Feb 8 2011

Lost Civilization

Melissa Crytzer Fry

As a kid growing up, I learned from my history teachers of various disappearing populations. Masses of people who just up and vanished. Where did they go? What happened to them? The clues springing from the dusty ground – dried corn cobs, matates, petrified gourd stems, pottery fragments, and crumbling sand-mud-rock structures – always seemed, to me, an unsolved riddle.

It’s more likely that the inhabitants depleted their resources and moved on. (Though some theories point to drought, disease or warfare as potential suspects. No one is certain). What they left behind at Tonto Basin – a magnificent 40-room structure at the upper caves (and a 20-room structure at the lower cliffs) allowed waves of different civilizations to prosper at different times – in the 13th, 14th and early 15th centuries, long before Europeans arrived.

The Upper Cliff Dwelling (pictured) was abandoned in the early to mid-1400s. It once was reportedly eight stories high. Click to enlarge. Click arrow for more photos.

Perhaps each population that once inhabited – and then abandoned – the cave dwellings was forced to do so as the native wildlife and plants became scarce: the berries, the skeletons of the saguaro, agave, jojoba, agave, deer, coyotes, mountain lions.

One of the members on our ranger-guided tour found this pottery remnant. Out of respect for the site, we hid it under a rock, leaving it in its rightful place. One can only hope that the next visitor doesn’t decide to pocket it. Very few pottery shards remain. Click to enlarge.

No matter how you look at it, overuse likely played a role in the nomadic migrations (changes in the building materials of newer rooms support this belief).

The most amazing part of this story just may be the earth itself; in its magnificent capacity, it never failed, repairing and replenishing enough to serve again. And again.

For Writers: Overuse. New writers are often guilty of this offense: overusing certain phrases, techniques and styles, even.

In my first novel, I was dinged for overuse of the following:

  • Direct attribution. My dialogue often looked like this: “That’s it, Daniel.” “Why would you do that, Maggie?” “C’mon, Caleb.” We don’t talk like this in real life. Rarely do we address the person with whom we’re speaking by name. I probably cut 300 words throughout the novel by removing those annoying attributions.
  • Brand names. I was convinced (and argumentative) that I was seeking and achieving authenticity when I named Oneida silverware, Hostess Ding Dongs, Ajax, the Oprah Winfrey Show, the Kitchen Aid mixer. Again … No! Distracting and unnecessary. Silverware, snack cake, talk show and mixer convey the message just as well.
  • Clichés. My characters lived in a small town where ‘cliché-talk’ was the norm (Hell, we hear this kind of vocabulary in everyday talk. For crying out loud … As God is my witness … Wait a cotton-picking-minute …You get the picture). As authentic as the speech is for the geographic region, sometimes fiction is best if it does not mirror reality 100 percent. Clichés are annoying. No one likes to read them.
  • Ums. Again, while we may use too many ‘ums’ in daily speech, readers don’t appreciate them. They, too, slow down the story’s pace. Avoid them. And when you do use them, use them sparingly.

What are your writing faux pas? Have you noticed that you overuse any particular phrase, technique, descriptions, style? Please share.

The “half-t” door construction is unique to these dwellings which overlook what is now Roosevelt Lake.

Jan 31 2011

Creative Companion: Cat vs. Dog

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I grew up with both dogs and cats. And while I am a true animal lover at heart – embracing all animals, including pocket gophers and collared peccaries – I confess that I have always felt a certain kinship with felines. It should be noted, though, that I also am known to rescue and rehome the countless stray dogs that seem to wander in front of our windows, staring helplessly back at me.

Unlike my typical posts that focus on the outdoor animals I see, this post highlights the two indoor critters within my line of sight all day: my Bengal cats Macho (red) and Niña (gray). Scroll for more photos and dog rescue shots.

As writers, which animal do you feel is the better writing companion? Cat or dog? I think you might be able to safely guess my answer, but I do have a theory, flawed as it may be.

Rescue no. 1: Mazie, who now lives with our wonderful ex-neighbors in Phoenix. She is now one spoiled pooch! Click to enlarge.

My completely unscientific postulate is that cats are the preferred writing pet – perhaps because of their independence and self-reliance (they’re not sitting at your feet, panting and expecting you to play; they don’t require you to stop mid-paragraph and take them for a walk … or to poo; hell – half the time, they could care less if you’re in the room). You can write away while they nap the 15 to 20-hours a day that most of them sleep, but you can also sneak in a quick behind-the-ear scratch or a tummy rub while you’re pondering creative thoughts. Usually they’ll sleep through it … tolerate it … or turn on their purr machines. Then it’s back to business for you.

Personally, I rather enjoy the independent-but-sometimes-needy companionship that the cat offers to my creative endeavors. However, maybe my “cats are better creative companions” theory is flawed and influenced mostly by what I’ve seen on Twitter: lots and lots of writers who appear to be primarily cat owners. My reasoning may also be faulty since a good percentage of these writers are women. It’s a well-known fact that women, much more than men, prefer cats as pets (I think this trend is slowly changing, isn’t it?). Is that the connection that’s led me to my conclusion? Or am I completely wrong?

Are dogs just as inspirational and helpful to the creative process – whether it’s writing, painting, creating music, carving or rock polishing? If you think my theory needs some fine tuning, let me know. Or feel free to share stories below about how your canine or feline enriches your writing or your creative life in general. And most importantly, vote now. (More photos below).

Who's the better creative companion?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Macho (front) and Niña (loveseat) help me as I work on my novel at my giant whiteboard. Click to enlarge.

Rescue No. 2 & 3: These little Chihuahuas showed up one day, while being eyed by a giant hawk in a palo verde tree. They ended up in loving homes in the Tucson area. Click to enlarge.