Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

Last evening, looking for distraction from the election, I found myself watching a British art history documentary about Hans Holbein. The “guide” was Waldemar Januszczak, not my favorite art historian (he’s ugly, I’m superficial) and I ended up having one of those strange experiences of seeing a painting on television that I saw in real life in a city I visited but barely remember. The show is “Holbein; the Eye of the Tudors” and this is the painting:


Christ in the Tomb, Hans Holbein, Basel Art Museum

I was on a search that day for anything medieval and related to St. Gall. One of the doorways of the Basel cathedral is called the “Gallus Portal” because it is medieval and the carvings all around it tell the life of St. Gall, Switzerland’s patron saint who also happens to have been an Irishman.


Gallus Portal, Basel Cathedral

I was barely tuned into the fact that Nietzsche had lived in that city for quite a while and a person I had studied at some point in my education, Erasmus of Rotterdam, had also lived there. I didn’t know then that I would come to admire Erasmus very much; I didn’t know then his connection to Thomas More who is, allegedly, someone in the dim recesses of my family tree.

So there I was last night watching this strange chubby loud Waldemar Januszczak make (to me) gratuitous pop culture allusions to tie his viewers to the not-so-arcane history of the Reformation. As the show unfolded, I discovered that Waldemar Januszczak and I had some biases in common. Waldemar hated the Reformers for one of the same reasons I do; they sacked the churches, destroyed the art, and left them barren. What Waldemar had failed to research is that it was not Luther who reformed Basel; it became part of the Swiss Reformed Church — a reform movement begun in Zürich by Huldrych Zwingli and instituted in Basel by Zwingli’s friend, Johannes Oecolampadius These guys were not sympathetic with Martin Luther at all… They were distinct reformations with distinct doctrinal differences. Luther and Zwingli passionately disliked each other.

I wondered if it were so hard to do that research and get that right? The most common reader review of The Brothers Path is that the readers know nothing about this part of the Reformation. Some are interested by it; most are bORed. Many reviewers admit to skipping over the “God” bits. This would be most of the book since it’s about a religious revolution and one of the main characters is a priest turned reformed pastor, another is a religious fanatic and another a simple man of faith. For that matter, we have the Zürich reformation to thank for John Calvin, from whose religious philosophy many of the Protestant religions were born — Presbyterians, for one. I pretty much hate that stuff, but I’ve written about it, sympathetically, I hope. It seemed — seems — important to know where it came from, what world and why. ANY-hoo…

Waldemar made some important points, such as for a guy like Hans Holbein whose bread-and-butter was religious art, the Reformation wasn’t the best historical moment.

And swirling all around the beginning of “Hans Holbein; the Eye of the Tudors” was Basel. The cathedral. The day I visited it in 1997 it was January, a snowy day, and we entered the front doors and a silent man with sparkly eyes swept the snow from our clothing and handed us felt slippers to put over our shoes. We walked around the dim, red stone church. I felt its ancient solemnity; I did not notice (and wish I had) the defaced sculptures on the walls. Thanks to Waldemar Januszczak, I saw them last night. That wintry day I also noticed the tomb of Erasmus. A tiny bell far in the distance of my mind rang softly and when I got home, I checked out In Praise of Folly and read it, this time really, not just for a test in some obscure class. The book was in Latin and English.

Hans Holbein loved In Praise of Folly and drew whimsical illustrations in the margin. I got a bit annoyed with Waldemar  when he didn’t seem to realize that was pretty conventional behavior; perhaps Waldemar had never seen a medieval illustrated manuscript? That was — to my eyes — what Holbein had done, simply finished the book. After all, printing was new in the early 16th century.

So what’s the point?

At the end of the show, Waldemar spent time on one important and amazing painting, The Ambassadors.


Holbein died of the plague when he was in his mid-forties bringing home, again, the point that “art is long, life is fleeting.” The things which concern us today, frighten us today, will soon be forgotten completely and someday, a few hundred years from now, someone will comment on the events that have concerned Americans so much this past year. It will be a passing footnote in a longer story.

And he will get the facts wrong and most people will not even notice.




Thank you, Marilyn, for the chance to answer questions people have asked about The Brothers Path. That’s how these interview questions came into being!

Serendipity - Seeking Intelligent Life on Earth

Me in Obfelden Martha Kennedy

Why do you have a typo in the title of your novel? Shouldn’t there be an apostrophe?

There’s no typo. There is a path through the forest that is very important to the story, and its name is The Brothers. The novel takes its name from the path. The Brothers Path.

Switzerland is far away. Why don’t you write about your own country?

The events in The Brothers Path were the opening shots that led to many Swiss leaving Switzerland 200 years later. The Reformation was the beginning.

Several hundred thousand Swiss have emigrated to America over the centuries. Some of the earliest settlers were Amish and Mennonite Swiss who came here so they could freely practice their religion. That’s where The Brothers Path might touch home for many Americans and stimulate curiosity about their own ancestry.

The family that populates The Brothers Path is based on my…

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To Everyone to Whom I Sent a Copy of The Brothers Path

Book Two of The Brothers Path was, in at least one copy, inserted upsidedown and backwards.

I know I sent a few copies of The Brothers Path to friends here who offered to read and review. I don’t know if everyone has gotten to the book yet, and I’d be very happy if you haven’t if you could look at the end of Book One and see if your book is flawed in this way.


If it is, please let me know and I’ll send you a copy without this (large) glitch and I’ll also be able to make a more cogent claim to Createspace. 😦

Non-Fiction in Fiction

IndieBRAG has invited me to write several posts on their blog. Here is the second:

“Non-Fiction and the Brothers Path”

My consuming interest as a writer of historical fiction is to get as close as I can to the daily life of my characters who are, usually, just ordinary people. I’m most interested in how these sweeping events that are sketched for us in “history” were in their lives. With The Brothers Path I had some very intriguing facts on which to hang the story.

Here is the first post, Inspiration’s Mysterious Power.


The Autumn of Adam and Eve

In this strange experience of publishing The Brothers Path, I thought I had one great boon from the wreckage that was Bygone Era Books — a beautifully formatted, ready-to-self-publish manuscript. Yep.


I reformatted it to 6 x 9. No biggee. I changed the font on the chapter headings. Great. I uploaded it. Yay. I published the book. Waaa-HOOOO!

Then I looked at it on the Kindle reader.

Shit. A mistake in the first chapter. I was responsible now. I’d seen it (the superstitious morality of the self-published author). I had to fix it. Fixed it. All good.

And then…


I KNEW Daniel Willis had edited the book, but I never




imagined anything as surreal as this. Thank God it’s laughable. Two priests are having a serious conversation about the nature of sin. Speaker 1 (Leo Jud) is a reformed priest, a pastor. The other speaker is a Cistercian monk, Brother Hannes.

Original passage:

“It is our nature. The Bible tells us to go into the Earth and be fruitful and multiply.”

“After the Fall, Brother Leo.”

“Can we ever find that Divine Garden again? I don’t think so. If it were God’s will that we could regain that lost innocence, we would have. Can we force ourselves back inside now? We’ve all eaten of the fruit. Haven’t you, Brother?”

The Bygone Era Books new and “improved” passage:

“It is our nature. The Bible tells us to go into the Earth and be fruitful and multiply.”

“After the Autumn, Brother Leo.”

“Can we ever find that Divine Garden again? I don’t think so. If it were God’s will that we could regain that lost innocence, we would have. Can we force ourselves back inside now? We’ve all eaten of the fruit. Haven’t you, Brother?”


All I could think was, “Damn. I’m going to have to go through this line-by-line now” which I immediately did. As I worked, and found a few more (but none as surreal) “edits” I just thought,  “Thank goodness Bygone Era Books went out of business before they published my book.”

“More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.” Truman Capote


The Brothers Path is now available for $3.00 both for Kindle on Amazon and on iTunes as an iBook.

The Brothers Path, iBook from iTunes

The Brothers Path for Kindle from Amazon

Those of you who have volunteered to read (free book in exchange for a review) would you rather have a print book or an ebook? Let me know!

Here We Go Again on The Brothers Path

The Brothers Path has been resubmitted to Bagwyn Books. They have changed their submission requirements, and now they are actually simpler — I  imagine for them as well. Of course I’d hoped their response to me after Bygone Era Books (ha ha kind of a funny name now that they’re of a “bygone era”) went under, would be “Oh GREAT! We’ll get right on it!” But that wasn’t to be.

Their new submission process says that authors will be informed of Bagwyn’s decision by June 30.

Anyway, as disappointing as all of that was — and who knows but what more disappointment lies ahead — at least I persevered. And, if it happens that I end up publishing it myself (if I do that at all) it’s all ready to go thanks to Bygone Era Books that returned to me a beautifully formatted document.