One of the things that makes a book come alive for me is the backdrop, especially the use of weather and terrain. My most popular book is Songbirds are Free, the true story of Mary Neely and her capture by Shawnee warriors in 1780. In the scene below, she managed to escape her captors, only to have them track her to an abandoned village in the middle of the night:
Mary bolted upright as a wicked crack of thunder erupted in the night. Her heart pounded as a simultaneous lightning flash sliced through the shadows.
As another flash of lightning lit up the interior, she spotted a rivulet encroaching into the hut. She backed further into the opposite corner and drew her legs under her.
Every muscle in her body ached. Her feet, now crammed into her shoes, felt swollen and cramped, the soles bruised and cut from countless brambles and rocks. Each leg and arm had grown heavy, causing every movement to become excruciating.
As the storm raged, Mary’s eyes instinctively gravitated to the open doorway, where the sheets of rain howled as if trying to enter. Forked lightning illuminated the sky as a simultaneous crack of thunder seemed to shake the ground.
With the next burst of light, a figure appeared in the doorway of the hut, filling the entrance.
Mary gasped. Her body was paralyzed while her mind raced. Every hair on her small frame stood completely erect.
There was no way out. The figure blocked her only exit.
The next flash revealed the form still in the doorway as if he hadn’t moved a single muscle. For the briefest of moments, she caught sight of an almost naked body, the chest, arms, legs and face painted with black and red stripes, the hair plucked to the scalp except for one shiny black patch on top, from which a single long tail extended.
She realized her nails were pressing hard into the sides of her bowl. Yet she was unable to let go. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she saw herself sitting completely still, her bowl clutched in her fingers with the intensity of a mother protecting her child.
When the next burst came, he was standing over her.