Tag Archives: publishing

What Yarn has Taught Me about Writing

Wendy yarnMy name is Wendy, and I’m a yarn hoarder [pauses for hellos from the assembly].

Not that this is a problem, mind. I enjoy my addiction. In fact, yarn has taught me many good things over the years, particularly about writing. The processes are similar: sit down, follow a thread, create a whole piece.

So here are a few pieces of wisdom that have found me during yarn meditations:

1) Every tangle – be it plot, wool, or life – has two entry points: the beginning, and the end. Find  either one, and it will eventually lead you to the other. And help you untie your knots. And leave you with a nice little ball to play with.

2) While tension is required to hold a project together, knowing when to finesse with gentle fingers (or words) versus when to give a good hard yank, is important. Too much tension creates an impossible situation–remember that television series known as 24?–while too little leaves a shapeless messy mass. Enough tension to keep the needle (or pen) moving with surety, not so much that the project fights its own creation: that’s the way to do it.

yarn kitten3) Cats do not help with the actual physical goal, but they sure are fun to have around during the work. Kids, too. Cuteness never hurts, and it lowers the blood pressure. Even if maybe you ought not let the cat or child actually write on any of the manuscript…. or play with the yarn.

yarn tangle 14) When dealing with a particularly large or vicious muddle, the first thing to do is separate out that which does not belong. Not everything in life is tied to everything else, even in Buddhism. Get rid of the bits that don’t contribute, and what you have left is a thread you can follow. Of course some projects are made of multiple colors and threads, but the time to weave them together is after they’ve been disentangled from each other and understood as themselves.

5) Don’t underestimate how much you’ve got to work with–or how fast words can pile up. Sure, kids, meals, day jobs, and the other stuff get in the way, but when you pick up your project–be it knitting needles, or nouns and verbs–just give it a few rows and don’t worry about speed. When you look back from the far end, you’ll be surprised at what those little bits and pieces of time and effort added up to, over the long haul.

birds in the nest6) Have fun. Joyless crocheting is like joyless writing: dull, misshapen and lumpy. You’re doing something cool. Disappear into it. Dive deep. Tangle and disentangle, sing the colors, swing those needles, and drink wine–or diet coke. It’s your project. Do what you want!


Filed under crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, Uncategorized, writing

Country Cousins: 3 Books About Rural Living

Today’s blog is Wendy’s essay up on NPR Books. You can see it on the NPR page at the link below.


December 12, 2012 7:00 AM

As a small-town girl, I love depictions of rural living when they’ve got a little style and sass in their makeup. Replete with enough quirks and quaintness to choke a mule, small towns are timelessly fertile ground for writers. But the best authors ignore — or even play with — stereotypes to tell truly compelling stories.

Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm

by Stella Gibbons

Paperback, 233 pages

Stella Gibbons has plenty of sass. She was writing in the 1930s, when the “local color” movement glossed all things rural with sentiment, and farms were described without even a whiff of manure. Her comic novel Cold Comfort Farm stuck a pin in the balloon of idyllic country living. Featuring the Starkadder family, the cast includes oversexed farmhands Seth and Reuben, crazy Great Aunt Ada in the attic, and their sensible city-dweller cousin Flora Poste, who is capable of “every art and grace save that of earning her own living.” In one of the loveliest meta-storytelling devices ever, Gibbons marks her best passages with one or two asterisks, for the reader’s enhanced enjoyment. This book makes me laugh out loud every time I read it, which is at least once a year.



by Rosina Lippi

Paperback, 210 pages

Fewer laughs and more tears come from Rosina Lippi’s Homestead. A series of linked stories, it chronicles six generations of women in an Austrian mountain village, starting about 1909. Her characters are drawn with casual grace, and her understated writing is insightful and beautiful. In one tale she describes the interaction between a man and a woman negotiating sexual politics, as “Francesco had feared to ask too much of her, and saw, too late, that he had asked too little.” Quiet stories, and gentle ones, they depict the inner longings and outer strength of mountain women everywhere.

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed

Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There

by Philip P. Hallie

Paperback, 303 pages

Through the influence of the charismatic pastoral couple Andre and Magda Trocme, the isolated village of Le Chambon became a “city of refuge” for Jewish people in Vichy France. Philip Hallie tells the story in academic language peppered with anecdotes and first-person interviews. Any small town has rivalries and factions, and these played into simultaneously creating sanctuary while dooming some rescuers. Le Chambon is part of that era’s larger story: the daily interactions of one small town set against the backdrop of hell come to earth.

These three writers reached into the enclaves of mountain villages, subsistence farms and human hearts — and gave us funny, sweet, sorrowful insights into small-town lives lived large.

Wendy Welch is the author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.

Three Books…is produced and edited by Ellen Silva and Rosie Friedman with production assistance from Annalisa Quinn.


Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized

A Feast fit for Bibliophiles

The last stop on loop two of the book tour was Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Women’s National Book Association held a Bibliofeast in honor of Book Month.

I didn’t know much about the place before we got here, but Helen, a friend from college, is a member of the corporate culture and explained that Charlotte ranks only behind New York City and San Francisco as the leading financial district in America. Catching up with Helen—who in the intervening 20 years has risen in her field and raised two teenagers—was grand fun; we used to tease each other mercilessly, me the journalism major bent on “uncovering truth,” she the logistics and transport businesswoman who always won arguments by pointing out I could write all the truth I wanted, but if her trucks didn’t deliver it, it affected diddly. We agreed that the Internet had changed both our professions considerably since those earnest and robust exchanges.

(Helen also generously got us a hotel room with her “points” at Hampton Suites, where a flat screen TV embedded in the bathroom mirror faced a garden tub 3 feet around. Oh, that was fun. Thanks, Helen!)

But the bulk of the night was given to the Bibliofeast; eight writers, from mystery to memoir, gathered to spend 15 minutes per table with aspiring authors and bibliophiles from the region, talking about writing in general and our books specifically, then fielding questions.

One person asked, “When did you know you were going to be an author?” and I answered, “When my agent called me.” The women laughed, but it sparked a discussion that continued at the other tables. Most of the participants were shaping books in their minds. They wanted to know what had sparked mine, and I echoed Joan Didion, that we write to organize our thoughts, to find out what we know.

And we write because it’s fun. Musicians create music, sculptures fashion substances, cooks craft food. Everybody’s got a medium. If yours is writing, you write because it’s there. I’m not kidding, and I’m not waxing eloquent. To paraphrase a whole lot of authors over the years, the best way to tell if you’re a writer is to look down and see if you’re writing. Writers write the way runners run; it happens because you protect the time, give up other things to do it, without really thinking you’re making a decision. Even if you never publish, you write when you’re thinking the same the way you drink water when you’re thirsty or call a friend when you’re lonely. You write because you need to, want to, like to; it doesn’t feel so much like a choice as a way of life.

However, you publish because you want other people to read and like what you wrote—or because you can, or because you hope for money or recognition. (Oh, honey, let me buy you a cup of coffee and let’s chat about that last bit.) That’s different than writing; for one thing, there’s a helluva lotta marketing lurking below the surface, which most of us are not innately good at.

That was the biggest common theme at the tables of the Bibliofeast, an intimate night with lovely women–to a man, we were women, with the exception of one author who looked more and more uncomfortable as the night wore on–who had a lot of thoughts but not a lot of time to get them on paper: that the urge, the internal nudge to write is the biggest signal that one should, and its own justification.

Just write it down. Get started. Have fun. Go.

Jack and Wendy will be Malaprop’s in Asheville, NC this Sunday at 3 and in The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, NC Monday at 6, if you or your friends and relations would like to come say hi. Jack brought his homemade shortbread.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized

Back to the Future in Greenwich Village

In a far off galaxy many years ago – – –

I (Jack) was part of the emerging Scottish folk-music scene at around the same time that like-minded young Americans were heading for Greenwich Village to discover much the same buzz and counter-culture. In the early 1960s, subversiveness had a musical soundtrack. My Edinburgh-centered version had little direct musical connection with its American cousin, other than very occasional imported albums and songs heard 2nd or 3rd hand from the likes of Archie Fisher or Josh McCrae, but the undercurrent of questioning authority and plotting the green revolution was similar. In my case there was also a Pete Seeger concert in Edinburgh and a stage shared with Carolyn Hester in Aberdeen.

But I had never been to Greenwich Village – until last Saturday, that is!

Finding ourselves in New York and asked what we’d like to see, Wendy gave me a grin and said, “Greenwich Village.” And so I got my picture taken standing in Bleeker Street, then McDougal Street and finally in Washington Square Park. An old ghost had been laid to rest; a place that had assumed near-mythic proportions in my mind was beneath my feet and in my view. Although the area has no doubt changed a lot—we saw boutique shops and chain stores where some of the old folkie corners had once questioned how we lived our lives—the buildings are mostly unaltered, the cellars still there though fulfilling a different function.

It was a lovely day out for this child of the sixties, to see where the great ‘Folk Scare’ was rooted and the park where the ‘revolution’ was plotted as young musicians who would later become household names gathered to jam.

Finally, the following morning we shared breakfast with our hosts, including Nichole’s father-in-law, Harvey. (Nichole is Wendy’s editor at St. Martin’s Press.) It turned out that he had been to the NYC parties back in those days when Bob Dylan had also attended. Conversation at the table took us both back to respective youth and shared cultural signposts. I was able to reminisce about attending Dylan’s 1966 Edinburgh concert, just 2 days before the famous ‘Judas’ accusation in Manchester.

A very happy and poignant experience for Harvey and Jack, a couple of old folkies tripping down the musical lane of memories!

(The photo on the right is of me at the corner of Bleeker and McDougal Streets, with Wendy’s agent Pamela at left, thoughtfully keeping Wendy from being killed as she steps into the street to photograph me!)


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized

The Parade of Characters

On Wednesday of our great book extravaganza, we made our way to Winchester. The sum total of my knowledge about Winchester, VA prior to this was its historic architecture, cool pedestrian mall, and sweet little bookshop in the corner: Winchester Book Gallery.

I wandered into the Book Gallery last year during a break in some very fun ethnographic interviewing I did as a subcontractor. Sometimes I serve as a hired gun for conducting interviews about rural living in Appalachia for various universities. It’s great work if you can get it, bopping across the state staying in small motels, seeing stuff you’d never otherwise see, meeting the most incredible people and getting them to tell you interesting things about how they do business.

That’s how I discovered Winchester. And in its Book Gallery, already utterly charmed by the downtown district, I found shop owner Christine to be charming in and of herself. Such a put-you-at-your-ease type was she, when she asked, “What brings you to the bookstore?” I blurted out, “I wrote a book about bookstores and I love to visit them” while continuing my wide-eyed stare at her carefully curated collection.

“What’s your name?” she asked. When I told her, she astounded me by saying, “Oh, The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.” It turns out that Christine is not only vivacious and charming, but on the ball. She has a google search feed that keeps up with news items about small bookshops in the States. We decided to have a book signing there once the book was launched, and that day came Wednesday past.

At 5 pm I was ensconced at a big desk covered—absolutely covered—with copies of Little Bookstore, while Jack sat beside me strumming guitar. This wasn’t a planned event, but a “come by and meet the author” kind of night. Thus began what Jack and I now call The Parade of Characters:

An older man who was—of course—an ex-pat Big Stone Gapper. He regaled us with stories of what had been done in the judge’s hunting cabin in their youth, and other tales of Old Family laundry, not laundered. We were splitting our sides laughing—and you note that I’m not using names here. This guy knows a lot. I’m surprised he’s still alive, and delighted that he comes back every August for a big ol’ party—to which we have now been invited. That will be a hoot. But I probably won’t be allowed to write about it.

Two round women, slow of speech, soft of voice. “Special needs” is a label that imposes assumptions, so let’s just say they were hoping to open a bookstore up in Maryland. They had, in fact, traveled down expressely to talk to me about this. Oh dear sweet lambs, do not go gently to the slaughter. I wanted to bundle them up in warm coats (the day was cold and they were wearing only sweatshirts) and warn them off their intended trajectory. But I also didn’t want to crush anything that was making them happy, so we chatted amiably about start-up costs and how to shelve books until their driver came to collect them. Be well, dear children, and don’t let anyone lead you astray. I still feel protective of those two.

An Alec Baldwin look-alike entered with his wife, she making a bee-line for the upstairs mystery section, he clearly killing time. When he realized an author was sitting there hawking her book, he tried politely to avoid eye contact with me. But my husband had a copy of the People Magazine article (Oct. 22 issue!) that included Little Bookstore as a “great read.” Alec saw that, picked up a book, and said, “My sister is hard to buy for. But she likes these things.” (I think he meant books.) Whatever; I sold him one.

A man walking three Labradors. (Winchester Book Gallery is dog-friendly.) “I saw the sign,” he said. “Big Stone Gap, in SW VA?” I assured him yes, and he said, “We were just there, at the June Tolliver house and the open air theatre.” A few moments more of conversation, dogs straining at the leash–apparently they had decided en masse they wanted to buy the latest J.K. Rowling–and we realized that not only had this man and his wife visited our street last month, they had parked outside the bookstore–but not come in.

“Hmmph,” I said, and the man, probably out of guilt, bought one of my books. The dogs never got their Rowling.

A lady with dreadlocks. She fell into the shop, towed by a dog that looked like a cross between a Newfoundlander and an Irish wolfhound, in a word: big. The dog came straight for Christine, who bent and wrapped her arms around it. I hoped it was a hug rather than a last resort.

“This is XNVOUFER,” she said, her head buried in his fur. “He comes in every day to get socialized to become a service dog.” XNVOUFER (I swear that’s what it sounded like) licked Christine on the head, then trotted over to browse the history section.

Last through the door came a woman wearing a puffy green jacket, followed by a man wearing a puffy black jacket and a small child of indeterminate gender wearing a puffy pink jacket (social norms suggest but do not verify, and by this point in the evening I was taking nothing for granted). They wandered around, avoiding me, until the woman accidentally bumped the table.

“Oh,” she said, finding herself cheek to cheek with an author. “What’s your book about?”

I launched into my elevator speech description: my husband and I opened a used books store and the book described that in particular but life in general, discussing how to rebuild dreams and live to the fullest without letting anyone else dictate what will work and what won’t.

“Mmm.” She stared at me a moment, then asked, “So your bookstore, it’s still operating?”


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, VA

3,2,1 LUNCH–er, Launch

So Tuesday past was the launch day of my book. A memorable day in so many ways; I spent it throwing up.

Nah, not nerves: flu. Apparently it’s come early to rural Virginia this year.

Between visits to the toilet and “just take me now Lord” prayers, I checked Facebook. It’s what one does on these occasions….

And my friends, the ones from the midnight opening of the bookstore (for those who didn’t know, we opened at 12:01 Tuesday morning so a half dozen of our most loyal customers could get their copies) were sending notes.

“On chapter 14, and laughing myself silly!”

“You are describing just what it was like for me when I came to Big Stone.”

“Ha! This is so accurate!” (which didn’t have any additional information attached to it, and has kind of become a catch phrase for me now. It’s just so succinct and yet so… wide-ranging.)

And emails and facebook likes and comments were coming from people I didn’t know, who’d bought the book that day in their local bookshops in various locations across the States. That was fun, to hear from those reading in Vermont and California. (And thanks to Jennifer Gough at Ebenezer Books who put it on her “staff picks” shelf!) And there were people who won the book in promotional giveaways from St. Martin’s Press; some were posting reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, others sending notes and comments–nice comments!

But the funniest moment came when Jack gave a shout of laughter from behind his computer screen. “You’re not gonna believe this! We’re in Walmart!”

Sure enough, he showed me the link. Walmart’s offerings include a book that extols the virtues of shopping small in local communities. And what do you wanna bet the Walmart up the hill behind us will sell the book that’s about the bookstore below them?

It’s a mad, mad, crazy world out there, so I did what any sensible person would do under those circumstances: crawled back into bed with the basin beside me. Go by, mad world.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, VA

12:01 The Day After

Book launches are funny things – and fun ones. You spend a year going over with a fine tooth comb every nuance and gerund of what you’ve written–first with your editor, then with the copy editors, then with the publicity team–and then there’s this short period of silence, followed by more bleedin’ marketing work than you ever knew could exist.

Amid the flurry of learning the secrets of social media (that there aren’t any) and the hoopla of “getting your web presence increased” you find that the book drops back to a distant reason for why all this is happening, but not the core of what you’re working on.

And then, this date that’s been on your calendar for weeks and months, or even a year, is tomorrow, and you haven’t got party hats or a plan. But you just move through the day, and then it’s midnight and your book goes off into the world. (Since we own a bookstore, and since some friends asked us to, we stayed up until 12:30 so we could sell books at midnight. I don’t recommend this as a lifestyle, but it sure was fun as a one-off brief party!)

And then the eye of the storm passes directly overhead…. all through the weeks leading up to publication, there are bloggers and GoodReads reviewers and other worker bees in the publishing world, getting your book presence in the big world. But once anyone can buy it, who does? How?

Sitting in that eye, the day after publication, it’s good to know a couple of things: that you meant what you said, and that what you said means something to others; and that you are part of a vast eternal library of all people, in all time, who have put out words that can be read by other people.

That first one makes you happy, especially when you see reviews from readers who have identified with, understood, even challenged what you said in a way that you think opens a healthy discussion. I feel like I’ve contributed something nice to the bookselling world. That second one keeps you balanced, and reminds you of your place in the grand scheme. Like the machine Douglas Adams invented that tells you your importance to the proper functioning of the universe (.01%) all you have to do, the day after your book gets published, is walk into a bookstore and look around.

As Masha Hamilton said in The Camel Bookmobile, “You are a part of this dance. You are not its center.” That’s a good thing to remember, because to your friends and family, you are the center of something, and it’s all too easy to mistake your small world for the big one. That would hurt. And be unwise.

So, my little book about our little bookstore is even now, knapsack over one shoulder, wending its way through the twists and turns of the Great Wide World’s path. It is navigating the mountains of China (got a foreign language contract in Mandarin!). And it is, I think, whistling a cheerful tune. Because it says what I meant, and it says things that mean something to other people.



Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA