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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Creech and Funderburk: Double-header at Queens University on Thursday

Two Queens University creative writing teachers -- Sarah Creech and Julie Funderburk -- will give a free public reading at 8 p.m., on Thursday in Ketner Auditorium on the Queens campus.

Creech is the author of  "Season of the Dragonflies," a rich, sensuous novel about generations of women who have made a fortune extracting the elixir of a magical flower that grows deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The scent has magical powers and imbues the wearer with good fortune. When the plant begins mysteriously to die, it's the younger daughter Lucia -- whose powers have been dormant for 33 years -- who comes into her own and saves the day.

Creech, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, lives with her husband, the poet Morrie Creech, and their two children in Charlotte.

Funderburk is the author of a new poetry collection, "Thoughts to Fold into Birds." Her poetry has appeared previously in such literary journals as Ploughshares, Best New Poets and The Cincinnati Review. She's won scholarships to Bread Loaf and Sewanee writers' conferences, and she serves as poetry editor of the online journal storySouth.

A former managing editor of the Greensboro Review, Funderburk was recently named a semi-finalist in the prestigious Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sharon Tate's sister will sign books at Park Road

Sharon Tate's sister is coming to town.

To commemorate her older sister's life, younger sister Debra Tate has put together a collection of photographs and reminiscences in hopes that people will begin to remember Sharon more for her life, her beauty, her talent and her cultural impact than for her brutal death 45 years ago this past August at age 26 and 8-1/2 months pregnant.

Married to Paris-born director Roman Polanski, who writes the introduction to "Sharon Tate: Recollection" (Running Press, $30), Tate acted in "Valley of the Dolls," "Eye of the Devil," and "Fearless Vampire Killers." 

The book includes original quotes from such celebrities as Jane Fonda, Patty Duke, Joan Collins, Viva and Trina Turk and retrospective quotes from the likes of Truman Capote, Richard Avedon and Mia Farrow. As well as many photos, including some from the Tate family album. 

Unbelievably, the gorgeous Sharon Tate would now be 71.

By the way, if you did not read the riveting profile of Polanski when it appeared in The New Yorker on Dec. 14, 2009, read it here:

Debra Tate Will Sign Books 

Thursday at 6 p.m. at Park Road Books, Park Road Shopping Center, 4139 Park Rd., Charlotte, 28209.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

'A History of Lake Norman: Fish Camps to Ferraris' by Chuck McShane


One way to tell a native Charlottean of a certain age is by what that person calls the large body of water to the north of us. If they call it Lake Norman, they are certainly not natives. If they refer to it as the River, they probably are.

As a just-released book, "A History of Lake Norman: Fish Camps to Ferraris" (History Press, $19.99), opens: "Before the lake there was the river." This river was home to the Kawahcatawba, which author Chuck McShane of Davidson calls "less a tribe and more of a loose federation of smaller, related settlements living in several villages that formed a linear band on either side of the river."

McShane covers it all, from William Davidson's Revolutionary War death in 1781 at Cowan's Ford; Buck Duke's and William States Lee's dream of an electrified South; the opening of the Catawba River Bridge in 1908;  the flood of 1916; the massive dynamiting of land in September, 1959, for the Cowan's Ford Dam; the construction of the dam in the early 1960s; the filling of the lake; and the rest is history.

In the chapter, "The Lore of the Lake: Tall Tales and Future Challenges," I had hoped to read about the winter the river froze and people could walk from one shore to another. I read about this in the microfilm of  an old newspaper -- maybe 1909 or 1919 -- and have always longed for further details. Nothing in this chapter mentions that incredible event.

Nevertheless, the book is engaging and well told.
Meet the Author

October 12th, 2014 at 2pm
Main Street Books
126 S Main St
Davidson, NC 28036

October 18th at 1pm
Charlotte Museum of History
3500 Shamrock Dr
Charlotte, NC 28215

November 8th from 9am-11am
Davis General Store
8940 Old Statesville Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28269

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jefferson Davis's daughter Winnie and her star-crossed romance
Winnie Davis
It would unthinkable today: Parents opposing their daughter's marriage because of the future husband's politics or the region of his birth. But what makes history so fascinating is the various characters who stride through it. Not least among these is Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, and his formidable wife Varina Anne.

Poor daughter Winnie, the baby of Davis's six children, born in June, 1864, just weeks after her five-year-old brother fell to his death from a third-story balcony in Richmond. It was months before she had a name other than "Pie Cake."

And, as she came into the world, the old Confederacy was heading out, and her father -- old enough to be her grandfather -- was soon imprisoned. In fact, Winnie and her mom spent the first two years of Winnie's life with Davis in the damp confines of Fortress Monroe in Virginia.

But pretty Winnie, later her father's companion in public, became famous in her time as the ideal of the Old South and was dubbed The Daughter of the Confederacy.

Unfortunately, her romance with the young attorney Fred Wilkinson was doomed from the get-go. The man she'd fallen for was the grandson of a famous abolitionist -- Northern, of course -- and it was nix-nix from Mom and Dad from the start.

At 2:30 on Sunday, Heath Hardage Lee, former director of education at the Levine Museum and author of "Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Lost Cause" (Potomac Books), will talk about Winnie's life and the role of women in the early days of the New South.

It's bound to be an interesting talk. A depressed Winnie eventually hurled herself across the Atlantic and began writing and publishing Victorian-age romance novels. She died at 33, and at the funeral, in the back pew, sat the man she had loved.

When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Levine Museum, 200 E. 7th St., Charlotte, 28202.
Cost: Free

Friday, October 3, 2014

Laurence Avery reads from 'Mountain Gravity' at Park Road Books

Laurence Avery taught for a long, long time at the University in Chapel Hill, and some of that time he served as chairman of the English department. He also wrote articles and books on British and American playwrights, winning the C. Hugh Holman Award for "A Southern Life: Letters of Paul Green." It was Avery who published the definitive edition of Paul Green's Play, "The Lost Colony."

He stayed very busy, but I'm guessing few things brought him the intense pleasure that the writing of the poems in "Mountain Gravity" (New Atlantic Media, $17 paper) brought.

Poet Michael McFee says Avery is "alert, direct, quietly witty, and always thoughtful."

I would add that he is also attentive and quietly opinionated.

His poem, "A Savage Response: the Council of the Iroquois Confederation to the College of William and Mary, 1744," politely refuses the invitation of the college to send its sons to college there and describes the disappointment when some of these sons went off to northern colleges and returned:

"...ignorant of every means / of living in the woods, unable to bear / either cold or hunger; know neither how to / build a cabin, take a deer, or kill an enemy, / spoke our language imperfectly, were therefore / neither fit for hunters, warriors, nor counselors. / They were in plain truth good for nothing at all."

And the poem / letter concludes:

"...if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us / a dozen of their sons, we will take care / of their education, instruct them in all / we know, and make men of them."

Don't you wish you'd written that!

Laurence Avery Reads from "Mountain Gravity" at  2 p.m., Sunday, at Park Road Books,
Park Road Shopping Center, Charlotte, N.C.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dine with these acclaimed novelists at Bibliofeast at Maggiano's on Oct. 13

Wiley Cash

There's a bit of magic when you meet the person who's created the novel or short story you fell in love with. It's like when you were six, and you happened on your first grade teacher in the grocery store. Not until that moment did you get it that she actually existed outside the classroom. And now, as an adult, you see that this writer, whose hand you are shaking, lives in a world as tangible as the one you inhabit.

You'll have the opportunity to enjoy that special magic at a Bibliofest, 6-9 p.m., on Oct. 13, when 10 well-known and highly praised writers join you for dinner at Maggiano's Little Italy at SouthPark in Charlotte.

There's not even the slightest catch. All you need is a ticket.
The event is sponsored by the local chapter of the Women's National Book Association, a group that brings together book lovers and book industry professionals who support reading and writing.

The line-up of authors is impressive: Wilmington's acclaimed Wiley Cash, author of the novel, "This Dark Road to Mercy";  Raleigh's Kim Church, author of a stunning first novel, "Byrd"; Charlotte's own Kim Wright, whose novel, "The Unexpected Waltz," swirls with suspense and details about Charlotte.

And a writer I've just discovered, Winston-Salem's Charlie Lovett, author of a brand-new, gorgeous book, "First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love and Jane Austen." And Decatur, Ga.'s Joshilyn Jackson, who wrote a page-turner of a novel about science and miracles, "Someone Else's Love Story."

Charlotte's own Erika Marks will be on hand. She gave us the taut novel, "It Comes In Waves," set on Folly Beach, S.C. And Wilmington's Rebecca Petruck, author of the popular "Steering Toward Normal," a middle school favorite. Also Allegra Jordan of Chapel Hill, whose lyrical war novel, "The End of Innocence," abounds with rich, historical detail. 

N.P. Simpson of Raleigh will be there. She gave us "B.O.Q.: An NCIS Special Agent Fran Setliff Novel," a military mystery set on Camp LeJeune. And Charleston's John Warley, whose novel, "A Southern Girl," is touted by Pat Conroy as the best book he's ever read about Charleston's "mysterious and glittering high society."

To Purchase Tickets:

$45 for members of The Women's National Book Association
$55 for non-members or purchase at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, Park Road Shopping Center.

Deadline for ticket purchase: Oct. 10.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Charlotte Literary Fair at Little Rock Cultural Arts Center on Saturday

Everybody's got a story. Can you tell yours in six words?
The reading of those little gems will be one of the highlights of the third annual Charlotte Book Fair this Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.,  at the Little Rock Cultural Center, 401 N. Myers St.
Other events will include a "Making Comics" workshop by the Children's Village and a program by Charlotte Youth Broadcasting Camp. There will be performances by On Q Productions, Oneaka Dance Company, the McCrorey African Drummers, the Buffalo Soldiers, poet Vos Es and "afropunk" rocker Harry Hunter.  
Also, food trucks, film screenings, the works. Everyone welcome.