Category Archives: VA

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.

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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

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. :]

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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

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.

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

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!

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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

The Monday Book: A STREET CAT NAMED BOB by James Bowen

bobOf course I was going to love this book, because 1) it’s about a cat and 2) it’s an insider’s ethnographic account of a lifestyle most people don’t experience but think we know a lot about. I like almost any book that tells a story about a lifestyle I won’t experience naturally, so long as it’s done without anger or proselytizing. This book did not disappoint on its promise to deliver my two favorite types of non-fiction in one read…..

As an added bonus, Bowen has a nice turn of phrase; he well-read and puns every once in awhile in a fun way (like the title). He also has a great story to tell: how he found Bob on the streets of London, nursed him back to health, and realized he needed to be a responsible adult because he loved something that needed him.

Pretty straightforward things follow. Bowen gets off drugs, takes a job, ups his musicianship game, and sorts out a few loose ends in his life to do with relationships. One kind of expects these, and his simple explanatory prose in their telling made them accessible for those who don’t engage life in the same way. As in this quote:

“I don’t know why, but people seem to be fascinated to learn how some members of society fall through the cracks. I think it’s partly that feeling that… it could happen to anyone. But I think it also makes people feel better about their own lives. It makes them think, ‘Well, I may think my life is bad, but it could be worse, I could be that poor sod.’ ”

But the story doesn’t end with “happily ever after” once Bowen is clean; the things that happen AFTER his re-entry to adulthood (more or less) are as compelling as his cat-induced act clean-up; I was particularly taken with Bowen’s stories of getting moved around because of Bob jealousy from other Big Issue sellers, and also the do-gooder who pretty much insists she is going to take his cat away from him, for his own good- which is a great ending story in a book about how this cat saved his human’s life.

Throughout the story, Bob runs a silent yet larger than life orange character whose personality drives the narrative. A couple of times I swear I felt Bob’s fur brush against me as I read.

A happy book without being sentimental – read it on the beach, read it for a sociology class; it fits in both.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Jessie Lea, Den Mom

jessie leaHi, I’m Jessie Lea, and I’m temping at the bookstore. It’s a grant-funded position, I believe, because they keep telling me I’ll be moving on when the last of the kittens have been adopted.

Excuse me, won’t be a moment–

JACK AND MAC! GET DOWN FROM THERE THIS INSTANT!!!

Sorry, as I was saying, I came here about two weeks ago, and they put me in what they call the mystery room, and wouldn’t you know there were three motherless tykes in there, poor souls, all confused and nervous. Never been in a house before, dry food a mystery to them. Well, I’d just had a little procedure following my own kittens, and perhaps I was feeling a wee bit nostalgic because I just set right in. They needed a good seeing too – washing behind the ears, teaching paw maintenance, the works. I soon had them shipshape but no sooner were we on an even keel than the door opened and here came the cat carrier again!

All I heard from inside the carrier was hissing and spitting, so I stuck my head inside and the fuzzy wee lad struck at me! Really, these foster children. They just need a bit of loving-kindness and a reassuring lick. So I talked him and his brother out of the carrier, showed them ’round the place, introduced them to the others here.

Oh, excuse me–

IS THAT ANY WAY TO TALK TO YOUR BROTHER?! I DON’T CARE WHO STARTED IT! APOLOGIZE AT ONCE.

Sorry, where was I? Oh, yes, the new arrivals. Soon they were all using the playground nicely, taking turns on the catnip slide and having a nice game of jingle ball soccer. And then the door opened AGAIN!

This time, to my joy, a lovely wee girl was in the mix. Three kittens; two didn’t actually stay long; some adoptions are faster than others, but when Rita’s brother Dexter left, she stayed here. I played jacks with her to keep her mind off things. And just this morning we’ve gotten another little fellow, Giacomo. (Really, who comes up with these names?) He was hissing and spitting at the back of the crate, so I just climbed in and sat with him awhile until he calmed down. Now he’s having a game of chase on the jungle gym with Fforde – oh dear….

jessie 6YES YOU DID PUSH HIM. I WATCHED YOU. DON’T MAKE ME PUT YOU IN TIME OUT.

Of course, some kittens take longer to learn manners than others. Take the Feral Brothers; they really were raised in a barn. So of course the litter box was a new thing, but I’m pleased to say they’ve made all their box targets today.

Yes, it’s cozy here in our little corner of the bookstore, the six – er seven – no six, one was adopted, that’s right – kittens and me. In the mornings I help them with their wet food etiquette, and about lunchtime we have a plate of crunchies. Mid-afternoon I read them a story before their naps, and then after supper we have some extra playtime so they tire out before bed. It’s all quite simple to manage and I’m sure the nice people who run the shop could do it themselves, but I understand the lady’s husband is about to leave for Scotland, so I’m just staying on a bit longer before my own adoption comes through. I don’t think she could do without me.jessie resting

Now, the kittens are all down for their naps and I’m just going to have ten minutes of me time. Let me just put the kettle on; would you care for some catnip tea?

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

The Monday Book: OUR LADY OF THE LOST AND FOUND by Diane Schoemperlen

virgin-mary_2085222bSo what would happen if Mary the mother of Jesus came to stay with you for a week, just for a break?

You would spend a lot of time re-examining your life and the life of women, and you would do a lot of research on her other appearances. Which pretty much sums up this novel. The novel is neither rude nor kind about Christianity; it kind of takes a sideways approach to Mary’s story, leaping back and forward between telling the narrator’s story – she never gives her name because she doesn’t want people to believe she’s crazy – and encyclopedia-esque entries about Mary’s other appearances.

I found it fascinating. Narrative arcs are overrated; this narrative ping-pong game is a lot of fun. The analytical nature of the first-person narrator (who is an author) as she examines her own life in light of Mary’s visit gives insight ito the lives of women overall. It’s aga saga light, latte lit, chick lit with bite. And the Mary visits chronicled through history are so interesting. Especially when she follows up on what happens to those so visited.

Perhaps the book meant more to me because I’ve actually visited Mary’s house near Ephesus – the one John took her to after the disciples left Jerusalem. It’s a tiny thing, not any bigger in its two rooms than our bookstore’s main one. But it was an amazing thing to see.

Oddly enough, Mary has never appeared at her own home. But this book does a good job with that famous “what if” approach to fiction: what if she appeared in mine?

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