Jessie: Today we are delighted to be joined by the talented and prolific Kathy Lynn Emerson and her alter ego Kaitlynn Dunnett. Kathy knows a thing or two about writing mysteries and about New England weather. Welcome Kathy!
The Scottie Barked at Midnight is the third novel I’ve begun with an
accident on an icy or rainy Maine road in the month of March. Odd, you say? Not if you’ve ever visited Maine at that time of year. At its best, it’s mud season. At its worst, there is glare ice under the tires.
The first time was in my first published novel. Aimed at readers age eight to twelve, The Mystery of Hilliard’s Castle (1985) starts with the words “It was March and drizzling.” Everything the heroine can see is brown and dingy. There are still patches of snow in the fields and the road is slick. Then another car runs into them.
Next up came Cloud Castles (1989), my first published novel for grown ups. A romance in the Silhouette Intimate Moments imprint, it begins thus: “Rain spattered against the windshield in immense dripping blobs.” The heroine is on a desolate rural road in western Maine. A little later, when she tries to stop to avoid another vehicle, the car hydroplanes and she ends up facing back the way she came. When she passes out from a bump on the head, the other car disappears, making the story she gives the hunky deputy sheriff who rescues her seem highly suspect. Hey—it is a romance. Actually, it’s romantic suspense or, to use the old-fashioned term, “woman in jeopardy.”
After that, I stayed off slick Maine back roads, both in my writing and in real life, for a good many years, but in The Scottie Barked at Midnight (2015) there was just no other place to start. Here’s how Liss MacCrimmon’s latest adventure begins:
Liss Ruskin peered through her windshield into what could only be described as “a dark and stormy night.” She knew that phrase was a cliché but there were times when a few overused and hackneyed words did a better job of summing things up than a whole paragraph of metaphor and simile-laden description. This was one of them.
It’s not just raining, it’s sleeting. Liss is chugging along a “winding two-lane road at a snail’s pace, eyes peeled for glare ice on the pavement.” Her tires keep losing traction on the slick surface and she narrowly misses sliding sideways into a ditch. She’s relieved to make it safely down a long, steep hill, but she breathes a sigh of relief too soon.
It was at that instant that something darted out of the trees and ran right in front of Liss’s car. Despite everything she’d been taught about winter driving, Liss braked hard and turned the wheel, the desire to avoid killing a defenseless animal proving stronger than her sense of self-preservation.
The next seconds seemed to last an eternity. One tire hit a patch of black ice. The car slued toward the side of the road. Liss felt a small bump and hoped it was only the car going over the ridge of dirty, hard-packed snow left behind by a winter’s worth of plowing. Then an enormous tree loomed up out of nowhere. Sure she was about to slam head on into its massive trunk, Liss let go of the steering wheel, squeezed her eyes tightly shut, and covered her face with her arms.
Of course, since Liss is our heroine, you know she’s going to survive. But what about the animal she swerved to avoid? As soon as she stops shaking, she gets out of the car to look for it, and that’s where the Scottie of the title comes into the story.
Some people think it’s trite to start a book with the weather. Others say it’s taboo. As Liss does, I admit it’s a bit of a cliché, but when you live in Maine, the weather is more than just something you talk about. Come visit us in March and you’ll see what I mean.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries as Kathy (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall). The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and www.KaitlynDunnett.com
Sounds entirely justified, Kathy! And while I don’t live in Maine, I have driven on glare ice plenty of times in Massachusetts. Can’t wait to read the new book.
Yes, we in New England are used to glare ice, don’t like it but are used to it. Looking forward to this one.
I hadn’t heard the term “glare ice” for years, but my mother used to use it–and she learned to drive in Maine. Great start for the book!
We also use the term “glare ice” where I grew up in northern New York. As for whether it’s cliche to start off a story with the weather, a very good friend of mine, who’s had huge success in romance/women’s fiction, says you can break any rule you want … as long as you do it well. And you have done this extremely well, Kathy! I love this opening. And how could anyone not love that adorable Scottie dog in the plaid sweater?
I’ve never heard the term glare ice. Is it like black ice? The book sounds fascinating and I love this series!
My parents were both from Maine and my family all says glare ice too. Isn’t it surprising the things a post will reveal?
Morning, everyone. I’ve heard both glare ice and black ice used as pretty close to being the same thing–slick Tarmac you can’t see before you’re skidding on it. It would be glare ice when the sun is shining, but I’m not sure people always make that distinction in conversation. I know I don’t.
I should add, since it’s in the excerpt, that a car’s headlights would have the same effect as the sun, hence glare ice.That’s my story and I’m sticking to it . . . on the other hand, this might make a good entry for Kaitlyn’s “Bloopers Page”
The worst ice condition I ever encountered from back in the days when I was still responding to traffic accidents in the middle of Maine winter nights (while Kathy/Kaitlyn was tucked in safe and warm, I might add. :-)) was called “bottle ice”. That is when the ice is wet, slick and uneven underfoot to the extent that it feels like trying to walk on the inside of a bottle. Many bruises suffered to body and dignity.
See you at Crime Bake. I’m allowed to go this year! 🙂
Welcome, Kathy/Kaitlyn! So glad to see you here. And so glad to see you this weekend at the New England Crime Bake!
You can start your story with weather if you do it well. For example, using it to set the mood or if it plays into the action of the scene, then the weather is important. Obviously, that’s what you do here.
Never heard glare ice before, but I’m a CA native. In the parts of the state where I live, it’s rare we have ice on the roads period.
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