Sunday, May 31, 2015

Two summer writing workshops for your kids

Rising 5th-7th grader writers

Children’s book author Frances O’Roark Dowell will teach a week-long creative writing class for rising fifth to seventh graders from Monday, July 27 to Friday, July 31 at Flyleaf Books. Participants will meet from 9 a.m. to noon each day.

Ms. Dowell says, “We will spend the week writing, drawing maps, designing secret rooms, creating artist cards, and making our own

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The 4 most anticipated books of the month arrive in stores on June 2nd

In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

The YA legend delivers her first novel for adults in fifteen years. It is the story of three generations of families, friends and strangers. Miri Ammerman has returned to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when she was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky. Against this backdrop of actual events in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and

Friday, May 29, 2015

David Payne’s ‘Early from the Dance’ reminds us of the heartache of young love and betrayal

Photo by Ulf Anderson

Guest Contributor

Early from the Dance is, depending on how you count, David Payne’s second and fifth novel. Originally published in 1989, a revised edition was released in 2003. In his preface to the newer edition, Payne says that he wanted to revisit the story to “remove paste and leave as many pearls as possible.”

Early from the Dance tells the story of thirty-one year old Adam (“A.”) Jenrette, a hip, well-known New York artist who is out of favor with critics. He is fueling his downward spiral with too much cocaine and a cynical attitude.

Now, thirteen years after he fled his small North Carolina hometown, Kildeer, he learns that his Aunt Zoe has died and bequeathed him her

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Two more gorgeous locations for writer’s retreats

Having read my May 23, 2015 post, “Eight Writers Workshops in Stunning Locations,” my friend, Jane King Andrews, drew my attention to Writeaways, run by her friends, John Yewell and Mimi Herman.

“Sometimes writers just need to get away,” John and Mimi say on the Writeaways website (, adding:

That’s why we’ve created Writeaways – writing getaways – to help you find the time you need to write. We provide writing instruction, fabulous food and company in beautiful places, and a safe place for you to take a writing vacation with your muse, and maybe a good friend.

For any writer who has been in a writers’ workshop, where fellow writers critique your work with the idea that we know how to fix it, this is not that workshop. In Writeaways, you’ll get the support you’ve always needed as a writer – and be able to share that support with others.”

Writeaway in Italy is scheduled for September 13-19 and Writeaway in

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

With ‘Outline,’ Rachel Cusk redefines the “rules” of the novel

Rachel Cusk’s Outline is one of the strangest books I have read in a long time.

It plainly says on the cover that it is a novel and yet it doesn’t have the properties we expect from a novel:

…[I]n an interview with The Guardian last August, Cusk said that she had recently come to a dead end with the modes of storytelling that she had relied on in her earlier novels. She had trouble reading and writing, and found fiction “fake and embarrassing.” The creation of plot and character, “making up John and Jane and having them do things together,” had come to seem “utterly ridiculous.” (Elaine Blair, The New Yorker, 1/5/15)

Certainly, that is evident in this novel. Outline’s protagonist is almost invisible. All that we know about her is that she is a writer, that she has

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Poetry Slam at the African American Atelier features 3 nationally-ranked local teams

Three nationally ranked Poetry Slam teams from the Triad area will be competing at the African American Atelier in Greensboro on May 27, 2015. As the name suggests, the Atelier is an art gallery that provides rotational exhibitions, gallery talks and artist forums. Local, regional, national and international professional and emerging artists are showcased through group and solo exhibitions each year.

There will be a reception at 6 p.m. followed by the slam at 7 p.m. Attendees will also get a sneak peak at a new gallery exhibit.

The teams competing in the slam are Slam Charlotte team, The Bull City Slam Team, and The Marquis Slam team – all of whom will be

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Southern lit's grande dame Elizabeth Spencer wins Mississippi fiction award for ‘Starting Over’

Chapel Hill’s own Elizabeth Spencer has won the Fiction Prize awarded by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters for her collection of short stories, Starting Over. She will be honored at a banquet in Hattiesburg on June 6.

At ninety-two, Ms. Spencer is truly the grande dame of Southern writers with work spanning seven decades. Fire in the Morning, her first novel, was published in 1948. The majority of the stories in her new collection were written in the last three years.

Ann Beattie, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle about Starting Over, said:

Spencer [is] an elegant and subtle writer… Like Chekhov, the moments of most acute misery – those achingly

Saturday, May 23, 2015

8 Writers Workshops in Stunning Locations

If you plan to treat yourself to a writers workshop or retreat this year, why not get to see a little of the world while you do?


Get Away to Write in Tavertet
July 14 - 21, 2015

The Write in Spain program in northern Spain promises an immersion in a “supportive week-long writing experience that will energize and inspire you.” In addition to “encouraging workshops, plentiful writing time, and panoramic cliff top views,” there will be excursions to

Friday, May 22, 2015

Jim Shepard’s ‘The Book of Aron’ rightly “joins the masterworks of Holocaust literature”

If the last line of Jim Shepard’s The Book of Aron doesn’t reduce you to tears, you need to do some soul-searching.

Aron, a young Jewish boy living in Warsaw with his parents and siblings, is the narrator of this brutal yet nuanced novel:

The novel hangs on the delicate tension of that deadpan adolescent voice – never cute, never cloying. Aron’s wryness is always entirely unknowing. He relays his world to us just as he experiences it: He fails at school. His mom complains about everything. His little brother dies. How he feels about any of this is articulated only in the space between his sentences. “The next morning my father told me to get up,” he says, “because it was war and the Germans had invaded.” And with that news, his town slides into hell. (Ron Charles, The Washington Post, 4/28/15)

The Nazis soon occupy Warsaw and Jews are forced into designated areas of the city, crammed into already overcrowded apartments. A wall

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Anne Enright’s ‘The Green Road’ is a brilliant, must-read novel of family relationships

This could be the shortest review I’ve ever written: “Anne Enright’s The Green Road is brilliant. Read it. The End.”

Rosaleen Considine Madigan is an elderly Irish widow with four children, “all contending in various ways with the emotional tyranny of their never-satisfied mother.” (Ron Charles, The Washington Post, 5/5/15)

Enright clearly understands the push-pull of the relationship between aging parents and their adult offspring: the undercurrent of fear and need on the part of the parent; the children’s sense of duty as well as their need to live their own lives. This relationship is more fraught if the parent is, and has always been, manipulative, demanding, and critical.

Neither does Enright shy away from the physical and mental decline of the sick and dying. A little girl is asked to go to the pharmacy for a cream for her grandmother. She suspects it has something to do with

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Good news for fans of ‘An Ember in the Ashes’

Razorbill, a young adult imprint at Penguin, announced on Monday that it will publish a sequel to its YA bestseller, An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir.

A debut novel, An Ember in the Ashes was released at the end of last month and immediately hit #2 on The New York Times young adult (YA) best-seller list. Paramount Pictures has already optioned film rights in a seven-figure deal, according to Publishers Marketplace. The book’s success and potential are being compared to those of the Harry Potter series and The Hunger Games.

“An Ember in the Ashes” centers on two young people living under the merciless rule of the Martial Empire. Laia is a scholar; Elias is a soldier

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nature, a Dream and 32,000 Books

Jeff Lee photo
Jeff Lee and Ann Martin have a dream.

For more than 20 years, Jeff Lee, 60 and Ann Martin, 53, have worked at a Denver bookshop, The Tattered Cover, squirreling away their paychecks in the pursuit of a single dream: a rural, live-in library where visitors will be able to connect with two increasingly endangered elements – the printed word and untamed nature. (Julie Turkewitz, The New York Times, 4/17/15)

The couple was inspired by a visit to the Gladstone Library in Wales, where the 250,000 volume collection was originally founded to house William Gladstone’s collection of Victorian history and theology.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dad to Essbaum: “Why don’t you write me a trashy book and make us all rich?”

Photo by Megan Sembera Peters

Jill Alexander Essbaum’s father (a fan of Sidney Sheldon and Harold Robbins) used to tease her: “Why don’t you write me a trashy book and make us all rich?” (Bridgette Bates, The Wall Street Journal, 3/19/15)

Ms. Essbaum apparently thinks Father Knows Best: her debut novel, Hausfrau, is indeed a trashy book (in the best sense of that word, of course) and will most probably make her rich.

Booksellers are taking note. Barnes & Noble, Amazon, IndieBound and Indigo and Chapters stores in Canada have all spotlighted the novel. Random House, which is touting it as a literary ‘50 Shades of Grey,’ has sold rights in 14 international markets and ordered a third printing before the publication date – unusual for a debut novel. (Anna Russell, The Wall Street Journal, 3/12/15)

Hausfrau is a retelling of Madame Bovary (Essbaum calls it an ‘homage’), interspersed with Jungian tropes from the Hausfrau’s

Sunday, May 17, 2015

James Beard Awards celebrates 25th anniversary with announcement of 2015 cookbook winners

The 2015 James Beard Awards for Best Cookbooks were presented on April 24. The James Beard Foundation’s mission is “to celebrate, nurture and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire.” On its website, the Foundation says:

Food matters. You are what you eat not only because food is nutrition, but also because food is an integral part of our everyday lives. Food is economics, politics, entertainment, culture, fashion, family, passion...and nourishment. The James Beard Foundation is at the

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Get your taste buds ready for the winners of the IACP Best Cookbooks of 2015

The International Association of Culinary Professionals is a not-for-profit professional association which provides continuing education and development for its members who are engaged in the areas of culinary education, communication, or in the preparation of food and drink. It has a worldwide membership of nearly 4,000 culinary professionals – a “Who's Who” of the world of food.

Each year the IACP awards the Best Cookbooks of the year. The 2015 winners are:

A New Napa Cuisine by Christopher Kostow (Julie Bennett, ed.)

In his debut cookbook, Chef Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood, discusses “the relationships and collaborations that exemplify a ‘new Napa’ full of dynamism, youth and promise.” His three-Michelin-starred restaurant, just outside St. Helena, has been called a “temple of modern American cuisine” by the Wall Street Journal.

The award was presented to Kostow at the IACP annual conference in

Friday, May 15, 2015

You think your mom was a monster? Get a load of this one!

Photo of Shanna Mahin by Betsy and Jeff McCue

Think “Mommy Dearest” meets “The Devil Wears Prada.” Shanna Mahin’s debut novel, Oh! You Pretty Things, is deliciously and entertainingly malevolent.

It’s the perfect book for a grey, rainy day. Stay in your jammies (preferably the ones with the feet), grab as much junk food as you can find in the house, pull the covers up and enjoy. It’s an excellent antidote to an overload of serious, grim, self-consciously Literary (with a capital ‘L”) books.

First: the Mom.

Jess Dunne is third-generation Hollywood (just like the author), mostly raised by her grandmother. She is the daughter of Donna, a failed child actress, who bounces back into her life between affairs, mostly to

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Nobelist Patrick Modiano’s works finally becoming widely available in English translation

The Guardian photo

When Patrick Modiano was awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature, my reaction was similar to that of a lot of U.S. readers: WHO? Patrick WHO? Now, finally, in the wake of the Nobel, U.S. publishers are hurrying to release some of his thirty works in translation.

Suspended Sentences, a collection of three novellas, translated and with an introduction by Mark Polizzotti, had been scheduled for publication later this year but was – thankfully – rushed into print by Yale University Press.

There are so many ways to think of (or describe) these novellas that it is difficult to know how to begin. There are certain themes that appear over and over. “I always have the impression that I write the same book, which means it’s already 45 years that I’ve been writing the same book,” he is said to have remarked when told he had won the Nobel Prize. (Alan Riding, The New York Times, 12/24/14)

The novellas can be read as a love poem to a Paris that has disappeared, a Paris that will never be recovered and, perhaps, never was. This theme

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Books on Wheels programs deliver books to the elderly & homebound across the country

My local library is starting a terrific new service for the elderly and homebound. What I didn’t know is that libraries across the country offer similar much-needed services.

“Books on Wheels” was brought to my attention by Brittany Wilson, the Outreach Coordinator for the Chatham County (NC) Public Libraries. Her email said the libraries are launching a program in which volunteers will bring books and other library materials to homebound patrons in need of service. The recipients of this free service would have to live in the county, be mostly or completely homebound, and have (or sign up for) a library card. Those with temporary needs (such as a person recovering from surgery) would qualify. For further information, to volunteer to make deliveries,

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thomas McGuane’s ‘Crow Fair’ portrays lost souls humorously, tenderly and affectionately

Photo by Anne Sherwood

The characters in Crow Fair, Thomas McGuane’s newest short story collection, are mostly losers – people who are on their way down or already there. A fair number are old people sliding into death or dementia. Yet, all of these hapless folks are presented with a kind of tender empathy and affectionate humor. We recognize them (and perhaps ourselves in them) and, maybe, shake our heads a little ruefully but we aren’t given cause to sneer.

McGuane lives in Montana and the open plains and hills of that region, as well as its culture and history, are key to his stories. This geographic setting “…is the backdrop to funny, antic, and affecting stories of growing up, of romantic and family life, and of finding or failing to find

Monday, May 11, 2015

Deadline fast approaching for 2015 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction submissions

The University of Georgia Press has announced the 2015 competition for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. This year will be the 30th anniversary of the Award which was established “to encourage gifted young writers by bringing their work to the attention of readers and reviewers.”

The competition is open to residents of North America who write in English.

Judges this year are Hugh Sheehy, Karin Lin-Greenberg, Anjanette Delgado, Kristen Nichols, and Sandra Muñoz. Four of the judges will

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Elizabeth Gonzalez wins 2015 Press 53 Award with ‘The Universal Physics of Escape’

Elizabeth Gonzalez has been selected as the winner of the 2015 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction. Her debut collection, The Universal Physics of Escape, was chosen from a field of 237 entries.

Press 53 publisher and founding editor Kevin Morgan Watson, who also served as the final judge, posted a statement on the Press 53 website:

Reaching this decision was a challenge. I found three very strong manuscripts that I would gladly publish, but I could only select one winner. In the end, it was Ms. Gonzalez’s variety of places, people, and subjects that won me over. She’s a master of dialogue, an artist at creating

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Truly entertaining new website for all booklovers goes live!

Literary Hub has launched! Billing itself as “the best of the literary internet every day,” the site will aggregate “bookish links” from around the web. It will also offer original reporting and essays, as well as excerpts from new and soon-to-be-published books from both traditional and nonprofit publishers.

It’s free and you can subscribe to receive daily emails. One of my recent “issues,” for example, tells me

Friday, May 8, 2015

John Sandford’s 25th Lucas Davenport novel, ‘Gathering Prey,’ debuts at #1 on bestsellers list

Yes! Yes! Yes! Whenever a new John Sandford thriller comes out, I’m that happy woman first in line to buy it. ‘Gathering Prey,’ the 25th Lucas Davenport novel, has just been released and immediately claimed the number one spot on the U.S. bestsellers list, according to Reuters.

Lucas Davenport is the Chief Investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He’s independently wealthy, having founded and then sold a company that designs computer simulations. His wife, Weather (who, in an earlier book, saved his life when he was shot in the throat) is a surgeon. Their adopted daughter, Letty, is a student at Stanford. We first met Letty when she was eight or nine and subsisting on whatever she caught in her backwoods traplines.

Lucas’ right-hand man and fellow BAC agent, Virgil Flowers, now covers

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Wiley Cash keynote speaker at UNC Wilmington's third annual Summer Writers Conference

Registration is now open for the third annual Summer Writers Conference to be held June 26-28, 2015 at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. There will be workshops in fiction, nonfiction and poetry as well as readings, roundtable discussions and group writing activities. According to novelist Vallie Lynn Watson (A

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ is a powerful yet flawed novel of wartime experience

DVA Australia
Australian and British POWs lay track on the Burma-Thailand railway in 1943.

Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North makes The Bridge on the River Kwai look like a jaunty walk in the park.

After the fall of Shanghai in 1943, 9,000 Australians became Japanese prisoners of war, including Flanagan’s own father. They, along with other Allied POWs and impressed Asian laborers, were forced to cut through the jungle with nothing more than hand tools and build a railroad line between Thailand and Burma.

The line became known as the “Death Railway” and, all told, nearly 100,000 men died in the process. They were starved, beaten, riddled with diseases, including cholera, near naked (most dressed only in filthy

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Agathas, Edgars and Dame Ruth Rendell: ’tis the season of book awards, and a sad passing

This is the season for awards.

The 2015 Agatha Awards

The 2015 Agatha Awards were announced at the annual Malice Domestic gathering in Bethesda, Maryland this weekend. Agathas (named, obviously, for Ms. Christie) are awarded for traditional mysteries first published in the U.S. by a living author. “Traditional

Monday, May 4, 2015

Colm Tóibín gives us a deceptively simple but satisfying journey of growth in ‘Nora Webster’

Photo by Murdo Macleod

If you like loud, shoot-‘em-up books with lots of sex, violence and rock and roll, Colm Tóibín’s newest novel, Nora Webster, is not for you.

As Heller McAlpin wrote on NPR books,

Colm Tóibín’s writing is the literary equivalent of slow cuisine – and I mean that as a compliment. In this age of fast everything, sensational effects and unremitting violence, he uses only the purest literary ingredients – including minutely focused character development and a keen sense of place – and simmers his quietly dramatic narratives over a low burner.

Only forty-six years old, Nora Webster is coping – not very successfully – with the sudden death of her husband, Maurice, a beloved local teacher. She is left with two daughters away at school, two adolescent sons still at home, and very little money. Set in Enniscorthy, Ireland, Tóibín’s own home town, the book has autobiographical elements. It is, he has said, “the story he has been circling his whole career – the plainest telling of what happened to him and his family after his father died while he was still a boy.” (The Daily Beast, Books, 11/3/14).

Nora’s gradual path from grief to a kind of quiet contentment is inspired by that of the author’s own mother. Tóibín’s stand-in is Nora’s son,

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Romance? Thriller? YA/Children? Whatever your genre, there’s a summer conference for you

JULY 7-11
Thrillerfest X

Grand Hyatt, New York City

Photo by Sandy DeMille
Nelson DeMille is the 2015 ThrillerMaster for the tenth annual Thrillerfest.

“Spotlight” guests include Mark Billingham, Charlaine Harris and Greg Iles.

Kathy Reichs, the 2015 Silver Bullet Recipient, Brenda Novak, last year’s Silver Bullet Recipient, and Scott Turow, last year’s ThrillerMaster will also attend.

ThrillerFest has several components:
  • Tuesday, July 7, will be devoted to Master CraftFest, small group intensive workshops taught by D.P. Lyle, Steve Berry, Gayle Lynds, Steven James, Grant Blackwood, David Corbett, Lorenzo Carcaterra and others.
  • CraftFest will run from Wednesday, July 8 to Thursday, July 9. In addition to workshops and panels, there will be a “FactTrack” with information on firearms, explosives,

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Happy National Independent Bookstore Day!

Design by Claire Anderson-Ramos
The concept of a day to celebrate our Independent Bookstores began in California. In 2014, the statewide celebration included more than ninety bookstores, special events, author's signings and more. This year, all the regional independent bookselling associations agreed to support a National Independent Bookstore Day. More than 400 stores are sponsoring special programs and celebrations. A contest for a national logo for the day was announced and Claire Anderson-Ramos won. That’s her design to the right.

According to Ron Charles, writing in The Washington Post (4/30/15), the number of independent bookstores has increased by more than

Friday, May 1, 2015

‘Station Eleven’ – not just future-calisfragil-istic post-apocalyptic

I admit it. When I hear the words “post-apocalyptic” or “dystopian” or “futuristic” applied to fiction, I run the other way. So I approached Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven with reluctance, even though it was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

In fairness, however, Station Eleven is not your standard, run-of-the-mill doomsday novel. It is tightly constructed and intricately plotted and moves back and forth in time. The pieces are turned and twisted and twisted again, like a Rubik’s Cube, until they all fit together and the entire picture is revealed.

Yes, civilization does collapse as a result of a global pandemic caused by the “Georgian Flu,” which wipes out huge segments of the population. And, yes, there is no electricity, no internet or television, no fuel, no