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.

concentration campsThe Psychological Toll of Concentration Camps

by Vanessa Shubin ( a wonderful student essayist)

A human being can become accustomed to any depth of depravity and horror. It is unfortunate but also true that many people have the natural inclination to go along with authority figures no matter their level of personal emotional distress. Not only did the Holocaust affect the individuals who lived through it, but it has also impacted those who were connected to those fortunate to survive through this time of fear. Hannah Arendt’s Total Domination paints a perfect, yet frightening, image of the people subjected to the terror of concentration camps.

Many have heard the popular saying “time heals all wounds” but when it comes to Holocaust survivors, this might not be the case. Time cannot cure survivors’ traumas because the Holocaust has left such deep scars on their minds. The Holocaust is the biggest trauma in survivors’ lives and changes their destinies. They lost everything including their family members, relatives, houses, properties, jobs, businesses, social positions, and future. No matter how many years pass, the damage cannot be erased in survivors’ minds. Hannah Arendt writes, “The end result in any case is inanimate men… who can no longer be psychologically understood, whose return to the… human world closely resembles the resurrection of Lazarus,” (Arendt, 286). This excerpt gives the reader a clear example of not on the psychological but the psychical affects the survivors had to live with after the liberation of the concentration camps.

When the survivors integrated back into society after the war, they found it very hard to adjust. It was made difficult by the fact that they often induced uncertain feelings of fear, avoidance, guilt, pity, and anxiety. This might have been hard for them, but decades after the Holocaust most of the survivors managed to rehabilitate their capacities and rejoin the paths their lives might have taken prior to the Holocaust. This is more true for the people who experienced the Holocaust as children or young adults. The experience of the Holocaust shows how human beings can undergo extreme traumatic experiences without suffering from a total regression and without losing their ability to rehabilitate their ego strength. The survivors discovered the powers within them in whatever aspect in their lives that were needed.

The treatment that the survivors had to undergo could leave anyone fearful. Arendt writes, “The murderer leaves a corpse behind and does not pretend that his victim has never existed; he wipes out any traces… of his own identity… he destroys a life,” (Arendt, 287). The measures that the Nazis went through to treat the prisoners as if they’re lives were worth less, or worth nothing to be more specific, were outrageous. Arendt continues to advise the reader that the real horror of concentration camps lie “in the fact that the inmates… are more effectively cut off from the world of the living than if they had died, because terror enforces oblivion,” (Arendt, 288). In the concentration camps, murder was an everyday thing, just how waking up and going to work is for most of us nowadays, and that fact is shocking.

When looking at it from a general point of view, the survivors, for the most part have shown to be as strong as humanly possible. Not one person who hasn’t seen what they saw can possibly imagine how they feel. These people were lucky to have survived but there is no doubt that there have been times when their memories have made them think otherwise.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. “Total Domination.” A World of Ideas edited by Lee Jacobus. Bedford/St.Martins, 2013. Pp 279-290.

arendt      As an American born in the 20th century, I am familiar with concentration camps. I am familiar in the Hollywood fashion, and through the books I have read. Despite this familiarity, I cannot conceive of the horror of concentration camp life. What I have seen in newsreels of World War II or have read in books defies my imagination. I do not want to imagine myself starving, without privacy, books, clothes, music, or decent hygienic shelter. I cannot imagine how awful it must be to be in such physical misery, surrounded by similar misery, and to simultaneously be the object of derision, apathy and torment. In such a condition, I suspect I would wonder if I were a human being. The Jewish writer Hannah Arendt describes concentration camps as bad as this and worse; she explains that the ones created in Germany for the Jews were the result of totalitarianism, which is a kind of government that wields its force through domination over its people. The resulting terror produced by totalitarianism stamps out individuality and propagates a kind of strength that is destructive rather than enriching to the human spirit.

Hannah Arendt explains that total domination has as its objective to treat all human beings as if they were just one individual (para 2, 282). “Conformity” is the word that comes to mind to explain what she means by this. She writes that totalitarian domination uses ideological domination of the “elite formations,” (para 2, 282) two words signifying all militants serving the ideology. On the opposite end of the spectrum, totalitarian domination uses terror to dominate anyone not serving or sustaining the ideology. Before investigating what the results of such a strategy would be, it behooves anyone contemplating totalitarianism to wonder why a nation would wish to embrace such a technique.

We can find the answer on the school yard. Bullies dominate by creating scapegoats. The purpose of their domination is power. Those who follow and back up bullies emulate them, thus embracing the bully ideology, as thin as that is. Bullying has no particular benefit to the school yard save the immediate sense of superiority it gives those who embrace and employ its techniques. Successful bullying grants material gain to the bullies, even good grades, if they learn how to employ their techniques to that end. However, bullying does not nourish individuality, neither for the bully nor for anyone on his or her path. Anyone who can, will avoid, even ignore, the bully because contemplation of his or her dominance is painful and begs for heroism, taking time away from the simple pleasures and necessities of living. Even in this effect, the bully eradicates individuality by quelling other voices. Without individuality, there is no flourishing of creativity, no diversity, only swaggering on the part of one type of individual, and cowering and/or survival tactics adapted by all others until such time as the bully determines to eliminate those not in conformity.

Hannah Arendt makes clear that any nation wishing to embrace total domination must play with reality. Lies and truth must become interchangeable. She writes, “Hitler circulated millions of copies of his book in which he stated that to be successful, a lie must be enormous—“(para 6, 284). In Total Domination, Arendt explains that the path of totalitarianism goes through stages, with “the initial stage of totalitarian rule serv[ing . . .] the exclusive purpose of defeating the opponent” (para 7, 284). Reality must be manipulated in order to make the populace doubt itself as well as to eliminate those whose diversity and individuality undermines the total domination of the state. Arendt points out that suppression takes many forms and that concentration camps are not an invention of totalitarian movements: ”They emerge for the first time during the Boer War, at the beginning of the century, and continued to be used in South Africa as well as India for ‘undesirable elements,” primarily for putting out of sight those people who “could not be sentenced by ordinary process of law” (285).

An ideology is useful to a totalitarian government. When that ideology revolves around a certain skin color, sex, ethnicity or narrow interpretation of a single religion, anyone who does not possess that color, sex, ethnicity or narrow interpretation will be denied human status through means of terror. A change in psychology happens to anyone who is subject to terror, the most extreme example being in the concentration camp. It is commonly known that abused spouses, through the process of being conquered and maligned, accept their status, as do abused children. If inhabitants of the concentration camp are kept out of sight, there will be no one to think about or stand up for them. They will become objects of suffering, without human status. Every shred of individuality, which made them human in terms of reasoning and creativity, will be stripped away. Keeping this process out of the public eye is necessary to the totalitarian state in order to not burden its followers with the temptation to reason; as for the oppressed, total domination strips away from them the basic concept of, and belief in, their own human rights.

(new page)  Works Cited
Arendt, Hannah. “Total Domination.” A World of Ideas edited by Lee Jacobus. Bedford/St.Martins, 2013. Pp 279-290.

–written for my students. Headers missing. Indents won’t work so I have added space breaks. However, there are no space breaks in MLA formatting.

We, the publishers at Grassroots Writers’ Guild, are pleased to announce that author Sylvia Fowler’s exotic, touching and highly romantic memoir, The Red Sea Bride, is now available on Amazon Kindle. In honor of this moment, we offer the late Carol Fleming Al-Ajroush’s review of Fowler’s book. Carol was the originator of the extremely popular blog, American Bedu, on which could be found everything of interest to those who were from the West and lived in Saudi Arabia (or those who were from Saudi Arabia and wondered about those who had come to their country to live). Carol reviewed the first privately printed version of this memoir.


Carol writes, “American Bedu recently completed reading the book The Red Sea Bride. The Red Sea Bride is an autobiography of Sylvia Fowler, a woman who met her Saudi husband when was a student in Texas during the 1980s. They had a fast courtship and were soon married. Instead of her dream of becoming an international journalist, she found herself a young mother and new wife living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“This was before the internet was readily available in Saudi Arabia. This was before it was natural for most homes to have satellite TV. Sylvia found herself in a new land with a new husband and where everyone spoke a language she did not understand.

“Sylvia shares her experiences of starting out married life in the same building where her mother-in-law and other extended family members lived. She describes in heartfelt detail the challenges of raising a son who is different from his cousins because he has lighter skin and does not speak the language.

“Sylvia spent nearly twenty years in the port city of Jeddah. During this period she raises her children, grows apart from her husband and integrates herself into her Saudi family. She shares her downfalls and her triumphs. She educates the reader of Saudi customs and traditions that only someone within the circle of a Saudi family can know.

“The Red Sea Bride is complete with pictures is complete  with pictures of Sylvia and her life in Jeddah through the years. It is a must-read for any woman considering marrying a Saudi man and making a life with him in Saudi Arabia.

“To order your own copy of The Red Sea Bride, click on the link.”

With much love to Carol; you were one who did good and spread understanding between cultures.

May God bless your sweet soul! Ameen.


432px-harlamoff_alexej_literary_pursuits_of_a_young_ladyDickens, Gertrude Stein, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and plenty of other 19th century authors had lots of people to read to and get feedback from–anyone who was close at hand and who would listen. Attaining good feedback often started in young adulthood, when such people congregated (or ran away) with each other, like the infamous group of Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron and Mary’s step sister Claire Clairmont.

To be honest, I cannot say how useful Claire’s feedback would have been since she was part of the pack due to her sexual addiction to Byron, but presumably it was okay feedback since people were used to reading or listening to stories read aloud in the 19th century. They were not distracted by their handheld devices.

Today it is difficult for writers to get feedback because we vie with movies, shows, podcasts and music. Successful authors have their standard readers, but they must reward them somehow. Money? Food? Sex? Reading their readers’ books in return? That might work for Stephen and Tabitha King (as in all the above).

Once I asked Mark Anderson on his Edward De Vere Facebook page (when it was sort of Anderson’s forum), author of the astonishing Shakespeare by Another Name, who read for him. He named Roger Strittmayer, a prominent Oxfordian (who, like Mark Anderson, has his own Wikipedia page).

How lucky for them! I imagine a great number of lifelong writers, people with published credits, still suffer from a dearth of feedback, from friends or colleagues who will read their writing and tell them where to get rid of a sentence or add a detail.

In many cases, I often read and listen to as much from the people I pester as I want them to read or listen to from me. They may give me feedback once and never again, but expect, in the name of friendship, ongoing feedback on their own pursuits. This is endlessly frustrating.

To be fair, Connie Kirchberg, author of several good books listed this site, is my most dependable reader. She has never failed to read and give feedback, even if she is knee deep in saw dust or walking three dogs. God bless the woman and give her good eyesight and a long life! I need her.

As for the rest of the feedback every author craves, I have learned to rely on nagging my family. I think that is the only reasonable thing to do. Walking into a room armed with a story is how I go about it. If they dodge into the bathroom or remember an appointment with a shiatsu therapist, I keep walking in with the story as soon as they get home.


lady-1Kirkus reviews have in the past offered an important stepping stone to the self-published author. For several hundred dollars, an intelligent book reviewer would read the book submitted and write about it.

The problem is that for the money, the reviewers have not been willing to disappoint their source of income: the authors. Who will pay for an honest review, if that honesty means to say the book is lacking?

Alas, an intelligent synopsis can make a poorly written book sound interesting. That is the problem with Kirkus reviews. The disappointment comes when the purchaser gets past page ten or page fifty and is no more interested than he or she was on page two.

I see no value to the self-publishing author in purchasing a pricey Kirkus review. I have come across enough dull books with Kirkus reviews to have no thought other than that the authors really didn’t know what they were doing–they just followed the lemmings.

imagesMy son Omar has developed a music player that will do all kinds of interesting things and hand stands in between. If you use Zorin or Ubuntu, download phasealplayer and give it a whirl.

Not about books or writing? No, but it is about projects and dreams. Here it is again–Happy Holidays and have fun!

http://zerosweet.org/pplayer/index.phpPlay music in any direction.

marmaduke-pickthallMarmaduke Pickthall was one of the great novelists of the early 20th century, yet he has been largely forgotten, save by a few. His formidable novel, Said the Fisherman, which follows the adventures of an incorrigible scoundrel and sometimes fisherman of the Levant,  was first published by Methuen in 1903. It went through 14 British editions in 25 years. It was also published in the USA, Germany and Italy. Admirers of the book included Stanley Lanepoole, Lord Cromer, H.G. Wells, D.M Forster and D.H. Lawrence.

A good writer is not only aware of the prism-like spectrum of human nature, he or she will show there is only one way to cut a believable character, scamp or savior, out of foreign cloth. That one way is to know the culture in question–know it well enough to pass as one of its own. Pickthall, the man who would later translate the holy Qur’an, knew the culture of the Middle East.

Said the fisherman is a low-class delinquent, one who fits the Syria of his time, yet one who could easily be transposed to a con artist of today in almost any country. We all know Said and wish we didn’t. He is funny from a distance and intolerable up close. The best place for the Saids of any era or culture is in a book. From that perspective, the reader can safely evaluate the very real sincerity of Said’s manner, even when he is engaged in the most reprehensible deeds, and perhaps, occasionally, sympathize with him.th

Said’s good qualities are those of the well-meaning scamp. He loves children, feels occasional remorse for deserting his wife and his pious friend, Selim, and is sometimes generous. As a Muslim of the 19th century, he observes most of the outwards practices of his faith, to which he is fiercely loyal, as one might be to a football team.

But there is something dangerous about that flag-waving, unreasoning fervency that Pickthall tried to depict, in literary form, over one hundred years ago. Said is so careful to observe his prayer, he does so even during a very brief and disastrous sojourn in London, when “in the midst of his devotions, however, heavy footfalls sounded in the street, and a tall man, darkly clad, with a strange form of hat and a cudgel stuck in his belt, spoke roughly and hit him on the back.” Nonetheless, Said’s observance of prayer does not prevent him from being almost continually on the take, the kind of person who does little to strengthen a culture or economy or give it a good name.

This is more than just a yarn about an incorrigible Syrian peasant. Pickthall demonstrated an uncanny perception of the problems assailing the Muslims at large, clarifying in such a way as to lead the English language reader to a better understanding of and compassion towards the Muslim peoples. The writer accomplishes this feat by utterly absorbing the reader by the story and then letting the breadcrumbs drop.

For example, when Said enters the Great Mosque of Damascus to find the beneficent scholar and holy man Ismail Abbas (a sheriff, or descendant of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) in order to beg money from him, the reader becomes audience to a conversation between Ismail Abbas and two other eminent men of the city, just one among several passages in the novel that show the  wisdom and discernment of Muslims following their religion for the sake of their souls and not for pride or tradition:”Of a truth, our lot falls in a degenerate age . . . In the time of the early Khalifs, the immediate successors of the Prophets, a Muslim had something else to do than to lie and steal and betray his neighbour . . . Where is the imam, Omar el Hattab . . .And Khalid, the Sword of Allah, where is he? Is their memory clean gone from the earth? Truly the end draws nigh. Dejil is present with us in the person of the Frankish envoys. The Sultan himself is led astray.”

Whether he was writing novels or non fiction works, Pickthall had a remarkable, penetrating literary style. He had a Dickensian sense of humor by which he shaped typical Eastern habits, like the exuberant oaths uttered thoughtlessly on all occasions, into amusing twists of irony even in the most grisly scenes. In once such, Said kneels over the dead body of his adopted father, Mustafa the beggar, and gropes to find the treasure that Mustafa had promised to leave for him, yet the whereabouts of which the old man had collapsed before being able to divulge. Said vents his frustration characteristically:

“May Allah cut short his life,” he panted. “Who but a madman would have left our wealth thus exposed? By the Prophet, it is lucky that I alone was at hand to hear his last cry. . . May his house be destroyed. “Peace be to him,” he added as an afterthought.

If you laughed at the boasts of the dog in Orham Pamuk’s My Name is Red, you will cherish the humor, wisdom and panoply of Orientalist characters and scenes in Said the Fisherman. In 1986, Quartet Books of London put out the novel at the same time as Peter Clark’s biography of Pickthall. Now, in the 21st century, publisher Jameel Chishti of Beacon Books, also of London, will  once more dust off a classic and offer it to lovers of all things literary.

–thanks to http://www.leftways.com/2014/10/israel-lebanon-and-syria-19th-century/ for image of Syria.