Friday, May 27, 2011

And the best-read city in the Carolinas is...not Charlotte

One city in the Carolinas is on's new list of the nation's best-read cities.
Can you guess which one it is?
Here's a hint: College towns did well in this contest.
So you might think Chapel Hill. But no. Cities had to have a population of 100,000. It's too small.

I would have guessed Raleigh or Durham. Nope.

The answer: Columbia, home of the University of South Carolina, was 16th on the list of 20 cities.

My family was puzzling about this at dinner last night. Why Columbia and not Raleigh or Durham, both with large numbers of college students and faculty?

My husband offered a plausible explanation: Columbia, with a population of about 130,000, is much smaller than the other two. So college types are a larger percentage of the city's overall population. Don't you love him? He was a math major.

Cambridge, Mass., by the way, topped the list of 20 cities that purchased the most reading material from Amazon (Kindle and paper form) per capita since January.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Local authors to lead free writing workshop in Rock Hill

The Charlotte Observer's Rick Rothacker and Charlotte author Judy Goldman will lead discussions on June 11 at a free writing workshop organized by the Rock Hill Chapter of the S.C. Writers' Workshop.
Rothacker, The Observer's banking reporter, is author of "Banktown: The Rise and Struggles of Charlotte's Big Banks." Goldman, a novelist and poet, is author of "Early Leaving" and "The Slow Way Back."
The workshop, "From the Mind and the Heart to the Page: Write Your Story," will be 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 11 at Grace Lutheran Church, 426 Oakland Ave. in Rock Hill. Lunch is provided. Registration is required. Contact

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Queens hosts readings, panels on publishing

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of its MFA program in creative writing, Queens University hosts this month a series of panel discussions by literary editors and agents and readings by MFA faculty and staff.

The events, all free and open to the public, begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19, in Sykes Auditorium with readings from MFA alumni Tracy Crow ("Eyes Right"), Pauletta Handel ("The Lives We Live in Houses") and Susan Woodring ("Springtime on Mars").

On Saturday, May 21, a 9:30 a.m. panel on magazines includes "Tin House" Editor Rob Spillman and Willing Davidson, an editor at The New Yorker. At 4:30 p.m., literary agents and editors at major publishing houses will discuss the current state of publishing. Both events are in Sykes Auditorium.

Events continue with faculty readings through the next week. Here's a complete schedule.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dannye Romine Powell wins N.C. poetry competition

Charlotte Observer writer Dannye Romine Powell has won the 2011 Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition for her poem "I Am the Girl."

The N.C. Writers Network sponsors the annual contest, which awarded Powell a $200 prize.

"It's a poem strongly driven by voice and idea," said final judge and poet Dan Albergotti. "I love how this deceptively simple poem navigates what is actually highly complex at the level of syntax, temporality, perspective and emotion."

The poem, chosen from nearly 100 entries, will be considered for publication in the literary journal "The Crucible."

Longtime Observer readers may know that Powell is an accomplished poet. She was also, for years, the Observer's book editor, and she continues to be my most-trusted source for all things literary in North Carolina. She's quick to pass on to me news about interesting new books and local authors. But I didn't know she won this prize until I got the press release. Congratulations, Dannye!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

N.C. coast stars in Steve Berry's new thriller

Folks who live in Bath may not know it yet, but Steve Berry has the bad guys in his new novel holed up in their town on the N.C. coast.

Berry ("The Templar Legacy," "The Emperor’s Tomb") is famous for using little-known history in his bestselling thrillers. In his new novel, "The Jefferson Key" (Ballantine; $26), former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone ends up confronting modern-day pirates who live in Bath.

Berry chose Bath for good reasons. In the 18th century, the town, on the Pamlico River, was pirate central. His plot revolves around a lesser-known part of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8) that allows Congress to bestow letters of marque. These letters allow private vessels, known as privateers, to attack and capture enemy vessels.

"I think a lot of Americans would be shocked to know that piracy was a part of the American Constitution," Berry told me in a phone interview. Privateers, he says, were key to America’s Revolutionary War victory. During the war, U.S. privateers prowled the British coast, wreaking havoc on England’s merchant ships.

In Berry’s novel, we learn that descendants of privateers possess letters of marque that let them continue in perpetuity. And privateers, as you can see, are pretty much pirates.

"The only difference is one works inside the law, and one works outside," Berry says. Berry knew about Bath because he grew up spending summers with his mother’s family in eastern North Carolina. He paid the little town a visit in 2009 to research the novel. "There’s a whole track of land that sticks out into the river," he says. "I made that my pirate compound."

Berry will give a reading at Raleigh's Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Ave., at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20. He's also doing a writing workshop 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at Peace College. Click here for more information.

Monday, May 9, 2011

UNCC lecturer's new book: "Seafood Jesus"

With the title "Seafood Jesus," how could you not want to read Julie Townsend's new novel?

This first novel from Townsend, who teaches writing at UNC Charlotte, centers onValgooney Gore, an animal rights activist who sails the ocean under cover of night to destroy crab traps, liberating the crabs therein. Rosemary Kennedy also makes an appearance, and in Townsend's fictional telling we learn that the late Kennedy daughter was lobotomized not because she was mentally disabled, but because she was gay.

Townsend, who graduated from South Mecklenburg High and UNCC, tells me that people have varied theories about that infamous lobotomy. She took that historical speculation and ran with it, creating a story that eventually links her characters. Personally, she believes Rosemary Kennedy was lobotomized for reasons other than mental retardation.

"Seafood Jesus," $11, is published by Charlotte's Main Street Rag.
Townsend will give a reading 11 a.m. May 21 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Three readers win "The Watery Part of the World"

Valerie Nieman, Regina and Charles: You've won copies of Michael Parker's "The Watery Part of the World." Email me your mailing addresses, and I'll send your new novels on their way. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Katie Crouch at Park Road Books with new YA novel

Charleston-raised Katie Crouch's first two novels, ""Men and Dogs" and "Girls in Trucks" won raves. Now she has her first young adult novel, "The Magnolia League," which her publisher is touting as "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" meets "Gossip Girl."

After her mom dies, 16-year-old Alexandra Lee moves from California to Savannah, where she reluctantly takes her place as a member of the Magnolia League, Savannah's debutante society. Soon, she discovers the league, which has made a pact with a voodoo family, offers its members something more lasting than a debutante ball.

Crouch, who splits her time between San Francisco and Edisto Island, will give a reading at 7 p.m. May 11 at Park Road Books, 3139 Park Road.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Win a copy of "The Watery Part of the World"

People magazine has given four stars (out of a possible four) to Greensboro author Michael Parker's new novel, "The Watery Part of the World."
Check out my story on Parker and his novel, set in North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Then enter to win one of three copies I'm giving away by posting a comment on this blog. Include your name or some way to identify you -- not just "anonymous." Check back on Wednesday, May 4, when I'll announce three winners. Parker will give a reading at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.