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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
6 hours ago
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The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

David Madden's new novel, London Bridge in Plague and Fire

Knoxville literary magician pens his “Moby Dick”

by Rob Neufeld

See review.


            Novelist David Madden grew up in a two-room shack in Knoxville and—after years soaking in the magic of that town; serving in the army; and studying at the University of Tennessee, San Francisco State, and Yale—has become one of the most accomplished literary writers in America. 

            For 25 years, he was Writer-in Residence at Louisiana State University; and for three years after that, the director of the creative writing program there.

            He now lives in Black Mountain with his wife Robbie, near their son’s family.  His tenth novel (and 39th book), “London Bridge in Plague and Fire,” has just been published, to great early acclaim.

            Madden launches his book locally at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 7 p.m., Nov. 10.  He speaks at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Nov. 12.

            Madden’s writing career is marked by a distinctive devotion to the powers of dramatic and compassionate imagination.  Each of his novels is different from the others, taking the form of its material.  The following interview expands on that appreciation.  A review of the novel appears in this column next week.  Also visit to see future author events.


Q:  How was “London Bridge in Plague and Fire” born?


A:  When I was 16, I saw Henry V with Laurence Olivier.  The opening credits show ancient London Bridge, with all the houses and shops on it.  About 50 years ago, I saw the movie again, and I was intrigued.  I made a note, “ancient London Bridge would be a great setting for a musical.” …One day, I just decided to do it.  Every night, just before leaving my study to go to bed, I devoted 10 to 20 minutes to listening to voices from the bridge, speaking about the bridge in very bizarre terms.  


Q:  What did that produce?


A:  I ended up with 200 pages of unusable surrealistic feelings, thoughts, and voices derived from reading a single book—the best book, “Old London Bridge” by Gordon Home…I went to London and found that nobody that I talked to, including members of Parliament, knew who Peter de Colechurch, the architect of the bridge, was…When he built his bridge (completed in 1205), it was the first stone bridge in Europe since the Romans went back to Italy.  The number of shops and houses made it unique...My inspiration was this feeling: what a marvelous, small community, and all those lives and merchants, and people working in shops that were at the most 12 feet wide, and houses at the most six stories high, but incredibly narrow, with views to the east and west.


Q:  In addition to the architect’s voice, there’s also the poet, Daryl Braintree.


A: I created his voice and found that it was unclear when he was speaking in the narrative, and when I was speaking.  So, I let it stand as ambiguous since I think the two of us merged in the various drafts…There are, by the way, ten huge drafts…I built the bridge with Peter de Colechurch in one version, and I called that, “London Bridge Rising.”  Then there was “London Bridge Falling,” about plague and fire.  Then, what I’ve done is collapse the two into the published novel, which is “London Bridge in Plague and Fire.”  A fourth one was going to be a book of the poems only.  They were called “London Bridge Nocturnes.”


Q:  You’re like Herman Melville.


A:  Yeah, it’s my “Moby Dick.”  I have combined the essential elements of all the versions into one novel.


Q:  There are lurid plots in your novel, based on history—such as the sacrifice of 13-year-old virgins to protect the bridge.  How do you turn sensationalist material into Southern Gothic in literary ways?


A:  I would say the influence on me is “Absalom, Absalom.”  It’s interesting you should say Southern Gothic because it could be that only a Southerner could have written this seemingly un-Southern story.  I’m a Southern writer who keeps writing outside the South.  


Q:  Your upcoming trip to Knoxville makes me think of how you mythologize your hometown in such books as your novel, “Bijou.”  What is so rich about the place?


A:  The look of Knoxville—its seven hills, like Rome—during the Civil War, there were batteries on all those hills.  The bridges.  By the way, about the origin of “London Bridge”—it was Gay Street Bridge in Knoxville.  I used to go down there in a trembling sense of excitement (as a youth), and walk across it, skipping over the broken parts, which is right there in “London Bridge in Plague and Fire.”  I could see the river below, where the pavement had been punched through, and look down on the life below, which was ancient Knoxville slums, and houseboats.  Anything—cemeteries, old houses, Knoxville High School—I was the last graduating class—my own home, which was a shack.  I was born in a two-room shack…I wrote a few passages of “London Bridge” on two or three visits to Gay Street Bridge when I couldn’t do it at home…(Then there’s) the geography (of Knoxville)—the mountains in the distance—that’s why I love Black Mountain and the Asheville area— because it’s like Knoxville.  I’d be in Knoxville if it weren’t for my son being here.


David Madden launches his novel, “London Bridge in Plague and Fire,”

at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood St., Asheville.  Call 254-6734.

See more of the interview on “The Read on WNC” at

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