2020 southern book prize

 Current Southern Indie Bestseller List...

Southern Bestsellers 12/1/2019

For the week ending 12/1/219.

1. The Starless Sea
Erin Morgenstern, Doubleday, $28.95, 9780385541213
2. Where the Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens, Putnam, $26, 9780735219090
3. The Dutch House
Ann Patchett, Harper, $27.99, 9780062963673
4. Olive, Again
Elizabeth Strout, Random House, $27, 9780812996548
5. The Guardians
John Grisham, Doubleday, $29.95, 9780385544184
1. A Warning
Anonymous, Twelve, $30, 9781538718469
2. The Body
Bill Bryson, Doubleday, $30, 9780385539302
3. Talking to Strangers
Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown, $30, 9780316478526
4. The Yellow House: A Memoir
Sarah M. Broom, Grove Press, $26, 9780802125088
5. Me
Elton John, Holt, $30, 9781250147608

 A SIBA Okra Pick  | SIBA Book Award winners and finalists! |  Special to the Southern List

 From the Current Crop of Fresh Okra Picks...

The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons You can have everything you want if you sacrifice everything you believe.

Kihrin D'Mon is a wanted man.

Since he destroyed the Stone of Shackles and set demons free across Quur, he has been on the run from the wrath of an entire empire. His attempt to escape brings him into the path of Janel Theranon, a mysterious Joratese woman who claims to know Kihrin.

Janel's plea for help pits Kihrin against all manner of dangers: a secret rebellion, a dragon capable of destroying an entire city, and Kihrin's old enemy, the wizard Relos Var.

Janel believes that Relos Var possesses one of the most powerful artifacts in the world—the Cornerstone called the Name of All Things. And if Janel is right, then there may be nothing in the world that can stop Relos Var from getting what he wants.

And what he wants is Kihrin D'Mon.

Tor Books | 9781250175533 | October 29, 2019

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 The Latest from Lady Banks' Commonplace Book...

"Every family history includes such stories of survival, of prevailing against great suffering and despair. Perhaps these family histories, small as they might be and utterly invisible to the world, hold the key to facing our larger worries, too, and showing the way through.." —Margaret Renkl


"Most of my childhood memories are happy. My dad hunted. Birds mostly, so whenever we go out and quail or dove is on the menu, I immediately order it because it tastes like my childhood. That makes me feel warm and content" —Joshilyn Jackson

Her ladyship, the editor, spent the Thanksgiving holidays visiting with her parents and perhaps inadvertently launched both her mother and father on a long, bewildering, and unintended journey by helping to start a family tree on one of those online genealogy websites. Everyone concerned was immediately plunged into a wonderland-world of swirling birth records, county marriage licenses, federal census data, and reprinted obituaries from which her ladyship has only just managed to disentangle herself with great difficulty.

There is a rather delightfully addictive quality to family trees. Not that one expects to find anybody famous (highly unlikely) or "royal" (certainly not, her ladyship's antecedents were Mennonite farmers). But there is something rather fantastic in discovering that one's great-great grand uncle was a grocer in Pennsylvania, or that a great-great grandfather spent a year or so in Brooklyn as a librarian.

It is the "story" of family that is interesting. The "how did we get here for there?" that makes up the bones of every plot in every novel: why did a great aunt get on a ship in La Havre bound for New York with her six children but no husband? Why did a great great uncle enlist to fight in the Civil War if the family was pacifist? Why did a grandmother shorten her name when she started working?

Two things that made it into her ladyship's "commonplace book" last week echoed this longing for family story: Jon Mayes interviewed Joshilyn Jackson (Never Have I Ever), who spoke about growing up in a military family that moved frequently. Lacking any real memories of a specific home place from when she was a child, Jackson says she made up her own: "My memories are tied to either taste and smell or to my own obsessions. I can tell you that around seven I had created a whole cat planet with a system of government and a religion and a huge rotating cast of characters."

Margaret Renkl (Late Migrations), on the other hand, has long memories, and carries the memories of her mothers and grandmothers as well, which she writes about in a beautiful essay, "Why I Wear Five Wedding Rings." Faced with a seemingly endless book tour and a crippling burden of stage fright, she remembers, "one day it finally dawned on me that their wedding rings would make the perfect talismans against fear....it worked."

Both Never Have I Ever and Late Migrations are both finalists for the Southern Book Prize. You can vote here at www.southernbookprize.com


 Featured 2019 Southern Book Prize Winner...


The Line that Held Us by David Joy

 2019 Southern Book Prize Winner: Fiction

From critically acclaimed author David Joy comes a remarkable novel about the cover-up of an accidental death, and the dark consequences that reverberate through the lives of four people who will never be the same again.

When Darl Moody went hunting after a monster buck he's chased for years, he never expected he'd accidentally shoot a man digging ginseng. Worse yet, he's killed a Brewer, a family notorious for vengeance and violence. With nowhere to turn, Darl calls on the help of the only man he knows will answer, his best friend, Calvin Hooper. But when Dwayne Brewer comes looking for his missing brother and stumbles onto a blood trail leading straight back to Darl and Calvin, a nightmare of revenge rips apart their world.

The Line That Held Us is a story of friendship and family, a tale balanced between destruction and redemption, where the only hope is to hold on tight, clenching to those you love. What will you do for the people who mean the most, and what will you grasp to when all that you have is gone? The only certainty in a place so shredded is that no one will get away unscathed.

The Line that Held Us by David Joy (G. P. Putnam’s Sons)


 Southern Books | Authors | Literary News...

Veteran novelist Amy Greene (Bloodroot and Longman) and debut novelist Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne have several things in common: both are native Appalachians, both write about their mountain origins, and lucky for us, they both have a book coming out from Blair this fall. Elizabeth’s debut novel is Holding On To Nothing (pub. date 10/22/19). Amy Greene, with her husband Trent Tompson, edited Step into the Circle: Writers in Modern Appalachia, a collection of essays and photographs in which writers write about each other and their homes in Appalachia (pub. date 12/1/2019).

Amy and Elizabeth sat down recently for a chat about their upcoming books.

Amy Greene: Elizabeth, I've had the good fortune over the past year to become familiar with you and your writing. We grew up in the same mountains, but you left East Tennessee to study at Amherst College and have now settled in Massachusetts with your husband and children. What moved you to return, as a storyteller, to your Appalachian roots?

Holding On To NothingElizabeth Chiles Shelburne: I think home is home. When people ask me where I'm from, I still answer “East Tennessee,” even if they are actually asking what town I live in now so we can arrange for school pickup.  It's just not a choice to give another answer. I've been a long time gone, but East Tennessee is still my home. And, perhaps because our childhoods are so formative, my brain and heart still beat with stories and characters, both real and imagined, from there. At some point, maybe I'll catch up and start telling stories from the place I've lived for a while now, but it hasn't happened yet. I also think that there may never be enough stories about our region, which is a shame given that through music and storytelling it's occupied such a formative place in American history. I just never tire of the people there, of how hard-working, joyous, and hilarious they can be, even when circumstances might dictate otherwise. It was such a gift to be from there, and I miss it every day. 

Now, from me to you: What made you and Trent want to explore Appalachian writers through pictures and words? It is an absolutely stunning book, and I can't wait to put it out for people to read.  Why did y'all want to explore that topic now and have other writers profile each other (which I loved!)? 

AG: When Trent and I met at a writers' colony in the Tennessee mountains, we connected both because of our Appalachian roots and our love of literature. Since then, we've had countless conversations over coffee about how the arts—particularly the literary and visual arts—have given our people voices to tell their own stories, through words and images, in ways the media from outside the region often gets wrong. Those conversations over morning coffee became a vision for a coffee table book combining the literary and visual arts to show how the literature of Appalachia has helped to progress its entire culture.

ECS: I love that. Those conversations over morning coffee are sometimes the most universal ones! And I couldn't agree more about the portrayals of Appalachia. I started writing my book because I felt that the media from outside the region just didn't portray the people I knew accurately. When people tell their own stories, the full complexities of their lives get portrayed. That's what I tried to put on the page with Jeptha and Lucy's story. 

AG: Now, a fun question: How did you celebrate when you learned that your debut novel would be published by Blair?

ECS: I celebrated the news the way I celebrate all good (and bad!) days in our house: I popped the top on a beer! Like Jeptha, my main character, I very much enjoy a good beer. I've gotten a taste for super hoppy New England-style IPAs over the years, and I always keep some craft IPA in the fridge. They are my go-to for celebrations! I especially love one from a local Cambridge brewery called Lamplighter, and my favorite of theirs is called Birds of a Feather. (I edited much of Holding On To Nothing after my kids went to bed while sitting at Lamplighter, nursing one beer over three hours and listening to bluegrass.) 

AG: A very fitting way to celebrate! When I got a book deal for Bloodroot, I bought a pair of leather boots I'd had my eye on—but they were on sale, which probably speaks volumes about where I come from and how I was raised.

Step Into the CircleECS: I love that. And yes, the on-sale part definitely does speak volumes about growing up where we did, doesn't it? One thing I loved so much about Appalachian Reckoning, the amazing book edited by Meredith McCarroll and Anthony Harkins, was that I learned the word bricoleur, a person who makes new things of the things they've collected around them. It was a fancy word for the way I grew up and the way I saw people all around me live. 

Back to you:After writing such gorgeous fiction (Bloodroot and Long Man) for so long, how was it to be immersed in nonfiction, both the writing and the editing, for a while with Step Into the Circle? Was it hard to transition between the two? 

AG: It wasn't too hard to put on my editing hat. For me, revising is more than half the writing process. It doesn't hurt that I learned from the best. My editor at Knopf, Robin Desser, is brilliant at what she does. Her editorial voice lives in my head, and I listened while reading the essays included in Step into the Circle. To be fair, there wasn't much editing to do, given the caliber of the writers involved in this project.

ECS: Editors are the best, aren't they? And, is it just us or is there something about editors named Robin?! [e.g., Robin Miura, editor at Blair]

AG: One last question (well, two last questions) for you: It sounds like as a writer you'll continue to mine the rich literary terrain of our homeland. What can we expect from you next? Are you working on another novel?

ECS: I'm almost done with the first draft of my next novel, and yes, it's set in East Tennessee! One or two of the characters from this book come back in that one, although the book is very different. I spent a lot of time in my twenties reporting on tuberculosis, now the number-one infectious killer in the world. It's a huge issue and not one that many people in the U.S. care about, despite there being regular, if small, outbreaks here. I wanted to write fiction about tuberculosis, but I also wanted to write another book set in East Tennessee. I found an article about a very infectious strain of TB that broke out in an OshKosh factory in Tennessee twenty years ago and thought, "A ha!" Currently, I'd describe the book this way: 
Tennessee native Alice Campbell had been living happily in Kenya, working as a doctor, with her husband and two kids. But when her daughter Rosalind dies from an undiagnosed tuberculosis infection, Alice’s marriage falls apart and she will do anything to get away from the disease, even take over her father’s old medical practice back in East Tennessee, a place she swore she’d never move back to. Unbeknownst to anyone, however, a TB epidemic is about to rage through East Tennessee and the United States, and Alice is the only one with the experience, courage, and insight to fight against it.
And last question for you:What are you working on? I can't wait to read your next book! 

AG: I'm so excited to see what you write next and how your writing life takes shape in general. I know great things are ahead, both for and from you!

Right now, I'm working on another novel set in East Tennessee as well, about a quarry town during the Great War. Working on Step into the Circle has been such an inspiration as I birth this third book, being steeped in the words of so many writers I admire.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for this conversation, and for sharing your beautiful story with me and the world!


Elizabeth Chiles ShelburneELIZABETH CHILES SHELBURNE grew up reading, writing, and shooting in East Tennessee. After graduating from Amherst College, she became a writer and a staff editor at the Atlantic Monthly. Her nonfiction work has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, and Globalpost, among others. She worked on this novel in Grub Street’s year-long Novel Incubator course, under Michelle Hoover and Lisa Borders. Her essay on how killing a deer made her a feminist was published in Click! When We Knew We Were Feminists, edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan. Holding On To Nothing is her debut novel. She lives outside Boston with her husband and four children.

Amy GreeneAMY GREENE's first novel Bloodroot was a New York Times and national bestseller. In 2010 Greene won the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Fiction. Her second novel Long Man was a Washington Post “Top Book of the Year.” In 2016 Greene won the Willie Morris Award for Southern Literature and was inducted into the East Tennessee Literary Hall of Fame. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times and Glamour magazine, among other publications. Greene has lectured and conducted workshops across the country. Amy is cofounder of Bloodroot Mountain, a nonprofit organization based in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains.

Constance LombardoConstance Lombardo’s debut picture book, Everybody Says Meow, publishes on November 5. She is the author/illustrator of the middle grade Mr. Puffball books, and lives in Asheville.

Bobbie: In your house, does everybody say “meow”?

Constance: Some say ‘meow’. Others say ‘woof,’ ‘tweet,’ ‘guinea pig noise,’ and ‘Mom, what’s for dinner’?

Bobbie: How was working on this picture book different from your middle grade novels?

Constance: I love MG novels, but picture books hold an extra special place in my heart. It’s like writing poetry, in a way, because every word counts. And every page has to make a splash, visually and textually, and lead naturally into the next, which must be both surprising and inevitable. Also, the thought of parents and librarians reading Everybody Says Meow to young children and (hopefully) making them laugh… that makes me SO happy!

Bobbie: Your Mr. Puffball illustrations are black and white, while EVERYBODY SAYS MEOW is full color. What was that like? Did you obsess over getting just the right colors for your illustrations?

Everybody Says Meow Mr. Puffball Escape from Culinary Island

Constance: Black and white is definitely my comfort zone. Working with color, (in traditional media – pen and watercolor) was a thrilling challenge, especially finding the right colors and keeping it consistent.

For example, I conceived Myrtle (the MC, whose name is never mentioned in this book of few words,) as pink. I tried every possible pink, until my wise Art Director said, ‘Maybe she should just be a gentle grey.’ I got out my Payne’s Grey, added water, and… Bingo!

"The image of a bossy kitten trying to get everybody to say meow popped into my head. As I developed it, the idea of everybody’s right to their own voice became clear."

Bobbie: Reviewers have said that MEOW is a book that celebrates diversity and inclusiveness. Did you have that theme in mind when you started writing? Or were you mostly thinking about cats (and ducks, and frogs)?

Constance: This book began with our quiet kitten Gandalf. When I fed him and our talkative older cat, Myrtle, she would MEOW like wild, while he simply stared. (adorable!) To encourage him to talk, I started saying, “See? Everybody says meow!”

The image of a bossy kitten trying to get everybody to say meow popped into my head. As I developed it, the idea of everybody’s right to their own voice became clear. So it evolved organically from my kitten inspiration and my personal beliefs.  

Bobbie: What illustrators and authors inspire you?

Constance: So many! Some contemporary author/illustrators who inspire me include Sergio Ruzzier, Lauren Child, David Ezra Stein, and Jillian Tamaki (especially This One Summer.) Also, Emil Ferris, whose My Favorite Thing is Monsters proves beyond a doubt that illustration is Art. (w a capital A.)

This One Summer My Favorite Thing is Monsters

Bobbie: When you got your BFA in Illustration from Syracuse University, did you think you’d end up illustrating children’s books?

Constance: I imagined doing illustrations for album covers. (Remember those?) I never thought about kids books until my kid was born (now 16.) I rediscovered my love of Arnold Lobel, Beatrix Potter, and William Steig. The rest is history. Or will be in a few decades.

Bobbie: What’s next for you?

Constance: My news is I’m learning how to use Procreate on the iPad. Digital art is more fun than I imagined. Thankfully, my teen helps me, when he’s in the mood to talk to me (infrequently.)

Bobbie: Finally, I have to ask: are you ever going to write a dog book?

Constance: Now that I have an old sweetheart of a beagle, signs point to yes (to quote the Magic 8 Ball.) The bigger question is: any editors out there looking for a book about an old, stubborn, but kind-hearted beagle with a nose for solving mysteries?

Constance Lombardo is an author, illustrator, and cat expert who can say meow in several languages. She is the creator of a middle grade series, Mr. Puffball, about a clever group of Hollywood cats. Stick Dog creator Tom Watson called Mr. Puffball “freaky, furry, and first-rate fun!” When she isn’t drawing or writing, Constance likes to visit the many waterfalls in Western North Carolina or rummage through Asheville’s local indie bookstores. Plus, she likes carrot cake. Visit her at www.constancelombardo.com.

Announcing the 2020 Southern Book Prize Finalists

Southern Book PrizeSouthern independent booksellers have selected the finalists for the 2020 Southern Book Prize, representing bookseller favorites from 2019 that are Southern in nature—either about the South, or by a Southern writer. Nominations were submitted by bookstore members of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) and culled from books that have received strong reviews from Southern booksellers. The sixteen finalists which received the highest number of nominations are a collection of the most beloved “hand sells” in fiction, nonfiction and children’s literature of the year.

The finalists are now placed on the 2020 Southern Book Prize ballot. Winners in each category will be chosen by popular vote from readers who support Southern independent bookstores. Participating bookstores will distribute ballots to their customers, which can be returned to be entered into a raffle to win a complete set of the finalist titles. An online ballot will also be available at www.southernbookprize.com.

Voting opens the week of the Love Your Bookstore Challenge, November 8-17, building on the momentum of the grassroots campaign to encourage book buying at local bookstores and giving store customers chances to win more prizes. Voting will run from November 8 through February 1, 2020.

2020 is the second year the Southern Book Prize has been opened up to a popular vote. SIBA launched the public ballot for the 2019 prize, shifting the voting period to build momentum and excitement during the holiday season.

“The response from our member stores and the general public was overwhelming,” said SIBA Executive Director Wanda Jewell. “Everyone got involved – booksellers, readers, authors – in the end nearly 3500 ballots were submitted from all over the South. It was a wonderful affirmation of how important and beloved our member bookstores are to their communities.”

Southern Book Prize winners will be announced on February 14, Valentine’s Day.

2020 Southern Book Prize Finalists

The Dutch House The Magnetic GirlNever Have I EverThe Nickel BoysNothing to See HereThis Tender Land


Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson (William Morrow)
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson (Ecco)
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (Harper)
The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler (Hub City Press)
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (Atria Books)

The Furious HoursI Miss You When You BlinkLate MigrationsSouthern Lady CodeTell Me a Story


Tell Me a Story: My Life with Pat Conroy by Cassandra King (William Morrow)
Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis (Doubleday)
Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions)
I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott (Atria Books)
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (Knopf)

The Gilded WolvesHum and SwishI Will BE FierceThe King of KindergartenRayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee


Hum and Swish by Matt Myers (Neal Porter Books)
Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner (Crown Books for Young Readers)
I Will Be Fierce by Bea Birdsong (Roaring Brook Press)
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi (Wednesday Books)
The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes (Nancy Paulsen Books)


For more information contact:
Wanda Jewell, Executive Director
Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Kevin WilsonThe year that I left for college, a bookstore opened in my hometown of Winchester, TN. The two owners were my best friend’s mom, Debbie Petrochko, and my elementary school librarian, Suzy Smith. It was called Expressions, A Bookstore/Art Gallery. It was a tiny space, but the books were carefully chosen, and the women were dedicated to providing a space in our small town for literature, so we didn’t have to drive to Nashville for a book. That summer when I stopped by the store, Mrs. Smith, who had heard that I wanted to be a writer, told me about the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, which I knew nothing about. By the time I graduated from college, I was on staff at the conference, where I met my wife, where I would get a job at the university teaching fiction. That bookstore closed a few years after that summer.

"What I mean is that bookstores have changed my life, have made me love books even more because of the community that these places provide. And when they close, that absence changes a town, the loss of all those transformational moments."

When I was a freshman at Vanderbilt University, I discovered Davis-Kidd Booksellers. I saw a notice in the paper that a debut author, Frederick Reiken, would be reading, and I decided to go, had never gone to a bookstore reading. By the time I’d graduated, I’d gone to more than a dozen readings, spent so much money on books that I read more closely than the books I had to read for my classes. I bought Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant, David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, Victor LaValle’s Slapboxing with Jesus. I saw my professor Cecilia Tichi, read from her mystery novel while Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub accompanied her. Davis-Kidd moved to a new location, a much larger space, and I read there when my first book of stories came out. That bookstore closed a year later.

Nothing to See HereWhat I mean is that bookstores have changed my life, have made me love books even more because of the community that these places provide. And when they close, that absence changes a town, the loss of all those transformational moments.

I now live in a town without an independent bookstore, and I miss the ability to simply stop by after work, to attend a reading whenever I want to. I know how integral independent bookstores are to the local community, but I now realize how important these bookstores are even for customers who don’t live there. Whenever we go to a new city, we always take the kids to the local bookstore to stock up, to see the unique qualities of that store and how it feels so connected to the city itself. On weekends in Chattanooga, an hour away, we have lunch at Good Dog and then walk to Star Line Books. When we’re in Nashville, we go to Parnassus, take in how the store has changed since we were last there. It’s always so amazing when we walk into a store for the first time, to see that it’s thriving, filled with people. And I always hope that the town will keep it that way, so that when we come back, we can feel that same thrill, even if it isn’t entirely ours, of having a place to come to when we need something to read.

Kevin Wilson is the author of the novels The Family Fang, a New York Times bestseller adapted into an acclaimed film starring Nicole Kidman, and Perfect Little World, as well as the story collections Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, and Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine. His third novel Nothing to See Here has just been published by Ecco. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, with his wife and two sons.


(reprinted with permission via Advance Reading Copy)


Jon:  Mark, tell me about your book.

Mark:   My book is titled Watershed. This is my first book and my debut. It’s set in the late 1930s against the backdrop of the building of a federal hydroelectric dam and the arrival of electricity in rural Tennessee.

Years ago I was working in advertising and one of our clients was an electric cooperative and I didn't know what one was. I was a copywriter and they tasked me with writing a brochure. 

As I did a little research, I was stunned to realize that electricity arrives around 1900 in the United States. Edison has DC and all that, and then they're building it out. But my book is set in 1937. In the 30s the countryside still didn't have electricity. Because it was just a market-driven system. Right?

Jon:  Sure.

Mark:  If you were in the electrical company in the city, you could string a mile of copper and have a hundred customers. 

Jon:    Just like internet when it first came out.

WatershedMark: Very much so. And that's an issue, right? Our jobs are so dependent on the internet. And similarly, it was like that then, everything started to become dependent on electricity. And it just blew my mind that it's not something we collectively know. I'd never heard of it. 

What happened was, as you might expect, young people were drawn off the farms to the bright lights, big city. Go live a more comfortable, electrified life.

Anyway, I thought that was fascinating and I wanted to set a story in that space, sort of dramatize it a bit. So that said, my story is more about these people. And I have a story of Nathan, who's this engineer who's working on the dam and he's running from a scandal in his past and Claire, who's a housewife who's getting her first taste of what a career might be. And it's these two people as they meet in a small town just as electricity arrives. And there's some people who resist and some people who are enthusiastic and young people and old people, and just how it all plays out.


Jon:  How some people resist, what would be their reasoning?

Mark:  I think there are always people that resist. I was stunned with healthcare stuff when people are like, "Don't tell me that I need good healthcare." 

But there were people that were like, "Don't come in and tell me." Well, one example I think of now is a pure manual laborer. Electrification means there might be machines to take his place.

Jon:  Yes, of course.

Mark:  If you're a guy who has a job shoveling grain all day, someone's going to come up with a machine that'll do that, a conveyor or something. So mechanization's part of it.
And there's people who just don't trust it. They felt like this is the government. Because it wasn't just a free market thing, it was the government, it was part of Roosevelt's rural electrification act. It had a faint socialist sort of tang to it. There were people that resisted and said things like "I'll shoot you if you come on my land trying to string up your electric lines." Or they were told they had to sell the right of way. I'm sure there was some eminent domain issues too, as part of building hydro-electric dams and flooding valleys. There were people who had to be relocated. Some of those people didn't want to go. There was a lot of resistance.

Jon:   All these dams were hydroelectric.

Mark:  Yeah, they built, I don't know the exact number, but a lot.

Jon:    A lot in Tennessee because there was the TVA, the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Mark:   Exactly, which is just in Tennessee. The REA was nationwide, the Rural Electrification Act and TVA came out of that. It was more of a, I guess, a state level. I'm not quite sure.  But I think there are at least 17 in Tennessee. 

Jon:   It's the only one that I've heard of. So it must be because there's a lot of them.

Mark:   It's the most extensive system by far, I think. And it made electricity. But because of some laws on the books,the government couldn't get in and compete with independent, private electrical companies. So what they did was sign people up in cooperatives so they were member owners of these things. And then they could purchase wholesale electricity from the government that they've installed themselves. My parents have a place in Northern Arkansas that gets their electricity from them. They are still hundreds of them around the country. And I didn't know about that. I'd never heard of such a thing. I thought this is fascinating.

Jon:   How did you first hear about it to think, "Hey, this is really fascinating. I think I'm going to write a book about this."

Mark:  Well, I was writing that brochure. I was researching the brochure, and that's when I stumbled across this. I'm fascinated by these things that we collectively don't know. Big things that we somehow missed. I'm sure there's an infinite number of them, big things that created major changes in the flow of our society that we just don't talk about or think about.

Jon:   We just accept.

Mark:   Yes, it just really held my interest. I wasn't sure if it pulled other people's interest, but I think it's fascinating.

Jon:   Well it used to be, on a little aside, that hundreds of years ago, everything was pretty clear on how it worked. You know, either it was gears or other things, and if something broke you could open it up and say, "Oh this ..." 

Mark:   Right.

Jon:    If all the things that we take for granted, if they just broke there'd be a very small minority of people who would know what to do.

Mark:  Right. 

Jon:   We'd say "Help!"

Mark:   Right. We definitely see that. I've seen some dystopian novels that touch on that.

Jon:   Many.

Mark:  I think David Mitchell had one where we're like "If the oil had run out we would lose so much." All these people that have their photos in the Cloud and stuff like that, that all goes away. And not just everyone can engineer a car or build a computer... We'd go back to hoes and hand tools. Right.

Jon:   Exactly.

Mark:  Very quickly.

Jon:   Very quickly. Helium. It's going away.

Mark:   Right. Yeah.

Jon:   What do we have anymore? No more balloons at parties.

Mark:   What are children's birthday parties going to be like? "I remember when we had balloons that just floated in the sky."

Jon:    We could use hydrogen, I guess. It's just a little more volatile. "Get away."

Mark:   That'd make the kids parties exciting. The Hindenburg theme.

Jon:    How were you fortunate enough to be published by Hub City?

Mark:  We were looking for publishers and my agent suggested them. I'm a southerner, I'm from Arkansas. They have a really good reputation.

Jon:   So your agent sent them the manuscript?

Mark:  Yeah. And it seemed like just it was a great fit. In fact, I remember when she told me about them that two and a half weeks or so, it was sort of stressful because I was pretty excited about them. I remember Googling them and my wife, I talked to her and said "This seems like such a great fit." I think it says on their Twitter page, they're all about finding new extraordinary voices in the South. It was something that I thought, I want to be part of that. It sounds like just that sort of exciting thing.

Jon:  Well, and then, not only do they accept your book and want to publish it, they only publish one hard back a season.

Mark:  Yeah.

Jon:   And it's your book.

Mark:   Yes! That was very exciting. What writer hasn't dreamt about seeing their book in a hardback?

Jon:   Exactly.  And Betsy had already said to you that they wanted to publish you.

Mark:   Yes.

Jon:   And you're going to be their hardback for the season. And then she says, "Oh, by the way ..."

Mark:   Yeah. Which is just like ... I mean it's like having a booster rocket put on your plane or something. Because I, yeah, it was pretty of a real one, two punch of like, I'm pretty excited about this and oh this-

Jon:    We have this guy.

Mark:  This world-class author's going to throw his name behind this.

Jon:    Right.

Mark:   And I think that's incredible. That was very exciting. I mean I'm a big fan of his work and then to have him get behind it just feels like, it felt like winning the lottery or something, you know?

Jon:   Yeah.

Mark:   Because particularly, whereas a debut, no one knows who I am, and being at a small independent press, that's where that money can really make a difference. That's where his name and in this case the Cold Mountain Fund contributed something towards the tour and that's making a real difference. I fully expected that I would have to self-fund my tour as in me driving to book shops around my state. That's what I had in my head.

Jon:    Which is a what a lot of authors do.

Mark:  Which is what is done. Right? I'm still doing that, but it kind of extends it. I can fly. I've flown here, I can fly to places! (laughing).

Jon:   Where are you going to have your launch? Is there a local bookstore?

Mark:   A local bookstore is going to host it. Actually, it's a combination of my favorite local bar and local bookshop. And they're going to come sell books at  the Whitewater Tavern in Little Rock. I will go to Asheville eventually, but I don't know.

Jon:   So maybe you'll be at Malaprop's in Asheville.

Mark:   Yeah, but I launch three weeks from today.

Jon:  Congratulations.

Mark:  Thanks very much.

Jon:   Very impressive.

Mark:   This whole experience has been just extraordinary and truly ... It's been so gratifying.

Jon (laughing):       Now we just have to sell the book.

Mark:  I know. I was telling my wife the other day, I said, "If the book never comes out just this past seven months has been just incredible." You know, right now he's going to actually sell them. People have to actually want to read it.

Jon:   And the whole Charles Frazier Cold Mountain Fund is big, so congratulations.

Mark:   Thanks, I feel super lucky to have stumbled into it. And to be in the right place at the right time. And yeah, very grateful.

Mark Barr has been awarded fellowships from Blue Mountain Center, I-Park Artists' Enclave, Jentel Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, Millay Colony, and Yaddo. He holds an M.F.A from Texas State University. He lives with his wife and sons in Arkansas, where he develops software and bakes bread.


Jon Mayes writes the Advance Reading Copy Blog. He lives in Asheville, NC with his wife, Linda-Marie Barrett, Assistant Executive Director of SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. Mayes has been a Publishers Representative and bookstore owner and manager. He was born in the small village of Kintbury in England, is a vegetarian and a secular humanist.

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