Wondering what your next read should be? Get a preview from the authors themselves when three local authors, one former local poet and a noteworthy regional writer share their newest works at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe. Offerings include adult, young adult and middle grade fiction as well as verse. Events take place at the bookstore’s 55 Haywood St. location unless otherwise noted. Info at malaprops.com.
Mr. Puffball rides again
The beloved and bowtied kitty returns for more adventures in Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America, written and illustrated by Constance Lombardo. The book, recommended for ages 8-12 (though it’s plenty amusing for adults, too), finds Hollywood hotshot Mr. Puffball walking away from his career as a stunt artist. He hopes to move into lead actor territory, starting with a buddy film, only to learn that his part has been stolen away by Benedict Cumbercat. Hoping to win back the support (and financial backing) of the Paramount Studios executives, Puffball and his pals El Gato, Rosie and Bruiser set off cross-country to film the best buddy film trailer of all time. Lombardo’s book is a breathless romp of misadventures, cat puns and cinematic trivia. It’s part text and part cartoonlike illustrations of Puffball and company.
Lombardo holds a release celebration for Mr. Puffball: Stunt Cat Across America on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 3 p.m. Free. — Alli Marshall
Tell it to the hand
Though Glenis Redmond no longer lives in Asheville — she’s currently poet in residence at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C. — her legend looms large. A multiyear winner of the Best Poet in Western North Carolina in Xpress’ annual Best of WNC readers’ poll, she’s also a two-time Individual Southern Fried Slam Champion, founder of Peace Voices, a Cave Canem Fellow and a North Carolina Literary Fellowship recipient.
Redmond’s new collection of poetry, What My Hand Say, has been called “a welcome collection by a poet engaged in the necessary work of writing with a full sense of place and history,” by author and editor Kwame Dawes. And former North Carolina Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer says, “In its lines I hear a voice that harks back to the praise-singers of West Africa, as well as to the porches and back yards of the deep South, voices that sing beyond their ancestral birthplaces into that larger culture in which we live.”
Redmond presents What My Hand Say on Sunday, Oct. 9, at 3 p.m. Free. — Alli Marshall
Author Ann Patchett received the 2002 PEN/Faulkner Award for her novel, Bel Canto. She’s penned a dozen other works of nonfiction, memoir and fiction, including her most recent novel, Commonwealth. The book follows six siblings over five decades, starting when Bert Cousins kisses Beverly Keating at a christening party for Beverly’s daughter, Franny, thereby breaking up two marriages and ultimately creating a blended family.
“When, in her 20s, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control,” says the HarperCollins website. Patchett traverses the complex terrain with a deft hand, weaving intricate storylines and mining intense emotions. But the writing is not precious. Patchett’s characters suffer and struggle, but their worlds are colored in with rich detail and intricate imaginings. Ultimately, the novel feels like a spiraling in, following a maze through lives and years to unravel the story.
It’s worth noting that, besides being an award-winning writer, Patchett is also the co-owner of independent bookstore Parnassus Books in Nashville. As such, she’s a fierce advocate for indie businesses. “Maybe we just got lucky,” she wrote in the “Bookstore Strikes Back” chapter of her memoir, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. “But this luck makes me believe that changing the course of the corporate world is possible. Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore.”
Patchett presents Commonwealth, in a conversation with author Barbara Kingsolver, at UNC Asheville’s Humanities Lecture Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m. $35 (includes a copy of the book). — Alli Marshall
Different Parts of the Heart
Megan Shepherd is best known for the Gothic thriller series that began with The Madman’s Daughter. She recently broke into The New York Times bestseller list with The Cage, the first book in the science-fiction trilogy that began with The Hunt. But “middle grade [fiction] was my first love as a writer,” Shepherd says. After struggling to find an authentic connection with middle-grade audiences, she shifted to young adult fiction: “That’s what clicked at the time.”
Then one day, while driving through rural North Carolina to attend a conference, Shepherd’s mind began to work with an idea that would eventually become The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, which she will present on Thursday, Oct. 13. It’s the story of a young girl in a tuberculosis asylum during World War II England who sees mysterious winged horses in the hospital mirrors and befriends a wounded winged horse in one of the surrounding gardens.
The idea captivated Shepherd immediately, and as she developed the story, she found a voice that would allow her to write for younger readers. “I think every author gets one book where everything just falls into place,” she says, “and that’s what happened to me with this book.”
Ironically, she connected with that voice by writing for herself. “I kind of pretend that I’m writing for adults,” Shepherd says of her foray into middle grade writing. “I don’t think about writing for kids. I just write a story that I would love.”
Nevertheless, Shepherd hopes to keep publishing YA fiction as well as middle grade. “I really like going back and forth,” she says. “They use different parts — maybe not different parts of the brain, but different parts of the heart. I find that really renewing.”
Shepherd launches The Secret Horses of Briar Hill on Thursday, Oct. 13, at 7 p.m. — Doug Gibson
The release of wartime spy novel, Projekt 1065 (along with The Monster War, the third book in his steampunk League of Seven series), comes at a busy time for Alan Gratz, who is constantly attending conferences and visiting schools. “Ten years ago I was sitting at home saying, ‘Why doesn’t anyone ever call me?’” he says with a laugh.
Though his packed schedule keeps Gratz in contact with his audience, he was still surprised by the success of one of his previous books, Prisoner B-3087, an as-told-to memoir of a Holocaust survivor who was sent to the concentration camps as a boy. “I get more fan mail for that one book than all of my others combined,” Gratz says. Many of those letters includes requests that he write more about World War II, a topic Gratz says consistently sparks interest among middle-grade audiences. “Kids this age get upset when they see somebody wronged,” he says. “I think that heightened sense of justice that middle schoolers have fits really well with World War II.”
Gratz saw an obvious wartime topic in the Hitler Youth, but he realized he needed to approach the Nazi boy’s organization from the outside: “Writing from the viewpoint of a kid who is indoctrinated into the Hitler Youth was going to be a real challenge.” Then he learned that, despite a neutral status, Ireland’s diplomats passed valuable intelligence to the Allies. So Gratz invented an Irish ambassador in Berlin whose son spies for the Allies, using his Hitler Youth membership as a cover. The result is Projekt 1065, a fast-paced spy thriller with a young protagonist.
More than an exciting story, however, Gratz says the book is meant to be “subversively educational.”
Gratz launches Projekt 1065 and The Monster War on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 3 p.m. — Doug Gibson