Events, General, Readings

Art, Sacrifice & Prayer for the Day of the Dead

“life looks forward death looks back life looks forward death looks back life looks . .” 

Stitched Mouth by Charr Crail

I was planning a trip to Mexico during the week of the festival Dia de los Muertosthe 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.

One family, two worlds, many lifetimes

 

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.

 

Magic realism and epic adventure in the American Southwest

 

In SpiralWillow 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
Hidalgo 26
Centro
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
37700

Book to Read, General

Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart

Traditional Art of the Congo

Blood River: A Journey to Africa's Broken HeartBlood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart by Tim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“”A masterpiece,” famed novelist John Le Carre writes about Tim Butcher’s journalistic travel memoir and I agree. Prepare for your heart to be wrenched when you read Blood River, A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart. But you may not notice it in the excitement and danger of the ride. There’s the magnificent and ominous Congo River landscape, the present terror, the valor of the victimized native people, the greed of the exploiters of the river’s resources (native and colonizers alike) and the intrepid European explorers who struggled to tame the river.

In Blood River, Tim Butcher attempts to recreated Henry Morton Stanley’s journey of the 1870s. Sponsored by the New York Herald as an advertising stunt, Stanley is famous for having found the mythic Scottish explorer, David Livingstone, who went missing in Africa the late 1860s while looking for the origin of the Nile River. Stanley wanted to be the first to chart the Congo from its origin in the heart of Africa westward to the Atlantic and he ultimately–and at great cost–succeeded.

In 2004, Tim Butcher, likewise a professional journalist (Britain’s Daily Telegraph), is determined to take that same journey. After extensive, obsessive research, he set out from the Congo’s eastern border in a spirit of adventure and calculated misgivings, ignoring the fact that everyone he talked to told him he was crazy. He describes his travel by motorcycle, dug out canoe, steamboat, helicopter, plane and on foot with a precise, detail-rich journalist’s eye.
Through his research, Tim Butcher was well aware of Africa’s terrible legacy of slavery and exploitation of its riches, but he wasn’t prepared for the day-to-day fear, the terrorist attacks forcing the Congolese to flee to the bush as a way of life, a jungle that ate up the railroad tracks, thriving riverfront cities of the ’50s collapsed in corruption and decay, and a country–maybe the only country on the earth– going backwards and retreating from progress into the primitive where there is “no memory for justice”–all punctuated with cell phones, abundant ammunition, jets and extravagantly wealthy internationals in gated communities rising out of the rain forest.

Along with Butcher, the reader tries to make sense of his life-threatening encounters where he is saved by local Congolese, foreign missionaries, and UN workers. We learn much about how the Congo played a dominant role in the slave trade on the west coast by the Portuguese and even earlier on the east coast by the Arab traders, how the colonizers tried and failed to harness the huge river full of cataracts, how Joseph Conrad and Barbara Kingsolver memorialized the river’s heart of darkness, how Katherine Hepburn kept a journal during the filming of African Queen, and how the UN functioned in an ivory tower of antiseptic efficiency.

Tim Butcher writes about disease, murder, enslavement and the onslaught of the encroaching jungle. Ultimately his experience is “relentlessly punishing”. Traveling on the Blood River, the reader too experiences the breakdown of civilization, with human suffering beyond what we can imagine living our First World lives. Truly, this is a terrifying vision of the “Last World”, where no one can survive.

View all my reviews

Book to Read, General

To be or not to be: A writer in the world

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt

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.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became ShakespeareWill in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare
by Stephen Greenblatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
View all my reviews.

Events, General, Readings

A mystery in a new dimension: Bears Ears & Grand Staircase Escalante

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.

Valley of the Gods, Cedar Mesa, Bears Ears National Park

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.

 

Holding broken potchards

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

Petroglyphs at Butler’s Panel, Bear Ears National Park

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.

Dinosaur’s tail embedded in sandstone, Grand Staircase Escalante

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 an extremely rare dig has been looted.

The pre-puebloan people of my novels Sundagger.net and Spiral known 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.

Upcoming Events

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
Pinole Library
2935 Pinole Valley Road
Pinole, CA 94564
510-758-2741


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

 

Events, General, Uncategorized

Winter Solstice Reading & Celebration

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        Drumming       Art & 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        Drumming       Art & Song      Book 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.

 

General, Uncategorized

Queendoms: Prehistoric finds show powerful Native American women

Spiral by Margaret C. Murray Cover Art by Charr Crail

“One of the most spectacular finds from prehistoric North America.”—USA Today

In my novel Spiral, I created strong women at the heart of the story. I loved writing the powerful female characters of Willow and her shaman mother. But could this small family of determined women, the fruit of my imagination, ever possibly exist? 

Turquoise, silver and shells found in Pueblo Bonito crypt

Recently a friend sent me a USA Today article describing an amazing archeological find. Fourteen skeletons interred over four centuries were found buried beneath the Great House of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon  where Spiral and its sequel, Sundagger.net, take place. With the skeletons were discovered jewelry, shells and mounds of turquoise, more turquoise in fact than was found over all the prehistoric sites unearthed in the entire Southwest.

Ruins of Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, NM, taken from top of North Mesa

Obviously these were people of high station and power! What’s more, all the skeletons tested had the same “Mother DNA”. Their “exalted status was passed down not from father to son but from mother to both daughters and sons.”—USA Today

Happily I discovered women really were as strong and powerful in the ancient Southwest as they are in Spiral. 

Give the woman in your life the gift of Spiral.  Give this epic journey of adventure and magic realism to yourself and receive a signed copy of Spiral. Purchase now.


Signed by Author to:


Bonus!  Write a review of Spiral and receive a free ebook of the sequel, Sundagger.net. For details, email [email protected]

General, Upcoming Book

Resurrecting my rejected manuscript

Hippy Bus
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”
                  — Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet
The button every writer should wear

If you, like me, have stories you are dying to tell, you can appreciate the irony of this button I keep on my desk. But irony is only part of it, right? The art of writing may also be suggested by the perfectly calibrated words of Mary Oliver reminding me every time I sit down to write that I am heading for that room  where I will be able to call up and name the unimaginable.

 

For example, years ago I started what became a 400 page novel manuscript called Pillow Prayers based on my horrified response when a friend committed suicide after her pillow stitchery business failed.

Summer of Love

How could she do that? The question tortured me.

After almost ten years of writing the manuscript, I decided it was finished and sent it out to agents, publishing houses, and  few published writers including a famous crime novelist who wrote back that he “didn’t know what to do with it”.

There was little interest and so, feeling despondent and rejected myself, I put Pillow Prayers away. Fast forward to 2015 when I had just finished and published Spiral. a novel of magic realism set in the ancient Southwest. Now what? I asked myself as I gritted my teeth and pulled the Pillow Prayers manuscript out of the closet. Yes, I expected those metaphorical drops of blood on the button to soon be dripping from my forehead.

But that doesn’t happen. Instead, to my own amazement, I plunge into a deep, dark tale of love ruined and love reborn. I am suddenly in a room I could not have imagined where I’m seeing how to resurrect my three main characters: Beth, the Stitchery owner; Ruth, the scholar turned hippy artist; and Lonnie, the naive psychology student. I eagerly begin rewriting.

Hippy Bus

Daily I enter the room of the unimaginable. I cut out Beth, Ruth and Lonnie’s least understandable traits, editing, pasting in, enhancing and creating new juicy ones. In the process I relive Ken Kesey’s psychedelic bus and experience the folk, rock and soul music emerging from the Summer of Love. I feel the excitement posing as a flower child, the menace of the Civil Rights backlash, the horror and fallout from the Vietnam War, the allure of drugs, and the call of what was for me an exotic Buddhism. Most of all I bask in the sunlight of that rare and short-lived freedom I felt when we all first came to San Francisco.

 

Events, General

A workshop can make all the difference.

My trip to the Southwest lead to SUNDAGGER.NET.
My trip to the Southwest led me to write SUNDAGGER.NET and the prequel, SPIRAL.

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.

A flower is never opened with a hammer.
A flower is never opened with a hammer.

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.

From Heart to Paper Workshop Cost, Dates, & Locations

To register for my Elite Writing Workshop, click here.

For more about writers and Provincetown:
Read my blog: Admiration /Envy.
Read my short story: The Poet & the Baby.

Register for a Workshop Now!

Have questions? E-mail [email protected]

General

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie, National Book Award Winner

Blasphemy: New and Selected StoriesBlasphemy: New and Selected Stories by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blasphemy is a brilliant book of stories exposing the allure and cheap hypocrisy of our contemporary American culture. It’s no accident this book was written by a Native American writer.

Warning: National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie’s newest collection of short stories contains blasphemy. Each of these thirty-one stories (sixteen brand new) may include scenes, characters or language that will make you cringe. You might find something in each that is shocking, sacrilegious, irreverent, profane, or tainted. You may see these stories as an affront, making you feel small and downright disgusted with your unavoidably slick, techno-babbling American life. Like the homeless you pass on the street, you probably don’t want to be close to them for long.

Varying from to two pages in “Fame” to 58 pages in “Search Engine”, this disparity in length is sort of shocking too, an underhanded insult to accepted book symmetry. But that’s a minor flaw compared to the virulent content. For example, in “Fame”, a video goes viral and is seen by three million people. The video shows a lion in the zoo trying to eat a small girl through observation glass. The girl’s mother is laughing hysterically as she takes the video and so is the crowd at the zoo as well as three million people online.

The unnamed narrator, however, isn’t laughing. He is disgusted as he watches the mother take the video, feeling the indecency the lion feels, this King of the Beasts trapped behind observation glass, reduced to a few-seconds-long cartoon. The narrator has come to the zoo to impress his new girlfriend who works part-time there (at the primate section) making and selling those crude, throwaway balloon animals toys no one with any taste would ever buy. These slippery cartoon balloon animals, bad jokes even as toys, are apt examples of the corruption everywhere, like the video, the lion, and the mother. I wonder what the little girl is feeling while her mother is laughing?

So what happens to our narrator and his girlfriend? It’s only their third date and he’s eager to have his way with her — but I won’t be a spoiler and reveal what happens. Let’s just say he sees the lion in himself. “I wasn’t angry. I was lonely. I was bored. And I half-remembered a time when I had been feared.”

Of course I felt close to the narrator and the lion. Like many of the other characters in Blasphemy, they could have been my relatives, though not necessarily ones I’d want to visit. And I’m not Native American.

There’s way too much ugly truth in these stories, too much humanity that’s been stamped on, disregarded, contaminated, violated by everyone including, and especially, by the characters themselves.

The painful irony, the heart of the blasphemy, lies in a pathetic hope that remains despite all. As the narrator says at the end of “Fame”, “If somebody had filmed me and posted it online then I would have become that guy with the teeth. I would have become a star.”

You have to read it.

View all my reviews

Events, General, Readings

If you were at my writing salon . . .

Salon: A gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.

Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon
Awaiting the guests at the Writing Salon

I had everything ready, flowers on the table, chairs in place, my Bavarian China tea cups and saucers. The fire was going strong and my German Shepherd, Maisie, was ready to greet the guests. Soon they would arrive!

It was shortly after 7PM when the writers appeared. The living room was soon crowded with nine enthusiastic guests from Pinole, Walnut Creek, El Sobrante, Richmond and Point Richmond, CA. ( One more writer outside didn’t knock on my door alas, thinking he had the wrong time.)

We began with a animated discussion of what a salon is and what it means to read our work aloud (it means everything). I shared a story I read in the biography of Nobel Prize novelist, John Steinbeck. In his early years as a writer, Steinbeck had a habit of greeting his friends by reading his latest writing aloud to them. Courageous!

For an ice breaker, I asked the writers to randomly choose quotes from authors I featured in my From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops. We discussed what the quotes signified to us as writers. It was amazing how whatever quote we chose at random so aptly mirrored our own writing lives.

We started with non-fiction. A writer read a revision of her prose-poem about driving in the rain. I believe we all felt as if we were driving with her, passing the majestic redwoods of California dripping with rain, seeing the manzanitas as ancient native inhabitants, feeling this miracle in nature as we listened to rain on my roof.

Another writer read from her memoir-in-progress describing a recent birthday. The selection began with her waking up to the bedside digital clock, its red dial ominously ticking, foreshadowing the unforgiving passage of time, perhaps disappointment or resignation. But, surprise! The first-person narrator, having reviewed the past, experiences a rush of gratitude for her own rich life.

The last non-fiction reading  was another surprise: a  proposal  for a digital workshop to create online presentations to woo prospective employers. The writer wanted our feedback and we gave it. So much variety!

After a too-short intermission with animated conversation, wine and sparkling drinks, we turned to fiction: a Y/A novel of WWII Amsterdam about the attempted rescue of a Jewish child;  lovers holding hands in an unnamed landscape of brilliant stars; a family in India struggling to survive in the face of British colonization and lastly, I read an excerpt from Spiral where Willow, an Anasazi mother and her son, Little Hawk, prepare to scale a haunted mountain to find Grandmother.

The fire and the book remain after the salon.
The fire still burns after the salon is over.     Photo by Vivienne Luke

Besides reading aloud, we also shared how and why we wrote what we did, giving each reading a rich context.  I  described the archeological findings and archeoastronomy of Chaco Culture’s monumental Southwest ruins which provide the background for the epic adventure Willow and Little Hawk take in Spiral. Sharing the context makes all the difference!

 Here are some of the heartening email responses from writers who attended the writing salon.

I am inspired by your writing and your innate ability to bring out the very best in everyone who read their excerpt.— Julia A.

“Thanks so much for the sweet and inspiring evening last night. It was a very rich experience with beautiful people. Thank you. Already I am inspired to begin editing my book. — Ellen R.”

Thank you, all you writers out there!
—Margaret