It’s Magnolia Time (poem): Mourning the loss of refuge

My bookstore has been a lot of things for me from the time I took it over in January. The realization of a lifelong dream. A haven. A happy place for me, and I hoped, the art community and book lovers in my town. One thing I didn’t want it to become was a place of negativity, and I refused from the beginning to allow politics in the door.

COVID-19 has changed a lot of things, but the worst for me so far is that it has taken that from me. In order to preserve a healthy workspace for myself and avoid the potential of taking home something horrible to my family, I asked that my customers wear masks in the store. When it became obvious just the asking wouldn’t work, I began requiring them. If a customer arrived without one, I provided a simple handmade one to them. My customers were very agreeable about this. I began to relax. I began to believe that the people in my town, regardless of personal beliefs, were well bred enough to honor my rule.

Yesterday, that belief was shattered. A customer turned away when I told them masks were required in the store. Another argued with me that masks did no good, using talking points I’ve heard on conservative news outlets. The CDC has an agenda. Cloth masks are useless and will only hold germs against your own face, not protect you. I didn’t tell him that was the point, that I wanted him to keep his germs to himself. I asked him to leave.

And that’s when my store stopped being a refuge. I went home and cried because I’d never intended for this to happen there. I hate that it has happened. I hate that potential customers who might enjoy the otherwise welcoming atmosphere in my little store may now just go to Amazon or Books a Million. I hate it, but I can’t help it.

And so today I mourn the loss of the chance to share my refuge. I will continue to require masks until the danger of COVID-19 is gone. I realize many won’t come into the store if I do. I will miss them.

It’s Magnolia Time

By Michelle Garren Flye

Yesterday she was just a bud,

But today she’s purest wonder

against leaves of darkest green—

out of reach of all but the worthy.

It’s magnolia time now, folks,

and she knows what that means.

She’s got the strength she needs

to survive the stormiest weather.

The toughest of flowers, nothing

easy or giving in her breast.

She reigns above your head

because magnolias won’t be plucked.

A gale won’t blow her down,

no man’s hand can push her around.

She’s here to stay, so get used to it

because it’s magnolia time.

Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

Poem: An Empty Bookstore

I know how lucky I am. I get to go into a bookstore every single day. In these coronavirus days, that’s something special. Admittedly, I know this time is a setback. I certainly never imagined I would end up closing down for weeks and possibly months this soon after becoming the owner of a bookstore. But life’s lemons make sweet lemonade if you know the recipe, and for me, that recipe includes a lot of books and time.

Today, I will go back to the bookstore. I will sit behind my desk and do paperwork and hope the phone will ring. I will spend some time dusting and rearranging shelves. And I will spend some time just sitting silently. But I won’t be alone.

An Empty Bookstore

By Michelle Garren Flye

An empty bookstore is still quite full.

Just sit silent and listen for a minute.

You’ll find the characters of another soul

Acting stories for your entertainment.

Look there! It’s Hazel from Watership Down!

He’d best watch out, McGregor’s not picky—

Peter Rabbit escaped and ran into town,

And farmers say all pesky rabbits are tricky.

In a quiet corner, the Little Women gather.

Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth dream dreams of future days.

I wonder what they’d think of today, whether

Marmee would approve of our wayward ways?

Curious George flies a kite with Paddington Bear,

Ignoring Jekyll’s Hyde lurking in the shadows.

Scarlett O’Hara ponders which dress to wear

While Atticus Finch seeks to deal legal blows.

Over yonder lies Dracula’s coffin in state

And don’t forget to check in on Miss Havisham.

Now that you’re ready to flee, just wait—

Anne Shirley is here with green egg’s Sam.

The longer you sit quiet in this empty place

The more peopled you’ll find it is in the end.

You know, you can do the same in your own space?

Books are all you need to make a friend.

So many wonderful things, so much hope (and a poem)

Nature has faith in spring. Photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I’m seeing so many wonderful things happening in my little town during this COVID-19 outbreak, I can’t help but be hopeful. Yes, the downtown is a bit of a ghost town (as it should be), but friends and strangers are reaching out in whatever ways they can to help support the businesses that are suffering, including my little bookstore.

I’m seeing teachers reaching out to students, helping them adjust to distance learning and trying to reassure them. Schools are sending lunches out to children in the community. Everyone in the education community is doing their best to help kids accept the “new normal” that might be with us for quite a while.

No, none of this is okay. But with a little faith, it will be, and you can find faith in unexpected places.

Finding Faith

By Michelle Garren Flye

Faith grows in unexpected places

You find it in the darkest spaces

And on the homeliest faces

And sometimes in bright daylight

Even out in plain sight

Or in the laughter of pure delight

It can be found in the smile of a child

Or growing free in the wild

Or possibly among the papers you filed

Just watch and you’ll see

How easy it can be

You’ll find your faith eventually.

Finishing Something

It’s a good feeling, right? Finishing something. I recently realized my next book is finished. I mean, yeah, it was written a while back, but even the editing stages are finished. It’s as polished as it’s gonna get, I think. Well, maybe one last run through.

I’m not going to tell you anything about this book except that it’ll be book 7 of my Sleight of Hand series. If you haven’t read any of my Sleight of Hand series, never fear. All of them are stand-alone romances with occasional appearances of characters from previous books. It’s like a romance series that focuses on a family or a particular small town, but the community that these books focus on is actually a little more…magical. The characters are not related except by marriage (well, there’s one set of brothers…). As for being set in one small town, nope. Settings range from the coast of North Carolina to Hollywood, Las Vegas and New York.

It’s kind of fun to think that this all began with Close Up Magic in 2013. I’d always been fascinated by stage magic. I often tell the story of five-year-old me being chosen by a magician to be on a “flying carpet”. I was instructed to keep my eyes closed so the magic would work. My mother told me afterward it certainly appeared that I flew. Ever since, I have loved stage magic. I know there’s a trick and I sometimes try to catch the magician at it. But even if I do figure out how a trick is done, it doesn’t spoil the fun for me. Often it just increases my respect for the magician’s performance.

So why am I not announcing more about my next book in this series? I obviously am very excited about it. It’s the best one yet, I know it. I put a lot of thought into this one, which is why it took so long. The answer is simple. I’m planning to roll out the next book on The Next Chapter Books & Art’s social media first. This bookstore has become so much a part of my life, including my writing life, it just makes sense.

So if you want to be one of the first to see the cover (which is bound to be beautiful due to being designed by the fabulous Farah Evers Designs) and read all about my new book, follow The Next Chapter Books & Art on Facebook and Instagram.

In the meantime, I have a couple of other projects in the works. I’d like to put out another booklet of my poetry, rework my backlist now that I’ve discovered Vellum, and Book 8 is calling me already. Not to mention my alter-ego Shelley Gee wants to get to work on Jessica Gravely as soon as possible.

So I’m off to the bookstore. Come join me there!

The author and the bookstore

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved reading. She loved reading more than anything else. She would wake, pick up a book and start reading. She read as she ate, as she brushed her teeth, as she walked… She even found a way to prop her book up on the bedside table so she could read while she dressed.

Eventually, reading wasn’t enough, so the girl began to write the words she loved. Slowly, she came to the point where she was writing instead of reading. Maybe not as constantly because somewhere in there she’d grown up and had more responsibilities. Kids must be fed and cared for, house must be cleaned, laundry laundered, jobs attended to. Still, she found as much time as possible for writing. She even wrote several novels and that’s how the girl became the author.

The author found a little bookstore—a friendly, charming place that welcomed local authors and sold their books for them. The owner of the bookstore was a lovely lady who enjoyed meeting new people and liked selling their books for them. But eventually the lady wanted to retire. She told the author the store would have to close, but the author was very sad about that. “Oh, you can’t do that!” She thought of all the books in the store that would no longer have a place on a shelf in a warm, cozy bookstore. Including her books.

“I wish I could keep doing this forever,” the owner said, “but it’s just time for me to let go. Of course, if I could find someone to take over for me, that person could keep the bookstore open. Would you be interested?”

The author had never considered such a thing. She wasn’t a businesswoman. She was a mother, a wife, a reader, a writer. She had two dogs and two cats to take care of. She had carpools and volunteer work and housework and laundry. Being a bookstore owner wasn’t something she could do.

But maybe it was.

And so the author took over the bookstore and found she loved it. The bookstore was even more charming and peaceful when she went into it every day. It slowly became hers, and she felt as if “work” was not a chore there. “Work” was love, and the bookstore gave it freely to its new owner, the author.

Author’s Note: All this is to say that I am the proud new owner of a bookstore that I really do love. The Next Chapter Books and Art in New Bern, N.C. It happened very suddenly and much as I wrote above. I’m still in the transition stage with limited hours while I get my kids used to me not being the stay-at-home writer/mom that I’ve always been, but come in and feel the good vibes there. The positive energy that soaks the place is worth the trip.

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