Tales from the Tour

I’m currently on tour on the East Coast, and so far it has been a wonderful experience! The first workshop on Stories for the Future with Bright Flame was wonderful, with an amazing group of around sixty people in the Community Room at WestBeth, an artists’ co-op in the West Village.  We worked with stories on three levels:  our personal stories, with ourselves as protagonists, exploring our identities, our core questions and the beliefs that either help us move forward or hold us back.  We had people draw a simple mask on a paper plate—I’ve done this before and I’m always amazed at what comes out.  For myself, this time, it was an Iberian eye Goddess but somehow in my rendition she looked a lot more like a cartoon space alien.  I will have to ponder the meaning of this!

We also worked with our ancestral stories, with the strengths we draw from our heritage, and also what aspects we would like to release.  Then we ended with a ritual in which we stepped through a portal, out of time, to envision a future we wanted to live in, and plant its seeds in that timeless place.  Lots of singing, drumming, chanting and dancing—and raising of power to help us realize that vision!

On the beautifully decorated stage in Syracuse. Photo by Marie Summerwood.

On the beautifully decorated stage in Syracuse. Photo by Marie Summerwood.

Then on Sunday I did a talk and reading at Evolver’s new Alchemists’ Kitchen herbal shop and elixir bar in the Lower East Side.  I challenged myself to actually read some of the erotic parts of the book out loud.  To my surprise, I enjoyed it—and hopefully the audience did too!

It’s always a challenge to decide what parts of the book to read, how to convey the essence of it without giving away too much of the plot.  There’s a lot of action in the book—but it’s much harder to find those sections and read them without spoiling it for future readers.  So I tend to read more poetic parts  that are easier to take out of context.  Some times I want to tell people, “Hey, it really is exciting!  Trust me on that.”

And today we had time for a long stroll beside the river with Bright Flame and my old friend the ecofeminist writer and theorist Ynestra King.  And matzoh ball soup and perogi at a Unkrainian restaurant after the reading, with other old friends.  A really nice way to start my travels.

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I am now on to Philadelphia, where I have several workshops which sold out quickly and a couple of University talks which are open to the public. Next up on my tour will be Oregon and then Austin in March. You can see the full calendar of all my tour stops here.

The Roller-Coaster Ride of Book Production

I looked back at my blog the other day and realized that the last entry still read “Our Kickstarter campaign is nearly to our goal…” Somehow I never actually updated the blog—even after we completed our campaign as the second-highest funded fiction project ever on Kickstarter!

The reason for that is simple—from the time we started our campaign, I didn’t have a spare moment to blog! Keeping Facebook and Twitter updated was about all I could do. It has been a wild, roller-coaster ride of huge ups and downs all along the way. I want to share some of them—both in gratitude and to possibly caution and help others who might set out to do something similar.

When a Kickstarter is going well, there’s no feeling like it! Not even the money, although that helps, but the sense of support, the feeling that other people have faith in your work. It’s like having a wind at your back—everything you do feels just a bit easier.

But it is still a lot of work! And much of that work involves things that honestly, I don’t like doing—constantly promoting it, asking your friends and colleagues to promote it, calling in favors and racking up debts. I don’t recommend launching one when you are also travelling, teaching a fourteen-hour-a-day program, and trying to read and correct proofs of the manuscript at the same time!

I had wonderful help from Alli Gallixsee, who did an incredible job orchestrating the campaign and figuring out how to build it and make it work. Here’s another nugget of advice—if you’re not a digital native, if you aren’t savvy about the ins and outs of social media, find someone who is. I could never have done it without her. I also had great support from Philip Wood, who edited the video, and Jessica Perlstein, who made the wonderful cover image for a book that didn’t yet exist!

But that was done—and reaching the goal, and closing out the campaign well above our goal, was a definite thrill!

Then came the book production. Actually, that began well before we launched the Kickstarter, as I didn’t want to get people excited about the book and then have them wait ten months to get it. I really wanted people to get it before the holidays.

Well, some of you did!

So I borrowed money to begin the editing and copy-editing before the Kickstarter launched, as they take weeks and months to do. It was a gamble, but I was reasonably sure I could raise the money to pay back the loan.

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As I look back on this little period of time, it seems like an endless set of decisions to make without having adequate information for making them—especially around things like how much it would actually cost to produce the book. Just an example, we couldn’t get a firm cost for printing the book until it was edited, copy-edited and designed and we knew how big it would be. We couldn’t get a firm cost for postage until the book was printed and we knew how much it weighed. We couldn’t know how many books we would need to print until the Kickstarter was completed. NOT printing books and simply doing Print-on-demand would have been much less expensive, but since we had promised books as a Kickstarter reward, and we needed something like 1200 of them, printing them seemed like a good idea.

Jennifer Ruby Privateer, whom I enlisted to manage the project while I was travelling, found us a wonderful printer, an employee-owned company in Wisconsin called Worzalla. We also hired them to do fulfillment—to package and mail all the reward books. Originally I had planned a marathon session in my garage with friends—but that would have added a week to our tight timetable and we thought having Worzalla do it would be quicker, although more expensive. However, we neglected to ask them a key question—how long will it actually take? I was appalled to discover, a month after I’d flown back there to sign all the copies that needed to be signed, that they were still slowly mailing and shipping books—and that they’d left the foreign books, which take longest to arrive, for last.

With all the guessing, and the comfortable sensation of having money in the bank, it was easy to make a whole series of decisions, each of which increased costs somewhat, without realizing how they were all adding up. In retrospect, I should have also recruited some hard-nosed financial manager type to crunch numbers as we went along. In any case, sometime in December, when I got the final estimated bill from Worzalla—for fulfillment, not including all the postage—the money ran out.

The roller coaster crashed. I cried.

But there was a reason I wrote the book, and invested so much in having it edited and designed, and worked so hard to make it good. And that was to have people read it. And as the books got sent out, and responses came in, that little cart on the roller coaster began to ratchet up again. Because people genuinely love the book!

As a writer, you expect your friends to tell you they like your work, even if they don’t. But you soon learn to discern the responses that mean they really, really like it! It’s the comments like, “My roommate’s light was on at 4 am and she was still reading it” that let you know you’ve told a story that engages people. And overall, I’ve been very, very happy to know that I’ve reached people with the story.

Will it work out financially, in the end? The jury is still out on that one. If the book sells, and I can eventually pay myself for even some of the years I’ve spent on it, I’ll be able to buy myself some more writing time to do another. That’s my hope.

I also haven’t forgotten the audiobook. That’s my next project, on top of the tour that will launch this month at Pantheacon in San Jose and continue on the East Coast in the coming weeks. Later I’ll be in Portland and Austin.

If you’re considering a similar project, here’s three pieces of advice:

1) Get someone savvy about Kickstarter and social media to help plan any campaign of that sort.

2) Get some humorless, curmudgeonly, mean and meticulous person to manage the money.

3) Don’t put a tight deadline for yourself on a project that involves a high learning curve with a lot of unfamiliar aspects. (My brother warned me about this—you were right, Mark!)

Now, as we begin to launch the book for real to the general public, I can feel that breeze on my back again. I’m hoping to turn that roller coaster into a nice, level train track (running on solar electric) that will deliver me to some peaceful place where I can dive into a new writing project.

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City of Refuge is now available on Amazon as an Ebook, and will soon be available in physical form. Official publication date is March 1, but your local bookstore can order it now from Ingram Book Company. Here’s how you can help support the book:

  • Ask your local bookstore to carry it.
  • Post a review on Amazon or Goodreads.
  • Tell your friends about it!

Thanks so much for your support—it makes the wild ride so much more fun to know you’re coming along with me!

A Wild and Diverse Earth Activist Training!

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Pandora Thomas on our site visit.

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Our January Earth Activist Training opened with the sound of clapper sticks and flutes, and the steady beat of a Pomo drum. Our old friend Neil, who has spent many years doing solidarity work with local tribes, had arranged for two dance groups of Pomo and Miwok to come and officially open the training. We hoped that some of the younger people would feel comfortable enough to stay on and take the two-week course, and in the end, four people did. And we were grateful to hear some of the language, the songs, and watch the beautiful dances of the original people of this land.

Charles Williams demonstrates making an A-frame to find contours on the land.

Charles Williams demonstrates making an A-frame to find contours on the land.

Our training takes place in the territory of the Kashia Pomo, at a Buddhist retreat center founded at a former minimum security prison that once housed firefighters. The folks at the Padmasambhava Peace Institute have hosted us for many years, and are very supportive of our work. Their center also has the supreme advantage of being just fifteen minutes down the road from Golden Rabbit Ranch, where my co-teacher and ranch manager Charles Williams and I are developing a model of carbon-sequestering, permaculture ranching, with sheep, goats, chickens, olives, lavender, and many healing and medicinal herbs, including Chinese medicinals.

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The dance troops stayed on for a couple of days, and the next afternoon we brought everybody up to Golden Rabbit for a tour of our place. After many years of drought, we’re finally having a wet winter—but the rain paused, contenting itself with being more of a heavy, mystical fog, and we were able to show off some of our systems and teach about principles and patterns at the same time.

Marlena Ramborger contacted me two years ago, wanting to take the course.

Marlena Ramborger contacted me two years ago, wanting to take the course.

Virginia Beach was a great resource, introducing me to the Deaf community and culture.

Virginia Beach was a great resource, introducing me to the Deaf community and culture.

We also had four wonderful Deaf students at this course.  Marlena Ramborger contacted me two years ago, and it was a long, sometimes frustrating but ultimately fruitful journey to find the resources to pay for interpreters and provide access.  Virginia Beach was an important resource and support, guiding me through an introduction to the Deaf community and culture.  Our amazing interpreters, Mary Nelson and Tadd Cohen, worked a marathon set of shifts. All of us in the course learned a lot about Deaf culture, which is rich and expressive, and watching the visual translation of verbal concepts added whole new dimensions of a kind of visceral, kinesthetic understanding.

In spite of the (blessed and much-needed) rain, it was as if the Weather Goddess had read our schedule, and we were able to get our for all of our hands-on projects: digging swales, propagating and seed-starting, making compost, sheet mulch, mushroom inoculation, hugelkulture (building raised beds over wood-piles), cob building, graywater…and some close encounters with the sheep, goats, and new babies!

Erik Ohlsen from the Permaculture Skills Center presents as Tadd Cohen interprets.

Erik Ohlsen from the Permaculture Skills Center presents as Tadd Cohen interprets.

We had a rich diversity of participants that spanned different age groups, backgrounds, races, genders, levels of experience…many sorts of diversity! At times that made for challenging discussions and hurt feelings—but hanging in there, working through it, and continuing to communicate also leads to deeper understanding. It can be painful to confront the realities of oppression and discrimination and to wrestle with our own grief, sense of loss, and sometimes, guilt and shame. But it can also be tremendously liberating and enriching to step beyond the bounds of our own assumptions and learn from a wider spectrum of experiences.

Mary Nelson interprets for Erik Ohlsen.

Mary Nelson interprets for Erik Ohlsen.

Earth Activist Training offers Diversity Scholarships for people of color working in environmental and social justice areas, for many reasons. We have a commitment to bring the tools and skills of earth regeneration to people from the communities most impacted by injustice, and we find that offering scholarships works, while many other strategies do not. A diverse course offers learning and challenges to all of our students that goes far deeper than just a new plant list or natural building technique. Ecology teaches us that diversity in a system generates resilience, and that is true in human systems as well, for when we bring together people of diverse backgrounds and life experiences, we see the world through different eyes, and become smarter and more compassionate as a result.

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To do this, we depend on grants and on your donations. We are grateful to the LUSH Charity Pot Program, the Dougherty Foundation, California’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation who all provided partial funding for this program. But we are especially grateful to all the individuals who continued to support these programs over the years! Thank you!

Creating a Book

Cover art by Jessica Perlstein

City of Refuge by Starhawk

(Yikes–just realized how long it’s been since I updated this blog!  We made our goal, and far beyond it, and I will soon write another blog to update you all on the whole, roller-coaster process as we officially launch the book this month–February, 2016!)

First, I want to share the exciting news that we’re over 80 per cent of the way to our first funding goal for City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing. This is all thanks to each of you who has supported our Kickstarter campaign!

I thought I would take a moment to share with you more about what really goes into making a book.  What does it take to produce a book like City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing?

First, you have to write it.  For me, the first draft is always the hardest, the one where you take that blank page and formulate a story, characters, plot elements, dialogue.  The first draft is generally rough— while the second draft is where I take all the scattered fragments and pull them into a structure, weave the various story lines together, and decide what goes with what.  The third draft is where I look at the actual writing, the language and metaphors and cadence of the dialogue, revisit the structure, and polish it up.

In the case of City of Refuge, I wrote three full drafts and then sent it out to a few select people for feedback.

After that, I wrote two more drafts, adding some new structural elements, removing some, rearranging some sections and adjusting the flow.

There!  The work is done—but actually, it’s not.

After that, it goes to an editor who does what’s called ‘developmental editing’.  She looks at the flow, the structure, the length, the pace, and makes suggestions.  We have phone calls.  She reads the whole book through, then reads it again, making notes and also doing ‘line editing’—looking at the language and making suggestions.

Generally, I resist them.  But in this case, now that I’m paying the editor myself, I accept most of them, if only to get my money’s worth out of the process.  I reread the entire manuscript, with her comments, and make changes.  Maybe I reread it again, to see how it all flows once the changes are made.

She rereads the entire manuscript, and again makes comments and suggestions that again I wrestle with.  I make more changes.

I then send the manuscript to the copy editor—a second person who looks at it in terms of grammar, spelling, and continuity.  We wrestle with deep questions such as, “Should we capitalize Madonna in Madonna Lily?”   And, “Do I really need to start every second sentence with ‘And’.”

She sends it back to me.  I look at all of her suggestions, take out about 80 per cent of the exclamation points I’d put in, send it back to the original editor for a final read-through, read it again myself—all epic 250,000 words of it!—and then send it to the proofreader, who checks for typos, spelling errors and mistakes.

The proofreader sends it to the designer, who creates templates for it and formats it for print and Ebooks.

The designer sends it back to the proofreader, who checks for new errors that may have crept in.

And then it goes to press.  Or upload, as the case may be.

The progression of a cover; from sketch to final. Art by Jessica Perlstein.

The progression of a cover; from sketch to final. Art by Jessica Perlstein.

There’s a few other aspects in there—getting a cover illustration made, getting an ISBN number and copyright etc. etc. Not to mention promoting the book, sending out review copies, working out questions around distribution, etc.  But that’s the basic process.

And that’s why I decided to go with a Kickstarter campaign to help pay all of these wonderful people who are helping me.  Until we transform our economy to a gift economy, I believe in paying people fairly for their work.  Even me—I aspire, at least, to paying myself something for the four years of work I’ve put into this.  But that will happen only if we exceed our original goal.

Oh yes, and I would like to get the roof fixed before it rains!

I’m so tremendously grateful for the response the Kickstarter campaign has already garnered.  We’re over 80 per cent there.  Thank you, everyone! If you would like to pre-order a special edition copy of City of Refuge for yourself, you can do that before August 31st HERE– after that you will have to wait for the public release!  We plan to have books available to our Kickstarter supporters well in time for the holidays!

 

City of Refuge--The Kickstarter Campaign Begins!

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“Bird dreamed of a fortress. Impregnable, formed of cold blocks of gray stone, it towered above him. A bugle blew. The gates opened, and legions of soldiers poured out. Masked and helmeted, armed and shielded, they marched in lockstep, left, right, left, an invincible force.

            ““But how do we fight this?” Bird asked. “How do we bring it down?”

            “He wasn’t sure who or what he was asking, but he heard a voice, low and toneless.

          “The fortress falls when the ground beneath it shifts.”

That’s an excerpt from my newest book, City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing.   And today is the big day, when we begin the Kickstarter campaign to publish it!

In The Fifth Sacred Thing, the people of an ecotopian northern California resist a brutal invasion using nonviolence and magic. It centers around the question, how do we resist violence without becoming what we’re fighting against?

In the sequel, Healer Madrone has a dream. “Build a city of refuge in the heartland of the enemy.” She.and musician-turned-guerilla Bird go down to the Southlands to liberate them. But how can you build a new world when people are so deeply damaged by the old?

I’ve been working on this book for almost four years now, and I’m eager for you all to read it. So many people have told me that The Fifth Sacred Thing has been important to them!

But Bantam, who originally published Fifth, doesn’t believe there’s an audience for a sequel. I think they’re wrong! And I hope you’ll help me prove it!

If you want to read the book, please help support the campaign! There are many ways you can do that…

  • Pledge a contribution. The rewards are…a special limited first edition of the book, in various forms! In essence, you’re pre-ordering it, and you’ll get to read it weeks before it is released to the general public!
  • Help spread the word! Share our link on your social media and send it to your friends.
  • Talk about it! With all the technology at our disposal, word of mouth is still the very best way to spread news!

            I’m excited, nervous, hopeful, and really, really grateful to be getting support from some amazing people who are working with me on this project. There’s Alli Gallixsee, who has helped me set the campaign up, and Jessica Perlstein, who did the beautiful color illustration. Philip Wood made the video, and in it you’ll see more of Jessica’s art. Diane Rigoli created the cover design. It takes a village to produce a book! And that’s not even talking about the editing, the proofreading, the layout and so much more.

I’m so thankful all of you are part of our village!

“A rumble…the earth shivered and trembled under his feet. He stepped closer to the fortress walls. A shaft of light came down out of the lowering clouds, and played over the surface of the stones. It formed a rippling pattern, like the broken webs of light playing through water. But the light, he realized suddenly, was shining through the stones. The walls that looked so solid were riddled with cracks. They were brittle, and ready to fall.

            “And now, up through the cracks, vines snaked, and out of the stones herbs and grasses sprouted. The walls began to crumble, but the roots and the twining stems held the structure together as mortar turned to dust. Trees took root in the rubble and arched overhead, their branches heavy with fruit.

            “Where the fortress had stood now was a leafy hall, open, with room for the multitudes.”           

City of Refuge--Lammas and Kickstarter!

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Lammas, the ancient Celtic festival of Lughnasad, celebration of the first harvest.  In my first book, The Spiral Dance,  I wrote that Lammas is the time when we stand between hope and fear.  The fruit ripens on the bough, but is not yet harvested.  The grapes swell on the vine, but we don’t yet know how the vintage will be.  And here in hot, dry, drought-ridden California, it’s fire season…

 Hope and fear—that’s what I’m feeling as we prepare to launch the Kickstarter campaign to publish City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing.  We had considered starting this Friday—but after some other considerations and new astrological calculations, we’ve now decided to launch on Tuesday, August 4.  Tuesdays are reputed to be the best day to launch a Kickstarter.  Presumably, everybody is offline on the weekends, then catching up on work on Monday, but by Tuesday, they’re sitting at their desks surreptitiously scrolling Facebook.

 And the book is very much like the fruit, hanging on the bough, ripening but not yet quite ready to harvest.  It’s written, complete, and in process of being edited, but it will still be awhile before it is published and available to read.

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 So I hope, very much, that the campaign will be a success!  I’m excited to publish it myself, and enjoying making my own decisions about it, choosing the cover, working with the editor knowing that I—not the marketing division—have the final say!

 I’m impatient to bring in the harvest—the joy of sharing it with all of you.  So many of you have written to me to say how much you want to read it! And I really, really hope that when you do, you’ll like it as much as I do!

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The Kickstarter campaign will launch August 4.  Please consider contributing on the first day, to start us off with a big, energetic boost!  (You don’t actually pay until the campaign is over!) In return for your early contributions, we will have some limited early bird discounts available. 

 You can follow us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/thefifthsacredthingsequel

Twitter https://twitter.com/starhawk17

and my author page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Starhawk/165408987031

as well as my blog, here.

Please help us spread the word and share our posts with your friends!

I’m so grateful for all the wonderful comments and good energy already flowing in!

City of Refuge--Our Kickstarter is Getting Close!

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In just a few days, I’ll launch the Kickstarter campaign to publish City of Refuge, the sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing. I’m swinging madly between wild excitement and good old-fashioned panic. Will this really work?

So many people tell me how much they love The Fifth Sacred Thing–that it has meant something to them, even informed their choices in life.  That itself is an enormous reward for a writer.  But I’m also hoping–counting–on you all to help me spread the word about the sequel.  If this campaign is successful, in the long run it will make it possible for me to write more fiction, which of all the things I do is my deepest calling.

So I thought this morning I’d say a bit more about the story itself. For me, a novel begins with a question. With The Fifth Sacred Thing, it was, “How do you resist violence without turning to violence?” When the ruthless Stewards of the Southlands invade the peaceful, ecotopian Califians of the north, that dilemma comes alive in every character.

The prequel, Walking to Mercury, that tells the story of Maya, Johanna and Rio’s complex relationships, centered around a more personal question, one that I think every young person struggles with: “How do you reconcile your pure ideals with the messy realities of life?”

I sat down to begin City of Refuge in the winter of 2012, when,just a few weeks before, the Occupy movement had  been driven out of the streets.  The question uppermost in my mind was: “How do we build a new world when people are so wounded by the old?”

Each of the characters struggles with that question in their own way. Readers of Fifth will recognize many of them, but there are also new ones.

Madrone is a powerful Healer, but she’s also a woman who struggles with that age-old women’s challenge—how do I not lose myself in the needs of others?

Bird, the gifted musician turned guerilla, is wounded by years of prison and torture, but even more deeply by his own guilt and shame.

River, the former soldier of the Stewardship Ohnine who defected to the North and turned the tide of battle, wants to become what he thinks of as ‘a real person’, not just a tool of others’ ends.

Smokee, the rescued pen-girl sex-slave, is consumed by rage and wants only one thing—her stolen child returned to her.

Cress from Water Council wants to fight, to end the Stewards’ menace once and for all. But he also wants to bring water back to the parched, desiccated lands of the Central Valley, to heal its wounds.

And Maya, aged story-teller, nears the end of life…

…While a warship appears in the waters of the Bay, and down in the Southlands, the Stewards prepare for a new assault…

If you’re excited to read the book, I hope you’ll support our campaign. The rewards will offer you the opportunity to pre-order the book in various forms: an Ebook version, a Kickstarter-only paperback edition, and even a special-edition hardcover version!

This campaign will offer you the opportunity to read City of Refuge weeks before anyone else, and you will be supporting my first self-publishing adventure! There will be a limited number of early bird special rewards available for the first 200 backers, so don’t sleep on it!

If you do want to support the project, it’s a great help if you do so early on, to give us a boost and build momentum.

It will also be a huge help if you forward announcements through your Social Media, post about it on Facebook, Like our Facebook Page, and help us spread the word!

I feel blessed and fortunate to have received so much support from my readers over the years. It’s what stills the panic and gives me the courage to create!  And thanks to all of you for helping to support this new project!

 

City of Refuge-the Self-Publishing Saga Continues

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I’m so grateful to all the people who’ve written in to share how much The Fifth Sacred Thing has meant! And to say variations on “You’re right, Bantam is wrong, there is indeed an audience for a sequel!

So yes, I am going to self-publish City of Refuge.  Then comes the question—how?

On the one hand, it’s never been easier to self-publish. Just upload the damn thing to Amazon and have done with it.

But I’m old-school enough to believe that every book benefits from skilled editing. I’ve been fortunate in my writing career to have worked with some wonderful editors, like Marie Cantlon who edited my first three books, and Linda Gross Kahn who edited The Fifth Sacred Thing.

It’s a measure of how publishing has changed that none of those wonderful editors are still in the business! Most of the other top editors who were there at Bantam and elsewhere are now freelance. On the one hand, that means that really amazing people are out there for hire. On the other hand, it means publishers don’t have to pay health insurance or vacation pay or pensions for those people. Editing used to be a prestige career—something that somebody like Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a former first lady, might do as a second career! Now it’s something 20-somethings do for a few years and then move on, and old-fashioned ideas like pensions no longer apply.  As someone who has always been a freelancer, I know the story well. Freedom is a wonderful thing, but it comes at a price that the freelancer pays.

But enough of that rant. The point is, as a freelance sort myself, I don’t have the deep pockets of a publishing conglomerate. Yet, along with the editor, a book needs a copy editor: someone who checks the spelling and grammar and the continuity, who makes sure if you use double dashes in chapter one you don’t use space dash space in chapter fifteen. Little picky details, but they make a difference, mostly in making sure nothing gets between the reader and the experience of reading.

And then there’s the proofreader, who checks the whole thing for typos, especially those ones that spellcheck will miss because you’ve spelled the word correctly, but it’s the wrong word. Know way, you say? Surely that can’t be rite!

And a designer, and an artist to do the cover illustration, and a whole host of other things. All of these people deserve to be paid.

Undoubtedly there’s a better system than capitalism for supporting art and literature. In fact, the system I came up with for the world of The Fifth Sacred Thing and City of Refuge would be my preference: everyone has a basic, guaranteed income, that represents your fair share of common resources and the wealth of the past. Everyone then gets work credits for whatever work you do, including housework and caring for children or the elderly. If you’re an artist or a healer or someone who’s work doesn’t lend itself to counting hours, you get a stipend. And if people really like what you do, they give you gifts.

Ah, how happy I’d be living in that world! But we’re not there yet, and in this one, I believe people deserve to be paid fairly for their work. And that includes writers, because writing well is excruciatingly hard work!  And while people tend to believe all writers are rich, in reality, a mid-level writer like myself, in a good year, might make a salary akin to an elementary school teacher, provided I do lots of touring and speaking engagements and workshops.    Without benefits like health insurance or pensions, of course.  Not that I’m complaining–for there are infinite, unquantifiable benefits!  And I consider myself so blessed and fortunate to be able to do work that I love!

But, in this world, where the usual sources of funding for the arts have all dried up, there’s really one way left to fund a huge project, and that’s to go directly to the people who care about the work, and ask for support.

And that’s what I’ll be doing. We’ll be starting our Kickstarter campaign, on the advice of Akasha Madron, my favorite astrologer, on July 31. It’s also the eve of Lammas or Lughnasad, August 1, one of the eight great festivals of the Celtic and Pagan year. As Maya says in The Fifth Sacred Thing:

Este es el tiempo de la Segadora, the time of the Reaper, she who is the end inherent in the beginning, scythe to the ripe grain.  The Crone, Goddess of Harvest.  In this her season we celebrate the ancient feast of the Celtic sun god Lugh, his wake as he ages and descends into Autumn.  It is a time of sweet corn, ripening tomatoes, the bean drying on the vine.  The harvest begins.  We reap what we have sown.”

An auspicious time to begin!  I really hope you’ll support the campaign, and help spread the word!  And I’ll be updating you all again during this coming week!

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City of Refuge: The Sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing

 

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“Every city needs three things: a plaza, a hearth and a sacred tree.”

The message came to me in a dream, as I was considering writing a sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing, my futuristic novel in which an ecotopian Northern California struggles to resist an invasion by the brutal, militarist Southlands using nonviolence and magic. Fifth ends with the Resistance successful, but then what? The book was long enough, so there was no need or room to answer that one when I wrote it twenty years ago.

But over the last few years, as together with Yerba Buena films we’ve been working to bring the story to the screen, ‘then what?’ kept echoing in my head. As I worked on endless drafts of a screenplay, then a pilot script for TV, and as I pondered episode breakdowns for a pitch, I began to toy with the idea of writing a sequel.

That moment when I know I have to write another book is always a grim and terrible moment—sort of like those moments in fairy tales where the Baba Yaga tells you to go sort a mountain of wheat or go empty a lake with a sieve. It means a long and grueling task ahead, that feels so huge there is no end in sight. You’re facing months and years of confinement. After Fifth and its companion prequel, Walking to Mercury, I avoided the isolation by co-writing my next three non-fiction books. I wrote a children’s picture book and three other non-fiction books which are demanding but not so emotionally draining as fiction. Suddenly I woke up and realized that, while I’d always thought of my primary calling as a story-teller and fiction writer, I’d successfully avoided doing it for a couple of decades.

And meanwhile, the characters from the world of Fifth were coming alive for me again, clamoring to tell more of the story. And I wasn’t getting any younger, and novels take time, and when you turn 60, and friends your age are starting to die of those things old people die of, time no longer looks endless.

So, I did it. I didn’t really have the time or space or money to dedicate the blocks of uninterrupted time I needed, but I did it anyway. Put off the repairs, the expensive deep cleaning my dentist kept nagging about, the vacations, and gave myself the time.

And of course, I also love it. There’s nothing I love more, once I get past the Dreaded First Draft, than being immersed in a huge work, where I can wake up every morning, write, take long walks, and do something every day that feels creative and meaningful. Even with that sneaking, underlying suspicion that spending hours and hours each day hallucinating is not really a sane occupation for a grownup.

Then what? Obviously, the people of the north had to go down and liberate the Southlands. It seemed only fair to L.A., the place where I actually grew up, not to leave it in the throes of dystopian neo-fascism forever.

But how? Especially now that Bird, one of the three core characters in Fifth, had gone through such a struggle to commit himself to nonviolence. But it’s one thing to employ non-co-operation with an invader, quite another to go and invade.

“Build a refuge in the heartland of the enemy.” That was the message from the dream, and that became the thread that holds the new book together. How do we build a new world, when people are so broken by the old? New characters joined the old ones, and the tale began to unfold…

Of course, what separates the writer from the garden-variety mental patient is first, the act of writing—which is hella more work than merely hallucinating, and secondly, the hope that other people will eventually read what you’ve written and respond to it. But not for a while. Not until you’ve had time to revise and edit and rewrite and perfect it. Then, maybe, somebody might even publish it, and give you money for it.

That was not an unreasonable hope, given that I’d already had twelve books published. But in those twenty years, publishing itself has radically changed. The editors I’d worked with at major publishers left for new jobs or went freelance or back to graduate school. The companies got bought and sold and merged and remerged and corporatized so that they no longer were even the same entities I’d originally dealt with. Bantam, which published Fifth and Mercury, had nobody left who had any connection with my books, or indeed, seemed to have any awareness that they even existed, except for some automated program that continued to send me occasional slim royalty checks. They did put the books out as Ebooks, but any further attempts to get them to engage led nowhere. Most of the time, we didn’t even receive answers to our letters. It took my agent hours of research time to even figure out who, in the Bantam empire, (now the Bertlesman/Penguin/megamedia empire) would be the appropriate person to whom to send the new book.

But we sent the manuscript off in late October of 2014, and Bantam did what publishers do best—nothing. We heard nothing whatsoever, for weeks, which dragged into months. In January, my agent began sending polite emails and calls, which were not returned or even acknowledged. This was a bad sign, but not unusual, we were told, for publishers these days, where the hectic demands of doing whatever mysterious things editors do these days (setting up lunches with people More Important than You? Attending glamorous parties, dressed in chic black clothing? Closing mega-million dollar deals? They don’t actually do a lot of editing, I can tell you that!) supersede any need for common professional politeness.

Finally, in February, when I was teaching down in Belize, my agent got a curt email back. Bantam had decided to pass on the book, on the grounds that they thought there was too much time since the original book came out, and there wouldn’t be an audience for it. Also, adding snottiness to rudeness, they thought the book “didn’t reflect contemporary sensibilities.” ???

I was upset, but consoled myself with the thought that the snarky editor was shivering in some snowbound, icy New York loft in her tight, chic black clothing and slipping on the ice in her Manolo Blahniks whereas I was swimming in a pristine tropical river and sipping fresh coconut milk from nuts dropping from the trees.

That tropical river!

That tropical river!

Nonetheless, I was mad. Yes, there is an audience for the book! I know that, and five minutes of research on the internet (I had provided them the links!) would have shown them that, too. Maybe not Stephen King’s audience, but I believe there are a significant number of people who would like to read the book. And I intend to get it to you all!

And so begins Starhawk’s Big Self-Publishing Adventure!

Follow the adventure on Facebook: City of Refuge!

 

 

50 Shades of Racism

The Inuit, I’ve heard, have fifty different words for snow, presumably because they have a lot of it! When something is omnipresent, we need language to help us distinguish the subtleties. For that same reason, we need more than one term for talking about racism, which is as omnipresent in the US as snow in the pre-global-warming Arctic. Clarity about the subtle distinctions and forms that racism takes can aid the effectiveness of all who are working for a world of justice.

Racism, and its cousins sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism and all the rest of the family share many similarities in the way they function. In this essay I will focus primarily on race. And for clarity and simplicity of language, I will sometimes use the terms ‘black’ and ‘white’, even though ‘black’ people come in many shades and ancestries, and ‘white’ people also represent a range of heritages and ethnic backgrounds. Myself, my heritage is 100 per cent purebred, dirt poor Eastern European Jew, which carries a wealth of complexities. I’m a woman who comfortably fits my biological gender, getting older, fatter, creakier and more hard-of-hearing by the day. All of that factors into who I am, but in terms of race, I look white, and carry that privilege. But I have lived in a multi-racial household for decades, helped to raise an African-American child, and feel a deep personal investment in his generation’s future.

Let’s start with the difference between prejudice and racism. Prejudice is personal. It means ‘pre-judge’. It’s the assumptions we make, the snap judgments, the way the black guy in the hoodie may make you nervous while the white guy in the business suit does not, although the first may be a college basketball star and the second may be about to take your home out from under you.

Prejudice often goes together with stereotypes, positive or negative: Black people have rhythm, Jews are loud, women compliant, etc. Sometimes these can be annoying but relatively benign—I assume my gay friend Donald can help me with my decorating scheme or that my Asian American student must be smart. But prejudice can also kill—a cop sees a black man reach for his wallet and his prejudice leads him to shoot without warning.

We are probably all prejudiced to some extent, and prejudice can work in any direction. Black people can be prejudiced against white people, Latinos can be prejudiced against Asians, Asians against Latinos, and the dance goes on. I’ve heard Norwegians complain that Danes are loud and uncouth, and local villagers in Cornwall express dismay at the invasion of those foreigners from Devon.

But racism is something more. Racism is structural, not just personal. It’s embedded in the very fabric of our society, with deep roots in history. Prejudice is Darren Wilson shooting Mike Brown jn Ferguson and leaving him on the sidewalk to die. Racism is that he gets away with it, unindicted. And that these incidents keep happening, again and again and again, so that a black person’s experience of something as everyday and normal as walking on the street is pervaded by a ubiquitous, low-level sense of fear and danger distinct from any fears a white person might feel.

Prejudice, institutionalized, becomes part of a racist structure of discrimination. Discrimination means you don’t get the raise, the apartment, or the job, or the spot in graduate school, or some other benefit because of your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your age, your disability, etc. Discrimination compounds over the generations—maybe a child is born malnourished because her parents were poor because her grandparents were closed out of the labor pool and had no access to education.

Racism is systemic. It’s the built-in ways the deck is stacked against certain people because of the color of their skin. We can’t avoid it. It infects our preferences and it has shaped our history. It’s the standards of beauty we internalize at such a deep level we don’t realize that they are culturally shaped. It’s the power of still-existing corporations whose fortunes were originally built on the shipping companies that transported slaves. It’s the family farm originally settled by refugees from Europe who were granted land expropriated from the First Nations tribes. It’s the difference in the value of the house I inherited from my mother, a social worker, who was able to buy property in a white neighborhood in the ‘Sixties, and the much smaller value of the house my friend Isis inherited from her mother, a nurse, who was only allowed to buy in a Black neighborhood during that same era.

More than even that, it’s the legacy of pain passed down in families and the ideals of attractiveness and success and the works we consider ‘Great Literature’ and the subjects we study in school. It’s a prison system that has been privatized and whose profits must be fed with bodies, and it is all the subtle prejudices and assumptions that determine whose bodies those are. It’s an overarching, overwhelming system that parcels out benefits according to skin color and permeates everything we do, whether we want it to or not. Another term for the system is ‘white supremacy’—all the subtle and not-so-subtle forces that allocate the best stuff and the most power for white people and the dregs for everybody else.

To admit the racist underpinnings of U.S. society calls into question many of the foundational myths of the dominant American culture—the myth of equality, of a fair society where anyone can rise. Moreover, for white people, it pushes us smack up against our privilege.

Privilege is unearned benefits and power. And who wants to admit to that? We all like to think that we deserve whatever good things we might have in life. It’s painful and humiliating to think that our mere skin color gained us unfair advantages.

Moreover, even with white skin privilege, life sometimes sucks. And in a competitive, capitalist culture like our own, we tend to think that everything is a competition, a zero-sum game, even suffering. If I admit that I have privilege, does that make my personal pain invalid?

But misery is not a competitive sport. Pain is not quantifiable, and we don’t have to compare ours with someone else’s. I might be utterly miserable with the flu, even when someone else is suffering from cancer, and I still have a right to bouts of self-pity and also to comfort and treatment and healing. But while the flu can kill you, cancer is generally a far worse disease. If I hold that awareness, I might refrain from brightly assuring my friend with late-stage lymphoma that I know just how she feels, because I’ve been sick, too!

Instead, I might admit that I don’t know how she feels or how the world looks from her perspective, but I can be open to listening, to learning, and to offering what support I can.

Privilege is hard to see when you have it, because a lot of it consists of what doesn’t happen to you. Because I have white-skin privilege, I get in the car and drive to the grocery store, and don’t get pulled over by the cops. I walk around the store and do my shopping, and no one watches me suspiciously. I lose my wallet in Mexico, and go to the consulate and they issue me a travel document without a question. “Don’t I have to do anything to prove I’m an American?” I ask. “Sing the National Anthem, or swear my allegiance to the Giants, or something?”

“Oh no,” the woman behind the counter replies. “It’s obvious that you are—your accent, your name, how you look. Now, if your name was ‘Garcia’ or something, that might be different!”

Acknowledging that I have privilege doesn’t mean I have to sink under the weight of guilt. It just means admitting that the playing field doesn’t start out level. When I allow myself to see that reality, then I can put that power and those benefits to use in helping to smooth out the humps and make the game more fair.

Nor does acknowledging that targeted populations lack privilege mean that every person of color is doomed to a terrible life. The vast majority of people of color and other target groups manage to live fulfilling, loving, productive lives in spite of all the obstacles. One way I can support my friends of color is by seeing and acknowledging their strength and resilience, not just their pain, by appreciating and celebrating their gifts, by entering into real relationships of equals where we can all be seen in the fullness of our flaws and virtues.

One of the core aspects of privilege is simply not having to work hard to be seen—seen as a person, a full and complex human being. Racism and its cousins make individuals and whole groups invisible, not the subjects of history but the objects, the Other, as Simone Beauvoir noted that women become under male supremacy. A man can simply be an artist, a woman too often is labeled a Woman Artist. A white man can be a writer, a person of color too often is seen as a Black Writer or an Asian Novelist or a Latino Poet. Women often report this common experience: a woman makes a suggestion in a meeting that goes unheard. Ten minutes later, a man makes the same suggestion and is greeted with acclaim.

For a person from a target group whose people have been made invisible and devalued for centuries, whose lives are currently taken with impunity, whose contributions too often go unrecognized or unrewarded, asserting value becomes a life-and-death issue. Being unseen or undervalued can feel like erasure, a form of death.

Privilege can also work in more subtle ways. One of them is what I call protagonitis—the assumption that the white person or the male is the lead role, the protagonist, in any story. Hollywood loves this—there are a lot of movies about the noble white teacher uplifting her poor ghetto students, very few about those ghetto folks uplifting themselves.

We all get to be the star in our own lives. Indeed, that was one of the key things the feminist movement continues to fight for—that women get to play lead and not always be relegated to mere supporting roles.

But when we go into someone else’s community, we are not the center of their story. Support can be a noble role. Think of Lord of the Rings—Frodo, the little hobbit, is the protagonist. He carries the ring. His supporters are far more powerful—wise wizards, magical elves, kings and warriors. But they are not the protagonists. He is. They lend their power to his quest.

When we step into someone else’s community, or support a struggle led by another group, we might get to be Gandalf or Aragorn or Galadriel or Sam, but we need to remember who is carrying the ring. The story is not about us, and that’s okay. One of the best things we can do with privilege is to put it at the service of a quest led by those who have been most impacted by injustice. And we don’t have to feel hurt or defensive when someone says, “Hey, back off. This is my ring! Don’t try to snatch it!”

There are other subtle ways that racism divides us. One is sheer unfamiliarity with another culture. “Culture” is still overwhelmingly white, male and European—Black Studies or Women’s Studies or Native American Studies are relegated to the sidelines, if they haven’t had their funding cut altogether. Few of us learn much about these cultures and heritages in school unless we take special courses or make special efforts, whereas black or Latino or Native American or Asian students learn a lot about European culture and white history. People of the dominant culture can be rich, successful and socially prominent without ever knowing a damn thing about African civilizations or Spanish poetry. But to survive, to pass and to succeed, people of color need to know European history and literature and speak standard English.

Unfamiliarity can lead to curiosity. What does that hair feel like? A five-year-old might ask to touch it quite innocently. But those of us who are older need to be aware that curiosity can feel like intrusion, and that innocent statements can carry a heavy weight of historic entitlement. If I say to a black acquaintance, “I want to touch your hair!” or worse, reach out and grab a dreadlock without asking, my act carries with it the legacy of hundreds of years of white entitlement to black people’s bodies. Just as when a man wolf-whistles at a woman, he may be genuinely appreciative of her beauty, but his action reinforces a legacy thousands of years old of men’s entitlement to judge and possess women’s bodies.

Unfamiliarity can also lead to discomfort and avoidance. Some of us might be lucky enough to grow up in diverse communities with a wide range of friends of all different races and backgrounds. But many of us do not. Even in integrated schools and offices, people often socialize in segregated groups.

For people of color, hanging out with white people carries the risk of experiencing insensitivity or micro-aggressions, the little jabs that rip open the bigger scars. The subtler forms of prejudice, the unconscious assumptions, are often hard to identify in the moment and exhausting to experience. And the burden of educating the ignorant can be a heavy one.

While well-meaning white people who first start to become aware of privilege and power issues can become so excruciatingly aware of race, of their own and everyone else’s level of privilege, so guilt-ridden, so hyper-conscious of everything they say, that they’re really no good to themselves or anybody else. Especially if they develop a bad case of validitis: the need to have someone, anyone, or some other color than your own validate you as The Good White Person, often by playing a game of ‘gotcha!” and shaming any other white person who makes a questionable remark.

So what’s a well-meaning white person to do?

First, get comfortable in your own skin. Value yourself, not for your color or your ancestry or your background, but for your choices in life. That’s all we can really lay claim to!

I’m aware this is easier said than done, and can be a lifelong journey. But it’s where we have to begin, all of us of any heritage. When we can value our own true worth, we can withstand the assaults we all suffer, and we have less need to look to others to validate us.

Learn about your own heritage. ‘White’ isn’t just ‘white’, it might be Irish, Italian, Basque, Lithuanian, Welsh, Serbian, or a myriad of other ethnic or tribal identities, all of which have histories and songs and stories of their own. Part of the price we pay for the benefits ‘whiteness’ confers is the erasure of these rich identities.

Learn something, as well, about other cultures and histories. Doing so will enrich your world, broaden your knowledge and perspectives, and can be a source of great pleasure. Read the literature, study the history, watch the films, listen to the music and dance the dances!

Don’t confuse cultural learning and awareness with cultural appropriation, a very different thing. Learning comes from a humble place, appropriation from a place of entitlement and unawareness. If someone shares some aspect of their culture or teachings with you, it’s a precious gift. Give back! Come with respect, and don’t lay claim to what you haven’t earned. Learn about the real lives and current struggles of a culture as well as the myths and ceremonies. Don’t adopt the costumes or trappings without permission, and a deep understanding of what lies beneath.

Understand there is a difference between initiatory teachings and cultural offerings. One is reserved for those who commit to a path, the other is freely offered to the world. If you’re not sure, ask. Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass, tells how carefully she sought permission before writing about the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address.

“…I am not a Haudenosaunee citizen or scholar—just a respectful neighbor and listener. Because I feared overstepping my boundaries in sharing what I’ve been told, I asked permission to write about it and how it has influenced my own thinking. Over and over, I was told that these words were a gift of the Haudenosaunee to the world. When I asked Haudenosaunee faith keeper Oren Lyons about it, he gave his signature bemused smile and said, “Of course you can write about it. It’s supposed to be shared, otherwise how can it work? We’ve been waiting 500 years for people to listen. If they’d understood the Thanksgiving then, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

Knowledge of other cultures can help us avoid the assumption that our cultural way of looking at the world is the only way, or the best way, or the more evolved way. And we can learn to appreciate the vast array of different ways of understanding, different myths and frameworks and paradigms that characterize the cultures of the world. For just as there is no ‘white’ culture, there is truly no single overarching ‘African culture’ or ‘indigenous culture’—there are thousands of different cultures and stories and ways of living. Many share some deep commonalities, but to lump them all together is to make invisible the richness of their diversity.

Every culture, every group, has its own norms, its customs, its ways of relating, its assumptions about how decent people behave. One way privilege operates is what I like to call normatitis—the assumption that the norms of my group are the norms for everyone, and anyone who doesn’t follow them is deviant. So if I come from a dominant culture where emotion is suppressed and expression is constrained, someone who yells or cries or complains will seem loud or uncouth or scary. Norms are generally unspoken, and we are often not conscious of adapting to them. We get into the elevator, face the door, and don’t speak to the stranger next to us, and never think about it. Someone who strikes up a conversation may please us or alarm us, but either way will definitely be doing something out of the norm.

In our own communities, we have a lifetime to absorb the norms and adapt to them. But when we move into a different culture, we may not even recognize what the norms are nor be aware that we are violating them. I once attended an Ohlone ceremony and was blithely singing along with the chants in my high soprano. Had not another white woman tipped me off, I would never have guessed that in that culture, singing an octave above everyone else is considered rude and insulting.

A variation of normatitis is issueitis—assuming that the issues I care about should be tops on everyone else’s agenda, often coupled with not knowing what other groups’ agendas might be, or dismissing their importance.

So, rather than always trying to drag people of color into supporting your issues, find out what issues are up in the communities around you, and show up to support them.

There are many things those of us who carry privilege can do, and these suggestions are not new. We’ve been talking about them in progressive movements for as long as I’ve been around, which is a good half-century, and I’m sure the movements were talking about them before that.

Share resources. Share the spotlight. If your group, or conference, or organization wants to be diverse, bring a diverse group of people together at the beginning. Don’t go to the one person of color you know three days before the conference and ask them to bring some others.

Give recognition. Recognize that for people who have been made invisible, recognition is vitally important and healing. Be extra vigilant in giving credit where credit is due.

Share opportunities to speak and present. Challenge the organizers of conferences and gatherings that don’t represent diversity.

Educate other white people, or other men, or other cis-gendered people or people of privilege. Don’t let the person in the target group bare the burden of all the consciousness raising that needs to be done. But be conscious and compassionate in the way you go about it. Shaming and blaming are never helpful ways of teaching, and if you are calling out others from an unacknowledged need to make yourself look good by comparison, you will only generate resistance.

Know that you’ll make mistakes. You’ll say things quite unintentionally that hurt peoples’ feelings or offend somebody. If someone confronts you, listen. You may or may not agree, but listen and think about the critique. Understand that the impact of your words is often very different from your intention. Defending your intention is not the point, when something you’ve said or done has had a hurtful impact. Apologize, forgive yourself even if no one else will forgive you, and move on.

These are painful times, but the very visibility of the pain carries with it the possibility to address it, and build strong, broad, diverse social movements that can draw people together across the barriers of our differences to stand in solidarity for one another and for the earth.