Dear Colleagues and Fellow Writers from Around the World,
Happy New Year, one and all!
I like to sit down at the end of a year and focus on the highlights I want to build on for the coming year. I’ll also look at one of our country’s most crucial issues in Cultural Impact. My Writing and Reviews will include a few of my favorite books and a movie, a special section on Those We Lost, followed by Voices in Action, What Others Are Saying, and a Calendar update.
2023 represents my sixth year as a full-time writer, and this is my 72nd Million Mile Walker Dispatch. Also, I wrote my first column for the Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why for the Arizona Authors Association newsletter in March 2019 and have never missed an issue since then, with over 55 book reviews. And I’m proud to say that I’ve been asked to join their Board of Directors, and my second book was named Best Travel Book.
Part of my writer’s journey has included giving back to my profession, which is why after 30 years as a Rotarian, I became the President of the Scottsdale Nrth Rotary Club, and after 35 years as a fundraising executive, the President of the Greater Arizona Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
The Alumni Magazine of Western Colorado University, The Westerner, ran an article on my writing career in their Spring issue, “50 Years on the Road: A Journey From Peace Corps Volunteer To Author.” Here’s the article:
Global Connections Television (GCTV) host interviewed me for a third time, discussing book banning in Arizona and “The Making” of my forthcoming book. The interview should be aired in mid-January.
I stayed active with PEN America, attending several local events, and even introduced their CEO, Suzanne Nossel, to the host of GCTV, who interviewed her. As the number of books banned grows and boards of education are harassed by those who would limit what children can learn based on their political agenda, we must be vigilant.
Writers can also have fun, as evidenced by the Phoenix Writers’ Club’s Christmas party at Gallagher’s Sports Bar. I shared a passage from my first book, “If I knew then what I know today, I might have shared with Ligia a list of reasons she might reconsider my offer to spend the rest of our lives together. We can divide this list between “The She’d Reconsider List” and “The She’d Run Screaming from the Altar List.” We all had a good laugh, and I gifted my latest book to the raffle at the end. One member handed me her copy of My Saddest Pleasures for an autograph and told me that she wanted to join the Peace Corps but didn’t, although the wanderlust bug bit her.
Those We Lost
I considered fellow travel writer Tom Miller a friend and mentor. His books include The Panama Hat Trail and The Revenge of the Saguaro, and he passed away shortly after I reviewed his memoir, Where Was I, A Travel Writers’ Memoir. He also knew author Moritz Thomsen and provided materials I used to write another book coming up in my future, The Moritz Thomsen Reader. Here’s a link to my homage to Tom: https://millionmilewalker.com/2023/05/a-homage-to-travel-freelance-writer-tom-miller-by-mark-d-walker/.
Maria Martin, a Latina journalist with NPR, passed away recently. I met her at the Peace Corps Connect Conference in Austin several years ago, where she participated with Guatemala filmmaker Luis Argueta on cross-border issues. She worked briefly with filmmaker Hal Rifken on our documentary, Trouble in the Highlands. She lived in Antigua, Guatemala, where she established the “Gracias Vida” media center and trained many indigenous journalists and radio announcers. I reviewed her book, Crossing Border, Building Bridges: A Journalist’s Heart in Latin America, in my forthcoming book, which I dedicated to her memory.
Book Reviews, Interviews, and Writing
While researching my forthcoming book, The Guatemala Reader, I was delighted to learn that Stephen Benz had 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. 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, making it one of my favorites.
One of my favorite movies this year was Smoke Signals, a road map on self-discovery–how Native Americans relate to modern popular culture. It’s based on Alexie’s short story, “The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.” It is a timely movie that counteracts how Native American culture is presented on the screen. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smoke_Signals_(film)?fbclid=IwAR2mS7YuFV4cGemnG7zrx-cBhAl4_3cLb3tAtjIWo4D2sPfxaof4U6fczo8
I’ve submitted the final draft of my forthcoming book, which will come out early next year. But first, I’m working on a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to produce several special editions and generate the resources necessary to market and distribute them properly. This approach allows me to sell it directly and to interact with readers. We’re producing new bookmarkers and mounted photographs I’ve taken in Guatemala to use as “rewards” for those who support the campaign. Kickstarter represents another author platform entailing a lot of work, but I’m betting it will be worth the effort.
Three themes and concerns I focused on during the year were poverty, homelessness in this country, and the growth of the military budget, which are interrelated. The main takeaway from the books I reviewed on this theme is that the most extensive welfare program in the country focuses on the wealthy and middle class. Much of that goes to the well-off, like the home mortgage deduction, one of many tax breaks afforded to the wealthiest Americans – 1.8 trillion dollars. And here’s my review: https://millionmilewalker.com/2023/05/poverty-by-america-by-matthew-desmond-reviewed-by-mark-d-walker/
Voices in Action
A poem cannot stop a bullet. A novel can’t defuse a bomb. But we are not helpless. We can sing the truth and name the liars. Salman Rushdie, an American, British, and Indian novelist, was recently stabbed at the Chautauqua Institution.
What Others Are Saying
One of the nice things about getting to know good writers is that they often can articulate the essence of my work better than I can. So far, a dozen writers have written insightful testimonials about my forthcoming book, including this from Mark Jacobs (Stone Cowboy and Silent Night).
In Mark Walker’s The Guatemala Reader, the author begins with a truth that all travelers will endorse. There is always one place, culture and country, that becomes your personal lodestar. Your sense of the world in its ragged variety is guided by it. For Walker, Guatemala is that country, and the careful intelligence with which he has assembled the collection testifies to his deep understanding of the place and the people who live there…
I am hunkering down on my Kickstarter campaign for The Guatemala Reader!
You can find my 80 book reviews and 28 articles, plus several videos and photos, 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