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, I’d like to offer you a gift of my books. You can buy Pillow Prayers, Dreamers, Spiral and Sundagger.net in ebook form for just $1.60. That’s 40% off the list price of $3.99!
My ebooks are available on Smashwords and can be read on any device. Please note this is a limited time offer that expires on April 20th.
Buy now! Click on Smashwords.Type “Margaret C. Murray” in the Search for books, authors, or series field. Select your 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?This holiday season 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.
Hola! I’m back in California now, missing San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Here I am with my new best friends at an art gallery extravaganza for the Day of the Dead.
Alas, we’re all a little worn out. If you’ve seen the Disney movie, Coco, you’ll have a good idea of the Day of the Dead festival. In San Miguel de Allende, I was very fortunate to be invited to stay with an old friend in her sister’s elegant home.
There’s nothing like a live performance of Mozart’s last work, Requiem, to make me feel holiness all around. I took this photo as I sat enthralled in the packed La Parroquia Cathedral in Centro, the center of town, on the night of The Day of the Dead. What a feeling of communion and comfort I experienced with a diverse, appreciative crowd.
A few days later I had a book reading nearby at Garrison & Garrison Books that took place in a charming courtyard. I was surprised to have my audience’s rapt attention as I pointed out details from my Southwest Anasazi books, Spiral and Sundagger.net, with characters whose ancestors clearly would have come from Mexico. Wherever I could, I included actual Southwest artifacts that I’d learned of in my research. For example, in Spiral, Little Hawk, savors a small jar of chocolate that a park guide told me about during my 2015 trip to Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The chocolate shows that Southwest Pre-Puebloans knew of, and traded, with ancient pre-hispanic Mexico as cocoa plants do not grow in the American Southwest.
My last day in Mexico I went on a day tour of ancient pyramid ruins with Albert Coffee, an expert tour guide in the region’s archeology, who spoke of recent findings of human and dog skeletons, a severed head carried hundreds of miles for final interment, and even a young elite, female warrior, all buried in the pyramid complex of Canada de la Virgen (Canyon of the Virgin). The name refers to a geode rock discovered at the site during excavation that broke, revealing an image of the Virgin Mary.
It’s thought there are other pyramids inside this visible one. That day my big accomplishment was to climb the tiered pyramid of the Canyon of the Virgin, just recently excavated. I made it all the way to the top! The rocks were huge and uneven, of sparking limestone. The pyramid itself was built to match the paths of the sun and moon across the sky, much in the same way as the Anasazi aligned their Great Houses in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
I wonder if I’ll ever find words to describe my enchantment with “The Heart of Mexico”, as San Miguel de Allende is called.
If only I could sing like this bird I saw as I was walking along the path of a botanical garden in the hills outside the city.
—Yellow headed blackbird in the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden.
Take a breath. Imagine the deep, quiet, heartbeat of stillness. Breathe in that feeling of Peace.
“life looks forward death looks back life looks forward death looks back life looks . .”
I was planning a trip to Mexico during the week of the festival Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead to see my friend, Rose, when a small bookstore in San Miguel de Allende, whom I had contacted, offered to host a book event for me. Great! I chose Art, Sacrifice & Prayer for the event title because these are such powerful themes in Hispanic Indigenous Mexican culture and so much part of the Day of the Dead.
Preparing for my trip, I go over selections from my novels to read. I expect to read from my new novel, Pillow Prayers. But what about my previous Southwest novels of magic realism, Sundagger.net and Spiral, with characters who could have been ancestors of the families and tourists who celebrate Dia de los Muertos in San Miguel de Allende?
I thought of the time, the spring of 1999, when I went car camping to the ancient ruins of the Four Corners, which had been a dream of mine from childhood. My boyfriend drove his car, so all the way across Northern California, Nevada, and Utah I was free to write, taking voluminous notes about the astounding landscape I saw outside my window.
We drove through the technicolor desert of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, 4,000 years of Native American culture one archeologist called “an outdoor laboratory of our history on earth”. I saw not just potsherds, petroglyphs and pictographs but also the world’s richest deposit of dinosaur bones, fossils 75 million years old, including 25 species of newly discovered dinosaurs. Who left such mysterious art behind? What sacrifices were made to create it? Was this religious art? What did it mean to the artists?
At every historical site of these ancestral Puebloan people,named ‘Anasazi’ (enemy ancestors) by the Navajo, I scribbled in my notebook. My mind was racing with images for my next novel.
We reached Chaco Culture National World Heritage Site in New Mexico, the land sacred to the Pueblo tribes. I saw the Great House, Pueblo Bonito, the largest ruin in North America, five stories high with 600 rooms and 300 kivas, bigger than the Roman Coliseum. It had been built along the axis of the rising sun at the equinoxes. Archeo Astronomy it is called, the study of language in the architecture, building in relation to the stars.
The circular kivas with their foot drums, benches, pottery, and stone-lined vaults below ground, fascinated me.
I learned of the sun dagger phenomenon on Fajada Butte that I could see from the campground, jutting out of the flat desert canyon. On only one day a year, the summer solstice, the sun pierces a carved spiral hidden at the top of this butte. Who carved this timepiece, matching art and stone to the heavens? What did it mean?
Climbing the North Mesa, I stopped by a lopsided tiny house without a roof sinking into the sand. The entrance way suggested a crooked smile while the two window openings peered across time at me with heavy-lidded eyes. A sad-faced house, yet sweet. I imagined a story of sacrifice, art and prayer. Thus Sundagger.net began, a story of one family, two worlds, many lifetimes.
Back home in California, I worked from voluminous notes describing the remains of corn husks, blankets made of turkey feathers and dog hair, silver frogs on jewelry, pottery with parrot images, and much more.
A few years later I wrote the prequel, Spiral. I took another trip, this time by myself, following the same journey I had my characters in Spiral take, traveling North to Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado. I camped beneath the farthest outlier of the Chaco Culture, where an exact, but much smaller replica of Pueblo Bonito was built in 1084 AD and then abandoned soon after. Why? How?
Today, preparing for my reading in San Miguel de Allende, I skim books, marking scenes that show my characters struggling with desire, making art, sacrificing for their dreams, inspired by their prayers. Here’s what I’ve come up with for now.
In Sundagger.net, Sara, a single mother, comes to an Oakland sweat lodge after 9/11 to pray for her missing son, but sees an ancient, shocking vision instead.
In Spiral, Willow abandons her sacred pots in Chaco Canyon to take her son Little Hawk on a dangerous journey where he discovers a circle of skeletons in a tower.
In Pillow Prayers, Love Ruined, Love Found, After the Summer of Love, street artist Ruth finds a place to paint in a zen pillow stitchery in San Francisco, befriending skeptical grad student, Lonnie and the stitchery owner, Beth, maneuvering toward tragedy.
Art, Sacrifice & Prayer
Monday, November 5, 2018. 4:00 – 6:00 pm
GARRISON & GARRISON BOOKS
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
“In Pillow Prayers, the reader is carried along by a mystery that takes aim at both hypocrisy and grace.”—Alice Elizabeth Rogoff, Editor Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, author of Mural and Painting The Cat’s Vision.
“A moving and beautifully cadenced story. Anyone old enough to have lived through the tumultuous, free love, drug and color enhanced ’70s will recognize these characters. You may want to re-read the opening just for the pleasure of the prose.”—Geoffrey Fox, author of A Gift for the Sultan and Welcome to My Contri