Why are writers always cautioned to never start a novel with weather? Overdoing weather, I get, especially if it idyllic. But weather is the perfect metaphor for conflict and story is conflict.
My mother, who was of Irish descent and not inclined to wear her heart on her sleeve as the family called it, would begin singing the classic song, “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year” from the 1940’s, whenever something took a downward turn or a fight was brewing. I’m sure she was inspired by Deanna Durbin’s version made famous in the 1944 noir crime film, Christmas Holiday, based on the 1939 novel by W. Somerset Maugham. I’d hear her lovely voice, which I didn’t inherit, crooning “And winter continues cold, as if to say that spring will be, a little slow to start, a little slow reviving,” and know something was up. If it was a tiff between my parents, she might segue into, “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair,” while he responded with “Bloody Mary is the Girl I Love.”
Today, the first day of spring, is frigid here in New England where the fourth Nor’easter since March slammed in like a lion on March 1st is expected to soon blow through. If she were still with us, my mother would be singing “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year.” But I am a writer, bereft of musical talent, so the weather has me thinking about stories, not songs.
I’m thinking about how I’ve already postponed my return to St. John in the US Virgin Islands once because of the blizzard last week and how I haven’t been there for the winter season because of two horrific hurricanes, dubbed Irmageddon or Irmaria. I hear my own whining story in my head and then remember there are people in Puerto Rico who have been without power for more than six months. I’m certain they have stories more worthy than mine.
I’m reminded about how other people’s stories are affected by weather. The bride and groom during Hurricane Jose waiting on Nantucket for their wedding guests and the officiant, who were stranded in Hyannis with ferry service suspended. Babies born while their parents were trying to get to the hospital. People standing on roofs in Houston, praying rescuers got to them before the rising waters did.
I remember the stories of people who were stranded on Route 128 in Massachusetts during the infamous blizzard in 1978, abandoning their cars, seeking shelter with strangers, taking chances only weather could inspire. A man shared with me that he had witnessed a decapitation from a savagely sharp piece of ice. He said he was never the same.
Weather is conflict. Man vs. nature, we know that. But weather also inspires conflict. During my years as a domestic relations attorney, I knew if there were a heat wave or a snowstorm, my telephone would not stop ringing. Three days without heat or electricity is more than many healthy relationships can withstand. But toxic relationships during the isolation and intensity of extreme weather, often tinged with a little alcohol for relief, make conflict is inevitable. Yes, spring will be a little late this year and it will inspire more than a few stories.
What impact has weather had on your stories? Listen to the lovely version of “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” sung by Ella Fitzgerald while you consider weather and stories. And please share in the comments or join the discussion on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/missdemeanorsbooks/