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It’s no secret that real estate isn’t what it used to be. It would be difficult to find an industry hit harder by the global recession, and although the bloodletting seems to be slowing, things still are not — and may never be — what they were in the heady pre-recession days for Realtors.

As one Realtor astutely observed at a meeting of the Haywood County Board of Realtors last week, “We probably won’t ever see another 2005.”

And it is with that new economic climate in mind that the board came together to discuss a new idea that might offer some stability for a somewhat-uncertain future — regionalization.

The idea under consideration is for the Haywood County Board of Realtors to merge with Asheville, Hendersonville and Brevard to create a mega-realty board, pooling resources and offering a little security in case real estate plunges into a dreaded double-dip. The concept didn’t sit terribly well with some Realtors at the Nov. 9 meeting. They were concerned about a merger robbing Haywood county’s real estate community of its unique flavor. Wouldn’t this be one step toward making the county just an extension of Asheville? Wouldn’t this just fold Haywood’s unique needs into the overpowering interests of Buncombe County?

And the board’s leadership isn’t denying that this is a possibility. But facing another recession — or even just a bump in the road — may be a bigger problem for the Haywood County Board of Realtors, who wouldn’t be able to indefinitely operate at the same level if their membership numbers keep dropping.

“If the real estate market doesn’t improve, then neither will my membership,” said Lisa Brown, the association executive for Haywood County. Which is why they board is looking into merging now, when it is financially stable and can make a decision based on information, not desperation.

“If we want to go to a regional Realtor association, it will be because we want to, not because we have to,” Brown said.

According to Brown and Asheville Board or Realtors president Jamie Blue, that is one of the unique things about this proposal: all four of the boards involved are coming to the table financially healthy, so no one member will dump its debts or dire financial troubles on the others.

Another defining feature is equality. Under the proposal, a regional board would be comprised of three members from each board. This equal voice would could alleviate some of the concerns that Haywood Realtors have about being railroaded by Asheville, although there are some questions as to where the thirteenth, ‘tie-breaking’ member would hail from. But both Brown and Haywood board president Carolyn Lauter said equal voice was a non-negotiable point.

“We felt this was extremely important when we started talking,” said Lauter. “I think that’s what everybody was very concerned about. “

And that concern isn’t unfounded. The Asheville board would be bringing in more than 80 percent of the assets. And even post-recession, its membership is still two to three times larger than any of the other three boards.

Haywood Realtors also expressed fears that they would lose their local identity, which they’ve worked hard to craft and maintain over the years.

Blue, the Asheville board president, said he understands that fear and it’s something they’re actively working to address.

“That’s one of the things that we’re talking about and we’ll work through,” said Blue. “What’s important to be done in Haywood County? What programs are they involved in, where does money need to be allocated to continue those traditions? Because if you don’t, you defeat the purpose. That’s what we’ve been collectively talking about. “

And though it’s true that there is some risk involved for the smaller parties in a proposal like this, the flipside is all of the big-board perks they’ll now be privy to. Those include a full-time government affairs officer to pitch their interests with local governments.

Brown points to this as one of the major up-sides to regionalizing the real estate business in Western North Carolina.

“There are things that I cannot offer as a small association,” Brown said. “We have big association ideas that we want to offer, but we are somewhat limited because of our size.”

That will all probably change if they lock into the regional board.

This, however, begs the question: what’s the draw for Asheville, whose board has been actively courting the other three for a merger? They already enjoy the large-city benefits that their size would afford to the other, smaller boards.

According to Blue, it’s all about the money for Asheville Realtors. Their dues, he said, are significantly higher than other boards, and his members would be keen to see cuts to cost without cuts to their services.

“What we see is an opportunity that we can combine forces and have more services to offer to our members at a lesser cost,” Blue said. “Really, the driving impetus behind us is that we would have more for less.”

Asheville members, however, aren’t completely convinced either. Blue said that, overall, they’ve been asking for more information before they give their yes or no. And although their concerns are different, Haywood County Realtors seem to be saying the same thing: we don’t hate it, but we don’t know enough to love it, either.

“We’re just all gathering information at the moment. It’s not really anything that you have enough information to make a decision on,” said Marty Prevost, broker-in-charge at Main Street Realty in Waynesville. Prevost said many of her colleagues seem to feel the same way. “Everybody sort-of feels the same way. We’re still gathering information.”

The concept of regional real estate really is nothing new for this region — all four boards already collaborate on a regional multiple listings service, or MLS, that has worked splendidly for all involved, said Brown.

This merger, however, is more invasive than an MLS, as it would take full control of the board’s affairs out of their hands. But Brown said she and her leadership believe that, in an uncertain market, only the foolish ignore options without investigating them.

“Let’s sit at the grown up table,” Brown said. “Let’s hear the proposal, let’s see what’s in it for the association. We’re doing our due diligence.”

The choice, then, will be left with the Realtors, and if the process goes as planned, they may be voting by early next summer.

The Fitzgerald Ruse by Mark De Castrique. Poisoned Pen Press, 2009. 250 pages.

Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and magazines like Black Mask are the great-grandfathers of the American detective novel. Readers, for example, can open a Chandler novel and from the first chapter hear a voice and tone that are as familiar to them as last night’s reruns of “The Rockford Files” or “Miami Vice.” These well-known lines from Chandler’s Red Wind regarding the Santa Ana winds in California make the point:

Those hot dry winds that come down through you in the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

Some 70 years later, writers of the hard-boiled detective school continue to give us tales of tough men and women doing battle against dragons: the drug dealer, the murderer, the corrupt businessman, the bad cop, the guy in the black hat. This lone and often broken modern-day knight who fights the powers of darkness, who must also fight the dark places within himself, and who eventually puts wrongs right, continues to attract us. James Lee Burke, Robert Bloch, and Robert Parker are only three of the battalion of writers, male and female, who have followed this tradition with great success.

Following in their footsteps — and of particular interest to anyone living in Western North Carolina — is writer and film producer Mark De Castrique.

In The Fitzgerald Ruse, his second novel involving Sam Blackman and his partner and lover, Nakayla Robertson, De Castrique again sets his story of money, murder, and betrayal in Asheville.

The story opens when Robertson and Blackman, a former chief warrant officer who lost a leg in an ambush in Iraq and who has since recuperated in Asheville’s V.A. Hospital, open a detective agency on Pack Square. Their first client is Ethel Barkley, who presents Blackman with a mysterious box inscribed with a swastika which may or may not contain papers belonging to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This box lies at the heart of the rest of the book. On the night Blackman receives the box from Mrs. Barkley, an intruder murders the building’s security guard and steals the box. Through the rest of the book all sorts of people pop up, looking either for the box or for the source of wealth behind Blackman’s own offshore bank accounts: former military comrades, local attorneys, rogue Blackwater employees, and ghosts from Asheville’s past.

It is De Castrique’s presentation of this past which will surely attract local readers. On these pages, for example, F. Scott Fitzgerald comes briefly to life for us. Mrs. Barkley claims to have known Fitzgerald when he would sojourn in Asheville, ostensibly to see his wife Zelda, who was confined to Highland Mental Hospital, but also to drink and to philander, and to enjoy the city itself. De Castrique takes us to the Grove Park Inn, where Fitzgerald rented a room, and to Beaver Lake, where he broke a shoulder once by trying to show off his diving skills for a woman.

We also meet William Dudley Pelley, whose name is now largely forgotten but who in the 1930s founded in Asheville the Silver Legion, a copy of the Nazis’ Brownshirts. Though the Legion was a national movement and though Pelley himself was not native to these mountains, some natives of Asheville did join and support his movement. Pelley and Franklin Roosevelt hated each other, and the White House ordered Pelley to be investigated by the FBI. After Pearl Harbor, Pelley’s Legion dissolved, and Pelley himself was imprisoned for a time for his viewpoints.

In addition to these insights, De Castrique gives us many thumbnail sketches of Asheville and its citizens. In Blackman’s Coffin, his first Sam Blackman novel, De Castrique included Thomas Wolfe and the Vanderbilts in his story. This reviewer intends to read that novel as soon he can lay his hands on it.

Read The Fitzgerald Ruse and enjoy!

•••

Nicholas Baker is one of those writers with an extraordinary range: novelist, essayist, bookman, historian. Now he may account himself a literary critic and a poet as well, for in his latest work, The Anthologist (Simon and Schuster, 978-1-4165-7244-2, $25), Baker undertakes to write a novel that could serve as a handbook of poetry and as a critique of literature.

Paul Chowder, the novel’s narrator, is lost: his girlfriend Roz has left him, and he is suffering from a case of writer’s block that keeps him from completing an introduction to a poetry anthology. Chowder looks at his past, his missed opportunities, his neighbors—but most of all at poetry. The Anthologist could serve as a poetry primer, for here is a medley of lessons in poetry masquerading as a novel. On nearly every page of The Anthologist, Chowder — and Baker — give us lessons in poetics: rhyme, meter, and rhythm; the colossal and ongoing battles between those advocating form versus those who love free verse; the poets themselves with all their foibles, and strange beauty, and words as lovely as stone in a cathedral.

The Anthologist is not for every reader. But if you love poetry, you will find in Nicholas Baker’s novel a wonderful arena of verse and versifying, and how they affect our lives.

By Christi Marsico • Staff Writer

Capturing a grandmother’s story of survival, a fiancé’s sigh, or a best friend’s joke during an intimate interview is how StoryCorps allows people to connect with each other.

Recording the stories of our lives with the people we care about allows listeners to experience history, humanity and hope.

StoryCorps is an independent nonprofit project that is on a mission to honor and celebrate lives though listening. The project has partnered with National Public Radio and the American FolkLife Center at the Library of Congress to talk about the questions that matter.

Arriving in Asheville on March 23, the StoryCorps MobileBooth will be camped out by WCQS to collect the stories of Western North Carolina residents as part of its cross-country tour.

Since its creation in 2003, the project has recorded tens of thousands of everyday people interviewed by family or friends.

Each conversation is recorded on two CDs; one to take home and the other is archived at the Library of Congress.

With millions listening to the award-winning broadcasts on public radio and the Internet, selected stories have been published in the New York Times bestselling book, Listening Is an Act of Love.

 

In the beginning

StoryCorps was created by David Isay and has become one of the largest oral history projects of its kind. Isay is an award-winning documentary producer and a Macarthur “Genius” Grant recipient.

Isay wants people’s stories to matter and not be forgotten, and since its launch StoryCorps has traveled to every corner of America to record individuals’ stories in sound.

The project has collected interviews in over 100 towns in 48 states.

“By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how truly great it is to be alive,” Isay states on the Web site www.storycorps.net.

 

Asheville action

StoryCorps is one of the biggest events that has happened at WCQS in Asheville, according to General Manager Ed Subkis.

WCQS, found at 88.1, 90.5 and 95.3 FM on the radio, is a listener supported public radio that brings NPR, local news, classical, jazz and traditional folk music of Western North Carolina to its listeners.

“We’ve been trying to get them here for years,” Subkis said in an interview with The Smoky Mountain News.

Subkis added WCQS has been persistent with its requests for StoryCorps and is “very excited” the project will be in Asheville for six weeks.

StoryCorps MobileBooth, which is an Airstream trailer outfitted with a recording studio, will be outside the radio’s studio from March 26 to May 2.

Members from StoryCorps will assist in conducting the recordings with plans to collect 160 interviews while in Western North Carolina.

People interviewing will go into the booth and talk about the big questions of life for about 40 minutes.

StoryCorps is partnering with WCQS, which will air selections of the local stories and create special programs around segments.

Subkis expects a 100 percent turnout for the project, filling every slot available.

“It’s a conversation between people with an intimate relationship who are telling the stories of their lives,” Subkis said.

Subkis believes the StoryCorps will help share the personalities of the individuals of Western North Carolina illuminating the type of stories that come out of casual conversations.

He speculates stories about the Qualla Boundary and those who have “lived the Asheville experience” will be shared.

“We’re very happy it’s here and looking forward to the buzz,” Subkis said.

 

Sharing in the storytelling

Also sharing in the excitement for this project is the Blue Ridge Heritage Area that supported the StoryCorps’ Asheville residency with a grant.

The Blue Ridge Heritage Area was given three interview slots because of its sponsorship. They focused their choices on individuals who represented cultural themes of the area such as Cherokee, crafts, music and agriculture.

“We could have filled 50 spots with folks who represented this area with great stories to tell,” Penn Dameron, executive director of Blue Ridge Heritage Area said.

“I have had a lot of occasions where I was late because I needed to listen to the rest of a story on StoryCorps,” Dameron said. “They are powerful and great stories, which is a large part of what we do in telling the larger story of this region.”

Joyce Dugan was one among the selected interviews for the Blue Ridge Heritage Area.

Dugan, who served the Qualla Boundary as the first female chief, plans to talk about her years growing up.

“It’s wonderful opportunity to portray people in this region,” Dugan said. “The Blue Ridge and Appalachian area have gotten stereotyped and not portrayed well at times, and this gives us a good chance to shine.”

A seasoned interviewee, Dugan isn’t nervous about be recorded for StoryCorps.

“I pontificate well when I am talking about my heritage and my family. I’m comfortable talking about it, and I have had many opportunities to address it, and I say it like it is,” Dugan said.

For more information about StoryCorps visit www.storycorps.net.

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