Tag Archives: Stephen King

The Monday Book: THE RETURNED by Jason Mott

 

the returnedMy friend Susan and I were tooling through a yarn crawl in Asheville, North Carolina, and came across a library book sale.

ZIP – I was in the doors almost as fast as Susan. They had a cart of free books you could just take, and on it sat Mott’s The Returned. I watched a French television series about Revenants a couple of years ago during a crocheting jag, and sort of liked it. It was half intellectual “what if,” half horror. I’m not a big fan of horror, but those what ifs will hook me every time.

I wondered if it were the one from which the series was made, and in fact the author blurb in back said it was being made into a series. So I took it to compare the French (and later a really crappy American series) to the book.

Would it surprise you to know the book is much better? Also, that the French series was based on a novel of the same name, much more horror-esque, by Seth Patrick. Stephen King once said about really good fantasy writing, “You don’t have to answer all the questions. You have to tell the story.” More or less. And that’s why I like Mott’s book better. He’s not trying to scare you or shock you. He just wonders, what if?

What if your dead loved ones, or unloved ones, returned, not flesh eating or hell bringing, just walked back in and sat down to dinner and said, “Why is everyone else older? Where have I been?”

It’s an interesting book because it follows one family whose little boy drowned, but intersperses it with one-chapter vignettes of other Returneds. Like The Grapes of Wrath with the Joads and the rest.

The book is really slow getting started. About 1/3 is set-up, 1/3 is build-up and then 1/3 takes the action back down. Slowly. For a “thriller” it’s gentle.

I loved it. The writing is very poetic, casual, calm. The subject matter is weird. The conclusions are startling. And it hooks you right from the first page.

Who could ask for more from a ghost story that is pretty much literature?

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, out of things to read, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg

Yeah, it’s a classic. And it’s a classic for a reason.

One of the coolest things about Goldberg’s book is, even outdated, it updates itself in your mind. “Think about the pen and notebook you use.” She doesn’t mean a small laptop. She means paper. Remember paper?

But from choosing your tools carefully, through “don’t cross out”–which means don’t edit your first draft, just get it down, get it down, get it down–she’s giving great advice.

In fact, her advice lines up with Anne Lamott’s and Stephen King’s, so there’s an endorsement for you. And I have always loved the way her advice is chunked up into little two-page pieces: be specific, keep a notebook with lists of names of stuff, and use the real names, not just “fruit”; and she deals with the old procrastination trick of “making a writing room” very well. (I have never successfully had a writing room. Jack and I have made four, and I have used none. But I still get my writing done.)

In fact, my only beef with myself for choosing a “how to write” book for the Monday book is that reading about writing may take the place of you doing it. “Just one more how to, and then I’ll be ready.”

Nah. You’re ready now. That’s one of the things I love about Goldberg’s book. She makes sure you know you’re ready now, with advice that lets you know there’s no special fairy with a wand you need to wait for; just do things like “Use your senses as an animal does.” Or the section called “Claim your Writing,” where you’re allowed to believe in yourself ENOUGH TO CARVE OUT TIME TO DO THIS. I think that’s the thing I hear particularly from moms over and over again: I can’t find time; it’s not worth it while my kids need me. OK, but I never hear a guy say that. No, take that back – Neil Gaiman said something like that once. But he’s a nice guy.

The point is, we make time for what we feel we have to make time for: kids, words, whatever. And Goldberg’s very practical yet poetic advice makes it clear that, if we want to, we can not only find the time, but the ideas, the words, and the logistics to get our writing done.

 

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

A Row by Any Other Name….

bookstore prettyWhen Jack and I visited other bookstores a couple years back on our “Booking Down the Road Trip,” we picked up lots of good ideas from other owners. These included suspending signs from the ceiling to let customers know what was on the shelf below.

Thing is, over the years, one’s sense of humor tends to develop a … caustic approach to identification of book genres. Ask any bookstore owner–although they might obfuscate or distract. It’s not that we’re proud of our subversive humor. We just need it to stay alive in the book business.

So here are a few of the headings under which Jack and I have recently filed books:

FLEAS AND FANGS (Paranormal Romances) – With my friend Melissa, who runs the bookstore Parkville Bookworm in Maryland, I am waiting for the day someone invents a gorgeous, do-gooding zombie in a tux. If he sparkled in the moonlight that raised him from the dead, well, that might be cool, too. One is tempted to speculate on the romantic possibilities of undeadness, but that quickly devolves into a non-family-friendly sexual pun war, so we’ll stop now.

LATTE LIT – This is actually a term coming into vogue as a replacement for “Chick Lit.” It refers to sophisticated good reads of a novel nature. In our shop, we had a section called “Other Times, Other Places,” where I put Historic Fiction and also books featuring protagonists in or from other countries. (Think Robin Maxwell meets Jhumpa Lahiri.) Keeping these outside general fiction lets people who enjoy “Hiss-fit”–as a cynical friend of mine once called Phillipa Gregory and friends–browse without interruption.

GUYS WITH BIG GUNS – Every bookseller goes through this crisis: do thrillers go in mysteries, horror, or war fiction? After moving the political thrillers (read: Vince Flynn and Dale Brown) between war and mystery six or seven times, and trying to keep Ken Follett away from Stephen King, we finally created a new room in our bookstore called “The Mancave.” Here we put thrillers that have to do with politics or war, and the Westerns. They seem to get along well, especially after that movie “Cowboys and Aliens.” Go by, mad world.

HUNKS AND HORSES – This is the feminine end of Westerns – the Linda Lael Millers and Janelle Taylors. The funny part is, if we cross the gender divide and put Longarm in Hunks and Horses, Cassie Edwards in Guys with Big Guns, and the covers are neutral (as with some library editions) men and women will buy “the wrong” Westerns. Proof that tenderness and strength belong to both genders and both genres. :]

CLASSICS – Not an unusual sign, but in a fit of pique one day I grabbed the ladder, crawled up it, and scrawled with a sharpie on the laminated sign “because we liked it.” This is the preemptive strike answer to that question every bookstore employee has been asked: Why is [insert title here] in Classics? We’ve heard this most recently about James Baldwin’s books, and Little Women. (Children’s, apparently.)

So there it is – the secret snarkiness of bookstore owners, revealed on the walls and hanging from the ceilings. I’d love to hear from shop managers and shoppers alike, about signs or shelves you’ve seen.

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Filed under bad writing, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, reading, small town USA, VA

The Monday Book: DUMA KEY by Stephen King

Yes, I know; some of you are even now saying, “Whaaaa? She’s recommending a bestseller?! I want something more obscure!”

But here’s the thing. King has reached the point in his career where, as one NY editor put it, “He could publish a phone book and it’d make bestseller.” And since all his books are bestsellers, there are people who ignore him. What’s for the masses must not be good.

That dismissal would be a disservice to good, honest writing. Like fellow “pop lit” writer Terry Pratchett, King–even in the midst of his boyish fascination with making horror from human scatology and secretions–sometimes hits literature. Consider these quotes, all from Duma:

“When I look back on that time, it’s with the strangest stew of emotions: love, longing, terror, horror, regret, and the deep sweetness only those who’ve been near death can know. I think it’s how Adam and Eve must have felt. Surely they looked back at Eden, don’t you think, as they started barefoot down the path to where we are now, in our glum political world of bullets and bombs and satellite TV? Looked past the angel guarding the shut gate with his fiery sword? Sure. I think they must have wanted one more look at the green world they had lost, with its sweet water and kind-hearted animals. And its snake, of course.”

“Stay hungry. It worked for Michelangelo, it worked for Picasso, and it works for a hundred thousand artists who do it not for love (although that might play a part) but in order to put food on the table. If you want to translate the world, you need to use your appetites. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. There’s no creation without talent, I give you that, but talent is cheap. Talent goes begging. Hunger is the piston of art.”

When King is on, he’s on. When he’s off, welcome to Under the Dome. A friend and I were talking about King’s massive body of hit-and-miss novels, and we postulated that when he’s writing about something that has personal interest for him–his relationship with his wife and family, for instance (Bag of Bones, Lisey’s Story) or people getting hurt in accidents (like in Duma)–he’s spot on.  When he’s not that interested, well, can I just offer my opinion that Doctor Sleep sucked hose water?

In Duma Key, King explored something that definitely fascinates him: creativity. Hence, the book has that great mix his regular readers have come to expect of human nature captured so well in tiny sound bites, amidst tight storytelling about strange phenomena.

So, for all the aspiring writers, painters, chefs, and dancers among us, here’s one more quote from a guy who knows: “Talent is a wonderful thing, but it won’t carry a quitter. ”

Stay hungry, and enjoy.

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table

WTH Happened in Cookbooks?!

After a long period of neglectfulness because of Busy Life Syndrome, I moved with purpose and dusting rag yesterday afternoon toward the section of our bookstore housing Horror, Cookbooks, Hippie Interest and Crafting.

Yeah, we put ’em in the same room. Doesn’t everybody?

Anyway, it had been a good long month since any staff had touched the area, other than the quick sweep-n-mop that keeps us from drowning in doggie dander. For some reason, our black Lab Zora loves to doze evenings in the hallway between Homeopathic Health and Cookbooks. Maybe to a dog’s sensitive nose those books smell pleasantly of herbs and bacon. I don’t know.

The scene that met me was worse than anticipated: VC Andrews sat chumming it up in the knitting section. (I wonder what Debbie Macomber would say to that?) Brian Lumley was Cooking with Oprah, the hippies hanging with Stephen King. And the diabetes diet books leaned with a drunken slant against Cakes for Christmas.

A little neglect goes a long way. Over the next two hours, I bookwrangled the wild volumes into a semblance of order. I’m pretty sure Day of the Triffids snarled at me as I separated it from Wilderness Survival, but the world doesn’t need any more horror novels about plants gone bad.

The whole time I was pulling John Saul off Julia Child, that Boston Globe article about wealthy retirees buying “failed” bookstores and reopening them lay on my mind. It was a great article from a bookslinger’s perspective: how the bookstore is not only not dead, but in full-blown revival, climbing the charts of “most wanted retirement careers” to number eight from fifteen in just two short years.

But I hope those dear, sweet people understand that it’s a lot of work, and in many ways a lot of the same work over and over again. You will spend less time discussing Russian Literature than you will separating it from Amish Christian Romances.

Jack and I wish you well, you new crop of bookstore owners, and we wish you the joy that comes from co-mingled dust and ideas. You’re going to see a lot of both.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, humor, shopsitting, Uncategorized, writing

LUCKY IS THE NEW BLACK

Jack’s weekly guest post – he often refers to the US and UK as

I’m not a superstitious person as a rule, although I come from a country that’s full of Things One Must Not Do. This list includes: not walking under ladders (I used to be a house-painter and did that all the time); not walking on the cracks in the sidewalk (very Stephen King, that one); throwing spilled salt over the left shoulder (that’s where the Devil hides). There are also proactive things one SHOULD do to attract good luck.

FuryWhich brings me neatly to cats: specifically the black kind!

Most superstitions are the same wherever you are, but oddly enough the superstitions about black cats are exactly opposite on each side of the Atlantic. Here in the States, black cats are unlucky, whereas in Scotland they are considered very lucky indeed. Over there people will go out of their way to have a black cat ‘cross their path’. And it is considered good luck to pet one.

Did you know that American rescues and animal shelters dread getting black animals in because they are so hard to re-home? Quoting from Animal House (a great FB site for animal lovers, by the way): According to an article by Joy Montgomery, it is believed to be due to a combination of the animals “size, unclear facial features, dimly lit kennels, the genericness of black pets and/or the negative portrayal of black pets in books, movies and other popular media”. No matter the reason, the reality is heartbreaking.

We have three adorable black kittens (about ten weeks old) running around the bookstore right now waiting for their forever homes. Plus a big (ten-pounder) adult black tom–a shy, quiet gentle giant of a baby boy, equally hopeful of finding his Shangri-La. His name is Inky (Ha!). Here he is in his shelter picture, poor baby.black cat

And of course we’ve had Valkittie – the bookstore manager–since she was four weeks old. Almost entirely black, with just a tiny white bikini and toe ring, she has brought us nothing but good luck.

So we’ve given Valkittie (who by the way is Scottish and has no truck with this bad luck nonsense) the job of making the other four naturalized Scots. That way they will always be lucky black cats, and their forever homes will be doubly blessed from taking them in.

valkyttie suspicionShe is taking her duties seriously.

Wherever they go, they will bring laughter; these kittens are total goofballs. Just yesterday we put a toy in their room that has a ball in a tracked groove, the kind of thing one picks up at any pet store for $10. One sat on the toy’s central disc while the other two shoved the balls with their paws, spinning him in circles.

Goofballs. Good luck goofballs. Come see for yourself, and let’s have no more of this “black cats bad” silliness. Thank you!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Scotland, Uncategorized

Write Comes to the Cumberlands

August 9-10 is WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS – yeah yeah, so I like puns. This is an all-day workshop on  Saturday 10th when you can work on your novel or narrative non-fiction.

It’s being held in scenic Lee County, VA, at a hundred-year-old farmhouse in Turkey Cove. Participants arrive the night before for an optional opening session and find their sleeping quarters (beds available from cheap and cheerful to elegant and private, $10 to $50 per night). The next day after a home-cooked farm breakfast we’ll gather around the table to talk projects, do some prompting exercises, set personal goals and strategies, and then off you go to write, write, write. Throughout the day you can have private critiques and we will regroup in the afternoon to discuss publication options and whether to find an agent. It all happens in an encouraging atmosphere.

From beginners on up, this workshop focuses on ideas, productivity, and jumping the hurdles that hold us back. We meet for supper at 5:30, then drive to the bookstore (4 miles away) for an evening of reading your works and enjoying music together, 7-9 pm.

The workshop without accommodation is $140 and includes all-day Saturday meals and snacks. If you are interested in attending, slip over to the Tales of the Lonesome Pine LLC page on Facebook and check out the invitation.

Payment can be made via Paypal to jbeck69087@aol.com; or you can mail a check to the bookstore (address is on the FB page). Payments are 100% refundable until August 3. Questions? Ask them here or leave them on the FB page.

My friend Elizabeth, whose majestic farmhouse will be the site of this workshop, will be blogging about it at the end of the month. A gourmet cook and a medical doctor with a passion for flavorful and healthy local food, her meals will be as wonderful as the fun of gathering with other writers to get your gumption on.

Ready to write? Ready to roll? Let’s do this thing!

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