Artie’s Literary Resolution: Taking Advantage of Hidden Gems

This week in our Literary Resolutions blog series, Blair’s office manager Artie Sparrow  resolves one resolution by sharing about another.


Nestled in the avalanche of emails when I returned to work after being away for two weeks was an announcement that Blair’s next blog series was about resolutions. At that point, I resolved to stop procrastinating and finish things I started, especially the following blog post that I began composing four months ago:

CivilWarBlundersI’m not much of a Civil War buff, but I do enjoy reading about mistakes made by other people. When I started working at Blair, I eagerly devoured Clint Johnson’s Civil War Blunders. As the title implies, it’s accounts of big mistakes made during the Civil War, some of which are rather amusing, despite the underlying subject matter. My favorite blunder is the Union’s first attempt to capture Fort Fisher. It featured an earth-shattering kaboom, but no one got hurt.

Made of sand and dirt, Fort Fisher was located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River and protected Wilmington. In December 1864, Union forces were desperate to capture or destroy it, since Wilmington was the last Confederate port that remained open. oceanThe Union plan was simple in its genius and stupidity: it loaded a ship with gunpowder, ran it aground near the fort, and blew it up. The goal was to destroy the fort, but all the attack succeeded in doing was setting off a giant explosion that did little damage. The Confederates easily repulsed the first Union attempt to take the fort. Union troops had to return later using more conventional means to capture it.

Last year when my wife and I went to Southport for vacation, I finally got my chance to see where the giant kaboom took place. In the middle of the week, we took the ferry across the river to Fort Fisher. A helpful staff member at the visitor center told me how to get to the approximate spot where the Union ship blew up. One of my quirks is that I love looking out into the ocean at places where extraordinary things happened, even if the water fortfisherthere looks just like any other stretch of ocean. That didn’t take long, so afterward we took ourselves on a self-guided tour of the remains of Fort Fisher. The walls facing the Atlantic Ocean have mostly washed away, but those that went across the island to the river have been preserved. Thanks to Clint Johnson’s Touring the Carolinas’ Civil War Sites, we were able to understand what we were looking at and what happened there. We found out that the Armstrong gun is a replica of a cannon that could fire 150-pound shells a distance of five miles. We learned that Shepherd’s Battery was the scene of fierce hand-to-hand fighting when the Union finally succeeded in storming the fort.blunders

I’m still not much of a Civil War buff, and there’s no danger that I’ll start reenacting. However, I will spend more time reading Clint Johnson’s books and other Blair backlist titles. Maybe I’ll find some more hidden gems for my travels.


Check back next week for another post in our Literary Resolutions blog series. Happy reading!


5 Ways to Liven Up Your Holiday Break with Blair Books

It’s that magical time of year when most businesses shut down and workers are treated to some, often mandatory, time off. While traditional celebrations are fun, cabin fever can set in for those of us used to being in the office all week. To help avoid any vacation frustration, we present 5 Ways to Liven Up Your Holiday Break with Blair Books:

1. Revisit the Ghosts of Christmases Past

AmericanChristmasesThink your family has some crazy Christmas traditions? Read about what used to pass as appropriate holiday fare in American Christmases: Firsthand Accounts of Holiday Happenings from Early Days to Modern Times by Joanne Martell. The entries range from how the Christmas tree has evolved through history, to how Santa got too close to the candles in 1890, to how firecrackers were once a cherished and much-anticipated stocking stuffer, to Pete the Christmas goose, who laid an egg and was renamed Petrice in time to be wreathed in parsley on a platter. The stories, both heart-wrenching and heartwarming, allow one to reflect on personal memories and long to relive them. (as shared by Debbie Hampton)

2. Start a Sports Debate

ACCBasketballBookFameIs yelling at the TV during ACC basketball games a holiday tradition? Do you have ideas about who should be in the ultimate hall of fame? Dan Collins presents his system and the 78 players in his The ACC Basketball Book of Fame. Compare your own and your family’s rankings and let the discussion begin.


3. Bake Something Unexpected and Delicious

WellShutMyMouthNothing against Christmas hams and fruitcake, but they get a bit tiresome after the 3rd or 4th day of repetitious leftovers. Try out a different style of cooking with Tasia Malakasis and Stephanie L. Tyson. Malakasis’ Tasia’s Table (NewSouth Books) offers up creative ways to use goat cheese in a range of delectable dishes while Tyson’s Well, Shut My Mouth!: The Sweet Potatoes Restaurant Cookbook brings some soul to the table.

Give your family a treat with dishes like the Easiest Devil’s Food Cake in the World and introduce some new culinary traditions to your holidays.

4. Hike the Battlefields

SoGettysburgAt first glance a Civil War battlefield may seem just like a regular field with some scattered monuments, but James and Suzanne Gindlesperger bring these historical sites to life in So You Think You Know Gettysburg? and So You Think You Know Antietam? The Gindelspergers return some humanity to the soldiers who lived and died in the war by providing the reasoning behind each statue’s curios oddities.

Gettysburg National Military Park and Antietam National Military Park are both open throughout the holidays, excluding Christmas Day and New Years Day.

5. Laugh at Yourself…and Others

SWAGDo you feel the urge to bake a pound cake after reading the obituaries? Have you had professional photographs made of your children barefoot and dressed in their Sunday clothes? Are you socially conditioned to believe that tanned fat looks better than white fat?

Then you might be a SWAG (Southern Woman Aging Gracefully), and Melinda Rainey Thompson can relate. Ranging from swimsuit shopping to squirrel battling, from magnolia theft to cemetery etiquette, Thompson’s delightful essays and clever lists in SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully and The SWAG Life reflect the everyday peculiarities of life in the South. Whether you can see yourself or others in her hilarious anecdotes, Thompson will have you doubled over in knowing laughter.

We hope that these suggestions help you make the most of your holidays. Happy Holidays from Blair!

Don’t Forget Those Holiday Tips!

The holidays are a good opportunity to show people in your life that you appreciate them. Whether with gifts, baked goods, kind gestures, or generous tips.

The Boston Evening Post printed the following poem in 1764 to urge subscribers to tip their newsboys at Christmas:

The Boy Weekly Pads the Streets,
With all the freshest News he meets,
His Mistresses and Masters greet,
Christmas and New Year, Days of Joy,
The Harvest of your Carrier Boy,
He hopes you’ll not his Hopes destroy….
His generous patrons may inspire,
By filling up his pockets higher!

AmericanChristmasesThis poem is featured in American Christmases: Firsthand Accounts of Holiday Happenings From Early Days to Modern Times by Joanne Martell, a great book which offers insight into the history of Christmas in America.

So don’t forget all the people who make your life easier and deserve some recognition this holiday season. And always remember…

150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address


Today, November 19th, marks the 150th Anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address. This anniversary is being honored by a Dedication Day Ceremony in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, PA.

You can watch a live stream of the ceremony here. The wreath laying begins at 10 a.m. and opening remarks at 10:15 a.m.

Gettysburg National Military Park will be hosting numerous events throughout the weekend in honor of the Dedication Day anniversary. A full list of these events can be found here.

James and Suzanne Gindlesperger, authors of So You Think You Know Gettysburg?   will also be on hand for the festivities, with a book talk and signing Saturday, November 23, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the American Civil War Museum and Gift Center.

Remembering Len Bias on His Birthday

Blair’s office manager Artie Sparrow remembers one of his favorite moments in ACC basketball history.


lenbiascelticsLen Bias was born 50 years ago today. One of the great sports tragedies of our time is that he didn’t live to see his 23rd birthday. Today, I’m thinking back to one of the most important nights in his too-brief career.

I attended UNC in the mid-1980s. Although I had a great time there, I have a few regrets: being too shy to ask Laurie Dhue for a date, missing concerts by the Talking Heads and Stevie Ray Vaughan, leaving Cat’s Cradle about 20 minutes before Michael Stipe sang a few songs with a local band. Close to the top of my list is the night I didn’t bother walking across the parking lot to see one of the greatest performances in ACC basketball history: the game Len Bias almost single-handedly wrecked the Tar Heels’ perfect record in the Dean Dome.

I don’t remember why I didn’t go to that game in February of my freshman year. I suspect it had to do with how students got tickets back then. We had to camp out and then get tickets in a random section, usually in the upper deck. I could enjoy a better view watching games on TV and spare myself having to sleep outside on cold winter nights. Also, the 1986 Tar Heel team wasn’t particularly entertaining. It won a lot but was rather predictable about it.

I watched the game on TV with my suitemates. Carolina was cruising to another win when Len Bias changed the script. He kept Maryland in the game until overtime, and then it happened: a steal, a reverse dunk, a block. He basically imposed his will on the game and refused to let Maryland lose. It was the sort of thing Michael Jordan was famous for—which was why his poster was in half the dorm rooms on campus at the time. Twenty-seven years later, fans still remember Bias’s performance—even fans who can’t remember what they did last week. After the game, we were stunned. Bias had instantly gone from being a really good player to, well, the best basketball player on the planet at that moment.

ACCBasketballBookFameI really enjoyed reading about Bias and all the other ACC greats and learning tidbits about what they were like off the court, but I don’t rank players based on their cumulative achievements. I guess that’s my one quibble with Dan Collins’s highly entertaining ACC Basketball Book of Fame. To me, the beauty of basketball is its moments of greatness. Bias had the most memorable moment of all the basketball I’ve watched over the years, even if it came at the expense of my school.


Have your own opinions about ACC’s best players or the way Dan Collins’ ranks them in his Basketball Book of Fame? Collins wants to hear about it! Let the discussion begin.

History in the Voices of the Voiceless

The new film 12 Years a Slave is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northrup about his time as a slave in Louisiana from 1841 to 1853.

12 years a slaveOn October 17, 2013, the film’s director, Steve McQueen, and star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, were interviewed by NPR’s Renee Montagne. You can listen to the full interview at “12 Years a Slave: 160 Years Later, A Memoir Becomes a Movie.

During the interview McQueen noted that he “was really upset with [himself] that [he] did not know about this book.” The story of Solomon Northrup is remarkable for the particulars of the man’s experiences as a free man tricked into being enslaved who then finds his way back to freedom. 12 Years a Slave, however, is not the only opportunity that we have to hear about the peculiar institution from slaves themselves.

MyFolksDuring the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt employed jobless writers and researchers to capture thousands of voices of former slaves spread throughout the United States. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) eventually collected more than two thousand narratives from seventeen states, cataloging them in the Library of Congress as Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the U.S. from Interviews with Former Slaves. Though the WPA performed a major service by collecting these narratives, the stories languished in the Library of Congress for several decades until the 1970s when George Rawick put the narratives into a form that was more accessible to the public, entitled The American Slave: A Composite Biography.

FarMoreTerribleBelinda Hurmence was among the first to realize that many readers were still intimidated by the multivolume sets of slave narratives made available by Rawick. Culling the narratives collected by the WPA and others, she edited her first concise volume of slave narratives, My Folks Don’t Want Me To Talk About Slavery, providing insight into the lives of former slaves in North Carolina. Following the positive reaction she received from the public, she published two more volumes of slave narratives from South Carolina and Virginia. Her books have proved perennial bestsellers for John F. Blair, Publisher and launched our “Real Voices, Real History” series.

Voices_Cherokee_WomenWe have continued to expand our line of slave narratives, and to expand the idea of history told by the individuals who personally experienced it. Since then, we have published 12 total volumes of slave narratives, three volumes from the Cherokees, and four other Real Voices, Real History collections. One Real Voices, Real History author described her collection of first person accounts as an opportunity to “give voice to the voiceless.”

Chained_to_theLandThe most recent title added to this collection is Voices of Cherokee Women, edited by Carolyn Ross Johnston, published in fall 2013. We will also be publishing Chained to the Land: Voices from Cotton & Cane Plantation, edited by Lynette Ater Tanner, in spring of 2014.


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.


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….


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