The Wednesday Book Deal (or: why writing is like mining)

mine entranceMany of you have noticed that “the bookstore blog” has been the wee bit irregular this last month. It’s a combo of two things: the Celtic Festival, which we are wrapping up after its very successful 8th annual permutation Sept. 27-28; and the final “throws” of a book deal.

May 2017 will see Fall or Fly from Swallow Press. It is about adoption and foster care children in the Coalfields, and holds two things I love most about writing, plus one I never experienced before and hate (or perhaps fear).

On the one hand, my journalistic roots show when I write about people, and I absolutely love listening to others tell their life stories. They’re fascinating; people are so cool when they’re not pro tellers but are just telling what they know. It is my favorite part of any writing I’ve ever done.

But, to use a metaphor, writing in this instance is like coal mining. It’s dark, and from the entrance comes an unwelcoming smell of decay. Brave people secretly telling me their stories are the guides, lights that shine in the unhuman, inhospitable environment. They are resilient, these storytellers.

Especially the young’uns who came up through this system. With some of the least opportunity to be so, they emerge from all that pressure shining as diamonds: rock-solid, dependable human beings.

One day, after the bookstore Cafe had closed, I spent two hours talking with one person embroiled in the foster care system. When we came downstairs, Jack said the storyteller seemed “ten years younger” while “you looked as though the whole world had settled between your shoulder blades.”

For all that, they’re amazing stories, amazing people, and I’m so pleased to be writing this book. It will be smaller, more intimate than Little Bookstore. (And yes, for those of you asking, a cat book is in line, but Fall or Fly will be first.)

So deep breath, and here we go, diving deep. It’s a wonderful thing – only this time it’s in a dark pool inside a mine with just a few lights. Scary, but the words will come and make the way to get out of the dark places. And that makes everything worth it, because that’s the second part of writing I love: say what you mean, mean what you say. Find the words to tell the stories that need to be told, that other people will feel validated, empowered, even challenged to hear.

Is there anything more satisfying?

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

Should Auld Aquaintance – – –

A guest post from Jack on a special occasion –

It’s just a year since our beloved Valkyttie passed over the rainbow bridge and we can begin now to celebrate her more memorable escapades without breaking into tears.

Val-Kyttie surveys her domain...

Val-Kyttie surveys her domain…

For newer readers Val was our venerable bookstore cat/manager and was age 19 when she died. She began her life as a tiny abandoned kitten in the Leith cat and dog home in Scotland and we adopted her as soon as Wendy arrived in my homeland (as promised; I bribed her to marry me with early promises of kittens).

Val got her name because she was feisty (the valkyries were warrior princesses), but I wanted to be able to call her ‘Kittie’ for short. She displayed her bravery starting in her sixth week of life, by seeing off a local tom (ten times her size) who tried to use our yard as a shortcut. A seasoned traveler she moved effortlessly from Fife to Lancashire, then across the Atlantic to the US. Everywhere she lived, she established as her undisputed domain and took full charge.

When ‘The Little Bookstore’ was published we insisted she appear on the cover and the artist, a cat lover, obliged; she is sitting on the roof of our front porch. When the publishers of the large print edition asked for a photo for that front cover, we gave them a picture our friend Elissa took of Our Matriarch in full managerial mode, surrounded by bookshelves. Whether by accident or design, the Polish, Portuguese and Korean editions all have her hiding somewhere on their covers. Of course that means she garnered many new friends all over the world, while many of her less distant fans asked specially to meet her when they visited the bookstore.

During the last couple of years of her life, she had to put up with a continual stream of foster kittens. She could be quite stern with them, yet displayed grandmotherly traits with the more wayward ones.

Just yesterday our good chef Kelley made bacon and eggs for my breakfast and I found myself automatically moving to a less accessible corner to eat it. I realized that I was remembering that Valkyttie always noisily insisted on her share of the bacon.

When we lived in the tiny rural village of New Gilston in Fife she would always accompany us when we walked along our favorite woodland trail. In January I was in Scotland for the funeral of a friend and scattered Val’s ashes among those same trees.

That’s when I shed my tears. Now we just think of the happy times. Every cat is special, but once in awhile, a special x ten cat comes along. Valkyttie was special x 100.

And now she lives on; a friend of Wendy’s got ‘hold of another cracker of a photo Elissa took, and Valkyttie’s message will never die.

Valkyttie antiquated bookstores meme valkyttie bookstore meme Valkyttie meme


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Dorian Grey, Kitten of Erudition, Speaks

DorianGood afternoon. I am Dorian Grey the Kitten. No doubt you’ve heard of me.

For those who missed the major news stories, I was in a litter of four kittens and their mother pulled from the shelter by a kind rescuer named Julie Winston. Ms. Winston asked The Bookstore to take me in. That’s how we call it in cat circles; it’s taken on the mythical proportions of Shangri-La or El Dorado. By the time she had a “yes” it was too late to pick us up that weekend. However, it did save our lives, as we were excused from the Friday cull. Thank you, Ms. Winston.

May I state for the record how disappointed I am in Mom’s former “owner,” who dumped us all in the shelter because we were “too much to take care of.” Hmmph. If one is going to be so irresponsible as to not spay a “beloved” pet, the least one can do is own the problem so created. Namely, ME. Yes, I realize spaying Mom would’ve resulted in me not being here, but let me tell you, as poster child for the unwanted offspring of household pets, the shelter is no place for newborns.

By the time we left on Monday we were all sick as dogs. The shelter staff lady works hard—she was the one who made sure the rescuers knew we were in there—but it’s too much for one person to keep the place disinfected. The vet we went to told the Bookstore Lady I would likely die, but she could save my sisters and brother.

Bookstore Lady took me home. I don’t remember very much about that, as I wasn’t feeling at all well. But I remember when she gave me goat milk in a syringe; I was so hungry I practically jerked the thing out of her hand! The lady that makes desserts for the Café in The Bookstore came downstairs and saw me eating. She likes to care for kittens at night because she doesn’t sleep much, so she took me home and fed me every two hours. She saved my life – the third human that day to do so!

DoriNow, as you can see, I am the very picture of health and vitality. And adorability, if I do say so myself. Also, I’ve been adopted by a nice lady named Maeve who is collecting me Monday. I still have a few meds to finish up before leaving, plus I weigh .7 and everybody wants me to weigh a pound before I go. I have no objections.

My sisters and brother are still at The Bookstore; they’re not as cute as me, but even so they need homes. Mom is in Hospital getting her hysterectomy, and then she’ll be looking for a place as well. She won’t ever have to go through that shelter thing again, trying to keep babies and herself alive with so little hope.

I’d like all you humans to be responsible for your pets, so they don’t end up sick and scared and starving like me. Because who would want to live in a world without cuteness?

Thank you. You may go now.


Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Post-Festival Exhaustion

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know we didn’t put up a blog Wednesday or Friday, and now we’re reneging on THE MONDAY BOOK! We’re sorry, but frankly, folks, it was quite the BIG STONE CELTIC DAY festival this year!

So could I entice you to hop over to the BIG STONE CELTIC DAY page on Facebook (that link is gonna take you to my page, but you can jump from there or scroll down past the latest rescue cats to see the videos) and consider, instead of a Monday book, a Monday sheepdog expo, a Monday bagpipe band, a Monday parade of cool people happy to be doing something fun, a Monday series of musical videos from various festival venues, and a Monday post-festival happy exhausted vibe from Jack, me, and the bookstore cats?

Foster kitty Prospero pretty much summed up our mutual positions on Sunday. He spent the whole weekend being cuddled and carried around the shop by cooing strangers speaking in baby talk. It’s hard work. (And we promise to come out strong with blog posts again starting Wednesday. We’re just kinda… knackered right now.

baby 4

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: THE SUPREMES AT EARL’S ALL YOU CAN EAT by Edward Kelsey Moore

earl'sI read this book while at the On the Same Page Literary Festival in West Jefferson, NC. Five of us were featured alongside Edward Kelsey Moore as festival headliner, and he was FUNNYYYY!!!! His talk Thursday night not only held good writing advice, but a very humanitarian approach to life.

Which shows in his novel. Men rarely write such sure-voiced women, but he’s got the sassy, the scared, the secure and insecure down. His book is the kind of funny where you’re laughing until you’re crying, but then maybe you’re crying because you know the feeling the characters (Odette, Barbara Jean, and Clarice) are experiencing.

The voices of these best friends are so accurate, both in gender and in dialect. Take this little gem: “Something Mama liked to say: “I love Jesus, but some of his representatives sure make my ass tired.”

Yeah, this book is irreverent. As the women struggle with Big Issues like cancer, infidelity, and a few other lesser details, they clean up, lay down laws, and pretty much rock and rule. And come out with some humdingers along the way, like when Odette clear-headedly assesses why she’s cooking herself into a lather:

“Our annual January get-together was a long-running tradition, going back to the first year of our marriage. The truth, even though he denies this, is that the first party was an attempt by James to prove to his friends that I wasn’t as bad a choice of a mate as I seemed. Richmond and Ramsey—and others, most likely—had warned James that a big-mouthed, hot-tempered woman like me could never be properly tamed. But James was determined to show them that I could, on occasion, be as domestic and wifely as any other woman. I suspect he’s still trying to convince them.”

Knowing I’d be reviewing it, the phrase that kept asserting itself as I read was “life-affirming.” Or maybe that’s just a hyphenated word. Anyway, it’s an accurate description of what on the surface might be considered “latte lit” yet runs so much deeper than its genre. Like the author Lorna Landvik and a few others, Moore is a careful consumer of humanity (it was fun watching him watch people at the funder’s breakfast) with a kind-hearted approach to how the world works. It shows in his writing.

Two enthusiastic coffee mugs up for this sweet, fun, thoughtful read.


Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Naming of Cats is a Difficult Matter…….

For your pleasure and edification, this weekend’s blog is word for word an online conversation between Our Good Chef Kelley, Saint Beth the Vet, and me. Here’s the background: Our Good Chef Kelley likes to name some of the foster cats, and we told her next time they came around, she could do so. After being foster-free for 12 hours, we agreed to take in kittens from three different rescuers – a momma and three babies from the shelter immediately, and two sets of three feral kittens from two rescuers trying to trap them, as and when they managed to. Plus one male cat from a lady who was getting drop-offs at her house and couldn’t afford to neuter him amongst all her girl cat pets (not spayed). All of them were to go to Dr. Beth before coming here, to get checked out.

You can guess what happened, can’t you? No sooner had the shelter cats arrived than the feral trappers informed me they’d caught the kitties and the lady with the drop off dropped him off. Beth went from 0 to 9 Bookstore cats in the space of an hour. We can pick up the thread from there as Beth tries to talk Kelley through the naming process.

  • Beth (2:38 pm): We have a Female torrid and Black male Grey who thinks he is badass

     That is tortie not torrid
     and an orange long hair male

    Then we have the sickly ones. Grey female Orange make and tortie female

    All need names

    And the little sick runt Erin has, that Wendy took this afternoon.

    Kelley (2:42 pm): Mom = Berenice Dilute tortie = Morella Orange male = Prospero Gray tabby = Montressor

    It is Edgar Allan Poe time smile emoticon

    I don’t wanna name the sick one till I know he is gonna make it

     Beth (2:43 pm): That’s the one I’m not sure of sex either

     baby 2

    Kelley (2:45 pm): Wait hang on. There is a black male too?

    Beth (2:45 pm): Yes

    Kelley (2:45 pm): So mama and five kittens?

    Beth : 6

    Kelley (2:46 pm): One mama, six kittens?

    Beth (2:46 pm): Plus the sick one

    Kelley (2:46 pm): So plus the sick one, 1 mama and seven babies?

    Beth (2:46 pm): Yes

     And orange boy

    baby 1Kelley (2;54): 1. Mom 2. Black male 3. Orange male 4. Dilute tortie 5. Gray male tabby 6. Gray male? tabby with Erin 7. ? 8. ?

  • Beth (2;55 pm): Another tortie kitten and adult male orange and grey male solid

Kelley (2:55 pm): Ok so all of these do not belong to the mama?

  • Beth (2:56 pm) : Nope

    Kelley (3:10 pm) : I’m so confused. Sorry. Are there 9 total?

    Beth (3:11 pm) : Yes if u count Erin’s

    I’m not helping. I’m brain dead

    Kelley (3:12 pm) : Ok gotcha

    Is OK Wendy didn’t tell me about all of the others

    Mom = Berenice Dilute tortie = Morella Orange male = Prospero Gray tabby = Montressor Black male = Pluto Tortie 2 = Annabel

    Who am I missing?

    Other than the sick one. I am missing 2

    Beth (3:15 pm) : Adult orange male and kitten orange male

     So which one is prospero

    Kelley (3:16 pm) : Is there a sickly orange kitten and a well orange kitten?

    Beth (3:17 pm) : Sick orange and healthy adult

    And grey bad assbaby 3

  • Kelley (3:34 pm):

    Confused again. I named an orange kitten Prospero. Is there another orange kitten or just an adult orange?

    Beth (3:35 pm): Adult

    Kelley (3:36 pm) : Healthy adult orange = Luchesi (loo-kasey)

    Ok so that is everyone but badass gray?

    Is the solid gray male the badass?

    Beth (3:37 pm) : He certainly thinks so

    Kelley (3:38 pm): The only one I haven’t named is the solid gray

    Let’s call the badass Montressor and the tabby boy can be Valdemar

    And that should be everyone except sick baby. Right?

    Wendy (3:40 pm): Y’all are so cute

    Kelley (3:40 pm) : Ok cool. ROFL. Wendy I didn’t know there were so many! Hehehe

  • Wendy (3:41 pm): Neither does Jack.

    They’re coming in groups of 3

    The rest are hanging with Auntie Beth awhile

     He’ll never know how many there are if they come in clumps.
    So now you know, gentle readers: neither the life nor the online presence of a rescuer is ever dull.
    baby 4


Filed under animal rescue, bad writing, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Retire and Move to America, They Said. It’ll be Fun, They Said.

DSCN1410It’s not that Jack feels sorry for himself; it’s just that he’s got a lot to do…..

As a semi-pro Scottish folk singer I used to do two or three gigs per week, touring around Europe and the US , as well as helping to run folksong clubs and festivals. When I retired and moved to the US permanently, and then we opened a bookstore,  I thought to myself, Ah, this will be the life! The gentleman scholar in comfy sweater, spectacles perched on my nose, a cat or two purring in the background as I putter about the shop, perhaps even time enough to get back into my hobby of model airplane building ….could it get any more relaxing?

And God said “HA!”

Here’s my typical schedule now –

Annual tour of Scotland (; weekly Celtic music program on and (; annual Celtic music festival (; regular house concerts and events in the bookstore; regular book festivals all over the US with Wendy. Total per year: 30 average. Some of them here, some of them there and everywhere….

We’ve just come back from emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, as we have for the last eight years. It’s a real labor-of-love for us, plus we get to hear great music, see old friends and dip our toes into someone else’s last minute panics! It’s also a terrific way of getting us into the mood for BIG STONE CELTIC CROSSROADS which is two weeks later.

Now we are about to head to West Jefferson North Carolina for their annual book festival, then we have Big Stone Celtic. After a brief hiatus we have Wendy’s annual health conference ‘Head for the Hills’ at the glorious Breaks Park, then presentations to Lee High School students, a storytelling event with our old friend Lyn Ford, a bookstore concert here with the fabulous fiddle player Jamie Laval, another bookstore concert with musicians Ron Short and Willie Dodson, an author event with Willie Dalton (don’t confuse author Willie Dalton with musician Willie Dodson; she’s blond and willowy, he’s bearded and brings a banjo) and yet another shop concert with my Scots fiddle playing buddy Pete Clark. That moves us effortlessly (hah!) into Christmas – which we will spend in Dublin, Ireland with friends – who will make no demands on me whatsoever – – -right, David and Susan?????

Maybe I should go back to being an itinerant folk singer – the hours were easier and I got more sleep.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA