Friday, March 20, 2009

Weather or Not

Charles here.

Rick’s blog (below) on weather in books really got me thinking, and the more I thought about it I realized I seldom thought about weather in my books. Maybe it was that old bit of writer’s advice, more remembered in its warning than in its practice, of not starting a book off with a weather reports. Everyone knows that old Bulwer-Lytton line, “It was a dark and stormy night…” and the contest it spurred, and maybe it’s out of fear that one day there would be a Benoit contest where writers are encouraged to mimic the late and forgotten author’s flowery observations on all things meteorological that has kept the weather to a minimum in my books. Or maybe I’m just not that observant, missing out on a great detail that could flesh out my books. In either case, Rick got me thinking. Thanks a lot, pal.

My first book was set in Pottsville, PA, Casablanca, Cario, Bahrain and Singapore and maybe it was my sunny disposition but I don’t recall mentioning any weather in that book – other than the obvious stuff about it being furnace-like in Egypt. It rains every day around 2ish in Singapore, but you wouldn’t know it from Relative Danger. My second, Out of Order, takes place (mostly) in India and while they get these fantastic monsoon winds which bring the rains, in the dry season it can be really dry. Since I’ve only traveled to India in the summer, all my experiences have been dry ones. (Weather-wise). I only recall it raining once in all my trips, a mighty downpour while I was in the Mumbai airport. So it’s no surprise that Out of Order is rain free. My third, Noble Lies, takes place in Thailand and I really have no excuse for not having it rain in that one since I’ve spent many a rain-soaked afternoon in that country. But since I was usually on a long-tail boat heading to or from a dive site, it didn’t register.

As for the YA book my agent just sold to HapperCollins (yeah, I had to get that in there, didn’t I), it takes place in somewhere in the Northeast/Midwest US in the fall and early winter so there are a few passing references to the falling temps, but no pages describing the foliage or anything. Now that I think of it, the early sunsets do have something to do with the plot. It couldn’t be set in the summer and still make sense, so yes, weather plays a role, albeit unintentional.

Weather steps up front and center in the adventure I’m writing now—in fact, the weather is what ends up driving the story. The climax of the story coincides with the unbearably harsh winter weather that made the Battle of the Bulge so hellish for both sides. Our hero finds himself wearing a German lieutenant’s uniform, stuck in a wave of troops heading west out of Frankfurt and smack into the thin defenses of the Allied troops scattered in the Ardennes forest. I’ve been reading (incessantly) all about this campaign and let me tell you, even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would have a tough time accurately describing how bone-cracking cold it was that mid-December in 1944. So what’s a poor writer like me to do? I’ll tell you what I’m doing, I’m avoiding the topic. I simply have the hero say things like, ‘If I told you how cold it was you wouldn’t believe me anyway, and the guys who were there would say I made it sound practically balmy compared to what it was really like.’ I also toss in stuff about skin ripped off fingers that grabbed exposed metal and piss freezing before it hits the ground, but basically I’m keeping the descriptions to a minimum.

So thanks a lot, Rick. I never worried about weather before and now it’s all I can think about.