A Writer’s Life

Owning the Past

For any writer — budding or in full bloom — a great story
often begins someplace that’s intimately known


By Wiley Cash

When I teach creative writing, whether to undergraduates or master’s students or community workshop participants, I always tell my class three things. First, I say that the knowledge I will share with them has been accumulated over my years of sitting at the desk and working very hard to get what is in my mind onto the page. This is my way of going about the task of writing, but it is by no means the way of going about it. Other writers and teachers may give different or altogether conflicting advice. It is the student’s job to wade through that advice to discover what works. Second, writing is difficult, and there are no guarantees that what you are working on will ever see print. I tell them that my first publication came when I was a 20-year-old college sophomore. My second publication came when I was a 30-year-old graduate student, which means that for 10 years I was writing and submitting stories for publication without any success. Third, I tell them that their own lives are worth writing about.

This semester I am teaching creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, which is my alma mater and the campus on which I was living when I wrote and published that first short story 20 years ago. On the first day of class, I told my students the above-mentioned three things that I always tell my classes. When I talked about their lives being worth literature, a student raised his hand and said that he was “just a hick from Mount Airy,” and that we could tell by his thick accent. I told him that he did not sound like a hick. He sounded like someone who was from somewhere and that he should rely on his knowledge of the place he is from when writing because you never know what you will come to understand about yourself when you scour your past and investigate the places you call home and the people you knew there.

With this in mind, our first assignment was to write a personal essay that portrays the places students called home and to consider the ways in which their views of these places and the people they knew there have changed over time. Part of the assignment required them to draw a map of their neighborhood and label the places that meant something to them: Where did their friends live? Where did they play? Where were the places that scared them? Where were the places where they were injured or did something brave or had their hearts broken?

Early in the semester I made a promise to my students that I would write with them, which means I would keep an up-to-date writing journal that responds to the same prompts I gave them. It also meant that I would do things like draw a map of the neighborhood from my childhood and write an essay in response to it. Because I have given this assignment before and spent time drawing maps of my old neighborhood in my hometown of Gastonia, North Carolina, I decided to draw a map of my paternal grandparents’ neighborhood in Shelby, North Carolina, where we spent just about every Sunday afternoon of my childhood.

When I began sketching my map I drew my grandparents’ house, and then I drew the houses around it. An elderly man named Roscoe lived on one side of my grandparents. In my memory he wore spectacles and a cowboy hat and looked a little like Grandpa Jones from Hee Haw. Surely I am filling in someone I cannot remember with someone I can, but if I were to write about Roscoe, then I would have to rely on the image in my mind to do it. On the other side of my grandparents’ house a couple named Narse and Linda lived with their daughter Suzie, who was about eight years older than me. I say that Narse’s name was Narse, but it was probably Norris and my grandparents and my father pronounced it with only one syllable. I cannot remember what Narse or Linda did for a living, but I remember that Narse had a garage behind his house where he worked on cars, and sometimes he would invite my father and me over to check out his work.

I drew the garage behind Narse’s house on my map, and seeing it reminded me of something that I had not thought of in years. Behind my grandparents’ house was a huge, dusty patch of garden where they would grow vegetables in long rows. Behind the garden was a stand of trees of some kind. I have a very foggy memory of my father taking my younger brother and me on a walk behind this stand of trees to a shaded area where goats munched on grass. In this memory I am about 4 years old, and my brother, who is in my father’s arms, is about 2. I can remember picking up some kind of fruit off the ground, perhaps apples, and feeding it to the goats. I can remember the feel of them eating the fruit from my hand, the roughness of their horns against my palms, the clangs of the bells around their necks as they moved around us.

Where had this memory been for so many years? Would I have recalled it had I not done this exercise, had the image of Narse’s garage not led to my grandparents’ patch of garden?

I talked about my memory of the goats during our next class. I asked the students to consider how they would use voice to tell their stories. For example, would they limit their perspectives to the moment of their experience when they were 4 or 10 or 15 years old, or would they move beyond it and tell their stories from the contemporary moment of being college freshmen and sophomores? I asked them to ponder this because a 4-year-old’s powers of observation are not as sharp as a 10-year-old’s, and as authors they have to think about what their characters perceive and how these perceptions will be shared with the reader.

I used an exercise to illustrate my point. On the chalkboard I wrote “memory of feeding the goats.” I drew a line on the left and wrote “four years old” above the line. I explained to the class that if I were going to recall this memory from the perspective of my 4-year-old self, then I would only be able to draw on the information I possessed at that time. On the other side of the memory I drew a longer line, and I marked it at several points. If I were to narrate this memory from the perspective of my 15-year-old self, then my voice would probably have an edge of boredom to it: What were we doing out in the backyard feeding goats when I could have been playing video games or shooting basketball or talking on the phone to girls? How would I narrate this memory at 19 after I had lost both my grandparents? Would my recollection of this place that had recently been sold contain an air of nostalgia? Continuing down the line headed away from the memory, I stopped and wrote “thirty-eight,” which is how old I was when I lost my father. If I were to narrate this memory from this vantage point, how would I portray the man I had lost as he held my brother in his arms and told me not to be afraid of the small black goats that milled around us?

The line continued a little farther, stopping at 40, the age I am now. There, my back turned to my class, chalk held to the board, I remembered something else that I had forgotten. My grandfather died just before I turned 5. I have memories of knowing he was dying in the bedroom at my grandparents’ house, and I have memories of adults — my parents and aunts and uncles — shushing my brother and me while we played. We were too young to play outside alone, so my father took a break from sitting by his own father’s bedside and carried my brother and me outside to the backyard. Wanting us away from the house, he decided to show us the goats on the other side of the trees, where our voices could not be heard inside my grandparents’ bedroom.

In that moment, standing in front of my students, I realized that my memory of feeding the goats was not the story I would write based on the map of my grandparents’ neighborhood and the memories it conjured. No, I would write about another memory, a memory much more recent, but a memory that involved my father just the same.

I am not 4, but 38. It is not my grandfather who is dying, but my father. We are not at my grandparents’ house in Shelby, but at my parents’ house in Oak Island, and it is not my brother and me whose voices are being shushed by the adults tending my grandfather, but the voices of my two daughters in the hallway outside my parents’ bedroom door. In this memory I pick up my youngest, who is barely 2 months old and having trouble settling down for a nap, and I take the hand of my oldest, who is almost 2. We walk out into my parents’ backyard so that my oldest can play and the baby can cry and settle without anyone worrying about her disturbing my father, who we all know is long past being able to hear us.

I look up at the windows of my parents’ bedroom, knowing that my father may be gone when I go back inside. Now, as I write this, I wonder if my own father thought the same thing on that day long ago as he held my brother and watched a small black goat eat an apple from my hand. What else could he have been thinking? How good it feels to have the warm spring sun on your face, to feel the heft of a baby in your arms, to hear the sounds of a child laughing outside in the light.

These memories have been locked inside me from anywhere from two to 36 years, and they are layered and resonant and difficult to describe. I would struggle to explain how to get them on the page, and doing so would not guarantee anything at all aside from the work it would take. But I do believe these memories are worth writing about, and I do believe that I will stay in that moment, a goat nibbling at an apple in my hand, my newborn daughter asleep in my arms, my father and my grandfather on the cusp of leaving this world, for as long as I can. OH

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His new novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

In The Spirit

Sleight of Hand

Pull these bottles out of your hat at your next cocktail party


By Tony Cross

In your lifetime, I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Oh, no. I don’t drink (insert tequila, gin or other spirit here) anymore; it makes me mean!” I’ve heard this among peers, and I’ve been instructed while bartending for guests on what not to use as a base spirit when someone has asked, “Will you just surprise me with whatever you want to make? Just don’t use whiskey, gin or tequila.” If this is speaking to you, then keep reading. A certain spirit has never made me mean; it’s quite the opposite — not having a spirit to sip on at the end of a long day, but that’s another story . . .

Here are a few drinks that you should try if you’re the least bit interested in adding those “mean spirits” to your repertoire. And, just for the record, it was probably the ton of drinks you consumed before that shot of tequila that made you make terrible life decisions while you time-traveled.

Aside from Aftershock, and Goldschläger, it seems like gin is a shoo-in for third place as the drink that most folks won’t return to after college. For many of you who dislike gin, it’s the London Dry style of gin that is a turnoff. Tons of juniper. You dislike juniper. Nowadays there are myriad distilleries that are turning out delicious (and not juniper-forward) gins. I used to play a trick on guests who wanted something “that tastes good with vodka.” I’d usually whip up a citrus-heavy concoction with Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin. Distilled in Bend, Oregon, and bottled in California, this lemon bomb of a gin has converted the most vehement anti-gin drinkers. Here’s a drink that I created when my little sis turned of age. She bugged me for two years to name a drink after her, so it was only fair that I obliged.

Heidi Lynne

1 1/2 ounces Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin

3/4 ounce Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur (sub Cointreau if you have to)

3/4 ounce lemon juice

1/2 ounce homemade grenadine*

Combine all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Double strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Add a very thin lemon wheel for garnish.

*Take 8 ounces of POM pomegranate juice and 12 ounces demerara sugar. Combine in pot over medium heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Bottle, and place in refrigerator when cooled. Will last a few weeks.


I’m a little biased when it comes to rum. I can’t understand how someone can take a sip from a great rum cocktail and not feel happiness on the inside. In the past I just thought that these people have no soul. And while in certain cases, that statement carries some weight, the others are probably just misinformed, e.g., Bacardi and Coke. I always start with the daiquiri when introducing someone to rum. As I’ve written before, it’s the perfect example of balanced ingredients in a cocktail. Most folks know three kinds of rum: Bacardi, Captain Morgan and Malibu. That’s kind of like saying, “I’ve had a cheeseburger before, but only from McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s.” Then you go to a Five Guys, and your head explodes. Caña Brava is a white rum from Panama that’s aged three years. The 86 Company released this rum alongside a gin, tequila and vodka that are premium spirits with moderate pricing. Some of the biggest names in bartending created this company, and it shows. One of the indie liquor distributor’s former members, Dushan Zaric, had this to say of their rum: “Caña Brava rum is a very clean and fresh blanco with notes of sugar cane and citrus supported by flavors from oak. A balanced note of fresh cut green grass with honey, coconut and molasses. On the palate, it is smooth and clean with plenty of citrus and slight oak notes offering a touch of vanilla, cacao butter and dark chocolate.” Zaric’s recipes for old classics got me into the spirits game, so I believe anything he says. Now, let’s drink.


2 ounces Caña Brava Rum (or sub Flor de Caña seco)

3/4 ounce lime juice

1/2 ounce rich cane sugar syrup

Add all ingredients into a cocktail shaker, and shake like hell for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. No garnish, or at least I don’t use one. If you’d like to put a spin on this, muddle a few blackberries in your shaker before adding liquid ingredients. Be sure to double strain when pouring into the coupe.


I’ll admit that whisk(e)y is one spirit I understand folks passing on. When I was 18, Jack Daniels was not my friend. Even worse, I thought that all whiskey tasted like Jack. These days, Jack and I are cool. I learned that there are (just like with all spirits) different ingredients, different distillation methods, and so on, that result in different flavor profiles. On paper, introducing someone to a bourbon whiskey sour would be a great start in converting a non-believer, but I’d like to suggest the Old Fashioned. I’ve had countless guests declare that they never thought they would enjoy an Old Fashioned but, once again, the balance of spirit, sugar, water and bitters round out this beautiful hooch. The recipe below is a slight tweak from Zaric (formerly 86 Co. and co-owner of New York City’s famed bar Employees Only). Employing a little bit of chocolate in this Old Fashioned adds depth with the bourbon and orange bitters.

Old Fashioned #7

2 ounces Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel Bourbon

1/4 ounce cacao nib-infused rich demerara syrup*

3 dashes Angostura

2 dashes orange bitters

Combine all ingredients in a chilled cocktail shaker. Add ice, and stir until you believe you’ve reached proper dilution. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a swath of lemon and orange peel.

*Cacao nib-infused rich demerara syrup: In a pot, combine 1/2 cup water and 8 ounces (by weight) of demerara sugar. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Place syrup in blender and add 1/4 cup of cacao nibs. Blend on low for 10 seconds. Put into a container and let sit for 4 hours. Strain through cheesecloth, bottle and refrigerate.  OH

Tony Cross is a bartender who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

The Omnivorous Reader

A Generous Voice

The distinguished reign of a poet laureate


By Stephen E. Smith

I have seen the ones I love leave this world as shadows without wings.

The purple martins that come up every year from Somewhere

Leave as easily as they jetted into their gourds in March.

And I have held my father’s hand as he was dying

And my mother’s, lying in her lap like dried peas . . .

From Paul’s Hill

Shelby Stephenson

North Carolina Poet Laureate

With the death of Poet Laureate Sam Ragan in 1996, the office of state laureate ceased being a lifetime appointment, and sitting governors began selecting poets laureate (with recommendations from the state’s writing communities) who would promote an appreciation for an often misapprehended genre. Recent laureates have been chosen for the excellence of their work, their influence on other writers, and “an appreciation for literature in its diversity throughout the state.” The revised guidelines grant tenures ranging from a standard two-year term to five years, depending upon the governor’s readiness to select a new laureate and the willingness of the poet to serve. With the exception of a disquieting hiccup during the McCrory administration, governors have chosen poets laureate who exhibit exceptional talent and generosity — and the process has been, thank God, more or less devoid of politics.

But the job of poet laureate, the physical act of getting behind the wheel of a car and driving to every corner of the state to give readings and workshops, has turned out to be anything but cushy. In fact, it’s full-time work, offering little in the way of compensation and requiring immense dedication. Beginning with Greensboro’s Fred Chappell, who was the first of the new poets laureate and whose Midquest is the finest book (poem) written by a poet of his generation, and continuing with Kathryn Stripling Byer, Cathy Smith Bowers, Joseph Bathanti and Shelby Stephenson, our poets laureate have been barnstorming nonstop for more than 20 years.

From December 2014 to January 2018, Stephenson has given 315 readings, lectures and workshops, traveling from Hatteras to the Tennessee border, twice, and driving more than 25,000 miles within the state. Stephenson, who officially leaves office when a new laureate is appointed later this month, has gently touched the lives of thousands of North Carolinians, and he leaves us with an ambitious 52-part poem, Paul’s Hill: Homage to Whitman (Sir Walter Press), which is the logical and artistic culmination of his past work framed within the hard edges of the perplexing new world in which we find ourselves.

Raised in a large family that farmed in Johnston County, Stephenson is deeply rooted in a rural environment and possessed of a strong sense of longing for a particular time and place that’s never failed to offer the purest vision. His primary subjects, the foundation upon which he’s shaped most of his poems, are family, the natural world, the cycle of life, even the plank house where he was born, and despite a reliance on memory and the intensely personal nature of his poetry, there’s a restrained use of nostalgia in his work. When reading his leapfrogging lyrical lines, the reader is left with an overwhelming appreciation for the life the poet has lived and his eagerness to share his most personal moments.

The light plays shadows where once cordwood readied the woodbox.

My mother’s lost in the steam of her kettle.

I rub my face, as if parting curtains,

Wonder if I see myself in the rose-blue feathers smeared on the picture-window.

Bliss fades into pattern I’ll ride later, dross and all.

White moon, hold me in your arms.

Bathe my thoughts so wild onions may climb the cold

Sister Night to say to morning, “Hello, again.”

A mix of spoken language and the rhymes and rhythms, the literary tongue is interspersed with hymns, dogs, goldfinches, tulip poplars, cornstalks, collards and  country music resonating in song titles and country lyrics, even in the irony of a long-forgotten radio advertisement sung by Arthur Smith and the Crackerjacks:

If your snuff’s too strong it’s wrong

Get Tuberose get Tuberose

To make your life one happy song

Get Tuberose get Tuberose.

Stephenson’s early poems took their inspiration from the land, but in the last 25 years he’s dealt critically with the guilt posed by slavery, the destruction of the natural environment, the dangers of romanticism, the relationship of the past to the present, and the twitches and ticks of contemporary life all infused into Paul’s Hill, anchored steadfastly in the present by the inclusion of the mundane elements of daily life and a use of language that dissolves the distinction between precincts of poetry and prose. His is the voice of a man viewing the present with skepticism, occasional distaste and a trace of anxiety.

The flag of the Oklahoma-bombing holds one tiny baby, fire-scarred

And that September, towering out of words, humble beyond relief,

Some hint of lushness — and you among the moon’s heaving night —

listening to whispers . . .

Judged by productivity, Shelby Stephenson has, for 50 years, created poetry of high quality. Beginning with Middle Creek Poems and moving forward through his 10 books to Paul’s Hill, he’s demonstrated continued growth and has perfected a distinctly individual voice cultivated with a single-minded devotion to his vision of a North Carolina in transition. As he’s matured as a writer, he’s stepped out of the tobacco rows, assuming the role of critic, teacher, reviewer, social commentator — and, most importantly, a distinguished and generous poet laureate.  OH

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He’s the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press awards.

Story of a House

Cocktails, Anyone?

An extra room leads to a great entertainment space

By Cynthia Adams  
Photographs by Amy Freeman

Standing in her family’s home of 20 years, Donna Joyce asked herself a tough question, “Are we going to stay here now that we are empty nesters,” she asks, pausing, “and commit to this house?”

Like many a Southern home, the exterior of Joyce’s brick house in New Irving Park is traditional. Long ago, the tried-and-true style appealed to the Joyce family, who have a sense of tradition. They view themselves as familycentric and believe in the bonding value of home time and playing together. The golf course is where Donna and her husband, Don Joyce, and their sons most love to connect during holidays and vacations. (They often take trips to famous golf destinations, and the sons and their father hatched a Mother’s Day gift a little over two years ago — a putting green and chipping area right in their own backyard.)

To stay, or not to stay? The answer was yes. But it took some pondering to get to “yes,” especially for Donna.

“It all began when Ben left for college at N.C. State,” says Donna. “Don, said, ‘It’s time. The house is tired.’”

Donna agreed. But, even so, she needed a slight nudge before consenting to living amid the chaos of remodeling.

“We’re on our third Lab, and we had raised our three sons,” Donna says, smiling ruefully at how quickly the Joyces’ nest was emptying, with the last of the three sons nearing college graduation.

“Donny is 27, Dillon is 25, and Ben is 21.” But just because the curtain was dropping on the Joyces’ first act as a family didn’t mean there wouldn’t be a second act, or a third, or more. Rather than abandoning their nest, they decided to give it a glorious refeathering.

The commitment-to-place question, once answered, then triggered a creative avalanche and redo of the entire downstairs, and a refresh of the entire upstairs and bathrooms. One good idea led to many when it came to what swelled into a whole house project. Months later, standing in her better-than-new kitchen in her better-than-new house, Donna reflects on those early choices. “They were excited when we decided to stay,” she says of her understanding neighbors, who were willing to cope with the construction, as the Joyce family had been.

The house has shed its darker past, which was en vogue when it was built in 1992. Now redone in spa-fresh, tone-on-tone hues, subtlety rules. A petite woman, who reveals a gregarious side in her work as a professional auctioneer as well as a real estate broker. Donna also has a sense of restraint and quiet tastes. Over time, as she points out, she has seen many houses during listings and showings, and amassed ideas she wanted to apply at home.

Yet what Donna wanted more than anything, she stresses, “was to make our home of many years feel completely renewed.” She began by pulling out her favorite design inspirations and finding a designer. Greensboro’s Jane Moffitt Beeker, of JM Designs, was engaged early on to give the Joyce couple a consult. Although Don had a vote, as Donna says with a smile, her broker’s intuition had given her a good sense of what she wanted. Beeker immediately understood her tastes, but also guided decisions about the optimum use of space. “I’ve done bits and pieces with designers, but this was a major one. From the time we started the project, Jane listened to me,” Donna says.

“I pulled pictures together, greens and blues, and I asked if the designer could make this happen, and by golly, she did. She did her best to fit it into our tastes and our lifestyle. She wasn’t controlling. It’s her baby, yet she has a satisfied client.”

There were some unexpected, satisfying incentives, thanks to their collaboration. In the course of the just-completed redo, Donna got something special, “a little extra something just for the gals: a cocktail room.”

“That cocktail room,” as she laughs, became the tail that wags the dog. It was among the first of several good ideas to hatch.

“Jane looked at the living room, a room we never used, and asked, ‘What about a cocktail room?’” And just like that, an idea was born. Donna had never seen a room dedicated to adult beverages, but trusted Beeker and liked the idea. “It made things flow more easily for entertaining,” explains Joyce.

But cocktails weren’t the only things the designer had in mind as she surveyed the 4,000-square-foot house. She helped conceive a plan that doesn’t omit private spaces, either. The refresh extends to the side entry hallway, which has storage cabinets and cubbies, with a handy place to stash coats and pull on shoes. Large limestone tile amplifies the space.

The soft taupe colored Brunschwig & Fils wallpaper in the downstairs powder room, combined with new fixtures and fittings and flooring, make for another favorite space. It is punctuated by an antique oak cabinet from Donna’s antiquing days. Even the laundry room got updated. Wolfe Homes was the contractor for the redesign.

Now the Joyce home is practically brand-new. What isn’t new has been renewed, refinished or replaced. The Joyces, as the lady of the house declares, are planning to enjoy this remodel for a long time.

With a cup of tea in hand, Donna launches an early-morning tour from the kitchen, beginning in the heart of the home. She lingers in the kitchen before revealing the cocktail room that kick-started the whole re-do effort.

Her personal favorite is right overhead: the kitchen ceiling. The new beadboard ceiling with beams serves to bounce light throughout the kitchen, which features Carrara marble countertops and pale gray marble subway tile for the backsplash.

The white cabinetry (kept as original, but painted white) was extended to the ceiling, a sleight of hand that served “to heighten the room,” says Donna. Birch hardwood flooring was installed, adding contrast to the dominant tone-on-tone décor.

In the kitchen dining area, an antique table was retained after it was refinished, flanked by new chairs in a soft gray, which contrast with the restained table. Blanc de Chine lamps (from The Carriage House in Golden Gate) flank the buffet — one of the few pieces the Joyces owned prior to the renovation. The majority of the downstairs furnishings are newly sourced with help from Beeker.

The designer updated and softened the décor, yet avoided the “showcase look” by using finds from antique and vintage shops throughout the Triad.

“Jane went to Carriage House and Aubrey Home and the Red Collection. She incorporated some things we had; it’s sort of like a marriage of both,” Donna recalls. “We tried to make it still homey, but not a showcase home.”

The result is an illusion of more space and visual calm. While the square footage remains the same, the main living areas have gained a whole new livability and flow. As previously, the kitchen opens into the eating area, which opens into the den. The den, according to the homeowners, feels far more open and pared down. “Clean,” says Donna.

“We painted the formerly red fireplace bricks a soothing stone-gray color,” says Donna. “Notice anything here?” she asks, pointing to the fireplace.  “We didn’t want the television over the fireplace.” Rather than a TV, a Connie Logan painting has pride of place over the mantel. “So, the television doesn’t dominate the room.”

With tweaks, fresh paint, finishes, window treatments, new furniture and furniture placement, everything was opened and enlarged visually: The den now opens into the brand-new cocktail room via new French doors fitted with retro-looking glass knobs.

As Donna points out, installing French doors had the surprising visual effect of removing a wall. “The flow is so much better!” she says. Rather than the front room being closed off, when friends gather for cocktails and conversation they can move from room to room ending in the repurposed living room which is now — voilà! — the cocktail room that started it all.

It was such a difference, says Donna, comparing the before and after. Occupied by a piano and serious French pieces, the once-staid room living room, as the joke goes, was seldom used by the living.

But ooh-la-la! The cocktail room that replaced it is chic. And it is just fun to have a never-used room become a favorite place to be, she adds. Donna’s golf friends inaugurated the space, clinking glasses as they toasted one another. The room sparkled, all dressed up with new molding and architectural detail.

A chic black chinoiserie cabinet, another vintage find from the Carriage House, is a repurposed entertainment center and contains the bar. It is a conversation piece and the focal point of the room’s décor, along with the French-inspired chandelier and framed wallpaper panels also sourced at Carriage House by Beeker.

Donna praises the designer’s practical guidance. “She tried to salvage as many of my pieces as she could, and she kept a lot, like our huntboard from Wind Rose and my sideboard from Carlson Antiques. [Both places have closed.] I’ve got pieces I’ve collected for 30 years. Every piece has a meaning and a story.”

Across the foyer, which sports new birch parquet flooring, hand-cut and inlaid with a design by Beeker — is a dining room painted in quiet Benjamin Moore tones. There are neutral upholstered chairs, drapes and plantation shutters, paired up with a French chandelier.

For color throughout the rooms, the designer again relied upon artwork, primarily by a favorite Triad artist. “Much of the art in the house is by Connie Logan.”

Upstairs, the family bedrooms got paint and more. “We renovated all of our bathrooms, too. We brought the house up to 2018,” Donna allows. “Everything is done now. We tried to make everything cleaner, leaner looking.”

Their favorite compliment now that the refresh is complete? “Friends say they just love it. Every detail is covered, from accessories to furnishings. It’s soothing,” Donna says.

And it is also personal.

“They see the shell collection on the mantel — ones we collected ourselves in the Bahamas,” she says wistfully. There are scattered starfish, helmets and conchs that the family gathered on the beach in Eleuthera and Nassau. “Every time I look at the shells or sea biscuits, I know exactly where we were, and think of the great family time we spent together,” Donna says. “I have this great collection of sea glass, and that reminds me of places we’ve been . . . so I intend to use those too.”

Shells and sea glass gathered on the beach . . . In a house newly filled with beautiful things, the Joyce home remains a place where experiences matter most.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O. Henry magazine.

The Accidental Astrologer

Go Fish!

In the swim of things with brilliant, imaginative and elusive Pisces


By Astrid Stellanova

Cast a net into the sea of life, and marvel at the roundup of famous Pisceans. As if Albert Einstein weren’t enough, what about Kurt Cobain, George Washington and Dr. Seuss? Throw in Andrew Jackson and Jack Kerouac for a little special sauce, and see who would be best friends and roommates in the great hereafter. If anything is fishy about Pisces in the here and now, it is how they can hide their amazing selves in plain sight. Brilliant in ways you cannot stereotype, they will slip right out of your hands before you ever hook them, these delightfully slippery fish.  –Ad Astra, Astrid.


Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Time was when you were so forgiving (and distracted) that you would let anybody have their way if they were nice and remembered to say “thank you.” In the nicest way possible, you have learned to push back and find your footing concerning a subject that vexed you for most of 2017. Now you have to learn to say: Play me or trade me. Somebody who wants your talents may not realize how valuable they truly are. But, Sugar, you know.

Aries (March 21-April 19)

A natural wit allows you to come back swinging smartly no matter how deep the wound. But your inner wisdom may be telling you not to head into a knife fight with a stick of butter and a yeast roll. Little Ram, have you been duped? Let that sink in a minute, Sugar. Now, deep breaths. Head up, spine straight, and don’t
look back.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

A tornado ripped through your life late last year, and you ain’t quite over it. What happened caused you to go right off the rails and then wallow in the ditch. That is not your style, Star Child. If anything motivates you to start over, it is knowing somebody one-upped you. Don’t tear their heart out and eat it with a nice Chianti. Find a way forward.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Could this month get any better? Possibly. You finally pulled your fingers out of your ears and started listening to your own heart and living your own life — not your sister’s, not your daughter’s, not your Mama’s. A special little secret is about to unfold.  You’ll be tap dancing all the way to the bank, metaphorically speaking.

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

It is not that complicated. If you didn’t get what you wanted the last time around, suck it up and take a do-over. You can’t keep your children young and in your grasp forever. But you sure can make the home front happy. That, and take their car keys away. Don’t whine. Be the driver.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Your two favorite words this month: refund due. Yes, Sweet Thing, the IRS is going to be your ally. Not for nothing did you lose so much money on Sea Monkeys and Sonic Egg Beaters. Turns out, some kinds of pain are deductible! Restrain your entrepreneurial impulse until you are back in the black.

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

You’ve never looked better, prompting a lot of folks to think you’ve found new love. Only you know the actual facts (as opposed to the alternative ones): You have found it a lot easier to be inside your own skin. Honey, that new ’tude ushers in one of the best springtimes in memory. Don’t blink and miss the fact that this ain’t a cosmetic fix, but an inside job — and an important development.

Libra (September 23–October 22) 

It is true that money can’t buy happiness, but it dang sure can buy puppies. At last, practical and generous you have funded your own happiness. This recent splurge may be one of the wisest moves you’ve made in ages. Next up: Discover the bliss of not giving a damn what anybody else thinks!

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

The bottle before you purred, “Yes, amazing Scorpio, you ARE the wisest and best of all!” You drank that in, didn’t you, Sugar? Well, surprise, surprise.  You stayed at the party too long. A little sober reflection might bring you actual wisdom. It stings, realizing your need for affirmation took over.  But now you have opportunity to see clearly . . . truly.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Recently you have felt sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. That was the exact moment you began to change your life in a very productive way. No need to be all things to all those you love. If you spell resentment, it would look a whole lot like your name, Sugar. Ready to stop?  It’s that simple.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

In the anything-worth-doing-is-worth-overdoing category of life, you may have just taken first place honors and won a new badge. Try for second place, Honey. It is admirable that you care enough to over-deliver. But you cannot sustain this kind of effort. Just. Try. Less.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

It was the perfect birthday for you. Now, an important task. More than one person in your orbit relies upon your gentle counsel. It will surprise you to learn who, as you respect them greatly and view them as a spiritual guide. You are an old soul; you know validation comes from within.  OH

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.



The call of the red-winged
blackbird heralds spring


By Susan Campbell

The sound of spring, for some, is the song of the American robin, our melodious and most familiar songster. But for me it has always been the call of the red-winged blackbird. When I first started watching birds in New York State, migration began a lot later than here in North Carolina. And some of the first returnees riding the warmer winds back north are red-wingeds. The distant “chucking” coming from the ribbons of birds passing overhead was the very first sign that winter was losing its grip. Not long after, I would be greeted by the first males giving their loud “konk-a-ree!” songs from the tallest of the cattails in the nearby marsh.

Red-wingeds get their name, of course, from the bright red epaulets on the wings of the adult males. These patches are actually set off on the black wing by a patch of yellow feathers just below. Otherwise, the birds are completely dark. Females, not surprisingly, are quite drab.  Their brownish, streaky appearance is superb camouflage against the tall grasses in the wet habitat that they tend to inhabit.  Young birds are also entirely streaked, which makes them harder to spot as they learn their way around the world, well into their first winter.

These blackbirds can be found inland in our state year round. However, in the winter months, they gather in large flocks so they are not widespread.  Aggregations of thousands of birds can be found closer to the coast from late fall into early spring.  But by March, they are returning to localized bottomlands, lakes and ponds to breed. Red-wingeds are unusual in that they are polygymous. Males may have a harem of mates within the territory that they defend.  Experienced males will pair with two or more females as early as mid-March. Females will create substantial nests in low vegetation by weaving wet leaves and shoots together to form a dense cup. They will add mud to the inside and then finally line it with fine grasses before laying two to four pale eggs with dark streaks. 

Although blackbirds are generally known to feed on seeds, of both native and agricultural origins, in the summer they hunt mainly insects. They are known to probe at the base of aquatic plants with their slender bills and are very capable of prying insects from the stems. Young red-wingeds, like so many species, require lots of protein. It is the mother birds that forage for the family. Males spend most of their time defending their territories from high perches, singing throughout the day and fiercely chasing interlopers that venture too close.

As abundant as these birds may seem to be, their numbers have been declining for several decades. It is likely due to the continuing loss of wetland habitat throughout their range. Additionally, terrestrial predators are on the rise in areas where they breed — including cats. If you have red-wingeds in your neighborhood this spring, consider yourself lucky and be sure to get out and enjoy their antics as well as that unmistakable song!  OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos at susan@ncaves.com.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Write This Way!

Greensboro Bound Literary Festival draws 70 writers to the Gate City in May


By Brian Lampkin

The literary history of Greensboro, is well-documented — the very name of this magazine embraces our most noted literary criminal: William Sydney Porter. But it’s much more than the twisty short stories of O.Henry that inform Gate City literature. From the poet and critic Randall
Jarrell (buried in the New Garden Friends Cemetery) to fiction writer Peter Taylor (Library of America just published a two-volume collection of his work), not to mention the vibrant M.F.A. program at UNCG, which has brought us writers Kelly Link (Pulitzer Prize finalist Get in Trouble) and Nina Riggs (The Bright Hour) along with faculty writers Fred Chappell, Michael Parker, Holly Goddard Jones and many others. The danger of starting to name writers is overlooking those who are equally deserving of attention: Linda Beatrice Brown, Drew Perry, Lee Zacharias, M. Dressler, Jim Dodson and, of course, that rhinoceros of science fiction Orson Scott Card. And on it goes.

In these very pages, novelist and former News & Record columnist Bill Morris observed in July 2013 that Greensboro is one of those “rarest of American places: a town where, it seems, there are as many people writing serious books as there are people reading them. Five years later Morris’s observation is outdated. The inaugural Greensboro Bound Literary Festival (May 18–20, 2018) will prove that the ratio of readers to writers has shifted into a healthier balance. Greensboro Bound expects 10,000 serious book lovers to attend readings, panels and conversations with 70 serious writers.
Why will the readers surge into downtown Greensboro in late May? Because the lineup of writers Greensboro Bound has gathered is thrilling. Cultural icons, award-winners, long-loved established novelists and newly discovered rising stars will meet for the weekend the Greensboro literary community has long deserved.

Planning for this event began in earnest in January of 2017 in the crowded back room of Scuppernong Books as 45 people volunteered their time and energy to an idea first planted in our minds by the irrepressible veteran of the Miami Book Fair and new-Triad resident Steve Colyer. He saw, as newcomers often do, what was missing in Greensboro, and brought the energy, determination and suspenders necessary to foster the growth of a book festival.

Colyer is quick to point out that Greensboro Bound has used the expertise of existing festivals to steer ours away from pitfalls. Organizers and founders of the Miami Book Fair, Decatur Book Festival, Virginia Children’s Book Festival, and Winston-Salem’s hugely successful Bookmarks have all provided invaluable guidance.

Greensboro Bound is an all-volunteer organization (and many more volunteers are still needed — please sign-on at greensborobound.com) operating under the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Greensboro Literary Organization. This volunteer organization has argued from the beginning that we wanted this to be a low-cost festival for the city of Greensboro, and through tireless fundraising efforts and the generosity of donors of all sizes, Greensboro Bound will indeed be free.

But what you really want to know is: Who are the writers attending this year’s Festival?! While we’ll release the full lineup in April, we can let O.Henry readers in on 20 of the 70 writers (along with their new books the festival will be promoting). The schedule of times is still subject to change. Here goes:

Nikki Giovanni: poet, icon, activist. A Good Cry and I Am Loved.

Kevin Powers: novelist and 2012 National Book Award finalist for The Yellow Birds. A Shout in the Ruins will publish in May of 2018.

Beth Macy: author of Factory Man and Truevine.

Carmen Maria Machado: 2017 National Book Award finalist for Her Body and Other Parties.

Kaveh Akbar: Iranian/American poet. Calling a Wolf a Wolf.

Katie Button: Asheville chef. Cúrate.

Joan Nathan: author of 11 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.

Fred Chappell: Bollingen Prize and T.S. Eliot Prize winner. A Shadow All of Light.

Lee Smith: novelist and North Carolina legend. Dimestore: A Writer’s Life.

Daniel Wallace: author of Big Fish and 2017’s Extraordinary Adventures.

Leesa Cross-Smith: finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and Iowa Short Fiction Award. Whiskey & Ribbons.

John T. Edge: director of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Potlikker Papers.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi: Walker Percy Fellow in Poetry at Chapel Hill. Rocket Fantastic.

Stacy McAnulty: children’s author and Kernersville star. Brave and 2018’s The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl.

John Duberstein and Lucy Kalanithi: the widowed spouses of the authors of the two great cancer memoirs of the last few years: The Bright Hour and When Breath Becomes Air.

John Claude Bemis: North Carolina’s Piedmont Laureate for Children’s Literature. Out of Abaton.

Jared Yates Sexton: Greensboro and the Trump campaign intersect in The People Are Going to Rise Like Waters Upon Your Shore.

Hal Crowther: the Oxford American’s great curmudgeon. An Infuriating American: The Incendiary Arts of H. L. Mencken.

Naima Coster: winner of the 2017 Cosmonauts Avenue Nonfiction Prize, judged by Roxane Gay. Halsey Street.

And that’s just the tip of the writer’s pencil. Expect more surprises and extraordinary panels on a wide array of literary and social concerns. Watch O.Henry magazine for updates and excerpts from festival writers.  OH

Brian Lampkin is co-owner of Scuppernong Books.