Uncategorized

Friends, Let Me Tell You a Story.

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

“A wounded deer leaps highest.”

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

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

Elm Creek Doe photo by Rick Cavalieri

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

Hungry Doe photo by Rick Cavalieri

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

 

 

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

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

 Margaret

 

Give yourself the gift of a book.
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Books for Sale, Events, Readings

Hidden Treasure in Desert Daylight

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

Home to the ancient Native American Anasazi of Sundagger.net and Spiral by  Margaret C. Murray

Pictographs, Petroglyphs and Potsherds
by Margaret C. Murray

I wrote Sundagger.net and Spiral after traveling to the Four Corners area more than 100,000 sites of Native American archeology. Pictographs, Petroglyphs and Potsherds are the clues that point to the mystery of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Parks 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.

Potchards at Chimney Rock, CO, site of Spiral 

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

Petroglyphs by Anasazi at at Bears Ears National Park

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.

Dinosaur’s tail embedded in sandstone, Grand Staircase Escalante National Park

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. An extremely rare dig of dinosaur fossils was looted before development could be stopped.

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.

Ancient Southwest Novels
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Book to Read, Books for 2022, Books for Sale, General

Friends, let me tell you a story!

Margaret C. Murray reading from Pillow Prayers, Fourth Street Fine Arts, Berkeley, CA

 Give the gift of story this holiday season. Stories are powerful and can change lives. As a writer, I know because I work with them all the time. What a delight for me to find the story  in the process of writing it.

In the photo above I’m standing in front of my audience at the book launch of Pillow Prayers in Berkeley, CA about to read from my new book. I’m feeling great and I love my story.

That all happened a few years ago. Maybe you were there!

Pillow Prayers: Love Ruined, Love Reborn after the Summer of Love

Around ten years before I published Pillow Prayers, here I am in a friend’s backyard with my first novel, Sundagger.net.

Sundagger.net: One Family, Two Worlds, Many Lifetimes

My next book became Dreamers, a Coming of Age novel I began when I was just the age of my characters. Back then it had a different title and feel. It took several decades before Dreamers became the book I wanted.

Dreamers, set in the turbulent 1960s.  Street-savvy actor Thomas, desperate for stardom, meets music student,  Annie, desperate for love. 

A few years after publishing Dreamers, here I am feeling elated as I hold out the first printed copy of Spiral, a prequel to the “old story” in Sundagger.net. It’s a strange kind of delight to find the deeper story when you go back in time.

Spiralan epic adventure set in the ancient American Southwest

It took me much less time (and angst!) to complete my companion novels Sundagger.net and Spiral. Maybe the Southwest desert landscape allow my imagination to run wild? Or perhaps it was the amazement I felt visiting the Four Corners area multiple times.

From the start I knew what my titles would be.The “.net” in Sundagger.net speaks to the magic of electronics  in our internet/cybernetic culture today. I had a sun dagger in my mind after seeing videos and reading the history of the actual spiral carved at the top of Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon National Park.  Yes, a spiral! And now the title of my second Anasazi adventure. It wasn’t until 1973 that a perceived “dagger” of sunlight through the spiral was discovered during the summer solstice, leading to the realization of the advanced knowledge these prehistoric Native Americans had of the heavens.

Order now and save.

 For New Year 2022, give the gift of story.

            Books by Margaret C. Murray

Order today.

Any single title $17.00*

More Savings** when you buy Sundagger.net and Spiral together! Both for $22.00!

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Book Titles



My best to you in 2022. May you enjoy a good story always!
-Margaret

 

Book to Read, General, Uncategorized

How did Shakespeare become Shakespeare?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book to Read, General, Uncategorized, Upcoming Book

Writing in the time of Coronavirus

Elm Creek Doe photo by Rick Cavalieri

Reading is a gift to yourself. Writing is a gift too. I’ve been struggling to rewrite Deer Xing, a novel I began in the early ’90s, even before the Coronavirus quarantine overturned my daily life.

At my computer today, I experience deep silence and unfathomable time, feeling more pressure and less inspiration than ever to work on Deer Xing. I constantly interrupt myself to check updates on COVID-19, putting off editing the pages stacked in piles all over my desk.

At present Deer Xing is a long, knotted rope of words tied to an old vision. Frustrated by my old story, I imagine a new one shaped by this fearful epidemic, upending us all everywhere. I slash whole chapters, Xing-out characters, freeing me up to see everything—differently.

I take notes looking out my living room window at the four-way crossing on the corner of my emptied street, a concrete desert of unmoving silence, no one driving or walking by.

How to begin again? What would a deer see at a deer crossing?

Hungry Doe photo by Rick Cavalieri

I think of how my novel Dreamers starts in the green hills of Pittsburgh, PA seen through a young woman’s eyes who imagines Dad loves this city more than he could ever love her.

How Sundagger.net begins when a middle-age, single mother enters a sweat lodge in the Oakland Hills and grapples with Silicon Valley while making peace with ancient spirits in the Anasazi Southwest.

Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, begins in a desert canyon in the Southwest, 12th century A.D, with a teenage girl searching for a hunter she cannot bear to lose.

And my latest, Pillow Prayers, that begins with a photo and a prayer: three women posing in a zen pillow stitchery with its brand new owner, Beth, who imagines a  star-twisted prayer, the first of many that follow.

 “Every book is a world.” says Gabrielle Zevin, author. In this time of quarantine and isolation, books open our minds and nurture our souls . You can buy Pillow Prayers, Dreamers, Spiral and Sundagger.net in ebook form on Smashwords.com. They can be read on Kindle, computer or another device. 

Buy now! Click on Smashwords.  Type “Margaret C. Murray” in the Search for books, authors, or series field to select ebooks.

 

Not satisfied with ebooks? Give yourself the gift of a physical book you can hold in your hands and turn the pages!  It’s so easy.
Buy here!

Uncategorized

Discovering Our Power: Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019

Stay Calm, Keep Writing.

“There’s nothing like it anywhere.”

Strike! Discovering Our Power!
Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019
Sunday December 8th, 10am to 6pm
City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus

Who wouldn’t like to attend a life-changing, fun, insightful book extravaganza  in  the Mission District of San Francisco for a $5 suggested donation?!

By accident I discovered the Howard Zinn Book Fair last year where I was privileged to show and sell WriteWords Press books to interested folk.  That day I also was able to sample outstanding  lectures, workshops, readings, and presentations by other small press book publishers and authors. It was a blow-out experience of inspiration and insight for me.

Learn more about Howard Zinn.

At the Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019  you’ll be able to interact with sixty publishers, booksellers, and grassroots organizations. You can  experience dozens of author readings, panels, and workshops. Some of the presenters include voices from The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, The Yellow Vest Movement in France, and the Oakland Teachers Strike.

Believe me, there’s nothing like it anywhere. Here’s just a few of the events at the 1st Session (10:30AM -12PM)!

More Power, Better Jobs, Less Work

Yellow Vests One Year Later: Workers Struggles in France Today

Women’s Work – Gender, Labor and Capitalism

The novel as counter-history: how fiction can serve truth by departing from fact

 Love WITH Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse

Poetry By Any Means Necessary. What Is revolutionary poetry and why is it crucial?

Click here for the entire program. I’m aiming to be in that audience exploring The novel as Counter-History.

Do stop by my WriteWordsPress table when you come to the Howard Zinn Book Fair.  We can talk of traveling, of the research I did about the ancient Anasazi of the Southwest while writing Spiral and Sundagger.net, of my daydream in the 1960’s that lead to writing (and rewriting) Dreamers, and about my last work, Pillow Prayers, drenched in San Francisco and Berkeley after the Summer of Love.

Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019
Sunday December 8th, 10am to 6pm
City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus
1125 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA
$5 suggested donation (no one turned away for lack of funds)

“When we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress.” — Howard Zinn

Mark your calendar. You’ll be glad you did. There’s nothing like it anywhere.

General, Press Release, Readings, trip

Back from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

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.

Waiting by an iron bull sculpture for the tour van to pick me up.

 

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.

Happy Holidays!
—Margaret

Events, General, Readings

So you’re curious about attending a 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

 

Excerpts, General

What mother does not fear for her child?

cover by Charr Crail www.charrcrail.com
cover by Charr Crail
www.charrcrail.com

How far would you go to save your own child? In the excerpt from my new novel, Spiral, a mother is fighting to save her infant son from the tyranny of a group of Elders, those “wise ones” who rule Chaco Canyon and sacrifice children in the name of the Sun God.

____________________________

One afternoon just before dark, the three of them had just returned home when Owl Watching noticed a small object on the hard-packed floor. He picked it up.

“What is it?” asked Willow as she carefully took off the heavy cradleboard with the sleeping child inside.

“The Elders have been here,” he said, scowling as he held out the little copper bell. He grabbed Willow.

“We must hide him before it’s too late.”

“Too late? What do you mean? What should we do? Where can we go?” she cried.

When her mother found out, she took the bell to the Master Pot Maker, and they threw it in the hot kiln. Together the two shaman women made powerful secret magic, chanting, threatening and howling with the wind to twist the Elders’ power and render it harmless. The bell melted in the fire, turning into a small dull stone.

Now Owl Watching insisted Willow he and the baby leave his relatives’ house each morning. This way, he said, the Elders would not find them at home when they came back. Stepping gingerly over the icy brittle snowy ground, their little family traveled up and down the canyon in the frigid air, paying visits on the Coyote Clan. The baby was held out, admired and feted. People discussed a good time for a naming ceremony. Names were suggested for him.

by Wyoming George
by Wyoming George

The winter was worse than any Willow could remember, the wind blinding, ripping through the canyon, and the daylight too short to stay any length of time at her mother’s house or to make pots. Owl Watching grew more worried with each day he ushered Willow and his son out into the cold. They both knew it was only a matter of time. Finally, Willow refused to leave the house. She was just too exhausted.

Owl Watching said he was going out one morning to search for more kindling while Willow ground corn and the child slept close on the warm hearth. The baby boy was wrapped in his bunting, adorned with the necklace of turquoise and bird bone she had fastened around his tiny neck. How sweet he looked! Willow was daydreaming, admiring her baby when the Elders came again, the staggering men stomping and dropping snow and ice on the floor. She jumped up but not soon enough, for Thin Nose had already grabbed the infant out of her arms. The baby let out a scream.

“No!” Willow cried, reaching for the child wailing in the Elder’s scrawny arms.

“I’ll take that blanket too,” Thin Nose laughed, picking it off the floor. Surrounding them, the others began to chant, skipping with their bells around and around in a little dance. Afraid to pounce on him or grab her crying child for fear she might hurt him, Willow grabbed for the blanket instead. Thin Nose let it go as he held the baby higher in the air. The child began to scream.

“Pray with us, sister,” said one Elder.

“You should be honored we have chosen your child for the sun dagger,” another said.

“Aeeeeah, Aeeeeah,” Willow screamed, choking, emitting high quivery gasps like a stricken coyote.

“The perfect sacrifice!” Thin Nose called out, stumbling toward the door with his prize, Willow following, kicking at his boots wrapped with delicate metal bells.

“Stop!” She screamed, lunging after him. Suddenly she saw Owl Watching hovering behind the deerhide door, which was flapping in the wind.

“Help me!” Willow cried.

Owl Watching rushed past her, shouting to the Elders, “Just the blanket!” He pulled it out of Willow’s hand and thrust it at the Elders. “You said you only wanted the blanket! Here! Here it is!” he cried, holding it up in front of Thin Nose and the screaming baby.

“Give our child back!” Willow screamed.

Holding the blanket, Owl Watching attempted to take away the baby. But he too hesitated for fear of harming him. The Elders’ feet tinkled as they pounded the ground, forming a circle around the child.

Suddenly Willow leaped onto Thin Nose’s back. They swung around as if in a dance. Owl Watching tried to grab her. Tipping back and forth, the rest moved in closer, pushing, pushing. Thin Nose stumbled, almost letting go of the child and knocked Willow off his back. Lunging for the baby, Owl Watching fell sideways to the floor with her. Thin Nose held out the screaming baby in front of him for all to see as he and the Elders danced away.

Owl Watching looked up just as they spirited his child out the doorway.

“No!” he wept. “No!”

“You brought them here!” Willow screamed, twisting out of his arms, turning on him.

“They said they only wanted the blanket!” He sat up, desperate, dazed, still holding the blanket.

“You fool!” She jumped up. “When have they ever told the truth? When?”

“He said they needed the blanket,” Owl Watching groaned. “Forgive me, Willow.”

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.


Signed by Author to:


Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Excerpts, General

Between the covers of Spiral

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.


Signed by Author to:


Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

“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.

Coyote in Chaco Canyon
Coyote in Chaco Canyon

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.

Heading North to Chacra Mesa
Chacra Mesa

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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