What I Learned

I’ve self-published three very good books that have a limited audience in the United States. It’s OK. I wrote what I wrote. I couldn’t have written any other stories. They are my stories. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

When you write a novel, you probably revise it innumerable times until it’s as polished as you can make it. Then, you then hire an editor and get it as perfect as it can be. Then you start soliciting agents who will work on your behalf to sell the book to a publisher. The publisher will then market the book to stores. I’ve done this hundreds of times over a 19 year period…

To no avail for various reasons — not just the “system.” I failed myself often.

With the third novel, The Brothers Path, there was a moment when two publishers wanted the book. I had to decide between them. Everything was equal making it a gruesome choice. I chose the one who would publish soonest and who was closest. He went out of business, and the other publisher was no longer interested.

Kind of demoralizing.
Anyway, it’s a saga. Combined with my experiences with my other novels over a period of nearly 20 years, I just lost heart. “What’s the point of this?” I thought. Not like there have not been any rewards; there have been awesome rewards, but at a certain point, when a person loses heart, they don’t see the rewards very easily. They just see the things that led them to lose heart and NOTHING really makes it better. Every opportunity is no longer a chance for something good, but another shot at disappointment.
Then a wonderful bookstore that I frequented when both it and I were young agreed to sell my books. With my newly jaded perspective, I saw mostly the downside (I still see it). It costs money to have my books in the store. Then they ordered a LOT of books, more than enough, if they sell, for me to recoup my investment. It’s a big “if” but it’s still an “if.” The thing is, every “if” has two sides. The books will be in three stores. It’s the most well-known and popular bookstore in the city. They have given me a chance to hold an “event” for my novel — this is another “if” as I had to write a pretty complicated proposal and I have to invest $$$ in the event as well, but “if” they agree, they will do the kind of PR I can’t possibly do on my own.
So Tuesday morning I swallowed my dead heart and did the best I could with the proposal. I felt slightly good when I finished it, ate lunch, and headed into the city (Alamosa, 10,000 people) to go to the grocery store I like. I got in the car, turned the key, and Mohammed’s radio was playing a song that I listened to a lot back when I was 27 and right out of graduate school. Back then I was desperate to GET OUT OF DENVER and SEE THE WORLD. The song is “Kathmandu” by Bob Seger. I don’t even own it any more.
“That’s cool,” I thought. Next song up, “Rocky Mountain High.”

I was convinced (once more) that my car radio is a cosmic messenger.

I remembered the girl who stared at a map of the world and dreamed of going ANYWHERE. I remembered that girl, three years later, her dreams having come true, suddenly homesick, standing in her apartment in China hearing John Denver on Hong Kong radio. She had NO IDEA what her life would bring. She wanted to write — she did write — but she didn’t have a story.

I looked all around me at the mountains. Saw once more the incredible place in which my life has allowed me to land. And then it hit me. I just succeeded in what I thought I needed a publisher to do for me.
I must have had the biggest grin in the world when I came out of City Market and the wonderful wind of the San Luis Valley hit my face. A sainted old Mexican farmer wearing an ebony cross, suspenders, a checkered shirt, dirty boots and a cowboy hat smiled back, his black eyes sparkling.

Young People! do NOT keep a journal!!!

I have twenty-four journals, books, with keepsakes, letters, cards, photos, quotes, hiking stories; worst of all, my own stupid personal conundrums written in convoluted and (apparently) infinite redundancy. I thought I’d found all the damned things but no; in the process of cleaning out the garage, I opened the LAST box. Guess what? A dozen more of the dumbass things.

You do not want to know when you’re 65 what an idiot you were at any point in your past life. Write the shit if it helps, then delete it. Do NOT commit it to paper or share it online. Do NOT buy one of those beautiful blank books that seems designed to embrace your every sacred thought because someday you’ll have to throw it all out. Save your money. Take a trip to some exotic locale you’ve always dreamed of and get out of your head.

And as I write this, my iPod plays…


Do You Want to Know What Comes Before?

Yesterday you may have learned that I’m struggling with a story. It’s about the same family you may have met in Savior and The Brothers Path but 200+ after the events in The Brothers Path and 500+ years after the events in Savior. 

It would help me a lot to know if, reading this, you’d like to know more about these people. Also, who seems to be the main character (to you). Here’s how it ends:

To Weber’s good fortune, Brandstetter fastened the loaded cart to the wagon. Kasparli and Vrenli would ride in the wagon with Brandstetter’s children. Hans Kaspar and Weber would follow behind.

“Conrad, you get up on Little Red. Let’s see how you drive a team of Conestoga horses.” Brandstetter motioned to the immense red animal to his left, closest to the wagon.

Conrad leapt up onto the horse, and in reflex and instinct, patted its neck.

“Let’s move,” said Brandstetter, when everyone was settled, hitched up and organized. “First stop, Germantown church. Next stop, Lancaster. Then four hundred miles on the Old Indian Warpath. Get them going, son,” Brandstetter handed Conrad a whip. He flicked it lightly over the horses’ heads. The team shook its harness bells, and the small procession began its trek into the vast wild of America.

Minimally Interesting Quotidian Post from Hell

Because it’s their room, I let Dusty and (mostly) Bear decorate the back yard which functions as the dog run. It’s covered with many charming and engaging holes and shredded cardboard boxes. My efforts to keep it clean are minimal, limited to the necessary. During winter, when most of it is frozen, (it’s on the north side of the house) I can forget about it, but spring arrived and today I must go out and rearrange their furniture.

Snow (yay!) is in the forecast for day after tomorrow and that makes me very happy. It’s an Equinox Storm. What’s so great about winter?

  1. No ticks
  2. No rattlesnakes
  3. No gardening
  4. No need to mow the lawn
  5. Walking and hiking more likely not to involve other people so Dusty’s barking doesn’t scare anyone
  6. Cool animal tracks in the snow
  7. Gorgeous light
  8. Cold air
  9. I look horrible in shorts
  10. Bear loves snow
  11. I love snow and in March it doesn’t last long
  12. We need the moisture

I have informed Bear but she doesn’t have any sense of time so it doesn’t matter.

I did my first public reading from my work on Sunday at my friend’s church in their study group. It went well, easier than I expected. It was nice to have the chance to read to a small group of interested people. I do not know when or if I’ll ever do it again, but I look forward to next time. I also talked for 30 minutes about the Reformation and its beginnings and the horror that was set up because Luther and Zwingli could not agree on communion. No one was bored and no one seemed to be depressed before, during or after. I tried to keep it light, you know, another light chat about death and torture.

In the current installment of the Schneebelungenlied, I’m learning about things I never cared about and still don’t care about. I was much happier being a medievalist than I am now being a scholar of American colonial history. I am still not sure I want to persevere. It’s a good story, but it might not be mine to tell.

It’s very strange to realize that back then, I would not have come here. Nothing would have enticed or driven me to get on one of those ships. I’ve learned now a lot about things they did not teach me even in college classes on American history. And, I was an American literature major and there are innumerable things I never saw during even those comparatively intense classes. Even in grad school these things never came up in seminars or the three-quarters long intensive seminar on American literature taught by my thesis adviser who is really and truly a god among American literature scholars.

It’s made me think (again) that literature should not be limited to fancy stuff like Emily Dickinson or Emerson or other high-falutin’ scholar beloved work, but the NEWSPAPER. Stephen Crane called the newspaper, “The wisdom of the age,” and I think he was right. Back when I was in grad school, this was called “popular culture” and I already leaned toward it; my thesis was about a women’s magazine and that LONG before women’s lit was invented. It was a place where I could see into the minds of the people walking around on the earth much more than I could through the lens of what has survived centuries of criticism to earn a place in the pantheon and or just didn’t disappear so we know about it.

BUT…if anyone ever wants to know about 18th century misogyny in the Irish slave trade (did you get all that? Freckle-Faced Lives Matter!), I have a newspaper advertisement and a letter both of which advise someone in Ireland who’s hoping to make a quick quid by sending “servants” to America from the streets of Dublin, “Don’t send women slaves. Women are more trouble than they are worth.”

Yeah, let’s just sweep that under the rug of time.





Craft Cheese

“The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal, but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.” Kandinsky

Craft (I don’t like the word) is important for a writer, but it is not writing. I think if you love writing and you have something to say, you should be driven to perfect your technical skills simply because you want people to read your words. You’ve succeeded when your words serve your meaning rather than obscure it.

It takes a lot of discipline, it’s not easy, but it isn’t writing.

My piano teacher — Mr. Baer — said to me when I was, what, thirteen? “Martha, you have a lot of feeling for the music, but you don’t have technique.” In his thick German accent, he pronounced it, “Technic” and I think that’s closer to what he meant. Everyone has a technique (I had a sloppy one), but technical ability is something we have to develop. I ended up with a big book of exercises that I was supposed to practice to improve my skill. Music isn’t just feeling; there’s something behind it and I needed to develop it. I didn’t, for a number of reasons, but mainly because it took more discipline than I had at that point in my life, AND I already knew I was never going to play in front of audiences. I’d never even made it through a recital, I was so terrified. I got a lesson there, though, that I didn’t understand for years.

Martin of Gfenn was a long project — fourteen years all together. Ultimately, it was a lesson in the technical side of writing. If you’re curious, here is a post that tells you what happened. It was a case of “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Truman Capote came back from the dead (well, kind of) to teach me about style.

One woman — from Germany — whom I hoped would want to translate Martin of Gfenn to German, read (and translated) the first chapter then refused the project (though it would have been lucrative for both of us). She refused the project because she didn’t like the way I write. “I prefer Henry James,” she said, “and you don’t write like Henry James.” No, I don’t, and I don’t want to (shudder). But there’s no disputing personal taste.

Everyone has an axe to grind about writing. Proofreading is important, but bad proofreading (it’s inexcusable) doesn’t make a person a bad writer, just a careless and disrespectful one. Homonyms are booby traps. We’ve known since our first Dr. Seuss book that stories have a “narrative arc” and that characters need to be developed and in harmony with themselves. Yadda yadda. The thing is, you can know all this and still write shit. You need a little of that “pixie dust” — inspiration.

Painting: The Muses by Kandinsky


Quotidian Endeavors

Bear has put a rawhide chew under the sofa. This might seem like a problem to you (and to Bear) but to me it’s great. She’s going to spend part of the morning attempting to get that thing and succeeding only in pushing it farther back. Or, as has just happened, she’ll succeed in figuring it out and get the chew.

Yesterday I took the dogs for a long walk in the beautiful light surrounded by white peaks. There was a rock or a thorn or nothing in my shoe and one of my toes hurt mightily. I stopped a couple of times and attempted to fix that, but didn’t find a solution. When I got home, and took off my hiking shoes, I saw my sock was all bloody. I thought about how cool it was that blood dries and forms a nice friction barrier between my toe and whatever. I thought of All Quiet on the Western Front and I thought I’d better wash my foot and see if I could find the injury. I didn’t find the injury. I think it is/was a blister between my 3rd and 4th toe that opened…

This post (above) is out where I was walking yesterday. I think it’s amazing. The old wooden gate itself is on the ground. Next time I’ll take a photo of the latch that once went into one of these horse shoes. It’s been replaced by a steel gate that is always open even though, this past summer, someone strung electric fencing. The thing about hiking/walking in the same place every day is your eyes get tuned to details, and you start seeing things you hadn’t seen before.

A week from today I’m giving my first ever reading from one of my books. I spent time this week writing a short introduction to the book and the reading and yesterday I recorded and timed it. It’s about 7 minutes. I’d like it to be shorter, but I might not be able to manage that. At least the chapter I’m reading isn’t very long.

Never having done this before, it’s difficult to know what exactly I should read. I decided to read the chapter that was the first one I wrote — and it’s NOT the beginning of the novel. I began the book with two words, “Andreas, RUN!” I could see that scene in my mind like a film. The book grew in two directions from that point. It’s also a pretty exciting chapter and it’s rich in history.

I’ve never even GONE to a reading — well, poetry readings, back in the day when I thought I was a poet, but never a reading someone gives from their novel, so it will be different. AND I have brochures, bookmarks and a pen that writes.

Now, what to wear? I’m thinking clean jeans, denim shirt and the Icelandic sweater I bought last summer. It’s beautiful, and I’ll be more nervous if I’m dressed up. It will also remind me of Iceland.

AND now that Thanksgiving is over, and this is so called “Black Friday” (where did that come from?) our culture says we have to start buying stuff. I wonder why no one (but me?) thinks that we could change our world quickly if we just stopped buying all the crap we buy. I get catalogs (that in itself is a problem) full of stuff, beautiful stuff, that costs a lot more than I can afford and apparently I’m doing pretty well as Medicare refused “extra help” on the drug part of the program so I’m going to be out another $107/month starting next year. And that is Medicare making me pay $1000+/year that I never had to pay before. This is AFTER I paid some $600+/month for 20 years into health insurance for my retirement…

Christmas lasts a long time in my small town. It’s the season of craft shows.The first Christmas craft fair was the first weekend of November. I went because my neighbor is a big contributor to that one, and I bought almost everyone on my list a warm hat made by her two small, arthritic hands. Her prices are ridiculously low and any hats that are not sold she takes to the pre-school for kids who don’t have warm hats.

Next week we have our Christmas Festival which includes a parade (that lasts about 5 minutes), a craft fair and a concert of cowboy music in the auditorium. Last year I did everything and by the time Christmas itself arrived, I was completely sated and sick of the whole thing.

This year I’m going to take it a little easier. Besides, it looks like this December I’m a famous writer. Not only am I doing a reading next weekend, but the following weekend I’m attending a reception for people whose work was accepted into the Alamosa library’s literary magazine. There are also prizes and who knows? Maybe I won something.



Today WordPress informs me that my blog has earned 1000 readers! 

Thank you so much!



“She’s an Author”

E, my amazing neighbor, a tiny, alive, awake, aware dynamo of a woman in her 70s, introduces me to people as her neighbor then says, “Martha’s an author.”

“A what?”

“An author.”


“She writes books.”

Every one of those people has looked at me a second time, usually out of the corner of their eye, and returned their attention to E.

I started watching a movie the other night called Poison Pen. It is awful, but it’s about an author. He’s a stereotype. Corderoy jacket, leather elbow patches, shaggy hair, socially awkward, elitist (he wants to be on the shelf in the bookstore where one finds Joyce, Dickens, etc.). He’s published one GREAT book, a Booker prize winner, and nothing since. His contract has been bought by the company that owns a pulp magazine, Poison Pen, and they tell him he can pay back the money he owes them for an advance on a second novel  that he has not written, he can write the novel in 3 days, or go to work for the magazine.

Then we get to see the author “authoring” — desperately trying to write 100 pages in a weekend. He drinks a lot. He stays up all night. He jumps on his sofa. He runs around his room. He curses at his typewriter (typewriter???) he says, “It’s good, it’s good, it’s good — it’s shit.” You probably get the picture, but there’s more of this. Ultimately, finally, expectedly, he goes to work for the magazine…

I don’t know what happens next because I hated the movie. It was badly acted (among other things)… And NO one writes like that. It isn’t even physically possible to write like that. To write, you sit down and you write, though I agree that doesn’t give much for a camera to shoot.

So I did a little google search to learn about stereotypes of writers. The film pretty much caught most of them:

  1. Writers are prone to alcoholism. — I am sober as to be called “teetotal.” How do I feel about alcohol? My mom and brother were drunks; booze wrecked their lives and their addiction to booze didn’t help mine. I don’t like the way alcohol changes people, including me. However, the first time I had a martini, I did one of the most interesting pieces of art I’ve ever done.
  2. Writers have pet cats. — Cats are nice, but I live on a busy highway and I have these dogs, see?
  3. Authors need gallons of coffee. — Dusty and I need our cup every morning.
  4. Authors are depressed and melancholy. — This is the fault of writers through time, especially the “romantic” time. Some of them really liked the melancholy pose and others, well, you know, Hemingway. BUT most didn’t.
  5. Writers are eccentric. — This point is disproven by the fact that almost everyone who can read believes they have a “book inside waiting to come out.”
  6. Authors have a god complex. — I don’t even know what this is. I guess it means arrogant. I think arrogance is in the eye of the beholder; we can attribute arrogance to a lot of people who are simply shy, introverted, or preoccupied. I might seem arrogant to people for various reasons, but they might be wrong.
  7. Writers are reclusive. — There was a day when I was working on Martin of Gfenn and I realized two things about writing a novel. First, you can’t hang out with a bunch of friends having a good time AND write a serious story at the same time. Second, writing a novel can be absorbing, engrossing, a whole world. You might not even NOTICE you’re all alone until you write that last word and wonder, “Where’s everybody?”
  8. Authors are unkempt. — Some people are unkempt. Some of those people are possibly authors.
  9. Writers are broke. — I’m broke. ONE thing I’ve learned from promoting The Brothers Path is that book promotion costs money. It’s a major investment. It’s like raising a kid. I’m glad I save my change.
  10. Writers chain smoke. — No.

A long time ago — when I had a Mac Classic and hung out with the Boys on Bikes — I had just gotten a video camera specifically to film the boys riding their BMXs. The first day we worked on the film was SPECTACULAR!!! but when it was over, I was tired and really wanted to get off by myself. In those days, all I wrote were letters. I am still not sure what I was doing, but I think it fell into the general category of “apprenticeship.” I was immersed in an idea when there was a knock at the door. I knew it was a boy. I’d ASKED to be left alone until the next morning. Grrrrr!!!

Sure enough, it was Mikey, the youngest, 11.

“Can we talk?”

“Mikey, I really want to write.”


“I want to be a famous writer.”

“I don’t want you to be a famous writer. I want you to be a nice lady with a red truck.”

I was touched and my values got squared away right then. I sat down on my porch with the little boy.

“OK, Mikey, what’s going on?”

“I just wanted to say, I love our movie. Today was the best day of my whole life.”

So I don’t know about this author thing. I’m not writing anything right now. I was working on a sequel to The Brothers Path but I think someone else may have written it already. Not sure, but I have bought the book that might make my efforts meaningless or at least unnecessary. The novel I’ve been working on doesn’t engross me much. I have yet to figure out who the story is about though I do know what happens to the people and have written one good chapter — the final chapter but then, who knows? Maybe it wants to be the beginning…

Those who stereotype us authors would call this writer’s block. I just call it lack of conviction.

Looking for a featured image for this post — something featuring an aspect of Goethe’s life, Goethe being a man free of the BS stereotypes of our absurdly silly age, I found this beautiful post. 

The Great Slog of Time

I’ve been writing an interview for IndieBRAG. It’s one of the perks of getting a BRAG Medallion. It’s good PR for Savior and for me, but it was hard work and took more than a week of pretty steady effort.

The woman who is interviewing me did a splendid review of Savior and for the interview she asked some tough questions. The difficulty is remaining aware of the audience who may not have lived with at least four toes in the 13th century for 18 years as I have. It’s not a “normal” environment for most people… The first word in “feudal” is “feud” after all. Think battle-axes.

I was asked to “talk” about the similarities. The most striking is the continuing Holy War in the middle east. During the High Middle Ages, young men went to fight a crusade for a lot of reasons, but one was hope for a better future. The future that concerned them was their eternal future; crusading was a guarantee of salvation. Today, young people join up hoping for the same thing — an education and a better shot at life; salvation in the currency of today.

It would be great to look back 800 years and see fewer similarities like this one. If anything it’s a reminder that while humanity might move forward (I believe it does) it’s a long slog.



Back to the Old Name, Right?

It’s a long story, but for now with books heading toward a bookstore and various other developments in the writerly front, I feel I can say…

I’m a Writer, Yes, I Am!

The name was the original name of this blog, changed a few months ago. It’s based on a song by Iggy Pop, a song I seldom heard, that came on my radio one night about 8 pm as I drove home from the sixth class I’d taught that day in my costume as mild-mannered, business communication teacher, Professor Kennedy.

The song came on as I rounded a curve on Interstate 8 between La Mesa and El Cajon, CA, known to me by then as “Hotel California.” I was unhappy, felt abused by the administration of the university in which I taught (because I was being abused) unsure of the future, sick of the “let’s pretend” that teaching was increasingly requiring (thanks, No Child Left Behind for the mass lobotomies inflicted on the leaders of tomorrow). Time was I could be myself in the classroom; those days had faded away…

So there I was, with a 45 minute drive ahead of me, and here came Iggy Pop and I cranked up the radio and I sang. It became my little anthem and led to the title of my blog…


I do like punk rock music. I love this song. It’s a valid testament. Everything Iggy sang I felt. “I’m tired of being God,” especially, translating to “I don’t want to argue your effing grades with you!” The words resounded in my car that night, and I had a feeling it wouldn’t be long…but I didn’t know when. That ride was three years ago.


Book Marketing Update

I don’t even know where to start… In the past couple of weeks I’ve written six 1000 word essays. Three have been or will be published on the IndieBRAG Blog

The first blog post came out on August 8; the second will come out on August 19 and the third on September 24. I’m thrilled to have the chance to write on this forum. The second post is about the non-fiction in my fiction, and since I write historical fiction, there’s a necessary close tie there. That was very interesting to think about and write. The third is about the lessons I’ve learned in my writing life and advice for other writers. I liked that because I could loosen up a bit in my approach and be less serious.

I also put together a three part guest post that has and will be appearing on Marilyn’s blog, Serendipity. For this I’ve writing a lot more about my experiences writing and publishing. The first part “So You Want to Be a Writer” came out August 13.

I also had the opportunity to guest blog on “On Pets and Prisoners” where I wrote about my neurotic but devoted best pal, Dusty T. Dog, and on “Susannah’s Journey “where Susannah was kind enough to post one of my short stories, “Rainy Night.”

One big challenge for indie authors is selling books. (Did you like the way I mingled the obvious with understatement there?) If an author can say he/she has books in a book store they’ve kind of, almost, nearly, made it. Making it, of course, is selling the books. The other Holy Grail of legitimization is getting one’s books in a public library.

This week my mission has been to contact the local libraries about adding my novels to their collection, and IndieBRAG has a letter for writers to use in approaching bookstores and libraries. The letter is amazing. It clearly sets for the mission of IndieBRAG and explains the system they use to evaluate whether a self-published novel is worth a customer’s “money and time.” It makes no bones about the reality of self-publishing, that the vast (and I mean VAST) majority of self-published books should probably not have been published or, at least, brought into the bright light of day. It then makes it clear to whomever reads the letter that the novels written by “author” (and this is personalized) are excellent work.

IndieBRAG’s letter made it much easier for me to write my letter which I’ve now sent to the local libraries with the salient links and the IndieBRAG letter attached. That was yesterday and, of course, I THINK they should respond sometime in the middle of the night so I wake up the next morning to happy surprises, I know there’s no Santa… So, I’m waiting.

Once I did that, I was ready to approach independent bookstores in the area and that’s my next task. I hope to hear something positive from the libraries before I approach the bookstores; that would give me a small, persuasive edge that I don’t have right now.

This week I also had to update all my “paper” marketing products — business card, bookmark, even notecards because in not very long I’m going to have to send books to the 10 or so book bloggers who’ve agreed to participate in a “virtual book tour” and to the people who have won my Goodreads giveaways, the ones that go along with the Goodreads ads…

And, if the library and bookstore gambits yield affirmative answers, I’m going to have to go meet people and leave my card… Well, soon, I’ll have them.

Back in the day, I thought keeping a blog was stupid. When I started, back about 8 years ago, my blogs (on Blogger) were private — online journals. I began a WordPress blog because a book I read said it was an important marketing tool. The first time I sat down to write, I think I said so. I saw the “Daily Prompt” and I thought, “Who needs that?” Well, I’ve written over 1000 of them and discovered Lamont and Dude and a Flash-Fiction ability I didn’t know I had. Some of my favorite short stories came out of the Daily Prompt. Best of all, though, have been the people I’ve “met,” the friendships formed, and the bits of life shared through our writing.