As I sat at my kitchen table sipping coffee and looking out the window this morning I noticed my neighbor’s plum tree had burst into full bloom almost overnight. I love this tree’s spectacular Spring show — all cotton candy pink blossoms and wine-colored leaves reaching toward the sky and over my fence. But I wasn’t content to simply view them out there — I had to smell and touch them, bring them inside. So I went out back with my pruning shears and cut some of the branches that were hanging into my yard. I knew my neighbor’s wouldn’t mind — they’re lovely people. I looked over at their sunroom window hoping to catch one of them so I could wave and thank them for sharing their bounty. But they were nowhere in sight so I went about collecting the branches, inhaling deeply, savoring the sweet plumy scent of the flowers before carrying them into the house and finding just the right vase to display them.
I love Spring in Seattle, the gradual awakening of nature — daffodils up and blooming, shrubs leafing out, peonies poking up out of the damp soil. And the trees! I love the trees! Our first house in Seattle was on one of those streets where cherry trees bloomed in every front yard on both sides and for a couple of blocks — a lovely reassuring sight after the dark and damp winters. And when I went to the UW, the day the trees bloomed in the quad was happy indeed. Spring here is so extended and incremental — every day a new delight. Unlike the Midwest, where I’m from, where Spring lasts for about two weeks: snow (sometimes until April), melting, then a few warm days when everything greens up at once and those early flowers are up and over before you know it. You’re already into the heat of summer by the end of May.
In Seattle Spring is different — slow and languorous. I usually notice the birds first — they’re back and louder and especially noisy in the early evening, right before sunset. Then there are crocuses and daffodils and hyacinths, new buds and bright sunshiny yellow forsythia. Follow that with the trees we’re seeing now and watch as the roses extend their leaves and the perennials find their way into the light. Ahh. My favorite time of year. The rain is warmer. And when the sun shines, it’s magnificent.
And Spring is often the most creative time for me too. Yes, I love the dark of winter to wrap in a blanket and write with my SAD light on and candles burning, but in the Spring I simply have more energy. I’m up early and actually awake. I’m working on several things at once and have ideas for lots more. I feel optimistic. I might even enter a writing contest or write a short story — not my usual things. I thought about that recently as I tried to write an author bio for my mystery novel coming out very soon. I wondered whether to add that I was a finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s annual literary contest. Would anyone care? Did it mean anything? And then, when I realized how many years had passed since I’d had that honor, it seemed ridiculous to mention it. After all, what had I been doing in the meantime? Well, writing, of course. I’ve finished two mysteries and another general fiction novel and launched two blogs. I haven’t won any writing contests though.
Of course it occurred to me that you can’t win contests if you don’t enter them. Just like you can’t get published if you don’t send out your manuscript. So, since I entered that PNWA contest years ago, I have only sent off to two other contests. One, last year, the Poisoned Pen Press, and last month the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. I’m not sure how many submissions Poisoned Pen received or if they had more than one winner. I only know that I didn’t win and, once I sent off my manuscript with as much hope as I could muster, I never heard from them again. In some ways, this is easier than sending queries to agents and getting lots of form rejections. Because rejection is hard. So why not simply keep that manuscript under the bed? Because sometimes, there’s a little squeak of hope. Earlier this week I found my name on the list of quarter finalists for the Amazon contest. Sure, my name is there with 399 other mystery writers. But, hey, it still feels good. It’s nice to know that someone (a total stranger!) read the pitch for that mystery novel and placed it in the “not bad” pile instead of in the recycle bin.
Nothing like a little bit of hope to keep a writer going. Hope, like the promise of Spring in Seattle can grow incrementally, it can lead to branching out, experimenting with new forms, risking rejection but not being afraid to let your words see the light of day. Now is the best time to take those steps, now when the world is new again and anything seems possible.