Martha Benzler and Courtney Gilbert

Recorded December 8, 2019 Archived December 8, 2019 34:12 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019475


Author and artist Martha Benzler (74) talks with StoryCorps facilitator Courtney Gilbert (28) about her children's books, which she has written, illustrated, and self-published.

Subject Log / Time Code

MB talks about "Ladies of the Club", the book that led to her children's book writing and illustrations.
MB talks about a children's book she wrote, "Helen's Hat Shop", and the complications of self-publishing.
MB talks about her parents.
MB talks about her son.
MB remembers going to school with Steve Martin.
MB shares how she would like to be remembered.


  • Martha Benzler
  • Courtney Gilbert

Recording Location

Yuma Art Center


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00:05 My name is Martha benzler. I'm 74 years old. It's Sunday, December 8th 2019 in Yuma, Arizona.

00:16 Name of the interview partner is Courtney relationship to the partner partner.

00:26 Nothing. Yeah, my name is Courtney Gilbert. I'm 28 years old. We're in Yuma Arizona. Today's date is December 8th 2019. It's Sunday. I'm here with Martha benzler and we're going to talk more about her writing and her Inspirations for such.

00:45 Okay, so you have a book here that you want to talk about you want to tell me more about yeah, I have two of them. The first one is and the ladies of the club by Helen Hoover satin Meyer and it was first published at the Ohio State press and then a lady Reddit in the library and she loved it so much. She contacted her son and her son lived in Hollywood. And he was one of the Hollywood Los Angeles people that you know when in the film industry and he got a hold of penguin publishing and a reprieve the book and there was so it was really good and I read the book and I fell on page 234. It's quite a sizable who are very large.

01:45 34 and 35 and I read it and in and she had wrote a children's story in the book. Okay, and I read it and I liked and I am I went on and then a couple days later. I stopped myself and I went back and read it again and I started doing research on it and it had never been done.

02:07 So my children story has never been written into a children's book and penguin publishing kind of didn't see it. They just didn't see it. And so I started drawing the pictures and I did Mr. World barrel and mr. Grindstone and he's a characters that are exactly from this book from this book and then I did mrs. Mrs. Sawhorse.

02:41 I did miss the sawhorse and it's the life in the Woodshed. So you kept the project going essentially from from the door from the book and Ladies of the club story that was in there. I broke it down into a children's book and I did all the illustrations and I wrote it what inspired you to take on that project. Just I'm just I'm just that type of person. I just find something and and I I go on and mr. Saw is the end of the book and he's in the end of the book and and then I did a script a hundred page animated script for DreamWorks and they seen it but they didn't pick it up. Wow. It went that far though. And then I put which has never been done. I put a Donkey from Shrek in it and

03:41 And so it's it's I wrote that it's a hundred page script and it's registered at The Writers Guild in Los Angeles and I keep it registered and then I was at the I was at a Fourth of July Fourth of July baseball game in Palm Springs at the old baseball field there in Palm Springs and man had his little boy and he had a hat a little I had a little baseball hat on and I had eyes and mouth and I thought well that's cute and then I started thinking about it night. What why not Helen's hat shop. So I rode Helen's hat shop and I did all the illustrations and I had it published and when I published it at authorhouse, they charged me $1,800 and didn't tell me that you know that it would be buried at Amazon and Barnes Noble because the house is paid them to bury.

04:41 Publishing books, we're kind of a competition and they want us buried and then I built it when you say self-publish that's kind of like independent your self-published or not. You're not represented by a house outside. And so they want all those books buried Barnes & Noble in Amazon and Jeff Jeff. I have talked to from Amazon talk to him on the phone a couple of times and he likes and I did my website and it's called self bookshelf and what it is that the bookshelf it's a shelf for self publishing authors and all my all their books are on there and I'm linked to Amazon. So if you hit the book on my website, it goes to Amazon and then they can buy it through their wow, Martha.

05:32 You seem like you're able to just draw inspiration from your environment and move forward with that to create things. Can you talk about your creative process? So you see something it stays with you. How soon are you acting on that kind of feeling in that inspiration within a couple of days. I read the Steinbeck's ghost by Lewis Busbee. He lives in San Francisco and me and him are friends and we talk I talked to him on the phone and everything and he's a he's a professor at at the University of San Francisco and he teaches literature and teaches writing and and I thought well, why not to go to Georgia O'Keeffe still I have finished the ghosts of Georgia o'keith, and I have the book cover and now I'm working on that to get that to an agent. Who knows when that'll happen. That's kind of a hard.

06:32 You know, it's kind of hard to do that. And then I'm working on I'm going to restart it in January the the ghost at the Southern Pacific Hotel Yuma Arizona 1910. I'm so that's what I'm doing is working on that one. So I'm always and then I I do art work and at home and I'm always doing something. I'm always busy when did creating writing illustrating become a full-time thing for you to either wait. Okay, so when I retired you, okay, I was able to do it yet. What were you doing before then? I was caregiving I did caregiving and I did and then I'm a master Weaver spinner and I do oriental and Navajo rug repair and I work for a Persian man in Palm Springs. Anyhow, rug Gallery there and I did all his repairs were you thinking about writing during that that time? No, no, no. No.

07:32 Okay. No, so did you ever go to school or anything for creative writing classes or illustration art? Tried to Iron Mike Hemingway Hemingway. He didn't have his grammar wasn't really good neither as mine. You know my spelling is okay. My reading is great. But to do the you no punctuation send I I don't understand it. It's just kind of it just doesn't make sense to me and it says that the same as Hemingway and Roosevelt and Roosevelt and Georgia O'Keeffe. They couldn't they couldn't spell they were great artist and great people. I mean Theodore Roosevelt when he was our president, but he couldn't spell I think in those situations do you really have the benefit of I helped you so you have an editor so you don't necessarily have to have like those skills like well I tried and they don't

08:31 It's just I tried it and if there were a little bit of help to me, but you know, I I really want an agent to pick me up and go on into being published by a house in you know, going that way and that's what I'm working for, you know in my retirement years, you've talked a lot about the literate literary figures that have been instances in your life. Do you have any influences within your family or like a circle of friends that have influenced your creativity and what you like to do and not really my father was a little bit talented but not that much and my mother she was she she's the one that kind of spoiled me and she would spell for me. So that's why I didn't learn how to spell I got kind of spoil their my great-grandfather 10. Generations back was William tapoco of the Wickham on Indians in Jessup eBay.

09:31 He was the second Indian chief that Smith mess when he came off a chest PB Smith as in John Smith. Okay, so my great-grandfather 3 grandfathers were Chiefs of the week of my Indians in in Virginia. So you said you didn't ask her weaving. Is that something that's passed out your feelings. I took a weaving class at Arizona Western College in 73. They were having a different little classes for people and it was $20 a class. So I took the weeding class and I went on to being a rug repair and I taught at the Crafton Hill College. I taught a weaving class. They're nice and I do Navajo weaving and spinning. Okay. Let's talk about your time spent here in Yuma. Were you born here or did you move here? I moved here from Fresno and 19 6.

10:31 9 and I stayed till 1980 and then I went to Bishop California because I had had a son out of wedlock and I wanted to get child support and the DEA and Yuma told me to go to California and get on welfare and follow through and I'm a kind of person when I start something. I don't stop until it's done and I was the first woman to collect child support through the state of California unmarried. I'm on the books Pioneer. So that's how you know, that's and then I went there in a t and then I just came back from 3 years ago. Are you enjoying your time in Yuma Yuma seems like a creative Community. Yeah, it is his very creative and I'm going to start in January. I'm going to start a weaving class. It's a little at the little

11:30 Start a weaving class at the little woods aren't Center or Centre. Yeah, I'm going to start a weaving class. I try to start it this month, but everybody's so busy with Christmas said it's not going to be really good. So we're going to hold off until January. That'll be good. And then I'm going to teach so I'm on a couple of Saturdays the little kids they can make book A book marker weaving book markers. Wow, that'll be fun. That'll be something to do. I'm really excited that she get an opportunity to do that. Well, you know why you're teaching and you're sharing with other people what you're passionate about has that been a goal for you before or is it just a new opportunity? Just so you know just something to do. Do you know, what kind of I kind of get bored. And so I try to find something to do with myself you do cuz writing is not always you don't want to write, you know, I work on I work on my literature everyday somewhere.

12:30 Somehow but I don't always I don't sit and just write and write and write, you know, I think that's what kills Steinbeck because he did that. He shouldn't have done that and I think that's why he got kind of tired. So do you read more or do you read as much as you write? I only read when I go to sleep at night. Okay, that's it. That's the only time I read and oh, I am on the computer. I'm always remember always reading something or doing something on the computer and I do tweet a lot. I tweet a lot. Yeah, and I I get agents that are you do are asking for somebody that sooner or later. So maybe somebody will pick me up who knows Shannon when you put yourself out there and you're in the networking interacting with folks ya play a matter of time because on Helen's hat shop. I have five books of Helen's hat shop. I have a hell in that shop. I have Helen's hats go to the derby. Helen's hat fit.

13:30 Station at the Dude Ranch the art at Saint Helens at job and Helen's hat shop. Go to the library speaking of libraries. I used to work at a library in Ohio. And I found that I initially thought I was a nonfiction person. I was drawn to like all these other books where you know, either they were stories about like different events in history or different people are just different kind of like subjects. I remember finding a book about aromatherapy in the whole science and kind of Origins around smelling sense. And then once I start working at the library, I became a fiction person and I was really interested in finding all these different authors and telling all these different stories. Which way do you lean when you go to find a book? I just I just like right now I'm reading the Razor Edge and it's a 1945 book that I bought a couple years ago, and it's been in my bookshelf and I got it out and started reading it.

14:30 Georgia O'Keeffe me and George OKC. She was born November 16th and I was born November 15th. So me and George are Keith are a lot of like in personality and I understand her probably more than a lot of people would dinner. So yeah, and no I just whatever comes across me, you know, that's like Helen and the ladies of the club. It was in a it was in a I was living in a mobile home park and it was in the library of the mobile home park. And so I picked it up and that's when I took it home and started reading it at night and that's when I came across the story that Helen had wrote In the book and penguin just never saw it and they're a little upset with me because I have a copyrighted at the Library of Congress and I haven't registered at The Writers Guild in Los Angeles.

15:30 Yes, I have a son and he lives in San Francisco. And when he was little I used to do the Christmas windows and he used to come down and watch me and I with his art teacher until he finally had high school and you got some good art classes and then he went on to college and he ended up in San Francisco and he does marrows wound. He does miracles for he works for the new Bohemians Sign Company in San Francisco. And then he does gold leaf lettering and Google he goes to Google campus because they have the glass doors with gold leaf lettering and he has to change the lettering when they change offices. That's beautiful though. He is very artistic like I am and he's you know, he just does really well and he lives in a 1910 1909 cabin. They do dope after the earthquake in San Francisco. He

16:30 Lives in one of those little cabins and it's a kitchen living room bedroom and a bathroom and that's it. And do you like to visit him there and I visited him there a couple of times and he lives hymn at lives on Fulton Street, and he really enjoys San Francisco because he has to have a lot going on around him. He used to get in trouble a lot because he would be bored. There wasn't enough going on around him. San Francisco is really well. He's he's in him and two other friends just started at a business and they're redoing the old buildings in the Alleyways where they have advertisements for like Crescent Chris 5 and 10 and Dime Store. They redo all those old signs and their restoring them beautiful.

17:30 Doing a lot of things with his art, it's great. And he has a daughter there. I don't wife. I had asked you if you had any sisters or brothers. I have a sister. She lives in Nevada and she has two daughters there and their my nieces and she's she's just kind of a different person. She's we never were really very close and kind of distant always so that and that happens it does ya part of families. Is there anything else that you want me to specifically know about you and your creative Journey?

18:11 You know, like if I get picked up by a. Nation and get a publisher, you know, I have three more books for more books that I want to do on Helen's hat shop, you know, and I don't know if I'll ever get DreamWorks to pick up the Woodshed but you know, I've talked to him a couple times. I've looked at it me and my friend wrote in 2000. We wrote we went and saw Chicken Run 2. I mean chicken run chicken run to and we pitched it at DreamWorks. So I have been to DreamWorks studio and now I have coffee there and it's not it's not very never many people have been to that studio and I saw Shrek before it even came out on I saw how they did they have the storyboard laying on the floor and they were all walking up and down looking at the storyboard all drawn out really huge. So it was kind of a it was a really

19:11 Nice experience. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience because not everybody has ever been to the studio and let you know it's hard to get into that studio. Could my friend Mark had an agent there in Palm Springs and he got us he had a he had a literature it I mean a studio in agent agency in Los Angeles and he got us in the door and we went and ditched it, but they didn't pick it up and we change the the egg thing from killing the chickens to making a egg custard pie and he had Madame from

20:03 Do you know the the puppet Madame he had he had her and we put her in the in the in the movie 2 in the script. Yeah, I have it at home. I have the script at home. Can you tell more about your relationships to movies? Cuz you seem like very drawn to those as well. And in terms of like a form of Storytelling. Do you have a favorite film that sticks out to you and to Kill a Mockingbird? I always that was that one with Gregory Peck To Kill a Mockingbird. Why black and white? Yeah, I liked it. Yeah, I saw it in our years and years ago. I just didn't know it it didn't you know like the other night How to Train Your Dragon with Jean and I watched it and that's interesting. That's DreamWorks and Disney and and

21:01 I don't know. I just have always been interested in in literature and drawing and I mean I've been drawing since I was really little, you know, I start drawing when I was really little so, you know, was it just kind of like a peaceful activity for you or was it something where you like you had ideas you were seeing thing on there were just come to me and I realized I was wrong and my father always supplied me with my art material, you know, and that was like my son. I always supplied him with his art, you know his art material giving you like paper and pen and pencil tin. And then I helped him, you know, I taught him a lot of art, you know before he even had an art class cuz they don't really have art classes like they used to in unfortunate and that's unfortunate to that's really sad, but you know

21:56 And now I my granddaughter she was too and selling her art on the streets and San Francisco show. She's an artist. Do you start showing in an art gallery of the three generations? I think that's a beautiful in a wonderful idea. I think so. Yeah, where would you like that to be in San Francisco or hearing Yuma do in New York and New York? Okay. Yeah and New York. Yeah. Yeah. Take it somewhere there. Yeah. Yeah. Have you been to see archived? I spent three weeks in New York. That was enough. Okay, that's too busy. Any Gallery spaces are art spaces and then I flew when I flew back I flew back with Simon & Garfunkel and they they were just coming out. Yeah. I'm at them on the flight and their manager. Yeah. That was really interesting.

22:56 So I've met a lot of really interesting people, you know, I met some really interesting people here in Yuma and and the other way than I met Don Nixon and Three Rivers, California Nixon's nephew, you know, so I've I've met a lot of really interesting people and been told a lot of interesting things and things I didn't want to hear. Thank you note. So yeah, so that's a no and I just didn't have just I just keep busy with my life. You know, they're I don't watch TV till 3 and at 2 in the afternoon. And then once I ride a stationary bike 5 days a week 50 minutes a day. That's my exercise routine.

23:48 Yeah, cuz I can't I had a hip surgery and I'm afraid to ride a regular bike because if I fall and mess up that hip I don't want to have another hip surgery. So so I got me a stationary bike and I write it every afternoon except Saturday and Sunday is my day of rest. Absolutely you doing so many things you're creating you're taking in stories and information that he said you're working on your health and everything. I know there's a lot of conversation now about how creative take care of themselves. Would you say that exercise and taking like proper rest is a part of yourself and I eat well, I do not eat. Well, yeah. Yeah, I do most my I hardly ever eat out. I I do all my own cooking. Yeah. Yeah, so I'm in a little bit more control of it. I'm only on two medications which is not bad for my age because a lot of my friends

24:48 Unsere on 5-6 medications and I'm only on Two And I go all well. I'm not doing too bad. I guess it. Oh, so, you know

24:58 I just didn't know just keep busy and I'm a master. I do mask I've taught myself to do masking. So I made a quite a few mask in my life and I pee and then I just whatever I feel like I want to do, you know, I taught myself how to do a sewing I sewed five dresses in like they did in the 80s with a needle and that was it needle and thread in a sewing machine and no sewing machines and then I taught myself to crochet.

25:32 So I told crochet I teach myself things, you know something that I don't know why you know, I always want to try. Well that's kind of student were you in school? I asked I was I was on a real good student. I went to school. We left Fresno for a year. And we move to Huntington Beach and then we moved to Garden Grove and I had a person in my art class was named Steve Martin and and me and him had an art class together and we had history in our history teacher told him he'd be a bum and I'd be I'd be a loser because we wouldn't be quiet in class that didn't work out together and he and our teacher taught us that you know art.

26:32 And

26:33 You know, so I mean, like I said, I've met a lot of interesting people in my life and people come across me and which you know, I like

26:44 You know, I like to do that. I like to meet new people and everything. That's really really amazing who would have thought it's amazing how when where you end up and like you said the people that you meet along the way? Oh, yeah, and I am like Thanksgiving Thanksgiving and I had dinner with a friend that I met in 1969 hear. Her name is Ruby and me and Ruby have been friends since 1969 and we're still friends. Yeah after all those years. What do you think keeps you all close?

27:21 Justice just us we know each other there's there's no you know, I mean, yeah, we just we can just show up at our door. That's okay. And I know I'm going to have to call you know, I'm the kind of person you don't have to call me that you're coming over just come over and I know I'm never not that busy, you know, where a lot of people that's what they do. They're too busy, you know and that sadness in their life's nothing you do not mind. So yeah, that's like a neighbor came over yesterday and she didn't have her keys to lock her door. She wanted to let me know that she was going to leave your door unlocked to keep an eye out. No doubt, that's fine. So, do you have any advice for people and potential authors aspiring authors folks who are looking to get self-published or to be published her just starting out who don't know where to go. It's really hard and unlike it is really hard.

28:21 And I like Amazon and I like Jeff because he does have self-publishing and it doesn't cost you anything and they'll work with you. They don't do the grammar, but they will work with your pages and everything and my books are all published through it used to be creative space and then he turned change to the Kindle Kindle does the publishing now and and you know, you don't have to pay like I paid $1,800 to have Helen's hat shop done and they didn't even do it. Right I had to redo it all and I had I had to do it not that and you know that damn you don't they don't even tell you you're paying $1,800 for a burial and so

29:13 Yeah, you know it's really interesting. If if I see a lot of people on Twitter and everything and they asked questions and I tell him just go to Amazon Amazon vinyl take care of that and most of your agents and your Publishers do not want you to be so published. So if an agent is going to pick you up they will ask you to take the books down off of Amazon and Barnes & Noble because they'll take care of that. That's that's there. That's their game and you don't want to cross City buddies lines and you know, you don't want your not the agent there the agent so you have to kind of go along with what they want.

29:59 And what they do, you know you you have to go along with it and that's and yeah and don't quit even if you know, if you get there you get discouraged everybody tells you all know. It's horrible. Don't quit keep moving keep from you. Like I like Andy warhol's hits keep throwing it on the wall and sooner or later something will stick and that's what I do is I might handy I listen to Andy Warhol, I think that was a good suggestion keep throwing it on the wall sooner or later. Something will stick, you know, and that's what he did, you know, and he got he got where he got because he didn't stop and he didn't let anybody quit quit on him. He just kept throwing until sooner or later. Somebody picked him up.

30:55 You know, so that that's what it is. As you know, like a lot of authors. They don't know they start out there knew they don't know that they investigate and go to the internet and keep looking read everything you can on publishing and what you want to do and you know it sooner or later because you know still publishing authors and people that are known get published before the self publishing authors, you know, and it it's it's a hard game. It is warm it it's one of the hardest game besides film and in literature is two of the hardest games to get into play and you have to be really got to you got to have your elephant skin on your body that could be as tough as an elephant because you know, you're going to get pushed around and going to get shoved around and if an agent picks you up you have to go along with

31:55 Everything they say you cannot say no don't do that. They're the boss. You are just the writer. You're the one that started it you're at the bottom and and then it goes all the way up to the publisher and they have the say all the way to you know, and you you're just you're just a starter of it and they'll take it and then I'll change it and they'll do whatever they want with it. And that's the way and then you go to the bank. That's the way it is. So we have just a few more minutes left. I want to thank you for allowing me to talk with you today Martha. Thank you, and I want to ask you to close out our time here together. How would you like to be remembered?

32:44 How would I like to be remembered just as Martha? Yeah, just the artist that the author and Ed David's mother. That's what I want to be remembered as David's mother. That's that that's I hope I helped somebody down the line, you know, if they want to they want to go to the website and look at it fine. If they don't that's fine too cuz my niece is going to take over the website after I'm gone. So she's going to take that over and keep it going straight. Yeah.

33:25 Sooner or later, you know, there's nothing like my website out there. It's not a self-published. She is not a publishing website is just a bookshelf is for self-published authors and their books and there's there's nothing else no advertisement know it's amazing that she created this community and not just that one little community and I hope it does continue on. Yeah why I know where he's going to Jody bass is my niece and she's going to take it over when I'm gone. Amazing. I'm leaving that to her.

34:02 Martha thank you so much. Thank you for doing this for me. I appreciate it.