Steve’s Literary Resolution

This week in our Literary Resolutions blog series, we hear from Steve Kirk, Blair’s editor, about his delayed success in completing a reading resolution.

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I made my literary resolution early (mid-December) and broke it early (January 2). The previous two years, I’d read the opening and middle volumes of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium trilogy” over the holidays and happened to finish them on New Year’s Day. So I resolved to end 2013 and begin 2014 with the final book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. But owing to company in the house, I didn’t finish until well past my target date.Hornets

No matter. Larsson’s novels are my kind of blockbusters—brisk, complex, and transportive. Though he goes on too long about Swedish politics and over-introduces minor characters, those flaws are overwhelmed by what he does well—namely, create memorable protagonists (Mikael Blomkvist and Lizbeth Salander), intricate plots, and an exotic setting. In Hornet’s Nest, he sustains a lively 563 pages with his title character mostly confined to a hospital bed and his two heroes together only on the last couple of pages.

I admit to being flummoxed by all the Jonassons, Carlssons, Erikssons, and Goranssons. And when I began the series, I pulled up a Stockholm map on my computer and made a futile effort to follow the action as I read. But I soon learned to plunge right in and let myself be transported. By the end, whenever Mikael Blomkvist might leave Café Copacabana next to the Kvarter cinema in Hornstull, then turn on to Bergsundsstrand on his way to the tunnelbana, I was right there with him, wherever it was we happened to be going.

Stieg Larsson wrote mostly for his own entertainment. He died in 2004 at age 50 from a heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs on a day the elevator broke down. He never saw his novels hit print; they’ve since sold well over 70 million copies. Larsson had a fourth volume in process, a fifth and sixth at least in synopsis form, and a seventh through a tenth planned. My coming holiday seasons will be the less for his passing.

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Join us next week for another post in our Literary Resolutions blog series. Happy reading!

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Win a Free Copy of B.O.Q.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

B.O.Q. by N.P. Simpson

B.O.Q.

by N.P. Simpson

Giveaway ends January 31, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Enter now to win one of 25 free advance reader’s copies of B.O.Q.: An NCIS Special Agent Fran Setliff Novel by N.P. Simpson.

In B.O.Q., Simpson conveys the special energy and purpose of a military base. When Ann Buckhalter, the wife of a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, is found dead in the river just downstream from Camp Lejeune’s Bachelor Officers’ Quarters (B.O.Q.), NCIS Special Agent Fran Setliff is called in to investigate her murder

But things heat up when Fran discovers that more than one person’s life has been simplified by the victim’s death. Uncovering the truth about Ann Buckhalter’s death also means uncovering all the unsavory things going on behind the camouflage curtain-racial and gender discrimination, unethical medical practices, sexual indiscretions. Solving the crime means Fran must navigate the murky waters of the military base and the colorful individuals who fill the ranks.

Enter now and find out what really happened at the B.O.Q.!

New Blair Blog Series: Literary Resolutions for 2014

We hope you all had fantastic holidays and are ready to face the new year head on.  Blair is celebrating the beginning of 2014 with a new blog series on our literary resolutions. I start us off this week with the simple goal toKeep CalmEasier said than done.

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Shocking though it may be about an English major and publishing industry professional, I have almost always been an avid reader. I would read late into the night, constantly have new titles awaiting me, and usually have a favorite book on hand.

I still love the idea of reading, collect books that I want to read, and plow through ones that I substantially start, but since becoming a passably functioning adult, I am usually in a less-than-alert state when I get home.

Rather than reading for a while, I am ready to curl up and fall asleep as early as acceptably possible (Meaning 8 p.m.-that’s acceptable, right?).

Sometime I get stressed out about not having finished a physical book in a while and I pressure myself to read. Anxiety-induced reading, however, is not enjoyable. No matter a title’s literary merit, very little of the text will register if I have to force myself to read it.

Compile this with the relative ease of unwinding in front of TV,

and I quickly give up on the futile resolve to make myself read.

Nonetheless, I continue to find books that I genuinely want to read, or to have read, which then makes me more anxious about my state of not reading. “I love reading, but I’m not reading. Am I a fraud? What am I doing? Why am I not reading RIGHT NOW??”

So this year I pledge to calm down about reading.

Rather than starting books that I think I should be reading, I am going to go with my gut and pick titles based purely on literary desire.

And I’m going to read at a pace set completely by my whims, not worrying about finishing for finishing’s sake.  Sometimes this will be in a fervor fueled by the intensity of my enjoyment, but often this will be simply at my leisure. And that’s okay.

By stripping away the pressure and letting myself enjoy reading again, I hope to regain my footing in the fold of true book lovers. 2014 is the year I fall back in love with literature. So watch out books, here I come!

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Check back next week for another post on Blair’s literary resolutions. Happy reading!

Celebrate Small Business Saturday with Blair’s Big Book Sale

Christmas_Website Header
As part of Small Business Saturday Blair will be holding a book sale on November 30 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Stop by the Blair offices at 1406 Plaza Drive, Winston-Salem, NC, for 30% off all titles, including the perfect gifts for everyone on your holiday checklist.

Christmas_Website Holiday Gift Guide

greatescape
We are also excited to announce that The Great Escape Food Truck will be joining us from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

 

Buy local and get 30% off all books. We look forward to seeing you!

1 Day Until Halloween

Tomorrow is Halloween! On the eve of this holiday when all souls are said to roam free we present the tale of one lost soldier who found his way home.

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GhostsSouthernTN“Home Is Where the Heart Is”
from Ghosts of the Southern Tennessee Valley
by Georgiana Kotarski

The story of a soul returning to comfort a loved one in time of grief is common among people sharing tales around the kitchen table or campfire. Of all the emotions that bind a spirit to earth, the greatest of these is love.

One day in the late 1940s, Earl came down the stairs of his Pisgah, Alabama, home carrying a heavy duffel bag. He was dressed smartly for his trip to a military base in Alaska, more than four thousand miles away. His mother reached for him one last time, holding tight and bracing herself for the long separation. Earl hoisted his duffel bag back over his shoulder and, reminding his mother of the date he would return, started out. As he passed through the doorway, down the porch stairs, and out through the yard, he whistled his favorite tune. He was always whistling. It was his way.

Following a long but uneventful trip to his faraway post, Earl began his tour of duty. He never completed it. One morning, his buddies could not rouse him. He had died in his sleep.

As the weeks and months passed, most of the stunned family made peace with their grief. But Earl’s mother “was just grieving herself to death,” her granddaughter remembers fifty years later. “She was constantly upset and worried about Earl.” She couldn’t understand what had happened to him. Was it a mistake? His body had come home in a closed coffin. His mother had not seen him. She could not touch him, stroke his once-soft face while confessing her love to him in the long night during the wake. The next morning, they had lowered him into the naked earth, then gently pulled his choking mother away.

In her sorrow, Earl’s mother had only his parting words to cling to—words that had made it clear not only that he was coming home, but even when he was coming home. She thought of him every day. Maybe he’ll write, she found herself thinking. She felt secretly eager when mail time drew near each morning, even leaving the eggs frying on the stove or the laundry swinging by one pin when she heard the crunch of gravel heralding the postman’s approach. She moved her chair to the window and spent more time looking down the road than she did mending or snapping beans. “Light’s better here,” she told the family.

The day Earl was due to return, she just didn’t feel up to going to the church singing. She stayed home. That evening, she fell into bed but couldn’t sleep. The grief seemed to wash over her afresh. In the middle of the night, she threw the tangled covers off and set out for the outhouse. In the light of a nearly full moon, she had no trouble picking her way across the roots and ruts of the worn path. It was too cool to bother looking for copperheads in the damp grass. She pulled the plank door open and let it close partway. The baying of dogs in the distance sounded like a dirge. Even here, perched on a cold seat, she thought of Earl. He once got stuck in the outhouse, she remembered, before they bought a real seat to cover the crude hole.

As she started back to the house, she heard whistling. Earl’s tune! Clear as a fiddle, too. She stopped and steadied herself against an old dogwood. Looking up toward the house, she saw a soldier coming through the yard with a duffel bag on his back. His whistling grew louder as he neared the steps and sprang up onto the porch. It was Earl!

As he went in the front door, she ran in through the back, which allowed a view straight through to the living room in the front of the house. She saw Earl, real as rain, walk into the living room.

“I’m home,” he said.

Then he vanished.

“He was always one to play tricks,” remembers the granddaughter, “and Grandmother thought he had slipped upstairs or something real quick. She had every one of them out of bed, searching the house. They looked under beds, they looked in closets—anywhere he could’ve possibly been hiding. But after that, Grandmother thought that Earl was home. She didn’t see or hear from him again, but he was home.”

The family thought it was just her mind playing tricks. “No one else ever saw anything there. Only my grandmother saw him. But it put her mind at rest.”

Years later, the old home between Flat Rock and Pisgah was torn down and its lumber salvaged to repair other houses.

But no matter to one Alabama soldier. Home is where the heart is, and his is with Mama.

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Check back for more terrifying legends in our Haunted Halloween Countdown or pick up one of the spooky books they come from.

2 Days Until Halloween

Halloween is almost here! Get ready with a Cherokee legend about a terrifying creature from Western North Carolina.

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MountainGhostStories“Ulagu, The Giant Yellow Jacket”
from Mountain Ghost Stories and Curious Tales of Western North Carolina
by Randy Russell and Janet Barnett

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,” wrote Robert Frost in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” He certainly wasn’t thinking of Nantahala Gorge. There the woods are scary, dark, and steep.

Some of the most dramatically rugged scenery in western North Carolina can be found in the Nantahala Gorge, which runs along U.S. Highway 19 between Wesson and Nantahala in Swain and Macon counties. Cut ages ago by the Nantahala River, the gorge is so steep that it was called Land of the Middle Sun by the Cherokee because daylight reached the bottom of the gorge only when the midday sun was directly between the high cliffs on either side.

The bottom of the gorge was a dark and forbidding place where numerous monsters were known to dwell. One of the most ferocious beasts who lived there was a giant yellow jacket known as Ulagu, the Cherokee word for boss or leader.

Ulagu developed a taste for children. For many years, the yellow jacket terrorized the Cherokee by swooping down out of the sky to carry off children who were shocked into immobility by the suddenness of its attack. The appearance of Ulagu, its body as large as a house, was always accompanied by a wind created by the beast’s huge wings. Its whirring flight drowned out all other forest sounds and was said to be as loud as a persistent roll of thunder.

Ulagu was also a rapid flyer. While the Cherokee men often tried to track the yellow jacket that was carrying off a screaming child to its secret hiding place, it always flew too swiftly to be followed.

In a desperate attempt to discover Ulagu ‘s nest, the Cherokee set traps of fresh meat for the monster yellow jacket. White strings were tied around the meat. Cherokee hunters believed that Ulagu could be traced more easily with a string dangling from its clutches. Yet each time the horrific Ulagu carried away the meat, it darted so swiftly that the yellow jacket was out of sight before the string could be followed. The Cherokee hunters increased the size of both the bait and the string until a whole deer was finally offered. The meat was tied with a long string the thickness of a rope.

The giant yellow jacket returned once more and seized the bait. This time, however, the load proved heavy enough to slow Ulagu’s flight and to cause the monster yellow jacket to fly much lower in the sky. The rope could be followed as it dangled just above the tops of the trees. A group of hunters pursued Ulagu along a high ridge, then watched as it flew across the gorge and disappeared into the side of the cliff opposite.

The hunters marked the spot in their minds where the white rope had disappeared into the face of the cliff. With a great shout, they ran down into the dark gorge and up the other side. There they discovered a hidden cave out of which a strong breeze blew, the air stirred by the working of Ulagu ‘s enormous wings.

Standing outside, the hunters saw that the top of the cave was covered with a thick comb of six-sided chambers made from a waxy, papery material. The cave was teeming with yellow-colored wasps of normal size. Afraid they would be stung to death and eaten by Ulagu, the Cherokee hunters decided to kill the great beast and the smaller wasps by filling the cave with smoke.

A fire was built and tended at the mouth of the cave until the nest was entirely filled with choking smoke, killing Ulagu and most of the smaller yellow jackets. A few of the normal-sized wasps, though, managed to escape. According to Cherokee legend, the escaping wasps flew into the forest and multiplied until they lived everywhere in the world.

The offspring of Ulagu continue to be a stinging nuisance to people today. Whenever a Cherokee is stung by a wasp, he is likely to be reminded that long ago a much greater evil inhabited the earth. A visit to Nantahala Gorge inspires the feeling that when monsters inhabited our planet, they must have chosen the spookiest of places to live. And those who know the legend of Ulagu are apt to drive through the Land of the Middle Sun with the windows rolled up.

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Check back for more terrifying tales in out Haunted Halloween Countdown or pick up one of the spooky books they come from.

3 Days Until Halloween

Halloween is only 3 days away and to celebrate we bring you the tale of a ghostly ship that reappears every year off the North Carolina coast.

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Flaming_Ship“The Flaming Ship of Ocracoke”
Abridged from The Flaming Ship of Ocracoke and Other Tales of the Outer Banks
by Judge Charles Henry Whedbee

Some most unusual things continue to happen just off the northern shore of Ocracoke Inlet… but the Ocracoke Happening, they say, repeats itself year after year, always under the same conditions and always at the same spot. Many people have seen it time after time, and always on the night when the new moon makes its first appearance in September….

In the region itself, the most widely accepted explanation is… of the time when Anne was Queen of England and many efforts were being made to colonize the Carolinas….

In the beautiful Rhine River Valley in 1689, the retreating armies of Louis XIV had brutally scourged and laid waste the entire countryside, leaving everything destroyed and most of the people destitute. Some ten thousand Palatines, as they were called, flooded into England for refuge, and the authorities did not know what to do with them….

…Baron Christopher de Graffenried… proposed taking several hundred of these poor people to the Province of Carolina in the New World across the sea….

The mass migration… resulted in the settlement of a large portion of land in what is now eastern North Carolina….

Most people, though, do not know about a later shipload of Palatines whose financial status was much better but whose destiny was not to be so bright. While homeless, they were still possessed of a large amount of gold and silver plate, gold candlesticks, and many valuable coins and jewels, which they had managed to conceal from invading armies….

At that time, Ocracoke Inlet was the principal point of entry for ships with passengers or cargoes bound for the interior of North Carolina….

Thus it was with the ship carrying these later Palatines….

By the time it was fully daylight, all the Palatines were dressed in their best clothes and were assembled on the deck of the ship…. Not wanting to risk the theft of their valuables, they made the mistake of bringing these belongings up on deck with them. There they stood, their eyes full of hope and anticipation and their hands full of more treasure than the ship’s captain had ever seen in any one place in his entire lifetime.

Unknown to his passengers, the Captain had, at one time, been a pirate, but he had taken the “King’s Pardon,” promising to lead a law-abiding life. At the sight of the Palatines’ treasure, however, his new moral code promptly went by the board. Calling a hurried meeting with his officers and then an even briefer meeting with his crew, the skipper found them all of a like mind to his. This was too easy a chance to be missed.

So the plot was laid….

…The sun had set some hours before, and the new moon was low in the sky when the crew, led by the Captain and both mates, slipped up behind the few passengers still taking the air on deck and silently strangled them with short lengths of line. Then, silently and swiftly, they crept below, knives in hand, and cut the throats of every remaining passenger, children as well as adults. Not one was spared.

These brutal murders accomplished, the crew then brought lights into the hold and methodically ripped open all the sea bags and chests belonging to the murdered people, stealing all the gold, silver, jewels, and coins they had so much coveted on the deck of the ship that morning. Pirate-like, they divided their loot on the deck of the ship. Then, lowering the ship’s longboat into the sea, they prepared to go ashore. Just before they left the ship, they spread the vessel’s mainsail and jib and slipped the anchor chain so that the craft could run before the gentle southwest wind. As a final touch, the Captain set fire to the large pile of rifled sea bags and chests which had been heaped near the mainmast. This was to make more credible the tale of disaster they intended to tell when they reached the shore.

… The fire had spread more rapidly than he had anticipated…. Now, all the sails seemed to be set, and the ship was driving at full speed, not in a northeasterly direction but almost due west, right toward the crowded longboat.

The sails seemed to be solid sheets of flame, and from the hold of the burning ship came long, loud, pitiful wails, filling the dark sea with the mournful sound of souls in torment. The inferno ship bore down upon the frantically fleeing longboat until, with a crash of splintering timbers, it rolled the doomed little craft over and over under its keel, spilling the murderer-robbers into the sea. Most of them were drowned outright. Some, however, were able to cling to pieces of wreckage from the longboat until they were washed ashore many hours later. Amazingly, the burning death ship then came about and, with no living soul at her lashed helm, set a steady course toward the northeast again, her sails still aflame and the mournful wails still emanating from the hold.

To this day, they say, that flaming ship reappears on the first night of the new moon in September. Her sails are always sheets of flame and her rigging glows red-hot in the near darkness. Always there is the accompanying eerie wailing, as she sails swiftly and purposefully toward the northeast….

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Check back for more terrifying legends in our Haunted Halloween Countdown or pick up one of the spooky books they come from.