Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Reading: 10 Dandies From Our Local Talent

I'm seeing locally-written Summer Reading Lists in publications and online this week that don't include any locally produced books and that's a damn shame. One of the reasons we started the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference seven years ago was to show just how good our community of writers is. The local newspaper has not caught on to that yet, but you have.

Today, I offer you the first Writers of the Blue Ridge Summer Reading List. The writers are all from this part of Virginia (either natives, residents, former residents) and all have recent books, whether produced conventionally by commercial interests or private/independent publishers. All these books are good and should be on your list if you're simply looking for good reads. That they are local speaks a lot for our talent.

Let's begin with Roland Lazenby's monster Michael Jordan: The Life, which has been out less than three weeks and is already in its third printing. It has been called "the definitive biography" and it is written by a veteran of 60 nonfiction titles, a good friend of mine, and a remarkable writer/reporter.

Here are some others, beginning with me (because it's my dang blog):

* My first novel CLOG! has sold well and the feedback on this simple coming of age story has been enormously gratifying. It's an easy book, one that features intense competition, strong characters (male and female), a sweet love story and a rousing climax.

* Andrea Brunais' Mercedes Wore Black, a political thriller set in Florida and
featuring a young "backpack journalist" covering a political race and all that accompanies that little featurette in one of our most corrupt and Third World states. Andrea, who has been nominated for a Pulitzer, works at Tech and lives in Blacksburg. You'll love her prose.

* Neil Sagebiel of Floyd, whose The Longest Shot was named one of the 10 best sports books of 2012, will shortly release Draw In the Dunes: The 1969 Ryder Cup and the Finish That Shocked the World. The book includes a foreword by Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin. Neil, like Roland, is a fine writer and an outstanding reporter. He writes a nationally-recognized golf blog and if you're giving a book to a golfer, start here.

* Liz Long has a series of supernatural thrillers, the latest Witch Hearts (she's also done Burned and Gifted). Her books are Indies and they're good. She works social media for Leisure Publishing, but the writing will eventually overtake other jobs, I think.

* Rod Belcher's Six-Gun Tarot has gone into paperback and took the sci-fi world by storm a year ago. Rod and I have been colleagues for years (me editing his stuff upon occasion) and he is a fine sci-fi writer, who makes this stuff easy to approach with his lively writing style. He is working on a sequel as we speak.

* Karen Chase's Boujour 40, her story of turning 40 with 40 days in Paris, was, at first, a blog, then a wonderfully written and illustrated book. Karen used to live in Roanoke and has now turned her full attention from graphics to writing (her next book will be a Civil War novel). Bonjour 40 is an award-winning delight.

* Beth Macy's Factory Man could well be a Top 10 Business Book entry for 2014. It's the story of a Martinsville manufacturer who kept his company and its jobs in this country when everything he knew about business told him to move out. Beth is a fine writer and an excellent reporter, who has now left her job at the local daily to write books full-time.

* Mary Crockett Hill of Salem has a new young adult novel (with Madelyn Rosenberg) titled Dreamboy. Mary has primarily been known as a poet in the past, but her prose is quite good, whether or not you are a YA. It's a good read because she's a good writer.

* Bill Kovarik of Radford University has a new one titled Brilliant! A History of Sustainable Energy and like his other works, this is important, timely, exhaustively researched and a fine read. Bill may be the most underappreciated writer on this list and as good as anybody here.

* Karen Swallow Prior's Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me is one of the
more entertaining and surprising memoirs I've read of late. Karen teaches English at Liberty and writes like somebody who's been doing that for 200 years. Fine read, this one.

* Tiffany Trent's The Unnaturalists, a little YA sci-fi for you, is another in a line of fine novels (she wrote the Hallowmere series) from the sometimes college prof.

That's my 10. I challenge you to find 10 better in the U.S. When somebody at the local paper derisively calls a writer who lives in this region a "local author," as if that were somehow diminished, point out some of these writers' works (mine excepted; I'm in here, as I said, because it's my list) and ask the speaker/writer if he has a better suggestion ... anywhere. He won't.


  1. Another new local author is James Stafford, book is Mfecane, a historical novel of South Africa. Book is available on Amazon and Kindle.

  2. Hey--don't forget a good cozy mystery/Southern Gothic by local author Susan Coryell, A RED, RED ROSE