Apr 4 2011

Sonoran Liberty Bell

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I will never stop being amazed at the hidden treasures so near to my home in southern Arizona. Take, for instance, this interesting geologic formation that rests near an ancient Native American Indian site.

My scant geologic knowledge tells me it’s nothing more than brittle, sandy earth, trying to become sandstone, but eroding too rapidly to achieve such permanence. But what I saw was a desert version of the Liberty Bell, crack and all.

This mound of earth is adjacent to Copper Creek in southern Arizona. Rumor says that the University of Arizona once completed archaeological digs in this area. Click to enlarge.

Friend-neighbor-tour guide extraordinaire, Mark*, saw something else entirely. In the next photo, you can understand why he envisioned a medicine man, perched atop this silo of earth, summoning the spirits for rain, food, good health, shelter.

The azure sky behind this outcropping includes a glimpse of the Galiuro Mountains. Can’t you envision a medicine man at this outlook? Click to enlarge.

When we shared our visions, it struck me that, as humans, we so often see the same things, but see them so differently. We also have the lightning-quick ability to drawn upon our own personal experiences and instantaneously weave them together with our imagination. The end result: one-of-a-kind hypotheses, tall-tales, stories … So, in a way, I believe we are all natural-born storytellers – especially when given the liberty to stretch our creative muscles and let our minds wander.

For Writers: Liberty. It’s really a key component in all writing, when you think about it. Consider, for instance, the liberties you let your characters take (or don’t). Do you rein them in or cut them loose? Do you allow them to say things in your novel that you’d never say yourself?

And what liberties do you take, as an author, in borrowing from real-life? Is your real-life Aunt Ethel really the driving force behind your crazy antagonist? Were you really the one who drove your car across your college campus quad and nearly got arrested – not your protag (I have no idea who might have done something this foolish in real life)? Ah, liberty … it’s such a good thing. So lucky to have it! So grateful.

Many thanks to Mark. If not for his generosity, hubby and I might not even know that these local gems exist.


42 Responses to “Sonoran Liberty Bell”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    What wonderful photos to wake up to this morning! I love the liberty bell and the azure sky–and the different interpretations and how you tie them back to taking liberties with characters. I live in (and write about) a small town, and I often think about whether, if I don’t take liberties with characters, they will be too close to the real thing. So I enjoy taking plenty of liberties while creating them! It’s also great fun to grant liberties to some characters while taking liberties away from others!

    One of the reasons I love your blog (aside from the amazing photos) is the way you inspire me to think about my writing and creative process via images and features of the natural world! Thanks for another great opportunity to do that!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Wow. I couldn’t be more humbled by your response and so thrilled to know that I really AM inspiring you to think about writing and creativity through nature’s lens. Thank you, Julia.

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  • avatar Erika Robuck Says:

    I love that you and your friend saw something totally different in that mound of earth and that you connected it to writing.

    I saw Tracy Chevalier speak last year and she said that when her novel, THE GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING, came out, Vreeland’s novel, THE GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE was also released. At first, she was afraid the subjects were too close and that they’d be competing for readers. She came to realize that no two authors tell the same or similar stories in the same manner, and that often, readers are hungry for more of the same subject after they finish a book.

    As for my own life and the liberties I take in writing, I don’t ever use a person from my life totally in a character. I use attributes and sometimes real incidents, but never the total package.

    Thanks for getting me thinking this morning. Great post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Erika, for stopping by and for the wonderful reminder/lesson about “no two authors telling the same or similar stories in the same manner.” So true. Agreed – using too many details from real-life can get you in trouble!

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  • avatar K Says:

    A well written response, Julia, to Melissa’s thought provoking photos and blog. Our odd and beautiful desert can make a person’s imagination really take off. Thanks Melissa for giving us the nudge to think about who was here before us and appreciating (although not perfect) our freedom here in this country.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, K, for being my partner in crime on many of these sightseeing expeditions and for being as jazzed about the desert as I am!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Good morning, Melissa!

    I think we can’t help as writers drawing from people we’ve encountered when we build our characters. But I am always careful to take pieces, and balance those familiar pieces with elements that have no resemblance to people I know, or have known, however briefly. It keeps me from feeling inappropriate AND keeps my character fresh for ME, so that I don’t always know what to expect from him or her.

    Like you’ve pointed out in your posts about our natural world, we can’t help but be inspired by what we see when we really look. And as writers, we pull from every source. For setting, characters, all of it.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I agree that writing someone too close to real-life can stifle creativity. I actually learned that lesson the hard way in my first novel. Besides, I think it’s more fun to create complex, sometimes-unpredictable characters. Thanks for stopping by and providing such great commentary. Much appreciated. Can’t wait for LITTLE GALE GUMBO to debut!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Great post, Melissa. I was just having a discussion with a writer friend last week about taking liberties with our characters, and how we allow them to say and do things we never would in real life. So your post tickeled me, and made me see how alike we all feel about our writing. Like Erika M., I never feel comfortable taking an entire real person as a character, but simply pick and choose parts to create a composite.
    I know you are a fellow lover of the natural world, and so you know what an inspiration being out in nature can provide. Visiting nature recharges our creative batteries.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I LOVED your comment about nature recharging our creative batteries. In fact, I read it right after coming in from a 4-mile jog & couldn’t have agreed more. I was SO motivated this morning that I actually stopped twice to record blog ideas on my iPhone recorder. Nature is such an inspiration for my writing. (And I love that you and your friend were talking about the very topic of our characters saying things we might not say ourselves. Kind of liberating, I think!)

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    Hi there Melissa! Those pictures are amazing…don’t see that kind of stuff on the East Coast…

    As far as letting my characters run loose, one in particular comes to mind. The stuff that comes out of his mouth makes me cringe, but it’s so him. Sometimes I do want to slap him. 🙂

    Everyone seems to be in agreement–we all add a dash of personal life into our stories. My husband did inspire the romantic hero of my current trilogy. Corny in the extreme, but true.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Aww… how sweet that your hubby inspired your romantic hero. What a compliment to him!

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Giving my characters “liberty” was something I greatly struggled with while writing my first novel, Segregation at Springcreek, which was heavily based on my own experiences while growing up on a Christian camp. Because it was a mixture of both fiction and fact, I never felt freedom to unveil my emotions as I watched my family get torn apart by a dictator of man who oversaw the camp grounds. My new novel, though set on the same location, is not based on my own experiences at all. Because of this, I have complete freedom to reveal the characters’ many emotions without digging up past pain. This is why writing is such a refuge.

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful images, Melissa. More and more I am see Arizona as the last frontier.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love it… Arizona as the last frontier. But more than that, I wanted you to know that I can totally relate to your comments. I think, sometimes, when we write about something that draws so heavily on our own experiences, we do fee stifled and worried about how the “real characters” will perceive the novel and how much we might reveal about ourselves. I read a wonderful post by author Randy Susan Meyers (The Murderer’s Daughters) about this very topic. It made me realize that, to write a realistic book WITH the emotion it deserved, I needed to infuse more fiction – or write another story altogether. I think you discovered the same. If I can find that post by Randy, I’ll share it with you. Her advice was excellent, and you might find it comforting. I can’t WAIT to read your novel! Simply can’t wait.

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    Jolina Petersheim Reply:

    Thank you, dear Melissa, for the writing encouragement (as always) and for the tip on Randy Meyer. I’ll check her out!

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I think when we give our characters liberty, that’s when they become real. They have to surprise us if we expect them to surprise our readers. I never used to understand when writers would say things like, “I don’t write, I just listen to my characters.” (I still don’t buy into that 100%, because I think it takes away from the creative process.)

    But I do think that if we build a real enough world and real enough characters, they should have the liberty to surprise us every once in a while. Because even in the real world, people don’t always act according to character. There are always extreme circumstances or exceptions that will push them out of their routines, and that’s when things get interesting.

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    Melissa Reply:

    So insightful, Natalia! The key, to me, is exactly what you said: ” … if we build a real enough world and real enough characters, they should have the liberty to surprise us every once in a while.” I never really bought into the “my characters talk to me” thing, either, until I really started to focus on character development. And when you KNOW your characters and think like them, see the world through their eyes, I’ll be darned … they DO find their own voice (but, again, as you hint – that’s becuase you, the author, have done the hard work to shape and form the character in the first place). Your job, then, becomes to channel that voice that you ‘created.’

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  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    As I read this post, I thought of liberty in my writing habits. I’m slowly discovering that I need to be more free with myself when I’m writing. Setting aside an hour in the afternoon to write a blog post may not always work out. If my brain is geared toward working on my novel instead, then I need to give myself permission to listen to the muse.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I LOVE this advice and need to pay heed myself. In fact, I had one of those ‘missed opportunities’ yesterday because I was trying to ‘stick to my schedule.’ I had come back from a jog, totally inspired to write my novel. Instead, I farted around on Twitter and lost my WIP mojo because my to-do said to wrap up social media first. Umm… that whole day was spent on social media and NO WIP. Sad…. So, yes, listen to the muse!

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  • avatar Shari Lopatin Says:

    It DOES look like the Liberty Bell! Wow, great image. I love the liberty creative writing offers us. If we don’t feel free as writers, it’s only because we’ve limited ourselves. For example, in my previous (and unhealthy) relationship, I didn’t allow myself to be free and write truth–mostly because MY truth conflicted with my ex’s truth, and would cause fights. Now, I’m in a happy, healthy relationship where I’m free to be free as a writer, and it’s amazing the difference in my personal creativity when removing other inhibitions in my life. If you’re feeling trapped as a writer, perhaps you should look at your surroundings and see what is causing this prison.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Such great advice. Writing is supposed to be cathartic and freeing – liberating! Am so glad you’re out of the unhealthy relationship and that it has allowed your creativity to blossom.

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    First of all, I am truly amazed at all nature’s sites you encounter in your home state. That Liberty Bell is amazing. And I love how you can always relate a photo of something in nature back to writing. That is truly a gift. … In terms of your question, my response is similar to Varina’s in that I need to take more liberties with my writing. I need to start feeling comfortable creating characters and stepping out of my zone. Liberty, here I come!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love it! Liberty, here you come, indeed! I’m surprised, too, how I can find writing lessons nearly every day in nature. I’m having a blast, too!

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  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Hi Melissa…I must visit your home. You have some of the most beautiful natural surroundings. 🙂

    As writers, we do take liberties. I sometimes base my characters on real life people. In school I had a teacher who threw chalk at inattentive students. One of my characters is based on that teacher. Sometimes I add a bit of someone’s nature into my characters.

    Btw..I have used another of your pictures.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hi there, lady. Love it. I can picture the chalk-throwing teacher (funny thing is that I had a teacher like that in fourth grade!). I think if most writers are honest, we will admit that the inspiration for our stories and our characters are always influenced by real-life. Yay. Heading over to your blog to check out which of my photos you used this time around. Woo hoo.

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  • avatar Amanda Hoving Says:

    Love this, Melissa! You are the nature girl I wish I had it in me to be. 😉

    Writers and readers often take liberties with their interpretations. I love going to book club and finding out that someone else saw the story in a completely different way. And sometimes they are even able to change my mind.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Then YOU must be the city girl I wish I had it in me to be :-). Lived in downtown Phoenix for 10 years and didn’t realize I was unhappy there until I got to my current home. Should have figured that out long ago since my childhood was in rural PA, among cornfields, rolling hills, tree and critters – a place I loved! Oh … then there’s that whole, “I’ve been in a big city for a day. GET ME OUT!”

    You make such a good point about readers’ interpretations of books! So true that we can all read the same thing and get such different messages from it. That’s the beauty of the written word, to me: its adaptability and how it really IS personal for each reader! Thanks so much for stopping by.

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  • avatar Sonia M. Says:

    Beautiful pics! I try to give my characters free reign to say what they need to say and do what they need to do. Not sure if they say what I can’t. Maybe they do. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ah hah. Maybe they’re reveling a bit about you as well? Appreciate your visit, Sonia.

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  • avatar Tracy Says:

    So amazing. Nature is full of wondrous sights and sounds that never fails to just amaze me. Thank you for sharing. It does indeed remind me of the LIberty Bell. I think it is so natural for us to see things – familiarities in that which is around us. As a writer, I take heavily from that which is around me as well and those who are around me. Sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad. LOL! Moreso for them rather than me – speaking of characters in my stories. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Reminds me of the t-shirt (not sure if you’ve seen it, but I WANT one) that says, “Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.” Which reminds me of an interesting occurrence today. Saw this woman in her late 50s (guessing) at one grocery store, then at another … She was driving a ’55 Chevy, and the way she was so proud, driving along, made me think, “There’s a story there.” So when I saw her in the second grocery store, I ASKED her. Ha ha. And, indeed, there was a story to be told.

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  • avatar Cat Says:

    Great post! And, love the pictures. In the second one I see the faded images of a history of people standing shoulder to shoulder and stacked. So so true, everyone sees things with a different set of experiences, a different imprint. As for the liberties I take with my writing, I’ll never fully fess up but pretty much everyone in my life is fair game. 🙂 It did take me awhile to give my characters free reign though. My first drafts were reserved and I was over protective of my characters. Now, I let them loose and anything can happen!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Your secret is safe with me. But, yes, people in real life are all fair game. I had an instructor once tell me, “Melissa – don’t worry about basing a character on someone in real life. People rarely see themselves as OTHERS see them, or as they REALLY ARE.” I thought that was pretty insightful…

    Love that you’ve thrown caution to the wind and have let your characters be their own people!

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  • avatar Christina Fifield-Winn Says:

    It is the Liberty Bell/Medicine Man Syndrome that keeps our readers interested. Various perspectives give us the opportunity to teach, entertain, and thrill the masses, sometimes without even knowing it. In my story, “KAFE CASTRO” I may have seen the main character as a woman who needs to come down off of the laughing gas and grow up, but someone else may see her as the ultimate party girl, completely unafraid to experience everything life has to offer. Anyway, great post! Thanks for sharing! The pics are beautiful! Well done!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Isn’t that another beauty of the written word? That people can interpret the same words so differently, as Amanda noted above about her book club? I once interpreted poetry in college (apparently incorrectly), and my prof told me she was “worried about me.” So much for respecting my creative mind!

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  • avatar Holly Weiss Says:

    Fascinating post. One photo inspires in two different ways. I am inspired by the images becasue I live so far away from that terrain.

    Re: characters. I try to let mine take me where they will. I am fortunate that my characters are often in my dreams interacting with me. Perhaps I err on the side of giving them too much control.
    Thank you for a great post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Tanks for stopping by, Holly! I’m not sure you “can” give them too much control … Isn’t that what makes a story organic and authentic? I love that you let them steal the show (but then again, I love character-driven novels).

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    So funny I should read this on a day I ran across (or into, I guess) two real life stories I’d love to use. I just can’t. They’d know.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Argh! Maybe there will be some way, down the line, to infuse both of their stories into one – make some kind of composite from multiple stories. I always say, “write it down.” You MAY be able to use some of the details inconspicuously in the future! How goes the reading?

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer Says:

    Yes, what they all said. 🙂

    Love this post and enjoyed the comments! I think that is why fiction is so great. The freedom to write the stories we have inside us-whether pulling from our owning experiences or weaving a tale beyond anything we could imagine doing in real life-is truly a gift.

    Thanks for sharing you pictures! XO

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  • avatar Suzie Ivy Says:

    Melissa, I am always in such awe of your pictures but even more so of your writing. I don’t know quite how to express myself but to say, “I see what you saw.” Your words take me there! I’m always excited for the journey you send me on.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh what a wonderful compliment, Suzy. You MADE my weekend :-). Your support means so much.

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