LizAnn Carson

Releasing the stories into the world


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Writing Winter Memories: Snow

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.

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Thanksgiving

Holidays have a way of derailing you. You’ve got your plan for the day, week, year, lifetime, all neatly laid out, then wham! – along comes a day outside of the ordinary, and there goes the agenda.

That explains how I managed to miss a post last week. Here in Canada it was Thanksgiving, which we celebrate on the second Monday of October. This schedule has some advantages: the weather isn’t as bad as November in much of the United States. (On the other hand, we almost never get the “white and drifting snow” experience.) Having the holiday on Monday means everyone isn’t shopping around for an extra vacation day to make it a long weekend. We do tend to go all out with the pumpkins and turning leaves, not to mention the turkey, stuffing, and all the accompaniments. However, there are no pilgrim fathers in the Canadian pantheon. There aren’t lots of stories and myths around this holiday. It’s simply what it says it is: a time of thanksgiving. Of gathering together.

(And, of course, a time to head south for just a touch of cross-border shopping. But that’s a different story.)

My Thanksgiving was pretty much as expected, other than eating too much, which wasn’t expected at all. (I like to think I’ve outgrown stuffing myself, but maybe not.) One of our kids is still in town, so he and his wife contributed half of the feast. We digested with a manic four-handed round of table tennis, then carried on to the pumpkin pie. Then the son and daughter went home, and yes, I felt tons of thanksgiving at the moment my head hit the pillow that night.

Lots to be thankful for in that simple little vignette. Plenty of food on the table, health and lightness of heart to take to the table tennis table, love bringing us all together. Soft pillow at the end of it all. Not so different from an American Thanksgiving, really.

Writing an American Thanksgiving can challenge your skill – and not just because of those pilgrim fathers. Because while Canadians honor and celebrate our holiday, it just doesn’t carry the impact the American version does. So when a romance writer in Canada sets a book in the United States, she has to do her fair share of research to get the mores and memes right. That’s part of the fun of writing, for me, the learning and experimenting with ways that aren’t the ones I have here in Canada.

Still, I like my quiet, slightly understated version of Thanksgiving.

(As a bonus, so far we don’t have to contend with Black Friday. I’m thankful!)