“The desert, when the sun comes up ... I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.”
For the last several years whenever my family has more than a few days of consecutive vacation time we tend to flee to the deserts of Utah, soaking in the magic of places like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and my all time favorite: Moab.
The beauty of these arid spaces boggles my mind. I love the vast stretches of openness, unmarred by massed humanity, strip malls and suburbs. I admire the extreme essence of the desert, its ferocious, unapologetic existence, one that a visitor can never take lightly because here nature is not forgiving. Lastly, I'm in awe of the transient loveliness found in clump of spring wildflowers, trickling stream, or sand arch, all of which may be gone by tomorrow.
For most people the word desert has a negative connotation. It conjures up images of stifling heat, cow carcasses, buzzards and dehydration. In folklore and fiction deserts often symbolizes death, yet all of us go through desert times in our lives and in our writing. These are the seasons where nothing comes easy, every day is a struggle, and plodding on or giving up might seem to be the only options.
I began writing fiction about four years ago and the novels that appeared on my pages were sweet, homey stories about family, love and community. After spending nearly seven years away from Fort Collins, these things were very dear to me. The fiction I wrote reflected how much I treasured being home again surrounded by the things I had missed; writing about them was nearly effortless. Then big changes came: another move; lonely times, hard times. Sweet stories didn't flow anymore, no matter how hard I tried. I sat at my computer for hours forcing out the words, but everything was stilted and terrible. I was smack in the middle of a writing desert.
It took awhile, but finally I decided to sit still in this wasteland and stop longing for something that wasn't there. Instead, I would glean whatever lessons I could from this dry time, one of which was to be more honest with myself and others. I didn't feel like writing the fiction of the years before. The stories that came into my mind were scary and more intense. During NaNoWriMo, I let myself go and out poured a paranormal Western, full of death, dark creatures and epic battles for existence. And I kinda like it.
Who knows if this change will last and the paranormal Western will amount to anything? Dry seasons always come to an end, and I would be perfectly happy to return to my gentler stories, although they may have more of a bite than they used to. Whatever happens, I've found the secret to living and writing in desert times is to accept the landscape of my reality for what it is, not what I wish it was or what it's been in the past. There's a stark and enigmatic beauty to be found in these places, one that can be easily overlooked. However, if I can embrace this beauty, who knows what lessons I can learn and what stories can flow from my imagination?