This past week I set up a crowdfunding campaign for a new project: a series of very short novels (or novellas) about horses (of course), magic (because I write quite a bit of fantasy), and Tucson (where I live, and where, so to speak, the magic happens). It’s a “heart project,” in that I’ve wanted to write it for a long time, and it’s about a place and a cast of characters that are very near and dear to me. It’s literally coming from where I live.
“Your life is like a fantasy novel.”
I get a lot of that. I live in the Arizona desert, I have a herd of magical horses, one of my dogs materialized out of the desert air (and has the sky-blue eyes to prove it). We have to explain our weather, our landscape, and our plant and animal life to visitors from the rest of the world. Yes, it’s often hotter than hell, those mountains are right there, and watch out for the cactus!
Really. I mean that. Watch out.
Fantasy as a genre, despite all the “comfy-cozy” stereotyping, isn’t about the warm fuzzies. Those fuzzies may have teeth.
Magic has a price: that’s one of the rules of the fantasy genre. In the desert, the plants are out to get you, the terrain is downright unforgiving, and the climate, especially in summer, is an ongoing challenge.
For the humans and their domestic animals who end up here, either by choice or by necessity (and sometimes both), the survival tactics of the temperate zone tend not to work. The seasons are different. We expect the summer heat, it’s notorious, but we may be caught off guard by the winter storms that roar across the desert, bringing driving rain and bone-penetrating cold.
Even if we think we expect the heat, we don’t necessarily realize how precious water is, or how important it can be to make sure we’re within reach of it. We may not recognize where it’s likely to be, either. That nice, wide, sandy road that looks so inviting under the desert sun has a sign on it: “DO NOT ENTER WHEN FLOODED.”
That sign is not kidding. Sandy “roads” in the desert are dry riverbeds. Washes, arroyos. Highways for desert animals, and for humans on their horses or in their ATV’s. Until it rains–and then the wall of water comes roaring down off the mountains, and it’s swiftwater-rescue time for the overly bold or the simply didn’t know, who decided that little stream was only a few inches deep and they could cross it without trouble.
That’s the world we live in. When the sun is shining, it may be too hot to easily support human life. When the rains come, sometimes after months of nothing at all, they come with such abundance that the desert overflows, and we go from bone dry to all awash.
And here I am in the middle of it, with all those (currently fuzzy and rather dirty) white horses. The other night when I went out after midnight to check on them, an owl watched me from a fencepost. I could hear the coyotes singing. The next morning when I went to let one of the mares out for her breakfast, she was wearing a blackbird on her head–one of the flock that’s lived here for years. I’ve surprised a gila monster beside the house, and repatriated a rattlesnake from the dogs’ yard to the desert before the dogs could get into the kind of trouble dogs will get into.
That’s magic. The tropes of fantasy fit remarkably easily into the landscape. Dragons? Look at our mountains, and the clouds that swirl over them.
It’s all there. All I have to do is shape it into story.