March 2024: Rainy Day Writers

Rain. Sometimes it’s fine drizzle, dampening the pavement and washing the flowers and trees. Other times, it’s a deluge, coming down in sheets and buckets. Or cats and dogs, as the saying goes.

Rain is weather, part of the setting, along with geography and time. And setting is an important component of fiction, along with character and plot.

There’s something about rain that evokes mood. It can be those April showers that bring May flowers, according to the old proverb. Rain can also set the scene for darkness and drama.

This month, D. Z. and Janet write about rain and how they use it in their mysteries and thrillers.

Water with raindrops

D. Z. Church

Rainy Day People

Rain always conjures W. Somerset Maugham’s Sadie Thompson laughing at the remaining missionaries, then denouncing them, “You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You’re all the same, all of you.” Was it the rain? Or madness of another sort?

Madness! Madness! (Oops, that’s Pierre Boulle, Bridge on the River Kwai, a wonderful, wonderful book).

I did a little survey of my books and revealed that rain appears in all but Unbecoming a Lady and Saving Calypso, in which it rains briefly then snows. I know I have a weather problem, it is my background in climatology. I truly can’t help myself. I don’t think, or maybe I just love weather, blowing, gusting, dooming. You know, weather.

In A Confluence of Enemies, the newest Wanee Mystery, the town is plagued by drought, so rain is on everyone’s mind—all the time.

Miss Bales, one of the two new upper-grade teachers, comments that at her church:

. . .everyone was gossiping about a rainmaker who has arrived this day in Wanee at the bidding of the Trustees, claiming Mr. Sullivan championed him. He has the most wonderful wagon, a cannon, a bass drum, and a hurdy-gurdy. He barks about his success as though he were at a carnival, claiming a rain so fierce in the tip of the state that the Mississippi ran clear. He is a one-man show able to thump a drum and grind his hurdy-gurdy, all while talking of his victories.

Rain is an essential ingredient in the Cooper Quartet: a destructive memory, a foe, and a cause of madness.

The memory, Dead Legend:

Quinn said you were injured at the Two Rivers action near BoBo in Quang Nam. I asked around …”

“Rivers, rice, snipers, rain—same old s—,” Laury interrupted.  “So when you rotate over?” Laury rested his elbows on his knees. Waiting for a response, he stared at the concrete below the spit polish of his black shoes.

The last quarter of Head First occurs during the devastating El Nino of 1972. Rain is everywhere you don’t want it to be. And in Pay Back, the monsoons arrive unwanted the day before Saigon falls:

Cooper paced the hotel room like a caged animal, trying to loosen the muscles in his left leg. The drenching storm made him remember his men, their fear, the mud, blood, brain matter, the snipers, the hopelessness. It sapped his strength, made him doubt. This was not a day for doubt.

Finally, in Don’t Tell it foments madness and murder.

Rain is essential to the suspense in Booth Island and Perfidia.

Booth Island ends in a driving rainstorm:

Lightning struck the water and lit the area. The rain came, squalls of it. I kneeled and dug out Roy’s cookie tin, paddling the dirt behind me as I unearthed all that remained of my adored brother.

And the rain comes and never truly goes in Perfidia, which takes place in Barbados.

I awoke to a wet, dense-aired morning. My mood, the rain, my lack of sleep all befitted a day to meet someone I didn’t know, at a bank where I didn’t bank, to discuss a cousin I had never met.

And later:

I climbed the remaining stairs expecting with each handhold on the weak rail to flail back to the sea. At the top of the cliff, I flung myself headlong onto the grass, grabbed a goodly chunk of mother earth in each fist and let the rain pummel my back.

Rain. A powerful tool for a storyteller and apparently a minor obsession of mine. I wish you all soft March and April showers that, as they say in Barbados, neber stay their welcome.

Rainy day in Chinatown

Janet Dawson

Rainy Mood

In my head, I hear Gordon Lightfoot singing “Rainy Day People,” about the comfort of friends. Then there’s Brook Benton’s sinuous voice wrapping around the lyrics to “A Rainy Night in Georgia,” lyrics permeated with loneliness and longing, picturing streetlights and neon reflected in puddles.

Two very different moods, for sure.

We welcome rain after a drought—and view too much rain with trepidation. On land devastated by wildfires, rain brings danger of mudslides. When the Oroville Dam spillway began to crumble after a deluge, people downstream got evacuation orders. Yet the rain brings unexpected wonders, such as lakes reappearing in central California and Death Valley. And wildflower blooms.

My rainiest book is Nobody’s Child, which begins in November, the start of the rainy season here in California. With little or no rain between May and October, we look forward to that first big storm in November.

Not so Jeri Howard, my private eye protagonist. She’s in a dark mood as she takes on the case of a young homeless woman who had a small child. Jeri is feeling the cold rainy weather—and the despair—as she searches for leads on Berkeley’s mean streets:

Rain poured steadily from a gray sky. It was getting dark fast, though it wasn’t yet five o’clock. As the winter solstice approached, the days shortened. I got up in the dark and came home in the dark, and right now my mood was just as black. At least I had a home to go to, I thought, unable to shake the sights and smells and sounds of one day spent on the periphery of Berkeley’s homeless.

In People’s Park, Jeri locates an enigmatic man who has information:

It began to rain, a chill curtain blurring the lights illuminating the park. He made no move to find shelter, just stood there smoking his joint down to residue. “Look,” I said, “I’d like to get out of the rain. Can I buy you something to eat?” . . . “Rain’s good,” he said, raising his face upward. “Washes the earth, makes the plants grow. But you’re right. It is cold.”

In Colorado, where I grew up, it rains during the summer, with thunderstorms and hail, and sometimes floods. In 1976, a storm over the Rockies sent a devastating wall of water down Big Thompson Canyon, killing 143 people.

That’s a potential plot for my series featuring Kay Dexter, a geriatric care manager in the California Sierra Nevada town of Rocoso. In an early chapter of The Sacrificial Daughter, Kay notes that the river runs through town.

My house on Dorado Drive overlooked the river . . . The street was about twenty feet above the waterway, but the Rocoso River had been known to flood in wet years. I remembered one such flood . . . when rain and snowmelt had pushed the river over its banks and into the street. The water hadn’t reached my home, though it had covered the street, topped the curb, and soaked the front yard.

My short story “Invisible Time” updates the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. Now it’s about two homeless children, Greta and her little brother Hank, surviving on the mean streets of San Francisco. This urban forest is full of scary grown-ups, some wicked, with evil intent.

Today the wind had turned cold. From what little she could see of the late afternoon sky, it was dark gray.

It was going to rain, she was sure of it. She didn’t know what they’d do if it rained. They’d been sleeping in doorways and alleys all over the downtown area, constantly moving so the cops wouldn’t find them during their periodic sweeps to rid the streets of human litter.

If it rains we’ll have to go inside somewhere, Greta told herself.

Someday I’ll write the Guam book, which takes place on that island territory, part of the United States since 1898. I was stationed there while in the Navy and experienced two typhoons. It’s compelling to go outside while the eye passes overhead, seeing relative calm nearby, while the palm trees across the road toss in the high wind.

Rain. It sets the mood.

Ahwahnee Hotel

A Lovely Place to Die: The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park

It’s been used. According to Wikipedia, “Interiors of the Ahwahnee Hotel were adapted for Stanley Kubrick’s horror film The Shining (1980). Designers at Elstree Studios incorporated the hotel’s lobby, elevators, and Great Lounge into sets for the Overlook Hotel.” And I know why. One can easily imagine twins tricycling down the expansive halls.

The fifth-floor rooms have balconies that look out on Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. The one elevator takes forever to climb to that floor; anything could happen on the way. There are only few rooms on the fifth floor, and those balconies, did I mention them? A lover’s quarrel and innocent push. However, check over the edge first, as, in some instance, the body would bounce on the awnings that shade the hotel’s back patio before splatting to the ground in front of serious drinkers—some lemonade, some not.

The Ahwahnee is, indeed, a lovely place to die and visit, of course. The views are world-renowned. The dining hall is only to be imagined with its soaring ceiling, wrought iron candelabras, and loomed curtains. Each candlestick is a weapon readily available for use on annoying patrons dining in the hall, especially those talking over the fabulous pianist who plays there. The resulting body might be wrapped in one of the curtains and tossed in the fabulously grand fireplace amongst the railroad tie andirons that keep the fire hot and burning all day.

Imagine a flapper and her beau dancing one moment and candlesticked by a jealous lover the next. The killer grabs the girl’s hand and drags her from the room, out the double doors onto the lawn, and into the woods, making good their escape.

The rock walls of the hotel, completed in 1927, lend themselves to noggin knocking. Or just rapturous awe. It is truly an honor and a joy to stay and eat at the hotel, one of the queens of the U.S. Park Service.