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I’ve lived all my life in Wisconsin, except for the few years I spent at college in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, so I’ve had more than enough time to make a friend of winter.
I called it “dragon-breath cold” when I was younger: the kind of cold that turns every word you say into a cloud in front of your face (or lets you run around growling and breathing smoke threateningly at the family dog). I used to think the breath-clouds were shaped like words, that even if I couldn’t see the speaker’s mouth, I could read their words before they dissipated into the air.
There’s a stark, dangerous beauty to winter that’s always drawn me. I’ve always thought nothing is as beautiful as bare-branched trees after a fresh snow—everything outlined in white, clean and alien. The first bootprint on new snow always feels like sacrilege. When you step out into below-freezing temperatures and a cold wind steals the breath right out of your chest, it grounds you in a way that little else can. In that moment, when it’s so cold you forget how to breathe, there’s nothing in the world besides you and the cold.
It’s easy to see that this has influenced my writing—a good chunk of my first novel, In the Shadow of the Gods, takes place in a frozen wasteland, and in the sequel, The Bones of the Earth, winter has taken a solid hold on the rest of the world. There’s plenty of blowing snow, and people complaining about the cold, and that one jerk who never seems to feel the cold at all…
They do say to write what you know.
There are some things you can learn about through research alone, and with enough research, write about with enough expertise that no one will ever know you’re not writing from actual experience. But to write about the cold, to write about winter and get it right enough that anyone who’s lived the same kind of cold will find themselves shivering and beginning to curl inward to conserve warmth… I don’t think research alone is enough to really capture winter.
Research can tell you average temperatures, but it can’t tell you how much of a difference one degree makes when it’s below freezing.
Research can tell you how to spot the signs of an approaching snowstorm, but it can’t describe the distinctive smell before the snow starts to fall.
Research can tell you how exhausting it is to trudge through knee-deep snow, or tell you about the hard crust that will form on top of snow after a warm spell, but research will never make you feel the bone-deep ache of dragging your legs forward through the snow, or the moment of terror as the snow crust fails to hold your weight.
There are some things you can’t truly know until you’ve lived them.
[Ed: All of the pictures above are mine, not Dunne’s.]
About Rachel Dunne
Living in the cold reaches of the upper Midwest with her beast of a dog, Rachel Dunne has developed a great fondness for indoor activities. This, her first novel, was a semifinalist for the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award before being picked up for publishing. For as long as snow continues falling in Wisconsin, she promises to keep writing.
About In the Shadow of the Gods
With In the Shadow of the Gods, Rachel Dunne makes her breathtaking debut with this first book in a dark epic fantasy trilogy, The Bound Gods, in which a mismatched band of mortals led by a violent, secretive man must stand against a pair of resentful gods to save their world.
Eons ago, a pair of gods known as the Twins grew powerful in the world of Fiatera, until the Divine Mother and Almighty Father exiled them, binding them deep in the earth. But the price of keeping the fire lands safe is steep. To prevent these young gods from rising again, all twins in the land must be killed at birth, a safeguard that has worked until now.
Trapped for centuries, the Twins are gathering their latent powers to break free and destroy the Parents for their tyranny—to set off a fight between two generations of gods for control of the world and the mortals who dwell in it.
When the gods make war, only one side can be victorious. Joros, a mysterious and cunning priest, has devised a dangerous plan to win. Over eight years, he gathers a team of disparate fighters—Scal, a lost and damaged swordsman from the North; Vatri, a scarred priestess who claims to see the future in her fires; Anddyr, a drug-addled mage wandering between sanity and madness; and Rora and Aro, a pair of twins who have secretly survived beyond the reach of the law.
These warriors must learn to stand together against the unfathomable power of vengeful gods, to stop them from tearing down the sun . . . and plunging their world into darkness.
Buy it here!
About The Bones of the Earth
A mismatched band of mortals and their violent, secretive leader must stand against a pair of resentful gods to save their world in this second volume in Rachel Dunne’s breathtaking dark epic fantasy trilogy, The Bound Gods, which began with In the Shadow of the Gods.
To win the coming battle for control of the world and the mortals who dwell in it, the cunning priest Joros secretly assembled a team of powerful fighters—Scal, a lost and damaged swordsman from the North; Vatri, a scarred priestess who claims to see the future in her fires; Anddyr, a drug-addled mage wandering between sanity and madness; and Rora and Aro, a pair of twins who have secretly survived beyond the reach of the law.
But the war is only beginning for these disparate warriors and victory is far from certain when the enemy is a pair of vengeful gods. As the bound Twins strengthen in force against their parents—the Divine Mother and Almighty Father—who exiled them, a shadow begins to spread across the land, threatening to engulf all in its wake.
As deadly magic takes hold, the tenuous bonds tying these uneasy allies begins to unravel. If they cannot find a way to keep their band together, each of their lives—and the entire world—will be lost to the darkness, leaving nothing but the bones of the earth. . . .
Buy it here!