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Lights, Camera, Novel: Allan Gurganus’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells AllOn-screen, the Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is much like its novel counterpart. Clocking in at a hefty 718 pages, Allan Gurganus’ debut work is no quick read. And the miniseries isn’t exactly a half-hour sitcom either. Given the length and the detail of the novel, it’s not surprising it would take four hours to adapt the epic life story of Confederate widow, Lucy Marsden.

Lucy’s life story was heavily influenced by her marriage at age fifteen to Captain Willie Marsden, thirty-five years her senior, and, until his death, the last surviving Confederate soldier. Gurganus’ celebrated novel is told from the perspective of the still spunky ninety-nine year-old Lucy who resides in a North Carolina nursing home.

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All spent eight months on the New York Times Best Seller list and sold more than four million copies. The novel also won Gurganus the Sue Kaufman Prize from The American Academy of Arts and Letters. All this proving it was worth the seven long years it took to Gurganus to write Confederate Widow.

Gurganus was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He drew a great amount of inspiration from his grandmother, Willie Ethel Pitt Gurganus, who he would visit during his lunch breaks when in grade school. Despite their time together, she never shared her life stories with him. Lucy is his imagination of his grandmother’s experiences as a Confederate-era woman.

Right around the release of the novel in 1989, New York Magazine wrote a detailed profile on Gurganus, still available here through Google Books. The miniseries, which was broadcast on CBS, starred Diane Lane, Donald Sutherland, Cicely Tyson, Anne Bancroft and Blythe Danner. Lane played Lucy from teenage to middle age. Bancroft portrayed elderly Lucy.

Confederate Widow Miniseries

Photo courtesy of the Sonar Entertainment website.

The adaptation won four Emmys (Art Direction, Costume Design, Hairstyling, and Best Supporting Actress) out of its nine nominations. The miniseries was filmed in Madison, Georgia rather than North Carolina. The novel was set in the fictional town of Falls, North Carolina.

Gurganus did not write the screenplay, which was instead adapted by Joyce Eliason. The New York Times review of the miniseries indicates that Gurganus played a small part in the production. And, Gurganus in turn spoke positively of the television adaptation.

In 2003, Ellen Burstyn starred as Lucy in a theatrical adaptation of Confederate Widow on Broadway. A critic from Variety notes that it was a very long two hours and twenty minutes, attributed partially to the fact that the page-to-stage adaptation was conceived as a one-woman show. Apparently the production closed after one official show. A few years later in 2007, the novel was adapted again for the stage, this time by Gurganus, as a part of the Theater of the American South Festival. The production was pared down to a one-act, one-woman play that was better received than its ill-fated Broadway predecessor.

Visit Sonar Entertainment’s site for a short clip from the miniseries and some production shots. But if you’re interested in watching the miniseries for yourself, copies of the movie are available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog in two locations in addition to the novel. The original blog post on Gurganus’ novel is available here.

Sources consulted: Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, New York Times, News & Observer (two different articles), People, Sonar Entertainment, Variety (two different articles), Wikipedia (Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All)

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1994, Gurganus, Allan, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Wiley Cash. This Dark Road to Mercy. New York: William Morrow, 2014.

dark roadEaster Quillby is twelve, but she has already made up her mind about her dad, Wade: he is the loser that her mom always said he was. Wade was a professional baseball player, a pitcher, but he never made it to the major leagues and he has drifted ever since. Robert Pruitt is an ex-ballplayer too. He’s a hard man–brought up by a sadistic dad, he’s been a drug dealer and now he’s an ex-con who works as a bouncer at the Tomcat bar just outside Gastonia. And he knows what he thinks about Wade: Wade beaned him a ballgame, disfiguring him and ending his baseball career. Wade ruined his life, and Pruitt would do anything to ruin Wade’s. Brady Weller doesn’t know what to think about Wade. Brady is the guardian ad litem for Easter and her little sister Ruby–someone assigned by the courts to watch out for their best interests after their mother died from a drug overdose.

As This Dark Road to Mercy opens, Wade reappears in Easter and Ruby’s lives. He has heard that their mother died, and he thinks that he and the girls can be a family again. But it’s not just his ex-wife’s death that has spurred Wade into action. He has a stash of money–money that he stole from the original thief. With this stake, he thinks he can start anew–with the girls, and in a new place. Wade easily spirits his daughters away from the group home where they’ve been living, but before long both Pruitt and Weller are on his trail.  The action moves from Gastonia to the coast, down to Myrtle Beach, and then on to St. Louis, where a pivotal scene takes place. At times the book reads like a road-trip novel and Easter’s occasional narration adds humor, but this is a novel about serious issues: the ties of family, the darkness of the human heart, and the hope that many people have that they can outrun their past. Cash mixes in references to North Carolina minor league baseball teams, the Sammy Sosa-Mark McGwire home run race of 1998, and echoes of the 1997 armored car robbery that occurred in Gaston County, all of which clearly center his story in time and place. This Dark Road to Mercy is hard to categorize but easy to enjoy.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Cash, Wiley, Gaston, Piedmont

Annis Ward Jackson. Blind Malice. North Carolina: Annis Ward Jackson, 2009.

blindIt’s every adult child’s nightmare: an elderly parent, isolated and confused, mishandles his financial affairs and winds up deeply in debt.  Rachel Myers never expected that to happen to her father Paul.  Yes, Paul was blind, but with the help of a housekeeper and a longtime farm hand and friend, Isaac Starling, he managed his mountain farm.  Rachel, who lives in Arizona, felt some pull to come home, but she knew she would never find a job in the mountains as good as the managerial job that she has in Flagstaff.

Only when Paul dies and Rachel comes back to North Carolina to bury him does she find out how bad Paul’s situation had become.  Rachel learns from Isaac that her father fired his longtime housekeeper soon after a local banker, Ed McKinney, became a frequent visitor to the farm.  And the farm itself has changed–the cattle have been sold and the house and surrounding yard have had expensive improvements that surprise Rachel.  But the biggest surprise is that Paul Myers died in debt to the tune of $230,000.  How did this happen–and does it have anything to do with the surveyor’s stakes that dot the nearby hill?  As Rachel looks into her father’s financial affairs, time and again she is led back to Ed McKinney and his puzzling influence on her father.

This is the first book in a  series of ten novels by Ms. Jackson, all set along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Watch this site for summaries of later books in the series.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2009, Jackson, Annis Ward, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Lights, Camera, Novel: Coming Attractions

Starting now and for the next few years, you can expect to see adaptations of three recent North Carolina novels. Here’s the scoop:

SerenaRon Rash’s Serena has been simmering on the Hollywood back-burner since early 2010. At first the film was scheduled to star Angelina Jolie as the titular character and Darren Aronofsky to direct. However the project never materialized. Two years later, director Susanne Bier took over the project with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper cast in the leading roles. Lawrence and Cooper also starred in the popular film, Silver Linings Playbook, which earned Lawrence an Oscar for Best Actress in 2013.

Filming occurred in 2012, but the release of the film adaptation has been delayed. Current reports claim the film will be released at some point this year. Like Cold Mountain, Serena was filmed abroad in the Czech Republic despite the novel’s Appalachian setting. IMDb has an official photo of Cooper and Lawrence from production.

Lookaway, LookawayAt the beginning of 2014, Wilton Barnhardt’s Lookaway Lookaway was optioned for a series by HBO. The novel was cherry-picked by HBO “president-turned-producer” Sue Naegle and comedy producer David Miner (who worked on 30 Rock, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks & Recreation). Barnhardt, born in Winston-Salem, is a creative writing professor at NC State. Lookaway, Lookaway is his fourth novel.

Barnhardt will be involved in the production process as a co-executive producer, not a writer. If HBO selects the pilot, then the project will be greenlit for more episodes. NC State’s Alumni Association blog quotes Barnhardt as saying the pilot will be filmed in North Carolina:

“It’s quite likely that it will be filmed here [in  North Carolina]. This is meant to be a series about New South as it really is. I don’t believe the New South has been adequately portrayed on television. It’s always the cartoon south—competitive catty women or an update of “The Beverly Hillbillies” or “The Dukes of Hazzard.” It might be entertaining but it’s not how we live.”

The novel was set in Charlotte. Barnhardt believes that if all goes according to plan, production may occur in 2015.

Finally, Jason Mott’s The Returned premiered this past Sunday on ABC under a new title. Mott’s novel about deceased people mysteriously returning to life was developed for television by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B.  But there’s already a French television show on the air called The Returned based on a 2004 French film called They Came Back about a small town and the inexplicable return of dead town members. To avoid confusion, the adaptation of Mott’s novel was renamed Resurrection.

Below is a promotional trailer for the show from ABC’s website:

Of the three adaptations, Resurrection is the only one available to watch at present. Resurrection stars Omar Epps, Kurtwood Smith, and Frances Fisher. Mott’s novel was set in the fictional town of Arcadia, North Carolina. The TV series tweaked the location to the fictional town of Arcadia, Missouri. The show is filmed in Georgia. A Los Angeles Times critic asserts that the show teases out the “investigative” elements found in crime drama and subdues the eeriness found in Mott’s novel.

Check out blog posts on each of these three novels here. If you would like to read the novels that inspired these movie and TV adaptations, check each title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

Sources consulted here: Serena (The Hollywood Reporter, IMDb, Indiewire), Lookaway, Lookaway (Deadline, Indy Week, Red & White for Life/NC State Alumni Association blog), The Returned (ABC, IGN, Los Angeles Times, Slate)

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Filed under Barnhardt, Wilton, Mott, Jason, Rash, Ron

A Walk to Remember: Nicholas Sparks’ New Bern

The WeddingWant to walk in the footsteps of some of your favorite Nicholas Sparks lovers? The City of New Bern has designed a “Walk to Remember Tour” based around three of Sparks’ novels: A Bend in the Road, The Wedding, and The Notebook. The tour is self-guided and highlights fifteen spots around New Bern. A copy of the tour guide is available on the City of New Bern website along with a short video showing a glimpse of Nicholas Sparks’ new home.                          The Notebook

Although not a North Carolinian by birth, Nicholas Sparks has lived in New Bern for many years, and as his fans are probably well aware, Sparks has been heavily influenced by the state. All seventeen of his novels are set in various locations around North Carolina, predominantly in small cities and towns and around the coast. Sparks has also influenced North Carolina. He and his wife established the Epiphany School of Global Studies and donated a track to New Bern High School.

A Bend in the RoadNew Bern, the second oldest town in North Carolina and birth place of Pepsi, boasts a lot of state firsts: movie theater, printing press, public bank, bookstore, postal service, capital. The town has more than 150 sites officially recorded in the National Register of Historic Places. With spring break coming up, Nicholas Sparks fans and history buffs might be interested in mingling fact with fiction in New Bern.

Read some of the blog’s past posts on Nicholas Sparks novels here.

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Filed under Coast, Craven, Romance/Relationship, Sparks, Nicholas

Monique Miller. Redemption Lake. New York: Kensington Books, 2012.

Redemption LakeAnd it was all relative when she thought about it; a person’s perception was truly their reality.

Marriage is a two-way street, and it takes plenty of effort and patience to resolve disputes and stave off conflict. Problems can erupt from a single source and branch off to create additional complications. Often, it’s tough to definitively pinpoint who is right and who is wrong. Redemption Lake covers three couples struggling to support their marriages. The spouses here have been pushed so far they can barely manage to talk to each other without contempt or anger, let alone hear what the other person is saying.

Readers of Miller’s work will recognize Phillip and Shelby Tomlinson, characters from her first novel, Secret Sisterhood. In Secret Sisterhood, Shelby and Phillip confronted their marital difficulties. After attending a marriage counseling retreat and helping with the couples’ ministry, Phillip has been tasked with leading a week-long retreat at a mountain resort for three couples, and Shelby has come along to help. Phillip is worried that he isn’t skilled enough to facilitate effective communication between the couples and guide them through their problems to a successful resolution. Based on the general profiles of each couple, this isn’t going to be an easy week for anyone.

Charlotte Knight has been collecting proof of her husband Xavier’s infidelities meticulously. She knows, in secret, that Xavier visits a number of diverse sources to stray, from the Internet to a neighbor down the street. The news of her positive STD test was the final piece of evidence that pushed her over the edge. Beryl Highgate is fed up with her lazy husband Travis. He promises to find a job and pull his weight, but he never delivers. She’s exhausted from taking care of their children, their finances, and him. Something has to change. Beryl can’t take his excuses any longer. Pastor George Jones was surprised and embarrassed to learn of his wife Nina’s hidden gambling problem. Recently, he’s found out that her addiction has affected not only their finances, but also those of his church in Greenville, North Carolina. He has to find a remedy before her gambling destroys both of their lives.

Phillip knows that there are always three sides to any story: “his side, her side, and the truth.” Novelist Monique Miller structured Redemption Lake so that readers will see the stories of the three couples from all angles. The novel is organized with brief prologue documenting the surface grievances of each couple. The remainder is largely broken up in chapters that rotate between the three husbands and Phillip, followed by the three wives and Shelby. Miller concludes with “the truth” as seen through Phillip’s eyes, observing the end of the retreat and the final outcomes among the couples. Miller doesn’t gloss over her characters and write a neat, happy ending for every couple. She sticks closer to the side of realism, where sometimes things work out but sometimes things are too far gone to fix.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under Coastal Plain, Miller, Monique, Mountains, Pitt, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

Ernest Beasley. Cape Fear Murders. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2011.

capefearThe body count gets high in this novel of adultery, revenge, and abuse of power set in Lee County, North Carolina.  First one high school girl is raped and murdered, then another, and another, and another. When the father of the fourth victim becomes impatient with the pace of the investigation, he contacts retired United States Marshall, Kenneth Sadler.  Sadler, a widower, is happy for the work and grateful for an excuse to temporarily relocate away from the many widows in nearby Moore County who view him as a desirable catch.

Sadler does not get off on the right foot with Lee County Sheriff Joe Dorman.  While it’s natural that the local authorities do not welcome a private investigator from the outside, Sadler learns that Sheriff Dorman may have particular reasons for trying to keep a tight rein on this case.  Other discoveries raise questions about the behaviors and intentions of both high school students and the adults in their lives.  Whose behavior is more foolish? More dangerous?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Beasley, Ernest, Coastal Plain, Lee, Moore, Mystery, New Hanover

Lights, Camera, Novel: Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Cold MountainNorth Carolina has been a popular setting for movies and television shows, yet that setting is most often fictitious. Of the 600 movies and shows nominally sited in North Carolina between 1980 and 2002, 95 percent were actually filmed outside of the state. Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Cold Mountain was one of them. Charles Frazier’s novel depicts Confederate deserter W.P. Inman’s long and arduous journey from a hospital in Raleigh to his home near Cold Mountain and his sweetheart, the genteel Ada Monroe from Charleston, who struggles to survive on her own following the death of her father. British director Anthony Minghella scouted locations over a period of five years before deciding to film the adaptation in Romania. Filming in North Carolina would have been a boon to state tourism. When the novel was released in 1997, it created a small increase in tourism. Local businesses and state officials knew that filming here would both make jobs and increase tourism.

Romania was a more attractive choice to Minghella because the rural landscape is much more intact than in North Carolina, where elements of modern life, like telephone poles and paved roads, are present, and logging has altered the area’s appearance. Minghella also noted that there were too few period buildings around Asheville and its environs. By contrast, Minghella could more easily manipulate the Romanian countryside to look like Civil War era North Carolina. The majority of the film was shot in Romania, though a few locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia were used.

The real Cold Mountain at its highest point is a daunting 6,030 feet. The mountain is located within the Pisgah National Forest. Asheville’s tourism site advises that only experienced hikers should dare to take on 11-mile hike, which has no trail markers. Visitors can view the mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Inman, Frazier’s protagonist is based on relatives–chiefly his great-great-uncle, but also his great-grandfather. Frazier retrieved information about Inman’s service from the North Carolina State Archives, whose records state that Inman deserted twice, although conflicting records throw doubt on the second desertion. Inman’s neck injury sustained during the Battle of the Crater and his death at the hands of the Home Guard are verified facts, represented in the novel and the movie adaptation.

Overall, the movie, featuring Hollywood stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renée Zellweger, is faithful to the book in terms of plot, though there are differences in mood. The romance between Ada and Inman and the violence (specifically the brutality of the Home Guard) are accentuated on-screen. Most of the characters are appropriately scruffy and disheveled, given the tough conditions, but Charles McGrath of the New York Times notes that Kidman’s Ada Monroe remains improbably radiant throughout the film.

Treatment of race and slavery drew some critical remarks. Both the book and movie’s portrayal of the Battle of the Crater downplayed the important presence of black soldiers on the Union side. Brendan Wolfe made a counterpoint during a critique of the first chapter of Kevin Lenin’s Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder. Wolfe is not troubled by how the novel and the film skirt around these tense issues since the focus of the story is not strict historical accuracy or a panoramic view of the war. Cold Mountain is the story of a disillusioned man on an epic trek home that parallels The Odyssey. But race and slavery are difficult topics to broach, and the representation of the American South throughout film history is varied.

 

The clip above from Movie Clips shows Jude Law as Inman in the beginning of the film resting in the trenches and looking at a photo of Ada shortly before the Union soldiers blow up a mine beneath the Confederate trench. After the fuse is lit, there’s a grand and dramatic cinematic explosion.

Minghella’s Cold Mountain was recognized with over 70 awards following its release in 2003. Renée Zellweger won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards, and the film was nominated for Best Actor, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song twice:  for T-Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello’s The Scarlet Tide and Sting’s You Will Be My Ain True Love. For those interested in the music of the film and Appalachian folk songs, look at this interview of Charles Frazier in the Journal of Southern Religion. Cold Mountain was the seventh film directed by director-producer-screenwriter-actor Minghella who died in 2008.  The movie is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog, as is the novel.  The original blog post on Frazier’s novel is available here.

Sources consulted here: Augusta Chronicle, Book Browse, Chicago Times (two different articles), Encyclopedia Virginia, Explore Asheville, History Extra (of BBC History Magazine), Journal of Southern Religion, Los Angeles Times, Movie Clips, New York Times, Prologue Magazine (of NARA), USA Today, Wikipedia (Anthony Minghella, Cold Mountain [film], Cold Mountain [novel], Cold Mountain [North Carolina])

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Filed under 2000-2009, 2003, Frazier, Charles, Haywood, Historical, Mountains

R. E. Bradshaw. Waking Up Gray. United States: R. E. Bradshaw Books, 2011.

waking At forty, Lizabeth is starting her life over.  Her marriage, to an inveterate philanderer, is finished and her daughter is grown.  Lizabeth has returned to school to study linguistic anthropology.  Her thesis topic is the Caroline Brogue, so she’ll be spending a few months on Ocracoke Island to do her research.

Lizabeth’s cousins have a cottage on the island, a place that Lizabeth used to visit as a child.  Lizabeth knows that she should call on Fanny O’Neal, the elderly woman who lives across the street.  Miss Fanny is an island treasure and almost kin.  But before Lizabeth can pay a call, she sees a brief romantic exchange between Miss Fanny’s granddaughter Gray and another woman.  Lizabeth is shocked by what she feels when she sees the two women, but that doesn’t keep her away from Miss Fanny’s.

Soon her visits across the street are matched by Gray’s visit to Lizabeth’s cottage and excursions around the island.  A same-sex attraction is new territory for Lizabeth, but even as she is exploring her feelings, Gray is struggling too.  Gray’s ex-wife, Dana, cheated on her and even after five years Gray is not ready to give her heart to anyone else.  Lizabeth, Gray, and Fanny survive a hurricane, but will the lovers’ budding relationship survive Dana’s unexpected visit to the island?

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2011, Bradshaw, R. E., Coast, Hyde, Romance/Relationship

Monique Miller. Secret Sisterhood. Deer Park, NY: Urban Books, 2010.

Secret SisterhoodInfertility can be all-consuming. It’s a devastating setback for couples ready to start their families. Novelist Monique Miller writes a story of three women from different backgrounds united by their struggles with infertility.

At first Shelby Tomlinson loved her job as a registered nurse with the Silvermont Women’s Center. Her patients’ happiness at their good news rubbed off on Shelby. She felt excited to come to work in such a positive atmosphere. That elation has fizzled out ever since Shelby and her husband Phillip started trying for a baby. They’ve tried for two years without any luck. Now, whenever Shelby deals with prenatal patients their good fortune depresses her. Suddenly, she feels a stronger bond with the patients who suffer from infertility too. However, her anxiety attacks, a lifelong problem, are increasing and Phillip has been distant whenever she broaches the topic of children. Shelby can’t figure out his odd behavior. Does he have a secret he’s hiding? In the face of all this stress, Shelby manages to find some hope when a patient struggling with infertility gets pregnant. Maybe Shelby still stands a chance at beating her infertility.

Crystal Shaw wants to open a day care center of her own one day. She also wants to have a baby, but it doesn’t look like that dream is going to come true any time soon. Crystal is envious of the pregnant women around her, especially those who don’t seem worthy in her eyes. Everyone around her is getting pregnant, including her sister Shanice, who already has a baby with another man and refuses to work, relying on public assistance and her “Man of the Quarter” instead.  Crystal is tired of breezily claiming that she’s not quite ready for kids. Even her work toward establishing a day care center is difficult. Spending all her time around children only reminds Crystal how she and her husband Warren, her childhood sweetheart, haven’t been able to conceive despite trying for years. Crystal starts thinking how nice a desk job might be so she could stop confronting the harsh reality of her childlessness.

When she was young, Vivian Parker made a promise to her grandmother, Eva – a promise that she has managed to fulfill, and then some. Eva emphasized the importance of an education as a priceless investment. Once Vivian earned an education, she insisted, it could never be taken away. After Eva passed away, Vivian focused all her energy on her grades and her career. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s, eventually becoming a successful and esteemed architect with careful planning and hard work. But she’s behind on her plans for her personal life. By thirty she assumed she would be married, and then a child or two would follow shortly thereafter. Instead, Vivian didn’t get married until thirty-eight. Her husband Roland is the CEO of the company Vivian works for. Together, they’re a powerful couple professionally. But now that they’re more serious about having a baby, they learn that even though they can bankroll expensive procedures like in vitro fertilization, they still might not be able to fight time.

Faith is a central element to Secret Sisterhood. Shelby, Crystal, and Vivian turn to their religion to strengthen themselves in the midst of hardships. Miller breaks the story up, chapter by chapter, alternating the perspectives of the three main characters, although she also creates some areas of overlap and interconnection between the women during their journey to become mothers.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Miller, Monique, Piedmont, Religious/Inspirational