Do You Read in Time?

Do you read in time? By that, I mean do you read stories in the month or season in which they are set? Most readers have their favorite Christmas and Halloween stories that they reread around those holidays. Since I love mysteries, and for some reason Christmas and mysteries like to hang out for the holiday season, I have tons to choose from.

But I also read stories which are set during non-holiday times. My brother-in-law, for example, reread The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early spring each year because the Battle of Pelennor Fields, the epic battle at the end of The Return of the King, is fought in March.

I read Watership Down in June because that’s when the story starts. It covers most of the summer with an epilogue in the fall, but I read it in June because the description of nature is so lush that it seems to fit in that month. For the same reason, I read The Time Machine in summer. The Time Traveler travels to the year 802,701. This England of far in the future is experiencing a gold summer so it makes sense to reread it during this season. I read the mystery stories featuring Uncle Abner as the detective in fall because some of my favorite stories from this series are set them, although others are set in other seasons.

I think I like to read in time because it makes me feel closer to the story, like I’m living it with the characters.

Sometimes, I choose to read a book at the same time I discovered it. I took The Father Hunt by Rex Stout with me on our summer vacation a few years ago. It was so wonderful to rediscover this mystery that I packed it again for our next summer vacation and will continue to do so this year. The flip side of that is that bad circumstances can make me dislike a story. I read a Nero Wolfe novella while driving home from visiting my parents during the holiday season. For some reason, I got car sick while my husband drove. The next time I tried to read the novella, that sensation of nausea came over me again. Fortunately, after a space of several years, I could reread the story with no ill effects.

Write in Time

I also tend to write in time. In A Shadow on the Snow, I have pivotal scene occur during a snowstorm on Valentine’s Day and the novel ends on Good Friday. For the next novel in the series, I open on Memorial Day and plan to wrap it up on Father’s Day. Using the holidays as touchstones isn’t something I thought a lot about. Since family is critical to my stories, it makes sense to work in holidays, which are often the most memorable events in the life of a family.

What do you think? Besides reading Christmas stories at the appropriate time, do you read in time?

Valentine’s Day Isn’t Just for Romance

My family will find it funny for me to do a post on Valentine’s Day as a story starter because I don’t read or write romance. But Valentine’s Day isn’t just for romance. I discovered that while writing my YA mystery, A Shadow on the Snow.

The story is set in rural Ohio from the end of January to the end of March. In the middle, I planned a suspenseful chase through a snowstorm. My main character Rae has been doubting the strength of her new relationship with her newly found father. I realized Valentine’s Day was the perfect day for her to come to grips with these doubts because the day honors all kinds of love. And I could set my snowstorm chase then because in Ohio, we get all kinds of wild, wintery weather in February.

Below are some other ideas for exploring more than romantic love on Valentine’s Day.

Stepparents

A Valentine’s Day story could center on a child coming to some kind of friendly relationship with a stepparent. The child could actually be a child, or a teen, or a middle-aged adult who isn’t sure what to make of a widowed parent’s new spouse.

Grandparents

Explore the relationship between a grandparent and grandchild. Or to give the story a better twist, a great-grandparent and great-grandchild. It could be a simple story of the two characters enjoying each other’s company. Or maybe a deeper one in which the grandparent realizes the grandchild has a serious problem and needs to communicate that to the parents.

Siblings and Cousins

Valentine’s Day is a wonderful day for warring siblings or cousins to bury the hatchet. Or for the reconciliation of any family members.

For more ideas for using Valentine’s Day was writing inspiration, click here.

Now it’s your turn. Since Valentine’s Day isn’t just for romance, what kind of different Valentine’s Day story would you write? Or what non-romantic story have you’ve read set on Valentine’s Day?

Winter Solstice as Writing Inspiration

I am reprinting last year’s Writing in Time as I attempt to finish my WIP by Dec. 7.

Christmas overshadows every other December holiday in America. Yet the winter solstice is the reason we celebrate Christmas in this month. Both the history and nature of the shortest day of the year can provide ideas for using the winter solstice as writing inspiration.

Many ancient cultures, according to The Christmas Encyclopedia by William D. Crump, figured out which day in the northern hemisphere had the shortest amount of daylight, all without the help of computers. Babylonians, Syrians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, pre-Christian Celtic and Germanic tribes celebrated this time of year. Egyptians commemorated the birth of Ra, the sun god. Babylonians and Syrians saw the solstice as a symbol of returning fertility to the land. During the Celtic and Germanic holiday of Yule, noisy celebrations warded off evil spirits that roamed in the darkness.

In a brilliant move of counter-programming, the Catholic Church decided to celebrate Jesus’ birth in December and compete against pagan holidays. We still use some of the pagan traditions. Christianity has given them new meanings to pagan customs, like lighting candles and decorating with evergreens.

The juxtaposition of the most hours of darkness and the happiest holiday on the Christian calendar makes a great symbol for the journey of a character. As December grows darker, the character experiences more and more adversity, hitting bottom on the day of the solstice. Then on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, hope is restored. The day with the most darkness is also a fitting setting for the climax of a thriller or mystery. The hero and villain confront each other on a night when evil seems to be at the height of its powers.

For speculative fiction, a villain reaches her most powerful state during the winter solstice. The hero, whose powers are at their weakest, must come up with a way to stop the villain from taking advantage of the solstice.

How can you use the winter solstice as writing inspiration?

Fall Weather as Writing Inspiration

Fall is the best time of year in Buckeye State. Cool nights, warms days, and little precipitation allows people to enjoy the fun and wonders of fall. So it was fairly easy for me to use fall weather as writing inspiration.

Harvest

Farmers in my county are in full harvest mode. Combines of all sizes are collecting the corn and soybean crops. If I wanted to write about that kind of harvest, I’d have to do research and interview farmers from my church. But one harvest I am familiar with is black walnuts.

Black walnut trees are plentiful on our property as well as all over the county. The trees drop their nuts, usually, the last week of September or the first week of October. Getting the meat out of a black walnut is a laborious process–the green husk must be removed and the black gunk (I tried to find a precise term for this stuff and couldn’t) between the husk and nut stains everything, but the hardest part, literally, is cracking the nut itself.

Black walnuts are much, much tougher than English walnuts. It took us years before we found an effective tool to break the shells without straining our muscles or dodging shell shrapnel as a less helpful nut cracker turned some nuts into mini bombs.

The whole process is ripe (pun intended) for a humorous story about a family tackling a black walnut harvest. Or it could be a family drama in which the harvest ties generations together.

Indian summer

We’re experiencing one right now in my county. Wikipedia states that Indian summer is a warm, dry period in October or November after a frost. The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a much more detailed definition. Either way, this kind of weather allows us to experience one last shot of summer before winter settles in.

That makes me think of using this weather phenomenon as a setting for a main character who gets one last chance to achieve something. I’m not the first writer to think of it. I found on Wikipedia that William Dean Howell’s wrote a novel in 1886 entitled Indian Summer about a man who falls in love in middle age.

Indian summer seems like the perfect backdrop for a reconciliation between friends, or relatives, or husband and wife. I could also use it for a character who gave up some passion that he loves, maybe painting, for a more traditional job and gets another chance to follow his dream. Any story about a loss and then an unexpected hope of recovery will work.

Blue Moon of Halloween

I hope those of you who celebrate Halloween got to experience the blue moon. It was a perfectly clear night at our house, and the full moonlight was magical. My husband and I took a walk into the woods under its silver glow. I’ve written before about how to use a full moon night as writing inspiration. What intrigues me was the fact that there hasn’t been a blue moon on Halloween since 1944.

What if in the waining days of World War II, the Nazis unleash some horrible evil force or entity that was only accessible on Halloween under a blue moon? A young soldier, who witnessed this act, has dedicated his life to fighitng it. Now that 2020 was arrived with another blue moon on Halloween, he has a chance to destroy the evil. But he’s in his nineties. He must assemble a team to help him. A group of Neo-Nazis could be defending the evil. I could even work in how the pandemic is hampering the good guys’ efforts.

What’s fall like where you live? How could you use fall weather as writing inspiration?

Cemeteries as Writing Inspiration

No, it’s not as morbid as it sounds. Since this month’s themes is mysteries, I wanted to feature a setting that works for that genre as well as many others. Don’t think cemeteries can work as writing inspiration for more than mystery and horror? Read on!

Walking a Cemetery

I’ve walked through cemeteries usually with two purposes in mind: to get a sense of the history of an area and to look for unusual names for characters. A large cemetery is also a quiet place to walk and plot not worry about traffic.

On my visits, I’ve noticed a very sad trend. If I spot a tombstone that stands out from the surrounding ones, regardless of how old the grave is, it usually honors someone who died young. That gets me to thinking. Who was this person? Why did he or she died so young, What happened to their family?

Those thoughts can run through the mind of my main character (MC). Perhaps a teenage boy has the job of mowing a cemetery. He notices an unusual tombstone and begins digging into the past to discover what he can about the person buried there.

If I write a parallel story about the person who died–maybe he’s a teen who lived around 1900–I would have a time-slip novel with complimentary storylines in two different time periods.

Family Connections

Twice, I’ve taken my kids to lay flowers on the graves of relatives from my mom’s side in Shinnston, West Virginia, during Memorial Day weekend. I’ve written about how important that experience is to me and for me to share with my kids. That can be the inspiration for my MC to connect to his family or to dive into family history.

We often run into relatives when we stop. Last time, it was my mom’s first cousin and her husband. A chance encounter like that can forge new family bonds for my MC. Or maybe bury the hatchet on a long-running family feud. Or the spouse of my MC learns more than he ever wanted to know about his wife’s more distant relations.

Any genre will do.

Any of the inspirations from above can be tweaked to apply to a romance or mystery. The teen researching the interesting headstone enlists the shy, smart girl in his class to help him. They discover the young person who died was the victim of an unsolved murder. And someone lets them know he wants it to remain unsolved.

I have a special fondness for mysteries featuring cold cases or buried family secrets or both. The skeleton in the closet may be a skeleton in a coffin. I like the idea of a cemetery being a symbol for long-buried secrets. Then the detective, whether amateur or professional, can finally bring about justice after so many years.

One thing I learned about cemeteries in my area is that if I want to know who is buried where, it’s not as simple as visiting “Find A Grave”. Churches used to maintain many of the smaller cemeteries and kept the records for them. During a cemetery walk, led by a librarian from our local library, she said the Baptist church that had started the cemetery we were visiting burned at some point, losing their records for the locations of the graves. She mentioned that three mausoleums were built into the hillside along the edge of the cemetery, but she couldn’t find out who was buried there.

The hillside was now thickly overgrown. On a later visit, I found all of them. I didn’t get to close because two of the mausoleums were open. I didn’t know if anyone was still buried in them. But those mausoleums sent my imaginations spinning.

What if the key to a mystery was finding the grave of a particular person? What if the records had been burned in a church fire? How would the detective find it?

Or what if on Halloween night, some teens dare each other to enter a mausoleum that one of them knows is open? What if they find a very recently killed body?

Writers, how would you use cemeteries as writing inspiration? Readers, can you think of a story that used a cemetery as something other than a setting in a horror story?

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