Category Archives: VA

The Monday Book: OFF THE CHART by Molly O’Dell

OdellWe pause from Jack and Wendy’s adventures in South Dakota/Wyoming to bring you this week’s The Monday Book.

Poetry isn’t really my thing but about twice a year we have a poet’s event in the bookstore. Last year we had Molly O’Dell as one of the poets, and I really enjoyed her work. Accessible, rhythmic, cadenced like local chat, nuanced and perceptive.

Molly sent me a copy of her recently published book of poems Off the Chart. I love pun titles; Molly is a doctor and director of a local health district, so many of her poems are about patient encounters, and her own experience with a mastectomy.

My favorite might be “Appalachian Pearl” and I’m reproducing the first half of it here so you can see how Molly combines the everyday to make things more than the sum of their parts. Punctuation indicates a new line, and where there wasn’t any I’ve used a slash, since WordPress is not conducive to lining out poetry:

I knew her grandmother, first woman down here to run an agency, and her mother, first to divorce. She carries their grit inside/behind her teeth, between the creases. She cuddles her child/like a bag of canning salt pulled off the shelf between vinegar and sugar.

I also loved “After he walks in to make an appointment,” about a guy with a bad rep she treats for a saw wound, after calling her grandmother to see if he’s safe. And the three or four poems about human dignity, often having to do with substance abuse and prescription seeking.

I don’t think you can get Molly’s book too many places, but you can order it from us or from her directly via FB. You might ask your local library to get in a copy; it’s from WordTech Editions, so can be ordered via wordtechweb.com, poetry editor Kevin Walzer.

And the last one I’ll mention here, a story poem called “First ER Shift,” when the senior resident asks Molly to stitch up someone, and she discovers it’s a woman who’s been slashed by a bottle. She’s a prostitute and the bottle was wielded by an angry client. The poem is less poetry than anger broken into pieces, and yet it’s very gentle in its matter-of-factness. O’Dell demands a lot from her readers, and offers even more. These poems don’t tell you what to think, they tell you what happened and leave the rest for you to piece out between the lines.

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

LAUNCH!

cat on boat…. and we have LAUNCH ladies and lads! Jack and Wendy have successfully started their two-week vacation to go see Mt Rushmore and a few other sights in Wyoming and South Dakota.

This is remarkable for two reasons. First, it’s really hard to get away from the bookstore. We love it, and it’s demanding. Enter the Hamricks, specifically David, who  came to stay for almost three weeks and shopsit so we could go have a holiday. (Bless you, Crazy Cuzin Dave, and Susan for sending you!)

How did we pick Mt Rushmore? Jack turned to me one day, as we sat amiably ignoring one another using Facebook, and said, “You know what I’d like to do? Go see those faces of the presidents carved into that mountain.” Jack never expresses specific wishes. I booked four days at Custer State Park the next week.

And we’re happy to be launching because last night at 12:02 am (which technically makes it this morning) I pushed send on the final draft of the adoption and foster care book for Swallow Press. (Not cats, kids. It’s a heartbreaker tentatively called Fall or Fly.) And then packed a bag and went to bed.

Hi ho the writing life. We drove across Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois today and tomorrow we hit Iowa and end up in Sioux Falls. A change is as good as a rest. We’ll send you postcards from the road via this blog. Anything that doesn’t involve books and cats for two whole weeks. I love them all, but a chance to revalue, redefine, fine tune, and just breathe…. ah bliss.

Viva la holiday!!!!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

The Shelves his Dad Built

birch shelfSince our bookstore is in a 113-year-old house that has been a) a doctor’s office b) a boarding house c) a funeral parlor (yes, really) and d) a private home before it became e) The Little Bookstore of Big Stone, we’re used to people coming in and saying “Oh, my room was here,” or “I remember Dr. Taylor’s son” etc.

But the other day a nice couple came in for browse-and-lunch, and the husband’s eyes fell on a set of shelves we’ve had about five years, donated by someone at some point. He touched the shelves with a strange look on his face before going up to eat.

When they came back down, the guy went straight for the shelves, which hold local writers and Appalachian Fiction. He wasn’t looking at the books but touching the shelves. Nay, stroking them. There is no other word for it, like an animal lover pets a cat, he was patting the shelves.

He asked, not taking his eye from the wood, “Where’d you get these?”

I wasn’t sure, but told him all the shelves that weren’t handmade by my husband had been either donated by the local preschool director when she retired, given us by other friends, or bought in yard sales.

“These are from HeadStart,” he said. “My dad made them.” He then launched into his story: back when HeadStart was the program du jour to “save Appalachia from itself” money poured in. This man’s father, a carpenter by trade, had been given $100K to make furniture for all the local HeadStarts, to specifications required for small children. (Believe me, as a chair caner, I’ve sold a lot of antique chairs to preschool programs because they have lower seats than modern chairs.)

“He made them out of birch,” the gentleman continued, a smile made of memory on his face as he stroked the wood. “You don’t see that nowadays, shelves made out of particle board and crap. This is real craftsmanship. I’m glad to see they’re still being used. Ain’t seen any in a long time.”

There’s something so sweet about a house full of stories sliding around in time.

a close-up of the wood (plus kitten)

a close-up of the wood (plus kitten)

 

I always knew our books were portals for people to enter other worlds, but it’s great to know our furniture is, too.

 

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

Cover Story: how the world has changed

Culling shelves to make room for some new stock, I went through our Money section and found some old textbooks. 1990s – pff. Marketing textbooks outdate the day after they’re printed, so I started a stack of those who didn’t make the cut.

Just doin’ my job, trolling along, picking up books and putting them down, enjoying the zen and not thinking about much else, until this cover caught my attention.

Wow, the world has really changed. I don’t have any astute wisdom to add to that statement, just the observation that what the brain tells the eyes to see now would have been unthinkable back then. But once seen…..

God Bless the Children who will inherit our messes.

marketing cover

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A Novel Concerto in Frog Minor

Today’s blog is from WRITE COMES TO THE CUMBERLANDS participant Lizbeth Phillips, one of three participants in this year’s weekend writing retreat. She’s being mentored through December via a grant from American NewMedia.

As I was driving home from South Carolina on June 6, the Facebook Instant Messenger on my phone dinged.  It was hard to drive in heavy traffic while puzzling over who dinged at me, so after I cleared the hurdle of a major Interstate highway junction, I found a gas station to get fuel and check messages.  Incredible message on Instant Messenger.  I had to do a double-take because my friend Wendy Welch wanted to know if I was interested in a writing retreat and support so I could finish my novel.  The message was for me and Cathie, another writer I hadn’t met yet.  Wendy ended the message with the suggestion that I mull it over and get back to her.

I got back in the car and headed for home, dreading the mix of dysfunctional drivers and the consistent malfunction of the Asheville, North Carolina highway system.  The highway still wound around the Blue Ridge Mountains when my phone dinged again. Wendy figured I had plenty of time to think about whether or not I was ready to truly commit to two or three days of serious writing, and she was right.  Two years had gone by since my first writing workshop with Write Comes to the Cumberlands, and I felt vulnerable texting her back.  When I pressed the Send button on my phone, I knew my priorities moved from wanting to write to being an author.

Eighteen days and plenty of messages later, I was on the road again.  The cabin hideout for writers was just over an hour from my Abingdon home.  When I got to our rendezvous location, Wendy and I loaded all the food and writing gear I brought along, and then we followed the road least traveled down a holler between two knobby little mountains.  When the road ran out, we followed the trail that went around a curve and up a steep hill to the Writer’s Hideout, a remarkable, rustic cabin that only a few people and God knew about.  I met and instantly liked Cathie. Twenty minutes after my arrival, the three of us started writing.

We each claimed a writing spot in the cabin and started work.  Because I started and stopped so many times in the past, I had a curmudgeon of words that required serious revisions and edits.  The afternoon was spent cleaning up the most important little messes I hadn’t bothered to tidy.

My nemesis, Stuff-I-Thought-More-Important, got tossed off the front porch and landed in the pond at the bottom of the hill.  It sank to the bottom so that its only view was the underbellies of huge fish and singing frogs.  It couldn’t have happened to a better excuse not to write.  After two years of waiting, my book characters filled me in on what happened while I was away, and I was overwhelmed because I couldn’t type fast enough and listen to all the shouting that came from the abandoned fatty folds of my frontal lobe.  Too many incidents leading to the still unknown climax, some falling action mixed in, and thanks to a chat with Wendy, the subliminal resolution and the threat of a sequel revealed themselves all at once!

At one point I stopped typing and wrote developments and questions in a little notebook using three colors of ink—past, present, future. Different plot elements had to be sorted, and writing them down stilled the cognitive backchannels.  Back and forth with this strategy that slowed the actual writing process, and if Wendy hadn’t asked me if I’d like a ride toward town to check my phone for messages, my brain might have heaved a big sigh and run for the pond to join my excuses.  Relief was not my reaction to her gentle voice bringing me back to the cabin; she knew I was in the book.  It was a gentle shake, like a sneeze or a hiccup that reset my body’s electrical system.  And it was enough to make me waver between connecting with the real world or staying in the fantasy one.  I stayed, kept the dogs company, and kept on writing.  The cabin faded away again, and I found myself traveling in time to a moment in history I must have mused over as a young child.  Time travel, generational misunderstanding, disobedient magic, and a girl trapped in a human world she does not understand.   The impossible happens, and what should have happened in the first place never enters in.  What was this madness, I wondered.

 

Luckily, I got to take a break and fix spaghetti for the three of us.  Dinner conversation centered on what we were writing and what we hoped to achieve before going home Sunday.  Three writers sharing thoughts and ideas in the Writers Hideout.  It felt like one of those reality show ideas a nerdy producer pitched to a TV network, and I was so glad that the only technology allowed was the use of my laptop (wifi in absentia).   Then it was back to writing, at least for me, because some plot development insisted it was the next thing to write about.  I was a slave to my imagination’s memories, so I piled up in the office armchair with my notebook, pens, laptop, and some M&Ms.  I have no idea how much time passed; I was on a roll and didn’t care.

Nature, however, knew I needed another interruption, so it began with the call of a frog on a log in the pond at the bottom of the hill.  Three frogs answered, and then it was all over.  Half the frogs in Welch Pond started singing, clicking, clucking, hacking, humming, or plopping.  I got up from the chair and made for the door so I could stand on the porch and listen to what started out as the forest backchannel and eventually crescendoed into an amphibian concerto like no other.

Wendy told me to wait for it, and I listened intently.  First, a low hum.  Then the baritone warming up sang in a vibrato so magnificent many of the girl frogs fainted into the water, the splashes adding percussion to the notes sung.  The performance was like no other.  When the lightning bugs added ambience, the mosquitoes finally drove me indoors.  I went back to the chair and finished the chapter.  Then I turned in for the night.  Sound sleep lasted several hours before the frogs woke me, and the baritone would not stop singing, so I named him Big Boss and covered my ears with a pillow.  That worked until 1:36am (according to the clock on my phone that had no signal).  At that point I decided the concert was an all-nighter, so I recorded the music—even though the windows and doors of my room were closed.  It WAS loud enough!

Morning light filtered through the window and shone pale on the wood floor, but I sensed its presence.  I hurried into my day clothes, grabbed my laptop, and hurried to the kitchen table to write some more.  I supposed I should forgive the frogs for singing so loudly because my brain had worked all night on that story.  I could hardly keep up!  I wrote an entire chapter before anyone else was up and moving around, so I was ready to cook pancakes when Wendy came into the kitchen to check on me and let the dogs out to go walkies.

After breakfast we retreated to our writing spots, and before getting too far into the next development, an odd thing happened.  The Hideout moved to the back channel, and the story became real.  A break.  Lunch.  A discussion about how the weekend was going so far.  A walk.  Then more writing until dinner, which was salmon and rice that Cathie fixed.  Refueled, my characters decided I had more work to do before I turned in for the night, so I relented.  I worked my keyboard until it was hot to the touch, typing as fast as I could to appease my protagonist and her father.  It all happened so fast, I never noticed it was nearly dark outside.  Big Boss did his deep CKerrrrrrrr-ummmmmmm mmmmmmmmm, and all the little girl frogs swooned into the water while the lesser male singers made their signature sounds. The concert lasted all night and almost to sunrise, and I recorded parts of the Concerto in Frog Minor because I knew no one would believe how talented Wendy’s frogs were.

Twice in the night I had to open my laptop and write something down so the butler would stop telling me things I wasn’t ready to know.  (You see, the butler know and sees all, and he let me know he was omniscient.)  I remember thinking that maybe I could have a taxi run over him because he didn’t look both ways before crossing the street.  He grumbled about how mean I was and left me alone, so I slept.  At 6:30 am, I rolled out of bed, hurried into my Sunday-Going-Home clothes, and headed for the kitchen table with my laptop.  Another chapter was finished before I shut my authoring laptop off.  I stowed it in my gear that was under the steps, ready for the journey home.

Over a  breakfast of French toast, I wondered and worried. We said goodbye to Cathie.   Then I worried some more.  I tossed and turned what was accomplished at the Writers Hideout and weighed it against expectations of others for the coming week.  In all, I edited my foreword and wrote 10,000 words (3 chapters, 30 pages).    The subtle change in my thinking was not wasted.  Instead of thinking about what I had to do, I was thinking about when and where I would write EVERY day.  I tried to figure out when I could return to the cabin and write for days and evenings with nothing to keep me from it.  For the first time ever, I knew that I would not skip writing, that I was committed to writing as though it was my job.  By the time Wendy and I had locked the front door and headed for the car for the ride back to civilization, I promised myself that I would work on my novel every day, that I would alert her if I struggled, that I would rely on her wisdom to get me through any pressures or doldrums.  We said our goodbyes and headed in two different directions, headed for home.

I did not listen the radio. Never checked the news to see what had happened while I was in another world. I did text three family members to let them know I was headed home.  Then I drove through the back channels of civilization and paid close attention to my novel as it continued to write itself on my brain cells. Another chapter. Another day.  It was a glorious Sunday because twenty days ago, my friend Wendy Welch sent a text message that saved my writer’s life.  My purpose was reset, and destiny moved me to take ownership of my imagination and my work.  Thanks to Wendy Welch and Debra Hallock from American NewMedia Foundation, I will finish this novel by Christmas so that it can be launched into the new year like a resolution to secure my future as an author of young adult literature.  Oh, I almost forgot!  I should also thank Cathie for sharing her work and giving feedback on what I wrote.  And for the sake of personification, I must bow to the Writers Hideout for its sanctuary and applaud Big Boss and his choir for their latest pond production, Concerto in Frog Minor.

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Hello Scotland 2020, Farewell Brexit 2016

scotland hyes

My husband is a Scot who has been waiting for his country to become independent. Many of you know that in 2014 Scotland held a stay-or-go vote regarding its relationship to Britain, and by a margin of 10% decided to stay.

A 4% decision to leave the EU as the United Kingdom means Scotland is going to hold another referendum (as such votes are known) about leaving Britain. Jack is doing a happy dance right now.

Me, I’m the American wife. I do a lot of “yes dear” and “mhmm” because for me it’s about him, not the nation. Big unions break apart, powerless countries try to form unions to become big. As the proverb goes, seven times down, eight times up. And vice versa. I want my husband to be happy; I don’t care what the world does.

And I have to admit, that reaction might be tempered by a lot of writers, women writers, who described great political upheavals and their (often bloody) aftermaths less in terms of the significant impacts for the world, than as stories of the people they saw having their lives involuntarily changed: Anne Bradstreet in the 1600s; Vera Chapman watching her generation’s men fall in World War I; Barbara Tuchman describing Germany’s tug-of-war from the Middle Ages to now. Over and over, big political moments come down to a couple of simple things: peace and prosperity. To get these, men fight about who is going to rule, and then women clean up.

Given that two of the key players in this EU-UK divorce are Angela Merkel and Nicola Sturgeon, women clean up in many different ways. Sturgeon has already announced a Scottish referendum is coming. The promises reneged on after the 2014 vote will probably swing this one to Scotland actually leaving this time—and then promptly joining the EU as its own country. Scotland 2020, in more ways than one.

It will be interesting to see what Brexit does to the stock market, what the rest of the EU countries do. In our house, we already know what Scotland’s going to do, and that’s the ball we’ll be keeping our eye on. Brexit 2016, Scotland 2020. I want what Jack wants. Jack wants what Scotland wants. And the world is a different place now.

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The Washing of Cats is a Difficult Matter

purrito3 So by now everyone knows we’re deeply embroiled in a cat rescue that just got its 501c3 status this week. And the rescue is up and running at a dead run. Construction volunteers have come in from other states, and we’re getting a Purr Box set up for kittens, plus individual little apartments (cages) for cats waiting on adoption or transportation to another rescue. And fielding a lot of requests from irresponsible pet owners and responsible caring people who have picked up strays, and figuring out which is which.

Smartest thing we did as a group was put the two hardnosed people in charge of cat intake. Otherwise we’d be up to 100 cats instead of the 53 we currently have.

So on Monday, a small group was working on constructing a Purr Box – an 8×8 cube suited to holding about a dozen kittens at once – when we got a call from our shelter coordinator. Time was up for three moms with nursing kittens, and three individual kittens. Pull, or else. There was a silence as we all looked around the construction-materials-laden room.purrito

If it had been a movie, the spunky little volunteer with the drill in her hand would have leaped to the top of a carrier and shouted, “We trained for this people! Let’s go!”

Except we never trained for this. We’re learning to run the rescue as we run it. Fortunately we have some excellent help from other rescues and a vet who knows infection control forwards, backwards, and sideways.

So the shelter cats went to our volunteer vet who fecal tested and slapped quarantine tags on some, clear to cage on others. Fellow volunteer Michele and I showed up with 17 moms and kittens to the haven, with instructions to Pyrantel all the moms and flea bathe all the kittens.

club med“Right!” I said to the college educated adults volunteering their time for love of cats. “How many of you have experience bathing kittens?”

People looked at the floor, shuffled their feet, stared into corners. Finally Valerie took off her construction gloves and said, in a small voice, “I gave a puppy a bath once.”

We formed a dubious assembly line: Michele flea combing, Valerie at the utility sink with her husband Alan ferrying cats between. Donald (Michele’s husband) and I held towels, ready to dry.

purrito 1It didn’t go too badly, even though we started with the most feral group. As the kitties went from spitting terror to being bundled into towels and cuddled, they calmed, and a few even decided they liked the experience, snuggling into their dryer’s chests and giving faint, sleepy purrs.purrito valerie

Of course, with 14 kitties to bathe, everyone was soon pressed into service holding a purrito (a kitten wrapped in a blanket or towel or anything we could find as they just kept coming) and people figured out that this was the fun part of the job. Finally, with three cats to go, I looked around and found all the volunteers were sitting on various surfaces, a purrito in the crook of each arm, cooing. Nobody left to wash the last three: Pear, Plum, and little Kiwi – a six inch fluffball of purrsonality.

David and I found paper towels and sacrificed t-shirts to get the fruits finished, and we started caging kittens with moms or in the Purr Box.

“Where’s the other one for this mama?” I asked, as the volunteers reluctantly surrendered their purritos, each trying to be the last one to cage their babies.

purrito AlanThe volunteers looked up. Blinked. Stared. Wordlessly they stood, and began walking about the haven, peering into corners, looking for all the world like wet zombies clutching purring kittens. Finally the errant waif was discovered climbing a cat tree in the Purr Box, all the cages had clean boxes, food, water and toys, and we cleaned up and turned out the lights.

As everyone stood a moment in the darkness, Michele asked, “Should we sing them a lullaby before we go?”

Guinevere wonders WTH we are doing to her kittens.

Guinevere, wondering WTH we are doing to her kittens

We’re figuring it out.

BTW if you want to help us a get a heavy-duty washing machine, you can donate using Paypal via Donald Leech at dl4fh@uvawise.edu. We’re setting up our bank account next week so he’s holding the money meanwhile. And we didn’t have a plan for all those wet towels….

 

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