When we were searching for just the right woman for Inspiration, Betsy of the Betsy Amster Literary Agency suggested that we consider Sandi Ault. Her words, to be exact, were "She's a lovely writer and a very unusual person (she lived with a Pueblo family, for example, has raised wolves, and fights wildfires--how many women do you know like that?!).
We had to admit, not many, uh, not any. We were certain we would be failing you and WOW! if we didn't take advantage of the opportunity to get to know this woman. When we said we would love to sit down and talk with her -- cyberspace style, Sandi said,
WELCOME TO MY WORLD!
WOW, happy to accept her invitation: Sandi, you paint with words, doing pictographs in reverse.
SANDI: What a lovely thing to say!
WOW: I'm just so moved by all that I'm learning about you, your life and discoveries. I've had to pull back, shake my head, walk my dog, a Shih-Poo--the breeder even says "he's all Shih-Tzu," which means he is definitely related to the wolf...(when you visit her website and read about Mountain, you will understand that statement)...
SANDI: I dig that you are a wolf-woman too!
WOW, laughing: We weren't sure where to join you for a visit, on top of a big rock, scaling the side of a cliff or perhaps next to a fairly intact, stacked-rock pueblo on a wind-swept canyon rim... what is it that motivates you to go to all these places?
SANDI: I see mystery everywhere. Who were these people? How did they live? What caused them to build these amazing structures that are still with us a thousand or more years later? What can we learn from them? Where did they go, and why? Like Jamaica, the sleuth in WILD INDIGO, I am compelled to find out. I search, I study, I look and listen. I want to unlock these mysteries.
I also see the power and majesty of Mother Earth in this unsettled landscape: vast extremes. Mountains roll into broad deserts that are ripped open into deep, winding, red-rock canyons, the up-thrust of long-ago-violent bursts of creation energy leaving places of great shadow and light.
WOW: Well, by blazing this trail, igniting the heart to feed on wonders previously unknown -- you extend a bona fide gift to your readers. We're so happy you haven't kept your great life all to yourself.
SANDI: How nice! Life is a precious gift. Sharing it is a requirement for maximizing the joy. We can all marvel at a beautiful sunset... but the next instinct is to want to share it with someone, either to have them there, or to tell them about it, yes?
My fictional heroine, Jamaica Wild, leads a somewhat-lonely existence, sharing everything with her wolf. Her life is a bit like mine-long stretches of communion with nature, and a wonderful sprinkling of human characters to enliven things. For her, and for me, this is a healthy balance.
WOW: What is the mindset needed to embrace change; or do we simply need to keep our eyes open for our Mountain, following the trail to a new life? Sandi, perhaps you can encourage those who have some great opportunities before them, and may be afraid to go for it.
SANDI: Again, I am so intrigued by your question! I can hardly be accused of embracing change. However, I liked your hopeful outlook in suggesting that we might all look for "our Mountain." I am certain there is a similar teacher and guide in each of our lives. Mine just happened to have a lot of fur, four legs, and a real attitude. Perhaps that is the kind of teacher I needed to "follow the trail to a new life," as you said.
As you know, my husband and I had this romantic idea to have a wolf, but we were ignorant of what the reality of that would be like, until it was too late and the adoption was signed and sealed. Mountain was a willful wolf, an alpha male, and it was a constant struggle as he was maturing to keep myself at the center of my own life when he wanted to (and often managed to) dominate in our "pack."
Initially, I found myself swept up in a series of reactions to that tornado of a character-his challenging and destructive behavior, his escape artist capabilities, his cleverness, his demanding ways. I experienced significant losses and made great sacrifices only because I saw no alternative. I felt, initially, that I had sacrificed my own freedom.
It took me about four years to get to where it was manageable, and that was after I had made myriad changes to accommodate for his needs. These were not always comfortable, in fact, mostly not. But soon, I learned that what he needed was also what I needed. He had changed me, given me a new sense of what was important, even a new life. But it was not a smooth or easy process.
Having said that, I am thinking I am probably not so different from anyone else in my process. A well-lived life is one in which we are subjected to our share of challenge and difficulty and even loss and pain, as well as joy and hopefully, ultimately peace. All this is what causes us to evolve. And I believe that is our job-to evolve. Mountain was a great catalyst for evolution for me. He was horrible at first in that sense, and yet wonderful, and then ultimately completely divine, once I accepted what was a new and incredible way of life. I miss him terribly.
Although WILD INDIGO is a work of fiction, the one true character in the book is Mountain. And the experience that Jamaica has with loving Mountain-the challenges and the shared love and joy, are the truest part of that tome.
WOW: What you've written makes one stop and realize, every day disguised and overt opportunities come before us. And it is who we are at the moment that influences our decisions. In your case, you obviously have an open mind, an adventurous spirit, a big heart, a great work ethic, and a veracious appetite to discover, to learn about the wonders of creation and the people who've lived their lives in harmony with it.
SANDI: Well, Beryl, that is as fine a compliment as anyone has ever paid me, and I thank you. I do have a sense of adventure. I don't want to miss even a single chance to show up large in my own life. There is so much to see, to learn. And I think this is how writers are. We're like salmon. It's not always comfortable or stylish to swim upstream, but we can't help ourselves. We have to do what we have to do, even if it kills us! We have a legacy to leave, and we are all about leading up to it our whole lives.
WOW: You speak like you write. Your book doesn't read like you do any rewriting, it reads like it flows unimpeded through your fingertips. (When you read her book, you'll know this is not flattery; it is sincere appreciation.)
SANDI: Again, I thank you for your kindness. I love to write, and words are the kinds of tools that fit best in my hand. There is some minimal aptitude, I think. But consider this: my husband started out as a carpenter, and I was amazed at how he would strap on his tools and create structures so naturally, seemingly effortlessly. I think for both the writer and the carpenter, there is some bit of aptitude, and the rest is about learning and practice.
Once in a while, some bit of wonderful-feeling, smooth-flowing writing will flow out of me, and I consider that grace. Other times, I will hover over the words in a paragraph for a minor eternity, fine-tuning, honing, crafting. I tell my workshop participants that a well-written piece that doesn't require any revision happens about as often as natural quintuplets. I'm a great believer in re-visioning.
WOW: Obviously, you approach your writing as you do life. You've carved out the opportunities to get quiet with life--present and past. Do you sometimes fear you don't have room enough in your heart and head, to be able to take it all in?
SANDI: Not room, I have room. Time. There is not enough time to take it all in. Life is so delicious. Trees have so much to say. Water sings a thousand different songs, and when it rains in the mountains, it is like a million monks chanting. Snow flakes whisper as they settle on pine needles, and there is not enough time to hear all their secrets.
My wolf Tiwa tries to teach me every day, but I am a dumb beast and can only learn a little from each lesson-he knows what life is truly all about, he lives it, it is integral to him. He is patient with me, he loves me anyway, and for that I am grateful.
We move at the speed of light today. It is hard to see everything out the windows when you're traveling that fast. I am not in real time when I go too fast, it takes time for me to process, for my body to integrate new knowledge, for my cells to absorb and harmonize.
WOW: What do you hope to impart to your readers when you intermingle what you've lived, learned?
SANDI: I have a sense of wonder. If I manage to stir a little of this in my reader, then I have achieved something.
WOW: You obviously love your research experiences, and obviously, you love to write. But, in some ways these are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, in what ways do you find them satisfying? Do you wish you could clone yourself, so you could enjoy both all the time? Or, perhaps, switching from one to the other keeps each richly fulfilling and exciting, what a great life--having these diverse, yet intermingled, gifts in your life?
SANDI: What a great question! I have to laugh-all these questions have been so good, Beryl. I think you are correct in seeing that the two-the writing and the research-are at opposite ends of the spectrum. In one sense, one is initially more about actively doing (the research) and the other seems more reflective (the writing), more about sitting and listening and recording. Ultimately, though, there is a point upon which the writing becomes the doing as the hard work of birthing the story takes place. A lot of pacing, heavy breathing, long periods of squeezing out the words through the visceral body and onto the page, where it all takes on a new life.
Do I wish I could clone myself? Often, though I would not let a clone steal a moment of the writing or the research, which I love. She would have to do the dishes. Vacuum. Stack firewood. Sweep the pinecones off the deck. Get the oil changed in the Jeep.
|Mountain and Sandi overlooking Pueblo ruin
We have to laugh--agreeing with her choices--for the clone's duties.
SANDI: I think you are right: switching from one to the other keeps life interesting and gives enough appreciation of the one to the other. I cannot wait to get onto the next research trip. And once I have absorbed so much I cannot take another drop in, I will be unable to wait to come home to write.
WOW, grinning: Your love for writing and research goes even further. You obviously have a deep love and respect for the Pueblo families you've come to know. How have they influenced your life?
SANDI: I am not sure I can adequately express this. Some things are too large for words, I truly believe that. They are my family, my beloved friends. They have given a rich gift to me, a rare and precious glimpse into a world that is veiled from most other non-Puebloans.
Like Jamaica in WILD INDIGO, I have been taught lessons that initially confound me and then prove to be overwhelmingly profound. In their hand-woven baskets made from the river reeds, in their pots shaped from the micaceous clay from the banks of snowmelt-swollen streams, in their homes formed from the wet viscous earth and then baked by the Sun Father, the Puebloans carry an ancient wisdom that most of the rest of the world has forgotten.
There is a moment at the end of WILD INDIGO where Jamaica has a realization about her place in all this. I will leave you to read it and then perhaps understand.
And, we won't tell, each of you need to read this superb book. You won't be disappointed either by the story or her exceptional way with words.
WOW: You speak of the amazing petroglyphs (carved or pecked), you've come upon. Sandi, is there any one that stands out in your mind?
SANDI: First, let me say that it is very difficult to choose. Very difficult. But if I were to pick one, it is not a petroglyph (carved or pecked) but rather a pictograph (painted). I will not say where this is, out of respect for its preservation, but I will say that it is placed high on a cliff wall over a dry wash that intersects with a slot canyon. Surrounding it are dozens of like pictographs, a mural, if you will, estimated to be between five and eight-thousand years old. On a nearby cliff face are more murals, some that have been scrubbed out and "graffittied" over by Ute drawings. Across the wash are still more murals, spanning a thousand years. This place, this meeting of water and stone, was obviously a sacred spot to many people over millennia. Today, it is extremely remote from where our civilizations have chosen to settle, and it is very hard to get to. For that, I am grateful.
I offer cornmeal and ask permission to take his picture. You may share his picture if you wish.
WOW: Sandi, we appreciate your sharing 'him' with us... Since your life has encompassed much more than researching and writing, for our readers I will, as briefly as possible, summarize other aspects of your life: musician, bandleader, composer, journalist, editor, teacher, composed musical works for dance companies and other performances, and written a soundtrack for a short film. You've also taught writing workshops and classes.
What do you have to say for yourself? Any regrets? Would your recommend such a diverse life to others?
SANDI: Wow, Beryl, no pressure, huh? What do I have to say for myself? I love life. I try to show up for it every day, suited up and ready to play.
Any regrets? That's a good question. I know that when Mountain passed beyond the ridge, the only regrets I had about our lives together were the times I didn't love him enough. I would say all my regrets play along that theme, any time I've failed to love myself, life, others. I figure if I err on the side of love, when it's my turn to pass beyond the ridge, it will be with no regrets.
Would I recommend a diverse life to others? I would recommend an authentic life to others. My life should carry this warning for others: Don't try this at home! Not because of any particular facet of my life, but because it's who I am, and you, of course, want to be busy being who you are.
That's where the good stuff happens, when we fall in love with something and go for it, and we're so busy pursuing it that we forget all about what everyone else expected of us and fall off the edge of the known universe into magic.
WOW: There is a real life lesson here: Exert yourself to gain the greater blessing and, lo! and behold, you discover the pictographs, evidence that gives credence to the people of times past, getting to know the Pueblo families today...involving yourself, your emotions -- would you recommend becoming this involved in life (in any area)?
SANDI: Yes! Show up for life, open your arms and invite it to transform you, and then put on your hard hat and your asbestos underwear, because it's going to get really interesting.
WOW, laughing: You're currently living among the pines in a high mountain valley of the Rockies where-in addition to writing novels-you're a volunteer firefighter, as well as a Fire Information Officer responding locally and nationally to wildfires. Does all of this simply become good for research, or occasionally, does your writing become a little autobiographical?
SANDI: I would say both. I process a lot of seemingly unfathomable stuff through my writing, and it's nice to put on Jamaica 's persona and do it. She's braver than I am (and younger and prettier and thinner) so she can handle some things better than me.
As a firefighter in a high mountain valley, one of the inevitable tasks is to respond in deep snow and ice to cars that have gone over the cliff into the river. Sometimes it's an opportunity to save a life and get someone to the only landing zone around, get a chopper in and feel like we've made a difference. Other times, it's about dragging lifeless bodies out of crumpled-up tin-can-cars and putting arms around a sobbing, inconsolable parent because there is no hope left. Occasionally, it's about hosing elk guts off the highway, or reporting an injured bear or mountain lion who didn't understand about automobiles. Sometimes it's about helping the coroner get a body that has been discovered out of the forest. Or a search and rescue for a lost hiker.
But for me, the most exciting work is as a wildland firefighter. If there's a fire, I want to be there. And it was a thrill to write Jamaica onto a wildfire in WILD INFERNO.
WOW: Sandi, when you were a child, were you constantly going out of the box, or did you want to be a nurse, an actress? Are you surprised that you are a rock climbing, firefighting, untouched-people finder, wolf owner/lover...description fails me, but I know you understand the question.
SANDI: I do understand the question. I could not have predicted where I would end up with a crystal ball. I do remember playing cowgirl a lot as a child, though, and I'm not too far from that in my life today.
WOW: Oh, Sandi, we hate to see this come to an end. Thank you so much for sharing your heart and life. Is there anything that you would like to add before we close?
SANDI: I would like to add one thing, and that is a note of gratitude to all the people who have given their support and hard work to making WILD INDIGO come to life. There is truly an enormous supporting cast behind every tome, people who spend months (even years) transforming it from a raw manuscript into a book on the shelves of your favorite bookstore. I have an excellent agent in Betsy Amster, and a sublime editor in Natalee Rosenstein, and everyone at Berkley Prime Crime has been fabulous. I am so thankful.
When WILD INDIGO started getting starred reviews, I BOOKCOVER received a lot of congratulatory emails and phone calls. HERE But I told Betsy and Natalee the story of the Hopi harvest ceremony, and I'll tell it to you as well.
At the end of the Hopi harvest dances, the villagers throw loaves of bread to the onlookers who have come to observe. And the Hopi don't care if the bread lands in the arms of a thief or a saint, it is just important for them to throw the bread and give the gift of life back to the world that has nurtured and sustained them.
And when the reviewers were throwing their gifts, I was just lucky enough right then to be standing where the bread landed. Those good reviews came to me while many, many other writers do as well or better work and receive no recognition whatsoever. So it was more out of the goodness on the other end than anything I did.
The important thing was that I showed up for life long enough to get that story written, which is like showing up for the dances. And I would encourage your writer/readers to do the same. Show up. Write. And enjoy the dance.
WOW closing comments: Sandi, this has been a remarkable time, there are some good life/writing lessons here; but your greatest gift to us was your heart. Thank you very much from our hearts; please keep us informed about the WILD Series.
Don't go yet, there's more; there will be a review of WILD INDIGO on our Book Reviews Page. And I want to recommend that our readers visit to your website, Sandi; because I know I enjoyed your book even more after I learned about the incredible relationship between you and Mountain.
Sandi would love for you to visit her website:
You may contact Sandi at: