My Vermont Summer

by | Jul 1, 2016 | The Writer's Life | 7 comments

S. Lee Manning: American agent Kolya Petrov has returned to his childhood home in St. Petersburg, not knowing if his childhood best friend intends to gut him and leave him on the side of the road. He needs me to get him home in the new novel I’m working on, and I’d planned to spend the summer doing just that.

It’s late June as I write this. I turn on my computer to start my day. I’m alternating writing this blog for Rogue Women Writers with writing my novel in progress, where Kolya is once again figuratively hanging by his fingertips. Working title for the new novel: Red Horse Rider, and it’s the sequel to Trojan Horse. I type a few words, and then I go for more coffee. From there to outside. It’s gorgeous. From my screened-in porch, I breathe in the scent of fresh grass and flower nectar. The morning air is crisp and cool but will warm up to the higher 70s. Quite a contrast from last week when I made a fire in our wood stove with temperatures bottoming in the 40s.
I should go back to writing, but I’m captured by the lushness of summer in Vermont. My garden is a riot of purple, yellow, and pink flowers. A hummingbird in a blur of green wings investigates the new
My yard in Vermont

 roses. Our house is tucked into a small clearing, surrounded by maples, spruce, and oaks, invisible to neighbors or the cars on the road. The top of a mountain rises just above the fluttering leaves of the trees. A brown and white sparrow perches on the edge of the barn roof, resting before another foray to feed hungry fledgings in a hidden nest.

My garden beckons. The grass has sprung up around the perennials, and purple and red impatiens wait in their containers for me to plant them. Kolya casts a cold eye on me. “Impatiens? Really? Get me the f*** out of this.” (Kolya tends to curse too much.)
At my desk, I put aside the blog and reread pages in Red Horse Rider I wrote yesterday where he’s talking with his former best friend who might or might not be planning to kill him.  I add details about Kolya’s life with his mother before her death. Then I watch a black and yellow monarch butterfly land on the tiny white flowers of the raspberry bushes that grow up the side of the mountain behind our house. Another butterfly joins, and for a few moments, they dance a duet of fluttering wings.  I feel a little like the dog in the animated movie, Up, except it’s not a SQUIRREL that keeps diverting my attention.
The butterfly is in the middle of the bush. Look closely.
I should find it easy to write this new novel. I love my characters, and they are in danger. Terrorists have smuggled weaponized uranium into the United States, and I’m building to the ultimate confrontation. But still it’s summer. In Vermont, summers are sweet – and short.
Sort of like life.
I need to get Kolya through this new scene. He’s moved from the conversation with his possibly murderous friend to a confrontation with a Russian mafiya head, but there’s a brown and black stripped chipmunk scampering across the rocks underneath the raspberry bushes, investigating last year’s leaves. He’s a frequent visitor, so much so that I feel I should name him. The cool silence of the woods stretches upwards, patches of sun breaking through the leaves. There’s reputedly a bear that lives somewhere in our woods, but I haven’t seen her, even when I’ve hiked up the mountain to a ledge that overlooks the valley.
“Yob tvoyu mat, S. Lee. Stop with the digressions.” He’s really annoyed now, perching on the chair at the other end of my desk. Well, okay, he’s not really there; he is a creation of my imagination, but for all that, he has an oddly solid presence here in my office.
I’ve written in beautiful summer weather in Vermont before, and I should be able to do it now. My goal is a complete draft of Rider by the middle of September, which should be doable, since I have already written 247 pages. It should be doable even though I have summer trips planned. Washington D.C. over the Fourth of July to visit my remarkable 94-year-old Aunt Annie, who is still teaching every day. New York for Thrillerfest in the beginning of July. Nashville for Killer Nashville, in the middle of August.
Elmore Lake, Elmore State Park
All I need to do is ignore the call of woods, fields, and mountains. There is so much to do here in the summer. Mountain trails leading to hidden falls are five minutes away, in Elmore State Park.  Fifteen minutes from our house, there’s a newly opened seventeen mile bike trail along a former rail line, from Morrisville to Cambridge. I pumped up the tires on my bike yesterday, and my husband put the bike rack on the car.  It’s Saturday morning, and there’s a farmer’s market in Montpelier, although it’s unlikely that there would be much in the way of produce this early in the season. Still, there’re food trucks, and sometimes live music, and always good people watching.

Vermont is fighting for my full attention this summer, but I’m fighting back. I’m carving out writing time in the morning, in between visits outside and chipmunk sightings, and slowly but surely, the words are coming.
And now that the blog is finished, it’s time to rescue Kolya.

Don’t Miss a Thing!



  1. Sonja Stone

    Oh my gosh, I can relate! S. Lee, your description of summer in Vermont makes me question my solemn oath to never endure another winter colder than 60 degrees. If that was my backyard, I would never set foot in the house. You know, until the temperature hit 59.

  2. Francine Mathews

    That's what fireplaces are for, Sonja.
    I envy you the serenity, Sandy. We're about to hit the worst part of every Denver summer–July, with searing temperatures that fry every flower at high altitude and feel ominously like the world's inevitable future. Your lovely post carried me off to a simpler, clearer, greener place. Thank you.

  3. Karna Bodman

    What a lovely description of your summer – writing such a fascinating story (can't wait to read it) – but also being somewhat distracted by the beauty surrounding you there in Vermont. Including vivid descriptions in novels really brings a story to life and lets the reader feel she (or he) is "right there" along with the characters…and you do a great job at that! Thanks for posting. Have a very Happy 4th of July in DC.

  4. Chris Goff

    I want to go to Vermont!

  5. S. Lee Manning

    Come visit, Christine. From June to the end of September, Vermont is glorious. It's beautiful in the winter too, albeit a bit on the frigid side. I'm not there currently. Right now I'm on the Washington D.C. leg of the summer, visiting my aunt. It's hot and sticky, and I miss my woods. Sonja, the temperatures in the summer are pretty wonderful, although I will admit to fleeing at the end of December when temperatures start to dip into the negative numbers, often the negative teens. Francine, I loved my one visit to Denver, but it was in the fall. We have a few hot days during the summer, which I expect to get worse as time and global warming progresses. Eventually we may have to break down and get ac, but we're not there yet. Karna, thank you for the kind words about my work in progress. Happy 4th of July to you, too.

  6. Anonymous

    Beautiful description of summer in VT.

  7. Jamie Freveletti

    Vermont sounds wonderful! I'm sorry to say that I haven't yet had the pleasure of going there, but I'm set on one day skiing in Stowe. And so must everyone else, because every time I try to book it, the hotels are full. Maybe this year! Thanks for the photos.