So Much To Be Thankful For 4

It has been over month since my last blog entry, and so much has happened. Some of it was so terrible I could hardly register it was happening to us, and some was so amazing that I truly felt as if we were being held closely in God’s hands. In October, our first grandson, Jordan Biron, was just ten weeks old. After a somewhat dramatic and unexpectedly early birth, Jordan was now growing beautifully, and was constantly delighting the entire family. He certainly had no idea that his first cousin, Avery Isaac, was about to make his entrance into the world, or that his family was about to have a much too close brush with death.

Avery’s birth began with a very long, hard labor for his mother, Natalie. It was one that started on Monday night around 10 pm, continuing all through Tuesday. By Wednesday morning labor was not progressing in a way the midwives were happy with, and it was determined that Natalie should be moved from the birthing center to the hospital. Mark and I went to meet them there. As I drove up the mountain, I was understandably worried, and to calm myself I began to sing. I chose a song called “The Prayer.” It was one I had been working on for an upcoming concert, but the way I sang it on that morning was different, it was a much more urgent supplication. Something deep inside me must have realized we were going to need some divine intervention before the day was out.

For the next twelve hours my daughter-in-law continued to labor. With each contraction, Mark, David and I would surround her with loving support and Reiki. Natalie took what she could from us, and then proceeded to show us all just what she was made of. She powered through those long hours with no medication other than the IV Pitocin they gave her to speed her labor along. It was after nightfall before Avery finally arrived. Natalie had been so strong and determined through all of it, almost super human. I was so proud of her. It seemed as if no obstacle could stand in her way… until one did. An hour after the birth, the placenta still hadn’t delivered and the doctors took Natalie to the Operating Room for what should have been a simple procedure.

What happened next, I can hardly describe. I have never before experienced such highs followed so suddenly by such lows. We were watching David hold his newborn son, all of us marveling at Avery. He was still a bit smooshed from the birthing process, and wrinkly, but already he was studying us with these intense, dark eyes, and my heart swelled instantly with love. You could see on David’s face that he was still trying to come to grips with the fact that he was now a father. But mostly he was waiting for Natalie to come back to the room so he could share all this newness with her. The clock ticked on, and still she didn’t return. Our joy in Avery suddenly shifted to worry for Natalie. At long last, a doctor and a midwife entered the room. One was somber faced, the other visibly shaken. They had come to tell us that they were now in a fight to save Natalie’s life. One look at my son’s face said it all. His world was crumbling before him and ours along with it.

Fortunately, we averted that worst case scenario. Between Natalie’s impressive strength and a very skilled Ob/Gyn, Natalie fought her way back from the brink of death. She survived multiple blood transfusions and two very uncomfortable days in the ICU. David never left her side. Mark and I were checked into the hospital so that we could stay with Avery up in the maternity wing. Being ripped from his mother’s arms was a rough start for Avery. He struggled at first to feed and to hold his body temperature, but we held him, and sang to him, and told him stories, and soon enough he figured out the basics. Twice they let us bring him down to the ICU, and the reunion of mother and child was more than good for all our souls.

Three days later we brought Natalie and Avery home. The worst was behind us, but we were cautioned that it would be a long recovery for Natalie, and we were told she might not be able to nurse the baby. A few days after leaving the hospital, Avery was nursing well and getting plenty to eat. A week after that, Natalie told me she thought she was ready to get by without the extra help from Mark and I. So we stepped back, let them take the wheel, and they proceeded to navigate this part of their life’s journey beautifully.

Since then, we’ve enjoyed a return to normalcy. We celebrated Halloween together, Thanksgiving together, and just recently we decided to risk going out for breakfast with the baby.  It was Avery’s first time in a restaurant. He slept mostly, but when he did wake, his eyes first settled on the big picture window where cars could be seen driving down Historic Route 66 in Flagstaff. While his interest lasted longer than I expected, he’s still a baby; it wasn’t long before he began to cry lustily for his mom so he could nurse.

What I love most about our happy ending is that we can laugh easily once again. We can take joy in watching David and Natalie raising their son side by side. Their days and nights are full of the challenge of being new parents. I’m not sure they have much time to stop and reflect on what almost happened. Sometimes I still do. I have to pause and let myself feel that sense of relief and gratitude. I understand so much more intimately now how great a gift is each and every one of these moments.

That was my October, by November I could once again concentrate on a very different kind of special event. While both my daughter-in-laws had been hard at work growing my two beautiful grandsons, I had embarked on a very different kind of creative endeavor. I mentioned in an earlier blog that in March I’d met another singer, Shira Fitzpatrick, and that we’d been working together, building a repertoire of songs. But actually, what Shira and I were working on was something more than singing. At our first rehearsal, we discovered that we had something else in common; we were both deeply engaged in energy work.

I have been a Reiki practitioner for twenty years now, and Shira, while relatively new to Reiki, is a very experienced practitioner of Chi Kung. As soon as we opened our mouths to sing, we could feel the energy coursing through our bodies and flying off our fingertips. I have used Reiki in my singing practice and in my voice studio for many years, but what I was experiencing with Shira was stronger than anything I had ever felt before. So we listened to what the energy seemed to be urging us to do. Shira began to instruct me in Chi Kung practices and I began to show her the ways that I used Reiki to enhance my singing. We both began to notice changes immediately. We were more open, more aligned, and our breath support became an even stronger foundation. As we sang, our hands could not remain still, so drawn were they to the currents all around us. Soon, we concluded that when we put together our first concert it had to also be about using Reiki and Chi Kung energy more openly.

I have thought a lot about the timing of Shira and I coming together. By the time Natalie went into labor I was well established in my expanded Reiki and Chi Kung practice, and I used these combined techniques actively during Natalie’s labor and delivery. But even before Avery’s birth, it seemed to me that what had happened between Shira and I had to be more than coincidence. The energy had opened so wide for us, I felt like we were being strongly encouraged to take this opportunity to grow as healers and as singers. The world is changing rapidly, and uncertainty seems to weigh heavily on so many of us. Perhaps in troubling times, one of the best things we can do is to raise our voices to sing of love, to give thanks, to honor the divine that exists within us all, and to give each other strength and joy.

In mid-November, (Avery’s one month birthday) Shira and I held a concert in my barn where we unveiled our work together. About 26 people came to hear us sing and experience the energy. People loved it! Based on their reactions and comments, I think we achieved what we set out to do. You don’t have to take my word for it though. I have put the concert up on YouTube. If you’re so inclined, give a listen to some or all of it and let me know what you think.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXnSJcHxL2E

October and November have flown by. It is now December, and Mark and I are on the road. We are currently in Brazil where we have already traveled to Chapada Diamentina, a remote location of exquisite natural beauty that spans out as far as the eye can see and beyond. The river beds there are filled with deep, swirling holes of water carved by diamonds tumbling around inside them. Once upon a time, people could just reach in and locate a diamond, but now the diamonds are few and far between, it is only the stories of lucky locals that are plentiful.

Before we head home again we will stop in NYC to see Jamie, and then in Philadelphia to see Jeremy and Julie and our other new bundle of joy. We will be arriving in time to celebrate Jordan’s first Hannukah together. He will be four months old by then. Already, he has a ready smile and tries to “talk” to us on facetime. There has definitely been a lot of change these past months in my family, lots of uncertainty, but also so many blessings, so very much to be grateful for.  


What’s In Your Library? 3

After my last blog, I got several comments from people who were curious to learn more about my librarian, Cheryl Yeatts. I have mentioned Cheryl in several of my posts, and people are beginning to realize that I have an amazing resource at my disposal. Cheryl represents the best of what it means to be a custodian of information for the public.  The moment we walk into our public libraries and speak to our librarians, we are talking to someone who is deeply committed to connecting people to information. Cheryl tells me that there is a saying among librarians: “Librarians are the original search engines.” It is both a catchy and an accurate description of the job. For any kind of research you might be interested in, be it a little known historical figure, unusual weather patterns, or a rare car part, librarians know how to get you that information.  In this information age we often find ourselves flooded with so much data that it can be overwhelming. But Cheryl, has been exploring library databases for so long that she can navigate them with a high degree of sophistication. And, the more specific one can be in giving her search parameters, the more likely she is to turn up gold.

I have a great story about exactly this phenomenon. Recently, as I was doing my research for my second book, Ahote’s Path, I ran across the name Frank Cushing, an anthropologist who had written extensively about the tribes in the Southwest during the late 1800’s. I was particularly interested to learn that there was an ethnography he’d written about the Hopi. I went to Cheryl to see if she could find it for me, or at least some of his writings on the Hopi from that period. Cheryl immediately went to work and found several promising leads through the ILL (inter-library-loan) database. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ILL, this marvelous database is what makes it possible for me to live in a place  as remote as Sedona and still have access to books in every library throughout the U.S.

After Cheryl finished her search, she showed me the list of possibilities she’d come up with. Some were already in libraries in our network and I checked out several of them. One of them, however, could only be obtained through the ILL. I ordered that book and when it arrived, I saw a very thin, unimpressive looking blue book. It was battered with age, and had come from deep within the stacks of a library in Ohio. But upon opening the book, I found that I had hit pay dirt. It was volume 24, no. 3 of a periodical called American Anthropology, dated July – September 1922. This particular publication was titled Contributions to Hopi History.  It contained the observations of three anthropologists, Frank Hamilton Cushing, Jesse Walter Fewkes and Elsie Clews Parsons. The articles by Cushing and Fewkes focused on a very critical point in Hopi history, when the Hopi culture came into direct conflict with American values and demands. This conflict resulted in the Hopi’s main town of Oraibi splitting into two factions. The faction that saw the white man in relatively positive terms remained in Oraibi, and those who wanted to limit the white man’s influence on their lives spilt off from Oraibi and founded the village of Hoteville (this is the village Cha’risa and her father were living in during the opening scene of Cha’risa’s Gift.)  I had read about the events at Oraibi before, but never from a primary resource, from people who’d actually been there.  In this small pamphlet I heard the voices of these two anthropologists who had been among the last to see and document this village before the Hopi way of life was fundamentally changed by U.S. policies.

Cushing’s account describing his attempts to trade with the Hopi in 1883 was the first article presented. He had come to Oraibi hoping to bring home Hopi articles of interest for the National Museum of History in Washington D.C. In his account, he describes a town that is still practicing a lifestyle and art forms that have already disappeared from the other Pueblo cultures in the Southwest. At the time of his visit, Oraibi is a strong, prosperous town, living a lifestyle that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. But Cushing’s visit unleashes disagreement in the village. There are those who do not feel any trades should be made with him, and there are others who don’t see the harm in it. Cushing does eventually leave the village, lucky to still be alive, and with a few artifacts for the museum, but with very little understanding of what his visit and other American attempts to interfere with this culture unleashed within this community. His assessment as he rides away is that the people in Oraibi are “foolish” and “bull dozed by their wizards.”

The Cushing article gave me a lot of data that I had not found anywhere else. His words gave me a very clear image of life in Oraibi just as it was beginning to be pressured by both outside and inside forces of change. Cushing’s words also clued me into what kind of man he was. I have to say I didn’t come away with the best impression. He came off as arrogant, as more concerned with preserving artifacts than preserving a living culture.

Just to illustrate a point for you, I’m going to show you what I would have known about Cushing had I only used Wikipedia for my information gathering:

Frank Hamilton Cushing was an American anthropologist and ethnologist. He made pioneering studies of the Zuni Indians of New Mexico by entering into their culture; his work helped establish participant observation as a common anthropological research strategy.

Because of Cushing’s outstanding work at Zuni, in 1882 Powell assigned the anthropologist to an expedition to the Hopi village of Oraibi. His mission was to council with Oraibi’s chiefs and get permission to trade goods for a collection of artifacts and crafts for the Smithsonian expedition. The Oraibi Governor approved the visit and trade, but the ultra-conservative Oraibi Traditionalists held special council and refused to trade. The expedition was forced to leave without trading.[2]

Jesse Fewkes’ observations (the second article in the journal) were made less than a decade later. During this period of time, the situation between the Hopi and the U.S. government deteriorated significantly. There were two primary reasons for these worsening relations. One was the opening of the Indian School in Keam’s Canyon and the U.S. attempt to force Hopi children to attend. At the time of this account by Fewkes, several of the children that the soldiers carried off to the school had run away and returned to their villages. The second reason animosity was building between the two cultures was that the U.S. government was trying to redistribute Hopi farmlands, assigning a specific parcel to each family. The Hopi had been managing their farmlands for hundreds of years under a very different system, one where clans owned plots of land rather than individuals owning plots. It was a very sophisticated system that had worked well for the Hopi. It even contained provisions for the indigent and unfortunate among the Hopi. In addition, the Hopi, having descended from the Sinagua Indians, had a vast and ancient knowledge of how to farm in the desert. The Hopi clearly understood the many ways this government plan would be disastrous to their way of life.  The Hopi angrily resisted an attempt made by six cavalrymen, the school teacher from Keam’s canyon, the Indian agent and their interpreter to come and arrest six of their chiefs for failing to go along with the government edicts.

Fewkes was living among Hopi at the time, in the town of Walpi, so he had a front row seat for what happened next.  The six Calvary men were met by a large show of force at Oraibi, which included a Hopi man dressed as a God of War who proceeded to sprinkle the soldiers with liquid from a bowl he carried. When the Calvary men were told that the next God to appear would signal the commencement of hostilities they wisely decided to leave the mesa. The soldiers then contacted Fort Wingate saying that they needed reinforcements because the Hopi were extremely hostile.

The Hopi could never have anticipated what was soon coming their way. Two regiments of Calvary with heavy artillery, including four canons, headed toward the mesas. The army was joined by more than a hundred Navajo warriors who, having heard of the conflict between the US government and the Hopi, had joined forces with the Calvary.  Fewkes describes the procession, saying it wound out of the hills and into the valley below the mesas like a giant snake. The Hopi immediately understood that they had miscalculated. The people of the village were all huddling outside of town along the point of the mesa when the army finally came upon them. The Calvary held them there, placing the six chiefs under arrest, and causing the entire population to watch a cannon fire, so that the Hopi could fully understand what it would mean to go to war with the government of the United States. It was during this time that one of the chiefs managed to jump over the edge of the mesa and escape. Soldiers and Navajo warriors gave pursuit, but he was never apprehended. According to Fewkes, what was discovered by the Navajo during that search were hidden caves below the cliffs containing most of Oraibi’s accumulated wealth.

A very sacred object also went missing during this time, never to be found again; a stone that was an ancient deed to the Hopi lands. The Hopi had brought it out when the soldiers first arrived to prove to the soldiers that they had an ancient and legal claim upon this land. Fewkes himself states that he saw them show this stone to the soldiers, but it was never seen again after that day.

I realize I’ve gone on quite a bit about this periodical, but I’m sure you can imagine my excitement in finding such a document.  Cheryl uncovered something for me that was nothing less than buried treasure. 

While librarians are all trained to be experts in finding information for library patrons, Cheryl sees her job as going one step further. She believes it is important to empower people to learn how to manipulate the databases for themselves. During my interview with her, she got very excited when she learned I wasn’t aware of World Cat, which is a catalog that grants access to the contents of all the libraries of the world. She immediately set out to show me how to access this catalog from the library’s homepage. I’m a pretty active user of my library. I’m even a volunteer at the library, so I assumed I knew a lot about what was available. Imagine my surprise to discover such a powerful tool so easily accessible, right there under my nose. It took only a minute or two for Cheryl to show me how it worked and for me to find a book that looked promising.  It was called On the gleaming way; Navajos, Eastern Pueblos, Zunis, Hopis, Apaches, and their land; and their meanings to the world, written by John Collier. Sounds perfect for me, right? I am currently number one on the hold list.

Before the interview ended, I asked Cheryl if there was anything she wished more people understood about libraries and librarians. Her response was very impassioned. She said she wants people to be good consumers of knowledge. The times we’re in concern her and she wishes that more people knew about the databases and how to use them. Children and adults all need to know how to access information and determine the accuracy of that information.  This is something any librarian would be happy to do for you. They can help you find nearly anything if you ask them, and if you can’t find it, and they can’t find it, they will know someone who can.

Before I end this post, I want to share something with you that Cheryl shared with all the volunteers at our library.  It is a link to Fodor’s Guide to the nineteen best libraries in America. It includes fascinating little known facts about each one. I’ve been to a maybe a third of these libraries. Now I’m kind of wondering if this needs to be a bucket list item, looking for hidden treasures in the stacks of all 19 before I die.

http://www.fodors.com/news/photos/19-best-public-libraries-in-america

 

 

 


Bombs and Bridges 4

One of the things I love most about living in Northern Arizona is that I am always discovering aspects of its history that completely thrill me. One of my best sources for new discoveries continues to be my local librarian, Cheryl Yeatts. Cheryl works tirelessly to bring our community some really incredible and informative programs. The latest one she organized took a lot of extra effort and several months to arrange because it involved getting permission from the Arizona National Guard for a tour of Camp Navajo (a World War II era ordnance depot that is now run by the Arizona National Guard). The facility is located just ten miles west of Flagstaff in the small town of Bellemont, right alongside Route 66. The town is surrounded by ponderosa pines, with the San Francisco peaks towering over it. The tour was led by Dr. John Westerlund, author of the book, Arizona’s War Town: Flagstaff, Navajo Ordnance Depot, and World War II. The book has won numerous awards for its role in preserving Southwest culture. I read the book just before going on the tour and found it to be both illuminating and inspiring. I was sorry when I came to the end of the book, but consoled myself that I had the tour to look forward to and a chance to learn even more about what Flagstaff was like during World War II directly from Dr. Westerlund.

John Westerlund has lived a life that is itself the stuff of stories. He was a career army officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel after twenty six years of service. His tours of duty included Vietnam and three tours in Europe. His final tour of duty brought him from the Ecole Superieure de Guerre, the French army war college, to Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Arizona. There, as a professor of military science, he was charged with overseeing the ROTC program. Immediately following his retirement from the army, John began a doctoral program at NAU focused on the history of the American West. When searching for a subject for his doctoral thesis, he began investigating the history surrounding the old ordnance depot just outside of Flagstaff. What he discovered was a gold mine; an incredible story that told of what happened to Flagstaff when it suddenly became a boomtown during World War II. The book begins with Dr. Westerlund deftly setting the stage, giving the reader the context needed to envision how very different cultures would need to come together to achieve a nearly impossible goal.

The Navajo Ordnance Depot was commissioned just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The War Department chose Bellemont, because of its proximity to Flagstaff, and also because of its easy access off Route 66, its proximity to water, and because it was right along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe rail lines, which provided direct access to the Port of Los Angeles. The War Department believed they had discovered a perfect setting for their needs, but they were not the first ones to realize there was something special about this area. The large clearing in the ponderosa pines, with a spring fed directly from the volcanic peaks of the San Francisco Mountains, had a history for attracting early pioneers and Indian Fighters with the First California Volunteer Infantry Regiment. But long before the white men discovered this area, these peaks, were sacred to the Native Americans of the region. For the Hopi, whose presence in the area dates back 12,000 years, the tallest mountain among these peaks, Mount Humphreys, is the place where the supernatural Kachina people live. For the Navajo, Mount Humphreys is one of their four sacred mountains. It is their Sacred Mountain of the West, defining the western most boundary of their homeland. With the United States’ entry into World War II, these mountains did what they have done often over the centuries; they offered a sheltered place for people to come together. In 1942, against this sacred backdrop, there began an undertaking of vast proportions.

The Navajo Ordnance Depot was to be a key storage facility for the Port of Los Angeles, and as such, became the major supplier of weapons for the entire Pacific theater. At the time the depot was being built, no one in the military was certain if the Japanese were planning an attack on California, so placing the ordnance depot six hundred miles east, in a fairly isolated mountainous terrain, seemed prudent. Flagstaff was excited to be the recipient of this huge government contract, but they were soon to discover that there were many challenges ahead. Almost overnight, Flagstaff’s population jumped from five thousand to twenty thousand, as construction workers and their families poured into town. It had been hard for the army to find enough people to work in such a remote location, and so they had turned to the Navajo and the Hopi to help make up the needed work force. They had a timeframe of only seven months in which to build a base of operations that included a depot of 800 bunkers (each the size of a two thousand square foot home). Equally as difficult was finding the means to house and feed such a dramatic influx of workers and their families. The fact that it was completed on time and without any loss of life was nothing short of miraculous. Once the depot was completed, the facility still required more than two thousand full time employees in order to keep up with the tons and tons of munitions pouring in and shipping out of the depot regularly. For most of the war years, the depot struggled to even get above 1,500 employees.

In his book, Dr. Westerlund carefully explores how several thousand Navajo and Hopi came to be a part of this project. It probably should have been a harder sell than it was, for there were still Navajo alive who remembered the “Long Walk” and the subsequent harsh years of incarceration at Fort Sumner. And, in even more recent tribal memory was the U.S. Government’s forced livestock reductions during the 1930’s. These reductions ended up destroying the main source of Navajo currency (sheep and goats) leaving much of the Navajo nation impoverished. But, while the Navajo had many reasons to be disenchanted with Washington, they instead took a firm stand against America’s enemies. Even before Pearl Harbor, the Navajo had come to clearly understand the German threat. Germany had been unable to break a secret code in World War I that had been based on the Choctaw language. In the build-up to World War II, the Germans tried to avert a similar scenario by sending anthropologists out amongst the Native American tribes to learn their languages. The Germans also mounted a Fascist propaganda campaign designed to turn the hearts and minds of Native Americans away from the United States government. Not only did they fail to prevent another unbreakable code from emerging (a code developed in WW II based on the Navajo language remained unbreakable), but their propaganda campaign also failed dismally. The Navajo council disdainful of the racial overtones apparent in Nazi propaganda submitted a resolution to the U.S. government pledging their loyalty to “the system which recognizes minority rights…” The Navajo clearly took this pledge very seriously, and evidence of this was very apparent at the ordnance depot. During war bond drives, the generosity of the Navajo was legendary. Many often spent their entire paychecks on bonds, setting an example of patriotism that inspired all base personnel to dig deeper into their own pockets. As the war progressed, the munitions flowing in and out of the depot increased dramatically. Work shifts often ran fourteen hours or longer, but the Native American laborers never complained. Instead, they tirelessly lifted and sorted tons of munitions by hand each day. They became an example of dedication, efficiency, and courageous spirit.

The stories about the Native Americans at the depot are not the only ones Dr. Westerlund describes in his book, although for me, they were the most inspiring. A close second were the stories he told about the Austrian prisoners of war who were interred at the depot to help with the labor shortages. Their arrival riled up the town folk, but the army was in need of the extra manpower, so despite many vociferous town hall meetings, the POW’s stayed. Dr. Westerlund delves into the experience of these POW’s. He talks about their reaction to the beauty of the mountains, and the relationships that formed between the POWs and the Native Americans. Many of these men missed their families, and the time spent at Indian Village, also located within the confines of the depot, allowed the men to feel part of a family again.

Dr. Westerlund’s book is a five star must read. It moved me deeply to read about how in the worst of times it was possible to build something more than weapons; it was possible to build bridges of understanding and community. Working through cultural differences was not just necessary for the day to day functioning of the Navajo Ordnance depot, it was a key element in making the depot the highest performing in the entire country. It was an impressive accomplishment. Daily, they all worked together to make nearly impossible goals in order to keep the troops in the Pacific theater well supplied. While Dr. Westerlund’s book is focused heavily on life at the depot, it is also the story of Flagstaff itself, chronicling its transformation from a sleepy, prewar mountain town to a vibrant boom town. The depot’s presence brought a lot of growth to Flagstaff, both economic and social, and helped shape the town you find today at the base of that sacred mountain.

The tour conducted by Dr. Westerlund was wonderful as well. There were about twenty five of us, some from Sedona, some from Flagstaff, all of us united by a keen interest in the history of this region. It is something that I wish everyone could see, but the only reason we were allowed into Camp Navajo was because of Cheryl’s perseverance and Dr. Westerlund’s status as retired military and a noted local historian. As I mentioned earlier, this is now an active Arizona National Guard base, and it isn’t open to the public, and certainly isn’t set up for tours. There isn’t a visitor center, so there are no restrooms, no snack bar, and sadly, no gift shop (I was not able to buy a t-shirt proclaiming that I was blown away by Camp Navajo). As I walked the grounds of the old ordnance depot, I felt the history of the place surround me, especially because of what I’d read before the tour. There was very little left to see from the World War II era. Some things remained, such as the original army headquarters and the chapel. The underground bunkers all remain, although being covered in earth they are harder to detect and we were only allowed to view them from a distance. The bunkers still serve a purpose; they are now rented out to commercial interests. The department of defense rents many of them, storing some interesting items, such as the motors to the now disassembled ICBM missiles.

As you walk the grounds, you can still see the old foundations of the Indian Village. There is a board with pictures on the site describing some of the history about Indian Village, but none of the buildings still stand; you won’t find the trading post nor a single hogan. The site of the old POW camp is even more spartan. The barracks are long gone; only remnants of their foundations poke up through the weeds. There are no plaques demarking any historical significance to this place, but there is one artifact that has survived; an alter built by the prisoners that they had used for their outdoor chapel. It stands alone in a field, facing out toward the mountain, bearing testament to the fact that these men had been here. From the way the alter is placed, it is clear these men had felt the majestic pull of Mount Humphreys. From Dr. Westerlund’s interviews, we were made aware that these former POW’s had realized they were part of something unusual. They had formed strong bonds with both the people and the land. They had worked hard within this very diverse community of Americans to help bring an end to the war, and many of them had been sad to leave. For many of them, life in the POW camp had been much better than what awaited them at home; which had been nothing less than the complete destruction of their former lives.

Before I end this post, I would like to mention one of the women I met on this tour. Her name is Marilyn Hammarstrom, a Flagstaff resident, and also director of the Fort Tuthill Military Museum. Marilyn caught my interest because I heard her talking about the museum’s recent expansion. Fort Tuthill, now a county park, sits just a few miles south of Flagstaff. It was built in 1929 and was the summer training facility for the Arizona National Guard. The fort had a reputation as one of the finest National Guard training facilities in the United States. The museum’s focus is to cover more than 100 years of Arizona military history. Beginning with the history of the first volunteers who came to Northern Arizona in 1865, a mixed militia that included Hispanics as well as Pima and Maricopa Indians; and continuing with General Tuthill’s long career with the National Guard; beginning in 1917, presiding over the formation of Arizona’s first infantry, (the 158th Infantry regiment) and lasting all the way to 1951. He is often referred to as the father of the Arizona National Guard. The museum also showcases the history of the Arizona National guard all the way through the war in Afghanistan.  For Marilyn, her involvement with the museum began at the urging of her grandson. They had both gone to hear the National Guard Army Band play its traditional 4th of July concert at Fort Tuthill County Park. At the end of the concert the National Guardsmen announced that they were looking for volunteers to help with the museum. Her grandson told her quite plainly that she simply had to do it. I am hoping to go see the museum before it closes for the winter in October. Whether it’s this fall, or when it re-opens next spring, I will be sure to share the experience in my blog. In the meantime, if you are intrigued, here is the museum’s website: http://www.forttuthill.org/intro.html

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Westerlund or his book here is his Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Arizonas-War-Town-Flagstaff-Ordnance/dp/0816524157/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505447928&sr=1-1&keywords=Arizona+War+town%3A+Flagstaff%2C+Navajo+Depot

Dr. Westerlund has recently written an article for the autumn issue of The Journal of Arizona History on the 1887 murder of six year old Johnny Elden. Cheryl has arranged for Dr. Westerlund to return to Sedona to speak about this story as part of the Arizona Humanities program. The talk is scheduled for Wednesday, January 10 at 1:30 p.m. at the Church of the Nazarene, 55 Rojo Drive in VOC. The presentation will be entitled Flagstaff Pioneer John Elden:  Murder, Mystery, Myth and History. It will focus on Johnny’s murder, one of the most infamous in Territorial history. Today, the boy’s body rests in a lonely, rock-covered grave at the base of the mountain named for his father. A Forest Service interpretive panel nearby describes the awful crime. The murder has been part of Flagstaff’s lore for more than a century. Dr. Westerlund examines the life of pioneer John Elden and the murder of his son, attempting to separate myth from history. In Dr. Westerlund’s talk, he will explore the question, did it really happen? I’ve already got it in my calendar. Maybe I’ll see you there J

 


Summer’s Gifts 4

This summer has sped by at a dizzying pace bringing much to be grateful for, and much to reflect on. The highlight has no doubt been the arrival of my first grandson, Jordan Biron Maletz. He was born three weeks early, on August 4th.  He was only five pounds, thirteen ounces, but from the start he was alert and strong. He is a beautiful baby who has quickly figured out that he is adored, and how to breast feed  like a champ. Needless to say, I fell in love with Jordan at first sight. But what touched my heart just as deeply was the way my son and daughter-in-law took to parenting. Their hearts are so open and full of love for this little boy. It overflows all bounds and has enveloped us all. 

Before Jordan was born, my son began to sing to him. He sang just one song, “Yellow” by Cold Play, and he sang it to his son every night for a couple of months before the birth. There was a video taken the first evening of Jordan’s life. My son is lying in bed, holding his baby skin to skin, and he is singing “Yellow” in a soft, tender voice. You can tell Jordan knows this song, recognizes it. His little fists unclench and lie flat upon his father’s skin, his newborn eyes search toward his father’s face, he is listening intently. It clear what this little boy is thinking, “I am safe here; this is home.” It is an amazing feeling to see your own child be such a good parent. It is a gift that makes you feel keenly that you must have done something right.

Another wonderful moment this summer was my first meeting as an author with a book club. It was very exciting to meet with people who had all read the book and had come together to talk about it with me. From the moment I walked through the door, I became aware that the response to Cha’risa’s Gift had been a really enthusiastic one. Those of you who have read my book know that at the start of each section there is a recipe, specially crafted just for this story. I had always planned to use the molasses cookie recipe from Cha’risa’s Gift to bake cookies for this book club meeting. They happen to be my personal favorite of the recipes.  Unbeknownst to me, my neighbor, Gretchen, who was hosting the event, had attempted the peach cobbler recipe, and the result was so delicious that I may have revise which recipe is now my favorite. One of the other guests, Yeewah, had actually made the Hopi tea recipe. I was very pleased and surprised to discover that this tea is not just good, it is better than I ever imagined it would be. This was a recipe that I had invented entirely to suit the plot of the book. Greenthread  is a medicinal plant Native Americans in the Southwest commonly use, and lavender is a medicinal plant more commonly used by people of European descent. I used the two plants to symbolically represent  the intertwining of two very diverse families that come together in my book.  Having conjured up this tea, I had never actually thought to make it. Yeewah, however, did.  She had gotten on line and ordered the greenthread from a Navajo website, and then a friend of hers had given her lavender that she’d grown organically in her garden. The two flavors together couldn’t have been a more perfect pairing. The greenthread was bright and forward on the palate; the lavender rounded out the greenthread with darker, smokier tones. It seemed to me the tea was the exact flavor of balance and well-being.

We had a wonderful conversation to go along with the excellent food that evening. Yeewah had been so inspired by the Native American aspects of Cha’risa’s Gift that she’d put together a group of six questions, each paired with a Hopi quote that she’d searched out on line. We used these quotes and questions to drive some very open hearted discussion throughout the evening. That evening turned into another great gift of this summer. How often are we allowed to see the way our creativity touches other hearts and minds?

Another wonderful event this summer was helping my daughter relocate to New York City as she gets ready to start a graduate program in musical theater at NYU. It is just so obvious that this is what she should be doing, and NYU is the right place for her to do it. We helped her to move in July and then we came to see her again in August on our way back from meeting baby Jordan. While we were out on that second visit, we managed to snag three tickets to go see Anastasia on Broadway. It was our first Broadway show together now that Jamie is officially settled in as a resident of the Big Apple. The show was excellent; great music, a very talented cast, and an amazing use of screens to bring a lot of motion and vibrancy to the set design. I sat in that theater, beside my husband and my daughter, waiting for the curtain to rise, and as I did, my thoughts drifted toward the future. It wasn’t inconceivable that one day I might be sitting in one of these famous, old Broadway theaters, waiting for the curtain to rise on a Jamie Maletz musical. That we are fortunate enough to help our daughter reach for her dreams is yet another gift of this summer.

The last gift I want to tell you about is one that I would call wondrous. It happened over the course of a week toward the end of July, just before I was about to leave the desert for an extended time away. I was out hiking with Lucy. The weather had been typical monsoonal weather; wet evenings, that dried out over the course of bright, hot mornings. As each day progressed, heat would build, unleashing storms once again late in the afternoon. That is the basic pattern but it is not always a predictable one, so during monsoon season, Lucy and I tend to go out early in the day to a favorite meditation spot that is closer to home. Once there we like to settle down under the shade of one particular shaggy bark juniper tree.

When I meditate, there is always a point I come to where I spiral my prayers outward to include my family, all of humanity, and all of the earth. Twice during the course of that week, when I got to this more outward aspect of my meditation, a little hummingbird came and circled around me. On his second visit he came so close I could feel the movement of air from his beating wings upon my skin. After that second encounter I came home and looked up what hummingbirds symbolize. I learned that a hummingbird’s wings move in the pattern of an infinity symbol, which is why hummingbirds are often associated with symbols of eternity and continuity. They are also known to be symbols of joy, and that’s what I felt when this little bird came so close to me. This tiny hummingbird was doing his part to help send my healing intent out far and wide. Obviously I chalked up that experience as a very special summer gift. 

The day before I was due to leave Sedona, we had some particularly wild thunder and lightning strikes all around the area. The morning after this violent storm, Lucy and I headed out for a last hike in the desert before our travels took us away from home. When we arrived at our spot under the juniper tree, I noticed that the tree was smoking. I only had one sixteen ounce bottle of water with me, but I emptied all of it into a hole in the trunk, where most of the smoldering seemed to be centered. Wisps of smoke continued to rise from the trunk, and also from the branches. It was eerily beautiful, but also alarming. I started throwing dirt down into the trunk as well. When it still continued to smolder I looked at Lucy, uncertain of my next move. The thought of our special tree igniting, sending fiery tendrils all throughout our lovely wilderness sanctuary was horrifying. I realized we were going to need help. We headed back home as quickly as we could and I called the fire department. The fireman confirmed what I had feared. The heat of the day would dry out the dampness in the tree, and that ember could become a very dangerous spark. But, the fireman said, he could not process my call. I would have to call 911. So I called 911, and they told me they wanted to put me directly in touch with dispatch so I could describe firsthand the location of this smoking tree. When dispatch called me they listened to my description and said, “Would you mind calling the park ranger station? They are better equipped to handle this situation.” The ranger station picked up the phone with a recorded message that began, “If you are calling to report a fire, please hang up and dial 911.”

At this point I realized that the only reliable help for my sanctuary was going to have to come from me. I loaded up the biggest camel pack we had full of water, strapped it to my back, and then Lucy and I took the fastest route we knew back to our tree. When we got there, I could see that the smoking had stopped. Apparently the water and dirt I’d given it before had been enough to smother the ember. Even so, I dumped the entire contents of the camel pack into the hole in the trunk of the tree. Then I sat down with Lucy, quieted my mind and focused on my sense of smell to sniff at the scents around the tree. The smoky smell was gone, replaced now with the fresh smell of wet greenery, and slightly damp red rock. I let my breathing shift into the calm, deep breathing of meditation, and then set my mind free, all the while aware of yet another gift of the summer. I’d been given the chance to save something I love.

As summer winds down, I am headed back to my desert. I’ve been away for over a month, but soon now my next grandson will be born, due in early October.I wanted to be in place in plenty of time, just in case we have another little one wanting to make an early arrival. It also is time for me to return to work on my book, Ahote’s Path. In preparation for another publication in the not too distant future, I recently re-published Cha’risa’s Gift through a new publishing company called Pronoun. Cha’risa’s Gift can now be found on not just Amazon, but on Apple ibooks, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Kobo, Overdrive and Bibliotheca. Pronoun seemed like it might offer up a better arrangement for managing the publishing process and I felt now was a good time to try them out to see how well I like the experience. If you want to check out my new link on Pronoun, click here: https://books.pronoun.com/charisas-gift/ I’d be interested to know what you guys think of what you see there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hot Season 2

Back in March, I attended the Tucson Festival of Books. While I was there, I went to a lecture by Claiborne Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Kirkus Media, who spoke eloquently about the importance of indie authors giving back to their communities. What he said really resonated with me, and as a result, I decided to make a commitment to read and review more books by indie authors. So far, I am doing pretty well with this commitment. Since March, I have read seven books by seven different indie authors, and posted reviews for all of them on Amazon and Goodreads.

Today, I wanted to single out one to share with you, a beautifully written work by Susan DeFreitas called Hot Season. I met Susan at the Tucson Festival of Books. We sat next to each other in the author’s booth and very much enjoyed talking about our books and experiences as authors. Little did I realize then that Susan would soon be making some rather large waves in the world of indie authors. In May, Susan won a gold medal IPPY award for Hot Season

Susan’s book focuses on a group of people concerned with saving a river threatened from over-development in a town that is suddenly booming. The story is told from the viewpoints of four young women, all struggling to find themselves to varying degrees. Their lives intertwine through their interest in the river and also through their mutual attraction to one particular, eccentric young man. The plot heats up like a hot desert day, each degree adding to the risk of wildfire, both in the inner and outer landscapes of these women. The book leaves the reader pondering some big questions. How far are we willing to go for our beliefs, and can we ever truly know the full impact of our actions? In the face of uncertainty, is it better to risk everything or stay on the sidelines?

When I sat down to interview Susan, I learned that Hot Season is the first three books planned for this series. Each book will have different characters, but they will all be set in roughly the same timeframe, in the town of Prescott, Arizona, and they will all revolve around the same environmental issue: the fight to save a river.

The detailed setting for the book, the town’s unscrupulous desire for progress, and the devastating impact their plans would have had on the health of the river are not fiction. This was the landscape Susan encountered when she was an undergrad (nearly twenty years ago) at Prescott College. The college appealed to Susan because it was known for being a very idealistic, activist school. Susan ended up loving the physical and social environment there so much that after graduation she remained in the area for the next fourteen years. The characters in her book are all composites of people that came in and out of her life over the course of those years.

Like the central character in this book, Rell, Susan had a house in the barrio section of town, and often rented out rooms to students at the college. Also, like Rell, Susan was a bit older, a bit wiser, and had a broader perspective on life that her younger roommates often lacked. Susan admits to always being a little more cautious with her idealism. She wanted to make a difference and wanted to protect the natural world, but she struggled with the radical extremes some people were willing to go to for their beliefs.

Susan has always been someone who could see and appreciate both sides of a conflict. For her, the answer was never simple or obvious. Her life experiences taught her that there was never only one right way to approach difficult problems. You had to allow each person to play to their own strengths in a way that felt right to them, even if their path seemed extreme. She came to realize that these differing degrees of passion were needed to allow enough people to come together to save the world.

You don’t have to look far to discover where Susan learned to care so deeply about the environment. She learned this from her mother. Back in the 1970’s, Susan’s mom helped to found a back-to-the-land community cooperative in the countryside in Michigan. People joined her family, coming from many different walks of life, all of them pursuing an ideal of ecological self-sufficiency, and living a life much more intimately connected to the land. Susan knows that the established farmers in the area loved to tell amusing greenhorn stories about this unusual group. Just imagine, she says laughingly, the looks on the faces of these modern-day farmers as they watched a bunch of city folks eschewing tractors by plowing their fields with horses.

Susan says this chapter of her childhood became a big part of her identity. It will also be the focus of her second book. The central characters in book two will all be part of a back-to-the-land cooperative, although in this case, this collective will be placed in Prescott, Arizona, not Michigan. Much of the humor will come from this group’s lack of preparedness in taking on the much more difficult farming terrain of the high desert. Susan says this second story will be for her a kind of love song to the kind of people she grew up with.

I asked Susan—and I don’t think it will be a spoiler if I tell you—what happened to the Verde River that she portrays so vividly in Hot Season. In the end, it wasn’t activism that saved it. There were two events that threw a wrench in the town’s plans. One was that the bottom fell out of the housing market. Many development projects went belly up, including the developments that would have depended on water from the Big Chino Aquifer. The second was a lawsuit that was filed against the town of Prescott by the Salt River Project in Phoenix, which found that plan threatening to the health of the Salt River, which is a main source of water for Phoenix. These two events were enough for the city of Prescott to halt their plans. But Prescott still owns the Big Chino Aquifer, so the final chapter on the fate of the Verde River is yet to be written.

I read Hot Season in my desert home during a heat wave. Day after day, temperatures soared into the triple digits, and under this intense pressure cooker, fires broke out both to the north and south of me. My little valley was filled with plumes of smoke from the burning landscapes all around. The fire to the south was located in Susan’s old stomping grounds near Prescott. It was called the Goodwin Fire and it was huge, reminding many people of the devastating Yarnell Fire that claimed the lives of nineteen wildlands firefighters just a few years back. It seemed, as I read, that there was no dividing line between Hot Season’s fictional landscape and my own.

Yesterday the monsoons finally arrived in Sedona. They brought with them a very welcome relief from the heat and dryness. But monsoons tend to have a lot of electrical activity, so they can also add to the fire danger. My husband and I watched as several lightning strikes hit the mesa to the south of us, lighting up the dry terrain just ahead of the bands of rain. I’m thinking now of those back-to-the-land farmers that Susan is planning to introduce us to in her next book. The high desert is a challenging landscape, and their resourcefulness will be tested, but they will know success as well. The very wet winter this year, combined with the intense heat of June, produced record crops around here. I’ve already harvested hundreds of apricots from my one apricot tree, and all five of my peach trees are just loaded as well. The other day, Mark and I went into Camp Verde because we’d heard that the corn at Hauser’s farm was ready. When we got there, we found the bins piled high with freshly harvested corn, and the smell of that sweet corn hung like a heavy perfume in the air. We went a little further down the road, at the recommendation of the woman selling the corn, to a pick-your-own tomato field and brought home a haul of beautiful tomatoes as well. This place is called the Verde Valley for a reason. Susan’s farmers will do just fine here.

If you want to learn more about Susan, you can go to her website here: http://susandefreitas.com/

The Amazon link to Hot Season can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Hot-Season-Susan-DeFreitas/dp/1941861288

 


A bountiful May 5

It’s been way too long since my last blog post, and I apologize, but I have not been idle. I’ve been moving ahead with my first draft of Ahote’s Path, and have now completed the first three (of what I expect will be 7) sections of the book. But to be honest, the book and my blog took a back seat this past month to family. Early in May, my eldest son and his wife came out to spend Mother’s Day with me. This was special for a lot of reasons, but in particular because they are expecting a baby at the end of August, a little boy.  But they aren’t the only ones. My other son and his wife are also expecting a baby boy early in October. My first go at grand parenting is going to be doubly exciting, and I can’t wait to meet these little boys! 

Now, it is hard to upstage the impending arrival of my first grandchildren, but my daughter, Jamie did her very best to give the family lots to talk about as well. In May, she finished up a rather spectacular run of performances in the Phoenix area. Phoenix Theater hosted an evening of Jamie’s music that was incredibly well received.  Then, just a week later, one of her musicals, Cursed, opened for a one weekend run. Jamie wrote, produced, music directed and performed in the show, along with many actors who have been with her now through several of her musical productions. I have come to know and love these young people over the years that Jamie has been in Phoenix. They aren’t just part of Jamie’s production company, they have become a community. Together they have all grown as actors, singers and, most importantly, as friends. For this group, for all of us really, this run of Cursed was bittersweet. Jamie is leaving Phoenix this summer for New York City, to get a Master’s degree in musical theater at NYU. I’m sure the finality of her imminent departure was on all of their minds. I know it was on mine. No one took the moment for granted. It was hands down the best performance I’ve seen from this group.  Every single one of them put their whole heart into it. It was a perfect way to cap off this chapter of Jamie’s life. With the performances now behind us, we are all systems go for the move to NYC. There were a lot of moving parts that had to come together, but almost all of the pieces have now fallen into place. I have no idea what the future will hold for my talented daughter, but she certainly will be in the right place to figure it all out. 

 

There is yet another thing I want to share that happened in May. I met a soprano here in town. Now, that may not sound like such a big deal to you, but for me, I have been searching for a satisfying creative outlet for my singing for quite some time. From the moment I met Shira something just felt very right. We have already begun to work up a program of duets and arias. Our plan is to perform it somewhere here in Sedona, under the stars, at the next winter’s solstice. It has been a lot of fun finding music and having someone so well matched with my voice and abilities to sing with.  To make the partnering even more perfect, it turns out that, like me, Shira is very drawn to the healing art of Reiki.  We will be bringing our gifts of song and reiki together in a very  unique way to greatly enhance this Sedona winter solstice experience.

I have another interesting bit of news to share with you. In May I was also interviewed by Tom Fallwell for his podcast series, Write On With Tom Fallwell. Tom is also an author of the well-received  Rangers of Laerean series.  I had a lot of fun talking with Tom. If you’re interested in hearing the interview you can find it here: http://www.tomfallwell.com/podcast.html. My interview can be found on episode 8, about ten minutes into the podcast. I hope you’ll check it out!

And now, before I sign off on this post, I’m going to leave with a clip from Jamie’s big debut at Phoenix Theater. This is the finale from the evening, performed by the ASU Lyric Opera Theater, directed by Toby Yatso.


Out Of The Mouths Of Babes 10

A lot of my author friends have been out there recently doing book readings and book signings at indie bookstores and well attended conferences around the country. But, last week I had a very special book sharing opportunity of my own, one that touched my heart deeply. I got to share my book with my sister’s first grade class. 

Now, my book isn’t a children’s book, and when my sister first asked me to come in and talk to her kids I was a little uncertain. But this visit was supposed to be more about having her students meet an actual author than it was about having me talk about my book. They’d been able as a class to have good discussions about characters, setting, plot, conflict and resolution, and now Ann wanted for them to meet someone who had used all these elements to complete a published book. Ann had told me this was a smart class, but I’ve seen high schoolers struggle to understand these essential elements of story-telling. I was curious about a first grade class that was already capable of understanding and using these elements in stories they had written and illustrated on their own. On the day I visited the school, these stories were all being proudly displayed in the school auditorium.

Anytime you sit down in front of a group of 6 and 7 year olds, you do have to be prepared for anything. I hadn’t anticipated the kinds of things they would ask, or the directions our conversation would go, but I was comfortable enough to just set a basic direction and then see what happened. At one point I decided to tell them a little bit about my book. We talked a little bit about why it was called Cha’risa’s Gift, and one smart, little guy figured out her gift wasn’t an actual present she’d been given, but rather an ability she’d passed on to others in her family. As we talked more, I figured the children might be intrigued by my character, Ahote, because of his experiences with going to school. I told them how the people in Ahote’s village hadn’t wanted their children to go away to the Indian boarding school, but that the soldiers had come and taken their children anyway. I explained how after several years at this boarding school, Ahote no longer knew where he fit in. He felt different from the people in his village now, and also well aware of the many ways he was still different from white men. He wasn’t sure where he belonged anymore. After telling the kids Ahote’s backstory, I asked them if they had ever felt different from everybody else.

The conversation that ensued took up the rest of the class period. It turns out they all felt different, but unlike Ahote, they were not confused by their differences, instead they utterly embraced them. One little ginger haired boy, looking just like he’d come off the pages of an Irish story, told me he was different because his dad was from Spain. The little blue eyed girl next to him proudly announced that she was different because she had been born in Germany and that her mom still spoke German to her. Another little boy told me he was different because he’d been born in Japan. I had one little boy stand up and start bouncing all around with excitement as he told me that he was different because his family was Irish and that meant they all were Vikings. Another little boy told me he was different because he could climb so very high, as high as a bird, and that he had eagle eyes with which he could see everything. So I told him about another character in my book that had a similar ability; that this character could see through the eyes of a bird and knew what it felt like to fly. Well, this little boy went on to tell me that he also could fly, and proceeded to let loose such a rich description of his own experiences as a bird that I felt very encouraged for the future of story-telling. My sister let the story go on for a bit, but it was clear this little fellow would be a long while before he ran out of steam, so she kindly but firmly told the boy he needed to wrap it up.

There was time for one last question, and so I picked a little blonde girl in the back row. She looked me right in the eye and said, “Is it true you sing opera? And will you sing a song for us?”

I looked over at my sister. She was grinning ear to ear. “I told them you sang,” she happily confessed.

“Oh? And how did this come up?”

Ann explained that the art teacher often gave the kids their instructions for the day in a faux operatic voice. Apparently this was enough for the kids to believe they loved opera. Well, thanks to my sister, it was clear I had to sing a song. The only problem was I hadn’t sung, let alone warmed up my voice, in weeks. I’d been so focused on getting ready for the Brains to Books Cyber convention, and on making my National Novel Writing Month goals for April, that words not songs had dominated all my energies.

I got the kids to agree to do a warm up with me before I sang to them. So, with varying degrees of aptitude, the whole lot of us did a series of five note scales. I took my enthusiastic singers up as high as I dared. Then, there was nothing left to do but start singing, I launched into a passable acapella performance of an Italian art song, “Se tu ma’ami.” I was a little tentative at first, but it didn’t take long before I was in character, flirting with the shepherd boy, but also scolding him for thinking I would follow his lead. All the while, I kept a wary eye out for my sister, wondering if soon I too would be told to wrap it up. The entire class, plus a few passersby outside the door, followed my performance closely all the way to the end of the song, and then I received a very enthusiastic round of applause.

When the lunch bell rang, I watched the kids file out the door. My mind went back to our conversation on our differences. It struck me that there has always been this emphasis in our society on who is different and who belongs. I couldn’t help but think of these children, so many of whom came from families who had been U.S. citizens for a generation or less. This is not something you’d have ever been aware of when you first walked into this classroom.  For all that they claimed to be different, at first sight I could not have told you which of these children had a long American pedigree, which were first generation American, and which ones hadn’t even been born in this country. I would have told you I saw more of what these kids had in common than I did of how they were different. They were all learning together in my sister’s classroom. Together they’d mastered how to read, how to tell a story, how to do math. They all broke bread together and played together. And apparently they all shared the same love of listening to people sing in full operatic voice.

Every class has a personality, much as each child has a personality.  They are shaped by several factors. When things go right, these include loving and supportive home environments, and good teachers whose own unique gifts are supported and encouraged to help them impart learning.  I’m sure I will never truly know exactly how Ann’s class this year resulted in such a perfect environment for learning. But here’s what I do know, these children with their differences, their commonalities, their curiosity, creativity, and love of opera are a reason to hope for the future.

In case you would also like to hear my full on operatic tones, here is a recording of me singing “Se tu ma’ami. It isn’t the acapella version the class got to hear. It’s from back in the day when I was a voice teacher, when I often sent my students home with a copy of the songs to practice with.


Here’s a story for you :) 4

Hi Everyone,

April has been a busy month and it’s taken me longer to get around to my next blog. I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo this month, challenging myself to get 20,000 words written before the month is out on book two, “Ahote’s Path”  I think I’m going to make it! I’ve written 16,397 so far. And I apologize in advance to my beta readers. It is going to be well over 50 pages I’ll be sending you once I’ve had a chance to edit all this forward momentum.

In the meantime, I do have something to offer you on my blog. It’s a short story, and it features Cha’risa as the main character. I wrote it earlier this month for the Brains to Books Cyber Conference. Some of you may have run across the story if you were checking out my links at the conference, but for those of you who did not, I’m pretty proud of this story. It is a short read, a bit on the spooky side, and it draws attention to proposed  tourist attraction that threatens one of the most sacred places in the Grand Canyon, the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado rivers

Before I offer up this story, there is one more thing I would like to say, and that is thank you to the many of you who responded to my desperate pleas for help during Brains to Books, when I was trying to win the cover wars contest. The outpouring of support was incredibly heartwarming. I had no idea how many of you were actually reading my posts, let alone willing to go to bat for me in my hour of need. It was probably childish of me to want something so badly, but there it is, I really, really wanted to win. But you know what? I already had won. Natalie made a winning cover, and so many of you had my back. I lost cover wars because I didn’t understand the rules well enough. Next year I will know better! And Natalie has already said that she is willing to make the cover for Ahote’s Path!  The Havasupai home in the Grand Canyon is stunningly beautiful.  I’m sure however Natalie illustrates it, it will be hard to beat!

 

Okay, so without further ado, for your reading pleasure, here is my short story, The More Things Change.

The intercom squawked. “Mr. Fox, your 2:00 appointment is here.”

Lamar hit the intercom button. “Send her in, Ms. Whittier.” He sat back then smiling. He’d been hounding his associates for months to find the perfect spokeswoman, and from what he’d read in this woman’s file, she could be the answer to all of his PR problems.

As the woman entered the room, Lamar stood and walked over to her. He towered over the tiny woman, who was dressed simply in a flowered, calico dress. On her small feet was a pair of well-worn cowboy boots. While the dress was modest, the tie around her waist accentuated a still comely figure for a woman in her mid-sixties. Not a woman of much wealth, Lamar observed; that would help him with his pitch.

“Welcome,” he said, giving the woman his brightest smile.

She nodded back, not smiling, but meeting his gaze with self-assurance. She had beautiful eyes, a warm brown, that held both an innate kindness and curiosity.

“Sit,” he encouraged her, and pointed to one of his leather arm chairs. He watched as she sat. Her hair was so long, she had to move it over her shoulder to avoid sitting on it. It was perhaps her best feature, dark with dramatic gray streaks. She looked every bit the wise woman. Lamar silently congratulated his team. They may have finally gotten it right this time.

“Would you like some tea, coffee, water?” Lamar offered.

“Tea would be nice,” she said.

He smiled again and walked over to the intercom. “Ms. Whittier, can you bring some coffee for me and a cup of tea for my guest.”

“Certainly,” Ms. Whittier said over the intercom. “What kind of tea does she like?”

“Herbal,” the woman answered.

Lamar parroted that back over the intercom, and then took the seat beside her.

“So, Mrs. Connor,” he began “Shall I tell you a bit about us here, at Grand Canyon Escalade?”

“You may call me Cha’risa,” she said.

“Well, if I’m to call you Cha’risa, you must call me Lamar.”

She nodded and then asked, “If I may, Lamar, can I ask you a question before you tell me more about your company?”

“Certainly,” Lamar smiled.

“How did your people find me?”

“Ah. Well as best I understand it, my associates just put it out there, hoping for the Universe to answer, and apparently the Universe has offered up you.” He had meant to be charming, even a little funny, but she took him quite literally.

“That does explain some things,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow, and then offered, “I think what I find most intriguing about you is that you seem to have a gift for straddling two worlds. It says here you gained the trust of the citizens of Flagstaff, while at the same time maintaining a strong connection to your Native American roots.

“Well,” Cha’risa said, “All that was a long time ago now.”

Lamar brushed off her concern. “The more things change the more they stay the same, right?”

“No, not in my experience,” she replied. “People are meant to grow, to evolve. It is actually an illusion that we all keep circling around the same old issues. It isn’t a circle at all, it’s a spiral.”

“Really?” Lamar pretended to be interested, but in truth what she said made no sense to him. “So,” he continued, “shall I tell you some about Grand Canyon Escalade?”

“Yes, please do,” she encouraged.

Rubbing his hands together in anticipation, he started in. “I’ve been working for a while now on a project to make the most spectacular part of the Grand Canyon a tourist destination.”

“Really?”

“Yes, let me show you.” He grabbed some plans from his desk and carried them over to the coffee table, just as Ms. Whittier entered with the tea and coffee. “Set them right there, will you?” He nodded his head toward the end table sitting between the two chairs.

“Thank you,” Cha’risa said as the secretary set a steaming cup of peppermint tea down beside her.

The secretary smiled back at her as she placed the coffee near her boss, and then left the room. Lamar never noticed as he unfurled the plans and smoothed them out on the table before them.

“So the proposed development is located here,” Lamar pointed to a spot on the map on the eastern rim of the canyon, clearly within the Navajo reservation.

Cha’risa leaned forward studying the area intently.  “That is right above the confluence.” She looked up at him questioningly.

Excited, Lamar continued to tell her more about his vision. “That’s right! The heart of the Grand Canyon, right where the Colorado and the Little Colorado meet, that’s where we’ll build a tourist attraction to rival all the others! I have big plans, Cha’risa, big plans!”

She waited for him to continue, so he jumped right back in. “Up on the rim we’ll have a hotel, a restaurant, an RV center, a cultural center, all kinds of attractions. But that’s not the best part! Right here, at the rim, we’ll build a tramway that will shuttle as many as 10,000 visitors a day down into the canyon. We’ll build an elevated walkway along the cliffs for easy access in and around the canyon floor, and we’ll also build this!” He pointed to a large amphitheater also below the rim. Can you just picture what concerts would be like inside those canyon walls, under the stars?”

When Cha’risa looked at him next, her eyes were somber.

“You do realize,” she said, “that the confluence is sacred ground for many tribes, mine included.”

“Yes, but just think of it,” Lamar insisted, “once only the most determined souls could access this place, now anyone can go see it!”

Cha’risa was quiet a moment considering her next words. Finally she spoke. “When my first husband went to this sacred site, to Sipapu and the salt caves, he ran all the way from the Hopi Pueblos. It was a journey of many miles and great hardship. When my son went, it was along a different path, but it also required a long and difficult journey both physically and spiritually.”

“So you get what I’m envisioning!” Lamar enthused. “Once this project is approved, people will be able to make the journey in comfort, in a glass tram, in just ten minutes.” He sat back beaming. It was only after an awkward silence that it began to occur to him that Cha’risa might not be seeing things quite the same way.

When she broke the silence, her words were again carefully chosen. “What makes the experience to Sipapu sacred is as much about the journey as much as it is about the place. You are putting at risk spiritual practices that have been in place for thousands of years.”

Lamar was still trying to think of a way to bring the conversation back on solid footing when Cha’risa asked, “Lamar, why do you think I would make a good representative for this project?”

Lamar gave a silent thanks that the conversation was now moving away from the all this spiritual mumbo jumbo. “Well,” he began, “we are looking for someone who can be reassuring, someone who can speak to the tribes of the region and be a voice they would respect and trust.” He looked at her then. “I think you could have a steadying influence on a lot of these loud nay sayers.”

“Are a lot of people are fighting this?”

“There are some environmental groups, some indigenous groups, and the one I personally find the most frustrating, the Grand Canyon Trust.

Tell me,” she asked. “Do you think your project can benefit the Navajo, the Hopi, the Havasupai, the Zuni?”

“Oh, it will definitely benefit the Navajo. We’re going to need a lot of service workers for all these facilities we’re building. The Navajo are in desperate need of jobs, and we’ll bring those along with us in spades.”

“So, you’re talking about maids, waitresses, handymen, landscapers, that kind of work?”

“Precisely! And you better believe it could make a big difference in addressing the levels of poverty on the reservation. Of course the Navajo have to do their part too, to make this all happen.”

“So what is it you need for them to do?” Cha’risa’s face was carefully blank.

“Well, the Navajo nation will need to pay about $65 million for the initial infrastructure, and they will be responsible for its maintenance. They’d have to sign a non-compete for any business activity along 40 thousand miles of access roads into the development. They’d also need to claw back about 420 acres of grazing rights belonging to their people.”

“That seems like a lot to me. Is that all you’re asking?”

Lamar studied her closely, and for the first time since the interview started he began to feel unnerved. He had the strong sense that if he held anything back, she would know.  “There are a few more small details,” he admitted.

“Such as?”

“We would need the Navajo to pre-approve business site leases without prior review by Navajo offices of historic preservation, environmental protection, parks and recreation, and a few other key agencies. We’d also need them to override some pesky resolutions against Escalade.”

Cha’risa raised an eyebrow. “Who has resolutions against you?”

“Hmmm, well there’s the Bodaway-Gap resolution, and there are others as well by the Lechee, Cameron, Coal Mine and Tuba City chapters. There’s also one by the Dine Medicine Men’s Association and the Western Agency Grazing Committee.  Oh, and there is also a pesky Inter-tribal Compact with the Hopi that we’d need the Navajo to get around…”

“Enough, Lamar. I’ve heard enough.”

His face fell. “You’re not interested, are you?”

Cha’risa shook her head.

“It pays well.” Lamar felt it had to be said.

“Look, Lamar, no matter how much you paid me, you’d never get what you needed from me.”

“Why not?”

“You do realize I’m Hopi, right? It says that in your file there?”

Lamar looked more carefully at the file then shook his head. “It just says Native American.”

“I don’t suppose you are aware that there is a long history of distrust between the Hopi and the Navajo?” Again he shook his head.

“I thought not,” she said. “I bet it also doesn’t say anything in that file of yours about the fact that I have a checkered history.”

Lamar took a closer look at the small woman in the flowered calico dress. “You do? What on earth could you have done that would raise eyebrows?”

Cha’risa shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  “I have dedicated my life to healing people, but there was a time when I crossed the line between a medicine woman and a witch.”

Lamar leaned in closer. “What exactly did you do?”

She regarded him with an unblinking stare. “I killed some men with a single thought.”

Lamar gaped at her wanting to disbelieve it, but what he saw in her eyes made him gulp and sit back, putting some distance between them.

Cha’risa got up, leaving her tea untouched. “Mr. Fox, If you send 10,000 people a day into the heart of the oldest spiritual center in all of the United States, you will destroy something irreplaceable.  How many places are left on this earth where we can be at one with the harmony and serenity of a sacred place?  If the universe raised me from the dead and sent me to you, it is for one reason only. The Great Spirit needs me to fight against this plan that serves no one’s best interest but your own.”

She held his eyes with hers for several moments longer than was comfortable. When she left the room, an uncanny chill stayed behind. Lamar took a deep breath and then picked up his now cold cup of coffee. It was only when he tried to raise the cup to his lips that he noticed how badly his hands were shaking. He couldn’t take even a single sip.

Author’s note:

This short story began as a challenge that a few of us who love writing historical fiction set for ourselves. We were to pick an historical character from one of our books and have that character interview for a job in current day, 2017. I chose Cha’risa, the central character from my book “Cha’risa’s Gift” for this challenge. Cha’risa is a Hopi medicine woman who lived from 1866-1945. The job she is interviewing for is with a development company (not a fictional one) in Scottsdale Arizona that has tried repeatedly to get approval for a project called Grand Canyon Escalade, which would allow them to build a resort property on the East Rim of the Grand Canyon using Navajo lands. All the information Lamar shares with Cha’risa is actual information associated with the project. For anyone who wants to know more about this project, and about those who are opposing it, here are a few websites you can check out.

 

http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/stopping-grand-canyon-escalade

https://www.americanrivers.org/2016/08/grand-canyon-escalade-happen/

https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/native-news/grand-canyon-escalade-theres-a-lot-of-unknowns/

 


Chris Navarro on Embracing The Struggle 3

 

Today, I am going to switch it up just a bit and move away from the writing world to introduce you to someone in the art world: bronze sculpture artist, Chris Navarro. Chris and his wife Lynne are my neighbors and my friends. Lynne and I have become very close over the years, and recently she just signed on to be one of my beta readers. Chris is also a friend, and he’s also an inspiration to me. He’s a well-spring of creativity coupled with a healthy dose of cowboy grit.  All I need to do is walk past his property, offer up handfuls of oats to his champion roping horses, and immediately I am reminded that here lives a guy who really understands what it means to risk everything to follow his dreams.

If you’re wondering what horses have to do with Chris’s path to becoming a nationally renowned artist, you’ll soon discover that horses and rodeo riding are integral parts of his journey as an artist. Chris has always loved horses. As a teenager, he particularly loved everything that had to do with rodeos and the fierce independence that characterized the cowboy way of life. Halfway through college, Chris and three of his friends left school to become professional cowboys on the Mid-States rodeo circuit.  Chris traveled that circuit for two years, and did well enough to make it into the finals. However, an encounter with a bad tempered bull named Slim Jim, ended up bringing Chris to a fork in the road. While riding that angry, nearly 1,800 pound creature, Chris suffered a bad foot injury, and with no money for a doctor, Chris asked his friends to take him home. “There I was. My foot was mashed. I didn’t have a dollar to my name. I’d spent two years packed four in a vehicle, bulleting down a highway in an attempt to make the next rodeo so I could experience that eight second high. All I had to show for it was a variety of injuries, a couple of belt buckles, a battered gear bag, and a passel of memories both good and bad.”

As it turns out, however, Chris actually had more to show for that experience than just those fancy belt buckles. All those years spent riding in rodeos had taught him to be a risk taker, it had taught him that fears are meant to be faced, and it had taught him how to accept the losses along with the wins. Chris acknowledges that bull riders and artists actually have a lot in common.  Both require you to believe in yourself and to be mentally tough enough to stand up to the challenges.

I have to admit that when I decided to write Cha’risa’s Gift I was not aware of how I would come to need that kind of cowboy grit. It is a skill I am still trying to learn. But what Chris has demonstrated to me over the years is that if you want to succeed, you have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in your vision. I’m going to tell you a particular story about Chris, one that illustrates exactly these qualities of mental toughness, risk taking, and the unwavering faith you need to apply to whatever it is you set your mind to.

What you first need to understand about Chris is that he is extremely intuitive. His whole journey as an artist began in the first moment he saw the famous bronze, “Two Champs” by Harry Jackson. The statue depicts a cowboy riding the famous Wyoming bucking horse, Steamboat. As soon as Chris saw it, he felt his whole world view change. The power and beauty of the piece spoke deeply to him and he felt a strong desire to own it. At a price tag of $35,000 though, buying it was not even in the realm of possibility. But Chris was not deterred. He couldn’t afford to own that piece, but he could afford to try making something like it on his own. Chris literally didn’t know anything about bronze work, or art of any kind for that matter. So, he went to Goedicke’s art store in Casper, Wyoming the very next day, and got his first introduction to sculpting, along with the necessary materials, from the owner of the store. Stashing the art supplies in his truck, he then drove to the Natrona County Library where he got the librarian to show him all the books they had on sculpting. And so began a self-taught education, one that relied heavily on the school of trial and error. It demanded his weekends, nights and vacations. It was not an inexpensive venture either. When he drove to Cody to cast his first bronze, he learned it would cost $1,000. His first couple of years sculpting, he spent more money at the foundry than he did selling art. But the memory from his first sighting of “Two Champs” spurred him on. He’d had a vision and had grabbed onto it with the ferocity of a bull rider. The gate had opened; he was committed to the ride. 

Much the same thing happened thirteen years later when Chris decided to create his first monument. Chris was driving past the Cheyenne rodeo arena when an image flashed into his mind, an image of Lane Frost, a young man who had won the world championship in bull riding in 1987. He then lost his life competing at the 1989 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. As Chris continued driving, the images of that fateful moment replayed in his mind. He saw Lane riding the bull masterfully, saw him hold that seat all the way to the final whistle, and heard the exultant victory announcement of the 86 point score. But then tragedy struck. As he came off the bull, the bull whirled and gored Lane, killing him.

He was just 25 years old. No one had ever created a monument to a bull rider before, but suddenly, in that instant, Chris knew he had to it.

By this point in Chris’s career, he understood intimately that having a vision and making that vision a reality were two very different things. But, what he also knew was that he would find a way to make his first monument a memorial to Lane Frost. Chris first approached Lane’s parents. They had never met Chris before, but they loved the idea and threw their support solidly behind it. Chris then went to the Cheyenne Frontier Day Rodeo Committee. His original pitch to the committee was to have them split the fund-raising for the monument with him. The committee turned him down. Chris thought it over and then told the committee that he would raise all the funds if they would provide the pedestal for the monument. They accepted this new proposal, and Chris was now on the line to raise $250,000 dollars.

Chris didn’t have any experience fund raising, but lack of experience had never stopped him before and it wouldn’t stop him now. During the 1992 rodeo, Chris was given a full access pass to help him with his project of raising funds for the memorial. He offered every $1,000 donor a maquette (an 18” by 8” bronze replica of the planned monument). In addition, he told these donors that they would have their names engraved on the memorial base plaque. A gallery in Cheyenne also had the maquettes available, and the owner, Harvey Deselmes, took an active part in helping Chris achieve his fundraising goals. Chris also gave a maquette to the champion bull rider that year. When the bull rider went up to accept his prize, the rodeo folks made a public announcement about Chris’s project to raise funds for a memorial to Lane. API picked up the story, and soon, Chris’s monument was getting national attention. In one month’s time, Chris had 15 of the required 250 donors. Soon after that, he’d reached 55 donors, and with that number, Chris knew there’d be no stopping this project, even if it meant dipping into his family savings. That sacrifice was never needed, Chris’s fundraising efforts proved very successful and he raised the entire $250,000. But, that was not the end of this story.   The Lane Frost memorial was about to encounter a whole new set of road blocks.

Chris had just started the enlarging process for the memorial when tragedy struck. Chris’s father had suffered a major stroke, and sixteen days later, he passed away. His father had planned to come to the memorial’s dedication ceremonies scheduled for that July. He didn’t live to see that day, but he was there in spirit, for Chris had carved his father’s name into the clay at the base of the sculpture.

After the funeral, Chris returned home and started to work intensively on the monument. His own studio was too small for a work that size, so he moved into the Caleco Foundry in Cody, Wyoming. There was a small apartment above the foundry, and that is where Chris lived Mondays through Fridays, working 12 to 14 hour days on the sculpture. On the weekends, he would drive back to Casper to be with his family. By early March, the massive clay sculpture was nearly finished. Chris was just about a week away from being ready to cast the bronze.

On the night of March 6th, disaster struck. Chris woke in the pre-dawn hours struggling for breath. Smoke had overtaken his small room above the foundry. He tried to get out the door, but was overwhelmed by the acrid fumes rolling up the stairwell. Down below in the foundry, an electric heated clay box filled with 100 pounds of petroleum oil base clay, had caught fire.  The smoke was now so thick in Chris’s apartment that he had to crawl on hands and knees to reach the phone to dial 911. Things were deteriorating so quickly that Chris could see that he wouldn’t be able to wait for help to arrive. He made his way to a small window, tossed out what items and reference materials he could save, and then crawled out the window himself making a 15 foot drop to safety.

The fire truck arrived shortly after and soon had the fire extinguished, but the project had suffered a lot of damage. Much of Lane’s rodeo gear that Chris had borrowed from the Frost family to use as reference material, had also gone up in flames. Lane’s boots, the one he’d been wearing the day he died, all the photos of Lane Chris had borrowed from the Frost family, and Chris’s sculpting tools were among the casualties. The clay image had melted in places and had burned entirely off the steel armature in others. Chris would need to scrape off all the charred clay before he could once again begin the laborious detail work. It was a severe blow to the project, but by the middle of that morning, Chris had ordered more clay and replacement sculpting tools.  He finished the memorial in time for the July 24th dedication.

Commissioning that monument on his own had begun as a labor of love, a way for Chris to leave his mark, showing that he’d been here and that Lane had been here, and that they’d both embraced the struggle holding nothing back. But the monument also marked an important turning point in Chris’s career as an artist. Sales of Chris’s work increased dramatically after the monument’s dedication, and Chris’s reputation as an artist spread well beyond the confines of Wyoming.

“I figure we all need a certain kind of toughness, and single-minded determination if we’re going to pursue our dreams. We can’t quit or give up, not even in the face of insult or defeat. I think we have to learn to trust our instincts. I believed I needed to do the memorial. Once I started the project, I never looked back.” (Chris Navarro, 2009 “Chasing the Wind” page 15.)

For anyone who would like to learn more about Chris Navarro you can find him at: http://chrisnavarro.com/

Chris also has a new book out called “Embrace The Struggle” filled with his story and the stories and pictures that go along with many of his most famous works of art.  Here’s the amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Embrace-Struggle-Chris-Navarro/dp/0692693890/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Chris is all about creative journeys, and just last week, he said that he has been thinking about turning his hand to writing a book of fiction. I won’t tell you any more than that, of course, there will be cowboys and horses and rodeos in the story, but there will also be so much more. It is a story about a man finding his way back from the darkest of places, finding a path to redemption. Knowing that inspiration has once again struck Chris, I’m feeling pretty certain that this book will become a reality.

 

 


The Power of the Written Word 3

I attended the Tucson Festival of Books this past weekend. The Festival took place under an incredibly blue sky and a hot, desert sun that brilliantly lit up the Sonoran landscape and surrounding mountains. Every year for the past nine years, the Festival has overtaken the center mall of the University of Arizona campus for a weekend during the University’s spring break. It is a huge celebration of literature, whose primary purpose is to improve literacy rates among children and adults. All of the events are offered to the public are free of charge, including a wide array of really amazing lectures and workshops by well-known authors and well-placed people in the book industry. The vast majority of the Festival’s revenues come from citizens who choose to pay a yearly fee to become friends of the Festival, and all proceeds from the Festival go to supporting local literacy programs.

This was my first time attending the Tucson Festival of books, and my very first book fair as a published author. I bought a two hour stint in the adult fiction tent on Saturday for $35.00. I also entered the Festival’s Masters Literary Awards Competition. My book, Cha’risa’s Gift, ended up placing as a semi-finalist. There had been hundreds of submissions to the competition, and the judges had been drawn from a pool of this year’s big name authors/presenters. Needless to say, it was a very exciting way to start off my first experience with the Tucson Festival of Books.

I only sold one book during my two hour slot, but I was having such a good time, the lack of sales wasn’t enough to dim my spirits. Then, to my delight and surprise, I discovered that over the course of the day I had sold an additional 8 books on-line and the following day another two. I sold enough books to break even on my investment in the Festival. But honestly, book sales can’t even begin to describe the value of this weekend. All around me, there was an air of excitement and fun. Books were changing hands by the thousands; children’s events were successfully inspiring a love of books in a new generation of readers. And for those of us older bibliophiles, we were offered, for free, literally hundreds of quality lectures, seminars, and workshops on a wide range of topics.

I had a chance to attend two of the workshops on Sunday. One was a workshop entitled “How to Build an Indie Readership,” by author Lindsay McKenna. The other was called “Getting Your Book Reviewed,” by Claiborne Smith, Editor-in-Chief of Kirkus Media.

You might know Lindsay McKenna as Eileen Nauman. She’s an award winning author of more than 100 books, and a pioneer in using electronic media to further her publishing goals. When you first meet Lindsay, you are struck by two things. One is that she is just a powerhouse of energy, and the second is that she is a risk taker. She started her career with traditional publishers; however, the nature of her contracts resulted in her being responsible for much of her own marketing. She began to wonder if she might be better off striking out as an indie author. She decided to take the risk, using $40,000 of her family savings to make the switch. That first year was a slow start, and she had a lot of sleepless nights wondering if she was going to be able to earn enough to re-fund the family savings. But she kept a level head and continued looking for those things that would bring her a good return on her investments. Eventually, she cobbled together a plan of action that enabled her to reliably bring in about $100,000 a year.

One of the key elements of Lindsay’s plan involved reaching traditional readers through blog tours. But, she made it clear that it has to be with a company that really knows what they’re doing. After trying out several, Lindsay now highly recommends Tasty Blog tour. They offer a five day tour for $120 with between 60 and 80 stops. Her plan also involved making sure that a book was up on Amazon, Kobo, Apple and ibooks before booking a tour and that strong analytics were in place before a tour. Lindsay recommended subscribing to Booktracker, which she said is the best way to keep track of sales and rankings across a variety of platforms.

Another element of her plan involved contests to generate interest, and she recommended Freshfiction.com. For $1,500, this service helps an author to run/promote a contest every month for a year. She said that this investment resulted in 10,000 new followers. In fact, three-fourths of her indie readership came from this investment. Lindsay indicated that the ultimate goal is for writers to run contests from their own websites, but said that it’s good to start with the wider exposure that a site like Freshfiction can offer.

Claiborne Smith has been Editor-in-Chief of Kirkus Media since 2013. Kirkus Media is an expansion of Kirkus Reviews and was formed to help Kirkus respond to the many changes and challenges currently facing the publishing industry. Claiborne is a quiet but very well-spoken and thoughtful man who possesses such a keen intellect, that you can’t help but be inspired by his words.

In listening to Clairborne talk, it was clear that Kirkus reviews is still much more focused on traditional authors than indie ones. However, Kirkus is attempting to respond to the changes indie authors are driving within the industry, and has recently begun accepting galleys from indie authors. Clairborne made it clear that it is important to send galleys with plenty of lead time; about four months before publishing. There is also a service Kirkus offers where indie authors can pay for a review. The cost is $425.00, and if the author doesn’t like the review, the author can ask that it not be published. But, the honest truth is that for the indie author, Kirkus is not the right starting point. Claiborne made a strong argument for the importance of becoming involved at the local level; adding your voice to your community. He made the suggestion to try to get your local papers to review your book, but not to stop there. He encouraged us to consider writing reviews for our local papers. He suggested we could offer to help out with book events within our communities. He also mentioned reaching out to local book store owners, to find out not only what they can do for us, but what we might be able to do to support them. In short, the message was to become an active, positive, literary influence within our communities.

He also wanted us to go beyond our physical communities, taking this principal and applying it to social media. He wanted us to consider writing posts that went beyond news about our work and our writing goals. He encouraged us to share some of the interesting research we uncover in our journeys as authors, or to talk about writers we admire. The key part of  Claiborne’s message was for us to find ways to take our social media interaction to a deeper level, one where we share what we were passionate about, hopefully igniting that  passion and excitement in others

Clairborne got me thinking about the ways in which I could have a greater impact on the people whose lives are most directly influenced by me every single day. This was a message that resonated deeply with me; a perfect takeaway from a weekend that was meant to inspire literacy in our communities.

In these unsettled times, when a thoughtless tweet could start a war, Claiborne reminded us that the best defense we have is our capacity for intellectually engaging with others. Our words matter, it is how we share the best of ourselves with others.