Category Archives: publishing

The Monday Book: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

dogwoosI like flower language, and I’m deeply embroiled in a storytelling project involving fostered and adopted children in SW VA right now, so finding this book on clearance at a used books store in Knoxville, Tennessee, it was a no-brainer purchase.

It was easy to get into, but perhaps hard to stay with; this literary novel has a weird dichotomy running through its middle. On the one hand, it is about tough, stupid, needy, intelligent Victoria, a child who ages out of foster care and lands hard/soft/hard/soft as the book progresses. She’s hard to love, but everybody around her does. And the only way this tough, I-don’t-care girl can communicate well is by flowers. She uses their Victorian meanings to say what’s on her mind.

So does her 20-something suitor. And her foster mom and FM’s estranged sister. It’s kinda hard to buy. But what was it Isaac Asimov said – that every writer gets one free pass at an unbelievable premise built into his or her story? Diffenbaugh got hers in early on.

Still, as bad as the flowers strewn along this bed of thorns tale of dysfunction are, her characterization of Victoria is compelling. Just Victoria, though: the other characters all kind of serve her, appearing as extensions of what she needs.

This is not a character-driven novel. The flowers are running the show. And if you’re willing to believe that could happen, it’s a good read – compelling forward motion, an underdog to root (ha) for, and some very believable circumstances for the foster kid.

On the other hand, perhaps too much perfume, not enough manure, for the growth the characters show. A mixed review, but I can say that I enjoyed reading it, and only began to think “Hey wait a minute” afterward. It was good escapism, and a pretty good depiction of the inner chaos of a foster child who ages out. Just don’t confuse the elegant narration of this fiction with anything like journalism, and we’ll be okay. Ain’t no foster kids in SW VA giving each other flowers, jobs, or free passes.

(If you would like to see the blog on ADOPTION IN APPALACHIA, it is adoptioninappalachia.com. Go take a look at some real stories and advice on the subject.)

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

The Hamsters in my Brain

Jack and I are attending the Appalachian Studies Association Conference in Johnson City, TN this weekend, and it has been a busy couple of days. Saturday morning my colleagues Beth, Jody and I did a panel on combating Appalachian stereotypes in the media. Kind of an interesting row to hoe, and several people had stories to tell. On Sunday, I am heading a panel on adoption in Appalachia, after running a storytelling project with a local group that supports adoptive parents. (If you want to see the blog we just launched, visit ADOPTION IN APPALACHIA. (It’s also a wordpress blog.)

Between these were some fun meetings and some hard meetings, plus Jack and I joined Doug and Darcy Orr, President and First Lady Emeritus of Warren Wilson College, in presenting a panel on Doug and Fiona Ritchie’s book Wayfaring Strangers. The pictorial book chronicles the journey of songs and their singers from Scotland to Appalachia. It’s been really well received and is in its third printing. Jack is one of the source singers on the accompanying CD.

But that’s where things began to take a weird turn. The night before the panel, Doug and Darcy came to our hotel room to practice songs. We sat around the table working out dulcimer chords, guitar accompaniments, and harmonies. All very satisfactory and fun. We sang stuff just for the joy of the moment.

The instant we finished singing, we heard loud voices coming from the room next door, and Beth suggested the doors between the rooms might not be correctly closed; hence the volume. We checked our door: bolted and good to go.

But as Beth pushed against our door, voices from next door yelled “Are you trying to break into our room?” A second later the phone rang. Front desk had received a complaint: had we tried to break into the adjoining room?

When I stopped laughing, I said no and didn’t elaborate. A minute later, the phone rang again. A male voice demanded, “Who am I speaking with?”

Well, I was tired and I was sung out, but one brain cell still functioned, so I figured this was something to do with that mysterious crowd next door, and asked for his name instead. He said I had tried to break into his wife’s hotel room and demanded again to know my name.

I hung up, and the phone shrilled again immediately. I disconnected that call and rang the front desk, explaining the situation. They apologized profusely and said the phone call had not originated in the hotel, and they would ensure no further calls were transferred in.

Which really put a top hat on things, because if the guy who was calling in wasn’t in the room with his wife, whose was that male voice making very explicit suggestions quite loudly through the wall?

We gave up, and went to bed, but I don’t think we’ll be staying at the Carnegie again. Who in their right mind puts a phone call through to a room number if the caller can’t give a name? At least that couple didn’t batter the door down in the night, but I hope that poor husband figures a few things out.

sleeping hamsterMe, I can’t figure anything out. Six meetings, two panels and four hours of sleep have done for me. It was a good day today, and now the hamsters in my brain are asleep in their little exercise wheels.

Go by, mad world.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, Scotland, small town USA, VA

We’re Still Having Fun

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Wendy and I often have conversations on Facebook with other owners of small independent bookstores – usually about how to drive more customers through the door. The trouble is that every bookstore is unique in some way, be that the character of the owners, the geographical position of the shop, the demographic of the local population, etc, etc.

Our own strategies have been many and varied and some are detailed in ‘The Little Bookstore’. They have ranged from the early days of me handing out flyers outside the local Super-Wallie to running community events in the store. Flyers are good when you’re getting established. Community events are good for two reasons – publicity and bringing in new folk who might become regular customers.

This is where local circumstances come into play; Wendy and I live in the same building as the bookstore so it’s no biggie for us to run events. It might not be so easy for others.

We are currently running a ‘give-away’ competition for boxes of children’s and young adult books aimed at the local schools. This is partly because we simply have too many, but also to help raise awareness among school staff, parents and students that we are here and our children’s books are cheap even when you have to buy them.

We have also found that opening a cafe created spin-off business between the two. Of course that means finding the space, meeting health inspection rules (GOATS!), and identifying someone with the skills and personality with whom you can comfortably work, etc, etc. We were very lucky to find Our Good Chef Kelley as a partner!

Finally, it certainly helps to write and have published a best-selling memoir all about your bookstore. That has brought lots of people from around the country (and abroad) to visit us who generally don’t leave without buying books and eating lunch. As I write this a couple from Fairfax sit upstairs in the cafe; they drove all the way here because of the book. They have a book club who all read Wendy’s book and are talking about a group visit. That would certainly involve an overnight stay, so additional business for the town as well.

And after finally (well, a post-script then) it pays to have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life. :]

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: THE GRACE THAT KEEPS THIS WORLD by Tom Bailey

It’s set in the mountains, it’s about a rural family living close to poverty, and it involves dysfunctional quiet love. What’s not to like about this novel (which came out in 2005)?

And yet, when I opened it and saw that the author used the first person narratives of several different people to tell the story, my first thought was Oh no. Most people can’t keep characterization well enough to pull that off successfully. The people don’t sound different, don’t want different things, don’t act as though they are, as Stephen King more or less put it, the stars of their own lives.

Bailey not only pulled off this technique, of all things, he did it by means of a weird kind of failure. His writing is pretty, ornate, descriptive to the point that I admit to sometimes skimming because I’m not that kind of reader. I don’t like long descriptions of wooded areas. (I accept this as a failing in me as a reader, and insert it here so you know whether to trust me as a reviewer.)

But I love, love, love when a writer gets inside the heads of others and makes the writing sound like them. And Bailey’s success at failing is that he did this not by changing the dialect or lexicon, but by changing what they want to talk about and how they want to talk about it intellectually. All Bailey’s characters – the father, the two sons, the mom, the girlfriends and the neighbors–have similar vocabulary. Yet they have very different points of aim to their lives and conversation. I liked this approach.

The building sense of tragedy, the inevitable moment that’s foreshadowed in the mom’s opening volley, lying in bed listening to her three men take off for their hunt, keeps the whole book’s plot humming with a kind of relentless bass thrum; you aren’t so much watching a train wreck as a ballet dancer fall. It’s a graceful tragedy, bittersweet in its one-step-removed sense of what it means for the family left behind.

In this novel, tragedy is masked in beauty and quietness. Even the hardcore parts about logging and shooting and men hitting each other are written in that once-removed elegance that must have frustrated the tar out of some readers. I like bittersweet, so I loved Grace. I’m now looking for Bailey’s other novel (Cotton Song, I think) to hit the bookshop at some point.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized

The Monday Book: The Art of the Epigraph: How Great Books Begin

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself. ~Marlene Dietrich

epigraphPicked this book up when Jack and I visited Williamsburg on holiday in January. I love quotes, have kept a notebook of them forever, and sometimes, just for fun, I troll quote sites.

So now you know.

Rosemary Ahern’s editing of this book has them organized by loose subjects, but she also wrote a nice contextualizing essay about epigraphs (the quotes that open a book chapter or book by being a kind of sideways poetic move into what the text will deal with). She refers to them as ‘mental furniture’ and a way of understanding not only what the chapter will be about, but how the author thinks about life–a little peek inside the study, if you will.

I figured this was  a “dipping” book, the kind one picked up at bedtime and browsed amiably until sleep fogged the brain and the words danced away from your eyes. (That’s usually the last thing that happens before the book falls on my face and wakes me up.) But in reality, this is a bad book to read before bed. You kinda have to think about the quotes, because they’re set on the page above the title of the book they open. Which is like a game of Dixit, or Apples to Apples, with words and somebody else’s brain waves. Cool, fun, but not really sleep-inducing. More of a wake-up call for.

Insights are glorious things, but as Elizabeth Gilbert said in her TED talk, sometimes you don’t want to be inspired because you’re trying to drive a car or get some sleep.

Ain’t no plot to this book, but if you’ve read the books that are under the epigraphs, you totally spend a few minutes moving the letters around inside the square to see if you can form the mystery key word. Thought Boggle?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it is one of the few, the proud, that I will keep rather than Frisbee-flick into the shop for someone else to find. Getcher own copy, and I highly recommend purchasing rather than the library. You’re going to want to write notes in the margins. :]

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Wendy Welch, writing

A Deep Dive

Writing about writing is kind of dangerous, because if you were really writing, you wouldn’t be writing about writing, so therefore whatever you write is pretentious git dribble about how much fun you would be having if you were really doing it.

But it’s still so alluring to do……

When you’re getting back into the groove, it’s like taking a deep dive back down into dark water. You know what you’re doing and you can’t wait to jump, you’ve been practicing your form and technique, but you have no idea what’s down there. You just know you want to get into it, feel it close around you, and forget the rest.

So you set aside all the housecleaning jobs that have to get done “someday” and you set a time limit for Facebook, morning and evening and no lunch peeking, and you clear all the crochet patterns from your laptop and block Ravelry for a couple of months.

diveAnd then you dive.

Ohhhhh, that dive…….. :]

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

The Monday Book: HAUNTING JASMINE by Anjali Banerjee

♪ IIIIII’m in the moooooooood ♪ for Fluff! ♪

ganeshAlthough I like most novels and memoirs about India or Pakistan, I tend to avoid the Bollywood-in-print end of that continuum. But Jasmine is about a woman who watches her aunt’s bookshop for a month. So I had to read it.

If you read Sarah Addison Allen’s charming romance Garden Spells, in which an apple tree chucks fruit at Mr. Wrong and rains petals down while wafting heady perfume at opportune moments, you have the concept of this book. The shop has a mind of its own, guarded by Ganesh, the Hindu remover of obstacles, who works in collusion with the ghosts that haunt the place.

A LOT of ghosts haunt this place. There are no surprises in this book. If it were food, it would be cotton candy. PINK cotton candy.

And very well made. Not your clumpy spun sugar, but the smooth, fluffy, cloud of sweetness that dissolves even as you start to taste it. This is a fast read, a light read, fun and fluffy.

I can hear regular readers of this blog thinking, “Yes, okay, but how is the WRITING?”

Practically non-existent. Like that spun sugar, it disappears as you’re reading it. You don’t remember turns of phrase, just the story line. And you can kinda see what’s coming, but that’s party of the pleasantness–anticipation of that next mouthful of dulce ethereal.

You don’t have to own a bookstore to enjoy the inside jokes about books, bookshops, or the customers who frequent them. But if you do, you might laugh at more places than the rest of the world. There are plenty of laughs as Jasmine struggles with her mysterious suitor, her scumbag ex-husband, and her inability to believe that Horatio and co. were right- there are more things under heaven than we might already know about.

Two cotton candy cones up for this pink-lit, chick-lit romance.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing