Dear Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,
This month, Culture Watch will include a story of one vulnerable renter evicted illegally from her home. My Writing and Reviews will focus on a gem of a book on Guatemala, as well as an update on my forthcoming book, plus a movie review. Voices in Action will include a provocative quote, a What Others Are Saying and the Calendar will be updated.
First, in the spirit of getting to know the desert and our adopted state of Arizona, here are a few photos of our wine-tasting tour of Cottonwood, which has over 20 wineries, with an excursion to the tough little mining town of Jerome. One winery, Stronghold, grows 25 varieties of grapes in Wilcox, which is in Southeast Arizona, and brings some of them to Cottonwood to be vinified. I stuck to red wines and wasn’t disappointed.
It’s hard to know where to start at Page Valley Cellars outside of Cottonwood!
D A Ranch was next on our wine tour in and around Cottonwood.
Jerome State Park, as seen from Jerome, with Sedona country in the background.
The latest newsletter from the Phoenix Writers’ Club, Stimulus highlighted the making of my latest book and four book reviews (two from local authors) published in the Midwest Book Review. They start with the first paragraph of The Guatemala Reader:
For every world traveler, there is a place in one’s memory that is a paradise – mysterious, beautiful, and full of alluring secrets – a place where one can return to by closing one’s eyes. A place that will never change in one’s memory; Guatemala is mine.
Our granddaughter asked us to bring furniture and basic goods for one elderly lady, Maria, who suffered a “self-help eviction” – they destroyed most of her furniture, clothing, valuables, and personal items and stole her pet turtles and cats… Maria was a seamstress, and the landlord also threw out her two sewing machines. Her daughter lives with her and has a disability. My daughter provided an old foot pedal sewing machine my mother used, so we had four generations pitching in. But this is a stopgap measure at best – we need more protection of renter rights and much more economical housing.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon case in the Phoenix area. According to one report, eviction rates in Maricopa County will exceed record levels set in 2005. Navigating the speedy eviction process in Arizona is difficult at best, especially among those who need to be made aware of their rights.
According to a recent article in the Arizona Republic, Arizona is giving four nonprofits $5 million to provide legal help to renters facing eviction. The money was made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act.
“This funding is a historic first step towards increasing equal access to justice and will help keep Arizonans housed, keep families safe, and protect the rights of low-income families,” said the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education CEO.
My Writing, Interviews, and Reviews
I was introduced to the author by his agent, who sent me another book of his, Topographies, to review. A stellar collection of travel essays that take the reader through places as diverse as rural Wyoming, the Florida Everglades, and a train ride across the border from Romania to the former Soviet Union. https://millionmilewalker.com/2020/06/book-review-non-fiction-topographies/
While researching my forthcoming book, The Guatemala Reader, I was delighted to learn that he’d written a book similar to this, entitled Guatemalan Journey. Identical to my Peace Corps experience there, he spent two years as a Fulbright Scholar doing the day-to-day activities and dealing with the same bureaucracy ordinary Guatemalans must do. Unlike my memoir, Different Latitudes, he doesn’t mention his family, although he brought them along for this impressive trek. Always the consummate observer, Benz starts the book grappling with critical issues facing the country, like the influx of foreign missionaries, mass killings, the strangling bureaucracy, and cultural appropriation.
…The book’s second part focuses on the places he visited, most of which I’ve lived in, or worked around over the years. One of my favorites is his description of The “Biotopo,” not far from where I met my Guatemalan wife. The “Biotopo” is over 2,800 acres and is a bold attempt to save one of Guatemala’s most symbolic creatures, the quetzal. It’s revered because it can’t be held in captivity, and its glowing green/red plumage sets it apart from anything in the cloud forest. Unfortunately, many predicted that the quetzal would not survive the first decade of the twenty-first century, which reflects the extreme deforestation and effects of climate control.
It has a unique environment where it can rain all night and still be drizzling in the morning. Benz describes such a morning when he saw the guard in the visitor’s center waving him over. “Somehow, he’d gotten a fire going in this dampness – a skill one had better develop in the land of the ‘chipi-chipi’ – and had boiled some coffee.”
Benz sums up his experience by listing some of the names he was called over two years in Guatemala. Everything from “illustrious doctor” and “eminent critic” to “gringo jodido.” But after two years in Guatemala, one term stood out, “I remained a stranger.”
I’ll add this to the bibliography of my forthcoming book. Here’s a link to the entire review: https://millionmilewalker.com/2023/10/guatemalan-journey-by-stephen-connely-benz-reviewed-by-mark-d-walker/
I’m working on a Kickstarter crowd raising campaign to raise funds for my forthcoming book, The Guatemala Reader: Extraordinary Lives & Amazing Stories. I’ve decided to self-publish it, which allows me to control my work. No grant applications, no publishers demanding I change my style or message or select which essays to include based on their focus of selling more books.
But when you go it alone, you must cover all costs and figure out how to maximize the marketing efforts to reach out to an audience that appreciates international, cross-cultural communications and has an appreciation for Central America.
I’ll be sharing my book cover soon and am having the final edit of the manuscript proofed. The next step is to convince some of my author and publishing friends to provide testimonials. Reviews are crucial to getting the word out about a book and broadening the potential audience.
This will be a personal story of a place I’ve loved for over 50 years seen through the eyes of Guatemalans and those who have lived and worked there. It will provide a valuable, unique perspective on the country and the issues and challenges it faces and how they impact us here in the U.S.
Wish me luck…
Just released, this was one of the most watched Netflix movies about the goodness of humanity despite difficult circumstances. The third film adaption of the novel–takes place in and around Warsaw, with English subtitles (Cover art of Znachor) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgotten_Love_(film)
Voices in Action
What Others Are Saying
About my review of Guatemala Journey:
Thanks so much for sending me this–and double thanks for taking the time to review Guatemalan Journey. The positive comments mean a lot to me, coming as they do from someone who has had such deep experience in the country–far deeper than my own. Indeed, it’s been twenty years since I was last in Guatemala and going on thirty years since the book was published. A great deal has changed in Guatemala since I lived there, but it seems that many of the same themes persist (and in some cases they’ve persisted for more than 500 years). So while GJ is dated in some ways, I think it still maintains some general relevancy.
Stephen Benz, author of Topographies and The Guatemalan Journey.
Hunkering down on my Kickstarter campaign for the Guatemala Reader!
You can find my 80 book reviews and 28 articles, plus several videos, on my website, including a reduced price for my new book if you read it and pass it along to your local library: http://millionmilewalker.com. “Follow” me on Twitter—at https://twitter.com/millionmile and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/millionmilewalker/ for the latest international affairs and literature. And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it or, better still, purchase my latest book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, the Best Travel Book according to the Peace Corps Writers Group. https://www.cyberwit.net/publications/1919.
Mark D. Walker