Sunday, October 31, 2010

Storybook Window Walk for The Scariest Dream Ever

Viddler On The Roof with The Scariest Dream Ever
East Aurora, NY

Photo copyright by Dory Adams

(click on image to enlarge)

In late September when we were in East Aurora, NY on vacation, the shop windows in the historic village displayed original paintings and text from The Scariest Dream Ever, a children’s book written by Maria T. DiVencenzo and illustrated by Alixandra Martin. We’d arrived in town after the festivities surrounding the Storybook Window Walk, an event to promote the release of the book, but were nonetheless charmed by seeing the shop windows on a quiet Monday morning before the village stores opened for business. A stroll down the street looking at shop windows was like a walk through the pages of the book.

It was amazing to see how the community supported the publication of this book by a local writer and artist so wholeheartedly. At the center of Main Street atop Viddler’s Five and Ten Cent Store, the figure known as “Viddler on the Roof” held a copy of The Scariest Dream Ever high in the air. Viddler’s was one of forty-eight businesses involved in the event. I contacted author Maria T. DiVencenzo who said, “I have worked in the publishing industry for twenty years, and have never before been part of such a unique, creative, charming, and plain old fun event. The support of the community was astounding. The delight of the visitors was unforgettable. Truly a remarkable, spectacular day.”

Artist Alixandra Martin of RedFISH Art Studios and Gallery in East Aurora created the whimsical illustrations for the picture book, and it was these original paintings which were on exhibit in the storefront windows. When I asked DiVencenzo if the displays were still up for Halloween, she responded that they were taken down after about a week, and she made the good point that even though there is a witch in the scary dreams, it is not technically a Halloween book since children have scary dreams all year round. I consider myself lucky to have seen the storybook windows in a serendipitous way as my husband and I strolled down Main Street on our way to get a coffee-to-go at the local coffee shop as we were leaving town.

The book’s message is about the power of imagination. The message of East Aurora’s Storybook Window Walk is about how a community of businesses and merchants came out full force to support and celebrate a project by local artists with pride to help launch the book. DiVencenzo said, “My hope is that events like the Storybook Window Walk, and programs like the Storybook Support Program and HeroConnect (which we just launched last week) will help readers discover our books. With all the talk about the end of ‘books’ . . . I keep trying to remind people that there will always be a place for great stories. Picture books, in particular, must be viewed and appreciated not only as a delightful tool that inspires a love for reading while teaching a child basic skills in reading and understanding context, but as a child’s first exposure to FINE ART. In a world inundated with machines, technology and touch screens, picture books are a hands-on opportunity for our children to view and touch fine art, while being delighted and inspired by it.”

I emphatically agree. The details of illustrations in the children’s books from my own childhood are deeply embedded in my visual memory, as are tactile memories of the way those books felt in my hands as I turned the pages – long before I could make sense of the words on the page, long before I became a reader, and long before I dreamed of becoming a writer.

The Scariest Dream Ever is available at Winterlake Press Web Store, Indiebound, and Amazon.
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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Postcards from East Aurora, NY

Taste Coffee, East Aurora, NY
(photo copyright by Dory Adams)

East Aurora, New York was an early destination on our September vacation, where we treated ourselves to a stay at the historic Roycroft Inn as we worked our way toward the Thousand Islands area and Canada. The Main Street shopping district in the village is filled with thriving independent stores and businesses, including a five-and-dime store and a movie theater with neon marquee. It’s the kind of place you notice if you are of a certain age and can remember when the hub of activity used to be in the town – and not at the big box stores or the strip malls outside of town. This is the kind of place you might’ve looked forward to visiting with your parents on a Friday evening or Saturday morning shopping trips. And where, if you were really good and didn’t misbehave, you might be allowed to buy a special treat. These days, the survival of such a downtown business district is the treat. And the one in East Aurora still exists because it was one of the first communities to successfully block Walmart from the area.

Taste Coffee, East Aurora, NY
(photo copyright by Dory Adams)

Taste Coffee’s steaming cup sign appealed to the part of me who forever remains a six-year-old child. It’s an image that reminds me of the episode of Leave It To Beaver where the fire company had to rescue the Beav after he fell into a steaming cup that was part of a billboard advertisement for soup after his pal Whitey dared him to climb up to see if it was filled with real soup. An image is usually all it takes to set a story in motion for me. Or, an overheard snippet of conversation – which is inevitable if you hang around a coffee shop long enough. I was ready to settle in at a table, open up my laptop computer, fuel myself with coffee and see what story unfolded. But we had a long drive ahead of us and we were only there for coffee-to-go as we left town for the long drive to the Thousand Islands area.

Taste Coffee, East Aurora, NY
(Photo copyright by Dory Adams)

I usually prefer to write in a more private space in order to feel secure for that stepping-off from reality that occurs as part of the writing process into the places where a story might take me, but I’m sometimes amazed at how well the writing goes amid the buzz of a busy coffee shop. How about you? Where do you write best?

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Postcards from Charleston, West Virginia

Taylor Books in Charleston WV,
photo copyright by Kevin Scanlon, used by permission

We’ve just returned from a spur-of-the-moment trip to Charleston, West Virginia for the West Virginia Book Festival. Despite a newly-suffered knee injury, the lure of an autumn weekend getaway was just too tempting – especially since I’d have the chance to attend Meredith Sue Willis’ workshop on Saturday and a reading by Jayne Anne Phillips on Sunday.

Meredith Sue Willis at West Virginia Book Festival,
photo copyright by Dory Adams

We packed our bags, grabbed our cameras, and drove south. These spontaneous road trips often turn out to be some our best journeys because everything sort of unfolds as we go. No planning, no expectations – no disappointments. We stopped to buy a cane and a knee brace along the way, and on Saturday morning I hobbled through the book fair as best I could. We arrived in time to visit a few of the exhibits before the workshop started, so we browsed at the book tables of West Virginia University Press and Ohio University Press. Meredith Sue Willis’ workshop “Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel” was popular and well-attended, the room filled to capacity. What a pleasure it was to finally meet this wonderful writer who already seems like an old friend. After the workshop, Kevin took another stroll through the exhibition hall while I sat in the lobby to rest my knee. He returned with some unexpected finds: first editions of Chuck Kinder’s Snakehunter and Richard Currey’s The Wars of Heaven, both with dust jackets and in nice condition.

Taylor Books Cafe,
photo copyright by Kevin Scanlon, used by permission

A trip to Charleston is not complete without a visit to Taylor Books, which is one of my favorite bookstores of all time. The bookstore, gallery annex, and café are in connected buildings with common floor space. Taylor Books has everything: a nice stock of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s books; a large selection of magazines and periodicals; an art gallery; an art studio; a coffee shop with fresh baked scones and other pastries (baked by the owner, Ann Saville); tables and comfy chairs; and a knowledgeable staff. They even have squeaky wood floors to provide the ultimate bookstore browsing ambience. Best of all, Taylor Books values West Virginia’s writers by keeping their books in stock and on display – something you won’t find at a chain store (where the shelf-life of a newly published book these days, as Meredith Sue Willis said in her workshop, is less than that of yogurt).

View from gallery to bookstore and cafe at Taylor Books,
photo copyright by Kevin Scanlon, use by permission

While I sipped a coffee, nibbled at a lemon bar, and perused a stack of books at my table in the coffee shop, Kevin shot the photographs for this week’s postcard from the road. We listened to the live music (Taylor’s has live music in the café Friday and Saturday evenings) and then made a few purchases. I knew I needed to get back home to Pittsburgh and take care of my knee, and that meant we were going to have to skip Jayne Anne Phillips’ reading on Sunday. The disappointment of that was eased by finding a brand new signed first edition of her 1994 novel Shelter at Taylor’s. That’s how it is with spontaneous journeys – you have to roll with it , and take great pleasure in the unexpected finds.

Taylor Books Cafe,
photo copyright by
Kevin Scanlon, used by permission

If your travels take you to Charleston, WV, be sure to visit Taylor Books, located at 226 Capitol Street. It’s definitely a destination in itself – and worthy of postcards from the road.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Meredith Sue Willis: Out of the Mountains

Meredith Sue Willis is one of those writers whose work is often overlooked – perhaps because she has been labeled as an Appalachian writer. There’s a tendency to categorize writers and books by region or genre, but the result can be limiting in unintended ways. “Appalachian writer” is a term I’ve often used myself to draw attention to the works of writers I admire from that mountain region. But it seems that there may be a stigma associated with being classified as “Appalachian” which lends itself to some widely held stereotypes about mountain people. Why does “Appalachian writer” not have the same cachet as, say, “Southern writer?” After all, Appalachia is a big place and reaches as far south as Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Just as geographic regions can overlap, so can literary genres. A bestselling mystery or legal thriller can also be literary fiction. And, an Appalachian writer can also be many other things as well – including a Southern writer (Bobbie Ann Mason, Lee Smith immediately come to mind).

In the afterword to her new book, Meredith Sue Willis writes, “This collection is called Out of the Mountains because that is where the stories come from, and so do I. . . . One of my projects in writing these stories has been to wonder, with so much slipping into the past, what is still unique about our region. I am also interested in what Appalachians retain and take along when they leave home – when they go out of the mountains – and also what Appalachian attitudes and insights contribute to the larger culture.”

I started reading Meredith Sue Willis’ work nearly a decade ago when one of her short stories had been submitted to me when I was the fiction editor of the literary journal Paper Street. I wanted to publish that piece, but the editor of another journal beat me to it. I was glad to see the main character of that story also appear in several of the stories in Out of the Mountains. In this collection of a dozen stories, characters sometimes reappear in several stories so that the reader sees them at various time points and from different perspectives. However, these are not linked stories. What does connect the stories is a sense of displacement and restlessness – insiders who leave the mountains to live elsewhere and outsiders who come to the mountains. There’s a tension between belonging and not belonging, of insider vs. outsider, of rural vs. urban, of traditional customs vs. new ways.

The cover photograph was taken by my husband, Kevin Scanlon. Both Kevin and I had contributed work to the 2008 “West Virginia Issue” of Hamilton Stone Review which Willis edited. Since Willis was familiar with Kevin’s series of West Virginia photographs, she later requested some of his images for consideration as possible covers for this short story collection. At the time we were curious about why she chose the one she selected, and after reading the stories I now understand how well it fits. These are stories with unexpected juxtapositions and clashes which show the changing culture.

Willis writes, “A great beauty of fiction, of course, is that it can be about many things at once . . . . I consider fiction to be a mutual, human grace – to know people we’ll never meet, beliefs we’ll never hold, experiences we’ll never have in our act
ual lives. It’s what I read for, and why I write.”

Meredith Sue Willis is the author of sixteen books and she teaches creative writing at New York University, School of Professional and Continuing Studies. She also maintains several blogs: Literature and the Web, Online Journal, as well as Resources for Writers. Two of her books have been published this year: Ten Strategies to Write Your Novel (Montemayor Press) and the short story collection Out of the Mountains: Appalachian Stories (Ohio University Press).

Upcoming appearances include the West Virginia Book Festival in Charleston, West Virginia, October 16th – 17th at the Charleston Civic Center and the Kentucky Book Fair, November 13th.
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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Postcards From The Thousand Islands

Boldt Castle, The Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence Seaway
(Photo copyright by Dory Adams)

Add one more item to the list of things being made obsolete by technology. I learned through the National Geographic blog Intelligent Travel that British Airways has launched a campaign to save the postcard. It seems that we no longer disconnect from our mobile communication devices long enough to feel the need to send postcards.

As much as I hate to admit it, that’s become true for me. Even when I’m trying to travel light, I still pack my Netbook and carry my cell phone (the cell phone I was reluctant to get, but was eventually forced into it because public pay phones have pretty much disappeared). Without even realizing it, I also stopped sending postcards. It used to be that when we were travelling I always sent at least one postcard – to my mom. Now Mom gets an e-mail to tell her when I’m going out of town and another one when I get back, to let her know to call my cell phone if she needs to reach me in an emergency.

I enjoy getting postcards, and still sometimes receive them (usually from writer friends who appreciate old-fashioned handwritten letters – you know, the kind of message that’s sealed in an envelope, stamped, and dropped into one of those blue metal U.S. mailboxes that also seem to be disappearing from street corners). According to Stephen Bayley’s article in High Life (which has details about the “Save the Postcard” charity auction of artist-designed picture postcards with celebrity signatures), only “11% of travelers still send postcards home while 60% use text.” He writes, “Facebook, email, texting and tweeting have deskilled communications and impoverished our visual culture.”

It may be true that Facebook has become the new digital age postcard. It certainly seems like everyone is trying to get me to join Facebook, but I remain a holdout. If anyone wants to know what I’m up to, all they have to do is check this blog. I’m not even willing to “tweet” or send a text message from my cell phone. I don’t even know how to text – and if anyone sends me one I just delete it without opening it. But, I’ve saved pretty much every postcard I’ve ever received, along with personal letters. They’re lovingly stored in a stack of pretty boxes that are stored on the top shelf of a closet. I suppose I’m expecting to read through all those letters again someday, as a way of remembering the past, when I’m too old and frail to do much more than that.

In mid-September my husband and I spent a week of vacation on a road trip with stops in Buffalo, the Thousand Islands, and Ontario, Canada. We treated ourselves to a stay at the Roycroft Inn for our wedding anniversary, and we did our usual offbeat things like touring the Buffalo Central Terminal and the Colonel Ward Pumping Station in Buffalo, and we watched the lakeboat Quebecois go through the final lock on the Welland Canal as it traversed from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario. We also did a few touristy things: a boat tour of the Thousand Islands, a tour of Bodlt Castle on Heart Island, and even a stopover at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. No doubt I’ll be writing more about those places in future posts, but for now I’ll leave you with one more electronic postcard from the Thousand Islands.

Estates Small and Large, The Thousand Islands
(Photo copyright by Dory Adams)
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