Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Researching Snow

by Annette Dashofy

My current WIP is set in mid January. In the snow. And the cold. As I’ve been shoveling my driveway (frequently!) in recent weeks, I keep telling myself that it’s research. The stinging pain in my toes as the cold seeps through the Gortex lining of my boots; the shiver as the snow I brush from my car finds its way down my collar and under my clothes; the bite of the wind on my face. It’s all finding its way into my story.

Note to self: Set future stories in the summer!

A manuscript I wrote several years back (the one that resides in a dark drawer in some undisclosed location) was set in Las Vegas. I’d never been there—still haven’t—but I collected photos and descriptions of the place. I researched it to the point that I held up my end of a conversation about the city with someone who frequented it. I worked on that story in the middle of winter, too. When I headed off to write, I’d say, “I’m going to Las Vegas,” and everyone knew what I meant.

It was nice. I could fool myself into thinking I was there. Warm. Sunshine. (Wistful sigh)

This month has definitely provided a wealth of material for anyone writing about winter. From the three feet of snow to the three foot icicles. Not to mention power outages. I’ve often bragged about my skills at “roughing it.” But roughing it in your own living room isn’t all its cracked up to be.

We were lucky. Our electric only went out for 11 hours. Others around us were without power for over a week. I’m surprised the murder rate hasn’t skyrocketed. Or maybe it has and the bodies are simply buried beneath the snow.

I stopped at a local station for gas. I felt dwarfed—my little Saturn parked amidst a half a dozen monster-sized pickups, all loaded with red gasoline containers. And not a smile on any of the faces of the drivers. At Wal-Mart, the weary shoppers were attired in bulky camo and Carhartts. The women wore no makeup and sported hair that hadn’t seen a shower in days.

Glum. The local population is glum.

And ask me about my Valentine’s Day. Okay, I’ll tell you. I held the aluminum extension ladder while my darling husband knocked down icicles and chiseled ice blocks out of our gutters. While I was holding the ladder, the ice was flying and falling and thunking into me head. My shoulders. My back. OUCH. At one point, I yelled up to Darling Husband and said, “You know…some girls get taken out to dinner on Valentine’s Day.” He grunted and kept on chiseling.

Yes, life is a bit challenging here in southwestern Pennsylvania at the moment. And I can’t even escape into my writing, because it’s more of the same. Snow covers the clues and wipes out the evidence. Eventually, in my story, the snow melts and reveals a clue or two. I’m hoping that it will eventually melt here, too, and reveal everyone’s good humor. I know it’s there somewhere.

So what is the environment of your WIP like? Does it take you somewhere sunny? Or are you, like me, unable to escape the wintery beast even in your prose?


Gina said...

Annette -
I feel your pain - my power has stayed on but the daily shoveling is keeping me sore and exhausted. The weather hasn't helped the setting of my WIPs - I'm working on two scripts. One does take place in December, but most of the action is indoors or in warm weather flashbacks. What has helped, though, is having to take buses that either don't show up or run very slow and behind schedule. There's something about the enforced idleness of standing on a corner, waiting, that seems to spark inspiration. And, once on board, the access to eavesdropping is invaluable!

Laurie said...

My WIP takes place in a fictional town located equidistant between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. However my story is taking place in September and just getting ready for my character's favorite time of year, autumn.

Annette said...

Gina, I love riding the bus. Unfortunately, out here in the country, there isn't much opportunity to do that. However, we usually take the "T" into the city from the South Hills about once a year just for the heck of it. What a great source of wacky characters!

Laurie, now that you mention it, I've never set a story in autumn. I may have to try that one of these days.

Martha Reed said...

It's mid-May in Nantucket and almost warm enough to go swimming but my protagonist is working in a bar so it's dark and noisy all day long. Hummm..maybe a day at the beach is called for?

I'm in denial. I've gone into my happy place and I'm not coming out until all this snow is gone. Speaking of which, I need to shovel the sidewalk again before I leave for work. The d*amn groundhog!

Annette said...

And of course the damned groundhog is happily snoozing beneath all this snow where we can't get him. But just soon as he sticks his furry little nose above ground, all bets are off.

Joyce said...

Hey, don't diss the groundhog! His predictions are better than the so-called meteorologists on TV. Besides, he's kinda cute. For a rodent.

My WIP is set in July's 90 degree heat, but that actually makes it harder to write. I can't remember what it feels like!

Pat Remick said...

Did I read somewhere that some cold country's language (Iceland>) has like 80-bazillion words for snow because there are so many different kinds. I think about that when I'm walking my dog, but I've decided I pretty much dislike them all.....My manuscript is set in late summer/early fall. If i'm going to spend that much time there, I want it to be weather I enjoy! Annette, I hope you have a thaw soon, both literally and literature-ly!

Annette said...

Sorry, Joyce, but I still hate groundhogs. They eat my garden all summer and make wicked weather predictions in the winter.

Pat, that's exactly what I'm thinking. Set the story someplace pleasant.

Unfortunately, the weather plays a huge part in my mystery. It just wouldn't work in summer. Guess I'd better hurry up with the revisions and move on to sunnier tales.

Jennie Bentley said...

The last two things I wrote were set in Nashville in October - nice and warm - and in Maine in April - cold. Up next is Maine in July, also warm. I'm not there yet, though. The sort of WIP that I started but that's on the back burner because I had another idea - yes, I know - is set on a cruise ship in the Caribbean in summer, so not only warm, but hot.

On a happy note, here in Nashville, school is back in session again today, after two snow days. I feel like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day": reliving the same day over and over. Except instead of Groundhog Day, it's Snow Day.

Alan Orloff said...

I'm with you, Annette. After this winter, I'm setting all my stories in warm places. How about a series about a crime-solving Hawaiian golfer?

ramona said...

I have the opposite problem--my WIP is set in south Louisiana, in June. The heat is practically a character all by itself. My poor protag drinks a lot of lemonade and iced tea. I think it's about time she gets a snow cone.

Annette said...

Jennie, kids around here are still off. If it keeps up, there won't be a summer vacation...this will have been it!

Alan, a story like that would require a LOT of research, don't you think?

Ramona, I also complain about it being too hot. There's no satisfying me. But lemonade weather sounds pretty good right about now.

Alan Orloff said...


Years, I should think.

Jemi Fraser said...

You folks have had enough snow to research to last you a lifetime!!

My ms is usually outdoors at night in foggy London. Fun.

Working Stiffs said...

Jemi, that's another one I wouldn't mind researching.

Annette said...

Oops. That last comment was from me, in case there was any doubt.

Mela Eckenfels said...

Some images that will make you feel better :-)