Hello, and thank you so much to Zahra for hosting me today! Zahra has the honor of being the first stop on my blog tour for my novella Homespun. During my blog tour, which runs ’til Oct. 8, you can comment on any of the posts in the tour to be entered in a drawing for a rather unusual prize: I’m giving away a handmade scarf, knit or crocheted by me specially for you, in a style and yarn color that you get to pick! (This would also be a great holiday gift for someone else!) More details here
My topic for today’s post is autumn!
As a child of northern climates, my relationship with autumn is necessarily a trifle … shall we say, conflicted. I live in Alaska, and when fall arrives, with its cold rains and straggling lines of migrating geese, it means that seven months of winter (and its attendant -40F cold) is right around the corner.
But in spite of that, I have loved autumn as long as I can remember. I love the sights and sounds and smells of it — the gorgeous colors, the crisp scents, the coolness in the air. I love the food and drink of autumn, the hot cocoa and pumpkin pies. I love harvest time and bonfires and long chilly nights with a sharp tang in the air. I love being able to wear sweaters again; I love making soup and bread, and filling the house with the smell of spices.
Homespun is set in the autumn, in a part of the U.S. that is famous for its beautiful fall colors. Technically central New York (where Homespun is set) is not considered part of New England — you have to go over the border into Vermont for that — but it shares the climate, foliage, and stunning autumn displays that the New England area is known for. So many people come to view the flaming red sugar maples in Vermont, New Hampshire, and the Adirondack Mountains that this fall-foliage tourism is a vital part of the economy. Last year, while I was visiting my sister during October in the general area where the book is set, I discovered there are websites where you can view fall foliage reports (http://www.vermont.com/foliage.cfm) so you can time your visit to coincide with the height of the fall colors! (Sadly we missed the peak colors in Vermont during my trip, but I still got to see the full gamut of colors in central New York. The picture above is from that trip, taken at Bald Mountain in the Adirondacks. This is not terribly far from the fictional location of Owen and Laura’s farm in Homespun — within easy driving distance, certainly. It’s totally mental canon for me that they go hiking there!)
When I made my cover requests, I asked if I could please have a cover that reflects the gorgeous New England fall colors. And the result is beautiful; check out the cover on this page to see for yourself! It’s extra perfect because the book is being released in the fall as well. I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate release date.
(Well, fall in the Northern Hemisphere, anyway. I know that for many of you it’s actually spring, and the days are growing longer and you have a wonderful 110-degree summer to look forward to. I would like to apologize most sincerely, and hope that dangling this book in front of you isn’t like showing pictures of chocolate layer cakes to a dieter.)
It’s true that we’re not quite to full autumn yet in most of the Northern Hemisphere. Here in Alaska, the trees are already turning bright colors and you can smell winter on the air; we’ll have snow by October. In New York, where Owen and Laura and Kerry live, the most brilliant colors are still weeks away, and the wildflowers are still blooming. But it’s coming. The sheep need their fall shearing, the hay must be taken in, the farmer’s market is wrapping up for the year and the first strands of geese are straggling across the sky.
I hope this will be a good book for curling up in front of a roaring fire, with a cup of hot cocoa at your elbow and the nights growing longer outside. (Or, for those of you in the other half of the world, a book to curl up with in front of the air conditioner, to remind you that the nights WILL get shorter and the heat won’t last forever!) I hope it makes you think of crisp, colorful leaves and clear, sharp sunshine, hot cocoa and fuzzy sweaters. And most of all, I hope it gives you something to warm your heart until warm weather comes around again.
For twenty years, Owen Fortescue, a down-to-earth farmer in upstate New York, has had an on-again, off-again relationship with volatile New York City artist Kerry Ruehling. Now that same-sex marriage is recognized in New York, Owen wants to tie the knot. But Kerry responds to the proposal with instant, angry withdrawal. Owen resolves to prove to Kerry that, regardless of the way his family of origin has treated him, family ties don’t necessarily tie a man down. With help from his grown daughter, Laura, who loves them both, Owen hopes to convince Kerry that his marriage proposal isn’t a trap, but a chance at real love.
Kerry Ruehling came back to Blue Thistle Farm in autumn, a wild upstate autumn, where an invisible painter’s brush had run riot among the maple trees. Vermilion, he thought, naming the colors to himself. Hooker’s green, with a touch of yellow ochre. Viridian and crimson lake….
Farm stands selling apples and grapes, pumpkins and cider and fall mums lined the rural highways of central New York state. The air smelled fresh, with hints of wood smoke and hay. As the sun sank toward the rolling hills, the day’s balmy warmth gave way to a sharp and biting chill, the first breath of oncoming winter. Kerry was a city boy to the core, but he had been coming back to this place for two decades—his entire adult life, give or take a few years—and it surprised him how many of the smells he recognized, how many of the crops in the fields he could name along with the colors he might use to paint them.
He’d taken a Greyhound to Syracuse and then hitched the rest of the way, riding most of the distance in the back of a hay truck, the only vehicle that would stop for him. Before leaving the city, he’d covered his spiked hair with a hoodie and had taken out most of his piercings, but apparently upstate farm wives still didn’t feel comfortable sharing a car with him. Looking down at his fingers, clasped over the torn knee of his jeans, he noticed the black paint on his nails was getting chipped and ragged around the edges.
He would be forty-two in November. The thought opened a hollow in his stomach. Maybe it was time to scrape off the nail polish and let some of the piercings grow over. But he didn’t know what lay at the end of that road. There was no roadmap and he’d learned a long time ago not to think about it.
Then the truck’s old brakes squealed because he’d reached his stop. There was the sign—hand-painted wood mounted on a homemade plinth of mortared fieldstone. He grabbed his backpack and hopped down to the road’s gravel shoulder. The truck pulled out with a heavy grinding of gears, and Kerry dusted hay off his jeans and waved to the driver.
Twenty years ago, he’d climbed off the back of another hay truck on this exact spot. It had been early winter then, and he hadn’t eaten in two days. But he’d been warm enough from the bottle of cheap red wine he’d bought with his last few dollars. He had shared a joint with a fellow traveler at the last gas station, and the high was just starting to fade, leaving the world too bright and moving too fast.
“I paint signs,” he’d said. “I work cheap. You folks need a sign painted?”
He’d been coming back ever since.
Back to Owen and Laura.
Layla M. Wier is the romance pen name of artist and writer Layla Lawlor. She was born in a log cabin in rural Alaska and grew up thirty miles from towns, roads, electricity, and cars. These days, she lives in Fox, a gold-rush mining town on the highway north of Fairbanks, Alaska, with her husband, dogs, and the occasional farm animal. Their house is a log cabin in a birch and aspen forest. Wolves, moose, and foxes wander through the front yard. During the short, bright Arctic summer, Layla enjoys gardening and hiking, and in the winter, she writes, paints, and draws.
Stops and topics on the Homespun blog tour (Sept. 16-Oct. 8):
Monday, Sept. 16: Zahra Owens – autumn
Tuesday, Sept. 17: Tali Spencer – sharing passions
Wednesday, Sept. 18: RELEASE DAY! Party at the Dreamspinner Press blog!
Thursday, Sept. 19: Charley Descoteaux – location scouting in central New York
Friday, Sept. 20: Chris T. Kat – interview
Monday, Sept. 23: Charlie Cochet’s Purple Rose Tea House – doing research
Tuesday, Sept. 24: Helen Pattskyn – bisexuality in Homespun
Wednesday, Sept. 25: Garrett Leigh – interview
Thursday, Sept. 26: Skylar Cates – rural life
Friday, Sept. 27: Madison Parker – interview + review
Monday, Sept. 30: Jessica Davies – learning to spin, part 1
Tuesday, Oct. 1: Anne Barwell – learning to spin, part 2
Thursday, Oct. 3: Michael Rupured – writing respectfully from outside a subculture
Friday, Oct. 4: Jana Denardo – invading characters’ privacy