Events, General, Readings

A mystery in a new dimension: Bears Ears & Grand Staircase Escalante

Dinosaur's tail embedded in sandstone, Grand Staircase Escalante

I’ve been looking through Sundagger.net and Spiral for scenes to include when I read at my Pinole Library event coming up.  Whatever I choose will include pictographs, petroglyphs and potsherds—clues that point to a mystery in a new dimension at the now threatened Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Parks.

Valley of the Gods, Cedar Mesa, Bears Ears National Park

It was famed Southwest mystery novelist, Tony Hillerman, who penned the phrase “A mystery in a new dimension,” about my novel, Sundagger.net, which I wrote, awestruck, after traveling to the Four Corners area of the Southwest. Tony Hillerman could also have been referring to the magnificent Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Parks with their 4,000 years of Native American culture and more than 100,000 sites of Native American archeology.

 

Holding broken potchards

Bears Ears, the largest park in the United States at 1.9 million acres, was designated a National Monument (Park) by President Obama in 2017 after thirty Native American tribes, including the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Zuni, Paiute, and Apache, advocated for its protection as a sacred site.

“This place is a part of the history of all the Native peoples in this region. It’s like a book for us, and when many tribes have a chapter in this book, it tells us a lot about why we are the way we are. But it’s also part of the history of the peoples of the United States and the world.”— Jim Enote, Pueblo of Zuni

Petroglyphs at Butler’s Panel, Bear Ears National Park

Grand Staircase Escalante National Park, designated by President Clinton in 1996, was envisioned as an “outdoor laboratory.” Here are buried the richest deposit of dinosaur bones in the world, with fossils 75 million years old. So far twenty-five new species of dinosaurs have been discovered.

Dinosaur’s tail embedded in sandstone, Grand Staircase Escalante

But there is great danger that these precious parks will be destroyed. Under the threat of President Trump’s illegal action to gut Bears Ears by 85% and Grand Staircase Escalante by 60%. the National Park land will be ripe for “development”: private mining, fracking, conglomerate agriculture, and industrial off-road recreation. Already an extremely rare dig has been looted.

The pre-puebloan people of my novels Sundagger.net and Spiral known as the Anasazi disappeared by the 13th century, leaving behind their petroglyphs, pictographs and potsherds. We cannot let their mysterious, sacred land disappear too. We just can’t let this happen.

Click on the haunting music video Stones of Chaco Canyon above to experience being awestruck as I was by this very rare and mysterious land.

Upcoming Events

Pinole Library hosts
Hidden Treasure: A Mystery in a New Dimension
with author Margaret C. Murray
reading from her novels Sundagger.net and Spiral
Wednesday, April 11th 6:30- 7:30PM
Pinole Library
2935 Pinole Valley Road
Pinole, CA 94564
510-758-2741


Half-Price Books hosts
Meet & Greet: with author Margaret C. Murray
Wednesday, March 28th 7-9PM 
1935 Mt. Diablo Street (across from Todos Santos Plaza)
Concord, CA     94520

925-288-9060

 

Events, General

A workshop can make all the difference.

My trip to the Southwest lead to SUNDAGGER.NET.
My trip to the Southwest led me to write SUNDAGGER.NET and the prequel, SPIRAL.

Writing workshops have made a difference in my life, sending me on a fascinating journey that allowed me to create my own. I call my workshop “From Heart to Paper” to express the well of deep feeling which writers work from and the fire of creativity which a good workshop kindles.

The first workshop I went to was back in the ’60s when I was a writing fellow at the prestigious Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. You can imagine my glee at being one of only seven writers to live at that iconic artists’ colony all winter.

The P-town workshop had no daily agenda or schedule. We young writers simply wrote away in the luminous snowy landscape of Cape Cod, basking in our singular status. We became more or less friendly, shared our writing as we chose, and met nightly at beer joints to talk, drink, flirt and more. Back then I felt like one of those dreamy, lonely girls with big, haunting eyes in the mass-produced Keane paintings. Oh, how I lusted for the attention of the famous writers who came to the Cape, showing up at parties hosted by local artists. How I envied them their readings, their stacks of autographed books. I desperately wanted to walk in their shoes. Since then, this workshop has haunted me along with the writing world it represented.

Fast forward ten years. I’m married with two children, living in Northern California in a communal house. My housemate and I, loving books and the art of writing, start the Rich & Famous Writers Workshop. Now, decades later, five of us still meet. Why? Because our meetings are full of fascinating literary conversation, inspiring feedback, understanding and encouragement I can trust. It is in this workshop that I salvaged my dreams from Provincetown; here I can perfect the tools to teach my own From Heart to Paper workshops.

A flower is never opened with a hammer.
A flower is never opened with a hammer.

I chose the motto, “A flower is never opened with a hammer” to remind me how important respect, gentleness, patience and the resulting beauty is to fostering creativity. I’m committed to teaching whatever gives writing students space, time, tools and encouragement to focus on their work.

Whether you are a beginning or long-time writer, or reader with a story that haunts you, the From Heart to Paper Writing Workshop is here to support you in writing and completing your work.

From Heart to Paper Workshop Cost, Dates, & Locations

To register for my Elite Writing Workshop, click here.

For more about writers and Provincetown:
Read my blog: Admiration /Envy.
Read my short story: The Poet & the Baby.

Register for a Workshop Now!

Have questions? E-mail [email protected]

Events, General, Readings

If you were at my writing salon . . .

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.

Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon
Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon

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.

The fire and the book remain after the salon.
The fire still burns after the salon is over.     Photo by Vivienne Luke

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!
—Margaret

Events, General, Readings

So you’re curious about attending a Writing Salon

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.

Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon
Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon

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.

The fire and the book remain after the salon.
The fire still burns after the salon is over.     Photo by Vivienne Luke

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!
—Margaret

 

General

Once upon a time, a thousand years ago

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.

The Skull of Persistence by Charr Crail
The Skull of Persistence by Charr Crail. www.charrcrail.com

What does Little Hawk do?  He spits on the skeletons!

 You can download the complete Spiral ebook for only $3.99!

Buy Spiral eBook Here!

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!

Buy Spiral eBook Here!

Read Spiral on your Amazon Kindle, iBook, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, Palm, Desktop Computer or Tablet.

Buy Spiral eBook Here!

General

Live Streaming Talk — Writing Spiral

“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.


Signed by Author to:


Spiral, a novel of magic realism and epic adventure set in the ancient American Southwest

cover by Charr Crail www.charrcrail.com
cover by Charr Crail
www.charrcrail.com

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.

cover by Charr Crail www.charrcrail.com
cover by Charr Crail
www.charrcrail.com

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!


Signed by Author to:



Events, General, Press Release, Readings

The Spirit of a Novel

How to begin writing a novel?

How to keep on writing?

I don’t often think about these questions while I write. Mainly I just keep on in my writing groove, inspired by the vision I had at eight when I read The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner, a teacher turned children’s writer. Did you read that book too? I wanted to write just like Gertrude.

Many Rivers pic
Many Rivers Books & Tea

I started thinking about how I write a novel while waiting for my daughter at Many Rivers Books & Tea, a bookstore on the corner of Main Street in the Sebastopol, CA.  Though it was Sunday, my daughter was at school—she teaches 4th grade this year—preparing the next week’s lesson. We were going to celebrate Annemarie’s birthday by having tea together. But my daughter was late, so I browsed the aisles of books, teas and objects designed to further the bookstore’s mission “to provide customers with tools to support genuine spiritual practice.”

Soon I got into a conversation with Jim Wilson, one of three owners of Many Rivers Books & Tea, that continued until Annemarie arrived. Then we had tea and she bought two bags of rune stones for her class studying medieval England. I got a present too, because Jim invited me to read at the ongoing “Thursday at Many Rivers” event on April 9th, 2015.

So how does writing novels fit in with spiritual tools and spiritual practice anyway? Four words came to me as if displayed across a screen of a Powerpoint presentation: Earth, Sky, Spirit, Story.

I realized I begin a book starting with the earth and write from the ground up.  I write from the place where my characters are, seeing what they see. With them, I look upward to the sky, searching for—call it spirit, a vision—and from that cloud-spun, high unknown space, the story emerges. I do this again and again, beginning in the same way: earth, sky, spirit, story. It becomes a practice.

Decades ago I began writing Dreamers from the vantage point of the cobblestone streets of Pittsburgh during the civil rights upheaval of the 60s. As a streetcar turns the bend in a snowstorm, it smashes into Thomas’ brand new, borrowed Impala, upsetting baskets of newly-clean laundry. It is this seemingly innocuous accident that drives the love affair of Thomas and Annie.

Chaco Culture
Chaco Culture

In my novel of magic realism, Sundagger.net, I compare two deserts, chapter by chapter, matching the actual Anasazi ruins of the American Southwest with the spiritual desert I experienced working as a tech writer in Silicon Valley.

 

SPIRAL front cvr167px
Spiral Coming in April, 2015

 

Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, begins with Willow, a girl coming of age, standing at a dry riverbed, searching Chaco Canyon for a famed hunter with whom she’s desperately in love. From the desert floor, Willow talks to lizards and to crows.

The ancient Anasazi of the Four Corners area, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet, knew the connection between Earth, Sky, Spirit and Story too. All you need to do is to look from their amazing Great Houses to the heavens to realize it; they designed their buildings and created rock drawings to align with the equinoxes and solstices.

Mesa Walls in Chaco Canyon
Mesa Walls in Chaco Canyon

I too followed the same migration route my characters take in Spiralbeginning from the Great North Road, sixty miles long, which you can only see with aerial photography. At my Reading on April 9th at Many Rivers Books & Tea, I’ll share selections from my novels as well as a short videos from my three trips to the Four Corners area, where I explored Chaco Canyon, NM and its furthest, northern outlier, Chimney Rock, CO.

At the top of Chimney Rock, Co
At the top of Chimney Rock, Co

NOVEL WRITING AND MY SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS TO FOUR CORNERS

Earth, Sky, Spirit, Story
with Margaret C. Murray
featuring her upcoming novel, Spiral

Thursday, April 9th, 2015
7:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Many Rivers Books & Tea
130 S. Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472
707-829-8871
www.manyriversbooks.com

                      

General

Mom & Son Interview—music, writing and working together

Chris and I at the Authors' Booth, CA State Fair
Chris and I at the Authors’ Booth, CA State Fair

Recently my eldest son and music artist Chris Goslow and I talked about putting together a special gift bundle that is truly “all in the family.” We decided to offer a book/album package at a big savings for a limited time. Now you can purchase and enjoy my books, Sundagger.net and Dreamers, along with Chris’ albums, Waterfall and I Love You .

In the short interview below, you can see how Chris and I share much in common creatively and are able to work well together.

Want to skip the interview and go right to the bundle? Click HERE .

1. What does this mother-son bundle mean to you?

Sundagger.net, One Family, Two Worlds, Many Lifetimes

Margaret: From as far back as I can remember, I have been writing away at my novels and my son has been playing music. The idea of presenting my fiction and my son’s music together in a fun way is just delightful, even magical.

Chris: Personally, it’s very satisfying for me to support my mom’s creative accomplishments while sharing my own.

Margaret: Four years ago Chris and I offered a Holiday Mother-Son Bundle for the first time, and I loved that experience. I was living up North in Sonoma County and would take the inscribed book and CD packages to a rural post office in Graton, CA driving along beside the apple orchards and vineyards in the green, winter mist. It was so fulfilling to me; I felt one with nature, the season, and my writing life. Back then we each had only one product, but now we both are offering two artistic works–four altogether.  That’s a real achievement!

2. Talk about your working relationship with each other.  Do you often help each other when it comes to creative projects, and if so, how?

Chris: I remember being in grade school and hearing my mom talk about wanting to publish her books. I also had my own creative dreams, so for both reasons it was an especially important issue to me.  Our creative paths have had a lot of parallels, even though obviously I have been focused on music, and she has been focused on writing.  Then again, I also am a writer, and she loves music.  In fact, the main character in Dreamers is also a musician.

Margaret: Yes, I made Annie in Dreamers the violinist I wished I was when I was taking violin in grade school! As for how Chris and I work together,  this year we started having a Monday work meeting via Skype. As usual with most of our collaborations, Chris came up with the idea. The original objective was to discuss our two different teaching careers since we are also both teachers, but we ended up talking about all the parts of our writing and music lives. For example, I’m typing my answers to this interview Q&A today during our Monday Morning Skype Meeting while at the same time talking and seeing Chris on my computer screen! Isn’t that magical!

Dreamers, A Coming of Age Love Story of the '60s

3. Do you find it surprising that you are both artists?  And did you always know you could work together this well?

Chris: It’s not surprising.  It’s just part of my life, always has been.  I always felt an affinity with my mom and a closeness with her as well as a desire to help her be happy.  So the seeds of our working together go back a long way.

Margaret: No, it’s not surprising to me that Chris and I are both artists. The surprising part–the amazing part– is how necessary, how life-changing Chris is to my writing life, and how much a difference he makes. Sharing my writing life with him a practice I don’t want to ever stop. Honestly, it’s astonishing to experience how all my children work together with me and each other.  Chris’ brother, Jonas, is a performing artist too as well as a consummate web designer. Jonas designed this website as well as my Sundagger.net website.  Their older sister is a singer and teacher; Annemarie, with her eagle reader’s eye, was my first copy editor.

4. It’s clear that family is important to both of you.   How does family influence your creativity? For example, do you write about your family, are any of your stories (or songs) based family experiences?

Waterfall, Original Piano Music by Chris Goslow

Chris: Family influences a lot of my art over the last few years.  In fact, my entire I Love You album came about from songs I wrote for my wife, Charr Crail, or about our relationship.  Even my first album Waterfall included mostly piano pieces I originally wrote the first year I met my wife, specifically after she asked me for music that she could use with photography slideshows she was making. So in a sense, both albums are an outgrowth of our relationship.

Margaret: Pretty much all my life I thought I would never write about my family because they were just too ordinary! Maybe that’s why I was so attracted to the ancient Anasazi of the Southwest, the characters in the “old world story” of Sundagger.net. But still I definitely drew from my own experience, using my own family as building blocks. And clearly, Dreamers is laid out against the backdrop of my life growing up in Pittsburgh, PA during the upheaval of the Civil Rights era. I stood on all the street corners the main characters, Thomas and Annie, did. Each contains a description, a voice, or an attitude of my own memories of my family, friends and lovers. Even the dog, Lucky, is based on my sister’s dog!  All the music mentioned in Dreamers are pieces I played or loved myself.

I LOVE YOU by Chris Goslow
I LOVE YOU by Chris Goslow

Buy Our Bundle!

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Diary, Events, General

Dear Diary #7—An Open Door

“The right ending is an open door you can’t see too far out of.”–Michael Ondaatje.

Looking Southwest from Chimney Rock, CO
Looking Southwest from Chimney Rock, CO

Dear Diary,

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.

Map of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Map of Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

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.

 

Inside a Chaco House
Inside a Chaco House

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.

Last Entry
m Last Entry

 

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.

Standing Still Moon, Chimney Rock, CO
Standing Still Moon, Chimney Rock, CO

 

For more about my experiences in Provincetown:

The Poet & The Baby

Admiration/Envy

Dear Diary, General, Journal

Dear Diary #5—Dying for Approval

Dear Diary,

The Scull of Persistence by Charr Crail
The Scull of Persistence by Charr Crail

 

It’s beyond imagining. You would never believe it. I just received an email from my favorite high school teacher praising my novel, Dreamers.

Sister Mary ___ (Alas, she hasn’t yet given me permission to use her actual name) is a nun in the Sisters of Charity religious order. She was only twenty five or so when she became my English teacher. She was funny, smart, and even prettier than the character Amy Adams played in that telling movie, Doubt.

Sister Mary loved literature like I did.  Once I found her after school sitting at her desk next to the window looking out on Sacred Heart Church. She was reading Shakespeare’s MacBeth, in another world, transfixed. I hated to interrupt her but of course I did. I remember she used to pound the floor with her little black shoe as she recited the poetry of Langston Hughes. Yes, Sr. Mary was both wonderful and frightening.

Her email of a week ago flows over me like honey. How thankful am I that she has had the persistence to stay in touch. What a different young woman I would have become back in 1962 if I had carried Sr. Mary’s words in my pocket. At seventeen I would have done anything for her approval. That small Irish-faced nun with twinkly eyes framed by her black Sisters of Charity bonnet held the keys to my fragile self-worth.

Writer with closed mouth
Stitched Mouth by Charr Crail

No, you won’t find anything about Sr. Mary in this diary. By the time I left high school, I had relegated her to the dustbin with all my other memories like old dolls turned ragged, ignored. I desperately wanted to leave everything connected with childhood behind.

Entering college, I put on a dark mask of disillusioned doom, the pose I thought I needed to become a serious author. I spent entire days attending classes without saying a word,  my mouth stitched tight with fear and resistance.  I remember the sensation of walking from class to the streetcar stop on a cold November day and not being able to breathe. By my sophomore year, I was literally dying for approval.

But things change. In my junior year, I signed up for Creative Writing, Playwriting, Poetry, English History and China & the Far East, classes that I found I loved.  Even better, I started to write. A September 1964 entry describes my first attempt at writing a novel.

“The excitement of writing is nerveless; my words are suspended. I have never felt so peace-like. Everything is warm and deeply comfortable to me.”

Hobbyhorse was the title of my first “book”, a florid stream-of-consciousness describing the up and downs of two young lovers told from alternating points of view, a style I just realize I duplicated in Dreamers. In Hobbyhorse, each chapter seesawed back and forth, the characters sifted like fool’s gold from the sluice box of my first experience falling in love.

Suddenly I felt joyful, happy to be alive. My diary for November 12, 1963 reads,  “I don’t even try to deaden my joy. It is slow-moving, calm.

The writer in me
Pondering by Charr Crail

And then another miracle! I found a teacher willing and eager to read my work. Dr. John Hart, English professor from Yale, was a small, thin man with a pronounced limp. Walking across the Tech campus, I’d stop to greet him, He’d be dragging his leg, his jacket blowing in the wind. He had a pale Irish face with a big squashy red nose. A few strands of light hair fell across his brow as he answered my questions in a quiet dreamy way. Each week I’d give him my chapters, typed double-spaced and folded lengthwise. He’d put them in his coat pocket. Oh! how eagerly I pondered his response.

__________________

Excerpt from Sr. Mary’s email:

Congratulations on your beautiful novel, Dreamers!  I love it!  You’ve caught so well the mood of the Sixties—the glories as well as the mistakes, the feelings, the actions, the many causes, and, yes, the dreams.  Your work is excellent, as you must know from the many descriptions on the book cover.  I especially like that by Vicki Weiland.  Your writing is indeed “taut, nuanced, sophisticated, and multi-layered.”  I’m sending your novel to my oldest niece, a psychologist who will understand well the beauty and the anguish of the sixties. I’ll let you know how she reacts.  Meanwhile, I just want you to know how proud I am of you and your work.  You’re in my prayers, now and always.  God bless you—and all those dear to you.

Artwork by Charr Crail
www.charrcrail.com