The Monday Book: WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg

Yeah, it’s a classic. And it’s a classic for a reason.

One of the coolest things about Goldberg’s book is, even outdated, it updates itself in your mind. “Think about the pen and notebook you use.” She doesn’t mean a small laptop. She means paper. Remember paper?

But from choosing your tools carefully, through “don’t cross out”–which means don’t edit your first draft, just get it down, get it down, get it down–she’s giving great advice.

In fact, her advice lines up with Anne Lamott’s and Stephen King’s, so there’s an endorsement for you. And I have always loved the way her advice is chunked up into little two-page pieces: be specific, keep a notebook with lists of names of stuff, and use the real names, not just “fruit”; and she deals with the old procrastination trick of “making a writing room” very well. (I have never successfully had a writing room. Jack and I have made four, and I have used none. But I still get my writing done.)

In fact, my only beef with myself for choosing a “how to write” book for the Monday book is that reading about writing may take the place of you doing it. “Just one more how to, and then I’ll be ready.”

Nah. You’re ready now. That’s one of the things I love about Goldberg’s book. She makes sure you know you’re ready now, with advice that lets you know there’s no special fairy with a wand you need to wait for; just do things like “Use your senses as an animal does.” Or the section called “Claim your Writing,” where you’re allowed to believe in yourself ENOUGH TO CARVE OUT TIME TO DO THIS. I think that’s the thing I hear particularly from moms over and over again: I can’t find time; it’s not worth it while my kids need me. OK, but I never hear a guy say that. No, take that back – Neil Gaiman said something like that once. But he’s a nice guy.

The point is, we make time for what we feel we have to make time for: kids, words, whatever. And Goldberg’s very practical yet poetic advice makes it clear that, if we want to, we can not only find the time, but the ideas, the words, and the logistics to get our writing done.

 

4 Comments

Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

MORE AUTHOR HUMILIATIONS

Johnathan Rand is a household name if you’ve got kids. His RandAmerican Chillers series, Michigan Chillers series, and Freddie Fernortner-Fearless First Grader series have more than 5 million copies in print. But even highly successful authors aren’t immune to the vagaries of humiliation; read on. (And then check out his website: www.americanchillers.com).

On Saturday, April 28, 2001, I was scheduled for a signing at a Large-But-Now-Deservedly-Defunct-Chain-Bookstore. Upon arrival, I was informed that the manager had been on vacation for ‘some time.’ No one at the store knew about the signing.

The publisher had sent a dozen 18″ by 26″ posters for in-store promotion; they had not been placed. The store also received over 1,000 4″ by 6″ bag stuffers advertising the event. Again, these had gone unused. The press releases provided hadn’t been sent out, no media had been contacted.

The predictable result? Not a single person showed up. Note that the vast majority of my events tend to be capacity-positive, and most stores utilize a numbering system for customers to organize the flow of the line. Case in point: at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Saginaw, Michigan, the very next day, there were over 600 kids waiting for the signing to begin.

Hmmph…..

Could it get any worse? Oh yes. Just ask Joe Cobb Crawford, author of The Poetry Company:

My agent scheduled me to do a signing at a book store that had shuttered their doors two weeks prior to my arrival. No one told me. I showed up to see a sign reading “Out of Business.” This was to be my first ever book signing. Add to the embarrassment, this store was located near my childhood home town and some friends and relatives were to attend. Lucky for me, and with no help from my agent, a kind gentleman and owner of another book store in the town allowed the signing to be held at his book store.

(Joe’s website is http://crawfordpoetrycompany.com/ and he will be putting out a book of humiliation experiences this fall, entitled What the Bookman Saw.)

 

 

 

Author:

Books:

Leave a comment

Filed under bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing, YA fiction

A Quiet and Human Place

Kelly Saderholm’s guest blog about her and her daughter’s recent stint as shopsitters in the Little Bookstore -

“Oh, wow, I just LOVE it here!” The customer said as she handed me money for her purchases. “I could LIVE in a bookstore!”

“I am living here,” I said, happily, as I gave her a receipt and explained how I was shop-sitting while Wendy and Jack were away in Scotland.

“That’s really COOL,” she said. And she was right.

My daughter Rachel and I agreed to shop-sit and look after the two dogs and ever-changing number of foster cats; in exchange, we could pick out whatever books we wanted, and have the experience of tending a bookstore. For so many of us hard-core reader types, this is a secret fantasy. In the age of disappearing brick and mortar stores (of any kind but especially bookstores) I had often wondered how that fantasy would stack up against the real thing. In this case, the reality fared pretty well!

I was fortunate not to have bad days, crank customers, or disasters. The worse thing that happened was that Bert, one of the dogs, got upset by the Fourth of July firecrackers and chewed up a basement step.

The best thing? There were so many “best things” it is hard to choose. Of course the books, surrounded by books, ahhhhh. I loved chatting with customers. With a high school class reunion and the holiday weekend, people from all over were visiting family and friends. Most had either read Wendy’s book or heard about the bookstore from friends and family. It was interesting talking to people from different regions, discovering their connection to the area.

Even more interesting were the people living here. Rachel and I fell in love with the place. I realized that our temporary home was not just a used bookstore, but Big Stone Gap’s Bookstore, catering to the needs and wants of the community. In the introduction to one of my favorite books, Laural’s Kitchen, one of the authors, Carol Flinders, talks about “a sense of place.” Jack and Wendy’s shop is very much a nurturing “Place” with capital letters, where people feel a connection to each other, to the town, the region, the culture.

Speaking of cooking and food and place- Kelley’s Second Story Cafe (on the bookstore’s second floor) is another very special place, with delicious food. She kept us well-fed during our stay!

Kelley’s food nurtured our bodies, the books nurtured our minds, but a third, intangible element of the bookstore nurtured our souls. A strong sense of Quiet pervades the bookstore. That feeling was re-enforced as Rachel and I took our leave last Sunday just as the Friends Meeting started upstairs. But the whole week there was a gentle, quiet feeling throughout the place. Several customers remarked on it. All week people came in just to browse and enjoy the quiet. One guy stayed for two hours.

If one is looking for a business to make fast, easy money, a used bookstore is not it. But, if one is a bibliophile interested in a satisfying, rewarding business–not in a profit sense but in a people sense– one could do worse than to run a used bookstore.

The first Foxfire book has a chapter titled, “A Quilt is Something Human.” It makes me happy that with so many chain retail stores selling mass-produced consumer goods, Jack and Wendy’s bookstore is indeed Some Place Human.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Monday Book: CALL THE MIDWIFE by Jennifer Worth

Worth imageOne of the nicest things about vacationing in Scotland is that the books landing in charity shops there are completely different from here. I must have counted six copies of Gone Girl and two of Divergent.

Jack and I scored several titles, including one I’d intended to get to since enjoying the series on Netflix. Call the Midwife is actually part of a trilogy of books Jennifer Worth wrote; the others are Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End. (She also did one on hospice nursing later.)

I enjoyed the books, but this is one of the few times I have to say watching the series first helped. I’m not up on 1950s and ’60s medical parlance or practice, and there are details in Worth’s writing that I wouldn’t have understood without seeing them played out in pictures first.

Worth tells her story in simple, straightforward ways. It isn’t her writing that’s attractive so much as the details she gives, her way of understanding how humans are feeling. One might be tempted to use the word “clunky” once or twice on certain passages. She died in 2011, just as the series based on her books was coming to TV. Not having had the chance to meet her, I suspect she’d have proven a great humanitarian rather than wordsmith.

Still, who cares, because the stories in Midwife are fascinating, compelling, and lovely to read after seeing them portrayed. Some were taken straight from the book, others embellished from mere hints and whispers she included in passing. A lot of her descriptions were taken care of with just a couple of camera shots.

Let me say it again: it is the stories and not the storytelling that makes this book a great read. It is a methodical and prosaic capture of a way of life now over: one feels the pavements, smells the odors, and shares the fears and happinesses. Worth writes like a camera takes pictures, presenting snapshots, no corners left dark.

Worth’s life is in itself fascinating. She married in 1963 about ten years after she became a nurse, had two daughters, and left nursing in 1973 to teach piano and voice at a college. And she didn’t start writing until late in life. Midwife came out in 2002, and took five years to reach bestseller status.

Worth reminds me of another favorite book from a British author, The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. The older of its authors didn’t start writing in earnest until late in life; her book was also post-humous, and a bestseller, and took a snapshot of a terrifying yet exuberant time to be human.

Let that be a lesson to those of us who write; get going. Stories need to be told more than perfected. Think what else these woman could have given us if they’d started earlier.

 

5 Comments

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Scotland, writing

“THOSE Books” – More Humiliation Stories

Who knew so many great stories lurked out there? Here’s another one from a host….

Back then, I owned a bookstore, Book Heaven. Down at the end of the building was a genuine Old Mill. It had been converted to shops. The new people who were setting up a high end guitar shop claimed to play in Dolly Parton’s band, and be good friends with the likes of Waylon and Willie. The newbies wanted to have a grand opening, with music and stories. Dolly was booked, Waylon and Willie were doing something else.
A wonderful Storyteller and her Musician husband who happened to be in this neck of the woods from across the waters were available. Newbies were very happy to have them come. The date was set, I posted posters,  I sent bios and photos to the local paper. Of course, I was excited. I was looking forward to a parking lot full of audience and customers. Not to mention great stories and songs.
Storyteller and Musician were there well ahead of the crowd. Not only did the crowd not show, the Newbie owners didn’t show up either. When I frantically called the Newbies, on several different cell numbers, they claimed they forgot. He’d  booked a show half way across the country. He didn’t know where she was. It was no consolation that the shop closed within a week. Newbies lost their shirts on expensive guitars. The wife got busted for pharmaceutical abuse. Maybe it was an old Scottish curse.

 

And one from an author…..

You can summarize every attempt I’ve ever had to do a local booksigning this way:
“Sorry, but we don’t host signings for—ahem—THOSE books. Please leave.”
(I write erotica. That is, I used to, until EL James ruined things for everybody. I like EL James, but I hate what all the copycats have done to my market. Sigh.)
Now I work for a bank.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Shopsitter Janelle says Farewell

We’re running a bit behind on timing because of the author humiliation contest – more entries posted Friday! This is our first shopsitter of the summer’s farewell post, and Kelly, our second shopsitter will be sending a post next week. (BTW, if you’re interested in shopsitting, we are looking for a week in October and a couple of weeks in December.)

Sadly, our shopsitting visit is soon coming to an end already.

We are excited about the potential of our final day sitting the shop, and we are tickled to have company coming for lunch tomorrow, too…folks that moved from our home area near Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Chuckey, Tennessee, several years ago. We just now realized how near to them we are while here.

To be honest, this shopsitting gig has been far more like a vacation than work. We have come to feel far more like family than “hired” help. And we have done more reading and relaxing than we have work. The latter I understand, I think. If I were home I’d find plenty to do (I’m pretty sure I have weeds waiting for me in my yard, taller than I am) but no matter how much work I invent for myself to do here (like re-organizing book stacks or putting sections of books back into alphabetical order or sweeping the front porch or doing dishes or laundry) I’ve still been getting to read and visit with guests (and Facebook) more than I would if I were at home this week.

And as for relaxing vacation, I’m not completely sure what to make of that, but I think it’s the Wendy factor. She has told her local people to make us feel welcome, and they sure have. We have been included in invitations to dinner and swim aerobics and church and told where the local walking/running trail is numerous times…and been included in pretty much all else that has gone on while we have been here. We have eaten nearly every meal offered (that will need to be addressed when we get home, too!) and, when I think about it, taken up very few of the exercise offers presented us. But Wendy threw out on Facebook that we wanted to do some local hiking, and after all sorts of suggestions for where we should/could go, kind friend Destiny simply said she would come and lead us, and she and her son Jack did!

I learned a lot while we were here; there is no question. I go home no less eager to one day have my own bookstore, no less eager to have Natalie bake and maybe cook for me like Kelley does in the Second Story Cafe here. Wendy and Kelley make that all look like a very easy, symbiotic relationship, not a “tough” job at all.

Wendy does, indeed, make it all look enjoyable and easy…although I do fear that I’d find in my own shop lots to do instead of this relaxed “I could do that” style. We prevented Wendy’s work from getting done sometimes with plenty of conversations, several good meals, a mutual glass of wine or bottle of beer here or there. Sometimes I really wanted her to go “make stuff,” assured that we could manage things here, and when she did, that’s when I felt I was contributing the most.

Otherwise, let’s be honest: I’d far prefer to hear her conversation with a guest to the shop–the exchange of local chit-chat, or updates on pet adoptions or procedures, or discussion of a new book, or valuing of books brought in for trade. If she wasn’t really “gone” from the shop, it was too easy for her to step in and do those things, and I seized the opportunities, then, to learn from the master.

I’ve very much enjoyed this adventure with my two youngest daughters, watching them melt kitten hearts and make new friends, devour books (Natalie stayed up until 2:40AM Saturday night…err, Sunday morning… finishing Water For Elephants, which she had started only the night before. It’s one of my all-time favorite books! How can I be upset with that activity?!) And I loved us getting to see, together, parts of the country we had not previously visited. Delaney’s determination to be THE one to get to “do the Square” any time a customer paid with a card or to be the one to take their cash, for that matter, showed me she has those super original cashier skills, communicating clearly and doing math in her head to make change (rather than NEED a cash register to do it for her). We go home with a new bond of mutual adventure and with many memories to share.

It’s like reading a book with someone, only better. The girls and I have shared a tremendous adventure, and I can only imagine how soon we’ll all talk about coming back! I imagine it will come up in the thirteen-hour ride home.Janelle on porch
Thanks for your hospitality, all. We have had a great time!

 

1 Comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: WAITING by Ha Jin

I read this on holiday at a friend’s house, so of course I had to read quickly in order to leave it there. What struck me about the book was how it made you feel you could see inside a China that is usually invisible to guests and visitors, the one that runs on paperwork and bribes. And yet, at the same time, it made you feel like issues surrounding love and human hearts are the same the world over: when you’ve got what you want, you want something else.

WAITING is about a man in an arranged marriage to a woman from his former village. He now works as a doctor in the city, and wants to divorce her and marry a nurse from his hospital. It has elements of rural/urban divisions as well as cultural divides within China.

Some people might find this a depressing read, but I found the buoyant bits between the “well, that didn’t work” parts satisfying. Also, the prose is… stiff, but in a positive way. You don’t notice how Ha Jin writes so much as the story he is telling; the words don’t get in the way. I actually thought it had been translated at first; it had that feel, but he writes and teaches in English – in Georgia.

If Iago is your favorite Shakespearean villain, if you’re interested in other cultures, if you like to read about women’s lives in China, if you plain like good storytelling, this is a good book for you. If you like a lot of zip and action and stiff prose bothers you, you won’t like it.

I loved it, enough to stay up late and finish it the night before we flew out of our friend Jane’s place.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, what's on your bedside table