Signing Off

Sunday morning, foggy and wet here in Colorado’s high desert, though the sun is trying to come out. We’ve had so much rain in the past three days that the ditches — which had been turned off — are running again.

I think I may be nearing the end of my WordPress daily prompt experience. It’s been a good, long run but increasingly I have nothing to say in response to the prompts and I’m reading fewer blogs written by other people.

I remember how this started. I got a book about how to market a self-published book (of which I had two). One of the first things I was supposed to do was to write a WordPress blog. My Blogger Blog wasn’t going to cut it. It had to be WordPress or nothing. So, I sat down, examined the platform, and began. I don’t remember now what I did first — THIS blog or the blog for Martin of GfennI have now written more than a thousand of these posts, have multiple blogs and really, the book was wrong.

Saturday I got a box of books. They are all The Brothers Path. Not one was sold from any of the three Tattered Cover stores in Denver. I paid $17 to ship them back to me. It’s OK. That’s the deal in the contract. So now they sit, nicely wrapped up, in a corner of my living room. I was kind of mad at them for a while — irrationally, I know — but I was. Then I remembered a night long, long ago when I was a 20 something living in Denver and working at a large, downtown law firm.

I was busy writing stories and submitting them in big brown envelopes that also enclosed an envelope to return the story. I was at the beginning of my arc of dreams. My life centered on the creative work I was able to squeeze into Friday night, Saturday, Sunday. The rest of the time, I earned a living. This segregated me from my colleagues and friends whose lives centered on what a “normal” 20 something’s life centered on.

But that afternoon a couple of colleagues (other paralegals) invited me out for drinks at a new bar in a part of Denver that was being rehabbed. It was the beginning of the “rejuvenation” of Denver. The 16th Street Mall was new, just built. It was a glitzy place — breaking away from the 70s “fern bar” motif, it was all glass bricks and stainless steel. We were in the 80s now.

These two women had boyfriends who were coming to meet them about an hour after we got there. Accountants. It seemed there was a “thing” between accountant men and paralegal women; a common pairing. They showed up. The party changed. Finally, one of the girls said, “We’ll drop you home, Martha.” I didn’t drive to work in those days. I lived close enough to walk and I did.

So I got in the back seat of the guy’s very nice car (BMW?) and was dropped off at my apartment building. I went in the front door and opened the mailbox. The mailman had crammed three big brown envelopes into the little space.

In those days, a rejected story came with a pre-printed note. “We’re sorry to have to inform you, your story does not meet our needs at this time.”

I was a little drunk, drunk enough that my emotional armor was down. I took my treasures into my apartment and ripped them in shreds and I cried. Then I looked at all my paintings — watercolors on paper — and I cried some more. THOSE girls had boyfriends and I had rejection notes and a bunch of paintings. I cried some more. Then I went to bed, crying, covered in paintings and shards of stories. I woke up a couple of hours later and understood that the trade off had been necessary. That I’d had the hours of joy writing the stories and making the paintings. I truly could not imagine a relationship as satisfying. By then I was already divorced and scared.

It was a lesson in “I don’t have this, but I have this.” A lesson in gratitude.

It’s the same with the 9 copies of The Brothers PathThey’re now on sale directly from me at cost, $3 plus shipping. Just let me know if you have a burning (ha ha) desire to read about the Protestant Reformation from a different perspective than Anne Boleyn or Martin Luther. There really was a lot more to it that the two stories that are rehashed constantly as if there were no others.

As for this blog, I won’t be writing it for a while.

Penchant for???

It has been said that I have a penchant for big dogs. Actually no one ever has said that and I don’t expect them to. “Penchant” is one of those $20 words you just don’t hear every day. Not everyone has twenty bucks to buy a word and not everyone has a penchant for using them. I did as a young person. I had a definite penchant for words like “bellicose,” “enervate,” and “sturm and drang.” 

There’s a young guy whose blog I read whenever I get the chance. I love what he does, his pictures are incredible, but his writing is still in the verbosity stage. I want to teach him. I want to say, “You’re writing about landscape. Don’t alienate people. Let them IN. Why write if you’re not going to? Clearly you want to share this experience.’

But I’ve done my time as a writing teacher, and I don’t want to insult him or make him feel bad (he should NOT feel bad) so I don’t say anything.

I think about this because I’m still working on my hiking book. I don’t think any project has meant more to me, and I’m not even necessarily planning to sell it. I even found a photo of me with legendary climber and egoist, Reinhold Messner to include to give me some creds.

Me and Messner

One of the best lessons in writing I have had was reading The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen and absolutely loving it. It is a first-person narrative of Matthiessen’s experiences going with George Schaller into the Himalaya where Schaller was studying the populations of Blue Sheep on the Tibetan Plateau.

Then, some years later, I read the same story in Schaller’s Stones of Silence where it is related completely in one chapter.

Matthiessen’s book is focused on his internal search for peace and religious truth; it’s a spiritual quest. Schaller’s chapter is about looking for blue sheep and having the good fortune to see a snow leopard. Because Matthiessen did not see the snow leopard, the book would have to be about the quest. There’s definitely that, but the effect of the two mens’ penchants makes the difference. Schaller is a wild-life biologist; his concern is landscape and animals. Matthiessen is a writer who might go into an experience with the intention of writing about it afterward. That means he has already decided how, what, he will see; he knows he’s bringing back a story. Schaller might go out and come back with nothing. Still the point is clear. If you want to see a snow leopard, you have to go either to a zoo or to the place where they find food. Once you are there, you must stay a long time out where the food is. And, for your own peace and happiness, you must not be invested in the outcome.

Stones of Silence is one of my favorite books and in the great book purge of 2017, it stayed on my shelf. I don’t have The Snow Leopard any more. Still, it is in print and Stones of Silence is not. I think this is because a quest is within everyone’s reach. I can’t say the same for blue sheep and snow leopards.


Educate? Ha ha ha ha ha ha, OMG! Ha ha! Laugh Emoticon

Been there. Done that. 38 years. Made a difference. (Ha ha ha ha ha ha, OMG! Ha ha! Laugh Emoticon.) Moved on.

Still working on the hiking with dogs book. I decided to include photos of dogs. Who doesn’t like photos of dogs? No one. Everyone yearns — secretly or openly — for more photos of dogs.

The white dog is Ariel Punky, she was a Siberian Husky/low content wolf. Her sidekick is Mathilda, a sheltie chow mix I had only for a short time. I found her another home. She was an awesome dog, but too feisty to live with four old dogs (Truffle, Molly, Kelly and Lupo). Ariel was unlike any other dog I’ve lived with. To find out how, you’ll have to read the book 😉

Ariel and Matilda in the Laguna Mountains! copy

Continuation…and Summing Up

Hmmmm… I’m working hard (it isn’t hard. It’s fun) on the little compilation of nature essays based on my years of hiking in San Diego. It is a focal point for a book that is SO SMALL as to be almost invisible. 5800 acres out of the vastness of the world. But it was there I learned my true size. 9 inch feet and a stride of just under two feet on a good day. 7 writing classes, a shitload of grading, some dogs and a few friends. That’s the book.

I’m continuing to refine the prose at this point and I decided to add photos. I don’t know if it will ever be for sale. Some people will be inflicted with it for Christmas.

It’s an answer to the question no one is probably ever going to ask me, “So, Martha, what did you do with your life?”

“I went hiking a lot with my dogs.”

At 18 I would not have thought of that as an answer worthy of my brilliance and my energy, but I didn’t know much about life. Now I think I did good.

Boring Quotidian Post # 42

Not the morning I planned… I actually WOKE up and it was already nearly 10. That’s 2 HOURS later than usual. What??? Then…

Mindy’s been under the weather for two days. I don’t know if it’s the stress of the moved furniture or something more critical… But I spent a good part of (it wasn’t all that good) yesterday cleaning, and I had to clean this morning before breakfast (coffee).

If it’s just the moved furniture? I don’t want to move the furniture back where it was. I LIKE it this way, but…

I might have slept so late because Dusty and Mindy got into a fracas this morning at 1. I think Mindy jumped (relative term) off the sofa, landed on Dusty in his sleep and his first reaction was to bite her head. That resulted in a lot of noise, woke me up, sprang me out of bed (relative term) and into the living room. Mindy was sad and scared. Dusty was repentant, Bear wondered what she had done wrong.

This left me so discombobulated this morning that after I put my coffee together I opened the fridge to put the coffee pot inside.

I had plans this morning but as there is no longer a morning, I’ll have to figure something out.

In other news, I decided to put all my hiking stories together in a book. I worked on it yesterday 🙂 I like it but I also saw that they are ordinary stories about hiking in an ordinary place in which I acquired extraordinary vision and had a lot of fun. ❤

Short Story Collection

Once in a while I write a good story. I’ve put a few of them together in a little book (88 pages!) I’ve titled the little book Luv’. The stories are both fiction and creative non-fiction and all revolve around the humor, irony and sometimes sweetness of human connections.

There is no historical fiction, nothing about God or leprosy or salvation or torture or exile or even Switzerland! One of the stories won a prize last year in a short story contest put on by the library in Alamosa. 🙂

If you want a copy, you can get one on Amazon here. The price is $7.15 (my dad’s birthday) and shipping is probably $2 or less.

It will also be available on Kindle for $4.23 (Shakespeare’s birthday)


Writing — a Bitter Rant Using the Word F&%$

I was a writer and I wrote novels. Not long ago I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, “You wrote three good books. You don’t have to write any more. Lots of ‘great’ writers only wrote one and where does it get you, anyway? You just work very very hard,  deal with your own frustrations and sense of failure over the proofreading problem, shell out a thousand bucks for an editor, go through the submission process, get rejected (and ignored), make the decision to publish the books yourself, bust your ass doing that (though it’s actually, for me, a fun process), then you get to do what you have no aptitude for or interest in — marketing — and then? Some people enjoy your books very much, but most people never even hear about them. What’s the point?”

The point is having something to say.

All three of my novels SAY something. This thing I’ve been plugging away on for two years now (?) doesn’t say anything. It’s just there.

If you want to “be a writer,” you might want to think about what I’ve learned.

Unless you can do it for its own sake, it is NOT worth the time or effort. Don’t even fucking bother.

  1. There are millions of scams out there that exist to take the money of all those people (largely baby boomers, I suspect) who have always felt they have “a book inside waiting to come out.”
  2. You might indeed have a book inside waiting to come out. Just write it and shut up.
  3. There are conferences that cost hundreds of dollars (and they won’t make your workmore likely to sell and they won’t make you a better writer). There are workshops. There are editing services. There are marketing services. None of these things will change the market and the market is where success lies.
  4. All the advice out there for dealing with rejection? “Don’t let rejection get you down. J. K. Rowling was rejected 900 million times and look what happened to her! Same with Stephen King! He was rejected 900 million to the power of 10 times and now where is he! Just keep trying!” You will reach a point where you don’t really give a fuck about J. K. Rowling OR Stephen King OR Willa Cather (same story, but only 700 million times — the population was smaller back then).

    In the process of eliminating files before transferring stuff to my new laptop, I realized — saw — that I have submitted my work to literally hundreds of agents and been rejected and/or ignored hundreds of times. Well, basically EVERY time. “Don’t let it get to you,” say the advice mongers.

    “You try it,” I say to them at this point though once upon a time I agreed with them. “Fuck you.”

    If you have something to say, you have an edge against rejection “getting to you.”
  5. Youth — young writers have more appeal to agents and publishers (generally) than old writers. Why? People are looking for the “next Hemingway” or a “new voice.” This is really stupid, but we are youth worshippers in our society and this is part of it. There are many contests out there for young writers and “new” writers, and it’s assumed that “new” writers will be young people.This is both objectionable and logical. The target audience  (from a publisher’s perspective) is always assumed to be the current generation with money in its pocket.

    A book that appeals to the young today will be carried along by that generation for many years though it may be completely unknown to succeeding generations. Just as an example, it’s been a long time since I heard anything about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance  and yet that was a HUGE book back when I was young. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues — another book that was HUGE when I was young, probably a meaningless title to the 20 somethings of today.
  6. It is NOT “all about how you pitch your book” either. Pitch matters, but it’s not “all about” anything. Take any advice with a grain of salt. Why?

    It’s a crapshoot.

    What does X agent believe will sell to her vast stable of (four) publishers? What do the publishers believe will sell to their readers? Who are the readers of your book? Can you imagine them? Does that matter? (Not much…) Does the quality of your writing matter? Not a lot, no. What matters is the tempo at which the public pulse is beating, and, if you are ON it, you have a chance.

I love my novels and I loved writing them. When someone reads them and enjoys them, I’m over the moon. That is the whole point of it. Learning a couple of weeks ago that the library in Alamosa had acquired my books, I was very happy. I had no idea. That my books are for sale in the largest independent bookstore in Colorado also makes me happy — through my own effort I succeeded (somewhat) in doing what a publisher would do for me.

I cannot deny that much of this has taken the joy and optimism out of the process of writing a novel. The story I’m working on now is good, but each time I sit down to work on it, I see ahead to the future when I would — again — be attempting to sell it one way or another, asking myself questions that have little or nothing to do with my book such as, “is this the spiel that will get an agent’s attention?” “Are my characters sexy enough?” Bleah.


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.