Rambling Boy

 

 

In Jack’s weekly guest blog he ruminates on the season -

Now that the weather has turned into something akin to Spring, Wendy and I have got back into going for a ramble round the neighborhood of an evening lately. It’s lovely to see everything looking green and coming back to life.

Part of our meanderings have taken us along the greenbelt path alongside the river and we were surprised and delighted to see how it had been upgraded with new fencing, lighting and signage. As we were overtaken by joggers, families on bicycles and passed by fishing folks, I couldn’t help thinking how much this would appeal to visitors to the town.

Those visitors, more and more, are coming here because of reading Wendy’s book – book-clubs, reading groups and individuals. As we get into traveling weather, I’m sure this will only increase. The latest messages we got were from readers in Portugal who have suggested a specially chartered plane!

But, of course, as we wandered along we noticed another colorful display – yard signs for candidates in the forthcoming Town Council election (I’m one of them).

Never having been a candidate in any election in my life and coming originally from a place that doesn’t ‘do’ yard signs I wasn’t too sure where you were allowed to put them, so tried to play safe. Front yards of folk I asked first and places that looked as if they were simply ‘common ground’. Imagine our surprise when we noticed that three signs I’d put out had disappeared! Not just blown away in the wind (my first assumption) because in two cases the wire frames were still there – somebody had gone to the trouble of removing the board from the frame.

I can only surmise that this election is more competitive than I first imagined!

Regardless who gets elected – if enough people get out and vote then we’ll get a Council that truly reflects the wishes of the local folk and if the Town continues with its downtown revitalization work we’ll have something our visitors can really savor.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, small town USA, VA

THE HOW I WRITE BLOG TOUR

The Monday book will return next week. My friend Susie Klein http://www.recoveringchurchlady.com/ asked me to participate in an ongoing blog tour called HOW I WRITE. I answer four questions, as she did for the person who asked her, and then I ask two other authors to answer them.

OK, here we go….

1- What am I working on?

A sequel to Little Bookstore.

2- How does my work differ form others of its genre?

Well, most of what I write is either academic work, memoir, or blog. As blogs go, bookstore bloggers are all very different from each other in our senses of humor and senses of purpose, but we tend to revisit similar themes. Save the bookstores. Cherish your local. Shop bricks and mortar. Don’t self-publish with Amazon believing they’re there to help you. Aren’t books great? Aren’t customers cute? Those kinds of things.

In terms of my memoir writing being different, it’s like asking “how is this poem different from that one?” All sonnets have the same strict form, and yet within them you can write about absolutely any subject you want to. So all memoirs are alike in that they’re carved from your perceptions and experiences, and they couldn’t be the same any more than two snowflakes could, because they’re your perceptions and experiences.

3- Why do I write what I do?

Joan Didion and Flannery O’Connor both said more or less that they write to figure out what they think and know. I write because I’d explode if I didn’t. It is the perfect way to order thought, smooth out roughness, reconcile, regroup, even relegate to the dark corners. Once it’s on paper, it’s out, not in, whether anyone ever sees it or not. That’s why I write, but as to writing what I do, well, agents in general and mine in particular are always urging writers to write the story only they can tell. That makes sense to me; we’re all trying to save the world and write something meaningful, but trying to write a story that needs to be told isn’t the same as telling your story. The only story you can tell is yours – fiction, non-fiction, narrative, poem, even photo or mathematics formula. It has to belong to you in some unique way.

4. How does my writing process work?

Despite my best efforts to have a schedule or regimen, I continue to work on whatever laptop is available, in the bookstore, between customers and after hours. We have three laptops available for customers and for special orders, so I try to remember to save the thing on a thumb drive in case I use a different one tomorrow.

I’m tagging two author friends: Dana Trent http://jdanatrent.com/blog/ who wrote The Saffron Cross, and Cami Ostman http://www.camiostman.net/about/ whose first book was Second Wind, and then co-edited Beyond Belief: the secret lives of women in extreme religions.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, publishing, reading, shopsitting, Uncategorized, VA, writing

“Is That the Bookstore?”

crazy bookstoreMaybe it’s that blood moon. Maybe it’s the pollen count making us all high on Sudafed. Or maybe I just happened to catch the best moments, but this week has produced some absolute classics in “funniest things ever said in a bookstore.” Here are three of my recent favorites:

*phone rings*

“Hello, is that the bookstore? I am downsizing and have a truckload of books for you.”
“Oh, lovely…” Oh, sh———
“These are all that’s left. I’ve burned about as many as are still here, but I can’t burn fast enough. Would you come and get these?”

 

*door opens, two women enter*
First woman: “We heard you could tell us how to market a book.”

Me: “Pardon?”
First woman: “We wrote a book. It’s a mystery, set ’round here. We’ve sold a lot to our family and friends, people that know us, but we want to sell it to more people.”

Second woman (to first): “Maybe she could sell it in here.”

First woman (looking around, shakes head): “Nah. Too many books in here, it’d get lost. (to me) Can you give us any ideas on how to sell it?”

 

*phone rings*

“Is that the bookstore that has the book about it?”

Me (bracing for impact): “Yes?”

Person: “I’ve written a book. Would you sell it?”

Me: “Sure! We like to promote books by local authors, but we can’t do any specific special promo because we don’t have the space. We have a shelf first thing when you come into the store, and we will put it there with the others. If you want to put a sign up on top of the shelf or hang it from the ceiling, we do that for the first six months your book is out.”

Person: “Well, my book is only available on Amazon. Could you put up a sign telling people to buy it there?”

Y’all come on down. We’re here, bricks, mortar, books, sense of humor and all.

 

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Celtic Connections

Jack’s weekly guest blog ruminates on the connective threads of here, there, then, and now

Now that we’re back from Wisconsin, things are beginning to get busy around here. And they appear to be taking on a British Isles tinge, I might add.

Yesterday I started teaching a series of five weekly classes on Scottish ballads and folk songs at the Higher Ed Center in Abingdon. This is always enjoyable and I’ve been doing it semi-annually for a few years now.

At the same time I am gearing up for the annual small group tour that I conduct around Scotland every year at the end of June. Everything is pretty much in place as I write this. The tour is another ‘labor of love’ – something I enjoy doing that ends up introducing me to a most interesting and diverse group of people. Since I always go over a few days before the tour starts, I get to catch up with friends and family. This year Wendy will finally be joining me after it ends, something we’ve been hoping for since I started this crazy venture eight years ago.

On top of that, as one of the group that organizes Big Stone Celtic (Sept 26 and 27, so mark your calendars!) I’m beginning to put together the program. For the first time we have an internationally famous headliner, Barbara Dickson, making her debut this side of the Atlantic, so I’m in the throes of applying for her work visa – a steep learning curve! Who knew the American government would require so much paperwork?

Just in case that isn’t enough I continue to put together my weekly radio show Celtic Clanjamphry (known affectionately now as ‘ClanJam’). Now in its sixth year (whoda thunk it, as they say in Southwest Virginia) my ongoing quest is to cover as many of the Celtic Nations as possible via music ancient and modern.

And finally, of course there are our regular bookstore events. Irish storyteller (and our good friend) Liz Weir will be the centerpiece of our evening of Irish stories and food tonight. Second Story Cafe owner Kelley is preparing Beef and Guinness pie, Colcannon and Apple Crumble to complete the Irish feast.

Now, the great thing about all these happenings are the connections between them. Liz attended our wedding in Scotland, and she hosts my tour group every second year. Folk who listen to ClanJam come on the tour and folk who have been on the tour drop into the bookstore and come to our events. Others who attend my classes come to the bookstore, listen to the radio show and will be on this year’s tour. Big Stone Celtic fits right into all that and brings hundreds of visitors to our small town every year. It’s a nice circle, on a background of plaid and emerald green!

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The Monday Book: THE LADY OF THE RIVERS by Philippa Gregory

gregoryI used to think of Gregory’s books as a guilty pleasure, but then I watched (two episodes of) The Tudors on Showtime. God help us all.

If you joined the victims watching Showtime Tudors, you need to know a few things. First, Henry VIII wasn’t a 27-year-old blue-eyed boy for most of his life. He had two sisters, not one. He did not hang an entire county on false pretenses. Fourth–oh, let’s not even try. The only thing accurate about that medieval soap opera was that he had six wives.

But Gregory’s books are fairly amazing in teaching accurate history. She interprets rather than ignores facts. Gregory sets them down as the skeleton around which she builds her stories–”Jacquetta married Richard Woodville in Spring 1440ish”–and then she tries to figure out WHY a woman so powerful would marry a squire. (She comes up with a loving version of lust. Fair enough.)

Gregory’s other books are hit/miss – avoid the Wideacre series: run away, run away! And I didn’t read her Flapper novel. But when she sinks her teeth into the war of the cousins (War of the Roses) or the founding of the Tudor Dynasty by that crafty (and extremely lucky) Owen Tudor, when she writes about “powerless” women moving chess pieces around the courts of kings they may or may not love, she’s got a real way of telling a true story with golden embellishments on why they did what they did.

I have a professor friend here at the college who recommends her novels to those studying England between 1400 and 1600. She really understands how Margaret Beaufort ruled from the rear; she doesn’t think Henry VIII was the most fascinating story of the Tudor reign (because he wasn’t by a long shot – check out Jacquetta and her daughter and grand-daughter, which is what Rivers is about). And she doesn’t try to make sense to a modern ear of the things the courts were obsessed with. She does turn the old language into modern prose, but she still retains a whiff of the times in the words she chooses.

The fact that the books are filled with lust and violence doesn’t hurt, but she’s got that Alfred Hitchcock approach to beddings: “There is no fear in a bang, only the anticipation of it.” You can play around with “lust, sex, satisfaction” and make that sentence your own, if you want to.

She also has that lovely way, like Stephen King and other great writers we hate to admit are, of encapsulating a character in one swift sentence, such as: “When a man wants a mystery, it is generally better to leave him mystified. Nobody loves a clever woman.” Her good guys make mistakes, behave badly; her evil characters are not just black velvet background.

So I’ve stopped thinking of Gregory’s books as a guilty pleasure, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the story of how the Woodville family rose to such power in the Tudor era. Rivers‘ hero Jacquetta is wiser than many of those Gregory has chronicled, her family history and plans for its future subtler than other Rose War women. I loved The White Queen, too, although it had quite a bit more pure fiction in it when it came to assigning motivations and causes for events.

Yes, I know: I’m a plebian. But I’ve really enjoyed The Lady of the Waters and heartily recommend it to anyone interested in English History, or to those who like a good historic novel.

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Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, writing

The Day After Syndrome

Those of you who do any kind of travel for work will recognize this syndrome: you go to where you’ve been invited, do your stuff well and intensely for a week if you’re in a festival or at a conference, or if you’re an itinerant consultant or storyteller, several places over a month or two.

And the last night, post-reception, post-e-mail exchanges with other artists, post-follow-ups on future events you’d like to get contacts for, the last night before you go home, you walk or cab back to the hotel contemplating all the wonderful people the world holds, how glad you are you got to teach writing skills to so many students, how energizing and lovely they were, how happy and blessed you are to do this kind of work.

Entering your hotel room, the evening lies spread before you like a peacock’s tail: will you swim first, walk across to that little Greek diner and get your salad? Check your e-mails? Download and post your photos of the two schools and the festival talk you did that day?

You sit down. And that’s the last time you move, except to pick up the remote to find the latest reality TV show, and sure enough here are a bunch of decorative thirtysomethings all mad at each other for no reason you can discern, but wait, are those dead people? Oh, this is the one your friends have been talking about for the past year, but you can’t follow a thing. Why do they keep killing each other instead of the zombies?

You might also find energy enough to open that ale you bought at the beginning of the week in a fit of localvoreism but didn’t drink yet because you’ve been doing three events a day and chatting with people and you wanted to be clear-headed.

After the zombies, a rerun of a Hollywood talk show will appear. You’ll channel surf, sit through half of something called Game of Thrones–and if you thought the undead-ers were incomprehensible…. If it’s a game, why are all these people screwing each other all the time–literally?

Hi ho the glamorous life. You can get a lot done during the weeknights back at the hotel, high on events that have gone well. Discipline exists for those evenings. But that last night before you go home, just take two aspirin and go to bed hollow, drained, as if the Dump Truck of Art hit you from behind, then sped off laughing while your body lay sprawled on the pavement.

It will pass. By the time you get home, you’ll be raring to get back to your writing schedule, answer e-mails that yes, you’d LOVE to go to the next place. More cool people to meet, fun places to visit, great ideas to explore. Life comes back.

exhaustion photoIt’s okay to take that night off, the day after; regroup, recharge, relax. Just stay off social media and DON’T take any selfies. Trust me on this; no good will come of it. Put the remote in your hand, and don’t touch anything else with an On switch. This, too, shall pass.

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Filed under between books, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, writing, YA fiction

Wisconsin Teachers Rock!

Jack’s weekly guest blog

I love singing and telling stories in schools, something I haven’t done in a fairly long time. This week Wendy and I are in Appleton, Wisconsin doing school and library appearances as part of The Fox Cities Book Festival.

DSCN0174Back when we lived in Scotland I used to do quite a bit of song-writing sessions with kids in the upper classes of primary schools, and got a tremendous kick out of working with that age group. The equivalent over here is grade 4 or 5 in elementary schools. It’s my favorite age group because they still have enormous curiosity and enthusiasm, and haven’t yet glimpsed the approaching diversions of the teenage years.

During this week we sang songs with them and told stories, and then fielded a host of wildly different questions – “How many cats do you have? Do you wear a skirt in Scotland? Is a loch something you find on a door? Have you seen the Loch Ness Monster? How many books are in your shop? Etc, Etc – - -

It’s become obvious to us why Wisconsin schools have such a high reputation! The ones we visited were bright and cheerful, with enthusiastic and engaged teachers, artwork adorning the walls, kids controlled and respectful while also cheerful and inquisitive.

And yet, this is the state where “collective bargaining” for teachers turned into AWOL senators, people taking the doors off the Capital’s central chambers, and names hurled with more fury than accuracy on all sides. It might puzzle some people why teachers so maligned in those days remain committed to their profession. Seeing them in action this week, we can say without a doubt that their first allegiance is to the children. God Bless the teachers of Wisconsin! (And the rest of the world, come to it.)

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