The Point…

I got the last pile of books yesterday. A very heavy box. If I were my UPS guy, I’d wonder what was up. Teddy and I spent a while sorting and counting and marking off titles on our various inventory sheets. There are some very beautiful books in this shipment. As I was going through one of the categories, I was attracted by a title on a kid’s book. I opened the book and saw that the author had inscribed it with the hope that whoever opened it would enjoy it. My eyes got all misty. It was the message of every sincere aspiring writer.

I can’t look at these books that way. I have to be dispassionate and objective, stick to my rubric and so on which is fine with me. Not every person behind every book would write that message, either, but it was a lovely reminder.

It made me think (again) of what is now called “indie writing.” A long time ago, when I was still working to sell Martin of Gfenn, I went to a writers’ conference. I had done everything I knew to set myself apart from the other writers. I signed up for some workshops, one on self-publishing. It was led by a woman who had self-published her book “old-school” more or less using the system that existed before online publishing platforms had really emerged. Those books were often put out by the same kind of publishers who publish theses and dissertations.

The woman, in rapturous language, described the sequence of events that had led to her book’s victory — being included in the library in her town.

“What a loser,” I thought. “That’s not going to happen to ME.” At the time Martin of Gfenn had a New York agent who had signed the book on the gamble that the “leper genre” was going to take off. Kingdom of Heaven was THE BIG MOVIE of the time and who knew? Maybe books about medieval lepers were the next big thing.


I was totally unaware at that point of how bad my book was. I had had hip surgery a couple of months before. I was taking myself off of some of the sinister meds my “doc” had prescribed. The Evil X was still in residence. I was teaching all the time. I hadn’t yet had the epiphany that showed me the truth of my novel; I had not yet surrendered to the tutelage of Truman Capote. A lot had not happened yet.

Of the many incredible experiences in my life, writing Martin of Gfenn was truly one of the best. And when I surrendered to “indie publishing,” having prematurely contacted every possible agent, I didn’t feel like a “loser” at all. I knew what I had done to my book by submitting it long before I should have, by being so in love with the story that I couldn’t see how poorly it was told.

I wonder about the stories behind these many books. How many of them are books on which no agent or publisher wanted to take the gamble? How many of them are books like that woman’s who just wanted her kids’ book to be in her town library? How many of them are the product of someone thinking, “I just want to write a book”? How many of them are books produced by writers who — like me — discovered they enjoy putting a book together? And will they learn, as I did, that the best thing about a book (besides writing it) is someone enjoying it?

A few years ago I got an email from a woman who had read Martin of Gfenn and then sent a copy to her brother. This is the point of everything, IMO:

Hello Martha, 
I truly enjoyed your historical fiction “Martin of Gfenn”.Since I was born in Switzerland, I was especially interested in your story. My niece lives in the general area of the book. Not too many novels have been written about that time, Switzerland was still in its infancy, barely separated from the Habsburg rule. Zurich joined the Swiss Confederation the first time in 1351, but was expelled and then joined again in 1450. Not too much of this was taught in school.
I felt compelled to send a print book to my brother in Switzerland. He taught latin languages and literature for many years. He just recently retired.     

This is what he had to say:

. . . Dir zu danken für das Buch von M. Kennedy, Martin of  Gfenn, das ich vor der Reise nach Andalusien mit grossem Vergnügen gelesen habe. Die Geschichte dieses Martin wird von M. Kennedy grossartig erzählt und die Geschichte an sich ist auch sehr stark. Ich war von diesem Roman begeistert und das kommt nicht alle Tage vor (, obwohl ich nach wie vor viele Bücher lese.)


Thank you for the book, written by M. Kennedy, Martin of Gfenn. I read it during my travels to Andalusien with great enthusiasm and enjoyment. The story of Martin is told by M. Kennedy with spellbinding language. The intensity of the story itself is exceptional. I read it with enthusiasm, which is not often the case these days, even though I’m an avid reader.

I thought you ought to know. Hopefully it will brighten your day.

Thank you for a great read.

Yep. That’s the great thing. Someone enjoyed my book. ❤

Indie publishing is not all clear skies, though. The writer (if he/she wants to sell books) has to do a lot of work to publicize it. That’s where contests like mine are helpful. So, as I plunge into this new pile I will remember that author’s little message.

17 thoughts on “The Point…

  1. “A lot had not happened yet.” That does make all the difference more often than not, but then I guess we only know that in hindsight. Writing a book has always seemed so out of reach, yet – once done – a legacy…somehow. We write our stories to share and when they are met with enthusiasm and yes, love, it makes it all worthwhile. I’ve always wanted to craft my stories/letters, ETC into a book, but never knew where to start. I hope you enjoy your latest box of treasures. 🙂

    • The place to start (unless you have a story burning to be told) is to imagine who needs to hear it or who would enjoy it most. 🙂 Many of the books I’ve gone through are written or assembled by people who never ask, “Who needs this, who wants this.” It’s OK, too, if the answer to that question is yourself.

      I’ve finished two categories because there were not that many new books. There are many more ahead of me, but since there are so many categories in total and difficult for the contest to contend with everything, I am happy I can at least put them two down and godnose how many to go. I like this contest because they encourage prize winning. Every category has five finalists and a winner and a Grand Prize.

      • Thank you for a place to start. That’s after the assumption that someone would enjoy it or need to hear it. – which, I imagine, may be a matter of confidence on the part of the writer. Doing things mostly for other people can set up a barrier to writing just for oneself. It’s a shift I hadn’t considered. 🙂.
        Have fun with the contest judging.

        • I hadn’t thought of writing for an audience as a matter of confidence for a writer. 🙂 This is very interesting to me. I taught writing as communication for so many years, always trying to “herd” my students into imagining what the reader would understand from a message. This was difficult because they’d all been taught by their composition teachers (and I was one of those, too) to “use your vocabulary!” and “Write 20 pages!” What I was asking my students to do was pretty much the opposite of that. 35 years of teaching writing in various settings with different goals probably taught me more than it did my students.

          If I were writing for my kids (if I had any) I would think about someone two generations hence who didn’t know me. I only have fragments of my grandmothers’ lives, letters they wrote to me and others, letters others wrote to them. I wish sometimes I could hear what they had to say — particularly my maternal grandmother who died when I was 10 and whose life was farther from mine than my paternal grandmother’s was. I have millions of questions I’d like to ask her, but can’t.

          For me as a writer, now, if I’m in a project, there’s a period where I write for myself because no one else really needs anything I have to say. Then, as a project emerges into itself, kind of an independent entity, I imagine others reading it. That’s editing. ❤

          • Maybe it’s a matter of confidence the more personal the writing is. Vulnerability and all that. This is interesting to me as well – as I’ve written non-personal communications without a second thought (well except for proofreading haha). Creative memoir type writing has been another layer. I really appreciate your thoughts about writing for future generations of family members. That’s very helpful. And encouraging. ❤️

            • I’ve been thinking about this all day. There is a book I’ve written and published and ONLY one person other than me has read it or will. It’s a “novel” I started working on way back in the 70s when I either decided or discovered I was a writer. It’s autobiographical more than it’s fiction.

              After I finished The Price I realized I wanted to finish that old project and honor the young woman who was struggling so hard with everything at that moment in her life (me 🙂 ) I really don’t/didn’t want her choice to be judged by anyone and they would be. She had every right to make those choices and she would not have grown up to be me if she hadn’t, but people are populated by their biases and live within their fences. I didn’t want to subject that girl I was to that reality. The person who has read it isn’t one of those people. It was a really big deal for me to have ONE person with whom I could share the story. 🙂

            • Oh wow. To go back to that years (not sure how many) later. Protecting your younger self from judgment, but honoring her experience with a published book. Writing from the point of view then or when you finished it looking back? So now you’ve got me thinking about this a LOT. Sharing our story with just the right person…ahh that is a big deal. And it must feel really good. 😊 Thank you for sharing this. ❤️

            • All I did with “her” work was edit it. “She” wrote in the first person so when I saw it needed a postscript, it was easy and natural. I began the story in 1977 or 1978, wrote until 1982, then let it rest until, I guess 2016. Reading it then, I saw that it is a story about someone becoming a writer. This is the post script:


              What happened next? The next year I got married to someone I barely knew and went to the People’s Republic of China to teach. China was a life-dream come true. It took several years after I returned to America for me to understand even a little of where I had been, and I was never the same, even in small ways. I eat salad and pasta with chopsticks, think Hong Lou Meng is the greatest novel ever written, shared Pearl Buck’s homesickness and am haunted by the music of an Er Hu. China was not my story, either. The marriage was a huge waste of life, but I gave it a good try. What I got out of it was a house that made much of the rest of my life easier.

              Through the passage of time, we find out what happens. A year or two after I went to China, Dan married a fellow doctor and had a family. For a while, we stayed in touch. Janet and Larry each lived happily ever after, reaching the success to which they each aspired. I hear from them sometimes. About ten years ago, I learned that Mark died of meningitis at the end of the 80’s; it was a complication of HIV. Thanks to Google, I learned that Kris became a renowned artist in Denver, a photographer, who chronicled, in bitterly humorous and often terrifying images, the progression of HIV during the last year of his life.

              And I? After thirty or so years, I returned to Colorado. I live an hour or so from Taos, in a very small town in the mysterious and ancient San Luis Valley. Mine is a world of enormous skies and miraculous light. I am surrounded by mountains. I moved here without knowing anyone, and it is the last place I would have imagined myself so long ago.

              Along the way I found my stories, and I wrote them.” 😀

  2. Happy Sunday Martha. I always enjoy reading your posts. I get what your point is you’re describing. How awesome that you are reading all of these books! I probably have missed a few posts so I’m behind. You always give me food for thoughts. You’re truly still a teacher. I’m writing a series of books, children’s nonfiction, so that I can teach kids a few facts about where they live and enjoy the friends they might meet along the way, state to state. My series is called, Faith and Finn~Finding the Nifty in our 50! It’s about a lady and her pup that travel in their Class C RV~finding friends (Asher from Alaska and Whitley from Washington ~my grandkids inspire me ) to learn history with them. For me, if one child learns and enjoys it, I’ve done my part. And there’s a a large part of me that wants to continue my memoir; and pieces of it to fit in a daily devotion of resiliency above restriction. Even if all I ever is have a copy for family and for myself, my goal is reached. I know how important that letter from your reader must be. It’s inspiring. It’s a beautiful Sunday morning here in SW MO and Finn and I are spending day TWO in the Big Empty of our area before humans rush in two weeks at Spring break. Love and hugs 🤗 💚🐶

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