The Late Light of Summer
January 1, 1970The Late Light of Summer
Summer is drawing to a close here in the Northwest, the days shortening in the morning, although still long after dinner. Summer seemed especially brief this year, while the rest of the country endured fire and storm. Our evenings have a golden light that filters through the trees, often the most sunlight we see all day.
The book tour has been very rewarding, and I met lots of wonderful readers in Bellingham, Albuquerque, Leavenworth, Seattle, Bellevue, and Denver. At the end of September, I will visit El Paso Community College, and in November, I will attend Wordstock in Portland, which feels very hip. The Tucson Weekly recently ran an encouraging review, and I hope it prompts someone there to ask me to come and speak. Much of my family history was shaped by the Sonoran Desert and the crossing of countless paths in that blue and gold place.
On October 19, I will participate in the “Bedtime Stories” annual fundraiser for the Washington Humanities program. Each year, Washington Humanities asks a few writers to write to a theme, in this case, Night Light. Other writers will be Charles Johnson, Jess Walter, and Jana Harris. Normally, I don’t like writing to a theme, but thought I had an idea. Once I got started, I realized I wanted to write about something entirely different, and did so.
Like my most recent book, The Desert Remembers My Name – On Family and Writing, “The Light on the Midway” recounts a couple of incidents from my past, but with the added advantage of a narrative thread and the insight provided by the passing of time. It walks the line between memoir and fiction, especially since it is told in the first person. I would like to think that I was such an observant and insightful young teen, but I don’t think that was the case.
Fiction writers are blessed with strong powers of observation and recall. I often take an informal poll of my students to see how many grew up in military families, families that moved around a lot, or had other reasons to be especially observant or wary of social situations. These early experiences seem to produce adults who pay attention to their surroundings in a way that sets them apart a bit, but allows them to recall physical details, as well as emotional climates. Skills developed in order to survive serve them later as writers, with the additional luxury of being able to draw on these settings for their fictional characters, and understanding motivation in a way that extends beyond simple reaction.
Writing “The Light on the Midway” made me recall two curious incidents from my end-of-childhood, and put them together so that each casts light on the other. Let’s hope the audience on October 19 feels the same way.