Solstice Celebration sign lit up outside the Richmond Library
The Winter Solstice — a time to honor the promise of rebirth in the dead of winter, the ancient legacy of prayer and hope in the face of the unknown darkness, the sun returning, and the power of Nature.
I’m inviting you to join me at the interactive Zoom Winter Solstice Celebration hosted by the Richmond Public Library, Richmond, CA on December 21, 2020, the day of the Winter Solstice.
I’ll be welcoming this darkest time of the year with music, art, drumming and a book reading. I’ll share astronomy and history, focusing on the Chaco Puebloans known as the Anasazi, the ancient Native Americans of the Southwest who constructed massive buildings aligned with the heavens.
In honor of the Winter Solstice I’m offering a Special 2 for 1 Solstice Bundle of my Anasazi companion novels Sundagger.net and Spiral for a limited time. Buy one and you’ll receive the second book FREE.
Buy the bundle! Two novels for the price of one. SAVE 50%!
+ for just $17.00*
See you on the Solstice! —Margaret
* Offer good through December 31, 2020. Tax and mailing costs not included.
In this time of California fires, the Coronavirus quarantine and Trump, I’m desperate for revelation. When my son, Chris, lends me his voluminous biography of our 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant, written by Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Hamilton and Washington, I open it and begin to read. Why not?
I get no further than the very first page when I realize I’m hooked, eager to learn what’s in the 1073 pages remaining. It’s a bygone era, true, a vastly different life, yet familiar too. Reading about this American president I vaguely recognize from my high school history class, I’m surprised, excited even, to see that here’s someone, strangely enough, I can identify with now. Someone I wish I knew.
Historical textbooks have portrayed Ulysses S. Grant’s terms in office as marked by rampant corruption presided over by a president who spoke only on occasion, had an alcohol problem, little charisma, and was simple-mindedly loyal to duplicitous “friends” in politics. Reading GRANT however, I discover a singular, sensitive man born in the Midwest of pioneer stock, the “son of an incorruptible small-town braggart” and a silent, beloved mother, an expert horseman, a failure at business while brilliant at military maneuvers, who resigned from the army in disgrace. A foe of slavery.
The very first sentence introduces me to Grant who has just left the office of the Presidency. It seems Ex-President Grant is unlike so many other presidents who rushed to publish their memoirs as soon as they departed the White House. No, two-time President Ulysses S. Grant, High Military Commander of the Union Army, who defeated the renown Confederate General Robert E Lee to win the Civil War for Abraham Lincoln, “refused to trumpet his accomplishments in print” and was, in fact, too modest and unpretentious. As Chernow describes it, Grant was a hero in spite of himself. He hated boasting about himself and his wartime accomplishments.
In the middle paragraph, Chernow fast-forwards to 1883 in post-Civil War New York City, where Grant, no longer president, has a crippling accident getting out of a taxi on a snowy night and ends up being a lifelong invalid with “excruciating pain” and the “agonizing onset of pleurisy coupled with severe rheumatism.”
And still on Page 1, Chernow hints at the financial success Grant longed for finally being realized at the end of his life. Ex-president Grant has partnered with a young brash swindler, Ferdinand Ward, and imagines himself a millionaire who will be able to at last provide support for Julia after he’s gone. But then . . .and then . . .while. . .after.
Deep into it now, I experience a small, unassuming man who never wanted to go to West Point, who could fall asleep in the middle of a battle and wake up refreshed, and who had the love and loyalty of the huge Union Army of Lincoln. Who Frederick Douglass called, “the protector of my race.” Grant who sought freedom and justice for newly emancipated slaves both as Commander in Chief and later as President, fighting carpetbaggers and the newly formed Ku Klux Klan. There’s been recent controversy around Julia who grew up in a slave state, in a family with slaves, and Grant keeping one slave, William, for a year, which led to Grant’s statue being toppled in San Francisco. But, as I discover on p. 106, “when it came within his power, Grant . . . filed papers, to “hereby manumit, emancipate and set free said William from slavery forever.”
It was revelatory and comfortingly satisfying to me to learn intimate details of this far-sighted, faithful, loving husband and father whose lifelong love affair was with his four children and his wife, Julia, a fascinating, vivacious woman in her own right, who flourished even at the very end of what became his torturous life.
GRANT, a cliff hanger. And it all happens in fascinating detail, written in pristine language. Somehow it became my life too, embodying my wish for a real president. Now. For the time being, I’ll settle in with Ron Chernow’s GRANT, imagining the man behind the book. And I’ll vote for the next president on November 3rd. So much for wishing.
It’s raining (rare in California in May). I’m in Coronavirus quarantine, bleary-eyed in front of my computer. If I could just get away! I click on a Nextdoor post about a little, free library. I’ve enjoyed looking into these tiny libraries on corners in Palo Alto and Berkeley, in front yards in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, but never saw one in my neighborhood.
The Nextdoor post is an invitation by Sarah and her daughter to come by Lily’s Little Free Library, leave a book and take a book. Take a tiny succulent plant too. How generous, how inviting.
I consider all those boxes of books I have stacked in my office closet. I could easily gift one of those novels. But which? I begin to talk myself out of it. Would Jane Austen have left Pride and Prejudice at a little, free library? Would Charles Dickens leave Oliver Twist? Stephen King Shawshank Redemption? Maya Angelou and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? Besides all my books can be purchased at any bookstore and on Smashwords, Bookshop and my Writewords Press website.
Nevertheless, it’s an adventure into the unknown and an opportunity to take my dog, Laurel, for a walk. I’ll take a drive to this little, free library on Hilltop Green. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a good book to read. I’m feeling better.
I’ve stuffed Spiral, An Epic Adventure in the Ancient Southwest in my purse and Laurel is looking at me eagerly from the back seat of my Honda Civic as I drive off in the rain to 1203 Greenway Drive, Richmond, CA. The GPS says it’s 8 minutes by car.
Despite the GPS, I get lost in this housing development in the Richmond hills, quarantine-quiet this afternoon. Okay, just one more turn, one more dip in the road. There it is, perched on its pedestal across a manicured green park.
Holding Laurel on her leash, I open the little library doors and look through the books. A inconspicuous, grey-toned paperback catches my eye, a coming of age memoir, Ticket to Exile. The title is intriguing, ironic, unforgiving. I see the publisher is Malcolm Margolin of Heyday Books whom I greatly admire for his histories of Native Californians. The author, Adam David Miller seems familiar to me.
“Murray Library” is stamped on the cover and spine. That’s my last name! Inside I discover “Murray Library, 166 East 5300, South Murray, Utah 84107”. Is this an omen? A message? Serendipity?
The cover shows a man’s silhouette in front of a dark house shaded by looming trees; across the bottom is an image of a torn page from a notebook. I’m getting the feeling I know this writer.
Then I remember Adam David Miller, the African-American poet I met at the National Writers’ Union we both attended during the 1990s. I recognize his photo in the frontispiece and am impressed with his bio. I remember Adam as a friendly face at numerous NWU writing events. Paging through his non-fiction story of growing up in the South during the Depression era, I note the quality of the careful prose, the formatting where each chapter is prefaced by a singular poem.
Suddenly the day turns brighter, the grass greener in the rain and I no longer am alone.
I squeeze Spiral between the other books on the top shelf of Lily’s Little Free Library. Adam David Miller’s Ticket to Exile is in my purse now and a tiny succulent in my hand.
Laurel wags her tail, sniffing each tuft of grass as we go through the park. I wonder how a little, free library might work out in my own front yard.
Reading is a gift to yourself. Writing is a gift too. I’ve been struggling to rewrite Deer Xing, a novel I began in the early ’90s, even before the Coronavirus quarantine overturned my daily life.
At my computer today, I experience deep silence and unfathomable time, feeling more pressure and less inspiration than ever to work on Deer Xing. I constantly interrupt myself to check updates on COVID-19, putting off editing the pages stacked in piles all over my desk.
At present Deer Xing is a long, knotted rope of words tied to an old vision. Frustrated by my old story, I imagine a new one shaped by this fearful epidemic, upending us all everywhere. I slash whole chapters, Xing-out characters, freeing me up to see everything—differently.
I take notes looking out my living room window at the four-way crossing on the corner of my emptied street, a concrete desert of unmoving silence, no one driving or walking by.
How to begin again? What would a deer see at a deer crossing?
I think of how my novel Dreamers starts in the green hills of Pittsburgh, PA seen through a young woman’s eyes who imagines Dad loves this city more than he could ever love her.
How Sundagger.net begins when a middle-age, single mother enters a sweat lodge in the Oakland Hills and grapples with Silicon Valley while making peace with ancient spirits in the Anasazi Southwest.
Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, begins in a desert canyon in the Southwest, 12th century A.D, with a teenage girl searching for a hunter she cannot bear to lose.
And my latest, Pillow Prayers, that begins with a photo and a prayer: three women posing in a zen pillow stitchery with its brand new owner, Beth, who imagines a star-twisted prayer, the first of many that follow.
“Every book is a world.” says Gabrielle Zevin, author. In this time of quarantine and isolation, books open our minds and nurture our souls . You can buy Pillow Prayers, Dreamers, Spiral and Sundagger.net in ebook form on Smashwords.com. They can be read on Kindle, computer or another device.
Buy now! Click on Smashwords.Type “Margaret C. Murray” in the Search for books, authors, or series field to select ebooks.
Not satisfied with ebooks? Give yourself the gift of a physical book you can hold in your hands and turn the pages! It’s so easy. Buy here!
Have you ever stopped to watch a butterfly’s soft flight of light and color leaving you with a feeling like falling in love?
Imagine that you can not only watch and feel the butterfly, but hear it as it flits from flower to flower.
Music artist Chris Goslowhas written a song, Butterfly, that takes you to that place.
Every year Chris writes and records a new song on the occasion of his wife Charr Crail‘s birthday.
Butterfly is the most recent of Chris’ songs to Charr, an artist and photographer.
Listen to this home recording with Charr of her birthday song. Butterfly, words and music by Chris Goslow. Performed by Chris Goslow.
Chris Goslow, who is also my son, has accompanied me at my book readings, playing ’60s and ’70s popular music mentioned in Dreamers and Pillow Prayers as well as tracks from his albums Waterfall and The Cherry Rainbow Piano Experience.
Chris also recorded the soundtrack for the videos Stones of Chaco Canyon and My Trip to the War Gods for Sundagger.net and Spiral. For more about Chris and me, see Music, Writing, and Working Together.
Who doesn’t love a good book? Give the gift of WriteWords Press books. It’s easy. Buy here!
Strike! Discovering Our Power! Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019
Sunday December 8th, 10am to 6pm
City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus
Who wouldn’t like to attend a life-changing, fun, insightful book extravaganza in the Mission District of San Francisco for a $5 suggested donation?!
By accident I discovered the Howard Zinn Book Fair last year where I was privileged to show and sell WriteWords Press books to interested folk. That day I also was able to sample outstanding lectures, workshops, readings, and presentations by other small press book publishers and authors. It was a blow-out experience of inspiration and insight for me.
At the Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019 you’ll be able to interact with sixty publishers, booksellers, and grassroots organizations. You can experience dozens of author readings, panels, and workshops. Some of the presenters include voices from The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, The Yellow Vest Movement in France, and the Oakland Teachers Strike.
Believe me, there’s nothing like it anywhere. Here’s just a few of the events at the 1st Session (10:30AM -12PM)!
Click herefor the entire program. I’m aiming to be in that audience exploring The novel as Counter-History.
Do stop by my WriteWordsPress table when you come to the Howard Zinn Book Fair. We can talk of traveling, of the research I did about the ancient Anasazi of the Southwest while writing Spiraland Sundagger.net, of my daydream in the 1960’s that lead to writing (and rewriting) Dreamers, and about my last work, Pillow Prayers, drenched in San Francisco and Berkeley after the Summer of Love.
Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019 Sunday December 8th, 10am to 6pm City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus 1125 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA $5 suggested donation (no one turned away for lack of funds)
“When we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress.” — Howard Zinn
Mark your calendar. You’ll be glad you did. There’s nothing like it anywhere.
“A flower is never opened with a hammer.” — motto of From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops
I have been teaching From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops for over seven years here in the San Francisco East Bay and begin each session with this motto.
You’d think I’d be tired of it by now, considering it old and worn out. Yet each time I say “A flower is never opened with a hammer”, I feel the power of the words, the exquisite truth of flowers, and the awe of seeing a flower open. I feel my heart leap with possibility— for myself and for my students who are like flowers too.
Writing workshops are upcoming in Winter and Spring, 2020.
Would you like to know more about From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops? Do you want to register? Please click here.
I picked up Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles because of the intriguing title. The cover shows a photo of a woman on a horse photographed from behind, her long black hair flying. I wondered if this was a Native American story. Perhaps a fantasy adventure? In the first pages I discover these “enemy women” were mainly white and poor, living in the southeastern Ozarks of Missouri during the American Civil War.
I couldn’t put the book down because of Adele Colley, eighteen years old and first person narrator. A Huck Finn type character, Adele speaks her mind, is eager to know her future. She shuns domesticity, knows she’ll likely be imprisoned by marriage, and worried it might be to the wrong man.
Adele’s father gives her a dun horse she names Whiskey, of mixed straw color, grey and gold with black legs, tail and mane. Whiskey is Adele’s beloved familiar, her best friend and true companion. Adele’s mother died of the fever five years before and her brother, with his withered arm, has fled to the hills to avoid being arrested and shot as the Federal Militia arrest Southern men they consider to be “weeds in the garden of humanity” and punish anyone with Southern sympathies.
Even though the Colley’s are officially “non-partisan”, with regard to the North and South, her father, a justice of the peace, is arrested by the Militia as Adele and her two little sisters watch. The Militia then set their house on fire, burning everything, even food and valuables, and beat her father up before taking him off along with Whiskey, who looks back at Adele as he is led away.
It’s hard to read Enemy Women and pass it off as “just a story” because author Paulette Jiles prefaces each chapter with factual, primary source documents from the Civil War era, thus magnifying the power (and horror) of Adele’s story. I experience every woman’s grief during the American Civil War as if it were happening now, in present time, and not a just as a subject of history. Are we all still stereotyped as “enemy women” now?
This book deserves the five stars I gave it on Goodreads.
From Heart to Paper Writing Workshop Four sessions: Monday evenings: 6:30PM – 8:30PM Dates: 7/8/19 – 7/29/19 Find out more. To Register, click on the Writing is Easy button.
Plus a 5-Day Intensive
From Heart to Paper Intensive Writing Workshop Five sessions: Two Monday & Wednesday evenings: 6:30PM – 8:30PM plus one Saturday morning: 10AM – 12PM Dates: 8/5/19 – 8/17/19
Find out more. To Register, click on the Writing is Easy button.
Click here for recent From Heart to Paper workshoptestimonials.
Expressing yourself in words is a wonder and a joy.
Almost three and a half years ago Maisie was picked up on a road by the El Sobrante local sheriff and taken to the Pinole Pound where I found her. I named my German Shepherd “Maisie” after the dark brown and black, blood-red Manzanita tree she reminded me of when I first saw her curled up in the pound. My dog and I were so close, so happy together.
Maisie and I worked together to save America’s wolves. Wolves are in a dire situation with the Trump Administration intending to drop them from the Endangered Species List. This terrible blow would mean a return to the days when wolves were shot on site and killed in traps. Ignite Change and The Center for Biological Diversity are fighting back with their Call of The Wild campaign and my dog and I were part of it.
Last Saturday at the local Petfood Express the employees were petting Maisie and giving her doggie treats while I collected signed Save America’s Wolves letters to Trump. The store manager even offered to let us sit outside the store entrance with posters, pens and forms.
Then the next day Maisie squeezed through the fence gate when I was not home. When I returned I found a note on my door from a California Highway Patrol officer. Maisie had been hit by a vehicle on the freeway entrance a mile away.
I am grieving and desolate that I could not save my dog. But I can keep working with Call of the Wild and fight to save her endangered cousins, America’s wolves. You can too.