Eric Jerome Dickey, whose thrillers often feature an amorous adventuress as narrator, returns to his hometown April 26 to deliver the keynote address at the Memphis Public Library's Bookstock 2014.

jerome.jpgOn April 15, Dickey released his 21st novel, "A Wanted Woman" (Dutton Adult, $26.95), in which a super-assassin and "woman of a thousand faces" embarks on a voyage of self-discovery in Barbados.

"With almost a dozen books that have consistently made The New York Times Bestseller List, Eric Jerome Dickey is one of the most popular writers of contemporary urban fiction in the nation," said Wang-Ying Glasgow, the library's adult services coordinator and Bookstock organizer. A decade ago, in a profile of Dickey under the headline "Chick-Lit King Imagines His Way Into Women's Heads," The New York Times, quoting his publisher, said Dickey was selling more than 500,000 books a year.

Dickey, 52, grew up on Kansas Street in southwest Memphis and graduated from Carver High School, then got a degree in computer technology from then Memphis State University before moving to Los Angeles and beginning a career in writing.

Glasgow said Bookstock is designed "to promote local authors as well as to cast a wider net" to explore a variety of genres. On goodreads.com, one early review of Dickey's latest novel said, "There was a plethora of suspense, violence, gore, and the blood flowed freely." Another checked "the steamy sex scenes," but found "scenes of torture and gang raping" disturbing. Glasgow noted that Dickey's keynote talk will be announced over the library's intercom as an event for adult audiences.

Dickey's talk from 1 to 2 p.m. will be followed at 2:15 p.m. by "Summertime Is Crime Time." Authors on that panel include Megan Abbott, whose novel "Dare Me" was one of Amazon's Best Books of 2012; Ace Atkins, the Oxford, Miss.-based author who will publish both "The Forsaken" and "Robert B. Parker's Cheap Shot" this year; Michael Kardos, co-director of the creative writing program at Mississippi State University and author of "The Three-Day Affair"; and Scott Phillips, whose debut novel "The Ice Harvest" was the basis for a movie directed by Harold Ramis and starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton.

greaney.jpgA panel at 11 a.m. will focus on international spy thrillers. "From the South to Around the World" will feature Dickey and Mark Greaney, the Memphis-based author who has written four books in a series of thrillers about ex-CIA-agent-turned-assassin Court Gentry, The Gray Man. Greaney's lastest Court Gentry book, "Dead Eye," was published in December, on the same day his third book written with the late Tom Clancy was released. Greaney's collaborations with Clancy include "Locked On," "Threat Vector" and "Command Authority" (Putnam, $29.95). Also on the panel is Keith Thomson, whose novels include "Once a Spy" and "7 Grams of Lead."

Deborah Johnson, who wrote "The Air Between Us" and "The Secret of Magic," will be interviewed for the library's "Book Talk" program by Stephen Usery at 11:30 a.m.
"True Memphis Stories" will spotlight local authors Miriam DeCosta-Willis, Wei Chen, Dan Conaway, Marie Pizano and Blanche Jordan Scott at 11 a.m. in the library's Memphis Room. G. Wayne Dowdy, manager of the library's history department and author of "On This Day in Memphis History," will moderate.  

Other local authors on the schedule include Vincent Astor ("Images of America: Memphis Movie Theatres"), Wei Chen ("Around the World in 69 days") and Barry Wolverton, whose "Neversink" for young readers was one of the Literacy Mid-South 2014 "Books of Choice."
Along with books and authors, visitors at the event will find cooking demonstrations, face painting, live music, balloon artistry, a scavenger hunt and food trucks.

Headline from 'Memphis History': 'Prince Mongo is crazy'

 
Memphis.jpgThe mental status of Robert Hodges, AKA Prince Mongo, whose public life has been devoted to eccentric behavior, was the subject of a ruling by U.S. Dist. Judge Harry Wellford 34 years ago today.

It's the April 8 entry in "On This Day in Memphis History" (The History Press), by 
G. Wayne Dowdy, manager of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center's history department and Memphis and Shelby County Room.

In the case of Prince Mongo, an insurance company that had paid $34,000 on his claim of disability, contended in federal court that his candidacy for Shelby County mayor in 1978 showed he wasn't disabled. Prince Mongo, who maintained that he had lived three centuries and came from the planet of Zambodia, "appeared in Wellford's courtroom in bare feet, wearing only a knee-length fur coat and, during the proceedings, frequently sprinkled a white powder on the floor to ward off evil spirits." Ruling in the defendant's favor, Wellford found that "he suffers from a mental disease or disorder or psychosis, and that this condition has apparently worsened since 1976."

Topics for each day of the year in Dowdy's book range from the files of stranger than fiction -- "The day it rained snakes" on Jan. 15, 1877 -- to quaint fact. On Dec. 26, 1958, for instance, police chief James C. McDonald said the city's strict enforcement of the state law prohibiting the purchase of handguns was "far from harsh."

Dowdy also is the author of "Mayor Crump Don't Like It: Machine Politics in Memphis," "Hidden History of Memphis." "Crusades for Freedom: Memphis and the Political Transformation of the American South."

Neelys to sign new cookbook at Wolfchase

 
neelys.jpgCelebrity Memphis cooks Patrick and Gina Neely, stars of Food Network's "Down Home with the Neelys," will appear at the Barnes & Noble Wolfchase store to sign their latest cookbook at 7 p.m. April 8.

"Back Home with the Neelys: Comfort Food from Our Southern Kitchen to Yours" (Knopf, $27.95) is the couple's third cookbook, following "Down Home with the Neelys" and "The Neelys' Celebration Cookbook." 

In an introduction to "Back Home," they say their devotion to home cooking and fresh ingredients "all goes back to the wonderful memories we have of growing up in Memphis." Indeed, two of the recipes name-check the city: "Memphis caviar," with black-eyed peas, peppers, onions and tomatoes, and the "Memphis mojito," which is served in a Mason jar, because, "Things are pretty relaxed in Memphis." 

The bookstore is located at 2774 N. Germantown Parkway.

In 2012, the couple closed two Neely's Bar-B-Que sites in Memphis -- at 670 Jefferson and 5700 Mt. Moriah -- though they continue to operate Neely's Barbeque Parlor in Manhattan.


Hampton Sides to talk about 'Telling Stories'

 
The history writer Hampton Sides grew up in Memphis and recounted this city's most infamous moment in "Hellhound on His Trail," his 2010 book about James Earl Ray's stalking and murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

hampton.jpgSides, who now lives in New Mexico, also wrote "Blood and Thunder," about frontiersman Kit Carson and the American West, and "Ghost Soldiers," about the 1945 U.S. mission to rescue POWs in the Philippines. In August, he'll publish "In the Kingdom of Ice," about the 1879 expedition to the North Pole that marooned a naval crew a thousand miles north of Siberia.

Sides returns to Memphis to talk about "Telling Stories: The Art and Craft of Narrative History" at 6 p.m. April 3 at the University of Memphis University Center Theater. The free talk, open to the public, begins with a 5:30 p.m. reception in the theater lobby.

The event announcement makes this provocative promise: "The author ... will talk about his inspirations, his writing process, and his hopes for reinvigorating the narrative tradition despite the hostility leveled at narrative history by some academic historians."

Sides' lecture is part of the River City Writers Series. For more information, go to memphis.edu/moch/events.htm.

Author of Alex Chilton bio to read at Crosstown Arts

 
In 1967, while he was a 16-year-old student at Central High School, Alex Chilton performed vocals with the Box Tops on "The Letter," produced by Dan Penn at American Recording Studios. A new biography of Chilton describes the song as "the biggest hit single ever recorded in Memphis, Tennessee."

Chilton.jpgTwenty years later, Chilton told an interviewer, "The first thing I ever did was the biggest record that I'll ever have," which explains why Holly George-Warren's new book, "A Man Called Destruction," (Viking, $27.95) is described as a story that is "rags to riches in reverse."

George-Warren, whose previous books include "Public Cowboy No. 1: The Life and Times of Gene Autry" and "Punk 365," will appear at 7 p.m. April 2 at Crosstown Arts, 438 N. Cleveland, to read from and sign her Chilton biography. The event will start with a deejay at 6 p.m. Following the author's reading, a tribute concert will begin at 8 p.m. at 430 N. Cleveland.

Chilton died at 59 in 2010, on the eve of a reunion of his revered power-pop band Big Star at the annual South by Southwest music festival, and his name and legacy permeated the atmosphere of the Austin event. George-Warren's book makes a case for the wisdom of Chilton's retreat from early fame in the music business to pursue happiness in New Orleans and his unpredictable solo career. 
A recent interview with the Austin, Texas-based author Bill Cotter describes his new book, "The Parallel Apartments," as "full of freaks like you and me."

billcotter.jpegApparently, Austin is the perfect place to inspire such literature. Speaking by phone, Cotter said, "It has a reputation for being strange. One of its catch phrases is 'Keep Austin weird,' which is also Seattle's, or Portland's. (Actually, both.) I didn't have to stretch too much to make it stranger than it really is."

Cotter, who will read from and sign "The Parallel Apartments" (McSweeney's, $25), at 6 p.m. March 18 at Crosstown Arts on North Cleveland, says Memphis is a city he's longing to see. "I was a huge fan of Sun Records growing up. My granddad had some records. The label was so neat and mysterious to me. I still dream about it sometimes."

parallel.jpegHis first novel, "Fever Chart" (2009), was set in New Orleans. The new book chronicles several generations in a family of wildly unpredictable Texas women. It starts in New York City when 34-year-old Justine, who ran away from Austin as a teen, decides to return to her city of origin and uncover her past after trying and failing to end an unwanted pregnancy.

When Justine arrives at the Frito Motel, she finds herself competing for a place with folks attending a Symposium on Cults and Extreme Clubs. She has to pay extra to occupy the only vacant space, The Room, "where there was a murder once, a really nauseating and out-of-control mass murder," the desk clerk assures her.

Soon Justine has located the University of Texas professor who adopted her briefly when she was a baby. He had returned her to her birth mother after he lost three fingers while preventing his insane wife from trying to carve the infant up with a cleaver. It will give you an idea of Cotter's sense of humor that in the sentence following the description of that rescue, the professor relates that a colleague of his "agreed to quarter you and me for the time being," 'quarter' in this case referring to supplying accommodations. You are barely a tenth of the way through the novel by the time all this action has occurred.

Cotter, 49, was born in Dallas, where he lived until his family moved to Iran for three years in the 1970s. The family then moved to a Boston suburb for what he remembers as "bad years," when he suffered from a depression at 18 or 19 that put him in several psychiatric hospitals.

Cotter says his illness explains his desultory work history, described in his book-jacket bio as an "ongoing struggle to stave off impending ruin." He toiled as a debt collector, a crossword puzzle constructor, a toilet scrubber, and a vacuum-cleaner salesman. "It's hard to hold down a job when you're not feeling that great," he said.  

He decided to move to Austin 17 years ago after putting in time playing low-stakes poker in Las Vegas casinos. "You sit around a table with nine other people who hate you and want your money. ... I played a year or so. I could win enough to live on. Then I think I became seriously depressed again, a clinical depression." In Austin, he's worked as an antiquarian book dealer and restorer. His parents, sister, cousins, aunts and uncles all live. "I feel a hundred percent better now," he says.

Cotter first wrote fiction when he entered an employee short-story contest at the former Waldenbooks in Massachusetts. "There were 15 entrants and 12 of us won something." Then, in his mid-30s, he wrote parodies of several Grimms' Fairy Tales to please his girlfriend, the poet and performance artist Annie La Ganga, who will appear with Cotter at his Memphis date. "That's when I realized I liked writing," he says.

He's currently working on an adventure novel for 10- to 12-year-olds, about a brother and sister who discover a hospital for supernatural creatures in an underground world - "If you're a vampire with a tooth abscess, it's the only place you can go" - as well as a short-story collection and a novel set in a Texas town in the early '70s.

Memphis poet reads from new collection at Burke's

 

Heather Dobbins, who has published poems in The Southern Poetry Anthology and TriQuarterly Review, will appear at Burke's Book Store in Cooper-Young at 5:30 p.m. March 6 with her new book of poetry, "In the Low Houses" (Alabaster Leaves, $14).

heather.jpeg

Dobbins graduated from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville College Scholars Program and got a master of fine arts degree in creative writing at Bennington College in Vermont.

She has taught middle and high school students in Memphis, and founded River City Scribes, a creative writing workshop for teens.

Burke's is at 936 S Cooper. Call 901-278-7484 for more information.

Amy Greene, author of "Bloodroot," will sign her new novel, "Long Man" (Knopf, $25.95), at 6 p.m. March 4 at Crosstown Arts, 438 N. Cleveland.

The novelist Amy Greene remembers her first sight as a child of the ghostly tops of silos submerged in the Cherokee Reservoir near her home in the Appalachian foothills of East Tennessee.

"There's a town under there," said Greene, still, at 38, sounding awed by the fact.

AmyGreene.jpgHer second book,  "Long Man," re-imagines such a town as it was on the verge of being inundated over several days in the summer of 1936. Like the settlement under Cherokee Lake, this fictional community is being sacrificed to create a Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir that will generate power and control deadly floods.

Greene, a writer whose inspiration is the lore and terrrain of Appalachia, published her first novel, "Bloodroot," in 2010. She'll be at Crosstown Arts in Memphis at 6 p.m. March 4, to sign "Long Man," which was released Tuesday.

The book casts a melancholy spell of loss and displacement as it describes one family's forced departure from a farm in the path of a planned reservoir.

"I grew up surrounded by the dams the TVA built," Greene said last week by phone from her home. "My grandparents on both sides survived the Depression, and told stories about how people here were drowning in floods and starving to death as subsistence farmers," before the TVA work.

longman.jpegThe central character in "Long Man" is Annie Clyde Dodson, the last holdout against the government's flood evacuation effort. Her reluctance to give up her dream of passing the farm her mother left her to her 3-year-old daughter, Gracie, has kept her family in limbo in a ghost town and has threatened her marriage to James, who lost his own father in the violent flood waters of pre-TVA days. The child's disappearance as a mammoth storm arrives drives the plot.

Greene grew up on her grandfather's farm, in a house he built, on land where her parents still live. She now lives five miles away, with her husband and two children, in Russellville, an unincorporated community in Hamblen County, Tennessee.

She was long affected by the eerie underwater traces of buildings and roads embedded in the TVA reservoir. "As I became an adult, I wondered, 'What if the water had reached a little farther to our house?' My parents still live on the land, and I lived there until I was 18 and got married. I cannot imagine that place under a lake, or the heartbreak the people from there must have experienced."
The young-adult author Laurie Halse Anderson, who confronts such charged topics as date rape, addiction and eating disorders in her novels, says she makes a point of answering all the correspondence she gets from readers.

halse.jpeg"Some letters come from a classroom assignment, and they have questions like 'What's your favorite food?' " Anderson said by phone from her book tour for "The Impossible Knife of Memory."

"The important ones are the questions that come from kids who talk about their own conflicts or struggles," she said. "Every YA author I know gets these -- kids looking for trustworthy adults. So many teens feel alone, especially those from families struggling with things."

The letters are time-consuming, so it's fortunate Anderson's own four children are fairly grown at 21, 26, 27 and 28. "One of my kids told me recently, 'Mom, I think what you have is not so much a job but a lifestyle.'"

Among her best-known novels is "Speak," in which a 13-year-old girl is raped at a party and essentially stops talking in the aftermath of the trauma. It was a National Book Award finalist when it came out in 1999.

"Impossible Knife of Memory" deals with the post-traumatic stress disorder of a soldier suffering through his memories of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the effect it has on the life of his teenage daughter.

Anderson said she is covering territory she knows firsthand. "My dad was an 18-year-old boy when he entered the Army at the end of World War II with troops liberating Dauchau," among the most infamous of the Nazi concentration camps.

"He had guard duty," Anderson said. "He had to help survivors, bury the dead. His experience led him to the ministry -- he was a Methodist minister. The pain of what he saw, the trauma of what he endured, came back to haunt him when I was a teen, in middle and high school. He was in the throes of depression; he stopped working. If it hadn't been for my mom's strength, I don't know how we would have gotten through."

In addition, she said, her nephew recently returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We were helping him navigate that," she said. "We live in northern New York, in a small community, and a lot of kids go into the service. Watching them trying to re-enter life here, it made me gasp and stand back and look at what my dad was going through."

As usual, the families of her young characters are dealing with drugs, divorces, depression.
"There is a bright spot" in "Impossible Knife," she points out. "It's a love story as well. I put that in there to counterbalance the darkness that's real-life, because, man, it's tough."

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of "The Impossible Knife of Memory" (Viking, $18.99), will appear at The Booksellers at Laurelwood, 387 Perkins Road Ext., at 2 p.m. Jan. 19.
In the 22 essays collected in "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage," the novelist Ann Patchett writes about her romantic history; her family, friends and her dog Rose; her work and her Nashville bookstore.

annpatchett2.jpeg"I think I was trying to put it together as a novel in which I am the main character," Patchett said in a recent phone interview from her Nashville home. "But it may be very similar to an autobiography in how it works in the outcome."

"Happy Marriage" (Harper, $27.99) begins with divorce. The first essay, "How to Read a Christmas Story,"  recalls joyless holidays of the author's childhood, when her mother and stepfather lumped the six children from their first marriages together in Nashville.  "... Christmas was a holiday we failed at with real vigor," Patchett writes. "I blame this on my parents' divorce."

In "The Sacrament of Divorce," first published in Vogue in 1996, Patchett writes that she knew when she married her first husband it couldn't last. "My divorce began less than a week before we were married," she writes. The preparations for the wedding had a momentum she was too weak to resist. A year later she escaped, abruptly abandoning a college teaching job to get on a plane back to her mother's house in Nashville. The graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop took a job at T.G.I. Friday's. "I was required to wear a funny hat. I served fajitas to people I had gone to high school with, and I smiled. I did not die."

annpatchett.jpegThough her story is singular and personal, she has a larger point to make, one that probably was more urgent when the piece first was published. "I do not believe that there were more happy marriages before divorce became socially acceptable, that people tried harder, got through their rough times, and were better off," she writes. "I believe that more people suffered."

The author of six novels -- including the luminous "Bel Canto" (2001), about an opera singer held hostage in an obscure South American country; "Taft" (1994), about a jazz musician who runs a Memphis bar; and "State of Wonder" (2011), set in the Amazonian jungle -- Patchett also is co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville.


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