“One of the most spectacular finds from prehistoric North America.”—USA Today
Salon: A gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.
I had everything ready, flowers on the table, chairs in place, my Bavarian China tea cups and saucers. The fire was going strong and my German Shepherd, Maisie, was ready to greet the guests. Soon they would arrive!
It was shortly after 7PM when the writers appeared. The living room was soon crowded with nine enthusiastic guests from Pinole, Walnut Creek, El Sobrante, Richmond and Point Richmond, CA. ( One more writer outside didn’t knock on my door alas, thinking he had the wrong time.)
We began with a animated discussion of what a salon is and what it means to read our work aloud (it means everything). I shared a story I read in the biography of Nobel Prize novelist, John Steinbeck. In his early years as a writer, Steinbeck had a habit of greeting his friends by reading his latest writing aloud to them. Courageous!
For an ice breaker, I asked the writers to randomly choose quotes from authors I featured in my From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops. We discussed what the quotes signified to us as writers. It was amazing how whatever quote we chose at random so aptly mirrored our own writing lives.
We started with non-fiction. A writer read a revision of her prose-poem about driving in the rain. I believe we all felt as if we were driving with her, passing the majestic redwoods of California dripping with rain, seeing the manzanitas as ancient native inhabitants, feeling this miracle in nature as we listened to rain on my roof.
Another writer read from her memoir-in-progress describing a recent birthday. The selection began with her waking up to the bedside digital clock, its red dial ominously ticking, foreshadowing the unforgiving passage of time, perhaps disappointment or resignation. But, surprise! The first-person narrator, having reviewed the past, experiences a rush of gratitude for her own rich life.
The last non-fiction reading was another surprise: a proposal for a digital workshop to create online presentations to woo prospective employers. The writer wanted our feedback and we gave it. So much variety!
After a too-short intermission with animated conversation, wine and sparkling drinks, we turned to fiction: a Y/A novel of WWII Amsterdam about the attempted rescue of a Jewish child; lovers holding hands in an unnamed landscape of brilliant stars; a family in India struggling to survive in the face of British colonization and lastly, I read an excerpt from Spiral where Willow, an Anasazi mother and her son, Little Hawk, prepare to scale a haunted mountain to find Grandmother.
Besides reading aloud, we also shared how and why we wrote what we did, giving each reading a rich context. I described the archeological findings and archeoastronomy of Chaco Culture’s monumental Southwest ruins which provide the background for the epic adventure Willow and Little Hawk take in Spiral. Sharing the context makes all the difference!
Here are some of the heartening email responses from writers who attended the writing salon.
“I am inspired by your writing and your innate ability to bring out the very best in everyone who read their excerpt.— Julia A.“
“Thanks so much for the sweet and inspiring evening last night. It was a very rich experience with beautiful people. Thank you. Already I am inspired to begin editing my book. — Ellen R.”
Thank you, all you writers out there!
Fall is here. Have you noticed the weather’s changing and nights are colder?
Once upon a time, a thousand years ago, a boy discovers a trap door into a tower on a high, ominous mountain. The boy, a character in my newest novel Spiral, goes by the name of Little Hawk. Though his mother has forbidden it, Little Hawk has been longing to get to the top of the tower ever since his mother, his dog and he arrived at this strange, new place.
Sliding through the trap door, he finds a ladder in the middle of the circular room leading to a hole in the roof high above. Pallets have been laid all over the floor as if waiting for someone to lie down on them. He finds corn in jars that stink with a strong smell like the drink the priests guzzle that makes them crazy.
But he must get to the top! Carefully climbing the ladder to the next level, Little Hawk spies skeletons without heads arranged in a circle, their feet facing the center, as if it were a fire pit and they only wanted to warm themselves.
What does Little Hawk do? He spits on the skeletons!
You can download the complete Spiral ebook for only $3.99!
Imagine Little Hawk and his mother traveling to dark, menacing Chimney Rock Mountain in Southwest Colorado from their home in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. I had to see for myself! Check out My Road Trip to the War Gods of Chimney Rock, CO, a video with original music by Chris Goslow.
You can download the complete Spiral ebook for only $3.99!
Read Spiral on your Amazon Kindle, iBook, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, Palm, Desktop Computer or Tablet.
“Just ordered my copy. I so enjoyed Sundagger.net: such vivid depictions of place & time and such interesting characters. I lost many hours of sleep staying up late to read because I just had to know what happened next. — Sarah F.
Order Spiral for $17.95 and, for a limited time, receive a free ebook of Sundagger.net, the sequel to Spiral.
Spiral, a novel of magic realism and epic adventure set in the ancient American Southwest
At the end of a culture that built structures as big as the Roman Coliseum when medieval Europe was still in the Dark Ages, on a high desert landscape of brooding wind and dark storm clouds that never drop rain, the Elders threaten to sacrifice an infant boy to placate the sun dagger and thus end the drought.
Meanwhile young Willow waits by the dry, dusty Chaco riverbed for her lover. But when he finally comes, it is to say goodbye. Betrayed and desolate, Willow becomes an expert pot maker, turning for comfort to a gentle hunter of her own Coyote Clan, with whom she has a son. When the Elders kidnap him, Willow has a plan.
Against the backdrop of the Anasazi Southwest, Spiral plunges the reader into a whole gripping, enchanted world spiraling in crisis.
See the music video!
Follow author Margaret C. Murray on a road trip to research Spiral, Road Trip to the War Gods of Chimney Rock, CO, with original music by Chris Goslow.
Praise for Sundagger.net
Before the sun dagger, there was the spiral.
“In her Sundagger.net, Margaret Murray gives us a mystery novel in a new dimension, moving us from Post 9/11 Silicon Valley to the Ancient Anasazi of the Southwest.” — Tony Hillerman, famed Southwest mystery writer
Buy a book for a friend!
I was on the seventh day of my road trip. After days of driving and camping—interspersed by a stay in Flagstaff with my friend Joyce—I had finally arrived at Chimney Rock, Colorado, the site of my upcoming novel, Spiral.
I had been working on Spiral, a prequel to Sundagger.net, for five years now and I just had to go see for myself. I had to take the same pilgrimage my characters Willow and her son, Little Hawk, take after they flee their home in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and set out for Chimney Rock, the furthest outlier of Chaco culture.
Driving from California on Highway 40 to Flagstaff and from there to New Mexico, I was intent on first spending a few nights at Chaco Canyon World Heritage Site where Spiral begins.
The Pre-Puebloans (otherwise known as the Anasazi, a name given to them by the Navajo, meaning “enemy ancestors”) likely came the same way, from the South.
Like me, these ancient migrants would have passed by the same red rock mesas. They too would be inspired, awed, by the deep color of the high desert, the vast vistas and endless sky.
Maybe they too were anticipating a great spectacle–those ceremonies in honor of solstices and equinoxes held in the Great Houses of Chaco Canyon.
Bumping along on an unpaved dirt “washboard” road, I slowly drove through the Navajo Reservation, stopping my car in front of the only sign for 23 miles:
May be Impassable
Travel at Your Own Risk
The ancient people would have experienced rough travel without cars, wagons, wheels, horses or any other means of transportation.
A thousand years ago, this same road would likely have been full of people migrating to and from Chaco to witness the sun’s return or thrill at the lunar alignment.
What a surprise when I turned a rocky bend and saw Fajada Butte. How close and massive it seemed from the dirt road, like a cathedral carved from sandstone.
I’d been to Chaco Canyon two times before but never approached it from the South.
I felt a strange kinship with this great rock.
At Gallo Campground in Chaco, the wind blew my tent away before I even got it secured in the ground. With the help of the campground host (from Vallejo, Ca!), I tied it to heavy metal rings. I slept that night surrounded by mesa walls, greasewood and blowing sage.
The Pre-Puebloans would have come through the South Gap into the Canyon. On the far side of the gap are more than 50 pit houses. Are they “motels” the migrants camped in while at Chaco?
Across Chaco Wash is Pueblo Bonito, the grandest of the Great Houses, where I stood while taking this photo. Debbie, the interpretive ranger who took me on a tour of Pueblo Bonito, said the arriving visitors likely might have been thrilled by the noisy celebration, the singing in many languages, dancing and music from flutes, conch shells, rattles, foot drums and more.
So many people to see the show! Was it like our rock concerts? Disneyland ? Or like High Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral? Who knows? The only evidence are ruins and potsherds. There’s so much mystery here.
Leaving Chaco Canyon reluctantly (and missing the Full Moon ceremony), I drove to Navajo Lake where I camped a few days and then headed northeast over the Colorado border to Chimney Rock.
And now, finally, I’ve arrived. Even from so far away on the road, I am repelled first sighting the mountain. It’s chilling just seeing bulbous Companion Rock and high narrow Chimney Rock on a dark mountain of chert and lava rock. I’m amazed at how close my feelings are to the atmosphere of terror pervading Spiral that Willow is so desperate to flee.
Still, looking out of my car window, I take comfort in all the mailboxes along the road, proof that ordinary people live beneath this mountain that appears so isolating and ominous seen from afar.
After setting up my tent at Ute Campground, I drive to the park entrance and learn I’m not even permitted to go up Chimney Rock alone. So instead I and five other tourists take a fascinating guided tour with Wayne, an interpretive guide and volunteer.
Today Chimney Rock is the powerful landmark and spiritual center for the Pueblo People–the Taos, Acoma, Zuni, Hopi, Tewa and more.
The two towers signify the Twin War Gods of the Taos Pueblo who slay monsters to help their People. The war gods are also revered by the Navajo who know them as Monster Slayer and Born-for-Water.
War Gods? Yes, of course!
After my climb to the top, I understand why.
“The right ending is an open door you can’t see too far out of.”–Michael Ondaatje.
It’s time for me to take the trip to Chimney Rock, Colorado where Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, is set. I have to do it in order to write the ending—the right ending. It’s no accident that you, Dear Diary, a decrepit yellow fifty year-old notebook, end with a trip too.
That September of 1964 when I returned from my summer in Provincetown, MA I hadn’t added a single word to my diary or to the 25 pages of a novel I took with me and planned to write. How would l know all those words were not to be abandoned but revived.
There are no entries about leaving home in my diary. Dad must have driven me to the bus station. My mother would have stayed home, crying angry tears, shunning me. She didn’t approve of me going to that godforsaken place, Provincetown. Did I even hug her goodbye? Did she push me away? Did I thank my father for driving me to that dingy Greyhound terminal in the smoky bowels of downtown Pittsburgh? I know I took a brown suitcase because I remember lugging it back home from the airport on two streetcars and a bus at the end of that summer.
My trip didn’t begin pleasantly or easily. I went with Maxine and Carole, fraternal twins, friends of a friend. I can see the small lights over my seat on the Greyhound Bus that night we left. I sat next to Maxine, the older and more gregarious twin. We were on our way to Providence, Rhode Island to transfer to another bus to Cape Cod.
On the bus I would have felt chastened, though stubborn and determined, free. Maybe also frantic, an imposter, with only a few hand-written pages in my suitcase to mark my identity as a writer. I didn’t know the twins well either. Maxine offered me the paperback she’d brought, a fey, quixotic novel of Anias Nin who I’d never heard of before; Anais proved a seemingly perfect companion through the unknown doorway.
That summer I worked as a counter girl at Howard Johnson’s, renting an old, wooden two-story summerhouse on the outskirts of P-town with the twins. I remember once looking out the smudged window above a double bed I shared with a different twin each week, realizing I wasn’t going to write a single sentence here. I considered throwing my writing out.
How different is the trip I’m planning now, how different and yet the same. I’ve been frightened of and yet determined to travel from Chaco Canyon, N.M. to Chimney Rock, CO where Spiral takes place since I first started writing the prequel five years ago. Chimney Rock is the furthest settlement of the Anasazi culture from Chaco.
I’ve discovered much fascinating research, e.g, light-talking. One of the best resources is Greg Childs’, House of Rain. In this book the journalist Childs replicates the migration route the Anasazi travelled from Chaco north to Chimney Rock, east to Mesa Verde and the Utah Canyonlands, and then south through Arizona and back toward Mexico.
I can’t decide which route I should take from Northern California –going North or South from the Bay Area. I haven’t camped for five years and I’m not talking R/V camping but a 2-person tent where the 2nd spot is usually reserved for my 12-year-old Shepherd. But Ele won’t be coming this time. She’s just too frail and elderly.
When I follow the Anasazi migration route in my 2005 Honda Civic, my manuscript of 300 pages will be right next to me in my front seat. I’ll be scribbling, taking notes from the points of view of my characters, Willow and her son, Little Hawk (who becomes RoHnaan from Sundagger.net). They walk the nearly 100 miles from Chaco Canyon to Chimney Rocks, following the Anasazi light-talking mounds, small hills in the high desert where the Anasazi signaled messages from great distances using fire and mica mirrors.
At the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park campground, I’ll face the cracked mesa ridge where Willow waits impatiently for her lover Water Hunter. I’ll walk along Chaco Wash and talk to the crows like she does after Water Hunter abandons her. What would she have seen climbing up Fajada Butte after the despotic Elders to take back her infant son? I’ll see her leave Chaco with Little Hawk years later, sneaking away with a loaded travois and a stray dog.
Their route along the North Road across the desert is gone, just gullies, canyons today. How does the wind feel at night? Will I see the sky crowded with millions of stars that the 12th century Anasazi studied too? Or the bludgeoned skulls of the ancestors that traumatize Little Hawk and his dog inside the Salmon and Aztec ruins?
From Durango in southwestern Colorado, I’ll look for a narrow four mile road leading up to Chimney Rock National Monument. Can I see the Piedras River from the top of the mountain? Watch the Standing-Still Moon rise between the two jagged promontories?
Atop this high, desolate settlement, I’ll surely walk along the First Ridge Mesa to the two stone towers. Like Willow and Little Hawk, I’ll be anxious about seeing Grandmother after all those years she was imprisoned in the tower.
Dear Diary, I have reached the end of you. After my trip to Provincetown that first time, I returned to the cocoon of my junior year at Carnegie-Mellon. From my last entry, September 23, 1964, I see how my spirits are rising “bright and quick” as I realize there was work to be done and I could do it now. Back so long ago I gave myself a job that I still have today. That first journey opened the door.
I just have to open the door a little further, take that trip.
For more about my experiences in Provincetown: