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By D.G. Martin D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For more information or to view prior programs visit unctv.org/ncbookwatch.

Politics, no. Lee, Jill, and Bookwatch, yes.

By D.G. Martin Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm

“Tell me more about Jill and Lee and their new books.”

I wanted to talk politics and more about why Romney lost and McCrory won, but these readers wanted only to hear more about the upcoming books by their favorite authors, Jill McCorkle and Lee Smith.

These two popular writers are good friends and artistic partners. The musical “Good Ol’ Girls” is based on southern women characters in their fiction.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Smith explained that with these special women, their “big hair and a big heart do not mean a small mind…You don’t want to cross a good ol’ girl. She’ll bring you a casserole, but she’ll kill you, too.”

Or as McCorkle has said about these good ol’ girls, “She’s tough and kind and dependable. She speaks her mind and is nobody’s doormat.”

Such women have populated Smith’s 12 novels and four collections of short stories, beginning with “The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed” in 1968 and McCorkle’s short fiction and novels, beginning with the publication of her first two books, “The Cheerleader” and “July 7” on the same day in 1984.

But it has been 17 years since McCorkle published a new novel. And not since 2007’s “On Agate Hill” have we had a chance to read a new Lee Smith novel.

So I will tell what I know about their new books.

For Smith’s “Guests on Earth,” we will have to wait until October 2013, the date the publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, plans to release it.

The new book is set in Asheville, at the Highlands Hospital, during the time Zelda Fitzgerald was a long-term patient there. Her husband, Scott, visited regularly and stayed at the Grove Park Inn. But, according to Smith’s agent, Darhansoff & Verrill, the novel will deal with much more than the Fitzgeralds. One character, a young patient is a “little unstable but mostly just adrift and unsure. She meets Zelda Fitzgerald soon after arriving at the hospital, and their paths through the psychiatric therapies of the time are almost identical: insulin and shock treatments, an emphasis on physical and creative activity, the discouragement of introspection. The sickest patients are assigned to the top floor ward, locked in, with no means of escape. In real life, and in this novel, a fire will prove this both tragic and fatal. Smith…brings overdue empathy and insight to a woman whose disease and suffering has been subsumed by myth.”

McCorkle’s “Life After Life” comes out in March, and people are already writing about it. Her book is set in a retirement facility in a town like Lumberton. Some characters, as McCorkle describes them, are “a man who is faking dementia to escape life with his son, a woman from Boston who has come to this place to retire because it’s the hometown of a long-ago lover no one knew about; there is a hospice volunteer committed to collecting the most important details about those she sits with while also making amends with her own life, a young woman trying to survive the legacy of her own sad upbringing, a kid witnessing her parents’ volatile marriage; and a senile third-grade teacher who believes we are all eight years old in the heart and who takes photographs and makes things happen that never did, most importantly, memories of herself with her mother, who died young.”

Smith and McCorkle will share more about the new books on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch on Friday, November 30, at 9:30 p.m. and give their fans a chance to be among the first to get copies by calling 1-800-984-9090 and making a donation in support the program.

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