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About This Blog

Hello writers and those of you who love books! Welcome to the Grassroots Writer’s Guild, the blogging home of Connie Kirchberg and Julia Simpson-Urrutia. The two of us have spent the majority of our lives as writers. It’s our goal with this blog to share our experiences, both good and bad, with other writers like you in the hope we might provide a bit of occasional inspiration and solace for your own writing endeavors.

Please feel free to comment on any of our posts.  We do our best to keep them writing-related, but let’s face it, a blog is a place to sound off, and sometimes that’s what we do. Most of the time, however, our posts will relate directly to the business of writing.

So, sit back, relax, and start clicking away on the links to the right. You’ll see that both of us decided to implement a “get to know the writer” approach by including personal experiences and family photos. We discuss the ideas behind our books and share our experiences regarding agents and traditional publishing. You may decide to go with a less intimate approach on your blog. The point is to figure out a marketing strategy that’s right for you and implement it. A personal blog is a great place to start. Remember, the person best equipped to sell your book(s) is the person who knows and cares the most about it. And that would be you.


why-you-should-invest-in-a-professional-writer-for-your-businessWhen Connie and I began our blog at wordpress, we did so as two writers who understood the need for a web presence. That need has altered over the years while the presence of everyone marketing everything–actors their shows, authors their books, soap makers their products–has probably risen a thousand percent. 

I still believe the internet is a writer’s tool, but how I use it reflects my changing needs. That has got to be true for every writer. I would not dream of instructing people how to be better writers (outside my classroom) since there are some folks who already do that fantastically well, like John Yeoman of Writer’s Village. 

Others, like Kimberley Grabas, discuss marketing online for self-published authors. There is no earthly reason for me to stick my pinkie finger into either pie since both of these writers do what they do formidably well. Additionally, writing phenomenon Hope Clark sends out a newsletter to any writer who wants one, encouraging others while listing contests and other opportunities. (She has become an institution unto herself.)

So what does a writer need the internet for when not Googling agents? The presence is the main thing: a steady potpourri of life interests, steady as the changing of seasons if that is all one can muster. Most job-holding, family-nurturing writers with hobbies on the side (mine is doll making) will be able to manage just about that. When the time comes, due to a book sale or a sudden maniacal desire to scuba dive for sunken ships, those interests will be reflected on that writer/scuba diver’s blog.scuba diver

I don’t think any writer should beat him or herself up over not being more present than that. The internet is a strange thing: for bloggers, it may sometimes feel like a mirror that the occasional stranger will walk past.

 

 

 

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The tent for all Connie’s carpentry equipment.

Anyone who visits this blog will notice that Connie Kirchberg has not posted in quite some time. That does not mean people do not read her books. I can vouch for the fact that they do. Her books sell. The readers give compliments. Maggie Inside Out is a crime fiction novel that my own students have been enjoying!

But Connie has been busy and it has not been at a computer (although once in a while she finds herself in front of one).  While she does do computer work for her husband’s business, and can rightly be called his “on retainer” associate with computer expertise, among other things, Connie has many other talents. One of these is carpentry, which she has dabbled in for years. She is the kind of gal who can fix and remodel all on her own, although her husband Jody is just as capable.  They can often be found doing team work!

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Connie’s beautiful small gazebo made to shade a bench!

 

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All of these structures were built by my friend. The larger gazebo was built some time ago (note the curtains she has hung inside it.) Just to the left of that gazebo is the shaded breezeway where Connie does most of the carpentry work.

Last time I visited Connie, I had a few surprises, all in the back yard. The photos tell a lot of that tale. I found the ambiance inspiring. I have always wanted to learn carpentry, but I know it is a lot of work.

So when writers aren’t writing books or articles, it stands to reason they are doing something else. In Connie’s case, a lot of wood has been involved.

I am so impressed. Can’t wait to see what she has done next!

 

51gOfGWpGTL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Madame Blavatsky, The Mother of Modern Spirituality A biography by Gary Lachman (2012 Tarcher/Penguin)

Madame Blavatsky, The Mother of Modern Spirituality, is the biography of a woman who died over a hundred years ago and whose name still inspires controversy among people who interest themselves in proofs of spiritual realities that are unexplainable in terms of our material mundane existence.

In other words, she could pull real rabbits out of her hat.

I came to this book from two perspectives. One was as a Muslim who believes in angels, jinn, and the supernatural. In college, I studied Ibn Khaldun, an eighth century (hijra) Muslim scholar, best known for his Muqaddimah or Introduction to History. He devotes a large section to magic. His contemporary, Ibn Battuta, a Muslim version of Marco Polo, reported demonstrations of mind-boggling feats in various lands (like India) similar to situation/events explored in scientific or quasi-scientific TV documentaries that are treated as mysteriously defying explanation.

I found myself wondering what Madame Blavatsky felt her life mission was, and what revelation her abilities made in her own mind. The author, Gary Lachman, is helpful because he examines the vicissitudes in the life of Madame Blavatsky and her alleged proofs of extrasensory powers with an open but cautious mind. His evaluations are made from every angle to the extent of offering possible methods of deception. Until the final page, readers need not feel Lachman is attempting to convert them into Theosophists.

During Madame Blavatsky’s lifetime, a Theosophist would have meant a member of the Theosophical Society. One of the mission statements produced by said society (and which Lachman notes still guides its many branches today) was

1. To form the nucleus of a universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color.

2. The study of ancient and modern religions, philosophies, and sciences, and the demonstration of the importance of such study.

3. The investigation of the unexplained laws of nature and the psychical powers latent in man.

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Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott–Civil War Union Officer and later convert to Buddhism whose picture has been on Sri Lanka stamps.

Born in the Ukraine in 1831, Blavatsky had enough romantic drama in her life and soul to fuel a TV series. She was the frail infant of a likewise frail teenage mother, Helena Andreyevna, the latter being daughter to a princess. Blavatsky’s mother achieved acclaim shortly after having her first child through her writing. Helena Andreyevna wrote under the pen name, “Zenaida R-va” and was nicknamed the “Russian Georges Sand” by at least one critic.

Blavatsky’s father was a descendant of German nobility, a captain in the Royal Horse Artillery, later a colonel. He had a traditionally 19th century male chauvinist attitude towards his wife’s “career.” Blavatsky’s grandfather was a governor; she had access to his large library. Lachman tells us that Blavatsky, her mother, and her maternal grandmother were all noted for intelligence and self-education.

The psychological implications of Blavatsky’s family circle are satisfactorily explored. Apart from governesses, Blavatsky had “extracurricular input” from her serf, Baranig Bouyak, an aged healer who could allegedly read the future. At a very young age, Blavatsky claimed a secret friend or protector whom she saw in dreams (and who was probably one of the “masters” referred to in much the rest of the book—all her masters seemed to have been from India).

When she was six, Blavatsky accompanied her mother and maternal grandfather (trustee for the nomadic Kalmuck Buddhist tribes of Astrakhan) on a 1,000 mile journey to Central Asia. The sojourn lasted a year, affording the girl her first contact with Buddhism. Buddhism was the only religion to which Blavatsky ever formally laid claim, much later in life, and even then, it was not in a

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Kalmuk nomads

traditional sense.

Blavatsky’s double life (worldly and inner) began at the age of 16. Her sister, Vera, talked of strange powers Blavatsky evinced from childhood, able to put pigeons to sleep, create knocking sounds in whatever vicinity she was in, or make pertinent objects materialize. These supernatural parlor tricks were at first prolific with the young woman, but later she showed increasing reluctance to indulge requests, saying that they were distracting to her purpose—and the purpose of her secret “masters.”

Blavatsky wrote two massive books: Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. She saw manuscripts in the air, which she had to read backwards. These were her references and account for her horrible punctuation.

Blavatsky’s travels through Cairo, Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon brought her into contact with Muslims including the Islamic reformer Al-Afghani. Of course she was familiar with Christianity. While her life purpose seemed to have been emphasizing the fact that spirit matters more than the body, there is no clear demonstration in this biography that she held out any spiritual benefits to her followers or that she believed in God.

Lachman tells us that the “masters” were angry with Blavatsky towards the end of her life for sharing too much special knowledge with crass Westerners.

The reader may wonder how the “masters” were not able to predict this dissatisfying outcome. They could have avoided wasted effort in guiding and protecting her.

 

ImageIn my exploration of self-published titles, I have come upon a gem: Inside/Outside. This memoir, by Jenny Hayworth, tells the tale of a woman who comes from a long line of sexually abused children in a family/religious community that refuses to acknowledge sins among men (heads of household). No doubt there are exceptions, but her life story demonstrates the pressure that is brought to bear upon victims in the Jehovah’s Witness society in which she was raised. She left the cult and was dis-fellowshipped, which means everyone who meant anything in her life, her friends and family, mother and father, was forced to ignore her existence as if she was dead. This castigation brought on seriously health-destabilizing stress issues for herself and her children. I highly recommend this book. It is gripping, informative and helpful in drawing parallels. Hayworth is a good writer and she knows how to deliver her story.

If you have ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who knock at your door, this book may bring a little light. They are a society like any other, and among the more rigid.

Yet contrary to what the reader might expect, Inside/Outside is by no means a condemnation of religion, but rather of human ego and intolerance. It is an insightful reflection into one woman’s experience of the chaotic pain wreaked by unreasoning control that is enforced in the name of any kind of dogmatic system. Hayworth’s subsequent acknowledgment of kindness from followers of all types of spiritual systems demonstrates her keen powers of rationality. She has been through much and her story, though dark and powerful, has light at the end. It is a commentary on the human situation and the struggle for the guise of superiority, no matter what banner society flouts. I cannot say enough good things about it.It is available on Amazon.

 

 

I have read more self-help books than I would like to remember (as has Connie) through the sublime position of judging for contests. There are all kinds of self-help books in the world. You would never think that so many self-help books are published each year, not if you walked through a bookstore. While those places (with cash registers) are becoming rarer, I would still not have guessed from browsing Amazon or Barnes and Nobles online, where quality fiction is presented in a changing carousel.

Well, now I know. Self help books are printed in yearly profusion and some of them have made a bundle of bucks–notably The Secret by Rhonda Byrne and Think and Grow Rich by Nap0leon Hill, which are both about making money come zinging out of the stratosphere and adhering to your skin.

Then there are the apocalyptic Christian self-help, the easy-going Christian self-help, the spirit-guide (occult) self-help, the daily diary or journal self-help, the how-to-face-death self help, the love nature self-help, the how-to-overcome divorce , the dog is your best friend self-help and the low self-esteem self-help. And more.

But I have yet to see one  about how to deal with bad neighbors. If a book like that had any good tricks in it, I might even buy it.

We have an alley bordering the back of our house. Some new renters have come to a house that is very close. They use the garage, which opens onto the alleyway, as a pool hall, rapper disco, gambling and possibly cock-fighting party zone. M***F**** is the main compound word in the lyrics of the songs they play. These are not the kind of people one should talk to. I daresay they are not aware anyone else exists in the universe, and if they are aware, they do not care.  garage rappers

So where are the books to help me cope? I am so sorry that all those self-help writers in their ivory towers or Hawaiin grottos do not know that just possibly, a few hundred thousand readers might actually profit not from journaling about our disappointments or lack of self-esteem but from reading a really well written self help book for people with bad neighbors.

 

 

ImageA writer can do all kinds of things to not be distracted, but I think most will agree a quiet setting is important. One playwright I know, while living in a roomy penthouse, could not assure that her spouse would not interrupt her frequently while she was trying to compose. Her practice was to get in the car with pen, paper and headphones, and find a nice parking lot or children’s playground at which to station herself. It worked. Another playwright friend says he too does best if his apartment is empty.

I find even the kind of music I listen to impacts my ability to write. Instrumental works best, particularly if it is melodic and not too loud. I favor classical. While I enjoy rock and roll, lyrics of any kind make me think about the words. That prevents me from composing any of my own.

As far as distractions go, spouses may be the worst of offenders if for no other reason than they are in close proximity and so more likely to step on the landmine of disturbing the (creative) peace. Artists who marry one another are especially guilty, for one will want a cuddle or a conversation while the other is immersed in a project. Unless they want to resent each other for the same reasons,they have to learn to tell the signs and hold back.

Telephones and the internet can both be distractions. Writers writing on computers that  can be connected to the internet (only 2.5% of all world writers, correct?) have to do a lot of psyching to not trawl the web right after looking up a historical fact. Nor should we care if our friends have posted a funny note to Facebook. Self-discipline must be cultivated.

Cats and dogs can also distract. Everyone’s got the cat who parades back and forth in front of the monitor. Dogs have their needs too, so a careful writer will see to those needs or psyche herself not to be irritated if she has to stand up and see why someone is barking.

Neighbors’ dogs are less manageable, as is the volume level the neighbors’ music speakers are set at. Our newest next door neighbor used to be prone to playing his music at a volume to shake walls. That is, until he got a cute little puppy. When the neighbor wants, I don’t know, to go shopping or take a nap, he leaves the dog outside. The darling little creature comes to the steel fence nearest our house and barks his head off in between trying to chew the steel wires apart. I know he is just being himself. Luckily, headphones help.

Some distractions are as unavoidable as they are unexpected and unmanageable even with headphones. Yesterday’s party from hell, in which our overly exuberant diagonal backyard neighbors had an 11 hour fiesta outside complete with nonstop screaming and whistling, conjuring a probable scene of stripping competitions to a steady pulsating background ( I could feel it through any part of my body on the couch) of bass beats and who knows what the band’s name was, provided an excellent atmosphere in which nothing could get done without a headache.

Luckily I had nothing significant to do–just clean, cook, and write. My husband and I attempted to be politely tolerant and succeeded, although various personal physical manifestations suggested my tolerance, at least, came at a price. It was probably due to all those nasty thoughts of revenge popping up in my head–the idea of honking outside the party people’s house at 5 A.M. or releasing a virulent strain of extra-terrestrial bacteria on my neighbor’s front porch.

The enlightened will tell you that ugly thoughts can create conflict in the body and illness. I must work on thinking good thoughts.

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ImageBeing part of a writing course is a huge disappointment for some college students. From the get go, nothing is as it should be.

Incentive is elusive. The distributer has gone out of business. The commerce thrived when books (and the act of reading) were banned to certain groups in the USA, but the government’s insistence on paying for books for disadvantaged students has helped shoot that mule between the eyes. When the government is late in distributing the funds, intended recipients sit through the ninth week of class, nursing their wounds, stubbornly bookless. While no one would think about scrounging for a donut or coffee, a book is another matter.

Learning should be provided, paid for, spoon fed.

Excuse and reproach are useful tools in a politically careful democracy. The disappointed segment of a writing class knows about these tools. The strongest excuse is always money. Nothing can be done without it, neither learning nor homework. Lack of funds is the teachers’ and government’s fault. (Interestingly, some of those who complain wave their expensive smart phones in the air, to make a point.)

 I created a Facebook page just for my students. It bears the picture of a famous Latino artist. Only half the students befriend me. Some say they refuse to be on Facebook. I find that hard to believe.

Links and reminders exist on the FB page. A letter is sent, every week, to every student, with the assignment. Knowing deadlines exist, students ask about them. The deadlines have passed. Why will I take the papers? Because I want to cut them some slack. They look disappointed. Won’t I take off points? How about if I take off 20 points for a late paper, no questions asked, like other teachers. Then the 69% mercy score they get will drop to a 49%.  I say I want them to pass and am willing to work with them. Further disappointment.

Each of the student’s papers is edited by me because the level I am currently teaching is two below college entry. My disappointed students (less than half of the class, admittedly) are new to the concept of a writing class. They don’t revise according to my edits (as explained on the front of the paper) because they don’t read what I have written.

I repeat that information when we are talking about grades. How about redoing that paper, young fella? Young lady?

The energy needed for the belabored explanation is a wipe-out. My disappointed students tell me they need handouts, every class, with detailed instructions that they won’t read and must have explained to them.

What is the woman raving about?

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