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Hey, how does our little city suddenly have 5 national best-selling authors?
The Roanoke Valley has a history of being writer-friendly, primarily because of the presence of Hollins University, which has been called “Pulitzer U.” Annie Dillard, Henry Taylor and, most recently, U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey have won the U.S.’s top writing prize. They join luminaries like Margaret Wise Brown (“Goodnight Moon”), Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle in the Hollins inner circle.
In recent days, however, the literary line around Hollins has been breached. Major national books by Roanoke Valley-based authors Roland Lazenby, Sharyn McCrumb, Rod Belcher, Cece Bell and Beth Macy were published in 2016. Roanoke has produced moderately successful authors in the past, but never the quality and quantity that now exists.
Lazenby followed his red hot “Michael Jordan: The Life” with “Showboat: The Life of Kobe Bryant,” published in October, the same month Beth Macy marched on from her recent debut New York Times bestseller “Factory Man” with “Truevine,” another monster book, movie rights for which were gobbled up the day it came out by no less than Leonardo DiCaprio.
Lazenby has written more than five dozen books, mostly sports-related and many have been successful, but his national fame has grown since his book “Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon” in 2010.
Macy, a noted reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than two decades, accepted Lazenby’s advice (and help finding an agent and publisher) in turning a newspaper story into “Factory Man,” which became a NYTimes bestseller and has been purchased by Tom Hanks to be turned into an HBO movie. Their conversation during a break at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference resulted in the book.
McCrumb’s latest novel, “Prayers the Devil Answers,“ came out in April. She has been a popular national writing figure since 1984, producing 26 novels, the first “Sick of Shadows.” Her “Bimbos of the Death Sun” won a prestigious Edgar Award and in 2008 the Library of Virginia named her to the list of Virginia Women in History.
Belcher, who has almost quietly taken over the world of fantasy publishing, saw “Brotherhood of the Wheel” in stores in March and has a new three-book contract (one finished, another nearly so) due by the middle of 2017. Belcher, a former private eye and comic book store owner, spent years toiling as a freelance writer and little-noticed short-story writer before his breakout novel “Six-Gun Tarot” in 2013.
Children’s book author Cece Bell produced three books in 2016: “Ghosts, Inspector Flytrap (Book 1)”, “Comics Squad #2 (Lunch)” and “Inspector Flytrap in the President’s Mane is Missing (Book #2)”. Another “Inspector Flytrap” is due in January. She began her 18-book string in 2003 with “Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood” and published the enormously popular “El Deafo” in 2014. Bell is deaf. She is married to popular children’s book author Tom Angleberger, whose books have sold nearly four million copies.