Friday, June 28, 2013

Hot Fun in the Summertime

It's been unbearably hot in my stretch of the middle for the past week. I find it difficult to write when the temperatures soar into the nineties. Somehow my mind just doesn't engage with the words floating somewhere within. Images, yes, and feelings. I can sit in the garden and let my mind wander, watch the bees work a flower, and contemplate the sex lives of squash blossoms. Good thing romance isn't my genre! Could I come up with something worth writing? Forget it. I can barely concentrate enough to take notes.

Now reading is another matter. I find myself doing more of that, in any spot offering some shade, and always with a glass of iced lemon water. Summertime and a book just seem to go together for me - perhaps a habit from childhood? It's a good thing, too, because my stack of  "must-reads" is towering, even though I use a first-fifty rule when perusing books for reviews and acquisitions.

What does "first-fifty" mean exactly? Simply that the book must engage my interest in that many pages, or I don't read the rest of it. That's actually quite generous. I know reviewers and acquisition editors who expect rapture in the first ten pages or the book is out the window. I'm not that difficult, but you do have to get my attention by the magic 5-0.

Today I discarded several books for common errors. One adult novel simply introduced too many characters not yet relevant to the plot too early in the story. It confused me, and it wasn't the heat. The story just didn't evolve in a graceful and understandable way. It didn't bode well for the rest of the book.

I gave up on a middle grade chapter book because the names of the main characters were too similar. The protagonists were twins who were polar opposites but the names were so much alike, I couldn't keep straight which child was doing what. Let's pretend they were called Kee and Koo with Kee acting perpetually bad and Koo ever the angelic one. Would you root for Kee or Koo? It would have been better to name the children Ay and Zee with their shenanigans covering the spectrum from A-Z. That would have been slightly more clever and certainly easier to remember. I might have gotten past the 50-page mark. But, no. I got to about page 30 and had another tall glass of lemon water before hopping to the next book.

What about you, readers? Does the heat (or any kind of weather) influence your writing abilities? How about reading? Do you find nature inspires your creativity? Do you like lemonade? What about squash blossoms? How's the weather where you are, and how do you stay on task with summer in full swing?

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog. She spends her summer days with new writing and editing projects, waters acres of gardens, and often can be seen knitting yet another pair of socks. Visit her at News From Nowhere, Facebook, and Twitter.


  1. Ooh, I wonder if I pass the test... (*Nips off to check what her first 50 pages cover*)

    Fifty pages is very generous, actually. I've included as a question for my beta-readers whether there is a point (and page number) where they loose interest. It's very valuable feedback to have.

  2. I don't always give them the benefit of fifty pages. Main reasons I quit reading: I don't understand the point of the story or I simply don't care what happens next. I also hate confusing names. I quit reading an Anita Shreve novel for partially that reason (and refer back to I didn't care)... and I've read all of her other books. No stakes for the protagonist will make me quit half-way in. Horrible sentence structure - one chapter. Lack of interesting "voice" - two chapters max.

  3. Dani, I can't comment on the influence of weather on reading habits - it's as cold here in England as a taxman's smile and I'm still reading. That said, I know what you mean about the need to engage the reader on the first page. That's certainly true of suspense novels but I wonder if it is also becoming, as a modern fad, a requirement for all novels.

    I threw down Susan's Hill classic thriller The Woman In Black (1983) after the first 20 pages. The style was prosaic and nothing had happened. But presumably the 1980s reader saw nothing amiss in that.

    Are our attention spans shrinking, as some allege?

  4. Elle, that's a great idea! Let's add it to our beta reader guide.

  5. John, I think you've hit the nail on the head with regard to our attention spans shrinking. We also want fast rewards, maybe not instant gratification, but certainly something to make us believe our time is worth spending on this book. It's part of the narcissism dilemma in modern society. Give me patience and give it to me now! LOL.

  6. I think our attention spans are shrinking with the advent of all this technology that gives us so much at the click of a mouse.

    That said, I also think that those of us past a certain age don't waste our time on books that don't engage us. I used to think I had to read every book I bought, even if I was struggling. Now I think, "Why?" I don't have that kind of time to waste, so I hurry to a new book.

    It is hot here in Texas. That does make me want to sleep instead of write. (smile)

    I do like lemon water, but don't care to watch the sexual antics of squash blossoms. They really do need to get a room. LOL

  7. We're about to have a mini heat wave here where I am, which my vegetable garden sorely needs! Personally, I'm relieved my first draft will be done before the heat hits (knocking on wood), but my reading will continue! The hotter it gets, the lighter my reading subject matter tends to be, but badly written is badly written. I have no mercy for that. It gets put aside.

  8. Heat does influence reading. Today, we're expected to get to 105 degrees. I'll be reading. In the house. In the air conditioning.

    There have only been a few books that I've quit reading because I felt there were "bad". Others might like them, though. But they weren't for me.

  9. It's all rain here in New England lately...perfect reading weather. I'm glad to say my first ever zucchini plant is blossoming like mad. Regardless of attention spans...I think a good book really does have to suck you in on the first page or two. I remember reading James Michener way back when. He wrote entire first chapters only about settings. I loved his writing, but I confess. After reading my first book of his, on subsequent Michener novels, I skipped the first chapter. I just didn't find the overload of information necessary.

  10. Is "our" attention span shrinking? If you are referring to "writers," who are working hard at upping their craft, I think that our patience shrinks. I've heard many writers say that their reading tastes have changed as their craft progressed, and that's certainly true for me. One writing friend bemoaned finding any title that would suit her, requiring that she switch to a more literary type of title than she used to read.

  11. I think anyone who uses modern media falls in the "we" category, Kathryn. Richard Restak, whom I've mentioned before, writes about how technology has rewired our brains. As to people "past a certain age", I notice one of our residents here spotted my clever blog tags. Hahahaha.

  12. I did some quick math ... I'm not much better at that then reading ... but annyway, let's see, Dani, you said that you discarded 'several' books today ... I usually think of 'several' as 6 or 7 ... at 50 pages a pop, that's 2 or 3 hundred pages ... and those are just the rejects! Wow ... I'm impressed ... that's a month's worth of reading for me. Oh, and yes, I like lemonade ... prefer pink, but I'll drink any kind.

  13. I'm not certain I'd plow through Chaucer or Thomas Hardy at this point. Though I still have no trouble following Shakespeare. I definitely think people's expectations of story have changed. You can blame Robert McKee et al for insisting that a story has structure and you should write for your selected audience. :)

  14. Christopher, around the BRP, "several" is defined as more than two but seven or less.

  15. Considering we hit 107 degrees this past week, I do all my writing indoors in the air conditioning. I don't usually mind slow openings, but I do expect it to pick up fairly soon.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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