Valley of the Gods, Cedar Mesa, Bears Ears National Park
Pictographs, Petroglyphs and Potsherds are the clues to hidden treasure in pure daylight at two National Parks in the American Southwest.
Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Parks are located in the Four Corners area of the Southwest: Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. 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.
The pre-puebloan people known as the Anasazi disappeared from this land by the 13th century, leaving behind their petroglyphs, pictographs and potsherds, a mysterious gift to explore.
“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
Bears Ears (1.9 million acres, designated by Obama, 2017) and Grand Staircase Escalante (designated by Clinton, 1996) contains 4,000 years of Native American culture.
In Grand Staircase Escalante National Park 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.
There was danger that these precious parks would be destroyed to make National Park land ripe for “development”, i.e., private mining, fracking, conglomerate agriculture, and industrial off-road recreation. Anextremely rare dig of dinosaur fossils was looted before development could be stopped.
I wrote my novels of the ancient Southwestafter traveling to the Four Corners, amazed to realize that here in the American desert was over 100,000 sites of Native American archeology. Click on the YouTube video “Stones of Chaco Canyon” and feel the magic that led me to write Sundagger.net and Spiral.
Click the Paypal button below to order Sundagger.net and Spiral.
The 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, Sundagger.net. 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, wouldn’t you agree? Keep writing, stay healthy.
Thank you, Tony Hillerman.
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
“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.
“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
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.
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.
So begins The Sinister Pig (2003) by the late Tony Hillerman, famed mystery writer of the Southwest. The beginning is very simple–a man hands an envelope across the table of a small cafe. The setting is Navajo Country but it could be anywhere, anytime. How mundane. How ordinary. How easy to read. This vintage Tony Hillerman beginning fascinates me–it’s deceptively simple. By the end of the first page, we are in the midst of a high-level corruption and mysterious intrigue. In my book readings at the Sonoma County libraries on October 14th, November 2nd and 5th, I’ll be talking about this and other beginnings of Tony Hillerman mysteries.
How apt, how perfectly Tony Hillerman’s titles reflect the themes too–By page 9 of Sinister Pig we learn that the term comes from “porc sinistre”, a French phrase for “the boss pig in the sty–the one that would guard the trough and attack any animal that tried to steal a bite.” So how does the title fit in? The man who takes the envelope is someone Slate plans to hire, an ex-CIA agent whose job will be to sniff out who is syphoning oil from a pipeline system, thereby bypassing paying the $40 billion dollars in royalty money into the Interior Department’ trust fund for the Indians.
Ahh, now we know what’s in the trough and who profits by it–the federal government and those underlings who work it. We also know who doesn’t profit–another telling Hillerman theme–Native American history. Not to mention his knack for describing the big picture and the lay of contemporary United States of America where power (and crime) reside with the wealthy and their dishonest corporation underlings, and where the “War on Drugs” means war on its victims and “Protecting the Border” means hoarding the trough of addiction.
The envelope the man hands across the table is full of papers documenting a forged identity for the soon-to-be ex-CIA agent. We only know him by his assumed name. But don’t worry, we needn’t remember it because, even with his past experience and the fifty thousand Slate transferred to a forged bank account to bankroll him, it isn’t enough to prevent this agent from being murdered by the end of the first chapter.
Which brings me to another characteristic of Tony Hillerman–murder is executed in the blink of an eye, a turn of the sentence, almost a bloodless and ghostly affair. I’ll be talking about his depiction of crime, murder and its victims too.
Now let’s look at his characters. They’re all familiar to us–Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police, the retired “legendary lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn, and Chee’s down-in-the mouth girlfriend, Bernadette Manuelito, who has recently taken a job as a Customs Control Officer, posted on the Border to Mexico just to get away from Chee. Hillerman’s characters are like family–quirky, stubborn, true-to-life, and long-suffering. Mostly they’re downright sympathetic. After all, we know them well and we’re rooting for them. We believe he is rooting for them too.
In an organic way, The Sinister Pig promotes Native American values through the characters and also through the action; but how many of us know what these values are? The climax of my novel Sundagger.net happens during a vision quest in New Mexico, but I myself didn’t really understand how Native American tribes of the Southwest would view a vision quest ceremony until Tony Hillerman advised me in his letters. At the library event, I’ll be reading scenes from Sundagger.net that illustrate how I made use of his advice.
Then there are all those other Tony Hillerman themes: his sonorous desert landscapes, the technical specifics of industries such as natural gas and oil, all those pipelines, and his stylistic brilliance in using metaphor, understatement and cryptic dialogue to further an increasingly complex plot. We can talk about this in The Sinister Pig and other Hillerman novels.
So come join me at a Sonoma library and bring your favorite book or excerpt. Read a paragraph or two aloud. The anniversary of his death is coming up this month. Let’s all enjoy and commemorate Tony Hillerman together.
If you‘re like me, you loved all the Tony Hillerman books. To honor this famed mystery writer of the Southwest, I’m having library readings at Sonoma County libraries and I’d like to invite you. As you see, I already had one reading event on September 16th–thank you to everyone who came. It was inspiring!
Tony Hillerman (May 27, 1925–October 26, 2008) was an award-winning American author of detective novels and non-fiction works best known for his Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels set in the Southwest. I was very honored that he agreed to endorse my first novel, Sundagger.net, an endorsement that appears on the cover of my book.
When I had finished writing my first draft of Sundagger.net, set in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, I wrote to him to ask his opinion and thus began a correspondence that lasted until he died. I think of him as my teacher, my mentor, and my ally. As a writer in the world, I want to be how Tony Hillerman was with me–funny, open, giving, generous, very knowledgeable, encouraging, and insistent on practice as the key to success. “Keep on writing” he told me in his letters more than once.
Tony Hillerman influenced me long before I wrote Sundagger.net. In particular, I was drawn to his stark, evocative descriptions of the Four Corners area where the four Southwest states converge–New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. There he set his Jim Chee-Joe Leaphorn mysteries, dipping in and out of Navajo and Hopi landscapes to unveil and eliminate crime.
Tony Hillerman was the master of crafting a fascinating story. For me, all these 29 books were an “easy” read, pure enjoyment, that put me in touch with the pleasure of life. His Native American characters especially were quirky, comfortable, the kind of down-home people you could relate to–at times grumpy, jealous, self-serving, duty-driven, burdened with work, love lost, but in the end, bigger than all that and always very human. And women held a place of honor and respect.
All the Tony Hillerman mysteries unveiled a Native American point-of-view that opened my eyes to a different, deeper world. Touching on reservation life, they described traditional Navajo ceremonies and medicine men, attitudes toward death and burial, as well as political and social issues that affect us all in the bigger community, for example, the stealing of antiquities, illegal aliens, drug dealing across borders, and the embezzlement of billions owed by the federal government to the Indian nation.
Each book embraced a dimension I can only describe as quietly spiritual, based on venerating the magnificence of sky and earth. This was recently illustrated in a new coffee-table photography book, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, written by his daughter, Anne Hillerman, that I refer to in my reading events.
Here’s a letter Tony Hillerman wrote me that I display on an overhead projector. In it, he points out different attitudes of the Navajo about modern individuality based on their Changing Woman origination story. After receiving this letter, I revised a chapter in Sundagger.net where a group from the San Francisco area set out on a camping trip to experience a vision quest of their own and end up in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, home of the ancient Anasazi. During my event, I talk about the letter and read sections from the chapter.
Please join me to honor a master of story-telling.
You are invited to bring your favorite Hillerman book–and to read an excerpt aloud to our audience.
Summer Solstice Reading
June 14th, 2010, 7PM
Hercules, CA 94547
You’re invited to a book reading I’m having of my novel, Sundagger.net, “a mystery in another dimension”, at the brand new Hercules Library. Please come! It will be held on a bright Monday evening, one week before the actual solstice on June 21st.
What is a summer solstice? It is the longest day of the year and occurs when the earth is tilted closest to the sun.
My novel begins and ends with a solstice ceremony. The title is based on an actual phenomenon that occurs at the solstices. In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, the sun “pierces” a spiral petroglyph carved by the Anasazi at the top of a butte. The stone slabs through which the sun shines shape the light into dagger(s). One dagger shines down the center of the spiral at the summer solstice and two flank the rim at the winter solstice.
The reading will also include drumming and Native American ceremony. It will be held in a beautiful large white room in the Hercules Library with all the latest electronic equipment one might ever need. I’ll be showing slides of the amazing and colossal Chaco Canyon ruins.
As we approach the summer solstice, our energies will be high and our intention strong. Together we will manifest ourselves. Come celebrate. Bring your drum!