The Guejito Fire of 1993 and the Witch Creek Fire of 2007 that burned in and around North San Diego County were seared in my memory in ways that defy analysis. Anyone who has witnessed a natural disaster – fire, hurricane, blizzard, tornado, earthquake, or tsunami will likely agree that this is the case. These fires have been burned in my artistic subconscious and influence what I write and how I write in ways I cannot adequately explain. There is a distinct linguistic power God has placed in nature that I think lies behind any serious attempt at writing.
Last week there was a fire burning on the western edge of Murrieta (where I now live) that prompted me to share an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Damned May Enter. This is a particularly important passage that sets the tone and symbolism that I try to sustain throughout the book. For my fellow writers, I hope that this serves as a small inspiration of the power of memory and nature in shaping fiction:
Fire raged on the eastern hills of Escondido, illuminating the night sky. Angry halos glowed red against the orange capped peaks as they shot sparks out into the darkness like charged particles in the blackness of space. The flames poured down the mountains in front of the furious gusts of the Santa Ana winds blowing in from the California desserts. Had these mountains been volcanic, once might think they were belching magma, sending lava and ash flowing down into the populated inland valleys. Yet the fire was not in the heart of these mountains, they were burning because of the old growth chaparral that clung to their slopes, giving its dense brush to the flames.
On the hills a pitched battle was being fought between man and this force of nature. Whether or not the impending apocalypse would consume the city below was still an open question. The sky echoed with the syncopated thumping of helicopter blades and droning propeller blades as areal firefighting squadrons bombed the encroaching flames with retardant and water. On the ground, firefighters dug trenches and cut lines in the chaparral to create a no-man’s land, separating themselves from the onslaught of noxious smoke and consuming fire. Like soldiers on the bloody grounds of Verdun, they dug in to face the enemy’s advance with abandon and resolve. They were the thin line that kept the hellfire on the hills from overrunning the homes in the valleys and burning all the way to the shores of the Pacific. In the face of nature’s fury, these brave men lifted up their prayers into the smoke-choked night for respite from Santa Ana’s gales and steeled their nerves to face the fires, come what may.
The Brandt brothers watched this infernal drama unfold from the back porch of their home, which offered a panoramic view of the hills to the east. There was something both terrifying and sublime in the carnage that could not be ignored. Standing mesmerized on the porch, they couldn’t have taken their eyes off of the flames if they wanted to. It was as if such displays of power and violence demanded witness. The call of impending destruction went out to all onlookers, imploring them to look upon this strange and horrendous beast nature had conjured to show humans their place in the order of things. In the face of such indifferent power a man is reminded that he is small and frail; that he lives in a vast, wild world which defies all his pretenses to control. The imperatives of nature rise up before the Brandts’ eyes demanding reverence and awe.
For those of you who have been following the progress of my book, I am in the re-write stage as I shape my manuscript for editing, which will happen after the first of the year Lord willing. This thing will get done sooner or later! Anyone who tells you that writing a book is easy is either writing a bad book or is lying or both… with that I am back to my little world of words. I’ll check in again soon.