Does the weather play a key role in your novels?
June 19, 2015
I DON’T OPEN MY NOVELS with a long, flowing epistle about the weather.
That’s a sin, I’ve been told.
That’s deadly, I’ve been told.
And I believe it.
However, I must confess, I did open Secrets of the Dead with the line: Even the late October sky wore black to her funeral.
But it had more to do with the funeral than the coming rain.
I don’t dodge the weather. I do write a lot about it. Some have told me that the weather becomes as important as any character in my novels.
I don’t know if that’s good.
But I think they’re right.
And I generally find that the weather in my stories reflects the weather just outside my window.
I live in Texas.
We have long summers.
We usually have hot winters.
I know all about the miseries of heat.
I learned to sweat before I could talk.
We had fifty-six consecutive days with temperatures topping the hundred-degree mark.
It was not surprising that I wrote such paragraphs as:
The air was sticky, the heat stifling, the cooling system working overtime and failing miserably, and it seemed as though even the roses in the garden below him had lost their fragrance.
Even late in the day, the temperature was hovering around the hundred-degree mark, and Blaylock, nearing fifty and looking older, gazed out across a barren patch of the forsaken land that had pried him from his air-conditioned Washington office. He brushed the gnats away from his thin, angular face and adjusted his Oakley sunglasses as a droplet of sweat streaked the dust that had collected on the lens. His gray slacks were badly wrinkled, and his floral navy blue tie had been loosened at the collar. His thinning brown hair was clipped short, and his pallid skin, turning a pale shade of pink, was beginning to itch and burn.
I wrote what I felt.
I was hot. My skin was itching and burning.
Once again we were in the midst of summer when I wrote Conspiracy of Lies.
The novel is set in New Mexico.
I had gone to New Mexico.
Blisters and sunburn were the only souvenirs I brought home.
So I wrote:
Lincoln rolled his window down, and a blast of heat and sand rolled off the basin and slammed him in the face. He waited for the winds to cool it off. It would be a long wait. Sweat had begun to gather around the collar of his khaki shirt. He had thrown his jacket into the backseat.
The heat bore down and into his shoulder blades like a poker pulled straight from the flames in a blacksmith’s furnace.
The chill had wilted, and beyond the edge of town, he could see the heat rising up off the desert floor. The heat was dry and prickly, working its way into his flesh like a thorn. It had already begun to fester.
But the seasons do change.
So does the weather.
This is, after all, Texas.
Day after day it snowed.
When it wasn’t snowing, it was sleeting.
We were encased with ice.
So without thinking, I set the novel in the winters of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany.
It was a cold and empty morning. Only those chosen to meet their destiny were unaware of what lay ahead of them one mile, twenty-seven meters, and a half bridge length away. Below them, the river would be boiling with a white, icy froth. The river awaited them all. Men would freeze to death long before they had a chance to drown. The snow would blind them. The explosion would rip them away from the train, and this was the way it would end. Fire. Then darkness. Then ice. The river would claim them all.
The snow on the street had turned dirty, a cold and wet concoction of mud, exhaust fumes, and grease. Automobiles were stalled in drifts that piled up beside the curbs. A few trucks had not run in weeks, maybe months. Their windshields were frozen sheets of ice. Their tires had been encased in slush. By morning, they, too, would be locked in a case of ice. Old women wrapped in heavy coats had turned their backs to a hard northern wind. Men paced aimlessly on the wooden platform that ran the length of the railway station. Some were looking for love. Some were headed back to the front lines occupied by the German army, frayed and unraveling around the cold and bloodied fields of Berlin. Some wanted to escape the chill of death. Some were just waiting for a train.
I am a victim of the weather.
I am a slave to the weather.
I look out my window before beginning a noel and ask myself two questions?
Are the birds sweating?
Do the birds have ice on their wings?
As soon as I check the birds, I begin to write.
My stories, as they say, run hot and cold.