Feb 14 2011

Home on the Range

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Home … what defines it? Grandma’s old farmhouse? The whirr of traffic buzzing past the highway in front of your childhood home? Pepsi in a glass bottle from the upright dispenser in Uncle Bob’s auto shop, tugged from its individual, circular cubby behind the swinging glass door? The bleating horns of cabs in front of your urban apartment? The aroma of the Italian bakery on the corner? Family dinners around a bonfire? The dusty smell of soaked creosote bushes after a desert rain?

The picture below says “home” to me like nothing else: a lone saguaro cactus, the volcanic Galiuro mountain range in the background, grazing ranch horses, desert washes, blue skies.

I was lucky enough to snap this shot at the very end of a hike last week. The wash in which the horses stand leads to the San Pedro River (Arizona). Click to enlarge. Click arrow for additional photos (or scroll below).

I have to be honest … this wasn’t always my concept of home. I grew up close to Lake Erie, in Pennsylvania. Home, then, was harsh winters with 10-foot snow banks, warm summers in Grandma’s pool, row upon row of emerald-green corn stalks, red-speckled salamanders, and of course, mom and dad at my sporting events, and go-karts, and motorcycle rides, the restoration of a vintage car with my dad …

My concept of home has, indeed, changed over the years, making me believe that there is room for more than one home in a person’s heart. And I think home can be any variety of things. A place. A feeling. A person. A destination.

Another picture of ‘home’ in a nearby wash. Geologic formations often resemble ogre-like faces, silhouetted against a crystal blue background.

For Writers & Readers: In the novels you write and read, do you view home as a structural place? Or do you think it can be more than that – a setting, an object, something more abstract – like a feeling? My wedding invite (authored by me) said, “Home is the place we found when we found one another.”

What do you think of authors who write novels only in their own familiar settings (their homes) – i.e. only New England, only the southwest, only urban environments, only the medical setting, only acadamia? Do you appreciate these settings since the author knows the details intimately and can paint an authentic picture for you? Or do you wish authors would flex their creative muscles more – branch out a bit? Does it even matter?

What is home? Please feel free to share some of your memories that define home for you.


22 Responses to “Home on the Range”

  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    Home has always been a topic I’m pretty obsessed with (it’s the central theme of my novel!) because I moved around so much as a kid. It always made me so sad to the see the house or apartment that my family and I had lived in–that had been so full of life–empty once we got ready to leave. I started seeing each home as a person almost, a character that defined time periods and eras in my family history. A part of me always wanted to go back to them and see what they looked like years later, but I knew it wouldn’t be the same. At the risk of sounding corny, I think a home is a place in your heart and your memory that has the power to transport you and make you appreciate each stage of your life.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I absolutely love your definition of home … and, you’re right … going back to see those physical places isn’t the same as the memories in your heart. I have experienced that when revisiting some of my old physical homes (my parents’ place, my college, my first apartments, my first house). Somehow things always seem smaller than I recall … The memories of the heart, though; they’re the most important because I believe they remain untarnished.

    [Reply]

  • avatar M. McGriff Says:

    When I was younger I thought of home as the place where you grew up, the place that you’ve known all of your life. When I got older and began to move around a lot, I now see home as the people around me. When I had my wedding last year and my family came in from all over and were in one room, I truly felt at home. The laughter, the memories, the personalities that never changed with time – that was home to me!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Shari Lopatin Says:

    I think you touch upon a very interesting point, Melissa. For me, home is a mix of feelings and memories. Some do take place in a structure, so to speak, or at a specific setting. When it comes to writing, I do believe that you write best what you know. I’ve learned, over the years, my best work has come from within, what I already know, versus me trying to write about an unfamiliar setting or situation. I like it when writers write what they know, because it gives me an authentic glance into another world–and I know it’s accurate. Now, that’s not to say I don’t challenge writers, including myself, to step outside their comfort zones. However, embrace that comfort, rather than reject it. You might be surpirsed what you develop.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I tend to agree with you, Shari, Hallie and Beth – that writing a setting you know is more organic and comes across as heartfelt. Before I moved to Arizona, I think it would have been terribly difficult to find the authenticity of the setting, having not lived and interacted here. Though I know some authors have done a great job of writing in settings unfamiliar (I’m thinking of Jodi Picoult’s novel set in Alaska… she spent months living there to immerse herself. And I believe Therese Walsh’s novel was not set in areas familiar)… Thanks so much for your insight!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Hallie Says:

    I have to agree with Shari. I think home is familiar sights, memories, and even smells. The Midwest in general is home to me. (Let’s face it, if you have seen one small town, you’ve seen ’em all.) But rows of corn, wheat, or soybeans, the smell of the dirt roads right as the first raindrops hit, and the watching the fields and trees light up with lightning bugs (fireflys) make me think of “home.” However, when I revisit favorite vacation spots (Cabo), it feels like coming home. The memories made there create the nostalgia.

    I think writing about settings we know do give the edge to writing authentic, but as a writer I think you can exhaust that with your readers if you aren’t careful.

    I also agree with her in terms of writing.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    I LOVE small towns. I think I would like your Kansas upbringing & surroundings!

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Hallie Sawyer Reply:

    Actually, I’m a Husker. Kansas is my adopted state. But again, once you have seen one Midwest state, you sorta’ have seen them all. But will always be a Husker!!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Beth Hoffman Says:

    Home for me is the smell of freshly cut hay, the taste of my grandmother’s wheat bread, the cry of a hawk, and the tenderness that shines deep in the eyes of animals. Home is farm country. But home is also the South — antiques warped by humidity, moss-draped oaks, and graceful gardens surrounded by iron fences. I suspect I am a dual citizen, for I love the simplicity of my farm roots and the grandeur of historical homes equally.

    I enjoy writing about the areas I know and love; I feel I can capture the true essence of the “sense of place” and don’t have to struggle with details and sights and smells that are unfamiliar. This affords me a lovely feeling of freedom to develop my characters and story. When done well, the setting of a story can become almost a character unto itself, and that is something I cherish while crafting a novel.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, Beth… I know exactly the farm country setting you write so fondly of – and I’m in agreement; this is also “home” to me (one of them). I love, love, love setting-as-character! Thanks for weighing in on whether to write familiar settings or something new. You make such a good point about familiar settings allowing us to focus on other aspects of the novel!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Home. What a simple word that encompasses so much. I believe all writers draw upon their experiences of home — good or bad — when creating their stories or letting their stories create them. My favorite childhood home was a place I hated. It was a 500 square foot old slave quarters rife with brown recluse spiders and even a milk snake that slithered out of the doorjam when we moved. It was often cold, and our bathroom was once a closet; but looking back all these years later, I realize those two we spent in the slave quarters were my family’s greatest adventure, and it was also the place where we felt the closest.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    What a great story, Jolina! I hope this slave quarters makes it into one of your novels. What a rich experience to share with readers. Isn’t it interesting how we can look back on events and see them for what they ‘really’ were – and eventually appreciate them? The power of hindsight, I suppose!

    [Reply]

  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Home is where heart is, I know its a cliche, but its one I believe in.

    As for the settings in my books, they are different and I hope unusual. Some authors prefer writing about the places they are familiar with, can’t blame them, they need the element of authenticity.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Eric Satchwill Says:

    For me, home is the comforting weight of the Rocky Mountains to the West, and the freeze-thaw cycle in winter as the chinooks roll through. I find it hard to believe that any other city could feel like home in quite the same way as this one.

    So much so in fact, that the ‘urban’ part of my urban fantasy is set in more or less a clone of my home town, though in tone more so than concrete locations. The rest of the world building is different though, and with more than a little wish-fulfilment. Vast, Baroque-style library, anyone? How about a perpetual spring morning in Faerie? Part of the fun is playing ‘if I weren’t here, where would I be?’

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you for the great response, Eric. You make a good point that even fantasy writers can draw upon their real-world settings to create wonderful new worlds. Where you live sounds BEAUTIFUL.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Sharon Bially Says:

    Melissa – this hits a chord very close to…home…since for a big portion of my adult life, I thought France would be my home. First Paris, where I lived for 8 years, then Provence, where I lived for 4 years. (And when I think of AZ, I imagine it has a lot in common with Provence — certainly more than chilly, snowy Boston does!)

    When I write, I tend to gravitate back to France — Paris and Aix — because I miss them, and they represent a lot to me about how we can love places and how they can affect us.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Suzie Ivy Says:

    I grew up as an army brat. I learned to make a home wherever I was. The feeling has stayed with my throughout my life although my husband has a harder time. I’ve noticed it takes several years for him to finally say “home” and not “back home.” I have several pieces of art I’ve carried with me during the three moves in my adult life. When these pictures are hung on the wall I have a new home. I love writers that take me to their home and I can see it with their eyes. I love visiting a place and discovering markers I’ve read about. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but also in the words of the writer.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Reply:

    What an interesting comment about ‘home’ and ‘back home’ with regard to your husband. I would say that when I moved to Phoenix, I never truly felt I could call it “home.” Perhaps the largeness, coming from my rural background? But the minute we moved south, to rural AZ, I knew I had found “home.” And it was a QUICK, SURE, in-the-gut feeling.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Juliette Wade Says:

    This is a wonderful post, and the comments are valuable as well. The concept of home is one that is always close to our hearts, often associated with tiny specific details, large vistas, specific smells, or other idiosyncratic things. It’s also something that can be neglected in fantasy and science fiction…but it shouldn’t be. I’ll post and link to you. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  • avatar e.lee Says:

    A house doesn’t make a home, it is really more of a state of mind.

    [Reply]

  • avatar Julia Says:

    I agree so much — my concept and place of home have changed so much over the years, and I’m sure it will continue. Maybe because I moved so much as a child, sense of home and place is fascinating to me, especially how it affects our definition of self. I often contemplate the previous inhabitants of the house I live in now (which is about 150 years old), thinking of all the people who have called it home. It has provided some really interesting writing direction and inspiration.

    [Reply]

    avatar

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    It’s so true that our sense of home is a large part of what defines us. Like you, I am always fascinated – even when simply entering historic buildings or older homes to which I have no tie – about the “lives behind the homes.” I love that you’ve found inspiration in those thoughts.

    [Reply]

Leave a Comment