Nothing is More Important than Mental Health

My thoughts are with you, Sionnach. I can’t think of anything worse than this. Not knowing where your child is, or being able to help, to connect, to have the magic to fix and heal. I’m hoping this message gets through to him and he contacts you. I’m hoping he’s safe somewhere warm and sunny and can feel your love.

Sionnach's Online Lair


I keep trying to think of amusing things to write for this blog, since working on my current book doesn’t seem to be happening today. I want to encourage you to read Zen Alpha. (I’m offering free reviewer copies if anyone’s interested. Just email me at: I want to talk about my two favorite cats, who are in my office today, Loki and Bruce Banner. Bruce is sleeping in the middle of the floor; Loki is trying to tear the curtains down. I want to tell you about the book I’m writing and how scared I am that it won’t be received well.

But I’m not. All I’ve been able to think about today is my son. I don’t know where he is. He’s an adult and moved to California earlier this year. He lost the job that brought him out there; he lost the job after that. He’s…

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Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

Rarely do I read a novel in less than 24 hours, but at 289 pages, Dragon Teeth is a quick, exciting, and informative read. It hooked me with its setting, its adventurous plot, and its historical fervour. Oh, and what a cover.


Dragon Teeth is the posthumously-published adventure novel of Michael Crichton who passed away on November 4, 2008 after battling cancer. He was only sixty-six years old. After reading about Crichton, I think the man was something of a genius.

Crichton always wanted to be a writer, but not a shadow-writer: a full-time make-a-living-from-writing writer. Fearing that wouldn’t happen, he opted to study at Harvard and graduated as a doctor in 1969. That didn’t stop him from writing though. In fact, he financed his studies at Harvard Medical School with his novels, and his first bestseller The Andromeda Strain was released as a film before he finished. Though he never practiced as a doctor, Crichton’s scientific and medical studies provided inspiration and experitise for many of his novels. He went on to become a director and filmmaker.

This is perhaps a forerunner to his famous Jurassic Park–dinosaurs and palaeontologists form the backbone. That a new Crichton novel can appear now, nine years after his death, is a kind of miracle. Like many writers, Crichton kept files, and this particular manuscript appeared complete. In an Entertainment Weekly article, Crichton’s widow, Sherri says:

“When I came across the Dragon Teeth manuscript in the files, I was immediately captivated. It has Michael’s voice, his love of history, research and science all dynamically woven into an epic tale. Dragon Teeth was clearly a very important book for Michael. I’m so pleased to continue the long relationship that he shared with HarperCollins with its publication.” Finding Dragon Teeth

The protagonist, William Johnson, is a rich, arrogant, and privileged young Yale student who loses a bet, and must, to save face, journey into the lawless West. It is the summer of 1876. Sitting Bull and his Sioux warriors are retaliating against the white man for the loss of their Sacred Black Hills and warring with the Crow. General Custer has just made his last stand at the Little Bighorn. The buffalo have not yet been wiped out, but soon will be, in an effort to starve the Indians into submission or extinction. And out in the Montana Badlands, two rival paleotonogists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edmund Drinker Cope, are warring over dinosaur bones. All of this is historically researched.

“In 1876, scientific acceptance of dinosaurs was still fairly recent; at the turn of the century, men did not suspect the existence of these great reptiles at all, although the evidence was there to see” (107).

While scientists and creationists vehemently debate Darwin’s new theory of evolution, these two real-life paleontologists engage in “Bone Wars.” Along with Johnson, we journey from Philadelphia all the way to Deadwood. By train, stagecoach, and on horseback. Through city, mountain, desert, and on into the Badlands.

UnknownJohnson, who learns photography–because he has no other appreciable skills–hires on with the abrasive Marsh; then ends up with Cope, a natural teacher who instructs and entertains his crew with his knowledge of dinosaurs.

“Well, it seems you can see everything but the bones. Now: look in the middle of the cliff, for a cliff this high will have its Cretacious zone near the middle–a lower cliff, it might be nearer the top–but this one, it will be in the middle–just below that pink striation band there. Now run your eye along the band until you see a kind of roughness, see there? That oval patch there? Those are bones.”

In the Judith Badlands (Montana Territory), Cope discovers the fossilized teeth of a dinosaur larger than anything yet discovered and names it “Brontosaurus, ‘thunder lizard,’ because it must have thundered when it walked” (144). Hence the title.


Edmund Drinker Cope (from The New Yorker) 




General Armstrong Custer

One of the things I appreciate about this book is the historical narrator who interjects with relevant background. He seems objective; at least, more objective than a man in 1876 might be. He points out the racist and inhumane practices of the controversial Custer, and explains the background behind the Sioux War.


The federal government had signed a treaty with the Sioux in 1868, and as part of that treaty, the Dakota Sioux retained exclusive rights to the Black Hills, a landscape sacred to them…Yet one year after the treaty had been signed, the transcontinental railroads began service, providing access in days to land that could previously be reached only by weeks of difficult overland travel.

Even so, the Sioux lands might have been respected had not Custer discovered gold during a routine survey in the Black Hills in 1874. News of gold fields, coming in the midst of a nationwide recession, was irresisible.

Although forbidden by the government, prospectors sneaked into the sacred Black Hills. The army mountained expeditions in ’74 and ’75 to chase them out, and the Sioux killed them whenever they found them. But still the prospectors came in ever increasing numbers.

Believing the treaty had been broken, the Sioux went on the warpath. In May of 1876, the government ordered the army to quell the Sioux uprising (45).


Sitting Bull

It is into this arena that Johnson journeys with his rival paleontologists. The author uses Johnson’s fictional diaries to tell the tale of two real-life bone hunters. A ten-year rivalry collapses into one raucous summer. It is this melding of truth (if such a thing exists in the historical record) and tale that ensnares me and draws me into the man’s journey.

If you have a liking for westerns, for history, for adventurous tales, this book will capture you too.










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.


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