Back story: I grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Later, when I had a young family, I lived in Montreal.
So when I write about the Solstice/Christmas season, what do I write about? Snow.
Depending on the setting, of course. Seducing Adam occurs in coastal British Columbia, in the springtime; no snow in this one. But when the setting works … oh, yes.
As someone who’s lived in Atlanta and New Zealand and now lives in the Pacific Northwest, I can testify, first-hand, that a lot of the world doesn’t have snow at the end of the year. But somehow that’s become the staple romantic image, hasn’t it? All the stuff about sleigh bells, snowmen, ruddy-cheeked kids coming in for hot chocolate … you get the idea. In fact, whether you live in a snow-coated part of the world or not, by now, you may be heartily sick of it.
Well, I agree. And yet I scoured my little city looking for artificial snow to add romance to my (artificial) Yule tree – and failed. I’d left it too late. All the rest of Victoria got there first. I envy them their romantic trees with sprayed-on snow.
I haven’t seen snow at Christmas in years. And I’m old enough now to put that longing for the whole sugary image aside and be grateful for clear sidewalks. Christmas Day in Victoria was brilliantly sunny and about ten degrees (call it fifty Farenheit). We went for a walk along the waterfront, along with every other resident and dog in the city. Would I, in my wildest imaginings, trade a snowscape for this? Not likely.
So, as I work on the first two volumes of the Calder Creek Trilogy, what do I write? Snow. In Amanda there’s a whole Christmas day in which half of Calder Creek has no power and the storm of all storms is raging. In Pat there’s a family snowball fight. Writing those scenes had a funny effect on me. The setting and the events stayed with me for days: the whole package of cooking the celebratory dinner, taking the kids out to play, collapsing around the fire feeling warm and loved … and the snow, always the snow.
How do you write a snow day that fires the romantic imagination? Well, you throw in all the tropes – almost incidentally, without clichés. You include the romance of watching snow fall through a window, perhaps with a hot drink. Add a fire, and cozy pyjamas. If it’s a holiday, add food to die for – and let your characters overeat (just a little, we don’t want discomfort here). If your story has kids in it, give them an afternoon of happy play, indoors or out. Allow everyone a time at the end of the day to collapse in blissful content. In short, buy into the myth, using that writers’ rule: show, don’t tell.
Once you’ve got all that, by all means throw in the emotion and conflict of a good novel. They’ll play well together; trust me. In fact, a romantic setting with less than romantic events ramps up the tension very nicely.
If you’re in snow now, I hope you enjoy it. If you’re not, rest assured life’s just as good! And you can share the snow experience when you read, listen to seasonal music, dream. With the advantage that you don’t have to shovel sidewalks …
Best wishes for 2015.