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

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

Events, General, Press Release

Teaming up with my son: Books & Music Bundle

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,  you can purchase and enjoy my books, Sundagger.net and Dreamers, along with Chris’ albums, Waterfall and I Love You .

Click HERE to see more about the mother & son bundle.

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

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: Three 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, General, Journal

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

Heart Love
Heart Love by Sophie

Reading my very old diary seems like a perfect way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a time for nostalgia and love. Diaries go along with flowers, candy, lace-trimmed red heart-shaped cards, romance, passion, flirting, secrets and wide-eyed innocence.  And diaries are where we reveal our true love. But so far, reading you, dear diary, leads me to just the opposite–shame, embarrassment, and sadness.

It was June 9th, 1962 when I began this diary. I had a new bright yellow Easyrite notebook, all the pages blank. However, I wrote my first entry on the last page, following my penchant for doing the opposite, the unusual, a habit I had perfected.

My Diary, 1962-1964

“BITCH BITCH BITCH,” are the first three words I wrote and now read. The words are in capital letters, underlined three times. I’m sorry to admit that my mother is the object of my fury. Why am I so angry with her? Putting it simply, we had a love-hate relationship.

That June day I was furious because my mother had “banned” yet another of my precious books, yet again torn it up and thrown it in the garbage. The book my mother threw out three days after my high school graduation was Norman Mailer’s “Advertisements for Myself”.  In the first paragraph I made a list of the other books she’d thrown in the garbage can. They included Andre Gide’s “Point Counter Point”, Aldous Huxley’s “Barren Leaves”, Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” and something by Kahil Gibran which might have been saved because his name is crossed it out.

When I realized what she had done, I rushed down the driveway to retrieve the book. I remember those garbage cans standing in the alley at the foot of the driveway behind our newly built two-story red brick house on Fairlawn St. All along the alley were backyards like ours with only a few lawns, mostly coppery, yellow dirt left from the tractors of the construction crews bulldozing this new small subdivision in the East Hills. The street dead-ended at an open woodsy area where I walked my dog and seven years before read the complete Sherlock Holmes in a tree by a stream where violets grew.

Dear Diary, 1st sentence

Oh, I was seventeen and unsatisfied, lovelorn and resentful, rebelling against my parents and their expectations, contemptuous of the status quo. My only recourse was books, their wonderful stories, and from them I fashioned the story I desperately imagined for myself. Obviously, my mother suspected that these books were corrupting me and would not fit me for success. Maybe she blamed the books for my lousy, jaded, faux-superior attitude?  Maybe she wanted her first daughter to be as sweet as those pink, lacy, Valentine cutout cards?

But I had decided I was beyond romance. I had read “Gone With the Wind” too long ago. Now I was desperately yearning for significance, wanting to be grown-up and a real writer too. I think I was hoping that if I were angry or bitter or isolated enough I’d feel as important as the characters Dostoevsky, Hemingway or Charlotte Bronte wrote about. In the poetry of Keats and Sylvia Plath and Dylan Thomas,  I took “love” to mean “loss” and “desire” to mean “despair”.

Everyone knew those Valentine cards were corny, didn’t they?

After I graduated from an all-girls Catholic high school, I felt like I lost my school friends. My boyfriend, with whom I was desperately in love just like those Valentine cards promised, disappeared from my life. I thought I should leave everything I loved behind.  Angry and bitter, hard and brutal were the desirable characteristics of the new adult world I saw I must enter.

Hell. Death. Suffering. These were the important words. On the back of my diary I had printed in a quivery hand three quotes from some famous philosopher that I don’t recognize: “Hell is the inability to love. Death is the inability to hope. Suffering is the inability to believe.” I thought if I could embrace hell, death and suffering, I’d be important too!

But the irony did not escape me. I was nothing if not ironical. I confess, dear diary, all I glean from reading you now is the contempt I felt for myself then. Who dared to care about that bookish seventeen year old girl from the comfortable suburbs of Pittsburgh in no apparent danger or distress?

Dear Diary,  With shame I write in you.
Dear Diary, I write with shame.

I admit I’d love now to read more scenes like my first angry one.  But “BITCH BITCH BITCH” may be the only really compelling line in the whole diary. I don’t know because the truth is I can only bear to read a little at a time. Dear diary, I confess you are boring and repetitive, empty of any meaningful characters or memorable details. Each sentence requires that I step back and forgive myself for my unpleasantness and the insufferable righteousness I claimed for myself while blaming my mother. Such tortured, melodrama! I guess I thought I was a true romantic.

Now I promise to read you. Taking my cue from the Buddhist practice of meditation, I will become aware of all that isn’t said, all that is bungled  or disguised.  Reading you will be my challenge–my practice, like the practice of zazen. Think of me sitting on a pillow,  naming my thoughts and letting them go while I read on.  You, dear diary, hold all I have left of that lonely teenager who was myself. I want to embrace that girl.

Maybe I could fall in love with her.

 

Happy Valentine's Day!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Events, General

From Heart to Paper

Margaret in the Author's Booth, CA State Fair, Sacramento
Author Margaret C. Murray in the Author’s Booth,     California State Fair, Sacramento

Last week I began my first-ever Writing Workshop. It was cold and dark in the parking lot when I arrived at Infusions Teahouse in downtown Sebastopol, CA with my Mac computer, a few books and materials. Why was I here?  I am passionate about writers and the power of words. We writers are translating our hearts to paper (or computer screen) and our work needs to be nurtured. All our work begins in the heart.  If you want to be a player as I do, a writing activist as it were, you want to do more than observe; you want to join in. You need a certain kind of community, a community of literacy.

In my writing workshop I want to build community to explore our written self-expression. To write, we need an audience. And to build the audience, we need to become it. That’s why feedback from our peers is so important. We need a safe place to share our work-in-progress and David Gambil, owner of Infusions Teahouse, offered me that safe place.

The teahouse, a small rectangular room, had one side devoted to a long counter containing exquisite chocolates behind glass fronting a wall of teas. The place was busy, humming and full of customers. All sorts of local people were in animated conversation, reading or deep into their laptops. Three men in heavy coats were talking in big armchairs around a low table. The space I was hoping for in front of the window was taken as was every other chair and table.

What a crowd! I sat down at a round stool at the counter and wondered where we could sit. With all the activity and buzz, would we be able to hear each other talk, not to mention read our work?

Inside Infusions Teahouse
Inside Infusions Teahouse

Soon I found my participants–a poet, a novelist and a writer of interactive adventure ebooks. Minutes later, helpful employees cleared several tables after generous patrons offered their tables as they left.

“Let’s begin by introducing ourselves,” I said when the four of us were facing each other by the window. Why were they here? The responses were moving, exciting and inviting. What were their intentions for this workshop?  Really, there was only one, repeated over and over, using phrases such as “committed to the work”,  “need to finish” and “get my work out into the world”.

I brought up the different writing genres and mentioned how skill in one genre leads to skill in another. We talked about the origins of my two novels, Sundagger.net and Dreamers as well as the non-fiction travel memoir of living on a boat in the Bay by Shelley Buck, Floating Point. One participant read aloud the magical poem, The Dove by famed songwriter, Leonard Cohen, which I had copied from Everyman Library Pocket Poets.

Quoting the truism that 80% of writing is reading, I showed two novels I had read recently and couldn’t put down. You remind me of me, by Dan Chaon, is a story about the power and pitfalls of family and adoption. I quoted the author from his interview at the end of the book, adding that his experience resonates with me: i.e., Dan Chaon’s belief in the power of story and how he starts out with a title only and “dreams” himself into the story.

The other book I just read was How to Buy a Love of Reading, by Tanya Egan Gibson, a very literary, quirky-punk coming-of-age story of an unhappy teenager from a wealth, dysfunctional family. The chapters are divided into Setting, Plot, Devices, Backstory, Theme, Time and Tense, and Point of View in that order. You can find out more in my review on Goodreads.

Additionally these novels appealed to me because of how and where I found them–not through national bookstore chains or media publicity but at a grassroots level. I had met the author of one at the Northern California Storytellers Festival while my favorite librarian at the Hercules Library recommended the other.

Now we had arrived at the heart of my workshop–the writing itself. One courageous woman brought her poems, explaining their context and what kind of feedback she was looking for. We listened as she read a few aloud to us several times.

We discussed the poems while the writer took notes. No questions were asked of or answered by the writer. It was as if the writer were not present. Why? I explained to the group that this way no writer is put on the spot and does not need to defend her work.  More importantly, she has the space to actually hear how her writing is being received. Also, the group can compare, question or respond to each other’s impressions, feeding each other’s responses and building on them, rather than directing every comment back to the writer. New ideas are generated in this spirit of brainstorming and the entire group becomes committed to having the piece (in this case, her poetry) be as successful as possible, as opposed to merely criticizing or pointing out limitations.  Of course, at end of discussion, the writer is free to reply or not and free to take whatever she can use from our feedback. Honestly, our poet was thrilled with the feedback of the group. I know this because she emailed me later.

We ended up with a short 7-minute writing assignment on the subject of age (a topic brought up regarding our own ages related to point of view).  Each of us chose an object we could see around us in the teahouse to include in the writing about age exercise.

At the end, I let everyone  know that  any work they wanted to submit could be emailed to me and reposted to the group. In addition, I would provide written comments on their drafts. Next Wednesday we would meet at 6:30 p.m., an hour later.

Timer and Empty Teacup at Infusions
Timer and Empty Teacup at Infusions

 

Leaving, I felt so grateful, so inspired. My first From Heart to Paper Writing Workshop was a success!


 

Events, Journal

Once upon a time we were in Yosemite

My solstice writing workshop at Yosemite was sweet! We sat on huge granite boulders outside the Sierra Club’s Le Conte lodge, beneath the hot afternoon sun. I began by drumming, mimicking the sun. (Did you know the sun’s center acts like a huge pulsing drum? See the recent KQED special, Journey into the Sun.)

The participants and I conjured up images, words, phrases and paragraphs about the sun, the earth, and we humans who measure and make meaning from the solstice and the heavens itself. Our imaginations flowed like the Merced River across the road.

As the sun crossed the sky and the wind came up, we moved from the wooded, rocky hillside behind the lodge to the river’s edge and then back to where we began. I ended by drumming. We all had written something we wanted to tell.

Two high points for me were the creative writing skills of the participants and the opportunity of having my books for sale at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village. As I told one of their cheery employees, I am honored to have my novel in a gallery named for the great nature photographer and friend of John Muir. Plus the place is jumping!

GREAT NEWS! Now you can buy Sundagger.net to download to your computer, Kindle, iPhone or any other e-reader.
Buy my book for $4.95

General

“Keep writing. Stay healthy.” —Tony Hillerman

The famed mystery writer of the Southwest wrote that advice to me the last year before his death at 83 in 2008. In a note to him, I  had been complaining, whining really, about my writing life. “Keep writing, stay heathy,” he wrote back. This is my mantra when I feel confused, at loose ends, or discouraged with my work.

I wonder if renown writer J. D. Salinger had taken this advice, he would have experienced life differently. When he died at 91 in 2010, Salinger was possibly the world’s most renown and most successful literary recluse. “Hermit Crab,” Time magazine dubbed him. Here was somebody who was up there with the Grammy winners in star power and prestige, yet seemed cursed with the dismal personality of old Scrooge.

Back in the ’60s when I read Catcher in the Rye, my teenage heart beat along with Holden Caulfield’s. I was the catcher, those sheep; I was the rye too. J.D. Salinger was my writing hero along with Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde and Dostoevsky (No females in that short list, alas, but that is another story.)

Unlike Tony Hillerman who wrote 29 mysteries set in Navajo country, Salinger wrote one novel, a phenomenal success that he disdained, and three small volumes of short stories–then nothing else for 45 years.

By all accounts, J.D. Salinger was a phenomenal writer who refused his success. Was he was sick with self-loathing of his own genius, his own work? He must have felt he had no choice. He must have done his best from inside the worm of his illness.

But he did take one piece of Tony Hillerman’s advice. His wives and daughters say he wrote all that time. What did he leave us? I am dying to read it. Maybe that’s all he wanted–fans dying to read him. Maybe that’s why he shunned his fame and adulation. To keep us hungry.

Life is strange, wouldn’t you agree? Keep writing, stay healthy.
Thank you, Tony Hillerman.