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.
“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.
“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
Dinosaur's tail embedded in sandstone, Grand Staircase Escalante
I’ve been looking through Sundagger.net and Spiral for scenes to include when I read at my Pinole Library event coming up. Whatever I choose will include pictographs, petroglyphs and potsherds—clues that point to a mystery in a new dimension at the now threatened Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Parks.
It was famed Southwest mystery novelist, Tony Hillerman, who penned the phrase “A mystery in a new dimension,” about my novel, Sundagger.net, which I wrote, awestruck, after traveling to the Four Corners area of the Southwest. Tony Hillerman could also have been referring to the magnificent Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Parks with their 4,000 years of Native American culture and more than 100,000 sites of Native American archeology.
Bears Ears, the largest park in the United States at 1.9 million acres, was designated a National Monument (Park) by President Obama in 2017 after thirty Native American tribes, including the Navajo, Hopi, Ute, Zuni, Paiute, and Apache, advocated for its protection as a sacred site.
“This place is a part of the history of all the Native peoples in this region. It’s like a book for us, and when many tribes have a chapter in this book, it tells us a lot about why we are the way we are. But it’s also part of the history of the peoples of the United States and the world.”—Jim Enote, Pueblo of Zuni
Grand Staircase Escalante National Park, designated by President Clinton in 1996, was envisioned as an “outdoor laboratory.”Here are buried the richest deposit of dinosaur bones in the world, with fossils 75 million years old. So far twenty-five new species of dinosaurs have been discovered.
But there is great danger that these precious parks will be destroyed. Under the threat of President Trump’s illegal action to gut Bears Ears by 85% and Grand Staircase Escalante by 60%. the National Park land will be ripe for “development”: private mining, fracking, conglomerate agriculture, and industrial off-road recreation. Already anextremely rare dig has been looted.
The pre-puebloan people of my novels Sundagger.net and Spiralknown as the Anasazi disappeared by the 13th century, leaving behind their petroglyphs, pictographs and potsherds. We cannot let their mysterious, sacred land disappear too. We just can’t let this happen.
Click on the haunting music video Stones of Chaco Canyon above to experience being awestruck as I was by this very rare and mysterious land.
Pinole Library hosts Hidden Treasure: A Mystery in a New Dimension with author Margaret C. Murray
reading from her novels Sundagger.net and Spiral Wednesday, April 11th 6:30- 7:30PM
2935 Pinole Valley Road
Pinole, CA 94564
Half-Price Books hosts Meet & Greet: with author Margaret C. Murray Wednesday, March 28th 7-9PM 1935 Mt. Diablo Street (across from Todos Santos Plaza) Concord, CA 94520 925-288-9060
Winter Solstice Celebration at the Richmond Library December 21st
Celebrate the Winter Solstice at the Richmond Library Free!!
Margaret C. Murray will read scenes set at the Winter Solstice from her novels Sundagger.net and Spiral. The celebration will also include: Astronomy Tai Chi DrummingArt & Song
Honor the power of nature, 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.
Thursday, December 21, 2017 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. Richmond Public Main Library, Whittlesey Room 325 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA 94804 510.620.6561 www.richmondlibrary.org
Experience the 2017 Winter Solstice at the Richmond Public Library with:
Astronomy Tai Chi DrummingArt & SongBook Reading
Local author, MARGARET C. MURRAY, will be showing slides and videos marking ancient Native American knowledge of the solstice while reading from her novels Sundagger.net and Spiral set in the ancient Native American Southwest.
This free program is sponsored by the Friends of the Richmond Public Library.
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.
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.