Aug 14 2011

Which Came First?

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I’ll spare you the age-old ‘chicken or egg’ question. Well, kind of.

My own version of the chicken-egg debate literally sprang up during the past few weeks of desert rains, which brought with them something else. Hornworms. And lots of them.

This close up shows the various colors and intricate design of the white-lined sphinx hornworm. The horn confuses predators as to which side is the front or back. Click to enlarge.

How many hornworms, you wonder? So many that when I’m running each morning, I have to gingerly hop over them so that they don’t end up stuck to my shins. So many that you can hear them scraping their bellies over the gravelly dirt. Heck, I bet if you put your ear into a patch of them (eww!), you’d probably hear them munching away.

Welcome to SE Arizona – the land of hornworms. This is just one tiny section of overgrowth where more than a half-dozen wormies were feeding. Click to enlarge.

These hornworms actually turn into the stunning white-lined sphinx moth. It’s been compared to a nocturnal hummingbird, because it can hover to suck the nectar of plants and because it’s big. This photo, unfortunately, doesn’t capture the grapefruit-pink underwings of this stunning moth. (You can check him out here.)

White-lined sphinx moth resting on the ground. Click to enlarge.

So, you guessed it. My question is the same as the chicken and egg conundrum – but also different: “Which came first? The caterpillar or the moth?”

In my personal course of discovery this year, the moth actually preceded the proliferation of hornworms. I found it about two weeks before these buggers started popping up. I have no idea why…

One more picture for those of you squirmy about wormies... Click to enlarge.

For Writers: This timeless question of the chicken or egg – or in my case, the caterpillar or the moth – really relates to how the universe begins. But I think it also applies to how our novels begin. Which comes first? The plot or the characters? The setting or the subplot? What works for you, writers? How do your stories develop? The same way each time, or differently?

Aug 8 2011

Beyond the Beach

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Yes, it’s been pretty wet in Arizona, but don’t be alarmed. We’re not beachfront property yet (as the photos below might suggest). This week, blogger and fellow Arizonan Shari Lopatin shares her love of the beach. Please give Shari a warm welcome and enjoy her prose and photos.

I once had a boyfriend who hated the beach. He thought it smelled like fish and garbage, and complained how the sand gets everywhere.

Thank God, he’s moved on, and so have I. Today, I can fall asleep on the beach with a like-minded partner, enveloped in the warmth of the fine sand, then submit myself to the ocean’s powerful waves. I would say I hope California really does fall into the ocean so we can get those beaches here in Arizona.

But then I’d miss California. So, I guess I’m screwed.

What is it about the beach?
I also love the Ponderosa Pine forest in Flagstaff. And the creek running through Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona (both of which are in Arizona, for those non-natives). But there’s just something extra special about the beach and the ocean.

After much contemplation, I’ve narrowed it down to this one reason: freedom.

The beach opens into the never-ending waters of the ocean. It’s unrestricted, it’s freeing, and it challenges you to wonder what’s beyond the horizon. Past explorers, such as Christopher Columbus and Cortés, couldn’t resist the beckoning of the ocean’s curiosity. They were not bound by the borders of the horizon. Instead, they dared to see what lived beyond it.

Yes, I think that’s why the beach earns first place on the list of Shari’s favorites. It’s the freedom to imagine.

For the writers …
I challenge you to be the Christopher Columbus of your own mind. Sail into the unknown waters and don’t be afraid to peek beyond the horizon. Picture the endless waves stretching into the distance and ask: “What might I find there?”

Will you confront your own fears about the depth of your own ocean? Sometimes that journey may lead to profound discoveries: we’re not happy with something in our lives, we recognize a hidden desire. But if you don’t explore those waters, what might you—and the world—be missing?

The great explorers of the literary world stretch from Jules Verne to Mark Twain and Aldous Huxley. Without their curiosity, we’d be at a loss today.

SO TELL ME: When you see the endless waters of the ocean, what do you imagine beyond the horizon?

(When you’re done responding to Shari’s thought-provoking questions, come visit me at Leah’s Thoughts, where I’m guesting on her blog this week.)

Shari Lopatin is a Phoenix-based professional writer, journalist, and media strategist who’s been published regionally, as well as nationally. She began her career as a newspaper reporter, earning two Associated Press awards as part of an investigative news team. She now works in the corporate world as a writer and media strategist, and continues writing for magazines on the side. Read more of Shari’s work on her blog, “Shari Lopatin: Rogue Writer,” where she posts every Thursday about writing tips, funny stories, industry news, and media strategies.

All photos in this post are the sole property of Shari Lopatin and cannot be reproduced or copied without permission.