Thursday, September 30, 2010

Writers' Police Academy - Part 1

I had an awesome weekend at Writers' Police Academy, organized by Lee Lofland (@LeeLofland), the High Point Library and Guilford Technical Community College. The Academy is oriented toward mystery and thriller writers, but it's fun for any writer. My Thursday morning writer buddies and I volunteered as helpers, so we got to hear some of the great speakers and learn from law enforcement and emergency personnel.

Friday morning included a parking lot full of those folks — and their toys — from Guilford County Sheriff and High Point Police to fire department, bomb squad, SERT (formerly SWAT team) and crime scene investigation. I kept going back to the CSI table, where he had surveillance equipment, fingerprint dust, etc. Best of all, the folks in uniform were there to answer all kinds of questions, each one surrounded by writers with pad and pen in hand. It was fun to eavesdrop on the conversations, realizing that many of the little details would go into somebody's next mystery!

We talked to a man who was the negotiator in hostage situations; he was very interesting. He had been involved in a local murder investigation some years ago that took three and a half years and "divine intervention" to finally solve. 

I got to sit in on a lecture by New York medical examiner Jonathan Hayes (@PreciousHayes).  It wasn't as gory as I had imagined — he keeps it that way on purpose — but he was interesting and even funny.
Lee Lofland

I went home for our evening break to nurse a migraine, but rallied for the fascinating late-night session with Lee Lofland, former police investigator and author of The Graveyard Shift blog. He told the story of a murder in Ohio that seemed unsolvable, but the investigator on the case had that gut feeling about who did it. The murderer eventually confessed for a deal with the DA, and the evidence finally started pouring in.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mountain Book Trek

On my way home from Black Mountain I paid a visit to a couple of used book stores. I started at Black Mountain Books, right there in town. Unfortunately, opening time was more than an hour away, and I had a long drive ahead of me so I didn't want to wait. I visited the store last year. It has a nice selection of antiques along with a back room of newer titles, and the proprietress is very knowledgeable and helpful.

My main goal was formerly called the Little Switzerland Book Exchange. It's way off the beaten track, as far as the highway goes, but right off the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had called ahead because the last time I'd been there, two years ago, the place was for sale. I found out that it had been sold but was still in business.

I like what the new owners have done. They've rearranged and turned over a little, enough that I wasn't looking at the same titles year after year like before, and they've turned the counter into a mini-coffee shop.

It's now called Little Switzerland Books and Beans. The only bad thing was that most of the antique books were gone - they mentioned that the former owner took a lot of stock with him to his Asheville shop - but they have some sets that didn't interest me. They've turned a back room into a wooden boat shop.

They're still working on their organization; I saw one author's name in three different rooms. I didn't find the Diana Gabaldon that I was looking for. I did pick up a few things I wasn't looking for, as usual, including a children's book, Clocks Tell Time. Its two-color print looks older than its 1960 date. I grabbed The Marx Bros. Scrapbook, loaded with photos and mostly written be Groucho. I put back two book-collecting references, because he wanted the original price even though they were several years old and one is now online.

A coffee table book, that I would have expected a high price on, caught my eye. Great Private Collections is like a museum where most people would never be allowed in. I got it for a steal, and bonus: I love books that have newspaper clippings or letters stuffed in them. In this one, somebody had saved articles about these rich people and their collections, including Christie's and Sotheby's estate auctions.

My final purchase was This Book-Collecting Game, by A. Edward Newton, author and bookseller. This doesn't look like a how-to book, but more like a funny memoir along the lines of Larry McMurtry's Books: A Memoir. This...Game was written in 1928, has caricatures of men arguing on the front, and has an unusual combination of a paper dustjacket and matching case, although the case is a bit beat up.

I had lunch next door before starting back down the mountain. The book store shares a building with a great, frou-frou restaurant that boast things like homeade soups and smoked trout. Most of the Labor Day visitors came by motorcycle, enjoying the wind-y roads and perfect weather.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Black Mountain 2010

I spent last weekend at the beautiful Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain. I enjoyed seeing lots of friends at Yearly Meeting.

It's a 3 or 4 hour drive - depending on how many wrong turns I make - so I usually try to check out the used book stores while I'm in the mountains. I had planned to do that Monday, on the way home, but this year I actually bought more books before I even left Yearly Meeting. They set up a Quaker bookstore at the back of the meeting room, and there's always something I can't resist. I mean, I'm a genealogist and Quaker historian, and here's a whole room full of Quaker books! (Look for a future post on links and resources for Quaker books.)

I quickly had an armload of books, and had to put some back - these are all new, with "new" prices.

I bought the recently reprinted Autobiography of Allen Jay. That name is so common around my hometown that I thought he was local. But he was actually one of the northern Quakers that came down after the Civil War to help people in North Carolina rebuild. Many had moved to Indiana and other places to escape slavery laws, and more people wanted to leave after the devastation of the war. Because of Allen Jay and people like him who encouraged people to stay, we still have a thriving Quaker community in the Piedmont.

View of Asheville Hall from the creek below it
I also got Self-supported Ministers: Lest We Forget by Billy Britt, because I know the author and I might know some of the people included in this collection of biographies; and The Quakers in America by Thomas D. Hamm. I've met Thomas a couple of times and he is a wealth of fascinating Quaker history. I had been looking forward to his book and hadn't realized that it's already been out a while.

I put back George Fox's Book of Miracles. I had heard of the book in other writings, but hadn't realized that it no longer exists. This new book is a re-created version based on an extant index of the original. After skimming through it, I realized much of the content is about the scholarly process of filling in the information, which was still interesting to me as a writer.

I wasn't really tempted by another book of re-created information - because of the price, that is - but I might have to buy it someday. It's about Centre Friends Meeting in Guilford County, whose minutes were destroyed in a fire. The author has not only tried to re-create those business records, but has written a thorough genealogical reference using land records, family stories and photographs. It's pretty impressive!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Who are the Quakers?

This blog normally focuses on genealogy, writing and travel, with some Quaker history thrown into those first two topics. This week, however, I felt a need to write about the Quaker present, the time in which I live.

I just got back from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Friends United Meeting). For non-Quakers, that's like an annual statewide conference. Saturday, we approved a vision statement. You probably have no idea how controversial this has been. One was proposed about five years ago and shot down. For one thing, Quakers don't have a creed - special words that you have to say to belong. For another thing, a group of people were at that meeting years ago who no longer believed in the Bible. Now, we still have debates among our members about accuracy and translations and such, but this was a very vocal, loud group that caused a lot of dissension. Their congregation left FUM the following year.

I'm pleased that we passed the statement and I want to explain why. Because the Religious Society of Friends doesn't have a creed, is a pretty tolerant group and wants to welcome everyone, and no longer "disowns" people, quite a variety of people now claim that faith. I knew that that variety included programmed and unprogrammed, congregations with pastors and those without, and those with liberal beliefs and those with conservative beliefs.

What I didn't know until recently (and it blew my mind) was about people who have become non-Christian Friends. How can people who have absolutely opposite beliefs claim to be part of the same group? Well, it's not like the word Quaker is copyrighted. Like any other denomination, if a group of people disagree with their church, they simply leave and start another church, often under a related name. And our terminology - words like the "Inner Light" and "listening within" - can easily be confused with Eastern or New Age teachings.

It's not just the atheists or Buddhists or others who are damaging the reputation of this Christian Protestant denomination, it's the propagation of that information by bloggers and tweeters who, innocently looking for information about Quakers, have found those sites and are shaking their heads and telling their readers that Quakers no longer believe in Christ.

Here I am, a Christian who happens to be a Quaker, and I go read another writer's blog and the author says that modern Quakers no longer believe in Christ. "I guess they've changed," she writes. I was stunned. I don't know how many people read her blog, but now they all think that, too.

In modern marketing terminology, Quakers have a serious branding problem.

At yearly meeting, some people stood up and expressed hesitations because they don't want a creed. Some stood up and wanted to add or change a word here and there. One stood up and asked, why did we need to do this in the first place? I stood up and told about my internet experience, implying that those of us who are debating about the right words, for years, are getting outpaced by individuals who are sending false generalizations out to the world.

When we finally approved it, there was unity - a sense of peace among everybody, with no after-the-meeting grumbling. I commend our clerk, Judy Ritter, for letting people speak their concerns and for discerning the sense of the meeting. Here is the vision statement - it's not a creed, but more of a goal, and there are some who would still disagree with a word here or there, but it tells the world that there's at least one group of Quakers, modern Quakers, who believe.

A Vision for Unity and Growth: North Carolina Yearly Meeting of Friends is a faithful, passionate, growing community of Christ-followers, drawn together by God's love and truth as continually revealed through the saving grace and the Light of Jesus Christ and the Holy Scripture. As Quakers, we seek God's leading, serve God's purpose, and go as God's people into the world to love, reconcile, and transform through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Hopefully this will go up on the NCYM website soon.

Friends United Meeting has had this on their website for several years: Our purpose is "to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord." I realize that FUM is just one group of the Religious Society of Friends around the world, but it's one of the largest, if not the largest.

If you want to know more, wikipedia gives a surprisingly good, generalized, account of modern Quakers and their various beliefs and practices (although I did notice an error in the "sacraments" paragraph).

And there are some good discussions going on at the quaker quaker blog (disclaimer: This is a really diverse group and I have not read the overwhelming number of posts), where Quakers of various beliefs and disciplines are talking to each other and people with similar beliefs are supporting each other through various forums. In the "beliefs" forum, Javaughn Fernanders, a "liberal Quaker," had the same "ouch" reaction that I did upon reading a website that proclaimed many liberal congregations as no longer Christian. A lot of people commented on Javaughn's post.