The Dog Days of Summer

I think of the dog days of summer as covering all of August – that time when life seems to slow down. In years past, people often left town in August, though that’s not so much the case these days with Covid. But August remains a month when life seems more leisurely . . . work recedes . . . meals are simpler (popsicles for lunch, anyone?) and even clothing is lighter.  

Well, depending on who you want to believe, the dog days of summer may end next week (I’m not impressed; that reminds me of fall and I’m not ready for sweaters and slippers).

In ancient times, the Romans associated the dog days with the Dog Star, Sirius, which happens to be the brightest star in the night sky.  It’s so bright the Romans thought the earth received heat from it. In the summer, Sirius rises and sets with the sun and at one point in July, it actually conjuncts the sun.  Considered a particularly potent time, the Roman’s deemed the 20 days before this conjunction and the 20 days after as ‘the dog days of summer.’  That meant the dog days could run anywhere from late July to late August, and that’s still the belief in many European cultures today.

However, nothing stays the same, including the constellations in our sky. Given the precession of the equinoxes (basically the drift of our nighttime constellations) the conjunction of Sirius to our sun takes place earlier.  So, these days the Farmer’s Almanac lists the dog days as beginning July 3rd and ending August 11th.

Personally, I’m backing the Romans. Mind you, they also thought the dog days of August was an evil period of time when “the sea boiled, the wine turned sour, dogs grew mad and men were plagued with hysteria.”  They were so fearful they generally sacrificed a dog to appease the Gods. 

There’s no need for that around here. In my little world, the sea is calm, the wine is crisp and the dogs are happy. Yes, we’re still dealing with Covid and all that the pandemic entails, but somehow during the dog days of August even that doesn’t feel quite as bad as it did a few months ago. Happy August everybody.

What I’m Reading

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, bringing sunshine, warmer temperatures and garden happiness. Our veggies have stopped pouting and are galloping to catch up to where they normally would be at this time of year. It’s been an odd gardening year though. Summer started out cool and wet; we’ve been dealing with Covid restrictions and stock limitations at many garden centres; and we’ve been in observation mode in our new garden – watching what flowers when, checking out the light levels and exposure patterns, and planning for next year. It’s left me more time to read . . . and I have a lovely patio where I can enjoy a good book. Here’s what I’m reading this month.   

The Comfort Food Diaries by Emily Nunn

The Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde

In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn

Books read to date in 2020: 36

The Long Reach of an Influencer

The word influencer is used these days to describe a person with the ability to influence public buying habits by promoting or recommending products or services on social media. People make entire careers out of being influencers.

In truth, we’re all influencers in one way or another. Life is an interactive gig. We can’t help but be touched and impacted by people, often for as long as a relationship lasts and sometimes even after. But occasionally, a single brief encounter can influence a life. Or a career.

Decades ago, when I was starting out as a journalist, I was lucky enough to interview Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. This was probably fifteen years after she published her classic book ‘On Death and Dying’, but before she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.  She was in the prime of her career at the time and landing the interview was something of a coup. I can’t remember how it came about but I remember the interview itself quite clearly.

She was humble and unassuming, but strongly committed to erasing the taboos around death, and more than willing to deviate from the traditional questions I was expected to ask. I had a deep personal interest in the spiritual side of death, and while that was covered in many of her books, she was also becoming known for exploring more mystical elements like near-death and out-of-body experiences, even mediumship, all elements that didn’t go over well in the traditional medical sphere she operated in.  

We spoke for several hours, much longer than she’d originally agreed to. I remember the passion she had for her subject, and how engaged she was with me, a young newbie journalist starting out. She was intensely encouraging, suggesting other books I could read, places I could go to explore further (this was pre-internet) my interest in the spiritual side of death and dying.

Her influence has stayed with me, both in my personal life as I’ve witnessed people I love passing on, and also in my work. I relied on Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief when Cate, the heroine in No Right Thing, had to say goodbye to someone she loved. I turned to Kubler-Ross’s work when I wrote The Art of Getting Stared At, utilizing the five stages of grief when Sloane loses all her hair because of alopecia. And I’m using the mystical, spiritual side of Kubler Ross’s research in my work-in-progress, Something About Julian.

A brief encounter in my life but an influential one. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would have been 93 today. I leave you with one of her many wonderful quotes.

Happy Canada Day!

July 1st will be different this year without the concerts, large street parties and especially without the fireworks (Team Sheltie is quite happy the latter are cancelled). I hope you get a chance to celebrate somehow. I’ll be away from my desk, aiming to catch the sunrise and hopefully the sunset too. We aren’t a perfect country by any stretch, but I’m proud to call myself a Canadian. Enjoy the holiday everybody!

Perspective

I had an interesting lesson in perspective last week when I received my second review for No Right Thing.

Perspective is all about our individual reality.  A luscious, triple decker ice cream cone viewed through the eyes of a hungry five-year-old will elicit a far different reaction than the same ice cream cone viewed through the eyes of a diabetic adult who also has a heart condition.

On an intellectual level I understand that my taste in movies, restaurants, shoes, art, politicians or books may not be your taste. That’s a good thing. Diversity is healthy.

Intellectually, I also understand that reviewers have different tastes too. The key word in that sentence is intellectually. Because even with over 20 books published, I still have the ability to be emotionally impacted by a less than stellar review.

Kirkus was the first to review No Right Thing. You can find that review here: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/laura-langston/no-right-thing/

CM magazine was up next with their review for No Right Thing.  That review is here: https://www.cmreviews.ca/node/1680

Same book, two different readers. One found the plot predictable and the main character one dimensional. The other found the plot richly layered and the main character fascinating.

The Kirkus review upset me. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. I had a few rough days wondering if I’d failed in what I set out to achieve in the novel. Kirkus and CM reviews are read by the bookstore owners, librarians and educators who are trying to decide where to allocate their book buying funds. A bad review in that kind of publication can make a major difference to a writer’s bottom line.

I had to remind myself that reviews are, as one writer friend used to say, out of my sphere of influence. There is nothing I can do to influence them. All I can do is write the books, send them out into the world, and hope they are well-received.

My lesson for the week was the reminder that perspective is subjective. Perspective comes from personal taste, life experiences and expectations, among other things. It varies from moment to moment, day to day, mood to mood. And it certainly varies from person to person.

Not only should I remember that but I should celebrate it too. Because what kind of world would it be if we all thought and believed the same thing?  

My June Reads

As I write this, summer is only four days away. It’s been a different spring. We’ve had wetter, cooler weather than normal for this time of year; we’re still spending more time at home because of Covid precautions; and we’re dealing with more wildlife than we’re used to in our new garden too. Specifically, rabbits. Mom and Dad are regular visitors to the front lawn, and we’re (mildly) content to let them nibble on the grass. It’s less for us to cut. However, Mom and Dad are clearly using our back garden, where we grow vegetables, as a day care. And an all-you-can-eat buffet. We’ve chased four babies out so far and Mr. Petrol Head continues to string chicken wire to prevent access. But those little guys are smaller than a pound of butter and can squeeze through the tiniest of holes. We’ve seeded beans three times, zucchini twice and lettuce more times than I can count. Between the rabbits and their partners in crime, the slugs, we aren’t faring all that well in the food growing department.

The neighbors are properly sympathetic. They loaned us their live catch rabbit trap, so we baited and waited. But before we could catch a single rabbit, they needed their trap back. They had a hungry critter in their back yard too. We called the hardware store. There’d been a run on live traps; they were out. We bought more chicken wire and continued with our patch job until chicken wire became scarce. Another neighbor has suggested we borrow his leaf blower to tackle the problem. “Herd them out with fear,” he suggested.

We aren’t that desperate. At least not yet. But it might come to that. We’re seeding more beans and zucchini tonight. We’ll see how it goes. Meantime, to lower my blood pressure and keep me sane, I’m doing a lot of reading. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

When we Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal

Boy Giant: Son of Gulliver by Michael Morpurgo

Renewal: How Nature Awakens Our Creativity, Compassion and Joy by Andres R. Edward

Books read to date in 2020: 30

A Writer’s Better Half

Today happens to be my anniversary and though the news of the world is grim, I’m choosing to focus on happiness. Here’s a blog post I wrote five years ago in honor of my husband. It’s as true now as it was back then.

Happy anniversary to my better half  . . .  a guy who wears a variety of hats:  Mr. Petrol Head, Dad, son and lord & master over Team Sheltie (and thank God someone is in control of those two).

The phrase ‘better half’ is something of a cliché these days. While it’s come to mean the superior half of a married couple, it originally referred to a person so dear that he or she was more than half of a person’s being. Whatever way you look at it, the intent is clear: someone who is good and true and holds a place of deep importance in one’s life.

That would be my better half. Much has been written about the wealth of support writers receive from editors and readers and critique partners and writing friends. It’s support we depend on and appreciate. But a writer’s better half is rarely mentioned. It’s too bad. They’re a silent (and sometimes not so silent) yet intimate companion on this crazy publishing journey, a journey they didn’t always expect when they took their vows. In our case, there were signs but I’m pretty sure Mr. Petrol Head chose to ignore them.

Over the years, he has offered advice and solace, he has paid the bills when my writing didn’t, he has brainstormed plots and character arcs, he’s made too many dinners to count and he spent as much time as I did with our children so I could have this career. He built a sluice box for my gold rush book, designed business cards and websites, and he gave me innumerable hugs when the journey seemed too tough to manage. He has helped me make sense of royalty statements, understand the business side of publishing better than some publishers could and he has pulled me back from the brink when I’ve been ready to press send on an irate email that needed a more tempered response.

He accepted without reservation my decision to trade a lucrative and successful job as a journalist for the uncertain and low paying job of a novelist. He has believed in me and loved me and never once complained that things didn’t turn out quite the way he expected on the career front. He is the wisdom and calm in my world.

He is, and always will be, my better half.

For Those Who Missed Out

Shameless promotion time . . . and for those who missed either of these items, here’s your chance to check them out.

Lois Peterson interviewed me on her blog last week. Here’s a link to the interview: http://loispetersonwriter.ca/2020/05/22/author-qa-laura-langston/

And a week or so back, a group of Crwth authors did a Facebook live event with publisher Melanie Jeffs to talk about writing and illustrating for children. The one-hour event is now up on YouTube. Check it out here:    https://youtu.be/4sNtbBCSP-4

Have a great week everyone . . . I hope you can get out for a walk in the garden to enjoy these last few days of May.

My March Reads 2020

The crocuses are open and the daffodil tips are swollen with promise and ready to burst into bloom. The color is a welcome spot of cheer at a time when the world feels grim and fearful. Things are changing at such a rapid pace that whatever I say about today’s news will be out of date tomorrow. But one thing that won’t change is the need for good books, the need to escape.  Here’s what I’m reading this week:

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

Animal Speak by Ted Andrews

Japanese Farm Food by Nancy Singleton

Books read to date in 2020:  20

Passion Play

Not long ago, a friend recommended we watch “Somebody Feed Phil.” The Netflix documentary series follows Phil Rosenthal, the creator of “Everyone Loves Raymond,” as he travels and eats his way through various countries around the world. The show is a wholesome, family-friendly version of Anthony Bourdain, only unlike the sometimes cynical approach Bourdain took, Rosenthal is unabashedly positive and overwhelmingly enthusiastic. We liked the first episode so much we quickly watched two more. Now, “Somebody Feed Phil” is a show we turn to when we’re ready for a TV break.

Around the same time as we discovered “Somebody Feed Phil,” I was asked to write an article about a local artist, Sheila Warren (if you haven’t discovered her art, go here https://www.sheilawarren.com/.)  During our interview, Sheila talked at length about the passion she has for her art, adding that if she doesn’t have a strong emotional connection to her subject, it will show in her paintings.  

As I watched Phil eat his way around the world and then later visited Sheila at her gallery, I realized that their passion was infectious. I felt happy and uplifted after only a few minutes in their presence. I also realized something else. Passion is fuel.

It’s hard work writing and producing a TV series, even though we don’t see the hard work when we watch a one-hour episode. It’s hard work painting a canvas, though we don’t think of that when we enjoy the results of that labor hanging on our wall. It’s hard work writing a book, which I know from personal experience, yet when I’m engrossed in reading a novel, that thought never occurs to me.

For creators, when passion is our fuel, work becomes like play. Hours are lost to the joy of the moment, to the creative process.  Passion and play become intertwined and the process is often magical, transformative. Not only for the artist or the writer or the TV personality, but also for those people who enjoy whatever we produce.

Passion as play yields powerful results.