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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.


elvis and nixon

Let me begin by saying I didn’t expect much from this movie, especially since it is being pushed as a comedy. There was another movie made years ago on the topic, and if memory serves me correctly, it wasn’t very good. So, when I went to see the new film yesterday, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed it. This is a lighthearted, feel good film from Amazon that does an amazing job of getting into both Nixon’s and Presley’s characters. In fact, I have to give a shout out to Michael Shannon: his is the best portrayal of Elvis I have seen in any film to date—short of Elvis himself of course, ha ha.

Shannon captured Elvis’s personality and charisma in a way that made me believe he was Elvis in the movie—not something easily accomplished when dealing with an Elvis fan of 50 years. And interestingly enough, it didn’t matter a bit to me that Shannon looks nothing like Elvis. I will be curious to hear whether other fans have a similar take, so if you’re reading this, please let me know via the comment section of this post.

As for Nixon, I did a tremendous amount of research on him for my book, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, and the American Dream (conveniently rereleased by my publisher back in November and currently available on Amazon, hint hint), and judging from all of that, I would say Kevin Spacey also did a fantastic job of playing Nixon. This was especially noticeable during the meeting with Elvis, when Nixon went from a grumpy old man irritated by Elvis taking up his time to fully enjoying his visit with the King. Having read so many books on Nixon including his own massive autobiography, I could totally envision him acting exactly that way.

As Shannon said during an interview on ABC, no documentation exists of the actual face-to-face meeting between the King and Nixon, so no one knows what happened behind closed doors until the photo shoot that happened at the end. Being quite familiar with both of their life stories, however, I found the script to be very believable. Elvis acted like Elvis and Nixon the same. Elvis’s amazing charisma could and probably did totally blow Nixon away. In the film, the two wind up chatting like a couple of old friends on the couch in the Oval Office, eating M&Ms and drinking Dr. Peppers.

There are some really funny scenes in this film, but I don’t think any of them are meant to make fun of Elvis in a mean spirited way, and that in itself is a real step forward for the mainstream media. Elvis was not your average, run of the mill celebrity. He lived life in the fast lane for the most part, but he was also a deeply spiritual, well-read, thoughtful individual who loved his country. Yes, it seems pretty crazy that he wanted a narcotics badge so he could become an undercover agent–but his thinking behind it, that he could infiltrate the Counterculture’s drug scene and help stop it–was certainly well meaning albeit pretty unlikely. Chances are Elvis knew that himself, but he had decided he wanted to meet the president of the United States and run it by him, just in case. As with most things Elvis, when all was said and done, it was mission accomplished.

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You didn’t have to be a fan of Prince’s music to realize the height of his stardom: His amazing career spanned five decades. During that time, he released over a hundred singles and forty-plus albums, while also penning numerous songs for other artists. Prince won seven Grammy awards and has sold over a hundred million records worldwide. Not a bad legacy.

As is always the case when someone famous dies, there will be countless speculations over the coming weeks and months as to exactly how he died, a media-crazed fascination that I have never found relevant in any way. Prince was found dead in an elevator in his home. Maybe he had a heart attack. Maybe he overdosed on painkillers. Maybe it was just plain natural causes. Who knows? And really, what difference does it make? As with Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, the cause of death should have zero impact on Prince’s legacy. All that matters is the amazing music he left behind.

I can still vividly recall the day Elvis died. I won’t bore our readers with the details, but suffice it to say I was devastated. A man whom I greatly admired and had so strongly influenced my life with his music and humble beginnings was gone, just like that. As with most of Elvis’s fans, I became disgusted by the media circus that followed. The world had lost one of its most beloved icons, and all the press wanted to talk about was how he had died. Prescription drug overdose, do you believe it? As if the fact he had been taking too many pills somehow erased all the accomplishments of his storied career.

Sadly, the media responded in similar fashion when Michael Jackson died. Hopefully Prince will escape similar treatment, but I doubt it. The media loves nothing more than trying to tear down our heroes, as if doing so somehow makes they themselves seem more relevant.

On a happier note, I was thinking this morning about how different a world it is today than when Elvis died in 1977. Back then, grieving fans talked to each other on the phone or got together face-to-face, or—imagine this—exchanged hand written letters via the postal service! Today there is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and dozens of other social media outlets where distraught Prince fans can instantly connect with others, be they up the street or across the world. It’s good to know these outlets, which far too often provide an anonymous forum for social bullying, can also do some good in the world. Be sad and grieve, Prince fans, and be grateful you can do it together, with love.

thWhen a person wants to be a writer, they start writing. That is the right step. The next step is to enroll in a writing course to learn how to use pronouns and not mess up with dangling modifiers, etc. There are grammar courses, academic writing courses and creative writing courses. All are important.

One may also join a writers’ group. There are some groups online, like Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope. I have made friends with truly sublime writers through that site.

No more.

The waters of an online writers’ workshop can quickly become sullied by beginners.Such scavenging trolls, wishing to be professional writers without putting in the experience or hard work, piss in the swimming pool of experience. Who wants to swim there? Longtime professionals realize they may drown if a writing troll gets too close and climbs on their neck.

Why do rank beginners dare to “rate” those whose vocabulary (let us not even go into subtleties of expression) they cannot comprehend? Beats me. That question belongs on the same prison menu as “Why do writers think they never ever need to take a class or hire an editor?” People presume that if they can produce some sort of sound in their throat, or for that matter, punch another person in the face, they must be able to write a book.

Then the book fairy will come to their garage, sweep up all the boxes of printed material, and leave a pile of gold.

Ok fine. I am all for dreams.Don't feed the troll

But trolls have always scared me.

So let’s shine some light, why don’t we? Those who are serious and experienced enough to know a procedure is necessary to attain fine craftsmanship are requested to give the trolls the brilliance of their shining logic.

For it is said if a troll stands in direct sunlight, he will turn to stone.

 

tsunami

For decades, there has been a widening gap between the rich and poor in the United States. Economists argue that wealth is not finite. That a tiny percentage of people own most wealth does not mean, they explain, that other creative, hard-working people cannot find a new spring of wealth.

But most people do not make an income through invention or unique strategies. They earn their living through jobs that have been prepared for by going to school and earning degrees or certificates. Not everyone will design an internet baby that goes viral like Facebook or Twitter.

Many Americans are more trained to earn their incomes than their parents or grandparents were. Nonetheless, their incomes are far lower, in relation to the wealthy of our time, than the incomes of their forebears were in relation to the wealthy in the 20th century. The 20th century had a healthy middle class, and many of us grew up in more luxury than we live in now.

The exorbitantly wealthy of our time have benefited from technology, which has provided new sources of income. Meanwhile, private and public institutions have found new sources of cheap labor, also provided, in many cases, by technology. Ease of communication has allowed us to take advantage of each other and turn a profit. Cheap labor mushrooms. No sooner do we ban it in one place than it grows in another.

There are two ways to react to this new world of inequality: by analytical strategy, in an effort to create more egalitarianism–the Sanders/socialist method, most typically embraced by the educated, or through blame, by getting angry.

Anger works for a lot of people. Human beings love a scapegoat, and they adore more than one. The incredible irony of Trump’s rise to the popular front is not only through his unerring ability to  blame, insult and threaten every single group that has struggled for rights (“minorities” over which white male Americans once enjoyed social superiority) but he is also part of the problem that has led to the wide gap of wealth.  He is in the right place at the right time–for himself.

 

Donald-TrumpMost tolerant, open-minded people get shivers at the idea of Mr. Trump becoming the president of the USA. He is an example of audacity run riot, of the outcome of public tolerance and wild approbation of the rich, of the division between church and state, (he, being the result of that divide).

I do believe that teachers and writers see the distinct possibility (not yet probability) of his achieving that goal. While education has never been dropped in the USA, and could be said to be thriving, teachers and writers are acutely aware that in-depth reading (the kind that comes with serious thinking and analysis as well as introspection) per capita, struggles like a dead seal to stay above the surface.

The books people once carried under their arms have been replaced by technological devices, and the reading accomplished thereon is in short blurbs, mainly through grammatically incorrect and often misspelled shared “posters” or equally grammatically incorrect comments or blurbs.

Many of us try to avoid the negative in social media altogether.

We are a vision and hearing driven, A.D.D. and easily distracted but terribly frustrated empire. People are frustrated by their wanting what the rich flaunt in their faces, thanks to TV, tabloids and other media. The elderly retired may be frustrated by the lack of hope in the future, and listen to raging pundits, believing all they hear.

It is very simple really. A large group of people, an empire say, can be manipulated by what it knows or what it thinks it knows. If that knowledge is not obtained through vast, open-minded and patient reading of books that are from all times, all places, all manner of civilization, then that group is easily swayed. The flames of frustration can be stoked while collective understandings of history can be manipulated. (Queen Elizabeth I understood this, which is why she paid Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, one thousand pounds sterling per year to write the history plays that supported the Tudor claim to the throne.)

I recall reading these words of a Muslim scholar: “Don’t trust a scholar until he is dead. Then you can appraise his entire life.”  That is the attitude of the careful.

If Mr. Trump becomes President Trump, it will be (despite all Henry Thoreau had to say on the matter and possibly because he was right) through the electoral process. His supporters are like minded and have latched onto the right to say anything that comes into their minds with glee.  It is, after all, the first amendment. Good manners and consideration are, golly gee, part of the program of boring old proper grandmothers who believe in kindness or the church/temple/mosque. Good manners and consideration have nothing to do with saying it like it is, right?

If Mr Trump becomes president, it may not be a bad thing. My mother, not a scholar but indeed dead (may God have mercy on her soul), once explained to me that society swings far one way and then the other way. Yin and Yang. If Mr. Trump becomes president, his supporters will be loud and raucous and jubilant. They will emulate their  chosen one.

That will go on for four years.

And society will sicken. Some Republicans will lose their taste for lack of manners. Endless insulting of others to their faces? Treating ethnic groups like vermin because they are not white or rich?

Either we will be crushed, lose our place in the world, or we will rear up and ask for another kind of figurehead.

Having Mr. Trump for president may not be such a bad thing. It may cause, if it happens, the introspection now so short in supply.

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.”

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