Charles Frazier talks about Nightwoods (paperback June 12)

“No writer today crafts more exquisite sentences than Charles Frazier. The North Carolina native is famous for ‘Cold Mountain,’ his best-selling and critically acclaimed 1997 debut novel about the Civil War.… Frazier’s third novel, ‘Nightwoods.’ This one also burbles with achingly lovely descriptions of the Appalachian mountains, the history, the trees, the rich, multi-layered culture going back to the Cherokees. There are sentences you stop to reread just for their originality.”
‘Nightwoods’ Author Charles Frazier (Photo: © Greg Martin)

So wrote USA Today reviewer Deirdre Donahue about Charles Frazier who will be the guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch Sunday May 27 at 5:00 p.m., and about ‘Nightwoods,’ which will be available in paperback on June 12. Donahue does not love the book as much as she loves Frazier’s writing and his “enthusiasm for the wonders of the natural world and its ability to heal the human soul [which] is boundless.”

Others admire Frazier’s wonderful portraits of mountain people, like this one of an old woman who is an important minor character in ‘Nightwoods:’

“Maddie wore flower-print cotton dresses all year round and topped them off with pilled cardigan sweaters in the cool months, and she might have been tall and willowy when she was young, before time compressed her into herself, thickening and shortening and bending year by year until all you could see of the young woman she had been were her quick blue eyes, faded almost to the color of steel. Some days she’d be in a mood. All she wanted to use were the sorts of words she’d grown up hearing. Yonward and thither. Hither. Sward. On a really bad day, half of what she said, you had to figure by context.”

Frazier introduces his main character, Luce, a mountain beauty, who like many others have been disappointed in life so far:

“All her life, the main lesson Luce had learned was that you couldn’t count on anybody. So she guessed you could work hard to make yourself who you wanted to be and yet find that the passing years had transformed you beyond your own recognition. End up disappointed in yourself, despite your best efforts. And that’s the downward way Luce’s thoughts fell whenever she went upstairs into the dreary past.”

So wounded, Luce has retreated to work as a caretaker in a deserted former resort lodge. Frazier describes her situation this way:

“Luce’s three-year anniversary at the Lodge was coming up in the fall, and all that time she had hardly missed any of the modern world. It pressed so hard against you, like somebody standing in front of you screaming and jumping up and down to misdirect your thoughts.

“Let it all go and it fades away, similar to when you ignore run-of-the-mill ghosts. All they become is an updraft feeling. Nothing urgent. Just smoke as it begins to draw up a cold flue.

“What good does the world do you? That was the question Luce had asked herself for three years, and the answer she had arrived at was simple. A distressingly large portion of the world doesn’t do you any good whatsoever. In fact, it does you bad. Casts static between your ears, drowns out who you truly are. So she tried to cull daily reality pretty harsh, retaining just landscape and weather and animals and the late-night radio.”

If there is anything better than reading Frazier’s rich portraits of people and nature, it is watching and listening to him talk about his characters, his stories, and his mountains. Talking about such things is something you can hear him do this (Sunday) afternoon on Bookwatch.

Bookwatch returns with authors who were worth waiting for

Those who missed North Carolina Bookwatch on UNC-TV while it has been off the air to make room for “Festival’s” special programming can look forward to this Sunday afternoon at five o’clock. Bookwatch returns with an encore lineup of books, authors, and characters.

It all begins next Sunday with Rachel, the blue-eyed child of a black American GI and a Danish mother, who is the central character in an award-winning novel, “The Girl Who Fell From the Sky” by Heidi Durrow. Durrow herself is the child of a Danish mother and an African-American father, whose military assignments brought him to North Carolina. The author’s real struggle to find her identity provided the background for the similar fictional struggle that Rachel faced. But the novel is a darker story, a more compelling one, of a child whose mother loved her so much she wanted her child to die with her. (Durrow will be my Bookwatch guest at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, April 1.)

From “Birth of a Nation” in 1915 to Hattie McDaniel in “Gone with the Wind,” to Ethel Waters in “Member of the Wedding” in 1952, African-American actresses made their way into American movies in the first half of the last century.  In her new book, “African American Actresses: The Struggle for Visibility, 1900–1960,” UNC-Chapel Hill professor Charlene Regester tells the real stories of these women who became stars in a time of segregation and oppression. (April 8)

John Hart’s novel “The Lost Child” won for him a second Edgar Award for the best mystery novel of the year. He says his latest, “Iron House,” is even better. It is a page-turner, with much of the action set on a large estate near Chapel Hill owned by a wealthy U.S. Senator. (April 15)

Hillsborough author, Anna Jean Mayhew, and a new novel, “The Dry Grass of August”, take us all the way back to the racially-segregated Charlotte of 1954 and the poignant story of a young girl in a family under stress, being pulled apart by forces the girl does not understand. It is a story, in Lee Smith’s words, that is “written with unusual charm, wonderful dialogue, and a deeply felt sense of time and place.” (April 22)

One of North Carolina’s most respected authors, UNC-Greensboro’s Michael Parker’s new book, “The Watery Part Of The World,” is an imaginative story that blends coastal history and legends with race and other complexities to make a gripping and lovely story.  (April 29)

Best-selling author Steve Berry’s many visits to eastern North Carolina led him to set much of his newest adventure novel, “The Jefferson Key,” in and around the town of Bath, where fictional modern-day pirates live in palatial estates. (May 6)   

Rosecrans Baldwin’s first novel “You Lost Me There” is set in Maine, and Baldwin has only recently settled in Chapel Hill. But when the book was named one of National Public Radio’s Best Books of 2010, a Best Book of Summer 2010 by Time and Entertainment Weekly, and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, I knew Bookwatch viewers would want to learn about Baldwin and his highly praised book. (May 13)   

Morehead Scholar and Rhodes Scholar Robyn Hadley used her experience in counseling students in the Alamance-Burlington school system to write a book for students planning for college. The book is “Within View, Within Reach: Navigating the College-Bound Journey.” Hadley’s good advice might be even more important for parents of prospective college students. (May 20)   

Last fall, Charles Frazier’s “Nightwoods” made the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for weeks. “Nightwoods” may not be the same kind of blockbuster that his “Cold Mountain,” but it is a solid success sales-wise. “Nightwoods” is set in Frazier’s beloved North Carolina mountains. With engaging characters and a story line of suspense and surprise, this short book is attracting a new group of fans. Because it is compact it opens the doors for a wider audience to become acquainted with Frazier’s magnificent gifts. Many people who did not finish “Cold Mountain” or “Thirteen Moons” are, through “Nightwoods,” enjoying Frazier’s luscious prose. (May 27)

Autumn reading suggestions from North Carolina Bookwatch

It is reading time again.
So, courtesy of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, I have some autumn reading (and early Christmas gift) suggestions for your consideration.
Charles Frazier’s new book “Nightwoods” will be on this Sunday’s New York Times best seller list for the second week in a row. “Nightwoods” may not be the same kind of blockbuster that his “Cold Mountain” became, but it is off to a solid start sales wise. “Nightwoods” is set in Frazier’s beloved North Carolina mountains. With engaging characters and a story line of suspense and surprise, this short book could become a favorite. Because it is compact it opens the doors for a wider audience to become acquainted with Frazier’s magnificent gifts. I am betting that many people who did not finish “Cold Mountain” or “Thirteen Moons” will, through “Nightwoods,” become new members of Frazier’s fan club. You can visit with Frazier on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch this weekend: Friday, October 21, at 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 23, at 5 p.m.
A new book by a New Bern resident will almost certainly be at or near the top of The New York Times list by the end of October. Nicholas Sparks’s “The Best of Me” is the kind of love story Sparks knows how to tell so well. Set in Oriental, a small town and sailing center on the Pamlico Sound, two high school lovers come back to their hometown twenty years after their last parting. As usual, Sparks makes the romantic sparks fly.  (Oct. 28 and 30)
Andrea Reusing recently won a James Beard award for her complex cooking skills. She owns the acclaimed Chapel Hill restaurant, Lantern, where her amazing Asian-inspired dishes require expert preparation. Nevertheless, her book “Cooking In The Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes” is designed for us normal people who want to cook simple seasonal foods for our families. Using clear language she tells her readers how and when to shop for foods in season. Using the same direct instructions she guides them in the simple steps of preparing those foods. (Nov. 4 and 6)
Jane Borden’s “I Totally Meant to Do That” is a humorous memoir of a young college graduate from Greensboro making her way in a less than friendly but highly addictive New York City. This book should be required reading for every young North Carolinian considering a move to the Big Apple and for the North Carolina parents of any child now living there. (Nov. 11 and 13)
UNC-Wilmington’s Clyde Edgerton’s latest book, “Night Train,” takes us back to a segregated North Carolina town of the mid-sixties. Two teen-aged boys, one white and one black, share a passion for music. The white boy wants to be another James Brown, but the laws and customs of his society make it very hard for his relationship with his black friend to continue. Edgerton explores some of the same themes that the novel and recent movie “The Help” brought to a wider audience. (Nov. 18 and 20)
Thanks to an author who lives in Chapel Hill we can read an up-to-date 007 mystery featuring a James Bond revised for modern times. The author is Jeffrey Deaver, already a very popular and best selling author of a host of thriller novels. The estate of Ian Fleming, the original author of the James Bond series, commissioned Deaver to write the new book, “Carte Blanche.” It is set in current times. Do not worry about James Bond’s age. Today, the original Bond would be about 90 years old, but Deaver’s Bond was born in 1979 and served in Afghanistan. He reminds us of the original Bond, but he is a brand new model. (Nov. 25 and 27)
Enjoy the books and tune in Bookwatch this fall.

A smaller glass, filled to the top

Why does Cold Mountain’s Charles Frazier’s new book make me think about the joys of dining at a popular restaurant in Carrboro near Chapel Hill?

Read on, and when I explain, you will understand why I think the new book, “Nightwoods,” is going to give Frazier a host of new readers, ones who never read “Cold Mountain” or “Thirteen Moons.”
What does his new book have for these readers that is other books lacked? That is the wrong question.
The attraction of “Nightwoods,” compared to his earlier books, will be that it “lacks” the number of pages and words that filled “Cold Mountain” and “Thirteen Moons.” 
“Nightwoods” is Frazier’s gift to readers who like their novels to be compact with a story line that moves along briskly. 
Frazier’s devoted fans need not worry. He has not abandoned them or given up his skill in delivering lovely, engaging, descriptive prose or his development of richly complex characters, the qualities that made reading his first two novels so rewarding.
He continues to bring wonderful literary food to our tables, just in a smaller portion.
Now, about the restaurant. Its name is Glasshalfull. It features carefully prepared delicious food, elegantly served, in very small, half-sized, portions. Sometimes eating light is much more satisfying than the overwhelming portions we get in other good restaurants.
Frazier’s “Nightwoods” is his literary glass half full, a smaller portion than his full size, but equally delicious. Maybe it is not exactly a glass half full,” but rather a smaller glass, filled to the top.
Another feature of “Nightwoods” that may attract new readers is its setting in the early 1960s, a time that is not historical, as in the Civil War or Cherokee Removal times of the earlier books. In the new book there are plentiful reminders of our own memories– cars, telephones, cheerleaders, movies, beauty queen contests, clear channel Nashville radio, and James Brown.
Yes, James Brown! His music gives comfort to the lovely, wounded, reclusive Luce, the book’s central character, who has lived all alone as the caretaker of a deserted mountain resort hotel.
Listen to Frazier describe her situation: “At bedtime, lamps out, the rest of the big room faded into darkness, only the fire and the radio’s tubes sending a friendly glow up the nearby log walls. Luce finally fell asleep every night listening to WLAC out of Nashville. Little Willie John, Howlin’ Wolf, Maurice Williams, James Brown. Magic singers proclaiming hope and despair into the dark. Prayers pitched into the air from Nashville and caught by the radio way up here at the mountain lake to keep her company.”
What is it about music and James Brown that haunts our favorite 60-year-old North Carolina authors?  In Clyde Edgerton’s new book, “The Night Train,” also set in the 1960s, a 17-year-old white boy in a strictly segregated small North Carolina town loves the music so much that he tries to “become James Brown.”
Both Frazier and Edgerton proudly confess their own love of 1960s music.
Back to “Nightwoods” and Luce. The 1960s Luce reminded me of the 1860s Ada and Ruby from “Cold Mountain.” Luce is beautiful, kind, and lost like the Charleston-raised Ada. And Luce is, like Ruby, mountain-tough, resourceful, and stubborn.
Other compelling characters are essential to Frazier’s story and the detours and sub-plots that he has carefully constructed. But the basic plot is the ancient one, good vs. evil.
The good is represented by Luce and the two little children of her murdered sister. Evil is Bud, the husband of that sister and her murderer. In “Nightwoods” Bud’s threatening presence puts danger to Luce and the children on every page, making the reader wonder whether or not Frazier will, this time, let good prevail.
Or even if he will let you know for sure.