Category Archives: publishing

The Monday Book: SHADOW TAG by Louise Erdrich

shadow tag This was a creepy book. On the one hand, it’s scarier and more ominous than many thrillers I’ve started but never finished. On the other, it’s about marriage. Draw your own conclusions.

If I had to choose one word to sum up this book, ironically enough it would be “Complex.” The complexities of how people exhibit love, whether love and hate really are two horns on the same goat, and what it means to belong to as opposed to live freely beside someone are all explored with some fairly high-concept stressers added. The couple are Native Americans. They are successful artists. They are alcoholics. And whether they love each other or use each other or even like each other is up for grabs in the eyes of the reader.

And get this: she creates that complex effect with simplicity. Her writing, lyrical though it is, is pretty simple. The dialogue where the couple are arguing about love and divorce, interjected with tossing a salad and setting the table, had me weeping with laughter. “You don’t understand love at all. Do you want croutons?”

Also, Irene, the writer, is writing two diaries at the same time to confuse her painter husband Gil, who is reading the one he thinks is real. And she gets confused between them herself. Which is kinda funny, kinda tragic.

What is clear is that chaos creates chaos creates complications, and that the kids are incredibly well-drawn characters in this novel. Your heart breaks over them, and I suspect no two people would read this book in quite the same way. It’s just a jumble of ideas that are strung together in a story line, and sometimes it’s a series of descriptions rather than a “this happened next.”

Which works and adds to the chaotic doomed feeling of the book.

All I can say is, don’t read this book if you’re in a really good mood, or a really bad one. Read it when you have time to think about the complexities, puzzle over the “why did she and why didn’t he” moments, and feel. You’re gonna need a lot of time to feel, and you’re not always going to know why you feel what you feel. At least, I didn’t.

Two head scratches and a thumbs up for this beautiful, scary novel.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

SHOPSITTER GUEST POST: RAINY DAYS

Meet Emily, our shopsitter, who wrote this guest blog about her arrival.

I love rainy days. We don’t get many in California. We don’t get more than one or two a year, actually… so when I get them, they remind me of the luxury of being able to stay inside.

Shelves and shelves of books do that, too. So many books that it takes a whole afternoon to read all the titles on just one of the walls, because you keep getting distracted by the ones you pick up just to read the backs of. So many books that look loved here, and some that look pristine.

I’m shopsitting off and on this summer for Wendy and Jack as a preliminary way to get to know the area in preparation for my dissertation research. I’m an anthropologist, and my research has brought me back here, back from California, to the South, to the mountains, relatively closer to where I grew up, closer to where it feels like a comfortable space inside from the rain.

My dissertation fieldwork officially begins next summer, and it isn’t going to remain in such comfy-cozy spaces. I’m studying the social lives of print books, or how print books work as social media among people who might not otherwise be connected – particularly, how print books work as social media in prison.

Eventually, whenever Richmond gives me the okay, I hope to be in touch with people in prisons about their experiences with books, both employees and inmates. People who love to read books, people who are paid to teach books, people who mail books, move books from place to place, and think they’re too heavy or think they smell nice. I’m interested in how all those experiences make people feel about the world of words, about one another, and about themselves.

Anthropology is slow work, so for now, it’s just me and my personal experiences sitting in a shop, staying inside because of a little weather, literally surrounded by books. My favorite kind of book for a rainy day is a nice and slow ghost story. I’m pretty loose with that definition – I might even include in it The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of my all-time favorites. There’s a scene when our two heroes are watching a regular summer storm and Huck says to Jim, “Jim, this is nice. I wouldn’t want to be nowhere else but here.”

Pretty much.

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

Fixing Mariah Stewart

DSCN0455I try to be a good foster mom. I really do.

The mystery room has been taken over by eight fuzzy little miscreants, and just as one was adopted yesterday, an emergency came in. Yeah, it’s been that kind of summer. The emergency kitten – we named her Miss Kitty Butler – is a Russian blue with brown eyes, a lovely wee thing who narrowly missed getting squished on the side of the road. She’s not supposed to be here, but it was better than the alternative.

Now, with eight kittens, and our dear Mrs. Hudson adopted a month ago, you can imagine the state of things. We keep on top of the boxes (which all the kittens are using like champs, in every sense) but they have a kitty tube, a climbing tree, a spiral hat, two dangly toys, assorted jingle balls, and about a thousand catnip mice in there.

We open the door by day, and herd them in at night. When I open the door the next morning with their (two) plates of wet food, they swarm my ankles like fuzzy piranhas, meat-seeking missiles. While they eat, I tidy the room. Which is a lot like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill, because the kitties have discovered the joys of tunneling through our new shelves. See, we just redid the mystery room about two weeks ago: new shelves, better classification system, and a big tidy that included Saint Anne buffing and rewaxing all the floors.

Yeah, good thing we got it tidied.

Every morning the kittens have created new tunnels between the central shelf’s lowest level, pushing Ed McBain, Mariah Stewart, and Charlotte MacLeod out of the way in great strings of books across the floor. These fallen soldiers of the kitten wars were, the first week or so, restacked with careful attention to titles and authors, turned sideways to allow a tunnel left open for the fur babies, and given a little tlc.

The kittens ignored the prefabricated tunnels and created more. Ridley Pearson. Richard North Patterson. When they shoved our 200 Robert Parker novels out of the way, I knew they meant business. You mess with Spenser for Hire, nobody is safe.

So I’ve stopped worrying about the kitten tunnels, and just shove those titles willy-nilly back under the bottom shelf each morning. Charlotte and Ridley have grown….close. Entwined, one might say. I’m pretty sure some of the Stewarts are pregnant, and will give birth to slim volumes of Harlequin Suspenses. Sigh….. 081

We ensure the kitties never give birth. It’s been a bad year for people forgetting their responsibilities, and these are the result. But I’m not sure how to fix the Stewarts…

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book repair, bookstore management, crafting, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

THE MONDAY BOOK: The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman

oceansI really wasn’t sure I’d like this book at all when I read the blurbs on the back. I mean – a book about a couple living on a remote lighthouse – surely nothing much would happen.

But Stedman’s writing very quickly sucked me in. Well crafted lines and beautiful descriptions, including some about the technicalities of lighthouse technology in the 1920s, kept me hooked.

But the real story isn’t about the lighthouse. The real story is about Tom, a First World War survivor, and his younger wife Isabel. After two miscarriages and a still birth, one day a small boat is washed up on the island containing a dead man and a living baby. Tom is determined to report this to the authorities ashore, but Isabel is equally determined to keep it quiet and bring up the baby as their own.

I loved the characterization of both the main players. Tom as the older, somewhat tortured veteran of the war, focusing on the routine of the lighthouse to keep out memories of the battlefield. Isabel – the younger kind of flighty and adventurous non-conformist trapped in a small remote coastal town.

“The log is the gospel truth. Janus isn’t a Lloyds station: it’s not one the ships depend on for forecasts, so once Tom closes the pages on the book, it is unlikely that any eyes will glance at it again, perhaps ever. But he feels a particular peace when he writes.”

“Looking into those eyes was like looking into the face of God. No mask or pretense: the baby’s defenselessness was overwhelming.”

There are many other memorable players in this drama and none of them are treated as ‘bit players’. Stedman gives them all of her best!

I won’t spoil your enjoyment by revealing any more of the story, just say umpteen thumbs up!

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

The Monday Book: ENTERING THE SILENCE by Thomas Merton

capI picked this up in Philly at Neighborhood Books, run by the kind colorful local character Curtis. I didn’t know at the time it was a near-famous book; I was writing about silence and thought it would be interesting as research. But it’s actually the second volume of Thomas Merton’s surprising bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton became a Cistercian (Trappist) monk and wrote a lot about his spiritual journey. In Silence, he wrote about visiting two other orders, and how he decided to join.

The book is in three sections, each dealing with an order. One is the hardworking Trappists, who Merton says pretty much consider prayer, work, and hardship as all under the umbrella of prayer. When he asks one of the monks what it feels like to be part of such an order, the monk asks, “Have you ever been in love?” When Merton affirms, the monk says, “Well, like that.”

The first description will speak to writers, because it’s as much about Merton–who has come to the silence of the monks to get away from distractions and allow himself to write–discovering he is distracted by the silence. He needs to fill it up, get away from it, silence it. He almost fears it. And it doesn’t help him write, not until he gets to a new idea of time and commitment and passion (which is very eloquently described).

The next two descriptions are more just depictions of the living Trappists and the deceased Capadocians, where he visits the little caves that used to be their homes and pretty much comes out of that description thanking God it isn’t a choice anymore, or he might have felt compelled to make it. (That’s them in the photo at the top.) This isn’t a book with a story, more like getting inside someone’s head for an hour. If you’ve ever read A Grief Observed, it kinda reads like that – completely different subject matter, but just “here, and that’s all I have to say.” Yet said with such thoughtful eloquence.

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

TWO WRITING SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE

December folder 047Every year we hold WRITES COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, a one-day workshop focused on narrative writing (fiction or non). We talk about the mindset of making time for writing, techniques for getting the ideas formed, writing until the draft is done, editing, editing, editing, editing, editing – and tips for editing. And we have a great time.

The workshop is limited to five people, and this year as always scholarships are available from the American NewMedia Education Foundation, courtesy of their president Debra Lee Hallock’s generosity.

However, this year, two people who were taking the scholarships were teachers from Wisconsin, where I had done author visits last year. All set to come share the fun, one of the women discovered she was in stage 4 breast cancer. Her best friend wants to stay and help her through the next few months. Our prayers go out to them.

This means two scholarships are still available if you want to join the day. You need to be in the education field. If you’d like to talk to someone who has attended these in past years, Jim Wardell, Angelic Towe, Lizbeth Phillips, or Vicky Marcum Evans (all on Facebook) would be happy to describe their experiences.

It all happens Saturday, July 25. The morning is a bit of discussion, then writing exercises, half an hour for lunch (bring your own or eat at Our Good Chef Kelley’s Second Story Cafe and an afternoon of feedback, discussion on experiences and writing “issues” personal to the attendees, a little brainstorming, and some final discussion.

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS works well for those who have an idea or a page or two down on what they want to write about, or as a kick-starter for those who “are gonna get to it someday.” If you have any questions, drop me an email at jbeck69087@aol.com; people who are not teachers, the day is $100. We start at 9 and finish at 4:30.

And there are kittens. :]

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: WHERE TROUBLE SLEEPS by Clyde Edgerton

Edgerton’s books tend to circle a few themes; think of them as small circles that actually go down into the core of human beings. On the surface it looks like a simple, small concept, but the roots go into the fabric of what makes us tick.

Like when “rootless amorality meets deep-rooted morality” as he puts it – drifters come through, they do wrong, they’ve been doing wrong, they meet people who do right, and don’t you forget it. Little old ladies who sing in choirs. Churchgoers whose idea of sin is fishing in Sundays. And then this guy shows up driving a stolen car….

It’s kind of adorable, and symbol of Edgerton’s genius, that the Gypsy Man driving the stolen car takes a cabin at the Settle Inn.

It all kinda goes from there, in hilarious yet poignant directions. Gypsy man, the call to repent, the church goers, and life in small-town North Carolina in the 1950s. You laugh until you cry. E

Especially at the ending, which I won’t give away, but suffice it to say, never miss with a church-going little old lady who isn’t as old or as little as you think.

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction