I know exactly when my interest in ancient history was sparked. I recall a TV show that showcased fabulous 17,000-year-old cave paintings of animals in France, a program that inspired me to grab a hammer and chisel and head out into my Northern New Jersey garage. I was maybe 12, and can you really blame me for wanting to see what ancient people might have left inside the walls of my home? With visions of drawings and arrow points and pottery dancing in my head, I wailed away at that wall. That is until my mother arrived, her pointy-toed high heels clacking on the driveway. She gazed at me through black, cat eye glasses. It wasn’t until that moment that I sensed I might be doing something wrong. I dropped my tools and ran. The rest of the weekend I had to stand and watch my father as he repaired the damaged wall, muttering under his breath the whole time.
I have been fascinated by what happened long ago for over 50 years. How human lives have changed in myriad ways, but are the same in many others. It should come as no surprise then that I started writing about history. I was hired by Arizona Highways Magazine to research a story on Mesoamerican ballcourts. As I’d spent most of my professional life at that point as a TV sports anchor and reporter, asking me to write about an ancient ballgame made some sense. Turns out there are over 200 ballcourts in Arizona alone, a testament to the popularity of the contest, which looked a bit like basketball with participants padded rather similarly to modern-day ice hockey players.
It was while researching that story that I accidentally discovered the man they call The Magician. I remember the day I arrived at the lonely, high-desert site about ten miles from Flagstaff, Arizona. Cold raindrops started to fall on the scattered junipers, their piney scent mixed with that of dampened earth. The ground was a rocky mixture of small chunks of red basalt and black cinder left from the eruption of the Sunset Crater Volcano almost nine-hundred years earlier. Beautiful pottery fragments with intricate black-and-white designs littered the hillside. I was interviewing an archeologist from the Museum of Northern Arizona about the ballcourts when he pointed up the slope.
“That’s where they found The Magician,” he said, as if I might know who he was talking about.
After some research, I wondered about the man and his fantastic grave that was discovered in 1939 and filled with over 600 exquisite funerary objects: arrow points and pots, mineral specimens and shells from the far-off Pacific Ocean. Fine turquoise jewelry, beaded items, paint pigments, baskets, and mosaics. Then, there were the wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands, the objects that identified him as a sword swallower and a magician.
My novel, Wolf Catcher, which will be published by TouchPoint Press on February 2, 2022, tells two stories. One follows Kate Butler, a former TV reporter who’s no longer pretty enough to be on the front end of a camera. She’s turned to print reporting, but can’t get anyone to talk about the The Magician. Still, Kate, who has given up any dreams of a personal life to concentrate on her work, is determined to finish the job.
Kaya lives at the Village on the Ridge in the late 11th century, shortly after the waking of the Volcano God, whose eruption changed the lives of the people in the high desert. Some, like those on the Ridge, were blessed, while others were left to wander the landscape homeless and hungry. Kaya is a healer who, like Kate, has given up a personal life for her vocation. She is tasked with tending an odd-looking injured man who the People call Wolf Catcher. The massive white wolf that appears with him is both fascinating and frightening. Some believe the arrival of the two is a harbinger.
Wolf Catcher tells the modern-day story of a reporter’s quest to determine whether Europeans somehow arrived in the New World thousands of years earlier than previously believed, the problems associated with archeological looting and the black market sales of antiquities, and delves into personal choices and relationships, proving human beings have not changed all that much over the centuries.
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
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