A Touch of Magic

I consider my weekly blog to be a window on my world, and that’s true this week as well.

I’m always a bit taken aback when people ask me if I’m still walking or still writing. I suppose the first is actually an inquiry after the state of may health. The second question is less a question about what I’m doing as it is an indication that the person asking the question has probably stopped reading or has decided that at my advanced age I probably should have hung up my keyboard years ago. In both cases I usually answer yes and then simply keep on keeping on.

I’ll address the first question first. Yes, I’m still walking. Sometime over the weekend I crossed the 16 million-step mark. According to the app that means I’ve walked 0.3 around the world. That’s probably seven years or so of walking, and I’m sure as hell not making the grade in Jules Verne’s 80 days. But yes, I’m still walking, and I’m also still writing, but more on that later.

What I’ve done this past week while waiting to hear back from my editors in New York is walk and read. In the reading department I’m both happy and astonished to report that, in the process of doing so, I read one hell of a good book. How many times have you read a book and ended up with waves of gooseflesh on your legs as you finished reading the last page? Well, that’s what happened to me when I finished reading Hour of the Hunter.

You’re probably thinking, wait a minute, is she nuts? Isn’t she the one who wrote that book? And if she wrote it, how could it give her goosebumps? Well, that’s my point exactly. It was that good!

In the past few months I’ve heard from two Native American elders, one a Pima from Salt River and one from the Lakota tribe urging me to write another Walker book. The Pima, who doesn’t use the Internet, asked his daughter to write to me and ask how I learned all those Tohono O’odham words. (Some of them I picked up during my years on the reservation. Others came from studying a well-thumbed copy of Dean Saxton’s Tohono O’odham/ Pima to English Dictionary.) The Lakota is someone who spent the last twenty years of his life working with urban Native American youth and trying to point them back to their heritage and onto the right path. He told one of my friends, “She needs to write another one of those books. There aren’t enough Indian heroes in books.”

So that was the tiny idea wrote about in last week’s blog. Could I write another Walker Family book? After all it’s almost 50 years since I left the reservation. And so, since Hour of the Hunter was written almost thirty years ago now, I decided it was time to take another look. And I was enthralled. For one thing it was a trip back to the reservation as my first husband and I knew it back in the late sixties and early seventies. And yes, it turns out I did know a lot of Tohono O’odham words, more than I would have thought possible.

Told through multiple points of view with an elastic-band time line, it is absolutely a thriller, with an evil serial killer stalking a young widow and her son. What struck me as I read was how I captured the Tohono O’odham themselves—their stolid endurance in the face of adversity their gentle humor, their kindness and generosity to others. But I also feel I did justice to their culture—to their sacred myths and legends which are sprinkled throughout the book.

On the reservation most people had a mil-ghan (Anglo) religious orientation—Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist. (One of the characters in the book, Fat Crack Ortiz, is actually a Christian Scientist!) But underneath that thin veneer of Christianity I discovered a bedrock of traditional beliefs—including the parent who called the principal to warn me that it was past the middle of March and that telling a winter-telling tale when the snakes or lizards were out might put me in danger. (Once I received tha warning, by the way, I’ve been careful to abide by it, telling those stories only between the middle of November an the middle of March.)

In the book, a blind medicine man named Looks At Nothing, is the embodiment of those traditional beliefs, and one of my favorite lines in the book, comes when Looks At Nothing tells Fat Crack, “I have lost my sight. I have not lost my vision.”

If you decide to read HOTH for the first time, or if you decide to reread it, please be aware that the book is published in exactly the same way it was written—from beginning to end. When I didn’t know where to go with one strand of story, I’d switch to another point of view or another point in time, or maybe drop in a legend for good measure. And yet it all works. Writing that book was magic–more like French-braiding a story than writing one.

What am I going to read next? I guess I’d better head back to Kiss of the Bees and see if the magic worked there, too.

Happy Reading.