America’s birthday provides a fertile field of ideas for a writer. The celebration can serve as a backdrop for exploring America’s history, politics from local to national, and values. Since I have mostly lived in small towns, I have experienced the holiday with all the charm and wackiness inherent in a celebration which isn’t trying to do anything more than salute our nation and entertain neighbors.
Because of holiday parties, themes of family and friendship can be addressed during the Fourth of July. The movie Junior Bonner depicts the fracturing of a family during the local celebration in Arizona.
With family parties in mind, July, as well as June and August, can also be the setting for a family reunion. Comedy or tragedy, a family reunion provides limitless avenues for a writer to explore with themes of love and hate, retalliation and redemption and forgiveness, secrets buried and secrets unearthed.
My own novel The Truth and Other Strangers is set in July, shortly after Independence Day, primarily because it is more plausible for the kids to succeed in the con they are pulling if they aren’t in school. But I also like July for it’s extreme weather. In my novel, the weather is very hot and humid, adding another layer of oppression to what my main character already feels from his family and the people in his county.
The heat, humid or drought-producing, makes July a great setting for crime fiction. The quote below came from 1953 science fiction movie It Came From Outer Space, but it seems better suited to a crime movie:
“Did you know … more people are murdered at ninety-two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once — lower temperatures, people are easy-going. Over ninety -two, it’s too hot to move. But just ninety-two, people get irritable.”
Hot weather seems to fray nerves and stoke tempers until characters snap and commit crimes they haven’t had the courage or anger to perpetrate during more pleasant weather.
The summer months are also vacation months. Vacations offer as much potential for storylines as family reunions. A vacation forces characters into new, unusual, or even dangerous situations, which can be written with any attitude from low-comedy to high tragedy. A road trip can mirror the internal journey the character takes, so it works as a symbol of change.
How do you experience July where you live and what stories does it suggest to you?