What Summer Feels Like

Remember how summer was always hotter when you were a kid? And longer. The nights seemed to go on forever, and the end of August was a long, long way away. I have discovered, through the miracle of slowing down, that summer is still like that. You just need to take the time to notice it—which, when you’re all grown up, can be very hard to do.

I was supposed to take a break from writing last summer. Instead, I edited, sometimes two books at once, as I worked through the different pre-pub phases of all three books of the This Time Forever series. I also wrote promotional pieces for the August release of To See the Sun and the September release of the Counting series print anthology. I wrote workshop materials for two classes I planned to teach in the fall. I booked promotion for the This Time Forever series, processed ARC distribution for all the books, and started planning the posts I’d write for my upcoming releases. I prepared monthly newsletters. I kept up with my obligations to the RWA chapters I’m involved with. I beta read, judged, and critiqued. I blogged.

I also did the usual stuff: mowed my endless lawn, kept up with the weeds, entertained houseguests (my dad stayed with us for two months), and drove my child to and from her first job, music lessons, and anywhere else her heart desired.

Not much of a holiday, eh? I was so busy that I had to put off writing Purple Haze for the second time—which was just as well as Kindle Worlds closed in July and I had to add republishing Uncommon Ground to the to-do list.

Then my husband bought a bagel shop, with the fall, my volunteer jobs at the library resumed (including those classes I’d signed up to teach), and I was still editing and promoting and trying to write. Oh, and my daughter was applying to college.

Several times over the past twelve months, I’ve wanted to develop a delicate constitution. Become one of those people from period dramas who shift from fainting couch (or whatever it’s called) to a sheltered window seat, to perhaps a soft blanket spread beneath a shady tree, while everyone twittered on about their health and did their best not to be upsetting. Of course, were I alive back then, I’d probably have been a peasant and not had the time to be delicate. Just like, well, now.

This summer, I was determined to take my break. I needed it in the worst possible way. I was too tired to write—I could put words down but had no enthusiasm for my favourite part: plotting. I can’t write without a plot. I am not a pantser. I need to know which direction I’m writing, or I’ll scribble in circles for two hours before coming up with anything useful.

Plus, I’m not even sure what I want to write. I have lists of ideas, and I love a lot of them. I have two science fiction worlds almost fully built that I’d love to dive into, an outline for a series that would be the logical follow up to This Time Forever, spin-offs to Aliens in New York, a sequel (finally) to Best in Show, and an outline for another book set in the same world as To See the Sun. Although I’d like to write all of these someday, by the time I hit publish on Purple Haze in April, I honestly didn’t care if I ever wrote again.

So I decided to take the summer off writing and my holiday began with a social media break—which has become such a habit that I might actually have to force myself to get back to regular posts on Facebook, Instagram, and… you know what? I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to Twitter. I never really liked it anyway.

What have I been up to? Well, I’m still mowing my endless lawn and driving my daughter everywhere. Preparations for her first year of college are taking up a fair bit of time and the list of stuff we need to do doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. The bagel shop is still a thing and I’m working more hours there than I did throughout the year. Standing by a grill when it’s 90 out is all sorts of fun. And there’s the little matter of reformatting and republishing all of my Dreamspinner Press titles, due to my requested rights release.

Aside from ALL THAT, I am having a good summer, though. I’m… not writing. When I’m not stressing about the fact I’m not writing, I am actually having fun.

Family came to visit to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from high school and we went to Hershey Park and it was the best day I’ve spent at Hershey Park in something like ten years. Nothing went wrong, and because I wasn’t stressing about deadlines and contracts, I could simply relax and enjoy the day. Not check my email. Not care about social media, or what was happening in the world of publishing. Also, the lines were miraculously short for all the roller coasters and no one got sick on any of the rides. We didn’t lose a child, and we all made it home without injury. Our last stop of the day was one of my favourite places in Pennsylvania.

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Next up was July 4th, which we celebrated quietly at home. I’m not a huge fireworks fan, so while the kids did their best to set the driveway on fire (under the supervision of my husband and his brother), my sister-in-law and I mixed a couple of cocktails and watched a romantic comedy on Netflix. Perfect night was perfect. (No one lost an eye and only one kid threw up. Not a bad effort.)

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I’ve also been cooking a lot, which is something I miss when I’m hustling to meet editorial deadlines. We eat a lot of sandwiches when I’m busy. This summer, my daughter and I have been experimenting with plant-based eating. She’s been vegetarian for years and we’ve always enjoyed a lot of meatless meals as a family. This is our first proper foray into a vegan diet, though, and with all the new recipe sites out there, it’s easier than it sounds! I haven’t eaten cheese for over a month and I don’t miss it. I enjoyed a couple of ribs on July 4th (they’d been smoking on the outdoor grill all day and the smell, omg, the smell…), but otherwise haven’t missed meat. Eggs are harder for me to give up because they’re a breakfast staple. They’re a lot quicker and easier to whip up than a lot of the vegan alternatives. But I have cut my consumption in half and will continue to wean myself off the sunny side up with toast breakfast I enjoy so much.

I haven’t eaten bacon in over a month. Seriously, this is the most surprising fact of all. I LOVE bacon. But… I haven’t missed it.

The key, I’ve discovered, is choosing recipes that leave me not only full but satisfied. Salads generally don’t cut it. I need starch and protein. Here are a couple of favourites:

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Picture credit: The Live-In Kitchen

Vegan Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Spinach and White Beans

Baked Tofu Caesar Sandwich

Persian Yellow Split Pea and Eggplant Stew (So good I could eat it every day)

Spinach Artichoke Enchiladas (Not vegan, but substitutes can be made)

Every summer, I battle deer for the preservation of my many flower beds. This year, I’m mostly losing the war, but I’m enjoying being outdoors more than I have over the previous few summers. I work hard to keep my garden nice. Taking the time to actually be out there, either reading on the patio in the afternoon or drinking my morning cup of tea out on the deck, is a great way to appreciate all my hard work. My enjoyment is my reward.

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I haven’t spent as much time gaming as I had planned to. Probably because the weather has been so gorgeous, I’ve been finding it difficult to stay inside. I want to be out there, under the sun. Winters in Pennsylvania are longer than winters in Australia, so I need to soak up as much sunlight as I can before November rolls around again. Serious gaming is going to have to wait until then while now, the odd rainy afternoon finds me playing Watch Dogs 2.

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Every summer for the past five (ten?) I’ve planned to start painting again. This summer I just wanted to draw. I haven’t picked up a pencil, yet, but we’re only halfway through July, so I still have time.

Mostly, I’m enjoying not writing. Every day I don’t, the need to feel productive (or simply keep up) that has driven my writing career for over five years fades. It’s not that I never want to write again, but I’m slowly arriving at a place where if I didn’t, that would be okay—and that’s what I’m aiming for. There are a million quotes about the need for a writer to write and I have a feeling the urge will always be there. When I’m reading, in particular, the ideas creep around the back of my consciousness like poltergeists. I’ve resisted jotting most of them down, though. I have enough projects on the maybe to-do list.

What I’m looking for is a reason to write. I know what it is—it’s why I started this journey in the first place. It’s why I continue blogging, and why I’ve taken the time to republish all of my Dreamspinner titles. Because I love to tell stories, even when they’re about why I’m not currently telling stories. So, while I enjoy these long summer days and nights, remembering what ‘hot’ smells like, and contort myself to scratch the mosquito bites behind my right shoulder, I’ll wait for that feeling to float to the top again. For the one story I need to tell to start knocking. For the voices in my head to start whispering. To not care who I’m writing for, except the one whose butt is in the chair, whose fingers are on this keyboard.

The end of August is still a long way away. I’ve still got a lot of summer left to enjoy.

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