Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blazing A Trail of Literary Tourism in the 21st Century

Excerpt from: Literary Trails of the North Carolina
Mountains-A Guidebook by Georgann Eubanks, published by UNC Press, a project of the North Carolina Arts Council
Attraction: Jackson County Courthouse
(seen right, Photo by Donna Campbell)
Location: Sylva, North Carolina
Other Photos: see credits in Tourism Guide below.

The following is one of the many excerpts of literature from a fascinating new book featuring North Carolina writers. Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains-A Guidebook also offers short guides, links, and photos accompanying the excerpts to enhance the reading experience. Please learn more about this exciting project in the Tourism Guide following the excerpt.

From Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains:

In her fourth novel, Legacy of Masks (2005), Asheville-based writer Sallie Bissell has her protagonist Mary Crow come to Hartsville, North Carolina, in pursuit of a new job with the Pisgah County district attorney. In this passage, astute readers will recognize that Bissell's setting is strikingly similar to the Jackson County Courthouse in Sylva. Bissell says she's blended aspects of Haywood, Jackson, and Swain Counties to create her fictional Pisgah County:

The Confederate soldier stood on the forty-sixth of the one hundred and five concrete steps that led from Main Street to the Pisgah County Courthouse. Rifle at his side, he'd kept a weather-beaten watch for any encroaching Yankees for as long as Mary Crow could remember. Passing him on her fourth grade Civics field trip, she'd found him impressively fierce. Six years later, as she'd rushed past to apply for her driver's license, she thought him quaintly embarrassing. Today, nearly twenty-five years after their first acquaintance, the old boy seemed comforting and familiar. Not much else about Pisgah County did.

"Hey Johnny Reb." She paused for a moment in the puddle of shade cast by the towering bronze figure. Already she was breathing heavily from her climb, and she still had fifty-nine steps to go. She'd forgotten how hot the early June sun could be in the Carolina mountains, and she had foolishly worn her prosecutorial black suit. Deathwrap. Comfortable in the relentlessly air-conditioned courtroom of Atlanta, on these steps, Deathwrap felt like a portable sauna, buttoned in the front and zipped tight at the waist.

"Shoot," she hissed, leaning against the base of the statue. Already she'd torn her hose and sweated through her underwear. Pretty soon, she'd have big damp circles under her arms. In her business it was never good to be visibly nervous; to be both nervous and sweating did not bode well at all.

Nonetheless, she had an appointment with D.A. George Turpin in four minutes, and she could not be late. Squaring her shoulders, she resumed her ascent to the courthouse. As her high heels clicked on the steps, she gave a rueful smile at the irony of her undertaking. When she was eighteen she'd wanted to leave Pisgah County forever. Today, at thirty-five, she couldn't wait to come back home . . .

She finally reached the hundred and fifth step, and without pausing, strode into the vaulted lobby of the old courthouse. She passed a gaggle of secretaries clad in frothy print dresses, hurrying to begin the day's work. Suddenly she felt even more out of place in Deathwrap. Swathed in black among women clad in the colors of melting sherbet, she must look like the Grim Reaper, working her next victim.

When she glanced over her shoulder and caught one of the secretaries casting a curious eye back at her, she knew without a doubt that she would be the gossip tidbit du jour. Did y'all see that girl dressed in black? Who was she? You just don't see clothes like that around here. She must be some fancy pants over from Raleigh. Don't kid yourself, honey. Didn't you see that hair? She was pure Cherokee. --From Legacy of Masks, by Sallie Bissell (New York: Bantam, 2005), 1-2.

Sallie Bissell has written four mystery novels featuring Mary Crow, the feisty criminal justice attorney from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. In The Forest of Harm (2001) and A Darker Justice (2002) feature sites around Asheville. In Call the Devil by His Oldest Name (2004), Mary Crow follows the historic Cherokee Trail of Tears across Tennessee as she seeks to recover her kidnapped godchild.

In Sylva, you can follow in the footsteps of Mary Crow and hike the hundred-plus steps leading up to the Jackson County Courthouse, as do many local folks for exercise. This 1913 neoclassical revival building perches high above the revitalized town of Sylva and is a great place to stop and let kids blow off a little steam. Have them count the steps as they climb and enjoy the eye-popping view at the top. Then come down carefully and stand in the mist of the fountain at the foot of the hill. Often claimed to be the most photographed courthouse in the state, you can also see it rising boldly above town if you're driving by on US 23/74.

--From LITERARY TRAILS OF THE NORTH CAROLINA MOUNTAINS: A GUIDEBOOK by Georgann Eubanks. Copyright © 2007 by the North Carolina Arts Council. Used by permission of the publisher. Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains Tourism Guide:
Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains is not just a guide or a book but an experience. Suppose that books were like buildings. A novel might be a peaceful lakeside cabin where you go to escape the everyday pressures of life. A poetry chapbook might be a cozy coffee house where you went after work or classes to share in the communion of kindred spirits.

If books were buildings, then Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains would be the Biltmore Estate, a majestic mansion with many halls and rooms, each leading to a new and unique literary experience. Some doors in this estate would lead to grand ballrooms; others might lead to impressive libraries; still others to private gardens where you could breath in the rapture of the written word without distraction while surrounded by the beauty of the natural world.

Of course, the real Biltmore Estate, seen right, is included in the book. To learn more about Biltmore outside of the book, visit their website (which provided the photo here) in the Tourism Links below. As the largest and perhaps most elegant private residence in the United States, Biltmore is the crown jewel in North Carolina's tourism industry.

Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains is the first in a literary tourism series directed by the North Carolina Arts Council and published by UNC Press. The series could be a blueprint for what other states could accomplish, and that by itself is reason enough to study this book. Georgann Eubanks uses excerpts from a range of North Carolina writers, like the one above from Legacy of Masks by Sallie Bissell. These excerpts are blended with Ms. Eubanks’ short and helpful guides that offer links to the real and often beautiful settings of these literary works.

The Sylva courthouse is just one of many stops along the fascinating literary trails in this book. The small town of Sylva offers other attractions, including Pinnacle Park, a pristine hiking preserve. The picture of the waterfall is from Pinnacle Park. Please learn more about everything Sylva has to offer in the Tourism Links below. The town of Sylva generously provided the second picture of the courthouse above showing the fountain, the waterfall picture, and the panoramic mountain view at the end of the excerpt.

When reading Literary Trails, Ms. Bissell’s excerpt immediately attracted my attention for its quality style, sense of place, and sense of humor, not to mention the gorgeous opening picture of the courthouse by Donna Campbell. Like many of the excerpts, this one made me want to step into the story myself. Sallie Bissell, seen left, has written four books featuring Mary Crow and recommends starting the series from the beginning. To learn more about the mystery series, visit the Tourism Links.

One of the best features of Literary Trails is that Ms. Eubanks has broken down the mountain guide into 1-2 day trips, allowing for anyone to plan a visit based on their own schedule. The beautiful natural landscapes are a constant and endearing character in this book. I cannot emphasize enough that Ms. Eubanks' style is not just well-researched and informational but also heartfelt. She will wrap your soul around these places and works of literature in a way that will make you ache to enjoy the experience firsthand. You will know exactly what I mean when you begin reading the book.

The Southeastern Literary Tourism Initiative is an interactive online trail that connects readers with each other and introduces them to unique literary tourism experiences. Based on that goal, Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains is an absolute perfect fit for SELTI and literary fans across the South. Ms. Eubanks is the long-time Director of the Duke University Writers Workshop, and the book itself is published by the award-winning academic UNC Press. The expectations of these two impressive qualifications are not disappointed; they are surpassed.

If you enjoyed this feature and would like to be introduced to more literary tourism destinations, please join SELTI by becoming a Follower at the link in the top left. I encourage all Followers not just to travel the trail but to contribute by posting comments and suggesting other literary experiences to share with others. SELTI will offer monthly features, so check back often and feel free to read any features at your convenience. Unlike a magazine, these features will remain online for whenever your schedule allows.

Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains Tourism Links:

Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains-A Guidebook

Georgann Eubanks

Sallie Bissell and her wonderful mystery series

UNC Press

North Carolina Arts Council

Town of Sylva

Biltmore Estate

North Carolina Division of Tourism

University of North Carolina

Duke University Writers Workshop on Facebook

Join SELTI on Facebook for email updates on new features.!/group.php?gid=289783765813&ref=mf

COMING SOON: An excerpt from Gentle's Holler by Kerry Madden, published by Viking. Gentle's Holler is the first in a series of novels based on the real-life Maggie Valley in North Carolina. Mrs. Madden, aside from being a successful and award-winning novelist, also teaches creative writing as a member of the Enlgish faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.