December: Ice Cold Ideas

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Snowy Lisha Kill Nature Area, NY

“Right, right. I forgot. You’re one of them writer types. Makin’ up stories and stuff. Yeah.” His lips purse in distaste at my chosen career. “Well, I was wondering when you might start clearing out your driveway and your section of the sidewalk. Storm’s passed, and it’s looking a little messy over here. Can’t have our neighborhood looking poorly, you understand.” He gives me a big grin, as though he isn’t trying to tell me what to do. “Just being neighborly, you understand.” His head bobs as he studies my snow covered driveway, sidewalk, and path. He bobs in my direction again, trying once more to see into my home. What on earth is he looking for, I wonder.” –excerpt from Colder Than Ice, 2013.

Two years ago I wrote a short story called Colder Than Ice about a writer with a terrible headache and a bad case of writer’s block. This writer also had a nosy neighbor who didn’t appreciate personal boundaries of any kind. The headache eventually goes away, as does the case of writer’s block, while the neighbor’s fate is left a bit more ambiguous. It was submitted for consideration to a great anthology produced annually by Level Best Books (New England’s Best Crime Fiction), and while the story wasn’t published, it was a lot of fun to write.

The story came to me during another of those crazy New England winter storms, the kind that leave you wondering, not if the power will go out, but when and for how long; the ones that leave the grocery stores barren, lacking all but the most unloved choices of bread, no-brand bottled water, and perhaps the lone half-gallon of whole milk just past the expiration date, and even the gas stations run low on fuel. Where I grew up, if we lost power, it was gone for days and days (occasionally, even a week or more). We weren’t located near a hospital, police station, or commerce of any kind, so returning power to our area was at the bottom of the priority list. No power meant filling the bathtub with water to flush toilets, dusting off the Coleman lanterns (and hoping the wicks were intact), and snuggling up in sleeping bags and blankets. As a kid, it was fun, at least for the first couple of days. After that, it got old to go to bed soon after the sun went down, and even an 8-year-old wants a hot shower eventually. There were only so many puzzles to assemble and card games to play!

I live somewhere slightly less rural now, so the power is usually back within a day, two-three if it’s a particularly bad storm. But the cabin fever that descends, swiftly, abruptly, is no less unpleasant here. There’s something about the post-storm eerie silence outside, broken only by the occasional gust of wind, snapping of snow-laden branches, or crackle of ice crust that’s just creepy. I’ve got goosebumps just imagining it! Slippery roads, snowy walkways, cold houses, and an overwhelming loneliness send the imagination into interesting places.

Being cut off from civilization back when I was a child meant no phone and no TV (horrors!). Today, being cut off is a bit different, but even cell phones eventually run out of charge, and we’re used to a constant, high level of stimulation and entertainment. Why is it that we humans feel so darn lost when we can’t make a phone call? I don’t even like to make phone calls! Yet, when I can’t, when that choice is taken away, I get cranky. (Scenes from The Shining come to mind about now, in all its psychological thriller glory.)

It’s December and New England has felt the first serious wallop of snow. 200,000+ NH, 104,000+ Maine, and 20,000+ Massachusetts residents lost power for 1-3 days, while the stalwart PSNH, Unitil, and CMP lines-people (and others borrowed from Canadian utility companies) labored day and night to restore it. Slyly peeking out from between all the news stories about outages are ideas for twisty-turny mysteries, goosebump-inducing thrillers, and gritty police procedurals galore!

I wonder what fantastic, winter-borne ideas are in store for us this year…tell me readers, what’s your favorite, frosty story? How do you get through any crazy power outages?

Happy Winter!

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Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

13 thoughts on “December: Ice Cold Ideas”

  1. The entire idea of a snowed-in writer with writer’s block and a nosy neighbor is intriguing to me. Would love to read your short story. James Montgomery Jackson’s Cabin Fever is an excellent story of no power, a woman I jeopardy and the elements working against his protagonist.

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  2. Being snow-bound with no power makes for a terrific setting for a mystery! Your story sounds very intriguing. Are you mailing it out to other markets?

    When I’m snowbound I like to read a good mystery, with cat in lap, in front of the gas fireplace 🙂

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  3. Thanks, ladies! Bellwriter, I don’t think I’ve read Cabin Fever, but I will check it out. Thank you!

    Sue, I have not mailed it out yet, but I do plan to try some other markets. It’s dark, but in a quirky kind of way. I love your snowbound plan–sounds perfect to me.

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  4. The story sounds fabulous, Pamela. Coming from Buffalo, I’m quite familiar with walloping snow storms (so glad I missed the last one – 84″ final total in my hometown). But I don’t remember the power going out, at least not for long. We’ve lost power in a couple of winter storms in Pittsburgh and that’s when we break out the oil lamps and really build up the wood stove. Cold snowy day? I can spend the entire day in front of a roaring fire, either reading or writing. Just don’t make me go outside!

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  5. Mary, 84″?!? Holy cow. I so wish we had a wood stove. That would make any power outages much more tolerable!

    Theresa, thank you so much! I hadn’t actually thought about putting the story out myself. . .hmmm. . .

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  6. Wood stove makes all the difference. When my Dad first joined us in Maine he asked how we kept the food when the power went out in winter storms. Took me a minute, then I said, “We put in in coolers on the back porch.” He didn’t get it until he was there for a storm. I loved the windswept glory of the new fallen snow. We have 167 acres, mostly wooded, and nothing but woods between us and the St. Lawrence Seaway. I used to go hike, snowshoe, or cross country ski as soon as the whiteouts stopped. Loved seeing the animals and watching the branches dance as they freed themselves of their snow loads. Oh, I miss it. There is something about sitting in a snowbound room (with or without power) that fires the imagination!

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  7. Great post! I was so caught up in the excerpt that I felt like AHHHHHH! when I realized that I wasn’t going to get to read the whole story. You should definitely send that out again…or pub it yourself…or, at the very least, post it here so we can read it all! 😀

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  8. Kait, Oh, yes! The outdoor “refrigerator”! People in the northeast can unplug their second fridges from November-April, for sure, and just use the back deck, which never fails to amaze friends from “away”. Wow, 167 acres? Nirvana.

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