Cheap Books to Take You Away from It All!

My Everest and As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder are now available for Kindle for $.99! (Amazon doesn’t let me give them away, so this is second best.)

These books will take you somewhere else for a little while, an escape from the concerns of the present moment. Here’s where to order the books and learn more about them: amazon.com/author/martha_ann_kennedy

About My Everest:

One reader said, “I started reading your book today. Martha—I love it…If ever there was a love story—this is it.

Other readers have said:

  • “A beautiful book filled with vivid imagery and profound joy.”
  • “The book is very insightful and enjoyable at the same time.”
  • “I am a dog person but even if I weren’t I would still rate this book as excellent.”
  • “This is a book to savor.”
  • “I felt like I was along on the trails.”

From the back of the book:

In the 1980s, I moved to California from Colorado. I found work I loved and ended up staying there for more than thirty years. I always missed the Rocky Mountains.

Many of these stories are set in Mission Trails Regional Park, several thousand acres of coastal sage and chaparral. The landscape was one of the few remaining pieces of untouched chaparral so close to San Diego. To anyone who gets to know it it is a fascinating, complex, intricate, very alive wild world. It taught me to see.

About thirty miles east of the city were “real” mountains on which snow fell a few times every winter. I trekked those trails as often as I could.

Now I am back in Colorado. Every day I have the chance to get out somewhere I see and feel again how much I learned on the dusty trails of Southern California’s chaparral hills and the higher mountains beyond.

About As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder

As a Baby Duck Listens to Thunder is a love story…. My position as a Foreign Expert in English was my first real teaching job in a career that spanned more than thirty years. I could never have imagined China would be a destination in my life, but it was. And at such a moment in history! Chairman Mao had been dead only six years. The evil Gang of Four had been “tried” only the year before. The horrors of the Cultural Revolution were still close in everyone’s memory, and people feared that the post-Mao moment of comparative freedom was a random blip. Deng Xiao Ping was determined that China would modernize and enter the world as a competitor. Every single penny of foreign exchange that came to China was used to buy technology to further China’s modernization. I was one of those “bits of technology,” too.

Propelled by a consuming wanderlust, I took my ignorance and inexperience with me, and ended up receiving some of life’s great gifts. My students’ diligence, curiosity and courage inspired me, and, in turn, I inspired them. The bridge between our cultures was a shared love of poetry and beautiful language. As for China? China was the great love of my life. Part of this Kindle edition is a Youtube video of the slides that awakened the stories.

Reading at the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte

Part of my mindset is still in the complicated crowded California world where it takes a long time to get anywhere and a long time to do anything. It’s OK with me if I NEVER fully get that I’m not there because it gives me the chance to be beautifully surprised, as I was yesterday.

Njal

The plan yesterday was to drive to South Fork where I was going to meet up with a woman who was buying three tiny paintings. There was a large art and craft show in the Rio Grande Club — a fancy country club along the Rio Grande in the semi-resort town of South Fork. “Semi” because people live in South Fork, but “resort” because there is an enormous subdivision of large and beautiful houses that are occupied mostly in summer.

I saw people I know, and they said things like, “I heard you on the radio!” I was flustered by that, hit again by the fact that we just don’t know that much about where we are a lot of the time. We live in a little tunnel of our immediate concerns, our habits and what’s right in front of our faces. It’s necessary that we live that way, and surprising when we learn that somehow WE were in someone else’s immediate concerns and right before someone else’s eyes. I knew the interviews would be broadcast, but I was chiefly concerned with showing up and doing a decent job. I didn’t think of people listening ON PURPOSE.

The craft show was lovely, and very large, filling all the banquet rooms upstairs in the country club. Lois shopped successfully for Christmas and I found my customer.

Mr. Haefeli

I had a conversation with a young guy who is the scion of one of the San Luis Valley families that has been in the bee-keeping honey making business for generations. I learned that they had come originally from the German speaking part of Switzerland and in Switzerland they also kept bees. I asked where in Switzerland they had come from, but he didn’t know. I revealed my “Schneebeli” ancestry and told him my name means “Little Snow Ball.”

Over the course of the day I met three people who’s ancestors came from the German speaking part of Switzerland and all of them had stories like that of the Schneebelis.

From there we headed back down the mountain to Del Norte for lunch and then to the museum. I wanted to get there early to help set up.

Well…

I got there and Louise great-grandson had gotten a haircut. He’d also burned his tongue testing the coffee. He told me he’d tested the coffee to be sure it wasn’t poisoned before giving it to Louise. I was charmed.

We set out a few chairs, maybe seven or eight. I didn’t expect people — just my friends and Louise and Rita who work at the museum. BUT…

People kept coming. Pretty soon there were (I think) fifteen people there. The youngest was Louise’ great-grandson who’s maybe 10; the oldest were well into their eighties. Most were retired people like me. We kept putting out chairs. Then I introduced the reading but I did a poor job. I forgot to give the title of the book OH WELL.

The reading went very very well. I could see interest and sympathy spread across the faces of the people in my audience. It was a wonderful, magical, thing to see. The reading had been publicized as being a Pearl Harbor Day remembrance, focused on the Chinese I met who spoke American English and who had worked with the American military at the end of WW II. The stories are really incredible and so unknown that they are interesting.

Afterward, I sold three books, gave out many business cards and talked to the people who’d come to listen, two of which revealed Swiss ancestry. Mennonites back in the day, just like my grandma’s family. This makes me think maybe I should give a reading about the Swiss Protestant Reformation since it’s the reason so many of us are here.

Again I realized how much fun it is to share my words with living, breathing people who are in front of me. I read a small piece from Martin of Gfenn and it so touched one of the women who came listen — a beautiful Hispanic grandma there with her sister — that she came up to tell me in passionate, elegant prose the story of Lazarus and Dives. “Can I get your books at the library?” she asked.

“In Alamosa. Monte Vista won’t stock them. I don’t know about your library here in Del Norte.”

“Why not?”

“They’re self-published.”

“What difference does that make? Your books are good, and I want to read them,” she said.

“Alamosa is serious about local authors,” I said, and shrugged. I would have handed her a copy of Martin of Gfenn right then and there if people hadn’t been around and I wasn’t generally there to give books away, but I actually LIKE giving books away so… She introduced herself to me and her name means “Star of the Mountains.”

BUT…. As wonderful as all of this was, the high point was Louise’ great-grandson looking at me and saying, “I really liked your story.”

~~~

Featured photo: Rabbit brush flats between Del Norte and Monte Vista, CO, 3:30 pm December 7, 2019, winter light. Taken by Lois Maxwell

My News: Another Event…

Among the things going on, I will be doing another reading, this time at the Rio Grande County Museum in Del Norte as part of their holiday celebration. The event runs from now until December 21. All the other participants are artists — most were members of the now defunct artist co-op which some of you might remember as having been, for me, a very mixed experience.

I took my stuff yesterday — all books, except a few notecards left over from the erstwhile co-op. My books are on top of a beautiful cherry-wood Victorian piano. The museum is a historical museum that has saved many things from the “old days” in the San Luis Valley — that says a lot, really, since the “old days” here go back to the Spanish conquistadores, not to mention the Navajo and Ute tribes. It’s a fascinating little museum, and I’ve learned a lot from looking at the exhibits.

Once I had my books on the piano and the poster from the Baby Duck reading set up, the exhibit looked kind of bare, so I went home and made a poster for the historical novels. It’s not as finished as the Baby Duck project, but I didn’t have weeks. I had hours. But, it’s all there now.

I was very low on supplies — even spray glue — and didn’t have time to drive to Alamosa to bigger stores with better choices. I was stuck with our little Safeway which was even almost out of tissue paper. But… I realized from making these two poster how my brain goes first to electronic presentations because that was my “thing” for so many years. I have not had to make posters for anything since my 8th grade science project on the Geological History of the Tetons. That went extremely well, by the way. I got an award from the National Geological Society and some oil and gas company. But seriously; 8th grade? I was 13…

The big open-house opening is tomorrow and I’m going with a couple of friends. “My” day is December 7, and as it is Pearl Harbor day, and there are a LOT of veterans here (one of the oldest retirement homes for veterans is near where I walk the dogs; it was built to house Civil War veterans) I decided to read the sections from Baby Duck that talk about the alliance between the US Army and China to fight the Japanese, notably on Hainan Island, and the numerous Chinese veterans I met. In those stories is a Christmas story and I’ll end the reading with that.

I’m looking forward to it very much — much less prep work for me as the museum is catering the event, not me.

Sweet Bonus

What was especially cool about the book launch party yesterday was seeing the effect of my work on other people. I am not a person who listens to others read. I don’t have strong aural learning aptitude, and I tend to lose track of things, conversations, in which I’m not directly involved. It made school difficult at times.

But most people DO get a lot from hearing something. When my friend Lois hears music, she’s completely involved, and when she sings and plays she KNOWS what she’s hearing. For me, even though I studied piano for more than 10 years, it always felt kind like good luck if I got things right. I love music and listen to it almost all the time, but not with the intensity or immersion that Lois can — and does.

Words on a page are VERY evocative to me, and I was most worried about crying as I read, so I practiced a lot to kind of desensitize myself to the story. I managed it. I used the remedy of looking at the people listening to me as much as I could because what I was doing was for THEM.

A magical result of it was that my reading inspired two people. One, came and sat down beside me and told me the story of her childhood in Germany as an Army kid when the Berlin Wall was built. Fascinating. The other, who’s traveled a lot, said, “I always write down what I do when I travel, in a notebook, just for that trip, hmmm…” she was thinking out loud to me.

I said, “Yeah, we’re at the time of life when we learn how stories turn out.”

She thought I meant death, but I told her, “No, not that, but I mean I couldn’t have written Baby Duck until now. I didn’t know enough.” Then she understood. Who knows? Maybe she’ll write her stories. I think it’s very cool that a couple of chapters of Baby Duck inspired people to think of their own stories.

As a writer, I haven’t done a reading of my work like this before. Until it was in progress, I didn’t have any sense of the what it might mean or how great it is to meet readers, to share the book with readers and to see how the book kind of living on its own. So many books I’ve read have affected me, inspired me, made me think — and my book has done that. I’m so happy.

The BIG Event

I knew I would over prepare because that’s just me. I had no idea who would show up — could be a lot of people, could be no one, who could say? So there were four dozen of every cookie, cups for sixty people, napkins and plates and and and and. A slide show and a poster and books to put in inventory, door prizes — everything just in case the ENTIRE CITY OF ALAMOSA showed up. I didn’t want that, didn’t expect it, but I was ready…

A handful of people — all of whom were my friends — showed up. It took longer to set up than we planned — the better part of an hour. Logistics and electricity and no one wanted to abandon any part of this extravaganza for the sake of expedience. So…

I read and my reading was the best part, I think for everyone.

Except maybe for the cookies. No one can compete with cookies and then EVERYONE won a prize and took home a box of sticky rice candy, known in Japanese as Mochi in China, as far as I know, as “sticky rice.”

SO all my anxiety and stress was spent so that I could learn that I am able to go to a bookstore and read stories to my friends who listened with rapt attention to the story I told.

I honestly can’t think of a better outcome. And, if I ever do this again, I will know how, I’ll have the resources and the encouraging memory of a very sweet experience.

And, I sold a book. ❤

P.S. Thank you for all the moral support leading up to this. It reminded me how much this is more than just a blogging platform. In a way, it’s a neighborhood that extends around the world. In a way, we meet here to chat over coffee, or tea, or whatever and learn interesting things about each other, share ideas, advice, help, visions of life, photos and stories of our travels. It’s very special.

The Sistine Poster Is Finished

I just have to share it. 🙂

The Thangka in the background is Palden Lhamo whom I just love. Her image shows her on her mythical mule over mountains that rise out of flames. Since I lived in mountains that were rising out of flames, that right there speaks to me. But she represents a great deal of power, the power to turn away from evil, even when it broke her heart to do so. She had to kill her own son who was the personification of evil.

I have been there, though it was not my son and it was a metaphorical rather than actual killing. When I saw “it” for what it truly was, I found the strength to take action. I learned this lesson from a Mughal painting of Krishna and Arjuna flying over the worlds. In the painting, Krishna is showing Arjuna why he must do the very thing he does not want to do.

That Christmas I was given a huge book (3 feet by 2 feet) of Tibetan Thangkas and their stories. Palden Lhamo’s image reached for me, so when I found a Thangka that represented her perfectly, I bought it.

The lesson? You just don’t fuck around with evil.

HOWEVER this is about the Sistine Poster.

Red Paper

One of the days I was in China we rode our bikes to the (then small and pretty) town of Sha Hu  (沙湖 Sand Lake) which was a little north and some other direction of our university. I don’t know for sure what time of year it was, but I suspect it was around New Years because there were many street artists or street calligraphers writing big black characters on sheets of thin paper that had been painted red. After the paper was painted red, bits of gold paint had been splattered on the surface. It was BEAUTIFUL. I watched the artists work for a while, enchanted by all of it.

Example… I don’t know what this says 😦

Then I came back to Denver and tried to adjust to the weirdness of a bad marriage, a brother in trouble, and a place I didn’t want to be. My ex gave me a big, red toolbox for my art supplies. I decided to splatter it with gold paint and asked my brother if I could borrow his gold spray paint (he did air-brush type paintings with spray paint in the trunk of the car my ex had given him). Instead of saying “Yes” or “No” he began arguing artistic theory with me. Polemical people are prone to not listening and he wasn’t listening when I said, “They do it in China. It’s beautiful.”

“China, China, China, I’m sick of hearing about China. Red and gold don’t go together.”

Since I was feeding and housing him, I didn’t think this was really “the thing.” It wasn’t something to argue anyway, but my brother had a way of just getting in your face when he wanted to prove a point, especially if he had been drinking. I didn’t know (because he’d promised NOT to drink while he lived with us) that he was drinking secretly. Finally I just went out the back door, got into my car, and headed down the alley.

Before long, a dark form jumped out of the bushes onto the hood of my car and clung to the windshield. Think about that. Clinging to glass is no small feat. I stopped, hoping he’d be knocked off, but if my brother had a point to prove, he was relentless. He opened the passenger door and got in.

“I’m sorry Martha Ann. It’s your toolbox.”

“Whatever. It doesn’t really matter to you what I do with it, does it?”

“No. I’m sorry. Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. I just wanted to get away from you.”

“I’m sorry.”

I didn’t want to go home, besides, there was no way to turn around in the alley. I thought, “OK, so now I’m trapped in a small space with a firecracker. Let the party begin,” but it turned out well. We drove out of town, up to Lookout Mountain west of Golden. I am sure we did some looking out. We ended up talking and laughing and being sister and brother together.

Yesterday I began working on the Sistine Poster for the Baby Duck book launch. The big thing was the RIGHT background. It had to cover the foam core — 36 x 24 a kind of slick white that sucks light and energy out of any room it’s in. It BEGS to be behind something as it should. That’s its purpose though now it can be bought in various colors. I bought red tissue paper when I went to the store figuring “This’ll work somewhere.” When I got home from a short shopping trip (and the longest walk I’ve taken since I surrendered to the injury) I saw exactly what should happen.

I scored the foam core down the middle so I could fold it, enabling it to stand up.

I spray glued the surface of the foam core and spread the tissue paper on the surface. I didn’t try to make it perfectly smooth. It seemed that a little texture would be a good thing. After all, in China, these sheets of red paper were glued to doors and door jams and were NEVER smooth. Once both sides of the foam core were covered, I thought, “What now?”

It was clear. But HOW???? I hoped I had the little bottle of gold ink I thought I bought sometime, and maybe did, but no longer have. I have sheets of gold leaf, but you can’t splatter sheets of gold leaf. I have a tube of Gamblin’s Rich Gold oil paint but that seemed, seemed, seemed what? All I had to do was thin that down and splatter it from a brush just as I’d seen done by the street artists of Sha Hu.

Oil paint? I was doubtful, but it was my only option. I wasn’t sure if if the paint would dry overnight, or two days, or what, thinned though it was. I wouldn’t even know until morning how it looked since there’s no real light in my studio other than sunlight. But it was my moment and I took it. When I was done, my face, hair, hands, jeans, sweatshirt and glasses were covered with gold flecks. I felt so happy as I worked even though…

The whole time I worked, I thought of my brother.

Speaking of forgetful — I posted this thing without the pingback. 🙂

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/20/rdp-sunday-forgetful/

“Just GO!!!”

The festivities are gearing up for next Saturday when I “launch” Baby Duck. I went to the Narrow Gauge Book Co-op in Alamosa on Wednesday to find out how the launch will work. There will be a big table dedicated to Baby Duck in the front of the store. There will be a separate table for the monitor and slide show, and room for refreshments. I got several boxes of “mochi” which is the Japanese word for a common Chinese (and Japanese) treat — soft rice flour cookies filled with something. I got lucky and found assortments that included some filled with lychee. The others are red-bean paste, peanut, taro (all common Chinese fillings) and green tea (more along the Japanese flavor preferences). They were made in Taiwan. The store will provide non-tea drinks and something else. Friends are making cookies.

The bookstore has done great PR for me. My only wish is that their communication was better. I didn’t know they would do flyers. I didn’t know they’d do a press release. I didn’t know they’d try to schedule an appearance for me at the radio station (yes, I live in a place with A radio station). I didn’t know they’d provide refreshments. A little handout with “We do this, you do this,” would be helpful.

I’ll do two short readings, and I’ve discovered that for my readings to make sense, I will need to give brief introductory talks, too. As I used to say to my writing students, “Your readers don’t live in your head.”

My audience will need context since the chapters in the book are mostly self-contained stories. As I thought about context, I thought about maps. “Maybe other people don’t have a live action map of China in their mind at all times,” I thought, “Maybe they aren’t re-visiting all the roads from South China Teachers University into Guangzhou, either.”

Hard to imagine, but very likely true.

I tried to figure out the best way to share THAT information, thinking first of handouts then thought, “No, Sweet Cheeks, you just need a poster. Put your maps on it and some pictures, the Mao buttons, something static and clear.”

Thanks to my student days, posters are intimidating, AND I know that I will over-prepare because I always do AND that’s even more likely now that I’m still house-bound with the sprained foot, though it is beginning to really get better.

Day before yesterday I got a call from a young reporter on the local paper. She wanted to interview me. The interview was — well, hopefully, informative and a good article will come from it — but for me the best part was the reporter. Clearly a young woman, and as we talked, I learned it was her first job.

There’s a little piece of me that will ALWAYS be a teacher, that will ALWAYS be in love with the future and its inhabitants. Ultimately, the interview might have been more about her than me. She asked me what prompted me to go to China and I told her the truth, that I was almost sick with wanderlust and I just wanted to get out into the world. Her response? “Oh wow. That is just SO COOL.”

Maybe she got the little message hidden in there. ❤

Anyway, I have to go do a poster now…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/19/rdp-saturday-festivities/