The Gutter’s own Angela will be back next month. In the meantime, please enjoy this essay from the vault. Romance Editor Emeritus Chris Szego suggests two winter romances!
This week, I thought I saw the first snow of the season. Turns out it was actually sleet, which is kind of like snow’s annoying idiot cousin. But I got excited anyway, because the thing is…
I love winter.
Don’t get me wrong: that doesn’t mean I don’t love fall and spring too. Bright green things unfurling; leaves flaming against a crackling sky–both are wonderful. Spring and fall are energizing and beautiful. Summer… eh, not so much. The heat’s nice, but the humidity can go back to hell at its earliest convenience. I like to do things in the summer, but the season itself is on the bottom of my list.
Winter’s on the top.
I know this puts me firmly in a weird minority. I’m okay with that. And it’s not because I’m a winter sports enthusiast. Sure, I enjoy skiing and skating, but they can easily become too much like work. Mostly, I just like being outside. I love the scent of snow, the feel of it crunching under my boots. I admire the thin sunlight, working so hard against difficult odds. The stillness and the quiet. The press and bite of frigid air reminding me that every breath is a privilege.
And of course, winter has that other bonus: the thrill of coming into the warmth again after you’ve been out in the cold. A cozy blanket, a working fireplace, a mug hot chocolate (with or without marshmallows): these are rare and distinct pleasures. If being outside in winter teaches us that we’re alive in the world, being inside reminds us that there are some pretty sweet rewards for that.
So in order encourage winter to make its move, I thought I’d use this column to highlight some winter Romances. These are stories that don’t just mention winter, but actually use it. Make it part of the plot or character development.
First up has to be Linda Howard. For a Southerner, Howard writes really well about the cold. Mostly because she hates it, but the result has serious impact. In Up Close and Dangerous, her characters survive a plane crash and spend several nights on a snowy mountain. In Cover of Night, the heroine and hero have to outwit criminals who cut off their small town in the middle of winter. Mountain climbing is involved.
But when it comes to writing about the power of winter, her best example is probably Ice. It’s a slim offering, probably more a novella than a novel, but who cares about specifics? Ice is the story of Lorelei and Gabriel, who have both returned to their hometown for the holidays. They’re not exactly friends: they haven’t met since high school and disliked each other back then. But with a fierce winter storm looming, Gabe’s father sends him out to check on Lolly. And it’s a good thing too, because two armed stranger have broken in to her house and locked her away. Gabe assists in Lolly’s rescue*, but then the real difficulty starts: surviving the ice storm.
The dangers of wet feet; the shattering of trees and branches; the terror of familiar ground made treacherous: Howard does all that beautifully. Only part of the book’s danger comes from the crazed gun-wielding addicts: the more immediate and hard-to-survive peril comes from the storm. Howard covers the aftermath, too: the downed trees on the road; the slipperiness of melting ice; the way it can take ages to restore contact when one is not in a city. A gripping read.
Mary Balogh gives us a softer view of winter in her story A Christmas Bride. Edgar Downes has promised his father that he will marry. He knows he should be looking for a proper young woman, but instead falls for Lady Helena Stapleton, a forward widow who lives to shock. He has wealth, she has social standing, but when they agree to marry it has nothing to do with convenience and everything to do with love.
Okay, yes, the book is set at Christmas which gives it a bit of an unfair advantage. Those of us who had happy white Christmases growing up have a tendency to get sappy at the mere mention of holly and mistletoe. But so many of the activities Balogh uses to further her characters’ attachment, like sleigh rides, skating parties, even snowball fights, relate to winter rather than just Christmas. And it is through those activities that Edgar and Helena come to understand each other, and themselves. Sweet and fun.
Devil in Winter is the third book in Lisa Kleypas’ ‘Wallflower’ series. It’s the story of shy Evangeline Jenner and the uninhibited Viscount Sebastian St. Vincent. She is truly a wallflower; he is the most dazzling of society’s bright lights. But she stands on the brink of copious wealth, while he, due to his profligate family, totters on the edge of a financial abyss. So when Evie approaches St. Vincent with a bargain–keep her out of the grasp of her greedy relatives in exchange for her substantial fortune–he agrees. When she tells him that she doesn’t plan to become another one of the broken hearts left in his wake, he’s intrigued. And as they begin to turn her father’s ailing business around, he becomes fascinated. For the first time, St. Vincent has met a woman he can’t walk away from. The result is magical.
But we were talking about winter. Thing is, in order for their plan to work, St. Vincent and Evie have to get married. Immediately and without any public notice. So the book opens with a winter elopement. It’s a long, cold journey to Scotland’s Gretna Green. The only source of warmth in the carriage is St. Vincent. So Evie spends most of the five-plus days wrapped in his arms. It’s not romantic, not yet; it’s survival. But after spending the better part of a week in constant physical contact with the man considered the most beautiful in London, Evie’s deep reserve disappears for the first time in her life. And Sebastian gets to know the woman behind Evie’s face and figure in a way that he never would have had the cold not brought them together.
I have travelled far and long enough to miss winter entirely a couple times. And though I loved where I was and what I was doing, I missed winter right down to the bone. I am Canadian: winter is beautiful, and even important. It’s the thumb of the year, balancing out the other seasons**, and the world just isn’t right without it.
*Another thing I like about this book: Lolly sets out to save herself. She does all the hard work; Gabe gives her a hand at the end.
**Those other seasons are, of course: spring, summer, fall, and construction.
Chris Szego wishes people would stop saying “At least it’s not snow” when it rains in the winter. It’s winter, people! It SHOULD be snow! If we wanted rain, we’d move to Vancouver and at least get mountains and an ocean out of it!
Not that she’s bitter.
This essay was originally published on Oct. 26, 2013.