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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
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Nov 21
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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
Nov 20
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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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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
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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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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
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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
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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

Paul Reid of Tryon writes Winston Churchill: Defender of the Realm

Paul Reid of Tryon rounds out The Last Lion

by Rob Neufeld


            When Paul Reid got his advance from Little, Brown & Co. to write the third volume of William Manchester’s Winston Churchill biography, “The Last Lion,” he and his wife Barbara moved to Tryon from Florida, where he was an award-winning journalist for the “Palm Beach Post.”

            Reid knew the Carolina mountains.  As a lad from Winchester, Massachusetts and a student at Ithaca College in New York, he and his bluegrass band, the Promised Land String Band, had taken their sound to Boone, Linville, and Deep Gap.  

            Russ Barenberg, Reid’s guitar-playing hero, had sat in on their sessions in New York.  (Barenberg is the performer of “Ashokan Farewell,” the soundtrack theme in Ken Burns’ series, “The Civil War.”)

            Writing about a group of World War II veterans in the late 1990s, Reid met and established an affinity with William Manchester, the best-selling author and former journalist, who, as it turned out, was not able to complete his Churchill trilogy.  On Oct. 9, 2003, Manchester pulled out his suitcase of notes and told Reid, “I’d like you to finish the book.”

            Manchester planned to edit Reid’s work, but died of stomach cancer seven months later.  His notes were a puzzle of coded pages, without the section on sources included.  Reid worked for eight years, covering all the research territory over again, resulting in over 1,100 pages, and a volume titled, “Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965.”

            Reid presents his book at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 3 p.m. tomorrow.  Following is my interview with Paul Reid.


Q:  When you first met William Manchester, doing your story on the Marines, how did you bond?


A:  Pretty early on, he asked me about my father.  I said he went to the Naval Academy, and that I’d grown up reading military history.  I think he realized: this guy is a feature writer with a strong interest in history, not just on assignment.  When I visited (his area), doing other stories, or going to see my daughter at U. Mass, he’d invite me to stay over, and we’d chat…He wasn’t a lonely, old man, but he was an old man who lived alone.  So we just got to be friends.


Q:  He must have sensed an affinity that went beyond an interest in military history to one based on an approach to history.


A:  We were talking and I said, “Bill, you should get someone to finish the book.  Get a historian.”  He said, “I don’t want a historian.  If I wanted anyone, and I do not, I’d want a writer.”  I knew exactly what he meant.  I must have done 500 feature stories on all sorts of topics, and he asked if I could send up that month’s bundle of features.  He liked the writing.


Q:  You’ve won awards for your features.  What were some of those about?


A:  I did a story on the Pratt & Whitney engine for the F-22 Raptor—the biography of an engine….I did a story titled “Geraldo’s Violin.”  It was about a guy whose father had been a violin maker—this guy was now about 70—and his father had not finished a violin he’d started 65 year ago, and had put it in a box.  And now decades later, his son completes the violin and realizes he has a talent for it.


Q:  Isn’t that wonderful?  It sort of relates to you and William Manchester.


A:  Yes.  The unfinished story. 


Q:  How much of the new book did you create?


A:  The first 150 pages is a synthesis—there are about 100 of Bill’s pages in there.  From page 161 on, I don’t think Bill is in the book any more. 


Q:  That’s when you write about the German air strikes on London.  Let me quote a passage in which you follow Londoners coming out onto the streets from shelters.  “They rose to fires still burning, to stinking raw sewage seeping down gutters.  They emerged to unexploded bombs buried up to the fins in marl and mud, just waiting for the clumsy jolt that would start the fuse softly buzzing.”  I read somewhere that an old man gave you a tour of the haunted sites, and that fed your writing of that chapter.


A:  That walk with the old Londoner had a definite effect.  I could close my eyes and hear him.  I’d been to London many times. I had sources, books and maps.  But what a happy coincidence for me to have had this old guy walk me through where the planes came from at night.  I could imagine, I could re-listen to what he’d told me.


Q:  How has your newspaper writing experience helped your book writing?


A:  The value of journalism to this type of effort is critical.  When you’re making your living on deadlines, and you’ve got to get everything right—nobody wants to print a correction—and you want the reader to enjoy the story, and you have 36 hours to do it, and the next week, you’re on a whole new story—those are skills that are perfectly applicable to a project like this…(With) the demand upon yourself to keep the reader hooked, you don’t have the luxury of a one-page transition in a 15-inch feature story.  You have to move from Topic A to Topic B fluidly.  I told people I thought of the book as an 1,100 page feature story.


Q:  That’s the William Manchester tradition, and the Barbara Tuchman.


A:  Barbara Tuchman had a Bachelor’s from Radcliffe.  The divide between popular and scholarly history intrigues me.  If you look in the back of one of her books, it’s full of source notes…You can take “The Guns of August” to the beach.  That can’t be said about a lot of scholarly books.  I want a book that moves me, that makes me laugh and think, and doesn’t lecture me…I wanted my book to pass the campfire test as well as the scholarly test.


Q:  It’s a big subject, but you can you name one impact that Churchill had on history that readers should be especially aware of?


A:  He was full of contradictions and had a lot of faults, and that is made clear in the book.  That said, I believe that his fighting alone, in England, 1940-41, against Hitler (when others favored appeasement)…Because he believed that Nazism was a mortal threat to everything held dear in Western civilization since Plato.  I believe that he bought the time for the Russians to accidentally come in and for the Americans to come in to save Western civilization. 


Q:  One also has to be impressed by the effect that great oratory can have on history.


A:  My father, when I was a little kid, would put on recordings of Churchill on our RCA Victrola (while) he flipped pancakes and fried eggs for breakfast.  He’d walk around the kitchen in his Annapolis bathrobe, stabbing the air the air with the spatula in syncopation with Churchill’s words.  “Listen to Winston,” he commanded.  That's where it all began.


The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Read (Little, Brown and Co. hardcover, Nov. 2012, 1,199 pages, $40).



Paul Reid presents the third and final volume of “The Last Lion” at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood St., Asheville, 3 p.m., Jan. 5.  Call 254-6734.

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