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Act 5, Scene 1: Irene's Twilight Zone

Act 5, Scene 1: Irene’s Twilight Zone See whole poem, "The Main Show," and index of scenes.  (Spotlight opens on the lobby of the theater.  Characters who remain in the lobby enter the theater, which remains dark.  Joan the nurse tells the tour guide to also go in, and the narrator hangs back awhile.) Joan: Go ahead in. I’ll stay with my patient.Anyway, this is a family…See More
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Julia Nunnally Duncan at Little Switzerland Books and Beans

August 30, 2019 from 3pm to 6pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will be a featured author at Little Switzerland Books and Beans on Friday, August 30, from 3-5. A book signing will follow. Julia will read from her latest books A Neighborhood Changes, A Part of Me, and A Place That Was Home.See More
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Guide to Antebellum Flat Rock

"The introduction of my new publication, Guide to Antebellum Flat Rock will be launched on Sept 14 2019 at 1:30 PM at the Henderson County Court House 500 Main Street. A talk and a brief slide show follows with refreshments afterward. …"
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Nancy Werking Poling at Black Mountain Library

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Can women rescue the planet from ecological disaster?Nancy Werking Poling will launch her new novel, WHILE EARTH STILL SPEAKS, set in WNC. She'll tell the stories behind the story: How did Mary (more crone than virgin) get into the narrative? And Mary Surratt, a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth?See More
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Flat Rock history via a road

Travelling back in time on a Flat Rock roadby Rob Neufeld             If you walk the one mile length of North Highland Lake Road in Flat Rock, you step nearly 200 years into the past.            At the east end, the 21st century reigns.  Fronting six-lane Spartanburg Highway, a super-Ingles sits above a bog; and a CVS store faces an Octopus Garden smoke shop, a chiropractor, a cell phone provider, and a six-lane avenue to I-26 a mile away .            Neither Ingles nor CVS carries the big…See More
Apr 8

The press and the murderess: Sharyn McCrumb unveils new ballad novel
by Rob Neufeld

A world-weary journalist travels to Wise County, Virginia in 1935 to cover a “murder-of-the-century.” He is one of several newspeople in Sharyn McCrumb’s new novel, The Devil amongst the Lawyers, who makes things up to sell more copies.

The story is based on a real life incident, the trial of Edith Maxwell for the murder of her father. McCrumb conjures up a part of the Appalachian past to produce her seventh “ballad novel.”
Over the last few years, McCrumb has gone three times around the track with genre-defying, NASCAR-based fiction. Her previous ballad novel, Ghost Riders, involving the Civil War and the Shelton Laurel Massacre in Madison County, arrived seven years ago.

McCrumb’s first ballad novel, If Ever I Return Pretty Peggy-O, published in 1990, drew upon the traditional song, “Little Margaret.” Her second, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, introduced fan favorite, Nora Bonesteel, a woman with the Sight—that is, an inherited ability to glimpse the future.

Favorite characters

Nora, as a twelve-year-old, appears in The Devil amongst the Lawyers. Her older cousin, Carl Jennings, is covering the Erma Morton trial for the Johnson City newspaper and could use her help to get a big break.

Carl is a specimen of a character we love—the career starter who finds himself caught between two worlds. McCrumb’s characters often represent such culture-defining roles. For example, there are often some who champion Appalachian virtues, and others who negatively stereotype.

McCrumb gives the figures in her passion plays backgrounds that both explain their functions and invest them with history and soul. Carl had been a baby at the hanging of a trainer-killing circus elephant in 1916. Years later, he learned the story behind the story from an ancient reporter he met in a diner.

The reporter had been the one who’d incited the hanging spectacle in order to create drama. “The pen isn’t mightier than the sword,” he lectured Carl. “It is the sword.” Then, McCrumb writes, “the front door opened bringing in a blast of cold air, and, with a few more valedictory wheezes, the reporter passed through it and was gone.”

Legendary characters

McCrumb’s novels are as much fun as Commedia dell’arte, the Italian style of farce that dwells on cuckoldry, except that McCrumb opens the curtains on other kinds of behavior.

Plain Jane reporter Rose Hanelon, in McCrumb’s latest, cracks hillbilly jokes and concocts a lurid story while pining for an airplane pilot. Erma Morton, the accused, privately takes care of her own values—like Mr. Smith in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Harley Morton, her older brother, applies his city-wise ways to his revisited home town for profit or for the good of his family—you find out.

And Henry Jernigan dreams of Japan.

Culture statement
Jernigan, the world-weary reporter, has a story to write, too; but is haunted by his time in Japan, where he’d spent youthful years when the Influenza Epidemic had raged in the U.S. and killed his parents. McCrumb lets the Japanese culture that Jernigan knows and is wedded to infuse the rest of her plot.

While listening to the Carter Family perform in WOPI radio station in Bristol, Tennessee, Jernigan thinks about the blind Japanese musician who’d played the koto, a dulcimer-like instrument.

He senses the magical connection between Appalachia and old Japan as lands beyond time. He is keenly aware of the role that honor plays in both cultures. And he’s got a Japanese anecdote to illustrate the book’s main theme.

“There was once a horse race between a Japanese horseman and a rider from Korea,” he tells Rose. It was a two horse race, and the Korean won. A Japanese newspaper ran the headline, “Japanese Horse Comes in Second…Korean Horse Finishes Next to Last.”

The Devil amongst the Lawyers: A Ballad Novel by Sharyn McCrumb (St. Martin’s: Thomas Dunne Books hardcover, 2010, 334 pages, $24.99)

Sharyn McCrumb presents her new novel, “The Devil amongst the Lawyers,” at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood Street Asheville, 7 p.m., Sat, July 10 (254-6734); at Blue Ridge Books, 152 South Main St., Waynesville, 11 to 1 p.m., Sun., July 11 (456-6000); and at City Lights Books, 3 East Jackson St., Sylva, 7 p.m., Tues., July 13 (586-9499).


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Sorry for the confusion, Roger. I say the novel drew upon the song, "Little Margaret," which is the song at the heart of the novel. I do not say the title was derived from the song.

Your lore is very interesting, nonetheless.

Great review, Rob!

Sharyn's latest novel was, as usual, a pleasure to read. Her characters are well drawn, and the joy most of us who are natives of the southern Appalachians find in her skewering portrayals of the negative stereotyping we endure is here as in her earlier work. Her characters always ring true. This novel was particularly rich and complex in characterization.

The theme that the "pen IS the sword" is all too true! Sharyn's pen has done more to slay Appalachian stereotypes than any writer in my experience. For that reason alone, leaving out her research and fine writing, we should all treasure her and her work.


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