Pilgrimage to Flagstaff Part 1

Last week definitely produced some high points of my literary experience.

On Monday, I hopped on a plane taking me from Calgary, Alberta, to Phoenix, Arizona.

The original reason for the trip was to visit with my sister. She lives in West Texas but was attending a convention in Phoenix. And WestJet flies to Phoenix so I could easily get there on a three hour direct flight vs a five hour flight with a one to three hour layover in Dallas or Houston. While she was busy in classes and meetings during the day, I was planning to have some time to myself. I would have loads of time to write, write, and perhaps get in a little writing.

Then it dawned on me . . .

I was going to be a mere 2-½ hours drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, the starting point (as it stands now) for my series. I’ve stalked the town and the university for years, seeking information, images, and maps on the internet. I had a sketchy memory of Flagstaff from a quick visit in 1986, but that was a long time ago and I was not paying attention to the university back then.

Old Main - 1899 NAU

Old Main – 1899 NAU

I’m sure my brother-in-law was pointing out things since he went to NAU waaaaaaaay before that trip. Don’t get me wrong. He’s not really that old.

The school was founded in 1899 so it was sometime after that. The campus may have looked like this when he went there. I don’t know.

6 miles above the Grand Canyon, maybe 7 since it’s a mile deep! (Click all pictures for the full image.)

The thought also crossed my mind that if I go to Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon is only 2 or 3 hours further north, but decided I wouldn’t want to rush seeing the Canyon, so I put that idea aside. (The man sitting next to me on the plane told me that we would be flying over the Grand Canyon, which lasted maybe two minutes, so I ended up rushing that trip anyway, but it was pretty cool to see from six miles up!)

Suddenly, I realized my trip to Arizona was not going to be a touristy type of writing retreat after all. I was going to be doing research! This is where it all began. Caleb met Ana there! My dear sister doesn’t understand why this got me all excited and she was going to see first hand how crazy life is when everything around you inspires scenes in your imaginary world. (In retrospect, I’m not sure she gets it yet. She may just think I’m crazy.)

I became enchanted with the palms, and the cacti, and the jagged hills rising in sharp contract from the flat valley floor on which rests the sprawling city of Phoenix.

Stunning sunset from the veranda on the top floor of the hotel.

Stunning sunset from the veranda on the top floor of the hotel.

The very first evening in Phoenix, I saw something that made me change a part of the story. Okay, Karen and Caralee, don’t panic. I’m only moving one scene from LA to Phoenix, because 1) I’ve never actually SEEN the place in LA except on street view maps, and 2) This is what I saw . . .

When I witnessed this sunset, I fell in love. Not with someone. I just fell in Love. I would not have been surprised if Zorro landed on the veranda to whisk Elena away. I knew at that moment, this was where the LA scene had to take place. I have to research and rewrite a few things, maybe a chapter or two at most, but since I now have the intense emotional attachment to this, it will be phenomenal.

And so ends my first night in Phoenix. Tomorrow, the trip to Flagstaff!

Stay tuned for Part 2, the next leg of my journey in Arizona.

Time for a Little Literary Yard Work

Lately, I’ve been sending queries off to agents and spending a lot of time waiting. Not idle time, mind you, but it’s given me some time to go through, over and again, my writing and tidy it up a lot.

You know . . . fixing typos and spelling, ensuring punctuation is not only correct but consistent, making sure grammar is spot on.

No surprises here!

No surprises here!

The path through my literary landscape was well balanced and esthetically pleasing. The gate at the beginning told you this was the beginning. There was just enough color and diversity to even things out. I had little labels on all the unusual things to explain where that came from, how this grew, and even why and something exotic and seemingly out-of-place was included in my garden of words. Everything was nicely labelled and laid out so anyone viewing it would know exactly what was planted there.

A garden is a wonderful place to go and just sit on the bench and take in the surroundings. A place to relax and just look (from that ubiquitous ornate wrought-iron bench) and see everything as it is. Sometimes, that exactly what you need. You see everything from your comfortable seat and since you know it all just from that one sitting so that when you close the gate at the end of the path, you have no reason to go back.

What kind I find here?

What can I find here?

Then, yesterday morning, as I was walking down to fetch the trash containers from the alley, I looked down at the path I knew so well, and found some late blooms on the wild rose bush, and a toy that had disguised itself as one of those blooms. A rustling noise near the fence brought me to a breathless standstill. What was there? A mouse? A mole? A rabbit? Just the wind? I looked for clues but the mystery remains. Back on the pathway, the moss binds the stonework yet there was a single dandelion and I wondered at its lone presence. Why not more? Why one at all? A few steps later, the soft moss disappeared, leaving the pavers bare. Again, I ask why? What happened here that left the stones bereft of the gentle moss? Would it make a difference if I move some of the plants around so the sunlight hits the garden differently?

And I realized immediately what I needed to do.

“Show me—Don’t tell me.” Who among writers hasn’t heard that time and time again?

I don’t want just tell you what you need to focus on moment by moment. I want you to wonder what’s under that rock, what made that noise. I want you sitting on the edge of that uncomfortable metal bench, wondering what’s going to happen next. Then I want you to jump up and dig around; I want you to find out what’s happening.

I want you to ask, “How did I miss that? Was it there in the background all along”?

Of course it was there, but I want you to come back again and again to discover things you missed the first or second or third time!

So I’m pulling out the deleting hoe and weeding out not only the unnecessary words, but I’m chopping out entire scenes if that’s what it takes. I’m taking out my copy, cut, and paste shovel to rearrange events and scenes to make a more exciting and interactive garden.

There are many types of gardens and needs for every type: Neatly labelled, or motivating, or secretive and compelling.

Woodward Park, Tulsa OK

Woodward Park, Tulsa OK. Alluring beauty.

The garden path in my backyard in late September is nothing compared to the magnificence of Woodard Park in Tulsa in April but both have exciting secrets to be discovered. You may never find even find all of them.

The fun is all in the search!