“One of the most spectacular finds from prehistoric North America.”—USA Today
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.”
Thank you, all you writers out there!
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!
Read Spiral on your Amazon Kindle, iBook, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, Palm, Desktop Computer or Tablet.
Order Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, now!
“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.
“The Center of the World”, Chapter 1 of Spiral by Margaret C. Murray
It was the most special of days, the fall equinox, a time of equal day and night in the canyon, the center of the world, and above the canyon too on the flat mesa tops with their sinkholes, badlands, scarce pinyon and twisted juniper.
Willow waited by Chaco Wash in her best deerskin skirt, biting her lip. She stood very still, small for her age, fourteen, and sturdy, with long shining black hair falling to her waist. Each time Willow bit her lip, the single dimple in her cheek deepened. But what did that matter since Water Hunter was not there to admire it? She threw her sandals at a sagebrush tumbling by in the wind.
What if Water Hunter did not come? But he must. She could not bear that possibility and so put it quickly out of her mind. Hoping for any sign of him, Willow squinted on tiptoe in the sunlight, her eyes following the sage, as her mother taught her, until it disappeared into the horizon. “Become the rolling sagebrush to find what you are looking for,” Mother had counseled.
The soft autumn wind behind her blew her skirt out and away from her strong, taut body, but she didn’t feel the pleasure of the wind. Willow was troubled. The tumbling bush reminded her that her mother did not approve of her waiting here at the Great House, Pueblo del Arroyo, for Water Hunter. But more troubling was that the sagebrush had not shown Willow where he was.
Nothing seemed to move in the haze beyond the wash. Willow scanned all the way to the south mesa gap where the People were gathering for the great celebration.
She clasped her hands to her chest to stop them from trembling. Today the powerful and frightening Elders were climbing the Butte, as they did at each turn of the year, to implore the sun to bring rain. At the top where the sun dagger appeared, they made sacrifices so that the sun would bless the People. Soon Willow would hear their ominous shriek-chanting and the beat of their foot drums as they danced and prayed to the sun to return them to that perfect balance of light and darkness that their ancestors saw when they crawled out of the sipapu, a hole in the third world leading to this sacred canyon.
Abandoning the thought of finding the disappearing tumbleweed, Willow focused on thinking like Coyote, scanning east, west, north and south.
“Coyote, help me find him!” she called.
After all, she was named after a coyote cub. Her secret, never-to-be-spoken name was Srahtzee, meaning Close to the Ground, an attribute of the clever coyote. But Coyote wasn’t helping her now. Willow blushed with pleasure and shame, recalling that she had told her secret name to Water Hunter. How then could he have forgotten she was waiting for him? Her heart dropped.
She rubbed her eyes, hoping to see him loping over the desert; she would recognize him by his powerful frame and his uneven gait.
“I have made friends with my one short leg,” Water Hunter had told her in his slow, quiet way the very day they met. She vowed his lame leg would be her friend too! She loved his one short leg as she loved all the rest of his big hunter’s body. Willow shivered with longing. How desperately she desired him this very moment. She ached to have him stand next to her now. Her mother would never understand.
The sun of midday streaming down swallowed Willow’s compact shadow along with the shadows of the Fajada Butte and the Great Houses of the canyon. Behind her and across the grassy bottomland, the block-long, five-story complex that the Spanish centuries later would call Pueblo Bonito was marking the sun’s trajectory. It had been built to match the path the sun took across the landscape this very day, when all the shadows hid, and day and night were equal.
At this moment everything was perfectly aligned. Every year at this time all the clans from far outliers journeyed to Chaco to see their shadows disappear too. And as always, Willow’s own Coyote Clan, and her mother especially, made the preparations for the Elders’ supplications on the Butte. Her mother’s people were shamans in their own right and once had been favored allies of the Elders, but no more.
Oh, when would he come? Willow gave a little cry and pushed her fists into her eyes to hold back her tears. Carefully she placed her bare feet on the ledge of the gully above the wash and peered across toward the broken south mesa. A great fissure cut through the middle of the mesa, and through it the crowds were coming, chanting, blowing conch shells, and dancing with tinkling footbells. There were so many people! She hoped Water Hunter wouldn’t be coming from that direction. He never had before. Besides, he was of the Bear Clan, and everyone knew they came from the North where they served the High Ones on Standing Rocks Mountain.
But he would come! He must. It would be like the first day when they met on the Great North Road, one full moon ago. She had been holding her little brother’s hand. Her mother was carrying her best bowl. Behind them traveled the entire Coyote Clan on their way to the Giving Place, laden with offerings to the ancestors in their best jars that they would smash when they reached the great hill of shattered potsherds.
Willow had trusted Water Hunter at first sight when she saw him walking with the Bear Clan. She had heard of this famous diviner who found water where there was none, thus attracting the big game that followed the water. She was amazed when he singled her out, smiling over the crowd at her alone. Even her mother noticed and stopped to introduce her daughter to him, saying that the Coyote Clan welcomed the Bear Clan as cousins. It was the Bear Clan who, before migrating north, had laid the foundation for the newest of the Great Houses, Kin Kletso, where Willow and her mother and brother lived before the Elders forced them to move further away down the canyon.
That day Willow felt so special. She had felt even more special when Water Hunter motioned her to walk beside him. It was midday then too and she could not see her shadow. The sun had been a shining orange ball in the sky, the land bleached and brown from summer drought, and dead stalks of flowering cacti spotted the sandy ground.
They were walking slowly, she following his lead, enjoying the sunlight warm on her shoulders, bare breasts and arms. Facing ahead, her gaze was steady in her deep, dark eyes. Balanced, straight-backed, Willow paced herself to the hunter’s slow, up and down gait. “I will walk in a way that we will be together,” Willow had thought then.
Her unspoken words filled her with satisfaction now as her eyes skimmed the brown rocks, the fissures and outcroppings, twiggy bushes and cacti, the whole landscape in harmony with her and the sun above. She felt her heart sing again. He must come. He promised.
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How to begin writing a novel?
How to keep on writing?
I don’t often think about these questions while I write. Mainly I just keep on in my writing groove, inspired by the vision I had at eight when I read The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner, a teacher turned children’s writer. Did you read that book too? I wanted to write just like Gertrude.
I started thinking about how I write a novel while waiting for my daughter at Many Rivers Books & Tea, a bookstore on the corner of Main Street in the Sebastopol, CA. Though it was Sunday, my daughter was at school—she teaches 4th grade this year—preparing the next week’s lesson. We were going to celebrate Annemarie’s birthday by having tea together. But my daughter was late, so I browsed the aisles of books, teas and objects designed to further the bookstore’s mission “to provide customers with tools to support genuine spiritual practice.”
Soon I got into a conversation with Jim Wilson, one of three owners of Many Rivers Books & Tea, that continued until Annemarie arrived. Then we had tea and she bought two bags of rune stones for her class studying medieval England. I got a present too, because Jim invited me to read at the ongoing “Thursday at Many Rivers” event on April 9th, 2015.
So how does writing novels fit in with spiritual tools and spiritual practice anyway? Four words came to me as if displayed across a screen of a Powerpoint presentation: Earth, Sky, Spirit, Story.
I realized I begin a book starting with the earth and write from the ground up. I write from the place where my characters are, seeing what they see. With them, I look upward to the sky, searching for—call it spirit, a vision—and from that cloud-spun, high unknown space, the story emerges. I do this again and again, beginning in the same way: earth, sky, spirit, story. It becomes a practice.
Decades ago I began writing Dreamers from the vantage point of the cobblestone streets of Pittsburgh during the civil rights upheaval of the 60s. As a streetcar turns the bend in a snowstorm, it smashes into Thomas’ brand new, borrowed Impala, upsetting baskets of newly-clean laundry. It is this seemingly innocuous accident that drives the love affair of Thomas and Annie.
In my novel of magic realism, Sundagger.net, I compare two deserts, chapter by chapter, matching the actual Anasazi ruins of the American Southwest with the spiritual desert I experienced working as a tech writer in Silicon Valley.
Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, begins with Willow, a girl coming of age, standing at a dry riverbed, searching Chaco Canyon for a famed hunter with whom she’s desperately in love. From the desert floor, Willow talks to lizards and to crows.
The ancient Anasazi of the Four Corners area, where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet, knew the connection between Earth, Sky, Spirit and Story too. All you need to do is to look from their amazing Great Houses to the heavens to realize it; they designed their buildings and created rock drawings to align with the equinoxes and solstices.
I too followed the same migration route my characters take in Spiral, beginning from the Great North Road, sixty miles long, which you can only see with aerial photography. At my Reading on April 9th at Many Rivers Books & Tea, I’ll share selections from my novels as well as a short videos from my three trips to the Four Corners area, where I explored Chaco Canyon, NM and its furthest, northern outlier, Chimney Rock, CO.
NOVEL WRITING AND MY SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS TO FOUR CORNERS
Earth, Sky, Spirit, Story
with Margaret C. Murray
featuring her upcoming novel, Spiral
Thursday, April 9th, 2015
7:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Many Rivers Books & Tea
130 S. Main Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472
My eldest son and music artist Chris Goslow share much in common creatively.
1. What does this mother-son connection mean to you?
Margaret: From as far back as I can remember, I have been writing away at my novels and my son has been playing music.
Chris: Personally, it’s very satisfying for me to support my mom’s creative accomplishments while sharing my own.
Margaret: In the past Chris and I offered a Holiday Mother-Son Bundle of my book and his CD and I loved that experience. I was living up North in Sonoma County and would take the inscribed book and CD packages to a rural post office in Graton, CA driving along beside the apple orchards and vineyards in the green, winter mist. I felt one with nature, the season, and my writing life.
2. Talk about your working relationship with each other. Do you often help each other when it comes to creative projects, and if so, how?
Chris: I remember being in grade school and hearing my mom talk about wanting to publish her books. I also had my own creative dreams, so for both reasons it was an especially important issue to me. Our creative paths have had a lot of parallels, even though obviously I have been focused on music, and she has been focused on writing. Then again, I also am a writer, and she loves music. In fact, the main character in Dreamers is also a musician.
Margaret: Yes, I made Annie in Dreamers the violinist I wished I was when I was taking violin in grade school! As for how Chris and I work together, this year we started having a Monday work meeting via Skype. As usual with most of our collaborations, Chris came up with the idea. The original objective was to discuss our two different teaching careers since we are also both teachers, but we ended up talking about all the parts of our writing and music lives.
3. Do you find it surprising that you are both artists? And did you always know you could work together this well?
Chris: It’s not surprising. It’s just part of my life, always has been. I always felt an affinity with my mom and a closeness with her as well as a desire to help her be happy. So the seeds of our working together go back a long way.
Margaret: No, it’s not surprising to me that Chris and I are both artists. The surprising part–the amazing part– is how necessary, how life-changing Chris is to my writing life, and how much a difference he makes. Sharing my writing life with him a practice I don’t want to ever stop. Honestly, it’s astonishing to experience how all my children work together with me and each other. Chris’ brother, Jonas, is a performing artist too as well as a consummate web designer. Jonas designed this website as well as my Sundagger.net website. Their older sister is a singer and teacher; Annemarie, with her eagle reader’s eye, was my first copy editor.
4. It’s clear that family is important to both of you. How does family influence your creativity? For example, do you write about your family, are any of your stories (or songs) based family experiences?
Chris: Family influences a lot of my art over the last few years. In fact, my entire I Love You album came about from songs I wrote for my wife, Charr Crail, or about our relationship. Even my first album Waterfall included mostly piano pieces I originally wrote the first year I met my wife, specifically after she asked me for music that she could use with photography slideshows she was making. So in a sense, both albums are an outgrowth of our relationship.
Margaret: Pretty much all my life I thought I would never write about my family because they were just too ordinary! Maybe that’s why I was so attracted to the ancient Anasazi of the Southwest, the characters in the “old world story” of Sundagger.net and Spiral. But still I definitely drew from my own experience, using my own family as building blocks. And clearly, Dreamers is laid out against the backdrop of my life growing up in Pittsburgh, PA during the upheaval of the Civil Rights era. I stood on all the street corners the main characters, Thomas and Annie, did. Each contains a description, a voice, or an attitude of my own memories of my family, friends and lovers. Even the dog, Lucky, is based on my sister’s dog!
All the music mentioned in Dreamers are pieces I played or loved myself. Chris played those pieces at the Dreamers book launch. He also played the music of the ’60s and ’70s when Pillow Prayers was launched. The audience loved the interplay of music and story.
When I stand in my backyard and look up at the night sky, I feel both very small and very big. The small part is my physical body, the big my spirit, from which I am able to imagine any story. Each night it’s a different sky I see and a different story.
All my stories begin with what I see from where I’m standing. It’s the forested hills, valleys and rivers of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in Dreamers. The Oakland Hills, San Francisco, Death Valley and Chaco Canyon, New Mexico in Sundagger.net.
With my upcoming novel, Spiral, I take the old story family of Sundagger.net on the same migration route as the prehistoric Native Americans took in their struggle to survive in a dying culture, one that built Great Houses as big as the Roman Coliseum at a time when medieval Europe was still in the Dark Ages.
Spirit and story begin with the land and the sky. The ancient people of the Americas knew this too.
Many readers of Sundagger.net have told me they were awestruck by the sense of the spiritual upon visiting the ruins of Chaco Culture Natural Park. Here’s a short video of the ruins of Chaco Canyon with music by my son, Chris Goslow, that recreates this awesome feeling. Notice the sun dagger at the end.
The primitive people saw, felt and witnessed the deep spiritual connection between earth and sky too. In the bottomland of a desert canyon sometime near the end of the first millennium, a native American climbed a butte and cut a spiral in the sandstone behind four 2000 pound boulders that just barely allowed the sunlight in.
This artist positioned a 19-circle spiral so that, on the one day of the summer solstice, the center of the spiral was split by sunlight in the shape of a dagger. Furthermore, this spiral pecked out of sandstone was of an exact diameter so that, at the winter solstice, sunlight framed its outmost circle by two smaller daggers of light. Likewise, the equinoxes were shown with smaller daggers.
What an artistic feat to show such brilliance and balance between earth and sky! And that’s not all. Great Houses and kivas, incredible feats of engineering, were constructed over centuries with their outer walls matching the path of the sun and moon light across the land at solstices and equinoxes.
Visiting Chaco for the first time, I first “saw” the story I would come to call Sundagger.net when I stopped before a nondescript ruin of a small house, a house that called out to me with an ancient sad face and spoke of sweet dreams and great disappointment.
I had just come home from Chaco where I had taken many notes on the land and its history. The first scene I wrote describes a man–he didn’t have a name yet–walking in a circle on the desert floor. It didn’t make much sense, except that it did. Sitting at my desk in Pinole, CA, I created my novel around this troubled man like you might if you drew circles without lifting your pen from the center point.
The man became Rowan, a big boss at TekGen, a network communications corporation in Silicon Valley. Why is Rowan obsessively circling? He’s been taking photos of the wild turkeys in the Canyon, talking to them. He’s rethinking his business venture scheme and worrying about the young woman he convinced to come with him, who’s waiting back in the rented car at the Visitor Center. When finally he looks up toward the sky, he spots his ancestor, a primitive man in skins and feathers, RoHnaan.
Spiral, my upcoming novel, takes on RoHnaan’s story, beginning with the young Willow, his mother, waiting at the deep, dry, jagged bank of Chaco Wash, frantically scanning the horizon for her much-older lover.
The Anasazi too had their love affair with the sky beginning with the land. Their first structures were circular pit houses, underground mostly, entered through a hole in the roof by ladder, but by 800 A.D. they were building above ground, raising up to 5-story Great Houses with hundreds of rooms and no evidence that anyone lived in them, round kivas likely used for spiritual ceremonies, as are the kivas of the present-day Hopi and other Puebloan tribes.
This past summer on my third trip to Chaco Canyon, when I came out of the only entrance to the biggest Great House, Pueblo Bonito, the interpretive ranger remarked that I was in the exact spot to watch the sun rise at its southern-most point on the winter solstice. She also pointed out that the east-west wall of Pueblo Bonito precisely divides day and night at the equinoxes, marking the middle of time.
What happened to these pre-Puebloans called Anasazi (“Enemy Ancestors”) by the Navajo arriving three centuries later?
Earth, Sky, Spirit. Story. Before the sun dagger, there was the spiral. Each time the Anasazi migrated, they left behind a spiral to show they were leaving. Why? There are so many questions to ask, so many secrets remaining.
“It’s a mystery in another dimension”, as famed Southwest mystery writer, Tony Hillerman, said about Sundagger.net. So might he say about Spiral.
Spiral is coming soon.
My solstice writing workshop at Yosemite was sweet! We sat on huge granite boulders outside the Sierra Club’s Le Conte lodge, beneath the hot afternoon sun. I began by drumming, mimicking the sun. (Did you know the sun’s center acts like a huge pulsing drum? See the recent KQED special, Journey into the Sun.)
The participants and I conjured up images, words, phrases and paragraphs about the sun, the earth, and we humans who measure and make meaning from the solstice and the heavens itself. Our imaginations flowed like the Merced River across the road.
As the sun crossed the sky and the wind came up, we moved from the wooded, rocky hillside behind the lodge to the river’s edge and then back to where we began. I ended by drumming. We all had written something we wanted to tell.
Two high points for me were the creative writing skills of the participants and the opportunity of having my books for sale at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village. As I told one of their cheery employees, I am honored to have my novel in a gallery named for the great nature photographer and friend of John Muir. Plus the place is jumping!
GREAT NEWS! Now you can buy Sundagger.net to download to your computer, Kindle, iPhone or any other e-reader.
Buy my book for $4.95