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Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Started by Rob Neufeld in AC-T Book Reviews Aug 3, 2017.

Ellington in Asheville--a survey

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Oct 6, 2017.

Dave Minneman, heroic portrait

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Aug 25, 2017.

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The Cherokee and the Colonists

The Epic of the Cherokee and the Colonists            Hernando De Soto stopped in Asheville in 1541            When the Spanish conquistador came through here on his way from the Gulf Coast to Lake Michigan, he encountered big towns, well-used roads, and abandoned homes.   A smallpox epidemic—one of a series of plagues…See More
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11th Annual Authors for Literacy Dinner & Silent Auction at Crowne Plaza Resort Expo Center

November 29, 2018 from 6pm to 9pm
New York Times bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver will keynote the Literacy Council of Buncombe County’s 11th Annual Authors for Literacy Dinner & Silent Auction on November 29, 2018. Barbara Kingsolver is the author of nine bestselling works of fiction, including the novels, Flight Behavior, The Lacuna, and The Poisonwood Bible, as well as books of poetry, essays, and the influential nonfiction bestseller Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. She has won or been a finalist…See More
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Julia Nunnally Duncan Featured at High Country Writers Meeting at Watauga County Public Library

June 14, 2018 from 10am to 12pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will be the featured presenter at the High Country Writers Meeting on June 14, 10 a.m.-12 noon at the Watauga County Public Library in Boone. She will discuss her inspirations and the process of becoming a published author. She will present readings from her latest books A Part of Me and A Place That Was Home and give a preview of her forthcoming poetry collection A Neighborhood Changes. A book signing will follow her presentation.See More
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Rapmonster.com ~ Join Our Digital Streaming Platform For Unsigned Hip Hop Artists

Hip hop artists can now sign up for a PRO UNLIMITED PLUS account. Get unlimited space to upload higher quality 320kbps MP3's, receive 2-3 radio spins a day on http://RapMonsterRadio.com  along with weekly blog promotion posts on over 65 hip hop websites.…See More
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Get interviewed by Lil Dee of Rap Monster Radio.  Rap Monster Radio is an online hip hop radio station with more than 60,000 listeners a month in over 180 countries.We will interview and provide you with an mp3 copy of the interview.Get the worldwide exposure you deserve.…See More
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A Slice of Life: An Evening of Stories at Black Mountain Center for the Arts

April 21, 2018 from 7:30pm to 9pm
Saturday, April 21, 2018 at 7:30 pm, join nationally celebrated storyteller, Connie Regan-Blake, as she hosts her "Taking the Stage" workshop participants, for an enchanting evening of storytelling in picturesque Black Mountain, NC. You'll enjoy a variety of stories and storytelling styles featuring tellers Jane O Cunningham from Rome, GA; Gabriele Marewski from Black Mountain, NC; Christine Phillips Westfeldt - Fairview,…See More
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Writers Circle around the Table

We are located in Hayesville, NC. In April we begin our new season with outstanding Poet Mike James. Mike will read at Writers' Night Out in Blairsville, GA on Friday evening April 13. On Saturday, April 14, he will teach a class at my studio.Formally SpeakingThis class will focus on different types of traditional poetic forms such as the sonnet, the villanelle, and the sestina, and will also include other verse forms such as erasures, found poems, prose poems, and last poems.Contact Glenda…See More
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Rachel Carson, Silent Spring Chautauqua History Alive at UNC Asheville, OLLI Reuters Center, Manheimer Room

April 15, 2018 from 3pm to 4:30pm
Step inside the revolutionary book, Silent Spring as its author Rachel Carson reveals the reckless destruction of our living world. Written more than 55 years ago Silent Spring inspired the Environmental Movement and has never been out of print. And now you have a chance to ask the author, Rachel Carson, how this came to be. But these aren’t just performances. They’re a chance to step into Living History – to ask questions and go one on one with a women whose books shaped our country and our…See More
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McCrumb sees stories behind haunting ghost

 by Rob Neufeld

PHOTO: Sharyn McCrumb and her dog Arthur, 2017.  Photo by Laura Palmer, courtesy, Sharyn McCrumb 

In “The Unquiet Grave,” Sharyn McCrumb once again demonstrates her mastery at turning a folktale into something larger, different, and greater.

The legend of the “Greenbrier Ghost” haunts McCrumb’s home region.  The highway sign commemorating the ghost, Zona Heaster Shue—victim of murder by her husband in 1897—stands just 80 miles north of McCrumb, on the road to Charleston, West Virginia.

“What I have learned over the years,” McCrumb said in a recent interview (see more below), “is that the only stories that you have to turn into books are the ones that won’t go away.  If it haunts you (as the Greenbrier tale did McCrumb), the only way to get rid of it is to write.” 

The haunting does not have to do with the spookiness or horror, but with the sense that there is much more to be said, and enough clues to get at it.

“I write about people who slipped through the cracks in the historical record,” McCrumb says: Frankie Silver of Kona; Enoch Gilmer of King’s Mountain; Malinda Blalock, who dressed as a boy and fought with Zeb Vance, all of whom are characters in previous novels. 

“I try to figure out what they would have wanted you to know if they had been given a chance to tell their stories.”

With her 13th “Ballad Novel,” McCrumb has not only upended the Greenbrier legend through much research, she has also turned it into a portrait of a people by following the lives of characters she discovered while reviewing the murder trial.

McCrumb’s historical fiction is a deeply imagined, authentic representation of people rescued from obscurity and distortion.

McCrumb presents “The Unquiet Grave” at Blowing Rock Art & History Museum, 2:30 p.m., Wed., Sept. 13 (828-295-9099); and 6 p.m., Thurs., Sept. 14 at Malaprop’s Bookstore, Asheville (828-254-6734). 

McCrumb, two of whose novels feature Zebulon Vance, will give the talk, “Vance in Fiction,” at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center, Mountain View Room, 2 p.m., Fri., Sept. 15.  It is part of a day of programs, which include the panel discussion, “Zebulon B. Vance Reconsidered,” at 10 a.m. (828-251-6415).

 

Interview with Sharyn McCrumb

 

Q: Much of your novel is told through characters telling stories.  There’s Mary Jane Heaster, the ghost girl’s mom, speaking in the first person; and James Gardner, an African-American lawyer, talking to a doctor.  You love that storytelling voice, don’t you?

 

A: Yes.  Because I think when you do first person, it gives you more insight into character.  (Here’s) third person, for example: “The old captain lived to a great age, but finally, inevitably he died.  He died commanding the battalions of his youth, ordering the supplies to be put here or there.  He even commanded the sheets to roll back in the beds.”  Ready for first person?  “Died on me finally.  He had to.  Died doing his bad bugle imitation … He’d command the sheets to roll back.  They didn’t.”

That’s Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.  In the first one, you only get one character, but when you put it in first person, you get two characters, you get the guy dying, but you also get the person observing it.

 

Q:  I love the Mary Jane character (Zona’s mom) and her complexity.  Writing about James Gardner—is that new territory for you?

 

A:  Actually, it isn’t.  Years ago, Ed McBain did an anthology, Transgressions … and he asked me to write a novella.  What I wrote about was the fact that, in the 1850s, the Medical College of Georgia bought a slave from the slave market in Charleston, S.C., brought him back to Augusta, and trained him to rob graves … He was a real guy.  His name was Grandison Harris.

 

Q:  When you follow something and discover a whole other story, that’s a great opportunity, isn’t it?

 

A:  That is exactly what happened with Mr. Gardner.  The folktales don’t talk about the lawyers.  The folktales focus on the mother and the dream and all that stuff. 

But I started looking at the lawyers, and I thought, you could put those three guys in a booth at a Waffle House, and you would have a great story.  You know, the Civil War cavalry soldier from the South; the crazy (Union-sympathizing) bridge-burner, who owned slaves; (and) this 29-year-old, young black lawyer watching these two old bulls go at it in court.  And then you get to see him as an old man in the insane asylum, talking to a 29-year-old (African-American) doctor.

 

Q:  What was it like developing Gardner’s character?

 

A:  I didn’t make up anything I could verify.

 

Q:  Sometimes you found things out that no one else has ever found.

 

A: Part of it is doing really exhaustive research.  If it were just a ghost story, I don’t think it would have been good enough for the book. … I do enough research before I commit to a book to know whether it has potential or not.  There are books that I have abandoned because I couldn’t find that substantial substrata.

 

Q:  Could you give an example?

 

A:  I have been toying with the idea of writing a novel about the 1916 flood in Asheville.  I’ve been researching it for a year-a-half … The way I’m seeing the flood is the way Thornton Wilder wrote “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”  You follow all these people, and some of them are not going to make it through the flood, and some of them are, but you don’t know which.

There are heart-rending stories about some of those people down in Biltmore Village—the little girl who had a brace on her leg, she was lame, and her father put her up in a tree, and she lived through the flood and watched it; and her father drowned … and the two teachers who got swept away and managed to hold onto a gate for I don’t know how long, but finally, the water’s so cold, their hands freeze, and they let go, and they’re gone.

 

Q:  Sounds like it has potential.

 

A:  Remember what I said about one part of a story is not enough.  You need that substance.  Nothing has clicked yet.  I can’t find the person or the incident, or whatever it is that’s going to make that into a book … I haven’t got the emotional center that I need to run with that book, so I don’t know what I’m going to do next.

 

Q:  Well, back to Mr. Gardner.  What was one of the moments with him when you said, “Aha! There’s an opening to something greater”?

 

A:  Sandra (Menders, research partner) and I were doing this back-and-forth documenting …  First of all, we found Mr. Gardner.  We didn’t have the trial transcript, but we had the list of who was who, so we knew that the first African-American attorney to practice in West Virginia was second chair for the defense. 

Then we started tracking him, and we get to the 1930 census, and there he is in the Lakin, West Virginia Asylum for the Colored Insane; and I’m thinking, “Why is he there?” 

That asylum has been closed for 30 years, and the records are gone. That’s when you have to start using some common sense.  Here’s a guy, he’s in an insane asylum, he’s 63 years old. You might think early senile dementia; you might think some kind of organic problem, like alcoholism.  You follow the business directories, and you find that he’s back practicing law two years later.  Well, if you’ve got Alzheimer’s, you don’t go back to any kind of law practice; the same thing with any kind of organic dementia that curdles your brain.

 

Q:  I’m following you.

 

A:  Remember he’s a lawyer.  It can’t be easy to put lawyers in insane asylums.  And, let’s also remember his race, and the fact that it’s 1930, so if he had done anything to harm another person, he would not have been in an asylum; he would have been in a prison.  The only thing that he could have done to get himself landed in an asylum and then get out two years later, would be to try to harm himself—attempted suicide.

 

Q:  Is there one of your characters, in all of your fiction, whom you would put forward as the first character issued in a set of Sharyn McCrumb universe cards?

 

A:  Zeb Vance.  He made it into two works.  Or Malinda Blalock or Frankie Silver. 

A lot of my books have strong women either caught in a tragic circumstance or rising above what the expectations for a woman of that era were. 

Look at “King’s Mountain.”  They’ve got to go fight the British.  They need a wagonload of gunpowder.  The person who has made the gunpowder for them is Mary Patton—29 years old, she just had a baby the month before, and Sevier shows up and says, “I need a wagonload of gunpowder,” and she makes it for him in six weeks.

 

Q:  I know you’ll be talking at the Vance Symposium.  Do you want to say anything more about Vance, and how he could own slaves?

 

A:  Here’s my philosophy.  Our great-grandchildren are going to be so ashamed of us, mortified about us, you and me, and I don’t know what we’re doing wrong.  I have some theories … But there’s no telling what in our society is going to be condemned a hundred years from now … We don’t know what (of what) we’d been taught is going to be contradicted somewhere down the line.

 

Q:  I notice that on the page that lists your previous works in the new book we don’t see all your novels, we just see your ballad novels, without a heading.

 

A:  I think that Tom Hanks and I had parallel lives in a way.  Back when I first started writing, when I was in grad school and the children were in diapers, and I was doing the Elizabeth books [featuring Elizabeth MacPherson, forensic anthropologist], Tom Hanks was doing a sitcom on ABC called “Bosom Buddies.”  Then he went on to win back-to-back Oscars—he did “Philadelphia”—and “Bosom Buddies” was like somebody working at McDonald’s while they went to college.  I feel the same way.  “Elizabeth” paid for two Masters degrees.  When the children went to school and I could actually write serious books, then I wrote the Ballad Novels.

 

Rob Neufeld is the author of six books and a book review and regional history columnist for the Citizen-Times.  Visit his website, “The Read On WNC” at TheReadonWNC.ning.com.”  Contact him at RNeufeld@charter.net or 828-505-1973.

 

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