I grew up in Phoenix, learning about life through mistakes and experience. I moved away in 1990 only to return for a three-year stay a few years later thanks to the U.S. Air Force and its assignment system.
In 1997, I stood on the western edge of town and snapped the above picture of a dust wall headed for me. It was tall, maybe 1000 feet high, and moving around 40 to 45 MPH. For those unaware, dust walls like these–haboobs–are relatively common, occurring once, twice or three times a year in picturesque ways. Formed by the expulsion of the guts of thunderstorms as upward vertical motion ceases, they carry dust and grime from the land below and move outward in an ever-widening arc.
Not satisfied with seeing this wall from a distance, I put away my camera and decided to wait until it engulfed me.
FYI: agricultural dust hurts.
The dust also leaves impressions, and if you’re not careful, what’s known as Valley Fever.
Six years later, I started a little story about a girl dying to learn her place in the world while fearing the same dust clouds. That picture–that event–became a character, and even though CASTLES is a novel about love, revenge and what brings a person to madness, the dust still sticks to my ribs.
In 2006, while being evaluated for something else, the novel–or the impression left by the genesis of the novel–was found inside of me.
The below picture is from a CAT scan of my lungs. The “dot” in the upper left corner (in green) is a nodule left behind by what’s known as coccidioidomycosis, the fungal infection I received while standing in the above wall of dust.
Here’s a close up of the “impression” left by that dust storm:
You see: you really can inhale a novel.