The Whole Nation Looks at 3 North Carolina Connected Authors

Three recent books with North Carolina connections have gained national recognition. You should certainly know about them.

Tim Gautreaux is widely admired in our state’s literary community. For instance, popular Hillsborough author Lee Smith, writing about Gautreaux’s latest book, “The Missing,” said, “I have just finished, biting my nails and staying up almost all night to do so—-surely the best rip-roaring old fashioned truly American page-turner ever written! No way to say how much I admire that book. Got your attention?”

“The Missing,” like Smith’s “The Last Girls,” is set on a riverboat that travels along the Mississippi River.

But it is not the same kind of book.

Smith’s characters are contemporary middle-aged women on a luxury tourist ship remembering their college river rafting venture down the river.

Gautreaux’s tale, set in post World War I times, is dark and violent, featuring a kidnapped child and outlaw families living on swampy, nearly deserted lands near the river.

Gautreaux grew up in Louisiana’s Cajun country and has spent most of his life writing about his home state and teaching there.

So what is his North Carolina connection? His wife grew up in Raeford, and since Hurricane Katrina they have divided their time between Louisiana and a home in Ashe County. Gautreaux will be the guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch on Sunday at noon (February 3) and Thursday (February 7) at 5 p.m.

Three North Carolina-connected books made the New York Times “100 Notable Books-2012” list. The only non-fiction sports-related book on the list is “American Triumvirate Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf.” Its author, James Dodson, is the editor of “O. Henry” and PineStraw” magazines and is an award-winning writer-in-residence at The Pilot in Southern Pines.

Snead, Nelson, and Hogan dominated professional golf in the years surrounding World War II. Ironically, all were born in 1912, and their stories, as told by Dodson, are intertwined and poignant.

Dodson says these three are responsible for the popular professional golf game that we know today. (February 10, 14)

One of North Carolina’s most successful and admired business leaders grew up in unbelievably oppressive circumstances in China during the Cultural Revolution. Starved, beaten, denied basic education, she survived and has prevailed. She tells this story of her challenging pathway to success in this country in her new book, “Bend, Not Break: A Life in Two Worlds.”

The book’s title comes from advice from Ping Fu’s “Shanghai Papa,” who told her, “Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance. It suggests resilience, meaning that we have the ability to bounce back even from the most difficult times. . . . Your ability to thrive depends, in the end, on your attitude to your life circumstances. Take everything in stride with grace, putting forth energy when it is needed, yet always staying calm inwardly.”

Ping Fu is the founder and CEO of Morrisville-based Geomagic. It develops 3D software that makes possible the exact duplication of 3D objects using small machines called 3D printers. In 2005, Inc. Magazine named her Entrepreneur of the Year. A few weeks ago, Geomagic was acquired by one of its customers.

As “Bend, Not Break” moves on to the national bestseller lists, it will inspire readers and draw scrutiny from some skeptics who may find Ping Fu’s journey too amazing to be real. (February 17, 21)

Finally, are you wondering what other North Carolina connected books made the New York Times Notable Books list? They are Ben Fountain’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” set in Texas Stadium in Dallas, with a halftime performance by Beyonce, just in time for Super Bowl reading, and Wiley Cash’s “A Land More Kind than Home,” set in Madison County.

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 the webpage.

A grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council provides crucial support for North Carolina Bookwatch. 

Bookwatch Classics (programs from earlier years) airs Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. on UNC-MX, a digital cable system channel (Time Warner #172 or #4.4). This week’s (February 6) guest is David Cecelski author of “The Waterman’s Song.”

"In Larry I Trust"

With the 2012 season in the books and the Heels finishing out 8-4 and Coastal Division champs, I would say that there is a lot to be proud of in Chapel Hill and at the Kenan Stadium Football Center!!  Here are just some quick observations/reasons about why I and so many others are “all in” with Fedora and this staff and are thrilled with what the future holds.   

1.       No excuses!!  Coach Fedora came into an absolute mess with NCAA sanctions and with it, the opportunity for upper classmen to hit the road and transfer.  Additionally, there was a wavering fan base that was upset with any number of matters – some fans were upset with the way Butch Davis was treated and how he was shown the door; the Ivory Tower academia group was upset with the “over emphasis” that is put on college athletics and have strayed away from academics; some fans just wanted to move on and forget the entire nightmare of the past two years.  And then, in rides Coach Fedora and the first thing he does is install an up-tempo spread style offense that requires pro style players and a 4-2-5 defense even though he inherited basic 4-3 personnel.  Again, there were no excuses, but more of a challenge to the fan base to bond together to support these players on those magical seven Saturdays every Fall in Kenan Stadium.  The rallying cry was be loud in the Tar Pit, be obnoxious and come early/stay late!  From all accounts I’m seeing and hearing in the community, Coach Fedora as well as Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham have made huge strides with all fan groups and that’s what leaders do.



2.       He’s not a politician and does not deflect blame.  The common thread in college football and the NFL is that when a new coach comes in and there are bumps in the road the immediate response or tilt of the coach is that “these are not my players” or “once we get my kind of kids/players in here, the results and style of play will elevate.”  Coach Fedora came in with the immediate attitude of winning NOW and winning every game. Again, against all odds of the no postseason carrot and the opportunity to technically be the conference champion, Fedora found a way for the players to buy in.  To me that is truly deserving of ACC Coach of the Year status even ousting the miraculous doings of what David Cutcliffe orchestrated over in Wallace Wade this year. 

***I cannot continue without stating many thanks to Coach Davis and John Shoop, who did a fantastic job of leaving the shelves pretty well stocked in the transition year….Thank you coach!



3.       Momentum.  These assistant coaches and Fedora have so many great selling tools going into this recruiting cycle and offseason.  An 8-4 record and being Coastal Division champs (technically), the gaudy and X-BOX type numbers you can help generate in this offense which is recognized on a national level (RUN GIO RUN), a team that produced 10 All-ACC players this past season and lastly, against all odds, the Heels could well be Coastal division pre-season favorites with the way the division is trending and shaking out.  These are all points that will be made in living rooms across the country as Coach Fedora brings in top level talent to run his Nascar-style offense and attacking defense. 



4.       Culture change.  Southern Miss, do you guys wish you tried a little harder to keep him as your head man?  For those of you who do not know, Southern Miss was 12-2 in 2011 and were Conference USA Champions under Coach Fedora.  A year later, not so much.  The Golden Eagles went 0-12 after Coach Fedora settled down in Chapel Hill.  My memory of college football may be limited to the last 30 years but I can’t remember (and didn’t find online), a team that swooned so fast.  This might be a first in college football.  Is this all representative of only the head coach?  No. But he is a pretty big piece of the puzzle and I guarantee if you ask those returning players at Southern Miss, they would be dying to have had Coach Fedora back.  At UNC, a big culture change was the uniforms, swag, colors, threads, gear or whatever you want to refer to it as, but that not only rejuvenated the players but it fired up the fans including this one especially when we saw the fighting Fedoras come out of the tunnel rocking the Chrome Foot helmets against the Wolfpack.  If you don’t think that had a huge impact on that game just take a look at this all-access video and see the reaction from the players.  If you think that the uniform combinations have been awesome this year just wait until next year.  Word from a source is that new combinations of colors were ordered recently with Nike and it will put us on track to be the “Oregon” of the Southeast.  I can’t wait to see them – and more importantly neither can the players and the recruits whom we’re pursuing who will be wearing the new threads.   


What does 2013 hold for the Heels?  I know that we will start out of the gate with a daunting task in Columbia, South Carolina against the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Ole’ Ball Coach, who will have in his back pocket the preseason lock national player of the year in Jadeveon Clowney.  With that being said folks, the future is extremely bright on the Hill.  We have our leader in place, our fan base is unifying again and the black cloud is leaving beautiful Chapel Hill!!


Smart. Fast. Physical.    2013 Here we come!!

Fans 'Freak' Over Loss

The better team on Saturday night at “The Wally” won on Saturday night.  That’s how it often works but not always.   To say that the game was not as close as the final score (33-30) would be correct but is simply too painful to write so I won’t.

The Fighting Fedorians simply did not fight or block or tackle well enough to beat Duke.
During a period of recent history not overflowing with upbeat positive news for Carolina fans, “losing to Duke in football” is about the last happening we needed to happen.   In the priority of plaques, does “losing to Duke in football” come before or after “rivers of blood” and “raining frogs”?  
Is “losing to Duke in football” the worst news any Carolina fan could hear?  No; the worst news any Carolina fan could hear would be:
Dan Kane wins The Lottery (and a Pulitzer) and will marry Kate Upton next Tuesday. 
Everything is relative.  Feel better now? 
I don’t pretend to be an expert at assessing the talent on a football roster.  I see guys running and jumping and hitting one another and usually think the team I prefer to win does those things better than the ones in the other color jerseys.  Unless the other team is from the SEC or the NFL.   I think Carolina has more talented players than Duke, but the difference may not be as significant as my partisan opinion thinks.   Duke simply outplayed Carolina this time. 
If “we” played them again next week the results might well be different.  We don’t play them next week but I sure hope the results are different any way.  Next week we play  . . . .  Well, you know who we play next week.
I swore an oath to myself a number of years ago that I would NEVER spend my own money to attend a game at The Wally.   I haven’t and I won’t but I had media credentials for this one, so, yes I was there.  The barbecue in the Duke Press Box is OK.  The Lyonnais potatoes are very good.   I had seconds on them. 
For years I wrote about the horrid public restrooms on the Visitors side at The Wally.  They were worst than field latrines in the Hindu Kush. The 3-4 years ago the Duke Public Restroom Dept spent a great deal of money upgrading those facilities.  They did a fine job.  Every time I am at The Wally I visit that facility as I like to think I was responsible for their being built.  Visiting my creation was the highlight of my most recent visit.
Whenever Carolina loses a “big” game; and often even when Carolina wins a game…. some UNC fans say / write some very unusual comments relative to whoever is the Head Coach at the time.   Those “some fans” targeted Larry Fedora for this one.
“Does he not realize Duke is a big rival?”
“Send that yahoo back to Mississippi……”
“How COULD HE . . . ??”
And, of course, the inevitable
“At least Butch never lost to Duke.”
I haven’t checked directly with Coach Fedora but I’m going way out on a limb and saying He is a LOT more upset over that loss to Duke than all those “some fans” put together.   I bet he is unhappy with (1) himself, (2) his staff and (3) his players.  All three entities will have a very unhappy day or so . . .  then move on to new challenges.
I parked waaaay across the Duke campus in some parking garage.  It might have been in Roxboro.  Leaving, I got totally lost trying to find the garage and my vehicle.  A 100 acre gothic rock pile is easy to get lost in. 
Wandering aimlessly for 45 minutes, I came upon some people on a loading dock at a Duke hospital facility.  They felt sorry for me.  They offered to give me a ride to my vehicle in their vehicle; but I had to sign a waiver in order to ride in their vehicle.  It was a mobile morgue used to transport dead bodies. 
Talk about a perfect ending to a very painful night at The Wally.
More BobLee at

The Chicken Coop

Some might say it’s a little excessive. In fact, sometimes, when I gaze out the kitchen window admiringly at my new Taj Mahal of a chicken coop, even I think I might share the sentiment.
It didn’t start out that way. Armed with a brand spanking new copy of Building Chicken Coops for Dummies, Weaver was all set to build me a very lovely but practical chicken coop. The problem is, Weaver never got past poring through the book. His busy work schedule, combined with the fact that I had five little chicks living in a dog crate on our front porch that were growing larger by the day, led him to make a rather hasty decision. He turned the chicken coop construction project over to me. That was Weaver’s first mistake.
Of course, I don’t have the skills to actually build a chicken coop myself, but after dealing with our year-long house-building project followed by the finishing-the-attic-space project, I felt pretty confident handling the relatively small job of chicken coop general contractor.
My first order of business was to hire Les. Les came highly recommended by Mark, the yard guru who helped with the initial landscaping of our property. I like Mark. I imagine that back in the day, he was a genuine hippie of the 70’s but now, he’s just a laid-back landscaping guy with something like 20 kids, 20 different species of animals and the inclination to hang around and chat after completing a job.
Until recently, I hadn’t seen Mark in about two years. The only reason he was at the house at all was because I had purchased a few perennials on clearance and had asked Weaver to dig holes to plant them in. Well, Weaver dug the holes all right. He dug the holes so well, in fact, that in doing so he took out our entire outdoor lighting system. For those keeping track, that was Weaver’s second mistake.
With Weaver officially fired from anything to do with outdoor lighting or perennial plant holes, my only resort was to summon back to the property the man who installed the lights in the first place.
Sixteen electrical line splices later, we once again had working outdoor lights, plus I had seen pictures of Mark’s favorite dogs and a snake he had found on his property a few days earlier, I had a new source of good birdseed, and . . . I had the name of a man who Mark promised could build a “really cool” chicken coop for an “awesome” price.
As it turns out, Les is the polar opposite of Mark. Cynical, quiet, doesn’t talk a whole lot and acts pretty annoyed with, though resigned to, much of what happens in his everyday life.  But what Les and I quickly realized during our brief initial conversation is that we have something in common, and that something is chickens. I rarely meet someone who loves chickens as much as I do, but I recognize a kindred spirit when I meet one, and I found such a person in Les.
As soon as we acknowledged our mutual fondness for poultry, we started planning the chicken coop of our dreams. The structure we were planning would not only be pleasing to the eye, it would be a chicken dream come true. Because everyone knows that the happier the hen, the better tasting the egg. Maybe not a scientific fact,per se, but that was the assumption Les and I planned to operate under.
The result of our corroboration is a beauty to behold. Where the book advises that 5 chickens will do fine with 10 to 20 square feet of floor space, my fun-loving feathered friends have 144 square feet. Where the book advises 15 to 30 square feet of outdoor space, my gregarious girls enjoy 350 square feet. There are five lovely hay-filled nesting boxes (with easy outdoor access), several indoor perches to choose from, a fashionable linoleum floor for comfort and cleaning ease and a full-sized front door secured by a deadbolt.
The exterior of the coop can best be described as cheerful and homey. Painted in a happy turquoise color with garden green and white trim, the house boasts two window boxes filled to overflowing with purple flowers. This past weekend, Weaver even added the cutest little front porch, soon to be flanked by boxwood shrubs. And if my electrician ever decides to keep an appointment and actually show up when he says he will, the chickens will have not only a light inside the coop, but a window fan as well.
Yes, it’s true, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I may just have the cutest, most enchanting chicken coop this side of the Mississippi. Some might call it excessive. But Nugget, Drumstick, Floppy Wings, Fluffernutter and Violet — well, they just call it home.

Outside the banks—the Mississippi and you and me

The Mississippi River has gone “wild” again.

When it happened back in 1993, it led me to compare the challenges of managing a river and managing our lives, both sometimes moving outside their defined channels.

Here is what I wrote back then:


“It will probably fall back into the same channels in most places. But in some cases, the forces bill be so powerful that there will be a permanent change in where it runs,” said an environmental expert responding to a radio reporter’s question during the great Mississippi River Flood of 1993.

But he could have been talking about my life. Or your life. Or our society.

“Will the river, having broken, return to its old channels when the flood recedes?” the reporter had asked.

The answer may have been different before man came. Then the great river moved naturally in and out of its banks as the floods came and receded.

The periodic flooding of the lowlands alongside the river was a part of the order of things. The vast plains absorbed huge amounts of the floodwater like a sponge. Water then flowed out slowly—moderating the intensity of the flood downstream and cleansing the river and the plains.

In his efforts to regulate and tame the river, man built the system of levees and other barriers to contain the river. He poured tons of concrete and rock to mark the river bottom and hold it in place.

If man had not intervened, the great Mississippi River Flood of 1993 might have been just a good bath for the ecosystem. Even now, some conservationists argue, the damaged levees on the Mississippi should not be rebuilt. Man’s work should be undone so that the river, when it floods, can reach out to its natural flood plains.

What is best for the river? Should it be channeled and regulated so that it almost always does what is expected? Even if it means that the ecology is heavily damaged? Even if it means that there will occasionally be a great flood that destroys the levees and much of what the levees are designed to protect?

Or should it be left to run free? Should we get man’s big projects out of the way so that the river can interact with the rest of nature? Even if it means that we give up the river as a reliable transportation artery? Even if it means that we subject millions of acres of farmland to flooding every year?

Like the river, the courses of our lives are defined by man-made barriers.

As we float down our life’s stream, we are guided along by levee-like rules that other people have made.

In normal times, these laws, rules, customs, and habits keep us where we know we are supposed to be—between the banks—until…until…

Until floods of change come and carry us over the banks…and beat down the levees of old rules…and wash us out into the flood plains, off course, outside the channels and very uneasy.

The levees that once held our lives on course are blown away. The old rules of family, religious, and social order that told us who we were—they’re mostly gone.

We are in the flood plains, lost and wondering, “When the flood is over, will we return to the same river channel?”

Maybe these times of being “outside the banks” are good for us and good for the river.


But I am pretty sure I’d be more comfortable if the floods were over and we were back on the main channel, moving downstream, and knowing where we are going.