Image of Seattle at five p.m. on a gloomy summer day

Seattle summer sky, from the deck of the Bainbridge Ferry, taken July 7 at 6 p.m.

Many of you have very kindly offered suggestions to help me drag myself out of the “dark country of no ideas.” You’ve told me about felons in your families, race riots in Tulsa, Okla., sunken ships, and assorted strange events in strange places. One of you suggested I write about the Peace Corps., others have gone the other direction and urged me to write another book set in the Nazi era.

Meanwhile I’m happy to say that my own flailings are starting to yield some promising ideas for which, as my agent puts it, I’ve begun “gathering string.” My wife and daughters can’t wait, especially my youngest daughter who is the only one still at home and thus gets to hear me complain at length. She assures me, however, that such behavior is typical of me in this phase, that everyone has come to expect it, and therefore no one really pays much attention. This daughter is an excellent reader and writer (she’s circulating a novel of her own, as a matter of fact, entitled Revenge is Fat Free), and she has proven to be a marvelous sounding board for the various unformed ideas that I am repeatedly jotting down in my idea journal. Let me just say, there is no assessment as crisp and acute as that of a seventeen-year-old girl.

She’s the kind of reader I never was in high school. She just finished reading Beloved by Toni Morrison, which she read of her own volition, and what book did I just finish? Black Sunday, by Thomas Harris, who is best known as the author Silence of the Lambs. In my defense I’d just like to say that Black Sunday is one crackler of a thriller. It was first published in 1975, so none of the characters carries an iPhone or Droid or MacAir, but otherwise it holds up extremely well, thanks to the author’s ability to maintain a razor’s edge of suspense until the very last page. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding the book to be eerily prescient, with a threatened act of airborne terrorism at the center of the action.

This same daughter has got me reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I’m thirty pages in and thoroughly hooked. She’s also recommended The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, which I, a promiscuous reader from way back, have also begun reading. For any of you who harbor big dreams but have had to cope with the nay saying of all those tedious souls who never once allowed themselves to dream, this is the book for you.

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Summer in the City

I don’t know how your summer has gone thus far, but ours out here in Seattle has been rather strange. Ordinarily we expect that starting about the first week of July the weather clears, the sun shines bright all day, and temperatures range from the mid-fifties at night—great for sleeping—to the mid-seventies by day, with zero humidity and no mosquitoes. Such idyllic weather usually persists until well into October.

This summer, however, has been rather gloomy. We’ve had a few thoroughly nice days, but even the nice days have begun with a lot of morning cloud cover. Not fog exactly, but also not rainclouds. Just…bleh.

As a consequence, blackberries are very late this year, and rosemary plants all over town are yellowing and getting bony. My local nursery tells me this is because there has been so little heat this summer (unlike in the rest of the country), and that rosemary plants need heat to drag nutrients from soil. I don’t know if this is correct or not, but it certainly seems plausible given the cool dreary character of this summer. As for tomatoes—forget it. None. Zilch. It’s August, and all we find here are those pale things that are better suited for playing handball than slicing and cooking.

Still, all in all, I’ll take cool and dreary over hot and humid any day.

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And a quick note: To all of you alert readers who helped nail a couple of typos in my new book, In the Garden of Beasts, thank you! Please be assured that thanks to the earliest readers we were able to fix the typos long ago, in time for subsequent printings. And I am happy to say there have been many such printings. Already there are 400,000 copies of Beasts in print, a personal record, meaning the book has done better, earlier, than even Devil in the White City. Which is gratifying indeed.