Tag: weather


Cold Winds Blow

 They (the mysterious “they” who is always telling you what you should or shouldn’t do) say you shouldn’t write about the weather. I’m ignoring that advice. Weather impacts our moods in real life. A warm, sunny Spring day brings smiles to our faces. A cold, gray, wet winter’s day induces groans and sadness. The heavy, humid air just before a thunderstorm makes us tense and uneasy. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a clinical condition where cold, dark weather brings on depression often severe enough to warrant treatment. And weather certainly presents obstacles we must overcome. Floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, high winds, hail, snow—all as potentially dangerous as an armed intruder or an angry ex. Weather can, and should, act in fiction they same way it acts in real life. “It’s a dark and stormy night” may not be the world’s best opening sentence but weather can be used to significant effect in stories. Weather can set tone, provide foreshadowing, or reflect characters’ moods. “The Fall of the House of Usher” wouldn’t read the same if set on a warm and sunny day. Charlotte Bronte uses weather to foreshadow Jane Eyre’s experiences and as a metaphor for her moods and emotions. Weather can also be a character. From torrential rains to blizzards to tornadoes, weather events play the role of antagonist in “man versus nature” stories. Make a bad situation—being chased by a man with a gun—worse for the protagonist by adding some weather—being chased by a man with a gun in fog as thick as cotton batting. What’s your favorite literary weather disaster? What kind of weather event would you throw in your protagonist’s path? Comment here or blow on over to Facebook to join the discussion. 

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Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year

 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/               

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Winter Storm

 Winter’s got me in a slump. Short days, long nights. Subzero temperatures. Ice storms that shut down cities. Layers and layers, so many layers, of clothing. Enough, already. Bring on Spring.
Writing’s tough for me when I’ve got the winter doldrums. My brain wants to hibernate from November through mid-March, not devise intricate plots and perilous situations for my characters to overcome. Winter is my antagonist.
Which makes me think—can the season or the weather act as a character in a story? I answer my own question—sure. Person versus nature is as classic a battle as person versus person or person versus self. In Murder on the Orient Express, winter weather stops the train. Snow is as much the bad guy as the killer. Snow makes another appearance as an opposing force in J. Jefferson Farjeon’s Mystery in White. The title of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter leaves no doubt the season plays a role in the plot. Peter Hoeg’s Smila’s Sense of Snow hinges on the protagonist’s knowledge of the frigid stuff.
Writing this, I notice novels featuring winter-as-opposing-force come to mind more readily than novels where spring, summer, or fall weather drive the plot. Probably because, to me, weather is the most malevolent of all seasons. But I can imagine situations where a spring thunderstorm or summer drought might figure as integral parts of a story. Fall’s harder. A body in a leaf pile, maybe? What are some other stories where the weather is the star?  Comment here or start a discussion on Facebook.

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Seasonal Writing

I wrapped my favorite gray cashmere scarf around my neck this week. Sure, the autumnal equinox may technically have occurred on September 21st, but depending on where you live, the seasons do (or do not) change in their own time. I live where sweaters replace light cotton tops. Robust Cabernet takes the place of crisp Sancerre. For me, there’s something about the seasons that makes a difference in my approach to work. Cool falls in New York and our (sometimes) frigid winters provide plenty of excuses to stay inside, curled up next to a roaring fire reading and writing. Cooler weather makes me want to spend more time dreaming up murders. I wonder, though, do others feel that same seasonal affective writing syndrome? So, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors whether changes in the seasons influence how and what they write. This is what they had to say: Paula: I’m not sure if what I’m writing changes with the seasons, but certainly my output changes with the seasons. I write best when it’s raining or snowing or otherwise inclement. I love winter. As long as I have heat and wifi and Earl Grey tea, I’m good. I’m off and writing until Spring! Robin: Definitely. I look forward to winters as a block of time to make serious headway on my writing projects because that time of year takes away the lure/distraction of playing outside during nice weather. Less daylight mean less temptation to hike or bike ride after dinner. Rainy weekends mean extra hours of writing time. Last winter was particularly wet and I hammered out a first draft in 6 weeks. I’m finishing up a new first draft right now so this winter I’ll be revising. I’m hoping for a decent rainy season. Cate: I do most of my writing in the fall and winter. The summer encourages me to get out and talk about the books, as well as do the things that I derive inspiration from. Susan: I get most of my work done during the summer. I don’t need to worry about teaching and a lot of the church stuff I do shuts down and so I can write and then walk in the woods and then write and then walk in the woods, etc.  Tracee: The seasons definitely impact my work. Fall is productive for me, shorter days, more rain…. and as we head toward winter even worse weather! Yea! We tend to do most of our travel in the summer which is a great break, and provides inspiration and also gives me the ‘get back to work’ boost when the days shorten. Susan’s comment made me think about my tie to ‘institutions’. I spent a long time either in school or working for a university, and my husband is still on that calendar. I think this is one of the reasons I love working in the fall. There is a back to school, the whole year is in front of you, feeling to it. Fresh start and all things are possible! Michele: I used to prefer writing indoors in fall or winter, especially when it was raining or snowing or frigid outside. But when I began spending more time in warmer, sunnier climates I had to change that. I started writing outdoors in the shade, often on a beach under a tree. I almost felt like I was “cheating,” not really writing. Then I read some advice by our agent [Alison adds: the one, the only, the fabulous Paula Munier] in her book, “The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings” suggesting that bringing creative endeavors outside in nature boosts creativity. Now I write outdoors or on a porch all the time, with permission and pleasure. Alexia: My writing is season-free. Or is it season-less? Since I’m whatever the polar opposite of the outdoors type is, I do all my writing in climate-controlled, enclosed spaces. Pubs and hotel lobbies are open year-round.

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Don't Mess with Mother Nature

 I spent the weekend the way I imagine most of the rest of the country spent it—watching or reading about the horror unfolding in Houston and other parts of Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey. Unprecedented flooding, hundreds of highways closed, cutting off escape, untold numbers of people trapped or displaced, billions of dollars in damage. Images and stories of destruction reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. Nature kicking humankind in the ass, reminding us it’s more powerful than our built environment, telling us our high-tech gizmos can’t save us. Forcing us to rely on human ingenuity and grit. Nature as antagonist is a common theme in stories. Movies like Volcano and Twister tell viewers upfront who—or what—the hero will have to overcome to save herself, her friends, the neighborhood, the planet. Every good story gives the hero a worthy antagonist is the mantra you learn in writing workshops and guidebooks. But an antagonist—the force that opposes the protagonist, the obstacle between the hero and her goal—doesn’t have to be human. Wo/man can face opposition from technology, society, animals, surroundings, weather. The force of weather can turn an otherwise mundane, familiar, bucolic setting into a strange, terrifying, menacing hell. Greater Los Angeles becomes a volcanic fit. The Great Plains become a tornado factory. New York City becomes a frozen wasteland. California becomes an earthquake-ravaged pile of rubble. Houston, Texas, the nation’s fourth largest city, becomes a swamp. On one level, the hero’s struggle against nature may serve as a metaphor for struggles against the self or as a cautionary tale against human arrogance, greed, and carelessness. On another, they serve as thrilling tales of the fight for survival against an opponent that acts without fear or mercy or discrimination or human limitation. Several human vs. nature stories, fiction and non-fiction, come to mind as I write this: The Perfect Storm, Into Thin Air, San Andreas, Dante’s Peak, To Build a Fire… What are some of your favorite stories that feature nature as the “bad guy”? Donate to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation 

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Stormy Weather

 I’m scheduled to host a book signing today (Thursday) to promote my second novel, Death in D Minor. I’ve booked a venue and a caterer, I’ve ordered pastries from the local bakery, I have swag and gift bags. And I have my fingers crossed I don’t get washed out. Horrid, extreme weather has hit my area with the force of a crashing meteor. Flooding, power outages, early business closures. A sharknado spinning by wouldn’t surprise me. The dark clouds that rolled across yesterday’s morning sky made 9 a.m. look like 9 p.m. Traffic was more terrifying than a Doré engraving. The weather people predict more of the same for today. Please let them be as wrong as they are when they predict sun on my days off. Yesterday’s bad weather did get me thinking about weather in literature. Weather, usually extreme, often sets the scene and creates an atmosphere without which the story wouldn’t be the same. Would The Shining be as terrifying on a warm spring day? Would Cat on a Hot Tin Roof feel as sultry and on-edge in the dead of winter? Can you imagine Usher’s house falling at noon in the summer sun? Moving beyond “a dark and stormy night,” weather often plays a more pivotal plot role than atmospheric backdrop. A drought sets The Grapes of Wrath in motion. A tempest does the same for The Tempest. Dorothy needed a tornado to get her to Oz. Robinson Crusoe needed a storm to shipwreck him. Arctic cold saves the world from the Blob. Weather is sine qua non in Gothic fiction. It mirrors characters’ feelings, foreshadows events, and highlights action. Weather can even be a character. The titular tornado in Twister proves a formidable foe. What are some of your favorite works of mystery fiction where weather serves as a plot device?And, if you’re in the Lake Forest, IL area, hope for decent weather and stop by LifeWorking Coworking, 717 Forest Ave, for a book signing (and food!) between 5:30 and 7:30 pm

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