Monday, September 15, 2014

Bestselling novelist Lisa Wingate writes about mysterious Melungeons

Lisa Wingate
Picture this: It's 2007, and I'm in London, trapped for a week in an old hotel near Russell Square with my 11-year-old granddaughter, who's immersed in a hair-tossing, month-long snit. At night, as I collapse into my narrow bed, she looms on the other bed, performing vigorous cheerleading routines, while gazing adoringly at herself in the full-length mirror.

Here's what saved me: Lisa's Alther's memoir, "Kinfolks: Falling Off the Family Tree, The Search for My Melungeon Ancestors."
At 2 each morning, I wake to an hour or so of peace and a thoroughly entertaining trek as Alther struggles to find her own link to these mysterious, dark-skinned, blue-eyed people, sometimes with an extra thumb, who burrowed into Southern Appalachia before the 1600s.

So I was thrilled to see that award-winning Lisa Wingate's new novel, "The Story Keeper" (Tyndale, $14.99 paper), is also about Melungeons. In short, it's the story of a New York editor, Jen Gibbs, a native of the North Carolina mountains, who finds herself engrossed in an anonymously-written manuscript about a mixed-race Melungeon girl trapped by dangerous men in a place Gibbs thought she'd left behind.

What inspired the novel? I ask Wingate by email.

She'd just finished writing "The Prayer Box," she emails back, and was researching her next novel, which she thought would also be set on the Outer Banks, when she came across an article on the Melungeons.

She clicked on it. Then she clicked on another and another and still another until something happened that had not happened in "15 years and 23 novels."

"I literally dreamed a story," she writes. "I saw the tale of a busy New York editor who finds a partial manuscript in an old slush pile. She's captivated by the story of Sarra, a young Melungeon girl being sold off in a card game in turn-of-the-century Appalachia.

"Sarra's circumstances in some ways mirror the editor's painful childhood in the Blue Ridge mountains. In my dream, the search for the manuscript's author took the editor back home after many years away, leading her to a place called Mirror Lake, deep in the mountains."

A 2012 genetic study shows that Melungeons are the offspring of Sub-Saharan males and women of Northern or Eastern European origins, though that doesn't preclude Native American DNA flowing  into the mix at a later time.

Whatever the case, Wingate says it's been an amazing ride, solving in fiction a mystery that may never be fully solved in real life.

Hear Lisa Wingate Talk about the Novel:
  • On Wednesday at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Park Road Books, Park Road Shopping Center, 4139 Park Road, Charlotte, 28209.
  • On Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., at First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, 317 S. Chester St., Gastonia, 28052. Reservations required: 704-864-3468 or

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Latin poets to read Wednesday at Mint Museum on Randolph
Latin poets reading Wednesday at the Mint Museum on Randolph Road

I love Latin poets. They tend, as a group, to be so romantic, so imaginative, so flashy and still so tenderly charged.

One of my favorites is Martin Espada, who was born in Brooklyn, but is Latin through and through. In his poem, "The Republic of Poetry," from the book of the same name, he proclaims that in the imaginary Republic of Poetry, "monks print verses about the night / on boxes of monastery chocolate," that "poets read to the baboons /  at the zoo, and all the primates, / poets and baboons alike, scream for joy."
 And, of course, it goes without saying that in the Republic of Poetry, "poets eat free."
 If you, too, love the thrill of Latin writing, you're in luck.
 To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, six Latin poets -- three Colombians, two Mexicans and one Venezuelan -- will give a bi-lingual reading of poetry and prose on Wednesday, 7-8 p.m., at the Mint Museum on Randolph Road.
The occasion is the publication of the anthology, "La Fragancia del Agua" (The Fragrance of Water") from Main Street Rag Publishing of Charlotte, which includes work by the group Artesanos de la Palabra.
Poets reading are Cielo Ramirez, Claudia Quijano-Tourn, Irania M. Patterson, Jose Vazquez, Kurma Murrain and Patricia Atilano.

In the Republic of Poetry, all poetry readings would be free, and the poets, of course, millionaires. I don't know about any millionaires among them, but the reading is definitely free and open to the public. Mint Museum: 2730 Randolph Road, Charlotte, N.C., 28207.

'Rich with the troubles of love' -- Tommy Hays to read at Quail Ridge

Tommy Hays by Michael Mauney
Tommy Hays will read from his young adult novel, "What I Came to Tell You," just out in paperback, at 7 p.m., Tuesday at Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Ave., in Raleigh.

South Carolina novelist Josephine Humphreys says of the novel: "This is a story rich with the troubles of love and grief, family and community, but there's a surprising aura of innocence over all, lifting the novel and its readers into another realm. A rare accomplishment."

Bestselling North Carolina novelist Ron Rash calls the book "...a great-hearted novel filled with wisdom and truth."

"What I Came to Tell You," set partially in a bamboo forest in Asheville, was recently chosen by the Atlanta Constitution as one of 12 books of 2013 recommended for younger readers.

Hays says he is at work on two more novels set in Asheville: another for young adults and one for adults. He is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and serves as executive director of the Smokies Writing Program at UNC Asheville.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Joseph Mills: 'Admitting what we haven't read'


We play the party game,
admitting what we haven't read.
Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary,
anything of Faulkner's.
Amid mock gasps, we name titles
with a mix of embarrassment,
swagger, and relief
that we can finally reveal
how we never made it
more than twenty pages
into Portrait of a Lady,
Middlemarch, Moby Dick.
We don't bother pretending
we'll get to them eventually.
We're confessing, but unrepentant,
and then we begin to get serious:
the newspaper, warning labels,
the mortgage, legal contracts,
every Christmas card from her
for the last twenty years,
the letter he sent before he died,
the lab's blood results last month
and this month and the next.

-- From "This Miraculous Turning" (Press 53, $14.95 paper), by Joseph Mills, who teaches at the UNC School of the Arts. He is co-author, with his wife Danielle Tarmey, of  "A Guide to North Carolina's Wineries." His poetry collections include "Somewhere During the Spin Cycle," "Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers," "Love and Other Collisions," and "Sending Christmas Cards to Huck & Hamlet." Virginia poet Kelly Cherry says "...these poems show us how to live with one another."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Thomas Wolfe Winner: 'a short story is when people shut up and listen'

Sandra Cisneros
Novelist and short story writer Sandra Cisneros is this year's winner of the Thomas Wolfe Award, sponsored by the Department of English at UNC Chapel Hill. She will deliver the free public Wolfe lecture at 7:30 p.m., on Tuesday, Oct. 21, in the Genome Sciences Building on the campus. 

Winner of a MacArthur "genius grant," Cisneros is the author of two award-winning novels, "The House on Mango Street" and "Carmelo," as well as three collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, "Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories" and, most recently, "Have You Seen Marie," a picture book for adults.

In 2002, the Missouri Review asked Chicago native Cisneros about her definition of a short story. Her answer:
I don’t know what the definition of a short story is, and I don’t even care to answer that question. That’s something somebody in academia would think about. I just want to tell a story, and if people listen, and if it stays with you, it’s a story. For me, a story’s a story if people want to hear it; it’s very much based on oral storytelling. And for me, a story is a story when people give me the privilege of listening when I’m speaking it out loud, whether I’m reading it in a banquet hall for a convention and it’s the waitresses and busboys who are looking up from their jobs, or whether it’s across an ice house table (ice house is an outdoor bar here in San Antonio), or whether it’s a group of my girlfriends when we’re having soup. Its power is that it makes people shut up and listen, and not many things make people shut up and listen these days. They remember it, and it stays with them without their having to take notes. They wind up retelling it, and it affects their lives, and they’ll never look at something the same way again. It changes the way they think, in other words.
The Wolfe Prize and Lecture honors the memory of Thomas Clayton Wolfe, UNC class of 1920. Previous winners include Ron Rash, Josephine Humphreys, Lee Smith, Robert Morgan, Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell and Ellen Gilchrist.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nancy Stancill to read from 'Texas' at Morrison Regional Library

Investigative-reporter-turned-novelist Nancy Stancill of Charlotte will sign copies and read from her debut suspense novel, "Saving Texas," at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 10, at Morrison Regional Library, 7015 Morrison Blvd., Charlotte.

Stancill is a former award-winning Charlotte Observer reporter who's earning her MFA in the University of Tampa low-residency program. She'll talk about the skills a long-time non-fiction writer must learn to produce a good novel.
D.G. Martin of the UNC-TV show "Book Watch," calls Stancill's novel "mesmerizing."

Last November, Stancill pledged royalties from the first thousand copies sold of “Saving Texas” to an Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) endowment to support the Godfrey Wells Stancill Fellowship in memory of her father, the former Suffolk News-Herald editor who died in 1995.

Friday, September 5, 2014

'I Love You More' author Jennifer Murphy says 'dreams do come true'

Former Charlottean Jennifer Murphy has concocted a doozy of a plot in her debut novel, "I Love You More" (Doubleday, $24.95). Lawyer Oliver Lane is shot to death in his Outer Banks rental cottage, and the prime suspects are his three wives, who are each unaware of the other but all sport the same haircut.
The star of the book is 12-year-old Picasso, Oliver's precocious and dictionary-reading daughter, who tries to make sense of what she knows and doesn't know.
Kirkus Review calls this "a thoughtfully written, original and entertaining exploration of events ignited by love and lies."
Murphy, who now lives in Seattle, emailed me that her biggest dream was always to write and publish a novel. But as a former single working mom, a writing schedule was a luxury. She got serious after she went to the Wild Acres Writers Conference in Little Switzerland, N.C., and studied with novelist Ann Hood, who encouraged her.
At Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Vermont, she met an agent, who offered to represent her. In 2011, Hood invited her to a conference in Tuscany, Italy. Murphy took 50 pages of her novel-in-progress, "I Love You More." Hood liked it so much, she advised her to dump the novel she'd been working on and stick with this one.
Nine months later, she completed "I Love You," and in a few more months, her agent sold it to Doubleday.
"It took awhile," she writes, "and there were a lot of rejections along the way. But ultimately I believe it was the stick-with-it-ness that made it happen."

Murphy, who served as executive director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Art Commission, will read from  "I Love You More" at 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 7, at Park Road Books in Charlotte.