Events, General, Readings

Talk-story in Boulder Creek

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

January’s  a good time for a “talk-story”. This coming Thursday evening (1/12/12) I’ll be at the Luminescence Day Spa in Boulder Creek, CA, drumming and reading from Sundagger.net and Dreamers. If I’m lucky and the stars are aligned, I’ll see a few of you book lovers there too. Perhaps some dreamy mystics or intellectual woodsmen and woodswomen will come to Luminescence from the redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains or those wild, lonely beaches north of Santa Cruz.  Whatever place  you come from matters, doesn’t it?

Settings–places–are very important to me.  Pittsburgh. Africa. California.  For years I’ve kept a torn piece of paper on my dresser. It reads, “Wisdom resides in places–Basho.”  It grounds me somehow, reminding me to honor the place where I am.

As you listen to my talk-story, you’ll be visiting: Oakland, CA; Chaco Canyon, New Mexico;  Sunnyvale, Silicon Valley, CA; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and New York City.

The sun is also an important theme in my talk-story. I’m seeing a lot of mild, sunny days in Northern California so far this January. But still the sun is a terrible power, as I’ve just experienced. Unhappily, I got sunstroke a month ago after swimming in the Indian Ocean in Durban, South Africa–and it was a gray, cloudy afternoon too.  I turned into a dehydrated limp vegetable for a day or two, but recovered by drinking gallons of sugar & salt water, prescribed by my sister, Mary Pat Brennan. She has been in South Africa working with the Peace Corps for over two years. Her doctoring worked. I’m better.

The sun’s a main character of Sundagger.net, a novel of one family, two worlds and many lifetimes. The title comes from an actual occurrence in Chaco Canyon where sunlight, shaped like a dagger, pierces a spiral cut in stone.

Sun at Winter Solstice Framing Spiral

From the sun dagger phenomenon, it’s apparent that the sun was revered, and likely worshipped, by the primitive Anasazi of the Southwest. In the old world story of Sundagger.net, the Anasazi main character, RoHnaan is charged to spy on the nefarious elders to make sure they are performing the sun dagger ceremony correctly so that the drought will end and rain will come.

We post-moderns of 2012, addicted to electronic media as we are, also idolize the sun. Do we even realize that the sun drives the technology that powers the Internet?

The telecom industry of Silicon Valley, CA,  is the setting for the new world story in Sundagger.net. Rowan, a driven network analyst at the telecom giant,TekGen (and a bastard reincarnation of RoHnaan), stumbles onto a vision he does not understand with a family he does not deserve but desperately tries to keep.

Check out Journey Into the Sun on YouTube for more leading edge sun technology. Sometimes it takes more than one lifetime. Now there’s a talk-story to explore. Maybe we’ll get to that too. See you soon.

Ruins of Great Houses, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

 

General

I’m bringing back Africa again

As I wrote yesterday, I just returned from a trip to South Africa with my two sons. I wish I could do it over again, not to change anything or do it differently, but because I still want to be there.  So today I’m bringing back Africa again.

Chris, Margaret, and Jonas at Kruger Gate

First I’m bringing back tolerance for myself for sending out an old, outdated email last evening to you, my readers, by mistake. The email was to be an introduction to this web post but instead it announced my Dreamers book launch of last month. I’m sorry! The forgiveness I’m intending for myself goes beyond this incident, this small self-involvement. I’m really talking about, bringing back if you will,  the tolerance–the forgiveness–shown by South Africans I met, a freedom and lightness I saw in their eyes. It was everywhere–in the malls we stopped at, the restaurants we ate at, in the small stores in Ladysmith and Durban. Often I was asked where I came from.  When I answered “United States”  or “California”, I was asked if I minded being hugged. Of course not!  I love being hugged!  “If I could only put my foot in America once,” I heard one young grocery clerk say.

It was amazing to see so much faith and tolerance in light of South Africa’s legacy of apartheid, colonization, imperialism, and slave trafficking by people of every color and background. And this terrible legacy is amplified by the present AIDS/HIV epidemic.

Baby Monkey Clinging to Mother with Relative

I visited the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, a work of art and monument to Life by Skin Color, a different life for each.  As you enter the museum, you randomly pick a ticket that identifies you as white, colored or black. Then you go through the door that matches your ticket. Even though I had shown the movie, Invictus, when I taught English Composition to college students a few years ago, this one visit to the Apartheid Museum taught me so much more–how the Africans and their wise leaders like Nelson Mandela stood up over and over again, evolving into tolerance and inclusion–democracy–over the last century and how they stand tall today in forgiveness for the past injustices.

I’m bringing back Peace too from Africa–the peace that happens when you have nothing you have to do except watch a hippo slowly walk across the sand, one huge foot at a time, and slowly lower itself into the Letaba River. The hippo will stay submerged in the cool water  like this all day with only its two round humps of eyes showing and you can stay too, just watching, just being there. Or wherever you are right now, watching hippo eyes.

Giraffe Stepping Out

I’m bringing Happiness, the feeling you had as a child, the kind that makes you laugh at anything, like when you turn the corner and come upon a group of six young African maids in crisp, laundered uniforms at the foot of the stairs in a Polokwane hotel. They laugh aloud when you tell them they look pretty, and say you look pretty too, making tears come to your own eyes then and whenever you remember that hot morning, that corner of the stairs, those lovely dark faces laughing with you.

And  Awe, the majestic sensation of watching a pride of  lions saunter by in a line. You count them one-by-one, ten lions in all, pacing intentionally and very slowly along a grassy ridge at dusk. “They’re hunting,” says the expert Kruger Park guide. “The females are taking the young males out for their first hunt.” You realize you aren’t breathing and make yourself take a breath. You can do it now.  Just breathe.

Mother Elephant Shielding Baby

Of course, Gratitude, the abject gratefulness of a privileged American, getting what Africans have in their bones, their acceptance of life, of how close we are, all of us, to each other and to the animals. How amazing to realize we both love and protect our offspring. You know that when you repeatedly see adult elephants, giraffes, and white rhinos in the bush hover over those fabulous curious babies of theirs. You watch the adults stay close to their young, guiding them away from the road and you, sitting in rented cars, jeeps and SUVs, exclaiming and holding out your cameras or cell phones, attempting to capture it all forever.

If only I could experience the whole epic adventure again..and again..and again. Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. How fortunate I am it was mine.

Jonas Playing Guitar for the Children in Roosboom, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

 

Events, General, Press Release

I’ve brought back Africa with me

I just returned from a trip to South Africa with my two sons. I wish I could do it over again, not to change anything or do it differently.  Yet..if only I could experience the whole epic adventure again..and again..and again.

Chris, Margaret and Jonas

In the meantime I’ve brought Africa back with me.

By that I mean I’m intending Peace–the peace that happens when you have nothing you have to do except watch a hippo slowly walk across the sand, one huge foot at a time, and slowly lower itself into the Letaba River. The hippo will stay submerged in the cool water  like this all day with only its two round humps of eyes showing and you can stay too, just watching, just being there. Or wherever you are right now, watching hippo eyes.

Kruger National Park
Giraffe stepping out

I’m intending Happiness, the feeling you had as a child, the kind that makes you laugh at anything, like when you turn the corner and come upon a group of six young African maids in crisp, laundered uniforms at the foot of the stairs in a Polokwane hotel. They laugh aloud when you tell them they look pretty, and say you look pretty too, making tears come to your own eyes then and whenever you remember that hot morning, that corner of the stairs, those lovely dark faces laughing with you.

Baby monkey clinging to mother, with relative watching

I’m intending Awe, the majestic sensation of watching a pride of  lions saunter by in a line. You count them one-by-one, ten lions in all, pacing intentionally and very slowly along a grassy ridge at dusk. “They’re hunting,” says the expert Kruger Park guide. “The females are taking the young males out for their first hunt.” You realize you aren’t breathing and make yourself take a breath. You can do it now.  Just breathe.

Mother and baby elephant out for a walk

And finally  Gratitude, the abject gratefulness of a privileged American, getting what Africans have in their bones, their acceptance of life, of how close we are, all of us, to each other and to the animals. How amazing to realize we both love and protect our offspring. You know that when you repeatedly see adult elephants, giraffes, and white rhinos in the bush hover over those fabulous curious babies of theirs. You watch the adults stay close to their young, guiding them away from the road and you, sitting in rented cars, jeeps and SUVs, exclaiming and holding out your cameras or cell phones, attempting to to capture it all forever.

I’m bringing back Africa with me. Yes, it was the trip of a lifetime. How fortunate I am it was mine.

Jonas playing guitar for the children

 

General

I’m picking up the chocolates!

Tonight I’m driving into Sebastopol to pick up the chocolates for my Dreamers book event tomorrow. Yes, I’m going all out showcasing my new novel, Dreamers, with dark chocolate, live music, and authors Shelley Buck and Alice Rogoff reading with me. It would be great to see you there too.

Dreamers Book Launch
November 10, 2011, 12:30 – 1:30PM
Alexander Book Company
50 Second Street, San Francisco

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

It’s the 1960s in America at the height of the Civil Rights showdown. Street-savvy Thomas, desperate for stardom, meets music student, Annie, desperate for love. To impress his struggling family, Thomas drives a flashy borrowed car home to Pittsburgh and is involved in a minor accident. What was a fender bender in a Christmas storm escalates into a confrontation with police and he becomes a fugitive.

In the suburbs, Annie evades yet another Christmas family fight by going to the theater, bumping into Thomas afterwards and mistaking him for the star. They’re both in the wrong place at the wrong time. But they’re dreamers. 

Events, General, Readings

I’m grateful for Bernard, my Dreamers launch bookstore manager

Alexander Books, your Indie bookstore in downtown SF

There’s a bumper sticker that reads, “What are you grateful for?”  I’m grateful for my Dreamers launch bookstore events manager. I met Bernard three years ago when I called the Alexander Book Company to see if I might have a book reading (my first ever for Sundagger.net). When I called him this year in July, Bernard said yes again, yes to the book launch, to music, to gourmet chocolate, and to including two more authors, Shelley Buck and Alice Rogoff. Yes, I’m grateful.

This last Friday I met Bernard at the NCIBA (Northern California Independent Booksellers Association) event in Oakland, CA a few streets over from the Occupy Oakland protest, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street.  Michael Moore had just spoken to us at the NCIBA. He began his talk with some inspiring observations of the Occupy Oakland encampment where he had been barely 30 minutes before, emphasizing the power and inherent hope of democratic protest. His words about the value of books and education, the lack of which leads to fear and manipulation by Wall Street and their corporate employers, really struck a chord with me.

Bernard was on his cell phone when I walked up to him at the Marriott.  A day before, we had made plans to connect after Moore’s talk, but I had left my cell phone in my car. Bernard laughed when I told him how glad I was I could recognize him after so long. Not so hard, he said, referring to the fact that he was one of a very few black men in the audience.

Michael Moore speaking at Occupy Oakland

We both agreed we were high, inspired by  Moore’s talk and OWS movement in general. Speaking for myself, I was higher yet to be with Bernard again. I wanted to give him copies of Dreamers to display in Alexander Book Company’s front window. But I had mistakenly left several books in my car at my friend, Pat’s house where I was staying that night. In fact, it was Pat who Bernard was talking to. Pat was calling to make sure Bernard and I would not miss each other and to let me know he was waiting outside in his SUV with more copies of Dreamers.

I felt so grateful when Bernard said he was hoping to sell all the books I gave him. He asked if I could I get him more? YES! I nearly screamed. When I thanked Bernard for all he was doing, he told me emphatically that anyone who comes into Alexander Book Company comes into his home. Suddenly I felt like I was part of his family.

“You are really a friend,” I told him, hanging over his shoulder, thinking of my book launch and Bernard greeting me on November 10th at the Alexander Book Company.  I’m grateful. What are you grateful for?

 Free! Come to Alexander Books for the Dreamers launch next Thursday and mention this post to receive a free Sundagger.net ebook. Just for you!

Dreamers Book Launch
November 10, 2011
12:30 – 1:30PM
Alexander Book Company
50 Second Street (Between Market & Mission) 
San Francisco, CA 94105
Tel: 415-495-2992

Events, General, Readings

A man hands an envelope to another man across a table–The Sinister Pig

So begins The Sinister Pig (2003) by the late Tony Hillerman, famed mystery writer of the Southwest. The beginning is very simple–a man hands an envelope across the table of a small cafe. The setting is Navajo Country but it could be anywhere, anytime. How mundane. How ordinary. How easy to read. This vintage Tony Hillerman beginning fascinates me–it’s deceptively simple. By the end of the first page, we are in the midst of a high-level corruption and mysterious intrigue.  In my book readings at the Sonoma County libraries on October 14th, November 2nd and 5th, I’ll be talking about this and other beginnings of Tony Hillerman mysteries.

How apt, how perfectly Tony Hillerman’s titles reflect the themes too–By page 9 of Sinister Pig we learn that the term comes from “porc sinistre”, a French phrase for “the boss pig in the sty–the one that would guard the trough and attack any animal that tried to steal a bite.” So how does the title fit in? The man who takes the envelope is someone Slate plans to hire, an ex-CIA agent whose job will be to sniff out who is syphoning oil from a pipeline system, thereby bypassing paying the $40 billion dollars in royalty money into the Interior Department’ trust fund for the Indians.

Ahh, now we know what’s in the trough and who profits by it–the federal government and those underlings who work it. We also know who doesn’t profit–another telling Hillerman theme–Native American history. Not to mention his knack for describing the big picture and the lay of contemporary United States of America where power (and crime) reside with the wealthy and their dishonest corporation underlings, and where the “War on Drugs” means war on its victims and “Protecting the Border” means hoarding the trough of addiction.

The envelope the man hands across the table is full of papers documenting a forged identity for the soon-to-be ex-CIA agent.  We only know him by his assumed name. But don’t worry, we needn’t remember it because, even with his past experience and the fifty thousand Slate transferred to a forged bank account to bankroll him, it isn’t enough to prevent this agent from being murdered by the end of the first chapter.

Which brings me to another characteristic of Tony Hillerman–murder is executed in the blink of an eye, a turn of the sentence, almost a bloodless and ghostly affair. I’ll be talking about his depiction of crime, murder and its victims too.

Now let’s look at his characters. They’re all familiar to us–Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, the retired “legendary lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn, and Chee’s down-in-the mouth girlfriend, Bernadette Manuelito, who has recently taken a job as a Customs Control Officer, posted on the Border to Mexico just to get away from Chee. Hillerman’s characters are like family–quirky, stubborn, true-to-life, and long-suffering. Mostly they’re downright sympathetic. After all, we know them well and we’re rooting for them. We believe he is rooting for them too.

In an organic way, The Sinister Pig promotes Native American values through the characters and also through the action; but how many of us know what these values are? The climax of my novel Sundagger.net happens during a vision quest in New Mexico, but I myself didn’t really understand how Native American tribes of the Southwest would view a vision quest ceremony until Tony Hillerman advised me in his letters. At the library event, I’ll be reading scenes from Sundagger.net that illustrate how I made use of his advice.

Then there are all those other Tony Hillerman themes: his sonorous desert landscapes, the technical specifics of industries such as natural gas and oil, all those pipelines, and his stylistic brilliance in using metaphor, understatement and cryptic dialogue to further an increasingly complex plot. We can talk about this in The Sinister Pig and other Hillerman novels.

So come join me at a Sonoma library and bring your favorite book or excerpt. Read a paragraph or two aloud. The anniversary of his death is coming up this month. Let’s all enjoy and commemorate Tony Hillerman together.


 

 

 

General

I dare you to laugh at this story–City of Thieves by David Benioff

City of ThievesCity of Thieves by David Benioff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a story that you don’t dare laugh at–but you will. Beyond that, it is a rare book, a little masterpiece, an amazing story that takes place on the border between hope and despair. But I wonder about the title, by which I mean, is City of Thieves the best title to convey the power of the book?

Sure, it’s clear the city of thieves is Leningrad (the old St. Petersburg or “Piter” as it’s described in this novel). Reading, I experience Leningrad in 1942 as a city of destruction, starvation and horror–but this story is so much more than the suffering that takes place. Hand in hand with suffering is comedy, written in a way that dilutes neither. The story mixes brutality and cruelty with lighthearted everyday, ghoulish reality, scene by scene, luring the reader with hope that a miracle will take place.

With the backdrop the horrifying siege of Leningrad by the German army in WWII, David Benioff tells the tale of two state “criminals” trying to save their own lives. Captured by the Russian army for unrelated and irrelevant “criminal activities”, their only way to save themselves is to please the Russian commander by finding eggs for his daughter’s upcoming wedding. Given there’s not even one live chicken left in the besieged city, this is an epic and doomed order.

Kolyna’s the extroverted movie star type, a Russian soldier himself and deserter with blond hair, high Cossack cheek bones and blue “Aryan” eyes. He is writing a fake Russian novel. In the week during which this novel takes place, he becomes best friends with a 17 year old looter,Lev Beniov (notice the last name similarity to the author) a Jewish runt with a big nose and acne who steals a knife from a dead German and ends up killing two live ones. Lev’s the son of a famous agitator poet, a virgin and a superior chess player. By any odds, these two shouldn’t have even lived through the week and yet –I won’t give it away, but one thing you have to know, they do find a live chicken–it  turns out to be a rooster. Just suffice it to say everything these two friends do is completely believable. And so is Vika, the crack shot woman sniper, who joins them for the finale (and the prologue).

This novel is unique; I can’t think of a single title to do it justice. So just leave it City of Thieves. On every page I read I realized that life is amazing, any life, and moreover, it’s so funny in a deep and deadly way.

View all my reviews

Events, General, Readings

Honoring Tony Hillerman

If you‘re like me, you loved all the Tony Hillerman books.  To honor this famed mystery writer of the Southwest, I’m having library readings at Sonoma County libraries and I’d like to invite you.  As you see, I already had one reading event on September 16th–thank you to everyone who came. It was inspiring!

Margaret C. Murray Reading in Honor of Tony Hillerman

Tony Hillerman (May 27, 1925–October 26, 2008) was an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels set in the Southwest. I was very honored that he agreed to endorse my first novel, Sundagger.net, an endorsement that appears on the cover of my book.

When I had finished writing my first draft of Sundagger.net, set in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, I wrote to him to ask his opinion and thus began a correspondence that lasted until he died. I think of him as my teacher, my mentor, and my ally.  As a writer in the world, I want to be how Tony Hillerman was with me–funny, open, giving, generous, very knowledgeable, encouraging, and insistent on practice as the key to success. “Keep on writing” he told me in his letters more than once.

Tony Hillerman influenced me long before I wrote Sundagger.net. In particular, I was drawn to his stark, evocative descriptions of the Four Corners area where the four Southwest states converge–New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. There he set his Jim Chee-Joe Leaphorn mysteries, dipping in and out of  Navajo and Hopi landscapes to unveil and eliminate crime.

Tony Hillerman was the master of crafting a fascinating story. For me, all these 29 books were an “easy” read, pure enjoyment, that put me in touch with the pleasure of life. His Native American characters especially were quirky, comfortable, the kind of down-home people you could relate to–at times grumpy, jealous, self-serving, duty-driven, burdened with work, love lost, but in the end, bigger than all that and always very human. And women held a place of honor and respect.

All the Tony Hillerman mysteries unveiled a Native American point-of-view that opened my eyes to a different, deeper world. Touching on reservation life, they described traditional Navajo ceremonies and medicine men, attitudes toward death and burial, as well as political and social issues that affect us all in the bigger community, for example, the stealing of antiquities, illegal aliens, drug dealing across borders, and the embezzlement of billions owed by the federal government to the Indian nation.

Each book embraced a dimension I can only describe as quietly spiritual, based on venerating the magnificence of sky and earth. This was recently illustrated in a new coffee-table photography book, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, written by his daughter, Anne Hillerman, that I refer to in my reading events.

Here’s a letter Tony Hillerman wrote me that I display on an overhead projector. In it, he points out different attitudes of the Navajo about modern individuality based on their Changing Woman origination story. What Changing Woman might think of a vision questAfter receiving this letter, I revised a chapter in Sundagger.net where a group from the San Francisco area set out on a camping trip to experience a vision quest of their own and end up in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, home of the ancient Anasazi. During my event, I talk about the letter and read sections from the chapter.

Please join me to honor a master of story-telling.

You are  invited to bring your favorite Hillerman book–and  to read an excerpt aloud to our audience.

Hope to see you at the library!

FREE AND OPEN TO EVERYONE.

 

General

It’s all about relatives & music this Saturday

It’s about relatives and music at my event coming up. I know the music by Chris Goslow will be fabulous. As for me, I want to conjure up relatives, blood and adopted, sane and crazy, good and bad. Here where it’s going to happen:

Saturday, September 10th, 6:30-8:30 PM
Infusions Teahouse
@ Whole Foods Center
6988 McKinley Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472

I’m looking for relatives, yours and mine, as I practice reading from Sundagger.net and my brand new, upcoming Dreamers into my tape recorder, trying on characters and scenes as if they were dresses, hoping for the perfect ones.

I’ll start with mothers and sons in Sundagger.net. On the first page, Sara McLelland, a mother of a grown son and a teenage daughter, arrives at an Indian sweat lodge. Sara feels at home there. Two Crows, the sweat lodge leader, greets her with the Lakota welcoming words, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” which means “All my relations.” This speaks to Sara. She feels comfort that we are all relatives and send prayers for her son, Dan, who is traveling in the Middle East in the wake of terrorist threats after 9/11.

I could read a scene about mothers and daughters too. I’m thinking of when Sara takes her teenage daughter, Elana, on a weekend trip. In a swimming pool on the beach in Southern California, Sara learns more about her daughter and herself than she is prepared for, seeing Elana in a new and vulnerable way.

And I have to read from Dreamers, a dangerous romance of the ’60s. It’s full of relatives. I’ll begin with the Prologue. Annie sits in the Pittsburgh airport waiting for her long lost love to come through the Arrivals gate, reconnecting with herself, her memories and especially her father.

I must include birthdays too–My last selection will be when Annie gives her father a present on his birthday, the same day as Mozart’s, and shares some news Dad welcomes without having any idea what it really means.

There’s so much to choose from–So many relatives! So much music!  What a night.

Maddingly clever, soothing and entertaining music
by pianist and music artist Chris Goslow.

 

 

 

Sundagger.net, a story of one family, two worlds, and many lifetimes.

 

 

 

 Dreamers, an interracial romance of the ’60s.

Events, General, Readings

Special Event Music & Reading at Infusions Teahouse

Someone close to you just have a birthday? My granddaughter, Emma,did. Her mother is having hers next Saturday. Someone in your family getting married soon? Having a baby? Leaving home? Someone starting school? Emma’s starting kindergarten and her big sister Sophie’s going into second grade. Maybe this sounds a little like your family. We all have relatives.

Let’s celebrate with a Special “All My Relatives”Musical Event & Reading at Infusions Teahouse. Come join Chris Goslow and me. Relax and enjoy dinner, fine tea and chocolate during an evening of music and readings featuring performances by musical entertainer Chris Goslow and Sebastopol’s own, author Margaret Murray.

Saturday, September 10th
6:30-8:30PM
Infusions Teahouse
at Whole Foods Center
6988 McKinley Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472
707-829-1181

Maddingly clever, soothing and entertaining music
by pianist and music artist Chris Goslow.

 

 

Margaret Murray reading from Sundagger.net,
a story of one family, two worlds, and many lifetimes.

 

 

 

Plus sneak preview reading from her new novel Dreamers, an interracial romance of the ’60s.

Free Gravenstein Apples at the door!