Jan 26 2014

Behind the Scenes

Melissa Crytzer Fry

At night I’ve been known to stare into the quiet darkness beyond our windows, so different from the fierce sunlight of the day and its illumination. And I wonder: what really happens out there, after the sun slithers behind the mountains? What happens behind the scenes?

A lot, it appears. When our blinds are drawn to the skies canvassed in the soft black felt of night, things do, indeed, go bump … Or maybe pssstt or hissss ….

That ain’t no housecat, folks! This is Bob, our resident bobcat, marking his territory – an old mining tube that stands about two-feet tall. Click to enlarge.

Thanks to our new trail camera, we’ve captured Bob in action on quite a few nights, illustrating that there is a lot is happening that we can’t see (and VERY close to our back yard, along the rock wall):

We’ve also seen:

A cautious, yet intrepid, coyote. Click to enlarge.

Suckling baby javelinas. Click to enlarge.

All of this “not-seen-by-me, but clearly-it’s-happening” enlightenment made me think a lot about books and all the things happening behind the scenes in some literary works. This was probably top-of-mind because my book club had read The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud, and I’d commented that this story wasn’t really about the story; it was largely about what wasn’t in the narrative. It was about those things behind the actual story taking place: the hidden themes, the brilliant symbolism and parallels between artists and women, and women artists, and living and life and obsession. Because, frankly the story itself was a quiet “not much happening” kind of tale.

Even so, I loved it, because, for me, a good book is one that is laced with those things unseen – an invisible tapestry draped over the action of the story and, embroidered within it, thematic parallels, symbolic gestures, lush descriptions, hidden meanings, inspections of the larger philosophical issues of life… similar to those unseen things – yet very much “there” – that happen under the cloak of darkness in my back yard.

For Readers: As a reader, are you moved by the story alone – for the quick jolt of entertainment value? The fast-moving plot? The heart-pounding adrenaline? Or are you like me, participating in a scavenger hunt each time you read, excited each time you pick out something hidden?

For Writers: How important are the ‘behind-the-scenes’ elements in your fiction? How do you go about incorporating them?

***To see photos of other critters from our old trail camera, see my 2011 Captured by Cudde post.


29 Responses to “Behind the Scenes”

  • Julia Munroe Martin Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    These photos and the video are exciting to look at (and watch!), but they do give me a chill…and I’m not sure I’d be quite so excited knowing that wildlife like that was in such close proximity (of course I say that, having had deer and moose and… maybe even wolves, coyotes, certainly dogs…haha…walk down our driveway, living so close to the forest and all) Like you, I DO wonder what happens out there when I stare into the darkness. I love that about books too, sometimes feeling that same wildlife-dark chill when some unforeseen thing or (better yet) quiet story comes into full-force focus. I do love the quiet story-alone with undercurrents but I also enjoy the obvious heart-stomping plot-driven story, too. But in real life, I don’t think I can’t take as much of Bob and the coyotes, and all… even (or especially) in the dark!

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Yes, I think the ultimate book you describe, Julia, is the quiet story + action story — the kind of internally driven character driven novel that has the protagonist getting herself into all sorts of heart-pounding trouble that turns into action!

    Regarding Bob … trust me: he wants to get away from you just as badly as you do him!

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  • Laurie Buchanan Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Holy Toledo! Things that go bump in the night, indeed! Between being able to watch bird hatchlings, and now the large, four-footed furry, carnivores – you guys have some wonderful eye-popping footage to watch and give you PAWS for thought!

    I’ve always enjoyed “reading between the lines.” That’s the way I listen as well. Sometimes what’s NOT being said is equally important to what’s being verbalized.

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    We are SO lucky to be among so much wildlife; I agree, Laurie! (Love that — PAWS for thought. You’re so clever!)

    Such a great point about ‘reading between the lines.’ There are lots of craft books out there that focus on showing those “things that aren’t said” in scenes of dialogue. Great reminder — and, of course, that is precisely how we communicate in real life!

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  • Annie Neugebauer Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Awesome videos! And photos too — how neat to see what’s going on out there when you aren’t looking. Great thoughts on things unspoken/behind the scenes. I love that as a reader, and I utilize it often as a writer — especially in my horror stories. Often the most powerfully scary scenes are the ones that leave much to imagination!

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I thought you might like the big kitty viddies! it’s a fine line, isn’t it, knowing how much to “spell out” vs. “hint at.” They say you should assume your readers are smart, but sometimes they do need some hand-holding, I think.

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  • Jessica Vealitzek Jessica Vealitzek Says:

    How fun! I would love to set up a camera in our backyard. I’ve always thought National Geographic should do a “wild suburbs” sort of show and track suburban animals. (Maybe they do – I’ve never seen one.) I think it would be equally as fascinating to learn about the animals we live among.

    As for writing – yes! Love the quiet and what isn’t there. I think as a writer, I follow my gut. If something sort of tweaks my stomach as I’m reading, I’m sure to stop and ask myself if this particular word/dialogue/description/ action is absolutely necessary to the reader’s understanding. If it isn’t, I delete it. I also try to find a way to convey a character’s personality without saying “He was thoughtless.” “She is emotionally damaged.” Etc.

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I agree, Jess. I bet you’d be surprised at the critters that come out to play at night (which reminds me of a documentary we just watched about a coy fox peacefully coexisting in a suburban neighborhood in Canada, among large and small dogs, cats, people, etc).

    I’ve read a lot of books lately where everything is “tell” — no show — as you suggest: He felt sad. He was thoughtless. But, simultaneously, I’m reading another that is excellent at showing emotion. Obviously the latter is the preferred, as the others come off sounding middle-grade-ish and leave little opportunity to connect to characters.

    Not so easy to do, this behind-the-scenes understatement in fiction!

    [Reply]

    Jessica Vealitzek

    Jessica Vealitzek Reply:

    No – it’s not! Which is why I hesitate to even say I love understatement and try to do it as a writer, because that will probably make the times I fail in my book glaringly obvious! Ah, so easy to critique, so hard to write….

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    SO true! So easy to see those errors in the works of others; not so easy to spot in our own work. Getting really excited about your book release!

    [Reply]

    Jessica Vealitzek

    Jessica Vealitzek Reply:

    Thanks so much, Melissa. You’ve been such a great supporter.

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  • Cynthia Robertson Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Yikes, makes you glad you don’t have to go out to the outhouse at night, I bet. All those nocturnal predators were the impetus for the invention of indoor plumbing, I’m sure. Lol!
    I do like subtlety in a good book. It’s hard to write and do well, or I’m sure there’d be more of it. If a novel is not plot-driven, then for me it better have really nice language, “lush descriptions” and “inspections of the larger philosophical issues of life” and they need to be skillfully alchemized into beautiful, soul-touching language. Otherwise I’d just as soon read a ripping good narrative. (I just finished Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates, and it’s one of the BEST books I’ve ever read – mainly for Yates language skills, which are extraordinary!) I’m glad to hear you liked The Woman Upstairs, Melissa, as it’s one I mean to get to sometime this year. It’s had me intrigued since hearing about it, and all the controversy it aroused.

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh, trust me… I’ve had to walk outside (alone) at night, and my mind plays ALL kinds of tricks since I KNOW what’s out there!

    Agreed 100% – subtlety is very hard to do well; that’s why I appreciate it so much when I see it (and have to work extra hard at it myself. I don’t think it comes naturally to most of us, honestly. It’s way easier to broadcast emotions with words rather than convey them with action. ANd conveying them takes a lot more physical space! Bu the reward is worth it, IMO).

    I watched the movie, Revolutionary Road, recently and loved it. May need to purchase as a “study” book if you loved it that much — it must be a great case study in character-driven fiction/emotion.

    Would it surprise you that I was the ONLY one who loved The Woman Upstairs? My book club mates tend to like plot-driven fiction a bit more than character-driven. I may have changed a few of their minds, though???

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  • Linda Anselmi Linda Anselmi Says:

    Wow! A bobcat!! And it looked so relaxed and “at home” at your home…

    Love the pic of the Javelinas. I know they are aggressive and dangerous, but … So neat. Rare to see a picture of them. Thanks for sharing!!

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    The javelinas really aren’t that aggressive (unless they have young and feel threatened. They’re blind as bats but have great hearing. And most attacks tend to occur with people who have dogs — going back to the ‘threatened’ feeling). But they are DARN cute. After a baby is born, it is up and running with the band within hours. They are TINY – like small rats! I’ve seen them! Soo cute. Love the analogy, below, of tasty bon bons and rich dark chocolate! Suddenly, I’m in need of sweets, Linda!

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  • Linda Anselmi Linda Anselmi Says:

    Oh, about books. I can enjoy a tasty bonbon as well as the next. But I love a deep rich dark chocolate with subtle depth and surprises. In most books and movies the writer is pretty obvious as puppeteer so while the plot is tasty it all gets pretty predictable by midpoint, but every now and then a magician appears and you forget it’s only candy …

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  • Erika Marks Erika Marks Says:

    Two words: BABY JAVELINAS!!!

    I still can’t get over Bobby’s path, my friend, and how remarkable it is that you see him, he is a marvel, and such a vital reminder of the night world we can only imagine…

    For me, it really depends on what is going on in my life, when it comes to what kind of book. THE ROUND HOUSE is a perfect example: I rad that book in small doses, not because I wasn’t gripped or enchanted but because it was so rich that, like a piece of super-dark chocolate, I knew too limit my portion to savor the taste. Other books I am eager to race through, though I enjoy them equally.

    Thanks for sharing Bobby with us–and as you have so often and wisely said, thank you Bobby for sharing YOUR world with US:)

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Aren’t the babies adorable? I was telling Linda that they are able to run with the family within hours of being born (and they are tiny, like rats). THE cutest.

    Such a great point about needing different kinds of stories depending on what’s going on in our lives. Yes, THE ROUND HOUSE was fabulous and savor-worthy. But there IS something to be said about ripping through pages at a frenzied pace, heart racing, to see what’s going to happen next!

    PS We’re beginning to think that this “Bob” is not the same Bob we first photographed in 2005. When we compare heights on the mining tube, the new Bob seems to be much smaller. A younger male, maybe? I don’t know!

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  • beth hoffman beth hoffman Says:

    ” Yes yes yes! “All of this “not-seen-by-me, but clearly-it’s-happening” enlightenment made me think a lot about books and all the things happening behind the scenes in some literary works.”

    [Reply]

  • Shary Shary Says:

    I love subtlety in fiction. When I try it, though, my readers usually are just lost. Clearly I don’t have the hang of it but I haven’t given up yet.
    Those night photos and videos are amazing and they make me want to set up a camera at my house. I often hear rustling in the bushes when I’m out with Lola at night and I wonder who is hiding there watching me. I know we have coyotes and once I saw a fox, but I bet there are quite a few other creatures who share our yard with us.

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Isn’t it SO difficult? I guess that’s why it’s good that we have readers — to tell us when they’re lost. But I agree: I’m still working on it, myself, and I wager it’s a skill that that all writers continue to hone.

    So interesting to think about what might be hiding in your bushes! I just love trail cameras — they tell us so much we wouldn’t otherwise know.

    [Reply]

  • Nina Nina Says:

    As you and I have discussed, I am so torn on this issue as a reader. Well, as a writer too. I’m self-conscious about both elements–the behind the scenes and a story that is not moving along enough. As a reader, I cannot stand a book that is a showpiece for language and craft alone. It’s not enough for me. That said, I don’t like pure story with no depth, and depth is created by craft. So yeah, I sometimes have a hard time finding the right book!

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    It is a divisive issue, isn’t it? Unlike you, I will continue reading for a “language showpiece” book because I get THAT caught up in words and how they’re used (I WANT authors to show off and flex their literary muscles). Conversely, I will stop almost immediately for a depthless story. In fact, I just feel disappointed if some of those ‘behind the scenes’ elements aren’t there.

    Then again, what’s flowery language-wise to some may not be to others, and what seems shallow to some might be deep to still more. Have to love the subjectivity of the reading experience! This is why we have all KINDS of books … for all kinds of readers!

    [Reply]

  • Bryan Hughes Bryan Hughes Says:

    haha! That first photo is great.

    [Reply]

    Melissa

    Melissa Reply:

    Let’s just say that’s the second “evidence” of his territory marking skills… He got our French door once, too! ;-) It’s definitely HIS home, not ours! And I’m ok with that.

    [Reply]

  • Jolina Petersheim Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Always love your pictures, Melissa: both eerie and beautiful (and those baby javelinas!!). As for books, I love a mixture: enough action to keep the story moving forward, but enough introspection so that every minor detail isn’t spelled out for me. I think one of our favorites, The Orchardist, does a fantastic job with this.

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  • Deborah Brasket Deborah Brasket Says:

    I wish we had a hidden camera. We live out in the wilds too and have seen bob cats and mountain lions, foxes and coyotes, as well as deer and wild turkeys. We have wild pigs too that root up our front yard now and again, but I’ve yet to see them in person. They only come around at night. Sometimes a group of coyote howl and hoot in the meadow behind out home and how I wish I could see them, they sound so wild and primal.

    In books, reading and writing, I like what lies just below the surface weaving it all together. The deeper the better for me. But I like a fast, rousing read now and then too, something that moves me along like a roller coaster, where I’m hanging on tight and screaming.

    So glad I discovered you over on Jessica’s blog today. Love what you are doing here. I’ll be back.

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  • Natalia Sylvester Natalia Sylvester Says:

    So cool to see all the wildlife happening around us (scary, too…but also awe-inspiring).

    I love how you tie it in with fiction. I also love books where not everything’s happening at the surface level. I think that’s what inspires a real connection between the reader & the narrative, because for us to connect with what’s not in it means we’re interpreting things from a place that’s personal, that deals with the experiences and perspectives that we’re bringing to the narrative. Which is why every book is so different for every reader.

    [Reply]

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Natalia – you seriously write the BEST responses on my blog posts… Very insightful, heartfelt and always with great psychological insight! I love that about books, too — the way we all interpret differently and take away different lessons from the same books.

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