Author Commentary: Winter’s Shadow Chapter 6

by M.J. Hearle

While Blake was strapping Jessie down on the back of his truck,
Winter nervously began to second-guess her decision.

Another chapter that gave me hell. I really struggled with writing the early stages of Winter and Blake’s relationship. Part of the reason why was because I couldn’t settle on a tone – flirty, semi-flirty, not flirty at all, etc. I over thought it, as newbie writers are want to do. The dialogue between Blake and Winter here feels inelegant. I wish I could re-write it.

Even though the rain had flattened his black
wavy hair to his scalp, he still looked as if he could
have stepped fresh from the pages of a magazine.

This is me channelling Stephenie Meyer. Blake might as well be Edward Cullen in this scene. Not to knock Meyer, but it isn’t the most difficult writing style to emulate. That kind of overheated teenage ‘ohmygod he’s so gorgeous!’ language. Most paranormals trade in this style and it clearly works for the readership. I think it’s a bit cheap. Sometimes, it’s an effective way of capturing that authentic teenage voice (Meyer is very successful at this) but more often than not it feels like pandering to me.

‘So why “Winter”?’ Blake said, breaking the hush.
‘A name like that has gotta have a story behind it.’

And it did. I’ve recounted the story behind changing my lead character’s name from Elodie Winters to Winter Adams many times so I won’t repeat it again. Once I’d settled on her florid moniker I thought I should probably reference it in the story. I’d never met anyone called Winter before so was worried the name would strike others as unusual. Interestingly, since the book has been published I’ve been made aware of two newborns in my immediate social circle being christened Winter. I guess it isn’t as unusual as I thought?

The whole Johnny Winter thing came from my Mum’s research. I like to farm out as much research as possible to my family and friends as I hate doing it. Mum discovered Johnny Winter and thus the backstory of Winter’s name was born. Later in the book I reference Winter’s mum’s love of rock’n’roll so it luckily made narrative sense. It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes you have to reverse engineer a story so your additions make sense.

Bonding over rock’n’roll was also a way of giving Winter and Blake’s relationship a little more substance than the usual paranormal ‘he’s hot/she’s special and doesn’t know it’ blather.

‘Not the Velasco place?’ Winter asked, unable to hide the shock in her voice.

Well read folk who have even a passing interest in the supernatural genre probably picked up on this reference. For those who didn’t I suggest you immediately rush out and by Richard Matheson’s Hell House.

It’s one of the quintessential haunted house stories and still has the power to terrify. In the novel, a team of a parapsychologists visit the infamous Belasco Mansion to measure its paranormal activity. Suffice to say things do not turn out well. Belasco – Velasco. Genius homage, no?

The mythology of the Velasco Mansion – the minister turning cannibal – is okay but I wish I’d come up with something spookier. More original. Then again, it’s probably too much of a digression from the main story as is. I’m trying to force my Stephen King sensibilities into a story that doesn’t necessarily call for them. The book constantly wavers between Stephen and Stephenie. It’s an uneasy, though not uninteresting, tension.

Originally my concept for the Velasco place was for it to be genuinely haunted. Blake and Winter would have some interaction with the spirits there. However, with all the Demori, Malfaerie, Skivers and such the book is overstuffed with the supernatural as is. There isn’t any room for ghosts. Or is there?

Blake was quiet for a moment, his expression
somewhere between astounded and amused.
I bought a haunted house?’

I like the idea of a supernatural creature buying a haunted house. It amuses me, just as it amuses Blake. Maybe there’s a whole story in that concept?