Monday, December 14, 2009


Walking to Gatlinburg, my new Civil War novel, seven years in the works, will be officially published on March 2. I will be launching the WORLD PREMIER of the novel in Hardwick, VT, at the Galaxy Bookshop on the evening of March 2nd with my new slide show, “Transforming History into Fiction: the Story of a Born Liar.” (We all know who the born liar is.)

Please watch my website, after January 1, for regular entries about Walking to Gatlinburg, including a posting of the first chapter, updates of my book tour itinerary, reviews, outrageous journal entries from the nationwide tour, etc.

In the meantime, happy holidays and good reading from northern Vermont’s cold, snowy, and ever-so-beautiful “Kingdom County.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Recently, I mentioned to a writer friend that while I have always loved to write, and started writing baseball and fishing stories at six or seven, I live to read. (“Read a thousand books, write one,” the adage goes.)

With my new Civil War novel, Walking to Gatlinburg, coming in the spring of 2010 – please watch for the “official” announcement in “The Kingdom Journal” on Dec. 15 – and the first draft of my forthcoming memoir, The Great American Book Tour, completed – this fall has been an especially good time for me to catch up on my own reading.

Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic and Pete Dexter’s Spooner are flat-out the funniest new novels I’ve read since A Confederacy of Dunces. In both instances there’s a powerful undertow of sadness, as well, but Russo and Dexter aside, what’s become of the old-fashioned, no-holds-barred American comic novel? Where’s Mark Twain when we need him most?

William Trevor’s Love and Summer exceeds even my high expectations. There’s a drifter in Trevor’s novel – an unemployed librarian and household retainer – who is at once one of the strangest and most memorable characters in contemporary fiction.

After searching for thirty years for a Canadian novel I loved and gave away, whose title and author I’d forgotten, I found Richard B. Wright’s Farthing’s Fortunes through Abe Books Book Sleuth link. It’s a hilarious, picaresque story in the tradition of Little Big Man, and I liked it every bit as much the second time around, three decades later.

My most important literary discovery was an unpublished manuscript by a deceased author. Beverly Jensen, an actress who died in 2003 of cancer, left a wondrous story collection called The Sisters of Hardscrabble Bay. Set in Maine and New Brunswick, and spanning much of the twentieth century, The Sisters of Hardscrabble Bay chronicles the rough-and-tumble lives of Beverly’s mother and aunt, Idella and Avis. Wildly hilarious and profoundly moving, Beverly’s book defines character-driven fiction at its best. Of it, Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge) has written, “The story of these two sisters, Idella and Avis, travels from Canada to New England, but mostly it travels through their lives and hearts, and it will travel through your heart, as well."

I’m delighted to report that, through an extraordinary effort on the part of Beverly’s husband, Jay Silverman, Beverly’s writing teacher, the acclaimed novelist Jenifer Levin, author and former Houghton Mifflin editor Katrina Kenison, and a number of other family friends, The Sisters of Hardscrabble Bay will be published early this coming summer by Viking. I would rate Beverly Jensen’s unforgettable sisters right up there with Ruby and Ada of Cold Mountain. You’ll see why in a few months.

More on December 15 when I make the official birth announcement of Morgan Kinneson, the 17-year-old hero of my tenth novel, Walking to Gatlinburg – which is exactly what Morgan does, walking all the way from Kingdom County, Vermont, to the Great Smokies, in search of his older brother, Pilgrim, who is missing in action during the Civil War.