuss
Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Flu, by Wayne Simmons
Deadly Decisions, by Kathy Reichs
Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler
Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank
Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin
When Women Were Warriors I,II,III, by Catherine Wilson
The Dinner, by Herman Koch
Horrorstör, by Grady Hendrix
Silent Girl, by Tess Gerritson
Trust No One, by Paul Cleave
End of Watch, by Stephen King
Little Girl Lost, by Richard Aleas
Last to Die, by Tess Gerritson
Murder at Mullings, by Dorothy Cannell
Dolores Claiborne, by Stephen King
Earth Abides, by George Stewart
The Assistants, by Camille Perri
Apt Pupil, by Stephen King
Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub
Fatal Voyage, by Kathy Reichs
In the Woods, by Tana French
True Story, by Michael Finkel
Firestarter, by Stephen King
Death at Dovecote Hatch, Dorothy Cannell
The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz
One Second After, by William Forstchen
Slade House, David Mitchell
Rose Madder, Stephen King
The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan
Time of the Twins, War of the Twins, Test of the Twins, by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
Dragons of Spring Dawning, by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch
War of the Twins, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Totally Worth It, by Maggie Cummings
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
Courting the Countess, by Jenny Frame
Serious Potential, by Maggie Cummings
Basic Training of the Heart, by Jaycie Morrison
Miss Match, by Fiona Riley
First Position, by Melissa Brayden
Just Enough Light, by AJ Quinn
Fragile Wings, by Rebecca S. Buck
Garden District Gothic, by Greg Herren
The Shewstone, by Jane Fletcher
After the Fire, by Emily Smith
Built to Last, by Aurora Rey
Love on Tap, by Karis Walsh
Whiskey Sunrise, by Missouri Vaun
Wasted, by Marya Hornbacher
Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
Broken Sword, by Poul Anderson
Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling