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.

winter-always-turns-to-springA book is “worthy” to me  if I cannot get it out of my head for beauties and truisms, if it makes me learn about someone’s unexpected heroism in endurance or grants me a perspective of life hitherto unconsidered. That is what happened with Winter Always Turns to Spring, which I read last spring. Written by Dr. Akemi Bailey Haynie in the voice of her mother, Sachiko Takata Bailey,  the memoir begins with a fourteen-year-old Japanese girl who lives  about fifty miles from Hiroshima at the time of the atom bomb blast.

Her male relatives went into Hisoshima afterwards, sometimes daily, in order to locate survivors. They did not realize how dangerous the radioactivity was to them. Sachiko contributed–when she was old enough–to nursing wounded soldiers American soldiers. She ended by marrying an African American soldier. The power Sachiko demonstrates to adjust her perceptions throughout life for the sake of truth, coping, and spiritual growth is astounding.

The editor, Layberry, suggests that this memoir provides a valuable glimpse into American history. I completely agree. It is that and so much more.

Winter Always Turns to Spring shows what the Japanese war brides who came to the USA from a background of subservience and repression hoped to find and had to withstand. Sachiko’s spirit is demonstrated in the fact that she blames war and not the USA for the double catastrophes of Hiroshima and Nagasake.

Her altruistic nursing of American soldiers brings her into contact with LeRoy Bailey, a strapping young MP. He is by far the most persistent wooer of the beautiful young Japanese woman and wins her. Together they overcome the hurdle of paperwork to get married. Once Sachiko Bailey reaches her husband’s hometown, she is faced with a new assortment of problems—primarily, discrimination and poverty.  She also faces the first huge instance of her husband’s casual attitude towards truth. (He told her he came from a “big city with big lights.”)

Gradual understanding of her situation is sobering. Sachiko Bailey cannot go home. The reader senses this without the point needing to be underlined. I loved this memoir. It captures the dilemma of so many brides, war brides in particular, who come across unexpected cross-cultural dilemmas, social discrimination, and domestic abuse. Sachiko had a lot to cope with from LeRoy, but her Japanese cultural background and her turning to Nichiren Buddhism helped her both endure and grow.

I was amazed at Sachiko’s innovative approaches to allay if not overcome poverty. This memoir teaches that endurance is not surrender. Sachiko’s decision to stay with an abusive African-American husband does not end as badly as it might have. I wanted to see clips of the children’s singing group, Takata, on Youtube. (Please, dear author, consider?) The way this resourceful family coped with their biculturalism  is very inspirational!


Author Dr. Akemi Bailey Haynie

Haynie does a wonderful job of writing in her mother’s voice, conveying the thoughts, goals and ideals that shaped Sachiko’s decisions throughout her life.

Cora PoolerHands down, Cora Pooler by Dottie Rexford is not only the best Amish novel I have ever read (I have a fascination for all kinds of spiritual practices), but one of the best self-published books I have read in the past year.  It’s got everything: mystery, beautiful writing, great characters, and an enticing plot line.

Cora, the title character, left her Amish community twenty years earlier due to the birth of an out-of-wedlock baby. (Yes, it happens in those communities too.) Cora gave away the baby, refused to name the father, and was shunned by the community.

She went to live as an “Englisher,” the name the Amish have for modern people. Rexford is such a gifted writer! Her descriptive abilities bring the reader fully into the sensory elements of a scene. I relished such evocative phrasings as “I heard birdsong, running fox feet crackle the dead ground leaves beneath them [. . .], the drop of a weak branch heavy with ice.” There is a cozy mystery feeling to this story, reminiscent of a Daphne Du Maurier or even an Agatha Christie novel, save with a reflective, religious twist.

Amish girls

Amish girls

Cora has never left faith even though she has left the Amish; when she decides to return, it is a journey to unravel mysteries of family history, the heart and the soul. The reader will appreciate the skilful implications of every decision and thought Cora has. Rexford presents us with a microcosm of the timeless battle of faith versus faith. She does it with the patient, delicate strokes of a maestro. The picture left in the mind’s eye is unforgettable. This is a book readers will wish to retain on their bookshelves, for it is filled with gorgeous writing. If one reads only one “Amish” novel in a lifetime, this should be it.

Cora Pooler is one more strong argument for writers in conflict that there are damn good self-published novels out there. They are worth buying and reading. You are not stuck with only what Barnes and Nobles has to offer, nor with the limited fare that  publishers deem suitable.

While there will always be a load of rubbish to sift through in self-published books, good reviews (especially one such as this, written by a person who has neither met nor communicated with author Dottie Rexford) testify to the rubbing away of the stigma associated with self-publishing. The focus on self-publishing evident at the Frankfurt Book Fair supports that argument: http://publishingperspectives.com/2014/08/self-publishing-becomes-larger-focus-at-this-years-frankfurt-book-fair/.

It would be an understatement to say my students inspire me. Content is the A number one thing that grabs me–that and realness. When student writers do that, I don’t see any grammar or punctuation errors because I am so gripped by story. Last week I had the honor to read many such essays.

This is one of the best: 944706_638532842827353_1720103819_n

The Balancing Act of a Competent Marine Sergeant/Squad Leader
By Stephen Perry

Sergeant Caleb Bensen wasn’t an immensely imposing man. Bensen only stands at about 6 feet tall and weighs in at just under 180 pounds. An imposing figure, while not always necessary to a squad leader, helps to inspire fear, which is useful for motivating subordinates. What makes Bensen such a magnificent squad leader is his ability to command respect, not only from his underlings but his superiors as well.

Bensen is possessed of a skill that is highly valued in the Marine Corps: competence. Few other leaders in our company could boast the level of competence that Bensen had. Whereas other leaders would complete tasks by the book, which means that simple tasks might require hours to perform, Bensen could find a simpler way of doing things that would save everyone time. The commanders would often take note of Bensen’s ability to coordinate so well with the members of his squad. While no leader was by any means ignorant, many lacked the creativeness of Sgt. Bensen.

Several of the other leaders in the company would always find ways to set themselves apart from the members of their squad. This is to avoid what is known as fraternizing and to ensure orders are always obeyed. A friend telling another friend to run through a hail of bullets doesn’t persuade with the same weight or urgency as an order given by an aloof superior. With Bensen, however, not one member of our squad would ever question such an order (even though he was on familiar terms with his subordinates). Bensen was more than just a leader; he was also a friend. Bensen had no issue with sitting on a post with members of his squad through the long hours of the night while others might prefer to relax in the heated command post. Bensen would always rather stand in the cold among his friends.

Short fuses are a part of everyday life in the Marines. I can hardly remember a day in which nobody was being yelled at for something. Bensen on the other hand very rarely needed to yell. That’s not to say there wasn’t punishment distributed for any wrongdoings, but Bensen was never mad when he did these things. Even while Skyping with his fiancé who was back in the USA, Bensen always managed to keep his calm composure. Bensen was able to keep his calm even when others would snap at him. He was able to recognize that others were just going through a hard time.

Bensen was able to lead his men through some of the darkest days of their lives. His ever-contemplative mind, friendship and composure prevailed in our time in Afghanistan. For not all the battles we fought together were physical; many of the battles we fought raged within ourselves. However, thanks to my leader Caleb Bensen, I survived those times. His success as a leader delivered us all, enabling us to return home.

G3There are times when people really and truly should write, and those times are not always completely concerned with writing for money.  The motivation may be (somewhat) about money, but the end result can be priceless and transcend money.

I have felt much in tune with these non-financial factors in my capacity as writing teacher as well as that of writing judge.

In the first case, I have been allowed into the lives of students through their essays, and have learned what they are coping with, what they have learned from, and what they are aiming for. Sometimes the goal a writer describes is something as insignificant as being happy to go to work. Everything my students write tends to impact and inspire me. This is useful writing, from student to teacher. Though I take advantage of these opportunities, to demonstrate where an apostrophe shouldn’t go (as on every single –s) or where a semicolon needs to be replaced by a comma, or vice versa–knowledge I excel at after teaching it for a decade and a half–these essays inspire me in their content and spirit.

One young lady who has followed me from English 252 to English 125 confessed that she put a happy face on her Facebook Wall disclosure that she worked with her sister. In reality, she was not as happy as the happy face indicated. In fact, she wrote, she had been hiding a bad attitude about her job. As a young college-attending mother of a baby, all she really could think of was whether she had expressed sufficient milk and if she would pass her classes. The last thing she wanted to do was log eight hours a day in an office with her sister (who was kind enough to insist upon employing her).

Her essay resonated with me deeply because I have been guilty of harboring a bad attitude–not always, but at times–about my own job, which is to teach composition (grammar, punctuation, essay form and critical thinking) to college level students. Naturally I would rather be an acclaimed author. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how stupid I could possibly be.

This same young lady explained that she has started changing her attitude. She finds that filing or any other mundane duty she has had to be nagged to accomplish is becoming something she takes pride in, thanks to her change in perspective.

Her words resonate. I won’t say she changed me, because I was already changing. When I get into someone else’s writing and forget myself, forget where or who I am, and think about someone else’s day, family or life, that is profound. This has always been one of the pluses of being a writing teacher.

This past summer, for the second time but to a far greater extent, I participated likewise as a writing judge. While many of the books I read were similar to each other, just as student essays can sometimes be, there were absolutely unique entries. Some of these entries were by writers whose lives had been so different or unexpected, who were so brave or whose thoughts were so profound, that again I was seized wholly. When I say I forgot myself, I do not mean there were no thoughts or life parallels that did not resonate–there were plenty. Those were the vibrations in words (even if beset by grammatical errors) that linked me to the writers.

Writing does that. It links humanity, make us one and gives us a sense of communion. It used to happen in letters, although these have gone by the wayside.  Such bonding still most often happens in writing. Social gatherings, though useful, are liable to ostentation, discrimination or other weaknesses that may prevent noble human interchange.

This kind of writing–the kind that will probably not make anyone rich–is very important, whether it comes from students or aspiring writers who have churned out a first “masterpiece.”

Tonight I feel lucky and blessed, to be a reader who both teaches and judges writing.




When I lived in Saudi Arabia, I used to review books for the English language newspapers. (I did that under various names, for the papers were competitive.) The first books reviewed were purchased from the local bookstores. Usually a publication will under no circumstances use a review of a book that has been out in the world for a year, but in the 1980s, the local English-writing competition was so sparse in Saudi Arabia, copy editors were delighted to receive coherently written reviews. Sooner or later, everything I ever submitted was printed.tailypo!

Some of my favorite books were discovered through that hunt for books to review. The Story of my Wife by Milan Fust was a bookstore purchase–and I still consider it a classic, about a jealous sea captain who imagines all kinds of things about his wife.  Later, when I sent clips (by mail) to book publishers, I obtained a fair number of books for my sons, like Never Shave a Camel by Dr. Peter Rowan, Tailypo! by Jan Wahl and Weird Wolf by Margery Cuyler. The first one seemed region-specific, a good choice for an expatriate audience living in Saudi Arabia. Such titles, found in catalogs, were always put at the top of my request list. Tailypo! turned out to be too scary to be read more than once. After the first read, my children begged me to close the book. Hmmm.

the knightHugely talented authors came to my attention. I loved Ella Leffland’s writing in The Knight, Death and the Devil, a fictionalized account (that attempts to stick close to the truth) of Hermann Goring, Hitler’s right hand man. You may think whatever you like of me when I tell you that I wept through the sad ending of Goring’s love story with his wife. Leffland wrote so movingly I had to purchase another copy of the book for my father, a World War II buff. He read every page.


Paul Auster

Paul Auster’s Moon Palace gripped me completely. I thought it one of the finest books have ever read. In fact, I would like to read it again (Some of my books, alas, did not make it back with me to the USA–insignificant readers can only ship so much.) I have the review in one of my notebooks and am not surprised to see that it  came to me via London (Faber and Faber)–Auster has long been appreciated in Europe far more than he ever has in the USA, American though he may be. (I wonder why he did not follow Henry James’ path and become a British national.)

Naturally it takes a while to review books; it is not as easy as, say interviewing someone. Since I wrote every type of article a housewife can for the local press (including travel), I will admit that book reviews are among the hardest. But the richness! The tapestry and enchantment! How many hours have I wrestled with Virago Press’s list of upcoming titles, knowing I could not confuse the representative by requesting too many. I had to keep the number down to as many as I could read, for I might receive all of them. The reps were asked to send airmail, which they would have done anyway–anything by boat was subject to inspection by Saudi censors. I cannot explain why boat was more suspect than airplanes. I guess there are more vermin on boats. (At the ports, perhaps a subject for another day, my valuable antique books were destroyed.)

British publishers were not only closer, but I discovered my tastes are more European/British than they are American. That is probably a damning comment.

Yet I adore Stephen King!

Let the above comment rest as a glowing stamp of my American identity–I am the roving American whose tastes often jump to the other side of the pond.

At times I have felt inclined to look up those writers whose books I reviewed while in Jeddah. Auster is in New York and not too concerned with writing a new book; Bernice Rubens, beautiful writer that she was, has passed on; Geraldine Brooks was kind enough to respond to fan mail in a letter I will cherish forever. Ella Leffland, born in 1931, lives near me, in San Francisco. (Oh my goodness, would she let me visit her??)   Michael Foreman, author of The Game of all Wars, turns out to be British (I should have known), and of course Upamanyu Chatterjee is Indian although I do not know where he resides. It appears the book I reviewed, English,August: An Indian Story (and a really good one!) is his most

Upmanyu Chatterjee

Upmanyu Chatterjee

famous work.

How lucky I was to have reviewed it!

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.





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!


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



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!



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