Sep 23 2012

Betty & Goldie’s Misadventures

Melissa Crytzer Fry

As we started out on a four-wheel-drive trip into the Sierra Ancha Mountains of Central Arizona, a blog idea had already sprung to mind. We were on our way to a town called Young and, of course, I started thinking about age.

I began snapping photos of town signs the nearer we got to Young, thinking I had the perfect blog topic related to reading preferences & character age. Click to enlarge.

On our ascent to Young, the landscape shed its lower-elevation saguaros and prickly pear cacti like snakeskin, in favor of pinyon pines and blazing yellow turpentine bush. The crisp air drew further clarity to my blog angle: I realized that I unintentionally gravitate toward books with characters close to my own age –not younger characters. This is not always the case, but I seem to initially be drawn to these stories – maybe because I expect to relate to my fictional counterparts?

The vista from this plateau offered breathtaking views of Four Peaks in the distance, as well as Roosevelt Lake beneath the Mazatzal Mountains. Click to enlarge.

This whole notion of youngness – youth – of age, of character age, is what I was going to write about. That is … until the characters of my real life story-in-progress began to misbehave on our trek into Tonto National Forest.

Goldie, the Toyota 4Runner of our neighbors/friends Mark and Roxanne, had just gotten a transmission overhaul. But the automatic transmission/oil temp warning light came on, requiring us to take a series of ‘cool down’ breaks on the way up.

Each Goldie rest stop resulted in some wonderful photo ops. Changing leaves illuminated by the sun – something we don’t see in the lower desert! Click to enlarge.

When we made it to one of our destinations (Workman Creek) after about a half dozen stops, we were rewarded with gorgeous views.

This waterfall wasn’t running heavily, but is beautiful in its seclusion and mountain solitude. Click to enlarge.

After our lunch at Antler’s Café & Bar (one of only two restaurants in this part of elk country), we took a tour of the tiny town. These old barns and buildings captivated me with their untold stories.

Then we were off to Reynolds Creek for sweeping desert views, Goldie leading the way in between cool-down stops.

But here’s where the plot (and my blog post idea) shifted dramatically. Our girl Betty (my Jeep) – not Goldie – dropped a drive shaft. On a dirt side road. In the middle of nowhere.

A downtrodden hubby waits for Mark and Roxanne to realize we are no longer following behind. Hubby mumbles to himself, “I knew I should have brought tools.” (Expletives not included). And we both cross our fingers that Mark has a 5/16-inch wrench. Click to enlarge.

I, of course, set off with my camera and found this lovely lichen and fungus – and this cool grey-blue beetle. Click to enlarge.

This snow-white moth offered some tranquil thoughts amidst the breakdown (Betty’s -- not ours. Yet.) Click to enlarge.

Also spotted: wild turkeys roaming around Reynolds Creek. Click to enlarge.

Hubby took things in stride, confident we could make it home with only the front wheels in 4WD when he disconnected the broken rear drive shaft. It would be a slow, long ride home, but it was a plan at least.

Once again, however, our unfolding story swung in a new direction.

Betty wouldn’t budge. At all. The transfer case also was broken. And in a twist of fate, the once-limping Goldie now became our savior.

Out come the tow-straps. Roxanne stands by. Click to enlarge.

Because of the late hour, we had to leave Betty in the wilderness of the Sierra Anchas, 103 miles from home (I hoped she wasn’t afraid of the dark, all alone in the foreboding shadows of the Ponderosa pines).

Where is the world was Betty? This is precisely where Betty spent the night. Look at all that secluded forest. The winding road, above and to right, is the trail where Betty broke down.

Hubby was pretty silent most of the ride home. I was sure he was trying to figure out a way to bring Betty back home: find a trailer to accommodate her wide wheel base (and figure out how our small 8-cylinder 1500 series pickup could handle pulling Betty + trailer up and down steep hills); or find parts on a Sunday – a new yoke and U-joints to repair the drive shaft – so that he could service her in her wilderness resting place.

We continued along in Goldie, under the tint of starry skies and a periodic red glow, a suffused warning emanating under the dash. Time for another 4Runner rest stop. And another plot twist. At 50 miles to home. Of course.

Fluids now trickled beneath Goldie’s engine compartment. Not transmission fluid (which would have been bad with a capital B) … but antifreeze. Yes, bedraggled and weary, the four 4WD enthusiasts faced a new problem. Another conflict. Another plot shift in their story.

And it was time for another solution (or luck). With the help of some water in the coolant overflow, we did make it home. Mark and Roxanne got a new hose replacement the next day (and will be taking Goldie back to the transmission folks this week). Hubby scrounged around salvage yards all of Sunday morning (and found the replacement yoke).

We arrived back to Betty's location at the Reynolds Trailhead of the Tonto National Forest at 5:18 p.m. the next day. In ten minutes, hubby "MacFryver" had Betty all fixed up.

Eleven hours later – after repairing the drive shaft at home, traveling 206 miles round trip into the Sierra Anchas and lying in dirt to mount the drive shaft – hubby made sure that Betty made her way home safely.

And this is how the story ended. Well, this chapter, at least.

For Readers, Writers & Everyone: We can’t predict the plot points of our lives, but with our fiction, we possess that kind of ubiquitous control. In fact, in our stories, we savor the very kind of conflict, collision and resolution faced by Betty and Goldie. The more twists and turns and surprises, the better.

What books do you recall with plot twists and turns that really surprised you? Do you like that kind of tension in your fiction?

Or maybe you’d like to sound off on the question posed by my original blog post idea: Do you see a parallel between your own aging and the age of characters you’re drawn to when reading? Does age of character even matter?


37 Responses to “Betty & Goldie’s Misadventures”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    What a story! Twists and turns, no kidding. So glad everyone (including Betty!) made it home safe and sound. You all must be very tired, but the story had a happy ending, my favorite kind. I love tension in fiction, and I I could learn a lesson or two from the tension in your real-life plot points — enough conflict and tension is one of my biggest challenges in writing fiction…which naturally creates lots of stress and tension for me as a writer. Nice post, Melissa, and I loved the photos; that beetle is amazing! (p.s. really liked the link to google maps, cool to see exactly where Betty was!)

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yes – I’m glad the story had a happy ending, especially after hubby revealed the additional stress he had driving home — “Worrying that the drive shaft would blow off and crash through the window of the truck my wife was driving behind me.” Umm.. I’m glad he didn’t share that with me until AFTER the trip!

    Boy do I hear you that lack of conflict and tension in our fiction causes conflict and tension in our real lives. Look how intertwined fiction is with reality ;-)! We can use this excuse with our loved ones, right?

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    Julia Munroe Martin Reply:

    I agree — I would’ve been glad too that my husband hadn’t told me of his additional “blow off and crash” worry with the drive shaft. Scary! But I’m glad you mentioned it, because I realized that in my first comment I forgot to say how wonderful it was that your husband fixed it seemingly-so-easily. What a day-saver he was! Impressive!

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  • avatar Janice Says:

    Melissa, I do enjoy reading your writing. You’re descriptive yet succinct. Your writing has a nice flow and you make it seem like it’s so easy.

    What a day you all had. I suspect Betty and Goldie knew what you were supposed to write about before you did and they were in cahoots.

    I’m having a hard time recalling many books I’ve enjoyed reading in the past that have lots of plot twists and turns. The Harry Potter series springs to mind. I think they were well-done. I also recently read The Poisoned House by Michael Ford and it had a nice plot twist near the end. I would say that I do enjoy those kinds of books if the twists are plausible. Then again, when you all were setting out for Young you couldn’t have known the many twists you would encounter along the way and imagining them all beforehand might have made you laugh and say, “That won’t happen.” I guess as a reader I don’t want my intelligence insulted, that’s all.

    Regarding preference for character age, I don’t have one. The examples I gave you above are YA titles. I enjoy reading about characters of all ages and backgrounds, as long as they and their stories are interesting. I want to attribute it to my days as a teacher, when I had to read what my students were reading, or to my experience as a mom — I’ve read to my son since he was an infant and we still read together now and he’s almost 8 — but even as a young girl I read books with characters of various ages. So, as long as the characters and stories captivate me, it doesn’t matter how old they are.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thank you, Janice. You made my morning! You’re probably right about Betty and Goldie being in on this (Goldie is, by the way, named after Goldie Hawn … she seems to have a mischievous streak, doesn’t she?).

    You make such a GREAT point about plot contrivances. Nothing WORSE (and, as you say, an insult to your intelligence) when an unfeasible plot point just crops up out of the blue.

    Agree also – characters must be captivating. I’ve read and loved younger characters, too (The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, had a young narrator; and Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch had elderly characters that I really loved).

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    That was quite an adventure! I love how you took it all in stride. And you got some amazing photos. My favorite is the one of the stone house. So mysterious!
    When it comes to books, I love coming of age stories, but I also like reading about characters in any transitional time… getting married, becoming empty nesters, retiring. I’m always fascinated by how people (characters) reinvent themselves.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love that stone house, too, Shary! What mysteries it must hold…

    You’re so right about reading preferences — it’s not so much (for me) that I have to read someone my exact age, but I do also seem to gravitate toward characters in transition — or characters simply facing seemingly unsurmountable challenges.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    YOWZA, what an adventure!

    I think it’s cool that between you, “MacFryve” (crack up!), and your friends, you each turned obstacles into an opportunities!

    My hat’s off to you!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m glad someone commented on MacFryver – because I thought it was hilarious. And my husband, seriously, can fix just about anything with minimal tools. (Maybe I’ll put him to work on my fiction). I’m a lucky gal!

    P.S. The other part of this story is that the guy at PepBoys sold MacFryver the wrong u-joints, but he still managed to adjust them/make them work somehow! Could MacGyver do that?

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Wow, what a day. You have such a good outlook, Melissa, just wandering with your intrepid camera wherever fate saw fit to deposit you. I love that. Vehicle breakdowns are such frustration, and you guys were dealing with a double whammy. Your recounting was so vivid and reminded me so much of the worst breakdowns and strandings—it gave me the feeling of wanting to be able to just reach into your story and rescue you all.

    The blue beetle photo with the fungus is beautiful. More like a jewel, than a bug.

    I tend to gravitate toward novels with characters that are grownups too. Never have gotten into the whole YA craze, although if my kids were young again I might, just to monitor what they were reading, and be able to talk about it with them. I can read about people older than me, as long as the writer doesn’t feel sorry for them for being older – that turns me off. But yeah, like you, I like reading about people in the middle of life best.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m pretty sure I was annoying the poor hubby, documenting the vehicle disaster as I was, with the camera capturing every grimace ;-).

    Isn’t that beetle just the greatest? I didn’t see him at first (below him were some interesting larvae/caterpillar things that looked like alien species. A real interesting spot to break down!)

    Maybe that’s a better way of putting my preference: reading about grown-ups. Or maybe it’s about reading relatable characters and the age doesn’t matter at all. I have a hard time reading about 30-somethings living charmed lives in NYC… Though I have read (and loved) books with young protags both female and male (The Lovely Bones, The Schooling of Claybird Catts)…

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  • avatar Lisa Ahn Says:

    I agree with Julia — I struggle with creating enough tension in my writing (which makes for tension in my head).

    Great story, and I’m glad you’re all okay. One of my key nightmares is having the card break down on a lonely road in the woods, with lots of snow. And wolves. Of course. I’m glad your story has lovely leaves and mushrooms and waterfalls. And no wolves.

    And I love those barns. I’m also obsessed with the stories behind old buidlings. When farmers used to have barn raising parties, sometimes all the men who worked on the barn would carve their names into a roof beam. Think of the stories.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh NO… I don’t like your nightmare and am SO happy we were sans wolves and snow (great imagination, Lisa). I knew about barn raising parties, but wasn’t aware of the carving. Oh wow – now I wish I’d have trespassed and taken a look inside – even with the peeling metal roof! 😉

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  • avatar Christy Peterson Says:

    I wonder what it says about me that I’m enjoying younger and younger protagonists. I also love coming of age stories. I don’t much like reading fiction about adults. Nonfiction is okay–I’m reading Spiders: Learning to Love Them right now. I’m thinking you might like it. Sort of science and memoir all together. 🙂
    I love the beetle photo, but of course I would. 🙂 Glad you made it home safely. 3 cheers for MacFryve.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think it says you’re young at heart! I enjoy coming of age stories too; was thinking of how much I enjoyed The Secret Life of Bees and The Schooling of Claybird Catts. And – yes – I would love your spider book, though I was not thrilled to be riding with a giant crab spider in the truck last week (that’s its official name and it is BIGGER than a tarantula and FAST. Tarantulas are slow and hence less threatening, IMO. All I could imagine was that thing crawling on my neck as I drove home!).

    I second your three cheers for MacFryver!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Melissa, you always have such photo-worthy adventures! In regard to you first question… yes, I guess I do tend to prefer protagonists closer to my age, although it wasn’t always true. When I was a teenager (15-19ish) I preferred young adult characters (20-30ish), which is still what I like now. Although now I’m in that range, so it makes more sense. I guess I’ll just have to see if my taste changes as I get older. =)

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    Melissa Reply:

    You know, I honestly think every event has its photo ops — you just have to seek them out. I realize how much I miss by not getting down and truly examining things (like the beetle).

    I won’t even COMMENT on the “as I get older comment.” You young whipper snappers, you!

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    What an adventure! It seems the best adventures are those reflected on in hindsight, for when you are having the “adventure,” it doesn’t feel quite so adventurous. So glad you are all okay, including Betty. As for character ages? I’m not sure….I think it all depends on how they’re created. I loved Katniss in The Hunger Games, but I also loved the dying eldery man in Gilead.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yep. That’s what they say: Hindsight is 20/20. And great point about the character’s age really depending on the skill of the author who shapes them. I loved Claybird in The Schooling of Claybird Catts, loved Jack in ROOM .. and really enjoyed the aging characters in The Invisible Mountain.

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  • avatar Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    Your question about age is a timely one for me: my first book has a 9-year-old protagonist, though it’s not YA, and now I’m starting my second novel and I’m drawn to this idea for an 18-year-old girl. It’s got me wondering why I have no desire to write about anyone my own age!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I think I like your idea of writing young protags — keeps us young at heart, maybe?

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  • avatar Jennifer King Says:

    What an adventure, Melissa!
    I love tension and suspense in books I read (and write). But the question of age is a good one: what age do we relate to in books, movies, etc? I think I’m drawn to ages similar to my own at the time, but that keeps getting older and older. 🙂 Glad you have Goldie and Betty back home again.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Boy do I hear you about the age we relate to in movies/books getting older and older. Hit one of those ‘milestone’ birthdays, myself, this year!

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  • avatar Laura Drake Says:

    Melissa, I’m so glad you made it home okay! Trips like that are adventures! You did get beautiful photos out of it!

    Thanks for sharing them.

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  • avatar Suzie Ivy Says:

    One of my favorite books is The Tontine by Thomas B. Constain. You have pointed out exactly why it’s my favorite historical fiction novel. I loved your twists and turns, and I’m glad you rescued Betty.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I didn’t know you liked historical fiction! You continue to surprise, Ms. I-Write-Many-Genres! I will need to check this one out.

    Yes, glad Betty is rescued. Now she needs some time in the ER for some surgery.

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  • avatar Lori P Says:

    Holy tool belts! Very glad you had your camera to document the adventure. Though, If I’d been there, I’d have been pushing to visit Buzzard Roost Ranch. Hilarious name!! As for books, yeah, I usually tend to read “up” in age, leaning towards characters my age or older – not always, but generally. As for plot twists, I’d like as many as possible. I recently started reaching a murder mystery series just for a change of pace, and it’s proven to be delightful, both in the twists and choice of wording. (The Armande Gamache series by Louise Penny.)

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    Melissa Reply:

    You crack me up (“Holy tool belts!”)… I LOVED the name of Buzzard Roost Ranch and am glad you commented. Some of the other ranch signs along the way: Dreamcatcher Ranch (my fav); Rose Creek Ranch. They conjure such fun visual images.

    I think I need to try the “change of pace” in genre, too! How goes the new WIP idea?

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    Backroading is always an adventure that somehow seems to include a break down! Your story and photos bring back many fond memories. I love that you always take the opportunity to explore more. I have a bad habit of simply pulling out a book and getting comfortable.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Well, I don’t see how your idea is all that bad. What can be better than curling up with a good book in the middle of a shady forest?

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  • avatar V.V. Denman Says:

    What a time! Through the entire post, I marveled at your group’s determination to press on and keep enjoying yourselves. (Not one of my strong points.) I would’ve grumbled as I pitched the camera in the backseat. Thanks for a good story and great example.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Ha – well on a different day, there might have been more grumbling. I appreciate your honesty ;-).

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  • avatar Hallie Sawyer (@Hallie_Sawyer) Says:

    Glad you all made it home safe and sound and Betty is back to normal. I do like twists and turns but not too many. Some stories can overdo it and my heart can take only so much. 🙂

    I haven’t really thought about what age I gravitate towards. My protagonist currently is in her 20’s but that is always subject to change. 🙂 I enjoy characters my age because I connect with them but young ones too so I can live vicariously through their escapades. God, what I wouldn’t give for an escapade or two these days, huh?

    Loved the pictures-thanks for taking us along on your adventure!

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    Melissa Reply:

    You make a good point that too MANY plot twists and turns can get a bit taxing on the reader. Hard to know where to strike the right balance.

    Here, here to living vicariously through the young’uns.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    Gone Girl–yes, loved the plot twists and the turns though sometimes things can feel (in that book and other books like that) OVER crafted. Still, I prefer overcrafitness to things dragging along with nothing happening.

    Meanwhile, the whole time I was reading this I kept saying to myself, “Don’t leave Betty behind!”

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yeah- I guess I’d rather be breathless from excitement by the end of a novel than barely breathing from boredom. I love that you were concerned for my girl, Betty. She’s still nursing her wounds under the carport. Next weekend: surgery.

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