Category Archives: writing

Organizing the Westerns

westernAbout a week ago I realized that our Mancave needed cleaning. We call this the Guys with Big Guns sections, housing Westerns and War novels. It was dusty and hadn’t been culled or realphabzetized in some time.

Dealing with Guys with Big Guns is not something we as Quakers want to spend our time doing.  Although we don’t read these genres, we certainly sell a lot of them, so last Saturday, there was nothing for it but to bite the bullet and move in.

It’s enough to make a bookslinger cynical, I tell ya. First of all, the  expressions on the faces of the cover art guys are the same (grimacing with determination). Also their posture: they lean into the action but slightly away from the gun. Yes, they’re all holding guns, but here’s where it differs. Western guys hold six-shooters (I think) while the War people vary: post-apocalytpic weapon of choice is a Bazooka. Go figger. The spy guy  ranges from little pistol-ma-bobs to those huge rifle-esque guns you see flashed from the backs of Toyotas in countries where things are not going well.

Guns I don’t know much about; the alphabet I can handle. That’s what I was trying to do, organizing them by author. Some, like Terry or William Johnston(e) or good ol’ Louis L’Amour, move fast. Others go at about the speed of cattle crossing the Great Plains. So it’s important to keep them sorted, but at a certain point, whether First-time Author Hoping to Break Into the Genre or whoever is covering L’Amour these days wrote Shootout at Wherever gets old. Did you know that about half of all Western titles start with Shootout, Gunfight, or Crossing? Go ahead, check it out.

It seems to me that Westerns are Romance for Men. In fact, I once put a bunch of Native American romances back there in the mancave, mixed in with the other Shooters, and sure enough, they got scooped up. A word to whoever is designing the covers: a girl with big heaving bosoms and a guy with gritty determination in his eyes will do; you really don’t have to worry about anything else. Near as I can tell, in the Westerns she heaves in the background as the guy covers her with his big gun, while in the Romances she heaves in the foreground as the guy, again…. Anyway, you get the (cover) picture.

It took several hours, but our Westerns and War sections are now relatively dust-free. Jack did suggest I leave a bit, for atmosphere. “Guys want a little True Grit,” said my husband.

 

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The Monday Book – Paradise to Puddledub

Jack’s guest post is the Monday book this week –

Paradise to Puddledub – Wendy Welch (Lyngham House 2002)

As  you can no doubt understand this isn’t so much a book review as a book description. It’s not a marketing ploy either; the book in question is out of print!

PtoP

This was the first complete book by my wife Wendy to be published. She had contributed academic articles before this to specialist journals and story collections, but this was all her own writing. For some years she had written a weekly column for a newspaper based in Maryville Tennessee and she continued to do this after moving to Scotland. Paradise to Puddledub is a collection of some of the stories that were published in the paper during that time.

Immediately prior to moving across the Atlantic she had lived in the tiny Newfoundland hamlet of Paradise near St John’s in Newfoundland where she studied for her PhD in Ethnography. After moving to Fife and getting married she became curiously fascinated by an equally small hamlet there called Puddledub (the joke is that the Scots word for a puddle is ‘dub’ – so the name should really be either Puddlepuddle or Dubdub!).

Of course I was very much part of the critiquing and proof reading at the time the book was being written, so it was intriguing to stumble across a copy as we were tidying a few days ago. It has been my bed-time reading since then. Many of the stories in the book describe events that I was part of, and quite few have been retold at gatherings over the years.

I suppose my only reservation is that most of the columns had to conform to a fairly strict word count because they were written originally to fit half of a newspaper page. That means that there’s more to most of the stories that there simply wasn’t room for. There’s a healthy writing discipline to that, but…

The events described range from the hilarious to the poignant and occasionally horrifying. From my first attempt to eat fast-food in a British car going round a roundabout, to the kids in an Edinburgh housing project getting to grips with a performance during the prestigious Edinburgh arts festival, not to mention the heroic librarian ‘keeping calm and carrying on’!

If Wendy happens to read this guest blog, I’d like her to consider re-publishing the book, but with some of the pieces filled out to include all of the story.

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The Monday Book: JESUS LAND by Julia Scheeres

Scheeres was the bio child of a white family that adopted two black boys, one older than her, one three months younger. So if Mommy Dearest met Hell House, their love child would be her memoir.

She chronicles growing up in an uber-Christian family where hymns were blasted into bedrooms to wake them up, but at night her older foster brother snuck into her room and made her have sex. That kind of thing.

The details in the book are not salacious, rather sparse and that makes them all the more impactful. When Julia and her little brother David (whom she adores) get sent to an Evangelical reform school, her depictions of what’s happening are heartbreakingly hysterical. I found myself laughing out loud, closing my mouth again on a sob. She’s ruthless and without self-pity in describing the place, but she’s also very good at passing up the easy joke to get to the core of the matter.

For instance, when she writes about the kids being given a week off school to lay the foundation for a baseball diamond, the result is pure comedic gold as well as a deep insight into human nature. It’s hot, shirts are sticking, water is pouring over t-shirts, boys are stripping down…. And the staff realize too late they’ve got a lust pit accompanied by Christian rock music.

Even though she’s merciless about what it was like to be in her home and that school, Scheeres isn’t dissing Christianity. She doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about “true Christianity is this,” she just writes out what happened and moves on. Readers can figure it out for themselves pretty easily. Her acknowledgements leave out her mom and dad (whose names are never used in the book, either) but in her book group questions at the end, she refers to her two older sisters as “powerful examples of laudable Christians.” She’s not out to get Christianity, or even her parents, and her story is even stronger because she just tells it without saying “You know this means my parents were hypocrites, right?”

No easy punchlines, and the reading vibrates between easy and intense, but the underlying humor and love between brother and sister come through. So do the racist and Christianity-over-kindness mixed-up overtones.

This book was written before the country divided into Trump as What’s Wrong with American Christianity Today versus God’s Chosen Man for the Hour. But it really makes the points one might be considering along those lines.

What does Christianity look like when it’s about saving souls no matter how bad it hurts, when it’s about preserving a way of life that allows Othering, when it ignores what doesn’t fit into its prescribed boxes as unable to be happening? Scheeres has written her memoir about these questions, by never overtly stating them.

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It’s Writing Retreat Weekend!!!

Once a year, thanks to the American NewMedia Foundation, two writers and I embark on a journey. The program asks the writers to set goals for the next year in terms of what project them want to work on, and what they want the outcome to be.writing-a-research-plan

And then we work. Hard.

We always start with a writing retreat, a kickoff to a year of wordsmithing and prioritizing and crafting. Not all the fellows have been women, but I think it is harder for women to make time for our own writing. It’s a “hobby” that produces less tangible objects than knitting or crocheting, and it’s something we can’t “prove” we have a “right” to be doing by the standards of return on investment.

Sod that for a game of soldiers. We write for fun, for mental health, because we have something to say, because it’s satisfying, or just because we friggin’ want to. Why women have to justify time spent in this way, I don’t know. But never mind. Tonight the words will start flowing, faster than the wine, and we three will dive deep, down into the waters of creativity.

It is like diving. What feels cool and clean one minute as you slice in with surgical precision can become deep and suffocating and murky the next, and that glorious feeling of control disappears into something approaching panic. It’s dark in the creative spaces. That can be good or bad.

What it never is, is boring. This year promises to be as challenging and invigorating as the previous ones have been, me learning from the fellows, the fellows learning from me. It’s kind of a full circle of growth return.

And so we start, late this afternoon, down the path toward the sea of words. Wish us luck!

 

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The Monday Book Auction

Things are a bit busy around here these days. Jack and I are making room in the bookstore by holding a book auction online. We’re selling off some prolific authors, some mystery series, a few groups of “mindful living/hippie interest” foodie titles, and some odd lots ranging from a baker’s dozen to 100 fiction and non-fiction titles.

If you’re interested in being added to the auction, which started yesterday and closes this Sunday July 16, please go to LITTLE BOOKSTORE BOOK LOTS on Facebook and ask to be added. A description of how the auction works, plus how postage is handled if the books need to be mailed, is at the bottom of the page. Have fun!

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The Tuesday Book Sculptures

Sorry about yesterday, everyone. Traveling in rural areas of Scotland makes for spotty Internet. But all shall be forgiven, because I have now seen, in person, the Edinburgh Book Sculptures!

If anyone doesn’t know, I am a fanatic for these things. The backstory is best told on a different site, so I’ll just give you the basics here. In 2011, a mysterious little paper cut statue of a tree growing out of a book appeared in the Scottish Poetry Library. It was titled “Poetree” and had a tag honoring books, ideas, and words, thanking the library for existing.

Everyone thought that was nice, and then shortly a second statue appeared. And soon they were everywhere: the National Library, the Storytelling Centre, the Writer’s Museum, the Filmhouse, the Central lending library for Edinburgh, and the National Museum. Always celebrating words and ideas and thanking the institution (all of whom had free admission) for being there.

The sculptures gathered enough attention to have a book put out: GIFTED. And the best part is, once the sculptures gained international attention, it didn’t take the media long to figure out who had made the statues. And at her request, they withheld her name. So very British.

The other fun part about the sculptures is the books they are made from: the dinosaur from AC Doyle’s Lost World, the Hyde street scene from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And most of the rest from Ian Rankin novels (a great crime writer based in Edinburgh).

This is a random sampling of some of the statues, which I have now finally seen in person. Some of the venues were rather startled by my ardent worship, but I am a happy person.

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The Monday Book: FAREWELL SUMMER by Ray Bradbury

farewell-summer-ray-bradburyBradbury is one of my all-time favorite authors, even though he breaks all the rules of what I normally like to read.

He isn’t about character development or plot, and one of the reasons people have a hard time adapting his books to TV or Movies or Stage Plays (witness The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes) is that not much happens. What does happen is subtle. I mean, think about it, humans land on Mars and the theme of Chronicles is how it makes humans feel and act to have done that.

When the wind blows in Bradbury’s books, it is action, event, and plot development. His winds don’t blow, they dance, sprinkle the dust of mummies into towns, awaken strangeness, extend foggy hands to pull you into graveyards and make you explore your dark side. They might even slap you off a cliff, but they never just blow. And yet, that’s all that happens for three chapters: Bradbury describes the effect of the wind on people – mostly young boys and those who would force them to return to school at the end of summer: the Evil Old Ones who battle for control of the clocks.

I don’t know any other authors who can write such mundane clichés with so much beauty and elegance, you go back and reread the sentences for the joy of them.

Farewell Summer is actually the sequel to a book I didn’t get into all that much of Bradbury’s, mostly because it was written so much from a boy’s perspective that it left no room for a girl to say “Hey, me too! I want more childhood and to be grown-up at the same time, too!”

But that’s fair enough. How can anyone stay feminist-annoyed at an author who writes such incredible openings as this one in Chapter 19:

Grandpa’s library was a fine dark place bricked with books, so anything could happen there and always did. All you had to do was pull a book from the shelf and open it and suddenly the dark was not so dark anymore.

Yes, okay, just give me some more sentences and let me slide under the spell of his poetry where nothing happens except the wind blows and school lets out for summer. It’s lovely.

 

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