Category Archives: VA

The Monday Book: THE SOUND OF HOLDING YOUR BREATH by Natalie Sypolt

breathThis book is out from West Virginia Press and I received a review copy for the Journal of Appalachian Studies. (I’m their book editor.) If anyone would like to review it for the Journal, please drop me an email or PM.

The short stories in Sypolt’s fiction debut are engrossing character studies. Most have wonderful characters who drive the plots around them. Siblings who see through each other’s deepest weaknesses. Young people who find reasons to stay or go. Nasty and nice Christians. In many ways, it’s like Sypolt took a classic Appalachian problem and wrote a “what if” story about it: what if you were gay and couldn’t tell your parents, but your elder sister knew because you fancied her husband? What if you were young enough to leave home and old enough to know you’d take your upbringing with you wherever you went?

Although you might be able to read the slim volume in a couple of hours, I recommend savoring. The prose is well-crafted, the words backlit with mountain sunsets. If it sounds like these are bib overall hayseed stories, think again. Stereotypes exist to be played with not to make the stories go. For instance, in one story of summer lake holidays, a boy aware of his beloved elder brother’s proclivities to violence suddenly finds himself seduced by the girl he thinks is pure. These are not easy straw characters. A preacher’s daughter finds nothing redeeming in her dad, but the way the story goes down gets complicated. Nobody gets off easy in a Sypolt short story.

If you are interested in Appalachian politics, culture, and families, you will find much to chew on here. If you like short stories that are well-written and character driven, you’ll love Sypolt’s debut. And remember, order it from your favorite local bookstore, not Amazon.

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

The Spoken Blog

Those of you keeping up with the Madcap Adventures of Jack and Wendy will know that we are leaving for a long-overdue holiday this Sunday, after a short series of concerts by longtime friend Barbara Dickson. She and her husband Oliver Cookson will be joining us for a Way Out West extravaganza that loops through Wyoming to Montana and back down through Wisconsin, just to bag as many states as possible.flying_away_by_cinnamon_sim-d45l4fp

Getting ready to go has been wild, with the usual bookstore, college, healthcare, and foster cat duties going on. So in lieu of getting a blog written, I offer a really pleasant interview I did for my latest book, Fall or Fly: the strangely hopeful story of foster care and adoption in Appalachia.

Enjoy! And I look forward to blogging from new and strange mountain peaks over the next two weeks.

Wendy’s interview on Fall or Fly

 

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

Erin the Shopsitter’s Guest Post

IMG_2868About a month ago I received a response to an email, which I had actually forgotten sending.  Sometime in the craziness of spring semester (probably while my 7th grade students were completing their STAR reading test) I had responded to an online blurb for a bookshop sitter in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  I do remember thinking, Oh that would be fun but in that theoretical I will probably never hear back or my husband would never go for it way.  Yet here in my inbox was the response: asking if I were available in June.

My initial reaction was to say no.  I say no a lot when theoretical becomes reality.  Then I thought about a book gifted to me by a fellow teacher friend. The book, which I confess that I haven’t actually read, is Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. I used to be a yes girl. When had I become such a party pooper? After clearing it with my husband and making sure it was ok to bring my son Bryant with me, I said yes.

IMG_2924So here I sit, in an area of the country where I have never visited feeling occasional wafts of homesickness, but rediscovering parts of me that I had long forgotten existed.  I signed up to shop sit without actually knowing what that entailed.   No, I hadn’t read Wendy’s book The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap before arriving.  My only preconception of the town was a glamorized love story later made into a film starring Ashley Judd.

I pictured rolling green mountains and babbling brooks, which do exist and are every bit as breathtaking as I imagined.  I imagined hikes in the woods and finally starting to write again.  I imagined browsing and reading the endless titles of books available to me.  I envisioned Bryant and I going on scenic morning runs.

IMG_2894A lot of these things have happened and many have exceeded my expectations.  For example, the morning runs on the greenbelt are amazing. Bryant and I even entered a 5K to support the local football team, and for the first time in a long time I was able to beat him. Browsing titles in the bookshop and adding more and more books to my to read list is cathartic.  Tidying the kid’s room allows me to discover titles from my own youth that I had long forgotten.

The kindness and friendliness of the people of Big Stone Gap and its surrounding communities is more than I could have imagined.  The people associated with the Appalachian Feline Friends are so helpful because, let’s face it, I take care of one cat at home. Here, I take care of 1 dog (with more meds than my grandmother), 3 adult cats, and as many as 9 kittens give or take those adopted out and new arrivals.

IMG_2908The lady who cleans the shop obviously recognized my poor culinary skills, probably by the burned scrambled egg pan soaking in the sink, so brought me a delicious vegetarian meal. The patrons that visit the shop, whether to buy books or adopt a cat, stay and share so much more have taught me to value each individual’s story. Most importantly, I am learning to sit still and enjoy spending time with myself again, and who knows maybe this will lead to writing again.

 

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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, writing

The Bookstore is Quiet

The bookstore has just passed out of the Eye of Calm between school letting out and the Return of the Natives. Big Stone reserves its biggest tourism influx for Fall, when the mountains explode with color. Right now, we have The Grandchildren. Families who moved away in search of work return (or send the kids) to their roots. It is a time-honored cycle: come back to see Mom and Dad, leave the kids a week or five and go get some work done or have a vacation.

You can see the Grandparents parading their newly acquired temporary children proudly through the grocery store, dressed in clothing that would put Toddlers and Tiaras to shame, little girls who will not hurt themselves if they fall because the skirts will cushion them. Boys dressed as exact copies of grandpa, work boots, denim overalls, and cap.

It is adorable.

The bookstore’s part in all this is to clean the children’s room every day after the cyclone is over. We sell more kids’ books mid-May to mid-July than we do the rest of the year combined. Because the bookstore is where Grampa and Gramma go when they’ve Had It.

Exhausted elderly couples arrive on our porch, the children clambering up the stairs, over the railings, around our reading animal statues. Grandparents haul themselves up the railing of the side ramp, waving the kids: go on, go on, we’ll catch up.

If they can reach the handle, the children work in teams to haul open our heavy screen door – it takes two kindergartners to move – and break for the nearest kittens. The smarter kittens scatter.

Grandpa will plunk himself on our front porch and light up a pipe or cigarette. He sits, looking off into the distance at the cool green and blue layers of the mountains, as Grandma either heaves herself into the bookstore with a sigh, or plunks down next to him and says, “Gimme one.”

We think this means cigarette…..

The children destroy the place, hunting hiding kittens. Occasionally they actually hunt books themselves, but usually this waits until Gran has her soul restored and hears the thudding books and shrieking children. We usually have the front porch window open. I have found that, should other sounds fail, recalcitrant summer guardians can be motivated by saying “Yes, dear, you can have that kitten” quite loudly just behind Grandmother’s head.

It’s summer: the kinder garden blooms. We love it. We clean up after they leave. We wink at the grandparents. We sell a lot of children’s books to straining budget people who are relieved to find they’re getting five books for $3.15.

mother-child-reading-1941526And we love the two most repeated requests the grandparents make: “Could you sell me the biggest chapter book you have? He likes to read and I need him quiet this afternoon for my nap.” Or “She can’t read so have you got one with enough pictures to keep her occupied for five minutes?”

There’s nothing quite like the rhythms of a bookstore.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

An Intense Week for All the Wrong Reasons

I'm fed upHi Y’all – It’s been an intense week. Many things have made me busy and most of them have been driven around opioids and healthcare needs in SW VA. I don’t want to talk about most of them.

For those of you unaware, April 8 JD Vance (HILLBILLY ELEGY) and I went head-to-head in a discussion of “Are We Losing a Generation?” about opioids and KinCare. The fallout from this panel has been about whether the venue that invited us (Appalachian Studies Association) should have invited him. None of it has been about the topic of the debate. Moral: when asked to participate in a debate with a famous figure, be sure of the trap that’s being set before you enter it, and decide if the platform to get a message out is worth the lunacy of the fallout. I’m not sure it was. I’m knee-deep in people who want to talk about Elegy, not opioids. Screw that.

So here, in heart-breaking simplicity, is the reality of what drugs do to sweet, kind, smart people who are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. The message that was meant to be part of that debate. Please be warned, if you are tender-hearted, don’t watch this five-minute cartoon in a public place.

Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUngLgGRJpo

And perhaps next week will be better. Or at least more honest.

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Filed under Hunger Games, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Here, There and Everywhere

In time honored fashion Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post is a day late –

I continue to be somewhat amazed at how small the world has become, and it’s not just the number of people from far afield who visit our wee bookstore in rural Appalachia – even this week when it was snowing.

Just yesterday I had an email conversation with a gentleman in Rome, Italy called Massimo. It started first thing in the morning with a request for the words of a song I recorded with my old group Heritage on our second album back in the early 1980s. I was intrigued and in a subsequent message he explained he was a big fan and had spent years collecting all the available recordings that I and the group had made over the years. As of this morning there are two CDs he didn’t know about winging their way to him via the USPS and Poste Italiane!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the presenter of a folk music show that airs on a radio station based in SW Scotland and we have begun to exchange programs. The ones I’m sending him are mostly digitized copies of cassettes that were made of a live show that I did back in the 1990s on a different (and now defunct) station in Scotland. But these cassettes were stored here at WETS which is the station where ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ is based, because back then I sent them over to be re-broadcast here. So a show that originally went out live to rural Perthshire has gone through a series of different technologies, traveled the Atlantic twice and is being heard by listeners of Folk n’ Stuff over the internet in (among other places) Tallahassee where there are, apparently, a loyal group of fans!

Sticking with the radio theme, I had the great pleasure of interviewing a lovely Irishman called Liam at the WETS studios on Monday morning, who is a visiting professor at ETSU just now, and made a good friend in the process. We concentrated on two themes that are part of his research focus and will also be the subjects of presentations he will make here. One was the importance of the culture of small geographical areas and the other was the challenge of Brexit for Ireland (North and South).

On Tuesday Wendy and I had our guest blog post for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum published and that also has a transatlantic theme.

https://www.birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/follow-ballad-scotlands-lord-gregory-carter-familys-storms-ocean/

Meanwhile I continue to fine tune the arrangements for my annual small group tour of Scotland at the end of June, which also entails a fair amount of international communication.

It’s all a mad gay whirl I tell you – – –

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

1960, 1991, 2018

Today is the day students are walking out of schools to demand tougher gun legislation.

On January 17, 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf addressed a different group of young people, many of them also 18. Those young people were armed to the teeth. To those kids, marching into a fierce battle that opened Desert Storm, he said some words that have a strange resonance now.

“You are a member of the most powerful force our country has ever assembled,” he began. He meant the military. The military is strong. Grassroots are stronger. Have you ever tried to pull up grass by its roots?

“You have trained hard for this battle and you are ready….I have seen in your eyes a determination to get this job done…My confidence in you is total! Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.”

This isn’t Desert Storm, when we called on young people to be brave and scary and inflict shock and awe on another country. This is students fighting for their own lives, inspiring shock and awe within their country.

Every battle is different. Every battle requires courage from those on the ground.

Go kids. Go.

 

 

 

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Filed under Hunger Games, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch