Jun 4 2013

Three Years: Nature, Writing, Connections & a Giveaway

Melissa Crytzer Fry

When I started my blog three years ago today, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wrote my inaugural post about bees, then subsequent posts about great-horned owlets, desert chopper rides, prairie dogs and a host of other desert experiences, feeling inspired by my natural surroundings and buoyed creatively. As the theme of my blog implies, I can and do find writing lessons from what I see in my rural corner of the desert. Still.

Over the years, you’ve indulged me as I’ve shared photos of the fearsome and furry. This is a venomous Gila Monster under my breezeway last month. Click to enlarge.

Never did I expect the sense of community that this little blog – with the help of Twitter – would foster. I’ve met writers, readers, bakers and candlestick makers (okay – maybe not the latter) – people who share my interests, fears, dreams, hopes and who pass along new thoughts and ideas daily.

One of those people is author, Erika Marks, whose third novel – The Guest House – just happens to be releasing today, the very day of my three-year blogaversary.

We met on Twitter back in 2010 when we were both new to the social media scene, soon discovering a shared interest in all-things nature, hiking, biology (her hubby’s a science teacher) and birds (we are among a bird-nerd group incessantly Tweeting photos of our sightings).

What better blogaversary giveaway than an author-signed copy of  The Guest House? I’m excited to read this latest gem, because this book draws from Erika’s past as a carpenter. She’s also been a cake decorator, art director, culinary creator … wait … candlestick maker, perchance?

Before you get the full scoop about this family saga set in a coastal Cape Cod town (a tale of combative families and hidden declarations of love),enjoy this sneak-peek passage that illustrates Erika’s appreciation of the natural world:

The hours of dusk had always been her favorite in the house, watching the evening sun slip lower through the windows, feathering the floors with shades of lilac and silver, bringing with it the gentle breeze of coming night and the luscious smells of earth and sea settling into sleep. It was a sexy time, full of secrets and promise. She’d always thought so. Now, here with Cooper, she felt the stirrings of that promise again. Somehow she suspected dinner with him, their table basking in the lavender glow of sunset, would be a deeply romantic experience.

Ooo la la. Earthy and steamy! Erika’s additional passions – for legend and lore, history, and the power of love – will be apparent to readers of The Guest House. (Did I mention how much I loved Erika’s Little Gale Gumbo and The Mermaid Collector, as well?)

To Win a Signed Copy: Between June 4 and June 9 (midnight EST), just answer one (or more, if you’re so inclined) of the following questions. The winner will be selected using random.org and announced June 10.

  • In what ways has social media surprised you – good or bad? Any stories of lasting connections, friendships, fun or freakiness?
  • In what ways does nature inspire your creativity? I would love to hear personal anecdotes.
  • Why do you want to read The Guest House?

May 26 2013

Of Legend and Lore

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Hubs and I had the opportunity to take our first trip “over the saddle” last weekend – an area in the mountains in front of our desert home that clearly looks like … you guessed it … a saddle.

This photo was taken from our property and shows just how far into the mountain range we went to reach the saddle – about 19 miles on ATVs. Our neighbors’ white house is in the photo to give perspective. Click to enlarge.

Our campsite was even further into the desert on the “other” side of the saddle – about 22 miles – beyond that snaking swath of green (which is actually a valley filled with pinyon pine, cottonwoods and other desert vegetation). Click to enlarge.

Aside from being as close to nature as you can possibly be (see our camp photo below), I absolutely love these trips that are led by friends whose generations of family grew up in this area. They know every nook and cranny and always have a story of local lore or legend to share.

This was our camp area, surrounded by gigantic sycamores filled with baby squirrels. Click to enlarge.

Our local “tour guides” knew all about the Salazar Ranch home at our campsite, abandoned since at least the ‘60s, its innards removed by vandals – sinks and bedsprings littering the remote area. (But none of us knew what kind of birds awoke us at 4 a.m. with their incessant birdsong.)

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Photo of Salazar stable area and ranch home in background (in which a Mojave rattlesnake had taken up residence). Click to enlarge.

Yes, even bedsprings can be painted back to beauty by the brushstrokes of the sun. Click to enlarge.

The story that struck me most was one that connected Rancher Salazar to Carpet Hill, an infamous area I refuse to traverse in any 4WD vehicle (just a month ago, a man was killed on its steep faces). I had never understood why a bone-dry hill in the desert had such a name.

Within this series of steep hills is Carpet Hill. One wrong turn on our way home from the camping trip, and we’d have inadvertently been headed up its sheer slopes. Click to enlarge.

Randy and Fred were happy to share the legend of Carpet Hill: Rancher Salazar, you see, worked in Tucson as a carpet layer. When he returned to his ranch each night in his two-wheel drive pickup, he had only one way home: up that treacherous, steep hill. To gain traction, he’d throw carpet remnants along the hillside. And, alas, the name was born (And it stuck; all the locals know of Carpet Hill).

As we made our way back home and looked down on our sleepy little once-mining town, I wondered about all the other stories it held – those true, those fabricated, and especially those delicious ones that start with a real-life morsel, but take on new meaning as they pass the mouths of eager storytellers … altered, enhanced, transformed.

This lonely pinyon pine clings to the side of the saddle, standing sentinel above our town. If you look into the distance, you can see a line of green – the San Pedro riverbed that brought our town to life in the 1800s, thick with mesquite and story. Click to enlarge.

For Readers, Writers: Are you like me: a sucker for novels that incorporate legend and lore – the proverbial story within a story? Most recently, my book club read The Snow Child, a fabulous novel that takes legend and lore to new levels. Inspired by a Russian fairytale, it really straddles the line between fairytale and realism – and things are never quite what they seem. Another wonderful book, The Mermaid Collector, by Erika Marks, seamlessly shifts from a present-day story to a historic story filled with fascinating mermaid legend. And yet another novel that I felt was filled with artfully woven parable and lore was Rebecca Rasmussen’s The Bird Sisters.

What novels have you read that incorporate legend and lore? Have you ever tried to write a book that blends the present with the ‘teachable’ stories of the past? Why do you think people are drawn to legend and folklore? Are you?