Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

Caption This

So you’ve all noticed by now that the blog times and lengths and subjects are sliding all over the place. That’s because I’m writing a book, deadline for delivery Feb. 29, 2016. (Leap Year brought me an extra day!)

The subject is adoption and foster care in Appalachia, and it is a strange writing process this time. I love going back to my journalistic roots, but I’ve never had to be self-protective in writing before. The material is darkness and light in unexpected blotches of both, and you never know when you’re going to hit which. You just listen to the people telling their stories, and refuse to bundle things into patterns where they don’t belong. No square pegs forced into round holes to make us feel better about ourselves as humans.

And you keep a sense of humor about you. Which is why, in lieu of a lengthy angst-ridden blog post about writing Fall or Fly (the working title of the book) I am offering the following.

CAPTION THIS – winner gets three hand-crocheted dishcloths. Second place gets a kitten. :]

Let’s say deadline is Dec. 1, since I think that’s Tuesday coming and a lot of people will also visit for the Monday Book. If I can manage to post it on Monday this week. I’ve got a good one. But not as good as this photo. Have fun!

caption this! 011


Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Other Side of the Microphone

Jack’s weekly guest blog


DSCN1013Both Wendy and I have some experience of radio broadcasting; in my case that covers BBC Radio Scotland,  ‘Scene Around’ on Heartland fm in Scotland, and ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ on WETS fm out of Johnson City in Tennessee.

But when Wendy’s The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap was published we suddenly found ourselves on the other side of the microphone. Some of these interviews were on local NPR stations ahead of book signing events, others nationally syndicated shows like ‘Weekend Edition’. It was fascinating to see how other presenters worked and the studios were set up, from very relaxed and laid back to pretty frenetic.

Interviews get repeated from time-to-time and we don’t always know that will happen; messages or emails or phone calls from someone say they heard us as they were driving through some remote part of the country. Which is fun.

Even more fun is that for once we do know ahead of time. The widely broadcast NPR program ‘With Good Reason’ interviewed us in 2013, and it was probably the one we remember most fondly. Very relaxed and long enough to cover our road trip to small towns across America, seeking out bookstores and talking about our experiences with Little Bookstore.

‘With Good Reason’ is broadcast in many states at different times. Find your local listening time and station here: Where and When to Listen

Or, if you’d like to listen to it any time during the week. the podcast link is – Little Bookstore Nov. 28 – Dec. 4

We hope you enjoy listening – we had a lot of fun making the program!


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

You are Entering… the INDIE BOOKSTORE ZONE

A guest blog from Lyn Ford, Storyteller, who scared everybody out of their wits here on Friday night. It was a magnificent evening!

lynIn October, I often stand in candlelight and pumpkin light, moonlight and dimmed stage light, to tell frightening tales of experiences that never happened (well, most of them didn’t). I speak of love, death, relationships gone bad, strange children, the wrath of the undead—you know, your average, everyday topics of conversation. I am…wait for it…a storyteller.

I share stories in the twilight at the edges of graveyards, in haunted historic sites and moody park gazebos. But my favorite place to haunt is what the first-season monologue for the “Twilight Zone” television series calls “the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition…between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge…the dimension of imagination.” It is a place called…the independent bookstore.

Storytelling programs in independent bookstores hold a timeless, haunting energy, and the people who come to listen are ready for stories. The atmosphere can be greatly enhanced by the presence of a resident cat or two. And when the cat is named Edgar Alan Poe, well, that’s Haunt Heaven, honey.DSCN0999

I can now add to my résumé an evening spent as the guest storytelling spirit at Tales of The Lonesome Pine LLC Use Book Store. If you’re reading this blog, you may already know of the store and its owners, Wendy Welch and her husband/partner in music, story, and love, Jack Beck. But you might not know Edgar, the cat, or be aware of the occasional supper-and-stories events Wendy and Jack produce. At these special occasions, you enjoy good food and a friendly, conversational atmosphere in the café upstairs, after perusing the books and petting the lovely kitties ensconced in the bookstore downstairs.

If you’re in southwest Virginia, plan a visit. If you can’t get to Virginia, visit an independent bookstore in your area. Wandering through an independent book store is one of the best gifts you can offer yourself, especially in the season of “volumes of forgotten lore” (I’m quoting Poe the man, not Edgar the cat).   Creep through the titles among the shelves. Be shocked and amazed at the variety and value you will discover. In the crisp, cool air of October (or any other time of year), relish the warm and generous welcome of the store’s owners–they are truly happy to see you!

You’ll probably enter a different dimension of sight and sound, and stay a lot longer than you’d intended.

Lyn Ford,

visit Lyn’s website and see her books Hot Wind, Boiling Rain, Affrilachian Tales, and Beyond the Briar Patch here.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: EAT THE DOCUMENT by Dana Spiotta

EatTheDocumentWhen the front blurb of a book compares it to a cross between Joan Didion and Don DeLillo, I admit to thinking, “Nope, won’t like it.” (Call me a plebian; I’ve never been able to get into a DeLillo novel yet.)

But I started it anyway, and 96 pages later the book fell on my face because I’d dozed off trying to finish it before bed. Spiotta has an odd writing style. She tells the story by describing scenes and letting you figure out how the characters are feeling, almost like a screenplay writer. But her prose is compelling. And her characters drive the plot in magnificent ways. I’m a sucker for well-drawn characters.

It’s not just another tiresome sixties novel; it’s got pep and zest and less moral certitude and condescension than others of the genre; the female protagonist is in hiding, and it is her fifteen-year-old son who finally figures it out. Her boyfriend at the time of their criminal troubles is equally well-drawn, and a sympathetic character in ways her stiffness holds back for this reader. If you like character studies and subtle writing, this is your book.

If you like fast pacing, you may not like this novel. It’s a jumble of words, action/inaction, and ideas, and I finished it in two sittings. For me, the book was more about the action and what happens next than the way the author wrote; the words didn’t get in the way of the outcomes and how the characters were reacting to each other. Which I love in an author; poetry is fine, but don’t spend all your time proving you’re clever. Just tell the story and let your characters take over. Which Spiotta did, with bells on.

An enthusiastic two paws up for Eat the Document.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

Jack does NOT look like Statler OR Waldorf…. no, really……

Jack’s weekly guest blog

We switched from a reliable but slow Verizon phone and internet service to a fast but unknown Comcast service a few months ago. When it works it’s great, but this morning seriously tested my forgiving Quakerish tendencies!

Starting with a phone call from our good friend Jennifer Cutting and leader of The Ocean Band (one of the headliners at Big Stone Celtic in a few weeks) which ended up being carried on over 5 interrupted calls. Then a long standing customer came in to make various orders on-line with ABE Books and that turned into a long and much interrupted process as well !

The blasted router kept switching itself off and on again as if it had a bit-part in ‘The I.T. Crowd’ and causing serious delays in all our work. Of course people phone in orders and reservations to The Second Story Cafe and almost certainly Kelley had as many problems as me.

But I can remember when my family in Scotland were unusual in having a phone at all and no-one except a science fiction writer would have imagined the Internet. Now here we are and we have become dependent on technology. It’s mostly technology we don’t understand and can’t repair – I can also remember when you didn’t have to plug your car into a computer to find out what was wrong with it.

Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon! Or maybe these two muppets had it right!

Statler and Waldorf discover computers

Oliver and JackHey wait, how did that picture get there? We don’t look anything like Statler and Waldorf……



Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

In which Bookseller Wendy revitalizes her inner Chair Nerd

asheville river artAsheville, NC has been our go-to getaway since moving to Virginia nine years ago. It’s the Paris of the South, Bohemia of the Bible Belt, and home to a lot of really good artisans.

As often as we’d been there, we’d never managed to explore wider than downtown, so this time we snagged a clean, cheap hotel at its edge (DOWNTOWN INN, highly recommended, gorgeous pool!) and hopped a asheville pooltourist trolley. It is a good deal, taking you to things you’d not realize were unique without their stories– like the amazing Asheville McDonald’s, sixth wonder of the Fast Food World; or the site where Zelda Fitzgerald met her untimely, unnecessary end. As an added bonus, the woman staffing the site whence we hopped on was just lovely, teaching herself to knit, had an anthropology background, a long-time resident of Asheville talking about its history and future.

We enjoyed the trolley, particularly our driver Storyteller Michael (who loved being Storyteller Michael) but it was the River Arts District we really wanted to explore, our first day. Off we hopped, and spent the next three hours running around conversing with artists and gallery owners. The woman at the glass shop talked about downtown Asheville’s gentrification pushing out the locals. The lady who made animal portraits out of fabric pieces had escaped the mall attack in Mogadishu. A guy doing binary code paintings discussed asheville doorstopraising artistic children in a city that ate money.

It’s one of the many cool things about Asheville. They’re not just raking in tourists; almost everyone is quite happy to converse with you about what they’re doing, and why, and how long they’ve been doing it. Artists, wait staff (who are often artists, too) hotel clerks. People have not lost the art of conversation here, at least not in the off-season.

Even at lunch, when we sat down outside at White Duck Taco, conversations kept rolling. As we had the only table with spare seating, a man asked if he and his son could join us. Turns out his son was at university in Edinburgh, so we had a grand old time.

Then we walked – and let me tell you, if you really want to explore all the River Asheville chain manArts District, you need to bring a car – down to another section, and randomly up to a building that sported the sign, “Chair caning to the left.”


For those who don’t know, I am a chair caning nerd. I LOVE caning chairs – don’t get to do it that often, what with bookstore operations and writing and cat rescue and the college, but it has some serious zen. And scope for artistry. And when you’re done, a lasting effect on the comfort and vibe of your home.

So around the corner I raced, and entered heaven. A whole loft dedicated to the artistic building, repair, and enhancement of chairs. Chairs with paper rush, chairs with sea grass, chairs with Shaker tape, oak splints…. *blissful sigh.*

asheville chair display(Sorry, nerd moment.)

And the best part? Well, two best parts. The woman who owns the place said hi, I asked her a question about a caning pattern, and her eyes lit.

“You cane?” she asked, and I was off, talking about the garage Jack enclosed for me, the rockers, the checkerboard seats, the 3-5 chevrons…..

You could see it on her forehead: I got a live one here!asheville chairs

She left the work she’d been doing and showed me a display of all the types of seat pattern and common materials used in America. We talked about which designs, though beautiful, would be less functional than the ol’ stalwarts, discussed lace weaves versus sturdy rush doubles. We talked the kind of talk that would make non-nerds’ eyes roll back into their heads. Some time later – was it ten minutes or thirty – I realized Jack had disappeared.

Brandy, the owner, showed me the antique chairs, the unusual caning someone had done to a ladder back rocker, and a few other things that set my heart racing, before we shook hands and said goodbye. She’s going to try and make a trip to the bookstore sometime next year, and if she does we’ll try to set up a special event, something along the lines of “Intro to chair caning for normal people.”

Not nerds like us. Brandy gifted me a “chair nerd” sticker which is now proudly displayed on the bookshop door. And that was how I found a little piece of heaven in Asheville.

Click to visit Silver River Chairs and meet Dave, Brandy, and Rosie the chair dog.

Silver-River-Staff-thumbnail-Brandy(And if you want to get a trolley next time you’re Asheville way, it’s


Filed under Big Stone Gap, crafting, folklore and ethnography, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA

Rewrite a Classic Title Game

DSCN0018Some friends and I on a bookstore owner list were playing with classic titles, rewriting them to reflect the realities of running a bookshop. Here are a few we came up with:

Oh the Places You’ll Dust

Farewell my Harlequins (please!)

The Old Man and the C Shelf

Bonfire of the Vanity Presses

The Optimist’s Slaughter

Go Set a Watch (for those unfamiliar, timing the moment your front door can close so you can go to a party/go to bed early is one of the big joys of small business ownership)

How to Make Friends and Influence People’s Reading Habits

And we actually found a few titles that needed no alteration:

The Hunger Games

The Friendly Persuasion

Odd Hours

Yeah, you kind of have to be a literary snob, or worked retail, to get some of them. Please add your titles in comments. It’s kind of addictive once you get started….

Think and Grow Poor

The Thorn Books (those by authors whose star has faded; think about it)

The Cuckoo Flew Over One’s Nest (because you do kinda have to be crazy to do this)

To Kill a Mocking Teen

The Devil Wears Too Much Perfume (for all who’ve ever been choked by a customer)

Along Came a Spiderweb

Two Years before I went Bankrupt

The Battle of the Bookshelf Labyrinth

A Farewell to Free Time

A Prayer for All the Meanies (if you’ve ever worked retail….)

Come on, you know you want to make up a few…


Filed under bad writing, between books, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table