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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Characters on the Stage (and the Page)

Characters on the Stage (and the Page)

When I was in high school, I wanted to be an actress. (I tend to make career choices in which you need an agent and a lot of luck, and, despite all your best efforts, you may never make any money or be recognized as having a “real job.”)

Anyway, my senior year, I was cast in my high school’s musical, Lake Texoma, which was (it’s amazing to think of now), entirely written — songs and all — by a fellow student named John Bryant. It was an upbeat comedy about a roadhouse in the sixties. My character had one crying scene in which she found out her fiancé had been killed in Vietnam, but mostly it was dancing and singing and rowdy fun.

Around the same time, my best friend and I heard about open auditions for a one-act showcase at Hollins University (alma mater of Annie Dillard). We went because we’d been told that you take every audition opportunity you can for practice. (I’ve also been told the same thing as a writer — every time you’re given an opportunity to read your work in public, do it because it’s good practice.) Anyway, we didn’t expect to get cast. After all, we were lowly high school students. But, to our surprise and delight, we both got parts.

I was cast as “Mama” in an abbreviated version of ‘night Mother by Marsha Norman. In case you don’t know the play (it was also a movie with Sissy Spacek and Anne Bancroft), it’s pretty intense. At the very beginning the daughter announces she’s going to kill herself, and Mama spends the entire play trying to convince her not to.

So I was rehearsing for two plays at the same time. On Lake Texoma I had songs to learn and dances to help choreograph. (At the time my friend Chris and I were taking swing dance lessons, so John wrote in a scene in which Chris’s character and my character did a swing dance. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense plot-wise, but nobody cared because we looked awesome.) Our rehearsals were totally disorganized and laid-back, and because the song and dance routines took so much time to block, we only got around to rehearsing my crying scene once or twice before opening night.

On the other hand, my rehearsals for ‘night Mother were seriously hardcore. The director, Jacy, was a twenty-two-year-old theater major with grand ideas, so she had us do a lot of “character exploration” and Method Acting exercises where we had to dig deep and totally expose the rawness of our emotions. Jacy was able to draw the emotions out of us, and I found myself so immersed in Mama’s character that I was crying actual tears in the rehearsals. (In contrast, for my Lake Texoma crying scene, during rehearsal I would just wave my hand and say, “ok, and then I’ll cry here.”)

dramaeva

I can’t find any pictures of my high school acting right now, but here’s a picture of me from some play I did in college. I’m so dramatic!

So, I must admit, I worked harder on ‘night Mother. It was for a university performance instead of a dinky high school play. And I wanted so badly to impress my director (who later became my roommate when we both moved to Los Angeles.)  I felt sure that if I dug deep and really, truly felt the emotions, it would translate on the stage, and everyone would be amazed at my brilliant and soulful acting skills.

But that’s not what happened.

On opening night, I was so freaking nervous that I couldn’t feel any of those emotions I’d worked so hard to cultivate during rehearsals. I flubbed my first line, and a jolt of panic scared away any other feelings that may have been inside me. Though I remembered the rest of my lines, I didn’t feel the emotions, and my eyes were as dry as cracked hands in the winter time, even during the final dramatic scene.  I could tell that my performance had come across as flat and unbelievable.

A flat drawing.

A flat drawing.

The next weekend (at least that’s how it seems in my memory) was opening night for Lake Texoma. Soon it was time for my crying scene. Very logically I thought, ok, Eva, you’re supposed to be sad and shocked, so how can you physically show that?

I wobbled my voice as if I was on the edge of tears. I wasn’t, mind you, but I hit a high note on one of my lines and sniffed loudly, as if I was trying to hold myself back from tears. I let my bottom lip tremble and my shoulders slump. And, weirdly, my body picked up on the physical cues. Oh, Eva must be sad! Lo and behold, I started to cry. I wasn’t even thinking about my lines, really. I wasn’t even thinking about what it would mean to have your finance die in war. Later, a friend of mine in the audience told me that I made her cry, and I felt like such a charlatan!

P1000508

Recently I was told by an editor that the main character in one of the novels I’m working on is somewhat flat and unbelievable. She recommended that I get to know the character better, and that I try to show the character’s thoughts and emotions instead of just telling them.

So I could try to climb inside my character’s skin — do some “character exploration” exercises to try to really feel what she’s feeling, ala ‘night Mother. I could hope that really understanding my character inside and out will translate into her becoming more fully-formed and believable on the page.

Or, I can try a more logical approach. Like in Lake Texoma, I can try to show through physical actions how my character is feeling without having to actually feel those emotions myself. I can show her lip trembling or her shoulders slumping and not have to say, “she was sad.”

As with everything, I think it’s a balance of the two. I need to get to know my character’s inner world a little bit more and I need to use more behavior descriptions (“showing instead of telling”) to explain her thoughts and emotions. In a way, I suppose, a writer is both a Method Actor and a charlatan.

So go out there, all you writers, and break a leg (or a finger?)!

It’s Freaking Christmas, so Get Excited!

It’s Freaking Christmas, so Get Excited!

It’s Christmas, ya’ll.  Freaking Santa (or the Yule Goat) came, so get excited!  (If you’ve been good, that is.)  I don’t have time to write a blog post today.  I’m probably too busy baking cookies and/or drinking spiked eggnog.  Yay!

Xmas

My favorite Christmas elf.

Goblins, The Solstice, & Never-ending Night

I come from a creative family. My father is a musician and songwriter. My brother is an artist and computer animator. And my mother is an actress and playwright.

Recently, my mom, Margie Langston, wrote a one-act musical based on my favorite childhood Christmas story: “Christmas with the Goblins.”  (For more info about her play, see the end of this post.)  I’ve mentioned this story on my blog before, but it was over two years ago, so I should probably refresh your memory.

The folk tale comes from Finland where, instead of having Santa Claus or Father Christmas, the Yule Goat brings children their presents. So, right away, you can see why I love this story.

For one thing, I love goats and their creepy rectangle eyes.

For one thing, I love goats and their creepy rectangle eyes.

On Christmas Eve, The Yule Goat arrives at the home of Fredrik and Lotta and tells them they won’t be getting as many boxes this year. He’s given some of their presents to poor children he came across on his travels.

Fredrik and Lotta pitch greedy hissy-fits, and so, as punishment, the Yule Goat sends them to the forest to spend Christmas with the goblins.

This is where things get really good.

The goblins are in the middle of a great and terrible celebration. They’ve noticed that the days have been growing shorter and shorter and the nights longer and longer, and this excites them because goblins can’t stand sunlight.

They think (as they do every year) that soon there will be no more day, and only one great, black night.  And so they are dancing and cackling wildly, eating spider legs and sipping on icicles and planning how they will rule the world in the never-ending darkness to come.

Then some more stuff happens, and eventually Fredrik and Lotta escape from the goblin lair and learn the true meaning of Christmas. Yadda, yadda. That part never interested me as much. I was mostly into the part where they meet the troll queen, who has a long and skimpy beard just like the king’s. I was more interested in the idea that even when it seems like the night will continue to grow and darkness will reign, the turning point is just around the corner, and soon the days will begin to lengthen towards spring.

The goblin king and his troll queen.  Plus Fredrik and Lotta.  (From Treasured Tales of Christmas by Deborah Apy.)

The goblin king and his troll queen. Plus Fredrik and Lotta. (From Treasured Tales of Christmas by Deborah Apy.)

 

Yesterday was the winter solstice. The longest night of the year. But already things have begun to turn. Tonight will be a little shorter. Today will be a little longer. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, we have started on the path towards spring.

I’s good to be reminded of this. That even when things seem dark and troubles seem neverending, nothing lasts forever. Eventually the world will tilt in the other direction, and the darkness will begin to recede.

As a kid I loved the holidays, and I still try my best to love them, but now I’m more aware of what a hard time of year this can be for people. There is stress caused by family and travel and money. There’s often loneliness and depression and the sadness that can come from a lack of sunlight. The nights seem awfully long and cold.

But the goblins are wrong. There will never be a never-ending night. The seasons will change, the darkness will recede, and in time spring come again.  Just like it happened last year.

The Yule Goat.  (From Treasured Tales of Christmas by Deborah Apy.

The Yule Goat. (From Treasured Tales of Christmas by Deborah Apy.

*By the way, if you know anyone who might be interested in putting on a musical version of “Christmas with the Goblins,” my mom would be excited to work with a theater group on developing her play. I know I’m biased, but it’s fun and unique and has awesome songs. Think Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas meets Disney’s Frozen. For more info, contact me, and I’ll put you in touch with my mom.

Burlesque, the Best Poetry, & Poisoned Apples

Burlesque, the Best Poetry, & Poisoned Apples

Last weekend, Paul and I went to the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis for a Nutcracker-themed burlesque show called “Visions of Sugar Plums.”

In case you’ve never been to a burlesque show before (and if you haven’t, you’re missing out), it usually goes something like this… A girl in an elaborate and creative costume takes off her clothes in a funny, sexy, and/or clever manner. Often this includes dancing and props.  Occasionally this includes singing.  She leaves the stage seconds after her tassel-adorned breasts are revealed, and then there is usually some witty banter with the MC, or maybe a short skit, song, or other variety act. After which, the next girl appears.

To me, the best thing about burlesque is the creativity. The definition of burlesque is “an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation.” So it’s not really about girls stripping for male enjoyment. It’s about girls stripping in a way that is comic, irreverent, creative, and empowering.

Once, for example, Paul and I saw a girl dressed from the waist down like a bedside table and from the waist up as a lamp (with the shade on her head). Her act included a man opening her “drawer” and pulling panties out of it. Another time, we saw a performance in which a girl (the awesome Lou Henry Hoover) was dressed up like a man and stripped down to a flesh-colored body suit after lip-syncing to a song with the lyrics “let me put my banana in your fruit basket, baby.”  And of course, one of our favorite acts was a male burlesque performer who emulated Charlie Chaplin as he used a bowler hat and cane as strategically-placed props.

The finale of Lou Henry Hoover's burlesque act.  Photo credit.

The finale of Lou Henry Hoover’s burlesque act. Photo credit.

So you see what I mean. Burlesque is about taking the titillating act of stripping and turning it on its head.  Which is why, even though I have been to many burlesque shows at this point, I continue to be entertained and delighted by each one. Visions of Sugar Plums was no exception, but there was one act that, for me and Paul, stood out from the rest.

It began with two bare-chested men in harem pants carrying a rolled-up carpet to the stage. They began to unroll the carpet, and yes, just as we suspected, there was a woman inside of it. But, to our confusion, she was nearly-naked, wearing nothing but a glittery thong and nipple-tassels. What the heck? Where was she going to go from here?

She slunk around on her carpet, her back to us, while the men helped her into a jewel-encrusted bra. They picked her up, one thigh for each of them, and through a series of slow, sensual modern dance moves, the men rolled stockings up her calves and fitted ballet shoes onto her feet. They slipped her into a pair of sheer harem pants and zipped her into a belly-shirt. At the end of the act she was fully dressed, dancing like a charmed cobra.  She lay back down, and they rolled her up in the carpet and carried her off stage.

“Wow,” I whispered to Paul. “That was the sexiest one.”

And he agreed. Somehow, they had made an act in which a woman putting on her clothes was sexier than all the stripping acts combined.

They had taken burlesque — an act where women (and men!) take off their clothes — and turned it on its head. A double parody.

The cast of Visions of Sugarplus: A Burlesque Nutcracker. Photo credit.

These are the sorts of creative ideas that entrance me. I kept thinking about that harem act on the way home, and the thought that kept coming to mind was, “that’s poetry.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge has an excellent quote that poetry is “the best words in the best order,” and I agree wholeheartedly with that simple definition.  But truly amazing poems, in my opinion, are the ones that take something familiar and turn it on its head. Poems that make the beautiful ugly or the ugly beautiful. Poems that make the sexy silly or the familiar strange. Poems that take the complete opposite of what we’ve always thought was true, and make it the new truth.

I recently read Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann, a book of poems that rewrites fairy tales with themes of modern beauty and body image. (Two of my favorite topics, by the way.) Although it’s definitely been done before, I still love the way Hepperman takes the fairy tale tropes and turns them on their head.  The poem below is one of my favorites from the collection.  It’s not sexy like the harem act, but it is a clever and poignant parody.  Burlesque comes in all kinds of forms.

 

The Giant’s Daughter
at the Spring Formal

by Christine Heppermann

It’s bad enough
that the other girls shopped at Teeny Town,
and I’m decked out in
Tarp City,

But even through the perfume
of my pumpkin-size corsage,
Papa will smell Jack on me when I get home,
those greedy little hands.

He’ll stagger around the castle
hunting for bones to grind
until I tuck him in. Then I’ll toss
the bottles down through the clouds
where Mama won’t find them,
and wait out by the beanstalk.

Someday I’ll meet a guy
I can look up to.
One who’s not a drunken oaf
or a shrimp whose jeering buddies
dared him to make the climb.

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann. I also looove this book cover.

What Agents Are Looking For in a Manuscript & What I’m Looking for in a Stitch Fix

What Agents Are Looking For in a Manuscript & What I’m Looking for in a Stitch Fix

*Check out my poem and new CNF piece on Burlesque Press’s Variety Show!*

I’m attempting to start a writing group here in Minneapolis. We had our first organizational meeting last week, and quickly the conversation turned to agents and how hard it is to get one. I have an agent now, but I agree they’re difficult to nab, especially when your query is floating in the slush pile.

I queried more than thirty agents before landing one. I got requests for partial and full manuscripts, and my hopes would rise… but then the agents would email back saying they didn’t connect with the story/character as much as they had hoped, or that the book ended up not being a good fit for them after all.

I agonized over what needed to be changed. Did I need to make my main character more likeable? Increase the romantic tension? Add more adventure? When I pressed an agent about what wasn’t working, she said “It ended up being a bit darker than I expected and it just wasn’t really to my taste. Of course, it’s all so very subjective!”

Indeed it is.

stitch

Stitch Fix box. photo credit.

On a seemingly unrelated note, I recently gave Stitch Fix a try. This is a service in which a “personal stylist” picks out five pieces of clothing that are mailed to your door. You can keep whatever you like and send the rest back.

This seemed like a great idea since I desperately need clothes (the other day I put on a sweater I bought for $3 probably ten years ago and noticed a hole in the armpit…and I wore it anyway), yet I never really feel like going shopping. Plus, since the Stitch Fix clothes are a little higher-end than what I’d normally buy, I thought it would encourage me to stop wearing denim maternity dresses from the thrift store (but they’re so comfy!!) and incorporate a few more dignified pieces into my wardrobe.

So I filled out the “style profile” online with my size and preferences and waited for my first “fix” to arrive. When it did, I was pretty disappointed. Here’s what was in my box:

1. A black-and-white blouse my fiancé said made me look like a cow.
2. An ugly paisley dress that was way too big.
3. A boring coat in a hideous shade of maroon.
4. An ill-fitting orange and navy sweater that was waaaay too preppy.
5. A weird and sort-of fun necklace that I ended up buying just because I wanted to have something to show for myself.

The funky necklace I ended up buying.

The funky necklace I ended up buying.

I wondered what had gone wrong. That’s when I read something on the Stitch Fix site I had missed before: “Pinterest is the best way for our personal stylists to see exactly what items and looks you love.” Crap. I hadn’t given my stylist enough information about what I was looking for.

So, I created a Pinterest board called “Clothing I Like” and sent it to Stitch Fix, hoping next time they’d get it right.

My second box came last week, and it was better, but I was still disappointed. It contained:

1. An orange sweater that fit and wasn’t terrible but wasn’t warm enough for Minnesota and ultimately didn’t thrill me.

2. A gray cardigan with gold sequined elbow patches. I had pinned a cardigan with elbow patches on my board, so I see where the stylist was going with this, but gold sequined patches on a gray sweater was not exactly what I had in mind.

3. A halter top with some sparkly sequins. I had said that I wanted something sparkly for the holidays, but this top just wasn’t for me.

4. A gray dress that fit me perfectly and I considered buying, but the color and style wasn’t quite right, and I wasn’t sure I had any events I would actually wear it to.

5. A purple tunic shirt that was a little too big, not warm enough, and a bit plain, but again, I wanted to buy something. (This is the trick with Stitch Fix — you end up buying something because you don’t want to lose the $20 “styling fee” that goes towards your purchase.) The shirt wasn’t perfect, but I was pretty sure I could make it work with a long-sleeved shirt underneath (for warmth!) and a fun sparkly scarf. So that’s what I bought.

photo (1)

The dress I almost bought from Stitch Fix. I’m second-guessing myself now, but really I can’t wear sleeveless in Minnesota.

I felt sort of bad sending back the clothes with my negative comments. “I like the idea in theory, but this just doesn’t wow me,” I wrote.  I wondered if my stylist would be bewildered. (Eva said she wanted sparkly! What’s wrong with that top I sent her?) The answer is, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a nice top. It’s just not right for me.

This is probably what happens with agents. On their blogs and Twitter they tell writers what they’re looking for, but it’s hard to describe exactly what book will knock your socks off.

An agent might read a query that sounds promising, but when the manuscript arrives, there’s something about it that’s not quite right.  Maybe it’s not a bad manuscript, but they don’t think they have any editors in their network they could send it to. Maybe they already have another book they’re representing that’s too similar. Or maybe it’s simply not to their taste. They aren’t wowed. And if you’re going to be the champion for a writer and his/her work, you need to be wowed.

On the other hand, it happens sometimes that the manuscript isn’t quite right as is, but the agent still thinks it’s workable. Maybe with a few changes and a sparkly scarf…

The point is, an agent is looking for the same thing in the slush pile that I’m looking for in my Stitch Fix box: something they absolutely love that fits them well. You can try all you want to describe what that might be, but in the end you won’t know until you get it.

Of course it’s all so very subjective!

How I jazzed up the purple tunic.

How I jazzed up the purple tunic.

Interview with Heather Tierney, Author of The Freedom of a Tangled Vine

Interview with Heather Tierney, Author of The Freedom of a Tangled Vine

Heather Tierney is an English teacher and author of The Freedom of a Tangled Vine (Wise Ink Press, 2014), a quietly beautiful novel about family and forgiveness. When I sent her these questions, she was literally days away from giving birth to her third child, but still she took the time to give me some thoughtful answers.

 

What is your novel about, and who would enjoy reading it?

The Freedom of a Tangled Vine tells the story of a Midwestern family’s journey toward redemption and healing. As this family unearths the secrecy behind an adoption procedure in the 1960s, the characters find themselves caught between two generations’ concepts of truth.

The first narrator is Fawn, a 32-year-old teacher, who finds photographs of a young woman in her mother’s jewelry box and must retrace her mother’s past to discover who this woman is. Complicating her search is the chronic illness of her father and her family’s fierce nostalgia.

Lea, Fawn’s mother, is the second narrator. The reader is able to see Lea as a young woman with a secret and as an adult, attempting to heal a wound she has kept covered for most of her life.

The Freedom of a Tangled Vine is a story for the reader who enjoys literary fiction about family, choice, and community. I hoped to tell the story through what is felt (rather than just said) on the page. I love imagery and symbolism. Like the image of the vine that reemerges in its passages, The Freedom of a Tangled Vine reminds us that we are most free when we allow life’s tangles to embrace us.

My copy of The Freedom of the Tangled Vine.  You can get yours here or on Amazon!

My copy of The Freedom of the Tangled Vine. You can get yours here or on Amazon!

 

There are real-life events that inspired the novel. What made you decide to write fiction instead of a memoir?

There are definitely real-life events that inspired this story. My mother chose adoption after a pregnancy in the 1960s, and she has since reunited with her birth-daughter. I wanted the reader to see a birthmother, such as my mother, in her past and present. And my father has a progressive form of multiple sclerosis, so I also wrote that into the story.

I chose to write fiction instead of a memoir because I wanted to give myself liberty with the characters and plot. When I first started writing, I would wonder, “Is that what this person would really say?” or “Is that how it actually happened?” It was too limiting, and I always felt sensitive about not offending anyone or casting anyone in a negative light. When I decided to write it as fiction, the story took off much more easily from there. The characters became completely separate people from anyone I know in real life.

 

What did your family think of the novel?

My mother loves it. It makes her teary because the topic of adoption will always evoke that reaction in her. But she’s read it a number of times. Writing the book threw us into conversations we’d never had before. The rest of my family has been encouraging and enthusiastic as well.

 

Tell about your experience working with your publisher, Wise Ink (based in Minneapolis). What was the process like?

My experience was wonderful. Amy Quale (co-founder of Wise Ink) and I had been in touch for years, but I was never ready to publish. When she contacted me about starting her new publishing company, it felt like the right time to move forward with the manuscript. The story had been sitting on my computer for years.

The first step was to work with an editor, and Amy connected me with Angie. We worked together online almost daily for eight months or so. This was the most exciting part of the process: having someone (who wasn’t a friend or family member) work with me on the text and offer professional feedback from a reader’s standpoint, not just from an emotional angle.

Wise Ink connected me with a graphic designer, an imprinter (who was incredibly patient with me as I made numerous last minute changes), and a printer. The whole process was a great experience.

tangled vine

 

You are a mother of (soon-to-be!) three and a full-time high school English teacher. When did you decide to write your book, and how did you make the time to do it?

I have no idea.  It took seven years. I wrote when I could, and there were months when I felt very inspired to write, and months where I didn’t even look at it. There was more work done during breaks from work, such as in summer, and I would write late at night. If writing feels like a burden, it loses its fun.

Once I began working with Wise Ink, I was more motivated, because we set up timelines to get things accomplished.

 

In Freedom of a Tangled Vine, Fawn teaches Their Eyes Were Watching God and My Antonia to her English students. Are these books you teach? Why did you decide to include them in the novel?

They are books I enjoy, and I do sometimes teach Their Eyes Were Watching God. I chose to reference Hurston’s book in my novel because Their Eyes Were Watching God, in my opinion, is about accepting the idea that we don’t have the answers for why people we love make the choices they do. This is the very theme of The Freedom of a Tangled Vine, so the reference fit.

 

Are you working on any writing projects now, or do you have some in mind for the future?

I have just barely started another book, and I plan to work on it this summer. It’s on hold for now.

 

What is your favorite piece of writing advice?

Definitely a quote from Willa Cather. She said, in regards to writing one of her books, that it felt like “taking a ride through a familiar country on a horse that knew the way, on a fine morning when you felt like riding.” She said this when she wrote about places and experiences she knew.

Another piece of advice she gave on writing was to “Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.” These ideas changed the way I wrote. I stopped trying to write about people, emotions or places that were unfamiliar to me. Instead, I wrote about what I know, and that made the writing more authentic and believable. It also made me care about it so much more.

 

The Freedom of a Tangled Vine is available here and on Amazon.

Winter is Here… Writing About the Weather

Winter is Here…  Writing About the Weather

Paul and I just started watching Game of Thrones. (I know — we’re behind the times.) The first episode is called “Winter is Coming” because in the fantasy realm of The Seven Kingdoms, it has been summer for nearly a decade, and now a cold, dark, and very long winter is approaching.

“We live in real-life Winterfell,” I said to Paul. “Except instead of “winter is coming,” winter is already here.”

We recently moved to Minneapolis, and the Minnesota winter is no joke. We had our first snow in early November, and ever since temperatures have pretty much stayed below freezing, often venturing into the negative degrees Fahrenheit at night.

Outside my window each morning, I see snow-topped roofs and the half-frozen Mississippi River. Crows venture across the snow-covered ice sheets, and steam rises up from the flat, gray expanse. On especially cold mornings, the waterfalls freeze, turning into thick, white icicles in mid-air, and when I go outside, my head aches from the cold while ice crystals try to form inside my nose.

For Thanksgiving, Paul and I drove two hours north to a lodge in Nisswa, Minnesota. On Thanksgiving Day, the temperature was negative 9 degrees Fahrenheit. We piled on layers and went out for a walk on Gull Lake, which was frozen solid. “Soon people’ll start driving their cars on it,” an employee told us. Paul and I turned our faces towards the bleak sun, low in the sky even though it seemed the day had just begun. When we turned back to the lodge, our eyes hurt, as if the liquid inside them was trying to freeze.

IMG_0854

Eva walking on frozen Gull Lake in Nisswa, MN.

Despite the bitter temperatures, Paul and I still do things outside. I take walks along the river or through the neighborhood of Victorian houses on Nicollet Island. One day, Paul and I even attempted to do an outdoor scavenger hunt despite the fact that it was 14 degrees outside. We were managing to stay warm until I slipped while climbing on an icy statue to retrieve a clue and fell in the snow. Paul retrieved the clue, but his cotton gloves got wet in the process. With wet gloves and wet jeans (we don’t yet own snow pants), we quit the hunt in fear of frostbite and retreated home to drink hot tea under blankets, which is probably what most people in Minneapolis do all winter long.

And it is a long one. Paul and I are already getting tired of the cold that has seeped into our bones. I’m tired of donning my snow boots and heavy coat each day, my hair crackling with static. But we’ve still got four more months of this. The snow won’t melt until late April. In Minneapolis you get six whole months of winter.

Which is funny because I lived for a long time in New Orleans, which gets six whole months of summer. In New Orleans, you step outside in the summer and the air is so thick you could chew it.  You live in a constant bath of hot, humid air and your own rum-scented sweat.  In New Orleans, “winter” (which means temperatures in the fifties) starts December first and is usually over by Mardi Gras Day in February. If I were in The Big Easy right now, I’d be drinking a frozen eggnog daiquiri instead of this mug of cocoa.

On the outdoor scavenger hunt, before we got cold and cranky.

On the outdoor scavenger hunt, before we got cold and cranky.

On a semi-related note, a few weeks ago, Paul and I went to see Interstellar, a movie that involves space travel, and one of the planets the characters visit was a frozen wasteland sort of place with days and nights both 67 hours long. I remember my first thought was not, surprisingly, about the cold, but about how strange it would be to live in a place where one day is 67 hours long. How would that change a person’s daily rhythms, not to mention a society’s?

All of this is to say that climate and other environmental factors can make for an interesting premise to a story, or add volumes to the tone and atmosphere of a narrative. Just look at Ursula K. LeGuinn’s novel, The Left-Hand of Darkness, set on an extremely cold planet. And weather can work for realistic fiction, too.  When I think of The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, I think of the steamy, lethargic heat of southern summers without air-conditioning.  And Annie Proulx’s novel The Shipping News, set in a stark Newfoundland fishing village, has the power to make my teeth chatter no matter what time of year it is.

As a writing exercise, perhaps I’ll try thinking about what it would be like to live in a land where the seasons last for years instead of months, or where it takes years for the ocean tides to rise and fall. How would life be different on a planet where the days are 67 hours long, or where the weather is so variable it could be a hundred degrees one day and negative 9 the next? What about a story set in a place where it never stops raining, or where mid-day is so dangerously hot that anyone who goes outside underneath the three suns risks being burned alive?

Or maybe I’ll just write about the sticky heat of New Orleans, or the dry, biting cold of Minnesota.

Right now I sort of feel like I’m living a story about a woman from Summerland who moves to Winterfell and is forced to face her first bitterly cold winter. So far I’m surviving, but I still have many months to go.

Winter is here…  for a while.

Ice crystals on the frozen lake.

Ice crystals on the frozen lake.