Local publisher seeks true-to-life juvenile fiction
When Steven Roxburgh began his career in publishing at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York three decades ago, the icons of popular fiction for young adults were privileged, sports-car-driving career teens like Nancy Drew. There's no market, he was told, for serious, gritty juvenile fiction. But Roxburgh had other ideas.
The success of such authors as S.E. Hinton (Outsiders, about a group of kids growing up poor) and Judy Blume (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, among other titles); -- writers, says Roxburgh, who threw a wrench in the gears of "antiseptic" storytelling -- seemed to validate his instincts.
Inspired by these writers, and appalled by the diet of candy-coated fiction still generally fed to the young reading public, he decided to create his own forum from which the raw, real issues of adolescence could be candidly addressed. In 1994, Front Street Books opened its doors in downtown Asheville's Flat Iron Building.
"Creating awareness of an issue is like casting a light in a dark room," says Roxburgh. "We publish stories that offer hope to those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. Hope can be so many things. ... It can be reading about something you've gone through and knowing that you're not alone. It can be as simple as knowing that someone else has survived [what you're going through]."
Today, Front Street Books receives some 2,000 submissions annually, selecting anywhere from six to a dozen for publication each year.
"There are no set rules for subject matter," Roxburgh explains. "We look for 'best of kind' fiction, whatever speaks to an audience. It's safe to say that we don't shy away from liberal topics. Not all aspects of adolescence are nice and cozy and privileged, nor are all aspects of [our literature]."
The unconventional publisher's titles are nationally distributed. Front Street authors have collected their share of praise, including kudos from some such sources as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Newbury Honor Awards and the School Library Journal.
An example of classic Front Street fiction is Cut by Patricia McCormick, a novel about self-mutilation.
Writers with a story that speaks are invited to contact editor Joy Neaves. (e-mail queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org). Manuscripts (with dated cover letter/SASE) may be sent to: Joy Neaves, Editor, Front Street Inc., 20 Battery Park Ave., Asheville, NC 28801 (no picture-book manuscripts accepted).
"A lot of people ... want to close their eyes and pretend the problems that affect [youth today] aren't there. For those who want to close their eyes, do. But I won't close mine," vows Roxburgh.
For more information check out Front Street's website at www.frontstreetbooks.com. Please do not call or "drop off" submissions in person. Proper procedures are detailed online.
-- Larisa Harrill
Good earth goodies
Tree Huggin Treats co-owner Joel Schantz calls his business "a complete fluke." Maybe so, but this organic, vegan confectionery -- which cooks up such goodies as Cashew Candy Bars, Chocolate Vudge, Vegan Whoppers, Almond Coconut Globz and Ultimate Vegan Brownies -- is quickly building a fan base.
The "fluke" began a few years ago when Joel (then a professional musician) and his wife Julie Schantz (an art teacher) were living in Miami and following a raw-food diet.
"We started making energy bars at home out of just raw foods (unprocessed whole foods) and felt like we had a knack for making them taste really, really good," he reports.
Made of nuts, dried fruit, spices, sprouted grains, oats, various juices, raw honey and maple syrup, the bars were soon selling "like crazy" at local gyms and health-food stores where, says Joel, "The reaction was so powerful that I felt like this is something I can do and really enjoy."
The Schantzes discovered they really liked simulating all the comfort foods they'd grown up with but no longer felt were good for them. "Because we still crave them so much, we figured we'd find ways of [making them] in a physically and environmentally friendly way," Joel explains.
The business began as a whole-food energy-bar company called Planet Organics. As they developed new products, however, it evolved into a vegan confectionery. Although the company no longer uses raw ingredients exclusively, all Tree Huggin Treats products use 100 percent certified-organic ingredients that are dairy- and wheat-free -- with no additives, preservatives, artificial or refined sweeteners, margarine or oils added.
The Schantzes moved from Miami to Asheville 10 months ago, drawn by what Joel calls "magnetism." He also cites the lower cost of living, a better environment for their 3-year-old daughter, and an enhanced ability to do the things they love. "It's been like a rebirth for us," he exclaims.
Soon after their arrival, the Schantzes hooked up with Rusty and Kelly Bell, co-owners of The Hop Ice Cream Shop (507 Merrimon Ave.), who invited them to share their business space. "They've been really gracious to us and given us almost half their store to try to embrace a lot of the people who are conscious eaters," Joel explains.
The Schantzes have also starting making organic, vegan soy, rice and almond-milk ice creams. "Now we're doing vegan ice-cream cakes with custom crusts," he adds. "I'm actually shipping dry-iced cakes overnight to different places. It's just bizarre."
Although Internet sales account for the lion's share of their business, many Tree Huggin Treats products are available locally at various health-food stores as well as The Hop.
Reflecting on the last few years, Joel says: "This business is purely a healing for me and my life. ... It's the only thing I've done in my life, outside of music, that I'm truly in love with every day. ... We know that what we're giving people is really special -- and we don't take credit for it being special; we just know that we're finally following our direction truthfully. We're living our hearts."
It must be that "fluke" thing. "I don't know where this is going," Joel admits. "The minute I do know, it's not going to be fun anymore. Like I said, neither my wife or I are trained as chefs -- and I think that's why it's working. We're completely uninhibited; we have no idea what we're doing. We just know it's really yummy."
In order to expand their production, the Schantzes are now setting up a commercial kitchen (in partnership with Birch Mountain Bakery) -- though they'll also retain their retail outlet at The Hop.
In the Asheville area, Tree Huggin Treats are available at the French Broad Food Co-op, the Haywood Road Market, the Grove Corner Market, and Namaste Yoga and Healing Center, as well as at Black Mountain Natural Foods, the Good Grocery Co-op in Brevard, and the Trout Lily Natural Foods Market in Fairview.
-- Lisa Watters
Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce kicks off "shop local" campaign
Communities around the country have instituted "buy local" campaigns, but the "Try Transylvania First" initiative is a little bit different, explains Chamber President Mike Hawkins.
"[Buy] local programs have been tried in many places, with mixed results," he points out. "Our Chamber felt our program had to approach this a little differently from what other people have done."
To begin with, notes Hawkins, theirs is actually a "shop local" campaign.
"No one owes you their business just because you are local," he asserts. "You must provide the customer with a reason to use your services. So we aren't about to ask people to 'buy local.' We just want folks to think about 'shop local,' to give our local businesses a chance to win their business."
Accordingly, the Chamber is taking a two-pronged approach to the campaign, which is scheduled to run all year.
An educational component will stress both the variety of locally available goods and services and the benefits of shopping locally. Those benefits include keeping money circulating within the community, creating job opportunities, supporting the local tax base, enjoying more personal service, and the support local merchants tend to give to their own community.
The campaign will also feature an extensive program of seminars and workshops addressing the challenges of successfully operating a business in the 21st century.
"It's tough," admits Hawkins. "Especially for small businesses -- they face a wide range of problems every day they open their doors. And since small-business people have to be so caught up in the day-to-day stuff, time is at a premium for them. So the Chamber will provide a series of 30-40 short workshops this year, led by local business people, to look at how we all can improve our product."
That emphasis on excellence, notes Hawkins, is a key part of the program. "We will promote our local retail and professional businesses with total confidence that our businesses will provide a quality product."
The "Try Transylvania First" campaign kicks off Thursday, Feb. 27 at 8 a.m. at the Falls Theatre in Brevard.
For more information, call the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce at 883-4679.
-- Lisa Watters
Seminar explores business success
Author, entrepreneur and business consultant Mark Csordos is coming to Asheville to share ideas and inspiration with local business people. The author of such books as Business Lessons for Entrepreneurs: 35 Things I Learned Before the Age of Thirty and Goal Set Your Way to Achieving Your Dreams: A Practical Guide to Goal Setting, Csordos will present a "Make Your Business Successful" seminar on Saturday, March 1, 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Haynes Center (Room 128) on A-B Tech's Enka campus. The $30 registration fee ($25 in advance) includes a continental breakfast at 8 a.m. and a copy of Business Lessons for Entrepreneurs.
The seminar is sponsored by the Service Corps Of Retired Executives in association with A-B Tech's Small Business Center. Csordos, notes local SCORE chapter Vice Chairman Don Sinclair, "comes into town once or twice a year and because we have a good working relationship with him, he always volunteers his time to be a guest speaker at our seminars."
The consultant, says Sinclair, is one of SCORE's most popular speakers. "We always hand out critique forms to all of the seminar attendees, and Mark's seminar always comes in as one of our most highly rated. He just does a real great job."
The seminar will address such topics as: secrets of effective customer service, some common start-up mistakes, what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, and prospecting tips. Csordos will also share his unique goal-setting formula, which many major companies have adopted.
But the seminar's real message goes beyond those individual subtopics. "It really is about how to keep a great mindset so you can have a successful business. ... Because ultimately, like everything in life, your business is really an extension of your thought process," Sinclair observes.
The seminar, he says, will benefit "anyone who has an interest in getting ahead in business, whether they own their own business or whether they're working for someone else."
Other upcoming SCORE seminars include "Speed Reading" (Saturday, March 8, 8 a.m.-noon), "Retailing -- Small Guys CAN Win" (Saturday, March 15, 8 a.m.-noon), "Great Beginnings" (Saturday, March 22, 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m.), and "Your Business Plan" (Saturday, 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) Each seminar costs $30 at the door $25 in advance.
The "Great Beginnings" seminar, notes Sinclair, "is good for someone who is just getting into business, principally because it gives them a checklist of things that they don't want to overlook. ... [It] addresses issues of financing a business, accounting and bookkeeping, legal issues, and risk management. We have local people who are specialists in those areas who come in, and each one talks for an hour on their particular topic."
SCORE is an all-volunteer organization that's funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration. "There are roughly 12,400 of us around the country -- almost all of whom are retired or semi-retired former business owners or executives for large organizations like Exxon, GE, Microsoft, companies like that," says Sinclair.
Their mission, he explains, "is to counsel the small businesses of America to help them be successful. There are about 400 SCORE offices scattered around the country ... at least one in every state."
The Asheville SCORE office is in Room 259 of the Federal Building (151 Patton Ave.) downtown.
To register for a seminar, or to find out more about the other services SCORE offers, call their office at 271-4786 or visit their Web site (www.ashevillescore.org).
-- Lisa Watters
Town meeting to consider state budget
In this time of tough budget choices, the nonprofit group Common Cause is holding a town meeting Thursday, Feb.27 to gauge what people want and expect from their government representatives. Panelists will include Deputy Secretary Lanier Cansler of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services; Buncombe County Commissioner David Gantt; Barbara St. Hillaire, past chair of the Buncombe County Aging Consortium; and Tom Coulson of Common Cause and NC Voters for Campaign Finance Reform.
Robert Phillips, program manager of the Common Cause Education Fund will serve as moderator. The forum will be held in UNCA's Humanities Lecture Hall, starting at 7 p.m.; the public is encouraged to attend.
-- Cecil Bothwell