Category Archives: publishing

Sunset, Sunrise

sea-sky-sunset-8101My friend Jenny got told she should go home and make peace with herself and God. Since she already was, she came home, opened her door, and said, “Come say goodbye.”

Jenny had the kind of cancer that made it dangerous for her to have visitors, but being a gregarious person, this rankled during her time. We sent a lot of FB messages while she was fighting off the body invaders. When she knew it wasn’t going to work, the invites went out, and we all went.

Jenny died while I was on a plane flying from East Coast to West. When I touched down in Seattle for a writing retreat, the first thing I got was a text from Jack saying she had left us.

And a reminder that he was going to our friend Destiny’s wedding reception that night. After living through a great deal of trauma, Destiny had found a guy who wanted to look after her and her two children; her life was about to turn, on the same day Jenny’s turned the other way.

Jenny was saying goodbye, ready to go, excited almost to think about what would happen when she met God and what her physical body and spiritual soul would turn into. On one of two visits I got in before the end came, Jenny took a sip of coffee and said, “I wonder what happens to us when we die? Do we disappear or turn into something?”

Her sisters froze. We looked at each other. All I could think was You’re about to find out, but you can’t tell us after you know. That’s part of the plan.

Destiny’s first husband’s death was a community gossip tragedy, but she’s the one who knows what it feels like to lose a guy who’d been fighting for years to reclaim his own life. And who knows what it feels like to love again. The community judgement she faces for either husband is irrelevant, and she knows it. She doesn’t say much.

Sunset, sunrise: two women with stories locked inside them, a story they can’t tell for different reasons. Unlocking the stories, giving voices to those whose stories are inconvenient, or indicting, or scary for the rest of us: that’s what I came to Seattle to be part of. It’s a writing retreat for women telling their stories, some in first person, some couched in fiction. The stories are inconvenient, indicting, and scary. And wonderful.

The world feels dimmer without Jenny in it, the world feels happier because Destiny and Ira got married. The world tilts at an incredible pace, and sometimes we can’t write fast enough to keep up with it.

Sometimes we can, though. And we should. Chronicle the sunsets, chronicle the sunrises. Find your voice and use it.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

An Intense Week for All the Wrong Reasons

I'm fed upHi Y’all – It’s been an intense week. Many things have made me busy and most of them have been driven around opioids and healthcare needs in SW VA. I don’t want to talk about most of them.

For those of you unaware, April 8 JD Vance (HILLBILLY ELEGY) and I went head-to-head in a discussion of “Are We Losing a Generation?” about opioids and KinCare. The fallout from this panel has been about whether the venue that invited us (Appalachian Studies Association) should have invited him. None of it has been about the topic of the debate. Moral: when asked to participate in a debate with a famous figure, be sure of the trap that’s being set before you enter it, and decide if the platform to get a message out is worth the lunacy of the fallout. I’m not sure it was. I’m knee-deep in people who want to talk about Elegy, not opioids. Screw that.

So here, in heart-breaking simplicity, is the reality of what drugs do to sweet, kind, smart people who are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. The message that was meant to be part of that debate. Please be warned, if you are tender-hearted, don’t watch this five-minute cartoon in a public place.

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUngLgGRJpo

And perhaps next week will be better. Or at least more honest.

9 Comments

Filed under Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Jack’s Monday Book on Wednesday

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Just to confuse everyone, Jack’s Wednesday blog post is the Monday book – –

The first thing to say before I get going is that we already knew that this book is set in the offices of the agency that handled the launching of Wendy’s best seller, ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’. Although the agency isn’t actually named in the book it’s a very open secret which New York literary agency it is. We are both, therefore, familiar with the rather old fashioned but cozy interior and the amazing collection of books lining the walls.

This is really at least two intertwining stories and I’m not sure that’s done terribly well. One is very much about the culture and characters of the agency itself, while the other is focused more on what’s going on in Rakoff’s life.

The first half of the book is mainly about her success in finding a job at what she refers to simply as ‘The Agency’, discovering how hard it is to live frugally in New York, getting to know her co-workers and being groomed by ‘The Boss’. I have to admit that I found that strand of the book unnecessarily gloomy and dark, as that’s certainly not what we experienced on or visits to the place. Something else that emerges in this early part of her book is the impression that the only famous author represented by the agency is JD Salinger, which is simply not true.

Her main job is to send form letters to fans of Salinger, who refuses to engage with them and is somewhat reclusive. She eventually strikes up something of a relationship with him on the phone and is finally on first name terms with him (Jerry and Joanna).

For me, the book really only takes off about halfway through when we begin to discover what’s going in Rakoff’s personal life. This strand is all about the self-discovery that anyone over the age of thirty will find excruciatingly familiar. It’s all about growing, maturing and making difficult decisions about what you want to do with your life.

The book ends with a jump forward to a married Rakoff with a husband and kids and a successful career as a novelist, poet and journalist.

I didn’t find this book disappointing overall, but I did find the beginning a bit heavy going.

6 out of 10 from me!

PS – it’s The Harold Ober Agency and Wendy’s agent doesn’t work there any more – – –

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Jeanne Powers’ Monday Book

 

041389b2caf661540eb4ebe445ddcf5dd96a288dThe Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent by his firm to a rather secluded English village in order to tie up the affairs of the late Mrs. Alice Drablow, a recently deceased elderly client. The villagers don’t seem inclined to discuss Mrs. Drablow, or anything else for that matter, though they do make Arthur welcome. At the funeral service, Arthur catches a glimpse of a woman in black lurking around the churchyard, but his inquiries are brushed aside. Resolutely, he prepares to go to Eel Marsh House, Mrs. Drablow’s residence, which is in a marshy area accessible only at certain times due to the tides. Once there, he will be cut off from the outside world until such a time as the pony cart can cross the causeway to fetch him.

He’s going to wish he had taken a tide chart with him.

The subtitle of the book is “A Ghost Story” and that’s exactly what this is, in the best sense of the phrase. The old fashioned setting, the formal narration, even the nature of the story itself harkens back to those wonderful early ghost tales where the chills and thrills came from the mind and not blood spatter. Hill has perfectly captured the flavor of these Victorian tales . It’s beautifully written; Arthur, the narrator, is looking back at an event which shaped his life and he tells his tale without hyperbole or exaggeration. It has the ring of authenticity.

The book is just so wonderfully atmospheric. I could practically smell the sea air and shivered a bit in the dampness. While there were definitely warning signs, the book wasn’t over laden with signs and portents. The villagers may not have been over communicative, but there was nary a pitchfork nor cackling crone in sight. Arthur enjoys a hearty meal at the inn, a warm fire and a comfortable bed. The skies are blue and largely clear but cold. No air of menace hangs overhead.

The haunted aspects come later.

The ending is abrupt and I was taken aback at first, but it is the perfect ending. He has told his tale; there’s no analyzing or rationalization that this might have been just his imagination. This is what happened and, like the villagers, he has no wish to discuss it further.

There is a theatrical production of the book and there has been at least two movie versions but I don’t think either could ever capture the book, especially not the ending.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, book reviews, bookstore management, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

Things I Learned during Writing Residency

19226005_10154761056583505_1735351353313373426_nThings I have learned (some about myself, others about writing) during this residency:

Crocheting is as important as writing. Find your BECAUSE YOU LIKE IT thing and do it. You don’t need any more reason than that, so long as it’s not killing the household budget. If what you like is expensive or takes time your family can’t give you, see if you can pull a little dangling thread somewhere to get a small marked bit of time and space. You need it in life even more than writing.

The value of silence: it is tempting to tune into online TV during crochet time, the radio while we drive. Do without every so often. Sit and listen to what you’re thinking about, and be surprised at the connections that form because of the silence.

Don’t lose sight of places you like to be. Until I got to Fayetteville, I had forgotten how soothing, how inspiring, being in the woods is. Church, ball game, bathtub: wherever you go to get your writer on, don’t let anyone keep you from it.

Do new stuff because it’s new. This could be writing, finding a new place to hike, visiting a different town, cooking something weird, trying an intense craft pattern. Bust out of your comfort zone.

Know what you believe. I believe in Jesus. After that I’m listening. Right now polarities are oppositional in politics, religion, even how to cook lasagna. Every idea space is full of debates and hurricanes. Listening is good. Keeping one’s mouth shut is good. Usually people don’t want to know what you think; they want to tell you what they think. Let them; it’s grist for the writing mill, and not difficult to shake off what they will enjoy as a power move. It makes GREAT character study. Don’t get excited; get a notebook.

Draft fast; edit slow. My latest manuscript of 65K words drafted in three weeks. It was crap but had great bones. I set it aside for three weeks, then edited, sent to readers, edited again. The polished draft is with NYC’s publishing deities. Time plus chair plus keyboard makes drafts; fallow time plus finessing makes books.

Work with other writers in a bordered capacity. I’m fortunate to teach for Memory2Memoir and mentor writing educators with American NewMedia Foundation. What other people struggle with, how other people choose to tell stories, invigorates your writing. That said, offer too many consults and your time will disappear. When I sat down to do “other writer stuff” besides drafting or editing my manuscript, how much “other writer stuff” there was startled me.

Enter contests carefully. Writers can spend their lives looking for and finding them at $25 entry fee per. Like a plot itself, getting sidetracked to tell a wonderful story about some minor character may be fun, the writing great, but it doesn’t advance the overarching narrative. Entering contests because you don’t know what to write about yet? Awesome, keep going. Entering contests as avoidance to writing your book? Nope.

Have simple foods on hand. Peanut butter and apples were my staples, plus Trader Joe’s frozen polenta for hot meals. When you’re knee-deep in plot yet hungry, you can keep going.

Hope these are useful to you. I’ve loved my time at Lafayette Flats.

16996112_1413870752024892_5559679091652011148_n

 

15 Comments

Filed under between books, crafting, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

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.”

:]

4 Comments

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

CHELSIE DUBAY’S MONDAY BOOK

Book Review – Clay’s Quilt

bookcover_claysquiltI assigned Clay’s Quilt, by Silas House, as part of an Appalachian Literature course I was teaching, without ever reading it. I recognize House as a major player in the modern Appalachian Literature movement but sadly, I have read only a small sampling of his work. I chose Clay’s Quilt based solely on its name. Superficial, yes. My hope was that House titled this work not only as a clever homage to Appalachian cultural practice but also as an attribute of how the story unfolds.

Clay’s Quilt is an authentic representation of modern Appalachian life and culture. The novel follows Clay Sizemore, a young miner living in rural Kentucky, through his young-adult years. A flashback scene serves as the novel’s opening. In this scene, we learn that Anneth, Clay’s mother, died when he was only four years old. Since his mother’s death, Clay has been searching for the comfort and peace that can only be found at “home.” For Clay, however, the road that leads him to this proverbial home is as winding and untamed as the old coal roads that deliver him into the dark, foreboding coal mines each day.

Through House’s narrative, the reader is able to piece together Clay’s life and the relationships held within it much like piecing together a quilt. Clay’s character is first established as a bit of a wild party boy. House is able to paint this picture through Clay’s weekly visits to the local bar, the Hilltop, where he and his friend Cake usually end up drunk, stoned, and looking for trouble. Clay’s entire character shifts when he meets Alma, an abused wife and fiddle player with steadfast morals that are deeply rooted in her family’s Pentecostal faith. The story’s greatest tension derives, ironically so, from the internal struggle Alma faces as she considers officially filing for divorce in an effort to foster a relationship with Clay. Alma’s struggles introduce the reader to the violence and drama that provide this story with an interesting turn of events. The story ends in a very generic “they lived happily ever after” way, complete with a final scene that helps support the novel’s title.

I loved the effortless way House uses narrative to embed aspects of Appalachian culture into the story. The ways in which he creates vivid images of place relates directly to the characters’ quest to find “home.” The reader is able to visualize every setting – the feel of a muddy path up to a wildflower field or the smell of home cookin’ in Aunt Easter’s kitchen. Each description is tangible. He is able to articulate the importance of family and close-knit relationships felt within many Appalachian families. House deposits idioms and regional colloquialisms that help establish the work as authentic without seeming fake or forced – an aspect I appreciate above all others.

One of the strengths of this novel is the authenticity of its delivery. Whether in dialogue between characters, descriptive phrasing used to create settings, or the non-abrasive influences of faith, family, and music, House is able to weave together these elements in an effort to create each character’s storyline. The language used throughout the novel seems real instead of forced. House is able to integrate multiple aspects of Appalachian culture, especially in terms of familial relationships and religious undertone, that work together to create the bonds shared between the characters and their homestead.

On a personal note, I reached out to House and asked for help and advice with my own Appalachian Literature course. His response was helpful, optimistic, and timely – all things I can appreciate. He shared in my charge to ensure that this body of work – Appalachian Literature – continues to have a place and a champion in today’s literary cannon.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch