Southern Literary News
Constance Lombardo talks with Bobbie Pyron
Bobbie Pyron’s sixth middle grade novel, Stay, publishes on August 13. An NC resident as of last year, Bobbie is an incredible writer with a strong voice. Dogs are frequently featured in her novels (including Stay.) I once heard Bobbie refer to herself as a dog savant, so…:
CL: Why ‘dog savant,’ and what are the origins of your puppy love?
BP: Ha! I call myself a “dog savant” because I know pretty much every dog breed out there. When I was about nine, my mom bought us a set of World Book encyclopedias, which we could not afford. Being the passionate reader I am, I spent many hours reading and re-reading the section on Dogs in the D volume and studying the illustrations of all the different breeds. Like anything you learn at a young age, it stuck!
CL: Stay has received a starred review from Kirkus, it’s a Junior Library Selection, and an Okra pick. Did you know Stay would be a winner?
BP: You hope, hope, hope all your books will be “winners.” But all you can do as a writer is write what’s in your heart. That being said, it’s a pretty safe bet that a book featuring an adorable dog named Baby is going to get a little attention.
CL: Your move to the South from Utah is a kind of homecoming, right?
BP: Yes, I’m definitely a southern gal—sweet tea, pimento cheese sandwiches, and screened in porches! Utah was very good to me: my professional life as a public librarian really took off there, I made great friends, met my husband there, and wrote all my books there. But it never felt like home, even after 30 years. The minute I came back to western North Carolina, I felt right back home.
"I think kids are interested in the world in a way teens and adults aren’t."
BP: I think kids are interested in the world in a way teens and adults aren’t. If STAY makes just one reader look differently at someone living on the streets, or maybe the kid in their class who lives in a shelter, I’ll be very happy. I also want kids who live in shelters with their family, or whose life is touched by mental illness, to feel less alone when they read STAY.
CL: Stay switches POV between 12 year old Piper and a dog named Baby. Why did you choose to write Baby’s chapters in free verse?
BP: It seemed to me that dogs probably think this way: spare, yet with a lot of emotion and sensory detail too. And of course, in the present tense. Once I got going on it, it just worked!
CL: Your dog, Sherlock, became a Facebook sensation when he became separated from you during a hike and went missing for seven days. Was Sherlock inspired by your book A Dog’s Way Home?
BP: LOL, I think Sherlock was “inspired” to go off on his own in the woods by some intriguing scent! But yes, the irony was not lost on me that my life was imitating my art. My book A DOG’S WAY HOME, is about a Shetland sheepdog (sheltie) who gets separated from his family on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and has many harrowing adventures finding his way home. Like Tam in A DOG’S WAY HOME, Sherlock did make it home, thanks to the kindness of strangers.
CL: Why write for kids?
BP: When kids love a book, they love it passionately. They will write you long emails (and actual letters decorated with glitter) telling you exactly why they loved your book and the characters. And really, don’t you find that the books you remember best are the ones you read between the age of, like, eight and twelve?
Bobbie Pryon has worked in libraries and bookstores in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah and has been active in local animal rescue work for many years. She’s the author of A Pup Called Trouble, A Dog’s Way Home, and Stay. Bobbie lives in Ashville, NC, with her husband, Todd, and their dog, Sherlock. www.bobbiepyron.com
Constance Lombardo is an author, illustrator, and cat expert who can say meow in several languages. She is the creator of a middle grade series, Mr. Puffball, about a clever group of Hollywood cats. Stick Dog creator Tom Watson called Mr. Puffball “freaky, furry, and first-rate fun!” When she isn’t drawing or writing, Constance likes to visit the many waterfalls in Western North Carolina or rummage through Asheville’s local indie bookstores. Plus, she likes carrot cake. Visit her at www.constancelombardo.com.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 1, 2019
(Asheville, NC) –Southern indie booksellers have announced their 2019 Summer Okra Picks, a baker’s dozen of the titles they are most looking forward to telling their customers to try. Taken together, the Okra Picks are not your average summer reading list – each book was chosen because it is Southern in nature and has devoted fans in the Southern indie bookselling community. The Summer Okra Picks release in July, August, and September, and every book on the list has a Southern bookseller ready to put it in the hands of readers with that most exciting phrase in the English language, “You’ve got to read this!”
Southern independent bookstores – we grow good books!
Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl
Milkweed Editions, July 2019
The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis
Sourcebooks Landmark, July 2019
The Substitution Order by Martin Clark
Knopf, July 2019
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Doubleday, July 2019
Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow, July 2019
The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins
Gallery Books, July 2019
Sing a Song by Kelly Starling Lyons, Keith Mallett (Illus.)
Nancy Paulsen Books, August 2019
Stay by Bobbie Pyron
Katherine Tegen Books, August 2019
The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
Grove Press, August 2019
My Jasper June by Laurel Snyder
Walden Pond Press, September 2019
The Edge of America by Jon Sealy
Haywire Books, September 2019
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Riverhead Books, September 2019
No Judgments by Meg Cabot
William Morrow, September 2019
Find more information about the Okra Picks at AuthorsRoundtheSouth.com/okra
The world is upside down without a book in my hands. Whenever I am feeling out of sorts, it usually means I’ve gone too many days without reading. My mother was a stay-at-home mom for several years, but when she returned to work, she would treat me to a new book on her payday. Books have always figured prominently in my life—high fiction and low fiction. Books are like forts surrounded by moats within whose walls I can retreat, daydream, and become someone else for a while. Many of the places I would travel to as an adult were inspired by novels I’d read when I was a young and voracious reader. (Giovanni’s Room, for example, sent me in search of Baldwin’s Paris. By the time I got there, both Baldwin and his Paris were long gone.)
I have this habit of roaming the aisles of bookstores and lingering at display tables, of running my hands along the covers of books and the seams
There are a handful of independent bookstores in Savannah, Georgia now, but when I was growing up, E. Shaver Booksellers was the main bookstore in town. The little bookstore, tucked behind the imposing Desoto Hilton, is where my mom treated me to my first copy of To Kill a Mockingbird and, later, Song of Solomon. I have this habit of roaming the aisles of bookstores and lingering at display tables, of running my hands along the covers of books and the seams, of turning the books over to read the jacket before opening the book and reading the first few passages.
This ritual of browsing began as a child and it is one I’ve passed down to my daughters with whom I would later read Ferdinand and The Giving Tree and Amelia Bedelia in the children’s nook at Shavers. The Travelers bristles with the stuff of history and the stuff of fairytales: chance encounters, sudden changes of fortunes, tall tales. Savannah is a port city, a lot of people have come through, free and in chains. Much of its loveliness and complexity owes to the very issues of race and class that are part of its existence. It’s not a coincidence that two fine writers—Flannery O’Connor and James Alan McPherson—both hailed from Savannah and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. (Their works are in conversation with one another.)
“And what have you read lately?” was the question
The South has a rich literary tradition, despite the low literacy rate. And as a child, I grew up with an awareness of the importance of books. The late W.W. Law—a mailman and the President of the local branch of the NAACP—documented Savannah’s African-American history and was active in the Civil Rights Movement. He lived around the corner from our house and my family held him in high esteem. He also loved to gossip with my mother and sometimes asked after her oyster stew. Dr. Law kept a living room run amok with books that students could come and pick through to help them with their studies. “And what have you read lately?” was the question. One of my favorite books, which in some ways informed the chapter in The Travelers, “The Moving Man Stands Still”, is a picture book I found at E. Shaver Booksellers about the Civil Rights Movement in Savannah. I bought that book and read it often to my girls, delighting in the fact that I once knew this extraordinary, everyday man.
Regina Porter is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow and recipient of a 2017-2018 Rae Armour West Postgraduate Scholarship. She is also a 2017 Tin House Summer Workshop Scholar. Her fiction has been published in The Harvard Review. An award-winning writer with a background in playwriting, Porter has worked with Playwrights Horizons, the Joseph Papp Theater, New York Stage and Film, the Women’s Project, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, and Horizon Theatre Company. She has been anthologized in Plays from Woolly Mammoth by Broadway Play Services and Heinemann’s Scenes for Women by Women. She has also been profiled in Southern Women Playwrights: New Essays in History and Criticism from the University of Alabama Press. Porter was born in Savannah, Georgia, and lives in Brooklyn.
I didn’t have the opportunity of growing up around bookstores. The ones we had were on the two local college campuses, and because Elizabeth City isn’t a literary town, those stores carried textbooks, mostly. But once I moved to NYC and started visiting various bookstores around Brooklyn and in Manhattan, I realized how different and important Indie bookstores are. The people who work in them know so much about the books they sell. They are more than cashiers; they are book lovers.
I fell even deeper in love with the Indie bookstore when I moved to Iowa City and discovered Prairie Lights Bookstore. I knew a handful of the book specialists there because we were classmates, but I eventually learned the names of other people there, too, because I’d turned to them so many times, in search of very specific types of fiction. It’s also nice to walk into a bookstore and see more books than other merchandise. I enjoyed that about Prairie Lights. Big bookstores serve their purpose. Indie bookstores serve their people.
De’Shawn Charles Winslow was born and raised in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and in 2003 moved to Brooklyn, New York. He is a 2017 graduate of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and holds a BFA in creative writing and an MA in English literature from Brooklyn College. He has received scholarships from the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. De’Shawn lives in East Harlem.
Name: Nicole Yasinsky
Position at Store:Marketing Manager
Store and location: novel. Memphis, TN
Number of years as a bookseller: I will celebrate 21 years as a bookseller in August! Wow. Has it really been that long?
Best part about being a bookseller? Putting books in people's hands, of course! There is nothing quite like finding the perfect book at the perfect time for a person -- there are so many variables, and it seems so unlikely, but this is what indie booksellers do all day, every day. I keep an old Candlewick mug on my desk at all times that has a quote from Kate DiCamillo at the 2010 Indies Choice Awards: "We forget that the simple gesture of putting a book in someone's hands can change a life. I want to remind you that it can. I want to thank you because it did."
What book(s) are you reading? I am currently reading Slay by Brittney Morris -- and I just picked up The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom and The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates!! SO much good stuff coming out this fall!!
Favorite handsell of 2019: I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott - this is funny and witty and happy and sad and inspiring and silly -- and exactly what so many of us need to hear and read in our lives these days!
Best thing you did this year at your store: It's a little over a year since we did it -- but it's still one of my favorite things -- and something I'm hoping to do more of in the future! We were fortunate enough to host Leslie Odom, Jr. at the Orpheum Theater. This, in and of itself, was a dream come true. BUT. The coolest part was that we were able to work with organizations and sponsors to bring 150 kids to this event - for free, transportation included! -- with a ticket that included a copy of the book AND a private backstage meet-and-greet book signing. We made a lot of public school theater kids incredibly happy -- and it's going to take a lot to top this event -- but we're working on it!!
What are some ways you work with your community? Something fun we did recently was to invite members of our community -- non-profit organizations, the mayor, long-time regular customers -- to submit shelftalkers for a special table display -- Friends of Novel. This allows us to highlight not just what we are reading, but what the rest of our city loves! Everyone seemed incredibly excited and honored to be a part of this, and we want to continue to forge strong and multi-faceted relationships with people in our community. We also work with schools and organizations to help raise funds through shopping nights in-store, selling books/sharing proceeds at offsite events, featuring organizations at in-store events and giving back a percentage of proceeds, in-school book fairs. We invite non-profit organizations to gift wrap during busy holiday times for donations. It has turned out that many of these are dog rescue groups (awwww!) and not only do they need donations, but they get TONS of doggos adopted by bringing them out to the store!
Do you have any community partners you work with regularly? Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Jewish Community Center, OUTMemphis, WKNO-FM, Memphis Public Library, Arts Memphis, Memphis Reads, Indie Memphis Film Festival, Books from Birth, St, Jude Children's Research Hospital, Lyceum Circuit
Do you have passions that carry over into your bookselling life? Well, since I haven't quite found a way to work my love of musicals into my bookselling life yet (but just WAIT until I write my musical about Indies v. Amazon!), I think that my passion for my city has played a huge role in my decision to work in indie bookstores here. It was definitely key in my dedication to helping create a new bookstore, truly and finally locally-owned here in Memphis.
Top priority for 2019: This isn't a very flashy or exciting answer, but honestly, since we will only be celebrating 2 years in business, we are really just trying to focus on the numbers and make sure that we are doing everything in a way that we can ensure we will be around for many years to come. (Told you it was boring!) BUT...we do have a SUPER fun side project for 2019: We've got an old bookmobile we are in the process of fixing up, and we are hoping to get that up and running and take it to hospitals, schools, retirement homes, festivals, and anywhere else we can think of where there is a need for books!!