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For the week of February 28 through March 6, 2001

Angels and Dogs

Local author’s book is evocative, poetic

Express Staff Writer

Kaya McLaren is a belly dancing archeologist who has worked all over the West Coast. She’s also an artist. She makes ceramic tiles, stained glass and large hanging mixed-medium sculptures created of made and found pieces. Oh yeah, she’s a massage therapist who works privately and has worked at Sol A Vie, Sun Valley Lodge, and The Sun Valley Athletic Center. She’s been an art teacher on the Quinault Indian Reservation. If this wasn’t enough, her first book has just been published.

Did I mention she was 31?

Her book Church of the Dog has been called eccentric, evocative and poetic. It is published by DayBue Publishing, in San Francisco and edited by Elizabeth Day. DayBue is a small niche company which focuses on stories with spiritually but not overtly religious themes.

McLaren never intended to write a book, she said. But four years ago on while living Oregon she heard her dog barking. Upon investigation she found an Ondaga medicine man outside, who told her about medicine dogs and that this dog in particular held protective energies. "His description of dogs," she said, "was like what I saw as angels."

With this encounter as inspiration she began writing a fiction that takes place in a small Oregon town told from the perspective of four different people. Church of the Dog is the nickname for one of the character’s house, which during renovation ends up looking somewhat like a church upon which she paints a mural of a malamute dog.

She found writing from four interchangeable perspectives fascinating---"how we come from such different points of view. It’s amazing we get along."

What really gave her confidence to "write from my truth" was a show she saw several years ago called The United States of Poetry. It was "like music videos, only they were poems, the most amazing thing I’ve seen on television ever."

Her novel is, in fact, visually poetic. She talks about the Native American custom of looking for divine qualities in animals, then looking for those same qualities in human beings. The broader view, she said, is that there are angels in everyday life, like dogs. "Since I got my soul dog, I live in a different way."

While this kind of conversation can meander into reincarnated dog stories, (which it did), it’s a metaphor in many ways for her writing. She put down her book many times over the years, and didn’t think about it. "But life is inspiring," she said. "People have stories they want to tell you." She just learned how to look beyond the obvious, to reassemble the things she’d heard.

Among the stories she’s heard came from farmers and ranchers who reluctantly came to her for massages. They were inclined to chat out of self consciousness.

You know McLaren has an amazing ear and sense of language because her old rancher characters in Church of the Dog speak as authentically as does the young female art teacher who comes into their lives.

"If you create from a place of truth," she said, "you can’t create..." McLaren searched for the right word. She may not have a been a writer before but this was a sign she was now. "I don’t want to say crap." Dung, I suggested?

After she had sent her manuscript to many publishers, she finally contacted DayBue, which has a local connection in Nancy Burke, who continues to promote McLaren enthusiastically.

"Kaya has done a lot of Kaya to the publishing company," she said laughing. For instance, instead of a book signing ("Why do they want my signature? Will it make the book better?"), McLaren is going to conduct "Meet the Author" sessions. The book’s launch party will be at Read All About It on March 3 from 3-5 p.m. The Hailey bookstore’s owner, Bryan Gardner, first directed her to DayBue.

On March 10, from 2- 4 p.m., she’ll be at Chapter One in Ketchum. This is a direct but kinder approach to book selling, which is more conducive to McLaren’s persona then the ubiquitous signing sessions. "It’s good to be clear about your intentions," McLaren said.

Multi-faceted is a word that comes quickly to mind when trying to describe McLaren. "It’s hard," she said, "when I have all this stuff running out of my mind, to allow creativity back in."

To simplify, she’s moving to a smaller town in Washington, where land is still affordable and she her and fiancée can build. They have no children yet, but she says she’s borrowed plenty. In fact, Church of the Dog is as a child would be for her. "You send them out there in the world and they’re on their own." A second novel is taking shape in her mind.

"It’s working, it’s coming to me," she said.

Like an exacting mother, her intentions are perfectly clear.

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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.