Thursday, September 4, 2014

"The Spirit and the Skull"

J. M. “Mike” Hayes was born and raised on the flat earth of Central Kansas. He studied anthropology at Wichita State University and the University of Arizona and lives in Tucson with his wife and a small herd of German Shepherds.

Hayes applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, The Spirit and the Skull, and reported the following:
The Spirit and the Skull's page 69 describes my Paleolithic hero's encounter with a Great Bear, Ursus arctodus simus. One of the largest terrestrial mammalian carnivores to ever live, it might stand six feet tall at the shoulder and weigh a ton. Upright on its rear legs, it towered to twelve feet in height.

Raven, my hero/narrator, is escaping an awkward situation with Down, the daughter of his band's leader. Running seems better than explaining until the two of them slip through a thick grove of willows and Raven finds himself nose to nose with the monster he fears more than any other. With good reason, as the flashback at the bottom of the page begins to explain.

It's representative of the book because Raven's life has suddenly turned very complicated. Concerned because of his advanced age (just over 40) that he's at risk of losing his place in the band of immigrants he's entering the New World with, Raven has begun searching for ways to make himself useful. He scouted for the path to lead the band from the tundra to the Earth Mother's promised land. He found a mammoth they might kill, big enough to feed them for weeks. But his band has also suffered a murder—something unthinkable. It must be solved and dealt with. Raven volunteered for that job, too. His problem is the girl he's with seems his most likely suspect, though he's falling in love with her. So it's not like Raven lacks for problems without meeting a Great Bear. Raven, the band's Spirit Man, suddenly wishes he believed in those spirits because he can't imagine how he's going to survive without divine intervention. His situation is a little like you or I taking a short-cut through a tunnel and discovering the light at the end is an oncoming train—the kind of thing that can ruin your whole day.
Learn more about the book and author at The Words & Worlds of J.M. Hayes website.

--Marshal Zeringue