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.

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!'

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,000 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Christmas_ScrabbleMy husband has a friend named Sammy, a reader/writer who wallows in books and finds the library the most arousing of repositories. (We have no quarrel with his assessment.) Add to this picture that Sammy is quite the social animal and likes to game.

Nothing so far-fetched as Las Vegas, mind you. Sammy plays board games. He has a high IQ and relishes the challenge of finer fare. However, being convivial and kind, Sammy ends up facing all kinds of people from his side of a board–anyone who wants to play.

For years, Sammy has played Scrabble with a fellow named Frank. They are an odd couple. Sammy has always won 80 to 90% of the games. No one who knows Frank is surprised, for Frank is not a book reader.  Why Frank loves to play Scrabble with Sammy has been a bit baffling.

There were times when Sammy was sick but Frank, without sympathy, would insist on the weekly Scrabble game. Decorum demanded that the winner give the loser an opportunity to win. Perhaps Frank thought Sammy would do poorly when under the weather. Sammy would take his Tylenol for Flu, put on his slippers, get out the board, play, and win.

'Geoffrey got a triple word score! . . .no, we weren't playing scrabble, I give him points if he strings three words together.'These days something has changed. Frank is no longer losing. Sammy confides that while winning at Scrabble had become so predictable he wanted nothing better than to quit, he kept on out of kindness. However, since he is at present losing, quitting will make him out as a cad. The odd thing is that Frank still does not read books.  Sammy has trouble understanding the victories of his barely literate friend.

I think Frank is memorizing words with high-point letters like X and Z in them. Either that or he is consulting his phone when Sammy leaves the room to grab a couple of drinks or snacks. Is it cheating? I don’t know.

I have had students who are unskilled English writers but who can memorize grammar rules and spelling.  They cannot conjugate properly when writing, nor, for that matter, can they string together words coherently in speech. This will come later, if they become readers. However, some of these students show the ability to memorize for the sake of multiple choice quizzes. Conscientious writing teachers are wary of making classes manageable for students like these—unless the latter actually fall into the tempo and flow of a language through reading, they are cutting corners. There are problems for students who pass writing courses without actually learning to write (because they are not good readers). These problems impact others, demonstrating the injustice of lax college English teachers.

A case in point is that of a Middle School science teacher who wrote with English grammar and spelling mistakes all over the board, making the students snicker. Her students did poorly because they could understand neither her written nor spoken words. Nonetheless she was passed through her college English classes and got a full-time job making more, per hour, than the adjunct college writing teachers who “mercifully” allowed her to pass due to her memorization techniques.

Let’s be Frank about Scrabble. Is memorization a fair demonstration of skill?SavageChickens.com_-297x300

Or is it a kind of cheating?


falling-in-love-quotes-4Unless you are the exception, the answer is seldom. We seldom fall in love. When we do, it is rapturous. It changes our lives.

Today I was reading Sarah Jane Freymann‘s post on being a literary agent. She happens to represent nonfiction, plenty of spiritual/inspirational titles (the kind of reading I have judged in contests). I can vouch for the fact that among 150 submissions I read this summer, I didn’t fall in love from the first page with a single one. Perhaps if I had not been hired to keep reading, I wouldn’t have fallen in love at all.

Ms. Freyman writes, “Your eyes meet someone else’s on the street as you’re waiting for a bus, on the subway, in an art gallery, across the proverbial crowded room, on a ledge hanging off a mountain cliff, and something clicks. In other words, one either falls in love…or doesn’t. This, in my opinion, holds as true for people as it does for books on parenting, religion, travel adventure, science, business strategies, sports, cooking, and fiction. And when that “click” happens and a spark is ignited, one tends to rationalize: it was that charming query letter, his blue eyes, the subject is so timely, the author has such a fabulous voice, I really loved the paper and the font she uses, it’s such a great title, and so on and so forth. But for me the truth, alas and thank goodness, is both more simple and more mysterious.”

She is describing love at first sight. I do believe this is what literary agents rely upon to find a book, and what many of us, in fact, rely upon when deciding which book to buy online or in a bookstore. Sometimes if we hadn’t received a glowing review or a title as a gift, we would not persevere.

Love at first sight is not always why any one of us gets married. Marriage may be the result of a slower, more emphatic and convincing seduction and persuasion. While many people hook up with each other as a result of this slow burning persuasion, books do not always get the same benefit. They are, after all, static. They are not alive. They cannot engage with a sedentary being as another human can.

Good writers should remind themselves that editors and agents rely on this magical device–falling in love. it is not always about tweaking one’s novel endlessly. And here’s another reminder: the young & innocent fall in love with greater facility. That is how both The Hobbit and Harry Potter sold: by being read first by children.


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