Don’t Look Down….

garg_grimstonchurchtower28_1aJack tackles the topic of stress in this week’s guest blog.

When things get a bit fraught around the bookstore, such as when yet another unexpected litter of kittens appears, or we discover a leak under the water heater (Chef Kelley joke there) I only have to think back a few years to put it all into perspective.

Years ago I was an apprentice painter and decorator in my Dad’s business. Being the boss’s son, I was usually the one to be called on to do the particularly mucky or scary jobs–such as painting the drain pipe running from top to bottom of the bell tower on an old church in Kinross–full height of the pipe about 50 feet, starting more than 200 feet off the ground. On its way down the pipe passed about a foot away from the louvers where the sound of the bells issued.

The trickiest job was of course put off until it was the last thing left, so finally it just had to be done. We assembled our longest three-part wooden ladder with ropes and pulleys that weighed a ton, only to discover it didn’t even reach the bottom of the aforementioned louvers. Nothing daunted, we lashed an extra length of ladder onto the three-parter and that did just get to those pesky sound emitters.

Feeling a little nervous I looked to my two older workmates and realized they were making no moves towards the ladder(s). Sizing up the situation my Dad put his foot on the first rung getting set to put everyone to shame. “Hang on,” I said (after all he was approaching retirement). “I’ll do it.”

So, up I went until the ladder bent in so far, hardly and room remained for my toes against the wall. Still couldn’t reach the whole pipe. Down I came and tied the brush to a length of scrap wood and ascended once more. That got the pipe painted from the ground to about 1/3 of the way up, past the bottom of the louvers.

Pondering on how we’d get the rest done I followed my Dad as he entered the tower and climbed up the stairway until we emerged on the roof, carrying the paint pot and the brush still attached to the scrap wood.  We managed the middle next to those blasted louvers; I put my arm out of the nearest opening to the pipe (which I couldn’t see from inside) while my colleagues shouted instructions from the ground – “left a bit, right a bit, up a bit, down a bit.”

That still left the top of the pipe, just below the battlements. I looked over at my dad. He was looking at me in a speculative way, rubbing his chin. A horrible thought struck me….

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found myself shortly afterwards dangling upside down outside the tower between two battlements with my Dad holding my ankles while I stretched as far as I could with the extended brush.

Once you’ve been suspended upside down 50 feet off the ground by your ankles, there’s not much that happens in a bookstore that can faze you. I remind myself of this as I play with our new foster kittens.

Epilogue: Years later Wendy and I were visiting my elderly Mum and sharing stories about my by-then- deceased Dad. I was certain she would never have known about the Church tower, but I had hardy started when she began chuckling. “I knew about that before you got home, Son. Don’t think I didn’t speak to your father about it, either!” Her chuckle erupted into laughter. Let that be a lesson to you; don’t think your Momma don’t know!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, writing

The Monday Book: THE SILVER TATTOO by Laura Treacy Bentley

tattooDark literary thrillers are not my thing; I got this book in the post from the author who requested consideration for the Monday Book. We like to support regional authors (and she’s in WV) so while prepared to be optimistic, I worried I’d not have much to say about it.

But I totally loved Bentley’s writing. She has a great way with details and scene-setting. Her characters are not driving the plot; the plot drives the plot, specifically the psychotic weirdness of the stalker after her protagonist Leah. Bentley paints the slow, steady suspenseful rise with increasing depictions of violence or madness that pretty much verge on poetic. In the background hover tributes to Irish folklore that add nice atmosphere.

Bentley’s writing reminds me of two fantasy authorities: Ray Bradbury (one of her writing heroes, so it stands to reason) and Stephen King. She has that playful sense of poetry that Bradbury has, and like King she eschews explanation and too-obvious depictions of what’s going on inside the person’s head– a la King’s “he did it because he did it” writing.

This is a scene-by-scene book, and some of the scenes are quite intense. If you like plots that are less twist-and-turn than finely drawn, if you like to figure out for yourself why someone is behaving as they are,  or if you like Irish mythology, you’re going to love The Silver Tattoo.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

A Sad Cautionary Tail–er, Tale…..

Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as by the latter. –Paxton Hood

This guest blog was written by some of Wendy’s close friends, who appeal to all of you out there for help.

You all know that Wendy and Jack rescue cats in their bookstore. And most of you who read the blog regularly or keep up with Tales of the Lonesome Pine/Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap on Facebook will know that they recently passed 100 cat adoptions from their fine facility.

Yes. Huzzah. In fact, they are now up to 108, because last week brought an unprecedented six adoptions. Double huzzah.

But amidst the celebration we who love them must pause to consider the wisdom of the quotation above–and that all that time spent with the feline population has had an effect on Wendy. As her friends, we are …. concerned. Wendy has always been a big crocheter, so when she turned her needle art to the purpose of paying for feral and foster spays and neuters, we thought it an excellent plan.

Now, we’re not so sure….. see for yourself.

wendy cat scarf

We just worry that maybe, somewhere, things have gotten the wee bit out of hand? What can we do to help her?

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading

The Music in Me – and in our Bookstore

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Swann2For all the musical events we hold here in our bookstore and the larger community, I had no interest in music until I was around 14 or 15. On what I seem to remember was the last family vacation, to Morecambe in Lancashire, I went to the fairground where they played music over speakers around the site.

That’s where I first heard Buddy Holly and the Crickets, and my life was forever changed.

From Holly, I became besotted with jazz – everything from New Orleans style to Miles Davis and Gerry Mulligan. That led to skiffle, epitomized by Lonny Donegan who influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to the Rolling Stones.

From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the discovery of my own indigenous traditional music in Scotland: ballads, folk songs and, somewhat later, the reels, jigs and strathspeys.

A dear old friend (hat tip to Davy Lockhart) once said that joining the music group ‘Heritage’ saved his sanity and his life. He and I played in that band throughout the ’80s and ’90s (with some modicum of professional success, I might add) and when I look back I can see what he meant. For the 25 years that I was a professor in my hometown college, music  provided a ‘bolt hole’, a place apart, something completely different. A “third space,” if you will.

Music has taken me to strange and exotic places I’d never have had any reason to visit otherwise, and introduced me to a history and political geography I’d never have known. I experienced wonderful food and made many good friends all over the world.

And it brought me to America, where I met Wendy and began a whole new life.

Here I sit, in Big Stone Gap, still immersed in music – helping to organize an annual festival, presenting a weekly radio show, running a bookstore that holds regular ‘house-concerts’ and still teaching and performing.

I continue to be amazed that a few musical notes, a bunch of wood and strings and a couple of vibrating vocal chords could have so shaped my life!

For some of Jack’s musical insights and to hear him in company with Dolly Parton, Pete Seeger and Doc Watson among others, pick up a copy of ‘Wayfaring Strangers’ (book and CD) from UNC Press.

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The Monday Book: WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE by Shirley Jackson

WeHaveAlwaysLivedInTheCastle“A pretty sight, a lady with a book.” –Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

The problem with being a big reader in school is that by the time you get to classes where the teacher is passing out big books (or even big concept stories) you’ve seen that theme/archetype/trope/chestnut already in something else.

Our high school English teacher made us read “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, for Halloween. Lame. And old hat. Ursula LeGuin in “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” or even Tam Lin and the sacrifice to Hell were better deals.

So when I picked up Jackson’s Castle, I wasn’t expecting much.

That’s how the best things happen.

Aside from first learning of the wonderful name MerriCat for Mary Katherine, this is the book that teaches many writers about untrustworthy narrators. The story is basically two sisters, MerriCat and Constance, living alone in an old house, young girls, and slowly but surely you come to find out why. And then everything goes to Hell on the point of a knife, but it’s a good ride. Here’s another quote, just to give you an idea:

“My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

Yeah, she’s a beaut, that Merricat. Jackson’s writing style is so cheerfully prosaic as she pushes out lines of such blood-curdling creepiness, you think, “Who WRITES like this?” For instance, when MerriCat idly comments: “I wonder if I could eat a child if I had the chance.’ ‘I doubt if I could cook one,’ said Constance.”

If you want a post-Halloween scare, read this atmospheric, quirky, Poe-as-a-woman-with-a-semblance-of-feminine-understanding masterpiece.

If you read it before bed, you might want to leave the light on. And stop taking sugar in your tea.

Why this book this week: I read this book years ago, and picked it up again when some bookseller friends and I were discussing online what we were currently reading.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Downton Abbey, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Shut Up, Voices

innercriticI’m not someone who normally struggles with writing. Making the writing good, that’s different, but producing the words on paper, nope. I was a journalist in my early career, and if there’s one thing such a program of study beats out of you, it’s the whole “tortured artist” game.

We weren’t allowed to have writers block. Words would come or you would go. Journalism is also great training for book writing because it keeps you from feeling you’re saving the world. You are producing infotainment, setting it down for people to read, and tomorrow you’ll do it again, when today’s words are carrying out the coffee grounds or scooping puppy poop. Words is words; even though they can ignite, there are a million more behind where those came from.

In other words, don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t for one minute believe you’re the reason the earth can heal, now that you’re here.

So I’ve never struggled with getting a rough draft down. Until now. For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on just setting out the basics of a story. The whole while, my inner critic has been howling like a banshee, tearing like a panther, raging like a stuck bull.

Usually I’m pretty good at turning off those voices, sotto voice just beneath the surface of creativity: “This is crap; you don’t know what you’re doing; ‘you have made the mistake of thinking everything that happens to you is interesting’ ” (a succinct and heart-sinking sentence sent to Anne Lamott in a rejection letter). As Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.” I always adhered to that.

Yet it seems lately as though each finger is burdened with a ghost, clinging as I type, all muttering a non-stop cacophony through which every word can be clearly heard: “You can’t do it. You can’t write any more. This is boring. This is bad grammar. This is bad writing. You are bad.” Tiny little ghosts, grinning an evil grin, unrelenting.

Shut up, I tell them; shut up. I would like to say that, with each word that fights its way out from under the babble, their voices diminish. But they don’t.

So, if this is the new phase of writing I’m entering, the “fight for your life” phase, one might call it, so be it. Eventually the shrieking voices will have to give up out of sheer boredom, I suppose, from being ignored.

But gol-amighty, I wish I knew where they came from so I could send them back there. I’m busy, here, and they’re taking up energy.

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Filed under bad writing, between books, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

About that Hardanger Fiddle Thing….

joe coolA friend recently said to me, “Wendy, how can you be so cool and not cool at the same time?” Being of an analytical persuasion of mind, I had to figure it out. Here are my best guesses as to why it’s true: I’m not really cool.

1) Cotton trousers with elasticized waistbands and big floppy sweaters – I like and wear them. Especially when I’m writing, because they are so comfortable to sit in. And let’s face it, writing is a whooooooole lotta sitting. But then I get up to say hi to customers, or do housekeeping stuff, or make a quick run to the grocery, and people look at me like “Oh honey, where’s your carer?”

2) All you need to take me down is a Hardanger fiddle. Back in my youth,  friends who knew me well were astonished to discover I was dating the guitar player instead of the guy doing Hardanger. (But then they met Jack, and understood.) Still, to this day when I hear a good prairie fiddle going, forget the wine and flowers; you won’t need jewelry. Play Hardanger and you will have to beat me off with a bodhran stick. Which you will want to do, given that I’m in a baggy sweater and elastic waistband trousers.

3) I rescue cats. Yeah, say crazy cat lady. Say it again, a little closer…

4) Four days in seven, my hair winds up in a bun. (Go ahead: laugh. I’ll wait.) I like having long hair, but it’s not practical in a bookstore. If you’ve ever caught your long, swinging loose hair between two books just as you’re stacking them in a large group on a shelf – well, you know what a life-changing experience that can be. Not to mention neck-snapping. So, I wear my hair in a bun. Although I have learned never, ever to wear a blue jeans skirt and trainers. It doesn’t matter how swoopy your earrings are, how big and bold your watch; people will glance over, assume “Church of God,” and you will never get out of that labeled bottle again.

5) My favorite number to hear men sing along to is The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles. Lightly inebriated guys trying to bellow “DA-DA-DAT-DAHHHHH” in sync and with some resemblance to an established key–ah me, is there anything cuter? Especially if they’re singing to some girl sitting with them. Ah, sweetness. (BTW I have never been to a karaoke bar. These displays were at festivals.)

6) And the kiss of death: I use the word “cool” in casual conversation. :]

Not cool, but still havin’ fun –  I think I’ll get that put on a t-shirt.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Wendy Welch, writing