Tag Archives: storytelling

Nothing is Scarier than a Blank Page -except maybe an Untold Story

blank-page1Jack and I are holed up at the cabin this weekend so I can get back to my book. It’s been so long, it feels like starting over in some ways. And it’s true, there is nothing scarier than a blank page.

The good thing about the cabin is, no Internet. Which means I don’t fritter time “checking facts” and otherwise pretending to write when I’m really online. The only way to get online is to drive five miles down the road to the Lonesome Pine Grill, buy a cup of coffee, and piggieback on their wireless. Which we do once per weekend only.

Now is a good time to be off the Net anyway, as post-election vitriol turns into fingers that point, names that fly, and tit for tat that makes kindergarteners look mature. It’s all over but the shouting used to mean something was finished; now it’s just descriptive.

Never mind. I’ve gone back to writing. The world may or may not be going crazy. Books to sell, cats to rescue, safety pins to wear, life goes on. What’s scaring me is that damn blank page.

I’m trying not to  make it a metaphor for America. For all the people who felt they weren’t listened to before the election, for all the people who fear their voices may be drowned out after.

There’s just this blank page in front of me, one I need to write on, to tell my story. That’s what comes next. Tell my small, sweet, simple story: cats, books, Jack, life.

Because we’ve all seen the power a good story wields. And what happens when stories go untold for too long. Tell yours. Nothing is scarier than a blank page. Fill it.

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

You are Entering… the INDIE BOOKSTORE ZONE

A guest blog from Lyn Ford, Storyteller, who scared everybody out of their wits here on Friday night. It was a magnificent evening!

lynIn October, I often stand in candlelight and pumpkin light, moonlight and dimmed stage light, to tell frightening tales of experiences that never happened (well, most of them didn’t). I speak of love, death, relationships gone bad, strange children, the wrath of the undead—you know, your average, everyday topics of conversation. I am…wait for it…a storyteller.

I share stories in the twilight at the edges of graveyards, in haunted historic sites and moody park gazebos. But my favorite place to haunt is what the first-season monologue for the “Twilight Zone” television series calls “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition…between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge…the dimension of imagination.” It is a place called…the independent bookstore.

Storytelling programs in independent bookstores hold a timeless, haunting energy, and the people who come to listen are ready for stories. The atmosphere can be greatly enhanced by the presence of a resident cat or two. And when the cat is named Edgar Alan Poe, well, that’s Haunt Heaven, honey.DSCN0999

I can now add to my résumé an evening spent as the guest storytelling spirit at Tales of The Lonesome Pine LLC Use Book Store. If you’re reading this blog, you may already know of the store and its owners, Wendy Welch and her husband/partner in music, story, and love, Jack Beck. But you might not know Edgar, the cat, or be aware of the occasional supper-and-stories events Wendy and Jack produce. At these special occasions, you enjoy good food and a friendly, conversational atmosphere in the café upstairs, after perusing the books and petting the lovely kitties ensconced in the bookstore downstairs.

If you’re in southwest Virginia, plan a visit. If you can’t get to Virginia, visit an independent bookstore in your area. Wandering through an independent book store is one of the best gifts you can offer yourself, especially in the season of “volumes of forgotten lore” (I’m quoting Poe the man, not Edgar the cat).   Creep through the titles among the shelves. Be shocked and amazed at the variety and value you will discover. In the crisp, cool air of October (or any other time of year), relish the warm and generous welcome of the store’s owners–they are truly happy to see you!

You’ll probably enter a different dimension of sight and sound, and stay a lot longer than you’d intended.

Lyn Ford, friedtales2@gmail.com

visit Lyn’s website and see her books Hot Wind, Boiling Rain, Affrilachian Tales, and Beyond the Briar Patch here.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Wednesday Book Deal (or: why writing is like mining)

mine entranceMany of you have noticed that “the bookstore blog” has been the wee bit irregular this last month. It’s a combo of two things: the Celtic Festival, which we are wrapping up after its very successful 8th annual permutation Sept. 27-28; and the final “throws” of a book deal.

May 2017 will see Fall or Fly from Swallow Press. It is about adoption and foster care children in the Coalfields, and holds two things I love most about writing, plus one I never experienced before and hate (or perhaps fear).

On the one hand, my journalistic roots show when I write about people, and I absolutely love listening to others tell their life stories. They’re fascinating; people are so cool when they’re not pro tellers but are just telling what they know. It is my favorite part of any writing I’ve ever done.

But, to use a metaphor, writing in this instance is like coal mining. It’s dark, and from the entrance comes an unwelcoming smell of decay. Brave people secretly telling me their stories are the guides, lights that shine in the unhuman, inhospitable environment. They are resilient, these storytellers.

Especially the young’uns who came up through this system. With some of the least opportunity to be so, they emerge from all that pressure shining as diamonds: rock-solid, dependable human beings.

One day, after the bookstore Cafe had closed, I spent two hours talking with one person embroiled in the foster care system. When we came downstairs, Jack said the storyteller seemed “ten years younger” while “you looked as though the whole world had settled between your shoulder blades.”

For all that, they’re amazing stories, amazing people, and I’m so pleased to be writing this book. It will be smaller, more intimate than Little Bookstore. (And yes, for those of you asking, a cat book is in line, but Fall or Fly will be first.)

So deep breath, and here we go, diving deep. It’s a wonderful thing – only this time it’s in a dark pool inside a mine with just a few lights. Scary, but the words will come and make the way to get out of the dark places. And that makes everything worth it, because that’s the second part of writing I love: say what you mean, mean what you say. Find the words to tell the stories that need to be told, that other people will feel validated, empowered, even challenged to hear.

Is there anything more satisfying?

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

Michael Reno Harrell on Bookstores

Today’s guest blog is from Michael Reno Harrell, storyteller, on Why I’m a Big Fan of Independent Bookstores. Michael will be with us for a concert August 29th, and is storytelling in residence in Jonesboro that week.harrell

 

I’m a storyteller. I write songs and tell stories, mostly about the Southern experience, which I perform all across the United States and the British Isles. I have written for magazines and newsletters and blogs, have had my work published in books and recorded fifteen CD’s. I’m lucky that I have an agent that likes for me to be working. I don’t have to pay her 20% or even15%. She gets it all. She’s my wife, Joan.

I find that most of the folks who are interested in folk music and storytelling tend to be avid readers as well, so I look at everything I do as one in the same, storytelling. I remember as a teenaged Woody Guthrie want-to-be going into record stores and coming out two hours later, having perused minutely every folk album cover in the store. What a wonderful way to spend some Saturday afternoon time.

 

A good bookstore is the same. We each have our own personal analogies, for me it’s, like entering a favorite restaurant where the staff knows what you like and only suggest things that they know you will enjoy. And I know that I will leave an hour later sated. There really is something so right about sliding a finger along the spines of a row of books until it stops on an intriguing title. There is that moment of ponder, then the volume is slid from its place in line, opened and the first page is scanned. This process is repeated until one finds oneself on page three. A small voice in the head says “Yes” and the book is tucked under an arm and a new friendship has begun. Or maybe you simply want to stop in and thumb through a periodical about a new field of interest.

In the last few years Joan has become a gardener. Now the gardening section in bookstores and the magazines on the subject are where she heads first, then to cycling and health stuff. For me it’s motorcycle magazines, fiction, autobiographies, DYI, a good chair, coffee and a blueberry scone. It is the experience, the colors and the smells and the lighting and all that information and entertainment just waiting for me to hold in my hands. Try that on a laptop.

 

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WELCOME LIZ

lizEvery other year on my annual tour of Scotland I divert for a couple of days to Ireland. Specifically we drive up the beautiful Northeast coastal route to the Giant’s Causeway and thence to Ballyeamon Barn.

The barn is located in one of the stunning Antrim Glens that radiate back from the coast, and is attached to the home of Liz Weir. Liz is a highly regarded, internationally famous professional storyteller. She purchased a run-down farm house and steadings with help from the European Union some 20 years ago, and has worked hard to turn it into a comfortable hostel-cum-performance space where she provides hospitality to walkers, tourists, and storytelling and traditional music enthusiasts, among others.

We first got to know her when my wife introduced me to the world of storytelling; Liz had booked her for one of the festivals she ran, and they got on like a house afire. Liz subsequently attended our wedding in Auchtermuchty, Scotland and we’ve been working with each other off and on ever since, from Belfast to Dublin and across to the States, including my Scottish tour going to Liz’s storytelling barn on even years.

Which brings me neatly to why I have the greatest regard for Liz.

She is a brave woman! She involved herself in the Irish peace process when bombs and shootings were the order of the day, when it would have been easy to say (as the recently ennobled Australian Director of the Edinburgh International Arts Festival did) “we need to keep politics out of the arts.”

Liz worked both sides of the conflict with her particular branch of the arts to bring them together, using music and stories to raise awareness of a common humanity and shared values. In the process, of course, the vested interests on each side had her on both their hit-lists. Liz’s agenda wasn’t non-political – not by a long chalk. Her political message? This has gone on too long and there are bad folks on both sides who are taking everyone for a ride. Enough is enough!

So Liz is one of my real living heroes and we could do with a lot more like her.

If you would like to meet her and spend time with her I can offer you two opportunities – she will be appearing at a house-concert here at the bookstore this coming Monday (Sep. 9th) at 7 pm ($8/$5unwaged). Or can join my 2015 tour at the end of June and experience the the hospitality of Ballyeamon Barn.

Slainte Mhath Liz Weir and lang may yir lum reek!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, writing

Not Like Radio

When I used to tell stories for a living, I dreaded radio gigs. Telling a story on the radio was like being in a black box; you knew there were people out there but you couldn’t see or hear their reactions to what you were doing, be guided by them in how you told the story.

You could only say what you had to say and hope for the best.

Writing Little Bookstore reminded me a lot of telling stories on the radio. Just say what you mean, mean what you say, and make your deadlines with the editor.

So one of the delights of being a bookstore owner who wrote a book about her bookstore is having people who’ve read the book show up at the bookstore and tell you about their experience reading it.

Wednesday saw 21 readers of LB wander through our place. 18 were from two book clubs run out of Pike County Public Library in Kentucky. The others were a solo traveler and a girlfriend team. The book club asked questions about Scottish history and compared notes on small town life from the book to their life experiences.

The solo traveler was an 81-year-old lady named Virginia from a small town two hours up the road, whose children had forbade her to visit us alone. “But I could come today and I knew you were in today–last time I came you two were away–so I just ignored them and came anyway.”

Sorry, Virginia’s family, but we really enjoyed your mom. She is a hoot, and so intelligent and well-read. She asked us lots of insightful questions about biography writers and epochs of American history. When she left about 5, we thought the day just couldn’t get better.

In walked The Lady From Bristol. She had read Little Bookstore and loved it, had several questions to ask Jack (I was out running an errand) and told some stories of her own about setting up business in a small town. She bought two whacking great stacks of books, refused help carrying them to the car, then came back inside with an armful of bakery boxes.

“Here,” she said. “From one small town success story to another.” She had a dozen doughnuts, several decorated shortbread cookies, and a Key Lime Bar from Blackbird Bakery, in Bristol. (Bristol is a town half in Virginia, half in Tennessee; I don’t know which side of the street Blackbird is on, but it’s well known for its confections. With good reason.)

“Thank you for opening a bookshop, and for writing this book,” she said, set the baked goods down on the counter, and walked out at 6:02.

It’s sweet to be given baked goods. It’s lovely to entertain intelligent conversationalists in the shop. And it’s flat out wonderful to hear directly from people how your book touched them, and why.

Black box begone. Life is good. *munches doughnut*

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, Life reflections, publishing, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

“Dear John…”

At the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul, Jack and I looked at clay tablets bearing letters from 1200 or so BC, and gravestones from sometime between then and 300 BC.

There is nothing new under the sun. One letter informed a man that the woman writing it was marrying “the farmer” instead of him. One stipulated that the wages for performing an exorcism were two sheep: one male, one female. Another extolled the virtues of Hypodia’s parties and invited the recipient to one. A gravestone erected by one Olympios suggested that, although he died a civil servant, he SHOULD have been elected provincial leader, and would have been had it not been for the jealousy of others, and he hoped the guy who’d gotten it rotted in hell. Hades, actually, but you get the point.

There is nothing new under the sun. From the time we’ve been able to write, we’ve focused on just a few things. People want love. We want a life that we feel fulfills the talents we believe ourselves to posses.  And we want good stories.

Beside the gravestones–some of them very sweet and touching, actually, like the one from the woman who said she was “weeping, wailing, and mourning for her dear departed”–each sarcophagus in the museum had a tale told in figures around it: Psyche and Eros; how Apollo got married; the death of some guy I’d never heard of in a drunken brawl.

Then and now, 2000 BC or AD or whatever system you use, there is nothing new under the sun. The names change from Mahmud to Matthew, the hats morph from turbans to ball caps, and the women’s dresses get shorter or longer, but we people go on, chasing love, money, and a good job. And telling stories about ourselves and each other.

Kinda reassuring, ain’t it? Although I think exorcisms cost more like twelve sheep now.

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