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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 59 “You know, I could do this.” There was a long pause from him, as if he were holding back a rude comment. Then he said, “Well, go ahead.” She did, but it wasn’t quite as easy as she’d thought. Her first novel, which was about twins and encounter groups, didn’t get picked up by a publisher. Nor did her second novel, her third, her fourth, her fifth... but she kept pounding away at her type- writer because she loved writing. Finally, for her seventh book, she landed a publisher. Book by book, the pattern has emerged that place plays a central role in Dunlap’s writing. This reflects the role of place in her life. She grew up in and around New York City. Then in 1968, she met someone who told her it was always warm and sunny in California. It had been zero degrees for a month in New York, and there was a garbage strike raging. Dunlap packed her bags and headed west. With only one exception, all of Dunlap’s books are set in California and, while Berkeley is her first love, the whole San Francisco Bay Area has inspired her work. No Footprints, for example, revolves around a mysterious woman who attempts to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. When the protagonist, Darcy Lott, prevents the suicide, the woman disappears into the night with the words: “By the weekend, I’ll be dead.” Buddhism and mysteries make a good pairing, says Dunlap, because both ask you “to dismiss what is inessential. To look at what is. In a mystery, things are not as they seem, so what the detective is trying to do is see what the real facts are as opposed to all the things that cover up those facts. That is, the things that other people intend to make the detective believe, the things that the detective herself assumes.” Mysteries are also a succinct reflection of the Buddhist con- cept of karma. As Dunlap explains it, at the heart of every mur- der mystery is a dead person. In normal life, people are killed all the time and they don’t necessarily bring their fate upon themselves. But in a mystery—for it to work—they do in some fashion have to draw the murderer to them. Otherwise, readers won’t really care about the story. The victim in a mystery can cause their murder by doing something evil or conniving or by doing something innocent or even well intentioned. “The important thing,” says Dunlap, “is that they have done some- thing to set in motion the wheel of karma in their lives.” CARY GRONER DISCOVERED Buddhism in high school and it immediately resonated with him. But his mother thought meditation was peculiar and forbade him to do it. “I’d get caught meditating the way that other kids get caught smoking dope or shoplifting,” says Groner, the author of Exiles. “ Fortu- nately, meditation is something you can do without making any noise or attracting any attention, so at night I’d sneak out of bed and sit on the floor and practice.” It felt quite subversive, which made it all the more appealing. In his twenties, Groner felt the need for a Buddhist teacher and searched for a fit. Then one day in 1985, he was in Powell’s Bookstore in Portland when he saw a poster for a talk by Chag- dud Tulku Rinpoche. “In the poster, Rinpoche was laughing and had this look that was fierce and funny and profound all at once,” says Groner. “I remember thinking, this might be the guy.” And he was. Groner spent the next couple of years living at Chagdud Tulku’s center in Cottage Grove, Oregon. “Rinpoche was the full package,” says Groner. “He had deep insight and compassion, yet he was also totally down to earth and very funny. That’s not to say the relationship was all peaches and cream. He had quite a temper and could get wrathful. Being with him was by turns exalting and terrifying, but Rinpoche hammered away at the encrustation of habits I came in with, and I did my best to hang in with that process.” These days, Groner is studying with Chagdud Tulku’s lineage holder, Lama Drimed Norbu. He does a retreat every summer and he’s part of a small group in the Bay Area that meets to do tsok, a Vajrayana Buddhist practice of offering and purification. From Groner’s point of view, he’s lucky. As a writer working from home, he can usually sit for a couple of hours each morning. Groner writes in various genres. He has more than twenty years of journalism under his belt and writes often about health-care, Writing is a practice, says Cary Groner. “You have to be willing to enjoy the process and not just look forward to the result.”