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?

Sep 16 2012

Long Hike, Long Novel

Melissa Crytzer Fry

Remember those sweltering summer days as kids – sand between your toes at the beach, purpled bruises on your hips from the Slip ‘N Slide, riding you bicycle until sweat stung your eyes – and then, after playful exhaustion … that first magical lick of a soothing popsicle, its crystals cooling the fire of your overworked little body? Bliss. Life was good.

After toiling through four months of 100-plus-degree desert temperatures (plus monsoon humidity), I needed that popsicle of my youth in a bad way.

Fortunately I found my cool respite last Friday: at the top of a long, long road leading to Mount Lemmon – 9,157 feet closer to the heavens – with temperatures in the 70s. Bliss. Life was good. Again.

The forest was filled with lichen and mushrooms of all sorts. I love the way the sun illuminates the underside of this tree-growing shroom. Click to enlarge.

Enjoy my journey to a part of the earth once scorched with flames, but now regenerating, growing, and thriving under cool Arizona winds (so cool, in fact, that I had to buy a fleece):

New growth shoots up from the trees destroyed in the Aspen Fire of 2003. The flames burned for a month and consumed 84,750 acres. City of Tucson pictured in the background. Click to enlarge.

Proof of life: Indian paintbrush. Click to enlarge.

A coral reef in the desert? (No clue what it is). Click to enlarge.

I was surprised to see wildflowers still cropping up and healthy this late in the season. Richardson's geranium pictured. Click to enlarge.

This tree bark appears to have been painted by an artist. Click to enlarge.

I’ve never before seen ferns at the end of their lifecycle. I loved the rusty robe worn by the forest floor. Click to enlarge.

A hike would not be a hike without a mammal sighting. This gray-collared chipmunk showed up at the end of the journey. Click to enlarge.

To me, this image speaks of brighter days. Dead trees are sandwiched between the promise of blue skies and the proof of new life growing at their bases. Click to enlarge.

One of my favorite desert lizards made an appearance -- a baby horned lizard (also known as the horny toad, though this little guy is not an amphibian). Click to enlarge.

For Readers/Writers: As I wandered the long trails through Mount Lemmon (and hiked the long hill back to our starting point — thanks Kathy and Chelsey for a fabulous time), I started thinking about book length, something that has been on my mind over the past few years.

As a reader, I love literary novels and don’t balk at reading a 500-pager. Long novels = good in my world. The trend, however, in the traditional publishing world seems to be in support of the shorter novel. I find this disheartening because, sometimes, I think a book needs to be how long it needs to be – sometimes longer than a formulaic standard. Many books I’ve picked up in recent years have simply fallen flat for me, and I attribute that disappointment (indirectly) to length in many cases. I find myself thinking, “If she’d had another hundred pages, fifty pages, even, to develop that character, amp up the setting, add some symbolism, the story would have been so much richer.”

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me.

Readers: How long is “too” long for a book? Does it matter?

Writers: You obviously have to pay attention to publishing standards (or risk falling into the slush pile if your novel exceeds the acceptable 80k-115k standards … I know, even 115K is pushing the limits), but do you ever wish you didn’t have those constraints? Could you write a better story? Or is slim-and-trim the better option for you and your reader?

Or maybe you simply don’t care and you’d just rather have a popsicle?



This month we’re reading Erika Robuck’s new novel, Hemingway’s Girl. And this week, if you enter a comment in our discussion, you are eligible to win a personalized autographed copy of our October book pick, Lydia Netzer’s Shine Shine Shine! Come join in the fun and discover these great books with us!”