I began writing professionally in 1985 after what seemed a century of being a divorced mom (with all its richness, chaos - and 5 am to midnight days and nights). I drove West from a Great Lakes city, from wet gray and green to the huge skies and sacred mountains and deserts of Flagstaff, Arizona. I went as a promise to myself to write and fight for the earth. My writing - three novels: Sisters of the Dream, Going through Ghosts and 29; short story collection: Delicate; essay collection:Bonelight:ruin and grace in the New Southwest; , two memoirs: Solace: rituals of loss and desire, and She Bets Her life; dozens of national NPR commentaries and hundreds of magazine and newspaper columns - serves that vow.
From 1985 to 2008, I lived in a wallboard and scrap lumber cabin with no indoor plumbing and a woodstove for heat. My back porch faced into a Ponderosa grove, where one foggy morning I saw a young elk stag calmly watching me. like a ghost of an earlier time. Flagstaff, as have so many Western mountain towns, became a playground for the rich and entitled. Too many of us could no longer afford to live there. I moved to a ragged little town in the Mojave Desert after a series of losses that had taken me down to bone. The Mojave burned away what was left. If you have lived through any form of annihilation - deaths, addictions, wasting illness, depression, losing beloveds, feeling the threads that connect you with a place being destroyed - you know. I went north to Bend, Oregon in 2009. I missed the desert every other breath; I finally found my way into the basin-range sagebrush and basalt about 15 miles east of town. That huge space kept me alive - not just physically.
Loss and change are the fuel for my writing. Gratitude moves my pen. A cluster of seven Ponderosa near my old cabin near Flagstaff called me home in 2010. The cabin was gone. I live now in a single-wide trailer in an old suburb south of town. My windows look out on another Ponderosa grove. I've seduced a gang of ravens and two Abert squirrels with corn chips and peanuts. This morning, the light outside my window is an alchemist's meld of the gray skies of my Eastern birthplace and the fierce blue of the Southwestern sky. There is a pinyon juniper desert to the north, east and south of my home. I count myself blessed to have been returned from a three year exile. The only forms of gratitude that are real are to write and to fight for the earth, even though a handful of us were unable to stop snow-making desecration on the sacred mountains here. (To learn more, http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/08/from-sacrilege-to-sacredness-whats-the-big-deal-about-snowmaking/)
I carried away more stories from the Mojave than I can ever write in this lifetime. My new novel, 29, set in that fierce gorgeous place, is being published in August 2014 by Torrey House Press. In it, Nell Walker, a former big pharmo executive, finds herself living in a women's shelter in 29 Palms, California; falling in love with a man both irresistible and forbidden; and joining the local Chemehuevi people to battle the invasion of the solar energy industry in the fragile land and spiritscape of the Mojave. http://www.amazon.com/29-Mary-Sojourner/dp/1937226352
Along with most working writers these days, I have had to find work to support my writing. I teach writing in a private circle in Flagstaff and on-line from http://www.breakthroughwriting.net My website contains weekly writing help and a serialized novel, Fort Slaughter, set in Flagstaff, as well as information on how to work with me as your mentor.
My 2010 Psychology Today blog, She Bets Her Life is at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/she-bets-her-life
My Matador blog, Dispatches from the Land of No Return is at: http://matadornetwork.com/community/marysojo/
You can keep up-dated on my readings, signings and conference appearances on my web page.
You can hear the NPR commentaries from 2000 to 2008 on at NPR.org, Morning Edition, Mary Sojourner in the archives.
And feel free to contact me on my webpage - I'm always open to questions.
Here is a taste of 29:
I. In The Short Run
...in the short run, we are responsible...
--Walt Richardson, Always Was and Always Will be Love
The hives burned gold in the last wash of desert sunset. A quarter moon moved up into the darkening sky, the lights of a desert city a dirty smudge above the eastern range. An agreement was reached. It was time to go.
One by one, the bees ascended, as though a coil of smoke rose from the hives. Bee by bee, the spiral thickened, swirled across the moon and was gone. The hum faded.
Deep within the hive the Queen waited alone.
The bees were gone. Nell jolted awake, opened her laptop, searched for bees leaving and was sent to the morning's New York Times. The bees were there. Rather, they were not there. Five hundred thousand bees had left the boxes their keeper had placed near a California almond orchard.
"I have never seen anything like it," Mr. Bradshaw, 50, said. "Box after box after box are just empty. There's nobody home."
She checked her email. Five messages, three of them form rejections from the last ten jobs she had applied for, one message from what had once been her bank, thanking her for having been their customer, and one message from an old schoolmate wondering if she had any openings in her department. She wrote back: I'm no longer with Elysian. Good luck in your search. She logged off and lay back down.
She felt as though she had come awake in an unfamiliar room, hunting clues for what to do next. The big French windows shone pewter. Dawn had begun to drift up behind the old palms in the yard across the street. The parrots that nested in the trees would be waking. A silk shirt draped over a chair seemed a luminous after-image, the near-empty closet no longer a shock. The room was silent, the light on the answering machine steady. The only time a prospective employer phoned was if one had been hired.
It had been a year since HR had called her in and told her that the firm was reorganizing and she had a week to clear out her desk. At first she'd been frantic, then resigned, then paralyzed. This morning she could at least keep moving. She could do that much. She got out of bed, pulled her suitcase from under the bed and packed: two silk shirts, the deep plum skirt and jacket, a beige linen skirt, the old sequined flip-flops, the dark jade sandals with the baby heels, four pairs of thongs, a bra, two loose cotton workout tops and pants, a bar of lemongrass soap, a plastic vial of hotel shampoo, a bottle of Cinnabar nail polish, and a vial of pills.
The eastern window glowed pink. Nell closed the suitcase. She slipped into jeans and a t-shirt, laced up her Asics runners. The laptop and notebook would fit in her shoulder bag, her iPod, cell, and wallet in her purse. She took the last object hanging on the wall--a black pearl hung from a silver chain--and tucked it in her pocket. She would leave everything else as it was: the turned-down bed; the empty room-length closet; what was left in the kitchen and the unopened copy of Eat, Pray, Love that the young woman who took over her office had sent with the note: Best of luck on your new adventure, Nell.
She would brew a cup of coffee from the last of the beans. She would leave the windows open, the last tangerines sliced open on the sill. She would put on the t-shirt and jeans thrown across the foot of the bed and take her coffee to the front stoop. If she were lucky, the parrots would fly down from the black palms across the street. They would bend their scarlet heads and feed.