Seasons for the Senses, by Mae Clair

How difficult do you find it to write about spring when snow is on the ground? Or the festive hustle-bustle of the Christmas holiday when you’re planning a beach party? As a writer, it’s easy to dip into our imagination and resurrect a setting on which to draw no matter the time of year. I don’t need to sit poolside with the sun on my face and the scent of chlorine in the air to write about a summer swim. Most of the time it isn’t plausible to have our fictional seasons coincide with reality. If you’re like me, you probably start writing during one season and wrap your book in another.

Creatice concept image of setting sun reflected in still lake waCase in point—I put the finishing touches on my latest WIP, THE MYSTERY OF ECLIPSE LAKE this past weekend. ELICPSE takes place in early summer, yet as I wrote sun-soaked scene after sun-soaked scene, it was to the symphony of the wind howling outside. Daytime temperatures didn’t climb above the low 30s and the sky was a bleak gray canvas.  It would have been nice to hear the crickets and tree frogs I mention in my story, or smell the unique mixture of lake water and boat fuel permeating the novel’s marina. Instead, I’ve been inundated with snow.

And sleet. And freezing rain. And more freezing rain.

Writing isn’t seasonal, but it does make me realize how often I choose a particular time of year in which to frame my stories. All writers have a cache of stored work.  In looking back over mine, I favor using late spring/early summer as the preferred cornerstone for my novels. Autumn is another favorite, particularly the month of October. Bringing up the rear? You guessed it—our chilly friend winter.

As a season, winter gets a bad rap. I realize there are plenty of people who love it and, okay, it does have some intrinsic appeal. Some. Like cuddling in front of a fireplace, the glimmer of starlight on freshly fallen snow, or bundling beneath warm blankets with someone you love. Overall, I’d just as soon skip it.

Creative concept idea of Winter landscape coming out of pages inBut here’s the shocker–as much as I don’t care to experience it or write about winter, I love reading books that use it as a setting. Anyone ever read NORTHERN LIGHTS by Nora Roberts? I was enthralled by how vividly she brought the Alaskan setting to life. And I will gladly read and reread THE RINGED CASTLE by Dorothy Dunnett simply to wrap myself in the author’s phenomenal descriptions of bitterly cold Czarist Russia. A feast for the senses. In the hands of a skilled writer winter sparkles, bewitches and even comes off as something marginally tolerable. Amazing! 🙂

So what do you think of seasonal settings? Do you have a favorite for writing and/or reading? Do you find it hard to write about summer while experiencing winter or vice versa?

Mae Clair, Author: The Naming of Names

I’m starting to feel the tingle of excitement that comes whenever I wind down a project and begin a new one. I have about 20 to 30K yet to go in order to finish THE MYSTERY OF ECLIPSE LAKE and then I can move into final polishing mode for submission. At the same time, I’m eying up two new projects while I continue to work on the sequel to WEATHERING ROCK.

The new projects involve a twist on the Mothman– a creature from urban legend that haunted the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia in the late 1960s–and a novella for an anthology I’m working on with a few friends.  I have vague ideas for both at this point, but nothing concrete. The characters have begun to take shadowy shape in my mind, including how their lives will intertwine in their respective stories. Normally, when I start a new project, creating characters is my favorite part, especially when it comes to choosing names.

bigstock-Portrait-of-a-young-fair-haire-12589124The novella has been  easy. The hero’s name is Daniel Jordan and the heroine, Rylie St. James. As soon as I came up with the names, I knew they fit the characters dancing around in my head.

The Mothman story, however, is proving difficult. My hero, Caden Flynn (Cade for short), came to life easily, but my heroine is a blur.  The names I’ve come up with are either too lofty for the type of story I want to tell or too basic. If you’re like me you feel a ‘click’ when the character fits the name, and so far that click hasn’t happened.

I’ve looked online, checked some character name lists generated from a few apps I have on my iPad Mini, and poked through a handwritten notebook I keep. I even have a ‘naming dice’ app on the iPad, but still nothing.

I think part of the problem is I haven’t decided on ‘her’ yet, so it’s hard to dream up a name. I know what drives Daniel and Rylie in the novella, and I know what motivates Caden in the Mothman story, but my elusive ‘she’ refuses to settle into a niche.  Her backstory keeps changing, the edges blurry like a watercolor painting under glass. I lob names at her and she dances away, stubbornly insisting none suit. I have to trust she knows better than I do, as I don’t have a clear vision of her. It’s as if she’s partially hidden, allowing only glimpses of herself to peek through. So, for the time being, I am tangled up in the naming of names.

I suppose it’s a good place to be, even if it is giving me a headache. A new project, no matter how difficult to get off the ground, is always cause for celebration.

What are you working on at present and how difficult do you find it to name your characters? I’m curious if everyone goes through the same melodrama as I do with my characters.

Mae Clair: Rats, Worm Castles and Gettysburg

IMG_0099I’ve had some fun stuff going on this week, including a new 5-Star review of WEATHERING ROCK by Dii of Tome Tender. These always get me seriously jazzed and this one was no different. Dii had some lovely things to say about the story and my characters that left me floating on cloud 9 (yeah, that cloud). You can find the complete review here.

I also finished the final round of content edits on TWELFTH SUN, my contemporary mystery/romance releasing in August. It was great to visit with Elijah and Reagan from Twelfth again. I forgot how much fun they were. Wait until you see what those two get up to! 😀

I also managed a new chapter on my current WIP, THE MYSTERY OF ECLIPSE LAKE starring Dane Carlisle and Ellie Sullivan. With all of these characters vying for attention in my head, I ended up with a virtual party. Mixed together, I entertained a Civil War Colonel, photojournalist, marine archeologist, interior decorator, an ex-con and a history teacher. Quite a potpourri of imaginative friends. And then there’s Jesse, Dane’s highly opinionated seventeen-year-old kid who would probably give even the colonel a thing or two to digest. Actually, there’s no ‘probably’ about it. 😀

But we won’t go there. For this post, I want to talk about Gettysburg and Caleb, my hunky werewolfy colonel from WEATHERING ROCK.

Caleb is originally from the 1800s and fought in the battle of Gettysburg on the side of the Union Army.  I’m fortunate that Gettysburg is only about a forty-five minute trek from where I live. As a child, I visited the battlefield several times during field trips, then pretty much forgot about it until many years later when I rediscovered history as an adult. Since then, my husband and I have been there many times.

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The Pennsylvania Monument at Gettysburg. Notice the person standing on the upper level to the right of the dome.

In WEATHERING ROCK, I mention the Pennsylvania Monument. For those of you who have never been to Gettysburg, it really is the largest and most impressive monument on the battlefield. During one of the visits my husband and I made, we happened to hit the monument at the same time as a busload of junior high school kids. I remember walking up the steps (it’s raised and has two stories) as a young girl came racing down. She must have been the tattler in the group because she immediately rushed up to a woman (who I guessed was the teacher) and breathlessly informed her two of the boys were spitting off the upper level, betting on who could hit someone below.Hubby and I had a good laugh over the whole thing (although not in front of the woman). When I wrote about Caleb and Arianna visiting the Pennsylvania Monument—along with several of Arianna’s schoolchildren—I used the ‘spitting scenario’ at the Pennsylvania Monument. It was too good to resist. But I also had some fun with the kids earlier in the story. Here’s a snippet from their bus trip with Caleb and Arianna:

“Ms. Hart, when are we going to stop for lunch?” Beth Regal asked, joined in a chorus of whiney fidgeting by Lisa and Trudy.

“Soon,” Arianna promised. There was a picnic area a short distance down the road. After that, she could let everyone burn off excess energy by hiking up Little Round Top. “I hope everyone packed a good lunch. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m hungry.”

“I brought a sandwich, soda and chips,” Beth piped up. “And I have oatmeal cookies for desert.”

“What about Slim Jims?” Danny wanted to know. “Lunch ain’t squat without a Slim Jim.”

“Don’t say ain’t, Danny,” Arianna corrected. “And I think you need more than a Slim Jim for lunch.”         `

Caleb looked puzzled. “It’s got to be better than hardtack.”

“What’s that?” Scott Albright asked.

“A type of food soldiers ate during the Civil War. It was made of flour, water and salt. Sort of like a hard cracker. Not very appetizing, especially when weevils laid their larvae inside. Most of the men took to calling them ‘worm castles.’”

“Ewww!” Trudy proclaimed.

Caleb chuckled. “If you think that’s bad…” And he went on to relay how as the war progressed and times grew worse–especially in the South where hardships were more severe–people were sometimes reduced to eating things like snakes, rats, locusts, cats and dogs. The girls shrilled their revulsion while the boys found this new information worthy of intense examination.

“You mean like real rats?” Danny was incredulous.

“You could buy a dressed one in a butcher shop in some cities for about two dollars and fifty cents,” Caleb confirmed.

Arianna shook her head. “Caleb. You could have picked a better topic before lunch.” But she couldn’t stop smiling at how animated the group had become, the boys exuberantly discussing rats hanging in shop windows, the girls indignant that anyone would consider eating a cat or a dog. Somehow, despite the subject matter, everyone managed to down a sandwich when they stopped at a shaded picnic area.

~ooOOoo~

As someone who’s hiked Little Round Top numerous times and stopped for a sandwich at some of Gettysburg’s shaded picnic areas, I can tell you it takes more than a few hours to observe. You can take it in by horseback if you prefer and there are plenty of bike trails. Because the park is so large we usually drive it, stopping here and there for short hikes. I haven’t been back since they redid the visitor’s center, but will probably make a trip this summer. If I’m lucky, I might even run into a blond-haired colonel from the 1800s, a harried school teacher, and a group of kids discussing rats and Slim Jims (although I’d be more than happy to settle for the colonel).

I’ve lost track of the historical sites I’ve visited over the years. How about you? Have you ever been to Gettysburg? If not, where else have you been that the ghosts of history still linger?