What is it about Fall that renews us? In Florida we don't have nature's shift from summer greens to brilliant oranges and reds. And northerners probably laugh at our excitement over morning temperatures of sixty degrees. But when you've muddled through the Sunshine State's long muggy summer, you celebrate numbers under eighty on the weather map.
Pumpkins arrive at our local farmer's market just before the cool weather, along with an assortment of fantastic smaller gourds. This year, I noticed a section of mega pumpkins and I wondered, are they going to the homes that buy the tallest Christmas trees?
I like the color orange and pumpkin orange is my favorite. I love the sound of dry leaves: wind strumming through, tugging them from the trees, then they trickle to the ground, crunching under feet and tires. Ella, my fall-colored dog disappears against the backdrop of those leaves. The cool air lures us outside and holds us tight. Finding a spot of sun, Ella begs to stay a minute longer. Meanwhile my computer goes to sleep and my story waits.
My last book started in October with the protagonist's birthday and my current book will stretch through fall. Which prompts me to recall my younger years. Did my love for the season start there? I grew up in the 50s and 60s. In second or third grade, I remember marching to the lawn in front of the school, searching for autumn leaves under the magnificent old trees. We took the leaves inside to trace them on paper and I imagine (though I don't remember) we pasted the cut out leaves on the windows or hung them from the ceiling. The school held a fall carnival, very homespun, no thrilling rides or neon lights. Halloween costumes were most often gathered from dressers, cupboards and linen closets.
It's essential that people who write for children tune into current trends and be sensitive to the way today's youth experience the world. When I write contemporary scenes set in fall, they aren't authentic without elaborate Halloween decorations, superstores devoted to the holiday and every costume imaginable. But we writers draw from a memory well and what moves me to write those autumn scenes is a humble construction paper leaf.
January feels like a pause between the holidays and spring, which usually comes to Florida in mid February. But this year we've had a mild winter and the trees and ladybugs have declared spring early.
It's hard to stay inside. My husband and I have lengthened our morning walks, exploring new territory. I'm fascinated by scenes viewed through portals-like openings. They seem like invitations to explore . . .
. . . or intros to stories.
There are stories everywhere I look. Like these otters romping in a tree stump. Is the face in the wood a self portrait of the artist? Was he inspired by creatures he saw in the creek that runs alongside the stump?
On the way home, we found two tiles scattered beside an intersection. We flipped them over and united them. Were they tossed out a car window? Are they mourning love lost or celebrating new love? How can the imagination not be sparked by this mystery?
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Baggott, Asher & Bode
Rear in Gear
Kate DiCamillo on Writing