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.
Have you ever stopped to watch a butterfly’s soft flight of light and color leaving you with a feeling like falling in love?
Imagine that you can not only watch and feel the butterfly, but hear it as it flits from flower to flower.
Music artist Chris Goslowhas written a song, Butterfly, that takes you to that place.
Every year Chris writes and records a new song on the occasion of his wife Charr Crail‘s birthday.
Butterfly is the most recent of Chris’ songs to Charr, an artist and photographer.
Listen to this home recording with Charr of her birthday song. Butterfly, words and music by Chris Goslow. Performed by Chris Goslow.
Chris Goslow, who is also my son, has accompanied me at my book readings, playing ’60s and ’70s popular music mentioned in Dreamers and Pillow Prayers as well as tracks from his albums Waterfall and The Cherry Rainbow Piano Experience.
Chris also recorded the soundtrack for the videos Stones of Chaco Canyon and My Trip to the War Gods for Sundagger.net and Spiral. For more about Chris and me, see Music, Writing, and Working Together.
Who doesn’t love a good book? Give the gift of WriteWords Press books. It’s easy. Buy here!
Hola! I’m back in California now, missing San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Here I am with my new best friends at an art gallery extravaganza for the Day of the Dead.
Alas, we’re all a little worn out. If you’ve seen the Disney movie, Coco, you’ll have a good idea of the Day of the Dead festival. In San Miguel de Allende, I was very fortunate to be invited to stay with an old friend in her sister’s elegant home.
There’s nothing like a live performance of Mozart’s last work, Requiem, to make me feel holiness all around. I took this photo as I sat enthralled in the packed La Parroquia Cathedral in Centro, the center of town, on the night of The Day of the Dead. What a feeling of communion and comfort I experienced with a diverse, appreciative crowd.
A few days later I had a book reading nearby at Garrison & Garrison Books that took place in a charming courtyard. I was surprised to have my audience’s rapt attention as I pointed out details from my Southwest Anasazi books, Spiral and Sundagger.net, with characters whose ancestors clearly would have come from Mexico. Wherever I could, I included actual Southwest artifacts that I’d learned of in my research. For example, in Spiral, Little Hawk, savors a small jar of chocolate that a park guide told me about during my 2015 trip to Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The chocolate shows that Southwest Pre-Puebloans knew of, and traded, with ancient pre-hispanic Mexico as cocoa plants do not grow in the American Southwest.
My last day in Mexico I went on a day tour of ancient pyramid ruins with Albert Coffee, an expert tour guide in the region’s archeology, who spoke of recent findings of human and dog skeletons, a severed head carried hundreds of miles for final interment, and even a young elite, female warrior, all buried in the pyramid complex of Canada de la Virgen (Canyon of the Virgin). The name refers to a geode rock discovered at the site during excavation that broke, revealing an image of the Virgin Mary.
It’s thought there are other pyramids inside this visible one. That day my big accomplishment was to climb the tiered pyramid of the Canyon of the Virgin, just recently excavated. I made it all the way to the top! The rocks were huge and uneven, of sparking limestone. The pyramid itself was built to match the paths of the sun and moon across the sky, much in the same way as the Anasazi aligned their Great Houses in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.
I wonder if I’ll ever find words to describe my enchantment with “The Heart of Mexico”, as San Miguel de Allende is called.
If only I could sing like this bird I saw as I was walking along the path of a botanical garden in the hills outside the city.
—Yellow headed blackbird in the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden.
Take a breath. Imagine the deep, quiet, heartbeat of stillness. Breathe in that feeling of Peace.
“life looks forward death looks back life looks forward death looks back life looks . .”
I was planning a trip to Mexico during the week of the festival Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead to see my friend, Rose, when a small bookstore in San Miguel de Allende, whom I had contacted, offered to host a book event for me. Great! I chose Art, Sacrifice & Prayer for the event title because these are such powerful themes in Hispanic Indigenous Mexican culture and so much part of the Day of the Dead.
Preparing for my trip, I go over selections from my novels to read. I expect to read from my new novel, Pillow Prayers. But what about my previous Southwest novels of magic realism, Sundagger.net and Spiral, with characters who could have been ancestors of the families and tourists who celebrate Dia de los Muertos in San Miguel de Allende?
I thought of the time, the spring of 1999, when I went car camping to the ancient ruins of the Four Corners, which had been a dream of mine from childhood. My boyfriend drove his car, so all the way across Northern California, Nevada, and Utah I was free to write, taking voluminous notes about the astounding landscape I saw outside my window.
We drove through the technicolor desert of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments, 4,000 years of Native American culture one archeologist called “an outdoor laboratory of our history on earth”. I saw not just potsherds, petroglyphs and pictographs but also the world’s richest deposit of dinosaur bones, fossils 75 million years old, including 25 species of newly discovered dinosaurs. Who left such mysterious art behind? What sacrifices were made to create it? Was this religious art? What did it mean to the artists?
At every historical site of these ancestral Puebloan people,named ‘Anasazi’ (enemy ancestors) by the Navajo, I scribbled in my notebook. My mind was racing with images for my next novel.
We reached Chaco Culture National World Heritage Site in New Mexico, the land sacred to the Pueblo tribes. I saw the Great House, Pueblo Bonito, the largest ruin in North America, five stories high with 600 rooms and 300 kivas, bigger than the Roman Coliseum. It had been built along the axis of the rising sun at the equinoxes. Archeo Astronomy it is called, the study of language in the architecture, building in relation to the stars.
The circular kivas with their foot drums, benches, pottery, and stone-lined vaults below ground, fascinated me.
I learned of the sun dagger phenomenon on Fajada Butte that I could see from the campground, jutting out of the flat desert canyon. On only one day a year, the summer solstice, the sun pierces a carved spiral hidden at the top of this butte. Who carved this timepiece, matching art and stone to the heavens? What did it mean?
Climbing the North Mesa, I stopped by a lopsided tiny house without a roof sinking into the sand. The entrance way suggested a crooked smile while the two window openings peered across time at me with heavy-lidded eyes. A sad-faced house, yet sweet. I imagined a story of sacrifice, art and prayer. Thus Sundagger.net began, a story of one family, two worlds, many lifetimes.
Back home in California, I worked from voluminous notes describing the remains of corn husks, blankets made of turkey feathers and dog hair, silver frogs on jewelry, pottery with parrot images, and much more.
A few years later I wrote the prequel, Spiral. I took another trip, this time by myself, following the same journey I had my characters in Spiral take, traveling North to Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado. I camped beneath the farthest outlier of the Chaco Culture, where an exact, but much smaller replica of Pueblo Bonito was built in 1084 AD and then abandoned soon after. Why? How?
Today, preparing for my reading in San Miguel de Allende, I skim books, marking scenes that show my characters struggling with desire, making art, sacrificing for their dreams, inspired by their prayers. Here’s what I’ve come up with for now.
In Sundagger.net, Sara, a single mother, comes to an Oakland sweat lodge after 9/11 to pray for her missing son, but sees an ancient, shocking vision instead.
In Spiral, Willow abandons her sacred pots in Chaco Canyon to take her son Little Hawk on a dangerous journey where he discovers a circle of skeletons in a tower.
In Pillow Prayers, Love Ruined, Love Found, After the Summer of Love, street artist Ruth finds a place to paint in a zen pillow stitchery in San Francisco, befriending skeptical grad student, Lonnie and the stitchery owner, Beth, maneuvering toward tragedy.
Art, Sacrifice & Prayer
Monday, November 5, 2018. 4:00 – 6:00 pm
GARRISON & GARRISON BOOKS
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
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
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?
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 allthe prehistoric sites unearthed in the entire Southwest.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Fall is here. Have you noticed the weather’s changing and nights are colder?
Once upon a time, a thousand years ago, a boy discovers a trap door into a tower on a high, ominous mountain. The boy, a character in my newest novel Spiral, goes by the name of Little Hawk. Though his mother has forbidden it, Little Hawk has been longing to get to the top of the tower ever since his mother, his dog and he arrived at this strange, new place.
Sliding through the trap door, he finds a ladder in the middle of the circular room leading to a hole in the roof high above. Pallets have been laid all over the floor as if waiting for someone to lie down on them. He finds corn in jars that stink with a strong smell like the drink the priests guzzle that makes them crazy.
But he must get to the top! Carefully climbing the ladder to the next level, Little Hawk spies skeletons without heads arranged in a circle, their feet facing the center, as if it were a fire pit and they only wanted to warm themselves.
What does Little Hawk do? He spits on the skeletons!
You can download the complete Spiral ebook for only $3.99!
Imagine Little Hawk and his mother traveling to dark, menacing Chimney Rock Mountain in Southwest Colorado from their home in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. I had to see for myself! Check out My Road Trip to the War Gods of Chimney Rock, CO, a video with original music by Chris Goslow.
You can download the complete Spiral ebook for only $3.99!
“Just ordered my copy. I so enjoyed Sundagger.net: such vivid depictions of place & time and such interesting characters. I lost many hours of sleep staying up late to read because I just had to know what happened next. — Sarah F.
Order Spiral for $17.95 and, for a limited time, receive a free ebook of Sundagger.net, the sequel to Spiral.
Spiral, a novel of magic realism and epic adventure set in the ancient American Southwest
At the end of a culture that built structures as big as the Roman Coliseum when medieval Europe was still in the Dark Ages, on a high desert landscape of brooding wind and dark storm clouds that never drop rain, the Elders threaten to sacrifice an infant boy to placate the sun dagger and thus end the drought.
Meanwhile young Willow waits by the dry, dusty Chaco riverbed for her lover. But when he finally comes, it is to say goodbye. Betrayed and desolate, Willow becomes an expert pot maker, turning for comfort to a gentle hunter of her own Coyote Clan, with whom she has a son. When the Elders kidnap him, Willow has a plan.
Against the backdrop of the Anasazi Southwest, Spiral plunges the reader into a whole gripping, enchanted world spiraling in crisis.
See the music video!
Follow author Margaret C. Murray on a road trip to research Spiral,Road Trip to the War Gods of Chimney Rock, CO, with original music by Chris Goslow.
Praise for Sundagger.net
Before the sun dagger, there was the spiral.
“In her Sundagger.net, Margaret Murray gives us a mystery novel in a new dimension, moving us from Post 9/11 Silicon Valley to the Ancient Anasazi of the Southwest.” — Tony Hillerman, famed Southwest mystery writer
I was on the seventh day of my road trip. After days of driving and camping—interspersed by a stay in Flagstaff with my friend Joyce—I had finally arrived at Chimney Rock, Colorado, the site of my upcoming novel, Spiral.
I had been working on Spiral, a prequel to Sundagger.net, for five years now and I just had to go see for myself. I had to take the same pilgrimage my characters Willow and her son, Little Hawk, take after they flee their home in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and set out for Chimney Rock, the furthest outlier of Chaco culture.
Driving from California on Highway 40 to Flagstaff and from there to New Mexico, I was intent on first spending a few nights at Chaco Canyon World Heritage Site where Spiral begins.
The Pre-Puebloans (otherwise known as the Anasazi, a name given to them by the Navajo, meaning “enemy ancestors”) likely came the same way, from the South.
Like me, these ancient migrants would have passed by the same red rock mesas. They too would be inspired, awed, by the deep color of the high desert, the vast vistas and endless sky.
Maybe they too were anticipating a great spectacle–those ceremonies in honor of solstices and equinoxes held in the Great Houses of Chaco Canyon.
Bumping along on an unpaved dirt “washboard” road, I slowly drove through the Navajo Reservation, stopping my car in front of the only sign for 23 miles:
ROUGH ROAD May be Impassable Travel at Your Own Risk
The ancient people would have experienced rough travel without cars, wagons, wheels, horses or any other means of transportation.
A thousand years ago, this same road would likely have been full of people migrating to and from Chaco to witness the sun’s return or thrill at the lunar alignment.
What a surprise when I turned a rocky bend and saw Fajada Butte. How close and massive it seemed from the dirt road, like a cathedral carved from sandstone.
I’d been to Chaco Canyon two times before but never approached it from the South.
I felt a strange kinship with this great rock.
At Gallo Campground in Chaco, the wind blew my tent away before I even got it secured in the ground. With the help of the campground host (from Vallejo, Ca!), I tied it to heavy metal rings. I slept that night surrounded by mesa walls, greasewood and blowing sage.
The Pre-Puebloans would have come through the South Gap into the Canyon. On the far side of the gap are more than 50 pit houses. Are they “motels” the migrants camped in while at Chaco?
Across Chaco Wash is Pueblo Bonito, the grandest of the Great Houses, where I stood while taking this photo. Debbie, the interpretive ranger who took me on a tour of Pueblo Bonito, said the arriving visitors likely might have been thrilled by the noisy celebration, the singing in many languages, dancing and music from flutes, conch shells, rattles, foot drums and more.
So many people to see the show! Was it like our rock concerts? Disneyland ? Or like High Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral? Who knows? The only evidence are ruins and potsherds. There’s so much mystery here.
Leaving Chaco Canyon reluctantly (and missing the Full Moon ceremony), I drove to Navajo Lake where I camped a few days and then headed northeast over the Colorado border to Chimney Rock.
And now, finally, I’ve arrived. Even from so far away on the road, I am repelled first sighting the mountain. It’s chilling just seeing bulbous Companion Rock and high narrow Chimney Rock on a dark mountain of chert and lava rock. I’m amazed at how close my feelings are to the atmosphere of terror pervading Spiral that Willow is so desperate to flee.
Still, looking out of my car window, I take comfort in all the mailboxes along the road, proof that ordinary people live beneath this mountain that appears so isolating and ominous seen from afar.
After setting up my tent at Ute Campground, I drive to the park entrance and learn I’m not even permitted to go up Chimney Rock alone. So instead I and five other tourists take a fascinating guided tour with Wayne, an interpretive guide and volunteer.
Today Chimney Rock is the powerful landmark and spiritual center for the Pueblo People–the Taos, Acoma, Zuni, Hopi, Tewa and more.
The two towers signify the Twin War Gods of the Taos Pueblo who slay monsters to help their People. The war gods are also revered by the Navajo who know them as Monster Slayer and Born-for-Water.