Music, identity, and the teenage heart

Record and iPod

I just finished Whiskey Bottles and Brand-New Cars, a 2017 biography of Lynyrd Skynyrd by Mark Ribowski. I was 14 when the core of the band died in a plane crash on October 20, 1977, the real “day the music died” for my generation. I’m familiar with the broad strokes of the Skynyrd story, and even once saw the Rossington-Collins Band, one … Read More

When you make a spectacle of yourself…

70s glasses

My ten-year-old son recently got glasses. It’s not a surprise: my wife and I both wear them. And while two wrongs don’t make a right, apparently two nearsighteds make a farsighted. I was nine when I got my first glasses. I was in third grade, my first year in the old, long-gone Gibson Elementary School in Tennessee. Now, with the … Read More

Serendipity, Saragossa, and Moonshine

Moonshiner 1904 title card

When first pondering the story that would become The Fairies of Sadieville, my initial idea was one of form. I’d just read Jan Patocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa and seen the Polish film adaptation, The Saragossa Manuscript. Both novel and film are “nesting” or “frame” stories, in which a tale is told within another tale, which is told within another … Read More

Dark as a Dungeon: the music of the miners

Dark as a Dungeon CD

Part of The Fairies of Sadieville takes place in 1915, and involves two specialized occupations: making silent movies, which I’ll cover elsewhere, and coal mining. Sadieville is a new coal boom town, and I was determined to get it right. I did a lot of book research on it, to get accurate technology and terminology, but to get the feel, I turned, appropriately, to … Read More

Why fairies?

Don't look in the hole

One of the most basic questions I get about the Tufa series, which concludes in April with The Fairies of Sadieville, is also one of the hardest to quantifiably answer: Why fairies? It certainly wasn’t an obvious interest. I grew up in a tiny Southern town, surrounded by friends and family who had no time for matters of imagination. And even … Read More

Giants of West Tennessee: An Interview with Memphis’ own Southern Avenue

Southern_Avenue_Photo_Credit_David_McClister

NOTE: This is the latest in an ongoing occasional series about notable figures from my home region. This one is unique because, instead of a nostalgic look back, it’s about something brand new. This interview needs two introductions to set up the context. Number one: when I was growing up, WHBQ-AM out of Memphis was the radio station, a Top 40 melting pot … Read More

Presenting Rex Winters: the Story behind Gather Her Round’s Dedication

Stack newspaper

Sometimes dedicating a book is easy, as when a particular person inspires you to write it in the first place, as Tia Sisk did for my first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde. Or when they’re instrumental in the writing process, the way my son Jake was for Wake of the Bloody Angel. Or when the stars just align, as they did … Read More

Some Halloween thoughts on NotLD

Halloween 2016

We had a breakthrough this past weekend: I finally convinced someone in my family to watch a zombie movie with me. My elder son, age twelve, joined me for the original Night of the Living Dead. It’s hard to imagine, in 2016, seeing it with no preconceptions, and since I’m his father, the boy certainly didn’t. I’ve sung its praises … Read More

Some Thoughts from Down at the Crossroads

Crossroads

WARNING: Contains spoilers for the 1986 movie Crossroads (not the 2002 Britney Spears film). If you haven’t seen it, I wholeheartedly recommend it. I recently rewatched Walter Hill’s movie Crossroads, and was surprised by how much I had internalized its depiction of the relationship between music and magic, and how that had influenced my own Tufa novels. I first saw it … Read More

Ode to Billie Joe: the value of the hidden

ode to billie joe single

Yesterday was June 3rd, or as Bobby Gentry describes it: It was the third of June, another sleepy dusty delta day…. That is, of course, from her magnificent ballad “Ode to Billie Joe,” a song as much about what’s unsaid (or unsung) as it is about what’s said. Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge; the singer, a young … Read More