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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dear Hillary:

I want to begin by saying a simple thank you.

Given how difficult the last few days have been for me (and all of your 50 million plus supporters), I can’t begin to comprehend the magnitude of your own disappointment. You worked your entire life to get to this moment, and you deserved to be the one who finally cracked that massive glass ceiling. I hope it gives you some comfort to know that the majority of Americans agree: you currently lead in the popular vote by nearly half a million, and that total is expected to grow by at least another million before all the votes have been counted. The sadly outdated Electoral College has stolen your victory and, perhaps appropriately enough, has set our country on a path to return to the stone age, as my oldest daughter, Carrie, aptly put it last night. After all the progress our beloved country has made over the past 50 years, the men of our nation, and yes, sadly, plenty of women as well, have decided that ugly path is the one we should take. To what end, I have no idea, but I fear they shall all soon discover that a return to the Andy Griffith and Leave It To Beaver 1950s they recall so fondly is in fact not all that wonderful for the majority of Americans. Like Trump himself, those were television shows not based on any actual reality. The world has moved on, and so too must the country which the rest of the free world looks toward as its ultimate shining example.

I am writing this letter to you today because I want you to know how very much you have meant to me over the years. I was raised by my grandmother and her mother, so I know about strong, independent women. My grandmother lived to be 95, and as the last few months of this campaign wound down, I found myself wishing so badly that she were here to sit beside me, to hug and shake our heads and cry as we bask in your magnificent accomplishments. I will never forget that scene on the final night of the Democratic convention when you accepted the nomination. It still brings tears to my eyes as I write this. You are such an inspiration! Your accomplishments as a public servant are second to none, as is your ability to persevere amid the torrid of hatred spewed at you from every angle. No matter how hard they smash you down, you refuse to “stay throwed,” as one speaker from the convention so clearly noted.

Whereas most in your position would have given up long ago, you didn’t quit and I know that you will continue to keep fighting still—for our children, our mothers and grandmothers, minorities, the disabled. Everyone who dares to be “different” because it means being themselves. You are our hero, and please don’t ever forget that. As we prepare to watch the republicans grab total control of our beloved nation, we need you more than ever. Be our voice. Guide us through the next four years with your wisdom and courage. And always remember, we love you from the bottom of our hearts.

Per Julia’s request, her signature has been added to this letter.

With warm and heartfelt sincerity from us both,
Connie Kirchberg
Julia Simpson Uttutia

 

 

 

 

the-record-player-bryan-jepsonBryan Jepson’s The Record Player is a new spin (pun intended) on the story of parents who have an autistic child. Music is the leitmotif to the story; indeed, it is the reason the parents of the novel fall in love. Author Bryan Jepson, a father of two autistic children, has spent years doing medical research on autism and supporting others in their needs in dealing with/helping their autistic children. I was not at all surprised to find Jepson a medical expert (on his Amazon author page). His love of classical music is very evident in this book, and in fact, he relies on translating European languages to convey the beauty of music. For me, the translating went a little overboard, but I employed Somerset Maugham’s “fine art of skipping” to get to the next part of the story. I was fascinated to read about how much the group sessions cost the family and what was involved. Gabe is the autistic boy and after a great deal of expense, the family discovers that he calms down when beautiful music is played, learning how to use that interest. But that does not make life with Gabe easy. It seems that life raising a severely autistic child is never easy.

My interest in The Record Player is twofold: in the first case, I studied classical music as a teen: composition as well as singing and playing piano. In the second, I have a sister in law and friend who both have autistic children. The sister in law retired from her job in Saudi Arabia and moved to the USA with the rest of her family in order to help the one child with severe autism.

I loved the scene in the grocery store where Gabe begins singing to Faure’s Requiem. The ending of this book is beautiful and tear jerking. The ending makes the whole book so worth the reading and it gives huge value to the parents’ sense of purpose. (I loved the ending so much I read it twice.) The Record Player is inspiring and I do recommend it to anyone who finds these topics interesting.