Wednesday, August 10, 2022

A force of nature

Do you use weather in your books to create atmosphere or mood? Talk to us about meteorology.

by Dietrich

Weather and the wrath of nature can certainly add realism, heighten a story’s tension, rack up the pace, or act as an ominous character. It makes me think of some favorite novels like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

Just for fun (along with a touch of self-promotion), I dug up a few lines from my own novels where nature’s hard at play. 

… from House of Blazes

Hot enough to peel skin. Quinn jerked at the cuffs. The

rocket of pain shot up his arm, nothing against the terror of

being burned alive. Flames spread and curled at the ceiling

beams. A board clattered down, then another, sparks flying

back up to the roof beams. Hot as an incinerator.

Glimmers and shadows danced like demons, smoke

choking and billowing. Couldn’t quash the panic, Quinn

swatting at sparks. A deep breath and a gathered rush, he let

go a yell, lugging the bench straight at the door, the wooden

legs sliding on the scattered hay. Throwing his weight, he

heaved the bench at the opening. Levi sitting out in the

Stanley, watching him.

Flinders flew and wood struck the doorway, the frame

splintered down one side. Gulping hot air, Quinn shoved

the bench back, hay catching all around his feet. Rushing

again, the frame ripping free the second time. Couldn’t feel

the broken hand or the foot at all now.

Backing the bench farther into the oven, Quinn thought

one more charge would do it.

The upper floor was totally aflame now.

Eyes on the freedom beyond the doorway, Quinn

dropped his weight low and dragged the bench for the


… from Call Down the Thunder

Sonny Myers narrowed his eyes against the gust, felt the

rush of cold, the air crackling: static electricity churning

and hellfire flashing inside the mass of black looming high

over the flat land. The yard a frenzy of whipping sand and

debris by the time he got his mule and car in the barn. Felt

like the end of times coming. Through the boiling wall of

sand, Sonny made out two sets of headlights approaching

on the county road. Could be coming for shelter from the

duster, but something told him no. Going to the house,

reaching inside the door, he took the shotgun and stepped

off the porch.

Coming to the door, Clara wanting to have a look.

“Just a blow.” He told her to stay inside.

“What you gonna do, shoot it?”

His eyes slits, Sonny stepped into the yard, forcing his

steps, having to lean into it, going toward the headlights.

Looked like two pickups stopped down by the mailbox,

lights dim against the blasting sand. Doors opened and men

got out. Nobody he knew. Best he could tell there were six

of them, pulling hoods on. Two going to the bed of the first

truck, pulling a long cross from the back. Sonny smelling

kerosene and oil from where he stood, halfway to the house.

A couple of them fanned to his left, heading for the side of

the house, flanking him.

Sonny fired in the air, the only warning they’d get, popping

in another shell. Leaving the ones by the trucks, Sonny

went after the pair going wide around the house. Couldn’t

see twenty feet ahead as the duster bore down. Hurrying

around the side, his eyes searched for them somewhere

ahead of him. One hand against the boards, he made his

way around the back, staying low. Expecting an ambush.

… from Cradle of the Deep

Denny turned the wheel and missed hitting the ice hut. The Cortina

off the hard track again and plowing deeper snow. Feeling

the tires spin and dig in, he pressed the pedal, making out

the dark patch ahead on the white blanket. Didn’t know

what it meant. Heard the swishing sound against the undercarriage.

Denny seeing the sign on a stake:


“Out!” Throwing open his door, he stepped into the

slush. Ankle-deep, the water as icy as that time with Nort,

Denny felt the panic, wanting to get away from the car, but

forcing himself around to the back. He yanked at the trunk,

but couldn’t get it to pop. Needed the keys dangling from

the ignition. Ice cracked under his foot, and Denny grabbed

Bobbi as she came around the back, catching her wrist, tugging

her away.

Twisting to get free, she yelled, “Get the money!”

He pulled her to the ice hut. Looking back, no idea where

the cops were, seeing nothing but the falling snow. Couldn’t

see the shore or the patrol cars with their flashing lights.

“The money! We can’t leave it,” she yelled.

Feeling the cracking of ice under his feet, he tugged

her. Getting behind the hut, he looked out, couldn’t see ten

feet through the falling snow. Gripping her arm, he pulled

her, ignoring her protests, guessing which way to the road,

watching for the shadows of the cops. A dozen strides and

he lost sight of the Cortina and the ice hut, trudging with

Bobbi in tow, feeling the icy wet at his feet, the numbing

cold, then finally seeing the flash of cop lights and the red

glow against the falling snow. Finding their way back onto

the snowmobile tracks, he let it lead them back to the road.

The wind had picked up, howling, whipping snow angling

and stabbing at their faces. His eyes were slits. Couldn’t feel

his feet in the sneakers as he pulled her along. Bobbi had

stopped fighting, clutched onto his arm, letting him shield

her, guiding her off the lake.

Moving toward the flash of blue and red. Alert for the two

cops. Scrambling onto the plowed bank, one hand on her arm,

fingers of his free hand digging into the snow, getting them

over. One cruiser sat high-centered on the plowed berm. The

other was on the road, flashers still going. Denny went to it.

“The fuck you doing?”

“How you feel about Plymouths?” Denny shoved her, told

her to get in, then got behind the wheel, thanking Christ

the key was in the ignition. He got it started, looking at

the controls.

Shutting her door, Bobbi looked at him, saying, “The

fuck’s wrong with —” and screamed.

The cop charged over the berm and leaped for the car,

his arms out wide like he was flying, landing against its side.

Denny punched down the door lock, jamming the stick in

gear and mashed the pedal. Two hundred pounds of cop

in a parka and fur hat threw himself again, landing on the

hood with a thump, yelling about them being under arrest,

punching his gloved hand at the windshield, the other hand

grabbing for a wiper blade, something to hold on to.

Denny hit the gas, then slammed the brakes, the cop

sliding off, yelling and pounding.

Putting it in reverse, straightening out on the road,

Denny drove past. The cop getting up and yelling behind

them. Denny adding distance.


Brenda Chapman said...

Some action-packed examples! I especially felt the cold in the last one...

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Brenda.

Susan C Shea said...

The "whipping sand" combined with the cold - I'm glad I was sitting in my cozy office when I read that! Really atmospheric!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Susan.