Often when I’m writing, the story takes place in a different time of year than what is occurring outside my window. For example, I’m about sixty pages into the first draft of the next Jefferson Chene mystery and this one takes place in the heat of the summer. The idea for this story is that it will all happen within a week’s time, and include a few flashbacks.
Yet outside it’s cold, gloomy and rainy, the last weekend in October. Around here many people are gearing up for Halloween. Yesterday we drove to a cider mill to pick up some apples and sample donuts fresh out of the oven. Definitely a sign of the season in Michigan.
Writers use different approaches to help with the setting. I know one person that will play Beach Boys tunes when working on a project that takes place in the summer. She will also use Christmas carols for the end of the year, or dial up a movie on the Hallmark Channel. Often I’ll dredge up memories from different seasons and fit those in with the story.
So as an author, you use whatever it takes. Whether it’s music, a photo album or revisiting a particular show, when you’re writing, it’s up to you to figure out what works. Depending on the length of the story, it may be summertime before you finish it, even if you’re working on it steadily.
Here’s an excerpt from “Devious”. In this scene, Jamie is considering life’s changes during the first snowfall of the winter. One reader actually felt the chills from this scene, even though she was reading the book in the middle of an Atlanta summer.
I piled the pillows on the floor by the bay window and watched the snowfall. Something about the way snow shines as it falls pleases and depresses me at the same time. Fresh snow always seems so clean and fragile, as if it's giving the city a gentle bath. Here's a chance to hide all the filth and debris we leave behind, buried under a lily-white blanket. For some reason, tonight I felt like getting pleasantly buzzed. I warmed some apple cider in the microwave and added a healthy shot of Southern Comfort. Sitting like a sultan on the pillows, sipping my potent brew, I watched the snow. The heat from the booze warmed me and my thoughts turned to Malone.
I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to men. I meet a guy and my weird sense of humor tends to scare him off. Or it’s my career. Or it’s my body. I have always been slender and I don’t have fabulous curves. I’ve got a small chest, narrow waist, small hips. There is nothing about my physique that would set the world on fire. Romance is something that happens to other people. I write about it only if I can work it into a story. But Malone…
Geez, what a difference he was. He seemed to like my body just fine. And he had me so wrapped up, I couldn't think straight. The other day I was doodling while on the phone with Shannon. When I hung up I almost screamed. I'd written "Mrs. Jamie Malone" half a dozen times in a notebook and circled it with little Cupid hearts. High school shit. Hell, it was more like grammar school shit. But it scared me nonetheless. How had I let myself fall so quickly, so completely, for this guy I had just met? A guy I really knew very little about. Maybe it was part of my genetics, passed down from my crazy mother.
When I finished my cider, I slipped off the pillows and went for a refill. I kept thinking about Malone's reaction to the baby book. It didn't take a detective to recognize how uncomfortable the subject made him. He wasn't too old to have kids—for that matter, neither was I. We hadn't been together that long and already I was doodling about marriage and Malone sounded ready to run.
Was I blowing this relationship too? Like every other one worth mentioning in the last ten years? Was this courtship doomed from the start? I resumed my perch and watched the snowflakes perform their gravitational dance.
Shortly after midnight the snow stopped. Everything outside my window appeared pure and freshly made. There were no wrappers stuck in the bushes, no cigarette butts or used condoms visible. Everything was brand new. A row of pine trees in the park across the street made me think of the holidays. Light from the street lamps and the stars above reflected in the white powder. There were no tire tracks or footprints to mar it. I was looking at a new creation, a world untouched by human hands. It was beautiful.
When it comes to music, I like variety. While catching a video on Youtube for a boogie woogie number, this clip came up in the cue. I don't know the artists, but the drummer is incredible. Hope you like it.