Archive for April, 2011

Less than two hours over the mountains from San Diego lies the Sonoran Desert, 120,000 square miles of ocotillo, cholla cactus, rattlers and mind-bending mystery.  The desert extends over into Arizona and way down into Mexico, but despite ever-increasing human population growth, the minute you’re in the desert, you’re alone.

Not only are you alone, you’re in a reality so expansive and other that even the most unbearable of woes dissipate in the hot, dry winds.   Of course you can also dissipate in the hot, dry winds, which may be the point.  Proximity to death is notoriously a factor in altered awareness.

However, nobody goes out there, at least consciously, to be proximate to death.  At this time of year, people go out there to see wildflowers.  I went out there yesterday to see prehistoric animals made of sheet metal, and that’s the story.

It’s a tiny story, and charming.  The desert is itself a story the dimensions of which are too vast for comprehension.  But it’s there in the endless, endless baking rocks and a silence so profound that after a while it’s a sort of melody you hear in your bones.  Apparently the story is a musical, but it takes place so slowly that the entirety of human history to date takes up less than a minute at the end of the first act.  I suspect that any one of the gazillion rocks out there could recount the entire plot, and may be recounting  it, but we can hear only an absent humming, if we hear anything at all.  So back to the tiny, charming story.

Ten million years ago, before North and South America became one continent, an elephant-like creature called a “gomphotherium” lived in the grasslands that, after multiple ice and marine ages, would become the Sonoran Desert.  And the gomphotheres are back, in spirit and sheet metal, along with the giant camels, VW-sized tortoises and wild pigs that came and went millions of years later.  These creatures actually lived, died and left fossil remains in the now-silent rocks of the Anza-Borrego region and its little town of Borrego Springs.   But they’re now in the company of viciously fanged raptors, dinosaurs straight out of Jurassic Park who, if they ever existed at all, became extinct aeons before the first gomphotherium lumbered south from Canada.  And there were never any dinosaurs here anyway.  “Here” may not have existed when there were dinosaurs.  (Although Wyoming definitely did exist and harbored dinos, just not Southern California.)

I love the desert and Borrego Springs, and incessantly set parts of mystery novels out there.  Bo Bradley camps in the desert; Blue McCarron lives there.  The desert is so gaspingly huge and lacking in density that you feel like putting something there as a place marker, a thing to hold onto as it pulls you, electron-by-electron, toward someplace else.

Add to this landscape the mind of Michael Crichton with his tale of dinosaurs, Dennis Avery (Avery Labels) with millions and a quirky wit, and a guy named Ricardo Breceda who was an adult when he saw the movie version of Jurassic Park but loved it anyway.  (See folksy Huell Howser video of Avery, Breceda and animals – http://perrisjurassicpark.com/video-gallery.html ).  Welding bits of scrap metal into random art forms is fairly common in nearby Mexican communities, and Breceda (who lives in predominantly Latino inland Perris, CA) learned the skill.  Avery saw Breceda’s sheet metal dinosaurs and commissioned the series of marvelous creatures that now leap and graze atop the fossilized bones of their real-life models.  Plus lots of Michael Crichton raptors just because Breceda loves making them.

I am entranced by all this, the complex weave of Crichton’s fiction and glimpses of real prehistory on a dizzying terrain Avery loved and could afford to purchase.  His support made possible this fantastic exhibition of exuberant, “outsider” art by a man who is likely to be the son of impoverished migrant workers. (I don’t know that he is, am only imagining his history.)

Michael Crichton died in 2008, but images spun from his mind live on in many “Jurassic” theme parks.  He lived in San Diego for a year, 1969-1970, when he worked at the Salk Institute.  I like to imagine that he made the short trip over the mountains to Borrego at least once, that he saw the breathtaking emptiness Avery and Breceda would populate with sheet metal beasts.  I imagine that Michael Crichton would love this free, open theme park best.  Because it’s real.  Because it rusts and rattles in the desert wind.  Because it is so many stories.

There are lots of photos at www.galletameadows.com for any who share my taste for the un-corporate, unusual and uncanny.  To bring them to life, see the stark shadows cast by a blinding, white sun that is palpably pulling the water from your body as you stand there.  Feel the hot wind rake your eyes, hear the silence and enjoy the layers and layers of story.

Read Full Post »

This morning I got a message on this site from a man who absolutely hates Bone Blind.  Email being what it is, this person could be something other than is suggested by his name and message. I had to ponder this, since I’m basically a hermit and have no natural enemies.  That I know of.  But then I probably wouldn’t notice anyway.  The best possible enemy I could come up with is the young woman who slept in the dorm bunk beneath mine (very briefly) in college.  She hung her rosary over the top of the bunk’s upright by my head, and her nightly snores were like small helicopters crashing in ponds of thick soup.  It wasn’t easy, logistically, but one night I managed to hang upside-down under my top bunk and –Geronimo! – drop that rosary right in her mouth.  (Yes, kids can be so cruel, etc.  And I wasn’t even a kid; I was 19.  It’s terrible; I’m not arguing.)  But I don’t think today’s message was from her.  It was so long ago that she may be dead and besides, the author’s discursive style just didn’t say “Midwest.”  So I was left with the possibility that he was who he said he was and thought what he said he thought.

And what he said was courteous, articulate and seemingly heartfelt.  He read my other books and liked the style.  He said he will buy any subsequent books that I write.  But he couldn’t get into BB’s “demographic,” didn’t care if the characters plummeted to depths or spiraled into space and didn’t think I cared, either.  Wow.

So I had to think about that.  BB doesn’t have a demographic, or at least I never intended one.  But do I “care” about Finn and Tally and Yost as much as I “care” about Bo and Blue (protagonists in previous novels)?  I do, or I wouldn’t have gone to the considerable trouble of releasing them from their prison in a box in my garage.  I wanted them to have the life enjoyed by all fictional people, a life that may include being disliked by real people. Yes!  And I imagined their responses.  Sensitive Finn is puzzled at the attention and somewhat hurt that my correspondent doesn’t like him.  Tally?  Hard to say, but at least on the surface she’s all hardass, dismissive, flip.  Yost is least affected, but would be equally happy to have a beer with the guy and talk, or give him a speeding ticket just for the hell of it.

The point is that, oddly, they’re there, somewhere, and can react to a real, live person as they could to other fictional people inside their novel.  On the other hand, they’re not me and I have no need to defend them.  I only wrote their story and am only happy that my correspondent read it.  I’m also happy that he cared enough to write to me about it.  The writer’s world is not like the real one, it seems.

And the world of the contemporary or indie author is not like the old, traditional one, either.  Responses to the Bo and Blue novels were filtered through the offices of a mega-publisher and then my agent before they ever got to me.  I received many “fan” letters in response to those books, and not one was negative, suggesting that the negatives were filtered out somewhere along the pipeline.  (It didn’t occur to me then, but seems obvious now – how possible is it that no one wrote to say s/he really hated at least one of seven novels?)  But that traditional wall between author and reader is a crumbling ruin at this point; anyone may contact any author who has a blog or website.  And every author has a blog or a website.

So is this a bright, new day of stimulating exchange, or an anarchic Gehenna fraught with dire peril?  Both.  The line may be drawn by the competencies of those involved.  Last week a pathetically incompetent indie “author” savagely attacked a reviewer (whose review of her “novel” was actually quite benign).  The event went viral and within hours she was reviled all over the Internet, some clever wag going so far as to write a parodied review on Amazon, lauding her nearly-unreadable text as comparable to that of James Joyce.  I loved the parody, and laughed, but underneath I was sorry that the fiasco could occur at all.  She should have been protected, somehow, from her own incompetence and its brutal result.  In the old days there were safeguards, but now there are none and there will be casualties.  I hope she isn’t one of them.

Meanwhile, the message I got this morning was negative, but nonetheless made my day.  It made me think, which is a gift.


Read Full Post »