Jul 24 2011

Magic Everywhere

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I nearly broke into a fast-paced sprint when Neighbor Mark pointed to this rock and announced that he thought it was a fertility rock. Think dust trails floating behind the roadrunner as he zooms away from the coyote. Yes, I felt like making that kind of escape. So did my husband.

This rock, silently telling its petroglyph tale, is not far from our home in southeastern Arizona. Any thoughts about the true meaning? Click to enlarge.

“Look at the groove on it, as if many people once sat there,” Mark said. “And look at the appendages on the bottom of each body.” Um, appendages… Hmm… His theory just might be right.

Close-up view of the stick figures’ ‘appendages.’ Rumor tells us that this area was once scoured by archaeologists from the University of Arizona. This is one of the only remaining clues that hint of a past civilization. Click to enlarge.

So, I obviously did get close enough to this fascinating piece of ancient history to photograph it (though I did not sit on it). And I have to say, I was mesmerized. The whole notion of a fertility rock and the magic surrounding it – the belief in the mystical power of this rock to summon a miraculous result – stuck with me.

When you think about it, magic really is a broad term, isn’t it? While it conjures up images of bubbling cauldrons, magic wands, potions and spells (and all things Harry Potter these days), I think it’s much more complex. In some ways magic is simply faith, isn’t it? It’s a trust and a belief (in this case, that sitting on a rock will bring fertility) that is so strong it cannot be questioned. Isn’t that what magic really is? And can’t we all use that kind of magic in our lives?

This petroglyph, a bit further from the fertility rock, highlights the figure of a man, but doesn’t have the appendages that adorn all of the other figures on the first rock. Maybe Mark was right? Click to enlarge.

This is the surrounding landscape of the magical area that is home to these petroglyphs. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: There is magic in all our stories – even if we aren’t fantasy or children’s authors. Magic doesn’t always take the form of black magic, magic tricks or fairytales. There’s the magic of love, of new discovery, of success. Our novels create magic through character relationships, through new settings, through the power of suggestion that the impossible can be possible, that everyday people can achieve the unthinkable – through faith.

What ways do you think novels portray magic? How important is the notion of magic in keeping the reader turning pages? Do you think certain genres handle magic differently? What elements of magic are in your current WIP?

Jul 18 2011

Slow & Steady Tortoise

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Slow and steady wins the race. Each July when the desert tortoises begin lumbering around our rural Arizona property, I’m reminded of this lesson from Aesop’s famed tortoise and the hare fable.

This little guy was no larger than a cereal bowl. You can’t see it in this photo, but his mouth was all green from munching on grass. Click to enlarge.

I am simply in awe of this creature, which imparts a certain wisdom through its patience and perseverance and is one of the most resilient creatures in the southwest. Desert tortoises (found only in the Sonoran Desert – my home – and the Mojave Desert) burrow to escape the heat, and they can survive long periods without food or water since they store water in their bladders.

This was one of the larger tortoises we’ve seen on our property over the years. He was probably a mature adult, about 14” long. Look at the deep, large scales on his legs. Click to enlarge.

Another wonder: these buggers really can cover some ground – even on very steep, rocky terrain. Multiple times, we’ve found juveniles crawling up the slick rock wall with agility and grace. Could it be those columnar, bowed-out legs?

And once, I saw a tortoise at the beginning of the week down by our house, only to find him the next day two mountain ridges over at the very top. Slow and steady wins the race.

This little guy (6" maybe), spotted last week, was a little frightened when I first stepped near him, as you can see from his hiding technique: legs tucked in, head pulled close. To get a better sense of scale, look at my Twitpic in the right column (comparing this guy to my size 7 foot). Click to enlarge.

I think everyone should have the privilege of seeing these wonderful creatures each year, delivering a subtle but wise reminder to slow down, take your time, and enjoy the journey. Scroll below for video.

The desert tortoise reminds us that slow, steady work on our WIPs can lead to a completed manuscript. This medium-sized tortoise was climbing our rock wall. Click to enlarge.

For Writers: Very good friend and author Jessica McCann once said to me (when I was lamenting how much time my WIP was taking), “It takes however long it takes.” Slow and steady wins the race. Two popular theories seem to exist about the fiction writing approach, though:

1)    The “creative” slow-and-steady approach: Fiction writing is a creative endeavor that calls upon the muse for inspiration. The best writing comes about when one isn’t rushed, when ideas can percolate, and when creative inspiration strikes.

2)    The “job” approach: Fiction writing is like any other commitment or professional pursuit: dedicated time must be carved into the schedule. Daily routines, specific word counts, and targeted deadlines are paramount to completing a quality creative work.

I personally fall in the middle on this issue: I’m a freelance writer and understand the value of deadlines and committed work time. In fact, some of my best journalistic writing was created with a ticking clock in my ear. On the other hand, as I work on my WIP, I’m drawing connections and making discoveries about themes, characters, and symbolism – as well as gathering insight for scenes – that I likely would not have drawn if not for the extended period of time I’ve had to work on the piece.

What do you think? Can the process of writing a novel be a combination of both approaches? What if you’re on contract and deadline to finish a multi-book deal? In that situation, is it even possible (or necessary) to take a slow-and-steady tortoise approach to keep the creative juices flowing? Can you be creative when under pressure? What works for you?