“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.” Of course it was.

Winter View - Sunset Point“Oh, winter,
We are falling,
We are hiding,
We are hibernating.

In the depths of the wake,
In the depths of the dark,

In the depths
of our dreams,
And so it seems,
That winter comforts me.~ Susie Suh (Winter)

Gimme Shelter: There’s snow in the forecast. It was sunny when I started this post,  but the skies grow darker. I’m glad. As a writer I’ve always loved winter weather. Any kind of inclement weather, really. I do my best writing when the weather is stormy or harsh—anything but sunny and warm.

My friend Rhiann Wynn-Nolet wrote a wonderful post about how she is inspired by winter, with some really lovely photos. Go take a look at it, here. In it, she writes beautifully and poetically about the stillness, the beauty, and the clarity of winter. I heartily agree.

There is a coziness about winter, and it’s not just the coziness of wearing warm socks (I know some of you were waiting for the sock reference, so I thought I’d get it out of the way). Stormy weather makes me appreciate the comforts of my little cottage. It’s the perfect weather for cuddling by the fire with a book. They always talk about summer being ideal for reading, but I’ve always done more reading in winter. And I think that this fondness for winter reading is part of my preference for writing in winter.

But for me there’s something deeper.

Winter in HazelhurstA winter’s day,
In a deep and dark December,
I am alone.

Gazing from my window to the streets below
,
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
.
I am a rock,
I am an island.”
~ Paul Simon (I Am a Rock)

Rock + Island = Fortress: There is solitude in winter. There is reflection, yes, and silence. In the depths of winter, here in our little resort town, I am alone in the world. Alone with my thoughts, my emotions, my dreams. I am alone with my characters—my stories. Splendid isolation, as Warren Zevon aptly calls it.

During my daily walks there is only the muffled crunch of boots on snow, the wind through the firs overhead. Sequestered in my cozy office—my window on a frosty forest—there is no human voice, no beach-going tourists passing my window, beckoning my attention. Here in my fortress of seclusion, I am more easily transported into the world of story.

Carry on, carry on, carry on,
Our silver horn it leads the way
.
Banners of gold shine
,
In the cold, in the cold,
in the cold,
Footprints of snow, we’re b
lind from the road.
Hail!
~Anthony Gonzalez (M83- Intro)

Winter Is Coming! I’m sure it’s no coincidence that many of the scenes in my four completed manuscripts are set in inclement weather. And I’m not alone. Many of my favorite Winter is coming-Game of throneshistorical fantasy stories rely on winter weather settings to create a mystique or a mood. Most notably, the ever impending multi-year long winter of GRR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire, much ballyhooed by the Starks, who made its coming their family motto. Winter also features prominently in the series I’m reading now: The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb.

There is something special about an impending storm—a potent cocktail of edgy anticipation and hunkering snugness. My characters endure swirling snow, bone-chilling wind, and stinging rain. My stormy mood is often imposed upon their world, creating a beautiful melancholia—the perfect backdrop for heightened conflict and emotional perseverance. Reading the trials of a favorite character in an epic tale is like experiencing the severity of the season through a frosty window pane, huddled under a throw in your favorite armchair.

My window on a snowy world.Are you an inclement weather reader or writer? Or perhaps neither—“just bring me my flip-flops and may palm trees swaying in a balmy breeze be the worst of my winter.” Either way, wishing you the season’s best!

45 comments on ““It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.” Of course it was.

  1. Seattle has a ton of writers . . . I know we flock here because, for many months of the year, Seattle provides the perfect writing weather: gray, wet, cold. 🙂

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    • When I was at Michigan State, they used to say only one city in America had more cloudy days than E. Lansing–Seattle, of course. 🙂 If we don’t start getting snow again, as in the days of yore, I may move out there. Thanks, Sarah!

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  2. mlswift says:

    I’ll read anything that begins with “It was a dark and stormy night.” As long as it’s not a serious piece of work. I’ve actually come across a couple of those…:)

    I’m not in an area with snow, but I love to write on a “dark and stormy day.” Curl up with something warm to drink (usually coffee), grab my laptop, and listen to the rhythm of the rain pelting the roof. It’s hypnotizing. An hour later, someone usually finds me, snapping their fingers to break me out of it, lest I squawk like a chicken or eat an onion thinking it was an apple. There are pros and cons to my rain-writing!

    The only time I’ve lived in an area with snow was in college, and since it was so foreign to me – so exciting – I always played in it. Writing and school work watched from the window, waiting for a warmer day.

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    • Great image of eating an onion thinking it was apple. Now that’s story immersion! 🙂 I’ve lived in a snowy clime all my life, and I still have those fond memories of special snow days. Thanks for sharing, ML!

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  3. katmagendie says:

    The is absolutely beautiful writing, Vaughn . . .

    (it’s funny because my novels are the opposite – usually set in spring and summer and rarely in winter. I hibernate in winter, not wanting to do anything but whine and snuggle in my rocker :D)

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    • Oh, this is a very special comment for me. Someone who writes beautifully said she thought mine was too. I can go back to bed now. My day–no, my month–is complete. 😀 Thanks so much, Kat! BTW, your love of spring and summer comes through in your prose. That’s what it’s all about, right? Conveying our passions to others. 🙂

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  4. kathils says:

    Wonderful post. I feel more alive during inclement weather, I don’t know why. My favorite time to walk in the woods is either during a snow fall, when the trees creak with their loads, or when it is raining, the stillness punctuated by the drop of water on leaves.

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    • That’s the ticket, KL! It makes us feel *more alive*, doesn’t it? Perfect. Great addition to the post! Thanks. Agreed, there is something so special about the Great Lakes forests during a snowfall, or even when it rains. I walk in the rain often, too. Thanks for your lovely comment. 🙂

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  5. This is a wonderful post, but I have to say that after sixteen Maine winters, I’m wearying. Don’t get me wrong, I love being indoors and writing during winter days and the way you describe this is wonderful! > “There is something special about an impending storm—a potent cocktail of edgy anticipation and hunkering snugness.”

    But… it’s the ice that gets me. We just get into a snow/ice cycle that is downright dangerous here and makes me quite cranky. So maybe I fall into the same camp as katmagendie… I just want to whine 🙂

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    • Agreed–Ice is an evil side-effect. So is brown road slush! I particularly disliked March when I lived in the city, for this very reason. I wear YakTrax on my boots on slick days. Do you know of them, Julia? A neighbor turned me on to them several years ago. I wouldn’t be without them now. I want to visit Maine in winter. I’ve been in the fall, which was gorgeous. Thanks for sharing. You are always welcome to whine here. 😉

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  6. deedetarsio says:

    Really, Vaughn? Even my eternal crush on Jon Snow is hard to stomach. I don’t understand one word of your post!

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  7. hawleywood40 says:

    Love this post! I hadn’t really thought about it until reading this, but I am a summer reader and a winter writer. I do both in each season, but am drawn more to creating when I’m cozy and warm inside but can go outside for a breath of crisp cold air (and maybe see some snowfall). My creative spark gets a little lazy and overheated in the hot humid Maryland summers, and I’m more drawn to reading a good book than to trying to write my own.

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    • I agree, coziness engenders creativity. Maybe that goes back to our DNA, when the weather kept our ancestors inside, the storytellers had to keep the peace by entertaining the cloistered tribe. 🙂 I’m distracted from my work by the heat as well. Even with the windows closed and A/C on, I want to get out. I really dislike A/C. Thanks for sharing, Pam!

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  8. hawleywood40 says:

    Oh, and Game of Thrones references always make me grin. Can’t wait until March (and may need to re-read the books AGAIN to pass the time).

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  9. kyle woosnam says:

    I love writing and reading when it is raining (yea, that is right…in Texas we don’t get snow here!). To me there is just something comforting about being dry and warm in a chair or at my desk. Even better though is waking at 5am or so and starting to write. I find there is no better time.

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    • Hey Kyle! Great to see you here. Probably don’t miss the snow, right? I know quite a few 5am writers, including novelist (and online mentor) Barbara O’Neal. It reminds me of the Somerset Maugham quote: “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes each day at 9am sharp.” If you know your time and ideal circumstances, it makes the work all the easier. Thanks for reading and commenting, my displaced Midwesterner friend. 🙂

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  10. sugaropal says:

    Lovely post! I definitely have a love-hate relationship with winter in Maine. Today was not unbearably cold or windy, so the snowy beach was pristine, beautiful and ALL MINE. Well, I shared with my doggies of course. But yesterday, sliding around the snow-greased roads in my husband’s Fiat, not so fun. I think you make a great point that stormy winter’s “dangerous” quality, in counterpoint with the snug coziness of a warm home, evokes very primal and powerful feelings. And thank you for the shout out 😀

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    • Another aspect that makes me love winter–the beach *belongs* to the dog and I, for months! We have a bench at the top of a dune, overlooking the lake. I throw a Frisbee from a sitting position, out across the dune-grass and into the pines beyond. Belle bounces off to get it, sometimes disappearing for several minutes at time. I just gaze at the lake. It’s beautiful even when it’s ice-covered (which it hasn’t been in a few years *sigh*). A Fiat on the snow doesn’t sound like much fun. And I worry about my wife on the roads, even though she has 4WD. So I can understand the love/hate thing. My pleasure on the shout out, Rhiann! You inspired me! 🙂

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  11. liz says:

    I hate the cold, but I love winter. I love hiking in the snow, and I love snuggling with my family on weekends. My last book was set in the summer, but my new one has several chapters set in December and January, and I’m really having fun with the writing.

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    • And may I just say, if you do winter like you did summer in Evenfall, it’ll be worth the wait. Summer was absolutely one of the characters of the book. I just loved the setting–so evocative, Liz! Glad you’re having fun with it! Thanks for the comment.

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  12. ddfalvo says:

    I always want to listen to your song choices! You might start a new trend in blogging if each played whilst we read–like the new audible kindle-type books with mood music. 😛

    Gimme Shelter always brings a shiver and makes for itchy fingers (idiom for wanting to create/compose). Hurricanes, wild rain, uncontrollable wind. Why is it that extreme conditions evoke the passion in writing? As with Pressfield’s advice to drop a body, we sit up and engage–from a position of safety, of course, much like the reader who rides danger from the soft cushions of an armchair.

    Loved your imagery. I heard the snow crunch, felt the rift of wind amid the silence. The isolation frees something deep inside. Awareness of our mortality always simmers just below the surface. We court danger, despite our fragility, and feel powerful when we survive it. It’s the human condition.

    I love Rhiann’s site and musings! Her future novels will be well-written, unique, and intriguing.

    The winters you pen are a wonderful contrast for your memorable, passion-filled characters.

    May the fire in your hearth be ever filled with fatted logs, and your winter socks be ever cushy. 😛

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    • I think I’ll start linking to the songs. Good idea!

      I think you’re right, that we are reminded of our mortality by harsh weather, even as we’re comforted by the thought that we will survive it–that the essence of our shelter, which is our most elemental possession, is built to endure it. Astute observation, D.

      I agree about Rhiann–can’t wait to read her. I’m glad you’re enjoying my severe weather settings. And what a lovely blessing, to wish me cushy socks! 🙂 Thanks, D, for another wonderful comment!

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  13. Lovely post, Vaughn. Calls to mind that Robert Frost poem about the two paths. I get you about the winter. Autumn also brings a wee melancholy. Thanks for bringing a poetic start to my day.

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    • Had to go reread Frost’s The Road Not Taken. Haven’t in years, so thanks for that. It’s an old fave. I agree about autumn. My wife’s redoing her website for work, and we were picking visuals. I selected one looking up a tree-lined country lane in autumn. It’s so evocative for me. I’ll share it when it goes live. Thanks, as always, for brightening my day, my friend!

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  14. I’m a huge fan of autumn and winter, where I have an excuse to stay indoors and not feel guilty for not being outside enjoying the hot summer sun. Ugh.
    I also write better in cold, gray weather with either rain or snow. Perfect writing conditions.

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    • I’m not good in the heat, either, Melissa. There is sort of an element of guilt to not being outside in the summer, isn’t there? I can almost hear my mother yelling: “It’s a beautiful day! Go outside and play!” Not that I didn’t enjoy being outdoors when I was a boy, but she wanted us out of the house even more than we were willing to go. Looking back, can’t say as I blame her. 😉 Thanks!

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  15. […] “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night.” Of course it was. […]

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  16. I think I could write just fine on a beach surrounded by palm trees. I can still have dark and stormy thoughts and ideas. Especially after living in North Dakota for a couple of years, winter snows are just a big pain in the neck. I could use a little balmy right about now.

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    • Ah, but doesn’t a good harsh winter make you appreciate the balmy all the more when we get it, Karen? Wishing you a nice beach to write on, in the not too distant future. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  17. We used to have distinct seasons in my neck of the woods and winter lasted 5+ months. I don’t mind it, but I enjoy fall and spring more. It’s that sense of portent which energizes me.

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    • New Year’s Day I had a nice conversation with my friend from the Great White North about how beautiful your province is. I’ve been to BC plenty, but never back over the mountains on your side of the border. Must visit. (As you might guess, I don’t think I’d mind the 5 months.)

      “It’s that sense of portent which energizes me.” Oh, I love this, and it sounds suspiciously like it comes from the heart–you intellectual writer, you. 😉 Thanks for weighing in, Jan! 🙂

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  18. Lisa Ahn says:

    I grew up in Upstate NY, on the lakes, so we had SNOW. My brother fell into a drift when he was a kid and got lost. That kind of snow. I still love a good snow storm, and my favorite days for reading are the rainy ones. As a writer, I’ll take the beach or the fireplace, as long as the words flow. Love this post, Vaughn!

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    • We get the very front edge of the lake-effect, but upstate NY gets the brutal brunt! The story of your brother getting lost is funny, but I imagine it was no joke then. Winter can be dangerous, I know. Thanks for sharing, Lisa. Glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

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  19. There’s something about winter that finds me turning inwards . . . a time for reflection, for slowing down for snuggling with a nice thick blanket in front of a roaring log fire with my animals close by. I tend to read in fits and bursts but find myself turning the pages of a book more so during the winter months.

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    • “Turning inwards” is a lovely turn of phrase, Kathryn, and apt. Thanks so much for stopping by. Enjoy those cozy nights. Based on what I’ve seen, I know the time for reflection will yield some beautiful work from you.

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  20. Nicole L. Bates says:

    “Splendid Isolation”, I love that, and love the memories of having that. 🙂 I definitely do my best writing during long stretches of quiet solitude, but that’s hard to come by anymore. As far as the weather, I do love to curl up with a book on a rainy or cold, snowy day. There’s something almost magical about it, as if the change in the weather helps you to forget where you are, or perhaps pushes you to imagine being somewhere else. 😉 Great pictures!

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    • One of my fondest fantasies is to move for our ‘golden years’ to an even more remote location, and Northern Michigan is my among my very favorite places on earth. There’s something very special about the terrain and the mixture of trees. Very inspiring. So, no matter how busy, you have that going for you. 😉 I agree about the magic of rainy/snowy reading.

      Do you get Michigan Blue Magazine, Nicole? Jerry Dennis’s column, on the last page of the last issue, was part of the inspiration for this post. I was going to cite him, and link to it, but they don’t put any of their content online. He’s a Traverse City native, and a very good nature writer. Check out his books if you see them in the local stores. I think I discovered his work at McLean & Eakin. Thanks, and have a great weekend! 🙂

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      • Nicole L. Bates says:

        I completely agree about Northern Michigan. I know I’m a bit biased, but it is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve been, and I have traveled a bit. I hope you’re able to make that dream come true someday!

        I don’t get Michigan Blue but I have heard of it. I will definitely look for Jerry Dennis’s work. My husband is from the TC area and I’m guessing they’d have his books, and the magazine, somewhere around there. Thanks for the tip! I hope you have a great weekend as well. It’s perfect here!

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  21. Story Addict says:

    I haven’t seen winter for a majority of my life, but from what I do remember of it, snow was the most magical part. And every time I write it into a story, the scene itself seems to turn all the more magical. Weather is such a great tool to control the mood of a story, especially rain and snow. The time of day is also a great mood-setter (not a word, but yes.) Great post, Vaughn! Btw, I gave a villain in my new YA book part of your name. I don’t know why, but it sounded cool and appropriate. *runs away* 😀

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    • I agree about time of day, Margaret. I use evening and early morning often. I think we should coin the word mood-setter. If we both start using it, it’s sure to catch on. 😉 I’m honored by the name use! And a villain, yet! I love writing them. Makes it doubly special. Thanks for letting me know. Cheers, Margaret. Enjoy a mood-setting evening! 🙂

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  22. […] unusual for me. I’ve written about my love of the change of seasons, and my fondness for winter, here. But what a winter we’ve had here in the Mighty Mitten! With record-setting snow levels and a […]

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