Friday, November 26, 2010

Conflict: Man vs. Winter

News flash: it’s winter out there. At least where I live. According to the official calendar, winter doesn’t start until December 21st—but here in Minnesota it’s on.

Not to get all Keillor-y on you, but we Minnesotan’s deal with Man vs. Nature (or Woman vs. Nature, or Child vs. Nature) all winter long, every year. It’s the reason we’re a hardy lot. It’s why during the civil war the Union regiments from places like Maine and Minnesota were good at kicking some butt. When you spend six months out of the year with nature trying to kill you, you have to toughen up—or at least plan ahead. Forget your boots? Lost your hat? It just might kill you.

It’s not that other season’s won’t try to kill you—they will—they just take their time. Summer has been trying to kill me through harsh sunburns and excessive beer for years. To summer I say—bring it on—now!

But Winter, unlike the other seasons, has the teeth to do you in and do you quick. I don’t mean to make light of this—it’s just true. During this season you can fall through the ice, freeze to death walking back from the bar or slide off the icy road into a moose. None of it pretty, none of it anything I wish on you or anyone else. All thanks to winter.

Now that you know you know how I feel about winter, it should be no surprise to you that in my first novel there is a major storm taking place. Not just any storm BUT a snowstorm, a blizzard. Not only are my main characters trying to find a missing child while battling a swarm of nasty demons—but they get to do it in a snowstorm. Nature become bad-guy.

Including winter in my book has come with a few challenges. Maybe the toughest has been trying to find new and interesting ways to describe it. Snow—despite what your weatherman friends may tell you—is not always that interesting. It’s white like a blank page. A really big blizzard obscures everything from view. So how to describe it enough without losing the reader in a complete whiteout of description? Or too little to where the reader starts to wonder—oh, has the storm let up? I guess that has become my own war with winter: How to bring this chilly season to the page.

Here is an example of how I’m trying to incorporate wintriness into my book.

BLACKHEART (by Mark Teats - Chapter 20 excerpt)

Blackheart stripped off the unconscious ice fisherman’s boots, jeans and flannel shirt and got dressed. The boots were one piece, slip-on jobs with liners that scratched at his feet. He also put on a pair of extra-large, black snow pants with suspenders that he’d found on a hook near the door of the icehouse. The clothes weren’t a perfect fit but they’d offer great protection from the cold.

Blackheart grabbed the spear-like ice-spud and stepped outside.

The cold hit him immediately. The night was black; snow fell in big, dime-sized flakes. Out across the white expanse that was the frozen river the sound of a racing car engine and a pair of headlights cutting through the night grabbed his attention. It was maybe 100 yards away and closing. The car fishtailed recklessly, straightened out and aimed directly at him and the icehouse, going close to fifty miles per hour.

Blackheart took a few steps away from the cluster of icehouses on the frozen river’s surface toward the speeding car. He hefted the ice spud in his right hand, lifted it back, and prepared to launch it blade first. His left arm pointed straight in front of him for balance and aim. Throwing such weapons was something he was innately good at. Muscle memory was a wonderful thing. Idaeus had been a master of the thrown spear and javelin; all these years later that skill stayed with him.

The night and storm obscured any meaningful details of the oncoming car. Maybe the Lesser up to their tricks? Its interior was pitch black, the snow and ice-caked windshield revealing nothing of the driver. As the car zoomed closer Blackheart ran forward a few steps as if to meet it, cocked back the rough spear, and prepared to let it fly.

His aim was expert; he would easily kill whoever was behind the wheel. Just as he was about to release the shaft there was a wall of sound, a voice, no a chorus, shouting to him:

NO! Do not let fly your lance!

The Hafaza? In his head? What? How—

He felt momentarily blind, disoriented, but he listened to the voices, trusted them, and changed the aim of the ice spud as he released it. The spear barely missed the car and drove itself to stick at a 45-degree angle in the thick river ice.

The Hafaza, giving him a message? That could only mean—

“Noel.” He said as the car bore down on him, sliding, trying to brake.

He sidestepped and it slid past, narrowly missing him, going into a series of slow, circular spins. It was the same unmarked police car that belonged to the meddling detective, Clay. The rear passenger side was busted out and he watched it as the momentum of the last 360-degree spin took out a row of three dark and empty icehouses, knocking them akimbo as it came to a stop.

Blackheart retrieved the ice spud and ran toward the idling car.

The airbags had gone off, and the driver thrashed against the white mound. A driver with girl’s hands and short, mussed up red and black hair. He opened the car door.

“Missed me,” Blackheart said, his breath white on the crisp night air.

“I should have ran you over,” she said, pushing the airbag aside to look at him with teary eyes.

“Maybe you would have done us both a favor.” He said.

“Maybe,” she said. “Don’t just stand there, help me out.”

He did. When she was free she threw her arms around him. For once he returned her hug. She felt too thin, wasted. This had been hard on her. Too hard. Afraid to break her, he let her go.

“Good to see you, Kid.”

She nodded. Then started laughing, pointing at him, nearly doubling over. Blackheart looked at her quizzically.

“Nice snow pants,” she snorted. “You look like a dork.”

“Better than freezing my ass off.”

Thanks for reading. A couple links to help you fend off winter:

Stay Safe

Fight Winter Blues

Don’t Break Your Arm

Just for the heck of it: Minnesota Perspective on Civil War


Qlaudie said...

"...or slide off the icy road into a moose"
Nicely done, sir. Now I'm going to go take a walk around Lake Harriet. Because that's what we Minnesotans do when it warms up out there. It's a whopping 21 degrees!
Don'tchu know.

Jon said...

As much as I hate Missouri, it was 52 degrees when we left there yesterday... down right tropical!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think you summed winter up quite well - dangerous, disorienting and ultimately makes you wear dumpy, embarassing clothing so that your fellow Minnesotans have somthing to laugh at through the long cold months.

: ) Your biggest fan!

Lisa said...