“A Lowcountry Heart of Darkness” is the way James E. McTeer II’s first novel is described by his publisher, and McTeer happily acknowledges that the voodoo world of the Sea Islands in the late 19th century does have parallels to Joseph Conrad’s famous tale.
In the isolated Beaufort County of McTeer’s story, “Every creek you cross, it gets a little darker,” the author says. In his novel, a young boy journeys into that dark world seeking a cure for his father’s mysterious illness.
McTeer’s book, Grave Dust from the Islands Far, has just won the 2014 South Carolina First Novel Competition.
The First Novel award carries a book advance of $1,000 from the publisher, Hub City Press of Spartanburg. The South Carolina Arts Commission sponsors the annual competition to discover new novelists in the state. The book will make its debut at the South Carolina Book Festival next May.
This will be McTeer’s first published book. He has other manuscripts, mostly in the young adult field. That’s a natural genre for McTeer, as his day job is librarian at Polo Road Elementary School in Columbia.
McTeer is 30 and lives in Lexington with his wife, Jess, an elementary art teacher. He grew up in Beaufort, graduated with a degree in English from the University of South Carolina branch there and then earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
His Beaufort roots made the setting for Grave Dust a natural. McTeer’s grandfather and namesake, J. E. “Big Ed” McTeer, was sheriff of Beaufort County for 37 years. There’s also a history of writing in the family: Big Ed wrote four memoirs, including the one whose title was his nickname High Sheriff of the Low Country.
Other finalists for this year’s state First Novel award were Matthew Boedy of Columbia, Mary Fancher of Greer, Scott Gould of Greenville and David A. Wright of Travelers Rest.
Anita Lobel and children’s literature: USC, the Columbia Museum of Art and the Richland Library all have special connections this week with children’s literature, and in particular the renowned author-illustrator Anita Lobel.
• USC is hosting the Children’s Literature Association Conference June 18-21. Scholars from around the U.S. and Europe will discuss the need for greater diversity in children’s literature. Parts of the program are open to the public, including a panel on Lobel. A Holocaust survivor, Lobel is known not only for her children’s books, but also her childhood memoir, No Pretty Pictures: A Child of War, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Details are at chlaconference.org/conference.
• Lobel herself will visit Columbia this week. She will be at the main branch of the Richland Library from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on June 20 for “A Midsummer’s Eve with Anita Lobel” and give gallery talks the next day at the Richland Library and Columbia Museum of Art. The library and the museum have an exhibit of her work All the World’s a Stage: Anita Lobel on display until August 17. She will discuss her work at the main branch of the library at 1 p.m. and then continue at the museum at 2:15 p.m.
Book signing: Christopher Watson will sign his murder mystery, The Handyman, from 1 to 3 p.m. on June 21 at Books on Broad in Camden. His protagonist is a guilt-ridden, plain-talking redneck who sees ghosts and can talk with the dead. That ability comes in handy when the deceased daughter of an old Charleston family calls on him to avenge her death.
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