I spent three years in Texas when my kids were growing up and what I remember more than anything was the weather: actually an excess of dramatic weather--tornadoes and hurricanes and ice storms and sizzling heat. Texas does nothing by halves. So it made sense that Terry should choose weather for her topic.
TERRY SHAMES: I’m thrilled to be visiting Jungle Red Writers today talking about (wait for it) the weather! This year people on the east coast were baffled by a balmy Christmas while those on the west coast were shivering. The fact that both of them were having 50-60 degree weather shows that people are used to their own brand of weather—or it may mean that people in California are wimps.
But if you want to talk crazy weather, try Texas. I was in Austin visiting my family for the holidays. The day before I arrived, it was 80 degrees. The day after I arrived, it was 30, with overcast skies and icy, bone-chilling wind. By the time I left two days later it was warm again. Texas epitomes the old saw, “Don’t like the weather? Stick around for a few minutes and it will change.”
My Samuel Craddock series is set in Texas, and I make liberal use of the variables as metaphors or portents. When things are heating up in the plot, things start to get hot weather-wise as well. When I describe storm clouds, look out, things are about to get turbulent. In The Last Death of Jack Harbin, Samuel Craddock says:
“Off to the west a few puffy clouds are piling up on the horizon, as if deciding whether to collect into something more serious.” In the next scene, the book takes a serious turn.
In the novel I’m working on now someone gives Samuel Craddock an unexplained cold shoulder. Samuel observes, ”To the north the sky has darkened. We’re going to get our first ‘norther’ of the season.” A half hour later, “in the past ten minutes the temperature has dropped thirty degrees. The ’norther’ is like a wall of cold air that moves forward, sweeping away the heat.”
I love to read novels in which the weather is presented as a character. Craig Johnson (The Cold Dish) and Martha Cooley (Ice Shear) both use bitter cold to great effect in their novels. They portray a world in which the cold is a metaphor for being frozen out of life. How much more determined a detective has to be if every step involves lots of clothing and the possibility of frostbite.
Heat is just as debilitating, rendering people unable to move without great effort. Combine it with rain, and as Tim Hallinan notes in The Hot countries, “After the air-conditioning in the Expat Bar…the rain feels like a hot shower.” And, hey! Texas has that, too.
For me, a book is enhanced by references to weather. I’ve been to Scotland and I know it’s cold all year round. I want to know how that affects people who live there. In the Caribbean, I want to feel the sun beating down, feel the cool ocean breeze and the hurricane winds. In Africa, I want to experience the drought or the refreshing rain that follows.
I’m curious to know if other writers use weather intentionally, or if it creeps in without your thinking about it. How does it affect your characters and your plots? In our everyday lives weather can be motivational. Is that true in novels as well?
RHYS: So what about you, Reds and readers? Is weather important in your books? When you are reading do you like to experience heat, cold, rain?
Terry Shames writes the best-selling Samuel Craddock series, set in small-town Texas. A Killing at Cotton Hill won the Macavity for Best First Mystery, 2013. The Last Death of Jack Harbin was a Macavity finalist for Best Mystery, 2014. Mystery People named Shames one of the top five Texas mystery writers of 2015. Her fifth Craddock mystery, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake launches January 12, 2016. It is a Top Pick for January in RT Bookreviews. www.terryshames.com.
Terry will be giving away a copy of her brand new book to her favorite comment of the day.