Archive for December, 2010


Recommendation: Oxford American’s 12th Annual Southern Music Issue

December 30, 2010

Apart from Metro itself, one of my favorite magazines is undoubtedly The Oxford American — and the highpoint of the year for The OA is undoubtedly its annual music issue. (I’m not alone in thinking this; previous music issues have won National Magazine Awards and other distinguished honors.) Since the late ’90s, the magazine has each year produced a CD exploring the South’s rich musical landscape and long and diverse heritage. Last year brought a double CD, the first sampling music from throughout the entire region and a second devoted to Arkansas musicians; this year continues that latter trend, with a single CD putting a new state — Alabama — on the turntable (so to speak).

In the midst of being bludgeoned by holiday music over the last month or two, I couldn’t wait to slide in this year’s disc — and I was amply rewarded. The beauty of each of these CDs is how suddenly and effortlessly it jumps from one genre to another or one era to the next. The K-Pers’ “The Red Invasion” (1968), for example, is followed by a song from twenty years earlier — eons away stylistically: the folksy “New Mule Skinner Blues” by The Maddox Brothers and Rose. Elsewhere, Jim Bob & the Leisure Suits capture the early-’80s punk-rock vibe with “Gangland Wars” before giving way to some country blues from Dan Pickett in “99 1/2 Won’t Do.”

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New Fiction: “Up, Up and Away” at SmokeLong Quarterly

December 23, 2010

Art by John Ashley

My tendency is to write LONG. Most of my short stories are upwards of 5,000 words, and several have pushed the 10,000-word mark. (I also regularly overshoot my word limit in reviews for the Post. Fortunately, editors have proven indulgent to a point.) All of which is to explain how pleased I was to write a short story just under 1,000 words — and now to have it published by SmokeLong Quarterly, a fine online journal. While I’d hesitate to call it flash fiction, “Up, Up and Away” did come to me in a flash: the image of two young boys turning an old faux-leather recliner into a playground for the imagination — and then something terribly magical happens, changing that imaginative landscape forever.

Check out “Up, Up and Away” here — and a passel of other terrific stories in SmokeLong‘s big 30th issue. My own favorites include: “Eulogy to Maria Mamani, Fire Eater” by Ed Bull, “Yams” by Gary Fincke, “The Corn” by Kathleen Hale, “Buckaroo” by Ravi Mangla, “Conjugation” by Jen Michalski, and “Between Budapest and Dying” by Dean Marshall Tuck. — Art Taylor

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Review: Edge by Jeffery Deaver

December 15, 2010

Coincidentally, Jeffery Deaver’s new thriller, Edge, is set in two places I call home. The novel’s opening section — a riveting piece of prose — unfolds in North Carolina, and the bulk of the book takes place in Northern Virginia, where a government agent known only as Corte works to protect a D.C. cop who seems to have been targeted by a torture expert, for reasons unknown. (There’s even a very brief, if very chilling, reference to George Mason University, where I now teach.) Here’s the opening to my review in the Washington Post:

Corte, the protagonist of Jeffery Deaver’s new thriller, is a “shepherd” for a shadowy Alexandria-based organization known for offering “bodyguards of last resort.” His job involves watching over “principals” – trial witnesses, whistleblowers and others – who’ve been targeted either by “hitters” (assassins) or by “lifters” seeking information and willing to resort to “physical extraction” to get it. The jargon suggests that this agency is another of today’s deadening, dehumanizing bureaucracies – and the truth is, those “principals” are considered by their shepherds as just so many packages, “a dozen eggs . . . crystal vases, lightbulbs. Consumer goods.” But the work takes on even bleaker tones when the bad guys enter the picture. For them, torture is simply part of an afternoon’s chores: filing another corpse in the “out” box.

Check out the full review here. — Art Taylor

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Recommendations: Christmas Mysteries

December 13, 2010

My own primary interests follow two paths: Southern literature on the one hand, building off of my own roots as a native North Carolinian, and then crime fiction, a love that first began in my childhood (Nancy Drew! The Three Investigators!) and continues to this day. When an author’s work lies at the intersection of those two paths… well, that author is nearly destined to rank high among my favorites, and so it is with Margaret Maron, whose novels I’ve written about several times here on this site and elsewhere too.

With nearly every series writer in the mystery genre, the opportunity eventually presents itself to write a holiday book — and Maron’s latest marks the second time she’s tried her hand at it. Maron’s earlier series, featuring New York homicide detective Sigrid Harald, included the novel Corpus Christmas, focused on the murder of an art dealer just before the holiday (even if not delivered with all the trimmings that usually accompany such books). The latest in Maron’s Deborah Knott series is Christmas Mourning, in which big holiday festivities are put on hold by a trio of deaths: a car crash involving a popular high school cheerleader and the shooting death of two much rougher teen brothers. Deborah’s kinfolk have been so much the heart of this entire series that it only makes sense to check in with them at the height of the season. As Kirkus Reviews wrote of the new book: “Maron makes you yearn to belong to an extended family, bake Christmas cookies with the Knott nieces and nephews and climb into Dwight’s arms. She plots like a modern-day Christie, but the North Carolina charm is all her own.” Read the rest of this entry ?

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