The Wind in his Heart by Charles de Lint (Part 2)

Farrell Cockburn

Farrell Cockburn, Blackfoot Artist

 The Kikimi of the Painted Lands

 The Wind in his Heart is set on a fictional reservation in the American Southwest. A desert people, who dwell in the Painted Lands, the Kikimi have a long complex history. Before the Spaniards and the Americans invaded from the south and the east, the people grew corn, beans, and squash and lived peaceably along the San Pedro River. Forced into the mountains, they became warriors and fought back, until the Women’s Council “saw the futility of battling the endless tide of invaders” and they forged an uneasy and unequal peace. As is the case on some reserves today, a conflict arose between traditionalists intent on preserving culture and those open to cultivating business, like casinos, on the reservation.

In The Wind in his Heart, the protagonists are traditionalists. A conflict arises when Sammy Swift Grass, who manages the casino, guides hunters into the mountains to kill a bighorn sheep. The problem is: the sheep is actually Derek Two Trees, a ma’inawo who happened to be shot while in his animal form. Sammy has his head, ready to give to the hunters for mounting.

Two worlds converge: the contemporary Kikimi world and the mythic otherworld—ghost lands where the spirits and ma’inawo dwell. The otherworld is like Faerie, and as in Faerie, humans who venture there are changed. Aging halts. In the otherworld, past, present, and future occur simultaneously.

Time moves differently on the other side. The otherworld is actually an onion of worlds, each skin peeling back a different layer to reveal yet another world. In some places, years pass in what are only minutes here. In others, a few days can be a decade.

The ma’inawo are magical beings who can appear in either human or animal form or as both together. Naturally, the traditionalists, many of whom are ma’inawo themselves, want to avenge the murder of Derek and other ma’inawo.

“Derek Two Trees wasn’t the first to die at the hands of Sammy Swift Grass and his hunters…The kin of other victims have been speaking to the wind, asking for justice,” says Abigail White Feather (Aggie). Like other characters in this story, Aggie moves between worlds. She appears to be in her eighties, but was born before the Europeans invaded the Painted Lands. Aggie is an elder, a wise woman, and an artist. She paints the ma’inawo as she sees them. “Weird animal-human hybrids” like Calico, the foxalope. Sometimes, Calico sprouts horns; other times, she wears the face of fox, and still other times; she is a beautiful red-haired woman. Similarly, Aggie’s red dog, Ruby, shifts between being a dog and a woman.

John Nieto

John Nieto

In New Mexico, I fell in love with Indigenous art. I was sure I’d seen a painting similar to what Charles de Lint describes as Aggie’s ma’inawo art.

Chaco_canyon.Susan Seddon Boulet

Susan Seddon Boulet, Chaco Canyon

For many years, I had one of Susan Seddon Boulet’s prints of a Hawk Woman. Seddon Boulet is an English artist, born in Brazil. She’s been creating mythical art since the 1980s where humans and animals merge in a shamanistic way.

 

But, I was sure I’d seen some Native American artists in New Mexico galleries who crossed the borders between human and spirit. In my online search, I discovered some truly amazing pieces, though I didn’t turn up any of Aggie’s paintings.

Farrell Cockburn -- Blackfoot

Farrell Cockburn, Blackfoot Artist

navajo adee dodge gouache

Adee Dodge Gouache, Navajo Artist

creation figures

Like the otherworld, de Lint’s story is multi-layered. After a second reading, I’m still sorting through all the complexities, and the story has found its way into my consciousness.

Kikimi shaman, Ramon Morago says, “My medicine speaks to the spirit. It teaches the spirit how to heal itself.”

The Wind in his Heart also speaks to the spirit. It holds its own medicine. Casts its own spell. Charles de Lint’s characters find healing in different ways. One by staying in the Painted Lands. Another by leaving. Still another, by receiving kindness and acceptance from the people she encounters no matter what she does to drive them away. This novel is about healing.

After viewing many Native American prints this morning, I fell asleep in front of the fire, something I never do. And I dreamed. First, I am sure I was at one of the joyful gatherings on the Kikimi rez. And then, I was riding in a jeep in the open air. And I was happy. The sign on the side of the road read, Labrador. I smile as I write this. My first thought was: drive across the country from the West Coast to the East Coast and back again.

But those of you who know me, will remember that I am currently raising a beautiful yellow Labrador puppy who has stolen my heart. No matter if it’s the land or the lab what I can truly say is this: Labrador=Happy=The Wind in her Heart.

 

The Wind in His Heart by Charles de Lint (part 1)

Charles de Lint continues to be one of my favourite writers. You might not have heard of him; after all, he is a Canadian writer who makes his home in Ottawa. Sometimes, I can’t even find his books in Canadian libraries, which is a shame, because he is a gifted storyteller–an original, who has written more than 70 novels for children, young adults, and adults, and received several awards for his work.

Renowned as one of the trailblazers of the modern fantasy genre, he is the recipient of the World Fantasy, Aurora, Sunburst, and White Pine awards, among others. Modern Library’s Top 100 Books of the 20th Century poll, conducted by Random House and voted on by readers, put eight of de Lint’s books among the top 100.

Charles de Lint

If you like Neil Gaiman, I guarantee you will like Charles de Lint. His Newford series is fantastic. Widdershins (book #11 in the Newford Series) is one of my all-time favourite books. I just bought Dreams Underfoot and am blown away by what I’ve read so far.

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Like me, Charles loves myth and folklore, so it finds its way into his urban fantasy novels. He is also a poet, an artist, and a musician, like many of his characters.

I’ve taken to calling my writing “mythic fiction,” because it’s basically mainstream writing that incorporates elements of myth and folktale, rather than secondary world fantasy.

I emailed Charles de Lint and asked for a digital copy of his latest novel, The Wind in his Heart, so I could review it for the Ottawa Review of Books. He kindly obliged, but then, before I could read and review it, someone else beat me to it.  It’s one of their December selections and you can read it here.

So, this is not a traditional review. It’s more of a ramble about how reading the novel affected me. I read The Wind in his Heart quickly the first time through because I really wanted to know what happened to these various eccentric characters. De Lint weaves the story through multiple viewpoints and each character has their own tale to tell, but the main thread winds around the arrival of a young girl named Sadie Higgins.

When Sadie is dumped on the Kikimi Rez by her abusive father, she is rescued by an ageless musician named Steve Cole who takes her to stay with Abigail White Horse (Aggie), an eighty-year old Kikimi artist. After mending Sadie’s physical wounds with desert herbs, one of the first things Aggie does is feed her. Sadie’s never eaten much that didn’t come from a can or arrive as take out, so Aggie’s traditional stew makes an impression.

But she didn’t say anything like that to Aggie as they chopped squash, celery, carrots and peppers for a vegetable and bean stew. But she had to speak up when Aggie kept telling her all these stories about bean boys and squash girls, and the feud between the spirits of the chilies and the jalapenos…The stew, served with flatbread on the side was actually pretty good, and Sadie told Aggie so. It was spicy and full of flavours she didn’t recognize. She had two bowls full, and didn’t even miss having meat.

soupAggie’s stew got me thinking about the butternut squash girl sitting on my counter. She ended up in a pot with jalapenos, garlic, and onions. I found this basic Three Sister’s Stew recipe online and adapted it. I blended the baked squash, tomatoes, and spices, and then added white beans and corn. It came out looking like this.

Last night, I ended up making black bean burritos inspired by the book. And today I’m working on a chili. How do foods in novels inspire you?

 

The American Southwest

The Kikimi people are a fictional Native American tribe from the American Southwest. I travelled through New Mexico a decade ago in March, and fell in love with the red rocks, the cactus, and the surreal landscape. De Lint’s descriptive passages transport me there. Leah Hardin, a writer from Newford, is the most affected by the beauty she encounters all around her.

Once they got out of town, Leah drank in the austere landscape, appreciating every subtlety of faded colour. She loved how the shape of the land wasn’t hidden by swaths of trees the way it was in the hills back home. Instead, she could see every nuance as the spartan panorama spread away from the highway, rolling into the distance like the dry waves of a dusty sea.

They say that artists love New Mexico because the light is different than anywhere else. The colours are dazzling and it’s easy to see why turquoise and adobe reds find their way into Four Corners architecture. We visited Georgia O’Keefe’s studio north of Santa Fe. It’s like walking on the set of an old Western. As winter engulfs the northern hemisphere, this is an area to explore. Take along The Wind in his Hair and immerse yourself in the desert culture.

Coming next: Kikimi Cousins, Shamans & Otherworldly Phenomenon

Meet Chris, Harry & Badger

Harry: A Wilderness Dog Saga by Chris Czajkowski, 2017

My review is out now on the Ottawa Review of Books site, but I’m offering it here as well. I want to add pictures. Listening to Chris Czajkowski speak is always a pleasure. Meeting her is a thrill. Chris Czajkowski is one of my heroes. I have dreamed of living in a log cabin my whole life. The closest I got, was chopping wood to keep the stove going, when I lived on an acreage in Ontario many years ago. This amazing woman has not only lived in a log cabin, she’s built several. Chris is a writer, artist, photographer, and storyteller, AND she grows her own organic food! Moreover, she’s saved the lives of several dogs. In this, her latest book, those dogs tell her story.

Harry

October 17, 2017. Burnaby Library. The room is packed.

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“Do you have a dog?” author Chris Czajkowski asks each person who queues to buy her latest book, Harry: A Wilderness Dog Saga. She autographs a copy from her and her dogs, signs it to you and yours. Old friends appear; laughs and memories are shared. Four decades of her life in the Canadian wilderness is neatly laid out in piles across tables at the front of the room. Before she begins her slideshow, Chris introduces each of the eleven books, always leaving us with a smile and a chuckle.

Chris’s latest book is narrated by Harry, a street urchin, who arrived in 2009 at the age of two. It begins like this: “The first time I met Chris I was wearing a diaper.” Many of Chris’s dogs are rescues destined for the needle or a bullet, but after a week or two at one of her cabins in the B.C. wilderness, their lives are resurrected.

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Badger

Her canine characters are archetypal. Badger (who is now twelve and accompanied Harry and Chris on this book tour) is the wise old man, the Dumbledore of dogs.

Taya is a poet. Sport, a chicken-chomping hunter. Nahanni, a princess:

“Nahanni was a very pretty girl—snow white with a long pink nose that she kept quite firmly in the air. She was a purebred, she immediately had me know—a designer white Husky born in the Arctic. She really could not be expected to associate with anyone of lesser ilk.”

The book is sweet, charming, poetic, and practical, told in the viewpoints of many dogs who’ve lived with Chris, some for briefer times than others. There are moments of tears, terror, and laughter. For example, Taya, a bearish husky, leaves an eccentric smoking spinster who trains packs of sled-dogs in the Arctic, to join Chris and Sport when Lonesome must retire. (Chris always keeps a pair of dogs, sews them large backpacks, and trains them to carry her hiking supplies.) They arrive at the cabin by floatplane and will winter there alone for three months, occasionally hiking through the snowy mountainous terrain. Taya seems poetic in these moments: “Our enormously elongated shadows stretched smoke-blue in front of us on the pinkish ice. Our legs were like enormous trees tapering to a vast distance; our heads were no bigger than pieces of dog kibble.”

Chris jokes that there will be special guests this evening, but not until the end of the show. “When they come in, everyone stops listening to me.” And, this is exactly what happens when the door opens. Harry walks calmly down the centre aisle through the tangle of outstretched hands; while, Badger collapses on the floor to have his belly rubbed.

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Harry

In this historic moment, when there seems to be no place unknown to man, Chris Czajkowski and her canine pack, explore a barren and beautiful world, threatened only by the forces of nature. Fire is the worst threat. Prompted by lightning strikes and weather change, summer fires have threatened her cabins since 2004.

I will admit, Chris is one of my heroes. She built her cabins. “It was the only way to get what I wanted,” she says. And, because she suffers with food sensitivities, she grows her own food. “You can’t get organic food there.” She shops in bulk two or three times a year; the first item on her list being dog kibble. How did she manage to build cabins, raise dogs, run an eco-tourism business, and become a published author? The answer is in her books.

Harry is a charming book. Chris has included a hand drawn map (she loves to sketch), several black and white photographs (she is a wonderful photographer), and a canine timeline that reflects the building of her six cabins in the West Chilcotin. Chris’s life is not measured by clocks or jobs; her moments sync with nature and survival.

Visit her website: http://www.wildernessdweller.ca/

Harbour Publishing , 2017

November Update

I have not been posting this month. That’s because my mind is crammed with other things. Like writing–which is what we authors live for. When the characters are talking, the settings appearing, and the words flowing, we are in love. And that euphoria fuels us. If we don’t let ourselves get distracted by ordinary life.

At the end of October, I came home from the SiWC inspired, as always. It was almost NaNoWriMo ,which is a fancy short for National Novel Writing Month; the object of which is to focus on churning out 50,000 words in draft form over the grey rainy month of November. I decided to sign-up and give myself some focus, and at the same time, experiment with a free trial version of Scrivener.  If you haven’t heard of Scrivener, it’s writing software with an organizational focus. I’d heard about it on my FB group site and also at the SiWC, so I thought, why not? Give it a try.

To Render a Raven

To Render a Raven

I had  already drafted 45,000 words of To Render a Raven–Book 3 in the Hollystone Mysteries series–last spring. I left off writing at the end of June, then travelled in Ireland. The rest of summer and fall got away from me, and I decided it was time to get back to my first love: Estrada.

If you don’t know Estrada, a wonderful review of Book 2, To Sleep with Stones, just came out in this Toronto magazine: Blank Spaces Review

To Render a Raven picks up a year after To Sleep with Stones, and brings our flawed hero, Estrada, face-to-face with his worst nightmare: losing the people he loves. I can’t tell you much more than that, but if you’ve read Stones, you’ll know that at the end of the book, Estrada is shocked by some news.

So, here we are with one week left in November.

Have I written 50,000 words? No.

Do I think I will finish this draft in one week? No.

Have I decided to buy Scrivener? No.

It looks like smart software, but I found it was distracting me from the heart of what I wanted to do. Tell the story. So, I exported the file to Word and deleted all the Scrivener files from my computers. I no longer have individual scenes tacked up on a virtual corkboard or a neat list of character templates, but that’s just fine.

What I do have, at this moment, is almost 58,000 words in my draft, and a running outline with photos and scene titles, a lot of editing and revising completed, and a movie playing in my head. I know where I’m going.

The next time you hear the garbled cries of trickster ravens, ask yourself this: how do you render a raven?