Southern Literary Features & News
by Carrie J. Knowles
When I was nine, I had a frightening case of mumps. The doctor told my mother that I should not go outside or be exposed to bright lights. So, she confined me to my room, turned off the overhead light and closed the drapes. Complete darkness, she believed, was the cure that would save me.
In an act of mercy, and a way to keep me in bed, she allowed me to turn on a small bedside lamp and gave me her favorite book: Good Morning, Miss Dove, by Francis Gray Patton. It was my first real book. No pictures. Just words and a world of everyday people who had a teacher they loved. By the end, I loved Miss Dove, as well.
After Miss Dove, my mother gave me Charles Dicken's Great Expectations. I devoured it, and had fevered dreams of Miss Havisham, sitting in her decaying house, wearing a soiled and tattered wedding dress, angry and determined to exact revenge on all men in the world.
When I recovered from the mumps, my mother took me to the library. With a wink and a nod to the librarian, I was welcomed into the wonder of the adult section. My world exploded.
What I had loved about Miss Dove was that she was someone I might know. She was a teacher. Everyday. Ordinary. But, extraordinary in how she lived her life. What I loved about Dickens were his bigger than life, wicked characters who jumped off the page with their wild ideas and dangerous daring. These two books set the bar for all other books that came in their wake.
Then the librarian introduced me to T.H. White's The Once and Future King. There I met the gawky Arthur. A man-child. An ordinary person called on to do extraordinary things. He was magnificent and mortal. But, best of all, he had a man of magic to mentor him.
Oh, Merlin! You lived backwards and knew everything that was going to happen. Why aren't you here today to prepare us for what's going to happen next in our very futures?
I reread The Once and Future King every couple of years just to get back to center. It gives me hope. Makes me dream big again. I wore the covers off my hardback copy and eventually had to glue the whole thing back together using a wide strip of handmade lace.
Equally life-enhancing and magical to me are two extraordinary non-fiction books: Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen and John Steinbeck's masterful retelling of a trip with his best friend, Ed Ricketts, The Log From the Sea of Cortez. I have read both of these books again and again and given them as gifts.
I never teach a writing workshop without talking about the brilliant opening line of Out of Africa: "I had a farm in Africa." That's the whole book. Right there. Six words. Perfection.
And, then there's the first book that ever made me laugh out loud, William Goldman's The Princess Bride…don't get me started.
Carrie Jane Knowles has published dozens of short stories and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, and four novels: Lillian's Garden (Roundfire Books, 2013), Ashoan's Rug (Roundfire Books, 2013), A Garden Wall in Provence (Owl Canyon Press, 2017), The Inevitable Past (Owl Canyon Press, 2020), a collection of short fiction, Black Tie Optional: 17 Stories (Owl Canyon Press, 2019) and a writing workbook, A Self-Guided Workbook and Gentle Tour on Learning How to Write Stories from Start-to-Finish (Owl Canyon Press, 2020). Her non-fiction memoir about her family's struggles with their mother's Alzheimer's, The Last Childhood: A Family Story of Alzheimer's, was originally published by Three Rivers Press.
What I’m doing now that my book tour for Bells for Eli is cancelled as a result of Covid-19
By Susan Beckham Zurenda
What does a debut novelist who had 50+ events planned in 8 states between March-Memorial Day to launch her novel, Bells for Eli, do now that the physical book tour was cancelled as a result of Covid-19? I spend some of my time rescheduling events for the hoped-for day when the virus and its consequences will no longer dominate our lives. I also spend time reaching out to readers and reviewers through online venues such as Facebook, Instagram, review blogs and podcasts. One of my undertakings during these days of isolation is partnering with a number of Southern independent bookstores, such as Bookmiser, Ernest and Hadley Booksellers, Books on Broad, Book Exchange, and Buxton Books to conduct a virtual writing workshop titled “Family Stories: Evoking Genuine Emotion in Your Characters.” It is a joy to meet workshop participants on Zoom, discuss the importance of family stories, talk about how to creating genuine emotion in characters, and help others engage in the process of writing those stories.
Like many people in these strange and anxious days, I wake up some mornings discombobulated because I’m out of a normal routine. I have to think what day it is. I’ve found that doing a yoga/Pilates workout in the morning helps me to focus and set a plan for the day. I’m fortunate that instructors at the athletic club I belong to are livestreaming classes. But even if you don’t have ready access to a live instructor, you can find workouts to do at home on You Tube and other online outlets.
My favorite time of the day at present is after 5:00 pm when I go out on my porch with a glass of wine and read to my heart’s content (or until hunger prevails, and I come inside to make dinner). Though sometimes, my husband makes dinner, so I get to stay on the porch longer! And have time for more reading while I maybe drink a second glass of wine (you think?). Normally, I’m reading books written by our clients at Magic Time Literary Publicity, but with our authors’ tours currently postponed, I can read whatever I choose (not that I don’t enjoy reading our clients’ books; I certainly do, but it’s nice for this retired English teacher to have more time to indulge).
Books I’ve read during our “shelter in place” days in South Carolina include the novels Call Your Daughter Home by Deborah Spera (a 5-star in my estimation), The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and I’m finishing another excellent one, Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. There are more books on my to-read list than I can name, but I’ll mention a couple I’m looking forward to: Ann Hite’s new memoir, Roll the Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse, Anne Tyler’s new novel, Redhead by the Side of the Road, and Lee Smith’s upcoming novella, Blue Marlin. When June arrives, I hope we will be with one another again, but I’ll still be reading, and Jill McCorkle’s novel, Hieroglyphics, will be at the top of my list when it’s published on June 9.
Oh, and I forgot to mention: I have notes underway for a new novel, too.
JAMES PATTERSON ANNOUNCES $500,000 DONATION AND CAMPAIGN TO HELP SAVE INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES ACROSS THE U.S.
April 2, 2020, New York, NY – James Patterson announced today a personal donation of $500,000 to help save independent bookstores across the country. Patterson has partnered with the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation and the American Booksellers Association (ABA) to promote the campaign. In the coming weeks, Patterson will call upon writers, readers and book-lovers to contribute to #SaveIndieBookstores. The campaign will run through April 30, at which point Binc will distribute the total funds raised to eligible independent bookstores. For more information, please visit SaveIndieBookstores.com.
"In these uncertain times, it's up to all of us to do our part and to help those in need however we can," says Patterson. "The White House is concerned about saving the airline industry and big businesses – I get that. But I'm concerned about the survival of independent bookstores, which are at the heart of main streets across the country. I believe that books are essential. They make us kinder, more empathetic human beings. And they have the power to take us away—even momentarily—from feeling overwhelmed, anxious, and scared. I hope that the funds we raise keep bookstores alive at a time when we need them the most."
American Booksellers Association CEO Allison K. Hill says, "This support for independent bookstores is incredibly generous. We are grateful to Mr. Patterson and Binc and we feel very lucky to have them as part of our bookselling family. It is especially meaningful to have this support from people who recognize the cultural contributions of independent bookstores, and who appreciate the vital role that independent bookstores play in connecting readers to books, and in creating community. This fund will help ensure that this good work continues."
Pam French, Executive Director of the Binc Foundation, says, "We are honored and humbled to work with Mr. Patterson and the ABA to ensure the generosity of book people across the nation goes directly to bookstores that are fighting to survive. In these unprecedented times, bookstores are more vital to the well-being of their communities than ever. I extend my thanks and gratitude to every person who donates. Together we can help save our bookstores."
To be considered for a grant, ABA member bookstores can visit SaveIndieBookstores.com to fill out a short application form beginning April 10 and continuing through April 27. Funds will be distributed to eligible stores by May 15.
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About James Patterson James Patterson is the world's bestselling author. The creator of Alex Cross, he has produced more enduring fictional heroes than any other novelist alive. Over the past decade, Patterson has given away more than $75 million to support teachers, bookstores, booksellers and various literacy initiatives, and over a million books to students and the military.
About the American Booksellers Association Since 1900, the American Booksellers Association has supported independent bookstores as the industry's national not-for-profit trade organization. Independent bookstores play a key role in their local economies and culture, and in the promotion of authors, books, and ideas. To support these efforts, the ABA provides indie bookstores with education, services, advocacy, and support. The ABA also actively supports and defends free speech and First Amendment rights and celebrates diversity. A volunteer board of 11 indie booksellers governs the association which is headquartered in White Plains, NY.
About The Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation The Book Industry Charitable Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that coordinates charitable programs to strengthen the bookselling community. Established in 1996, the core program provides assistance to bookstore employees who have a demonstrated financial need arising from severe hardship and/or emergency circumstances. Since its inception, the organization has provided over $6.9 million in financial assistance and scholarships to more than 7,600 families. Support for the Foundation's programs and services come from all sectors of the book industry. The Book Industry Charitable Foundation's mission is to strengthen the bookselling community through charitable programs that support employees and their families. The Foundation was imagined and built by booksellers and proudly continues to be their safety net. It is our vision to be a caring community of book people. Additional information can be found at http://www.bincfoundation.org.
With so many people now staying at home, good books are more essential than ever. Southern independent booksellers have selected thirteen titles for their 2020 Spring Okra Picks, their seasonal list of great forthcoming Southern books. The Spring Okra Picks publish in April, May, and June and feature southern voices, southern stories, and southern writers. Each and every one of them also has a cadre of southern bookseller champions, eager to share their enthusiasm with other readers. Visit https://authorsroundthesouth.com/okra to read more, and see a sneak peak of the first chapters of some of the forthcoming books.
Southern independent bookstores: we grow good books!
The 2020 Spring Okra Picks
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books, April, 2020
"I flew through this book! It was a great depiction of Southern housewives in the 90's. The mixture of quirkiness, horror, and Hendrix's unique take on vampires made it hard to put down."
~ Amanda Bradley, Blytheville Book Company, Blytheville, AR
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
William Morrow, April, 2020
"Like her splendid earlier novel, News of the World, Paulette Jiles' Simon the Fiddler is set in a post-Civil War Texas. I was instantly charmed by this beguiling tale, equal parts adventure yarn, love story, and candid chronicle of life after great conflict."
~ Clara Boza, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville, NC
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels
Hub City Press, April, 2020
"Told with empathy and heart, as well as a pitch-perfect sense of time and place, The Prettiest Star is a deeply affecting story about what it means to understand each other and where we come from, even when our lives have taken us light years away."
~ Ashley Warlick, M. Judson Booksellers and Storytellers, Greenville, SC
The Coyotes of Carthage by Steven Wright
Ecco, April, 2020
"Dark humor and dark money make for a compelling combination and Dre Ross may be the most sympathetic villain around. A cautionary tale for our times full of heart and dire warnings of how politics can go wrong."
~ Jan Blodgett, Main Street Books, Davidson, NC
Blue Marlin by Lee Smith
Blair, April, 2020
"Lee Smith is a remarkable voice and someone you hope to spend an afternoon with. Her sense of humor and attention to detail make this quick read a delight. How would you feel when your parents try to take you away on a 'we have to patch up the family' trip? You can sense the tension and laugh out loud at the lens of Jenny's point of view."
~ Suzanne Lucey, Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC
Feels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey
Gallery Books, April, 2020
"Diana is one of my top five favorite book characters of all time: she's witty, she's got a spine of steel, and she's from a social class that tends to be glossed over in women's fiction. I loved how heartwarming this book was. I say this about all of Kristy's books, but it genuinely made me laugh out loud and tear up, too!"
~ Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL
Before She Was Helen by Caroline B. Cooney
Poisoned Pen Press, May, 2020
"If you read Caroline B. Cooney back in the day like I did, you will love this new one. No one is who they seem to be. Cooney keeps you on the edge of your seat as the narrative flashes between the main character and her past, describing how she evades an old stalker to reclaim her life. Cooney reminds the fans why she's been a huge name in thriller fiction for decades."
~ Andrea Richardson, Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, VA
Lobizona by Romina Garber
Wednesday Books, May, 2020
"This is not your typical werewolf book. Think more Harry Potter meets Argentinian folklore meets the hope/terror of people coming to the US to start a better life. The world-building in this book is amazing because it's familiar yet so new at the same time."
~ Candace Conner, The Haunted Book Shop, Mobile, AL
Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson
Liveright, May, 2020
"Genevieve Hudson brings to life a brutal yet spellbinding exploration of teenage masculinity, and the horrors that it is capable of setting loose. In her haunting debut novel - part coming-of-age, part Southern gothic, part queer lit - she highlights the fear and excitement, the love and the loss, that inevitably accompanies being a new face in a new place."
~ Gage Tarlton, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC
We Are Not From Here by Jenny Torres Sanchez
Philomel Books, May, 2020
"I still don't know if I have fully recovered from reading this novel, but I know that I needed to read it. It is both devastating yet compulsively readable; difficult to get through yet necessary. One in the ranks of The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead and should be put into every American's hands."
~ Olivia Schaffer, The Bookshelf, Thomasville, GA
A Taste of Sage by Yaffa S. Santos
Harper Paperbacks, May, 2020
"When you mix delicious food and hate to love romance in a book, you instantly have me hooked. Julien is a celebrated chef who is known for his good looks but bad attitude. Lumi can't stand Julien, but tastes his cooking because it looks so irresistible and she's overcome with intense emotions and has her wondering if she wants more. If you are looking for something fun, tasty, and will test your senses, you will enjoy this book."
~ Deanna Bailey, Story on the Square, McDonough, GA
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books, June, 2020
"This beautifully paced and thought-provoking novel is one to enjoy slowly, savoring as you consider the big questions this book poses: who are we when we shed the markers that once defined us, how do our pasts inform our choices and desires, and what does it mean to be a family.
~ Megan Bell, Underground Books, Carrollton, GA
The Unwilling by John Hart
St. Martin's Press, June, 2020
"With his signature beautiful writing style, Hart leads readers on a mystery that ends up not being the one you might not have thought it would be, and each twist and reveal brings up new questions to keep the reader engaged in a big way."
~ Melissa Oates, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
by Susan Rebecca White
It’s a Tuesday, and I’m at North Decatur Presbyterian Church. I came here for a meeting, but that ended hours ago. Now, I’m working in the study, a cozy room lined with bookshelves that contain as many novels as theological tomes, as our co-pastors were both English majors.
Perhaps you are thinking, “That is all very nice, Susan. But what does it have to do with independent bookstores?” In my case, everything. I found NDPC because of Cynthia, who is married to Frank Reiss, who owns my neighborhood independent bookstore, A Cappella. Frank is Jewish, Cynthia Presbyterian, and when my husband and I were looking for a church, she suggested I check out North Decatur, which is known for its progressive theology and activism. From the first sermon I heard—which made space for doubt—I knew I had found my place.
Such a feeling of homecoming was not unlike first walking into A Cappella nearly 15 years ago, new to the neighborhood if not new to Atlanta, my MFA freshly minted, my drive to become a published novelist palpable. And when I did get published, Frank read the galley of Bound South, and called to tell me how funny it was, how well it captured a certain slice of Atlanta.
Soon after, Frank introduced me to Jessica Handler, whose memoir, Invisible Sisters, was published within months of Bound South. My writing group was short a member, so we invited Jessica to join, and over the years our friendship has grown and deepened. When I was going through a divorce, Jessica invited me over, fed me, and sat talking with me in her living room, a cat on each of our laps, a glass of wine in our hands, the guest bed freshly made, so that I didn’t have to worry about driving home. How cool that we each published a novel last year, and that our writing group critiqued early drafts of both books.
Truly, A Cappella Books has a history of providing me with unexpected treasures. Often the treasure is actual books. Visiting the store, I always find something perfect to read that I didn’t even know I was looking for. Once, it was How to Be Idle, a book that encourages people to, among other things, take more naps—which is, seriously, the best advice. Another time, it was The Skies Belong to Us, an account of the spate of airline hijackings that occurred from 1968-1975, a book that indirectly influenced my fourth novel, which explores a group of radical militants during the Vietnam war era. Last December, I found the charmingly illustrated Your Cabin in the Woods, a how-to guide that was a spot-on present—if only for daydreaming—for my carpenter husband.
Yes, I can sometimes find a book for cheaper on Amazon, but at what cost?
When I buy a book from A Cappella, I know that over 40 cents of every dollar spent gets reinvested into the local community. I know that A Cappella’s employees are paid fairly, and treated well. I know that they, in turn, promote books they love, including those written by lesser known authors. It’s a virtuous cycle of support, allowed for, in part, because A Cappella has no shareholders, demanding short-term profit above all.
Indies matter because, like a beloved place of worship—whatever the religion—they bind communities together. May we all worship at the altar of independent bookstores, for they deeply enrich our lives.
Susan Rebecca White is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Bound South, A Soft Place to Land, and A Place at the Table. A graduate of Brown University and the MFA program at Hollins University, Susan has taught creative writing at Hollins, Emory, SCAD, and Mercer University, where she was the Ferrol A. Sams, Jr. Distinguished Chair of English Writer-in-Residence. An Atlanta native, Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband and son.
The 2020 Southern Book Prize Winners
(Asheville, NC) – Celebrate Independents! Announcing the 2020 Southern Book Prize Winners -- the best in Southern literature, from the people who would know . . . Southern Independent Booksellers and their independently minded customers. Designed to honor great Southern voices, The Southern Book Prize is awarded to books published in the previous year that are Southern in nature – either by a Southern author, or set in the South, or both.
Nominated by booksellers and selected via popular vote by Southern booksellers and their customers, the 2020 Southern Book Prize Winners were selected from a list of finalists from ballots submitted by over 1000 Southern readers, representing over 150 Southern independent bookstores. The chosen books represent the indie answer to the question “What was the best Southern book of the year?”
2020 Southern Book Prize Winners
The Magnetic Girl by Jessica Handler
Hub City Press, 9781938235481
“A grand, dark, mysterious historical novel filled with dark power and ambivalence, The Magnetic Girl captures a time and place, not only in the life of a teenage girl but in our country as well. Filled with the shifting longings of adolescence against a vaudeville backdrop, Handler's novel explores the dangerous journey from childhood to adulthood when our budding powers both enthrall and terrify us.” – Brian Lampkin, Scuppernong Books, Greensboro, NC
Tell Me A Story: My Life with Pat Conroy by Cassandra King Conroy
William Morrow, 9780062905628
“Cassandra King Conroy tells a compelling story of her courtship and marriage to Pat Conroy. As you can imagine, being with him was never boring, and Cassandra has the stories to prove it. Filled with laughter as well as tears, you will be carried through the ups and downs of Pat's life like the tidal current of Pat's beloved Battery Creek outside his Beaufort home. As hard as it is to read about Pat's sickness and death, Cassandra writes about it with compassion and love. Her words from the heart are truly beautiful.” – Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC
The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi
Wednesday Books, 9781250144546
“Chokshi's dazzling world of alchemy and occult is unforgettable and I will dream of golden bees and gilded ballrooms until the sequel comes out. Astonishingly beautiful and fantastically imagined.” – Sami Thomason, Square Books, Oxford, MS
For more information about the Southern Book Prize:
When I was a kid in suburban Maryland in the 1970s and ‘80s, bookstores seemed ubiquitous. We had two independent bookstores at opposite ends of a single shopping center. The mall boasted one chain bookstore after another. Books were everywhere, and everybody in my family had a preferred store based on stock, layout, lighting, and staff personalities.
I wish I remembered the name of my favorite independent bookstore back then. Though I can’t recall it, I can tell you exactly what the store looked like. Glass-fronted on two sides, it had a mitered corner so as not to obstruct the view of the treasures inside. In fact, the first time my parents took me there, I learned the term “miter” from my dad, as I ran my pudgy index finger down the subtle seam that joined the windows.
Once they led me through the door, I completely forgot about the glass. All manner of books lay and stood before me. To my left, dozens of low, square platforms supported glossy coffee-table books with lush photographs and illustrations, neat columns of fiction and nonfiction hardbacks, and stacks of comic books arranged like ziggurats and epic Marvel-versus-DC mahjong games. To my right, mass-market paperbacks lined row upon row of free-standing shelves and, beyond these, rotating racks of still more pocket paperbacks.
Howard Carter’s first glimpse of King Tut’s tomb couldn’t have felt more momentous.
Every weekend, I contrived a pilgrimage to that bookstore. Toys "R" Us never saw another dime of my allowance.
Every weekend, I contrived a pilgrimage to that bookstore. Toys "R" Us never saw another dime of my allowance. From the checkout station near the door, a staff member always greeted us. Once they learned our tastes, they noted the newly arrived stock that would appeal to me and to whichever parent had the unenviable task of trying to limit my browsing and decision-making time. As if anything could be more important in their Saturday schedule than my evaluation of the relative merits of the latest Avengers and Justice League comics or competing titles that promised to unlock the secrets of Loch Ness, Project Blue Book, and the Bermuda Triangle.
In a way, I grew up in that bookstore. My interests expanded, and, guided by the always-helpful staff, I kept discovering new sections of the store I’d overlooked before. In my teen years, an allowance gave way to summer job money. A good thing, because the books that captivated me were more expensive. I learned to budget and save due to that bookstore. My first serious crushes were on the pretty cashier and several customers—which taught me how to deal with longing, rejection, and heartache.
I went off to college and, during spring break of my freshman year, I returned to find the store had closed, a victim of changing tastes and a sharp-toothed recession. This helped to teach me how to cope with loss.
Now, whenever I visit my local indie bookstore, I still get excited. Maybe I’ll discover something life-changing. I know exactly where on Earth I stood when I first felt that thrill of possibility.
George Weinstein is the author of six novels. His latest is the suspense thriller and 2019 Okra Pick Watch What You Say. George is also the once and current president of the 105-year-old Atlanta Writers Club and the creator and director of the nationally renowned Atlanta Writers Conference.