Create Your Own World


a  short story by Margaret C. Murray

From my booth in Mary’s Grill and Coffee Shop here in downtown Sebastopol I watch Dawn coming the doorway. She isn’t wearing a mask. Seeing her look around, I take off mine and smile automatically. 
“Hi! Dawn! Over here,” I call out, waving my hand. She gives me a half-smile as she approaches.“We haven’t had a coffee date since I moved into my condo,” I greet her, stuffing my mask in my purse.
“Is it that long?” Dawn pulls off her gloves, unzips her windbreaker.
“Two years,” I laugh, unbuttoning my coat.
“No way!” She laughs too.
I stand, lean over and give her a hug imagining we’re sisters, no, cousins, who haven’t seen each other for too long a time. Dawn and I have known each other since we first hung out with our commune mates in that rented house down on the Peninsula so many years ago.
Dawn drops her purse on the table.
I can still see us sitting in a circle on the floor at those psychodrama sessions, flirting with potential and erstwhile boyfriends, sharing secrets and shocking each other with sexy gossip.
“Sit down! Sit down!” I tell Dawn.
It is nice to see her again after all this time, isn’t it?

Listening to the rain outside, I watch Dawn hang her wet coat on end of the booth. It’s been raining steadily since early morning when I walked Sunny and Boy up the hill behind my barn, as I call the cottage I’m renting. My mind was far away, reliving yesterday’s visit to my old doctor in Berkeley for a yearly checkup. Buried in his computer, the doctor seemed to barely notice me. Didn’t even remember my name I complained to my dogs on our walk. They look up at me inquiringly, wagging their tails, hoping for treats.
“I had such a morning,” Dawn moans, sliding into the seat across from me. “The cats got out.”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? I adopted two stray cats,” she shakes her head in exasperation.
Even inside the coffee shop I can hear the rain.

Dawn folds her hands on the tabletop.
“How are you, girl?” she asks.
I laugh, seeing we’re both in our ‘70s.
“It gets lonely some nights but, hey, I’d rather be lonely in Sebastopol than anywhere else.” I laugh.
“Yeah. I think that’s why I got my horse,” she says.
“A horse!”
“I did tell you, didn’t I? Amigo.” She opens her purse and pulls out her cell phone. Dawn taps the phone, holding it toward me as she leans across the table. “Here’s my boy.”
“Nice,” I say, glancing at the photo. I remember now that Dawn grew up with horses in Kentucky.
“But so much work!” she sighs, looking around. “Have you ordered already?”
“Yes.” I pick up the large plastic menus, hand one to her.
Dawn glances at it.

“Do you know what you want?” I ask.
“Don’t I always?” she grimaces. I watch as she twists her long thin dyed blond hair into a knot and fasten it with a large barrette. “So what’s going on with you, Sue?”
It’s been a long time since anyone called me ‘Sue’.
“Oh, nothing much. How about you?”
“Same old, same old?” Dawn nods. “I get it.”
Not really I’m thinking as I button my coat up. You don’t have a clue.
Dawn waves her hand at the waitress hurrying by carrying two full plates. I’m shivering. A large family is coming into the coffee shop, keeping the door wide open.

Dawn bites her lip as she tells me she’s seeing someone. I roll my eyes.
“Yes!” she grins, noting my surprise. “We’re actually dating. Remember dating? Jim’s from Santa Rosa. We’ve been going out on weekends when he comes to pick up his boys. They live in Sebastopol with their mother. The older one is sixteen and I forget how old the younger one is.”
“How did you meet?” I sigh. This conversation is familiar, feeling like a stone in my belly, I think, shivering.
“I decided to rent my master bedroom after that loser Larry left me high and dry. You knew Larry moved out, didn’t you, Sue? He was driving me crazy.”
She motions to the waitress again approaching our booth.
“There was no reason to leave it vacant,” she continues after giving her order. “Jim checked out my ad and Voila! What’s more, he grew up with horses too.”

I note Dawn’s enthusiasm, her pleasure. I’m half-listening, distracted, feeling my pulse, moving from finger to finger, hand to hand, shenpa in Tibetan––a hook to shut down the mind I learned in last week’s meditation group.
Thought-pulse, pulse-thought, mind-pulse, pulse-mind, from one to the other.
“Hey!” Dawn interrupts. “Did you hear there’s a Freida Kahlo art exhibition at the San Francisco Legion of Honor?”
I hesitate. “Maybe.”
“It’s sold-out for every weekend!”
I’m surprised Dawn remembers, How fascinated I was by Freida Kahlo, the iconic woman artist from Mexico, after I first saw her work.
“It’s ironic how more popular she has become in death,” I say.
"Let’s go see the show together.” Dawn says. “I’m a member there so we’ll be able to get tickets. You aren’t busy, are you?”
“I guess not,” I mumble.
“Frieda’s calling you,” she laughs.
“Remember how she created her own autobiography through her self-portraits?” I say. “So painful, yet beautiful, compelling, and fascinating.”
“We could invite Melanie,” Dawn suggests enthusiastically.
Another old friend I haven’t thought of for ages. We three used to go to art shows and music events together.
“I heard she moved to Saratoga,” I say.
“Melanie will come to San Francisco for Frieda Kahlo, believe me,” Dawn laughs.
“You say it’s sold out?”
“Come on, Susanna. Remember how much you liked the Rembrandt show we went to that time?”
This is serious if she’s calling me Susanna.
“You really liked Frieda Kahlo,” I muse.
“If you say so,” she laughs again.
“Well, I did too. I still do,” I say.

“Did you see the total eclipse yesterday?” She smiles at the waitress arriving with our meals.
“Was there one?” I look off, bemused, picking up my fork.
“Stunning as usual. Ahhh, remember those days when we put four pinpricks in a purple sheet of paper and sat outside against my picket fence waiting for the moon to cover the sun?” she sighs.
I nod, my mouth full.
"It was 5:32 am when the moon passed over the sun,” Dawn adds.
“And you stayed up to watch!”
“Yeah. So what’s going on with you, Sue?”
“Oh, nothing much,” I shiver, pull my coat tight and share about Lily, my daughter and family coming from Sacramento last weekend. I smile describing the little girls drinking pretend tea from a doll-size pink-flowered china set I put out, a legacy from Great Aunt Mary back in Pittsburgh, Pa where I grew up I explained to my granddaughters.

“So what do you say about the Frieda show?” Dawn persists.
Would Dawn wear a mask to this sold-out event? I feel myself backing off from asking.
“Come on, Sue, it would be fun.”
“Okay, Sure, why not?” This is too rare an opportunity to pass up.
We make plans to go the last day. Dawn says she will call Melanie. Then she jumps up, exclaiming she has to leave. Jim’s waiting for her.

Same old same old. After she goes, I realize it’s not that easy being with her again. That’s been the pattern all along I suppose. I remember when we went to that vintage coffee shop near the beach after the Rembrandt exhibit. Walking along the sand dunes toward the streetcar stop with Dawn hurrying ahead, to far off to talk. I didn’t wonder why. Instead I ignored her, commending myself for keeping silent as I drifted along far behind. How understanding, tolerant even, I felt I was a good friend the further and further she went.

It’s different now in this Covid epidemic. I’m different. I wear a mask that shows my fear. And Dawn?
Thought-pulse, pulse-thought, mind-pulse, pulse-mind, from one to the other.
But then everything is different with the Covid virus. Masks are everywhere. What if Dawn has Covid? She seems healthy enough.
I hope she wears a mask this Sunday. Old friends can be exhausting. Still this is a rare opportunity to see Frieda Kahlo’s art.
What made me call Dawn the Friday before the Frieda show I still don’t understand.

“Have you got your vaccine yet?” I inquired into her telephone answering machine. I didn’t hear back from her so I called again, then again, repeating my message. I even emailed her.
“Did you get your Covid shot, Dawn?”

I knew Dawn had unusual habits about what to put into her body. She was vegan, didn’t drink milk products, what else? Likely she didn’t believe in vaccines either. Why then do I persist? It’s the mask, the Pandemic. I feel shaky, fearful.

When it seemed obvious she wasn’t going to answer, I reach out to Melanie. We discussed the pandemic, wearing a mask to the event and our recent shots. She didn’t bring up Dawn so I didn’t either.

I tell myself to concentrate on the pleasure of our upcoming event. What fun to reunite old friends and experience Frieda Kahlo’s magical art together.

A few days later we’re at the museum walking the halls in our raincoats, holding our umbrellas. It’s hard to ignore the crowd eager to devour Frieda’s legacy, her small somber visions and deceptively simple renderings of herself that speaks to all women.

I’m wearing my mask. Melanie has hers on too. Hidden behind it, I pass by each piece, reflecting on how ironic that Frieda herself was haunted by poor health after a life-threatening accident as a young teenager. How she was severely injured in a trolley crash, suffering lifelong complications that refused to heal.

We eat in the museum cafeteria. Maxine mentions something about calling Dawn last week about some other event. I ask Dawn if she listened to my phone calls or read my email. She shakes her head no, she never received any messages.
“I don’t believe you,” I say.
Dawn grabs her coat and walks off. I feel disappointed in myself. It’s not just the mask. It’s the other unknowns.
On my way back home I listen to the rain that still has not stopped.

It’s the middle of the night now. I wake reeking of fear, feeling that old hard stone fill my stomach. Don’t worry about Dawn I scold myself. We’re all looking for something hidden we can feel just waiting to be exposed, an unknown treasure. Still I lost a friend yesterday I wanted to be rid of.
Create Your Own World

Tiny Bird


Tiny Bird, a short story by Margaret C. Murray

Susanna was daydreaming at her kitchen sink, stacking dirty dishes while gazing out a small window to her backyard when she noticed the trees blowing in the wind. She could hear the wind she thought. Or was it wind? Such gentle, strange slapping sounds.

She remembered then she’d left the refrigerator open and hurried to closed it before returning to the sink. There it was again­, the light slap-slap, slap-slap she’d never heard before in the house. Of course now she was alone. Not that it mattered. Dick gone for good, their divorce almost final. Alone was not so bad most of the time.

The light slap-slaps continued. She turned from the sink toward her wide-open living room. Oh, my god! Both her front door and the screen door was wide open. Bang, bang went the aluminum-siding against the metal door frame. Not surprising since it had been missing its lock for she didn’t know how long. If Dick were here. . . Stop it, she scolded herself.

She had stepped outside after noticing the mailman had come earlier than usual this morning. Nowadays it had become a habit of hers to check the mail. She had glanced through bills, the usual circulars, promotions, requests for money from non-profits, an insurance flyer, and something from the IRS addressed to Dick that she kept to forward to him. The rest she threw into the metal bucket outside the door splattered with bird droppings and the remains of insects. She had rushed back inside, in a hurry she didn’t know why. She seemed to remember the screen door slamming behind her as usual.

Now Susanna rushed toward the door, then stopped, aghast. Right in front of her in the living room a baby bird was desperately flapping its tiny grey wings on her window ledge. Susanna watched in shock as the tiny bird fell off the window ledge and flopped crazily on the wood floor. Struggling, it caught itself in her floor length drapes.

The bird valiantly attempted to fly, yet kept falling instead again and again, and finally disappeared into the hem of the curtain. Tiptoeing closer, she leaned over to shake loose the folds at the bottom. Underneath the curtain it kept on struggling. What could she do now?

Suzanna stared out the window at the small white spring buds on her miniature cherry tree blowing with the wind. Behind loomed the thick green juniper hedge that went across the front of her yard filled with bright orange poppies, leaves like green lace on reed-thin stems. The poppies blew this way and that in the wind. She saw herself outside, the tiny bird twitching in her hands as she lifted it up to the sky and watched it fly off to the oak tree across the street.

She must free it, bring it back outside. She just needed something to hold it–plastic, not metal or glass that might injure that frail body. Did she even have any plastic bowls? Glass bowls and ceramic yes, but they easily broke. Suzanne rushed through the living room and down the narrow hallway to the bathroom where she kept a plastic pail beside the toilet. The pail was too big and unwieldy, dirty even. But how else to capture it?

What if she could carry the little bird in a soft towel outside? She grabbed a towel. Not soft enough but there was no time to waste. There they were again, the sounds, more recurring wing flutters. Suzanna ran back through her living room. The bird was no longer in the curtains at the picture window! No, she realized, it had flown through the living room while she was in the bathroom and now frantically flapped its wings against the kitchen window, attracted by the light.

She looked around, holding her breath, stuffing her fist in her mouth to keep from crying out. Suddenly the bird flew away from the kitchen area where it been frantically flapping its wings against the sill seconds ago and back across the room. She rushed after it just in time to see it slam against the picture window. The bird now lay on the floor, unmoving.

“God, give me back this tiny bird,” she thought. “I will close the screen door when I come in, I promise. I will close and bolt the oak door. Oh, please let it live.”

She stood over it hoping, hoping, but the bird did not move. No flicker of its eyes? No more  flutter of wings, no rising and falling feathers?  One tiny grey life, a clump of feathers and little yellow bill with closed eyes she could have easily held in one hand. Oh, God she prayed, let it live.

For perhaps a second or two she believed it might happen. Still the bird didn’t move. It was her fault. She was alone. She looked away, off. The cherry tree outside mocked her. The poppies and juniper too. Everything was wrong. It was over.

 She had to bury it. At least she could do that. Long ago she and the children buried their rabbit at the bottom of the juniper. There was that little  cat too, tiny, all black that her youngest son found at the edge of the driveway, Run over, flattened. The cat they buried here in the front yard too. Dick didn’t help or did he? And now this tiny bird. Across the street in the trees fluttered flocks of birds just like this one.

Why had she left the doors open? It was an accident. She had been so unthinking, so stupid. She imagined the bird, young, inquisitive, curious, flying into investigate. Seeing an opening, it wanted to discover what was inside. She fell onto the sofa and cried piteously. So what? No one would hear. She was alone.

She cried desperate tears for the spirit of this tiny bird that Suzanne could hear flapping still. A spirit bird? As a little girl, she had learned about spirits. She’d grown up Catholic after all, praying to Holy Spirit as she knelt at the foot of her bed.

After a while she wiped her face with a dish towel and went into her bedroom. She put on her sweater. Changed her shoes. Where were those garden gloves? On top of the refrigerator, yes. Now out to the garage for the shovel. In the far corner, yes. What else? Nothing else? There has to be something else.

She dug a hole in front of the hedge. She’d only need a little hole. Maybe six inches? Nine or ten? She could look up how to bury a bird on the internet, but no, she had to finished digging. Crouching, bending over the dirt. She tore up poppies at the height of their brief beautiful lives, picked off cherry blossom twigs with petals small as fingernails blowing in the wind.

It had been so active, so frantic to live. Moments before nothing had happened. Just another morning, poppies blowing in the wind, unwanted mail. And now everything announced ruin. It was like her divorce all over again. Susanna lay the bird down in its small, dark hole and covered it with dirt. She could not forgive herself.

Create Your Own World

A President I Wish I Knew

“The Greatest Hero,” —Walt Whitman

When my son 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 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. 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.

By 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 his wife 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.”

How revelatory and comforting 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.

You too may likely want to read GRANT by Ron Chernow, a president of the United States in these turbulent times too.







Create Your Own World

Butterfly Song

Mysterious Butterfly Girl by Charr Crail


Butterfly by Charr Crail

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.



Ithomiine butterfly photographed in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador.

Music artist Chris Goslow has written a song, Butterfly, that takes you to that place.

Every year Chris writes and records a new song on the birthday of his wife Charr Crail,artist and photographer.





Mysterious Butterfly Girl by Charr Crail


Listen to Charr’s 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 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!

Book to Read, Create Your Own World, From Heart to Paper Writing Workshop, General

“Keep Writing, Stay Healthy.” –advice from famed mystery writer

Tony Hillerman, famed mystery writer of the Southwest, wrote the above advice to me the last year before his death in 2008. We had been corresponding since before I published my novel of the ancient Anasazi of the Southwest, 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. What do you think?

Keep writing, stay healthy.
Thank you, Tony Hillerman.

Create Your Own World

The Writer’s Job

Shadows below a Tree, San Miguel Allende, Mexico

“The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then once they are up there, throw rocks at them.
 Vladimir Nabokov, Russian-American novelist, poet, translator, and entomologist



Fall 2022 From Heart to Paper Zoom Workshop

Seven Tuesday evenings
September 27 — November 8, 2022
7:00PM to 8:30PM Pacific Time

To REGISTER for the upcoming From Heart to Paper Writing Workshop,

  • Choose ‘New writer‘ or ‘Returning writer’ below.
  • Then click on the Pay Now icon and complete the fields.

New & Returning Writers

The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power. – Toni Morrison

“My writing was a stalled train sitting at the station. Then From Heart to Paper Writing Workshop came along and showed me how to fuel the process forward. Now the train has left the station and I’m writing every day.”– Caroline

Margaret C. Murray presenting Spiral, an epic adventure of the ancient Southwest

 A professional writer and teacher, Margaret C. Murray has been leading From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops for over ten years.  Margaret is completing her fifth novel Deer Xing. She is the author of Dreamers,, Spiral and Pillow Prayers. She is also the publisher of Writewords Press.

For more about Margaret C. Murray’s From Heart to Paper Writing Workshop, click here.

To read what her students say about the workshop, click on Testamonials.

Create Your Own World

Friends, Let Me Tell You a Story.

Now in this time of the epidemic, racism, mass shootings and threats of war, the first line of an Emily Dickinson poem speaks to me.

“A wounded deer leaps highest.”

The story I imagine from the above line fits with my upcoming novel I’ve been rewriting, Deer Xing, which I began in the early ’90s. A time that seems like forever and also yesterday.

My title evokes the image of a deer crossing a road at a deer warning sign. Its message is clear;  drive carefully to save a deer.

Elm Creek Doe photo by Rick Cavalieri

The sign gives us humans driving our cars, RVs, trailers and trucks the chance to be present to what is possible and how carefully we can choose to live our lives.  And how possible it is to change, to save the life of a deer, such a beautiful, gentle, quiet, vulnerable creature.

Hungry Doe photo by Rick Cavalieri

Both deer and sign inspire and uplift me to continue reworking my draft. As I edit the final section of my story, I experience deep silence, the same feeling I imagine in the eyes of a deer. And gratitude too.



Pillow Prayers book launch at Fourth Street Fine Arts, Berkeley, Ca

 “Every book is a world.” –Gabrielle Zevin.



Give yourself the gift of a book.
Buy here!

Book to Read, Create Your Own World, General

Crows –The Symbol of Everything

CROW PLANET by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

My friend gave me an attractively covered book to add to the Little Free Library I have in front of my house. But when I examined  Crow Planet “Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness” by Lynda Lynn Haupt I realized I wasn’t ready to give this book up.

Crow Planet begins with the author, suffering from depression, looking out the bedroom window of the new suburban home her husband and she just purchased in Seattle, Washington.  It’s midday but she’s still in her pajamas, seeing no reason to get dressed. Suddenly twelve feet away she sees a nest and hears a tiny bird preening. Looking through her binoculars, she sees a baby crow with a malignant growth over one eye. Both she and the baby bird are injured she thinks, crying and laughing at the same time.

Haupt is a scientist of the natural world who once worked as wildlife rehabilitator and in addition raised nearly a hundred fledging birds. She is also mother of a young daughter also fascinated with birds. After seeing the suffering baby crow, she captures, feeds and when it is healed frees it to join the hundreds of crows she sees daily on her nature walks. She begins to understand that Seattle can become the beloved wilderness she reluctantly left behind when she and her family moved to the city. She learns that urban nature is infused with magic and wonder and I, the reader, do too. The baby crow creates a “liaison with a truer way of being” that is not the romanticized Walden of Thoreau’s “pure nature”, but her — and our—natural world.

Crows are birds of the Corvid family which is several million years older than humans. Most crow populations are increasing while globally birds are declining due to human environmental destruction. This likely is because crows are omnivores who eat anything, scavengers who feed upon the dead (hence the term “murder of crows”).

Crows are also immensely intelligent in a way similar to apes which is why their behavior is so complex. They have an extensive vocabulary, for example a “remonstrative call” consisting of scolding and screeching if you get too close to a nest. They use mimicry. They also whisper, whine, meow, croak, chuckle and whinny. Crows take care of one another; they can use tools and are able to “reach a contemplative state while sunning themselves”. Crows may have a “helper” third crow to tend their young along with the mother, father and babies in a nest. Crows also attend “funerals”, gathering around their own dead. This is known as “mobbing”.

“Everybody has a crow story,” Lyanda Lynee Haupt writes.

My story centers around my mother’s death. It began when I flew to Pittsburgh to be with her at what turned out to be the end of her two-year struggle with cancer. The doctors had predicted she had a few more months to live so I flew back to California to put my affairs in order, intending to return as soon as possible. Five days after I left her, mom died. I returned for the funeral.

Both times I was in Pittsburgh I stayed in mom’s condominium on the fifth floor of a brand new housing complex in Forest Hills. It was surrounded by old venerable trees and inhabited by hundreds, perhaps thousands of crows cawing morning and night. I wanted to believe the crows calling out incessantly in those dark trees were messages from my mom. I wanted to learn their language and talk through them to her. I still do.

I ‘ve placed Crow Planet in the Little Free Library at the bottom of my driveway now. Whenever I see the crows I feel myself once again staring through that window of my mother’s condo divining answers while outside the wild, free birds peck at the garbage and clean the street, then fly off, screeching and circling above me—“Portents” Lynda Lynn Haupt writes, “of nothing but themselves, swirling like all of us in our beautiful, tangled, transitory lives.”

Book to Read, Create Your Own World, General

How did Shakespeare become Shakespeare?


You might think that a book about the most famous writer in the English language would be boring: trite, repetitious or full of pompous academic abstractions, especially if you researched and wrote your master’s thesis on “Murder and Honor in Hamlet and Othello” like I did at Hunter College. But you’d be wrong.

With impressive credentials and superior narrative ability, Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World unearths and illuminates Shakespeare in the Elizabethan world in ways I could never before consider, especially given that facts about Shakespeare’s life are, according to the author, ”abundant but thin.”  I couldn’t put the book down. The thing is, I was learning so much about myself, how to be a writer in my world.

Greenblatt writes: “We know all about the property Shakespeare bought and sold, the taxes he paid, the theatrical companies he worked for. We have his baptismal record, his marriage license and his last will and testament. But what he felt in his heart, what dreams he nurtured, what beliefs he himself had…..”.

What lover of words isn’t fascinated by the mysterious, brilliant William Shakespeare, aka “Will”? Who was Shakespeare really? I was hooked when Greenblatt sets up Shakespeare, at 18, marrying Anne Hathaway, age 26, in Stratford six months before their first child was born. What, if anything, did it mean that soon after–the exact date is vague like so much else–Will left it all to spend the rest of his life in rented rooms in London, two days ride away? Did he love her? Was he forced to marry her? Did he marry her for her money? Did she love him (But he was Shakespeare. How could she not?!)

Greenblatt speculates how Shakespeare may have been wanted for deer poaching, a 17th century theory. Was Shakespeare down and out, stealing venison and rabbits for food? With many credible details, Greenblatt explores and then discards this possibility with great authority, while being cautious about claiming any other hypotheses as certain either.

I was impressed by how masterfully Greenblatt lays out Shakespeare’s world—and mine too. Maybe Shakespeare left Stratford for the same reason I left my hometown, Pittsburgh, PA, to seek my fortune in the big world.

The artistic, political and religious intrigue is both detailed and gruesome, with beheadings at the bequest of Queen Elizabeth as common as parking tickets today. The victims, many of whom were Roman Catholics, are believable and very sympathetic. Greenblatt explores the possibility that Shakespeare may have been a Catholic too. That could explain the secrecy around his life. After all, it was dangerous to be Catholic in Elizabethan England.

Then there’s the mystery of the love sonnets, seemingly addressed to a man, but who? And did Shakespeare actually write the sonnets? Ah, but Greenblatt shows us how we moderns no longer understand the game of sonnet-making, so popular in Shakespeare’s world, where the trick was to be naked while revealing nothing, and tell revealing secrets to only a few chosen intimates.

So much is speculation! Did Shakespeare even write those plays or was it Marlowe for that matter? Was he a fraud as the feature movie, Anonymous (2011), claims?  No, Stephen Greenblatt doesn’t buy that theory.

What really kept me reading Will in the World was that I felt supported and encouraged by Shakespeare as a writer in the world.  Greenblatt convinced me to identify with this ”amazing success story,” of a bright young man from the provinces who took on the hard, yet exciting game of writing great plays for a popular audience in a tumultuous, changing, exploding world.

I might have guessed that Shakespeare too had problems I have as a writer: daunting competition from establishment writers (e.g., Marlowe), lack of funds, absence of entitlement, spotty, non-existent publication, pressing family responsibilities, in fact, “an upstart crow” in the literary world as the contemporary playwright Robert Greene called him. But that’s beside the point as Will in the world pressed on—and succeeded. Not just for his time but for all time.

Greenblatt’s astute analysis of the playwright’s characters, so modern in their angst, confusion and daunting dreams, illuminates Shakespeare’s own evolving understanding of the world. Will in the World  challenges me to understand our world now, four hundred years later, through my writing.

Book to Read, Create Your Own World, General, Upcoming Book

Writing in the time of Coronavirus

Elm Creek Doe photo by Rick Cavalieri

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?

Hungry Doe photo by Rick Cavalieri

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 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, 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 in ebook form on 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.


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