Category Archives: small town USA

We’re Still Having Fun

Jack’s weekly guest blog

Wendy and I often have conversations on Facebook with other owners of small independent bookstores – usually about how to drive more customers through the door. The trouble is that every bookstore is unique in some way, be that the character of the owners, the geographical position of the shop, the demographic of the local population, etc, etc.

Our own strategies have been many and varied and some are detailed in ‘The Little Bookstore’. They have ranged from the early days of me handing out flyers outside the local Super-Wallie to running community events in the store. Flyers are good when you’re getting established. Community events are good for two reasons – publicity and bringing in new folk who might become regular customers.

This is where local circumstances come into play; Wendy and I live in the same building as the bookstore so it’s no biggie for us to run events. It might not be so easy for others.

We are currently running a ‘give-away’ competition for boxes of children’s and young adult books aimed at the local schools. This is partly because we simply have too many, but also to help raise awareness among school staff, parents and students that we are here and our children’s books are cheap even when you have to buy them.

We have also found that opening a cafe created spin-off business between the two. Of course that means finding the space, meeting health inspection rules (GOATS!), and identifying someone with the skills and personality with whom you can comfortably work, etc, etc. We were very lucky to find Our Good Chef Kelley as a partner!

Finally, it certainly helps to write and have published a best-selling memoir all about your bookstore. That has brought lots of people from around the country (and abroad) to visit us who generally don’t leave without buying books and eating lunch. As I write this a couple from Fairfax sit upstairs in the cafe; they drove all the way here because of the book. They have a book club who all read Wendy’s book and are talking about a group visit. That would certainly involve an overnight stay, so additional business for the town as well.

And after finally (well, a post-script then) it pays to have fun. Enjoy what you’re doing, and you’ll never work a day in your life. :]

 

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

Ye Fairly Get Ma Goat Jack!

Murder 2015 006Jack’s weekly guest blog tackles the Goat-Scape Scandal….. Alert readers will know that we have been finding new homes for orphaned kittens and abandoned cats for a couple of years or more, about 120 at the last count–kittens/cats, not years. Because we have a cafe upstairs we are very careful to make sure there is no contact between them, with elaborate security arrangements including secret passwords, handshakes and iris cameras. But, mainly, a very strongly sprung (and high) gate.

Despite this there have been Chinese whispers at certain lower echelons around our small town suggesting that we were really a ‘cat cafe’ – something viewed with approval in many developed Western Democracies, including parts of the US of A, but not Virginia. (Google the term if you want to read some fascinating strangeness.) Now you hear it straight from the goatkeeper’s mouth: No bodily fluids, far less cats or kittens, are exchanged between the bookstore and the cafe.

Having established that beyond doubt, I return to the fact that the bookstore rescues cats. So it’s not uncommon for me to see someone struggling up our front steps with a pulsating cardboard box and a hopeful expression. I refer to these people as “fur blackmailers” and tend to give them a swift and short answer. But it’s never been our friend Elizabeth before. Last Saturday morning, here she came. I opened the door for her and looked into the box – four baby goats!

“Didn’t Wendy tell you?” she said.

Back story – Wendy and Elizabeth jointly own goats that are accommodated at Elizabeth’s farm outside town and two of them (the goats, not Elizabeth and Wendy) had just had babies but weren’t letting them nurse. Elizabeth would be out of town over the weekend and Wendy had said that we would bottle feed them until she got back.

When Wendy posted a picture of the babies on FaceBook one of the small towners rubbed her/his hands with glee! On Monday morning our long-suffering Health Inspector arrived and said to me, in a world-weary voice, “Goats?” His boss had received the picture along with a diatribe about “why such things are allowed to go on”.

Poor Mr. Health Inspector’s expression mixed defeat with relief when I took him through to the back of the bookstore where the goats had been–nowhere near the cafe, which hadn’t been open when they were hereMurder 2015 003. He offered the observation that “this was a new one” and said someone in Northern Virginia was trying to start a cat cafe, so tensions about animals and eateries were at an all-time high in his world. We shook hands and he left. Laughing.

The publicity from Goat-Scape went six times ’round the Internet that day and the next, which I suspect was not what the Small Towner who sent the picture had in mind. Getting someone’s goat is now a catch phrase around here. And Elizabeth and Wendy’s goats have had four more babies between them – they are now grandmothers of eight.

Life goes on.

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

A Deep Dive

Writing about writing is kind of dangerous, because if you were really writing, you wouldn’t be writing about writing, so therefore whatever you write is pretentious git dribble about how much fun you would be having if you were really doing it.

But it’s still so alluring to do……

When you’re getting back into the groove, it’s like taking a deep dive back down into dark water. You know what you’re doing and you can’t wait to jump, you’ve been practicing your form and technique, but you have no idea what’s down there. You just know you want to get into it, feel it close around you, and forget the rest.

So you set aside all the housecleaning jobs that have to get done “someday” and you set a time limit for Facebook, morning and evening and no lunch peeking, and you clear all the crochet patterns from your laptop and block Ravelry for a couple of months.

diveAnd then you dive.

Ohhhhh, that dive…….. :]

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

The Monday Book: HAUNTING JASMINE by Anjali Banerjee

♪ IIIIII’m in the moooooooood ♪ for Fluff! ♪

ganeshAlthough I like most novels and memoirs about India or Pakistan, I tend to avoid the Bollywood-in-print end of that continuum. But Jasmine is about a woman who watches her aunt’s bookshop for a month. So I had to read it.

If you read Sarah Addison Allen’s charming romance Garden Spells, in which an apple tree chucks fruit at Mr. Wrong and rains petals down while wafting heady perfume at opportune moments, you have the concept of this book. The shop has a mind of its own, guarded by Ganesh, the Hindu remover of obstacles, who works in collusion with the ghosts that haunt the place.

A LOT of ghosts haunt this place. There are no surprises in this book. If it were food, it would be cotton candy. PINK cotton candy.

And very well made. Not your clumpy spun sugar, but the smooth, fluffy, cloud of sweetness that dissolves even as you start to taste it. This is a fast read, a light read, fun and fluffy.

I can hear regular readers of this blog thinking, “Yes, okay, but how is the WRITING?”

Practically non-existent. Like that spun sugar, it disappears as you’re reading it. You don’t remember turns of phrase, just the story line. And you can kinda see what’s coming, but that’s party of the pleasantness–anticipation of that next mouthful of dulce ethereal.

You don’t have to own a bookstore to enjoy the inside jokes about books, bookshops, or the customers who frequent them. But if you do, you might laugh at more places than the rest of the world. There are plenty of laughs as Jasmine struggles with her mysterious suitor, her scumbag ex-husband, and her inability to believe that Horatio and co. were right- there are more things under heaven than we might already know about.

Two cotton candy cones up for this pink-lit, chick-lit romance.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Sarah Nelson, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Independent Bookstores- there’s a Meme for That!

People from many corners of our round world send memes to our bookstore page. We like it; it’s a fun way to communicate ideas quickly, or share humor.

We do have to admit that, once a meme appears, it tends to appear again and again in rapid succession, because, well, great minds think alike. A shared sense of humor is a wonderful thing.

So here are some memes that have popped up more than a dozen times in the past few weeks, plus a few new ones interspersed. Enjoy!

meme library cake The library birthday cake looked to me like the perfect meme. Not something I would ever have the skill to do, but if it appeared on my doorstep, I’d certainly photograph it before diving in. Then another poster pointed out the fatal flaw: there is no cat on this cake. I’m sure that can be corrected, but isn’t it gorgeous?!

Psst – My birthday is in May, if anyone wants to tackle this. :] Just sayin’.

 

 

meme viking cats Tempting, this. A lot of people know I crochet in order to support spays and neuters for feral and foster cats. But each time I think about making one of these, assessing the time it would take the lacerations to heal (lost crochet time) stops me. Our bookstore cats have little truck with cute clothing, sadly.

meme tankOh, but speaking of vehicles! This one has only appeared once, so far. Argentina has a long history of tanks in sad places, so what better statement than making one into a free bookmobile! If you google Argentine Book Tank, you can see photos of the books being passed out – 900 of them! (And thanks, Alma, for posting it!)

 

meme wrong bookstore

 

This is the most-repeated meme for any bookstore owner. Ever. Yep, funny. It was funny. Was……. although please don’t think me a killjoy to admit it made me nervous, too, the joke being based on someone’s name. (Snopes says this doesn’t exist, btw.) Going through American high school with the name Welch, one empathizes. :]

meme mermaid tailAnd yes, our book friends really get us. Because they keep posting crochet patterns! And this one, repeated about a dozen times, led to a great development. I can’t crochet fast enough to make all the things that cat supporters would buy, so a friend of a friend, Kate Smith, is now making mermaid tails on behalf of Foster Kitty City! I’m concentrating on hats and sandals – the other pattern people keep posting. (Keep ‘em coming, and thanks!)

Then there are the book memes – which we love to repost on our bookstore page. These sometimes have great graphics, but this week’s favorite is just text: I’m a hybrid. I run on books and tea.

Yep.

So thank you for the funny, sweet, thoughtful memes (and useful patterns) y’all post to our timelines. Keep ‘em coming, as and when.

(BTW, we delete memes or stories that have to do with hurt animals. We understand, but it doesn’t help.)

But oh, how we laughed at the one fellow bookstore owner Tina Hoerauf (Paperback Book Exchange in Neenah, WI) sent. After three straight weeks of snow-turned-into-flooding, this little gem appeared on our timeline yesterday. Thanks, Tina!

meme eeyore

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

What, Me Worry?

Dont-Worry1Jack’s weekly guest post

Like Eeyore, I’m a born worrier and always have been.

But I’ve been pondering that lately, and trying hard to be much more relaxed about things.

Of course what triggered this latest bout was the atrocious weather we’ve been experiencing, coupled with a bad moment from last year. Around this time last year I was stupid enough to leave the well pump switched on at our cabin (Wendy’s writing getaway out in the TN woods) with no background heat in the place. Result – a $700 bill for repairs after a burst water pipe.

This year I reckoned the power bill for background heat would be worth it to avoid another burst and I switched off the pump. But we haven’t been there since before Christmas and in February we had temperatures down to minus 15 Fahrenheit . So one of my dark clouds began to hover as I constructed horrible scenarios in my head….

Last Saturday we dropped in at the cabin on the way home from the Rose Glen Literary Festival in Sevierville, where Wendy was the keynote address. I didn’t want to do it, so convinced as I that it would be exactly as I’d imagined. But Wendy was a bit… adamant that we face the situation.

The road up to the cabin area was covered in hard packed snow and the last 1/4 mile is up a steep hill. We negotiated that with me becoming increasingly Eeyorish all the way. Wendy’s eyes rolled back in her head as I described faucets that would run without water, gushing pipes in the house’s foundation…

And when we got there, everything was fine. EVERY THING WAS FINE!! I couldn’t believe it!!!

Back when I was Head of Department in a Scottish college I often used to lie awake at night worrying about something that was likely to happen next day, only to find it had completely evaporated by the time I got there. Conversely, I’d sail in without a care in the world and something totally unexpected would wallop me. It’s never what you’d expect that catches you, is it? I’m sure you can all relate to this.

And I must admit, with two weeks of snow shutting down the entire county, followed by floods tonight as the snow begins to melt, and freezing rain predicted to make the roads a mess tomorrow, well, even in the midst of it all, the roof is still over our heads, and we’ve adopted out five of ten foster cats. Which we did NOT expect in this weather.

A fellow business in town did not fare so well. A variety store called Judy’s Hodge Podge has been condemned after a crack appeared in the building. It’s the end of an era, as Judy was the grande dame of local businesses. Her building had an antique Coca-cola mural on it.

And here we sit, warm and cozy, with Kelley’s good soups flowing around us and people still popping in to buy books an adopt cats. Perhaps, rather than counting cares, I should count blessings.

Or, as Alfred E. Neumann famously used to say “What, me worry?”

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

The Monday Book: GRAY MOUNTAIN by John Grisham

tumbsNormally I only do Monday Books on those I’ve liked. This one is a bit half-hearted, but Grisham’s latest is set in our region and tackles the much-ignored topic of mountaintop removal, so almost everyone around here feels an obligation to read it. We need opinions for the church potlucks.

Obligation is a pretty good word. I don’t like dissing authors, or books – unless they’re real creeps, and Grisham isn’t. He just….. kinda didn’t do anything exciting in this book. And, inevitably, even though he spent time in SE Kentucky with some people dedicated to stopping MT removal AND bringing social justice to the Coalfields, he got some important stuff wrong.

It isn’t a big deal that the mileage and directions are way off in his book. It’s fiction. It isn’t a big deal that sometimes he slides into stereotypes even though you can tell he’s trying not to – kinda like a kid learning to ride a bike will guaranteed hit the pothole she’s watching with her whole being, intent on avoiding it. You always hit what you concentrate on avoiding, because you’re concentrating on it rather than the story you have to tell. We don’t mind; it was nice of him to try.

But I knew we were in trouble when Grisham started the serious action of his book with an old “legend” that circulates about SW VA/SE KY/NE TN mountain roads.

The book itself opens with the heroine getting laid off from her high powered-yet-hated legal job. She has a chance to keep her health insurance if she goes to work for a nonprofit, and she winds up taking the “bottom of the barrel” with the only remaining option: in the Coalfields of Appalachia. It must be hard for an author to try not to stereotype while writing about a NYC character coping with moving out of Manhattan. He tried, bless his heart. It made the book a bit flat because at the points where people would’ve been asking some serious questions, the heroine gets all open-minded. Still, his mechanism for driving her to VA is a good one: keep your health insurance if you leave the land of the midnight latte for the exile of rural America. Nice try, Johnny, but your logistics are showing.

Maybe that’s the biggest problem throughout the book. HOW he was trying to tell the story showed as much as the story.

Anyway, she drives into a town thinly disguised as being not-Grundy, VA, and a guy pulls her over in an unmarked police car and threatens her with all kinds of things if she doesn’t come back to the station with him. Including handcuffing and a gun. Turns out he’s the local learning impaired dude who pretends he’s a cop and only pulls over people with Yankee license plates.

We are not amused. You can look up the stories on Snopes, but there really was a rape and murder under this scenario; the guys weren’t handicapped; they were felons. It is not funny to display color local characters in this manner, let alone a town complicit with such dangerous actions. {“Yeah, he’s weird, but he’s ours.”} I began to hate the book at this moment, and probably couldn’t give it a fair read from there forward.

From then on the words skimmed past my eyes very much like an Arthur Hailey novel: all explanation and no storytelling; the facts of mountaintop removal thinly disguised as a fish-out-of-water story; lots of sensational details added about the main characters, a la the unnecessary drama of a Hollywood plot built around a love story. The whole thing just read like… well, like reading the script of your average mid-week 8 pm tv drama. I didn’t care what happened to any of the characters, because I didn’t believe they were real.

Which is annoying, because–let’s give him credit–Grisham is the FIRST big deal author to tackle MT removal, and I don’t care how much I didn’t like the book, I love him as an author for doing that. GOOD FOR YOU MR. G!

But can I add, very sadly, that I wish he’d done a better job of telling a story rather than so obviously trying to talk people into hating the bad guys? The complexities suffered, and so did the communities. But thanks.

mtr

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Filed under bad writing, between books, Big Stone Gap, blue funks, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch