July 28 – August 2: “How has climate change affected the way we write about weather?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Weather was long a neglected stepchild in settings, with a few perfunctory descriptions at the start of a book along the lines of “It was a dark and stormy night.” Have concerns about climate change turned that around? Or has climate change become the next perfunctory aspect of setting? This week we join ITW Members Terri Anne Stanley, Merry Jones, J. H. Bográn, Susan Froetschel, Luke McCallin, Rachel Howzell Hall and Amy Lignor to discuss!


perf5.000x8.000.inddTeri Anne Stanley has been writing since she could hold a crayon–though learning to read was a huge turning point in her growth as a writer. Teri’s first stories involved her favorite Saturday morning cartoon characters, followed by her favorite teen idols. She has also authored a recipe column (The Three Ingredient Gourmet), and scientific articles (Guess which was more interesting!). Now she writes fun, sexy romance filled with chaos and havoc, populated by strong, smart women and hunky heroes.

epMerry Jones is the author of the Elle Harrison suspense novels (ELECTIVE PROCEDURES, THE TROUBLE WTH CHARLIE), the Harper Jennings thrillers (OUTSIDE EDEN, WINTER BREAK, BEHIND THE WALLS, SUMMER SESSSION), the Zoe Hayes mysteries (including THE NANNY MURDERS). She has also written humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS: Women who relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories.)

The Charlatans Crown_Final Online(1)As the daughter of a career librarian Amy Lignor grew up loving books; ‘Patience & Fortitude’ at the NYPL are still her heroes. Beginning in the genre of historical romance with, “THE HEART OF A LEGEND,” Amy moved into the YA world where her first team from THE ANGEL CHRONICLES became a beloved hit. Moving into the action/adventure world with TALLENT & LOWERY, Amy has created a new, incredibly suspenseful, team that has once again exploded with readers everywhere. Born in Connecticut, Amy is now living in the bright sunshine of Roswell, NM, delving into her next adventure.

The Pale House ImageLuke McCallin was born in England, grew up in Africa, was educated around the world, and has worked with the UN as a humanitarian relief worker and peacekeeper in the Caucasus, the Sahel, and the Balkans. His experiences have driven his writing, in which he explores what happens to normal people put under abnormal pressures, inspiring a historical mystery series built around an unlikely protagonist, Gregor Reinhardt, a German intelligence officer and a former Berlin detective chased out of the police by the Nazis. THE MAN FROM BERLIN was published in 2013, followed by THE PALE HOUSE in 2014.

landofshadowsRachel Howzell Hall is the author of LAND OF SHADOWS (Forge), the first in the Detective Elouise Norton series, A QUIET STORM (Scribner), The View from Here and No One Knows You’re Here. Rachel is also a writer/assistant development director at City of Hope, a national leader in cancer research and treatment. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.


fearofbeautySusan Froetschel, a journalist, is the author of four mystery novels. She has come to agree with novelist John Hersey who noted, “Journalism allows its readers to witness history; fiction gives its readers an opportunity to live it.” In her books, she strives for suspense by developing characters who disagree with public policies that most others take for granted. She began her career in New York City working for Self, House Beautiful and Esquire magazines before moving to Alaska, where her reporting for a daily newspaper was recognized with national and state press awards. She later studied at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and has written about business, environmental protection, nonprofits, health care and more.

Firefall_Proof2J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. His debut novel TREASURE HUNT, which The Celebrity Café hails as an intriguing novel that provides interesting insight of architecture and the life of a fictional thief, has also been selected as the Top Ten in Preditors & Editor’s Reader Poll. FIREFALL, his second novel, was released in 2013 by Rebel ePublishers. Coffee Time Romance calls it “a taut, compelling mystery with a complex, well-drawn main character.” He’s a member of The Crime Writers Association, the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill. You can find him on his website, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter @JHBogran

  1. Interesting question. To me, though, weather may or may not have a place in a book. The only requirement of setting in fiction is that it define the world/rules of the book. Weather, therefore, is relevant only insofar as it affects the characters and the plot.

    If a book is set, say, in the 50s, obviously climate change will have no role. If the book takes place today, but in a 24-hour period inside a basement, again, climate change is has no place in the story.

    The weather–whether it’s changing or not, is something the characters weather ONLY when it gets in their way. More writers may create plots involving the odd tornado or violent storm, but because we writer fiction, we can use it or not, at our discretion.

  2. This is a difficult question to explore, because of the fact that many suspense authors are historical in genre, which means the ‘weather’ is actually used for a huge shot of ‘color’ in a novel. Whether it be that ‘dark and stormy’ mood setting; or a ‘wind, rain, or fog’ so powerful and intense that it causes chills and fear in the reader’s mind; or, even that ‘brilliant sunshine radiating off your…corpse’ (LOL) – the weather is necessary to the story to help set the scene.

    In present-day settings, there are many supernatural/suspense authors, or even YA suspense that delves into the WWIII realm. There are more and more people taking on the subject of what the earth will look like when we have all continued to ‘mess’ it up for the next twenty years. In these particular instances, climate change has been used a great deal. Growing fan interest, as well as really good books/series that have been written to spotlight the future, bring environmental concerns into the forefront. I believe that genre and time period will always be the factors when speaking about weather; but, yes, as more and more authors write the future, climate change will become a contributing factor to the plotline.

  3. This is potentially a fascinating topic, and one close to my own interests. Full disclosure: I went three years into a PhD on the humanitarian implications of climate change—more properly, in my opinion, global warming—before having to put it aside, and I live in a mountainous area, thus one vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Over the last thirty years, I have seen the weather change, become wetter. Winters are shorter, more intense. The snowline is higher, wet springs spread into damp summers that, with a burst of light and heat, spread in turn into wet autumns and back into wet winters.

    And this, for literature, is part of the problem. What I’ve seen here, what I’ve seen in my work in the Sahel, or in the Philippines, is the slow, incremental effect of global warming through the medium of the weather. It is the rains that don’t come or don’t stop, the droughts that last into years, the harvests that fail, but it’s the catastrophic weather that takes the headlines. Those events are only part of climate change, although perhaps the most tangible and visible.

    Scientifically, reducing climate change to weather is wrong. Doing so for literature, though, is another matter. Merry makes a good point, when she says weather is relevant only insofar as it affects the characters and the plot. What we write about weather depends on what we want to say about it, or what we want the weather to say about what we write. Do we want to write about what the weather does to us, or what we do to the weather?

  4. Weather can be a treacherous area for writers and their protagonists. And not only because characters must cope with dangers presented by storms, floods, drought, or lightning.

    Weather is an essential part of setting, and the challenge is not sounding like a perfunctory news report – Florida is sunny and humid, Southeast Alaska rainy and cool, Arizona dusty and baked dry. It’s easy to overlook the nuances associated with seasons or even time of day. In Novel Writing Help, Harvey Chapman warns that a “problem with writing about the weather is that it is easy to resort to clichés…. But because we all talk about the weather all the time – and read so much about it in fiction, too – finding unique and exciting ways to describe thunderstorms or blizzards or perfect summer days can be tough.”

    Weather can contribute to characters’ possessions, reactions and moods. Protagonists in the Yukon and California will not prefer the same vehicle. Approaches to braking, accelerating, relying on headlights will vary depending on a place and its weather. Crossing noticeable boundaries between indoor and outdoor temperatures, odors, or air circulation can signify wealth or how a home is used by its occupants. Character moods can go up and down with steady or unexpected rainfall, blue or gray skies, first snows or repeated snows.

    Countless research papers for high school and college classes have addressed the symbolism of weather in works by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or Shakespeare. An AP study guide on “Common Archetypes and Symbols in Literature” from Merced Union High School in California lists symbolic archetypes for nature: Sun can cover hero, awakening or splendor. Water can represent the passive and feminine. Wind can be the Holy Spirit or another messenger. Ice/Snow is barrenness. Lightening can suggest inspiration. The teacher concludes that “Weather matters.” So true, for farmers, fishermen and other boaters. But for many other characters, over-reliance on weather for atmosphere or symbolism can be bungled.

    Thriller writers should not be too predictable. For our genre, it’s probably best, as Merry notes, if descriptions of weather are kept brief unless they drive the plot and character actions.



  5. Weather is such a ubiquitous topic…when you’re on the elevator with a stranger, what’s the most likely small talk topic? The weather, right?

    It’s both a cliché and EVERYTHING, in a way. It’s the thing we can’t control. I have a relative who gets ANGRY when there is snow and ice. DISGUSTED. It’s freaking WEATHER! What are you gonna do about it? Stay home and watch a movie, read a book, knit a sweater!

    I agree that the concept of climate change is having a huge affect on the dystopian novel genre–and I can see it entering into the thriller world, much the way the cold war was once the launching point.

    What if you were on an elevator, you said to the guy next to you, “How ’bout this winter! I can’t believe how much snow we’ve had!” and he turns to you and starts ranting about the government conspiracies to control the nuclear energy commission, and how that’s affecting coal emissions and that’s killing the rain forests, which is contributing to this blizzard, and he’s gonna fix it. You write him off as a nutcase, but then a week later, you’re watching the news, and…

  6. Being a Los Angeles native, I’ve always heard that L.A. has no climate and no weather! Ha. Our climate and the changes that are occurring have become even more nuanced with climate change. The seasons melt into each other more instead of stark changes that I experienced as a kid. Back in the day, your hay fever and asthma attacks came in the spring and in the late fall — from high pollen counts and the Santa Ana winds and debris from forest fires. Now, you’re sneezing and sucking inhalers almost all year.

    Just yesterday (Sunday), Los Angeles experienced a freak thunderstorm — no weather service had predicted one a’comin’ on a July afternoon. I was writing on the couch, hearing far-off booming, but thinking ‘airplanes’ instead of thunder. But then BOOM! And then, the lightning came (in L.A., on a Sunday, in July, in the afternoon!) Lightning struck Venice Beach — people were injured, one man was killed. No warning! No thoughts of ‘hey, the sky looks strange and it’s muggy and maybe thunderstorms’ because LOS ANGELES DOESN’T DO THUNDERSTORMS! Not really. And now, we’ve added ‘drive-by lightning’ to our long list of things to be scared of in Los Angeles. Great.

    And so this weird climate change ‘thing’ and our worry will find its way into my Lou Norton series. The drought that we’re experiencing — with dirty cars, brown lawns, cracked patches of earth, worried glances to the sky, Angelenos (of all people) praying for rain, beach-goers getting struck by lightning, and beach-goers getting attacked by sharks because the water is warmer than it used to be — will serve as backdrop.

  7. A bit late reporting for duty, but here I am.

    Yes, I believe weather is becoming back in fashion. It must be because there is even a category called Eco-thrillers. It probably has to do with the awareness of the global warming.

    One of the ever present maxims in writing workshops is “Don’t start with the weather.” It hasn’t always been like that, but perhaps it overuse has landed weather in the cliché department—yet another thing to avoid.

    Always the rebel, when I participated in a short story contest where the guideline specified the use of water, I took a bold step and not only began the story with the weather, but placed it even before the opening sentence by titling it “Blame it on the rain.” In case you’re interested, I didn’t win the contest, but the story went on to become the opening salvo of my short story collection A Dozen Shorts.

  8. I’m agreeing with Susan about weather affecting people’s affect. A bleak day may arouse/encourage bleakness in the character(s). In that way, the author uses weather to enhance the story’s mood.

    Also, I like what Teri Ann said about weather being one of the forces beyond our control. In novels, the weather can be a bigger-than-life force that adds tension and danger to the tension and danger of the plot. And conspiracies concerning climate change? Yes, Teri. I can see them popping up all over.

  9. Luke is so right in pointing out how writing about climate change should not be limited to weather but covers economics, psychology, social policy, crime and much more.

    The two words “climate change” can go unmentioned, yet the consequences and gradual changes underway unnerve characters and readers.

    1. I agree, Susan. And as the climate becomes more unfamiliar/unstable/unpredictable, and affects more aspects of our lives, it opens up floods of possibilities…

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