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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

The Monday CD: DECEMBER by George Winston

decemberSo it’s close enough to Thanksgiving now that we can listen to Christmas music with impunity, right? Because I LOVE George Winston’s CD December. In high school I used to listen to it in bed at night, falling asleep to the piano sounds of snow. Now I haul it up on Pandora, turn it up on the Christmas stations, and even play some of it on my dulcimer.

December is what the Christmas season SHOULD sound like – even when it’s moving fast, it’s got a relaxed feel to it, and a sense of holistic purpose. It untangles the inner knots of your stomach. It lets you remember that yes, this too shall pass, and there’s more than one way to see a situation, resolve an argument, and play “Greensleeves.”

DEFINITELY more than one way to play “Greensleeves.”

I look forward to this CD all year – it’s one of those seasonal treats, like strawberries, that should only be played during the time period. (Although I did once haul the CD out during an August heat wave, as a kind of reminder that this too would pass.)

Yes, I recognize this CD is not a book, but you know, if you listen to it start to end, you actually hear the story of December passing. It’s kinda cool that way.


Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Luchesi the Loquacious Tenor Discourses on Pancreatitis and other Matters

LuchesiGood morning. My name is Luchesi and I am a foster cat at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, the Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap. I haven’t been here long, although I did spend quite a long time prior to this location at the spa–called Powell Valley Animal Hospital, I believe. (And between you and me, the nurses who work up there are very, very cute.)

Ahem, but I digress. I was one of several cats living rough out at the old high school. Once I was taken into care, it became evident that something was wrong, ehm, back there. Dr. Beth and her team of nubile young maidens spent a month working to diagnose the problem, for which I am eternally grateful. A stray cat with diarrhea can kiss any chance of a good home goodbye, you know.

They divined that I have exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, which means my internal organ needs a little extra enzyme stimulation to work properly. Every morning I get half a teaspoon of powder in my food, and a leisurely fifteen minutes in which to eat it. That’s the extent of my medical care, and the bottle of powder is about $100 for a year’s supply. No other special needs. My foster parents are concerned that people will find this excessive, but really it just takes planning aforethought. Every four days my mom divides a can into four little bowls, adds the powder, and then lets it sit in the fridge until the morning I should eat it.  Very efficient. And quite tasty, I might add.

winston salem kitty 021Please understand, I refuse to be defined by my illness. I am so much more than my pancreas! Among other things, I am an excellent tenor. I sing because I’m happy, and since this is a nice place, I sing a fair bit. My trill can stop traffic; people come running to hear “who made that adorable sound?” Adorable is not quite the word I would have used–sonorous, deep and meaningful would do nicely, thank you–but since they rub my ears and pick me up then, I play along.

Also, my fur is magnificent, if I do say so myself. Many cats are orange tabbies, but not many have such long and luxurious side tufts, or a tail of such exquisite boa proportions. Which I use to great effect when prancing. I’m not much of a jingle ball chaser, but give me a chance to lead the cat congo line when we’re playing together, and watch me strut my stuff. I could be the Grand Marshal for Macy’s Thanksgiving parade!

winston salem kitty 002And of course I would be most thankful for a home of my own. I like dogs, cats, people, and bunnies. We’re all God’s creatures, after all, and all God’s creatures got a place in the choir. (Mine is featured tenor soloist.) Thank you and I look forward to meeting you soon when you come visit the bookstore.


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

Little Cabin in the Wilderness

Jack’s guest blog on a place he loves

We love to head over to our log cabin in the backwoods of Tennessee whenever we get the chance. It nestles inside 12 acres of  densely wooded surrounding hills. When it rains the run-off feeds the pond in front of the cabin and keeps our tame carp and catfish happy.


Built along with seven others, in the early 1970s at the time of the Knoxville World’s Fair, it has seen its ups and downs – particularly when we rented it out at various times to some very dubious characters. The last of these left the place in poor condition, and we called on our good friend and excellent carpenter Guy. He not only completely replaced the floor in the original half of the building, but proceeded to replace the shingles, construct a spare room in the attic, add an extra two rooms and a laundry, and install a wood-burning stove.

Over the last five years or so it has become our ‘bolt-hole’ and is the perfect antidote to the pressures of our regular lives. It has no internet, no phone, no cell-phone reception and no TV, and our dogs, Zora and Bert, can run around to their hearts’ content with no worries about traffic. Wendy gets a LOT of writing done.

We were there all last week for just that purpose, and I was intrigued (as I always am) by the complete change of pace and the time it takes to adjust to it. We fall into a new pattern of “just live, just write, just eat, just relax” so quickly.

The cabin has no TV, but contains a radio and it’s only when we’re there that I get the chance to hear my show Celtic Clanjamphry on WETSfm. The rest of my time is usually spent foraging for fallen branches and cutting them into logs for the stove (amazing how time consuming that can be) and taking care of various bits of maintenance that always seem to be needed. That and the reading I never usually have enough time for back at the bookstore (funny that).

We do let friends rent the place whenever they want and now we’ve had the driveway re-graveled it looks more inviting. (It’s a steep drive.) We have a one degree of separation rule: if we know you, and you know someone who wants to use it, that’s okay.



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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing

The Monday Book: THE ANGEL MAKERS by Jessica Gregson

So you’re in a rural village during World War I and the guys are off fighting and you realize you’re better off without them. A few of you are, anyway. And then this prison camp of Italians gets put in nearby, and they need people to wash and cook…..

Yeah, you can kinda write the script from there. When the husbands come home, they leave again. Feet first. Through the door.

But let’s say some mothers-in-law and maybe an elderly parent or two need help across to the other side as well. How long will it take before the authorities come to investigate? And how quickly will they figure out what’s happening?

This book is all about the plot. Normally I like character-driven books, but this one had me rooting for the bad girls to the end. That plot just keeps rolling forward. It doesn’t even twist and turn. And the whole thing is the fictional retelling of a true story.

Heh heh heh.

There aren’t any particularly wonderful quotes. The writing is solid. The characters are pretty straight-forward. This is all about whodunit, and why, and whether they get caught or not.

Two syringes of poison up for this very interesting novel based on real events.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

A Window on the World

Jack makes a plea in his weekly guest post –

I’m prompted to write on this particular subject because of a book I’ve just read, a memoir by a prison librarian. But this isn’t the Monday Book post, so that will have to wait for now.

I’m a member of Prison Visitation and Support (PVS), set up to provide a visitation service for all Federal prisoners, including those in both civilian and military prisons.

I joined up four years ago as part of a three person team based around the Quaker group that meets monthly in the bookstore and we all visit prisoners at the local Federal prison. Each of us visits two prisoners on each visit and they are mostly men who are either in for a very long time or forever. They have asked for visits because, for a variety of reasons, they have no-one else.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that there are nowhere near enough of us around the country to visit all the prisoners asking.

I know what you’re thinking – why on earth would you? Why would anyone want to spend sometimes considerable time and expense traveling to an isolated spot maybe hours from home to spend an hour with someone who has committed a terrible crime (often murder, drug dealing or armed robbery?) The answer is frequently hard to take but true, nevertheless. They are human beings and we are the only people with whom they can have contact who are not part of their prison network; the only people who can provide a momentary glimpse of the outside world through a neutral window.

PVS is supported by all the major religious groups as well as many non-religious ones; the board includes representatives of these, plus ex prisoners and ex Wardens. It has an excellent relationship with The Department of Justice and this means we have a great working relationship with our local prison.

That said, we don’t specifically talk about religion and that’s not the organization’s purpose. Actually we are more listeners than talkers.

All this may sound wonderful and uplifting, but there are caveats. If you have any tendency to claustrophobia this isn’t for you. Once the various doors have locked behind you, you are as much a prisoner as the folk you are visiting. It’s also very draining–as Wendy will tell you, because when I come home from visiting she hands me a Scotch and leaves me for a few hours to re-surface. It isn’t physically difficult because you sit across the table from your visitee with absolutely no distractions (no TV or magazines or books or anything) and have an hour to talk. Then all over again with the second one. Yet that can be very hard work! In addition there may be unexpected counts or your prisoners be delayed by internal activities. While you wait for maybe an hour or more you also have nothing to distract you – just an empty table and walls.

If this seems rather intimidating or uninviting, there’s an upside.

Once you have started visiting a particular prisoner, that continues until one of a number of things happen: they are released, they are transferred to another prison, or they ask for no more visits. As a result you might be visiting monthly with the same two guys (and ours is an all male prison) for years. That has been the case for me. My experience has often (though not always) meant meaningful conversations with really interesting characters. One of them had escaped many times from State prisons before ending in the Federal system. He could write a best-seller about digging tunnels.

There are some prisons in remote parts of the country that have no PVS visitors at all and all the others have waiting lists of prisoners who want visits. We have our own waiting list and urgently need some more to join our little group. If you are interested you can contact me through this blog or check out the PVS website –

“I was in prison and you visited me” Now, who was it said that……


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