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.

People are said to have “bad manners” when they treat others without consideration or kindness. While we can place laws into effect that will help to a certain degree–stop signs, for instance, assure that cars stop in turn to let another car pass while other laws exist to forbid hitting or shooting people we meet day to day–some things cannot be stopped due to the free speech that is assured in the first amendment.

One of the great ironies of the first amendment to the Constitution of the USA is that it assures the freedom to insult someone else who is assuming his or her first amendment right: freedom of worship. The first amendment states,

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Good manners, which have to do with decorum in public and one’s manner of dealing with other people, have to do with the concept of live and let live, of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Sadly, there are people who feel they are exempt from good manners, not so much in the name of the first amendment but in the name of advising and counseling others.  To scuttle good manners in order to advise another means to abuse that person, to call him or her names and demoralize. It means that the person who feels entitled may do to the other what is tantamount to verbal abuse. The first amendment protects this right.

So the first amendment undermines itself.

The person who embraces bad manners in the name of entitlement demonstrates that he or she is a liar: false and unworthy of respect. Such a person deserves nothing but pity, and if he or she does not gain any, who can wonder? To abuse another, for instance,  for his religion or his weakness says nothing but “Be mean like I am so that others hate you. Then watch what ultimately happens to me.”

To say, “Be me” is an impossible demand. Yet many make it of another they claim to “love” all the while abusing the person.

To take such a person as a friend or partner is to lean against a wall without foundation or to eat food deprived of sustenance. It is to ask to be hated and despised by the world.

The only buffer against that hatred is being joined by others similarly ignorant. Yet idioms abound as to the honor one may expect from a thief.

For to abuse and insult is to steal another person’s dignity and impose a kind of slavery.the-first-amendment-protects-offensive-speech



99CentsStoreA guest post by Latifah Abdullah

My nearby 99 cents store has become a religious battleground. A man who signs up voters has set a table there. I have seen him more than once. On the last occasion, I tried to ignore him when he began speaking as if he knew me. I politely replied that I believed he had the wrong woman.

Aware of the falseness of my denial, he shook his stubby sausage fingers too close to my “space,” as if he were a school marm and I, a bad student.

“Oh no! It was you!” he said. “I’ll never forget the rage in those eyes.”

He followed me to my truck and began handing my bags to me from the shopping cart while letting the whole world know, at the top of his voice, that I had cussed him out good on a previous occasion.

This renewed exchange, which I had sought to avoid, began to annoy me. I stopped my busywork and glared a warning shot directly to his soul. There was a reason I had been angry before. He had taken the occasion of seeing me on “his” turf, on a former occasion, to attack my religion, made obvious by the scarf on my head.

When I glared, he instantly stopped mid-rant and regrouped. After gathering his composure he reminded me of all the things I said to him that day. “Ill never forget how you cursed me!” That was foul . . . yeah, real foul . . . but I just wanna say have a good day . . . oh and Merry Christmas. . . .” He curtly looked away, but waited . . . and waited. I gave him no response. His eyes side glanced me, wondering why there was no reaction.

After some pause, I calmly said, “I’m not biting!” Then I added, “But I do want to tell you this: Don’t stop any mother who is minding her own business and accompanied by two children at the time (my daughters were 17 and 15) to tell her how Jesus is the way and she is going to hell!”

A subtle signal he made beckoned two church ladies who approached, yelling, “In Jesus’ name. In the name of Jeee -zus -ah!”

The ladies began hugging and high-fiving the preacher-voter man but they never looked at me. Other shoppers acknowledged the blessed name of Jesus while walking past this scene that was turning into an all-out revival.

When I tried to walk around the man to get to my car door, he stepped in my path and stirred the pot once more, asking me a question that was dumb ass because he already knew the answer: “You’re Muslim, huh?”

I decided to acknowledge our past. “Okay, so I cursed you. Yes, I did. But do you remember my advice to you or do you only remember the bad stuff?”

He lowered his head and nodded, mumbling, “’Be Jesus-like!’”

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Did I approach you and say you’re going to hell? NO! I came into the 99 cent store looking for ricotta cheese. Last time, too, you recruited church ladies to harass me. You told me I’m destined to hell and you provoked my response by blocking my path and attacking me and my babies. Tell me this, if my husband had been here either time, would you have stepped in my path?”

“Oh, I guess that is why you called me dick-less last time,” he said in some bitterness.

I nodded. “And would you have pulled strangers into our conversation to gang up on me?”

“That’s why you called me a vagina in a three-piece suit?”

I could tell by his tone that my words had eaten at him.

“And finally would you have declared my eternal abode to be hell because I don’t know Jesus if my husband were here?”

“Oh, that’s why you called me a punk-assed bully!”

I had more to say, but that third insult I had allegedly hurled at voter man shook me. I inhaled and apologized for my foul mouth.

“I honestly don’t remember saying all that,” I told him. “I don’t want to be hypocritical. If I want you to be Jesus–like, I should be Muhammad-like. Prophet Muhammad once went to check on the welfare of a bully who customarily spread thorns and trash in his path. When the prophet walked down the same path one day and found it clear, he worried about the bully. He went to the man’s house and found out his harasser was ill. The bully was touched regards by the gesture of his enemy. However, I wish you would stick to getting voters and leave citizens alone. I just wanted some ricotta cheese. Let me do me and you do you. Or as Allah subana wa taAla states, to you be your way and to me be mine.”

In the mid 1980s, I stumbled upon a TV interview with an intelligent and beautiful young convert to Islam named Lisa Kaaki. Of British-French descent and barely in her twenties, she had moved to Saudi Arabia with her Lebanese husband. Lisa worked for the Saudi Broadcasting System, English and French Services, in Riyadh (and she would soon move into TV programs).

I was lonely, not just for a friend who would help me practice French, but for someone who understood what it was like to be a convert. Since I wrote for the Saudi Broadcasting System, English Service, in Jeddah, it was natural to try and contact her.

The friendship grew roots over the phone. We experienced many of the same things and gave each other support. Lisa was a budding writer. I told her of my publisher, American Trust Publications (NAIT), based in Indiana. ATP had put out my first story book, The Four Daughters of Yousef the Dairy Farmer.  Editor/author M. Tariq Quraishi was working on my second, The Princess Who Wanted to be Poor.

Writing is a consolation to dreamers, which Lisa has always been. She immediately wrote a touching story of a little Muslim boy named Tarek who has lost his memory and is found sleeping in front of the Eiffel Tower by a woman named Madame Rose. Lisa asked me to edit, which I was happy to do.

ATP published Tarek, engaging the same talented illustrator, Mamoun Sakkal, as did the art for my later books, The Jinn in the Clock and A Wicked Wazir. Tarek

Lisa then wrote another poetic and meaningful Muslim children’s book, The Awakening. In this story, a little Arab boy named Salem, who has everything he could ask for, feels emptiness. Against his will, he turns into a palm tree. From that experience of life, he transforms into a stone and then a rose. When Lisa sent me this manuscript, I was delighted at her imagination and edited swiftly.

Tarek could not be more appropriate for this present moment of countless child refugees seeking asylum–and supportive comfort–in the West.  The Awakening continues to offer a powerful yet subtle message for those young ones so blessed by material goods they may undervalue their own  humanity.the awakening

Lisa and I wrote a travel column together for the Riyadh Daily newspaper. At the same time, she carved a niche for herself on Saudi television and radio, in both French and English, interviewing many interesting people and helping Muslim women gain respect as can be seen in this Youtube interview with female historian Hatoon Al Fassi :Lisa Kaaki, Not Without Women.

Today Lisa, ever the poet, lives in Cairo with her daughter and grandchild. I love her dearly. Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, mon amie. Que Dieu te bénisse! 


I don’t resent Sam. If not for Samuel W. Gumpertz, there would be no Lilliputia, and I wouldn’t lead the life I do now. More like I’d be stuck pricking my little hands with needles in Mam’s millinery shop, ripping out hems and sewing, bored for endless hours. That wasn’t the life for a pretty doll.Coney-Island-Dreamland-Performer-High-Wire-Act

Mam called me her pretty doll until I got my monthly periods and I was still down at her elbow. I never grew any higher.

My mama loved me most earlier, when I was tiny–five and six years old—and could model the frilly hats she made for me so customers would see how good she was. What lovely hats they were! They said I must be a doll from Paris come to life. The big people picked me up and kissed me on both cheeks, right out in the drafty street. Mama didn’t mind. She handed out ribbons with her milliner’s shop address written on a bit of paper.

Mam stopped letting me parade around when I was about twelve. People were talking more about me than about her hats. Big people don’t like little people to get older. It makes them uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t come to Lilliputia. I would have thought all the trouble was with me. Now I know why Mam stopped making me hats. She stopped smiling, too. She was ashamed.

Sam changed all that. He built my confidence back up.
When I was a teenager, I read that Mr. Samuel Gumpertz, a successful Missouri showman, had been invited by Senator Reynolds to build and manage a Midget City on Coney Island, in New York. It was for a place called Dreamland. I found a tacked-up poster that showed Midget City, after I ran away from Mam—can you imagine? My mouth dropped open. It showed little men riding Shetland ponies. They were handsome devils, wearing fire department costumes just like big people.

“They’ll have more than enough mouths to feed, little girl,” said the lady I was working for then, when I brought the poster into the inn. She grabbed it out of my hands. “Says here they’ve got 300 midgets from all over America living in Li-lli-pu-tia. . . I very much doubt they’ll want another. Probably will start kicking them out, if you ask me.”

I knew what that woman wanted. I shouldn’t call her a lady. She was getting business because people came to have me serve ‘em beer. Of course there’s no way I can see over a bar, but that woman would shoot me out from behind the bar with my little tray and high heels. She made me hem my skirts up really short, too, and had me wear a lacy garter around one leg. I told her that if I was too embarrassed, I’d trip and spill her beer. I can usually carry two or three beers at a time on my tray, if I’m careful.

I know for a fact that her business picked up while I was there.

Thank God for Lilliputia. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I’m not a freak here, except to the public which comes to gawk at us. (The rest of this story can be found hidden in book reviews.)


thIn Reconciliation, Benazir Bhutto shows she knows a thing or two about Middle Eastern history; she should–after all she was born and raised there and knew the culture of her own people. History did not start on September 1, 2001, as some people would like us to believe. Any time the U.S.A. or its allies are attacked, a group argues it was caused by religious extremists who didn’t like the way we as infidels were living.

“They hate us for our freedom” is an all-too-common piece of propaganda espoused by those who don’t want to see the error of their ways. Personally I find it hard to believe that a young man or woman, barely into adulthood, would be willing to blow themselves up for “our freedom.” The truth is that many of these people are radicalized as a result of the killing of their family members by American bombs, or by evil dictators backed by America. Bhutto seems to know this history of Western intervention in the Middle East and the Frankenstein monster that this history has created.

Bhutto is aware of the false allegations which state that the sole blame for the regions’ problems lies in the Muslim holy book. Bhutto addresses this misplaced blame, saying “But the responsibility does not lie in the Muslim Holy Book.” The truth is that for over a century, the West, and particularly America, have destabilized Muslim countries due to lack of understanding of Middle Eastern culture and indifference to the effects meddling would have on it. There are obvious instances that most people are aware of such as the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein; however, most don’t know the true extent of imposed regime change, political assassinations, backing of extremist groups, and civilian casualties caused by the so-called “Land of the Free.”

Bhutto shows many examples of the undermining of democratic values in her country and the countries surrounding hers. One clear instance of the United States creating a monster that it was unable to control is the funding of, and funneling weapons to, an extremist group known as the Mujahedeen; this group of extremists would later go on to form groups such as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Bhutto writes, “The establishment of the Afghan Mujahedeen by Zia in the 1980s is an example of extremists. (After all, the jihad in Afghanistan aimed to rid the country of Soviet occupation, not reject modernity, technology, and pluralism, and to establish “strategic depth” in Pakistan. That was the political goal of Zia.)”

Although she may not have been referring specifically to the role of America in the creation of the mujahedeen, Bhutto implicitly gets to the heart of the matter as to why the United States backed the mujahedeen. The U.S.A. helped the extremists not out of pity for their plight at the hands of the Soviet Union, but to thwart communist expansion. Once more the West shows no understanding of how things work in other parts of the world, and simultaneously falls for the incorrect assumption that the enemy of its enemy must be its friend.

Once again Bhutto has her finger on the pulse of the problems caused by the West. She states that “After the United States invaded Iraq, these same extremists turned their attention to that country.”  Although many warmongers and saber rattlers would have us believe different, Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the attacks on September 11th, nor did he have any ties to the Al-Qaeda. In fact, Al-Qaeda had almost no presence in Iraq whatsoever due in large part to being enemies with the mostly secular Saddam, who made sure they had no foothold in his country.

Before the U.S.A. invaded Iraq, suicide bombings in that country were almost unheard of. Once the invasion took place, the extremists rushed into the country to take advantage of the American military presence that would surely bolster their ranks with disenfranchised young men who had watched loved ones lose their lives thanks to American bombs; after all, it is hard to convince someone that you are freeing them whilst you are bombing them. According to n, The Guardian, there were over 12,000 deaths caused by suicide bombs alone between the years 2003 and 2010. Oftentimes people who wish to rush to war again will cite numbers like these to garnish support for another invasion; again it would seem that history was non-existent before a certain date to these people. Without seeing that they created the monster before them, they fed the monster again with the invasion of Iraq.

When most people think of reasons why the Middle East is in a perpetual state of chaos, they often think of the terrorist groups; however, an often-overlooked aspect of the chaos is the authoritarian regimes that control many Arab states. Oftentimes, leaders of western nations lecture the world on the need for democracy without admitting that they themselves support many dictatorial powers, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. On some occasions, the United States is the sole reason that a country is in the grip of an evil regime, such as in the case of Iran.

Indeed, at one time the leader of Iran was democratically elected and generally friendly to Western nations. That is until the United States, with the help of Britain, overthrew that leader in 1953 due to a dispute over British controlled oil. The United States then installed a man named Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi who ruled with a much firmer hand than his predecessor. This led to anger in the Iranian population that would go on to force the Shah into exile, and bring the Khomeini regime into power, which rules to this day, albeit with a different head. Again the United states meddled in the affairs of country and a people that it new nothing about, thereby furthering the creation of the Frankenstein of authoritarianism that Benazir Bhutto refers to. According to Bhutto, “Despite often grand rhetoric to the contrary, there has been little real western support for indigenous democratic movements. Indeed, too often there has been outright support for dictatorships.” (186) Quite an apt description I would say.

It is unfortunate that the former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto is not with us today to calm the tensions and help pave the way for the democratically elected governments that people in the middle east so desperately deserve. Unfortunately, until the west stops meddling in the middle east, it is unlikely that anyone, even Bhutto (if she were still alive), could pave the way for democracy in the region. There is still hope however that Bhutto’s dream will not die with her, but live on and come to fruition. Her dream can only be seen if the West stops feeding the monster that is the Frankenstein in the Middle East.

I don’t normally re-blog news, but I cannot help asking, which one is the champ? I know whom I pick!

Donald Trump, Muhammad Ali

FILE – In this March 24, 2007, file photo, Donald Trump, left, accepts his Muhammad Ali award from Ali at Muhammad Ali’s Celebrity Fight Night XIII in Phoenix, Ariz. Ali is criticizing Republican presidential front-runner Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and calling on Muslims “to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda.” (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Ali, one of the most famous Muslims in the world, issued a statement saying, “True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.”


Furious Dusk, the 2014 winner of the Andres Montoya award by my colleague David Campos, completely derailed my impressions of a calm, even restrained, colleague. However, Campos’s verse has helped me better understand the Hispanic culture into which I have married/moved here in Central California.


Hunting” is about a young boy whose manhood initiation depends on his ability to embrace the power of hurt. The father in “Drywall Dust” sings while his son, laboring to prove that machismo, smashes his own thumb. While “The Call” does mention a mother, its formatting suggests the degree to which women are disjointed from men, and the son from his father; when told his father has collapsed, the author wonders if it is not “Another punishment of his?”

“After One Year of Trying” offers the overripe decay of a fruitless union. The poet’s anguished marriage imagery is arresting recognizable: “Leftovers stick like bad memories, / like the biting words, irresponsible, / childish and selfish. /My wife and I left the table/ to scream each other’s faults down the hall.”

“Inheritance” is a side reflection, focusing on an abandoned table crafted by a female carpenter. That short poem’s final play on words stopped me short: ”I had stood on its stump and proclaimed / to be more capable than my father/ a giant literate in its grains.” “Hollywood Endings” and “Museum of Natural History” both helped cement the unsettling feeling that home is always alien.

Drinking lizard blood is just one of the never-ending tests of manliness Campos displays, yet the peak of suffering comes in the modern trauma of obesity, encountered in “Diet.” Brilliantly, Campos uses formatting to evoke a mirror’s image, reflecting his battle with father and form, expectations and results.

Hurt, he demonstrates, is hurt’s reward. “Bowl” shows men stepping in to clean up the mess they have created, to forestall death and perpetuate pain, as if there were no other reason to exist.

Campos implies that being hurt can be a decision: the poet’s father counted the neighbors’ shrinking at his loud morning music as proof of racial hatred.

“The Stones from the Water” felt like ablution. Campos combines a volcano and its lava with boulders, glaciers and water. While earlier he writes “baptism isn’t enough,” when stones dance to the meeting of fire and water meet, the cleansing is sufficient.
Forgiveness plays under the unsettling beat of discord: ”After Hearing of My Father’s Passing” begins “This afternoon it’s raining in Riverside/ and I remember how the mountains of Los Angeles/ slowly put on their long coat of pines/ as we climbed trails up the steep inclines/ of the heart; breaths were hard to take.”

“Dusk” is the poem that gives the compilation its name, and it centers upon Fresno. If I see an old typewriter in a thrift store in downtown Fresno, I will wonder whether Campos typed “this is not a toy” on it, as dictated by his father.


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