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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.


41WUrT58cCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We like to read what resonates, what touches our own experience and flies up, up and away like a kite, string entwined in our sweaty, gripped fingers. Personally, I enjoy stories about writing and other writers, especially if I recognize the pain.

Boy, did I, in The Holden Age of Hollywood by Phil Brody. Great blurb. Went for it on Nook. (Have momentarily dropped sentence subjects in honor of this stunning author.)

I’ve seen reviews describing THA-of-H as Hollywood to an “H,” the acting/movie development life rolled into a resplendently gritty regurgitated hairball as wet and slimy as the truth.

Fell into it with the dazed joy of discovering a new substance to abuse, one that’s not yet illegal. I’m happy for the “this-is-Hollywood” readers, but for me, THA-of-H evokes the endless trek of the mind-numbing, hysteria-inducing tedium of reading endless reams of gibberish.

Such pursuits may be more noble than pretty, but that is what a lot of us writers do. I’ll explain.

Sam Bateman, the protagonist, is not a writer. His dad was. Bateman’s dad has died and left a drawer full of scripts, screenplays, and an unfinished novel along with a ton of rejection slips. Sam reads his dad’s creative writing and finds it much better than good.  He grieves for his father’s aspirations as well as his father’s dog, who also dies.

A good son, Sam buries the mortal remains of both, but not the dreams. He sells everything and moves to L.A. with his dad’s scripts and a plan to get even.

This is where all the great characters come in, including Solitude. Sam sets up shop in the wannabe writers biz (which is probably more lucrative than the sale of horror novels to the general public). He advertises a competition and award and starts reading as hundreds of scripts pour in. The masochism involved will thrill the soul of every writer who has had to teach composition, edit or search for the elusive pearl.

Sam is human. He cracks.

When that happens, he calls the author of whatever screenplay he has been reading, usually at 3 a.m.  He introduces himself and says things like, “. . . Now this screenplay of yours.”

“Yes?”

“What made you write such a thing?”

“Well I thought it would be great to see the horror genre combined with a buddy action flick.”

“Sounds great. Can you send me that?”

“That’s Dead & Barry. That’s the script you called about.”

“It is? Fuck me if I didn’t get that from what you read.”

And much more. It is all brilliant. Loved the legend of Holden. Loved Share. Loved the ending. Loved the middle. Loved the beginning.

Loved The Holden Age of Hollywood if you didn’t get that already.

Caveats, anyone?

Okay, here’s one: if you don’t like the F*** word, don’t read it.

But if you are a writer, you won’t mind that word, because it is part of the living human language. If you are a writer of any ambition or perseverance or skill, this a book is for you.

Happy unwrapping! It’s Christmas, Hanukah or Eid when you least expect.

Phil Brody

Phil Brody

imagesWhile writing and revising my now-finished horror novel, I have looked to other writers to keep me horrified. In that search, I came across Ronald Malfi’s famous horror novel The Floating Staircase.I bought it on my Nook and forgot about it for a couple of months. Then I found it and read it.

Damn if The Floating Staircase isn’t really good. It is creepy. Malfi uses gothic techniques for creating his remotely situated haunted house. He’s a great descriptive writer. His plotting is sometimes a bit unexpected, but overall, he employs classic techniques. I read along trying to gauge them.

Having said that, he did throw me a bit. I have been told, by publishers, that blending genres is taboo. Malfi does it with impunity. The frappé effect didn’t bother me at all. The Floating Staircase is primarily a haunted house book, but it is frequently a mystery and sometimes verges on detective, crime, or just plain old mainstream.

The blended genres are not the main thing I am going to remember about Malfi, although I may surprise myself.  I will remember that he gave me a cozy haunted house feeling. I like that on windy nights. I liked his writer protagonist, Travis, who screws up his life and marriage.  His writing success is a bit off-putting, but  screwing up redeems him. A hugely successful writer protagonist would be difficult to like unless that person had a disease. But I drift from my point.

Ronald Malfi has seduced me with his outlandish metaphors. This wasn’t supposed to work, but I found myself reading for them. I also began texting them to my writer friends, wondering what they would think.

Stephen King writes somewhere that a writer should not describe a man waiting (for a taxi, say) as having the expression of a man waiting for a ham sandwich. Good point. How on earth can we picture that?

How does the expression of someone waiting for a ham sandwich differ from someone waiting for pizza? Or a coke?

Malfi broke the golden rule several times, but since he held me in more ways than one (I am talking about my attention in reading a book) and since his forced metaphors are so memorable, I began to look forward to them.

For instance, I never would have thought of crows perched on wires to resemble a semicolon. Hard as I try, my best shot is conjuring up this image is if one crow has had its tail feathers torn out or burnt off. Maybe that one crow has been struck by lightening and has been burnt right onto the wire while the other crow hasn’t noticed.  It is an intriguing thing to think about, especially when life is stressful.

Another interesting metaphor described a character whose laugh sounded like a cold tractor engine starting up on a frosty morning. I am writing this from memory so the words may not be precise. When I came to that metaphor, I began to wonder if I was the wrong audience. Writers are supposed to have a particular audience in mind. Publishers know which audiences will read horror, young adult, and romance. Romance, if you didn’t know it already, is for females. Men are just not keen on romance. Women may think they want men to read romance, but they might not like it if their boyfriends suddenly became hell bent on it.

There’s a thought to ponder all by itself.

I began to wonder if The Floating Staircase was for farmers. I have no idea what a cold tractor engine sounds like starting up, especially if it is old.

Nonetheless, I began to get a feeling of excitement, like a player exploring his geocache map, or a kid looking for Easter eggs. But me, I was collecting Malfi metaphors. I loved the hamburger as thick as a Bible. I loved texting the curious metaphors to my friends. Soon I was composing my own.

I definitely will buy another Malfi book. He is a good writer and he has proven, yet again, that writers can break rules.

And get away with it.

Robin CanoThere are some extraordinary writers in my life. I particularly love the words and writings of my wonderful friend and adopted family member, Robin Cano, teacher, writer, tennis player and Spanish speaker extraordinaire. The poem that follows is titled “The Huggin’ Granny”:

They call me

     the “Huggin’Granny”

     and there’s truth

     in what they say,

‘Cuz each morning

     I gather

     a bushel of hugs

    and get ready to give them away.

The first thing I see

     as I open my door

     is my neighbor

     strapped down

         in his chair.

He endures every day

     with the patience

     of Job,

     but I know his heart’s

     filled with despair.

I give him a hug

      and sit down

        for a chat–that can last

        for only a while, but

        when I get up to go,

          my reward is complete,

             for he gives me

             a wise little smile.

As I go down the street

     I encounter a friend

     with a smile

     plastered tight

     on her face;

we are glad to exchange

     some warm hugs

     that relieve

     any problems stashed

      “under the rug.”

But not all hugs are

     directed at

     woes of the day,

Special hugs can keep

     memories alive.

So each day I give hugs that

David & Clare & Rafael

& Martin & Caesar still

inspire.

So if you be inclined

to give it a try

and give hugs

     as you go

     on your way,

you will find

     they’ll return

     and be brimming

     with love

     just as soon as

         you give them

              away.

       ~ fin ~

Robin Cano

La Casa de la paz

Mill Valley, Ca.

I enjoy time travel plots. When done well, they can be some of the best sci-fi stories out there. (12 Monkeys, currently airing on the Syfy network, is an excellent example.) Unfortunately, Lakers coach Byron Scott is not cast in the fictitious role of a man dropped decades into the past. He is a real person currently in charge of coaching and mentoring young men who happen to play basketball for a living. Following the Lakers’ awful loss to the lowly New York Knicks last night, Scott, responding to a reporter who asked what he did to take out his frustrations, laughingly responded: “I go home and beat my dog.”

So much for the sports world having learned anything from the Michael Vick fiasco.

Scott follow up his thoughtless remark by adding: “I’m just joking. Some people out there—animal activists—who might be thinking, ‘he beats his dog?’ I don’t even have a dog.” As if that clarification somehow made his initial remark okay. Get a clue, Byron. It isn’t only “activists” who find your “joke” offensive, it is a multitude of animal lovers who share their lives with canine companions, friends we consider as much a part of our family as any human member. I am left wondering if Scott would also find it funny to say he goes home and beats his kid. How do you think that remark would have gone over in the press? Or how about his girlfriend or wife? Is that idea hilarious to him as well? Nearly as disturbing to me as Scott’s comment is how the room full of reporters responded. How, you ask? They laughed. Ha ha ha, very funny, the idea of some poor loving creature getting beaten in order so that his “owner” could feel better about himself. Well, who wouldn’t find that funny? Only animal “activists” apparently.

 Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Lakers fan. The past four years haven’t been easy for the team or its worldwide fan base. Since winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, the team has been awful. Scott was brought in as coach this past summer mainly because of his background as a winner playing for championships with the Lakers during the Showtime era, and his early mentoring relationship with Kobe. It was hoped that this pedigree would be passed on to the current roster, giving young players motivation for becoming better. Alas, this idea has not panned out in the world of reality. Scott and his tough love stance seems too old school for today’s players to relate to.  Hopefully they find his sense of humor passé as well.

I wrote this post early this morning, right after I read about Scott’s comments. I came back to it this afternoon, waiting to see if the media had responded. So far, nothing has been made of it, so likely Scott will get a pass. And that’s too bad. The Lakers are a storied franchise, a highly respected organization within the NBA and the entire world of professional sports. A simple written reprimand from the Buss family, specifically Jeanie, would go a long way toward letting the public know that there really isn’t anything funny about beating a helpless dog.

images (1) There was a time when people communicated by letter. The posted letter was very popular in the centuries immediately before our present one. Etiquette demanded a response, but if return was by pony express (let’s say), one could reasonably expect to wait six months to a year. The advent of the telephone did not annihilate communication accomplished by writing on paper. Passing over the obvious–party invites, thank you notes and letters to one’s political representative–people continued to correspond, in friendly manner with each other, by writing.

As do they now.

However, the plethora of communication choices has corroded popular esteem for the letter. Here I will state boldly that I refer not to the letter written by hand, still used in formal occasions, but the letter written by easiest transfer, the internet. An email letter does not pose the problem presented in text messaging, which problem many circumvent through abbreviation of words.

Nonetheless, text messaging does not lend itself to gravity, dignity and formality although it works well with hysteria, flippancy and shock.

With the preponderance of techniques for and ease of communication, it is a wonder to see it break down so severely. I see it among my students and I see it in my own life. People eschew the (email) letter although it is perfectly obvious, from abundant posts made by friends in various forums, that they go online.

Others have recoiled from the onslaught of communication by making themselves unavailable. They may avoid Facebook, Instagram and so on like the plague, using the internet only to make plane reservations. Their use of the internet may be easily perceived by a friend, on the spot, through instant notification from Skype,etc. (if one has ever talked to said friends via a chat service). Some cannot be bothered to answer emails–neither in six days nor in six months. In one way or another, we have all been guilty.

Perhaps it is the insignificance of the screen upon which we view the words. Just as sages have warned that this is the century that will be undocumented by pictures once technology used to store the old becomes so outdated that the pictures are irretrievable, so too will much of our (written) lives be lost through the insignificance of the humble email letter.images

downloadThe theme of a story or novel doesn’t have to be about bullies for such characters to show up. If a plot line is to have any semblance of reality, there should be bullies. Lots of bullies. Big bullies, little bullies, and barely perceptible bullies.

Bullies are not all strong, rugged or large playground types. They may be subtle egotists. They may be sly or raving paranoiacs. They may be me and you.

If you have not sensibly cut yourself off from the world in order to live in a cave, how many bullies can you count in your present life?

Bullies are

1. Anyone who uses a put-down to manipulate you to do something.

2. Anyone who tries hard to make you feel lesser (in skills, importance, etc.) than they.

3. Anyone who can’t remember details of your last conversation and doesn’t apologize. (This is a sophisticated put down. You are unimportant. Your arguments don’t hold water.)

4. Anyone who doesn’t think you have the right to an opinion.

5. Anyone who finds your time and efforts worthless.

Let’s think about ways people/bullies get these messages across. Off the top of my head:

1. Not seeing/recognizing you or your greeting (and not apologizing immediately thereafter):

2. Sending you cryptic notes to show how wrong, stupid or misguided you are.

3. Speaking ill about you to others.

4. All the physical stuff that hurts.

5. Words and actions that can hurt (unless you are hypersensitive). Words can be as subtle as demeaning, rather than uplifting, adjectives/verbs/nouns either to describe the victim or when talking directly to the victim. The bully will fall back on freedom of speech.  Actions will always demonstrate lack of respect/consideration towards the victim, or self-aggrandizing of the bully.

To gain readers, writers need to incorporate bullies in their work.

Characters who are bullies can stop being bullies, but it takes effort. They have to want to. They need a motivation. Materialism is not a good motivation because it means the sudden kindness is selfish. True change comes from unselfish motivation.  (Do you see ANY bullying technique used in the poster below?)images (2)

download once upon a timeOf all the places, situations and audiences I can think of to tell a good story in,at, or to, there are three that should be avoided at all costs, for they are the worst. They are listed in order of disaster:

1. At the doctor’s office: Don’t tell a good story to a doctor.  A close friend complains of a doctor who is enthralled by veiling women (my friend and I are both  wives or ex wives of Saudis). Her doctor asks questions, gets off track and forgets to order tests.  

2. Don’t tell a good story to a person whose identity is in question.  This can happen over the phone if you are not careful.  I once got a phone call, I thought, from a woman who had the same name as another one who had just done my hair. (I had tried that day not to burst into tears at the salon.) To this “other” lady, I vented my frustration and realized, at the conclusion, that I was telling an angry story to the woman who had  seemingly dropped cans of paint on my head. Such vengeance was not desired.

3. Don’t tell a good (sad, pathetic, etc.) story to a teacher in a classroom, especially if it is to explain absences or missing homework. Excuses are one thing; long stories to explain why homework is missing are quite another. I do not want to hear that a student had to be present for his friend’s wife’s birth of a baby. Now will I ever believe that the urine-soaked papers held in a plastic bag are the work of a cat.'Fine, I'll go to my room, but one day when I'm a famous artist you'll be telling this story as an amusing anecdote!'

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