Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Winter 2012 in Washington and Environment in Story

Yup, it's winter in Washington. And I'm not talking rain. Honestly, it's up to my kneecaps out there now. These are a couple of pictures I took this morning.

I checked my picture folder and the last one I have labeled for snowfall in Washington is 2008. Luckily, I went grocery shopping just a couple days ago, I have all my techie stuff on chargers just in case. And I've backed up my working folder onto my Seagate in case I end up needing to work from my netbook, which has about a 6-8-hour battery life. Oil lamps in place, batteries newly purchased. Think we'll be fine. Snow is still falling, Marley does not want to go out as the snow is over her head, so here we are tucked away inside. Thought I'd do a blog now, just in case reception gets a little funky later.

The forecast is that it's supposed to taper off later, so we'll see. Snow doesn't often last a really long time, usually turns to rain, but that's when it can get a little tricky. I like the snow, not so much on the icy stuff. Makes me glad that these days I work at home. A real good day to hunker down and just get to the writing. Though I just got in a story to edit last night, so may pick that up today and get to the editing.

The other thing I like to do on "special" days like this is go outside and take pictures. Or just stand outside and experience the weather. It comes in handy when it comes time to write about weather, and the look of things, the feel, the smell. Remember it, use it, draw out the environment in story.

Not too long ago I wrote a fairytale-based story, "Poppy Rider and the Glass Shards," which tales place in Washington and then mostly near the North Pole and really cold weather.

Lou opened up the reddish binoculars and gazed off into the distance. As he studied the landscape, he adjusted the sliding brass scale. Poppy saw three beams of red light emit from the instrument and as she watched and Lou adjusted, the beams intersected to form one straight line. He then locked the reading into place.

"Ah, now we have it." He looked at the reading. "The location of the Fantasmic Corridor is always shifting. In this part of the world hardly anything ever stays the same." He held up the instrument. "This is a fantasnigator and helps to fix the current position of the corridor. Now we can be off."

He put the fantasnigator away and then, pressing a button, he started the motor. He expertly steered out into the waters, passing through channels littered with bits of ice looking like jagged shards of white gleaming glass. Poppy leaned over the side to scoop up one of the pieces that looked slightly different from the rest. It appeared to be an actual piece of looking glass.

"This isn't ice, is it?" she asked, holding it up for Lou to see. He slowed the boat, quickly glanced down at the shard in her hand, then out at the sea of pieces scattered across the surging dark blue water. He idled the boat and then donned a pair of round red-colored spectacles and studied the sharp piece more closely.

"Just what I thought," Lou said. "This one is a piece from the goblin's broken mirror. Dangerous and you shouldn't be handling it."

"You mean that magic mirror that Moira told us about?" Poppy asked.

"Yes. Good thing you have your gloves on. If it had cut you, we might have been in for a whole other set of problems." Lou reached beneath the seat and pulled out what looked like a green fishing tackle box. He opened it and tossed the piece inside. "Don't want anyone else coming into contact with it. Then he took off his glasses and turned his attention back to steering the boat out across the water.

The air was brisk, but probably not close to being as cold as it would have been had they tried this in the middle of winter. And, of course, the drug apparently helped with their body temperature.

It was an eerie feeling as they glided through the still waters, the ghostly presence of icy glaciers surrounding them. Lou said they were headed to a place called Snowy Inlet. From there they would trek across the ice to the location of the Fantasmic Corridor.

Poppy saw a white bird soaring overhead, wings outstretched, and she surmised most of the animals blended in almost seamlessly with the arctic environment.

Lou docked the boat and they got out. Poppy had thought there was a barrenness to the environment before--but here it was a stark isolation that went far beyond anything she knew. The land was so vast--open and big and pristine. Beautiful and yet frighteningly desolate.

"Here, take these," Lou said. He handed each of them a set of lightweight black goggles with red eyeglass, similar to what a swimmer might wear. "Put them on when I tell you. It's the only way you'll be able to navigate the Corridor, both going in and coming out.

Thirty minutes later, goggles in place, Poppy was shocked when she suddenly saw a kaleidoscope of colors erupt in front of her eyes. If felt like she was wearing a pair of those strange sixties psychedelic spectacles, except there was only one area where the odd aurora borealis-like imagery appeared. If she looked in other directions she saw white ice and blue sky and water.

"This is weird," Gray said.

Poppy peered down the strange Corridor of undulating lights. She finally realized that there were several entry points along the corridor and each was a different color, yet distinctly at odds from the undulating lights in the sky.

"Do you see them?" Lou asked.

"You mean the portals?" Poppy said.

"Yes, that's it."

"But which one do we go through? And more importantly how do we get back?"

"The goggles will help you to identify the correct gateway in order to return. Once on the other side, walk toward the sun and eventually a guide will meet up with you and escort you to the palace. The passageway you're looking for is sky blue. Just remember that. The other portals will take you to other realms and you don't want to go there. There are different rules to each realm. And it gets very complicated."

"This is just so strange," Poppy said. "I never would have guessed."

Lou turned and smiled at her. "You aren't supposed to guess. That's the whole point. Let's get your gear out of the boat and then you'll be on your way."

It took them the better part of another hour to get things organized and the small lightweight sled repacked. Will donned the harness for the first leg of the trip.

"Looks like you're all set," Lou said.

"How will we get back to you?" Poppy felt panic begin to set in. Lou put an arm around her and hugged her.

"You'll be fine. I'll know when you return. It's my job to know the comings and goings of the Corridor."

Lou hugged and kissed each of them before sending them on their way.

"Thank you for everything, Lou," Poppy said. Somehow within the last twenty-four hours Lou had become an integral part of her family and she hated the thought of leaving him behind.

He grinned. "My part is finished and yours is beginning. But I think it's me who should be thanking you. You're marvelous, Poppy. I'll miss you." His look took them all in. "I'll miss all of you." There was a twinkle in his eye that had Poppy blushing. Well, she had to admit her time in Griesefiord had been quite a rare and pleasant interlude.

Poppy, Will, and Gray headed toward the blue portal that wavered as though caught in a breeze that didn't seem to originate in this world.

"Well, I guess this is it," Poppy said. She took a deep breath and then stepped toward the blue gateway.

"No," Will said as he grabbed her arm and stopped her from being the first to pass through the portal. "I'll go first."

"It doesn't matter," Poppy said.

"It does to me." And then he moved ahead, dragging the sleigh behind him before she could argue further. He disappeared from view and for a moment Poppy panicked as she lost sight of him.

She quickly followed, and Gray brought up the rear. They found themselves in what looked like a long icy tube, the floor slick as ice. Pressure seemed to suck at Poppy, making it difficult for her to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. Gray squeezed up next to her and grabbed her arm, guiding her forward. It was with a sense of relief that they finally reached the end of the tube and found themselves in a place vastly different and yet eerily the same as the world they had just left.

Once settled into this other icy realm, they removed the special goggles and replaced them with regular snow goggles. The first thing that struck Poppy was the stillness. A complete and utter silence. And then she turned her attention to the sky. Dark swirling clouds shot through with streaks of gold and red. The colors merged and separated, every now and then offering a glimpse of the fierce, almost blinding glow of an odd undulating orange sun.

"Well, I guess we go this way," Gray said as he shaded his eyes and looked up at the sky. "The sooner we're on our way, the faster we finish up and get back."

Weather and how we portray it in our stories is integral, whether it's dry and hot, moist and steamy, cold and wet. The environment must play into a story, into the character's actions, into their physical comfort or discomfort. Into their heightened senses and awareness. How does their body react to the environment? If they are a species other than human what effect does weather have on them? Or does it not affect them at all? Shock and anger, passion and depression, can all play a part on how the environment affects us--our mind and body often responding in unexpected ways. Each person may respond differently. Our body temperatures are not all the same. Just because we're human doesn't mean all respond the same to a given environment. Who is your character? Does she run around in winter without a coat on, like a friend of mine does? Does his temperature tend to run abnormally high? Also, keep in mind that at different times of the day, the weather affects us differently.

In winter, when I walk Marley at say 5 a.m., it's not all that cold, and the sky can be so clear and endless. Two hours later it's like the temperature has dropped significantly. It's freezing. It always feels odd to me how it does that.

When it's snowing I often feel like the noises and sounds tend to be muffled, softer. There's a quietness to the environment, it smells clean and brisk and inviting. It's energizing. But what about later in January when there's dirty snow and bits of ragged ice. There's a different sort of atmosphere.

Never ignore the environment. Make it come alive, weave it carefully and thoughtfully into the story to envelope the characters, and make the atmosphere come alive for readers as well.

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