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On The Yellow Brick Road
Welcome to “On the Yellow Brick Road,” my Substack/newsletter, which my publisher has encouraged me to launch and which will officially launch in September with the announcement of my new novel coming out March 2024. For now, thank you for being a test audience.
This monthly newsletter will include a blog post, along with news about my work and literary events, a focus on a writer at risk in the world on whose behalf you may want to take action. It will include a bit of whimsy with a word or two you may never have occasion to use, but if you’re like me, words you might like to know to expand vocabulary, and a list of resources for freedom of expression. I’d also love to hear what you’d like included as regular or irregular features.
The Substack allows comments and interactions more easily among readers and other Substacks, I’m told. Like many, I’m trying to keep up with the shape-shifting platforms of digital and social media in order to expand connections with readers and friends. My Substack is free, and you’re automatically subscribed if you were a subscriber to my monthly blog and/or received regular postings through email so there’s no need to do anything. (If you don’t want to be subscribed, just let me know by responding No Thanks. No offense taken!) I’ll try to keep the whole enterprise a short and enjoyable read with substance.
I look forward to hearing from you,
A former journalist, I spend most of my writing time these days on fiction in a lifelong admiration for what literature can do. Good literature reveals characters and orders life into stories the reader can connect with and understand. We all live and remember our lives and the lives of others through the stories we tell and are told. History, politics, even religion are rendered through stories.
Because storytellers can be powerful members of society, the storytellers—usually the writers—are often the early persecuted, imprisoned and even killed in authoritarian societies as a result of the stories they tell. I’m a storyteller as are many of my friends and family who are journalists, fiction writers, dramatists and poets. We are fortunate to live in a country that, while stressed at the moment with the banning and censoring of books, still does not put its writers in prison or kill them, though the increasing pressure to ban books is alarming. Freedom of expression includes the freedom to have access to ideas. Imagination has always been the enemy of the tyrant because it can’t be controlled. I’ve spent time over the last many decades working on behalf of writers who don’t have the same protections and working with organizations that defend freedom of expression.
In my own novels—in particular my recently published novel Burning Distance and my next novel The Far Side of the Desert to be published March 2024—I’ve sought insight through narrative. Both books took a good deal of research into the factual context of the story and the inner journeys of characters. In naming this newsletter On The Yellow Brick Road, I pay tribute to L. Frank Baum’s iconic novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Interpretation is extensive on the many elements of this story and of the Yellow Brick Road in particular. According to commentary:
Collaboration, communication, innovation, positivity, nurturing, and fun are the six core values of Yellow Brick Road. The values emphasize team spirit, transparent two-way communication, support for new ideas, nurturing of bonds and relationships, a positive, solution-based mindset, and a fun learning environment.
Is that a mission statement? It sounds a bit like a gathering of strategic modelers at a conference. I’m not aiming for a didactic newsletter, but I think the values hold. I’d also like to have some fun and explore new thoughts and occasionally inspire.
Other commentary notes:
With the help of her newly-minted friends, Dorothy is able to melt the Wicked Witch of the West and save the citizens of Oz. No matter what the situation is, you should never allow that to get in the way of your morals.
With the help of new and old friends, I look forward to embarking on this path, alert to occasional wicked witches but mostly exploring ideas large and small. Thank you for coming along.
(Source PEN International)
María Cristina Garrido Rodríguez, Cuban poet and activist, was sentenced March 2022 to seven years in prison for her criticism of the Cuban government and for participating, along with thousands of Cubans, in peaceful protests against the government on July 11, 2021.
“On July 11, we showed courage, decisiveness, breaking with the silence of the years; we demonstrated unanimity and pluralism, because young people, adults, the elderly, university students and farmers, housewives and workers, also leaders and even party cadres took to the streets to say yes to the overthrow of the dictatorship and for a prosperous and democratic Cuba,” she wrote in a letter from prison.
Upon her arrest, Garrido was beaten by the Cuban political police and subjected to enforced disappearance for 18 days. Charged with “public disorder, assault, instigation to commit a crime, contempt and resistance,” Garrido is imprisoned in the women’s Guatao Prison where she’s been subjected to solitary confinement and further beatings.
Born in Quivicán, Mayaquebé in 1982, Garrido is the author of Examen de Tiempo (Time Examination), published in 2022, and the recipient of the 2008 First National Prize in the Carlos Baliño Tobacco Competition.
“The cemetery of the living”
(a fragment of her poem written in prison)
I'm writing this moan right now
in an early morning of prisoners and opprobrium
where the doors sound like tears and oblivion.
I can't sleep.
I discovered that it is better to write at this time
in which the pain of others sleeps
and silence softens the mind
and the spirit.
The night is my spur
although it is the greatest danger.
Doctors without a coat and without a vocation
they flee from the pleas
and I fear dying in a long unexpected pain.
We call this place The Cemetery of the Living.
Here justice is buried without an undertaker
inexorable of the motherland
as if the crime of a child was buried
or a flower
To Take Action:
Write to the Cuban authorities, calling on them to:
• Release Garrido immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against her;
• Pending her release, ensure that she is provided with regular communication with her family and adequate health care, and that she in not subjected to any form of ill-treatment;
• Release all imprisoned writers and artists unjustly imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression and artistic expression
• Abide by their international human rights obligations and uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
Send appeals to:
President Sr. Miguel Díaz-Canel:
Minister of Justice Oscar Silvera Martínez:
Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso Grau:
Minister of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla:
You can also send emails to the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba in your own country.
An attack on a writer, the shutting down of a publishing house, the torching of a newspaper reduce the space in the world where ideas can flow. Freedom of expression is vital to writers and to readers but is challenged daily around the world. Listed here are organizations whose work on human rights and in particular issues of freedom of expression I’ve been engaged with directly and indirectly over the years. Some of the organizations have broader agendas, but all have contributed to keeping space open for the individual voice.
PEN International (with its 147 centers in over 100 countries)
PEN American Center
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International USA
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Index on Censorship
Poets and Writers
International Center for Journalists
Part of speech: noun
Origin: Latin, 15th century
1. Patience or tolerance in the face of adversity.
2. Forbearance, long-suffering.
"My mother impressed me with her longanimity in the face of my 2-year-old’s temper tantrum."
"The high school principal practiced longanimity by trading detentions in exchange for community service."
Part of speech: noun
Origin: Greek, 20th century
1. A fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine.
“Hubris, or excessive pride, is often depicted as a hero’s ultimate hamartia."
I’ve enjoyed giving readings at bookstores, addressing audiences in many venues, and moderating discussions around the world, speaking on a wide range of topics. Click here for a list of past and future speaking events.
I’ll be talking with several book clubs over the next month and love engaging with readers. If you are in a Reading Group or Book Club and read one of my books, I'd be glad to be in touch by email, conference call or when possible in person. I can also suggest discussion topics.