Posts Tagged ‘Kate Betterton’


Junot Diaz & Abraham Verghese Speak In Durham, N.C.

February 13, 2009

The upcoming week brings two big names to the the Triangle region, with acclaimed author Abraham Verghese and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz both coming to locations in Durham, courtesy of Regulator Books.

coverVerghese, whose previous nonfiction books, My Own Country and The Tennis Partner, were respectively a National Book Critics Circle finalist and a New York Times Notable Book, visits the area with his debut novel, Cutting for Stone, which received a mixed but admiring review in the New York Times. Verghese will read from the new book on Tuesday evening, February 17, at 7 p.m. at the Searle Center on Duke’s West Campus. (Update to this post: A profile of Verghese appears in the Monday, February 16, issue of The Washington Post.)

6a00c2252ab767f21900e398f8f4390005-500piThen the next night, Junot Diaz comes to Duke for another event sponsored by the Regulator. Selections from Diaz’s Drown are perennially a treat for students when I teach them in writing classes, and his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer last year, of course. Expect a packed house when Diaz takes the stage on Wednesday, February 18, at 6 p.m. at the Richard White Auditorium on Duke’s East Campus. The event is co-sponsored by Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity and the Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South. 

Also on the calendar for the coming week are two authors previously interviewed on this blog:

Kate Betterton, author of Where the Lake Becomes the River, visits McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village on Saturday morning, February 14, at 11 a.m.

And Ed Southern, executive director of the North Carolina Writers’ Network and editor of Voices of the American Revolution in The Carolinas, appears at the Regulator in Durham on Wednesday evening, February 18, at 7 p.m. and then at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books the following night, Thursday February 19, at 7:30 p.m.

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Debut Novelist Kate Betterton Talks About Fiction, Family, Death, and Life After Death

December 14, 2008

kbetterton-390-exp-best_cropped_teKate Betterton’s novel Where the Lake Becomes the River won the 2008 Novello Literary Award, an annual contest for writers from the Carolinas, sponsored by the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, NC, and underwritten this year by Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain Foundation.

The novel’s protagonist is Parrish McCullough, an artistic, open-minded young woman growing up in Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s. Much of the story centers around Parrish’s various relationships within her family, particularly in the wake of her father’s death, and several friendships and budding romances. In her narration, the book stretches back even before her actual memories, imagining her family in Japan on the cusp of her own birth; examines Mississippi against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Era; and elsewhere reaches toward the otherworldly, specifically her belief that her father has appeared to her from beyond the grave. A fascination with death and with the idea of life after death permeates the book, and those two subjects form a persistent theme in Parrish’s student essays, which help to separate chapters and which inevitably invite the concern, frustration or even anger of the teachers and counsellors reading and commenting on them.

Betterton, a practicing psychotherapist in Chapel Hill, NC, is currently in the midst of a book tour through central North Carolina. This Wednesday, December 17, at 7:30 p.m., she’ll read and sign books at the Barnes & Noble at New Hope Commons in Durham.  In coming months, she’ll also appear at the Bull’s Head Bookshop at UNC-Chapel Hill on Thursday, January 29, at 4 p.m., and then at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village, just north of Pittsboro, on Saturday, February 14, at 11 a.m.

Between stops, Betterton took some time to chat about her craft and the stories and beliefs that fed her first novel. 

Art Taylor: Where the Lake Becomes the River doesn’t follow a strictly linear format, with new chapters picking up where the previous one left off. In fact, individual chapters might easily be read as self-contained stories in their own right. Had you planned the novel’s overall structure from the beginning, or was it that independent stories ultimately just coalesced into a larger narrative?

kbetterton-210-betterton-novel1Kate Betterton: A story or novel has an inherent shape it wants to take, like a tomato plant or a rose bush. Writing it is a natural, unfolding, organic process. The story or novel will tell you what it wants to be, but you have to be patient — it can take a while for it to reveal its core. This book is really about immortality, the soul’s journey through the ages. To structure the book chronologically would kill it. Its time shifts are deliberate, attempting to capture something of that cyclical, timeless, circular feeling. The first chapter, about growing up in Mississippi, started as a story. I realized I’d left out the racism and intimidation of those years in Mississippi, and revised. This led to the Japan chapter/story and Harvey’s chapter/story, in which racism leads to the death of the narrator’s father. That opened up the chapters about ghosts, hauntings, the paranormal, as Parrish struggles to understand “The Truth About Life After Death.” So the book unfolded naturally, over many revisions.

Those ghosts and those paranormal events, that shadow of death and the interest in life after death — is this just a literary trope, some brand of magical realism as literary strategy (as it seems to be in Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle, for example), or are those aspects of the book rooted in some spiritual beliefs of your own?            

A mystical spirituality is central in my life, and the novel’s cosmology reflects my own. Parrish’s exploration of spiritual and metaphysical mysteries mirrors my lifelong interest in these subjects. I’ve always been drawn to the mysterious and inexplicable — dreams, hauntings, synchronicities, reincarnation, life after death. The thin veil between this life and the next is the underlying theme of the book. Yes, it’s a book “about death,” as Parrish struggles to regain her lost spirituality, but ultimately, it’s about the fact that death is just a doorway to another reality, the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

Like Parrish, you were born in Japan. Like Parrish, you grew up in Mississippi during a time of great racial tension and then worked at a newspaper during the rise of the Civil Rights movement. How would you describe the process of drawing on autobiographical elements on the one hand and, on the other, trying to create a satisfying piece of fiction? 

Fiction takes off from real life like a winged creature emerges from a cocoon. “Novel” means something new. In fiction, experience, memory, and imagination merge into something new — often unexpected — with a life of its own. The writer gets to explore her interests and edges and quandaries while working hard to create an interesting tale for the reader. Hopefully, each gets something satisfying from the finished book. Reality’s just your starting point. I’m very interested in what happens when people of different races, faiths, or nationalities encounter each other and try — or not — to bridge the gap. The racism in my book is based on realities in the Mississippi of that era, but the events are all imagined. There was a “Papa-san” figure in my childhood, but the fictional “Mr. Takashima” of my Japan chapter wouldn’t recognize himself in the real man, or vice-versa; he’s become an entity in his own right, in the parallel universe where he resides.

Apart from being a novelist, you’re also a psychotherapist. How did your work in psychology or therapy help you in constructing and understanding your characters here?

Growing up in a large, eccentric family developed my understanding of people, relationships, group dynamics, loyalty and betrayal, love, anger, conflict, grief, and so forth, long before I began writing fiction or became a therapist. Reading hundreds of novels over the years helped me most in learning how to build stories and characters, along with reading books on craft, and simply listening to what stories and characters want. In writing, you tell people a story. In therapy, you receive people’s stories and help them to reshape their lives in ways that feel more authentic and fulfilling to them. In each enterprise, you have to get your ego out of the way and, rather than impose your own will, patiently attend to and assist the naturally occurring process that is trying to unfold.

— Interviewed by Art Taylor

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Kate Betterton On Civil Rights Era Mississippi, Alan Cheuse On Photographer Edward Curtis, Plus Other Upcoming Events

December 10, 2008

kbetterton-210-betterton-novelKate Betterton‘s first novel, Where the Lake Becomes the River — set largely in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Era — won the 2008 Novello Literary Award and was published in October. Now, the Chapel Hill, NC psychotherapist and novelist is in the midst of a tour of North Carolina bookstores, having visited Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books just last week and making her next stop on Wednesday, December 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble, New Hope Commons, Durham.

An interview with Betterton will appear on this website on Monday, December 15. Mark your calendars now for that talk and to see her in person in Durham two days later.

North Carolina

Several events from the Triangle to the coast stand out as noteworthy this week. First up is Food Network sensation Rachael Ray with a return visit to the Cary Barnes & Noble. Ray talks about her latest cookbook, Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book, on Friday, December 12, at 3 p.m.

Capturing the holiday spirit, Dickens scholar Elliott Engel discusses “Dickens and Christmas” and signs his latest book, A Christmas Carol Keepsake, on Sunday afternoon, December 14, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.

And humorist Celia Rivenbark, author of Belle Weather, appears Wednesday evening, December 17, at 7 p.m. at Pomegranate Books in Wilmington.

Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland

Two events of particular note this week — both in D.C.

On Thursday, December 11, at 7 p.m. Calvin Trillin samples his new book, Deciding the Next Decider: The 2008 Presidential Race in Rhyme, hosted by Politics & Prose at the Wesley United Methodist Church at 5312 Connecticut Ave. NW.

lightning150Then on Saturday, December 13, at 2 p.m., Alan Cheuse, author of To Catch the Lightning: A Novel of American Dreaming, and Colin Sargent, author of Museum of Human Beings, read from their works at the National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth Street & Independence Ave., S.W. (Rooms 4018-19, on the 4th level).

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Allan Gurganus Reads “A Fool For Christmas” — Plus Other Upcoming Events

December 3, 2008

As part of my various jobs, I serve two large communities.

In my home state of North Carolina, for example, I write regularly on books and literary events as a contributing editor for Metro Magazine; I’ve long been involved with the North Carolina Writers’ Network; and I’ve build some great relationships with several authors and booksellers throughout the region.

In my current home in Virginia — and specifically at George Mason University, where I teach — I work closely with the annual Fall for the Book Festival; I have friends and contacts at several other organizations, most particularly The Writer’s Center in Bethesda; and I’ve become a regular reviewer for The Washington Post (hardly a local paper, I know, but still an integral part of the regional community in addition to serving a national audience). 

As part of my connections to these two communities — and specifically as part of a new coordinated effort with Metro — I’d like to offer a weekly post that’s more local in scope, highlighting upcoming events that seem of particular interest to me and, I hope, to readers of this blog who call either of those two regions home. Here then are some suggestions from Wednesday, December 3, through Wednesday, December 10.

North Carolina

Allan Gurganus

Allan Gurganus

Among the top literary events in the Triangle area this weekend is an appearance by Allan Gurganus at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Gurganus will be reading “A Fool for Christmas,” an unpublished short story which was originally presented on NPR’s All Things Considered back on Christmas Eve, 2004. The story centers on a pet store manager named Vernon Ricketts and the pregnant teen he hires to do some part-time work around the holidays. Gurganus will be reprise the story at the Regulator on Friday, December 5, at 7 p.m. (And for those who can’t make it, NPR offers the original broadcast online.)

Other events this week in the Triangle and across Eastern North Carolina include:

  • John Shelton Reed & Dale Volberg Reed, authors of Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, on Wednesday afternoon, December 3, at The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines, and again on Friday evening, December 5, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh.
  • Chapel Hill author Kate Betterton, author of Where the Lake Becomes the River, on Thursday evening, December 4, at Quail Ridge Books.
  • Dr. Mardy Grothe, Raleigh-based psychologist, management consultant, and author of I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like: A Comprehensive Compilation of History’s Greatest Analogies, Metaphors, and Similes, on Thursday afternoon, December 4, at The Country Bookshop
  • Bruce Roberts, former director of photography for Southern Living and author of Just Yesterday: N.C. People and Places, on Saturday afternoon, December 6, at Quail Ridge Books
  • Paul Austin, author of Something for the Pain: One Doctor’s Account of Life and Death in the ER, on Tuesday evening, December 9, at Pomegranate Books in Wilmington.

Northern Virginia, D.C., and Maryland

Two of the biggest events in D.C. over the next week — Toni Morrison discussing A Mercy on Thursday, December 4, and photographer Annie Leibovitz on Tuesday, December 9 — are both sold-out, but the events’ bookstore host, Politics and Prose, are still taking orders for signed copies of each author’s latest book; for information, call 202-364-1919. 

Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick

Another big event is the presentation of this year’s PEN/Malamud Awards, honoring excellence in short fiction. Peter Ho Davies and Cynthia Ozick are the 2008 recipients, and the two authors will read from their works at the Folger Shakespeare Library on Friday, December 5, at 8 p.m. The event is presented by the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Tickets are $12. 

In other news:

  • Writers in the MFA program at George Mason University offer a free reading on Friday, December 5, at 7 p.m. at The Firehouse Grille in Old Town Fairfax, VA. Slated to present new works are fiction writer Tim Rowe and nonfiction writer Valerie Lambros.
  • On the same evening, poets Reed Whittemore, Cicely Angleton, and Elaine Magarrell appear at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD, at 7:30 p.m. to read from the recent anthology Inventory.
  • Finally, DC Poets Against the War host readings on Saturday and Sunday, December 6-7, in conjunction with the Peace Mural Exhibit. Readings take place at 3 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, and at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday at 3336 M Street, NW. 

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