Tag: Winter

Winter

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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Warm Winter Wishes

You may have guessed from my previous posts this week that I have winter issues. Christmas is one of my favorite holidays (Easter being the other) but I’d like it just fine if Christmas came in October. During the dark, cold stretch from late November to early March, I’d just as soon take a vacation from the world, crawl into a cave, and hibernate. But, since I am not a bear, I have to bundle up, go outside, and deal with it. Mysteries help me deal with winter. Solving puzzles (or following along with a brilliant detective and wondering how I missed that oh-so-obvious clue) keeps my brain from going as numb as my fingers. Singing Christmas songs off-key at the top of my lungs along with the all-Christmas music station as I drive back and forth to work also helps but I don’t like to admit that. Drinks that give me the warm fuzzies help, too. Let’s call them comfort drinks. I’m writing this post in the Hearth Room of the Deerpath Inn, one of my favorite places on the planet. I braved the cold tonight because I wanted an Adult Red Velvet Hot Chocolate—a cinnamon and candy cane concoction I saw posted to the Deerpath’s Instagram feed. However, by the time I got to the bar (Called “The Bar”. Really.) it was standing room only. On a Tuesday. With below-freezing temperatures. Everybody in town counts the Deerpath Inn among their favorite places. So, I headed upstairs to my happy place, the Hearth Room. The Hearth Room is exactly as you imagine it—British club room with a ginormous fireplace (complete with blazing fire, of course). Paintings of dogs and bucolic landscapes adorn the walls. Furniture of leather and dark wood. You expect Holmes and Watson to arrive any minute. The place begs to be the setting for a traditional mystery. It’s the perfect place to be on a chilly night. However, I couldn’t get my Red Velvet Hot Chocolate up here. No worries, though. The Deerpath Inn is the sort of place loathe to disappoint. I “settled” for plain hot chocolate with Koval bourbon and whipped cream. Who needs candy canes? A few sips of the chocolate-with-a-peppery-afterburn libation and I felt quite cozy. If I didn’t have to go work in the morning, I’d probably rent a room at the Inn then head upstairs to curl into a tight ball underneath a down comforter in one of their cozy, cozy beds. Since I do have to work tomorrow, I’ll finish my drink and my dinner then bundle up and make my way home (on foot. Don’t drink and drive.) Maybe I’ll read some Agatha Christie or P.D. James before snuggling into my own, somewhat less plush, bed to dream sweet dreams of temperate climes. (Actually, my dreams are bizarre. But never dull.) How do you deal with dark, cold days? Or do you love them? What are your favorite winter-themed mysteries? 

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We Wish You an Eerie Christmas

 I attended a candlelit Advent service at church last night. The Women’s Spirituality Group led a beautiful, peaceful service that celebrated women’s voices. We listened to readings that honored the contributions of women to church life, sang hymns of preparation for Christ’s birth, and prayed for peace in a nave bathed in the soft glow of candles. In the midst of fellowship and music and candle glow, my thoughts turned to murder. The stillness and darkness of the scene made me think it would be a perfect place to set a murder mystery. Advent and Christmas are popularly associated with merriment and cheer. Holly and bells and reindeer and elves bring joy. But Christmastime has a darker side. Christmas Day is only four days after the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Winter is long and cold and dark and dangerous. Poem and songs memorialize the bleakness of the solstice day, also known as Midwinter. Ancient Romans celebrated solstice at the Feast of Saturnalia characterized, according to one source, by “debauchery” in addition to feasting and gift-giving. The classic Christmas story, “A Christmas Carol,” is a ghost story whose plot hinges on terrifying specters putting a man in fear of his life. Even seemingly benign figures like Santa Claus and the Elf on the Shelf take on a more ominous hue when you take a closer look. An immortal home invader who appears in the night once a year to break into homes while its residents sleep and a tiny man with an unblinking stare who lurks from place to place in your house watching your every move and reporting back to the immortal home invader. Many mystery authors have taken advantage of Yuletide’s dark undertones and set their crimes at Christmas. Mysterynet.com lists more than a dozen, including stories by classic authors such as O. Henry, Damon Runyan, Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, and, of course, Agatha Christie. I just finished The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories by P.D. James. The holidays weren’t very merry for James’s characters.Have you ever peeked beneath Christmastide’s glittery skin to examine its darkness? Do you have any favorite Christmas-themed mysteries? Any Chanukah-, Kwanzaa-, or other winter holiday-themed mysteries?

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Oh Christmas Tree?

 A photo of FLOTUS’s White House Christmas decorations—a phalanx of up-lit, bare-branched white trees lining a black-tiled corridor illuminated only by a few pendant lamps and the lights on an equally dark Christmas tree at the corridor’s far end—generated lots of reaction on social media. Responses pretty much evenly split between “love it” and “hate it” (although I know of one person who said, “at least it’s different”). Many assumed that politics informed the reactions because, hey, everything is about politics these days. Right? Wrong, in my case. I voted “hate it” not because of political affiliation but because of—scary trees. I don’t think hip or trendy when I look at the photo of stark branches emitting an icy vibe. I think, “When are the flying monkeys going to attack?” “Where’s the Snow Queen hiding?” Jack Frost? The Abominable Snowman? Snow White’s wicked stepmother? The cast of an M. Night Shyamalan movie? Notice a theme? Forests, the woods, places filled with scary trees are places where evil lurks and bad things happen. They are not locations of holiday merriment. “Little Red Riding Hood”. The Princess Bride. “Hansel and Gretel”. The Blair Witch Project. The Cabin in the Woods. Deliverance. Do any of those stories stir the holiday spirit? Every time I pass a woods, I think of the news reports and true crime shows and episodes of “Law and Order” where a body was found in the woods by a hiker, hunter, dog walker, or Boy Scout. Don’t go in the woods. Add chilling darkness to the scary trees—as in the White House photo—and I cringe. When people talk about winter wonderlands I think “wonder” in the sense of “I wonder what I’m doing out here and I wonder where the nearest fireplace is”. I don’t do cold and dark. I can handle them each individually—cold or dark. Combined? No thanks. I moved from Alaska clear down to Texas to get away from a cold darkness that seemed to last forever. The dark is the worst. When it’s just cold, I can bundle up in stylish sweaters and fashionable coats, throw on a rakish scarf for some flair, and head outside to enjoy the bright winter sun. I’m a creature of light. I keep a light on the porch and a sting of fairy lights in my bedroom illuminated all night, to heck with the electric bill.  I’d make the world’s worst vampire. While some people bemoan it as a sign of light pollution, I think the sight of cities lit up as you fly over them on the red-eye is beautiful. Neon signs flashing over city streets are magnificent. I never fail to stop and marvel. My town illuminated all of its (not scary) trees around the train station and Market Square with thousands of miniature lights for the holidays. I love it. A forest of light is a forest where nothing lurks. I’m sure a folklorist or psychologist would explain how the forest represents our primal fear of the unknown and the danger that awaits those who dare venture away from the safety and security of the tribe/family/familiar. I’m not going to tell you any of that. I’m going to say there’s a reason, a reason that has nothing to do with holiday cheer, so many authors and filmmakers set their horror stories and cautionary tales in the woods—the colder and darker, the better. What’s the scariest place you can think of to set a story? What do you think of when you see woods in the winter?

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