Category Archives: writing

The Monday Book – Americans in Paris

Jack gets to do the Monday book review this week –


Americans in Paris – Charles Glass

Some years ago I met up with a fellow Scot and close friend who was in the middle of a French adventure. We met in Vichy on Bastille Day and helped the locals celebrate into the wee small hours. The following day we took a train down through the Massif Central to Bordeaux, sharing our compartment with an elderly couple. As we passed through various small towns they pointed out walls where ‘resistantes’ had been shot, but also where immediately after the war ‘collaborateures’ had also been shot. Vichy, of course, was the Capital of the collaborating French government under Marshal Petain.

So Glass’s book which chronicles the experiences of a wide range of US citizens in the lead up to, and during world war two and who lived in Paris during that time was a fascinating read.

There are a number of intertwining stories throughout – The American Hospital, Shakespeare and Company bookstore and the political machinations of the Vichy government are the main ones. The hospital and the bookstore somehow managed to continue, even after the US declared war on Germany. They become important waystations for escaping British and American soldiers and airmen, and their directors took enormous risks.

The writing is engaging and based on well documented research.

I knew very little of the tensions within the Vichy regime or between it and the German government, far less the attitude of the US towards Petain and Laval and their rivalries. Glass’s book, therefor, filled in many gaps in my knowledge.

Although I found the many personal stories of individuals intriguing, I think it was reading them within the broader political and wartime context that really caught my attention.

I thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in France, Paris or the politics of the period.

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Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Baby Yoda’s Existential Writer Questions

84298025_3089609634383413_6129584940381110272_oWriters are known for seizing moments, protecting our writing time, drilling it out from between day jobs and family commitments and other stuff.

So when I had one half-day free during a two-week trip for work covering conferences, meetings, and funding seminars, how did I use it?

I speed-watched The Mandalorian on my friend’s Disney Plus account.

To my credit, I watched 8 episodes in about 2 hours, because I didn’t bother with the fight scenes and plot development, so it’s not like I wasted time. No, I went straight to the important bits, when Baby Yoda wiggled his ears or let his little eyes shine.

I fell in love with the little green guy the minute the memes started. In fact, when the semester began I embedded an Easter Egg in my syllabus asking students to make a Baby Yoda meme that reflected something they’d learned from the syllabus. That. Was. Fun.

What’s funny online is how many people are so very aware that the little green guy is nothing more than a Disney plot to sell the most plush toys ever. And the response of many a hardened cynic is the same: fine, here, take my money. We’re good.

He is soooooooo cute. And I’m sure the whole plot would be as meaningful as Disney ever makes it, but in the interest of preserving time, a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do. Now, with my cuteness load at full strength, I can get some writing done. Thank you, Baby Yoda.

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The Monday Book: THE GIVER OF STARS by Jojo Moyes

This week’s Monday Book comes courtesy of Martha Wiley.

MoyesI received a copy of The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes for Christmas. I’m an Atlanta transplant, first having moved to Appalachia when I married – I’ve lived in southeast Kentucky and southwest Virginia, and it wasn’t hard to recognize both of these areas in the book.

Set in the 1930s in Lee County, Kentucky , in an area about equidistant from the two towns that I have called home for the past 22 years, The Giver of Stars tells the fictional story of members of a pack horse library. I’m very fond of fiction set in historical settings, especially when the history is well-researched, and Moyes has done an admirable job of grounding her story in a factual past.

The action centers around two women who make unlikely friends, Alice Wright Van Cleve and Margery O’Hare. Alice moved to Lee County from England after meeting and marrying Bennett Van Cleve, son of a prominent coal mining company owner. After finding out that marriage to Bennett isn’t all she had dreamed of, Alice joins up with Margery, one of the movers and shakers behind the Baileyville WPA Packhorse Library, and a loner who prefers the company of her horse and dog to that of people. As to be expected, both bring fears and preconceptions to the relationship, but manage a way to meet in the middle to form a strong friendship.

That sounds a little hokey, and at times the dialogue and human interactions in the book are a bit strained, but overall I enjoyed the book and learned some history in the bargain. The  pack horse librarians of Kentucky have been getting more attention in the past few years, due in part to articles in Smithsonian Magazine and National Public Radio, as well as a few non-fiction books written about them.

The precursor to today’s bookmobiles in Kentucky, the pack horse librarians fulfilled one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s priorities through the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, providing paid jobs to women and furthering literacy in the poverty-stricken mountains of southern Appalachia. Moyes weaves the facts of this history with the stories of Alice and Margery and other community members of the fictional town of Baileyville, capturing all the nuances of public and private feelings of both the supporters and detractors of the program.

I lived in Southeast Kentucky for more than 15 years, and was involved with the Reading Camp program there, a mission of the Episcopal Church, for many years. I can attest to the need for, and the success of, the promotion of literacy and the joys of reading to people living in the rural hollers of the region, as well as to the occasional resistance to, and fear of, outsiders seen to be interfering with an established way of life. Although the story takes place more than 60 years before my time there, The Giver of Stars reminded me of the joys and heartaches of such work, and the timelessness of both the beauty and harshness of Appalachia.

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The Monday Book: FEATHER IN THE STORM by Emily Wu and Larry Englemann

wuI enjoy memoirs from China and India specifically. Dunno why, but I always have. This book is about growing up during Mao’s bloody Red Cultural Revolution. And it captures the lunacy of political stupidity over evil so well.

For the first time, I found myself reading the very prosaic descriptions of horrible events as daily life, and contemplating what it would look like in America. For instance, the turning of students against professors during the denunciation periods, when things like falling in love, wearing glasses, and reading Shakespeare made you a bad person. And once the students had gone crazy with frenetic energy and youthful zeal, and realized they were next for being bad people, did they learn anything from the experience? It is easy to whip up zeal. It is hard to reason. It is harder to reason when reason itself is suspect.

I also loved the descriptions of people assigned authority by the regime as true believers, going through houses to confiscate contraband and actually taking everything of value. True believers are few and far between, but stupidity masks many abilities to take advantage of situations.

Wu and Englemann use simple prose to tell a complicated story, and there are sometimes gaps in how someone got somewhere, but the stories are compelling. The death of the author’s best friend’s mother will stick with me. Wu is a compelling character in her own narrative. And I love a character-driven narrative.

There is also the moment when as a child the author realizes she has to print a cartoon denouncing her own father. The anti-intellectualism of the times is fascinating to compare to how liberal and conservative are being thrown around in America these days.

For the first time, I feel like I read a memoir of the Cultural Revolution as a prep manual. Bummer. But it is a great read.


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I Finishes my Book, I Cleans my House

f2f262695ba52a8387ccb4c57703b3daIt is as inevitable as it unexplainable. As soon as the book is finished, I clean house. Perhaps it’s because there’s a lot of build-up while one is ignoring all the little surrounding things during that last push of editing and adding things.

Whatever the reason, the day after I push send, I’m in the bathroom with a toothbrush, tackling grout-esque problems.

Perhaps this ritual marks the passage from writing to marketing; you finish the part everyone thinks is cool, and you start the part that makes people edge away from you at parties. Make lists of festivals, make a nuisance of yourself on Facebook, Vimno, Instagram, and whatever other platforms somebody invented over the weekend.

But it never fails: Push send Friday, spray every surface in the house down Saturday, rip out contents of closets and cupboards, and dusty corners, stack your t-shirts by color, alphabetize the pantry, everything.

It’s like reclaiming space, but with benefits. My spice rack is organized by genre: Indian top shelf, Italian center, and the fundamentals at the foundation. Purged packaged food  lines the counter. “This is what I couldn’t fit back in after I separated the boxes by size, so this is what we’re eating this week,” I tell Jack.

He nods and smiles and finds an outdoor project. He’s seen it before and knows how this plays out.

Call it ritual, or clearing the path for what comes next, call it what you will, because it will happen. My home will be shiny-tidy this weekend and there will be a purge of useful boxes that weren’t and squished plastic containers that didn’t survive storage.

It doesn’t last long, but it’s fun while it lasts.

HIGH HOPES: Prescribers and Therapists Explain how they Fight Substance Abuse comes out from McFarland Press this summer. The title is still in edits, so if you have a suggestion, let us know.

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The Monday Book: The Dylanologists by David Kinney

Jack gets to write the Monday book post because Wendy is deadlining-


Wendy had some meetings a few day ago in Johnson City TN, so I tagged along. We had an excellent buffet lunch at Sahib Indian Restaurant in honor of my birthday, and then I hit some thrift stores after dropping her at the first appointment.

For our Scottish friends that’s charity shops. You never know what you’ll find, although the book sections tend to be predictable and not particularly exciting.

But in one of them I found a happy surprise! Regular readers will know I am an avid Bob Dylan fan, and here was a book I had not read.

The Dylanologists is a delightful examination of a slew of ardent fans of Bobby Zimmerman, and although I am a big fan myself, I’m not in their league. These are folk with extensive archives of memorabilia and bootleg recordings, some of whom run blogs and websites. They trek to Hibbing (Dylan’s hometown) to New York City and to anywhere else that has any connection to their hero.

Given the number of books about Dylan, including his own ‘Chronicles’, I wasn’t sure what to expect but Kinney has produced a fascinating and well researched book. He manages to negotiate a trail between the fans, their obsessions, and the known history of the man himself.

Of course Bob is notoriously reclusive and is well known to protect his privacy while continuing to re-invent his public persona, so these obsessive fans can never hope to end their various quests. Some are trying to find the ‘real’ Dylan, while others seem to use him to find their ‘real’ selves!

If you’re a fan, like me, and have read all the other books, like me, then this could maybe broaden your understanding of Bob Dylan and possibly yourself too.


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Home is where the Heartspace is – –

Jack gets a guest post on a Saturday – what next?

Wendy and I have ended up in lots of great places so she could get some peace for writing. We thought Fayetteville in West Virginia was the best, when she was offered three months as Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. That was a lovely time, but the best was yet to come!

blue house

When we moved to Wytheville from Big Stone Gap, we couldn’t have imagined that among our first new friends would be Randy and Lisa who own Oracle Books down on Main Street. During our first year here we’ve helped them run events at the store and they’ve introduced us to many new friends, as well as supplying us with wonderful eggs from the farm where they live. Lisa raises goats for their fleece and I do believe the ladies have done some trades the hubbies are not privy to, as well.

But here’s the rub – Wendy found herself suddenly hit with two book deadlines. Her contracted book is due to McFarland Press in mid-February. Wendy’s been working almost non-stop at editing this volume, tentatively titled High Hopes: Appalachian prescribers and therapists take on the substance abuse crisis. It has some fifteen or so contributors, and all I know is my darling comes around the corner in our house from time to time, tears streaming down her face, or laughing, and says, “Listen to this.”

The second deadline is not specific, but Wendy feels driven. For years she wanted to publish a book about our cat rescue work, but her agent (a wonderful woman we both respect) didn’t feel it would work. Out of the blue, the editor Wendy works with at McFarland messaged to ask, hadn’t Wendy been working on a cat book at some point? Could she see that when Wendy had a chance?

It can be hard to concentrate at home sometimes—chores, cats and (dare I say) the husband can call my wife’s focus away. Randy’s sister Linda came to the rescue with the offer of her gorgeous 1900 house tucked off the beaten track. It doesn’t have cell-phone coverage but does have internet – perfect. So a bookstore is helping an author to get a couple of books published.

My job is to keep the wood stove going (oh bliss), walk Bruce our dog, and run out for provisions when necessary. In other words it is to guard Wendy’s head space so she can do what she does best – write. That’s what I guess all marriages are about, in a larger sense: guarding each other’s heads, if not hearts as well. You support each other. It’s always a negotiation as she supports my musical stuff and I do my best to support her writing. On the other hand, she’s also musical, becoming among other things a very good harp player, and I am writing a blog post at this moment. So perhaps as much as guarding each other’s space, it is making space for each other in our own?



Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, small town USA, Uncategorized, writing