My Spanish Vacation in Bed

Frank Gehry's astonishing building at the Marques de Riscal Winery

Frank Gehry’s astonishing building at the Marques de Riscal Winery

Well, no, not all of it. But the day after we went to see the Guggenheim and I got crunched by the quieropractica in Bilbao, Tom and I had a down day. We woke up, had breakfast, and then I settled down to work on my novel. I practically fell asleep over my computer at ten o’clock in the morning, and Tom was in the same state. So we retired to our football-field-sized and comfortable bed and snored for a few hours.

When we awoke, I went back to work on my book and Tom went out to explore the surrounding area. I reread and edited and pondered, and came up with a brilliant solution to a plot problem, but didn’t write anything new. I suppose that’s some progress. Tom explored some surrounding villages and took photos. When he got back, we walked around town. We didn’t want to go back to the restaurant in the hotel; we had eaten there three times and couldn’t face it again, though it was very good. So we went to another hotel and ate there. I think we were the only people who ate there that night, and for good reason. The outdoor patio was pretty, though, and we could watch the swallows–las golondrinas–swooping around overhead, catching gnats and flies. I cheered them on.

An interesting decoration made of grapevines, dried fruit and flowers in a cafe in Ezcaray

An interesting decoration made of grapevines, dried fruit and flowers in a cafe in Ezcaray

Every night since our arrival, we had been hearing a church bell ringing at 7:30 pm, 7:45, then again at 8:00. It wasn’t the bells in the church across the street, which rings the hours and half-hours. This bell sounded different, and it was rung in a different manner. So we asked around, first in the restaurant where we were eating. No one had any idea. We went back to our hotel and asked the guy behind the tapas bar. No idea, but he gave us two free glasses of wine to compensate for his ignorance, so that was OK. Then we asked the concierge, who asked around and then told us the bell rang for the 8 pm mass at another church in town. I was astonished. Who would’ve thought that in Spain, no one would know that the bells were ringing for mass? I guess the times, they have a-changed.

So it was early to bed, and we awoke refreshed and ready for more adventures. This was the day for wineries. Unlike in the U.S., in Spain if you want to visit a winery, you have to make an appointment. When you get there, you have to take a tour of the winery–you can’t just walk in and taste.

Our first stop was Marques de Riscal. This has been a winery since 1858, but when you see the spectacular Frank Gehry building rising up from the vineyards around El Ciego, it is an entirely modern and astonishing sight. (Frank Gehry also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which is a sculptural work of art in its own right.) The winery produces something like eight million bottles of wine a year–mostly reds. The winery tour was interesting, as it included both the new parts (a lot of very highly automated equipment) and the old–like the cage where the 100-to-150-year-old bottles are kept for special events.

Old wine cellar at Marques de Riscal

Old wine cellar at Marques de Riscal




















Once the tour ended, they gave us quite a lot of excellent wine. I will be looking for Marques de Riscal when we get back to California!

Gehry Building

View from the vineyards at Marques de Riscal winery

The Frank Gehry building houses a hotel and a 2-star Michelin restaurant. We decided to eat there later. Tom wanted to take pictures of another winery, Ysios, which also has a spectacularly designed building–although they told Tom that they didn’t have any tours in English. When we got there, it looked like they didn’t have any tours at all (it was completely deserted), but the building is fascinating. Tom calls it “pixelated.” It’s supposed to blend into the landscape. IMHO: not.

Ysios Winery. If they had had a tour, I would be able to tell you who the architect was.

Ysios Winery. If they had had a tour, I would be able to tell you who the architect was.

We returned to Marques de Riscal and went up to the restaurant. The concierge downstairs had called ahead to let them know we were coming. When we walked in, we were greeted politely by two people who clearly didn’t expect us. Their foreheads were wrinkled with deep concern: did we have reservations? There were perhaps 50 tables there, and not one of them was occupied at that hour. However, someone who did know the score rescued us, and we sat down to the most exquisite meal we have had in Spain so far. It was delicious, but above and beyond that, it was entertaining. Example: we were served an amuse bouche, consisting of a shallow dish with fog pouring out of it and dark brown “sticks” poking up out of the fog. The waitress said it was vine twigs from the vineyard prepared for our delectation. Then she hung around watching. We nibbled on them, and they were yummy. Then she told us it was actually cheese sticks. I said, “I totally believed you!’ She was pleased.

The town of El Ciego as seen from the restaurant at Marques de Riscal. Viewing the old from the very new.


Everything else was presented with the same whimsey and artistry. We lingered for a long time, peering out through the Frank Gehry swirls of titanium, then we left and sat in the breezy patio downstairs until it was time for our next winery tour.

Which was in La Guardia, a tiny, medieval, fortified hilltop town. You can’t actually drive through the town–it’s strictly pedestrian–though you can drive up to it. Being clueless, we had no idea where to park or where the winery might be. Tom finally parked next to an old church (probably illegally, but no one bothered us)–and set off on foot to ask questions. We knew we were within yards of the winery, but had no idea how to find it. The first few people he asked didn’t know either, but one person grabbed the winemaker and he came out and showed Tom where to go and told him where to park.

Detail of old fountain at La Guardia

Detail of old fountain at La Guardia












The winery is called Bodegas Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre. It is as sharp a contrast to Marques de Riscal as possible. The family has lived there and made wine for centuries in “caves” excavated underneath their house. The winemaker told us that every house in La Guardia has these cellars under their houses, originally dug to preserve food in their cool, dark recesses, and to hide in when there were wars, which apparently happened all the time. Sometimes La Guardia was part of the Kingdom of Navarre, sometimes the Kingdom of Castile. I suspect the residents didn’t care much, so long as the soldiers left them alone. Once things settled down, they realized they had the ideal conditions for wine storage, and most of the residents make their own wine, though not everyone sells it.

Cave of Bodega Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre, directly under the family's house

Cave of Bodega Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre, directly under the family’s house

First, he insisted on showing us a video about the wine-making process, which we sat through politely. (I told him that Tom used to make wine, but apparently this did not exempt us.) Then he took us down into the cellar. Definitely old school. Ancient stones dripping with mold. Casks dripping with mold–in one case, the mold looked like some sea creature was trying to engulf the cask it was growing on. I put my hand on the wall, and it came away smeared with wet, black mold. Then we tasted the wines–superb. When we toured Burgundy several years ago, some of the winemakers told us that the mold added to the quality of the wine, so maybe they had something there. (Shudder.)

Mold creature growing out of a barrel at Bodega Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre

Mold creature growing out of a barrel at Bodega Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre

The town was in the midst of a festival in honor of San Juan, La Guardia’s patron saint, so the tiny streets were thronged with merrymakers–bands, dancers, people in traditional costume, others in costumes not so traditional. That was a treat, even if it meant that finding parking was difficult.

Festive ladies at the Festival of San Juan, La Guardia

Festive ladies at the Festival of San Juan, La Guardia

A most satisfying day. We ate at the tapas bar at Echaurren (our hotel) that night and met the chef–who, we discovered is also the chef at the restaurant at Marques de Riscal. He normally works in Echaurren’s restaurant gastronomique, but it, like most of the other top-rated restaurants in the area, was closed for vacation. I guess June is the slow season in La Rioja.

The next morning we departed for Barcelona, traveling through increasingly barren and desertlike terrain. At one point we crossed the Greenwich Meridian line. There was a modernistic arc across the freeway in an otherwise desolate landscape to mark the spot.

Tom stopped for a break at a rest area. There were a few shelters with picnic tables. We were sitting at one of these when a Spanish couple drove under the few trees for the shade, got out and asked if they could share our table. I said sure, and they hauled out a huge cured sausage of some sort and offered us some. I declined, being kind of tired of cured meats by this time, but the Spanish for the most part have been so kind and friendly.

We stopped in Zaragoza for lunch because there was a highly rated restaurant there. We parked the car in a perilous alley (because it was so narrow you had to fold in your side-view mirrors to avoid losing them) and walked to the restaurant. It was locked, though the hours indicated it should be open. I rang the bell, and it was answered by a server who–surprise!–asked if we had reservations. There were many tables, all completely devoid of patrons, but she told us they could not serve us. Because no reservations. (You would think we would learn from these experiences, but we didn’t, and ran into the same issue in Barcelona.)

So we wound up eating at “Smurf2 Cafeteria,” which was every bit as good as you might imagine, and went in search of our car, which we had a little trouble finding. Fortunately, given the heat, we only made two exploratory ventures before re-discovering it, and then we were on our way.

We stopped for gas at a place in the middle of nowhere. Literally–it was just a gas station. No town or anything. To our surprise, the gas tank cover wouldn’t open, though it had done so without difficulty every other time. The lady tending the station tried to help. Other people tried to help. We couldn’t budge it. Tom called the rental company, and they said they had to talk to their mechanic and they’d call back.

I went in to try to explain to the attendant what was going on. She didn’t understand my inept Spanish and called her son, who spoke some English. He asked me if he could drive out to help us! I thanked him for his kindness, but declined. I told his mother over and over how nice they were, how kind her son was. She understood that part.

The rental company called back to tell us that when it got very hot (which it was), the gas tank cover sometimes wouldn’t open. Good to know, but it seems like an impractical design in a hot country like Spain. The car had been sitting in the shade for a while by this time, and Tom tried the cover again. It opened without protest, we gassed up, and were on our way again.

Our hotel in Barcelona, Gran Derby, is lovely–much nicer than we expected. It even has a bathtub big enough for two–though we won’t be sharing–a sitting room with a bullhide for a rug (poor toro), and a bedroom. The shower–Tom said he wished he had taken photos of all the showers we have used. Each one has had strangely shaped controls–squares, sticks, cylinders–and each has had its own system of turning on and off, controlling temperature, etc. This one has square knobs and the drain is a slit in the flooring that runs all around the shower–haven’t seen that before. But the shower flooring is mercifully non-skid, though the bathroom tiling is made of highly polished brown marble that would be a perfect skating surface for someone with wet feet.

Window in our bathroom at the Gran Derby Hotel in Barcelona. Just thought it was pretty.

Window in our bathroom at the Gran Derby Hotel in Barcelona. Just thought it was pretty.

We selected a seafood restaurant right on the beach for dinner, Can Majo. When we got there, we were told that because we didn’t have reservations, they might be able to squeeze us in at 10 pm. (We are very slow learners.) So we made a reservation for 10 o’clock, had a snack at a seaside bar, and then walked down to the water. I dipped my feet in the water; my first-ever contact with the Mediterranean. I have hopes it won’t be my last.

At ten, they permitted us in the restaurant. We ordered paella, which is their specialty. Service was slow, which was fine as it gave us time to people-watch. I noticed a group of three people as they came into the outdoor seating area where we were. There were two model-thin women, gorgeous in that exotic Mediterranean manner, with long. black hair and smooth, brown skin and huge eyes. They were dressed beautifully and they were accompanied by a pit-bull and a man who might have been the model for the dog. I spent time making up stories about who they were and why these two beautiful women were having dinner with this ugly man. Then the two women seated at the table next to us squeaked and pointed. One of them said “Cucaracha, is that the word?” As I was looking for the offending insect, the ladies I had been making up stories about shrieked and dropped their cigarettes as the bug scuttled under their table. It proved to be a bonding experience with our neighbors and we struck up a conversation. They were from the Netherlands, spoke perfect English, and were having a girl’s weekend away. We had a long and pleasant discussion, ate the excellent paella, then headed back to the hotel.

I think it was about 1 am when we got to bed. This may be normal for the Barcelonans, but it’s kind of exhausting for me. Of course, I had had no siesta–I really should spend more time in bed.

Sexy giraffe sculpture in Barcelona. For some reason.

Sexy giraffe sculpture in Barcelona. For some reason.

New Coverage of “The Obsidian Mirror” from Local Newspaper

Below is a clipping from my local paper, the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian from an interview with me about “The Obsidian Mirror.” In case you’re wondering after you read this if I really decided “at the age of eight” to pursue public relations as a career–I didn’t. I even know what public relations was at that point (and I’m sure I wouldn’t have chosen to pursue it then, although later it made some sort of weird sense).

Kathy Register Pajoroian2

Book Reviewer Blogger Liis Pallas Reviews “The Obsidian Mirror”

Liis Pallas reviews “The Obsidian mirror”–and I am thrilled!

Cover to Cover

Environmental issues, power-play, ancient Mayan gods, a Coyotl (yes, Coyotl) that turns into a drop-dead-gorgeous young man, a green being of mannegishi, vodun (no, not voodoo), and a bit of reality- admit it- it sparked some interest in you!

from Goodreads

A few days ago I published an interview K.D. was so very kind to tackle.

You know what? It feels strange how some times you read a book, or watch a film, on a serious issue (such as environmental problems, a nuclear power plant worry, fracking causing earthquakes, rubbish in the vast oceans, etc) and when we read about these issues in books, or see them in the movies, we tend to take them as someone’s brain-children, or brain-babies. But I really am humbled and in awe and in the process of having my faith restored because people notice! Authors notice the issues, the global issues that should…

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The Launch Party, Coyotes, Mannegishi, and What Comes Next

Chaco, the Coyote Trickster

The launch party for “The Obsidian Mirror” went beautifully last Saturday afternoon. Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park, CA graciously hosted the event, and there was a good crowd of people there. I did a very brief reading and answered questions.

Here’s a sampling of what I was asked:

Q: Is your protagonist (Sierra) autobiographical?

A: Sierra is concerned about the environment; so am I. Sierra is a PR executive, and used to be one. Sierra designs silver jewelry, and I do, too. There the resemblance ends because Sierra is way cooler than I am. (I didn’t mention this, but she’s also younger and more athletic than me.)

Q: What started you writing the book?

A: I had recently finished a Robert Jordan novel that involved riding horses, armor, swords, sorcery, etc. I really enjoyed the book, but later I wondered why, with thousands of legends, mythologies, folk tales and traditions, the New World is rarely used as inspiration for fantasy. Most epic fantasy, at any rate, is usually set in some pre-Industrial Age, pseudo-European environment. Elves, faeries, trolls, ogres, goblins, vampires, etc. are staple fare.

I love swords-and-sorcery, don’t get me wrong! But I had time (my freelance writing business was slow at the time), so I began writing a story based on New World traditions as an experiment. Before long, the characters took over and I HAD to finish the story.

Q: Is Chaco (Coyotl the Trickster) based on a person in your life?

A: I said Chaco was based on my husband, Tom, but I was kidding. Coyotl the Trickster is a folk hero among many of the Native American tribes. I should have mentioned that appearance-wise, I saw Chaco, in his manifestation as a deliciously sexy young man (as opposed to his coyote gig), as Gael García Bernal, the excellent Mexican actor who (among many other roles) played Ché Guevara in “The Motorcycle Diaries.”

One person thanked me for not making Chaco the villain. I started out thinking that since Chaco was The Trickster, he ought to be rather ambiguous; the reader would not be sure whether he was good or bad. I really, truly would have liked to write him that way, but he came out more of a scamp than a real rogue. (That was all his doing, not mine. I had other ideas.)

Q: What other characters are in the book?

A: There’s Fred the Mannegishi. Mannegishi are sort of like leprechauns in that they are small and green, but mostly because they are mischievous. Mannegishi are from legends of the Cree tribe. Fred is truly unreliable, but as one person present said (she had edited the manuscript for me), “Fred seemed like a pain in the butt at first, but he became my favorite character.”

I was asked if I made up Fred’s appearance, but I followed the description of Mannegishi in Wikipedia. I rarely made up anything about the supernatural characters; I tended to follow the traditional descriptions if they were available. Of course, much of my research consisted of strolling around the Internet when I needed a new monster. As the New Yorker cartoon has it, “Nobody knows you’re a dog on the Internet.” By the same token, it’s hard to know whether you’re reading something authentic, or a made-up legend by a tequila company or something. As “The Obsidian Mirror” is fiction—and fantasy fiction at that—I didn’t worry too much about academic purity.

 Q: Do you have a sequel planned?

 A: Yes, two. The next book will be set in Hawai’I, where Fred might meet some cousins of his. “The Obsidian Mirror” has an underlying theme of threat to our natural environment, which will continue to be a theme of my work. I am very concerned about the Pacific Gyre, also known as the Pacific Garbage Patch, a continent-size vortex of plastic particles in the ocean swirling around Hawai’i. But I do not plan on getting preachy. The books have to be fun to read, or no one will read them.

Of course, I may have to make the ultimate sacrifice and travel to Hawai’i to do research. A writer’s life is so hard.

The third sequel will be set in Mexico, and will have something to do with the Virgin of Guadalupe as Tonantzin, the Aztec flower goddess. I don’t know much more about it yet.

After answering questions, I sat down at the assigned table and signed books. The store sold out, with Kepler’s purchasing the last one for the staff. I hope they enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the party. I got a ton of compliments on the food—which I never touched because I was too wound-up!

The Coyote Didn’t Cut It

Sometimes I have to shake myself to see if I am dreaming. I am fulfilling a lifelong ambition: writing and publishing a novel. It has been a daydream so long that I had given up on it—until I actually wrote a book.

But now, I am listed as an author on the publisher’s website. I am working on the graphics. I am working on the marketing. I should be working on final-editing the manuscript, but haven’t quite gotten there yet. (Tomorrow. I promise!) Sometimes I wonder if this is real, or just an extended daydream—but then my publisher asks me to do something else, and I’m sure these tasks were not part of my original roseate dream, so I am becoming more convinced that this will really happen.

And then I go back to being amazed.

Well, anyway, here’s a mockup of my latest cover design, front, back and spine. I haven’t gotten feedback from the publisher yet, but I kind of like it. But no man/coyote graphic. <Sniff><Sob> I am very attached to the shape-changing coyote, but he just isn’t working out too well as a cover. I am sure I’ll continue to use him, but perhaps not on the book cover. If you were kind enough to weigh in on the graphic, thanks. I agree with the majority that the original one is the best.

Cover Art 2a

How’s This Coyote? I’d Really Like Your Opinion.

Many of you were kind enough to comment on three different versions of Chaco: my supernatural character who can appear either as a ridiculously beautiful young man, or as a coyote. (But not just any coyote; he is Coyotl the Trickster).

My publisher had asked for a somewhat lighter feel to the image because the tone of the book overall is light. Chaco is (usually) a cheerful guy.

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of my original, Chaco #1, with 10 votes, #2 got three votes, and #3 got two votes. I also favor the original.

However, my friend Erica Chase asked, “Is there a happier looking coyote?” I thought this was nothing short of brilliant (typical of Erica). So I went looking for a coyote whose expression was less threatening and more upbeat. And then tried to match the coyote with an image of a young man that more or less matched (or was at least complementary to) the coyote’s expression. The image below is the result, and if you would be so obliging, I’d like to know if you think this is an improvement. Or not. (To see the three images I posted for comment, please go to

New Coyote/Chaco

New Coyote/Chaco

Vote for Your Favorite Coyote!

I sent last week’s cover art to my publisher. One of his comments was: “…the book itself also felt a bit more light hearted than the dark cover with the serious boy (who was definitely not so serious in my mind, as I read anyway).”

The man (Chaco) changing into a coyote is central to my story. Chaco is Coyotl, the trickster folk hero of many Native American cultures. He can shift back and forth at will, and this comes in handy several times during the story. So I’d really like to use the image of the shape-shifting man-coyote. But my publisher is right: the tone of the book is on the lighter side.

I picked out a few more handsome latino men from, where there is a plethora of such men on sale for very little money, and created two alternatives to my original. I present them here for your deliberation: which is the best Chaco: #1, #2, or #3?

I eagerly await your judgement!

Chaco #1

Chaco #1

Chaco #2

Chaco #2

Chaco #3

Chaco #3

Whack Me Twice and I’ll Listen

Smack Me

Despite my conviction that I had finished rewriting my novel, “The Obsidian Mirror,” I once again found myself in the throes of a rewrite.

Rewriting sucks. You know that if you’re a writer. It’s like taking apart a complex piece of machinery and putting it all back together so that it works better than it did before. You don’t want to go through all that labor, sigh happily at your achievement—then spy a couple of leftover parts on the floor that are absolutely required for the thing to operate.

But I suddenly became convinced that yes, indeed, I needed to revise the prologue and first two chapters. It came about because of a comment I received from a publisher. He said that the first chapter was full of a lot of unimportant stuff that didn’t push the plot forward, and it took too long to get to the intriguing fantasy elements.

To be honest, I had heard this before. An agent said the first chapter was “boring, boring, boring.” With a crit like that, you’d have thought I’d have jumped on it. However, the agent in question turned out not to be interested in fantasy. I questioned the judgment of someone who didn’t even care about my genre. Also, the manuscript had been read carefully by a published fantasy writer who did a fantastic job of reviewing the book and giving me feedback—and she was cool with the first chapter, so I figured what does the non-fantasy-reading agent know? I was wary of succumbing to self-doubt as well, because self-doubt will suck all the vitality out of your writing if you let it.

But a second critique that basically said the same thing convinced me that self-doubt was very far from being the issue here. A rereading of the prologue and first two chapters confirmed it.

There was nothing wrong with the prologue; it just needed to be tucked into the first chapter in a logical way. But the first chapter—oh, dear. It was all about how my heroine, Sierra, got fired. It contained a lot of backstory, which would be needed at some point, but I focused on her firing, talking about it to her friend Kaylee, going home, feeling bad, etc. In my naiveté, I thought this would introduce conflict and engage the reader. But I guess getting fired isn’t as interesting as I had assumed. In fact, I was personally bored with the whole thing.

So I condensed the prologue and chapters one and two into a single chapter. It’s a long one—about 4,000 words. I slashed about 3,000 words from the overall length of the novel, bringing it to nearly 100,000. I was worried about losing critical backstory, but I found various places in the early chapters to slip it all in. (Fingers crossed. Knock on wood and all that.)

I’m very happy with the result. It pulls the reader in quickly, keeps the action moving, introduces the fantasy elements immediately, and (I hope) piques the reader’s curiosity from the start.

I’d be humbly delighted if you would take a little time to read the new chapter one of my novel. If you agree with me that it works well, would you be kind enough to leave a comment? And if you don’t agree with me, I’d like to hear that, too.

I do listen. Most of the time. Really.

It’s Time To Talk About LOVE! (And Sex.)

heart fractalAfter all, this is the month of lacy hearts, cupids, flowers, chocolates, etc. etc. Now, I’m as romantic as the next woman, which is to say, lots more romantic than any guy. I suspect that is the basis for much of what irritates me about most romance novels. The typical scenario involves (usually) two people who are attracted to each other but suffer untold complications and misunderstandings based on one party wrongly perceiving the other party’s intentions, or personal insecurities, untold secrets, ridiculous upholding of honor, and so forth.

The scenario that REALLY annoys me is the one where the heroine keeps rejecting the hero because she thinks she’s not good enough for him—not pretty enough, too poor, class differences, whatever. GRRRR.

A lot of today’s romance novels seem determined to prove that women are just as horny as men, and include descriptions of sexual scenes that rival the “Esquire Letters.” (Do they still publish those letters, by the way? I haven’t read “Esquire” in quite a while.) “She groaned as he thrust his turgid, throbbing member into her sweet recesses,” and the like is a turn-off—for me, at any rate. If the principals are going to tango, I prefer a decorous fade to black on the proceedings. If I want graphic descriptions of sex, I’ll read the  “Esquire Letters.”

On the other hand, I enjoy a romantic subplot, as long as it neither takes over the story nor involves turgid members. When I began writing “The Obsidian Mirror,” I was thinking that the Avatar Coyote (“Chaco” to his friends) would be the source of the sexual tension. After all, he was gorgeous, considerate, brave and a good cook. As long as my protagonist, Sierra, could deal with him morphing into a small wolf from time to time, he seemed like a perfect love interest.

But then I reconsidered. Coyote was supposed to be The Trickster, not entirely reliable, and based on Native American stories, quite the lad with the ladies. Sierra isn’t a prude or a stick-in-the-mud, but she wants a stable relationship with a future. (I didn’t decide this. Sierra just came out that way. I couldn’t have made her into a bed-hopping free spirit if I had tried.) So I created sexual tension by having Chaco come on to Sierra in a nice sort of way. Sierra is tempted (he IS good-looking and a nice guy), but passes. Chaco moves on to Sierra’s friend Kaylee—and gets way more than he expects. Sierra finds a more solid-citizen-type in Clancy Forrester. Okay, they do have one or two misunderstandings, but when you’re trying to get a practical, down-to-earth chief of security to believe that the guy he thinks is your boyfriend is actually a sort of shape-shifting minor deity—well, there are bound to be some difficulties, right?

So in this month of hearts and flowers, let’s celebrate romance—the heightened awareness, the exchange of tender mementos, the thrill of loving and being loved. Does all this have to lead to sex? Well, sure, why not? But the ecstasy of good sex is only enhanced by the dance of courtship.

The Coyote Who Taught Me How To Live

Okay, instead of writing this blog post, I’m actually supposed to be finishing up a white paper on implementation of the new ICD-10 codes in the healthcare industry. Hard to believe I could tear myself away from that kind of topic to write about coyotes—but that’s what I’m doing.

One of the main characters in “The Obsidian Mirror” is Coyotl, the Trickster. Like Anansi, the trickster spider in African folktales, Coyotl or Coyote is the loveable but sneaky culture hero who tries to put things over on others and sometimes ends up tricking himself. He often attempts to be helpful, as in the tale where he brings fire to the people from the gods. In that story, coyote winds up burning his tail, which is why the coyote’s tail tip is always black. There are many ribald stories about Coyote and various beautiful maidens, including the time that Coyote lost his penis…ahem. Getting off track here…

Coyotl is described as an Avatar in “The Obsidian Mirror” because I wanted to stay away from defining the immortal characters too closely. I also wanted to stay away from religion as much as possible. Religion today is a touchy subject, and I just didn’t want to go there.

In “The Obsidian Mirror,” Coyotl can take the form of a beautiful, sexy young man named Chaco. I originally named the character “Chuy,” (pronounced “Chewy”) which is the Mexican nickname for people named “Jésus.”  There were two problems with this. Unless you speak Spanish, you wouldn’t know how to pronounce his name. And those who do know that people nicknamed Chuy are really named Jésus might think I was trying to create a Christ figure—which I was, most emphatically, not trying to do. I wanted the character to be uninhibitedly sexy and approachable, with a hint of rascal. “Chaco” sounds good, and it is also the name of a marvelous archeological site in New Mexico, Chaco Canyon. As the novel uses American myths and legends, many of which are Native American, it just felt right. (I kind of missed Chuy, though. I named the character after my hairdresser.)

I had a transformative adventure with a coyote once. I was young, and I had a broken heart. I called my cousin Esther, who was about my mother’s age, to ask if I could stay with her for a few days. Esther lived (still does, at the age of 100) on a ranch near the coast of California, one of the happiest places I have ever known, and very beautiful. Esther and her family had always been kind to me, and the ranch was my emotional refuge. So, packing my aching heart and some jeans, I got on a Greyhound bus to visit.

Esther welcomed me and gave me ample space to reflect on where I was and how I had come to be there. I was at a true turning point in my life, hurt, confused, and wondering what on earth I was going to do. My self-confidence was at an all-time low, and at that age, self-confidence wasn’t something I possessed in huge measure.

I developed a daily routine. I would get up, have breakfast with Esther, and then take my little knapsack out for a lengthy walk around the ranch. The knapsack had a notebook for writing and a sketchbook and watercolors for painting. Accompanied by the ranch dogs, Doña and Jack, I would wander all over the ranch, stopping to do nude sunbathing now and again. I wrote and wrote and wrote in my journal, pouring out my misery, uncertainty and pain on paper.

The ranch was about 2,000 acres of rolling hills covered with golden grass and dark-green California liveoak trees. There was no one around except for the cattle and the dogs. It was quiet except for the wind whistling through the grass, making it toss like waves on the ocean. It smelled wonderful—sagebrush, wildflowers and a soupçon of cattle flop. It was the perfect place to be introspective and miserable.

One day, probably four or five days into my visit, I was walking on the ranch road with Doña and Jack. Suddenly, the dogs took off like a shot, something they had never done before. Then I saw they were chasing a coyote through the brush. I eventually wrote a poem about the experience that followed, as it had a huge impact on me that has reverberated ever since:


I took the ranch road in the morning

hefting a backpack and an aching heart

the dogs went with me

ranging front and back

I sent my feet ahead, forcing one step and then another

the point is to keep going, don’t you see

the dogs launched into the brush

white dust sparkling above the road

they ran like greyhounds

though both were furry and fat

squinting into the sun I saw him

a lean gray shape loping easily

soaring over fragrant sagebrush

dogs crashing in his wake




little wolf

god’s dog

dogs and coyote

all vanished into the spiced gold of the hillside

the dogs came back

tongues flopping loose

dripping foam

ribs heaving

paws caked with dust

their faces said don’t ask

we sat in the cool of a gray-green liveoak

there he was again

the dogs could not resist

coyote’s gray brush held high

he paused to look over his shoulder

not once but many times

were they following?

could they keep up?

he grinned all the same

I heard him laugh

I know I heard him laugh

the dogs came back quickly

collapsing to either side of me

fat sides

shuddering like overheated engines

hairy faces downcast and pained

I sat in the shade and waited

he sauntered into our clearing

the Fred Astaire of small wolves

the dogs gave not one sign

of his presence but panted on

coyote cocked his head, curious

barked once or twice

the dogs now deaf and blind

turned their pleading eyes to me

he sat on his haunches and studied us

a sorry lot, I guess

he tipped his pointed snout to heaven

and howled

howled like all the mad things of earth

howled like a girl with a broken heart

the sulking dogs were still

but I howled back

he stopped to listen

he answered me

howl for howl we made the dry hills ring

I howled for the pain of losing

for the pain of past loss

for the pain to come

and ended laughing

coyote picked up his paws and yapped three times

once more stung to action

the dogs crashed after him

in hot-breathed pursuit

the last I saw of coyote

was his gray tail sailing over the thistles




little wolf

god’s dog

I’m still laughing

During our mutual hootenanny, the coyote was sitting about 15 feet away from me. I was frightened at first; he wasn’t acting like a normal coyote, so I wondered whether he had rabies. He approached a human and two dogs with no fear at all. But it became quickly clear to me that he wasn’t sick. He was having a lot of very obvious fun. He thought I was pretty amusing, but he loved it when he could persuade the dogs to run after him. He was jaunty and quite sure of himself.

Coyotes are consummate survivors. Their numbers and their range have increased dramatically since the 1800’s because they deal quite well with the presence of humans (and the presence of human garbage and pets). They are omnivores who both hunt and scavenge, living off just about anything, from salmonberries to the occasional shi’tsu.

After meeting that coyote, I decided to be a survivor myself. I decided that I was strong, and that no one would ever make me feel small and weak again. I decided to fight for what I wanted, and refuse to allow anyone else to determine the course of my life.

I returned from my visit with Esther to a fresh round of heartbreak. But this time, I fought back. I didn’t let it overwhelm me. I endured a steep depression that I thought would never end. I made some terrible mistakes, but in the end, I learned to love myself and discovered how to be happy most of the time.

I owe much of that to a lesson from a mischievous little wolf who spent a few minutes singing to me. In a way, “The Obsidian Mirror” is my love song back to him.