Events, General, Readings

A man hands an envelope to another man across a table–The Sinister Pig

So begins The Sinister Pig (2003) by the late Tony Hillerman, famed mystery writer of the Southwest. The beginning is very simple–a man hands an envelope across the table of a small cafe. The setting is Navajo Country but it could be anywhere, anytime. How mundane. How ordinary. How easy to read. This vintage Tony Hillerman beginning fascinates me–it’s deceptively simple. By the end of the first page, we are in the midst of a high-level corruption and mysterious intrigue.  In my book readings at the Sonoma County libraries on October 14th, November 2nd and 5th, I’ll be talking about this and other beginnings of Tony Hillerman mysteries.

How apt, how perfectly Tony Hillerman’s titles reflect the themes too–By page 9 of Sinister Pig we learn that the term comes from “porc sinistre”, a French phrase for “the boss pig in the sty–the one that would guard the trough and attack any animal that tried to steal a bite.” So how does the title fit in? The man who takes the envelope is someone Slate plans to hire, an ex-CIA agent whose job will be to sniff out who is syphoning oil from a pipeline system, thereby bypassing paying the $40 billion dollars in royalty money into the Interior Department’ trust fund for the Indians.

Ahh, now we know what’s in the trough and who profits by it–the federal government and those underlings who work it. We also know who doesn’t profit–another telling Hillerman theme–Native American history. Not to mention his knack for describing the big picture and the lay of contemporary United States of America where power (and crime) reside with the wealthy and their dishonest corporation underlings, and where the “War on Drugs” means war on its victims and “Protecting the Border” means hoarding the trough of addiction.

The envelope the man hands across the table is full of papers documenting a forged identity for the soon-to-be ex-CIA agent.  We only know him by his assumed name. But don’t worry, we needn’t remember it because, even with his past experience and the fifty thousand Slate transferred to a forged bank account to bankroll him, it isn’t enough to prevent this agent from being murdered by the end of the first chapter.

Which brings me to another characteristic of Tony Hillerman–murder is executed in the blink of an eye, a turn of the sentence, almost a bloodless and ghostly affair. I’ll be talking about his depiction of crime, murder and its victims too.

Now let’s look at his characters. They’re all familiar to us–Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, the retired “legendary lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn, and Chee’s down-in-the mouth girlfriend, Bernadette Manuelito, who has recently taken a job as a Customs Control Officer, posted on the Border to Mexico just to get away from Chee. Hillerman’s characters are like family–quirky, stubborn, true-to-life, and long-suffering. Mostly they’re downright sympathetic. After all, we know them well and we’re rooting for them. We believe he is rooting for them too.

In an organic way, The Sinister Pig promotes Native American values through the characters and also through the action; but how many of us know what these values are? The climax of my novel Sundagger.net happens during a vision quest in New Mexico, but I myself didn’t really understand how Native American tribes of the Southwest would view a vision quest ceremony until Tony Hillerman advised me in his letters. At the library event, I’ll be reading scenes from Sundagger.net that illustrate how I made use of his advice.

Then there are all those other Tony Hillerman themes: his sonorous desert landscapes, the technical specifics of industries such as natural gas and oil, all those pipelines, and his stylistic brilliance in using metaphor, understatement and cryptic dialogue to further an increasingly complex plot. We can talk about this in The Sinister Pig and other Hillerman novels.

So come join me at a Sonoma library and bring your favorite book or excerpt. Read a paragraph or two aloud. The anniversary of his death is coming up this month. Let’s all enjoy and commemorate Tony Hillerman together.


 

 

 

General

I dare you to laugh at this story–City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of ThievesCity of Thieves by David Benioff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a story that you don’t dare laugh at–but you will. Beyond that, it is a rare book, a little masterpiece, an amazing story that takes place on the border between hope and despair. But I wonder about the title, by which I mean, is City of Thieves the best title to convey the power of the book?

Sure, it’s clear the city of thieves is Leningrad (the old St. Petersburg or “Piter” as it’s described in this novel). Reading, I experience Leningrad in 1942 as a city of destruction, starvation and horror–but this story is so much more than the suffering that takes place. Hand in hand with suffering is comedy, written in a way that dilutes neither. The story mixes brutality and cruelty with lighthearted everyday, ghoulish reality, scene by scene, luring the reader with hope that a miracle will take place.

With the backdrop the horrifying siege of Leningrad by the German army in WWII, David Benioff tells the tale of two state “criminals” trying to save their own lives. Captured by the Russian army for unrelated and irrelevant “criminal activities”, their only way to save themselves is to please the Russian commander by finding eggs for his daughter’s upcoming wedding. Given there’s not even one live chicken left in the besieged city, this is an epic and doomed order.

Kolyna’s the extroverted movie star type, a Russian soldier himself and deserter with blond hair, high Cossack cheek bones and blue “Aryan” eyes. He is writing a fake Russian novel. In the week during which this novel takes place, he becomes best friends with a 17 year old looter,Lev Beniov (notice the last name similarity to the author) a Jewish runt with a big nose and acne who steals a knife from a dead German and ends up killing two live ones. Lev’s the son of a famous agitator poet, a virgin and a superior chess player. By any odds, these two shouldn’t have even lived through the week and yet –I won’t give it away, but one thing you have to know, they do find a live chicken–it  turns out to be a rooster. Just suffice it to say everything these two friends do is completely believable. And so is Vika, the crack shot woman sniper, who joins them for the finale (and the prologue).

This novel is unique; I can’t think of a single title to do it justice. So just leave it City of Thieves. On every page I read I realized that life is amazing, any life, and moreover, it’s so funny in a deep and deadly way.

View all my reviews

Events, General, Readings

Honoring Tony Hillerman

If you‘re like me, you loved all the Tony Hillerman books.  To honor this famed mystery writer of the Southwest, I’m having library readings at Sonoma County libraries and I’d like to invite you.  As you see, I already had one reading event on September 16th–thank you to everyone who came. It was inspiring!

Margaret C. Murray Reading in Honor of Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman (May 27, 1925–October 26, 2008) was an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels set in the Southwest. I was very honored that he agreed to endorse my first novel, Sundagger.net, an endorsement that appears on the cover of my book.

When I had finished writing my first draft of Sundagger.net, set in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, I wrote to him to ask his opinion and thus began a correspondence that lasted until he died. I think of him as my teacher, my mentor, and my ally.  As a writer in the world, I want to be how Tony Hillerman was with me–funny, open, giving, generous, very knowledgeable, encouraging, and insistent on practice as the key to success. “Keep on writing” he told me in his letters more than once.

Tony Hillerman influenced me long before I wrote Sundagger.net. In particular, I was drawn to his stark, evocative descriptions of the Four Corners area where the four Southwest states converge–New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. There he set his Jim Chee-Joe Leaphorn mysteries, dipping in and out of  Navajo and Hopi landscapes to unveil and eliminate crime.

Tony Hillerman was the master of crafting a fascinating story. For me, all these 29 books were an “easy” read, pure enjoyment, that put me in touch with the pleasure of life. His Native American characters especially were quirky, comfortable, the kind of down-home people you could relate to–at times grumpy, jealous, self-serving, duty-driven, burdened with work, love lost, but in the end, bigger than all that and always very human. And women held a place of honor and respect.

All the Tony Hillerman mysteries unveiled a Native American point-of-view that opened my eyes to a different, deeper world. Touching on reservation life, they described traditional Navajo ceremonies and medicine men, attitudes toward death and burial, as well as political and social issues that affect us all in the bigger community, for example, the stealing of antiquities, illegal aliens, drug dealing across borders, and the embezzlement of billions owed by the federal government to the Indian nation.

Each book embraced a dimension I can only describe as quietly spiritual, based on venerating the magnificence of sky and earth. This was recently illustrated in a new coffee-table photography book, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, written by his daughter, Anne Hillerman, that I refer to in my reading events.

Here’s a letter Tony Hillerman wrote me that I display on an overhead projector. In it, he points out different attitudes of the Navajo about modern individuality based on their Changing Woman origination story. What Changing Woman might think of a vision questAfter receiving this letter, I revised a chapter in Sundagger.net where a group from the San Francisco area set out on a camping trip to experience a vision quest of their own and end up in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, home of the ancient Anasazi. During my event, I talk about the letter and read sections from the chapter.

Please join me to honor a master of story-telling.

You are  invited to bring your favorite Hillerman book–and  to read an excerpt aloud to our audience.

Hope to see you at the library!

FREE AND OPEN TO EVERYONE.

 

General

It’s all about relatives & music this Saturday

It’s about relatives and music at my event coming up. I know the music by Chris Goslow will be fabulous. As for me, I want to conjure up relatives, blood and adopted, sane and crazy, good and bad. Here where it’s going to happen:

Saturday, September 10th, 6:30-8:30 PM
Infusions Teahouse
@ Whole Foods Center
6988 McKinley Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472

I’m looking for relatives, yours and mine, as I practice reading from Sundagger.net and my brand new, upcoming Dreamers into my tape recorder, trying on characters and scenes as if they were dresses, hoping for the perfect ones.

I’ll start with mothers and sons in Sundagger.net. On the first page, Sara McLelland, a mother of a grown son and a teenage daughter, arrives at an Indian sweat lodge. Sara feels at home there. Two Crows, the sweat lodge leader, greets her with the Lakota welcoming words, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which means “All my relations.” This speaks to Sara. She feels comfort that we are all relatives and send prayers for her son, Dan, who is traveling in the Middle East in the wake of terrorist threats after 9/11.

I could read a scene about mothers and daughters too. I’m thinking of when Sara takes her teenage daughter, Elana, on a weekend trip. In a swimming pool on the beach in Southern California, Sara learns more about her daughter and herself than she is prepared for, seeing Elana in a new and vulnerable way.

And I have to read from Dreamers, a dangerous romance of the ’60s. It’s full of relatives. I’ll begin with the Prologue. Annie sits in the Pittsburgh airport waiting for her long lost love to come through the Arrivals gate, reconnecting with herself, her memories and especially her father.

I must include birthdays too–My last selection will be when Annie gives her father a present on his birthday, the same day as Mozart’s, and shares some news Dad welcomes without having any idea what it really means.

There’s so much to choose from–So many relatives! So much music!  What a night.

Maddingly clever, soothing and entertaining music
by pianist and music artist Chris Goslow.

 

 

 

Sundagger.net, a story of one family, two worlds, and many lifetimes.

 

 

 

 Dreamers, an interracial romance of the ’60s.

Events, General, Readings

Special Event Music & Reading at Infusions Teahouse

Someone close to you just have a birthday? My granddaughter, Emma,did. Her mother is having hers next Saturday. Someone in your family getting married soon? Having a baby? Leaving home? Someone starting school? Emma’s starting kindergarten and her big sister Sophie’s going into second grade. Maybe this sounds a little like your family. We all have relatives.

Let’s celebrate with a Special “All My Relatives”Musical Event & Reading at Infusions Teahouse. Come join Chris Goslow and me. Relax and enjoy dinner, fine tea and chocolate during an evening of music and readings featuring performances by musical entertainer Chris Goslow and Sebastopol’s own, author Margaret Murray.

Saturday, September 10th
6:30-8:30PM
Infusions Teahouse
at Whole Foods Center
6988 McKinley Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472
707-829-1181

Maddingly clever, soothing and entertaining music
by pianist and music artist Chris Goslow.

 

 

Margaret Murray reading from Sundagger.net,
a story of one family, two worlds, and many lifetimes.

 

 

 

Plus sneak preview reading from her new novel Dreamers, an interracial romance of the ’60s.

Free Gravenstein Apples at the door!


General

I Hate Romance Novels & Now I’ve Written One

It's a romance of the '60s.
Dreamers, a Dangerous Romance of the '60s

I hate romance novels and never buy them, never even look at them at the supermarket checkout counter. Why? The very first sentence turns me off. I feel angry. How stupid the writer of this must think me to expect I’ll believe this  preposterous story! The plots are stupid and embarrassing, the settings outlandish, the language trite, the characters cartoonish. “When you’ve read one, you’ve read them all,” as my dad would say. Another word he’d use is “trash”.  According to Wikipedia, “Despite the popularity and widespread sales of romance novels, the genre has attracted significant derision, skepticism and criticism.”

Given all that, why the hell did I subtitle my new novel, Dreamers, a dangerous romance of the ’60s?

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I liked historical romance novels once–when I was young, a pre-teen, maybe as old as thirteen. What I liked (though I didn’t realize it then) was the secret, forbidden, dangerous adventure of sex! Yes, I loved all the twisted longing in the historical romances about pirates, counts, renegades, swashbuckling commanders, deposed kings and would-be outlaws. And oh, how I longed to be their women–those princesses and countesses, those ladies-in-waiting, the half-naked milkmaids and abandoned orphans, so young, so innocent and so beautiful with wet, red lips and long, curling tresses. All those women destined for capture, for adventure in their rags, their voluminous silk dresses, who were seduced and Yes! seduced in turn. I wanted to be them! I reveled in the veiled sensuality, the heated embraces, the–sex.

What is romance anyway? Is it love? Is it illusion? Is it dreams? Is it reality? According to Wikipedia again, the bottom line is that, for a book to be a romance novel, the romantic relationship between the hero and the heroine must be at its core.

In many ways Dreamers is the opposite of romance. Neither the hero, Thomas, or the heroine, Annie, believes in romance nor has faith in the other to provide it.  When he meets Annie accidentally, Thomas, the black actor from Pittsburgh, is mired in a painful, impossible affair with Lana, a rich, self-absorbed WASP from Connecticut. When she meets Thomas, Annie, naive as she is, struggles in a bind of acute family tension, wrapped in a rope of self-criticism too tight to breathe in, much less prevail against.

What is worse, the fact that their relationship is interracial makes all thought of romance a forbidden secret played out in the prevailing strife of the civil rights showdown in ’60s America.

But, though in many ways Dreamers is the opposite of romance, Thomas’ and Annie’s relationship IS the core of the book. What they both believe in is the pursuit of their art; for Thomas, art is theatre. For Annie, art is music.  And they believe in each other.

As artists, we are all romantic dreamers. All art is romantic and allows, even demands, we fall in love with it. It’s we who are the romantics.We have to fall in love with a book in order to even want to turn the page.

I’m hoping you’ll fall in love with Dreamers,and that’s why I wrote it.

 

Events, General

3rd Year in a Row at the California State Fair Authors’ Booth

Meet me in the Authors’ Booth. I’ve been invited to the California State Fair Author’s Booth in Sacramento for the 3rd year in a row and I’d like to invite you too.

My first year in the California Author's Book at the State Fair

The California State Fair is held at the Cal State Expo in downtown Sacramento from July 14th through July 31st. I’ll be there four days: July 19, 26, 29 and 31st. Here’s a calendar showing all 37 of the California Authors and when we will be appearing. Notice the fabulous photos of rides at the bottom of the calendar! It’s that much fun, believe me. Naida West, renown novelist of California history (No Rest for the Wicked, River of Red Gold, Eye of the Bear) is coordinating the entire author line up for the fourteenth year. Here’s what the Sacramento Bee has to say about Naida and the Authors’ Booth.

I’ll be showcasing my novel of magic realism, Sundagger.net, and taking orders for my upcoming novel, DREAMERS, a dangerous romance of the ’60s. I’d love to see you. We can talk about books or whatever else interests you.I am eager to hear what you have to say.

Here’s me in the Author’s Booth last year.

What was I thinking about?  Authors and Books by Dead Guys. I was wondering if the only books that count are those by dead guys.

So let’s make a date. All you lovers of books (And maybe also fabulous state fairs, beautiful horses, amazing livestock, popular music and top-of-the-line amusement parks) come on by the Authors’ Booth in Building C where the county exhibits are, right next to the buildings full of glorious newborn pigs, goats, sheep and cows. Look me up on BookTour for  directions.  I’ll be  looking for you.

General

A Book for a Haircut

A Book for a Haircut?

I sold my novel for a haircut. I collected on the haircut two mornings ago and I must say it was clearly worth it.  For about fifteen minutes afterward, I felt like I was back in my teens when I could get a thrill styling my hair, making myself “prettier” in the mirror, a thrill as wild and satisfying as writing a good story. Now my hair is wavier, lighter, and fuller.

You see, my hair has been carefully sculpted because the hair cutter is also a sculptor. Hair designer, Aaron Poovey, specializes in metal and marble.  He makes marble polar bears 2-1/2 feet tall that you can sit on while you are waiting for your haircut outside his “salon” in  his one-story house in Sebastopol, CA.  In his yard, colored glass and metal sculptures twinkle in the morning sun from where they stand tall on their pedestals and on beds of white stones.

Sitting in the styling chair, I feel special. Because hair is important–or has been for me since I was seven and jealous of one classmate’s long ribboned braids and another’s dark Shirley Temple curls. Going gray in my twenties, I decided natural was best, and for better or worse, that’s what my hair is now. I’ve never paid for a hair cut with my book before. So this is a special event.

In the chair, I notice the small bears of green and brown marble, the miniature spiraling, dancing metal figures perched on chairs and small tables, cluttered countertops and window ledges. Sculptures rest on top of magazines and used paperbacks, framed by hair spray and  “mud” as Aaron describes the gel used to style hair.

Why did I sell my book for a haircut? It was because of what Aaron Poovey said to me when I met him at an “Art at the Source” event at a nearby artist’s house (AKA “art at the source”), produced for the last 17 years by the Sebastopol Art Center.  We were talking about how to succeed in the business of being artists, being fully self-expressed. We were talking about what it takes to be creative, to write a book for example or play music or make a sculpture like that gentle marble polar bear I sat on in Aaron’s front yard, head bending low as if weighed down by melting ice flows and the increasing possibility of extinction.

I mentioned that sometimes friends, family, or anyone else I talk to, tell me they have an idea for a book, or they’ve always wanted to write a book, or they know they can write a book because they’ve been thinking about it for years. They want to know how to go about it, how to publish it, how to make a success of it. “So do I! I’m learning as I go,” I want to say. Still I yearn to launch them on their creative journey, but what guidelines are there?

Here’s what Aaron said and it’s the truth. “When you start out, you don’t know how it will end up. I never know what I’ll make, what the marble will become. It’s an adventure, a process and you have to do the work. Give yourself permission to fail.” Yes, yes, I agree. And again he says, “You have to do the work.”

Aaron has designed a perfect artist’s life; he has no need to create art for money, since hair design, which Aaron began in San Francisco when he was 18, provides a good livelihood. PLUS (and this is what really inspires me) he loans his big pieces to friends and admirers for six months, after which time they can return it, or buy it, or borrow another. He has created his own lucrative fan base irrespective of the traditional marketplace.

All this is music to my ears. So of course I rush away from the spectacular art show in the artist’s house and soon return with my two books. “This is a novel of one family, two worlds and many lifetimes, “I tell him, holding up Sundagger.net. “And here is Dreamers, a dangerous romance of the ’60s. It isn’t for sale yet,” I say as he rifles through my paperbacks.

He doesn’t have fifteen dollars for Sundagger.net and I don’t have the hundreds required to buy the marble bears, but he gives me his business card for a haircut and I give him my book. When I come for the haircut, Aaron says he is enjoying Sundagger.net. He likes the details, the genre–New Age types meet Native American culture is how he described it. I can live with that.

A haircut for a book. My hair looks great. I have his number: 707-829-9848. I’m going to keep going to him. I can check out the still, white marble polar bear. I can sit on it again, if it’s still there.

Events, General, Readings

So I wanted to do a reading at the solstice

Sundagger.net

I’ve been wanting to have a book reading of Sundagger.net at the summer solstice coming up  and now I’ve got three events planned, two in Sonoma and one in Sebastopol!  There’s going to be live music and video too. You’re invited to drop by for tea or coffee,more than a few good words, and to join in a celebration of the sun.

Sunday, June 19th, 1PM and 4PM
Barking Dog Roasters, Sonoma, 95476

1PM–Headquarters, 18133 Sonoma Hwy,
707.939.1905

4PM–Downtown Sonoma, 201 West Napa St
(in MarketPlace 
Shopping Center),
707.996.7446

Tuesday, June 21st 5:30PM
Infusions Teahouse @ Whole Foods Center
6988 McKinley Street, Sebastopol 95472
707-829-1181

The Solstice is a powerful time of the year, the time when the sun and the earth are closest (the summer solstice) or farthest away (the winter solstice).  Sundagger.net begins and ends in a Native American sweat lodge at a solstice! The sun dagger phenomena in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico inspired me to write the book.

The sun dagger is featured in my chapters where Rowan, the network analyst from the fictional telecom, TekGen, is hustling to jumpstart his new project, called, aptly, sundagger.net. You could say the sun is a character in my book.

I’ll be building on the solstice reading event I had at the Pinole Library last year. It began with a simple Native ceremony that included  drumming and singing Lakota sweat lodge songs. The ceremony consisted of “calling in the Four Directions” (East, South, West and North) and honoring their power. We also announced our intentions for the evening and spoke of our reasons for coming. It was really inspiring, especially with the participation of Ko Blix who showed his video Stones of Chaco Canyon, on YouTube. You can see where the sun dagger actually slices through a spiral cut in stone on a butte. The pictures of the Chaco ruins and the sun dagger in the video are awesome.  The original music by Chris Goslow that accompanies the video is eerie in its melodic synchronicity.