In Shimmer, the subject was shady corporate culture (data collection, stock options, a computer's "doomsday" mainframe, misled employees) and an equally shady lead character good at his own shell game. The story's atmosphere and point of view: dark and often looking down from a New York City skyscraper.
"We've rejected this turkey two times already and we don't want it."
So said members of the editorial committee at Warner Books in the late 1970s. And they weren't the only ones issuing a thumbs down. The "turkey" in question — a manuscript by writer Jerry Hopkins — had already been shopped to and rejected by more than 30 publishers in the U.S. and U.K. Then a man named Danny Sugerman stepped in.
Sugerman added his own material (a foreword, some anecdotes), assembled some photographs, acquired the rights to some song lyrics, and merged two of Hopkins' drafts. It was now a manuscript that Jerry Hopkins agreed to have co-authored with Danny Sugerman.
And when editor Marcy Rudo of Warner Books got behind the book, a deal was made: Warner agreed to publish Hopkins and Sugerman's work, and it went on to sell in the millions of copies in more than two dozen languages.
Osing will be reading from the book at 6 p.m., and, though he's retired from the University of Memphis writing program, he's continued to publish his poetry widely. Carlson, retired too from teaching in the U of M's English department and creative writing program, wrote of the fishing life in Hatteras Blues a few years ago, but he's also engaged in printmaking and collage. His artwork showed up in Osing and Carlson's La Belle Dame (also from Spuyten Duyvil), but it's gyotaku he's turned to now.
The house at 1458 Vinton in Midtown Memphis may have been home for decades to well-known artist Dolph Smith, but before that, it was where Vince Vawter grew up. Vawter's book, Paperboy (Delacorte Press/Random House), is about coming of age in a city set to see some major changes too.
The novel takes place largely in Vawter's Midtown neighborhood in 1959, and the first-person narrator is an 11-year-old named Victor Volmer III, who has taken on the paper route of a friend for the month of July. That newspaper is the Memphis Press-Scimitar, where Vawter himself once worked as a reporter before moving on to managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and publisher of the Evansville Courier & Press in Indiana. That paperboy is a lot like Vawter when he was 11, but there's enough leeway in the story to make Paperboy fiction not memoir.
Vawter has now retired with his wife to a home on 10 acres outside Knoxville, but on Tuesday, May 14th, he returns to his hometown to discuss and sign Paperboy at The Booksellers at Laurelwood, beginning at 6 p.m. It isn't like he ever left Midtown for good, though. In a recent phone interview, Vawter talked about the writing of Paperboy, but he talked too about that house at the corner of Vinton and Melrose and about the return trips he's made to Memphis over the years. Has he been inside the house since Vawter's family moved to East Memphis in 1960? Or was it 1961? Vawter can't recall the exact year. But he's sure of one thing:
Roam wasn't built in a day. It took time for Elijah McCallister, with help from the man he kidnapped out of China, to locate what he was looking for in America: mulberry trees. It took hard work too to carve out a settlement and build a factory — a factory to produce the sheerest silks — so that Roam the town could thrive for a time — a town, who knows where (or when) it is, but it's deep in the woods, with dark mountains and a dangerous ravine nearby and another town, Arcadia, miles away and down a road — the Silk Road — and there are miracle waters in a subterranean river and brute lumberjacks in the forest and a congenial but tiny man (don't call him a midget) tending the town bar and a lovelorn mechanic who can fix your broken car and there's every manner of magic to go with it, all of it.
And now, only a few generations into its brief history, Roam is reduced to a few inhabitants. Vegetation is returning to reclaim the ramshackle houses emptied of families. Animals — deer and dogs and swallows — are returning to reclaim the streets and skies, but just as mysteriously they disappear too. All to leave Roam to the ghosts of the dead (there are many) and to those who survive — and among the living, two sisters, great-granddaughters of Elijah McCallister: Helen, who is 25 and hard to face, what with her off-putting looks and lying ways, and Rachel, who is 18, beautiful, and blind.
With the advent of air-conditioning and due to most builders, "porch sitting, one of the most significant pastimes of Southern culture, has since gone the way of hand-churned ice cream and the quilting bee," Memphian Nell Dickerson writes, and she mourns the loss. But tell that to the canines sitting pretty in Porch Dogs (John F. Blair, Publisher), Dickerson's collection of more than 60 handsome color photos.
House dogs, yard dogs, shop dogs, swing and bench dogs, water-loving dock dogs, top dogs (who sit for their portrait from second-floor perches), and under dogs (cooling beneath the porch): These are Dickerson's categories. No need, though, to bother Biscuit, Cleopatra, Teeny Baby, Liza Jane, and Gotcha with name-calling. They're in hound heaven on the porches that still stand throughout the South — whether, in Dickerson's photographs, we're in Memphis, Mississippi, New Orleans, Alabama, or Charleston. And true to Dickerson's abiding concern for documenting what remains of the past — see her previous book, Gone: A Photographic Plea for Preservation (from 2011) — this makes Porch Dogs a dual-purpose project. From grand doorways to humble storefronts, these are splendid examples of the South's architectural heritage stretching back to the late 18th century.
The subject is Life After Life. And no, not the new novel by that title by Kate Atkinson. I mean the new novel by that title, from Algonquin Books, by Jill McCorkle. And note: That's life after life, not life after death, because McCorkle, who teaches creative writing at North Carolina State University, has had it with vampire stories. She said so recently from Jackson, Mississippi, one stop on her 28-city tour to promote her latest novel, her first in 17 years. That tour includes Memphis, where she'll be reading from and signing Life After Life at Burke's Book Store on Wednesday, April 17th, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. But back to that topic: vampires.
"That's a pejorative term in many atheist circles to describe an atheist who's seen as too accommodating to people of faith. It's something I was called the first time I went to an atheist meeting."
So says Chris Stedman, who borrowed that term for the title of his memoir, published late last year by Beacon Press. And perhaps, according to nonbelievers in some circles, Stedman is indeed too accommodating to people of faith. The subtitle of Faitheist admits as much: "How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious."
That's the topic Stedman will present in a lecture, free and open to the public, on Monday, April 8th, inside Rhodes College's Hardie Auditorium at 7 p.m. It's a topic he addresses on the NonProphet Status blog, online at Huffington Post and The Washington Post, and as assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University. It's a topic he further explained in a recent phone conversation from his home in Boston. Of his Monday night lecture: "I want to stress the importance of constructive and compassionate understanding between people of faith and the nonreligious."
How does an atheist and young man — Stedman turns 27 on Tuesday — arrive at such understanding? Especially since he grew up in a nonreligious household? Especially since he converted to an evangelical church at the tender age of 11? And especially since, since his freshman year in high school, he has made no mystery of the fact that he is gay?
Let Stedman explain.
Nelle Fenton knows more than most about horses. She can ride (even sidesaddle), she can jump fences (and thrill at the prospect), she can fox-hunt (with the winning tails as trophies), she can breed (a fine Thoroughbred), and she can deliver (a foal).
But can this Pennsylvania debutante turned mistress of the manor in Virginia horse country act as faithful wife and caring mother? In her own manner, she can. Meaning that Nelle, a woman with little patience for people in general and less patience with the foolhardy, does indeed remain married to Richard Fenton an entire adult lifetime, despite her extramarital affairs and private disappointments. And as for her seven sons: They do indeed crave their mother's affection (as Nelle herself craved her formidable mother's), but even Nelle would admit that her maternal instincts are no match for the company of horses and her love of the rolling Virginia countryside.
"I've entered four times and won twice," says Memphian Bradley Harris, who, for a living, advises writers on writing. "That's a good average in the major leagues."
Yes, it is. Harris is winner of the 2012 3-Day Novel Contest, which you can read about in this week's Flyer. But there's more to it. In Harris' words:
"I had no thought of winning. I'd won once, back in 1998, and that felt like a fluke. So I put it out of my mind. My purpose in entering the contest was just to have a book-length manuscript, so I could expand it.
"When Melissa Edwards from the contest called me, I was with a writing client. I said to Melissa, 'Let me call you back.' Melissa said, 'Well, you won the 3-Day Novel Contest.' I thought, no, you're wrong. It struck me as a silly possibility. I was so flabbergasted that I had to ask her what text I'd sent. I felt for a few moments like a fool.
"The client I was with when Melissa called was coincidentally the same client who'd come in the day I sent the manuscript to the contest. The client that day had said, 'You done?' 'Yep.' 'Is it any good?' 'Nope.' 'You gonna send it in?' I heaved a sigh and said, 'Yeah, I guess. I paid the money, might as well.'
"So indeed I sent it in, and there you have it: Lightning strikes twice."
That's how David Wesley Williams describes the writing life — his life. He's served as sports writer and now as sports editor at The Commercial Appeal for 25 years. But he's a writer of short stories and novels too. And this week sees the publication of his debut novel, Long Gone Daddies (John F. Blair, Publisher), on March 5th, which happens to be the 50th anniversary of Patsy Cline's death — an important date given that Long Gone Daddies draws on the music that Williams loves most: country classics, Delta R&B, and early Memphis rock and soul.
Brazil, Columbia, and Peru: Those are the countries Tustin's been visiting as a board member of the Memphis nonprofit Orphanos, which serves 20 orphanages across the globe, five of them in South America.
But we're here to talk about Ambushed, Tustin's new novel, which concerns the life of the Apostle Paul. It's a story that follows Paul from childhood to persecutor of Christians to conversion to being persecuted as a Christian, and, according to the author, the story all started with the author's own life-changing event: a life-threatening illness.
Books you keep close by. Books that changed your life. Books you reread. Books you want to share. Books you think you couldn't live without. Come up with 10. Or narrow it down to 10. Burke's Book Store is asking for your entries in its "My Ideal Bookshelf: Memphis Edition."
Think of it as a city self-portrait. Dozens of Memphians already have — via a bookshelf smartphone snapshot, a simple listing of titles and authors, or on the page provided by Burke's on its website. But do so by June 30th. That's when Burke's will randomly draw from the submissions they've received. That's when you could be the winner of a custom painting of your ideal bookshelf by artist and illustrator Jane Mount.