Dorothy Cannell: As I write this a fine snow is coming down, dusting the garage roof with confectioner’s sugar and powdering the driveway. The road that runs in front of our house is empty of traffic, tranquil, still, left to itself and its own thoughts without being nudged into activity. A need we all have at times. I don’t mind that winter lingers with few signs of stepping aside for spring. I don’t want the seasons to be skimmed through in a breathless rush. Page turners are best left to books. If my husband, Julian (only have the one), and I had disliked winter, we would never have chosen a move to Maine.
We count ourselves wonderfully fortunate that we reached a point in our lives where we could make a choice in this matter and that it turned out to be the right one for us. Some people we know still can’t comprehend why we moved here, not only because of the long winters, but also the belief that there are no lively compensations. Tell that to those here who sail, kayak, fish, hike or ski, as do many of our neighbors. As for city life? Big surprise–there is that, too, with great shopping venues, restaurants, and night life.
Our daughter who lives down the road from us frequently spends a weekend in Portland, loving its energy and diversity. She also does quite a bit of nipping down to Boston. I’m planning on going with her in the near future for a prowl round Ikea and the Pottery Barn and to visit the museums. At the end of April, Julian and I will be going to Washington, DC for Malice Domestic and on from there with our friends Margaret and Joe Maron for a few days at their home in North Carolina. We also plan on going to Bouchercon in Toronto later in the year and there’ll be a visit to our older son and his family in June. Other than that we are mostly delighted to stay put.
On Tuesday afternoon I had a doctor’s appointment and afterwards drove home thinking what a lovely little outing. It was just a routine visit and the news all good. I hadn’t needed to deal with traffic congestion in getting there or drive for what seemed like three hours around a parking lot in increasingly desperate hope of finding a parking space of sufficient dimension that if I got out of the car and tilted it on its side I could make it fit. Even happier was the short wait before being beckoned out of the waiting room and after the usual blood pressure taking, pulse taking, etc., was told that the doctor would be in directly, which he was. I like him a lot. He’s kind, listens, talks to me rather than at me, but even had he been the loveliest person in the world, I wouldn’t have come away with the warm feeling I did had I entered his office in a frazzled state of mind from just getting there.
I have always been glad to be rooted in the ordinary, drawing strength from it in difficult times and contentment in the good ones. In the little Maine community where I am now rooted I have the external quiet to notice the space in which to pluck small joys – like daisies from undisturbed grass. It is the same with my husband Julian. One of the small things he really enjoys is picking up our two grandchildren on weekday mornings on his way to exercising at The Y. There’s not a lot of conversation given the earliness of the hour, but it’s time with them he would not otherwise get.
Our fourteen-year-old granddaughter spent this past weekend with us. On Saturday afternoon she and I went to Hannaford to do some grocery shopping and in passing through the cleaning aisle she spotted some Clorox Cleaning Wands. On pointing them out. she told me a friend of hers had one and just loved it, and when I offered to buy her one for her bathroom she glowed. And so did I when it went in the shopping cart. We have always been close, but I knew at that moment that she shared with me the little joys of everyday.
The snow is still drifting down and the road beyond my front windows remains left to its own thoughts. This is my setting. I got to choose it as those of us who write fiction get to choose the ones to fit our plots and characters. In both cases, mine are much the same. I have to live in my books for months at a time, sometimes longer, and need to make myself comfortable. I do this by stepping into what I know, what I like, because that is what clears the space to fuel me with the energy to create situations not of my own experience. If I were to put myself in an environment, such as a big city cluttered with unknown material facts, I’d have to expend energy exploring them rather than getting down to propelling the story along by making things up. Of course, if it were my passion to write a mystery set in Manhattan or San Francisco, I’d do it – although the result wouldn’t be much to brag about.
I want to write ‘cozies,’ and I’m happy with the sometimes despised term. For me, it’s an embrace of setting, not pallid plots and tepid murders. It’s about beginning from a place sufficiently small and quiet to make for more of a jolt than might be the case somewhere life is on the surface more complex. Suppose a woman with too much time on her hands were to stand staring out her front windows and see that the snow had stopped falling and wonder if what was lying in the otherwise deserted street might be a body….?