Monday, May 03, 2010

A Crack in the Earth

This was a long and adventurous weekend.

I had an event at the Well Red Coyote bookstore in Sedona, Arizona, on Saturday afternoon, and we left on Thursday to go up and stay overnight with friends, who had offered to take us to the Grand Canyon on Friday.

Sedona is about two hours' drive north of Phoenix - a long climb up to around 4500 feet.  We went from 30C in Scottsdale to just above freezing in Sedona, and as we drove up Oak Creek Canyon with our hosts, Pat and Jim, to eat in an incredible log cabin hunting lodge tucked away beneath towering pines and sheer cliffs, there was still snow on the ground from the winter.  It hardly seemed possible after the heat of the desert.

Pat and Jim came to one of our writing courses in France eight years ago.  They recently moved up to Sedona from Phoenix to build their dream home amongst the spectacular red rocks that rise up out of the plains.  And it is almost like a dream being here, with views from every picture window on to stunning scenes of blood red primeval rock formations soaring all around.

The lodge where we ate - Garland's Oak Creek Lodge - was accessed by a perilous crossing of Oak Creek itself, at a ford which is sometime lost beneath torrents of white water snow melt.  Inside we were greeted by a roaring log fire in a huge open hearth, and a set menu featuring the most fabulous lamb - the best meal we have had in the United States, bar none.

Friday was a long, slow ascent up to 7000 feet, through the university town of Flagstaff, to the vast high plains of northern Arizona. Here the oxygen had thinned, making breathing more difficult, and the temperature had plunged almost to freezing. It is an extraordinary landscape up there. Endless scrub plains and stunted trees, distant mountains and volcanoes, and clear, luminous air in the bright sunshine.

And then suddenly... this vast hole in the ground. As if the earth had cracked open. You’ve seen pictures of the Grand Canyon. You expect it to be spectacular. But nothing quite prepares you for the scale of it. And you can only imagine how it took away the breath of those early pioneers, crossing this endless plain to emerge from the trees quite unexpectedly on its southern lip. I have taken some pictures, as you can see. But nothing you can catch within the frame of a camera does it justice. Not even being there. It so dwarfs humanity, that even as you stand on the rim and gaze a mile down to the Colorado River below, or fifteen miles across to the north rim, it seems... unreal.

Then it was back to Sedona - itself almost a miniature Grand Canyon, coloured red. But here, people live among the rocks, putting down roots, and anchoring themselves to a geological history that goes right back to the beginnings of time. Another extraordinary place.

A little further up the canyon, Pat and Jim have a log cabin in the woods, tucked away among the pines, and surrounded by cliffs and mountains. They took us on a tour of it, and offered it as a retreat for the writing of the next book. Incredibly generous. And who knows, maybe I will take them up on it. No danger of unwelcome interruptions up there. And so no excuse not the write!

My book event at the Well Red Coyote was the following afternoon. The bookstore is owned by fellow writer, Kris Neri, and her husband Joe. I had met Kris before, when we shared a panel at Left Coast Crime in Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, Kris was unable to be there, but I was made very welcome by Joe, and we held a one-hour workshop on the subject of taking the skills learned from screenwriting into the writing of the novel.

(I have to confess to making a faux pas after the event. Joe asked me to sign an ARC copy of one of my books, and dedicate it to Kris and Joe. Perhaps it was the large Margarita and two glasses of wine at lunch, but I misheard him and thought he said “Chris and Jill”. Duh! Replaying the moment later, I realised my mistake and wrote to apologise, excusing myself by suggesting that I was either deaf or insane, and probably both, and wondering if he knew a Chris and Jill he could give the book to. Joe wrote back saying: “Chris, no problem. Jill.”)

Anyhoo... after the tasting (for the first time) of some (excellent) Arizona wines (bet you didn’t know they made any) at a local vineyard, we set off on the road back to Phoenix, and spent one-and-a-half hours sitting in a traffic jam on Interstate 17 because of roadworks!

Only to have to get up early the next day to get ready for a Sunday event at a Phoenix restaurant, preparations for which included taking Odin (remember the wire-haired fox terrier that went with the house swap?) to “doggy daycare”.

The event consisted of sitting in the dappled shade of the outside terrace at Lon’s at The Hermosa, an exclusive restaurant on the outskirts of Scottsdale, where the good people of the city gather on Sunday mornings for a rather exclusive brunch. A large pile of my books was displayed on a long table, and I sat talking to the customers as they arrived, and signing the books they bought.

A very pleasant way to spend your Sunday, especially when the restaurant laid on an excellent brunch for us at the end of it (even although it was well into the afternoon by then).

Then to more mundane things - grocery shopping at Safeways - before retrieving an excited Odin from his daycare adventures.

And now, with the diary cleared, at least for a few days, it is time for me to buckle down and do some deep thinking about the second book in the new trilogy. I have a research book to read, a phone call to make, and the internet to scour for relevant info. But most of all I have to dig way down into my imagination - almost as deep down as the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon - to find the inspiration to match the first book, “The Blackhouse”, which still feels to me like the best thing I have ever written.

How do you top that?


Carol said...

The Grand Canyon looks absolutely amazing Dad!! It's somewhere I've always fancied going (not jealous...not jealous at all!!)

Glad to hear the signings are going so well and I'm looking forward to seeing you soon :-)

C x

DJ Kirkby said...

Is that blue sky for real? Amazing photos. The idea of retreating to a log cabin to write brings to mind certain scenes from 'Misery'. I'm ashamed to admit I've never been to the Grand Canyon even though I spent the first 26 years of my life in Canada and could have driven there in a few days.

Leigh said...

WoW great pics bro, I never saw anything like that when I was there ummm 20 years ago :P

I was telling my worst half about your iPad and how you liked it, while he was surfing you tube he came across this,, you will need to sign it to view it because it has been flagged, enjoy or weep :) TC Bro, talk soon xoxox