Reviews

What kind of person receives a compliment, then goes on the internet to brag about it? In most cases I would say such a person is behaving badly and needs a good dose of humility. But how else can authors, especially those without publicists, draw attention to favorable reviews, in hopes of persuading potential readers that their books have merit? There may be better ways, but I haven’t figured them out. So, at the risk of my character, this post is about the reviews my novel Jim Wrenn has been getting.

When I published the book in January, I worried that even though it seemed a good effort to me, readers might find it be bad. Perhaps embarrassingly bad. When I was interviewed by the local paper after the release, I said just that. “I don’t know if the book is any good. It might be embarrassingly bad.” I’m pretty sure that is not the best way to drum up interest in the book.

But to my great delight and relief, the reviews have been excellent! I couldn’t be happier with how powerfully the story is resonating with many of the people who have read it.

Jim Wrenn now has over 20 five star reviews on Amazon. Most are from people I don’t know.  I’m very grateful for good reviews from friends, but the reviews from strangers are particularly satisfying, because I don’t have any reason to wonder about their sincerity.

Reviews on Amazon are very helpful to authors of course, so I very much appreciate them. But most readers don’t leave Amazon reviews. And some of the comments I’ve received in other ways have been greatly encouraging.

At one event a woman came up afterwards and told me that she had spent 40 years working in the spinning room at the mill. She said my book was the best description of it she’s ever seen. At another event, after telling me how much he loved the book,  a farmer in his 80’s told me that it reminded him of his childhood. “I know where Maple Grove is,” he said, as if he’d figured out a secret. “I recognize the places you describe.” He then announced, somewhat triumphantly, that Maple Grove was actually the community he grew up in (he called it by name)–a place I know only vaguely.  It felt good to know that this man recognized his home in the book–even though it wasn’t the same place I had in mind.

A woman I’ve know since I was a little boy sent me a note she’d received from her 80-something sister, also a former mill worker and tobacco farmer. “I really, really loved the book. So many good memories of my life growing up. Some so very real. Reading it has been one of the joys of my life….The man who wrote the book really has the facts right. Tell him thank you for me.” What red blooded author wouldn’t delight in receiving a note like that?

I’m very pleased that the book has also caused people to share their stories with me. After a talk I gave recently a man came up to me and said that his grandmother starting working at the mill when she was a child. At that time the rules required workers to be at least 12 years old (there was no such rule at the time of my story and many of the workers were under 12), so his grandmother smudged out the date in the family Bible, changing her date of birth to make it appear she was 12 so she could get the job. Later she tried to correct the date but left the entry so smudged that the family now isn’t sure when she was born. Another friend told me on Facebook that while her mother started working at the mill at age 12, her aunt started when she was 9 and had to stand on a box to reach the loom.

Probably the review that most stunned me was sent to me by a friend, who had given the book as a gift to one of his neighbors (who I didn’t know). The man liked the book so much that he bought copies for all his children, sending it to them with this note.

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That’s the kind of review an author dreams about. To know that at least some people are getting what I was trying to say and do definitely makes it worthwhile.

Finally, I was blown away by a short review left on Amazon by a reasonably well-known author from California. I have no idea how he found about my book. It’s hard for me to imagine a better review: “A book that might save us. This is the novel I’ve been looking for. It is utterly gripping as it tells of lives that include great sorrow as well as joy. The values it promotes are the ones we need now, the ones that could save us.”

Now I’m sure there are people out there who don’t like the book. So far they’ve been kind enough not to say so.

So there. I have tooted my own horn. But be assured that if I had only a few good reviews amidst a bunch of bad ones, I wouldn’t have done it.

Please consider requesting the book from your local library.

Bill

 

 

 

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Jim Wrenn

I’ve received enough feedback now to be able to say confidently that anyone who has enjoyed my blog posts here over the last ten years will likely also enjoy my novel Jim Wrenn.

Now available through libraries and bookstores. Also available at Amazon.com, of course.

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But for those without the time or inclination to read a novel (particularly when you can’t be sure it will be worth your time), I’ll offer this poem from Wendell Berry, which is the epigraph for the book. It is perfect, I think, for the story I’m trying to tell.

In time a man disappears
from his lifelong fields, from
the streams he has walked beside,
from the woods where he sat and waited.
Thinking of this, he seems to
miss himself in those places
as if always he has been there,
watching for himself to return.
But first he must disappear,
and this he foresees with hope,
with thanks. Let others come.

Wendell Berry
Sabbaths: 2007, VII

On a Rainy Sunday

It’s been raining since morning, freezing as it lands and bending the branches of the trees. There’s wood in the stove and the animals are fed. It’s a good day to stay warm inside, and to finally put out another blog post.

Jim Wrenn is a hit. Locally, that is. Of course being a hit in our small community doesn’t make it a best-seller, by any stretch of the imagination. I’ll be lucky to recover my costs of publication. But it’s a story I wanted to tell and I’m glad I wrote it. The favorable reviews have encouraged me to write another one. I do have another story to tell, so I’ve been working on the sequel. I just wish I could type it out as fast as it comes to me.

We have seven new kids in the barn and, as always, they are a delight.

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Yes, it’s a cold wet winter day. But in less than a week it will be time to start seeds. Spring is on the way.

Winter

We’re finishing up a week of record-setting brutally cold weather. It’s unusual for us to spend 24 hours below freezing, and we’ve gone six straight days now. Our pipes froze twice. This morning we awoke to sub-zero temperatures. I’ve never so looked forward to highs in the 40’s.

We have burned about a months’ worth of wood this week, and I have plenty to do outside. But it was so dang cold that I emphasized inside projects instead. For example, today I mapped out this years gardens and we placed our seed order. Gardens and warmer days are coming.

The last day of hunting season brought one final run-in with trespassers. I’m glad that annual ordeal is finally over. I took three deer this season–two for me and one for the food bank. For well over ten years now all the meat I’ve eaten has come from this farm. That’s a good feeling.

I’m very pleased at the positive reviews and feedback I’m starting to get on my book. I was worried it might bomb. It’s a relief to know people are finding merit in it.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s thaw.

 

Jim Wrenn

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I am pleased to announce the publication of my novel Jim Wrenn, on the 100th anniversary of the event that inspired it.

The book is now available on Amazon (link HERE) and may also be ordered through libraries, independent book stores and from me directly (5962 Slatesville Road, Keeling VA 24566, $16.95, which includes shipping).

For folks in the area, I will be speaking at Reid Street Gallery in Chatham on January 16 at 6:00 p.m and at Brewed Awakening in Danville on January 27 at 2:00 p.m. At both events I will discuss the story and its historical background. Afterwards I will be available to sign books. There will be an event in the spring at Elmo Store in Halifax County, details to be announced later.

I am excited to introduce these characters to the public. They have come to mean quite a lot to me.

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2017

It’s been a good year for us.

Once again we grew most of our own food, we stayed healthy and we stayed happy.

We took and enjoyed another two week vacation to Europe, for the second year in a row, after having gone 12 years without a vacation. This year we also began making it a regular practice to take day trips on Sundays, enjoying the many historic and natural sites within an easy drive of our farm, and doing so has enriched our lives.

I renewed one of my oldest friendships, with a friend who has also recently retired, and we have started taking once-a-month trips to Civil War battlefields, rekindling my interest in Civil War history, one of my earliest passions.

We slowed down the pace on the farm and significantly scaled back our operation. Despite that, our revenues and profits are nearly the same as they were when I was trying to do too much. I edited out potential areas of stress from my life, and settled into peaceful routines with which I am happy.

And I wrote a novel.

Today we did our annual thorough review of our household and farm budget and operations. The only significant change we decided on was to begin phasing out our goat herd. We lost money on them this year and even in good years we’ve never made much. It’s a pity to have all this pasture infrastructure and not use it. In hindsight it wasn’t money well spent. But it would be even more foolish to continue if the economics don’t work. The goats are like pets now, so we’re not going to just sell them off. I imagine we’ll continue to have a herd for several more years. But we’re not going to grow it and we’re not going to spend any more money on infrastructure.

Chickens continue to be a wash, but we’ll continue having them because we want eggs for ourselves. The eggs we sell should continue to cover the cost of the feed, so we’re not out anything.

Vegetables are our most (as in “only”) profitable operation so we’ll continue with those. We had an excellent year overall with produce. Even though we had some failures, they were compensated for with bumper crops of other items.

We didn’t raise any pigs this year and won’t raise any next year either. I still have plenty of pork, and even if I didn’t I get plenty of meat from deer and fish.

Of course, we ate very well.

We’ve basically returned to the orientation we had before farming mission creep set in–we’re homesteaders who sell our excess produce to cover the costs of our farm. So basically I get to do what I love doing, at no cost, and while generating an abundance of organically raised food we’d otherwise have to buy.

We’re looking forward to another great year on White Flint Farm and excited to see what 2018 has in store for us.

Happy New Year y’all!