I probably will never need to buy another book. I’m a popular reviewer. When I worked at Doubleday, I was extremely popular there, too. Probably because I read the books. So many reviewers don’t read the books they review. You can tell when you read their reviews that all they did was skim the first couple of pages and work from the publisher’s summaries. TV critics seem to be doing the same thing these days. Sometimes movie reviewers, too. It’s why we read a book or see a movie, then check reviews and wonder if it’s the same book or movie.

english-writersI remember at Doubleday I would discover that the publisher’s summary was factually wrong. Wrong names for major characters. Wrong relationships between characters. Incorrect plot description. It was clear whoever wrote the summary had not read the book.

So … who did read the book? Did anyone read it? That was in the mid 1970s, when most people did read, at least sometimes. Now? Does anyone read books before they are published, and has the reviewers read the books they are praising or panning?

Until this year, I was a judge for a major book award. I did it for more than a decade. It started out as fun. You’d get a bunch of books, read, review, and rate them, picking a few to move on to the finals. A few years ago, they started sending me more books … so many I could not possibly read even half of them in the allotted time. Last year, I think I had almost 100 books to judge with an average of more than 300 pages per book. And just five weeks to read them all.

It was hopeless. A couple of books were more than 500  pages. These were books that needed considerable stage-setting before the story began. Depending on genre, authors may devote a couple of hundred pages to explaining how their world works. If there’s magic. Rules of the physical world. Some geography. Who and what gods are extant — or were. What languages are spoken. A bit of history, so characters don’t walk onto an empty stage.

Tolkien was a genius at world-building, which is why he remains the gold standard for the fantasy genre.


If you only have an hour to give each book you’re judging, how can you, in good faith, even get a sense of what the book is about, much less if it’s good? Were you to put J.R.R. Tolkien to this test, you’d never get out of Hobbiton. More than 300 pages of Lord of the Rings is geography, language, history, and demographics.

All history books require substantial background, as do historical novels and time-travel books that are historical novels in science fiction garb. A lot of writers use “the wormhole in time” to get readers to be “in the time” rather than looking back at it. It’s been a popular ploy for generations.

quill penSo this year, I said no to judging. It wasn’t fair to the authors to judge them without giving them a proper reading. I have to wonder how many other “awards” are done this way, with over-burdened judges who have too many books or whatever to review without adequate time in which to do it. I’m sure I was not the only one who got down to the wire and was unable to even skim several books before “judging them.” I wouldn’t do it again.

For all of these reasons, I’m diligent about reviewing books — or anything else. I’m not getting paid and reviews won’t make me famous or rich. They won’t even buy me a quick meal at Mickey D’s. But it is a big deal to authors. Reviews make or break books, even for established authors.

I suspect all authors are perpetually being judged. Reviewed. Each book is a trial by fire. A book doesn’t sell and suddenly, your publisher forgets your name. The industry wants nothing to do with a failing author. Even if you have written a string of major best-sellers, you are only as good as the sales figures of your most recently published volume.

I doubt any of the great authors of the past would thrive under these conditions. Can you imagine Hemingway doing his own PR? Or Capone? Can you imagine Shakespeare dealing with focus groups and fighting for his contract to be renewed?

75-BookStory HPCR-1

So I do my bit. Not for money or glory, or even for the authors, who I love. I do it because if no one cares about the quality of books being published, eventually it will all be pulp and garbage. There will be classics from days of yore and nothing new worth reading.

I have had people tell me I’m stupid for doing so much work for free, but authors don’t have money — and publishers won’t pay. Even successful authors — unless Hollywood has bought their books — aren’t financially secure. Maybe Stephen King and Michael Crichton don’t have to worry about where the next check will come from, but every other author I know — and at this point, I know more than a few — are scraping by. Many still keep their day jobs because there are mortgages to pay and kids to feed.

You have to love writing for its own sake. As a profession, authoring is a hard and rocky road. Glory and riches come to few.  Maybe publishers get rich. I hope someone is making money, because as far as I can tell, most authors don’t.


It all happened so fast.

Stay in the car!

No one was supposed to get hurt.

He was turning his life around. He HAD turned his life around.

Everybody loved him.

S/he didn’t have an enemy in the world.

He needed killing.

It was self-defense!

I was only trying to protect (you) (her) (them).

I had no choice. You would have done the same thing in my place.

(For the end of any disaster movie:) Now, we rebuild.

I didn’t see anything.

“I did it for you” is a variant of “I was just trying to protect …

Music to our ears! We’ve heard them all again and again. In cop shows and movies. In westerns and science fiction epics. These are, of course, just a few of the thousands of “lines” that comprise a typical “script.”

If you’re lucky, you can get a double or even triple play, as in: “You would have done the same thing. He wasn’t supposed to die (variant of “no one was supposed to get hurt). What else could I do (variant of “I had no other choice”).” A hat trick!

They are so standard, so common, so predictable, I decided to make a game board so you cross them off as they come up. Wherever gets a row first gets to shout NOW WE REBUILD!


You win the prize. A beer, a coke … or maybe one of those soft, salty, hot pretzels from one of those pretzel stands in the mall. How about a pizza?

We used to have a business meeting version of this, lovingly known as Buzzword Bingo. Whenever someone at the meeting spoke one of the popular buzzwords of the day, like “think out of the box,” “monetizing,” “prioritizing,” or the deathless yet ever-popular “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” or any of the thousands of trite, meaningless business clichés, colleagues would leap to their feet and shout “BULLSHIT!” Then, everyone, including the boss, would cheer. Over time, it significantly shortened those meetings and always enlivened them. With everyone keeping score, it was almost fun. No one wanted to be the one who got the chorus of BULLSHIT from the entire staff, so folks started trying to convey information using real words and concepts.

After which, we could all get back to work.

Now that we are retired, waiting for the classic television clichés that have become the backbone of scriptwriters throughout the world, we wait to hear those words. When we do — and we always do — it  is one of the most rewarding parts of watching the tube.

You get extra points if they say it exactly as written. The other night someone said “He was turning his life around. Everyone loved him!” A big score — two in one with exact wording. Does it get any better than this?


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 own family, people I didn’t even know about until four or five years ago. Two of the brothers named in this story are mentioned in Swiss historical records as having been in these places at these times. I don’t want to say more and spoil the story.

The sixteenth century was a long time ago.

True, but America was already being settled by then. The Protestant Reformation — which seems like it was long, long ago and far, far away — would actually be the force that led to mass colonization during the 18th century. After 200 years of persecution all over Europe, a lot of those people were willing to risk their lives to get out of there.

Are there historical figures in the novel?

Yes. There are leaders of the Swiss Reformation, predominately Huldrych Zwingli, and early leaders of Anabaptism, Felix Manz and Pilgram Marpeck.

How come I never heard of them?

The history we learn in the US is very England-centered even though England was only one country in which all this chaos was going on and only one of the countries from which people were emigrating. My research led to one shocking, eye-opening revelation after another.

You write about Christianity. Are you a Christian?

I was raised Baptist. My grandmother — the one with the Swiss ancestry — was probably raised Mennonite. Other than that, I believe (and my belief has been intensified by the research I’ve done for my novels) ones religion is about as personal as anything can get. Like my Anabaptist ancestors, I believe that religion and government should be separate, that taking up arms against another is wrong, and that an individual’s faith is between that person and God.

Who has influenced your writing?

Truman Capote has had the biggest influence on my writing style; in fact, he is the force that awakened me to the idea of style. I learned so much from reading Capote’s stories and from his discussions about writing. I write about some heavy topics and because

  1. I don’t want to tell my readers what to think, and
  2. I want my characters to live their own lives in the world that is between the covers of my book, I believe a minimalist style that is heavy on dialogue makes that happen best. I don’t want to come between my readers and the story.

What’s your process as a writer?

I sit down and write. That’s pretty much it. Sometimes I start from a scene that is particularly vivid in my imagination. The Brothers Path began with a scene in the middle of the book when Thomann and Andreas are in Zürich, and Felix Manz is about to be executed.


The story radiated from that moment. I like it best when I know how a story will end. Then I can write toward the ending. The most difficult part of a story is the beginning. It can’t just “begin.” It has to hook the reader and that is something beyond just “starting” a story.

The Brothers Path has a lot of characters with difficult, German names. Weren’t you worried that readers would be confused?

I respect the intelligence of my readers. I think they can handle the names of six brothers in one family. The brothers were real people and the names they have in The Brothers Path are their real names and they each have very distinct personalities. I also organized the chapters with a brother’s name and the year of the events as a chapter title to help people follow the story more easily.

How many revisions did you do for The Brothers Path?

I have no idea. The fact is, I revise constantly. The novel is a kind of organic life form that crawls toward a uniform finished state. I like revision, however. For me, revision is the REAL writing. That’s where an author can go in and make the words, the sentences, the dialogue, the description what they really WANT it to be. It’s my favorite part.

Proofreading, though, is difficult for me because I’m dyslexic. When I think I have a finished story, I usually share it with a couple of friends for comments. Then I revise. Then I hire a professional editor, Beth Bruno, with whom I’ve worked on two novels. We work well together. Professional editing is a critically important step in the process for me, and it’s another revision.

72-The Bros Path Cover PromoThe world-shattering tumult of the Protestant Reformation enters the Schneebeli household when Rudolf Schneebeli is born two months early and dies a few minutes later — without being baptized.

Named for the well trodden track linking the Schneebeli farmhouse to the old Lunkhofen castle, The Brothers Path is set in a Swiss village near Zürich, between 1524 and 1531.

It chronicles the lives of the six Schneebeli brothers, Heinrich, Hannes, Peter, Conrad, Thomann and Andreas. Each brother navigates his own path through, around or directly into the deadly drama of the Protestant reformation.

Two hundred years after the events recounted in The Brothers’ Path, thousands of immigrants, mostly Mennonites and Amish, left Switzerland for America seeking the safety and freedom they could not find at home. If the novel teaches a “lesson” it would to remind us why immigrants to America have always been adamant about separating church and state.

The Brothers Path on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.

martha-at-the-jungfraujochMartha Kennedy has published three works of historical fiction. Her first novel, Martin of Gfenn, which tells the story of a young fresco painter living in 13th century Zürich, was awarded the Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society Indie Review and the BRAG Medallion from IndieBRAG in 2015.

Her second novel, Savior, also an BRAG Medallion Honoree (2016), tells the story of a young man in the 13th century who fights depression by going on Crusade. Her newest novel, The Brothers Path, a loose sequel to Savior, looks at the same family three hundred years later as they find their way through the Protestant Reformation.

Kennedy has also published many short-stories and articles in a variety of publications from the Denver Post to the Business Communications Quarterly. 

Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado and earned her undergraduate degree in American Literature from University of Colorado, Boulder and her graduate degree in American Literature from the University of Denver. She has taught college and university writing at all levels, business communication, literature and English as a Second Language.

For many years she lived in the San Diego area, most recently in Descanso, a small town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. She has recently returned to Colorado to live in Monte Vista in the San Luis Valley with her three dogs.

You may also enjoy these articles by Martha Kennedy:






A beautifully written story about writers, writing, getting published … and why we do it even though we may not get the prize we hoped for.

How to make a living as a writer #amwriting

I was speaking to a friend this morning, a woman whose writing often glows with lyric beauty, yet who has stopped writing because she could not sell her manuscript and will not self-publish.

As a writer, and much as I would like to, I don’t make a living from my work. Like most authors, and especially Indie authors, that is a dream about as realistic as winning the Pulitzer Prize. For many, the literary Holy Grail appears in the nebulous form of an Agent or a Contract… but even for those who attain it, making a living will almost always involve a day job as well as the untold hours tapping away at a keyboard. It is only a few who will go on to live the dream.


There are moments when you might wonder whether it is worth it; when you think of all the other things you could be doing with your time and all the things you might be missing while you are chasing unicorns across a page of dreams.

For many disillusion sets in and the pen is laid down, their stories are left untold and their ideas, once forgotten, return to that great sea of inspiration from whence they arose.

For some, though, the dreams come true and remind us why we should never give up…

Read the entire original post: How to make a living as a writer #amwriting


A friend asked me why I do this, why I blog. So I asked her why she plays golf.

This is an evergreen post for me. I’ve modified a bit with each iteration, but it says something that’s fundamentally true about the creative process and certainly about my personal creative process. Writing (and also photography) are my version of sports. They really have always been, throughout my  life. With a little bit of luck, they always will be. So here it is again because sometimes, I need to remind myself of things I already know.

I feel I should point out that writing isn’t only an art. “Real writing” can also be a craft, or “non-fiction.” Books about science or technology are no less “real writing” than a novel. I know we who toil as wordsmiths who tell others how things work or how to accomplish tasks, rarely win prizes or make a best-seller list. Nonetheless, we do not need to hang our heads because we aren’t don’t create characters and plots. I doubt most fiction writers would be good at technical or science writing. Or, for that matter, news writing. It’s not something less, just something different.

If one kind of writing doesn’t work for you, try something else. If you are good with words, somewhere, there’s a place for you in the big world of writing and writers.

One last point. “Professional” means you get paid to do it. If you’d like to get paid, but haven’t yet, you aren’t a professional. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good, just that you don’t (yet) earn a living at it. It’s not a judgement; it’s a distinction.

We do what we do because we love it, need to do it, or both. For me, writing is like breathing. If I don’t write, I strangle on words never used. My friend needs to compete, to be active. To play golf or she will suffocate.

I can’t begin to count the number of people who have told me they want to be writers, but don’t know how. They want me to tell them how. That they asked the question makes me reasonably sure they aren’t writers.

If you are a writer, you write. You will write and will keep writing because it is not what you do, it is what you are. It is as much a part of you as your nose or stomach.


I started writing as soon as I learned to read, which was about 45 minutes after someone handed me a reading primer. It was as if a switch had been thrown in my brain. Words felt like home.

Writing was (is) exactly the same as speaking, but takes longer. I have never minded spending the extra time. I love crafting sentences until they are just right. I love that I can go back and fix written words, that unlike words you say, you can take them back.

Raison d’être? I write because I’m a writer. Writing is how I express myself, how I interact with the world. It’s my window, my doorway, my handshake, my dreams.

If you are going to be a writer, you probably already know it. Practice will make you a better writer, can help you understand the techniques you need to build a plot and create books that publishers will buy — but writing itself is a gift. If you have it, you know it — and most of us know it pretty young.

computer gargoyle

Writers have words. They collect in your mind, waiting to be written. We have heads full of words, sentences, pronouns, adjectives, and dependent clauses.

My advice to everyone who aspires to be a writer is to write. Don’t talk about it. Do it. Whatever medium works for you. Blogging, novels, short stories, poetry. Whatever. I’d also advise you to not talk about your work until you’ve done a significant amount of writing. I can’t count the number of great ideas left on barroom floors, talked away until there was nothing left but a vague memory and a lot of empty wine glasses. Save your words to a better purpose.

Write a lot even if it’s mostly not very good. Sooner or later, you’ll find your thing. If you don’t write, it is your personal loss, but maybe it’s the world’s loss, too.

You will never know how good you can be if you don’t try.



According to the dictionary, an elegant solution is as follows:

“Refinement and simplicity are implied, rather than fussiness, or ostentation. An elegant solution, often referred to in relation to problems in disciplines such as mathematics, engineering, and programming, is one in which the maximum desired effect is achieved with the smallest, or simplest effort.”

I’m all about elegant solutions. I would add “least expensive” to “smallest, or simplest” because for me, elegant includes not having to buy it on credit.

Today, my elegant solution was delivered from the Microsoft store.


It is a NuVision 32GB Windows 10 tablet. It cost (minimally on sale) $99 with free shipping.

I need some kind of compact tablet that can do email, a bit of blogging, and make an occasional typo correction. And listen to audiobooks. Not just the audiobooks in my library — all you can do on a Kindle.

I am one a judge for the Audies, kind of the Emmys for audiobooks. The genre I’m judging varies from year to year, but books for judges live in a separate judges library. Which I can’t get to using my Kindle. I can, of course, get there on this laptop, but I don’t always want to haul the whole laptop with me to listen to a book.

I looked at the iPad Mini, but that’s a lot of money for something I am not going to use a lot. I looked at the Galaxy S and liked it, but it’s also pricey. There are full size computers available for the same (sometimes lower) prices. I was all set to order the Galaxy because I also have a Galaxy phone and the two would be able to communicate … and I know how the system works, more or less.

Then, I saw this. The NuVision Windows 10 tablet. I wanted to give Win10 a run anyway and see if I can live with it. Because if I can’t, my next computer will be a Mac. Yeah, I know, but Microsoft is going in directions I don’t like, making everything proprietary. Meanwhile, this tablet has all the stuff you expect a tablet to have … except the big price tag. My kind of elegant solution.

The Windows 8 and 10 user interfaces are butt ugly. From a design point of view, I don’t think there’s a less attractive user interface anywhere. It’s also awkward and counter-intuitive. Win10 is not quite as awful as Win8, but Windows 7 is so much better in every way. I still don’t understand why they are off in this direction and why, even in this direction, they can’t make the interface smoother, more intuitive, and easier to understand. And less ugly.

There are also nasty rumors about Microsoft’s plans to make using their operating system a “rental” rather than letting you own it. I flat-out will not do it. I refuse. That’s my line in the sand.


So, for now, my elegant solution is an 8″ Windows 10 NuVision tablet that — much to my surprise — works. After it finished installing updates, it settled down and did whatever I want. Cortana, the assistant … well. It think it’s  the replacement for Clippie, the aggravating know-it-all dancing paperclip. And about as useful.

The Win10 interface is not happy on an 8″ screen. It wants more real estate. However. With some sleight of hand and on-screen juggling, you can get it to do what you want. I’m sure with a bit more practice, I’ll be doing everything without any conscious thought.

I also managed to pair a small blue-tooth speaker to it. I’ve had this speaker for a while. It would not pair with my computer. Absolutely would not recognize it as a computer. Insisted it’s a pair of headphones and remained silent. It also thinks the tablet is a pair of headphones, but it plays anyhow. Which is fortunate because whatever it is that passes for speakers in this tablet should be ashamed of themselves.

I’m pretty sure this will do the job I need done and let me see if I can live with this operating system. I’m not ready to give it a thumbs up or down yet, though i will say that for $99, this is a nice little tablet. It has pretty much everything you want a tablet to have (except usable speakers). Nice screen resolution. No one makes a proper case for it, but for the price, I’ll live without one.

The virtual keyboard is much more responsive than the one on any of my Kindles or my phone and praise the lord … there’s NO AUTOCORRECT!

I’ll let you know how it goes.



There’s “Twinkle, twinkle little star.” It’s a nursery rhyme known to virtually every child who grew up speaking English. We know it by heart.

Then, there’s the Lewis Carroll version.

The Mad Hatter reciting "Twinke, twinkle Little Bat," as illustrated by John Tenniel

The Mad Hatter reciting “Twinke, twinkle Little Bat,” as illustrated by John Tenniel in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat” is a poem recited by the Mad Hatter in chapter seven of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is a parody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star“. Walt Disney used it in his movie version (but has the Dormouse reciting it rather than the Mad Hatter). It has always made me laugh. That’s me, laughing. For more than fifty years.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,
How I wonder what you’re at:
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky,
Up above the world you fly
Like at tea tray in the sky.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,
How I wonder what you’re at:
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky.