Category Archives: humor

The Sweater

I came to Charlottesville for the VA Festival of the Book and enjoyed my day out, eating excellent foods from distinctive cooking traditions and haunting yarn shops. Yesterday I listened to three writers in two panels discuss their work and how it comes together, and it was good info. My panel is this morning, talking about Appalachia as stereotype and reality in economics, foster care, and history.

IMG_3588But I have been these last ten weeks in Fayetteville, West Virginia, a town with a different ethos. This is what I wore in Fayetteville quite a bit, and people would stop me and say, “I love that t-shirt, and your sweater is beautiful. Did you make it yourself?” I saw one woman cross the street to come talk to me, and the first thing she did was fondle my sweater.

Here in Charlottesville, the city of wealth, people are not lame or demeaning. Don’t get that idea. But they look at my sweater and avoid making eye contact. The night I pulled into the hotel at 11:30 pm, lugging my worldly goods in a laundry basket (didn’t have any luggage with me at the writing residency) the desk clerk said, “May I help you?” When I said “Welch,” she looked at me for a moment, then blinked.

“Oh, you have a reservation.” And her fingers flew. So it was only a second there that she wondered why this road-haggard woman with the dandelion fluff hair and the fuzzy sweater carrying a laundry basket was standing at the counter.

Friday, I went out with my sweater to see the world, Charlottesville style. On the Pedestrian Mall (socks $25, earrings $30) people glanced at my sweater and looked away again. I know what they were thinking, “Gee, I wish I had a sweater that pretty.”

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

ELLEN KEY’S MONDAY BOOK


Dragon and Thief
Timothy Zahn
A Starscape Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
First Starscape edition published March 2004
248 pages
US $5.99
ISBN 0-765-34272-3

26754248_1710858812270915_1194046930_nJack has a secret that he’s been keeping for quite some time. If this secret gets out, he could be in a world of trouble. As it is, he’s already in that – on a whole different world. In a whole different galaxy.

Hiding out on the uninhabited planet of Iota Klestis, Jack and his Uncle Virgil are witnesses to an aerial battle in the sky above their concealed spaceship. As they watch, four little ships are firing on four large and lumbering spaceships. At the end of the short and deadly battle, one of the large ships has crashed on their hideaway planet. Uncle Virge urges Jack to go search for survivors or anything else worth salvaging.

This is when the story gets interesting. Jack comes face-to-face, or should I say, back-to-front, with an alien K’da dragon warrior named Draycos, who is like nothing that Jack has ever experienced before. Draycos changes from a three-dimensional dragon to a two-dimensional form that flows onto Jack’s body, and transforms himself into a living tattoo that wraps itself across Jack’s back, shoulders and arms.

Needless to say, Jack is freaked out! This book will keep you fully engaged in the adventures that Jack and Draycos encounter, while continuing to establish their relationship as host and symbiont. Draycos also teaches Jack about ethical behavior, as befitting a K’da dragon warrior.

This book is the first of six books in the Dragonback series, written by none other than Timothy Zahn, who is well known as the author of eighteen science fiction novels, among those two Star Wars© series.

I stumbled across this book (written for young adults aged 10+) at my local “used books” bookstore. Intrigued, I stood there reading it for a good 30 minutes, before finally putting it down; but not before I had taken a quick photo of the cover. A year later, I went back to find it. I had been so impressed by the creativity of the author that I just HAD to finish reading it! It’s a good 2-hour read from start to finish. You will enjoy it – if you are looking for the feeling of having finished something light and satisfying, when you turn the last page.

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Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Uncategorized

Bookstores – What are they Like?

A guest post from Jack on Friday because Wendy has more urgent requirements –

It’s time for me to talk about bookstores for a change!

This is traditionally our quietest time of the year, but not this time for some unfathomable reason. We’ve had the usual mixture of old stalwarts and out-of-towners despite the cold, rainy or snowy weather. Maybe Spring is close because we’ve also had lots of donations and traded books as well, which means a lot of pricing and shelving of course.

A couple of months ago our good friend David helped me to do a very deep clean of most of the front shop and that resulted in a significant culling of duplicates, battered and ‘never sell in a million years’ books. That freed up some space so now we have some shelf space (as well as half a garage full of boxes of duplicates and ‘never sells – -‘).

In between all this I’ve been checking emails and FaceBook where I’ve been seeing lots of reports of bookstores closing and others opening up – so the scene continues to be pretty dynamic. I haven’t had any time to try to analyze what’s going on but it would certainly be interesting. I’ve heard many reports of retirees buying existing bookstores as a kind of fun thing to do as a source of extra income (although there are only really certain ways of doing that – mainly – sell used books and live on the premises!).

Just to put the top hat on things, Wendy sent me the manuscript of one of the books she’s been working on while she’s been on her writing residency in WV and, lo and behold, there’s a mythical bookstore in it that seems strangely familiar! It’s quite disturbing to read a novel (yes, a novel) with so many recognizable places and characters in it. Being a novel, she allowed herself to mess with the characters as well as the bookstore which makes it even more odd. Our bookstore has had many adventures and strange happenings associated with it but none quite like this!

To finish – as I was writing this a tall and exceptionally beautiful woman came into the store and asked if we had any Dostoevskys – I directed her to the classics room and she volunteered that she was just waiting for her car to be serviced round the corner. “Where are you from” I ventured – “Michigan” she replied.

Wendy was born in Michigan – – –

 

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ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY: Nellie Flies Away

Today is the one-year anniversary of my friend Elissa losing a very special rescue pet. In solidarity to a fellow rescue I am re-running the post written for Nellie when she crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

When you start rescuing animals, you know the day is going to come when they break your heart by leaving you. It is a clock that ticks through the background of the 10 or so years you get, measuring sweetness.nellie-1

Our friends Joe and Elissa are in mourning this week for the loss of Nellie, a dachshund of such meanness, elegance, and grace that to try and confine her with words is as difficult as holding her still in real life proved to be.

nellie-2Nellie had a spinal problem common to many dachshunds, resulting in paralysis of her back legs, but Joe and Elissa are not common dachshund parents. With years of fostering experience behind them, they never considered putting Nellie down. In fact, they adopted her a cart sister, a little girl named Hope.

Not that Nellie wanted company, or challenges for her preferential treatment. Queen of the realm, Nellie never let anybody forget she was not Crippled, but In Charge. Nor did she let them believe that inconvenience was reason enough to release a dog to the Rainbow Bridge. Passionate about her status as Poster Wiener for the disabled dog community, Nellie rode her little pink cart through the streets of many a town delivering her message: Live life to the fullest and if it’s on wheels instead of legs, go faster!nellie-4

My husband Jack painted her cart pink when the high tech metal version first delivered to Joe and Elissa didn’t suit The Nelligator’s sense of feminine command. He would have added flames if there had been enough space; Nellie was Hell on Wheels canine-ified.

Nellie crossed the Bridge due in part to a bad drug response, and it is fitting that her final days on Earth were yet more instruction to the rest of us on how to take care of ourselves. She was given Flagyl, a common antibiotic for “gut issues,” and had an adverse reaction. Turns out, many people and dogs have such complications, but it’s not widely recognized. Nellie’s story, posted by her faithful Mama online, helped other people on Flagyl recognize the symptoms and switch.nellie-3

Now it might be sweet to think of the Nelligator trundling her pink hotwheels across the Rainbow Bridge, but no, this never would be Queen Nellie’s style. Rather, she will unstrap her cart, adjust the butterfly wings she wore for her photo shoot on disabled dogs, and lift off. She will fly straight and true to the other side, notice the cats crossing, and turn back to dive bomb them. (Our sweet Nellie could be a real arsehole when she wanted to, and she wanted to pretty often.)

Then she will point her nose toward the sun, a doggy Icarus sans fall, gaining power with each flap. At full height, she will execute a corkscrew dive straight toward the nearest Great Dane. Size only matters to a dachshund when you’re measuring chutzpah.

nellie-5Once the Dane is cowering in terror, Nellie will be satisfied that her power has been recognized, her rule established, and she will flap off to the Dachshund Shoals in search of the Blue Bell Ice Cream Van. They will have added extra cups of her favorite flavor, vanilla bean, in anticipation of her arrival.

Joe and Elissa will miss their girl, but they will continue to show the same love and conscientious care to their herd of eleven other special needs babies. When they think of Nellie, they will accept the new normal of her departure, and smile at the image of her somewhere over the Rainbow Bridge, surveying her new kingdom from a benevolent six feet above. The animals there will also accept the new normal, and wave up to their Queen. They’ll have to. She won’t have it any other way.

nellie-6

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We don’t Need no Thought Control

Jack manages to get his Wednesday guest post up here on a Wednesday –

There’s a meme going around Facebook just now about the trade-off between corporate life and a happy life that starts with a quote from the Dalai Lama about suits and ties and it got me thinking –

I started my working life as, first an apprentice house and sign painter and decorative painter, and then wound up running my own business doing that. So fairly laid back and relaxed although always at the demands of clients and customers. Eventually I graduated to teaching these skills in the local community college.

That was when my suit and tie days began and so it continued until I retired in 2002. Even after that as a training and education consultant I continued for a number of years to work ‘business hours’ and still in a suit and tie.

It’s very tempting, of course, to buy into the notion of a regular day job existence ‘stealing’ your independence and freedom but I don’t really agree with that I’m afraid. All the time I was attending to customers’ needs and running a college department I had an escape hatch into the world of traditional folk music. So there was a parallel world that I could inhabit whenever I wanted to.

What this meant was that when I finally did retire I had a number of different pensions that kicked in as well as a substantial ‘lump sum’, and I still had the parallel world. That really did give me independence and freedom and I think that’s a perfectly good trade-off. Mind you, I was brought up in the cradle of ‘the protestant work ethic’ so maybe I’m programed in that direction.

It’s possible, I’m sure, to live a satisfying life without the need for a 9 to 5 job that involves a suit and tie and it may be that the US is a country where that is more practicable. I have no doubt there are particular corporate world jobs that provide little satisfaction and are even grindingly boring. So maybe I was just lucky. I certainly always used to describe myself to my favorite college boss as a ‘lucky painter’, although she eventually got tired of me saying that!

All I can say in conclusion is that I have no problem whatsoever with my particular trade-off. But I rarely wear a suit and tie these days – –

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Inspiration vs. Perspiration (or, The Games Writers Play)

The time when inspiration is most likely to strike is twenty minutes before you have to be somewhere, while you’re brushing your teeth. You will not be dressed for this event, nor will any household dependents be in progress toward getting out the door or setting up to stay home.

This is why God invented notepads. And cellphones with that voice dictation function. Depending on which is easier for you in your time crunch, jot down the idea, or grab your phone and send yourself a voice email. “JoAnne, self-protection, dogs and doctors” is one I just sent myself at 8:50. I was due at 9 am to help the local churches pack for the food pantry distribution, a thing I have wanted to do since arriving here in Fayetteville.

28235827_1906944399316615_289168906_nI’m in Fayetteville because of a wonderful program at Lafayette Flats, run by Shawn and Amy. You can look it up with that link. The point being, at 8:50 the link to how Chapter 14 related to the rest of the story so far, the way it could be shoehorned in to being a part of the whole, not a side journey, flowed into my brain as I brushed my hair.

Those key words will get me back to where I need to go (as soon as I finish writing this blog). They will not get me past the BS games writers play with themselves that “if we only had time, what glorious things we could write.” Now I have time, and now I have the note that says how to do it. Now my butt and the chair need to be best friends for awhile. Writing is 90% butt sloth and finger exercise, 10% inspiration. This is why many writers have big bums and you should never offer to thumb wrestle with one. The wrist of a writer should be registered as a deadly weapon.

Big bums, strong fingers, notepads (or iPhones) and time: that’s how writing gets done. Plus a little human interaction now and then. I loved helping the team at the food pantry.

Back to writing now….

 

 

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Fighting with Time

Exactly half-way through this three-month writing residency, I’m aware that the hours left in which to write tick down the slope now. While this is motivating, it’s not a big deal. I’m feeling really good about having drafted the book I’ve always wanted to write, and getting the first feedback from the very helpful beta readers. (Mostly: good idea, bad execution – this is fixable and fun. It’s those bad ideas in good writing that make one ashamed, because you might try to sell it anyway.)

That’s not the kind of time fight I’m having, the fear that I won’t get enough done while here. I’ve been diligent.

No, the problem is the other book I’m working on as the feedback rolls in from the January draft. I’m trying to write a memoir that doesn’t run chronologically, but around ideas related in clusters. When you’re trying to string your smaller narratives, your pearls of storytelling, onto a connecting thread, time is the simplest one to use. It only makes sense, doesn’t it, to tell a story in the order in which it happened?

Until it doesn’t, and those of you who write know the frustration. That didn’t happen then, but it relates, so it gets put there, and then you realize you’re relying on a character in Chapter 3 who doesn’t come into his own until Chapter 8. Or a setting that hasn’t been built yet.

It’s part of the fun, putting faces to people and places without using the face of a clock. Meticulous fun, one might say, but fun nonetheless.

The transitions of time can be the most poetic pieces in a book. The Cost of Hope by Amanda Bennett comes to mind; she hops between 1980 and 2010 like there’s no tomorrow OR yesterday. And it works, hooking concepts together and increasing irony with her juxtapositions of then and now. I’m learning a good bit from her.time

And from trial and error. As Ira Glass says, if you’re making mistakes, you’re learning. Fair enough. I’ve got time to make the mistakes–six weeks left–and I’ve got time to write about, and time to write in. Who could ask for anything more?

Later.

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