By DUSTEN RADER
Special to the OBSERVER
One of Chautauqua County's female entrepreneurs has written a book about her journey to success.
Pictured is Gail Black with her dog, Iwannago.
Gail Black, owner of Vinewood Acres Sugar Shack in Westfield, has written an autobiography about her life from youth to today, including the acquisition of her business. She will be signing copies of her book, entitled "Asses And Angels: A Journey From Abuse To Achievement," at the Book Nook in Dunkirk on Wednesday from 6 p.m. until close.
According to Black, the book is about how she transformed a piece of land that was in shambles into a successful farm and vineyard that produces homemade syrups and is a place she can call home.
"I was a mink farmer that grew up on West Oak Hill in Jamestown before moving to Sinclairville where I was feeding more than 8,000 animals a day," Black said. "One day I had a vision of a house. At the time I was engaged, but I knew that if I left I would find the house."
Black did end up leaving, and she did eventually find the house from her vision, she said.
"It's been an unusual ride," Black said. "The mortgage got paid in an unusual way, I acquired the grapes in an unusual way and I've had no problems with frost."
Black picked 10 tons to the acre in 1972 when a frost hit, and she picked the same this year when another frost hit, she said.
"I have always felt that there was a purpose and predestination to me being on that piece of land," Black said.
But, in order to get to where she is today, Black had to overcome abuse, neglect and the struggle of competing in what she calls "male-dominated business ventures."
"I survived, and came out much stronger," Black said. "I couldn't figure out why this had to have happened to me. But, as the Sugar Shack evolved people came in who needed to hear that story. A true memoir is taking some traumatic experience in your life, writing about it and then showing how it applies to whatever happened to you later."
Although Black had always desired to write a book, she never thought that she would have time to finish one. But, after receiving numerous requests to finish her book from visitors to the Sugar Shack she finally had the motivation to complete the work, she said. Black attributes part of her inspiration to two retired female English teachers who were on a bike trip from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, who wrote a book called "Across America By Bicycle: Alice and Bobbi's Summer on Wheels."
"It's my first book, and it was quite a process, but during the process I got a wonderful free education in creative writing and English from those two ladies," Black said. "There are other examples in the book of women who have helped women, and helped me, for nothing."
Black's book was self-published through iUniverse, Inc., an organization that offers quick and affordable professional publishing. Although Black was unsure of how many copies to have printed, she found that the book garnered much interest from the community, and from those who visit Chautauqua County, so each time she orders she has increased the number of printed copies.
"First I had 50 copies, and they were gone in four days," Black said. "Then I had 300 copies, and they were gone recently just as I received a shipment of 2,700 books."
Several women from Ohio recently made a trip to the Sugar Shack to meet Black and have her sign her book. One member of the group noticed a sign about the book and the Sugar Shack on Route 5 while camping at KOA in Westfield. So, she and her husband stopped in to purchase the book. On the drive home the woman read the book and decided that she wanted to organize another trip with a group of five friends to visit the Sugar Shack again.
"After visiting they sent me a note that said, 'Gail, we all had a wonderful time at the Sugar Shack, and we will be talking about our trip for some time,'" Black said. "I also had a group come from Bradford. They couldn't afford to purchase the book. So, I gave them a proof copy of the book. They are planning another trip now because they read it. Getting wonderful feedback and visitors is beyond any money you could ever make."
The book has received numerous positive reviews on Amazon.com, where the first chapter is available for free. It was also endorsed by Bobbi Montgomery, co-author of "Across America By Bicycle," and Daniel O'Rourke, author of "The Spirit At Your Back" and "The Living Spirit."
The books and more are available at Vinewood Acres Sugar Shack, which is located at 7904 Route 5 in Westfield. For more information, call 326-3351 or visit sugarshack1.com.
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