ROCKINGHAM — A signing session for award-winning storyteller J.A. Bolton’s first published book brought readers young and old to Leath Memorial Library early Monday evening.
On the older end was James Ray Thomas, who is in his 90s.
“A lot of the stories he writes about…I know a lot about that area of the country,” Thomas said.
One of Bolton’s younger visitors was 5-year-old Elliot Samuel IV, who has been working on his own book and said he plans to have three chapters.
The book, “Just Passing Time,” is a collection of 23 stories that Bolton has written which have appeared in the pages of the Daily Journal and Anson Record over the last several years.
“I just enjoy writing,” Bolton said. “It’s a stress reliever for me. It helps me to get away from the garden, you know, and get away from other things. I remember things I did as child, or when I was younger, and I go out and ride around in the country and just write down on index cards about what I want to write about.”
Bolton started writing in 2002 after suffering a heart attack.
“I was trying to find something that I could do that wasn’t so physical…and I started writing a story about my grandmother and grandfather livin’ on the farm,” he said. “And it just went on from there. I found it took my mind off myself a lot.”
He said readers of his stories have enjoyed them because they bring back memories of the way things were when they were growing up.
“Young people enjoy the stories because they’re real funny, most of ‘em are funny,” he said. “Some of ‘em are serious and some of ‘em are dead true — and some of ‘em are maybe based on truth.”
Bolton said his favorite story is “Ol’ Shag,” which is based on a true story and is about learning to deal with life through a pet.
“It teaches a lesson,” he said. “Animals teach us lessons if we just wait and listen for ‘em.”
He said the tale that is stretched the most is “Mable: The Little Tractor That Could,” which is also based on a true story.
“I have experienced everything in there,” Bolton said, regarding the stories in his book, published by St. Andrews University Press.
Fellow storyteller Randy Rayfield made the drive from Union County to get a signed copy. The trek for Rufus and Beverly Getzen, from the Anson County Writers’ Club, was a little shorter.
“Written literature is more my thing,” said Rufus Getzen, “but there are a lot of people in this part of the country that think oral storytelling is an important literary tradition.”
It was that reason that the club added that category to the annual writers’ conference, which Bolton has participated in.
“I call myself a collector of legends and facts,” he continued. “It’s because my family had people who told stories, including my dad. A lot of these stories had a moral theme to them, it’s the sort of thing you would figure is a generic story. And it turns out most of them are, in fact, true. I can go back and find 200-year-old letters or newspaper articles that tend to confirm them.”
Getzen said he doesn’t believe all the stories like the ones told by Bolton are true, but there are some he has no way of checking.
During the signing, Bolton read “Willie and the Devil,” a yarn about a man who goes fishing on Sunday and has a lying contest with Satan to keep from going to Hell — and wins.
Bolton’s wife, Azalea, is a storyteller in her own right, and they both generally alternate their column submissions each week. He said she’s working on her first book, and he’s planning another.
“It’s been good for us,” he said. “We just enjoy doing it.”
Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_toler.