Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Getting Out

Editor's Note: Wendy Welch is the 2018 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. She will be living and writing in Fayetteville through the end of March. This is her third contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog. Wendy is the author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, and Fall or Fly: the strangely hopeful story of foster care and adoption in Appalachia. She will speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book on March 24.

I came, I sat, I conquered. For ten glorious weeks in Lafayette Flats (if you don’t know about their
Writer in Residence program, click here) I pushed out words long overdue and tired of waiting. Two manuscripts as different as chalk and cheese flew—okay, waddled, grumpy with marking time—to Pamela’s desk, my so-patient literary agent happy to see those pages at last.

And then, along about March 12, I slammed the lid on my laptop and went to look around.
With the help of flat owner Amy McLaughlin, who was dancing through the flats on a cleaning day in her magical duster slippers, we identified some trails on which even I—the person who turns the wrong way out of her home bathroom—could not got lost.

Every feasible weather day since then, I’ve been hiking. And shopping: if you come to Fayetteville, buy Ramp Salt at Twisted Gypsy and check out Ben Franklin’s amazing bulk foods section featuring sweets I haven’t seen since childhood and don’t miss the Hobbit Hole because it’s literally a basement and you kinda have to know where it is or ask someone.

Ahem, back to those hikes. My new friend Karen took me to Long Point during a light snowfall. The hike went through deep green rhododendron against bright white snow, then out on the aptly-named rock shelf jutting into the canyon. Blue-diamond-green water lay at the bottom of the Gorge, and those translucent browns of winter trees in the distance, like dragon breath, ethereal and deceptively transparent.

Karen helped me out when my friends Susan and Beth came for St. Patrick’s Day weekend and we hiked down to an abandoned mine tipple in Nuttallberg. The trail kicked our butts: two cancer survivors on post-chemo cocktails, two women in therapy for difficult knee joints, but we went .7 straight down and .8 straight up (the trail lengthened itself going back, I swear) because, gosh darn it, we could.

The next day we drove to the bottom of the tipple and walked a gentle mile back into the ghost mining town of Seldom Seen. All that remains are rock foundations of houses and the churches (segregated community). People who find pottery shards and other artifacts put them on the posts so others can see them. It’s easy to think about who lived there, and why, back by the roaring river in the clinging spaces where people literally hacked out lives. I highly recommend anyone writing about coal go walk that trail. Looking at those moss-covered foundations, one thinks: Coal, past and future.

Endless Wall, Adena, Butcher’s Branch, Cunard: if the names sound lyrical, you should see the hikes. Brooklyn Mine Trail is incredible, hugging a rock and earth wall on one side, dropping to the Gorge’s running river on the other. How can a walk juxtapose calming one’s mind with sparking new creative zest? Brooklyn inspired thoughts of the next book, between snapping photos and just standing in the middle of that little ribbon of road, smiling and letting all those sounds and smells seep in.

Like so much of Coalfields Appalachia, Fayetteville is a place that waits without haste or judgement to be discovered by those who slow down enough to find it. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pausing to Take Stock

Editor's Note: Wendy Welch is the 2018 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. She will be living and writing in Fayetteville through the end of March. This is her second contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog. Wendy is the author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, and Fall or Fly: the strangely hopeful story of foster care and adoption in Appalachia. She will speak at the Virginia Festival of the Book on March 24.

The writing residency here at Lafayette Flats is now marginally closer to its end than its beginning. Pausing to take stock, I’m well-content with progress on long-overdue projects combined with some pleasant living moments: 
  • Drafting a work of fiction, the idea having been in my mind two years, the time to pull it out through the fingertips non-existent until Shawn and Amy’s offer appeared. 67K words have met with mixed reviews from beta readers, some of whom think the female protagonist is a flawed and understandable protagonist, some of whom think she acts so irrationally she’s not believable. I’m working on it, and taking a great deal of comfort from Nora Roberts’ famous quote: You can fix anything but a blank page. 
  • Preparing the proposal and writing the first half of the narrative for the sequel to Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. Tentatively titled Bookstore, Cats: a true tale of many fine tales, this book has been lying on my conscience for a few years now, growing slowly with false starts and stops. Writing is not an efficient process, but it is fun. Finally being able to lay out all the bits and pieces, pull together what works, and thread the disparate narratives onto a common theme would never have happened without six weeks of clear thinking and space to literally place pages on the floor, walk around them shuffling, and leave them where they lay overnight. The gift of time and space here at Lafayette Flats has been awesome. 
  • Catching up on heretofore unseen episodes of Law and Order while tackling crochet patterns I’d always wanted to turn a hand to. I am a Law and Order freak, original series only. Life intervened during the middle years of the series and there are multiple episodes I’ve never seen. Guess what plays all day on two TV channels here in WV? Jack and I don’t have a TV back in our bookstore, so Tuesdays became my day off writing, when I could focus on creating dragonfly scarves, huge mandalas, wreaths of crocheted flowers, and the bread-n-butter moneymaker of Swiffer covers. All the things I make get sold on behalf of the cat rescue Appalachian Feline Friends (the partial subject of the book I’m now working on except for Tuesdays) so it seems like a good closed circle of spinning yarn or words. 
  • Attending my first-ever yoga class. It was enlightening (no pun intended). 
  • Making friends and going places, often out to eat with nice people who want me to understand Fayetteville’s deserved reputation as a food Mecca. Screenwriter Gena calls from Cathedral Café when she’s in town, Shawn and Amy hosted Jack and me at The Station (best mixed drinks), Karen made sure I knew about the Secret Sandwich Society and its weekend evening venue The Grove (try the mac and cheese), Vicki invited me to talk about my latest book (Fall or Fly) at Sweet T’s Bake Shop (it’s all good), and Mary Ann introduced me to the pesto pizza at Pies and Pints. The only one I haven’t reached yet is Big Dam Pizza, because as much as I’d like to try, it doesn’t seem wise to eat 28 inches of my favorite food alone. 

Which brings me to even better news: as writing goals are reached, rewards follow. One of these is two writer friends coming for a mini-retreat this weekend: Willie Dalton (Three Witches in a Small Town was her first) and Martha Evans Wiley (a non-fiction work on Cumberland Gap). We might try the Big Dam Pizza, if we make our word counts. 

Namaste, y’all.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Big Things and Small Things

Editor's Note: Wendy Welch is the 2018 New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. She will be living and writing in Fayetteville for the next three months. This is her first contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog.

Three weeks into a three-month writing residency at Lafayette Flats in Fayetteville, West Virginia, here’s what I have to show for it: a 65,689-word manuscript, and 40 rows of Mandala Madness.

I am well-pleased with both. It remains to be seen what Pamela (my agent) says about the 65K, and I’ve got about 240 rows to go on the mandala.

With the intense work schedule to get that first draft done, time to explore the joys around me have been limited. My husband came for the reception that flat owners Shawn Means and Amy McLaughlin threw at The Grove (best draft cider ever), and we loved our day out exploring Thurmond and enjoying the backroads of the New River Gorge.

Shawn and Amy took me through the Gorge the day I got here, bright-eyed and bushy-haired from the dry winter weather. Seeing its bridge in a snowstorm has ruined me for other views in life. It was magnificent.

But the smaller things around here, the bits of little pleasures you could overlook if you went off hunting big things, they live in abundance. Amanda and Dan invited me to their home for a book club, and we had homemade soup and brilliant conversation. Karen took me for a walk through the park, and we had brilliant conversation and homemade soup from the Cathedral Café.
The Baptist and Presbyterian and Methodist churches are very welcoming, members quick to reach out and include you in social activities, volunteer opportunities. I imagine Fayetteville Church of God is, too, but I’ve only been here three Sundays so they’re next.

And then there’s the Flats themselves. Amy and Shawn have great artistic spirits and also wickedly wonderful senses of humor. Here are some photos to help you see the world from their eyes.

The woodpecker graces the underbeam of the wooden stairs to the third floor.

The little room is by WV artist Courtney Childers Chapman, located in the Quinnmont Flat.

All the flats are named after important historic or geographic features in the area. I’m in Eddy, which is meant to be the body of water, but for me has come to be the name of the peregrine falcon that graces my front door. Each flat has one as a spirit animal. On bad writing days, Eddy and I have held conversations.

Stained glass panels decorate the transom over each flat’s door. This one’s Eddy.


This is the climber on each refrigerator. 

They found a 1954 TV in the basement during renovations, and Shawn used it to frame a vista of the town from the same year.


The Eddy light switch has a sense of humor a bit earthier than the rest of the flats.

The fairy door in the corner of my bathroom. They seem to be gone for the winter.

This, this is the crowning glory of Quinnmont Flat. Amy is as kind as she is funny; when she realized how important long bubbly baths were to my artistic process (yeah yeah) she offered a deal. Reaching 50K on the draft would unlock bathtub powers for Quinn when no guests were using it that week. I would never go so far as to wish Amy and Shawn less customers, but ohhhhh baby, that bathtub is as lovely as it looks. If y’all come, ask for Nuttall or Corten.

So the point of the residency, from Amy and Shawn’s point of view, is to spread the story of West Virginia as told by its residents, rather than those charming reporters who come in and explain just how awful we are to us, and why we are all too gullible to be trusted with voting. It can get ugly, those narratives that have for year confined and defined Appalachia.

But we won’t be throwing the baby out with this bathwater. (See what I did there?) No, in telling the big, wonderful, overarching stories of the state and its people, let’s not overlook the warm welcomes of the churches, the great artistic pizzas of the parlors (have you tried ever gorgonzola and grape in combo?), the hospitality of the people (thank you Amy!) or the beauty of the place as designed by God or People. The flats are beautiful. The gorge is beautiful. Little, big.

Come explore Fayetteville. Check out the yarnbombed tree, find out why they say food comes here to be born, and explore the hidden wonders of Shawn and Amy’s creations. You won’t be bored. Ever.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Introducing the 2018 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Wendy Welch has been chosen as the 2018 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence! Wendy lives in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and is the author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, a memoir published in 2012 by St. Martin's Press. She has a forthcoming book about foster care and adoption in the Coalfields of Appalachia entitled Fall or Fly. She has also published a book of academic essays on the subject of Public Health in Appalachia. Dr. Welch is employed as the Executive Director of the Graduate Medical Education Consortium of Southwest Virginia, and will be taking a three-month leave of absence to serve as Writer-in-Residence. She will arrive in Fayetteville on or around New Year's Day and will be with us through the end of March.

Welch plans to use her time in Fayetteville to work on a forthcoming sequel to Little Bookstore, focusing on issues important to Coalfields Appalachia. “It is certainly a positive Appalachian Narrative, with West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee at its core” she wrote. “It is writing that has created the happiest, most balanced and examined moments of my life, and I am so looking forward to having the time and space to do what brings me such joy and stability.”

This year’s residency marks the fourth consecutive year that Lafayette Flats has hosted a writer for the winter. The previous writers were Eric Shonkwiler (2015), Mary Ann Henry (2016) and Kathleen M. Jacobs (2017). We are thrilled to have yet another talented writer to continue the tradition of excellence for this residency.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

On the Road: Interviewing Candidates for the 2018 New River Gorge Winter Writer's Residency

We were delighted with the quantity and quality of the applications we received for this year's residency! Thank you if you helped us get the word out this year.

After narrowing down the list to two finalists, we decided that instead of interviewing via Skype that we would road trip it and meet the candidates on their own turf. So last weekend while everyone else in Fayetteville was enjoying the Bridge Day festivities, we headed north to Columbus, Ohio,  to interview our first candidate; and next weekend we will be heading off again, this time due south, to meet the second.

People have asked us what we look for when deciding who will be the Writer-in-Residence, and the answers are not always simple, because each applicant has his or her own strengths and challenges. Almost every application we read makes us go "hmmmm," when we come to the part where they explain what they hope to accomplish during the residency, often listing things that we never thought of. These statement often inform the questions we ask during interviews. But the basic criteria is as follows:
  • Can they take the time? Three months is  long time to be away from home, family, pets and jobs. 
  • Will they thrive in the quiet setting of the Flats during the winter? Anyone who has read "The Shining" or seen the movie knows that long sequestrations aren't for everyone!
  • Will they engage with the community? We always have a reception in town where people can meet the writer, but will they enjoy being part of the off-season Fayetteville community? It's important to us that they do.
  • What will they be working on during the residency,and how will it help us advance our goal of providing an alternative narrative of West Virginia? While we can't - and wouldn't - dictate what they will write, we hope that it will reflect the true West Virginia and not buy in to the same tired old stereotypes. 
  • Will the experience benefit them, creatively? As supporters of the arts, it is at the core our mission to help introduce creativity of all sorts into the world. 
Watch this space around the first week of November to find out who will be coming to Fayetteville this winter!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Applications for 2018 Writer's Residency are coming in!

We have already received several applications for the 2018 New River Gorge Writer's Residency at Lafayette Flats, and with less than two weeks left before the deadline we are getting excited to find out who will be living and writing in Fayetteville this winter! 

Thank you to everyone who helped us get the word out, especially the West Virginia Hub and the Appalachian Studies Association.

Submissions will be accepted until October 15th, so now is the time to get those applications and reference letters in! Click here for more information.

We will be announcing the Writer in Residence on or about November 1st, so watch this space!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Top Five Reasons to Visit the New River Gorge in Autumn

The New River Gorge Stand Up Paddle Board (SUP) Race 
On Sunday, Sept. 17 at noon at Fayette Station on the New River three races take place during the this incredible event: Kids Race, Attainment Race & Down River Race. In addition, the event organizers offer free instruction and equipment demos to spectators with no experience or registration is needed. The Downriver Race is truly something to see! The participants go through a class 3 rapid ON STANDUP PADDLEBOARDS!

Gauley Season 
For seven spectacular weekends every fall the Gauley River transforms into a whitewater superhighway that attracts adventure seekers from all over the world. You can feel the excitement in the air. Even if you aren’t quite ready to tackle the beast of the east, just visiting Summersville Lake to see the damn release that creates the world-class white water is fun. Tentative 2017 River Release Dates: September 8, 9, 10, 11; 15, 16, 17, 18; 22, 23, 24, 25; 29, 30 October 1, 2; 6, 7, 8; 14, 15; 21 (Bridge Day) & 22

The Weather
Autumn weather is perfect for hiking. A cool breeze on the Endless Wall Trail is topped only by the gorgous display of fall foliage. The forest canopy becomes less dense allowing beautiful rays of sunshine to break through the towering trees. You can hear the crunch of leaves under your boots, smell the scent of fall wildflowers and feel the crispness in the air. There are over 100 miles of trails in the New River Gorge. More than enough to keep you busy all fall.

Fall Food
We can’t wait to see what our friends at The Station come up with for their fall farm-to-table menu. We look forward to washing down their deliciousness with a Oktoberfest, the fall brew from Bridge Brew Works. And speaking of beer, we are also looking forward to relaxing at Arrowhead Bike Farm. Can you image a better way to spend an autumn evening than around a campfire with a brat and a beer?

Bridge Day
West Virginia’s biggest one day festival is jaw dropping; your jaw will drop open when you see the Bridge Jam Music Festival, the Fayetteville Chili Cookoff and Taste of Bridge Day are all fun events worth visiting.
skydivers jump off the 800’ tall New River Gorge Bridge. West Virginia’s largest one day festival is now the centerpiece of other great events that take place in the Gorge during the third weekend of October.