Category Archives: small town USA

FRIENDS OLD AND NEW

Jack’s weekly guest blog comes from Scotland this time, as Jack finishes leading his annual tour of Scotland and Ireland.

doune-castleIt’s always interesting to be in Scotland with my annual tour group. The group almost always includes new folk, folk I already know, and ‘returnees’ from previous tours. This year is no exception – David and Susan are both old friends and returnees, while our newish friend Joe came with his fiancee Amy (who I hadn’t met and is delightful). The newbies in every sense are Phil and Wanda, who heard about the tour from my radio show.

The tour started strong, as what might have been a disaster was averted by our new booking agent. We found that there was going to be a ferry strike on the day we were booked to sail to Mull, where were booked to spend the night in Tobermory. At very late notice the redoubtable Irene, travel agent genius, got us booked into a hotel in Oban and our ferry booking moved to the next morning; all was well!

The weather proved kind and we had hardly any rain, even quite a few bright sunny days. We were able to see Castle Stalker and Doune Castle – both settings for ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ (Doune is also the setting for ‘Outlander’) and then retire to fabulous hotel food at night.

I was able to find most of the requested items to bring back with me for friends back home, ranging from whisky to flat caps. My old friends Liz Weir and Pete Clark did us proud representing the music and story culture of Ireland and Scotland. As I write this another old friend, Doli McLennan, is preparing to welcome us to her home in Edinburgh on our last night, and waxing lyrically on Facebook about the prospect.

For logistical reasons, I had more opportunity to catch up with friends and relations before the tour started this year, about a week longer than usual. That was great, but I ended up feeling a bit homesick for Big Stone for the first time. Very strange!

But it’s great to see my homeland through other people’s eyes each year and be reminded what a beautiful and remarkable country I came from.

For information on Jack’s annual tours, contact him via jbeck69087@aol.com. Pictures from this year will be available later at a site yet to be named.

Leave a comment

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

The Monday Book: ENTERING THE SILENCE by Thomas Merton

capI picked this up in Philly at Neighborhood Books, run by the kind colorful local character Curtis. I didn’t know at the time it was a near-famous book; I was writing about silence and thought it would be interesting as research. But it’s actually the second volume of Thomas Merton’s surprising bestselling autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. Merton became a Cistercian (Trappist) monk and wrote a lot about his spiritual journey. In Silence, he wrote about visiting two other orders, and how he decided to join.

The book is in three sections, each dealing with an order. One is the hardworking Trappists, who Merton says pretty much consider prayer, work, and hardship as all under the umbrella of prayer. When he asks one of the monks what it feels like to be part of such an order, the monk asks, “Have you ever been in love?” When Merton affirms, the monk says, “Well, like that.”

The first description will speak to writers, because it’s as much about Merton–who has come to the silence of the monks to get away from distractions and allow himself to write–discovering he is distracted by the silence. He needs to fill it up, get away from it, silence it. He almost fears it. And it doesn’t help him write, not until he gets to a new idea of time and commitment and passion (which is very eloquently described).

The next two descriptions are more just depictions of the living Trappists and the deceased Capadocians, where he visits the little caves that used to be their homes and pretty much comes out of that description thanking God it isn’t a choice anymore, or he might have felt compelled to make it. (That’s them in the photo at the top.) This isn’t a book with a story, more like getting inside someone’s head for an hour. If you’ve ever read A Grief Observed, it kinda reads like that – completely different subject matter, but just “here, and that’s all I have to say.” Yet said with such thoughtful eloquence.

1 Comment

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

TWO WRITING SCHOLARSHIPS AVAILABLE

December folder 047Every year we hold WRITES COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS, a one-day workshop focused on narrative writing (fiction or non). We talk about the mindset of making time for writing, techniques for getting the ideas formed, writing until the draft is done, editing, editing, editing, editing, editing – and tips for editing. And we have a great time.

The workshop is limited to five people, and this year as always scholarships are available from the American NewMedia Education Foundation, courtesy of their president Debra Lee Hallock’s generosity.

However, this year, two people who were taking the scholarships were teachers from Wisconsin, where I had done author visits last year. All set to come share the fun, one of the women discovered she was in stage 4 breast cancer. Her best friend wants to stay and help her through the next few months. Our prayers go out to them.

This means two scholarships are still available if you want to join the day. You need to be in the education field. If you’d like to talk to someone who has attended these in past years, Jim Wardell, Angelic Towe, Lizbeth Phillips, or Vicky Marcum Evans (all on Facebook) would be happy to describe their experiences.

It all happens Saturday, July 25. The morning is a bit of discussion, then writing exercises, half an hour for lunch (bring your own or eat at Our Good Chef Kelley’s Second Story Cafe and an afternoon of feedback, discussion on experiences and writing “issues” personal to the attendees, a little brainstorming, and some final discussion.

WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS works well for those who have an idea or a page or two down on what they want to write about, or as a kick-starter for those who “are gonna get to it someday.” If you have any questions, drop me an email at jbeck69087@aol.com; people who are not teachers, the day is $100. We start at 9 and finish at 4:30.

And there are kittens. :]

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, crafting, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: WHERE TROUBLE SLEEPS by Clyde Edgerton

Edgerton’s books tend to circle a few themes; think of them as small circles that actually go down into the core of human beings. On the surface it looks like a simple, small concept, but the roots go into the fabric of what makes us tick.

Like when “rootless amorality meets deep-rooted morality” as he puts it – drifters come through, they do wrong, they’ve been doing wrong, they meet people who do right, and don’t you forget it. Little old ladies who sing in choirs. Churchgoers whose idea of sin is fishing in Sundays. And then this guy shows up driving a stolen car….

It’s kind of adorable, and symbol of Edgerton’s genius, that the Gypsy Man driving the stolen car takes a cabin at the Settle Inn.

It all kinda goes from there, in hilarious yet poignant directions. Gypsy man, the call to repent, the church goers, and life in small-town North Carolina in the 1950s. You laugh until you cry. E

Especially at the ending, which I won’t give away, but suffice it to say, never miss with a church-going little old lady who isn’t as old or as little as you think.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

Do I have a Secret Admirer??!!!

Strange days here in the bookstore – stranger than usual, I mean.

Yesterday I opened my microwave and a wee box from Blackbird Bakery sat there. Inside I discovered the Mother of all Pink Cupcakes – tall icing, silver sugar sprinkles, wee flowers, the kind of thing Our Hadley would have picked out if she’d been taken to the bakery, shown the cakes, and told she could have any one she wanted.

tshirts 014It made a lovely breakfast. That’s how things go around here – you find a cupcake in the microwave still in the box, you check to see if it’s anyone else’s, and then you eat it. Delicious.

So  now the mystery remains to be digested: who left it there?

Was it the same person who, about four days before, left a bar of peppermint goat milk soap on the paranormal romances?

Ohhhh, the plot thickens, just like my waistline after eating the Pink Cupcake.

(I regret NOTHING.)

Anyway, if it was you, thank you. It’s lifted my spirits while Jack’s been away, and I smell of peppermint. Actually, I’m taking the soap back to the writing cabin this weekend to put in my sweater drawer, where it will keep mice away, plus counteract the hard water of northeast Tennessee.

So, random chaos abounds in a good way here at the bookstore. It could be elves, one supposes – but don’t they more often frequent shoe shops?

No, it’s probably a human or two. My friend Elissa guffawed when I said, “Yes, but only a few people have access to the microwave.”

“Everyone in Big Stone knows where the key is kept, plus half of Facebook, and you’re narrowing suspects by access? Stick to memoir writing; you have no future in crime novels.”

She has a point.

5 Comments

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

The Monday Rant: Fed up with Starvation

jessie 6The Monday Book will return next week.

Dear ____:

You asked me for a cat, but on learning you’d have to put $20 toward her spay, went to a yard sale site and got a “free kitten” instead. Then you posted on Facebook that you were “all for rescues but I can’t afford to help with the costs.”

I see.

Via Facebook, you also complain about welfare recipients taking this country apart with their demands for free services and refusal to contribute to the common good. This week, four of my friends are trying to feed, foster, and find homes for: 14 kittens and 5 adult cats; 18 kittens and 7 adult cats; 6 kittens and 4 adult cats; and a feral family of five. Most have some form of infection from lack of care.

We live within ten miles of each other.

In each case, we are paying–from our own pockets, from crowdsource begging, from crafts we make–to get them all spayed and neutered. Because we know if we don’t, five months from now we will be bottle feeding another sick, starving family of neglected cats.

This doesn’t count the litters that go to the shelters because their owners “couldn’t afford” to spay Mom.

Here is some information on what it costs taxpayers to run an animal shelter:

 In 1972, American shelters spent approximately $800 million on animal welfare versus around $2,400 million in 2007.there is a direct correlation between the dollars spent per capita on shelters and the decrease in shelter populations/euthanasia. (http://www.humanesociety.org/animal_community/resources/timelines/animal_sheltering_trends.html)

In other words, it is cheaper to kill than to adopt. It is understandable that you need to live a frugal lifestyle, but does that mean you euthanize the unsold Doberman puppies from your backyard breeding business? $900 as the going price seems like it might offer a little bit of discretionary income, but hey, it’s your money.

None of us object to you living on what you can afford; we object to you leaving us to clean up your messes. What you refuse to pay for, my friends and I are covering in sweat, tears, and cold hard cash: sick cats whose suffering could have been prevented with a $16 vaccination package; unweaned kittens left in roadside boxes where it takes them two days to die of starvation; 6 of 10 cats entering our shelter euthanized at taxpayer expense because $67 on the Margaret Mitchell van was “too much.”

The cost of refusing to spay/neuter is exponential, but if I have understood you correctly, so long as you don’t pay, you don’t care. Let bleeding hearts like me pick up the tab and the kittens. It’s a kind of legal blackmail based on personalities: we care; you don’t. La-la-la-la.

Not taking responsibility for your actions does not remove the problem, just passes it to someone else. Sorta like those welfare people you complain about.

You are not despicable. You are evil.

12 Comments

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, post-apocalypse fiction, small town USA, Wendy Welch

For a Murderer, He’s an awfully nice Guy

temp welchSo I was asked to speak on a panel at the Appalachian Heritage Writers Symposium, on developing ideas into stories. The symposium was about an hour away, a beautiful drive through the June-green mountains.

Jeffery Deaver, of crime thriller fame, was the keynote, but hadn’t arrived yet because a family event had intervened, the moderator announced. Also, regrettably, Mr. Deaver would have no books with him because of the glitch.

As a collective sigh of disappointment arose from the assembly, my mind flew back to our mystery room’s “D” shelf, better known as “DeMille/Deaver” with a few James Dosses thrown in.

I offered to fetch the 40+pre-loved thrillers and sell them at the book signing after his talk, but–on finding Mr. D was unreachable in transit–hesitated. Authors sometimes have love/hate relationships with second-hand book sellers and seizing the day at someone else’s expense just seemed uncouth. Once the organizing committee grasped the question, they agreed to ask when he arrived, while I headed home; if he wanted them, no problem and I’d head back.

Not to worry; when the keynote speaker arrived he said, “That is an amazingly generous offer and yes please. And I’m a big fan of independent bookstores, by the way.”

It was a win-win-win. The speaker got to talk to people in a structured setting after his keynote; the people attending could buy books they wanted to read; and I sold – HANDSOLD – fiction with the author at my left elbow. Believe it or not, bookslingers LOVE to handsell; doing it in tandem with the author just doesn’t happen every day. At one point a sweet lady asked for one “with the least possible horror content” and I reached for SPEAKING IN TONGUES.

“Oh no, no, this one,” said Monsieur Deaver, picking up another – might have been TWELFTH CARD but I couldn’t swear to it. (Is this the moment to admit I haven’t read them all?) We depleted the stock of titles to about 1/3 in just 30 minutes. It was handselling on steroids, and it sure was fun.

temp welch IIJeffery Deaver is a very pleasant person, quick to generosity toward an offer not every author would have appreciated, invested in his readers while signing. He asked people about their own works-in-progress, chatted about the day’s speakers, and generally gave off a laid-back cheerfulness in the face of a rather long line. He then personally authorized (and illustrated) a book for Our Good Chef Kelley at Second Story Cafe. Who was the teensy bit jealous that I had spent the afternoon with her favorite author.

Judging by how his characters die, one might not peg Jeffery Deaver, bestselling thriller writer, for a mellow, pleasant individual with a passion for Celtic folk music. But he is, and it was a delightful afternoon.

Thanks Mr. Deaver!

1 Comment

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