Thursday, March 15, 2007

Seasons of Writing

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s still jacket weather outside. Even though I’ve seen evidence that spring is on its way – crows gathering sticks for nests, buds darkening on our silver maple on our boulevard, large clumps of brown grass, litter, and mud poking through the shrinking clumps of snow – the temperatures here in the Midwest are still hovering awfully close to freezing.

Yet the novel I’m writing is taking place in June, in the full blossom of summer.

Sometimes, when I sit down to write a scene, I forget. I find myself typing “she shrugged out of her coat” because that’s what I would do, now, when coming in from outside. After tapping the delete button, I have to take a moment to remember what summer was like. I have to mentally call up nights so hot that the only relief is a bathtub full of ice cold water. I have to remember sundresses and sandals – or even bare feet on hot sidewalks or through stiff pokes of drying grass. I have to picture birds – summer birds, not the winter juncos, chickadees and cardinals, but the great blue herons, noisy red-breasted robins, and squawking blue jays. Bugs! Mosquitoes, cicadas, blue-bottle flies, crickets, gnats, ants – all the stuff that’s EVERYWHERE during the summer, that, somehow, I completely forget about during the winter.

It’s weird to write out of season, but I kind of enjoy the process of trying to recall a summer day while snuggled under six blankets. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things about writing contemporary settings. I love the challenge of trying to convey what a Midwestern season is like. I try to imagine someone who’s lived their entire life in southern Texas cracking open my book and being (hopefully) transported to a farm in the upper Midwest in springtime. I want that reader to smell the clover and alfalfa in the gentle spring drizzle. Just the way I FELT the oppressive heat and smelled the magnolias the first time I fell into the New Orleans of the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke.

Burke made me appreciate location. He made me realize that if you’re going to write about a place, you should fill it with the sights and sounds that are unique to the place you’re writing about. Why? Because, as a reader, I like going there as an armchair tourist – and weather (along with fauna and flora) is a surprisingly large part of that experience. Some of it didn’t work, because I didn’t have reference points for some of the specifics, but most of the time that didn’t matter because he gave me enough that I could imagine it (however wrongly.)

Eh, besides, you know us Minnesotans. We love to talk about the weather.

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