August. It’s a month like no other.


By Alicia Anstead | Published: June 18, 2013


Alicia_25August. It’s a month like no other. And it has particular resonance for writers because of its heightened luminosity and vivid testimony to nature’s cycles. August intensifies our senses. The gloaming is never as dazzling. The sky never as crisp.

After the frolicsome brightness of June and July, August’s golden expressiveness is the first intimation of deeper change, richer colors and stronger moods. William Faulkner, who named a book after August, put it this way:

In August in Mississippi there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and – from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone.

Maine, one of the most beautiful places in the world in August, is due north of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County but no less compelling when it comes to landscape – or characters. Maine, especially in the summer, has been a home to artists and writers since the Native people lived there crafting their baskets and passing on their stories of Glooskap and other legends.

As if August were secretly calling us northward, this issue features two Maine-bred novelists: Elizabeth Strout and Cathie Pelletier. Both left the state to seek their careers. Both returned years later. Both set stories among Maine’s small towns and big trees and quirky people. In our interviews, they talk about their lives as writers, the pull of the craft, their attention to their art.

Within these pages, you’ll also find writers whose work appears on TV, in poetry collections, on radio and in editing guides and creative nonfiction manuals. We hope you’ll enjoy reading their advice, considering their approaches and heeding their encouragement. “There’s something about the light,” is a comment I’ve often heard from artists, and even writers, in Maine. The light in August. Wherever you are – Maine or Mississippi, or in your studio with the shades drawn and your computer screen glowing – we wish you good light this month.

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Alicia Anstead
Editor-in-chief­­

  • Rev David Huber

    Maine is not due north of Mississippi. Wisconsin is. But Maine – that’s way to the east (and also to the north, but not due north.)

    • Alicia

      Point well taken, Rev David Huber. Thank you. I’ve seen “due north” used both ways — in the strict definition you cite and the more synonymous approach I use. Truly, I appreciate your comment. Are there ever times when we can comfortably stretch a phrase beyond its dictionary definition and into the more general? When is it OK to push meaning for effect?

      Sorry about the August allergies! Understand completely. We greatly appreciate your feedback. And I love that Faulkner quote, too.

      • Rev David Huber

        I’m all for pushing boundaries in words and concepts. I certainly do it in my own writing and talking, sometimes to the annoyment of those around me. My first life was science, however, so when I see loose usage of technical/scientific terms that have very specific meanings (which specific meanings are designed and used so as not to cause confusion in dialogue), I cringe. Your use of “due north” so derailed my reading that I had to consult a map just to make sure that my memory had not failed me.

        So, perhaps one answer of many to “When is it okay to push meaning?” is “so long as it doesn’t break it.” Or cause the casual Sunday reader to consult a map and take time away from a fine lunch of buttered sweet corn to comment on a webpage.

        I’ll happily spot you a “north” since your article was about August and writing and a celebration of the craft of language and not a treatise on US geography or cartography, but not a “due north”. But, either way, I seek not argle-bargle but only proffer my thoughts, take it or leave, while being quite impressed not only that you responded, but did so with such quickness! Take a day off. ‘Tis the weekend, you know. :-)

        • Alicia

          I’m quite happy to send people to their reference books! I look up words and ideas all day long (even on Sunday). Thanks for your thoughts (and for sending me to a reference book) — and I hope your corn didn’t go south. Or due south. Let us toast tonight to arguments that yield very fine exchanges about language and ideas. Cheers.

          • constancehale

            Alicia, it seems to me that “due north” is one of those terms that exists precisely for factual precision, so it seems weird to bend it (literally–ie, eastward–and figuratively). I’m all for pushing meaning for effect, but don’t we get the greatest effect when the word starts out with a host of associative layers?

            Funny to read this meditation on August from California, where August is still hot, dry, with summer’s sharp sun overhead rather than fall’s glancing light. More “dog days” than “golden expressiveness.” And yet, Faulkner was in Mississippi, much closer to the equator than Maine, so I’m going to look for the “foretaste of fall” he perceived. And I’m going to look forward to the August issue.

          • Rev David Huber

            Only sent me to reference because it caused me a moment of doubt about my own knowledge; which knowledge proved to be correct. Now, your use of due south here in relation to my corn I find poetic. For it to have gone south would be one level of bad. But to go due south, because modifier “due” means “that direction and that direction only”,would be a very high level of bad indeed. Parker Brothers could have saved a lot of words (and probably $millions in ink) had they just said “go due jail”.

            But, as you allude to in your post, had you had not said “due north” we probably never would have had a conversation, and so there is value even in mistakes. That is where life happens.

          • Alicia

            And let us celebrate where “life happens.” Thanks for your comments and humor. Duly noted.

          • Rev David Huber

            And thank you, as one of the top dogs at Writer, for taking the time to have a conversation with some unknown squib you could have easily ignored. I like your magazine even more now. :-)

  • Rev David Huber

    Sorry – I didn’t to mean to be all negative in my first and only post to this magazine. I meant to add that its an excellent editorial, and love the Faulkner quote. I’ve never liked August because I don’t like humidity (which my state of Wisconsin has too much of that month, and Mississippi has probably threefold) and allergies. But you made me want to give it another change this year.