Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Guest Post – Holiday Gifts by Lee Barwood

Written By: Tracy - Dec• 20•11

Holiday Gifts
By Lee Barwood

The holiday season always carries an extra glamour for me—glamor in the sense of magic, since when I first began writing for publication I always looked forward to the week between Christmas and New Year’s because my day job shut down from Christmas Eve till the first weekday after the New Year. That was my uninterrupted time to write, I always told myself, though often it worked out as anything but.

However, one year we had a truly Dickensian storm—snow, ice, and everything in between. I have always loved storms in general, and snowstorms in particular, and was thrilled to watch the snow come howling down in clouds of white that brightened the night far beyond the streetlamps and struck insistently against the windowpanes. My husband and I thought it was great fun—we each had some part of us that had never quite grown up—and looked forward to playing in the drifts the next day with our dogs, one of whom absolutely adored snow and could figure out more games to play by herself in it than any creature I have ever known.

At the time I was in the habit of rising at 4:30 AM to write, so that I could put in a couple of good hours before I had to get ready for the day job. And as horrible as that hour of the day may sound, there was something in that early morning stillness that was very conducive to writing—and I had gotten used to it, so I did so again the morning after the snowstorm. After all, it had been so difficult to establish the habit I was not anxious to have to work at it once more after the holidays were over. Besides, I told myself, during Christmas break I could always take a nap if I got sleepy later. Thus resolved, and armed with a cup of coffee, I staggered off in the direction of my typewriter (yes, pre-computer days).

It seemed even more quiet than usual as I went into my library and set to work. The wind had died down from the storm, and there was that unique hush that a heavy snowfall always brings to urban areas when activity is at a minimum and no one has yet started shoveling or snowblowing to dig out and resume normal life. Most of the neighborhood, in fact, had the good sense still to be asleep—after all, it was the Christmas holidays, time to kick back and relax a bit now that the mad activity of the pre-Christmas rush was over. My husband was sleeping, our dogs snuggled around him; I was the only fool up at this hour, knocking on the door of inspiration in the aftermath of a blizzard.

I was at a point in my story where my main character was finding out the truth about her background, and that she had roots in the realm of Faerie—a notion that I had found particularly enticing when I originally devised it. But I was finding it challenging to tease out the threads of magic that needed to weave through her up-till-now-mortal life, and find a way to hit her with the full shock of her heritage when she realized the truth. As I reviewed what I had already written and added a sentence here, a phrase there, the minutes passed and the level of coffee in my cup diminished almost unnoticed. Minutes turned to an hour, then two, and I kept on.

And then the brightening dawn finally registered in my thoughts, and I looked up and out the window to see as enchanted a Fairyland as ever man might have dreamed up.

I said that the storm had brought both snow and ice. The trees and power lines—indeed, every surface I could see—were rimed with a clear sheath of ice that glittered and turned the most amazing colors in the early dawn sunlight. Roses and golds, pinks and sheer brightness dazzled, from the tips of branches down to the glazed snowdrifts below my windows. The sun danced from place to place, and anything that was free to move—like the string of lights across the street blown free by the wind—coruscated with brilliance.
Talk about magic!

With that as inspiration I went back to work, changing passages already done and adding new ones as quickly as I could put them on paper.

But that was only the beginning.

When the hour grew late enough to think about breakfast and some other kind of activity—a point at which my writing was usually doomed to the shelf till another day—we found that we were snowed in. Between snow and its icy coating, we weren’t going anywhere until we had either spent much time and energy clearing paths and vehicles—not to mention waiting for plows to come through—or the weather changed, and, when we thought about it, there was really no need to embark on such frenzied activity. We’d had no plans, and there was no place we had to be. My husband was in the middle of a particularly good book he was anxious to finish, and now my fingers itched to be back at the keyboard.

So back we went to our chosen activities, with intermissions for meals, playing with the dogs, and another favorite pastime: watching as many different versions of “A Christmas Carol” as we could.

That day set the pattern for the ones that followed, and we pretty much stayed home even when the plows had come through and a brief thaw made it feasible to shovel and clear the car. I wrote and wrote, not just on my current WIP but notes about the effects of weather, and magic, and enforced confinement that had never occurred to me before that would prove to be useful in many stories to come. The snow and ice had not only provided an incredible feast for the eye but an inspiration for the mind as well.

And when, some years later, we had moved to a very rural area and were snowed and iced in again, this time for three solid weeks—during which time we went nowhere but for walks on our own property—I had the eyes to see more such clues, and the turn of mind to understand how such constraints could affect the characters in still other books and tales. Prints in the snow transformed themselves into poems and into vignettes in stories. Our very inaccessibility turned into a survival situation in a novel; the surprisingly fast retreat of the level of food in our freezer and the daily need to split wood for our woodstove—at the time our only source of heat—created a desperate fictional scenario in which characters found unexpected inner resources or desperate challenges in their quest for food, and warmth, and safety.

When one lives in a very mobile society and is suddenly cut off from travel, from all the things that make modern life what it is, one remembers that man did not always live this way. Indeed, our way of life is very new, and of very short duration, though, since it is all many of us have ever known, we tend to forget this. Looking at it, and at the old ways, with new eyes, can bring a wealth of writing to life. The gut-level experiences of characters forced to confront things that we in our everyday lives are unfamiliar with can make all the difference—a holiday gift, indeed.

Gryphon Award winner Lee Barwood often writes about the plights of animals and the environment, with a paranormal edge. Her environmental suspense/thriller A Dream of Drowned Hollow won Andre Norton’s Gryphon Award and garnered rave reviews. Lee is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America, the Authors Guild, BroadUniverse, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her Haunted Ozarks series is peopled by those whose otherworldly abilities go beyond the physical universe. She finds that mystery and the paranormal fit together perfectly, embracing the unknown and offering clues to more than one puzzle at a time.

 

Lee also writes for younger readers. Her YA time travel novel, The Trail Through the Mist, set on the Cherokee Trail of Tears, will be a Double Dragon release in 2012. Her three titles from Koala Jo Publishing are geared toward children of various ages, and all royalties from the sale of Klassic Koalas: Ancient Aboriginal Tales in New Retellings are donated to the Australian Wildlife Hospital for the care of koalas and other animals under threat. Learn more about her and her work at www.leebarwood.com.

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