Always define your terms

This morning, I woke up to rain. The sky was low and grey, and it sprinkled on my shoulders while I walked the dog. The degree to which I am inclined to talk about the weather is, I realize, absurd, considering that I live in the desert, where the weather does not change that much. From May to November, I rarely check the weather in the morning: when I wake up, I do not even look out the window, because I know what it will be like. It will be hot.

As a result, however, I am hyper-aware of small differences, a five-percent change in the humidity or a hike in the temperature, just a few degrees. I know that, when the high is 100, the morning will still be palatable, even nice. I can sit outside until 9am, and drink my coffee underneath the mesquite tree.

Growing up in Seattle, I had a similar, though opposite, relationship to the weather. It was always chilly until July, and I would sit in the pool during June swimming lessons, willing the temperature to register just another two degrees. Hit 70, I would beg the sky. Hit 72. I treaded water until I was exhausted; I never mastered butterfly. I shivered when I jumped out of the pool, and ran into the tiled changing room with my arms wrapped around my body for warmth.

I’m in the middle of revising a novel, and this too requires attention to small moves, making microscopic changes—one word changes, add or subtract a comma changes—in concert with the bigger sweeps, incisions, additions, deaths. How odd that a living, breathing manuscript can contain one part that’s almost finished in addition to pieces that are still very much in play. It makes you wonder about the world we inhabit, which bits are in constant revision, which will stick.

If we cut something major, will it make the whole thing function more tightly? Or will it take the air out of the whole enterprise, turning it lackluster, destroying the logic of the plot? Depends very much on what you’re cutting. You have to pay a lot of attention. You have to make the judicious choice.

Or you have to let the choices make themselves. The sky is blue now, almost blinding. The last clouds bleeding back towards the mountains, the pavement dry. The temperature will keep rising by degrees all day, until it hits an apex.

N.b., I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I appeared on a podcast devoted to New Books in Historical Fiction. Check it out if you’d like to hear me talk about Invitation to a Bonfire (which is now out in beautiful paperbacks, both in the US and the UK).