Friday, December 23, 2011

The Blessing of the Christmas Cat

From The Metaphysical Cat. . .

Thus to close the year and pass the blessing along . . . there is an ancient cat myth that says a mother cat was present when baby Jesus was born. In the dove-cooing softness of the manger, kittens were born, and a mother cat did purr.

And, it is said, this sound filled the manger with a song of blessing.

There are, indeed, many stories of this kind, proving the love of Jesus Christ for animals, especially cats. One such tale tells how Jesus found a young cat on the road during one of his pilgrimages. The cat had suffered terribly from neglect, but Jesus spoke soothing words to her, and he carried her to a village and saw to it that she was well fed. Afterward, he gave the unfortunate cat to one of his disciples, a poor widow, who asked the Master a question.

"Is this not some lost sister, that you love her so?"

Jesus replied, "Verily, she has come from the great household of the Father. And whosoever cares for her and gives her food and drink in her need, shall do the same unto me."

Painting: Holly Sedgwick
Cover design/interior drawings: Mariah Fox

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Memory of Roger Zelazny & John Colter's Ears

Roger and I were in Albuquerque in 1994 signing copies of Wilderness which had just come out.  A lady wearing a huge cowboy hat came up to us and asked us to sign her book.  While Roger was signing, she said, "Recognize me?" I gave her a pretty good stare, then said, "I'm sorry, I don't."  She turned to Roger and he smiled and shook his head.  The lady said, "Maybe this'll help" and she removed her cowboy hat. Neither one of us knew who she was, and she saw that. "I am John Colter's great-great-great niece," she explained. "Our book is a work of fiction," I said, "and I've only seen one photograph of John Colter, so I'm not sure if I'd catch any resemblances." Roger chuckled and the lady asked us to look at her ears. After we gave her ears a good look, she said, "Now do you see it? It was passed on down to me. I have John Colter's ears." "Indeed," Roger said, "I think you do."  That satisfied her. "You know," she mentioned, "I think you both got every little detail just right." She looked fretful, then shook her head. "Except for the ears." I suggested that we did not mention the ears because they never came up in the narrative. "And that's the problem," she admitted.  "Maybe you can put John's big ears in a later edition." Well, that new edition is now published after three previous ones in different languages, and still the ears go unmentioned. I hope she'll forgive us if we leave it that way.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Three Years of Kindness

A few of you have asked for more doggie quotes, so here are some from the newly published, The Mythology of Dogs.

"Friend is the name of a dog" -- Jamaica

"If a man lives up to a dog, he is a saint." -- Zanzibar

"Faith is found in the dog kennel." -- Germany

"He who would stike my dog strikes me." -- Ireland

"A dog will remember three days of kindness for three years." -- Japan

All of these are ways of saying that we love dogs not only for themselves but for what we wish to be ourselves.  For more than 5,000 years we've been with dogs in caves, hovels, houses and mansions.  We cannot live without them.  Nor can we speak too highly of them. Which is why we gathered and collected the stories, legend and lore of over 67 breeds.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Mythology of Dogs -- updated, revised and re-published

Dog riddles and proverbs from our past show that the dog is not just an icon, but a creature whose "moral sense" as Mark Twain put it, surpasses our own.

For example, where does "dog eat dog world" come from?  Our book says it comes from ancient Greece. But American Indians said it this way: "Dog won't eat bear". This meant the dog was too close in kinship to the bear to eat him.  So the saying also meant: "Dog won't eat dog."  In time Indians and Europeans alike were saying it that way.  Today's relatively modern saying, "Dog eat dog world" is a euphemism for the human condition. It's the unsettling world we live in.

There's also "dog tired", "a dog's life", and just plain "dogged" -- all these say something about our world.  But don't blame the pup, the poop, the doggie bizness, because dogs didn't come up with these phrases. They're innocent, honest, absolutely faithful, fabulous furry friends who sometimes do "talk" or say things like we do.

Once at a conference for veterinarians we were thrilled to see an entire audience of seeing-eye dogs and their partners.  It was musician Paul Winter's greatest moment of glory, we think.  He stood before a full crowd of dog people and doggies, and he said, "Time for the dogs to have their say, to let a little howl go out to the universe."  Every dog in the place sat up and howled at the same time. 

We've seen and heard some amazing things, but this was the most amazing.

All in a dog's day, and all in our book . . .

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Metaphysical Cat

The thing about cats is the way they come and go. Fluidly. In The Metaphysical Cat we talk about
how cats do this and we quote authors from around the world. Here's one from a girl in a middle school classroom in Florida:

MY cat is so, so, so, you know, 'I gotta go.'
Where? is what I wanna know
but she doesn't show
because MY cat's so . . . in the flow.

There's a chapter in our book about come-and-go-cats and we mention our Siamese named Sammie. She used to disappear for weeks, months, and sometimes, years. We heard from some ranch neighbors who lived great distances away from us. They said, "I saw your cat the other day." According to our friend, the syndicated columnist (Animal Doctor) Dr. Michael W. Fox: "The dissonance between local (solar) and internal time (set by the sun's position at home) is how the translocated animal is able to find his square mile on the globe." Translation: an internal compass in the feline brain that gives the cat a geo-magnetic directional sense.

So, "this feels like home . . . this doesn't."  Isn't that the way we get around as humans?  We're just not as well-tuned, or well-magnetized, so to say.

This was a fun book to compile, write and experience over the years.  The Edgar Cayce Foundation liked it and helped to get it translocated to many readers around the globe. Cats, we suppose, did the rest, and it's as our old friend Jeff Lindsay (author of DEXTER) says: "The book is a must-read for anyone sensible enough to live with a cat."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Literary Gold

One of the greatest influences on my life was my grandfather, Dwight Little.  He was a headmaster, poet, collector, archivist, countryman, dyed in the wool New Englander from Sheffield, Massachusetts.  This column is as much about him, and the times he lived in, as it is about me.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Book Talk

I've never been interviewed by a man and a dog at the same time.  Especially since the dog used telepathy during this interview and the man used non sequitors.  They were charming though except that the man Steven showed his teeth and I showed mine and the dog didn't show his.  But other than that all went well, and I am still trying to free my foot from the sump hole.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Parrot Detective

Friends of ours have said over the years, "Why don't you write a book about George?" 

"We might one day..." our usual answer.

But we had no real intention of doing it.  Why?  Because George is a pain in the butt.  He's also a family member and we've lived with him and taken care of him for more than thirty years.  We took care of his brother too, but he died.

George has been through many life adventures with us.  I don't know what we'd do without him.  I don't know what we do with him either.  He's just there -- for weddings, funerals, parties, economic and tropical depressions -- he actually rode out Hurricane Charley in our kitchen without one single comment.  But the other day when Lorry was wondering what to make for dinner and was saying something about it, George looked at her, cocked his head, said, "Need some help?"

For a Blue-fronted Amazonian parrot, George is a talker who sometimes beats the vocabulary of an African Grey, and they are often considered the most reliably talkative parrots around.

George has had many near death experiences and he has noted them verbally.  When he was lost in the Florida woods for a dark dismal summer day in which hawks tried to kill him (he hid under palmettos and walked like a dog trying to find his way home), we finally met up with him on the shell road in front of our house, and he glared at me and said, "What took you so long?"

Our new book The Parrot Detective is for anyone who likes animals, reptiles, people, parrots, lizards, turtles, FLORIDA (and that includes crackers, the real kind not the made up variety) and funny stories about boys who grow up with odd family members.  The narrator is Miccosukee and he lives on this crazy little barrier island where we live -- Pine Island.  This is the first in a series of mysteries about our island.  The next one will have more unaccountable mischief in it and more GEORGE, because that's what you asked for... literally.  Kids and old timers and just about everybody else, including George himself -- he just now walked into our office! -- said, "Stop writing other stuff!"  So there he is right now sitting on the Great Dane's bed.  I think that's a smile on his beak.

Monday, May 30, 2011


All Is Beautiful All Around Me:
Navajo Ways and Ceremonial Stories

When Tony Hillerman in his foreword to this book said that the Navajos were "engulfed by a dominant materialistic society hostile to their ways, and how they maintained a culture that values human relationships above material possessions..." he was not only honoring this one tribe, but in a way, all tribes, all people, all civilizations that simply refuse to go away when told to leave.  In 1965, while camping with some of my Navajo friends, I asked how they had done it.  How they had managed to survive when, in the 19th century, they were nearly eradicated by Kit Carson and the "bluecoats" who served him.  A genocide had taken place, the Navajos had survived it and had become over time the largest indigenous tribe in North America and maybe even the world.  How had they done it?  One of my best friends said, "By not dying."  All Is Beautiful All Around Me explains how to live in harmony with all things.  It teaches how to live in peace in a world at war.  It shows how one can "go in beauty" as Tony Hillerman says.  Frank Waters, author of Book of the Hopi, said: "This oral equivalent of the Christian Bible loses none of its power and significance in its easy readability."  I wanted it to be open and clear, as accessible as the storytellers who helped me to see how the tribe had managed to be what it was, is, and always will be.  As a map to the human heart, this book is my favorite above all others.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Jacob Ladder

I first heard the story of The Jacob Ladder as it was told in the streets of Oracabessa where the story actually happened.  The storyteller was Uton Hinds, a cab-driver, oil painter and family man.  I loved the story so much that I asked Uton "Tall T" Hinds if I could record it and help him to make it into a book.  He agreed.  Four years later the book was published by Orchard Books, a division of Scholastic.  It became a classroom text in many schools in America and the Caribbean.  Life in Jamaica is rough economically.  But, culturally, there's a lot of love in those St Ann hills where this story unfolds.  Uton's message about forgiveness and love, about how his father -- no matter how badly he treated everyone -- was still his father and respect was due for the one "who gave me life" is worth remembering.  The Christian Science Monitor commented on how carefully written this book was, and how "... native words enhance the educational value and multicultural appeal of this inspiring autobiographical story."  (Courtney Williamson, The Christian Science Monitor, 2001.) Uton has traveled about the U.S. selling his book door-to-door, he is its best salesman.  I heard not too long ago that some students in Miami were sad when they saw Uton's picture.  "He's older than we thought."  Well, that happens.  The story took place in the Fifties and Sixties and Jamaica was a different time and place then and Uton was a little boy.  But the story holds.  It is one of my favorite books on the subject of "love your family whoever they might be" -- and I thank Uton for being tough enough to tell it the way it really happened.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Amelia Island Book Festival

From front to back this was a great festival in a town of old southern grace and gentility.  Ma'am and Sir is spoken here and people hold doors for other people.  The love of books as well as manners follows you everywhere you go. 

I'd wanted to visit this northern province of our state, and when we were invited to tell stories, we were delighted.  It never occurred to us however that little Amelia Island had been occupied by eight different nations and/or peoples.  French, Spanish, British are the easy ones to figure.  But then there were also Georgian patriots in 1812 who tried to establish "The Territory of East Florida." 

Five years later another group took over and raised their Green Cross Flag; these were American citizens whose occupation lasted only four months.  Then came the Mexican Rebel Flag, inspired mostly by a pirate named Luis Aury, who said he was holding the island "in trust for Spain."  This was followed by the seven-starred flag of the Confederacy which stayed flapping until the end of the Civil War.  After which came the final flag of the United States.  There should now be a Flag of Tourism, but we'll let that slide for the moment.

Places of historical interest, especially when they're nestled by the sea inspire poems.  But I didn't write about flags on my first night in Fernandina.  It was a full moon night and I wrote about moons.  

Full round cricket moon
fog moon, moss moon
peeper cheep, paper moon
Fernandina sea moon.
Haven't seen
so many moons
in many moons . . .

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Three New Books

Speaking Volumes of Santa Fe just re-published three of my favorite books -- Tunkashila, Turtle Dream and Ghost Walk.   These are collections of stories about Native America that I wrote in the 1980s mostly.  Though it took me most of my life to collect them.  I say they are new because they are newly published in fresh formats.  You can buy them in ebook, paperback or audio.  (We are still working on the audio versions of Turtle Dream and Tunkashila...soon come!)

I wrote Tunkashila in 1992 and it was published by St. Martin's Press in 1993.  Turtle Dream was published by Mariposa in 1989 and Ghost Walk followed with the same publisher in 1991.  I won't bore you with how many printings there were of the three books, but I will say they did very well.  Tunkashila was a Quality Paperback Book of the Month.  Then, one day after being available for years, these favorites of mine went out of print.

Weren't readers interested in shapeshifters, monsters, demons?  Weren't they curious about how Mother Earth began on Turtle's back?  Didn't they care about werewolves of the Navajo and medicine men who healed with Gila Monster's gift of power?  And what about Zahgotah, the Apache who changed into a bear?  And Owl Boy who decided he couldn't be human any more and took to the woods?

I got many letters and emails from American Indians who praised these books because of their storytelling and their faithfulness to the original stories of The People.  I grew up with one of the stories, Turtle Dream about the woman who rides into the next world on great turtle's back, a story told to me when I was five by my mother.  I was honored when a Cherokee woman wrote to me and said she was naming her daughter Turtle Woman and she wanted me to know it was because of the title story of the book.  

Once two Lakota brothers wrote to me.  They were having an argument, they said, about the beginning of the world.  "We come from the earth, like the corn, just as you say in your book Tunkashila," one brother said.  But the other brother said, "You should not say that we came across the Bering Straight Land Bridge -- that is not true.  Still, I like the stories."

I wrote to each brother and said, "I present many variations on the beginning of the world.  All of them are true to the people who believe them.  But, as for me, and what I believe, I favor coming out of the earth like the new green corn."  

All three of these books are about change and changes; the earth is moving and the people are moving around.  As the Navajo story says, "There is a mountain called, The Mountain Around Which Moving Is Done."  We are moving all over the place today just like in the beginning.  And, like in the beginning, we seem not to know where we are going.  The first people, First Man and First Woman, Locust, Ant, Horned Toad, Wolf, Coyote, Nuthatch, Great Snake and all the others -- they could see themselves changing as the world changed from darkness to light, and as they moved ever upward.  They came from the womb of Mother Earth and rose not on wings of light but using fingers and claws and arrows to effect their emergence.

They made it to the fourth, and some say, the fifth world that we live in now.  Yes, it is all one world, with many parts, and many changes. You can look down and say, We came from there.  You can look up and say, We came from there too.  There are stories about many emergences; people who fell from the sky like shooting stars; people who turned into turtles crossing the great river of life.  People, just like you and me, who say, as in the old Navajo story about a man meeting a star person.  They eat corn together and the star person says, "This is my food too."