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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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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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Nov 16
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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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Nov 11
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Nov 10
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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

Sharyn McCrumb has new novel and talks in Montreat

by Rob Neufeld


            After three NASCAR-related novels, Sharyn McCrumb, author of twenty-four books, returned to the mountains in 2010 with “Devil Amongst the Lawyers.” Now, she walks these hills again with her new novel, “The Ballad of Tom Dooley.”

            “Occasionally, I get the idea that people treat me like Robert Downey Jr.,” McCrumb quipped about the glad reception she’s been getting from the publishing world.  “Instead of going to rehab for drugs, I went off into NASCAR.”

            McCrumb is the speaker at Montreat College Friends of the Library’s luncheon, Sat., June 18.  She’ll be talking about her Dooley novel, due out in September.

            I spoke with her about her book; and about her father, Frank Arwood, who had fed her with stories in her childhood.


R:  You’ve returned to Zeb Vance in your new novel.  He was in your 2003 novel, “Ghost Riders.”  Did you discover there was more research to be done?


S:  Ghost Writers really ended when the war ended.  The last thing we see is Zeb on the train. 

Actually, we did have a little bit of him afterward because he’s in Charlotte talking to Burgess Gaither, telling him that he’s got this law case in Wilkes County…He’s about to take the Tom Dooley case.


R:  Did you have the new novel in mind then?


S:  I didn’t think I was ever going to do the Tom Dooley case.  People have been asking me to do it for twenty years.  Two things.  One, everybody knows about the case.  And it’s so sordid… It’s like, “If you write this book, you’re going to have to call it, ‘Jerry Springer, Call Your Office.’  Who could you get to play these people, Courtney Love? 


R:  What hooked you, finally?


S:  “Blue Ridge Country Magazine” asked me to do an article of about 2,000 words on the case.  A friend of mine and I…went to Wilkes County, and drove around, knowing nothing but what John Foster West had said (in his book, “Lift up Your Head, Tom Dooley”).  And the thing is…no scenario that anyone had ever proposed made sense.


R:  What was one of your surprising discoveries for the novel?


S:  I went back and read the (court) transcript over and over…(Ann Melton and Tom Dooley) are sleeping together three feet away from James’ bed (Ann’s husband).

West’s opinion was that Melton was one of two things.  Either he’s like eighty-six or he is so intimidated by this returning Confederate soldier that he’s afraid to object.

Let me tell you what I found…James Melton, at the time Laura Foster was killed, which is 1866, was twenty-eight years old, younger than Brad Pitt. 

Tom, in the war, was a drummer boy.  When he wasn’t being a drummer, he was on sick call. 

James Melton carried the colors for the 26th North Carolina—Zeb’s regiment—at Gettysburg… He’s wounded in the arm and the leg in that battle…He gets wounded at Hatcher’s Run.  They put him in a military hospital.

Once you know all that, you can’t say, “The guy who carried the colors at Gettysburg is terrified of the invalid drummer boy. 


R:  How does it come together?


S:  I’ve got all these characters in my head… and all of a sudden I realize that it corresponds perfectly to Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff and Catherine are Ann and Tom.  Catherine Earnshaw married Edgar Linton to better herself, and that would be James Melton.  He’s a wagon maker with a farm.   Ann got married at fourteen to get away from her drunken mother, which leaves the person everybody thinks is so important (Laura Foster) as Isabella Linton, the girl that Heathcliff marries just to annoy Catherine.


R:  Who has had an influence on your storytelling ability in your life?


S:  My father was a good storyteller.  He gave a lot of speeches.  He never wrote anything…I think he was cast in the Zeb Vance mold.


R:  Do you recall one of your father’s stories?


S:  “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”  It’s about twelve-year-old kids.  During the Depression, they made their own bicycles from scrap parts, and (raced) the train…You grab onto the handle of a box car, and kick your bike away from the train, and ride down the hill on the train and jump off. 


R:  And your father did that?


S:  He did that.  Yes. 

One of the kids in their gang was the son of one of the foreman at the railroad shops.  So this was a rich kid whose daddy outranks the other boys’ dads.  And he’s a bully. 

Instead of using his expensive store-bought bike to play Pony Express with the train, he takes one of the poor boy’s bikes.  And he does this every time, and sometimes he destroys their bikes. 

One day, one kid who’s really tired of being bullied files the bike chain.  It doesn’t break all the way, but it weakens it.  And the bully goes under the train.


R:  How old were you when you heard this story?


S:  Ten or twelve. 

He talked about the barnstormers that used to come after World War I, the pilots who would come to the fairgrounds and take you up for five dollars.  And the same bully was out in the field, horsing around in front of the plane. 

One of the pilots was afraid that the kid was going to get in the way of the propeller, and he went out to try to save the kid, and the bully got away, and the pilot was decapitated.


R:  It was the same bully?


S:  Yes, yes.  My father wanted to write a novel called “Missing Junior.”  This foreman’s son who was a bully—he said he wanted to follow him all the way through life and show how everything he touched, he destroyed, and got away with it.


R:  Where did your father teach?


S:  He was the chairman of the Elementary Education Department at East Carolina University. 


R:  When you were growing up, was he teaching at ECU?


S:  He went to East Carolina when I was starting the tenth grade.  For most of my childhood, from the second grade through the ninth, he was principal of an elementary school in Burlington.  That’s what he did while he was working on his PhD. 

We used to spend the summers in Chapel Hill because he had to take courses.  He had to take French and Spanish. 

He would read things out loud to me, and I got stories from French and Spanish—“The Brave Little Tailor,” I remember. 

The other thing about him was that he had that Andy Griffith way of making stories folksy.  When I was four, he started this long bedtime story—and it was The Iliad!  Can you picture The Iliad with Andy Griffith telling it? 

“Once there was a shepherd boy named Paris, and his daddy was Priam, King of Troy.  And his parents were sitting out there in the pasture, and these three beautiful women showed up.  And they were goddesses!  And they had an apple, and they had a contest going.”



Sharyn McCrumb at the Whippoorwill Museum in Wilkes County, North Carolina, with the fiddle of Tom Dula.  Photograph by: Randy Joyner.



Sharyn McCrumb speaks in Gaither Fellowship Hall at the Montreat College Friends of the Library luncheon, Sat., June 18, 12 noon.  She will discuss her upcoming novel, which is based on the true story behind the legend of Tom Dooley.  Friends membership is $15; and the program is $10 per ticket; $15 with the luncheon.   Call 669-8012, end_of_the_skype_highlightingExt. 3504.

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