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Hail & Fairwell!

Hail & Fairwell!

It’s with deeply mixed emotions that I announce my retirement and close my author’s website. A heartfelt thanks to those of you who read my books and supported me over the years. It’s been one terrific ride, one I couldn’t have taken without you. I’m now off to explore new horizons. Michael

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Imitation of Life

This post is in response to those readers of Unrefined, Sugar who asked to hear more about the segregated South of the 1950s. “Put that magazine down, honey!” my mother whispered. “It’s for colored people.” The year was 1948 and we were in the L&N Depot in Knoxville, Tennessee, waiting for a train to Chattanooga. When Mother stopped at the newsstand, I picked up what I thought was a copy of Life magazine. I hadn’t yet learned to read and had instead reached for Ebony which, with its red and white title, was easily mistaken for Life. This is my first memory of the so-called “separate but equal” society of racial segregation. Since I couldn’t read, I could just as easily have ignored signs proclaiming White Only and Colored Only and attempted to use the wrong...

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Refining “Sugar”

A while back, I took career inventory. I realized that of my 31 novels (22 published), all but eight were set in the South. I’ve written historical and contemporary fiction, mystery, adventure, time travel, and nonfiction travel. The missing category, and one I’ve always wanted to explore, was Southern humor. The most appealing aspect of the genre is that it requires no research. All I had to do to write Unrefined, Sugar was to conjure my colorful  ‘50s Tennessee childhood. The South has always claimed a hefty dose of eccentrics, storytellers and picaresque characters. I don’t know if we actually count more nut cases than other regions or just have more folks writing about them. My favorite theory comes from the late Florence King in her seminal and dazzling...

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The Road Less Traveled

For my thirteenth Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of travel writer Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels which ignited my young imagination like nothing before or since. I was gobsmacked by Halliburton’s global exploits and stunning photography, not to mention a man daring (or foolish) enough to scale the Matterhorn off-season, leap 70 feet into the Mayan sacrificial pool at Chichen Itza and swim the Panama Canal! Such derring-do made headlines around the world and had special resonance because Halliburton, like myself, was a native Tennessean. His tantalizing adventures transported me to worlds well beyond my backyard and set me on a path continuing to this day. Born into a well-to-do Memphis family in 1900, Halliburton took a hiatus...

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The Wild Man, The Goat Woman & the Mississippi Miser

Southerners didn’t write the book on eccentricity, but we’ve certainly supplied literature with more than our share of audacious characters and plots. From the Lesters of Tobacco Road and Boo Radley, to Ignatius J. Reilly and the denizens of Yoknapatawpha County, Dixie has produced a bumper crop of picaresque folk. Fiction, however, rarely eclipses fact. The real-life 1932 Goat Castle Murder in Natchez, Mississippi, was the perfect paradigm, screwy and sensational enough to demand, for the first time in American history, two special tourist trains to a crime scene. It seemed few could resist murder mixed with madness, wealth, incest and dizzying falls from grace, not to mention the quirky charms of the Wild Man, the Goat Woman and the Mississippi Miser, plus a...

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The Mississippi Miser

Natchez has always been a world apart from the rest of Mississippi. As Harnett Kane duly observed in his book Natchez on the Mississippi (1941), “The situation bred idiosyncrasies- the dreamers out of touch with any reality. Years earlier, newcomers noticed that the Natchez plantation people were a small, tight group which grew smaller, tighter with the generations. Intermarriage had begun early; the same names still merged. Now oddities developed.” Intrigued by this menagerie of Southern eccentrics, I profiled Katherine Lintot Minor, the flamboyant Yellow Duchess (Yellow Fever, January, 2014), and now it’s time for Duncan Minor (1862-1939), a k. a. the Mississippi Miser. Related to most of Natchez’s oldest, most prominent families, Duncan was born into...

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King Author

Late author Florence King (1936-2016) was Fredericksburg’s most famous resident and the neighbor I most wanted to meet. I’ve been a fan since 1975 when I found her book Southern Ladies and Gentlemen as tangy as a bowl of perfectly seasoned Hoppin’ John. Her adroitness at simultaneously celebrating and vivisecting herds of sacred cattle left me reeling, and, as a fellow Southerner sharing Virginia roots, she also had me laughing my ass off. That book was followed by Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady which convinced me that this shamelessly rowdy misanthrope was Dixie’s answer to Dorothy Parker. Defining herself as “slightly to the right of Vlad the Impaler,” Miss King (as she preferred to be called) spent over four decades skewering anything and...

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Imperial Jewelry Case

Since the 1917 Revolution, all manner of wild tales have circulated about the fate of the Romanov jewels. Some are completely fanciful while others are at least rooted in fact, including the use of precious gems used as collateral when the Bolsheviks secured a desperately needed $25,000 loan from the Irish Republic in 1919. The jewels traveled to New York where they were given to Irish envoy, Harry Boland who then took them to Ireland where he stashed them in his mother’s home in Dublin. Mrs. Boland kept the jewels hidden until 1938 when they were removed to government buildings and, believe it or not, forgotten for a decade! A new Irish government discovered them and proposed auctioning them off, but negotiations with the Soviets finally secured repayment of the...

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