Friday, August 22, 2014

Charlotte Poet Barbara Conrad to read at McIntyre's on Sunday

Barbara Conrad

Charlotte poet Barbara Conrad will read at 2 p.m. on Sunday at McIntyre's Fine Books at Fearrington Village, outside Chapel Hill.

Conrad is the author of "Wild Plums" (Future Cycle Press) and "The Gravity of Color" (Main Street Rag) and editor of "Waiting for Soup," a collection of art and poetry from her weekly workshops with homeless neighbors in Charlotte.

Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Tar River Poetry, Sow's Ear, Southern Women's Review and Kakalak. She's won awards for her poetry as well as a Pushcart nomination.

Also reading on Sunday will be Janice Moore Fuller, writer-in-residence at Catawba College, and Raleigh poet Larry Johnson.

Fearrington Village is on US 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro. The reading is free and open to the public.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sarah Dessen and Lee Smith to appear on segments of N..C. Bookwatch

Sarah Dessen
Bookwatch has become such a favorite in our house that we now record it. No matter the guest, the host, former Charlottean D.G. Martin, is himself a treat. No one is more animated, and no one works as charmingly to draw out the essence of the writer and his or her work. If you're new to the state, it's a wonderful introduction to the personalities and minds of our literary riches.
Lee Smith

This Sunday, Aug. 24, young adult writer Sarah Dessen will appear on the show.

Her most recent title, "The Moon and More," set on Emerald Isle, recently won the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Award in the young adult category. Lead character, Emaline, loses both her long-time local boyfriend and her newfound summer love. There's heartbreak, of course. But new beginnings await.

Bookwatch airs at noon on Sundays and at 5 p.m. on Thursdays on UNC-TV.

On Aug. 31, award-winning Hillsborough novelist Lee Smith will appear on Bookwatch. Her most recent novel, "Guests on Earth," includes a character based on Zelda Fitzgerald and her stay at the elegant and now-defunct Highland Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Asheville.

Alan Michael Parker's third novel, 'Committee,' a home run

Alan Michael Parker by Felicia Van Bork

What joy to find a novel that's exactly right. You're skimming through. First, the pages turn to
silver in your hands, then to gold. You know it's the real thing. Delight breaks out on your body, and you must put the book down for a few seconds and simply breathe.
Such is "The Committee on Town Happiness" (Dzanc Books, $14.95), a third novel by the poet Alan Michael Parker of Davidson College.
"The Committee" is 99 linked episodes (voice steady as hummingbird wings) laying bare the absurdity of committee-think and the elusiveness of happiness. A spoof, of course. An existential satire with ribbons of magical realism. It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite novels, "Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son," by the Nobel-winning Camilo Jose Cela, in which Mrs. Caldwell writes letters to her dead son Eliacim proclaiming her great smothering love for him. The tragedy in "Mrs. Caldwell," is, of course, that Eliciam will never read the letters, and mother and son will never be reunited. The tragedy in Parker's novel, if I must spell it out, is that "town happiness" is impossible to achieve.

The Committee on Major Financing convened, decreed it lack of jurisdiction. The Committee on Animal Safety made recommendations in light of the incessant barking. The Officer of Public Generosity deployed new azaleas. Two committees folded for lack of a quorum. We set a watch, deputized three teens. We made private overtures. We unsewed our shrouds.
As though day were night we went to sleep and rose to the falling darkness, to eat and work and play. We moved throughout our darkened town.We would see the fuss. We would learn what we were missing.
 We want to say that we have succeeded. Soon we will do away with walking around and not knowing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Debut novels set in the South

Is  your book club looking for excellent novels set in the South? Let me direct you to Crook's Corner Book Prize's longlist of 11 debut novels, published between Jan.1, 2013 and June 30, 2014.

One of my favorites, I'm happy to say, is on the list. It's "Byrd" (Dzanc Books) by Raleigh attorney Kim Church, the coming-of-age tale of Addie Lockwood whose failed abortion leads her to place her infant son with an adoption agency. Lockwood's longing is enduring and palpable, as is the longing of other characters for one another, present or not. "Byrd" is also on the longlist for the Flaherty Dunnan Prize, to be announced in September.

Among the other novels on the Crooks Corner list are "Flying Shoes" (Bloomsbury USA) by Lisa Howarth, a literary mystery set in Oxford, Miss.; "Heart of Palm" (Grove) a tale about loving things to death by Laura Lee Smith, set in the small town of Utina, Fla., between St. Augustine and Jacksonville; "The Ways of the Dead" (Viking), a story of race, crime, the law and the power of the media in Washington, D.C., by long-time Washington Post reporter Neely Tucker; and "In the Garden of Stone" (Hub City Press) by Susan Tekulve about the wave of Scilian immigrants who arrived in Bluefield, Va., in the 19th century.

Wilmington's Wiley Cash won the first annual prize in 2014 for his debut novel, "A Land More Kind That Home."

Modeled on the literary prizes of famous Parisian cafes, the Crook's Corner Book Prize is sponsored by the Crook's Corner Cafe and Bar in Chapel Hill. The shortlist will be announced in November, and the winner, who will receive $1,000 and a free glass of wine on each visit to Crooks Corner, will be announced in January.

The complete Crooks Corner list:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dot Jackson's Debut Novel 'Refuge' released at last from captivity
Dot Jackson
Dot Jackson's debut novel, "Refuge," won the now-defunct Novello Festival Press Prize in 2005, sponsored by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library. It's a lush, passionate novel, based on a family scandal, set in the variegated green of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When Jackson, who recently moved from Six Mile, S.C., to Newland, N.C., read at Park Road Books in 2008, after the release of the paperback edition by John Blair, she packed the house.
Then, suddenly, the only hard copies to be found were on Amazon or in used bookstores. Gone. Down the rabbit hole. Jackson gave readings at book clubs and conferences around the Carolinas, and fans harangued her for a copy. The former Novello staff members, now scattered, said they hadn't a clue what had happened to the remaining stock.
At last, success. The books have been found -- in the nether regions of the Main Library -- and the rights released back to the author. Jackson, a former Observer reporter and columnist, dispatched her daughter to Charlotte with a rental truck to buy the lot of them.
Want an autographed copy? Make checks payable to Dot Jackson and mail them to Jackson at P.O. Box 96, Montezuma, N.C. 28653. Hardbacks $24.95; paperbacks $16. Shipping: $2.50. If you want your book signed personally, email her at

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sherbondy to read from 'Beyond Fairy Tales' at So & So Books in Raleigh

Maureen Sherbondy
Maureen Sherbondy of Raleigh, who earned her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and tutors poetry at Alamance County College in Graham, will read from her new collection,  "Beyond Fairy Tales: Poems in Concrete & Flesh" (Main Street Rag, $14 paper) from 5:30-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, at So & So Books, 704 N. Person St., Raleigh. Here's a poem from the new book.


Two months ago the mammogram revealed
a lump, and days since then have passed.

She can no longer throw her hair over the wall
for him to shimmy up beneath the star-scarred sky.

In a nauseous-chemo blur, clumps of golden thread
fell from her head to the tower's cold, stone floor.

Still, the witch keeps her here, caged and ill,
the left breast completely gone. Her head is a pale bald egg,

So when the Prince yells up to her, Rapunzel, throw down
your golden hair, she hides beneath the sterile sheets.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Charla Muller: From a 'Memoir of Intimacy' to finding your way to 'Pretty'

Charla Muller

If you don't recognize the name Charla Muller right off, you'll surely recognize the title of her last book: "365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy."

You remember, right? She's the working mother of two, right here in Charlotte, N.C., who decided for her husband Brad's 40th birthday to give him the gift of sexual intimacy for a solid year.

That she did. And both found that the, uh, daily practice, shall we say, formed a closer emotional as well as physical bond.

Muller's new book, "Pretty Takes Practice: A Southern Woman's Search for the Real Meaning of Beauty," out this week from Berkley Books ($16 paper), grew out of the first. Maybe not in exactly the way you'd expect.

Muller is a gifted writer with a keen sense of humor and excellent timing, and she keeps the new book clipping along with appropriate doses of self-deprecation, common sense and sound insight.
Here's how the book originated.

When Muller was interviewed about "365" on Oprah -- yes, Oprah -- she caught a larger-than-life view of herself on high definition TV. She compares that view to "watching your own car accident .... It's simply something you shouldn't witness."

On that giant screen behind Oprah's head, she writes, "I looked like a giant, bloated mess...."
Muller says she was sixty pounds overweight and had chosen to wear a five-year-old black knit sweater she'd bought at a discount store.

"Denial is built into my DNA," she writes. "I get it from my father's side."
Muller describes the Queen City as a town "ruining the curve on pretty." Even though, until Oprah, she says she'd been content to look "fairly decent" only about every third day.

So I have to ask: Why does it matter so much how we look?

Because, Muller points out again and again: First impressions count.

"Like it or not," she writes, "how I looked determined my credibility to the viewing and reading audience. It determined my likability and, ultimately, my salability."

And later: "First impressions count because they are a powerful, one-of-a-kind opportunity to serve up your best self."

OK. I'm convinced.

"Seeing yourself for the first time not as you think others see you but as they actually do see you, forced me, at the age of forty-three, to grow up," she writes.

After the inevitable tears, she says she bucked up and joined a weight-loss program, started eating better and exercising and gradually shed pounds. A new hair style, a wardrobe upgrade and a rediscovery of  "some of the beauty basics that I had either forgotten or repressed."

Many of those basics her mother had touted for years. (She dedicates the book to her mother.) Basics such as finding a good alterations person, a good hair stylist and buying bathing suits online.

"Because mothers know," Muller writes, "and while they might not offer up their wide-open opinion every time the opportunity presents itself, they don't lie."

"My mother has been a real champ about the book," Muller says by email. "She continues to give great advice not just to me, but also to my daughter."

The threads that bind mothers, daughters, granddaughters fascinate Muller.

"I grew up with a mother who I thought was beautiful," she writes me, "and as an adult I can see that my interpretation of her 'pretty' was more than just her fabulously coordinated outfit."

Which makes Muller wonder: How will her daughter remember her?

"She starts high school this month, and I'm especially intrigued by the messages and advice I'm sending her way (both intentional and not) about the role and priority that appearance can, should or does play in living a well-rounded and lovely life," Muller says by email.

Muller makes it clear that this book is not "a how-to guide on how to achieve pretty."

Her own story, she says, is "messy, misguided and, at times, tragically comic." She offers instead reflections.

And, at book's end, Muller does mete out a bit of advice.

"...I would encourage you to embark on your own pretty journey," she writes. "Determine what's important in your personal pursuit and then get down to the hard work of practicing it and living it and owning it. It will be hard and messy and really ugly. And totally worth it."