Hi. Gerry Boyle here. And not to rain on the early-spring-in-Maine parade but does this weather stink or what?
I don’t mean just that when it’s sunny and 70 I’d rather be out raking the lawn than sitting in a study at a computer, though I do have strap myself to the chair. I mean what sort of crime novel is inspired by a sky as blue as the bottom of a swimming pool? A breeze that caresses like somebody stroking a favorite cat? A day that leaves you face up to the sky, eyes closed above a punch-drunk smile? (Can you tell I’ve been rereading Raymond Chandler?)
Well, not any crime novel I’d like to write.
There’s a reason that it rains so much in this genre. Why the winter days in crime novels are cold and gray. Why in crime novels every summer day is threatened by a looming thunderstorm. Why the air is close and sticky or damp and raw. Why Scandinavian crime fiction is hot. I mean cold.
In Maine books, the weather is like a character, looming over the rest of the crew. I’m mulling a winter book right now, set in Portland. I need dirty snowbanks. An icy wind that blasts down city blocks. Sea spray that freezes in mid-air. Slush splashed by passing buses. Nights that descend with gloom and doom. At 4:30.
I can conjure all of that if I concentrate but I have to say that it isn’t helping that every time I turn my head I see blue sky. Hear my bike calling from the barn. That with one tap of the keyboard I can see the forecast: 65, 68, 72, 79. And my characters are trudging down Portland streets, bent into the northeast wind.
Maybe this is easy for you to imagine but I need a little help. Yeah, I know no day is the same as another so we should be able to write it that way. But since I always seem to be writing in the opposite season, I need some prompting. That’s why I keep a notebook called “Weather Notes.” Every day or two I describe that day’s weather in detail. Sometimes I’m inspired, sometimes not so much. But I try to get it down because I know that in a few months I’ll be trying to imagine a snowstorm while temps are in the 90s. Or a suffocating heat wave when it’s five below.
Jan. 28. Snow, heavy and bulky and deliberate, changed to tapping sleet, than an angular sheet of rain.
Jan. 29, everything frozen solid, cat prints in the walk like something out of Pompeii.
Feb. 10, Moonset 6:30 a.m. pale moon slips down behind hills to the west as a rosy glow seeps into the eastern sky.
Feb. 17, big melt, smell of decay from gutters and snowpiles. Dog poop, beer cans emerging from receding snow, trash. Somebody’s been smoking Swisher Sweets.
And so on. Little prompts that help you feel and smell that winter morning after you’ve been for a swim in the lake. I’m sure we all have our ways to prime the pump of the imagination. So here you have it. A peek at the cheat sheet. Between us. Love to hear your tricks of the trade.