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!



47 comments to City of Refuge: The Sequel to The Fifth Sacred Thing

  • I am waiting (not altogether patiently) to read your next book, and then consider the ideas that you’ve come up with for the how those great characters deal with the situations of our changing world. Yay, Starhawk!

  • One word: Amazon. Screw Bantam! Can’t wait to read Refuge!

  • Angela

    SO ready. Will pre-order a dozen copies…that’s at LEAST how many I have given as gifts over the years.

  • I have read The Fifth Sacred Thing every year since I got my first copy in 1994. The characters and ideas are as important and relevant today as they were when I first read it. I can barely contain myself that there is a sequel ready and waiting to be released.

  • Eagerly awaiting the sequel to my favorite fiction book ever (The Fifth Sacred Thing)!

    Thanks for your awesome contributions Starhawk.

  • I adore The Fifth Sacred Thing. It’s one of my go-to books when I feel disconnected. I teach my children that the elements are sacred and belong to everyone, and that it’s all tied together by that irrepressible fifth sacred thing. I dream of one day building something called A Place At the Table, a place where anyone who is hungry is welcome if they will sit in peace at our table. Your words, your story, helped me refine my nascent idea that people are not limited to being who they were – that if one looks beyond that scarred and damaged surface one may find tremendous strength and beauty, and also that it’s okay to be afraid but even in fear one has a voice. Your story comforts and inspires me every day.

    When people are looking for a way to understand paganism in its many forms, I direct them to The Fifth Sacred Thing.

    I’m an audience. I’m one and I am broker than a politician’s promise, but I’m here and I will buy your sequel and count it an investment not only in my library but the growth and nourishment of my spirit. I suspect I am not alone in the sentiment.

    Shade and Sweetwater,

  • Heather Phillips

    Your books have changed my life! I know that Refuge is a book that will help transform the world!
    Brightest and deepest blessings for success on your journey of self publishing !

  • starrdusk

    So glad to hear from you on this and WE are anxiously waiting to be your audience and introduce new ones.
    Did Bantam not realize that your movie is bound to attract new people? They are going to be So sorry they passed you by on this one! Not only because of the upcoming movie but because the world’s politics and necessary turnings of society is all lining up for what you have to teach. You need people who are looking ahead to tomorrow, and I think I can safely see that you have a whole lotta hearts and minds that believing that what happens for this book is going to be just what it, and you, need.
    I love your description of hallucinating that you gave in regards to a writers job!.

  • I am excited to hear of a sequel! The Fifth Sacred Thing and Walking to Mercury were both a major influence on my personal philosophies of magick and nonviolence. You can count on me to buy City of Refuge!

  • Allison

    I’ve given away three copies of The Fifth Sacred Thing since I read it, and would probably buy as many of your sequal. Thanks for writing it, I can’t wait to read it!

  • Jill Einsmann

    thank you for the first book and the new one when it comes and the many many hrs of teaching over the years..

  • Hey!Star, This is great news! I have recommended TFST to literally hundreds of people. It is so important that we have a model of how non-violence, consensus, permaculture and the seasons and cycles of life can actually work to create a new world out of such devastation of the soul.
    Avatar quickly descended into just another war movie, but TFST takes us through the conflict with tools of courage, love, truth and quick thinking!
    Can’t wait to read it!
    I am going to self-publish as well so if I find anything out that might be useful to you, I’ll send it along.
    It’s the book for right now that we all need, can’t wait!!!
    Blessings, Magick

  • Karen

    Loved the FST, and cannot wait for the sequel. It was a utopia that we are all working toward, where all are respected, where skin color is not the first thing noticed, where food is natural and all paths are sacred. 🙂 You have an audience! The pencil pushers in NY have no idea.

  • sylvia

    Fantastic! Your audience in London is waiting!

  • I’m another one of those people who reads The Fifth Sacred thing yearly–I’ve done that for the past 15 years or so. It’s so marked up that one of these days I’ll have to get a new copy. More than once I’ve kept a journal while reading it to highlight and reflect on the concepts. I’ve read many of your non-fiction books, and your story does such a fantastic job of actually applying what you teach. I don’t think that there is any more powerful way to communicate than story, and you are an amazing writer. Your characters have so much depth. They are beautifully, realistically flawed. You’ve created a real, believable world and shown us how to have hope even in the midst of terror. These are lessons the world needs. I would have read your sequel in any case (obviously), yet knowing the concept around which it is based (build a refuge in the heartland of the enemy) makes it even more compelling. I for one am very grateful you’ll be self-publishing, because in all likelihood that means we will see the book sooner. YES you have a following, a fervent, passionate, vocal group. And we’ll tell others. Kudos to you–can’t wait to read the sequel. Sending love and blessings.

  • Harper Lee did not seem to have a problem publishing her second book. What has it been? 50 years? I call BS, (not YOU- them!)

  • sharon mull

    I have all you books and read the 5th sacred thing years ago, just put it in my re-read pile for the winter reading months… looking forward to it’s sequal!

  • Terri Barmore

    Oh I am so happy there will be more. I love The Fifth Sacred Thing and refer to it often for comparison to today’s world happenings. Can’t wait to read it!

  • Alakhi McLain

    I cannot wait to read the sequel! The right company will come, with better results and energy.

  • ane

    Your book, The Fifth Sacred Thing had a profound effect on our generation and culture.
    I read it one every year, mostly in the fall for some reason. Not that it is a ritual – I just see it on the shelf and remember.
    And that is what the book does. It reminds me! Of who I am, why I am here, what is important and REAL.
    I have even read it once out loud with my husband who loved it also.

    I am so pleased that you have written more again about this journey and look forward to adding another to my yearly “ritual”.

    used to be Eureka, ca…..Now Maui

  • I’d love to see this book published. Wouldnt the answer be to crowd-source like you did the film concept? I’ve just helped crowd source a friend’s children’s book ‘Are you a boy or are you a girl?’ which is about growing up gender-neutral. First print run is on Amazon and selling well.

    The Fifth Sacred Thing was a game-changer for me. It’s characters deserve another story…

  • Elizabeth Vaught

    I can’t wait to read it!!! I have shared TFST with so many people. Thank you for allowing yourself the opportunity to write the new book and get it out regardless of the publishing issues. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  • Louise Wylie

    As someone who’s not long discovered “The Fifth” I’m delighted by the prospect of a sequel! And I’ve heard good things about Balboa Press – Hay House’s self publishing arm.

  • Jody

    you are a pioneer and leader and my community and circle are eager to see where your inspiring story leads. There are those who see fiction as just a “pastime” but they must lack awareness of metaphor, example and using the imagination for problem solving. Your fiction is a vision, a formula and a reassurance that we can survive AND thrive in adversity and build the society of our dreams. Publishers are missing out, hope they find enlightenment somehow too! Thanks and keep us posted.

  • Self-published authors now make the most money anyway:

  • I’m part of a small independent audiobook publishing company, Spoken Word Inc. If you interested in making City of Refuge into an audiobook, please get in touch!

  • Meagan

    Aloha Starhawk! I read The Fifth Sacred Thing in the 90’s when I was a teenager and just starting to learn about who I was. I wanted you to know that at a young age your novel profoundly made a huge impact in my life. Instead of moving to the city and persueing modeling and fashion, I was moved and called to The Big Island Hawaii. While receiving my degree in biochemistry, I also persued permaculture, yoga and the healing arts. Today, two decades later, I live off the grid in Hawaii. Gardens, yoga, healing, doggie rescuing and surfing encompass my reality, and I know your book played a huge role at a young age when I was making criticle decisions that would effect my destiny. I’m hoping you will read this so I can thank you! You are doing amazing work on this planet and have had more influence than you probably know. I can’t wait to read your sequel!

  • Tanya

    One of the legion of Fifth Sacred Thing fans who will eagerly buy your new book and share it with many. your book means so much to me. Can’t wait to revisit the world and characters and ideas it contains!

  • Have you considered self-publishing it if you can’t find a traditional publisher? It looks like you’d have plenty of buyers waiting for it (including me).

  • Grandma Luna

    Dear Starhawk
    As a just turned 65, I want you to know I have turned my daughter and grand-daughter on to your books and they have helped them find their path as they did me. All three of our generations have in turn, brought your stories to others. The world needs your words.
    Sell pre-orders on line, you have 1000’s of fans.
    Bright Blessings

  • Maddy

    The Fifth Sacred Thing is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. I wish I’d written it! I will buy two copies, today, whenever you’re ready.

  • Helen Pope

    I am so eager for the sequel!
    I agree… If Bantam is being stupid about it, let Amazon show them the realty. You DO have an audience of eager readers!
    Heh, I buy your new editions and keep the old!

  • Nel

    You have my 100% support in getting this novel up and out into the hands and hearts of the masses. Humanity is calling for it. xo

  • Selchie

    I come back to Fifth Sacred Thing time and again. It is a touchstone that reminds me of the power of imagination in the face of devastation. When my sister-in-law was murdered and the trial began, I was inspired by the non-violent, non-cooperative responses of the characters to take her picture into court. She could not be there, but her presence was clearly felt.
    And as for starting new projects later in life: I just turned 60 and I’m doing my PhD. New projects, having a focus, we need these things to keep us going. Thanks for keeping on Starhawk. I am excited to read City of Refuge

  • Emery

    I just got around to reading “The Fifth Sacred Thing” this summer, and it was an instant favorite. Politically and as a work of literature, it could not have gone over better if it were personally tailored for me. What a pleasure to find a book which speaks so powerfully both to the woundedness of the world and of humanity, and for the possibility and potential means of healing – and all wrapped up in some of the best plotting, characterization, pacing, introspection, and all that literary stuff, I’ve encountered in years. (I’ve come across other fictional works with similar political sensibilities which also have excellent literary merit – but not many of them, and none of them have hit quite the right storytelling style which for me made the book so utterly captivating.) As an up-and-coming (I hope) author socially conscious fiction, I’m happy to say I have a new standard to aspire to in crafting my own stories for social change.

    I look forward to checking out “Walking to Mercury” next, as I could happily immerse myself in more such stories for a long time to come. However, I am particularly eager for “City of Refuge,” when it comes out. As pleased as I was to see everyone’s favorite Northern California ecotopian community resist an invasion from the fascistic Southlands, I find it equally exciting (and, writing as I am from more or less the very heart of the empire) perhaps even more instructive to see the despotic Stewards defeated and overthrown on their home turf.

    So grateful for all the work you’ve already done, and giddy to see what more you have in the works.


  • Lyn Lovell

    Is it possible to buy this in hard copy in England? I don’t enjoy reading from screens. It looks like you can order advance copies, but is that just in the States?

    • We are looking at distributors who will print-on-demand, and at least one prints in England so hopefully you will be able to buy it without paying exhorbitant shipping costs. Lok for info in late January. Thanks!

  • The Fifth Sacred thing is the most poignant book I’ve read in many many years. I recommend it to many people all the time. Stay strong and sure – the sequel is much wanted by MANY. Thank you for daring to write such profound truths in such a poetic way. Love x

  • Jean

    I loved the fifth sacred thing!! I cannot wait to read city of refuge! Thank you for these magical gifts of love!

  • Holly

    Dear StarhawkI love all of your books and couldn’t wait to read this new one. I am only 50 pages into but am having a hard time getting through the recap of the violence and brutality they endured. When in the book does that end? I am so thrilled to read it but am getting nightmares after reading at night and learning about the terror and brutality they endured. THanks.

  • I sponsored the kickstarter for this book awhile back and when it arrived I really just took one look at the size and thought that will have to wait. I wasn’t certain that I would be able to find the time or the inclination to read it – my life has changed so much since I read the fifth sacred thing so many moons ago. I finally found a few spare hours a few weeks ago and started reading – and since then I haven’t put the book down. From the minute I started reading this book captured me in and reminded me of all the things that I wish for in the world – and even though there is light and dark within the book I found it so inspiring. I am so happy that you took the time to put these characters back together and shared this amazing story. I am so honoured that being a part of this kickstarter helped get these words out into the world! thank you thank you thank you for being you and leading the pack! I am so grateful for your vision.

  • Dear Starhawk & readers,

    This publishing dilemma (“modern sensibilities”) is germane to our culture’s stagnation/growth. Books must be a “refuge in the heart of the enemy.” It is a topic worth writing a long-form essay about; the dominant narrative of human barbarism that many seem to believe despite abundant evidence to the contrary (e.g. Solnit’s A PARADISE BUILT IN HELL). Would Starhawk or anyone else reading this post be interested in collaborating on an essay exploring this topic? I’m a novelist, freelance reporter, and researcher on sustainable communities. If so, please contact me at james.collector4 at gmail.

  • Frankie

    Will Maya Lilly be recording the audio version anytime soon? I really enjoyed listening to The 5th Sacred Thing on

    • I hope in the long run we can do an audiobook of it, but at this point we don’t have any immediate plans to. I’m so glad you enjoyed the audiobook of The Fifth Sacred Thing!

  • Ash

    PLEASE do an audible version of City of Refuge! I’m a student midwife and drive around all day- TFST is my favorite thing to listen to while in the car!

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