Every Bookmark Tells a Story

Behind every bookmark is a fascinating story. The bookmark pictured here is no exception. Far from it.

Nestled in the rugged Sierra Norte de Puebla mountainous region of Mexico lies the remote village of San Pablito. The Otomis, forced out by other indigenous groups, migrated to this area as early as 800 AD. Aztecs conquered the area in the late 15th century, but the Otomis managed to maintain much of their culture and traditions.

Initially siding with the Spanish to oust the Aztecs during the Spanish Conquest, the Otomis later rebelled against Spanish rule. Because of the isolation and lack of mineral resources, not many Spanish chose to live here. Plus, enforcing Spanish law in this harsh terrain was difficult. As a result, the Otomis continued their culture and traditions in this part of Old Mexico and do so to this very day.

A tradition of high importance to this and other indigenous groups is the spiritual practise of amate paper making. This handmade paper was considered neutral until shamans used it in religious paper cutting ceremonies. The shaman cut various images into the paper while acting as an intermediary between humans and their gods. Each cut of paper was believed to be increasingly powerful while shamans attempted to communicate with their deities. Banned by the Spanish because the practise was believed to encourage witchcraft, San Pablito, due to its remote location, managed to evade detection when making amate paper.

The process of creating amate paper is in itself fascinating. Bark from wild fig (xalama), nettle (jonote) or mulberry (moral) tree is stripped and boiled in a mixture of water, lime, and ash. All the bark must be removed and cooled several times to avoid over-softening. The bark is then rinsed to remove all residue and meticulously separated in fibrous strands. These strips are sometimes bleached or dyed at this stage. Then the strands are carefully arranged in rectangular shapes on wood boards and pounded down with specially designed volcanic rock. When the correct thickness is achieved, the rectangular pieces are left to dry.

Nowadays, amate paper is not restricted for use by shamans. The process has become commercialized, bringing much needed employment into this small community. Sheets of paper are sent to Nahua artisans for painting, then sold in various markets. The bookmark pictured above was purchased at one such local market in the nearby town of Pahuatlán, where locals dress in traditional clothing on Sundays and walk through the streets in their bare feet.

You can read about my visit to this part of Old Mexico as well as other out of the way places in my upcoming book, An English Teacher in Mexico. Just don’t forget to bookmark this site!

Woman in San Pablito creates amate paper. Photo placed on amate paper book.

Take some TIME OUT Sunday.

Hey folks! What are you doing this Sunday? I know what I’ll be doing. This Sunday, March 21, 2021, I will be available ALL DAY for an online chat on the friendliest group on Facebook, WeLoveMemoirs. Why don’t you take some time out and join me in some scintillating conversation?

Time travel with me to 1970s London. If you read my memoir, A Squatter in London but want to know more about my adventures, here’s your chance. Are you wondering what everyday life was like as a squatter? Are you a child of the 70s and want to reminisce about the good ole days? Do you have questions about the writing process? And is David Bowie somehow part of the story?

Here’s your chance to put me on the hotseat. You may ask me anything you like. But if you love to read memoirs and are not a member of the fabulous, most friendliest group on Facebook, We love Memoirs, you’re out of luck. Just kidding. Here’s the link to join the chat.

Bookmark the date: Sunday, March 21, 2021. Get your questions ready and join the conversation. Make your Sunday a Fun Day! I look forward to hearing from you!

The Crushing 1-Star Review

Recently someone left a 1-star ranking for my book and it’s affected me more than I care to admit. It was not even a proper review, just 1-star, with no explanation given whatsoever.

To continue writing or give it up altogether? That is the question many authors face. One day, someone who probably never should have picked up your years of blood, sweat and tears in the form of a published book, glibly awards you a 1-star rating. But the next, someone who has actually read and enjoyed said book, leaves a glowing 5-star review, explaining exactly what it was that kept them turning the pages.

Such is the life of a writer. A pendulum swinging back and forth – to write or not to write? A yo-yo of emotions, going up only to come crashing down. We have spent many hours (and in some cases, years!) perfecting our craft. We have pored over the manuscript, self-edited, wrote and re-wrote our manuscript, agonized over the perfect cover, and did our best to market our product.

Depending on our skill set, we probably hired professionals to assist us with formatting, editing, proofreading, cover design and marketing.

Some of us writers sent out dozens of manuscripts to traditional publishers, only to be rejected time and time again. We wrote query letter after query letter hoping an agent would represent us. Others took a deep breath and went the self-publishing route.

Why? Because we love what we do! We are storytellers and we want to share our stories with you, the reader. Our reward is your enjoyment of our craft. OK, making a few dollars in sales is nice too! So when our reward is a stinky 1-star carelessly posted somewhere out there in cyberspace for millions to see, it greatly impacts us in a negative way.

I’ll end this rant by saying, if you read any of my work and enjoyed it, consider leaving a review. Even one or two sentences makes a BIG difference. If, however, you didn’t, send me a private message and tell me what I could have done better.

Go here to read some lovely reviews from the UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Squatter-London-Irene-Pylypec-ebook/dp/B07CHYNCQ1

True Crime Book Review

Operation Julie – the Inside Story by Stephen Bentley

I don’t usually publish book reviews, but this one is just too good not to share.

Stephen Bentley is an undercover cop. Steve Jackson is a hippie drug dealer – or is he? In order to infiltrate a global drug ring – the characters manufacturing and distributing LSD in the UK, a clandestine group of detectives need to live a double life. This raw, captivating account of working deep undercover in 1970s UK is told by a detective who lived it.

This true story describes not only the intricacies of an undercover operation but also the difficulties detectives experience in adjusting to “normal” life after the project is completed. The author does not hold back in describing the toll it took on his personal life, especially the effects on his mental health at a time when there was little understanding from superiors during an undercover operation and no support afterwards. And, to this day, the author remains conflicted about relationships he established in the past as he asks himself, “who am I?”

As someone who lived in the UK and Ireland while this investigation was going on, I wonder how close some of my acquaintances at that time were to Operation Julie detectives. One of the addresses given in the book was a stone’s throw away from a London squat I lived in.

A great read, but I think it could have ended sooner. All the rambling points at the end sound more like the author trying to convince himself. We, the readers already get it. Case closed. 5 Stars

Cyber Week Book Discounts

It may still be Cyber Monday for a short while, but these books, including A Squatter in London, are discounted all week! Sale ends December 8th. Get your Christmas shopping done early. Buy now!

My memoir, A Squatter in London, is only $0.99US. The paperback is also available for only $11.99 – and you get the added benefit of laughing at photos taken of me in the 1970s!

Of course, my short (very short!) story, Farmers’ Daughters is always FREE just by joining my mailing list.

Just click on this link to see the fine selection of biographies and memoirs written by ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives. https://books.bookfunnel.com/extraordinarymemoirs/61iwk68q9h

Book Reviews and Indie Authors

Ontario Canada Book Club

As an indie author, getting book reviews is very important. So when a book club in Ontario asked for a video conference with me at their monthly meeting, I was delighted to participate. Receiving honest feedback from these women helps me to grow as an author and I feel as if I’ve made some new friends in the process.

To read additional reviews, please go to Amazon and Goodreads or follow book bloggers Amy and Mari.

Looking to Escape the Cold this Winter?

And are you looking for a good book to read while you’re relaxing under a swaying palm tree, viewing an ocean paradise from the comfort of your beach lounge? It’s not too late to buy that perfect book! My memoir, A Squatter in London, is currently available  in paperback from Amazon at a reduced price. It’s also available as an e-book, but you’ll miss out on the vintage 1970s images that are offered in the paperback version.

Hurry! You only have until the end of February to benefit from the special price. Even if you’re not going to the Dead Sea.

UK Customers

Canadian Customers

Two Great Books for the Readers on your Christmas Shopping List

Looking for that perfect Christmas gift? How about a book to go with that holiday eggnog? My narrative non-fiction paperback, A Squatter in London, is temporarily available on Amazon for a reduced price. It’s also available as an e-book but the paperback has vintage photos for you to laugh at. Here’s an excerpt to bring a smile to your face:

“This will be my first ‘black’ Christmas. It’s a few days prior to the holiday and I’m nostalgic for the magical, snow-filled Canadian winter wonderland. I’m homesick, cold, lonely and depressed…

Lainey and Bryce’s parents, the Collinses, have invited me over for Christmas dinner today. Because of the holiday, though, trains and buses aren’t running. So, as instructed by the Collins children, I ring a car hire service…

‘Your place smells very Christmas-y,’ I quip as I enter the Collins home, instantly offending my hosts. There’s an almost overpowering pine-like scent in the air and I assume that it’s coming from the newly-decorated live tree. It’s not.

‘What a thing to say,’ replies Mrs. Collins in a hushed voice. ‘Our cat just wet the rug.’”

 

For the children on your list, there’s an awesome children’s reader/coloring book written and  illustrated with whimsical little characters by Robert Laurie Leslie called They Love Us: A World Without Fear.

A Squatter in London (image shows author revisiting the squat in 2001) is also available internationally in the US, UK, Mexico and other countries. See, I just made your Christmas buying experience a whole lot less stressful!