On Themes and the Tufa, Part 2

Coffin stayed in Tennessee

See part 1 here.

Hum and shiver coverWhen The Hum and the Shiver proved successful enough to warrant a sequel, I wanted to advance the themes as well as the story. I decided that the central recurring character would be the place, not Bronwyn Hyatt. Cloud County and Needsville held many other characters I felt could (and subsequently did) carry their own novels.

Wisp_comp_revI’ve said elsewhere that Wisp of a Thing was actually the Tufa novel I wrote first, in which I worked out the world, its rules, and many of the characters. That version of the story bears only the slightest relationship to the final book, though, and it turns out that changing a prequel into a sequel is actually more work than writing a new book from scratch.

The final version of Wisp involves a different set of main characters; Bronwyn is present, but in a supporting role. It was also at this point that I started thinking about the overall theme of the series, a kind of guiding philosophy that can be boiled down to one question:

What happens when you’ve hidden forever from the world, but now you can no longer hide?

The recurring figure of the outsider protagonist first appears here. Craig filled that role in The Hum and the Shiver, and to a certain extent so did Don Swayback. But now the story follows true outsider Rob Quillen, and we see the Tufa through his eyes, learning about them as he does. He embodies that overall theme, forcing aspects of the Tufa into the light, while the book has its own sub-theme, best phrased by William Faulkner* in Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”**

Long Black Curl coverIn Long Black Curl, the outsiders are exiled Tufas Bo-Kate Wisby and Jeff Powell. Separated from their culture, they’ve made their way in the regular world for decades, using their faerie glamour to keep anyone from noticing. Bo-Kate is bent on vengeance, and her primary tool is rockabilly singer Byron Harley. All three view the current Tufa hierarchy with suspicion and disdain, seeing only the worst (and not being entirely wrong). The book’s theme is a variation on The Hum and the Shiver: Can you forgive what’s happened in order to move forward? And if not, what then?

chapel final
 Chapel of Ease uses a very different outside perspective; it’s told entirely from the first-person perspective of Matt Johansson, a gay New York actor. He learns about the Tufa first from a play he’s in, written by Tufa playwright Ray Parrish, who dies mysteriously the night before it opens. This makes the series theme explicit: by sharing a Tufa secret with the world, Ray pushes them even more into the light. Their time hiding is quickly coming to an end. The novel itself is about the value of secrets, and what gives them their power.

Gather CoverGather Her Round is, on the surface, a monster story. It’s also about characters who simply can’t resist their own worst impulses. It’s the novel most grounded in the Tufa world; by this point, I felt it was safe to assume readers no longer needed the mystery of the Tufa’s true nature. But there is an outsider: Jack Cates, a game warden charged with tracking down the monster. The very ease of his entry into this formerly closed and sealed society demonstrates how far the Tufa have come since Craig tried to make friends in The Hum and the Shiver.

 

Sadieville final coverAnd that brings us to The Fairies of Sadieville, the upcoming final Tufa novel, available April 10, 2018. As with its predecessors, this novel can be read as a stand-alone; but more so than the others, there are treats and surprises for readers who have been on this journey with me. It brings a lot of the thematic threads together for a conclusion that, I hope, satisfies both the casual reader and the fan who’s stuck with me all along.

As I said in my prior post, usually I have no idea what the theme of a book will be until I’m pretty far into revision. Even then, what I intend as the theme (and this is true of any writer’s work) may not be what readers get from it. And that’s okay; it means the story lives for the reader, and that they’re engaged with it in a very active way.

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*Yes, Faulkner’s famous fictional Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha influenced my creation of Cloud County; specifically, it gave me the courage to invent my locale, rather than trying to wedge my otherworldly faerie folk into a real place, as I’d done with vampires and Memphis.

**If you’re unaware, this particular line was the subject of a 2013 copyright dispute between Faulkner’s estate and the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris. The estate lost; you can read about the case here.

3 Comments on “On Themes and the Tufa, Part 2”

  1. I have mixed feelings about Sadieville. I’m excited, because it’s a new Tufa novel. But I’m sad, because it’s the3 final book of the series. I feel privileged to have been on this ride since the first book. I can’t wait to find out how it ends. But Oh, how I will miss it.

  2. I am saddened that the Tufa stories are ending. It is a rich and interesting world. I’m sure with the quality of your writing you’ll have something just as good in store for us with your next project. Do we get a clue,?

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