Jun 20 2011

What Are You Doing?

Melissa Crytzer Fry

What are you doing? This is the rather direct question my husband was asked by a stubbly-faced fellow riding shotgun in a white Chevy Suburban this past weekend.

We were in the tiny mining town of Hayden, Ariz., – specifically so I could photograph this once-vibrant town nestled at the base of the Mescal Mountains. I was on the other side of the street, caught up in my own reverie as I snapped photos of an abandoned United Methodist Church that I was sure still held a lifetime of memories, sorrowful and joyful, both.

This church stands with many windows absent, open to the elements, and a “for rent” sign tacked to the front doors. Click to enlarge. Tab through all photos with forward button.

As I walked away from the church toward my husband, I heard the man continue his questioning. “Who are you? Why are you taking pictures?” he asked, rather defensively.

From across the street, I made out a few additional mumbles, as well as my husband’s response, “Well, I don’t know Dr. Wilkes. No, we don’t work for anyone.”

By the time I reached the side of the old truck, circa 1990, I saw the gangly, hollow-cheeked man who clutched a weekly circular in his hands and balanced a 12-pack of Fiesta soda in his lap. The driver next to him eyed us with suspicion before lighting his cigarette with a wooden match.

Apparently “Dr. Wilkes” owns all the abandoned buildings in the area, and our interrogator “works on them.”

Finally satisfied that hubby’s jean shorts, my running shorts and our t-shirts didn’t appear to be the attire of ‘official photographers’ or ‘inspectors’ of some sort, the men drove away. And I have to admit I was a little miffed by the intrusion. I was in an artistic mood and didn’t appreciate being shaken from it. It’s a free country. I can take pictures if I like, flittered through my head as I continued to photograph the desolate street.

This theater, which was once a match company (and later an indoor basketball court), had been renovated on the exterior at some point. A glimpse beyond the buildings shows a light aqua mass rising in the foreground of the mountains. It is actually a tailings pile from current mining operations. Click to enlarge.

With each photo I took, though, I started to think about the interaction with the men. These locals were simply proud of their little town, despite the abandoned buildings and the town’s freefall into economic decline. They felt a sense of ownership, maybe even a sense of kinship with their hard-knocks town.

Their pride – their overprotectiveness of this once-bustling main street that is now ghostly and empty – really hit me. One sweep of the eyes up and down this road illustrates their dedication to keeping it clean, nearly vandalism-free, and presentable. Maybe it’s also testament to their appreciation of the mining town’s tough history, its survival instincts.

And their actions, their reactions to us … well, they spoke the loudest of all. This was still their town.

This photo, taken in the 1920s, shows the town of Hayden during more prosperous times. Look closely at the mountain in the background and compare it to the “today” photo below.

My image is taken further up the street, but the same columned building on the left (in above photo) is the Police Department today. The building on the right in the vintage photo is the same building below that still stands (minus the balconies). Click to enlarge.

This now decaying building was once a commercial company during the town’s heyday (see vintage photo). Today it sits silently, stories buried in its crumbling walls. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: As writers, I think we can learn a lesson or two about pride and protectiveness. We must be equally protective of our writing projects, champions of our own cause. Proud. If we don’t believe in our words – and work at them, polishing them, cleaning them up, making them presentable, preserving their meaning – how do we expect to land an agent? Get a publishing contract  … tell our story? In what ways can you honor your own work? Do you think it’s important to do so?

NOTE: MORE PHOTOS AT RIGHT- I couldn’t fit all of the photos from this trip onto this post (without driving you batty). If you’re interested in seeing more, click the Twitpic box at right for additional photos of Hayden and nearby mining town, Winkleman.

P.S. I’m also guest posting at Brava this week, with the wonderfully generous New York Times bestselling author, Beth Hoffman (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt). Please stop by if you get a chance. My post focuses on using photos to ignite creativity in your writing!


41 Responses to “What Are You Doing?”

  • avatar Susan Larson Says:

    I appreciate the originality of your posts.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Susan. I appreciate you stopping by!

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    I absolutely love these photos of old buildings — I can’t help compare to the older buildings here in the east, which are so different in appearance. It’s so interesting! I also am fascinated by the western US ghost or disappearing town concept…so many stories. You captured these feelings so well with your photos and your observation/conversation with Dr. Wilkes’ men. You certainly have had more than your fair share of “interesting” human interactions lately! As for being protective of my work — I tend to be too over-protective, which has its good and its bad sides. (p.s. Loved your post at Beth Hoffman’s site!!

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    Melissa Reply:

    You know, the “human interaction” part of my trip happened toward the end of my photo ‘session,’ and I thought, “Oh, geeze. What now?” Ha ha. So glad you enjoyed. I think I could become a full-time ghost/mining town amateur photographer because it’s so much fun. ha ha. And, yes, architectural styles are SO different in the west vs. east. Even today.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Love the photos, Melissa, as always. I too, am fascinated by these old ghost towns in AZ. Who lived here, I wonder, and what was their story?And I enjoy the towns that managed to morph themselves into something else, rather than fading away, and are now artist’s colonies, like Jerome, up on its hillside and filled now with funky restaurants and coffee shops, art galleries and a glass blower’s studio.
    Like Julia, I am over-protective of my work. I never show my shitty first drafts to anyone, and must constantly watch myself during writer’s critiques. “Pride goeth before the fall.” I try to keep my ego out of it. But our stories are like our children – and we love them.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I LOVE Jerome, and places like Bisbee, and even Tombstone -the ones, as you say, that have reinvented themselves. I’m always wondering “who” walked here, sat here, lived here, and I’m always wondering what stories emerged from those buildings. I should say that the town of Hayden, itself, still has a population of about 800. It’s just “main street” that appears to be a well-preserved ghost town at this point.

    I don’t like sharing early, early drafts, either. They must go through some serious revisions! It IS hard to keep our egos out of it when writing is such a personal endeavor!

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    What amazing shots, Melissa, but I am certainly glad you weren’t shot at while taking them. As writers, I think we must love our work, but maintain enough distance so that we can perceive the story’s faults with a critical eye. That balance is such a difficult one to find–at least for me! 🙂 By the way, I loved your description of the man who interrogated your husband. He sounded like he was from my neck of the woods!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha… while I was writing about this man, I totally thought of the characters you run into, Jolina!

    I agree with you that it’s so hard to find that objective balance about our work. For me, it sometimes feels nearly impossible when one day, I’ll read what I’ve written and love it. Then the next day, read the same passage and think it’s the worst garbage ever written!

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  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    I love old buildings! Sometimes I think I can see them full of people and activity. Makes me wonder about all the stories that happened there, once upon a time. Thanks for sharing!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Great minds think alike. I wonder about all those stories as well … usually for days after the visit.

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  • avatar Julie Says:

    Great Picts! I loved the ones you tweeted too. What a great old town.

    I return to my old MSs every once in a while, just to read through and edit here and there. Maybe someday they’ll be published, maybe not, but they remind me why I love what I do. Those stories are my journey and I love them for all the places they’ve taken me.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh, Julie… I love the way you look at your old stories – as a journey that has taken you to so many places. Thank you.

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  • avatar Shari Lopatin Says:

    I think this is a very profound story, Melissa. And I think you did such a great thing by putting yourself in these men’s shoes. As writers, we can honor our work by refusing to sell out. By this, I don’t mean refusing to learn digital marketing or social media, or even self-publishing. I mean never forget WHY you write, and never let an outside influence change who you are, as a WRITER. Take edits, take criticism, but don’t completely change your morals as a writer to please others. If you do, you’re no longer honoring yourself or your work.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love this advice because I made the mistake, years ago, of taking someone else’s criticism on my fiction (someone I really trusted) – an act that took away “my” voice and my style. Yes, the best way to honor your own work is to let your voice shine through! No selling out.

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    Wow, I love all these photos! I’m so with you that I love using photos to tell stories. Clearly, as you’ve seen my blog! To me, photos and words are what tell tales. It’s strange for me to even think someone wouldn’t want you to take photos. It goes against my nature. Heading over to your guest blog now!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I figured if anyone would agree with my photo-creativity connection, you would. Your photos are wonderful!

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  • avatar Stephanie Alexander Says:

    Hi Melissa! I loved this post, and I can totally relate to the guys in the truck. I come from a part of Maryland that is looked down upon by the rest of the state, and while I have no desire to live there (got out of Dodge at eighteen and never looked back), I’m still defensive of my county. Like, I can make fun of it but I dare anyone else to do so!

    I love the way you relate this to writing. I find that writers with talent are the most critical of their own work. It’s true that writers need to own their stories…even if it means putting them out there for all the world to question.

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    Melissa Reply:

    So happy you popped by, even while doing your new home duties/prep in the south. Love that you’re defensive of your county, even though you chose to go. I have that same affinity for the small town where I grew up.

    And SO agree that writers with talent tend to be the most critical. I learned that at a conference recently where people in a workshop raised their hands to read their work aloud. Um… Well … Let’s just say … Never mind.

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  • avatar Ameikins Says:

    I love your posts. I think your voice comes through loud and clear and allows me to see the person who is writing the article, without ever meeting you. I would call that talent. My Grand would have said you are a natural born artist ma’am.
    Amei

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    Melissa Reply:

    Wow. What a wonderful compliment. Thank you so much, Amei. You totally made my day. So appreciate your support.

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  • avatar Rachna Chhabria Says:

    I love the picture of all these old buildings and also the way you connect them to writers. Yes, I am getting possessive about my stories, I want to keep polishing them until they shine.

    Btw..how have you been? How is the writing going?

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m good, Rachna. Still plugging away at my WIP and making some progress (not as quickly as I’d like, though, now that freelance work is picking up).

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    I love the photos! I also don’t like being interrupted when I’m engaged in a creative pursuit, but your explanation of their sense of ownership makes sense, too. So, at the end, I could identify with them, too.

    Are the pics inspiration for a writing project? Or just inspiration for its own sake?

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    Melissa Reply:

    The photos are really just inspiration for inspiration’s sake – and my love of the desert southwest. Though, I guess the argument could be made that they are ‘research’ trips of a sort since my current literary fiction WIP is set in this area : -).

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    Mahesh Raj Mohan Reply:

    Neat!

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  • avatar Ariana Says:

    Melissa, beautiful read. I am with Leah and with you. Pictures alone can tell the story. Sometimes they are more powerful wordless.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Yes, sometimes a picture speaks those “thousand words” in a simple glance. I love when an image can move me in that way.

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I love seeing before and after pictures of a town, when you can see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. Every time I come to your blog it makes me miss my photography days!

    I hadn’t thought about it till now, but I do get overprotective of my work. Aside from the first few pages of my book, which my husband has read, I’ve never let anyone else in my family read it. I’ve been happy to share it with my writer’s groups, but I guess I want my family and friends to see the finished product one day, so I dodge their requests to read it 🙂

    Also, I think that when I write in my journal, that’s a form of protecting my writing because chances are, no one will ever read it there. It’s a safe place, where I don’t have to worry about the quality of the writing or of it being judged. All I have to do is write.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I’ve heard a lot of advice that says it’s best to hold your initial WIP drafts close; but it’s great that you have a crit group you feel comfy with (and hubby’s supportive eyes, as well). I agree: I don’t want too many people to see my work until it’s “finished” (since you never know how many edits will occur during the publishing process).

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  • avatar Country Wife Says:

    I know just what you mean about that pride and protectiveness. It shows up strong for farmers and their land, specifically when they see some walking their fence-line or stopped along their pasture. I do feel a bit of that protectiveness with my little blog, in a sense that I don’t want busy-body locals reading and dissecting what I’ve wrote. I so love hearing from people all over, and who stop by because there is a genuine interest.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I can relate to the property ownership issue as well… We only have 40 acres, but when we see people ON our property (deliberately ignoring the no trespassing signs), we get very overprotective, too. I think that’s OK. It show pride of ownership/love and respect of land. I totally understand your feelings about the blog, too. Keep writing! I’m one of those folks who has a genuine interest!

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  • avatar Brandee Says:

    Even here in “the big city,” we have so many old buildings like this. Occasionally, I like to get out and drive through older parts of Phoenix. My great-grandmother was a social worker here in the 1920’s and ’30’s, and walked all over downtown Phoenix. The house that my grandfather grew up in still stands, though it is run-down and dilapidated. So many stories in every crumbled brick, every chip in the stucco!

    Lovely post, and even greater pictures! Thank you for sharing!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Hi Brandee. I lived in downtown Phoenix (historic area) for 9 years, and I couldn’t agree more; some of the older buildings are wonderful.We loved that our neighborhood had “history” to it when so much of Phoenix is ‘new.’ How interesting about your great-grandmother being a social worker, and even more exciting that your grandfather’s house still stands, even though worse for wear. I love that you are so connected to a piece of Phoenix history in that way. Thank YOU for sharing.

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  • avatar Billie Jo Woods Says:

    History always fascinates me, this town must have a wealth of stories buried in it. I like how you made the connection to writing too.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thanks, Billie Jo. Fun to see you here.

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  • avatar Amanda Hoving Says:

    Interesting thoughts and pictures, Melissa. Regarding writing, I think it’s normal to feel protective of our work. Writing is such a personal task — even if you’re writing an article about something like a book store or the weather. They are your thoughts, or interpretations of others’ thoughts, out there for all to judge.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes … writing is a test of our belief in ourselves in some respects, due to te public nature of it (when we share it). Thanks for your continued support, Amanda.

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  • avatar Emily Says:

    Oooh. Love ghost towns. Thanks for sharing these. Em

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    Melissa Reply:

    So happy to share. Glad you came by to take a look!

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  • avatar Kim Samsin Says:

    You’ve done it once again. And now that my redesign is done and my decks are cleared, I can resume my Monday ritual of visiting your photos and insights.

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    I love old towns like this. Montana has some wonderful ones too that I love to visit when I’m back there. I think it is natural as writers to be fiercely protective of our work. Afterall, it is our blood, our sweat and our tears – quite literally (okay maybe not the blood part, but you get the drift). I think I am more protective of my poetry than anything else. For me, my poetry is the closest thing to exposing my soul as I can get. I don’t care for critiques of it and I know that sounds snuffy but it is so hard for me to allow for that. I write my poetry for me. I like what I write and to have someone criticize it is akin to stripping me down and exposing me quite literally. I hope that makes sense. It’s hard to let go of a piece of art whether it is writing, painting etc… It is a piece of us. But yes, there comes a time it must be let go – to be shared with the world. That’s the part I need to be more amenable to. I need to let myself go and just write – free up that which is within me and expose my innermost self. That’s the hardest part I think. (sorry for the long reply!)

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