I’m learning about snow. In Mississippi, snow was a fleeting acquaintance at most. In all my childhood I can only remember two really significant snows, that is, accumulations great enough to scrape together a half-way decent snowman. One weird winter we had the local equivalent of a blizzard. Nine inches. Us kids had a ball, though I don’t remember the grownups being too keen on it.

So far this January it has snowed more here in NY than it did in the last five years in Mississippi. Yet snow is different here. In MS the snow was damper and tended to stick to itself. Easy to make snowballs and snowmen on the rare occasions when there was enough of it. Here in central NY there’s plenty, only it’s mostly what I think is referred to as “powder.” Very light and fluffy. Doesn’t stick together worth a darn, or at all, really. Good for shoveling. Good, apparently, for skiing, since there are several ski resorts in the area that were really bummed at the mild December. Not enough snow then. Mother Nature’s making up for it now. I am learning how to shovel snow. I can’t say it’s a skill I had ever aspired to, but it’s part of the deal. Fortunately, the snow is light and fluffy. It’s not that hard to move.

Another odd thing: when small animals make tracks, the snow is compressed in the middle and pushed up on the outside. When it partially melts, the pushed up area melts last, leaving these almost perfectly round “snownuts” along the animal’s path. They look like a trail of frosted doughnuts, just left there on the ground. Doubt they would taste as good, though.

The Emperor in Shadow proceeds. I have a long way to go, but I still think I can finish in time. I’m still in the section which I refer to usually as the “churning” section. Plot elements are being created, characters introduced, and the writing itself shows how they all fit together. Eventually. For the moment, it churns. Soon the pace will pick up when, well, I won’t say when I figure it all out, because that’s not quite how it works. Ray Bradbury is alleged to have said, “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” That makes sense to me, but as for the actual day to day writing part, I say rather that the story triggers some sort of self-organization principle which is one of the keynotes of life in general. Life wants to happen, and so does story. For a book to live, it has to do something similar. At those times I feel more like a photojournalist than a writer, just trying to record the life as it happens. In this case, it just happens to be a novel.

If it’s not alive, well, there’s nothing to record. Just words. Like empty holes in the snow where maybe a living thing should have been.