A MONTH WITHOUT GODS
Though I was born in summer, I’ve always been an autumn child at heart. The poetry of fall lies in its distinct melancholy—that time when the air grows cooler and the fields begin to wither and the leaves flare in bright colors as they die. In Northern Wisconsin, where I grew up, the season is all the more poignant for the long winter that looms ahead, with the snows beginning in mid-November and lasting until March.
Fall isn’t just about colors, of course—it’s also a mood, a certain scent you can taste on the air; by which I mean not just the increasingly and ever-popular pumpkin spice aromas drifting from the windows of coffee shops, but the scent of withering things, dying things. Anyone who has built a corn shock or jumped into a pile of raked leaves knows explicitly what I am talking about. There is a severe beauty in autumn, crisp, distinct, and elegant in its impermanence. Its very glory is in its fading.
Choosing the season of my novel was one of the first decisions I made while writing A Red Autumn Wind—a fact that shows itself in the title. The story takes place primarily in November, which in Japan is the month when the leaves change color and begin to fall (though in my native Wisconsin, the trees are all bare by this time). My reasons for selecting autumn, however, were thematic as well as aesthetic. The novel features a kingdom on the brink of devastation as an era of peace is threatened by descent into civil war. It is a world of beauty into which darkness is encroaching, in which the winds of impermanence are blowing. Regardless of whether the kingdom survives or falls at the end of the novel—a secret I will not reveal now—it is a time of transition, of one era giving way to another. The title A Red Autumn Wind is meant to evoke the fires of war, the spilling of blood, and the blowing of autumn leaves.
In Japanese tradition, the tenth month of each year is known as Kannazuki—“The month without gods”—the time in which all of Japan’s eight million gods* gather at Izumo Shrine in southwestern Japan to discuss the fortunes of mortals in the coming year, leaving the rest of Japan bereft of deities. The notion of a time in which all the gods are away is truly well-suited to autumn. These days, of course, the “tenth month” means October, but in the traditional Japanese calendar the tenth month corresponded primarily with what is now November.
While the theme of “absent gods” is not explicit in my novel, I did take some inspiration from the concept. That the setting of my story—the Shining Kingdom of the Reed Plain, a realm ordained and blessed by the gods—should face its greatest existential threat in autumn seems thematically appropriate. As their world begins to crumble under a series of relentless terrorist assaults, the heroes of the tale are forced to reckon not only with the limits of their own faith, but with the potential latent in the core of their humanity.
* “Eight million” being a metaphorical number for “countless.”