Friday, January 25, 2013

Keowee Valley at the Library

Happy Friday, all!
I’m writing this as my daughter watches “Super Why” on PBS Kids. School was cancelled (which means her preschool was cancelled, too) because supposedly we’re going to get a bunch of sleet and ice today–a dangerous wintry mix on mountain roads.

I’ve become disillusioned about winter weather in Western North Carolina, especially over the past couple of years. Since we moved to the mountains in 2005, we’ve had solid winters with great snow (and as a native South Carolinian, snow is magic to me). But the past couple of years–and, it looks like, this year too–have seen nothing but warm, creepy winters where flowers bloom in February. I’m convinced it’s why everyone’s getting the flu.
I’ve taken to posting photos of winters past on my Facebook page. Like a sad, virtual winter. I’m hoping this will shame Old Man Winter into appearing.

Alright, enough of that. Back to the topic at hand: my upcoming presentation of Keowee Valley!

Barring icy roads, I’m headed to Aiken, South Carolina tomorrow to give a presentation of Keowee Valley at the Aiken County Library. I’ll be talking about my background, the inspiration for the novel, and touching on the history and culture of the Cherokee and frontier settlers in those wild and dangerous years leading up to the opening of the American Revolution. I’m really looking forward to getting a look at the town of Aiken, a place I’ve never been that claims quite an interesting history. The library serves the counties of Aiken, Bamberg, Barnwell, and Edgefield, all of which are fairly steeped in Antebellum history.
I love doing library events!

First, being in a library feels like being home to me. When I was a kid, my mom took me to the library all the time, and I can still remember the tall stacks, the ramp up to the second level, the magic, not-quite-musty smell of books, and the promise of adventure to be had at the touch of my fingertips. And librarians have always had a special place in my heart: the librarian at the high school where my mother taught used to send Mom home with boxes of old books just for me.

Since I’ve been promoting and sharing Keowee Valley with readers and history-lovers, I’ve had a great time at libraries. The audience is always interested and friendly, unafraid to ask questions and curious about anything having to do with the novel–the characters, the history, the landscape. Granted, I’m comfortable in front of a crowd anyway, something I feel lucky about, as many writers aren’t. But library patrons make it easy.

So if you’re in the Aiken area, I hope you’ll stop by the Aiken County Library tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 26 at 3:00 p.m.).
If not, I hope you have a warm and relaxing weekend before you!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Winter Reading List

* Also published on my author website.

So, I’m boldly entering my 3rd semester as a graduate student in the MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. I say “boldly” because I’m due to have Baby 2 one month before the semester officially ends. Maybe the phrase should be “nuts.”

Thankfully, the kind folks at VCFA, and my new advisor for the semester, have agreed to work with me. It means an accelerated work plan, and so I’m taking the semester off from teaching to try to make it all happen. And then Baby 2 will come. And my little world will spontaneously combust.

This semester is a bit different from the others: it’s the critical semester, which means along with producing new work (in my case, work on the new novel and hopefully-maybe an essay), I must complete a long, formal paper called a Critical Thesis. I’m okay with long academic papers–when I earned my MA in English I ended up finishing with two 75+ page theses–but it’s the time crunch that I think’ll get me this time.
Or, as Butch tells Sundance, “Are you crazy? The fall’ll probably kill ya.”

Oh, Newman. Oh, Redford.
But I digress.

My critical paper topic is going to focus generally on the role of place/setting in historical fiction. While my reading list isn’t quite as intensive as earlier semesters (I’m also using works I’ve already read to aid in thesis research), I still thought I’d share. And maybe throw in a few pleasure-books as an added bonus. Here we go:
1. Waverly; Or, ‘Tis Sixty Years Since by Sir Walter Scott

Published in 1814, Waverly is Scott’s epic account of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 (also known as “the ’45″), based mainly on all the stories he’d grown up hearing from his Scottish grandparents. He wrote it anonymously, even though by then he was already a famous writer. Apparently, popular novels were pooh-poohed in the “real” literary community. (Hm… sounds familiar.) Here’s what Jane Austen had to say about it, “Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones … I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverly if I can help it–but I fear I must.”
2. Ironweed by William Kennedy

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Ironweed is the story of Francis Phelan, an “ex-big-leaguer, part-time gravedigger, full-time bum with the gift of gab,” who’s returned to his hometown.

3. The Last of the Mohicans or The Pathfinder by James Fenimoore Cooper

These are two of the novels in Cooper’s famous The Leatherstocking Tales, chronicling the adventures of the frontiersman Natty Bumpo. I read The Last of the Mohicans when I was far too young to be reading it, and so I say it’s time for a second go-round.

4. My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

My Name is Mary Sutter won the prestigious 2011 Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War fiction. Cool fact: Oliveira is a 2006 graduate of the MFA in Writing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

5. Walk Through Darkness by David Durham

Suggested by my advisor, who’s a friend of Durham’s, Walk Through Darkness is the story of William, an antebellum slave on the hunt for his pregnant wife. It sounds like nothing I’ve read before, which makes me happy.

And now, on to books I’ve read before but will be re-examining for my critical thesis this semester:

6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
No explanation needed. I love this novel; have since I was a little girl. And as the protagonist of my work-in-progress is sort of a Southern “Jo March,” I’m heading back to the source.

7. The Last Report on the Miracles of Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich
Though I’d read quite a bit of Erdrich, I read The Last Report… for the first time last semester, and fell crashing into love. The story of a woman posing as a male priest on the Ojibwe reservation of Little No Horse, and of the adventures, foibles, and tragedies of her flock, it’s a novel that will stay with you long after you put it down.

8. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Another work I read only last semester, The English Patient is a stunning, epic of a novel rooted in WWII history and drama. Ondaatje’s gorgeous, laser-like focus on each of his central characters, and of the settings they inhabit–an Italian Villa, North Afria–is utterly masterful. (On a side note, if you weren’t a fan of the movie, forget it. Read the book!)

Next, on my bedside table for pleasure-reading. I know, it seems nonsensical to be reading anything other than books for my grad program, especially since it’s not like I have a lot of free time, but I can’t help it. It’s my disease.
9. The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

Penney is a Scottish screenwriter, and I loved her debut, The Tenderness of Wolves. In fact, now that I think about it, I may have to use that book in my thesis, too!

10. Letters from the Country by Carol Bly

A collection of essays about life in the small rural town of Madison, Minnesota, this is one of Bly’s best-loved works.

11. The Blueberry Years by Jim Minick

“A Memoir of Farm and Family,” The Blueberry Years was the winner of the 2011 Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Best Nonfiction Book. It’s the story of a couple and their blueberry farm, and a look at food culture in America as we know it today.

12. Lions of the West by Robert Morgan

Robert Morgan’s Boone was one of the best biographies I’ve ever read, and I used it to aid in my research for Keowee Valley. When Lions of the West was released, I knew I had to have it for my personal library. Thank you, my favorite in-laws, for fufilling a Christmas wish! This book tells the story of westward expansion through 10 Americans full of adventure and land-lust, including Thomas Jefferson, John “Johnny” Appleseed, David Crockett, Sam Houston, and more. It’s also the story of the tragic displacement of Native Americans, and the roots of the Civil War.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m a book-a-holic. My list could go on and on. If I included my research list for Novel 2, you’d groan (and probably throw something at your computer). But there’s not much I like more than sharing books!

Join me on my journey, if you get a hankering.


Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr; Headed to Aiken, SC; Artist-in-Residence; & the Snowstorm that Wasn't

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

I hope everyone gets this day off from work and school, but I know some don’t. If you do, enjoy! After a week of straight rain, my daughter and I were able to take a (slow) hike in the Pisgah National Forest this morning with some friends, and on the way home caught part of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on our local NPR station. So very cool.

I’ve mentioned this before, but King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is, bar none, one of my favorite pieces of persuasive writing. I teach it nearly every semester in my college writing and rhetoric courses. If you’ve not had a chance to read it, truly you should. King wrote the letter in the margins of a newspaper he was brought while serving a nine day prison sentence for his involvement in the Birmingham Campaign, a nonviolent protest against segregation in Alabama.

* * *

Some Keowee Valley news …

Aiken County History Museum - photo by Trey Martin
This Saturday, January 26th at 3 p.m. I’ll be giving a presentation on pre-Revolutionary Cherokee and frontier history and culture (and talking about Keowee Valley, too) at the Aiken County Public Library in historic Aiken, South Carolina. Though I was born and raised in South Carolina, I’ve never been to Aiken, known for its lovely antebellum homes, the Winter Colony, and history as “horse country.” I’m very much looking forward to it!

And, I’m thrilled to announce that for the week of August 3 -10, 2013, I’ll be the Artist-in-Residence at The Reserve at Lake Keowee, a lovely lake community in the South Carolina Upcountry. Sponsored by The Reserve at Lake Keowee Community Foundation, I’ll spend the week giving book and history talks, and participating in other informal gatherings with residents and guests. The Community Foundation has graciously offered my whole family and me (including Baby 2, due to arrive in early May) the use of a guest house. I’m particularly excited about this residency because: 1) I truly enjoy getting to know readers and history lovers, and 2) the history and landscape of the Keowee River Valley plays an important role in my novel.

Finally, we didn’t get any snow this past weekend. Not even a flake. It was supposed to be the Blizzard of 2013, and yet … nothing. I was so positively giddy–truly, like an elementary-schooler–I even told my 3 year-old that it was surely going to snow, and we’d build snowmen and make snow angels and get out the sled. Big. Mistake. I was so bummed, in fact, that I pouted all day. All day. To the point where my husband told me, “You’ve got to stop talking about this.”

So, if any of you got any of that wondrous snow, I hope you thoroughly enjoyed it. I know it’s a hassle for many, but I love the stuff.