The Monday Book is on Tuesday this Month….

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS is a busy weekend for all of us, so we’re just getting back on schedule with the Monday Book.

Yes, I know; it’s Tuesday.

cover_pierTHE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN’S PIER by Ann Packer is about a couple on the verge of breaking up, except he has a terrible accident that leaves him paralyzed.

And she still breaks up with him. Because she’s found someone else.

That’s pretty much it, but you can imagine the stuff going on around that. This is a book where most of the action takes place inside people’s hearts.

The details in the book – she loves to sew, doesn’t have a lot of money, carefully parses money to make herself a sexy dress that kind of isn’t because she’s broken up with her boyfriend, but still – are lovely, subtle, not overwhelming, all undergirding the plot and characters.

This is really a character-driven plot, and each person is fully etched. Here’s a random sample of the kind of thing I mean: “Kilroy gave Simon an amused nod, but he crossed his arms over his chest, and some kind of inner turbulence seeped out of him.”

She’s got a nice, almost journalistic, way with her words, and her use of big themes like wealth vs. want, or love vs. lust, is set in almost embossed relief against the small day-to-day details of the lives she’s describing.

It also has a surprisingly satisfying ending, for this kind of book where somebody’s heart is going to get broken, no matter what. Avoiding cliche, it still brings resolution.



Filed under between books, book reviews, reading, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing


The Write Whisperer
(guest post by workshop attendee Lizbeth Phillips)

kizbethAccording to Flannery O’Connor, an epiphany is not permanent. After spending a day with Wendy Welch at WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, I have a new understanding of what O’Connor meant. Being an educator, I can come up with a hundred reasons a day to not make or take the time to write. For years, I have used it as an excuse to abandon essays, short stories, poems, and my first novel. No more!

Why? Because epiphanies are not permanent. Either you let them go or you do something so that whatever enlightening moment flashed before your eyes becomes intrinsically absorbed in what defines you. I am many things, especially a writer.

What did I learn at WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS? First, excellent writing has strands of universal themes so that writers can connect to readers. We have to evaluate how words appear to the reader—just in case our notions are a bit alien.

But even before that, just get it down! Write the first draft without revision. Whether we start at the beginning or the middle, we have to write to the very end before we go back and restart. A first draft is not the final draft. After writing the first draft, evaluate the work and clarify. Add details to make the narrative and dialogue credible in the eyes of the reader. In other words, ask if my imagination transfers to the page so the reader sees the same movie I saw.

Becoming aware of the narrative arc and anticipating how to string a story along so that characters grow has released me from the big writer’s pit that equipped me with excuses not to finish my novel. I can now write straight dialogue without any narrative (and visa versa) and communicate to a reader.

I used to flounder on strong narrative and ruin dialogue or write dialogue at the expense of the narrative. Until today, I am not sure I had a handle on blending the two. If I am to move my novel along and not write myself into a corner, I have to create the proper mix! Writing is unforgiving. So are readers.

I came to the table with all kinds of reasons and excuses for not committing. When I left at the end of the day, I was an empowered writer.

If inspiration gleaned from attending WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS were bit-coin currency, I would be the richest person on the planet right now. And since epiphany is not permanent, I’m going to spend my time cashing in on all that inspiration so it counts.


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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, writing, YA fiction


write houseDear friends – Tomorrow is WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, our annual workshop out here in scenic Southwest Virginia. So I’m not blogging until Sunday, when I can tell you all about it. Meanwhile, enjoy this picture of the resident goat at the farmhouse where WCttC is held. And if you’re so inclined, you can plan to attend next year, when the workshop moves to July to accommodate more people whose schedule follows the academic calendar of public schools. Also pictured are the contemplation pond on the property, and the flowers in bloom just now. (The house behind them is the farmhouse where WCttC is held.)

See you Sunday!



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A HAZARDous Journey

cabinWendy and I took a trip on Saturday. We’d been invited by the wonderfully eccentric poet Jim Webb to visit his mountaintop campground “Wiley’s Last Resort,” just outside Whitesburg over the line in Kentucky.

Jim proved both interesting and indulgent, giving us a grand tour of his extensive facility – replete with a whole collection of Airstreams (for me, a real American icon). Every nook and cranny that didn’t have an Airstream had a cabin or a tent. Everywhere we looked there were quirky signs with jokey messages or directions, including “Walled-In Pond,” surrounded by a  dirt trail called the ‘Henri David Thoreau-fare’.

We enjoyed the visit and we will be back!

With the rest of the afternoon before us and no rush to get home, qe headed out very much like two parents who have a babysitter for the day, giddy and slightly frisky. We decided on a leisurely loop up to Hazard and eventually down over Black Mountain towards Big Stone, with numerous stops on the way for sightseeing and necking.

We had wrongly thought that Hazard KY was the setting for The Dukes of Hazard (we later found it was another Hazard in Georgia), so we wanted to find out how they had capitalized on the series and the movie spin-offs to benefit the town. I still think they could have gotten some benefit from ‘The Dukes’, and there was no doubt they needed to capitalize on something – anything! I have rarely seen a more depressing downtown in my life.

What I got out of the visit was a terrible picture of what Big Stone could become if we don’t start looking ahead and trying to broaden the local economy (and benefit from the movie that WAS made here).

But there was one amazing thing to be seen in Hazard. Leaving a particularly depressing second-hand store I looked across the parking lot to yet another closed-up storefront and glimpsed through the window a beautifully restored British MGA sports car in immaculate condition. If I remember correctly The Dukes had a car called ‘The General’ and that’s what I’d not have been surprised to see. But an MGA?! Wendy took several pictures of my astonished face.

Leaving Hazard we headed down to Cumberland (named for ‘The Butcher of Cumberland’ who slaughtered the Jacobite clansmen at Culloden Moor in 1746) and onward to Black Mountain. I have wanted to drive that road ever since we were visited by the sisters from Kansas who came to us got a little spooked on it; we’ve had other visitors since then, including a 40-seat bus out of Berea, who took that route, so we wanted to as well.

Coming over the highest point we arrived at an overlook and pulled in to admire the view. To our horror we were looking straight at a demolished mountain looking for all the world like a moonscape! I was stunned because I found I was looking at a mountain removal site that close to Big Stone Gap; I hadn’t realized how near it had come. The site looked abandoned, but I saw no evidence of any attempt to restore it in any way. There’s nothing inherently wrong with coal; it keeps our lights on and our neighbors employed. But there is something wrong with destroying a mountain to get it.

Shaken, we got back in our car. But the day was not yet done, and the last experience was much more uplifting. Careening around a corner (Wendy was driving) we saw a black shape at the side of the road and slowed to watch as it stood up and became a bear – the first I’d ever seen in the wild. He watched us and we watched him, until eventually he got bored and trotted off into the undergrowth.

Wise County, you never fail to surprise me!

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The Monday Book(s): Moomintroll Adventures by Tove Jansson

moomintrollsMoomintroll isn’t the name of a book, but the character created by Jansson. Moomin, as the little white hippo-like troll with the tail is known, lives with Moominmamma and Moominpappa in a valley, but the little guy gets around.

The books are full of gentle illustrations of the trolls and their friends, particularly Snufkin and the Snork Maiden (Moomin’s love interest). Although a cheerful little guy, Moomin can be quite moody and wax philosophical over small events–like discovering seashells.moomin2

I loved these books because the trolls were adorable and nothing threatening ever really was allowed to get out of hand, despite the sometimes rather dark story lines and illustrations. As an adult, I go back and read them when times are tough. You just can’t have angst when you’re catching up with the Moominfamily.

If you want to start at the beginning, it’s Moomintroll and the Great Flood. Young Moomin does a fair bit of growing up throughout the series, so it does kinda make sense to start at the beginning.

The Moomins, despite the baby boy’s growing up, can be counted on for consistency in a world of chaos. That’s why I like the books – well, that and the adorable drawings. Moominpapa says things like, “I only want to live in peace and plant potatoes and dream!”

What’s not to love? Papa also likes his whiskey. Don’t get the idea that these little guys dance through fields of flowers never saying anything meaningful.  Here’s their take on the arts:

“A theatre is the most important sort of house in the world, because that’s where people are shown what they could be if they wanted, and what they’d like to be if they dared to and what they really are.”

They’re really quite advanced in their philosophy.

moominphilosophyCheck out a Moomintroll. Your library will have them in the children’s section.



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Two Plus Two doesn’t always Equal Five

People often talk about this thing called Math. It follows a very specific set of rules and has the same answer to the same question (sometimes, even the same answer to more than one question) every time.

I don’t really believe it exists, though. How can the answer to a question be the same every time it’s asked? See, in Mathworld people tell you that 2+2=4.


That might work with simple stuff, like fingers, or stones, but try such accounting when it really counts. Take generosity with money. It’s been my observation that the people who wind up having the most money are the ones who spend it on other people. Their fistful of dollars lies in an open palm, and come the end of the month, their freezers are just as full as their neighbor’s, even though he’s been keeping a tight count on every last dime. And now he doesn’t have one, while the generous soul still has a pocket full of change he’s plunging his hand into and giving away.

Try it with relaxation. You sit down at 6 pm to wile away an hour playing a computer game. When you look up, it’s midnight. One plus “a little bit more” equals twelve. Where’s your Math now?

Writing time. I can’t tell you the ways in which this multiplies and divides. You sit down, bang out four pages, and nail a concept that’s been eluding you, that you’ve spend hour after hour trying to whittle out of that big block of wood your brain has turned into, using nothing but a keyboard. You figure you’ve spent a couple of hours at least on this pass-through, but when you look at the clock? Twenty minutes.

And vice versa. An hour stretches into five, and you don’t notice until you stand up and all those little spiny things in your back go “Owwww.”

A candle: today I took an old candle, added another old candle, and made a candle. 1+1 = 1?

Cats: 1+1= 5 easily

Dogs: 1+1=8

Neutering a feral dog or cat: $50 = priceless. You don’t have to put anything else into the equation

An Orchestra 1+2+1+4+2 = 1

Speaking of music, a 3 minute song so good that it makes you sit still, doing nothing but listening to it, turns into….. you tell me. Sometimes 3×0=infinity, but those Math people try to say nothing comes from nothing.

A divorce: 2 divided by 1 = 0

As Einstein said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

Yeah, that. So don’t try and convince me that this thing called Math exists. I don’t believe in it.

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Of Hookers, Husbands, and Wives

I like to crochet while minding the bookstore, and joined an online crochet forum a couple of months ago. It turned out not to be much fun. A few days in, people were fussing about announcements of imminent grandchildren “disguised as crochet posts with plans to make a stupid hat or something.”

jack hat afghanWhen I posted a pic of Jack wearing a needleworker’s bag on his head after a crochet-and-knit meeting at the bookstore, the message came from a list administrator that the pic had been removed and I should review the rules.

Everybody knows it’s hard to work with wool that’s too tightly wound—stuff stretches out of shape—so I got off the list. But a few days later someone (I don’t know who or how) joined me to a much bigger group, and over time they seem to be less apt to felt their fibers into itchy knicker twists.

What’s really fun about the list I’m on is how much husband-wife adorability comes up. A few weeks ago a woman went into false labor and was sent home from the hospital to “absolute and complete” bedrest. At seven months, she figured she’d be bored out of her mind, but when she reached the bed, her hubby had stacked on it several skeins of yarn, a five-pack of assorted hooks, and a boxed set of DVDs of her favorite TV show, seasons 1-5.

Now that’ s manning up, ladies and gentlemen.

Another lady’s husband got hurt on the job and has a six months recovery to endure. Depression set in and she despaired. His second week at home, he picked up one of her hooks and some yarn (which she needed for a work in progress). She kept her mouth shut and watched him produce the world’s most lopsided dishcloth, which she told him was perfect; she then photographed it and slammed the thing up on the list with a brief backstory. List members cheered his bad edgings and suggested projects, and several posted pictures of manly men crocheting. He’s about halfway through a very nice granny square afghan, after asking his wife a few days ago, “Hey, how do you change colors?”

A woman’s husband woke her Saturday past with a “get your crap out of the living room today; I’m tired of looking at it.” She gave him a baleful stare and went to see what on earth he was talking about, since she considered the living room “his mancave”—and found he’d paid $230 at an estate sale for about a ton of yarn and several boxes of hooks.

Husbands can be very sweet. So can crochet lists, if you find one where a little humanity keeps the edges in line.chickens

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA