Aug 28 2011

Ka-pow! Ker-plooey!

Melissa Crytzer Fry

How apropos that the sky is growling and grumbling as I begin this post … that the tink-tink of rain is creating a harmonic symphony on the skylights…

You see, two weekends ago, I wasn’t home when the weather literally blew – and rumbled, and rippled – across our desert homestead. I suspect the skies were doing much the same thing then as they are now: growling and thumping, flickering and hissing amid lightning bolts.

These saguaros stand guard on the hilltop behind our house, sentinels against the backdrop of cloudy skies. Click to enlarge.

Hubs and I were returning from town that day (not by covered wagon, folks – but by today’s Wild West version: our pickup). As we drove down one of the big hills that offers sweeping views of the San Pedro River Valley we call our home, we were privy to an incredible show of dancing lights.

Then we returned home to find:

1)    A fried subwoofer next to the television

2)    An inoperable weather station

3)    A wiped out video surveillance camera

The assessment, of course, was that lightning had struck nearby or even had possibly struck our home directly. The biggest perplexity, though, was the eerie calm of our cats when we walked through the door. Had they experienced a deafening crack from a lightning bolt (some of these fierce, ear-splitting bolts make my arm hairs stand on end), I’d have anticipated bushy tails the thickness of bottlebrushes and marble-sized eyes for a few hours. At least.

Yet they were calm.

And yet, we discovered this a few days later:

This saguaro, vibrant and healthy a week earlier, indicated that our hunches were correct. Click to enlarge.

Yes, to my dismay, one of my beloved saguaros had been hit by lightning, only 150 feet from our house. The craziest part is that the top of this once luscious green, healthy fellow was blown a good 50 feet down the hill (see below). Talk about the power of Mother Nature’s wrath (I know this is nothing compared to what folks on the East Coast faced this weekend … it’s a small example, though, of nature’s brute force).

This was the top of the saguaro. Limbs were scattered in every direction.Click to enlarge.

If you look down the hill, you can see different parts of the once-healthy cactus strewn about. Click to enlarge.

Looks like cinders from a regular old fire pit on the innards of this poor fella, doesn’t it? The saguaro’s glochids puffed up like popcorn under the heat (look at the fuzzy little balls). The whole hill smells like rotting pumpkins now… Click to enlarge.

For Writers: This event obviously got me to thinking about the things that happen when we’re not looking … the things that can go unknown or unnoticed if we don’t investigate, dig deeper (or if someone doesn’t clue us in).

I think this unknown lightning strike taught me to be even more alert as a writer, even more inquisitive … to always search out the story, even if, on the surface, it seems as though it might have only existed in my imagination.

Are those events in life – the things that happen when you’re not looking – important to you as a writer?

What about the characters in your fiction? How does a story change, a character grow or react, when she suddenly learns of an event that happened, or of a secret withheld when she wasn’t looking?


34 Responses to “Ka-pow! Ker-plooey!”

  • avatar Kimberly Brock Says:

    Love this, Melissa. Feel sorry for your poor cactus, but it’s a nice analogy for the scene I’m currently wrestling with. Secrets can hollow a person out — and a character! And this makes me wonder…what will grow in it’s place? 😉

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    Melissa Reply:

    Woman, I cannot wait to read what you’re working on (or your upcoming debut)! I’m actually writing my WIP right now :-), so these questions are top of mind for me, too.

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer Says:

    That is crazy! Sorry to say but glad the poor saguaro was sacrificed rather than your home! You’re right about seeking out more in our stories. We are complex, therefore, our stories should have more than meets the eye as well.

    Love the pics!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Agree wholeheartedly. 150 feet is a bit too close for comfort when it comes to lightning strikes. How’s the WIP work now that kiddos are back in school? Better, I hope!

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Our house was struck by lightning when I was a child and almost caught on fire. Our store’s been hit numerous times, and we’ve had to replace computer motherboards and the whole lot. Lightning is nothing to mess with. I’m so glad you (and kitties!) are safe!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Remind me not to stand next to you during a storm!

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  • avatar Julia Says:

    Wow! This is certainly the dark side of getting the needed rain! As with others, I’m so glad no one was injured and the lightning missed the house. I know how dangerous those southwest storms can be! As with the storm you never witnessed but caused the damage–I only hope the characters in my fiction can reflect a fraction of the real-life under-the-surface things that go on in all our lives. (p.s. pretty dramatic photos!)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Funny how not only are the regions we live in so, so different – but so are the types of storms we have. Learned today that we’re supposed to dry out (though it rained a LOT yesterday) and be above normal through the next few months temp wise. Ooo wee!

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  • avatar Nina B Says:

    Hi Melissa! This might seem like a stretch, but reading this made me think about the discussion on my blog today . . . the issue of what we might be missing by too much time spent online. And at the same time, people like you, me, and the rest of who blog and love Twitter and feel REAL connections there worry about what we’d be missing by stepping away from it all. I know the answer is balance (not black/white) and some self-discipline. Easier said than done.

    Great post as always. Sorry to riff back on my own topic.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I don’t think this is a stretch at all and don’t mind the “riff back to your topic” because you know I struggle in the very same way. I even wrote a guest post with Leah Singer a few weeks back about the very topic of how all this online, “head down” interaction really means we’re missing the world around us. So yes – I agree 100%.

    Also agree that the balancing act with Twitter/blogging and our OWN writing goals is difficult and a skill we constantly have to hone.

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I had a similar experience earlier this week while working on my WIP. One of my characters questioned why another character would say what she just said (sorry for the vagueness). And at the time I wrote it, I had no idea why. But by the next line, it turned out she’d had a significant experience as a child, and she was indirectly referring to it. I feel like that all kind of happened while I wasn’t looking, and that it struck me out of nowhere, kind of like that lightning.

    So glad everyone’s safe and that it didn’t hit the house. Those are some strong kitties you’ve got there! I know my dog would have scratched down the door if she was alone during a storm like that 😉

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ohh… I love those fiction moments when that backstory kind of just “comes to you” when you aren’t looking. So exciting. Glad to hear the WIP progress is progressing, Natalia.

    As for the cats … I think they were just putting on a good show, because they’re usually big sissies.

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  • avatar Jessica McCann Says:

    So glad your house was spared, Melissa, and glad the kitties weren’t spooked (at least not for long).

    My analogy isn’t as dramatic, but yours reminded me of all the times I bump into someone at the store – a parent of a child my kids went to school with a while back, someone I haven’t seen in several years. Their kids always look so BIG. In my mind they’re still the little guys and gals skipping off to Kindergarten with their giant backpacks and giant grins. Now they’re in middle school or high school or heading off to COLLEGE. Somehow, as we live our lives, raise our kids and deal with all the challenges that brings, we forget everyone else is out there doing the very same thing.

    Thanks for the reminder that we need to look beyond the obvious once in a while and think about what’s going on in the big world around us.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Glad I’m not the only one who has those feelings when I see people’s kids (ah-hem … even yours). It’s like, “Wait … all of this was going on behind the scenes while I wasn’t watching…. These kids are GROWING UP.”

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  • avatar Sara Says:

    There were some thunderstorm warnings in Southern California too that never came to pass but it always seems like weather goes wacky whenever huge storms like Irene are anywhere in the States.

    There is construction across the street that’s been happening for ages and I always see it right after something has happened. One day a whole building was gone and then one day there was a huge hole dug out. I’ve never seen any workers there…how is this stuff happening??

    “Stuff that happens when we aren’t looking” is great for writers to think about because it reminds us we don’t control the world or know everything about it! What?!? I know, but it’s true. Great post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think the whole “disappearing” building and seeing no workers might be a good story idea. I think you’re more drawn to women’s fict/lit (based on what I’ve seen you reading), but there might be a short story here for you of a fantastical nature!

    Boy do I agree that those things that happen when we’re not looking are great reminders of how little control we have over the world — such excellent fodder for fiction.

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  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    Sad about the Saguaro, but totally cool pictures!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    About a month ago we were having thundershowers here. I had gone to bed upstairs and fallen alseep. Suddenly a bombblast woke me from a dead sleep! The thunder went off right overhead, and shook the house like an earthquake as it slowly rolled away and diminished. My heart raced and I was disoriented. If I had a tail, I’m sure it would have looked like a bottlebrush, Melissa. Those are some very cool cats you’ve got!
    I didn’t especially enjoy being woken from a sound sleep and terrified like that. But I do like those unseen things that occur in novels. Or even events that are seen, but not connected until later.
    Burnt pumpkin, huh? Never would’ve guessed they smell like that.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh my… I hate those kinds of “sound sleep-thunder” experiences. I know them all too well from where I grew up. Scary stuff.

    I’m with you: a big fan of unseen events/details/plotlines that aren’t initially seen by the reader, but are connected later. An author who can pull that off is genius! I suspect you may just be that kind of writer :-)!

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    Your poor saguaro! I’m also amazed by the calmness of your cats. The dog and cat I grew up with would probably be a little freaked out.

    I also like the writer’s question; I haven’t dealt with it in my current WIP yet, but it occurs a lot in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire sequence. As you note, when it’s used right, it can have a powerful effect on the characters and narrative in general.

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    Melissa Reply:

    The calm cats still have me scratching my head…

    So you piqued my curiosity; I need to look this book up. Thanks!

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    Oh Melissa–I am heartbroken for you! (I know, I know, better the saguaro than your home…) But I am still SO SAD.

    We adore our natural surroundings (and especially such powerful parts of it like the saguaro) and they are part of our families, our homes. You must have been utterly in shock to find that had happened…

    Honestly, these moments of nature’s power always reinforce my feelings as a writer, as a person, to seize the moment even more–to get those stories down, to query, to put them out in the world. Not to wait. For whatever it is we desire. One never knows!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Since we moved here in 2007, this is the third one we’ve lost: 1 giant one fell over from an eroded hill based (my dad was visiting at the time and said it hit with such a thud that he thought we had an earthquake); another died just this year from old-age. Its droopy skin is still sloughing off. And now this guy not too far away from the decaying one.

    To make myself feel better, I may just go buy three new little guys and plant replacements (knowing how LONG it takes them to grow).

    And I LOVE the connection you’ve draw to nature’s power and how it’s a huge reminder to get things done NOW … just in case.

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  • avatar Julie Says:

    Great post! Wow, what a storm and sight that must have been.
    Nice tie in to your writing and it gives us a lot to think about. I love ‘knowing’ something about a characters personality and then finally ‘discovering’ what shaped that personality as I uncover their story. Sometimes our character’s pasts can surprise us, and illuminate their motivations in ways we hadn’t expected.

    Thanks for more writing thoughts and great photos!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Me, too, Julie. I think that’s why I’m drawn to character-driven fiction: finding out all those psychological connections and events that form personality and actions.

    Isn’t that the fun part of writing – discovering your characters’ pasts so that you can understand WHY they just reacted the way they did (as you type along, just as surprised as they are)?

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    Wow, there truly is crazy weather everywhere! And your poor cactus! I didn’t think of a fiction character. But I could envision you and your husband walking into your home as if it was a scene in a book or movie.

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  • avatar Girl Parker Says:

    It blew the top of that poor saguaro clean off?! Holy Smokes, literally!!! That’s crazy. Poor saguaro. There’s something noble about those cacti that kills me. I didn’t have a blew the top off moment, but I did recently figure out why my MC and her hubs can’t adopt… all along I thought it was her health, but that bugged me. Too Steel Magnolias. Then I had the shower revelation– the hubs has a history! Very excited.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes, you know all about my very huge obsession with sagauaros… They ARE so regal, so majestic! How goes the WIP after your big revelation? COOL stuff!

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    I never thought about a saguaro getting hit by lightening! Wow. I’m sorry that it was destroyed. On the writing question – I think we hit on this a little bit a while ago – surprises – I love them. It made me also think of what is going on underneath right in front of them – but not immediately realized until one day – bam! Great post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’ve been in a small state of wonder: of all things for lightning to strike (including my husband’s giant ham radio tower a few skips away), this little guy was kind of the one singled out. I mean, what are the chances of a bolt of lightning hitting right there, in that very spot, right on the crown of this poor saguaro? Crazy…

    I loves me a surprise in the things I’m reading, too. Hope you’re feeling better, Tracy!

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  • avatar Michelle Fayard Says:

    These pictures are incredible, Melissa, but I’m so glad it was the cactus and not your home that was hit.

    Thank you for stopping by Bird’s-eye View and sharing that great bit of trivia about Jessica McCann and her writing inspirations.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thanks, Michelle, for stopping by my blog as well. So happy to stop by your place and support Jessica!

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  • avatar Patrick Ross Says:

    Melissa, I had the same thought as Michelle above! That poor cactus was your lighting rod. And poor cactus indeed, he looked like he had a few years’ worth of growth, seeing a saguaro perish is always sad.

    FYI, even though I was on vacation in a forest recently, I was thinking a lot about my love for the Sonoran Desert as I read Desert Solitaire, about the author’s time in and passion for Utah’s high desert. A bit different from ours (the cacti there aren’t as lush) but similar.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Yes, that’s always the sad part to me about the death of a saguaro cactus … the length of time it took the specimen to get to that size in the first place!

    So glad that you still have a fondness for the desert, even though you’ve moved eastward. Any plans to come back when you’re done with your MFA?

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