Archive for June, 2009

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Quick Snippets of N.C. Literary News…

June 30, 2009

…and neither item involves a book being published. Just catching up on things here, some of it a few days old.

First up, Amazon.com cut ties with North Carolina business and individuals taking part in its often controversial affiliate program — a proactive move to dodge changes in sales tax laws currently under consideration in the General Assembly. The Wall Street Journal weighed in here a couple of days ago — and just this afternoon covered a similarly unfolding situation in Hawaii. A story worth following and, obviously, continually developing.

Second, about ten days ago, Martha Waggoner, a Raleigh-based AP writer, reported on the recent legal and personal troubles of novelist Kaye Gibbons, author of the Oprah Book Club picks Ellen Foster and Charms for the Easy Life and not only an old friend of Metro Magazine (under whose aegis I write this blog) but also a friend of mine whom I’ve interviewed on more than one occasion. Gibbons is a gifted writer, no doubt about that, and we wish her the best during this dark  and difficult chapter.

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Romantic Crime Films Part II In Mystery Scene

June 29, 2009

Mystery SceneThe new issue of Mystery Scene magazine has just been released, and I was pleased and honored that “Love Bites,” part two of my survey of top-twenty romantic crime films, not only stands as the main cover story but also earned the center-section spot within the magazine, featuring some beautiful full-color stills and poster images from films including Sunrise, Vertigo, Bonnie and Clyde, Basic Instinct and Slumdog Millionaire. And the issue offers great articles throughout, including Oline Cogdill on Tom Rob Smith, Ed Gorman interviewing The Rap Sheet‘s J. Kingston Pierce (one of the first stops on my own morning blog-reading agenda), Kevin Burton Smith with some recommendations from “mystery fiction’s second wave of feminism,” and Jon L. Breen reviewing, among other reference books, John Buchan: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction. A don’t-miss issue, even if I say so myself.

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N.C. Events: Jenkins, Zellner, and Deaver, Plus The Dance Band from Deacontown

June 26, 2009

One of this weekend’s top literary events in North Carolina has already gotten a plug earlier this week, when an interview with Emyl Jenkins appeared on this site. Jenkins will kick off the tour of her new Sterling Glass mystery, The Big Steal, tonight — Friday, June 26 — at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. And for anyone who already has Friday evening plans, Jenkins will be reading again on Sunday at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village.

But she’s not the only author worth catching over the next few days. Tonight she has stiff competition from Bob Zellner, discussing his book, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Movement, at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop. And on Wednesday, July 1, Jeffrey Deaver brings his latest crime novel, Roadside Crosses, to the Barnes and Noble at Brier Creek Commons in Raleigh.

On the lighter side, however, and with a local twist (or shag, more accurately), two bookstores will be hosting N.W. “Red” Pope this weekend The Dance Band from Deacontown, a memoir about the 12-piece orchestra The Southerners, formed at Wake Forest College in the 1950s and going on the road to perform for “college, high school and military dances, festivals, special occasions and ‘shag-dancing’ beachgoers.” Red was the drummer (and I think it’s a rule somewhere that the drummer always has the best stories). He’ll be at McIntyre’s Books on Saturday, July 27, and down in Wilmington at Pomegranate Books on Sunday the 28th. 

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New Stories At SmokeLong Quarterly

June 25, 2009

On the heels of my own fiction publication earlier this week, I’m pleased also to celebrate and recommend two new flash pieces at SmokeLong Quarterly.

cover25My wife, Tara Laskowski — the first time I’ve called her that in print! — continues her year as the Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong with a story significantly different in style and approach from “The Hamster” (discussed here), her last piece for the journal. “A Minor Setback” draws on a fantastic element to explore the changing relationship between a man and his sister, both grown now and growing apart. In the same issue, Brandon Wicks — not only one of our best friends but also a groomsmen at our recent wedding — offers up a similarly surreal tale in “Northern Migration,” about a man slowly selling off his heritage bit by bit. Both pieces are provocative and, of course, highly recommended from these quarters. (Even without my own bias, I think you’ll agree that these are some fine stories.)

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Festival News Across Two States

June 24, 2009

As part of my various jobs, I keep tabs on two literary festivals in the Carolinas and Virginia — and both have breaking news.

Jill McCorkle

Jill McCorkle

The North Carolina Literary Festival has just announced a terrific addition to its line-up. Authors Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle will join musicians Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman for an evening celebrating the highly acclaimed musical Good Ol’ Girls, which debuted as a work-in-progress at the first NCLF in 1998 and recently made its television premiere on UNC-TV. Smith and McCorkle will read and discuss selections from their fiction, works which first inspired the show, and Berg and Chapman will perform songs from the musical itself. The September 12 event, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will be sponsored by Metro Magazine, under whose aegis I write this blog. For more information on the event and on the entire festival, September 10-13, check out the NCLF website here

Rae Armantrout

Rae Armantrout

Up in Virginia, Fall for the Book has announced a large slate of poets who will be appearing over the week-long festival, September 21-26 at George Mason University and at locations throughout Northern Virginia, D.C., and Maryland. Headlining the list are two seminal “language poets,” Rae Armantrout and Ron Silliman (the latter also the author of a tremendously successful blog on contemporary poetry), and nearly a dozen more poets are included so far — among them one of my own new favorites, Charles Jensen, a fascinating wordsmith and fine blogger in addition to his work directing The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD. For more information on Fall for the Book, check out that festival’s website here.

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Our Humble Blog Added To OA Pulse

June 24, 2009

The Oxford American, not just one of the finest magazines about the American South but one of the best publications anywhere, has recently launched a new and improved website — boasting both a spiffy design and the content to back it up. The magazine’s current issue is “Best of the South 2009” and articles from that issues are online, but there’s also special online-only content, including interviews (with film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and musician Chris Isaak, for example) and regular editor’s picks (“CDs We Love” is an eclectic mix). Additionally, the website has added the “OA Pulse,” which samples content from blogs throughout the region in the categories of literature, music, food, and film — and I’m proud to say that the blog here has recently been tapped for that section of the new site. 

Check out the site — and then pick up the print edition too, whose highlights include new fiction by George Singleton, a article on cheese (!!!) by my favorite food writer, John T. Edge, and an essay by Wendy Brenner excerpted from the forthcoming anthology Love Is A Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts (the latter edited by Michael Taeckens, whom we hope to interview soon in this space).

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“A Voice From the Past” Appears In Ellery Queen: The Story Behind The Story

June 23, 2009

The August 2009 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine hits newsstands today, and with it — I’m proud to say — my story “A Voice From The Past.”

EQM 809 FINAL OUTLINE .aiWhile this story largely recounts a fictional encounter between two former high school classmates, two major aspects of the tale have their roots in real life. As a teenager myself, I attended boarding school at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA, and during those years (1983-1986), the tradition of a “rat system” still prevailed. First-year students — generally freshmen, but often sophomores like myself — were called “rats” and had to show respect for older students (the “old boys,” since Episcopal was all-male at that time) and for the school’s faculty, administrators, and their families. Respect meant, for example, that rats held the door for old boys anywhere within 15 feet or so of passing through it and that rats sat in the middle of the long dining hall tables, were served last from the platters of food, and stacked the dishes at the end of the meal. And respect for the school itself was a part of this as well. For instance, Episcopal’s fight songs had to be learned (and learned quickly) and then shouted with great enthusiasm at each football game. Too little enthusiasm was frowned upon, ad flubbing the lines was a terrible error. I knew one student who failed to spell Episcopal correctly and was ever-after ridiculed mercilessly.

The foundation for the system was, I continue to think, a good one. These incoming students — frequently children of some privilege — were taught fundamental lessons in manners and humility, and not only did the group experiences of each new rat class serve to form some form of brotherhood but, because all students before and after went through the same process, it also connected each incoming class with a sense of lasting tradition and shared history.

But as you might expect (especially given the echoes of fraternity life in the above description), the rat system also had its share of hazing. Rats who didn’t show proper respect could expect some form of derision (again, misspelling Episcopal?) and even small brands of punishment. And respect for an old boy was occasionally a fuzzy concept. Did it mean that a rat had to walk out in the snow to Blackford Hall to fetch a can of coke for an upperclassman who didn’t feel like trekking out himself? Well, sure. I did that myself. And as rats, we also did the soap races that I discuss in the story — racing to the shouts and laughter of the old boys who gathered to watch us. It still gives me a surprising and oddly shameful pride to remember that I won those races. 

The head of the hierarchy were the hall monitors — all seniors — and at the top stood four senior monitors and a head monitor. The worst of the punishments that this group could dole out was “send up,” in which an errant rat was summoned from his room in the dark of night to be yelled at for his transgressions or forced to run laps around the football field or worse. The cruel episode that forms the central flashback to “A Voice From The Past” is a true one, at least to the best of my knowledge; my first-year roommate claimed it happened to him. And rumors suggested that worse happened. During my own years at Episcopal, one upstart student supposedly found double-edged razors waiting in his bed. Race was apparently a factor in that instance as well. The rat system was abolished soon after.

On a lighter note, the second true aspect of “A Voice From The Past” is the dream that prompts the reunion of the two central characters and that ultimately determines each twist of the plot. One night I had that dream myself — almost exactly as it’s recounted in the story — about one of the senior monitors from my own first year at Episcopal, a student to whom I’d hardly given even a passing thought in nearly two decades. Why did he appear in my dream? What did the dream mean? I had no idea, but it stuck with me and — a small lesson in craft, I guess — ultimately prompted me to put pen to paper, beginning the story here and then trying to figure out for myself the puzzle of “What next?”

“A Voice From The Past” provides that “what next,” and I hope that anyone who searches it out and picks it up will enjoy reading it.

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