Category Archives: Novels Set in Fictional Places

5. Novels Set in Fictional Places

Jessica Beck. Assault and Batter. United States: Jessica Beck, 2013.

assaultSuzanne Hart didn’t see this one coming. Yes, Suzanne knows that sweet, goofy Emily Hargraves has been dating her ex-husband, Max.  Suzanne even helped the romance along, but Suzanne is unprepared when Emily asks her to be the maid of honor in her wedding–which will take place in just a few days. Suzanne wants to say no, especially after she learns that Max’s best friend, who was the best man at her wedding to Max–and who made a scene at the reception–will be Max’s best man yet again. No, she just can’t do it!  But Emily is so sweet and she assures Suzanne that Max is on board with this too.  Suzanne finally agrees.

This wedding sets Suzanne to brooding. She has been dating Jake longer than Emily and Max have been a couple, yet Jake has not shown any interest in a nuptial event.  If anything, he seems to be pulling away.  Suzanne is not aching for another marriage–in fact she kind of likes living with her mother–but she wants Jake to stay in her life.  She’ll have to have a serious talk with him when he comes back to town for Emily and Max’s wedding.

But suddenly that wedding is in doubt.  Jude Williams, a not terribly nice ex-boyfriend of Emily’s, has been murdered.  Emily met with him the night he was killed, and Max’s best man shows evidence of having been in a fight.  Did someone in the wedding party murder Jude?  Once Suzanne begins to investigate she finds a lot of people with a grudge against Jude–the aunt who raised him, the father of one of his previous girlfriends, a married woman with whom he had an affair, her husband.  With so many suspects, Suzanne turns to her friend Grace and their old friend, George Martin (now the mayor of April Springs) for assistance, and readers follow this threesome as they consider motives, check alibis, and narrow their list of suspects.

This is the eleventh novel in the Donut Shop Mysteries series.  Like the earlier books in the series, it includes tasty recipes for donuts and other breakfast fare.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Beck, Jessica, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Brynn Bonner. Death in Reel Time. New York: Gallery Books, 2014.

reel timeSophreena McClure and Esme Sabatier are back in this, the second novel in the Family History Mystery Series. Their client, Olivia Clement, is recovering from treatment for breast cancer.  Her illness has shaken her and upset her family and friends too.  The friends banded together to help Olivia through her treatment, but they also want to give Olivia something special for her birthday—Sophreena and Esme’s genealogical research services.

Olivia is thrilled.  Both her maternal and paternal grandparents died before she knew  them.  She grew up as an only child, raised by her mother and and aunt and uncle who lived next door.  The adults in her life rarely spoke about her father who disgraced the family by running away during World War II to avoid the draft.  Olivia really wants to know about her father–What kind of man was he? Why did he leave? Could he still be alive?

Soph and Esme get to work right away, visiting Olivia almost daily to ask her questions, review boxes of family memorabilia, and bring Olivia up-to-date on leads they found searching the web.  These daily interactions cause the women to notice certain things about Olivia’s family–her son’s great cooking and his dissatisfaction with his legal career; her daughter Beth’s deference to her bullying husband Blaine; and Beth’s unsettled relationship with Blaine’s brother.  Creating an unwelcome distraction is a young filmmaker, Tony Barrett, who is staying with Olivia while he interviews an elderly local man.  He has recently enlisted Beth to help him with the interviews.  Beth enjoys this work, and the old man seems to have taken a shine to her

But when Beth arrives injured and a bit incoherent for her mother’s birthday party, everything changes.  Just as dessert is being served, Detective Denton Carlson arrives to tell Beth that her husband has been murdered.  Soph and Esme (who has been dating Detective Carlson) pump him for information, but little is known about Blaine’s death other than how he died.  The where, when, why, and who did it are unknown.  As the police work on the case, Soph and Esme try to continue their research while treading very gently with a family that has had more than its share of trauma. To take some pressure off Beth, Soph steps in to help Tony complete his interviews.  Little does anyone know how important his work will be to Olivia’s family.

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

For the first book in the Family History Mystery Series, see Paging the Dead.

 

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Bonner, Brynn, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Piedmont

Annis Ward Jackson. High Country Coverup. United States: SunnyBrick Publishers, 2010.

high countryIsn’t it a truism that when a person is murdered, the police always suspect that a family member is the killer?  Then why was it that when Everett Dawson, a wealthy retiree, was murdered no one suspected his newish, stylish, younger wife?  Marcia Dawson wasn’t a suspect because her husband’s body was found hidden on Gurney Styles’ property.  Styles, who had been drinking the weekend of the murder and whose wife was out of town, didn’t have much of a memory of the night Dawson died, let alone have an alibi.  Although the case against Styles was far from airtight, the assistant district attorney prosecuted it with great energy, and Styles was convicted.  But Gurney’s wife, Dulcie, believes that her husband is innocent, and when she asks Rachel Myers for help, Rachel can’t refuse.  Soon Sheppard County’s amateur detective puts her mid-summer gardening aside to help this nice woman save her husband from a life in prison.

This is the seventh book in the Rachel Myers Murder Mysteries Series. Many of the characters in the previous books, including Isaac Starling and that handsome detective Robby Barnett, are present in this book, and Ms. Jackson’s love of gardening comes through as it did in the earlier volumes.

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

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Filed under 2010, 2010-2019, Jackson, Annis Ward, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Elizabeth Craig. Knot What It Seams. New York: Signet Books, 2013.

Knot What It SeamsNo matter how hard she tries, it seems like Beatrice Coleman is never able to relax. Try as she might, just as she gets comfortable, something always seems to get in Beatrice’s way – a phone call, her eccentric neighbor, Meadow Downey, dropping in unexpectedly, or, even worse, a murder. Beatrice thought a cottage in Dappled Hills, North Carolina would be a nice, sleepy little place to spend her retirement. Turns out, she was wrong.

Meadow, the leader of the local Village Quilters guild, is bemoaning the recent decline in membership. She is fanatical about nipping the trend of dwindling attendance in the bud. She informs Beatrice that she has invited Jo Paxton, formerly of another area guild, the Cut-Ups, to join the Village Quilters. Beatrice is wary of the prospect of welcoming Jo to the group, especially after she observes two heated interactions between Jo and members of the Cut-Ups at the Patchwork Cottage, the go-to shop for quilting materials in Dappled Hills. The Cut-Ups kicked Jo out of the guild because she is a narrow-minded bully who only appreciates traditional quilting. Her confidence in her opinion is only reinforced by the fact that she judges for several quilting shows. But Meadow is dead set on extending the invitation, despite Jo’s tendencies to cause trouble. From her very first Village Quilter’s meeting, know-it-all Jo critiques each of the quilters’ work, one-by-one.

In the midst of inviting Jo to the Village Quilters, both quilting guilds are taken aback by the news that Mayor Booth Grayson intends to tax the quilting groups. Since the guilds are generating revenue, Grayson has decided to tax them for the benefit of the town. All the quilters dispute the decision since the bulk of the money they raise is donated to charity. During the town hall meeting, Jo picks a fight with Mayor Grayson, threatening to air his dirty laundry if he doesn’t drop his plan to tax the quilters. Jo is also the town mail carrier, and a very bad one at that. She constantly delivers mail to the wrong addresses and is known to snoop through other people’s post. Police Chief Ramsay Downey manages to diffuse the tension by suggesting that Mayor Grayson will attend the upcoming quilting show before he reaches a final conclusion on taxing the quilters.

The night of the quilting show, Jo doesn’t show up. The quilters learn that in the rainy weather, Jo drove her car off the side of a mountain in a car accident. Beatrice suspects fowl play and she urges Ramsay to investigate further. Many of the town people are struggling to display grief in response to Jo’s startling death. After a bit of nudging, Ramsay discovers that Beatrice’s instincts were correct. Jo’s unfortunate car accident was no accident–someone cut her brakes. With a murderer on the loose, the town of Dappled Hills is left reeling. Contrary to her mission to relax, Beatrice winds up collecting clues and investigating Jo’s murder, but this isn’t an easy case. So many people wanted Jo dead for very different reasons, from her husband Glen Paxton, a mechanic, to Karen Taylor and Opal Woosley, slighted Cut-Ups members, to Mayor Grayson. Beatrice better take care that she doesn’t get too hot on the trail of the killer, lest she become the next victim.

Novelist Elizabeth Craig returns with her offbeat band of characters in this second installment of the A Southern Quilting Mystery. Craig, a cozy mystery novelist, writes an absorbing mystery for readers who like the gruesome elements of a story toned down. “Cozy mysteries” feature an amateur sleuth who lives in a tight-knit small town. The focus is shifted away from the unpleasant details of the murders themselves and onto the detective work, the sleuth’s personal life, and the recurrent characters, or rather townspeople. Read more about cozy mysteries here and here. Knot What It Seams is an exemplary model of the sub-genre. As the name “cozy” implies, there’s much more humor and light-heartedness in Craig’s work than the average mystery. She even includes quilting tips and recipes at the end of the book.

If you’re interested in starting with the first novel in the series, Quilt or Innocence, take a look at our blog post on it here. Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Craig, Elizabeth Spann, Mountains, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Lucy Arlington. Books, Cooks, and Crooks. New York: Berkley, 2014.

Books, Cooks, and CrooksKlara Patrick knows how to put on a good show. She’s a famous TV chef with a newly released cookbook, and the star of Inspiration Valley’s upcoming Taste of the Town festival. Or so she insists – Klara is adamant about being treated as the headliner at the festival. Lila Wilkins, one of the literary agents responsible for organizing Taste of the Town, is happy to think of Klara as the star. She’s a fan of Klara’s work and she’s excited to meet the chef in the flesh. Lila’s employer, the Novel Idea Literary Agency, is backing the Taste of the Town festival and the staff is working hard to make the event a success. However, all the employees at the agency are struggling to juggle the chefs’ enormous egos. Turns out, their pride is more sensitive than a rising soufflé.

Although Lila is won over by Klara’s generosity after their first meeting, Lila’s mother, a psychic named Althea, sees something bad in Klara right away. Althea warns her daughter that Karla doesn’t mind using others to climb her way to the top. At first, Lila places little stock in her mother’s vision. However, Klara’s kind and generous demeanor cracks quickly against any perceived slights to her stardom.  She demands a top-of-the-line gas stove for her cooking demonstration for free, and she sours when she believes another chef’s newly released cookbook will outshine her cookbook at an upcoming book signing at the festival. Even worse, Klara delights in taking digs at her peers.

The night before the cooking demonstrations for the festival, Klara belittles another chef, Joel Lang, and his trio of dishes planned for the demonstrations. In anger, Joel storms out of the party. A short while later an explosion goes off in the kitchen. Firefighters on the scene recover human remains. By process of elimination, Lila is sure that Joel, who is missing, must have died in the explosion. An explosion, as it turns out, that was caused by Klara’s specially requested six-burner stove. Following Joel’s untimely demise, the chefs and the Novel Idea staff try to remain calm and continue with the scheduled festivities, while police hunt for a killer. Suspicions against Klara cloud Lila’s mind. Klara acts unscathed by the accident and expresses irritation that her stove was ruined. But is Klara the murderer or the target? Lila soon learns that all of the chefs have vendettas of their own. Their deep-seated rivalries might just be deadly.

The two voices behind the pen name Lucy Arlington, Ellery Adams and Sylvia May, are back with a third novel in their A Novel Idea Mystery series. Novelist Ellery Adams has been featured here in the past for her Books by the Bay mysteries.  Books, Cooks, and Crooks provides plenty of intrigue and surprises for mystery loves. On a lighter note, the novel also develops the ongoing romance between Lila and police officer Seth Griffiths and introduces a secret admirer for Lila’s barista friend Makayla. Whether you’re interested in mystery, romance, or a new, fast-paced fiction read, the latest Lucy Arlington delivers.

To learn more about A Novel Idea Mystery series, read these posts covering the first two installments in the series. Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2014, Arlington, Lucy, Mystery, Novels in Series, Novels Set in Fictional Places

Lights, Camera, Novel: Catherine Marshall’s Christy.

Christy TV SeriesSome of the best stories originate from real life, like Catherine Marshall’s 1967 novel Christy. Marshall was inspired to write her famous book based on the experiences of her mother, Leonora Whitaker, who left her family and home in North Carolina to teach at a mission school in the Appalachian Mountains in 1909. After Marshall and her parents later visited the mission school in Del Rio, Tennessee in the late fifties, Marshall wanted to tell her mother’s story. Many elements in Christy are rooted in fact. Marshall conducted extensive research into Appalachian life and culture, so even the fictionalized aspects of the novel are still well-founded.

Twenty-seven years later, Christy was developed into a TV series, which debuted on Easter Sunday on CBS. True to the novel, the show was filmed in Tennessee. Kellie Martin portrayed Christy. Tyne Daly won an Emmy for her supporting role as Alice Henderson, a Quaker missionary, and LeVar Burton joined the cast in season two. Fans of Marshall’s novel enjoyed the series, though their satisfaction was short-lived. Executives canceled the show soon after the season two finale was shot. Twenty-one episodes were filmed in all.

Viewers were upset about the cancellation because the season two series finale ended on a cliffhanger with Christy split between two very different men vying for her affection, the rugged Dr. Neil MacNeil and the handsome Reverend David Grantland. Seeking resolution, fans wrote to CBS requesting that the show be put back on the air. Five years later, in 2000, PAX network (since renamed Ion) continued the unresolved plot line in a made-for-TV movie. Some of the same actors reprised their roles, but Christy was recast using an unknown actor, Lauren Lee Smith. Three TV movies adapting Marshall’s novel were released between 2000 and 2001 giving fans the closure they were denied in the canceled TV series. The movies – Christy: Return to Cutter Gap, Christy: A Change of Seasons and Christy: A New Beginning — were filmed primarily in Canada.

Lauren Lee Smith as Christy

A book cover with Lauren Lee Smith as Christy.

Christy still boasts an active fan base. Starting in 1997, enthusiasts of the novel and TV show have met to discuss their fascination for Christy. The annual meeting was dubbed “ChristyFest,” and it often occurs in Townsend, Tennessee, the filming location of the TV show. This year ChristyFest will be held May 23-25 in Del Rio, Tennessee. From the ChristyFest site, it appears that registration will open soon.

No doubt, Christy has captured the attention of loyal fans, and the love triangle between the main characters is a big draw. In writing this post, I found evidence of a Neil and Christy fan site with photos from the TV show and the TV movies, interviews with cast members, episode guides, and analysis and more. There are also special fan fiction sites and some fictionalized Twitter accounts created from the perspectives of Christy, Neil, David, and Alice.

Catherine Marshall is recognized as a Christian writer. The Christy Awards were created to acknowledge Christian fiction writers and the three Christy TV movies were backed by the support of the now defunct PAX network, which focused on “family-based” programming. It appears that Inspiration Network, or INSP TV, currently broadcasts episodes from the Christy TV series. INSP headquarters are in the Charlotte metro area.

Kellie Martin as Christy

An audiobook cover with Kellie Martin as Christy.

Read the original blog post on Catherine Marshall’s Christy here. The complete TV series is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog along with the original novel and an audiobook version of the novel read by Kellie Martin.

Sources consulted here: Christianity Today, The Christy Awards, ChristyFest site and blog, Christy Fan Fiction, IMDb, Inspiration Networks/INSP TV, Neil and Christy fan site, Twitter (see paragraph above for the specific accounts), Wikipedia (Catherine Marshall, Christy [novel], Christy [TV series])

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Filed under 1990-1999, 1994, 1995, 2000, 2000-2009, 2001, Buncombe, Historical, Marshall, Catherine, Mountains, Novels by Region, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Religious/Inspirational, Romance/Relationship

Lights, Camera, Novel: Alexander Key’s Escape to Witch Mountain.

If you’re in the right age bracket, you might remember Escape to Witch Mountain from your childhood. Which format and version you recall depends on your generation. Novelist Alexander Key first wrote the book in 1967. Key began his career as a well-known illustrator who eventually transitioned into writing. His writing can be described as science fiction for kids. Key was born in Maryland and spent many years in Florida before moving to the mountains of North Carolina with his wife and son. A fan page on Key says that he and his family made the move after they “decided Florida was growing too fast.” Much of Key’s work is currently out-of-print. Escape to Witch Mountain is one of Key’s best known titles. The book tells the story of orphans Tony and Tia who possess supernatural gifts and are on the hunt to figure out their origins before the evil Lucas Deranian reaches them first.

In 1975, Disney released a film adaptation of the novel directed by John Hough, which, at the time, became one of their most popular live-action movies. The movie follows the basic plot from beginning to end with some noticeable modifications. First, the setting was relocated from the East coast to the West coast, where the movie was filmed. In the novel, Father O’Day helps the children on their quest and protects them from Deranian. In the movie, O’Day plays the same role, but his character is a widower named Jason O’Day. Deranian is the central villain in the novel, whereas in the movie he becomes ancillary to his mastermind boss, Aristotle Bolt. The child actors who play Tony and Tia aren’t perfect physical matches for their book counterparts who are supposed to look unearthly with their olive-skin and light hair. Instead, they look like wholesome child actors.

 

This clip, from TCM, shows Tony and Tia’s arrival to the orphanage. The movie’s portrayal is much lighter and more innocent: Miss. Grindley is kinder and Truck, a bully at the orphanage, is much less threatening. Yet the most surprising change is Tia speaking. Muteness is a major feature of her character. In the novel, Tia is seen as an oddity because she does not speak out loud. Instead, she carries a pad and pen around to communicate with other people. She is able to converse with her brother telepathically. Another clip from TCM shows that the movie still includes her telepathic communication with Tony.

Disney created a sequel called Return from Witch Mountain in 1978, also directed by John Hough. The same child actors, Ike (now known as Iake) Eisenmann and Kim Richards, reprized their roles as slightly older Tony and Tia. Bette Davis and Christopher Lee starred as the movie’s villains who hoped to manipulate the siblings’ powers. Four years later, Disney released yet another sequel, Beyond Witch Mountain with a new director. By this time, the original Tony and Tia has grown out of the roles and were recast. The plot appears to pick up from after the original 1975 Escape from Witch Mountain adaptation and it ignores the story-line from the 1978 Return from Witch Mountain. This second sequel was created as a pilot for a possible TV series. But since no networks expressed interest, no other episodes were filmed.

Over a decade later, in 1995, Disney remade Escape to Witch Mountain as a made-for-TV movie. The movie shared some elements with Key’s story, like orphaned siblings with powers (renamed Danny and Anna). Most of the TV movie departed from the original plot though, for instance Danny and Anna are initially separated. Finally, in 2009 Disney produced its latest rendition, called Race to Witch Mountain with Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb and Carla Gugino. Like the 1995 adaptation, Race only shares some passing similarities to Key’s novel and the 1975 film. Adolescent Tony and Tia were remodeled as teenaged Seth and Sara. As the years passed, it seems that each revision departed further from the original, maybe as a means to refresh and modernize the story, while still maintaining essential characters and motivations.

Escape to Witch Mountain and its many adaptations are nostalgic classics. Alexander Key’s novel is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog and has been previously blogged on here. The film and TV adaptations are not available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog. If you’re local to the area, Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and Race to Witch Mountain (2009) are available at the Chapel Hill and the Durham Public Libraries and could make an interesting back-to-back screening of two adaptations thirty-four years apart.

Sources consulted here: The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s BooksJenny’s Wonderland of Books blogLos Angeles Times (on the child actors from the 1975 & 1978 films), New York Times, Roger Ebert, TCMTCMDb, Thru the Forgotten Door: Into Alexander Key’s Magical Worlds (Alexander Key Fan Site, hasn’t been updated since about 2004), Wikipedia (Alexander KeyEscape to Witch Mountain — Novel, Escape to Witch Mountain — 1975 Film, Return from Witch Mountain, Beyond Witch Mountain, Escape to Witch Mountain — 1995 Film, Race to Witch Mountain), The Witch Mountain Experience (Fan Site, hasn’t been updated since about 2007)

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Filed under 1970-1979, 1975, 1978, 1980-1989, 1982, 1990-1999, 1995, 2000-2009, 2009, Children & Young Adults, Key, Alexander, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Annis Ward Jackson. Blue Ridge Parkway Plunge. United States: SunnyBrick Publishers, 2009.

blue ridgeRachel Myers, who readers first met in Blind Malice, has moved back to her Blue Ridge home in (fictitious) Sheppard County, North Carolina.  Rachel feels guilty moving back now, rather than a few years earlier when her elderly father could have used her help, but now she has a good job waiting for her at a high-end retirement community near her hometown.  Donna Matheson, Rachel’s longtime friend, alerted her to job.  Now that Rachel is back in the area, Donna thinks that she has also found the right man for Rachel–Detective Robby Barnett.  This kind of meddling is what old friends do, right?

But the plot in this book centers on a different friendship.  Isaac Starling has been the hired man on the Myers farm for decades.  He was more than a workman, he was a loyal friend to Rachel’s late father, and Rachel is so fond of him that she wants him to live in the family home with her now.  So Rachel can’t refuse Isaac when he asks her to investigate the death of his friend, Jack Whaley.  Mr. Whaley’s body was found at the bottom of a cliff along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The authorities think that his death was suicide or an accident, but Isaac can’t accept that.  Isaac insists that Jack was an upright man, but under questioning by Rachel he remembers a few occasions when Jack bumped up against some trouble.  It’s not much to go on, but Rachel follows those leads–with help from that nice Detective Barnett.

This is the second book in the Rachel Myers Murder Mystery Series.  Readers will enjoy learning more about Rachel’s interests; gardeners will particularly appreciate the description of Rachel’s plans for the gardens around her family home.

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

Janice Lane Palko. Cape Cursed. United States: Plenum Publishing, 2013.

Relocating the Cape Destiny Lighthouse is a high stakes venture for Bliss Sherman.  Moving a structure its size and age is no easy task, and many of the locals oppose relocating the historic structure.  This project will be the first really big job that Sherman Engineering has done since Bliss create the company after splitting (personally and professionally) from the established engineering firm headed by her ex-husband.  This high profile job has brought Bliss a lot of media attention.  Since few engineering firms are headed by Amerasian women, and Bliss is an attractive woman with a compelling story, she has been asked for interviews by everyone from People to the local high school paper.  The project needs to be a success–and on budget.

Bliss is grateful to have good people working for her–Randy, a hands-on crew manager and Nancy, an administrative assistant.  Nancy is a godsend, working around Bliss’s dyslexia to keep the office running smoothly and handling dozen of small personal matters for Bliss.  But will a good plan, the right equipment, and a good crew be enough?  When the company’s equipment is vandalized and Bliss assaulted, Bliss begins to worry.  Is the lighthouse really cursed–do bad things happen to people associated with it? Is her ex-husband, now a professional rival, behind these troubles?  Or are some locals–including that handsome Parker Swain–so committed to stopping the move that they have resorted to violence?  The suspense builds as Bliss struggles to decide who to trust in a situation that has become professionally and personally perilous.

The controversy surrounding moving the fictitious Cape Destiny Lighthouse will remind many readers of the arguments over the relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1999.

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

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Filed under 2010-2019, 2013, Coast, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Palko, Janice Lane, Suspense/Thriller

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