In A Shadow All of Light, the new novel by Greensboro-based author Fred Chappell, shadows can be bought, sold and even stolen. With the right kind of blade — and the proper touch — one can separate a shadow from its caster and secret it away to the black market. It sounds like pure flight of fancy — it is a fantasy novel, after all — yet Chappell feels he had to set its episodic tales in an invented sword-and-sorcery realm. Shadows, he says, are a heavily traded commodity in the real world already. If he set A Shadow All of Light in modern America, it wouldn’t be fiction.
“The formation and the construction and distribution of shadows is the single largest industry in our world today,” Chappell says. “If you describe a shadow, as I had to when I was writing the book, as the alteration of ambient or focused light by a three-dimensional object projected upon a two-dimensional surface or surfaces … obviously, what you have is television, photography, movies — everything. These are all shadows, that’s all they are.” Chappell will read from his new book at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe on Friday, April 15.
The way the writer speaks about his work, alternating between incredible conciseness and even more remarkable philosophical detail, reflects a life spent in letters. He was the state’s poet laureate from 1997 until 2002, while his accolades as an author go back nearly 50 years, including the award-winning 1968 novel, Dagon. Thanks to Chappell’s extensive experience, he’s become a natural world-builder: Tlemia, the fictional land where A Shadow All of Light takes place, was designed with a strong understanding of the real world.
In some instances, Chappell even borrowed from his childhood in Western North Carolina. “I’m from Canton, the great metropolis west of Leicester,” he says. “A lot of Elizabethan usages still survived in Western North Carolina when I was a kid, and I picked them up. They seemed natural.” Some of these language features made their way into the characters’ dialects in A Shadow All of Light — most notably, a-prefixing (“I came a-purpose to meet you,” one character says).
The language isn’t a direct descendant of Appalachian speech, though. Chappell’s narrator speaks in florid, lyrical prose, which the author put significant effort into developing. It couldn’t be too contrived or self-indulgent, but it couldn’t be too modern or casual, either. “Once I had the characters in costume, they could not, of course, go around saying, ‘What up, dude?'” Chappell says. So he struck for something closer to the language of fairy tales, which, he felt, fit.
Chappell turns 80 next month, but he’d rather not be reminded — he has plenty left to write, he says, rattling off three projects requiring just as much study and imagination as A Shadow All of Light. There’s a collection of verse fables, a collection of short stories and a monograph on the Enlightenment philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries — the origin myths, in particular, of thinkers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
“What’s interesting is the idealized state in the 17th and 18th centuries is America,” Chappell says excitedly, already focused on what he’s writing next. “They have a very interesting idea of what America is like. It’s nothing like they thought it was, of course.”
WHO: Fred Chappell presents A Shadow All of Light
WHERE: Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St., malaprops.com
WHEN: Friday, April 15, 7 p.m. Free
Josh Rosenthal didn’t want to release a box set or an anniversary CD for the 10th birthday of his label, Tompkins Square Records. When that date approached, a book made more sense. So Rosenthal collected liner notes he’d written, interviewed a few musicians and began gathering his thoughts. “I started writing essays about things I was into in that particular time frame, which was late 2014,” he says. “I was listening to Tia Blake, and I was really into that Robert Lester Folsom reissue (Music and Dreams) that I write about.” The end result is The Record Store of the Mind. A tour in support of the book, with accompaniment by local musicians at each stop, brings Rosenthal to Downtown Books & News on Thursday, April 14.
Rosenthal might not have set out to be a writer, but he does know a lot about music. Tompkins Square reissues the work of little-known 20th-century musicians but also celebrates modern innovators like guitarist Ryley Walker and North Carolina-via-California songwriter Michael Taylor, best known as the creative force behind Hiss Golden Messenger. There’s a thread of exploration and discovery to the Tompkins Square model, and the essays in The Record Store of the Mind either chronicle what goes through Rosenthal’s head when he hears these artists or explain the ties that bind these musicians together.
Writing also gets him out from behind the computer and out of the house so that even more discoveries can be made. For each state he’s visiting on this tour, Rosenthal realized, there’s at least one corresponding artist in his book who either lived there or was a native to the area — an unintentional, but welcome connection. Blake (aka Christiana Wallman), for example, lived in Pinehurst until her death last year.
This mental geography isn’t limited to the home states of 1970s folk artists. When Rosenthal looks at a map, he also sees record stores. Though he hasn’t spent much time in Asheville, he’s quick to mention Harvest Records. There’s a free-association quality to some of the essays in Record Store of the Mind, and his thoughts on Asheville follow the same rhythm. He mentions Static Age Records and thendeclares accomplished local songwriter and Band of Horses member Tyler Ramsey is one of his favorite guitar players in the world.
Rosenthal also loves the road because, true to the sense of musical discovery at the core of Record Store of the Mind, he never knows what’s going to happen. He recalls a two-month stint he spent touring with guitarist Daniel Bachman. “He played me Ryley Walker in the car and then I signed Ryley, and I just made a record with some of Ryley’s musicians,” Rosenthal says. “It’s nice to leave your house every once in a while.”
WHO: Josh Rosenthal presents Record Store of the Mind. Guitarist Wes Tirey will perform
WHERE: Downtown Books & News, 67 N Lexington Ave., dbnbooks.com
WHEN: Thursday, April 14, 6 p.m. Free