NEW Book feature

Author of “Searching for Jimmy Page” Christy Hallberg signs books at Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina after a virtual book reading on Oct. 27.

Twenty years in the making, East Carolina University professor Christy Hallberg recently released her novel “Searching for Jimmy Page,” a fictional story that draws on some of her own life experiences.

Published on Oct. 20 by Livingston Press at the University of West Alabama, “Searching for Jimmy Page” is available for purchase for around $20 from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, Indiebound and various independent bookstores around North Carolina. Hallberg will hold a reading from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11 from in the Janice Hardison Faulkner Gallery on the second floor of Joyner Library.

The novel follows the story of a girl whose mother’s death prompts her to go on the search for the legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, whom her mother told her was her biological father. This story, while not autobiographical, draws on events from Hallberg’s own life. Hallberg said her mother died of cancer after she had just begun working on her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) thesis work at Goddard College. She wrote the first form of the novel as a part of that MFA thesis, but didn’t pursue publication initially.

“I promised her that I would finish it, and I did finish my MFA, but I didn’t really do anything with the book,” Hallberg said. “I used it to meet the criteria to finish my degree but I really didn’t pursue publication, or not in any serious way, and I knew it needed a lot of revision and I did not have the creative energy to do it. I was just grappling with my own grief.”

In 2005, Hallberg made a journey of her own to London in search of Jimmy Page, although not because she believed he was her father, but because he and his music was an important part of her life. She said felt she needed to do something radical to shake herself out of her grief and after finding and meeting Page she said she felt she was able to “get back to living.”

Hallberg said her husband always loved the story of when she met Jimmy Page and always said she should write a book about the experience. Following her husband’s death from cancer in 2014 she resolved to use writing as a way to heal so the next iteration of the novel became a memoir of the trip. In the end, Hallberg said she decided to adapt the book again to fiction.

“After a couple of years I realized, this is just a grief therapy tool, this is not something I want to put out there, so it was back to the drawing board, and make it a fiction story again, and that’s what it ultimately became,” Hallberg said.

All her life Hallberg said she has been a writer and said she wrote her first novel in pencil in seventh grade. She said having the book picked up and published has been more stressful than she expected as even though the book is finished, the work hasn’t ended.

“Most writers are introverts, you do this alone in a room someplace,” Hallerg said. “So now everything has shifted to inviting the public in and interacting on that level and you have no control over how it’s received. Whereas before you had control over the process, you were writing the book, and then you were working towards getting it out there to see if someone would publish it. But once it's out there and it's received, your control is gone and that’s scary.”

Hallberg said she is currently working on a sequel to “Searching for Jimmy Page,” although she isn’t completely sure at this stage if it will pan out. Although the book seems like it would be self-contained, she said the main character was still “speaking to her” and there was more of her story left to tell.

Margaret Bauer, Harriot College distinguished professor and editor of the North Carolina Literary Review (NCLR), said she read the novel as Hallberg wrote it chapter by chapter when it was in the form of a memoir. She said she read the manuscript again, at least in part, when it was taking its final form.

“A lot of people’s first novels are autobiographical, and the fact that it’s really not, even though she draws on personal experience, is impressive. But also she has sold more advance copies of the book, before it was even published, that particular press reported that it had sold more advance copies than any book they published,” Bauer said.

In addition to being a gifted writer, Bauer said Hallberg is a valuable editor at the NCLR and takes time to work with writers to get their pieces to the best form they can be. She said Hallberg’s position as senior associate editor is on a volunteer basis and she dutifully serves the mission of NCLR.

As an educator, Bauer said Hallberg is engaging and her students love her. Aside from the fact that Hallberg is a colleague at ECU and a regular writing partner, Bauer said she always loves to see writers from eastern North Carolina having success.

“This region of the state inspires literature just as much as the mountains do and it's just beautiful areas, and the novel opens right here in eastern North Carolina,” Bauer said.

Professor Emerita Liza Wieland said they have worked together at ECU for many years and said she too has read the novel when it was in various forms. She said the novel offers something to many different types of readers as the story has elements of a mother daughter story, a “rock and roll narrative” influenced by music and a picture of what life is like in eastern North Carolina.

“What I look for in a book is the language and the beauty of the language and how the writer constructs a sentence and strings the sentences together and develops character and I have found this book to be just a marvel on all those levels,” Wieland said. “The writing is beautiful. Christy is also a poet and you can kind of tell that there’s some acute sensibility about words going on in her prose.”

Like Bauer, Wieland noted the novel’s connection to eastern North Carolina. She said this aspect of the book would appeal to locals as people tend to like to read about themselves and experiences they can relate to. But then the novel opens out into a journey away from the familiar and takes the reader on that journey.

Weiland said she knows from experience what a gifted educator Hallberg is as she regularly teaches a book of Wieland’s, “Land of Enchantment,” and has discussions with Hallberg’s students as part of their assignments for the novel. She said Hallberg has a way of leading students through to the deeper points of a novel.

“I think she really can speak the language of the classroom, of the instructor, but also she's got this other great talent whereby she knows how to make a sentence and you know, it’s one things to know how to write a good sentence but it's quite another to instruct a student to do the same,” Wieland said.

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