Friday, December 14, 2012

N.C. books on the KKK, dwarfism and more

There’s nothing like a great first sentence to pull readers into a story. Check out these recent books by N.C. writers, along with their first sentences:

“Drinking Water: A History,” (Overlook; $27.95). Author James Salzman, a Duke University professor who holds dual chairs in law and environment, examines water through the lens of current affairs, popular history and science.

 First sentence of first chapter: “In the winter of 1512, Juan Ponce de León had it all.”
“Dwarf: A Memoir,” (Plume, $16). Tiffanie DiDonato, born with a rare form of dwarfism, stood 3-foot-8 as a child and was told she wouldn’t get any taller. After undergoing bone-lengthening procedures, she’s now 4-foot-10. She lives with her husband, a Marine, at Camp Lejeune. Rennie Dyball is co-author.

 First sentence of prologue: “Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarves as a child.”

“Lizard Tales: The Wit and Wisdom of Ron Shirley,” (Three Rivers Press; $15). Shirley, who lives outside Raleigh, is the star of TruTV’s “Lizard Lick Towing” series and the owner of the repo business Lizard Lick Towing & Recovery.

First sentence of first chapter: “Momma always told me that if you eat one live toad first thing in the morning when you wake, nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

North Carolina and the Klan:
The focus of “Klansville, U.S.A.: The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights-Era Ku Klux Klan” may surprise you.

This new history (Oxford University Press; $29.95), by Brandeis University’s David Cunningham, centers on North Carolina. Why? Because in the 1960s, the Tar Heel state had the nation’s largest Klan membership – more than the rest of the South combined.

Not what I would have guessed. North Carolina, as Cunningham writes, was considered progressive, at least compared to most of the South. N.C. officials didn’t fight desegregation mandates with massive resistance as some Southern states did.

And that, Cunningham finds, is why the Klan thrived. While many Southern states had high-profile segregationist voices (Strom Thurmond in South Carolina, George Wallace in Alabama), North Carolina had no official spokesman for segregation.

Klan rallies drew thousands in North Carolina into the mid-1960s. But by the late ’60s, the state had cracked down on the Klan and membership was on the decline.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas stories from N.C. writers

New stories from seven of North Carolina's best fiction writers star in Our State magazine's December issue.

This is the first time Our State, the magazine of N.C. culture, food and travel, has produced a Christmas fiction issue. And it's an all-star author lineup -- Allan Gurganus, Jill McCorkle, Clyde Edgerton, Margaret Maron, Ron Rash, Elizabeth Spencer and Daniel Wallace.

If you've read these authors, you'll notice some familiar settings. Edgerton's story takes place in fictional Listre, North Carolina. In Rash's piece, a veterinarian heads out under a starry night sky in Madison County to attend to "a calf that ain't of a mind to get born."

McCorkle's story, "Holiday," unfolds at Pine Haven Estates, a retirement village and assisted living in the fictional N.C. town of Fulton. It's adapted from her forthcoming novel, "Life After Life," out in March.

Want to read more from these authors? Check out Our State's handy reading list.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Poor Richard's carves a niche with books, art, music

Obviously, Poor Richard's Book Shoppe sells books. But if you're trying to picture the place,  think all-purpose arts venue.

Since the store opened at 135 Brevard Court in uptown Charlotte in August, it has launched a regular schedule of concerts, open mic nights and, on the first Friday of each month, "The Art of  Spoken Word," an event featuring a poet, musician and visual artist. While the poet and musician perform, the artist creates. At evening's end, the artist's new work is sold.

Now, husband and wife owners Bryan and Sheri Borges (right) are in the process of remodeling space adjacent to their second-floor bookstore. When they're done, maybe by month's end, they'll have twice the space, and more room for performances. 

Their book selection is mostly used, along with new works from local and regional authors. They also host author readings and children's story times.

 The space includes comfy chairs, exposed brick walls and lots of original paintings. "People have come in and say, 'I could live here,' " Sheri told me recently.

 Check out their website for more info.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Winston-Salem author pens new Thornton Wilder biography

Thornton Wilder’s most famous play, “Our Town,” was first performed on Broadway in 1938. Today, on the eve of its 75th anniversary, it’s the world’s most-produced American play.

Now, Winston-Salem author Penelope Niven reveals the man behind “Our Town” in a new biography. In “Thornton Wilder: A Life” (HarperCollins, $39.99), Niven explores Wilder, his close-knit family and his life as an artist.

Reviewers are praising her new work. Library Journal calls the book “Fast-paced and engaging.” Publishers Weekly describes it as a “seamless weaving of letters and journals that make up the full tapestry of the writer’s life.”

Niven, 73, grew up in Waxhaw. The town was rich in stories, she says, and the perfect place for a girl who dreamed of becoming a writer. Her other works include biographies of poet Carl Sandburg and photographer Edward Steichen, Sandburg’s brother-in-law. She loves exploring the lives of artists.

Like many readers, she discovered Wilder’s artistry in high school when she read “Our Town,” a simple, profound story of life and death in a small American town.

“I was convinced it was written about Waxhaw,” she told me. “How did Thornton Wilder know about Waxhaw?”

He didn’t, of course. But the fact that Niven saw her own world in the fictional village of Grover’s Corners shows why the play remains so popular.

Wilder, who died in 1978, won three Pulitzer Prizes – for the plays “Our Town” and “Skin of Our Teeth” and the novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”

Niven worked on the story of his life for more than a decade. It’s the first Wilder biography since 1983 and the first to use thousands of pages of journals, letters and records recently made available by Wilder’s estate.

Wilder’s circle of friends included many of the 20th century’s biggest names – Sigmund Freud, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway. And yet he was also a private person.

Wilder never married, and while he was intensely private and did not speak out for himself, many people believed he was gay. Also interesting: Wilder, whose full name is Thornton Niven Wilder, is related to his new biographer. “Our families come from the same little village on an island off the west coast of Scotland,” Niven said.
As “Our Town” turns 75 next month, expect to hear more about the play, and more from Niven. Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., will host the official anniversary celebration on Feb. 4. Niven, along with Tappan Wilder, Wilder’s nephew and literary executor, will speak there on Feb. 12.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dogs and the writers who love them

Maybe you’re one of Ron Rash’s biggest fans. You’ve read all his books, from his debut short-story collection, “The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth,” to his latest novel, “The Cove.”

You know a lot about the man, but I bet you didn’t know this: He owns one of the orneriest, ugliest dogs you’ve ever seen.

I say this after reading Rash’s essay about his dog, Pepper, in a new book from Spartanburg’s Hub City Press, “Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers.” 

The book includes 25 pieces by authors with S.C. ties, including Dorthea Benton Frank, Josephine Humphreys and Mary Alice Monroe, who introduce us to canines they have known and mostly loved. Some, such as a feral dog that novelist Dot Jackson refers to as “Yellow Dog,” were passing acquaintances. Others, such as Humphrey’s white poodle, Archie, are part of the family.

Then there’s Pepper (pictured at right). “Pepper was and is an amalgam of not only breeds,” Rash writes, “but also seemingly species: pointed bat ears, bulging salamander eyes, and a mouthful of small sharp teeth as you would find on a piranha.”

Pepper uses his piranha teeth to bite people. Lots of people. And yet, Rash feels a fondness for this unlovable mutt. I’ll bet readers will feel that fondness, too.

The book is $19.95. Its editors are Hub City Press Executive Director Betsy Wakefield Teter and John Lane, one of its founders. Some book proceeds go to an animal charity.

A book about bookstores
Once you finish reading about writers’ favorite dogs, you can learn about writers’ favorite bookstores.
In “My Bookstore” (Black Dog & Leventhal; $23.95), authors write about bookshops across the nation where they browse, read and shop.

Carolinas stores and writers are well represented. There’s Jill McCorkle on Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books, Laurent Dubois on Durham’s Regulator, Lee Smith on Hillsborough’s Purple Crow Books and Angela Davis-Gardner on Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh.

Bestselling young-adult author Carrie Ryan writes about Charlotte’s Park Road Books, and Ron Rash (again!) writes about Sylva’s City Lights Bookstore. In South Carolina, Mindy Friddle writes about Greenville’s Fiction Addiction store.
Ryan will do a signing at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bestselling 'Shack' author visits Charlotte with new book

In 2007, William Paul Young self-published a book. He'd written it in six months while holding down three part-time jobs. Maybe you've heard of it. "The Shack," a novel that explores issues such as overcoming anger and recapturing faith, was eventually purchased by a major publisher. It has sold 18 million copies.

Now, Young, one of the most unlikely publishing success stories of the decade, is back with a second novel.

"Cross Roads," out Tuesday, Nov. 13, is the story of Anthony Spencer, a man who revisits the choices he's made in his life after falling into a coma. Reawakening into a surreal world where he's able to see through the eyes and experiences of others, Anthony faces the consequences of past actions.

His publisher, FaithWords, obviously expects another blockbuster. The first printing is a million books.

Young lives in Oregon, but he'll be in Charlotte to sign copies at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Barnes & Noble at the Arboretum, 3327 Pineville-Matthews Road.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ryan Adams biographer at Park Road Books

As the Raleigh News & Observer’s music critic, David Menconi watched up close in the 1990s as Ryan Adams, once a small-time Raleigh musician, rose to become a Grammy-nominated star.

In “Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown” (University of Texas Press; $19.95), Menconi recounts a piece of Adams’ journey, describing his arrival on the Triangle music scene as a swaggering kid and tracing his development as a person, band member and, ultimately, solo artist.

Menconi will give a reading and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Whiskeytown, Adams’ alternative country band, played regularly in Raleigh in the ’90s, in locales such as the Berkeley Café and The Brewery.

The word “Losering” in the book’s title refers to a song on the band’s 1997 album, “Strangers Almanac.”
Adams, who grew up in Jacksonville, N.C., left Raleigh after making “Strangers Almanac.”

 He made his solo debut album, “Heartbreaker,” in 2000. Menconi has written about music for the News & Observer since 1991.

Friday, November 2, 2012

'The Last Lion': Here at last, thanks to N.C. writer

Ever since I wrote two years ago about Paul Reid, the N.C. writer finishing the third volume of William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill, I’ve received periodic calls and emails, all with the same question:

When is it going to be published?

I got my latest query last month from a fellow named Tony in Canada. When I wrote back with the answer, he told me I’d made his day – possibly even his year.

Obviously, it’s Paul Reid who deserves the praise.

“The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965,” has been eagerly awaited by fans of Manchester and Churchill for more than 20 years, and it nearly didn’t get written. The book, by Manchester and Reid, is now available.

Manchester was the bestselling author of 18 books, including “The Death of a President,” about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and “American Caesar,” a biography of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

“The Last Lion,” his Churchill biography, was his magnum opus. He had begun work on the third and final volume. But then he had two strokes. With his health failing, he reluctantly gave up the project. In a poignant 2001 account, the New York Times described the author’s ill health and his response to fans.
“I have to tell them the book is not coming out,” Manchester, then 79, told the Times. “I tell them I just can’t do it.”

Finally, months before he died in 2004, he asked Reid, his friend, to complete the book for him.
Reid has lived since 2006 in Tryon, about 90 miles west of Charlotte. The book took him five years longer to finish than he expected. By the end, his advance, which he confirmed to be about $200,000,  was gone and finances were tight. “My family sacrificed a great deal for this,” he said.

But he’s pleased with the result. So are reviewers. Four major book review publications, including Publishers Weekly, have given it starred reviews.

“The long-delayed majestic account of Winston Churchill’s last 25 years is worth the wait,” Publishers Weekly says. The book matches the quality, the review says, of works by such esteemed biographers as Robert Caro and Edmund Morris.

Reid says he’s especially flattered by that reference to Caro, Lyndon Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer.

In 2010, I met Reid at his mountain home to talk about his daunting literary undertaking.
His unlikely background made his story especially interesting. Reid, now 63, was neither a Churchill scholar nor a biographer. As a reporter at Florida’s Palm Beach Post, he had never tackled any piece longer than a few thousand words.

Now he was writing a volume of more than 1,000 pages. Fans of both Churchill and Manchester had been waiting for it ever since the second volume came out in 1988. And they had high expectations.
That was intimidating enough. Not long after he started work, Reid realized the great man’s idiosyncratic research notes would be of limited use. He would have to do a lot of research himself.
I remember thinking as I drove home from the mountains after our interview: What a challenge that guy has.
Now it looks as if Reid was the perfect person for the job.

Over the years, Reid had written several feature stories about Manchester, and the two men had become friends. Both had grown up in Massachusetts and loved the Boston Red Sox. Manchester was a master at using details and anecdotes to bring history alive. As a former newspaperman himself, he liked having a writer with a reporting background finishing his work.

And Reid, like Manchester, loved history. As a teenager, he ordered a copy of the Warren Report on Kennedy’s assassination and subscribed to the Congressional Record. He already owned about 100 books on Churchill and World War II even before he took on Manchester’s book.

“My introduction to Churchill came almost six decades ago,” Reid writes in his author’s note. “On Saturday mornings I stood next to the stove as my father, attired in his old Annapolis bathrobe and a seaman’s cap, flipped pancakes and fried eggs while reciting along to Churchill’s wartime speeches, which he played on our old RCA Victrola. ‘Listen to Winston,’ my father commanded, stabbing the air with the spatula in syncopation with Churchill’s words. I listened.”

The final volume of “The Last Lion” is 1,232 pages. About 100 of those pages are Manchester’s. The rest are Reid’s. I asked Reid recently if the task of finishing another man’s masterpiece ever overwhelmed him. Did he ever doubt he could do it?

Reid is not a bragging sort, but he’s not given to false modesty, either. He thought about my question for a moment. And then he said no.

He recalled growing up in a family where Churchill was playing on the Victrola. He talked about how he made the task of writing 1,000-plus pages manageable by approaching each scene as if he were writing a feature story.

“It was a long, winding road,” he told me. He’s not a believer in fate. But in the end, he says, it turned out that the knowledge and skills he had acquired over a lifetime “were, coincidentally, just right.”

Friday, October 19, 2012

New books from N.C. writers

A memoir of madness and a supernatural coming-of-age story are among this season’s new books by authors with N.C. connections.

In “The Seventh Angel,” former Charlottean Alex McKeithen delivers an in-your-face account of his battle with bipolar disorder.

While he was a Davidson College junior studying in Paris, McKeithen came to believe he was the seventh angel, assigned to announce the coming Apocalypse. His mania led to a run through Paris streets, where he shed clothes until he was arrested, nude, at the Arc de Triomphe.

With the help of his parents, Charlotte’s Ward and Liz McKeithen, he returned to North Carolina. He was successfully treated and graduated from Davidson in 1989. McKeithen, an artist and designer, lives in New York City. His clients have included Rolling Stone and Forbes. The memoir (Lorimer Press; $24.95) is out Nov. 1. McKeithen will sign books at 5 p.m. Nov. 17 at Poor Richard's Book Shoppe, 135 Brevard Ct.

“The Suburban Strange,” the first in a young-adult series by Durham’s Nathan Kotecki, is a paranormal mystery. It’s set at Suburban High, where strange things are happening to female students. Kotecki will sign books at 2 p.m. Oct. 21 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Kotecki, a former DJ, peppers the book (Houghton Mifflin; $16.99) with musical references – from classical to Goth.
N.C. authors have also written several new histories.

Cary’s Joseph Wheelan, a former Associated Press editor, details the life and times of Civil War Union Gen. Philip Sheridan in “Terrible Swift Sword” (Da Capo Press; $26).

Michele Gillespie is author of “Katharine and R.J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South” (University of Georgia Press; $32.95). When tobacco company founder R.J. Reynolds married Katharine, their partnership went beyond family. The book shows how the Winston-Salem couple provided leadership for a series of progressive reform movements.

“An Independent Profession: A Centennial History of the Mecklenburg County Bar” (Lorimer Press: $24.95), was commissioned by the Mecklenburg County Bar and Mecklenburg Bar Foundation. Authors Marion Ellis and Howard Covington recount some of Charlotte’s most interesting legal history. Both are former Observer reporters.   Ellis lives in Durham; Covington, in Greensboro.

Chapel Hill sports journalist Tim Crothers brings us “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” (Scribner; $26). The book grew out of a magazine story on a street kid in Uganda who became a world champion chess player.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

UNC Charlotte grad wins $10,000 writing prize

Stephanie Powell Watts, an English professor who grew up in Lenoir and Wilkesboro, has won the 2012 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, a prize that recognizes rising African-American writers. The award includes a $10,000 prize.

Watts graduated from UNC Charlotte in 1997 with an English degree. With her husband, Bob Watts, she wrote a community column for the Charlotte Observer in 1996-97.

The Gaines Award is one of several honors Watts has received for her debut short story collection, "We Are Taking Only What We Need." Earlier this year, the book was a finalist for the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, considered the nation's most important award for a first work of fiction.

Watts’ characters in the story collection are young black women living in North Carolina. For the book’s Pushcart Prize-winning story, “Unassigned Territory,” she draws from personal experience as a former Jehovah’s Witness. In the story, the narrator, a young black woman, is proselytizing door to door on a hot day in rural North Carolina.

"On the way past the car, past the tired old dog, through the patchy yard,” the narrator recalls as she leaves one woman’s porch, “I can’t be sure, but I think I heard the woman say ‘wetback.’ I don’t know, it could have been the bigoted cicadas or heat stroke, but I think she called me a wetback. I wanted to put my finger in her crumpled face, her skin like the film from Krazy Glue and say something wise and cutting like, ‘Get your racial epithets right, Ms. Einstein.’”

Watts told me earlier this year that as a former Jehovah’s Witness she has often written about losing faith "and what that feels like and trying to figure out how to reconstitute yourself once you’ve lost faith."

Watts, who teaches English at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, holds a PhD from the University of Missouri.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dinner, books, conversation: It's Bibilofest

In fall 2010, the Charlotte chapter of the Women's National Book Association launched Bibliofest, an evening of dining and book discussions with authors. The group dubbed the event "a literary moveable feast."

On Oct. 22, Charlotte's WNBA chapter will host its third annual Bibliofest. I say we declare this moveable feast a local tradition.

It's a fun concept. First, there's a cash bar. Then you dine. This year's event is 6-9 p.m. at Maggiano's Little Italy Restaurant at SouthPark Mall. While you eat, authors take turns visiting your table to discuss their books and answer questions. All books are available for purchase.

This year's Bibliofest features at least eight authors, including Debra Dean. Like her 2007 bestseller, "The Madonnas of Leningrad," Dean's new novel, "A Mirrored World," is set in Russia. Also appearing:

  • Charlotte mystery writer Mark deCastrique, whose latest novel is "The 13th Target."
  • Emily Colin of Wilmington, whose debut novel is the "The Memory Thief."
  • S.C. novelist Mary Glickman, author of "One More River" and "Home in the Morning."
  • Charlotte's Judy Goldman, a novelist and poet whose new memoir is "Losing My Sister."
  • Brooklyn novelist Shira Nayman, author of "A Mind of Winter."
  • Elena Passarello, whose essay collection, "Let Me Clear My Throat," explores memorable moments in the history of the human voice.
  • Wendy Welch, author of "The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap," a memoir of owning a book store in Big Stone Gap, Va.

You can buy tickets, $45 for WNBA members and $55 for nonmembers, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, or online at More information:, 704-439-4596 or 612-382-5868.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Former Charlotte judge pens novel

A black man walks along a dark Alabama road. A car of teenaged white boys approaches. One boy throws an egg, striking its target.

The teenagers haven’t anticipated what happens next. The man turns, his face contorted in fear and anger. And he begins to chase them.

This powerful scene comes early in “Leaving Tuscaloosa,” the debut novel from Chapel Hill’s Walter Bennett. If it reads as especially real, it’s because Bennett plucked it from his own life. He wasn’t the kid who threw the egg. But he was in the car.
Bennett, a retired UNC Chapel Hill law professor, was a lawyer and state district court judge in Charlotte in the 1970s and early ’80s. His wife, Betsy, was a Mecklenburg school board member and is director of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

He was about 15 when he sat in the car on the real-life Tuscaloosa night he fictionalizes in his novel, and he says the event helped change his world view.

When the assaulted man gave chase, he suddenly saw a person, not some anonymous black man.

“It seemed like a good scene to start a novel about the process of becoming morally conscious of your society,” says Bennett, 69.

“Leaving Tuscaloosa” (Fuze; $16.95), is the story of two young men, one black, one white, both on moral journeys. It’s set in 1962, just before Alabama exploded with violence during the civil rights era.
One man, Acee, is a black teenager whose activist brother is about to be hunted like an animal. The other is Richeboux, a middle-class white kid haunted by his own actions.

Though “Leaving Tuscaloosa” is just out, it was a 2010 finalist for the Bellwether Prize, now called the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. The award, created by novelist Barbara Kingsolver, honors unpublished fiction that addresses social justice issues.
That honor helped affirm years Bennett has worked to develop his craft. He contemplated writing fiction, he says, since his days as an English major. But in college, he assumed novelists were all geniuses. He figured he wasn’t. So he went into law.

In 1999, he retired to pursue writing. It was a long road. “It was a process of learning how much I didn’t know and how far I had to go,” he says. “It took a conversion and even some therapy to turn my mind from linear legal thinking.”

Like many Southerners, Bennett says, racial issues have been central in his own moral journey. Writing helps him gain understanding. He’s now at work on a novel set just after the Civil War.

Bennett wil give a reading 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at Park Road Books. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mecklenburg County Bar publishes new history

Over the past century, Mecklenburg County Bar lawyers have played key roles in Charlotte's most important public debates and controversies.

Now, a new book, "An Independent Profession: A Centennial History of the Mecklenburg County Bar,"
tells many of those stories through a legal lens.

Veteran authors Marion Ellis and Howard Covington spent two years researching and writing the book, which was commissioned by the Mecklenburg County Bar and Mecklenburg Bar Foundation.

 Longtime Charlotteans have lived some of this history. The book devotes a chapter, for instance, to the late U.S. District Court Judge James McMillan's groundbreaking 1970 Swann v.Mecklenburg ruling, which found that schools could use busing to achieve integration.

 It also details the personal toll the case took on participants. Thugs firebombed the homes of plaintiffs' attorney Julius Chambers and two other Charlotte civil rights activists. Later, an arsonist set fire to Chambers' law firm office.

McMillan was also judge in the precedent-setting Hyatt case. Legal Services of the Southern Piedmont teamed with Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson lawyers to successfully challenge a 1984 Social Security Administration ruling that took away the disability benefits of thousands of N.C. residents. The Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson team ultimately won national recognition for its pro bono work.

Ellis, a former Observer reporter, told me he learned a lot researching this book. One of his favorite discoveries was the Mecklenburg Bar's Lawyer Referral Service, a valuable public service that gives people up to a 30-minute consultation with a lawyer for $50.

 Ellis and Covington will sign copies of the new book (Lorimer Press; $24.95), at 7 p.m. Oct. 10 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

York, S.C. teacher wins $10,000 writing prize

Kay McSpadden, an English teacher at York, S.C.'s York Comprehensive High and a Charlotte Observer community columnist, has won this year's Norman Mailer Writing Award for high school teachers writing fiction.

The annual award, which carries a $10,000 prize, is given by the Norman Mailer Center and the National Council of Teachers of English. McSpadden won for her short story, "Why Women Moan in Bed."

Judges were author and radio host Garrison Keillor and authors Colum McCann and Sigrid Nunez.
McFadden, who lives in Rock Hill, writes a column for the Observer's editorial page, usually on education. She'll accept the Mailer award at a gala Thursday in New York City. The prize also includes a month's stay at a writer's colony in Cape Cod.

The Norman Mailer Center gives several writing awards each year. It also named Davidson College sophomore Jessie Li, from State College, Pa., a finalist for the Norman Mailer Award for College Poetry Writing. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Charlotte Book Fair offers authors, storytellers, food

Ever since budget cuts killed the Charlotte-Mecklenburg library's Novello Festival of Reading in 2010, the Queen City has seemed to me woefully short on literary celebrations.

So I'm happy to report that a group of book lovers is launching the Charlotte Book Fair next Saturday, Oct. 6, at 400 S. Summit Ave. That's in Charlotte's Wesley Heights neighborhood. The festival, which will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will feature authors, storytellers, workshops, performances and food vendors.

Guests will include Charlotte's Cheris Hodges, who has written 13 romance novels, and Janice Curtis Greene, a nationally-known storyteller.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Judy Goldman's new memoir: 'Losing My Sister'

Judy Goldman often instructs her students: Write about what keeps you up at night.

In “Losing My Sister,” her new memoir, Goldman heeds her own advice as she recalls her intense, loving and sometimes difficult relationship with her late sister, Brenda Meltsner.

Readers know Goldman, 70, as a Charlotte writing teacher, poet and author of two novels, “Early Leaving” and “The Slow Way Back.”

She described her newest work to me as “a small story filled with small events.” Her narrative is, in fact, full of life’s minutiae – childhood play, family dinners, hurt feelings.

And yet, the sum of these small parts gives readers something profound – a look at the hidden dynamics that compel a family’s members to play assigned roles.

In Goldman’s family, sisters were supposed to be close. “Jews don’t have coats of arms,” she writes, “but if my family did, it would say, Sisters Matter. Adoring your sister is as common a trait in our family as red hair or bowed legs might be in somebody else’s.”

But she and Brenda, though inseparable, are raised to be different. Judy is sweet, like her mother. Brenda, three years older, is strong, like her father.

As years pass, the sisters marry, raise children, bury their parents. They have rifts and overcome them. But when Judy writes her second novel, Brenda, who is battling cancer, offers more criticism than support. They stay divided for 18 months before reconciling.

Days after they patch things up, Brenda learns her cancer is back. By her birthday in December 2005, the family knows she doesn’t have long to live. At a birthday dinner, Judy reads a series of vignettes from their childhood.

“As I read, Brenda laughs, shakes her head – Yes I remember that – finishes off some of the anecdotes with details only she can add,” Goldman writes.

Brenda died the next month, January 2006. So she never saw her little sister’s memoir. If she could read it, Goldman predicts she would find parts that would make her smile. But there are parts, too, with which she would take issue.

Goldman says she worked hard to tell the truth. Even so, the act of remembering “is inevitably an act of revision.”

“What I would hope is that she would know how deeply I loved her, and how much I miss her,” Goldman says. “And how this book is just Judy coping with the grief of missing her.”

Goldman will read and sign books, 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Mint Museum, 2730 Randolph Road.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Self-publishing versus traditional: What's best for you?

Some days on the book beat, I feel like I'm the only person not publishing a book. New technologies -- print on demand and e-books -- have made it easy and often inexpensive to publish. So lots of folks are doing it. And then they send a copy to me.

Much of the self-published stuff is still not so great, but that's changing, as more established authors choose to self-publish.

Want to learn more about it? On Sept. 15, Two Editors and a Comma will hold a workshop examining the pros and cons of publishing yourself or going the traditional route.

Two Editors and a Comma is Betsy Thorpe and Carin Siegfried, former editors with Random House and St. Martin's Press.Their instruction will cover marketing your book, finding an agent and launching your book. They'll also provide individual critiques of your first 500 words.

Cost is $250. Enrollment is limited to 15. It's 1-5 p.m. Sept. 15 at 7308 Quail Meadow Lane. More information: 704-608-6559.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Nothing like a backyard barbecue -- with Jon Stewart

We caught up with "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart Monday at an afternoon barbecue in Myers Park, where he was mingling at a fundraiser for veterans and wounded warriors.

The cause is one of Stewart's favorites. It's also a favorite of party co-host and Charlotte author Paula Broadwell (shown with Stewart and with local veterans). (Check the end of this post for a list of veterans' resources that Broadwell recommends.)

About 200 attended the event, held at the home of Shannon Lalor and Sami Aasar. Broadwell, author of "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus," met Stewart in January during a "Daily Show" appearance to promote her book.

That day, she and Stewart engaged in a push-up competition to raise money for wounded veterans. Broadwell, a West Point graduate and counterterrorism expert, bested Stewart easily. Recalling the contest Monday, Stewart said: "I'm never doing that again in my life."

With Stewart in town to film "The Daily Show" at ImaginOn during the Democratic National Convention, Broadwell decided to throw the last-minute party.

Stewart, wearing khakis, a black T-shirt and at least a day's beard growth, said he was enjoying the sunshine after spending a week taping shows in Tampa during the Republican National Convention. "I haven't been outside for a week," he said "I feel like a mole person."

He spent much of the party posing for photos, chatting with guests and drawing laughs with one-liners. When a little girl clad in a bathing suit and swim flippers approached him, he quipped: "Oh my God! It's a web-footed person!"

Has he gathered any good material on Charlotte for his show yet? He's working on it, he told me. "We're trying to figure out why, no matter what you're eating, they put it on a biscuit."

Here's a list of local resources for veterans that Broadwell highlighted Monday:

Friday, August 31, 2012

New books from Carolinas authors

In recent weeks, my desk has become home to an interesting collection of new novels, kids’ books and nonfiction, all from Carolinas authors. Among them:

“War is Not Just for Heroes” (University of South Carolina; $29.95).
Linda Canup Katon-Lima, who lives in Tega Cay, S.C., edited these World War II dispatches and letters written by her father, the late Claude “Red” Canup, a U.S. Marine Corps combat correspondent.

Canup was sports editor of the Anderson (S.C.) Independent when he took a leave to write about Marines from combat zones in the Pacific. These are the only known collection of any World War II combat correspondent’s writings. The USMC Combat Correspondents Association recently selected Keaton-Lima as recipient of its 2012 civilian award.

“Families in Crisis in the Old South: Divorce, Slavery, & the Law” (University of North Carolina Press; $49.95).

Loren Schweninger, a historian at UNC Greensboro, reviewed nearly 800 divorce cases from the sSouthern United States and found that divorce rates rose steadily in the antebellum South, even though divorce was often viewed as a form of madness or degeneracy.

“The Greatest Unit of Value” (Working Class Press, $14.95).
In this debut novel, Charlotte’s Michael Sadoff gives us Granger Callahan, a young man in the throes of a breakdown. Granger ends up hitchhiking to San Francisco and falling in love with a grifting drug addict.

Sadoff will sign books 1-4 p.m. Sept. 15 at the North County Regional Library’s Back to School Block Party, 16500 Holly Crest Lane in Huntersville.

“The Unfinished Garden,” (Harlequin MIRA; $14.95).
Barbara Claypole White, who lives outside Chapel Hill, draws on her love of gardening in this debut novel about a man who turns to gardening to help cope with his obsessive-compulsive disorder. His life changes when he meets a widow who’s also a landscaper.

“Blue Autumn Cruise” (Zonderkidz; $10.99).
This is the third installment in the “Sisters in All Seasons” series by Mooresville’s Lisa Williams Kline.

To be published Oct. 23, Kline’s tale of two unlikely teenaged stepsisters is targeted to readers 9 and up.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Neil Gaiman and Unchained Tour to perform in Charlotte

The Unchained Tour refers to itself as a group of world-famous raconteurs. In other words, it's a bunch of folks who love telling stories.

The tour, which includes bestselling author Neil Gaiman ("Coraline," "The Graveyard Book"), is making lots of stops in the Carolinas in September. It rumbles into Charlotte in an old school bus on Sept. 18 for a 7:30 p.m. Booth Playhouse performance. Here's more information on tickets and N.C. performances.

The event is a spin off of author George Dawes Green's The Moth, a live storytelling series. You can now also hear "Moth on the Radio" on many NPR stations. The tour's goal is to spread face-to-face storytelling while supporting independent bookstores.

Along with Gaiman, other touring raconteurs include humorist and storytelling coach Dawn J. Fraser; Edgar Oliver, a raconteur star of the Edinburgh Festival; and Peter Aguero, current host of The Moth. There will be music, too, provided by Charleston-based musicians Rachel Kate and Joel T. Hamilton.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Charlotte book club gets a mention in Wall Street Journal

Last year, Elaine Monaghan and other members of Charlotte's Berkeley Book Club enjoyed reading "The Kitchen House."

Now, members of the south Charlotte club have learned via The Wall Street Journal that they've played a part in propelling the 2010 novel to bestseller status.

Kathleen Grissom's debut novel, set on a Southern plantation, features an Irish indentured servant who bonds with slaves in the kitchen house. When it came out in 2010, the book didn't get much notice.

But as the Journal recounts in a recent story, the novel benefited from readers recommending the book to other readers. Independent bookstores saw the demand and began stocking it. It's now a book club favorite.

"It an era when digital buzz is considered crucial to launching books overnight, it was old-fashioned book-club word-of mouth that prevailed," the Journal wrote.

The novel, which is being compared to "The Help," is now in its 21st printing, with 254,000 copies in print and 154,000 e-books sold. Monaghan and her club are mentioned in the Journal's story, which notes that they dressed up last year as "Kitchen House" characters in honor of Halloween and also enjoyed discussing the book by telephone with Grissom.

It's nice to know that word of mouth can still create bestsellers. I also learned about "The Kitchen House" from a member of my own book club. She told me just last week she'd heard it was wonderful.

Monaghan telephoned to tell me about her book club's moment in the limelight. Then, like a true book lover, she urged me to read "The Kitchen House." "It'll make your heart ache," she told me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kathy Reichs' new novel: 'Bones Are Forever'

I love asking Charlotte's Kathy Reichs how she gets the ideas for her bestselling "Bones" series of thrillers.

Last year, I learned she drew inspiration for "Flash and Bones," her fourteenth thriller featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, from a big landfill behind the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

For her newest novel, "Bones Are Forever," out Aug. 28, Reichs told me she was inspired by a visit to Yellowknife, a town in Canada's Northwest Territories. There, she learned about diamond mines, gold mines and the arsenic that's a gold-mining byproduct.

"As soon as they started talking about arsenic," she told me, "I thought, 'What a perfect place for a body.'"

Reichs also drew from forensic anthropology cases she had recently investigated. They included Florida's Caylee Anthony case and the discovery of the body of an 11-month-old girl in an attic in eastern North Carolina.

"Bones Are Forever" opens to a grisly scene. Brennan is investigating the discovery of baby's decomposing body in the bathroom of a seedy apartment in Quebec.

Reichs, a New York Times bestselling author, was a UNC Charlotte anthropology professor when she published her first novel, "Deja Dead," in 1997. She remains on UNCC's faculty but no longer teaches. Her new book is her fifteenth in her "Bones" series. The books are also the inspiration for "Bones," the Fox television series.

Reichs is under contract for a total of 19 "Bones" thrillers, and she's now at work on the next one, to be set in Afghanistan. That setting was inspired by Reichs' visit last year during a USO tour.

Reichs will sign copies of her novel at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30 at Pineville's Barnes & Noble, 11055 Carolina Place Parkway.

Joining her will be her daughter and fellow novelist Kerry Reichs, author of "What You Wish For," a tale of five families pursuing different paths to happiness.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A big list of political books

Just in time for the Democratic National Convention, readers and local political experts came through with numerous suggestions for great political reads.

Below is a non-exhaustive, non-scientific list compiled from those suggestions. Find more in my accompanying story.

Is there a favorite book of yours missing from these lists? Feel free to comment and share.

“Advise and Consent,” Allen Drury
“Alexander Hamilton,” Ron Chernow
“All the President’s Men” and “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
“All Too Human,” George Stephanopoulos
“Animal Farm” and “1984,” George Orwell
“Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” Richard Hofstadter
“The Boys on the Bus,” Timothy Crouse
“Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime,” John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
“The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad” and “The Post-American World,” Fareed Zakaria
“Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans,” Lewis Gould
“The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge and the 1924 Election,” Garland Tucker III
“Lyndon: An Oral Biography,” Merle Miller
“My Life,” Bill Clinton
“Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63,” Taylor Branch
“Party of the People: A History of the Democrats,” Jules Witcover
“Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush,” Paul Boller
“Profiles in Courage,” John F. Kennedy
“Robert Kennedy,” Jack Newfield
“Southern Politics in State and Nation,” V.O. Key, Jr.
“Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” Doris Kearns Goodwin
“The Vital South: How Presidents are Elected,” Earl Black and Merle Black
“What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” Richard Ben Cramer
“The World Is Flat” and “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” Thomas Friedman
“The Years of Lyndon Johnson,” four volumes, Robert Caro

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Carolinas writers score in annual worst-sentence contest

Sure, most people can write mediocre prose. Or even bad prose. But to write a sentence that's so truly awful it wins a Bulwer-Lytton award, now that takes some talent.

This year, two Carolinas writers managed to craft sentences selected from thousands of entries as winners in Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Mary Patrick of Lake City, S.C., won in the science fiction category of the annual bad-writing competition. Her sentence:

"As I gardened, gazing toward the autumnal sky, I longed to run my finger through the trail of mucus left by a single speckled slug -- innocuously thrusting past my rhododendrons -- and in feeling that warm slime, be swept back to planet Alderon, back into the tentacles of the alien who loved me."

And Amy Torchinsky of Greensboro took the vile puns category with:

"Though they were merely strangers on a train, as she looked North by Northwest through the rear window, Marnie knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the trouble with Harry was that he was a psycho -- his left and right hand middle fingers (formerly extended in the birds position) were menacingly twisting a rope in the form of a noose; certain of her impending death as surely as she could dial M for Murder, she was overcome by intense vertigo."

Since 1982, San Jose State University's English Department has sponsored the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a literary competition aimed at finding the opening sentence of the worst possible novel. It is named for a Victorian novelist, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose novel "Paul Clifford" begins with the famous line, "It was a dark and stormy night."

This year's overall winner, Cathy Bryant, hails from Manchester, England. Her sentence:

"As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting."

Friday, August 3, 2012

S.C. woman's "Cruel Harvest" explores a dark childhood

Fran Grubb lives in Ninety Six, S.C., a little town between Greenville and Columbia. At 62, she’s a curly-haired grandmother, a singer and public speaker.
Most of all, she’s a survivor.
In her new memoir, “Cruel Harvest” (Thomas Nelson; $22.99), Grubb tells the story of a childhood that included near starvation, beatings and sexual abuse. It’s a dark story, but one that’s likely to give hope to others.
“So many people,” she says, “have been through the same thing.”
How bad was her childhood? So bad that being sent to an orphanage, Connie Maxwell Children’s Home in Greenwood, S.C., proved a godsend. There, she learned to make a bed and brush her teeth. When she scraped her knee, she got her first Band-Aid.
This safe harbor was short lived. Her father kidnapped Grubb and her sister after they’d been there less than a year.
As he’s absconding with them, she recalls in the book, he tells them: “They didn’t want you in that home anymore. That old woman begged me to take you off her hands.”
Grubb portrays her father as a monster, a violent alcoholic whose cruelties include snatching a hamburger from the hand of his own hungry child.
In an interview, I asked if she ever saw any redeeming qualities.
None, she told me.
The best she can say for him is that he suffered a head injury as a young man. Perhaps, she says, it changed his personality.
Grubb escaped her father and got a job in a drug store at age 15. She had almost no formal education. Though her mother taught her to read, she left school in third grade. Her parents were migrant workers, and her father kept her and her siblings out of school to work in the fields, picking cotton and other crops.
Once on her own, Grubb taught herself multiplication tables, read voraciously in the public library and earned a GED and a real estate license.
Eventually, she began telling her story at churches, prisons, centers for abused women. She even told it at the Connie Maxwell orphanage. She got a standing ovation.
It took years, Grubb says, but with the help of her faith, she has forgiven her father.
In a moving scene near the book’s end, her husband learns where her father is buried – in an unmarked grave in Cowpens, S.C.
They erect a headstone. For its inscription, Grubb chooses a Bible verse from Matthew:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What are your favorite political books?

As you may have heard, there's a political convention coming to town. To help set the literary mood, I'm planning a story highlighting some great political books you might like to dip into before the delegates arrive.

So far, in my chats with a few political junkies, Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men," the novel based on Huey Long, has received the most mentions.

Personally, Timothy Crouse's "Boys on the Bus" has been one of my favorites since I read it for a political science course at UNC Chapel Hill. At the time, I was an aspiring reporter who knew almost nothing about the actual practice of journalism. I lapped up Crouse's colorful insider look at the political reporters covering Nixon and McGovern during the 1972 presidential campaign.

So what are your favorites, and why are they so good? These can be fiction or nonfiction, highbrow or frothy.

Give me your suggestions. I'll include what I can in my story.

Friday, July 13, 2012

N.C. author's novel offers chocolate and romance

What do women want, anyway?

Laura Florand of Durham knows two big desires: Romance and chocolate, not necessarily in that order.

In Florand’s new novel, “The Chocolate Thief” (Kensington; $14), romance blossoms in Paris, and chocolate plays a starring role.

Florand, 40, teaches French at Duke University. She has lived in Paris and met her husband there, a story she recounts in her memoir, “Blame It on Paris.”

In her debut novel, she tells the story of Cade Corey, an American who has traveled to Paris on a mission. She wants to hire the city’s best chocolatier to create a new premium line for her family’s chocolate company.

Problem is, when she meets with the great Sylvain Marquis, he’s not interested. In fact, he can’t believe she’d even ask him to lend his name to a U.S. company known for its mediocre candy bars.

So their relationship doesn’t begin well. Still, one should never underestimate the power of chocolate to bring people together.

For this book, the first of four in what her publisher calls “the chocolate series,” Florand had to travel to Paris and conduct extensive research – in chocolate shops.

“It was grueling, I’m telling you,” she told me with a laugh recently.

She spent time with two master chocolatiers, Jacques Genin and Michel Chaudun, observing their work, peppering them with questions and, of course, sampling their products.

All that sampling helped her write descriptions like this:

“As flavor pure as sin burst in her mouth, and her whole body melted in response, she pressed her forehead helplessly against her window, trying to keep her mouth in a scowl. Which was hard to do around melting chocolate.”

Being the discerning reader I am, I suggested that it sounds like she’s describing sex.
She agreed. “That’s one of the things that fascinates me about the whole field,” she says. “These professionals are controlled by their senses.” And they learn to manipulate the senses of others with the confections they create.

“To me, it’s a natural tie in,” she says. “They just go together – one kind of sensuality and another.”

“The Chocolate Thief” will be published July 31. Florand’s second novel, “The Chocolate Kiss,” will be out in January.

To research that book, she spent time – get this – with a three-star pastry chef.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mooresville author writes two books for tweens

Mooresville's Lisa Williams Kline will sign copies of her new novels, "Wild Horse Spring" and "Summer of the Wolves," 2 p.m. Saturday, June 30 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

The two books, aimed at readers aged 9 to 12, are the first in Kline's "Sisters in All Seasons" series. They tell the story of Stephanie and Diana, girls with very different personalities who must learn to live together when they become stepsisters.

Kline's other books include three middle-grade novels -- "The Princesses of Atlantis," "Write Before Your Eyes" and "Eleanor Hill," which won the North Carolina Juvenile Literature Award.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Changing of the guard at UNC Press

For the first time in 20 years, UNC Press, one of the nation's leading academic presses, is getting a new director.

John Sherer, vice president and publisher of Basic Books, has been selected to succeed Kate Douglas Torrey, who has led the press since 1992. She is retiring.

Under Sherer's leadership, Basic Books has won numerous awards and published bestsellers by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Diane Ravitch, Thomas Sowell and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, among others. His appointment is effective July 30.

Under Torrey's leadership, UNC Press has more than doubled the size of its publishing program and tripled the size of its endowment. Its books have also won numerous prizes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What college students are reading this summer

Summer is usually the designated season for light, beachy reading. But if you’d rather crack open a book with a little heft during the warm months, check out this list. These are books that Carolinas colleges are assigning to incoming first-year students as summer reads:

Appalachian State University: “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer,” by Novella Carpenter. She recounts her experience farming in Oakland, Calif., in this book about food and community.

Belmont Abbey College: “A Canticle for Leibowitz,” by Walter M. Miller Jr. This post-apocalyptic novel won the 1961 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

Catawba College: “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,” by Atul Gawande. Stories of how an ordinary checklist can be a lifesaver in a complex world.

Davidson College: “Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey,” by G.B. Tran. In this graphic memoir, Tran explores his family’s history as immigrants who fled Saigon and raised him in South Carolina.

Duke University: “State of Wonder,” by Ann Patchett. This novel, part scientific thriller, part personal odyssey, follows a pharmacologist whose work takes her to a Brazilian jungle.

East Carolina University: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot. A nonfiction account of how the cells of a tobacco farmer, taken without her knowledge, became one of medicine’s most important tools.

N.C. State University: “It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace,” by Charlotte’s Rye Barcott. As a UNC Chapel Hill student, Barcott spent a summer in Kibera, a mega-slum in Kenya, then created a nonprofit called Carolina for Kibera. In this memoir, he tells how he launched and led the organization while serving as a Marine.

Queens University of Charlotte: “In the Time of the Butterflies,” by Julia Alvarez. This novel is based on the true story of the Mirabal sisters and their opposition to the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.

UNC Chapel Hill: “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” by Nicholas Carr. This Pulitzer Prize finalist describes how technology, particularly the Internet, has shaped the way we think.

UNC Charlotte: “Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team and One Woman’s Quest to Make A Difference,” by Warren St. John. The story of woman who forms a soccer team to unify refugee children in Clarkston, Ga.

University of South Carolina: “Motherless Brooklyn,” by John Lethem. An homage to the classic detective novel.

Winthrop University: “Where Am I Wearing?” by Kelsey Timmerman. The author asks a simple question: “Who makes my clothes?” The answer takes him to China, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Honduras and New York.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Christian fiction author speaking in Charlotte

Concord author Linda Leigh Hargrove will discuss her novel, "The Making of Isaac Hunt," 6 p.m. June 22 at Chappell Memorial Baptist Church, 110 Bradford Drive. The event is free and open to the public.

Hargrove, an engineer by training, writes novels that deal with issues of race, class and social justice in America. In "The Making of Isaac Hunt," her first novel, a fair-skinned, blue-eyed black man discovers he has been living a lie.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Dine out, do good for Charlotte's libraries

Charlotte's Rye Barcott, author of “It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine’s Path to Peace,” will speak at The Friends of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's Dine Out for Books event, 5-7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 21, at Zink American Kitchen, 4310 Sharon Road.

As a UNC Chapel Hill student, Barcott spent a summer in Kibera, a mega-slum in Kenya. From that experience, he created a successful nonprofit called Carolina for Kibera. In his memoir, he tells how he launched and led the organization while serving as a Marine.

Barcott's book has won widespread praise and was recently ranked sixth on The Wall Street Journal's bestseller list. It also won the 2011 Ragan Old North State Award for best nonfiction book in North Carolina.

Barcott will speak about 6 p.m., and his talk is free. To ensure a seat, RSVP to A portion of proceeds from food and drink purchased during the event will be donated to the library system's books and materials budget.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Library summer reading program kicks off

Reading is, of course, its own reward. So what could be better than reading and prizes?
The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library kicks off its summer reading program Tuesday, June 12. Local businesses are donating nearly $66,000 worth of prizes for those who read the required number of hours.

From now until Aug. 10, you can sign up here to participate and track hours online. The library offers programs for babies/preschoolers, children, teens and adults. Last year, 17,138 children and teens participated and documented more than 184,000 hours read.

Aside from the prizes, here's another good reason to read this summer: Research shows students who read at least 20 minutes daily in the summer are more likely to read at or above grade level when they return to school in the fall.

Monday, June 11, 2012

'Reliable Wife' author Robert Goolrick coming to Charlotte

Bestselling author Robert Goolrick will appear 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, to promote his new novel, "Heading Out to Wonderful."

Goolrick's last book, "A Reliable Wife," was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller when it was published in 2009. In a starred review, Booklist describes "Heading Out to Wonderful" as an "erotically charged tale of of illicit passion."

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bestselling author Mary Kay Andrews at Park Road Books

Mary Kay Andrews will speak and sign books, including copies of her new novel, "Spring Fever," 7 p.m. Friday, June 8, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

Andrews' 2011 novel, "Summer Rental," hit it big last year among the beach reading set.

In her new novel, "Spring Fever," she tells the story of a woman who may or may not be over her ex-husband. Publishers Weekly calls it "an enjoyable escape." Andrews, a former journalist at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, lives in Atlanta.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Where to learn to write this summer

Things to do this summer: Grow tomatoes. Hit the beach. Learn to write.

Like sunburns on a 90-degree day, writing workshops are popping up across the Carolinas in coming months. They’ll focus on memoir and nonfiction, boosting creativity, poetry and fiction. And with luck, they’ll teach students to write similes better than the one that opened this paragraph.

Costs vary, from $10 to hundreds of dollars. So do workshop lengths. Some are a single afternoon. Others run several days.

For a county-by-county list of N.C. workshops, you can subscribe to the N.C. Writers’ Network’s weekly email blasts at

Peruse the list, and you’ll find that the John C. Campbell Folk School offers writing classes through the summer. So does the Writers’ Workshop of Asheville, which holds sessions in Asheville and Charlotte.

In Durham, Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies holds a master nonfiction writing class Aug. 6-11. For students entering grades five through eight, Wake Forest University hosts the Great American Writers’ Camp July 9-14.

Other workshops include:

The S.C. Writers’ Workshop writers’ intensive, June 16 in Rock Hill. It features former Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson and Irene Blair Honeycutt, a poet and former teacher at Central Piedmont Community College. To register: or 803-289-6491. The price: $10, including lunch.

The N.C. Writers’ Network’s Squire Summer Writing Residency. This year’s residency is July 19-22 at Queens University of Charlotte. Students can choose from workshops in creative nonfiction with Pat MacEnulty (“Wait Until Tomorrow”), poetry with Morri Creech (“Field Knowledge”) or fiction with Robert Inman (“Captain Saturday”).

More information: or 336-293-8844.

The Hub City Writers Project’s Writing in Place conference at Spartanburg’s Wofford College. Set for July 13-15, it offers workshops in multiple genres.

Faculty include Anna Jean Mayhew (“The Dry Grass of August”) in fiction and Ruta Sepetys (“Between Shades of Gray”) in young-adult fiction.

More information: or 864-577-9349.

Writing workshops have proliferated in recent years. N.C. Writers Network Executive Director Ed Southern thinks that’s a good thing. “It shows there’s a great desire to tell stories and communicate in something more than 140 characters,” he says.

Actually, it’s probably only a matter of time before someone offers a tweet-writing workshop. When I hear about it, I’ll let you know.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Charlotte libraries to be closed Monday

All Charlotte-Mecklenburg libraries will be closed Monday, June 4, while the system relocates its library servers.

During the move, Saturday, June 2, through Monday, June 4, many library services, including email, the phone system and many online services, will be unavailable.

No overdue fines will be charged during this period and book drops will remain open. The library system plans to return to business as usual at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 5.

The library system will also switch to summer hours on Sunday, June 3. That means all libraries will be closed on Sundays until Sept. 9.

On a happier note: North County Regional Library in Huntersville is scheduled to finish renovations and reopen June 9.

More information is here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Charlotte book news: This week's roundup

Some 1,400 sci-fi and fantasy fans are expected at this year's ConCarolinas, running Friday, June 1, to Sunday, June 3, at the Charlotte Hilton University Place. Attendees include Nebula Award winner Jack McDevitt ("Seeker"), along with lots of other writers. Check out details here.

"It Happened on the Way to War: A Marine's Path to Peace" is now out in paperback. Its author, Charlotte's Rye Barcott, will read and sign books 2 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.As a UNC Chapel Hill student, Barcott spent a summer in Kibera, a mega-slum in Nairobi, Kenya. That experience led him to create a nonprofit called Carolina for Kibera. In this memoir, he tells how he launched and continued to lead the organization while serving as a Marine.

Lawrence Lohr will read from and sign copies of "And Then They Stood: Old Textile Mills of the Carolina Piedmont" at 7 p.m. Monday, June 4 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road. Lohr's book combines photos with essays on the Southern textile industry.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How many bookstores are left in Charlotte?

This is a trick question. It depends how you define bookstore.

This Friday, June 1, will be the last business day for the nearly 20-year-old BookMark, an independent bookstore in uptown Charlotte's Founder's Hall. Its demise leaves Park Road Books as Charlotte's only independent bookstore. There's also Main Street Books in Davidson.

But bookstores come in a variety of packages. Define the term broadly, and you'll find the Charlotte area still offers many places that sell the printed word.

Mecklenburg County has six full-service chain bookstores -- two Books-A-Million locations, in Cotswold Mall and on Steele Creek Road in Southwest Charlotte, and four Barnes & Noble locations, Sharon Road, The Arboretum, Carolina Place Mall and Birkdale Village.

If you're looking for children's books, you'll find a terrific selection at Black Forest Books & Toys on Seventh Street.

And that's not all. We've got a number of used bookstores, including The Last Word in University City, The Book Rack on Johnston Road and Julia's Cafe & Books, at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore on Wendover Road.

We've also got several Christian stores with good-sized book sections, including Cokesbury Bookstore on Tyvola Road and LifeWay stores in University City and Pineville. And if you want cookbooks, Johnson & Wales University's student bookstore has a nice selection.

What am I missing? If you know of other good bookstores in the Charlotte area, post them here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Charlotte author's 'Eliza' poems hit the stage

Charlotte poet Dede Wilson's "Eliza: The New Orleans Years," is about to take the stage as a one-woman show.

"Eliza" opens at 2:30 p.m. May 27 and will run Sundays through June 17 at Carolinas Actors Studio Theatre, 2424 N. Davidson St. Tickets are $15.

The performance, starring Pamela Freedy, is adapted from Wilson's 2010 book of poetry, which is based on actual events.

Eliza was Wilson's great- great-grandmother, and her life with husband Caleb has long been a subject of fascination in Wilson's family. The story was that Caleb had married Eliza after killing her first husband in a duel.

Wilson used her late mother's research and her own to write Eliza's story for family members. After she finished, she did more research for this fictional version.

"Eliza" is the tale of a young London woman who sails in 1837 with her mother and siblings to New Orleans. In route, she marries the ship's captain. But once on land, she meets Caleb.

Rich and precise, Wilson's blank-verse poems speed the story along. By the end of the book, it's 1862. New Orleans has fallen to Union troops, and Eliza's marriage is disintegrating.

Read more here:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Authors in Charlotte this week

Jon Odell will read from his novel, "The Healing," 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 22, at Red and 28th, 2424 N. Davidson St. Set in antebellum Mississippi, "The Healing" is a rite-of-passage novel that's being compared favorably to "The Help."

Alethea Kontis will read from her latest teen book, "Enchanted," 7 p.m. Thursday, May 24, at Barnes & Noble in Pineville, 11055 Carolina Place Blvd. Kontis and Sherrilyn Kenyon are co-authors of "The Dark-Hunter Companion."

Friday, May 18, 2012

Leonard Pitts, Jr. coming to Charlotte

Novelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. will give a reading and sign copies of his new novel, "Freeman," 2 p.m. Sunday, June 3, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.

"Freeman," the follow-up to Pitt's "Before I Forget," is set is the post-Civil War South and follows three characters as they make their way in the post-slavery world.

Pitts, a columnist for the Miami Herald, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Charlotte's Amy Clipston to sign new novel at LifeWay stores

Charlotte author Amy Clipston will sign copies of "Reckless Heart," her first young adult novel in her Kauffman Amish Bakery series, on Thursday and Friday, May 18 and 19, in Charlotte.

Clipston will be signing books at 5 p.m. May 18 at the LifeWay store at 10412 Centrum Parkway in Pineville. At 1 p.m. on May 19, she'll be at the LifeWay at 8821 J.W. Clay Blvd.

The novels in Clipston's Kauffman Amish Bakery series, set in Lancaster County, Pa., have regularly won places on Christian fiction bestseller lists. "Reckless Love," is the series' first novel aimed at young-adult readers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lots of Carolinas titles up for SIBA awards

Carolinas authors and publishing houses are well represented among finalists for this year's Southern Independent Book Awards, given by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.

In the fiction category alone, there's Anna Jean Mayhew's "The Dry Grass of August." She grew up in Charlotte. Also on the list are Davidson College graduate John Hart's "Iron House" and Charles Frazier's "Nightwoods." Frazier lives near Raleigh.

Two Charlotte authors are also finalists in the young adult category: Carrie Ryan for "The Dark and Hollow Places" and A.J. Hartley for "Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact."

Nonfiction nominees include Robert Morgan's "Lions of the West" and Celia Rivenbark's "You Don't Sweat Much for a Fat Girl." Morgan, who teaches at Cornell University, grew up in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. Rivenbark lives in Wilmington.

Morgan' "Terroir" is also a nominee in the poetry category. So is Ron Rash's "Waking." Rash, who grew up in Boiling Springs, teaches at Western Carolina University.

Check out the whole list here. Winners will be announced on July 4 -- Independence Day. (Also, Independents' Day. Get it?)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Charlotte author writes "The Boy Who Stole the Leopard's Spots"

Tamar Myers must be one of Charlotte's hardest-working -- and successful -- writers.

Over 15 years, she churned out more than 35 books as part of two comedic mystery series, one featuring a Mennonite innkeeper, the other an antiques dealer. More than 2 million copies have sold.

That's pretty impressive. But here's what makes me really happy for Myers: In 2009, she published "The Witch Doctor's Wife," a book that drew on her experiences growing up in the Congo, the daughter of missionaries.

She'd written it years earlier, and publishers had repeatedly rejected it. The content, they said, was too exotic.

When it was finally published, it got a starred Publishers Weekly review. Since then, she's continued the series. "The Headhunter's Daughter" was published last year.

And now comes the third book in the series: "The Boy Who Stole the Leopard's Spots" (William Morrow; $14.99.) Set in the Belgian Congo of 1958, it, too, is winning warm reviews. "Edge-ofyour-seat tragicomedy," Booklist says.

Myers will read and sign copies of her book 7 p.m. May 24 at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road.