Thursday, December 22, 2011

Living Without Winter

It's the season for snow. Every place I turn, I see gorgeous photos of evergreens wreathed in white, or delicate flakes drifting past the candles on the window sill, or kids bundled up, three or four to a sled. I have to admit, I feel a bit left out.

For the past eight years, I've resided in a tropical country where we have three seasons: the hot season, the rainy (and hot) season, and the laughably-titled "cool" season, when the temperature occasionally dips into the seventies. Thus, I've been deprived of winter for the better half of a decade. Before the move, though, I lived in rural New England for more than twenty years, so I have plenty of experience with all the joys the season brings: blizzards, ice-storms, and that nightmarish anomaly that seems to be a Massachusetts specialty, freezing rain. I remember winter only too well: power outages, snow tires, storm windows, shoveling, hauling firewood, pulling all the winter clothes out of the attic, making sure your anti-freeze is full... After spending two years in balmy California then returning to my native clime, I came to realize that winter in a place with serious weather is an incredible amount of work.

I usually go back to the U.S. once a year to visit family, but in the spring (during the excruciatingly hot season in my adopted country). Winter is a vivid but increasingly distant memory. I do find myself romanticizing a bit. I imagine the crisp, hushed beauty of a frigid night, when the stars glitter like faraway diamonds in the velvet sky. I remember the excitement of waking up to find the trees cloaked in a soft white blanket, the river frozen, the footprints of a rabbit the only sign of life in the snow-smothered world. I find myself missing the camaraderie of working with my husband to clear a path up our long driveway to the street - conveniently forgetting aching backs and frost-bitten extremities. Memories of childhood delights return to entice me: racing down a snowy hill on my Radio Flyer, digging snow houses out of the piles left by the plows, sitting on the wooden bench next to the flooded and frozen tennis court to don my cherished white figure skates. The scent of wood smoke hanging in the air - Campbell's tomato soup topped with Cheerios and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch after stripping off my soaked snowsuit - real cocoa topped with marshmallows to warm my numb fingers... I could go on and on. Yes, I do miss winter, no matter how hard I try to focus on the dangers and inconveniences it brought.

One of the side benefits of being a writer, though, is that we can use fiction to recreate what we've lost. I definitely do that when it comes to the erotic aspects of my work. The faraway sexual adventures of my youth provide seeds for many of my stories. I write partially to recapture the thrill of those heady days when I was exploring the joys and perils of passion.

In a similar vein, I can relive the experiences of true winter by incorporating the season into my fictional worlds. My holiday tale Almost Home takes place during a New England blizzard, which traps the two heroes and the heroine in a eighteenth century farmhouse (modeled after the home of one of my former neighbors). My M/M novel Necessary Madness is also a winter's tale. In one of my favorite scenes, the protagonists, driving home in a storm, stop at a closed, snow-clogged highway rest area because - well, they can't wait any longer.

When I wrote that scene, I was there. All the sensory details were clear. I could feel the sickening swerve of the out-of-control vehicle plowing through six inches of snow, hear the pines groaning in the wind and the muted splat of snow blown onto the windshield. I shivered in the bitter chill of the unheated building, the scent of disinfectant rising in my nostrils, goosebumps prickling my bared flesh. While the focus is on the sexual tension building between the characters, winter is in there in the background, a contrast to the heat of my characters' desperate coupling.

Unlike some people who move to the tropics, I didn't leave my former home to escape from winter. Life is easier now, I'll admit, but I sometimes hunger for a taste of the cold, dark, snowy season and the complex emotions it evokes - fear, frustration, comfort, awe, hope. When the temperature drops below zero, you truly appreciate warmth. When the sun sets at four in the afternoon, you kindle a fire on the hearth to remind yourself light will return. Living without winter, I write to keep those feelings alive.

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