Crunchy leaves. Cozy sweaters. Hearty supper soups. Yep, autumn is here in central North Carolina, a welcome relief after five months of heat and humidity. Join me for inspiration and smiles as I search for autumn bliss and reveal what I’m reading, watching, getting excited about, and more to enjoy this season.
How can a book be well-written, witty, delightful and heart-breaking all rolled into one?
Dunno, but Elizabeth Gilbert pulls it off.
The author’s clever narrative revolves around an elderly woman, who writes to a younger woman about her then-young life with a theater company in New York City in the 1940s. We’re surrounded by rich characters supporting this coming of age story told in flashbacks to keep you guessing as Gilbert slowly reveals the protagonist's bittersweet secret.
The audiobook is narrated by another one of my faves, Blair Brown, Tony Award-winning stage actress and star of television and film. A must-read for Gilbert fans in print or audio!
Getting Excited About
I'm not attending the Readers' Favorite Book Awards for Sweet T and the Turtle Team's silver medal in Miami this fall. But it's all good.
Spouse JM and I had already earmarked our travel budget on a bucket list trip to Arizona in the American southwest. We're pumped about taking gentle hikes around Sedona's red rocks country, discovering native peoples' ancient dwellings in national parks, enjoying Flagstaff's laid-back lifestyle at 7,000 feet/2.1 km. elevations, and exploring The Big Kahuna .... the Grand Canyon!
I'm also looking for literary influences in this land of stark beauty and rugged landscapes. I can only think of Barbara Kingsolver's Bean Trees.. Any suggestions for me?
And I must see landscapes immortalized on the silver screen where John Wayne and other Hollywood cowboys giddy-upped into film legend.
Oooooo....feeling another blog post coming on! Stay tuned for a photo walk about my Arizona discoveries here on Cat's Corner..
What an adventure co-writing a middle-grade book with author Rosie Russell .... especially since we live more than 1,000 miles apart.
But regular phone convos, emails, and chapters drafted and uploaded to a shared cloud drive keep us connected. We’re about 25% into the book. Hoping to finish by spring.
Hey, if you have a minute, can you have a look at our *draft log line* below?
"A shy 11-year-old farm girl
just wants to survive fifth grade.
But the new girl in school is out to take her down
and crush her dreams
of entering her horse at the county fair."
What do you think? Rosie and I would be most grateful for your feedback.
Does the log line tell you enough about the story without giving too much away?
Might it draw fifth grade readers (likely girls, although we have boys as secondary characters)?
* log line: a 1 or 2 sentence description of a story's central conflict and plot synopsis
It's a waiting game until December.
I submitted my 3-page summary of Sweet T and the Turtle Team to Wind Dancer Films for the producers to consider for a movie or TV adaptation.
I get tickled thinking about what actor could play which character in my tale. I wonder how the turtles and nests would be shown? What about the bullying scenes? And the tropical storm? I'd love for it to be filmed on location in North Carolina.
It's fun to think about possibilities, but I don't want to get ahead of myself. My research says a a book pitch has about a 4% chance of actually making it to the screen. Plus, there are production technicalities and values that I don't understand, so it's more than just the book's quality..
You’ll be among the first to know if anything comes of this opportunity. Please cross your fingers for Sweet T and me!
Making Me Happy
I’m finally putting down a garden around our cozy yellow cottage. It's been begging for one since we moved here last summer. Major soil amendments coming to sweeten our red Carolina clay that’s brilliant for making pottery but brutal on plants.
Thinking a country cottage look, but not too unkempt. I want a child's garden along the sidewalk where kids pass on the way to the bus stop or pool. Maybe dinosaurs and painted rocks there. But low maintenance and lots of native specimens everywhere. Definitely lots of color and garden art for whimsy, too. Can't wait!
Buckle your swashes! Captain Poldark and Mistress Demelza are back for the fifth and final season of Poldark. This season, its set in the power halls of London as well as on the Cornish coast. Are you watching the series? Read the books by Winston Graham? Lucky UK folk have already seen how our fave 19th-century couple fare.
Fingers crossed here for a happy ending for the idealistic hunky Poldark and his sterling wife (ditto for Drake and Morwenna, Jeffrey-Charles and Cecily, and the Despards).
Hard to imagine anything sweeter than a holiday book festival held in a town called Holly Springs.
If you’re in central North Carolina, please stop by the cultural center in downtown Holly Springs, North Carolina, between 10 am and 2 pm., to say hey! and meet more than two-dozen other writers of books for kids and adults. I’ll be rolling out silver medal stickers for Sweet T and the Turtle Team and bundling toy stuffies for both Turtle Team and Finding Fuzzy.
Seeing Through My Camera Lens
I'm passionate about capturing nature and landscapes with my iphone or Lumix GX7 digital camera. Photography is in my genes, as my great- and great x2 grandfathers were professional photographers in the late-1800s in Minneapolis, MN, and Everett, WN.
Please enjoy fall scenes from my part of the world.
(disclosure: taken last year because fall tints have not arrived yet in central North Carolina)
Thanks for keeping me company as I share my autumn happy places. How are you finding your autumn bliss (or springtime happiness Down Under)? Please do tell in the comment section.
When fellow Tarheel Christine, The Uncorked Librarian, sent out a call for reviews of books set in the south, I jumped at the chance. My pick?
Guests on Earth, by awesome North Carolina author Lee Smith.
The novel is set around an Asheville neighborhood that’s now a stately avenue of historic homes. But there's a grassy field down the road! Peaceful now so hard grasp its heartbreaking significance to literary giant F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Explore this Asheville tragedy and read my review of Smith’s Guests Here on Earth. Then click over to The Uncorked Librarian for Christine’s juicy list of southern books to add to your reading stack.
About the Book
Guests on Earth
by Lee Smith
Algonquin Books | 2013 | 326 pages | historical fiction
Here's how author Lee Smith describes her novel:
"Guests on Earth is set at Highland Mental Hospital in Asheville, N.C., during the years 1936-1948, including the terrible 1948 fire in which Zelda Fitzgerald perished along with eight other women patients in the locked ward on the top floor. Her body was identified only by her charred ballet slipper---for the brilliant Zelda was still a talented dancer and choreographer as well as a writer and a visual artist.
Asheville Literary History
I’d love Lee Smith’s books even if I didn’t live in her North Carolina home state, a frequent backdrop for her tales. Freely disclosing here that her local-to-me tales are especially enticing, but they will hook you, too, no matter where you live.
Guests on Earth is a brilliant historical fiction. Its centerpiece, Highland Hospital for Nervous Disorders, was built in Asheville, NC, in the early 1900s, was run by psychiatrist Dr. Robert Carroll. A mental health innovator, Carroll removed then-standard chains and straight jackets, offering his ‘guests’ instead fresh air, exercise, and creative arts along with counseling.
Dr. Carroll’s wife, Grace Potter Carroll, was a world-famous concert pianist who operated a music school in their adjacent home, Highland Hall. Mrs. Carroll sponsored many concerts, often featuring Highland patients, at their home that still stands proud on Montford Avenue on the historic register of homes.
Highland is forever linked to the literary world by F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Zelda.
The novelist resided at the Asheville at the Grove Park Inn during the summers of 1935 and 1936 to rest from tuberculosis and find writing inspiration. His wife Zelda, a brilliant creative in her own right, was treated at nearby Highland Hospital (for what doctors now suspect was a bipolar disorder) for months at a time during their marriage and after his death in 1940.
The hospital has the sad distinction as the place Zelda where perished. Trapped on the top floor with eight others when Highland burned to the ground in 1948, Zelda was identified only by her ballet slipper.
One hot summer afternoon as I wandered around Asheville, I stumbled across the historical marker commemorating that tragic night.
Smith’s main character, Evalina Toussaint, unravels the mystery of Highland in her compelling first-person narrative Admitted as a delicate child of a New Orleans courtesan and a wealthy aristocratic father, Evalina is a reliable narrator as far as her innocence and vulnerabilities allow. She becomes a student of Mrs. Carroll’s, finding her identity and stability by playing piano at the Carroll’s nearby residence, Highland Hall.
As Evalina accompanies Highland’s patients at musicals, she befriends a tapestry of fellow women patients. Smith portrays these characters with richness and empathy, and you feel their despair. Eventually, Evalina’s life intersects with Zelda’s at the clinic ... two creative, wounded spirits who develop a peaceful coexistence across Zelda's mood swings.
Much of the plot revolves around Evalina’s failed attempts at finding love and untangling dark family’s secrets that trap her. Bouncing in and out of Highland into adulthood, she feels at home there and eventually recovers enough to land a staff position as pianist.
Despite healing, Evalina remains haunted by that terrible night of the fire. As she explains in the opening chapter:
“I bring a certain insight and new information to that horrific event which changed all our lives forever, those of us living there upon that mountain at that time. This is not my story, then, in the sense that Mr. Fitzgerald’s 'The Great Gatsby' was not Nick Carraway’s story, either---yet Nick Carraway is the narrator, is he not?
And is any story not always the narrator’s story, in the end?”
With Evalina as narrator in Guests on Earth, Lee Smith seamlessly weaves fact and fiction for a compelling read.
More Southern Titles
Hankering for more novels set in the south?
Click over to The Uncorked Librarian for the complete juicy list of Christine's “deep fried and delish tales” to add to your reading stack.
What are your favorite books set in the south? Fave Southern writer? Please share in the comment section to keep book love strong, y'all.
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