Thursday, October 30, 2014

Allan Gurganus to give keynote address at NC Writers' conference

I've been driving around town these golden October days listening to the audio recording of Ann Patchett's delightful collection of essays, "This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage," just out in paperback.

In the first chapter, "The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life," she talks about switching from poetry writing to fiction writing as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College. Her first fiction writing teacher was none other than North Carolina's own Allan Gurganus. Here's what she says:

Most of what I know about writing I learned from Allan, and it is a testament to my great good luck (heart-stopping, in retrospect, such dumb luck)that it was his classroom I turned up in when I first started to write stories. Bad habits are easy to acquire and excruciating to break. I came to him a blank slate, drained of all confidence I had brought with me to that first poetry class. I knew I still wanted to be a writer, but now I wasn't sure what that even meant. I needed someone to tell me how to go forward. The course that Allan set me on was one that has guided my life ever since. It was the course of hard work. But he also managed, and may God bless him forever for this, to make the work appear to be a thing of beauty.

Believe it or not, that very same Allan Gurganus, who wrote the classic, "The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All," will be giving the keynote address when the North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference convenes at the Charlotte Sheraton Nov. 21-23. You can register for the conference here: Pre-registration for NCWN’s 2014 Fall Conference closes Friday, November 14. Register now!

The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to writers at all stages of development. For additional information, visit

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Hello again: Novelist and memoirst Elizabeth McCracken


Almost 20 years ago, I met the novelist and memoirist Elizabeth McCracken at a wedding. I liked her instantly, and after the reception, we both ended up on a porch swing at the groom's house. We talked about -- what? -- I have no idea. But we fervently promised to stay in touch, and, of course, we didn't.

Last week, at the Myers Park Library, I spotted in a glass cabinet a copy of her 2008 memoir, "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination." The librarian unlocked the case, and I started reading almost instantly. I didn't stop until the last page. I sorrowed with McCracken through the chapters -- her first son's stillborn birth in France, the heavy weeks afterward on the English coast with her husband Edward Carey. Then I was thrilled when she soon became pregnant again -- will it last? she worried -- back home in the States.

Days after the stillbirth, she writes:

But before this, we had one day -- this is very strange, it's the last day I remember really clearly -- when somehow everything was slightly better. Not all right at all, but one day we made jokes and actually laughed at them. A day of grace. We knew that something very, very terrible had happened, but it seemed to have happened to someone else, perhaps to someone very dear to people dear to us, a friend of a friend we'd always heard stories about. There was sadness in the house, but it didn't have us by the throat. Even as it happened, I wondered what it meant. Was it possible that already we were returning to ourselves?
Things got much worse after that.

Now I'm eager to read "The Giant's House," which I've heard so many rave over and which was nominated for the National Book Award, and "Niagara Falls All Over Again," winner of the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award, and "Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry" and the recent "Thunderstruck," collections of stories. McCracken currently holds the James A. Michener Chair in Fiction at the University of Texas, Austin.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Low Country novelist Josephine Humphreys: 'Morning is my time'

Low Country novelist Josephine Humphreys recently posted this on Facebook. It's a fine example of how writers think and how the mind mulls things during the night. Humphreys, who studied under Reynolds Price as a Duke undergraduate, is the author of "Dreams of Sleep," "The Fireman's Fair," "Rich in Love," and "Nowhere Else on Earth."

Morning is my time. Sometimes when I wake up so many thoughts crowd my brain that I can’t keep up with them. It’s as if they’ve been backing up all night and finally see a chance to rush through the Consciousness Gate. So this morning I woke up suddenly remembering and pondering something someone said last week. She was telling about the bad day she’d had, and ended by saying, “I’m not as sad as I feel.” At the time I thought she’d probably meant to say, “I’m not as sad as I sound.” But somehow, during the night my brain reprocessed the words, and I woke up thinking what a profound statement that was. And I will take it to heart.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kim Teter will read from her debut novel Wednesday at Park Road Books

Ever wonder where writers gets ideas?
Kimberly Cross Teter, who lived in Charlotte from 1991-2006, was taking a music appreciation course at Central Piedmont in 2001. One day, Teter tells me, the instructor mentioned that in the early 18th century, the most famous orchestra in all of Europe was once in Venice, directed by Antonio Vivaldi. And that orchestra -- are you listening? -- was made up of all females, most of whom had been orphaned or abandoned as babies.

Teter says she left class that day determined to learn more.
Today, that idea is Teter's young adult debut novel, "Isabella's Libretto," starring a 15-year orphan, Isabella, who is torn between the opportunity of becoming a lady through marriage into a prosperous family and remaining in the orchestra with Don Vivaldi as her teacher. She cannot have both.
Teter, who now lives in Nashville, says each of her three children was associated with the Charlotte Symphony Youth Orchestra and all graduated from Myers Park High School.

Teter Will Read from "Isabella's Libretto"

When: Wednesday, 6-7 p.m.
Where: Park Road Books, 4201 Park Road, Charlotte 28209
Cost: Free    

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Registration now open for NC Writers' Network Conference in Charlotte

Let's say you're a closet writer. Or maybe a drawer writer. Someone who's been struggling with a novel or  a short story or a group of poems all alone and then stashing them away.
What are you hoping for? That these works will self-polish? That an agent will come knocking, asking if you happen to have something publishable?
Give it up. That's not how it happens.
How it happens is when writers, however timidly, however afraid, come out of the dark and allow other, more experienced writers to offer a guiding hand.
Next month, in Charlotte, you'll have that chance.
The North Carolina Writers' Network 2014 Fall Conference, Nov. 21-23, will convene at the Sheraton Charlotte Hotel.Registration is now open.
The Fall Conference attracts hundreds of writers from around the country and provides a weekend full of activities, including workshop tracks in several genres and the opportunity for one-on-one manuscript critiques with editors or agents. Conference faculty include professional writers from North Carolina and beyond.
Allan Gurganus, author of the New York Times bestselling "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All," and, most recently, "Local Souls," will give the keynote address. Born in Rocky Mount, Gurganus is a Guggenheim Fellow, a PEN-Faulkner finalist, and the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Morri Creech will lead the Master Class in Poetry. His third collection of poems, "The Sleep of Reason," is a 2014 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Poetry. He is the Writer-in-Residence at Queens University of Charlotte, where he teaches courses in both the undergraduate creative writing program and in the low residency MFA program.
Aaron Gwyn will lead the Master Class in Fiction. Gwyn, an associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, is the author of a story collection and two novels, including most recently "Wynne’s War."

Joseph Bathanti, North Carolina’s seventh Poet Laureate, will read during the luncheon on Saturday. He fronts a stellar lineup of faculty poets including Julie Funderburk, Cedric Tillman, and Alan Michael Parker whose poetry collection, "Long Division," won the 2012 NC Book Award.
As always, the Manuscript Mart, Marketing Mart, and Critique Service are available to those who pre-register. And the Network will again offer the Mary Belle Campbell Scholarship, which sends two poets who teach full-time to the Fall Conference.

Pre-registration for NCWN’s 2014 Fall Conference closes Friday, November 14. Register now!

The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to writers at all stages of development. For additional information, visit

Thursday, October 16, 2014

New Non-Fiction by Carolinas writers

A Stack of New Books: Parenthood, football, Lincoln, the afterlife and haunted hospitals

"Beautiful Eyes: A Father Transformed," by Paul Austin. Norton, $25.95. After the birth of their first child, the obstetrician asks Austin and his wife Sally if they've chosen a name. Austin writes: "We'd been planning to name the baby Sarah if it was a girl. But I didn't know if I wanted to still use that name. We'd been expecting a different child. A normal one." This is Austin's journey of accepting his daughter who is born with Down syndrome. An emergency-room doctor in Durham, Austin is the author of another memoir, "Something for the Pain."

"The Blue Divide: Duke, North Carolina and the Battle on Tobacco Road," by Johnny Moore and Art Chansky. Triumph Books, $28.95. Two insider perspectives on the famous rivals only ten miles apart: the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Learn about the origins and history of these teams. Black and white as well as color photos. Foreword by Jay Bilas, Duke forward, 1982-86.

"Rise: A Soldier, a Dream and a Promise Kept," by Daniel Rodriguez with Joe Layden. At 26, Rodriguez is the oldest player on the team at Clemson University, where he is a senior and an honors student. He's a distinguished military veteran with both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor. Before he joined the Army and was shipped to Iraq and Afghanistan -- he was 18, confused and bereft over the death of his father -- Rodriguez made a promise: When I get out, "I'm going to play college football."

"Lincoln's Dilemma: Blair, Sumner and the Republican Struggle over Racism and Equality in the Civil War Era," by former Charlottean Paul Escott, now Reynolds Professor of History at Wake Forest University. (University of Virginia Press, $29.95.) Says UNCC historian David Goldfield: "This really is a new perspective of the period and on the men."

"The Map of Heaven: How Science, Religion, and Ordinary People Are Proving the Afterlife," by Eben Alexander, M.D., with Ptolemy Tompkins. (Simon & Schuster, $21.99). The author of the controversial bestseller, "Proof of Heaven," the Charlotte-born neurosurgeon (educated at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke) is back with another look at what might lie beyond death.  Alexander, the adopted son and grandson of neurosurgeons, remains convinced that we are "far grander than just our physical bodies."

"The Ghost Will See You Now: Haunted Hospitals of the South," by Randy Russell. John Blair: $19.95. Great idea for a book. The yammering ghost in Atlanta's Peachford Hospital; Alicia May Goodwin, trapped forever at the scene of her death along I-26 near Newberry, S.C.; the girl-without-hands ghost in Charlotte's Founder's Hall, built on the site of a former medical college; the ghosts who wander the grounds of the old Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh; the floppy-headed ghost who traipses near the abandoned nurses' residences at Charles George VA Medical Center in Oteen. You'll love this gruesome read just as Halloween descends. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

UNCC Center City Literary Festival Opens on Friday

The UNC Charlotte English Department is sponsoring a Center City Literary Festival, complete with violin music.
The festival, headed by veteran UNCC English Department chair Mark West, will open at 6 p.m., on Friday with a reading by James Grymes, author of "Violins of Hope," about the music and the instruments played by Jews to buoy their spirits while imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps.
Violin music will accompany the reading.
Others performing on Friday evening include poet Chris Davis, mystery writer Mark de Castrique, essayist Sandra Govan and poet Grace Ocasio.
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., is for the youngsters. On hand will be authors and illustrators, including Caldecott-winning writer Gail Haley, illustrator Mathew Myers and digital artist Heather Freeman. These artists will present hands-on activities for the kids.
Beth Murray of the UNCC Theater Department will coordinate activities based on picture books.
The festival will conclude with a performance by the UNC-Charlotte Chamber Orchestra.
Everyone is welcome to the free events.

UNCC Center City Campus: 320 East Ninth St., Charlotte, 28202