Several months ago, following the release of my latest novel, Country, I scheduled a reading at Malaprop’s Books/Café in Asheville, North Carolina, set to occur on Saturday, April 8th: “Gay Romance Lit Night with Jeff Mann, N.S. Beranek, and Steve Berman.”
On April 6th, Steve (the publisher of Lethe Press, the folks that have published almost all of my books since 2008) made the long drive down to southwest Virginia from New Jersey. At my request, he brought luscious treats from a Jewish deli: chopped liver and pastrami, two things that are hard to find in my part of the country. Steve, my husbear, and I battened happily that evening, and Friday the 7th we drove down through spring-greening mountains to Asheville, North Carolina, where John had reserved us rooms at SpringHill Suites. We had drinks in the grand lobby of the Grove Park Inn, a favorite of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s and a place I’d always wanted to visit, and then savored a great meal at Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
That Saturday morning, we had a pleasant walk in the Botanical Gardens. Having earned a degree in Nature Interpretation from the Forestry Department of West Virginia University several decades ago, I’m a chatterbox in the woods, feeling compelled to identify various species. In this case, we saw speedwell, spring beauties, violets, Virginia bluebells, and other spring ephemerals.
Afterward, we met two old friends of mine, poet Maggie Anderson and her spouse Anna French, at a great roadside barbeque joint in Swannanoa NC that Maggie had suggested. Man, she knew exactly what kind of restaurant I feel most at home in! Okey Dokies Smokehouse had great pulled pork barbeque, fried pickles, fried okra, and cole slaw…and quite a few sexy bearded locals.
That evening, before the reading, we had drinks at Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar with Nancy Beranek and her husband Rob. The reading itself was great fun. There was a decent-sized and interested audience, the bookstore employees were friendly and welcoming, and there were quite a few copies of our books for sale. Nancy read from her vampire novel, Angels Fall; Steve read from two stories in his latest fiction collection, Red Caps; and I read a couple of scenes from Country, one in which the protagonist, Brice Brown, meets the novel’s love interest, Lucas, and another in which Lucas’s Uncle Phil displays his keen wit. After the reading, we three authors signed some books before all of us headed off for a celebratory dinner at Roux, where pimiento cheese with homemade potato chips was among the many culinary pleasures snarfed.
Sunday morning, I treated John and Steve to a very fancy brunch in the Blue Ridge Restaurant of the Grove Park Inn. The options included steamed shrimp, oysters on the half shell, crab legs, strata, sausages, macaroni and cheese, and innumerable tiny desserts: miniature Key lime pies, cheesecakes, and crème brulée. On the way back to Virginia, Steve and I had a good talk about revising the manuscript of my next novel, Insatiable, which is due out in the fall of 2017.
Literary and culinary adventures all in one: a great trip!