Category Archives: writing

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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It has been just over twenty-MC Beaton The Witches' Tree Book Jacketfive years since Marion Chesney, under the name  M. C. Beaton, penned the first Agatha Raisin detective mystery. Her most recent in the twenty-eight novel series, The Witches’ Tree (Minotaur Books, October 2017, 277 pages), is by design a not-so-cozy cozy mystery.

The Witches’ Tree takes place in the Cotswold village of Sumpton Harcourt, not far from Agatha Raisin’s cottage in Carsley. The novel begins at the home of bumbling Sir Edward Chumble with a disastrous dinner party to welcome the new vicar and his wife to the village.  It is a foggy night, but the dense mist thins enough for Rory and Mollie Devere to discover an elderly woman’s body hanging from a gnarled witches’ tree on the edge of the village.  Later two more bodies show up, and Agatha Raisin feels pressured to find the murderer so her Mircester detective agency benefits from positive press coverage.

People who live in Cotswold cottages do not lead squeaky-clean lives, so Agatha enlists the help of her ex-husband James and potential love interest Sir Charles Fraith to dig up dirt on the neighbors and ferret out the killer. A coven of witches in Sumpton Harcourt complicates the plot, and Agatha soon becomes a target because she does not scare off easily.  In the end, though, she gets her man—the villain, not a love interest.

One of the driving forces through the entire cozy series is Agatha’s desire to be successful, settled down, and madly in love with her husband.  She is successful (retired public relations executive, owner of a respected detective agency) owns a lovely thatched cottage in the Cotswolds (instead of a luxury London flat), and—whoops—no husband yet.  Time and again, Agatha’s pursuit of eligible bachelors sets her up for grave disappointment, which keeps her life far from perfect. By the end of this particular novel, Agatha has an epiphany, and diehard fans can appreciate the poignant moment when she finally sees her knight.  For once she doesn’t mess things up, and readers feel her pain and disillusionment when her love interest recognizes the moment of truth and blows it.  The chaotic pace of Agatha’s life is reflected in the book, and in the end, readers are desperate for a twenty-ninth Agatha Raisin novel so their heroine can take another stab at happiness.  Hopefully, the next murder weapon is not a knife.

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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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Jean Spradlin-Miller’s Monday Book

Jean Spradlin-Miller, an animal lover from Birmingham, Alabama brings us the Monday Book this week!

w204The Truest Pleasure, by Robert Morgan, has become one of my favorite books. I stumbled over it several years ago when browsing through the bookstore in search of a new book to read. What attracted me to Morgan’s novel are the time and the location. I’ve always loved books, such as Cataloochee and Cold Mountain, which are about the people in the southern Appalachian Mountains, since many of my ancestors came from this area.

The Truest Pleasure tells the story of the marriage of Ginny and Tom Powell, who marry near the turn of the last century. There is much that they have in common. They both love the land, both had fathers who fought in the Civil War, and both have a powerful attraction to each other. Ginny’s father survived the War, returning to cultivate his land in western North Carolina and create a secure home for his family. Tom’s father, however, died in a prison camp, and Tom has had to struggle most of his life to provide for his mother and siblings. Ginny and Tom’s marriage, they know, is also an advantageous one for them both – security and peace of mind for Tom, and a proper husband for Ginny.

But there are things that cause a rift in their marriage. Because of the poverty of his youth, Tom is consumed with work and the accumulation of money, which haven’t really brought him the peace of mind he seeks. On the other hand, Ginny is passionate about her Pentecostal beliefs and is swept up in the fervent spirit of the brush arbor meetings, where she “speaks in tongues” and becomes filled with the Holy Spirit. Tom is horrified by what he sees as her loss of dignity and self-control, but Ginny sees it as a blessing from God for her spiritual well-being. Over time, Ginny becomes jealous and impatient with Tom’s preoccupation with work and money. These obsessions cause a deep division between Tom and Ginny, where they no longer speak, nor are they even physical with one another.

Ginny and Tom’s marriage ultimately reaches a major crisis. Ginny finally realizes that her truest pleasure is not her love of God, but that through her love and personal sacrifice for her husband Tom, she shows her love for God. This is a beautifully written novel, giving you a real understanding of the time, and the place and its people, without ridicule or condescension. Morgan personally knows this place, and shows it through his respect for the characters and their way of life.

I met Robert Morgan several years ago at a book signing, shortly after the release of his biography of Daniel Boone. For years, I had been praising his work to anyone who would listen, and I was excited about meeting him. I had the good fortune in being able to speak to Mr. Morgan alone for more than a few seconds. He was very generous with his time; we spoke at length about writing and character development, and his personal method of working. He was such a gentleman, and I will always be grateful to him for sharing with me.



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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?



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Erica Susan Jones’ Monday Book

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence againWhen I was a teenager, Penguin produced a range of classics for a pound a book. I’m not sure how mid-90s money translates across the Atlantic, but for this reader who’d only very recently discovered the joy of bookshops it was a revelation.
All of a sudden I went from being able to afford a book a month to what felt like an unlimited supply of new reading material. No matter that some of the classics I bought were as inaccessible to a teenage girl as A Clockwork Orange is to most human beings, I suddenly had the ability to visit a bookshop and buy more than one book. I browsed, I bought, I read.
Among these purchases was The Age of Innocence. If bookshops inspired my love of reading, it’s this book that opened my eyes to the possibilities of what books can hold. This book grabbed me, shook me, chewed me up and spat me out the other side, leaving an exhausted woman wondering what I could possibly read next that could ensnare me in such a way.
All this in what many misinterpret as being just another society love story.
In some ways that interpretation is correct. The main strand of the book is Boy Meets Girl, but the setting of that introduction (I don’t just mean 1870s New York) and the subtle storytelling are what make it so much more than a story of love versus responsibility. After all, this was the first Pulitzer Prize-winning book by a woman.
The Age of Innocence is the book I recommend and/or gift the most, and I’m currently re-reading it for a book club. For some, like teenage me, I fully expect them to comment on the love story, but I’m also looking forward to the other aspects they question: the freedom, or otherwise, of the different women; the rules that constrict our hero’s choices; and maybe even the impact today’s societal conventions have on our own lives – we’re technically more free than the characters in the book, but how much do we bind ourselves in our attempts to fit in?
Edith Wharton writes with intelligence and humour, encouraging her readers to question the sense of that world and its hypocrisies, and while her focus might have been a few centuries ago The Age of Innocence is as relevant now as it was then.
dolly readingErica Jones is a bookshop blogger, owned by a rescue cat called Dolly.
Feel free to either link to my blog as a whole or to this post:


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Turning off the Writing Blocks

house-mouse-mus-musculus-coloured-mouses-in-hamster-wheel-B1YTC6I work with a bunch of writers in a program called Memory to Memoir, and I mentor two writers each year for a year, thanks to a grant from the American NewMedia Foundation (thanks Debra Hallock). And I write, so I’ve seen a fair bit of the things that get in the way of writing, those little foxes in the vineyard, demons of destruction–whatever you want to call them. Here are a few of the most common blockades for  writers:

The Inner Critic: You’re doing it wrong, you haven’t got anything interesting to say, you’re not smart enough/sassy enough/sexy enough/strong enough. ENOUGH. You are enough because you are. Best way to deal with these bitches (who seem to travel in swarms) is to get a little medicine bottle and label it inner critic voices. Every time one goes off in my head, I open the lid and blow her into the bottle. A friend has an imaginary brick. When the girls show up, she picks up her brick and scatters them like roaches fleeing Raid.

The Hamster Wheel: You’re gonna write, of course you are–as soon as you earn the time by doing just those few little chores that have been hanging around and you just can’t sit down with a clear conscience until you’ve done them…. Make a list of things you need to do. Now prioritize the ones that have to be done to keep your world from blowing up. Literally, put numbers next to them. “Write something today” is not allowed to be below number four on that list. Now do the things above writing, and then write before you get to number five. Write for an hour at least.

The “I’ve Only Got an Hour” Fritter: You’ve only got an hour, and then you have to leave for someplace. Fine. Set a timer for 59 minutes, sit down, and go at it. The timer will keep you from forgetting to leave. Meanwhile, you can write with freedom of mind.

Oops I Forgot Syndrome: Similar to but kinda like putting a spoke in the hamster wheel, these are the “oops I forgot” moments that intrude on writing time. “I forgot to call my mom back; I forgot to get the laundry out of the dryer.” Keep scrap paper or a notepad by your writing area. Jot down the “I forgots” and let them wait there until you’re done. You have a note to remind you.

Interruptions: First, find a place where your family and work aren’t going to hunt you down, if you can. If not, establish an in-house writing zone in both time and space. Then establish the rules. Kids can’t show you blood? Don’t knock. Spouse needs to know RIGHT NOW? Then you get more time tomorrow while s/he watches over the rest of it. That’s the deal. If you have a home office, but closing the door isn’t enough, put up a color sticky when writing. When the family sees purple, they know you’re not to be interrupted unless the house is on fire. Make sure the family respects this, and you do too. Don’t blow off your time in there. It’s being paid for by other people who respect you enough to give it to you. That’s important. And validating.

These are the biggest writing bugaboos I see day to day. What are yours?



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