There’s so much to be thankful for, says Kathleen Koch

Mondays after a great holiday weekend are always a little tough, but here’s something inspiring to brighten your day: a CNN blog post from our own Kathleen Koch, author of Rising from Katrina: How My Mississippi Hometown Lost It All and Found What Mattered. She recently visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast and is sharing how its people are healing and moving forward.

They don’t complain. Few here do. They are too busy putting the Mississippi Gulf Coast back together after it was eviscerated in 2005 by sustained 125 mph winds, hop-scotching tornadoes, and a thirty-plus-foot storm surge.

Home sales were up last month and prices were steady. Unemployment was slightly higher, but still lower than the national average. Only 93 FEMA trailers remain on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The casinos and many hotels, restaurants and other businesses have re-opened.

In my hometown, Bay St. Louis, there is a new fire station. Elementary school children are out of trailers and attending class in a brick-and-mortar building for the first time in five years. The flattened Little Theatre has relocated to one of the few historic buildings left standing after the storm.

…[Biloxi’s Bethel Free Health Clinic] has tallied over 29,000 visits since it opened its doors. It might seem a challenge to keep operating in a recovering disaster zone in the poorest state in the nation. But Mississippi leads the country in per capita philanthropy. And for that, just as for the crowds that pack the facility every day, [Bethel director Judy] Jones is grateful. “Oh, absolutely. We are staying afloat,” she said, beaming. “We may not have done a lot, but we’re still open. And that’s just great.”

There might still be a long road ahead, but there’s plenty to be grateful for. Read more at CNN’s Belief Blog.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum…

You might not know it, but 292 years ago, November 22 was a day of celebration for folks on both sides of the Atlantic. Why, you ask? Because a certain English pirate named Edward Teach (but you probably know him as Blackbeard) was finally captured and killed in a bloody skirmish in Ocracoke Inlet.

Blackbeard was one of the most notorious pirates ever to plague the Atlantic coast. He was also one of the most colorful pirates of all time, becoming the model for countless blood-and-thunder tales of sea rovers. His daring exploits, personal courage, terrifying appearance, and fourteen wives made him a legend in his own lifetime.

The legends and myths about Blackbeard have become wilder rather than tamer in the years since his gory but valiant death. Even my own eighth-grade teacher insisted the ghost of Blackbeard still roamed the earth, traveling from school to school to talk about his life (although we all knew he was just a living history impersonator dressed as the pirate). But in remembrance of Blackbeard, we’re posting the story of his final day in Ocracoke Inlet, excerpted from Blackbeard the Pirate by Robert E. Lee. Here’s to the man who left behind legends that frightened children and inspired teachers to trick their students!

On book signings, by Gary Pearce

You might have seen the photos we posted of Gary Pearce and Gov. Jim Hunt’s book signing of Jim Hunt: A Biography in Charlotte, but today we’ve got something better: a guest post from Gary Pearce himself. If you want to read more from this author, check out his own blog that he co-writes with Carter Wrenn, Talking About Politics. Enjoy!

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Halfway through my tour, I’ve concluded that book signings are God’s way of rewarding authors for all the angst, anguish and anxiety they suffered while writing their books.

Because book signings are an ego rush.

You sit at a table decorated with the book you wrote.  You look up at a line of people holding your book, waiting to speak with you.  When their turn comes, they tell you how much they’re looking forward to reading the book, they’re so glad you wrote it, they remember meeting you at such-and-such, etc.  Then you sign, try to think of something warm or clever or memorable to write, and they go away smiling.

Nice.

When this tour is over, my family and friends are going to have a tough job bringing me back to earth.  (Rest assured: They’re up to the challenge.)

I get an added treat on my tour.  Former Governor Hunt goes to all the book-signing events, too.  He’s a real draw, so we get good crowds.

Best of all – after years of writing speeches for him and listening to him give them – I get to talk.  He even introduces me.  And sometimes – but rarely – I get the last word.

At the end of each event, I’m spent.  I’m exhilarated – and exhausted.  But I go away with a new appreciation for three things:

  1. People who read – and buy – books.
  2. Publishers like John F. Blair.
  3. Independent bookstores that care about authors and, most of all, readers.

Bless you all.  Long may you read, publish and thrive.

Meet Michael Carlebach at the Miami Book Fair this weekend

“Most people can take photographs. They just can’t take good photographs; whereas Michael Carlebach, as you’ll see when you look through this book, can. And his photographs aren’t just technically good. They’re funny, and interesting, and thought-provoking…
“This does not surprise me. I know Michael, and he’s a funny, interesting, and thought-provoking person. He’s also no stranger to weirdness. In fact, he seeks weirdness out, and is not afraid to have weirdness thrust upon him.”
—Dave Barry

Michael Carlebach's Sunny LandDave Barry’s a fan of Michael Carlebach‘s Sunny Land, and we are too! This photography book offers a unique view, both realistic and comic, of Miami and south Florida during the last decades of the 20th century, when political and social turmoil, urban decay, and suburban sprawl made Miami a curious amalgamation of glamour and violence, all of it bathed in sunlight. Sunny Land portrays a Florida left out of the tourist brochures, a place that is in some respects invisible, though no less compelling and meaningful.

And if you’re in Florida this weekend, you’ll have a chance to meet Michael himself, along with Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen, and a full list of other amazing authors at the Miami Book Fair. The fair begins today and runs through Sunday, when Michael will be signing copies of Sunny Land at 1:30 p.m. You’ll find full details here.

Governor Hunt on the road with Gary Pearce

Monday night Gov. Hunt and Gary Pearce, his biographer, spoke with the crowds at Park Road Books in Charlotte, N.C.

Want to meet the governor and Gary Pearce yourself? They’re making stops in Chapel Hill, Greenville, Wilmington, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem in North Carolina. View their complete tour itinerary for more details.

Gov. Jim Hunt booksigning

Sometimes the story behind the novel is as inspiring as the novel itself

Last Queen of the Gypsies by William Cobb

A recent review from Foreword Reviews of The Last Queen of the Gypsies, by William Cobb, reminded us that we needed to share it with you, blog readers. And it wasn’t until we stumbled upon this story from the Birmingham News that we realized how lucky we were to distribute this book for NewSouth.

You might already be familiar with author William Cobb (he’s a big name in Alabama literature and has published seven books to date). But by this time last year, William thought his writing career had ended for good.

William had suffered from a mysterious neurological condition for about three years. He had trouble keeping his balance, and he couldn’t concentrate. Day-to-day life was a challenge. Writing became almost impossible.

“‘I can’t do this anymore,” he told his wife. “We can’t travel anymore. We’re old. This is it.”

But thankfully, William’s doctor recognized some of his ailments as symptoms of normal condition hydrocephalus, a rare condition in which the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord doesn’t drain normally, which causes difficulty walking and leads to mental decline. William underwent surgery for the condition.

“I swear, before I left the hospital, I could walk without a cane,” he told The Birmingham News. “And I could just tell that my dementia was reversing itself. It was amazing.”

Almost a year later, Cobb is rejoicing in his return to health with the release of The Last Queen of the Gypsies, his first book in nine years.

The Last Queen of the Gypsies is a brilliant, quirky, highly readable story as compelling as it is fresh and original. The book interweaves the stories of Lester Ray, a 14-year-old boy who was deserted by his mother when he was a baby and has now escaped his abusive alcoholic father, and Minnie, a woman who was abandoned by her Gypsy family of migrant fruit pickers when she was 11— while they journey on parallel quests to find families they never really knew. It ranges from the Great Depression to the new millennium and from the panhandle of Florida, where the novel is basically set, to New York City during World War II, to the Georgia and Carolina coast, to Fort Myers and south Florida.

It seems Foreword reviewer Julie McGuire enjoyed this novel as much as we did: “In The Last Queen of the Gypsies, William Cobb masterfully parallels the stories of Minnie and Lester Ray, and the various colorful characters they meet along the way—including a dwarf named Virgin Mary Duck, the freakish crew of a traveling carnival—in a story of love and loss, hope and despair, and the resilience of the human spirit.”

This is one book I’m adding to my holiday wish list. Considering it for yours? Maybe this excerpt will sway you. You can also meet William Cobb on Nov. 17 at Page & Palette in Fairhope, Alabama. More details here.