Autumn Shift


In some Indigenous North American traditions, stories belong to certain times. There are stories that may be told only on the long, dark nights of winter. Thus the act of storytelling itself becomes story, situated firmly within its own setting.

Off and on this summer, I have been grappling with a massive revision–a complete re-envisioning–of a novel I drafted a few years ago. It has gone through two major iterations and is entering its third, a total restructuring of the story as well as a sea-change in its focus, its myth. I keep picking it up and dropping it like a hot rock, my psyche burned by the realization that it’s not ready, or I’m not ready.

A few days ago as I was decluttering my headspace, I started writing notes out of seemingly nowhere, unplanned and unprompted, for a new book. A witch-book. A sister- book. A book about women and the relationships between them, about their power in the world. The new story felt deeply right, and I realized that now is the time for this book. It is an autumn book. The story I’d been bashing my head against all summer wasn’t working because it is a winter’s tale. It is a story for deep nights when candles glimmer off old glass and the wind howls and whimpers through the cracks.

It took the autumn shift to make me realize this–brown leaves sifting from oaks, the way the gold-dripping light of sunset slants differently this time of year. The complaints of crows from shuddering branches, a sound that somehow in autumn is more than at any other time of year. A harbinger. A threat. A promise.

The seasons are shifting slowly here. Heat lingers, clinging with humid fingers to everything. Crisp afternoons and chilly nights still seem like a dream. But the change has begun, and it ushers in possibility. Color. A certain darkness that texturizes the riot of color, sharpens it, makes it desperately sweet and ephemeral.

I am easing slowly into this new story. It will be my NaNoWriMo project. Right now I’m gleaning images from the last leavings of the harvest, piecing together a quilt of story. I am writing the story that I need right now. I want it to be a story of healing, of comfort, a story for the dispossessed. A quiet story, suffused with quirky and quiet magic, with cups of steaming tea wrapped by chill fingers in the early cold of an autumn morning. I am beginning to learn that my ambition is never quite matched by my output, but I am always eager to try.

What is shifting for you this season? What words whisper to you in the soft fall of leaves?What do you read in trails of smoke scribed by bonfires against a lowering sky?


2 thoughts on “Autumn Shift

  1. As always, I love your evocative and beautiful language, Brenna. But I am especially struck by the notion of stories that are more closely aligned with one season than the others. It has given me much to think about as I wrestle with this manuscript over so many seasons – I wonder if I approach it differently at different times of year, and what that might mean….

    1. It was a game-changer for me, realizing recently that this story just isn’t meant to be worked on now. I wonder if your story has a season, too…

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