Arts & Music

Rising water, hurricane parties and a runaway pit bull

By Vicky Dickson

Chapel Hill’s Nic Brown might be the only writer around who sees the sale of his first book, Floodmarkers, as “the second-best thing that happened to me that day.” Given that Brown had also just completed the first draft of his second book (Doubles), he felt like one lucky guy on the day his first child, a daughter, arrived.

That kind of luck, though, comes only on the heels of hard work. Years of it. The stories in Floodmarkers had their genesis in Brown’s time at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which he entered after graduating from Columbia in 2003. A hybrid of a short-story collection and a novel, Floodmarkers tells what happens to the residents of Lystra, a fictional North Carolina town, over the course of a single day – a day when Hurricane Hugo has been predicted to hit town.

The collection originated with Brown’s idea of a set of stories linked both by the imminent arrival of a major storm and by a wandering white dog. Its many characters include a funeral-haunting widow, an aspiring actor (who sculpts his 6-inch Mohawk with cherry Jell-O), a teenager whose initiation into the mysteries of sex comes from his female cousin, a child-molesting veterinarian and a gospel-singing school bus driver with a pregnant girlfriend.

Though these folks may sound like the eccentrics who commonly populate stories about small-town Southern life, readers should know that Brown doesn’t deal in caricatures. His characters are complex, and they don’t behave predictably. The action’s always a bit surprising, and even the storm doesn’t play out the way it’s expected to.

The writing in Floodmarkers is tight and spare, in part because of Brown’s conviction that his readers are intelligent and will get what he’s trying to say without a lot of explanation. It’s also carefully crafted, much as he crafted musical arrangements in his years as a professional drummer. Brown’s evident compassion for all his characters makes us like them, too, and care what happens to them which all combines to make Floodmarkers a most compelling read.

Floodmarkers will make its literary debut on July 7.
You can get a preview, though, at The Cave in Chapel Hill on July 3 at 10 p.m., when Brown’s reading will be accompanied by music from his friend Snuzz. And if 10