Interview: Alex Bledsoe, author of The Hum and the Shiver

Thanks to my friends at PR by the Book, I had a chance to get a bit more information from author Alex Bledsoe around his new book The Hum and the Shiver

1. What inspired your book, The Hum and the Shiver?

It was a conjunction of three things: Appalachian folk music, Celtic faery folklore, and the stories of the Melungeons of East Tennessee. Briefly, the Melungeons are an isolated ethnic group who legend says were already here when the first Europeans arrived in Appalachia. No one knows for sure where they came from or how they got here, although DNA evidence has gone a long way toward solving the “where” question. I thought, “what if they were a secret race of faeries hiding from history and minding their own business?” So I created my own isolated society, the Tufa.

2. Who are the main characters in the story?

The protagonist is Bronwyn Hyatt, a twenty-year-old Iraq War vet who was injured in combat and rescued on live TV. Now she’s back home in the mountains among her people, the Tufa, confronting both her recovery and all the issues that led her to leave home in the first place. There’s also a ghost waiting to talk to her, omens of death that seem to be targeting her mother, and her dangerous ex-boyfriend lurking around.

Craig Chess is a newly-graduated Methodist minister trying, in his easy-going way, to make some inroads in the Tufa community. When he meets Bronwyn, unexpected sparks fly. Don Swayback is a part-Tufa reporter who’s lost enthusiasm for his job, marriage, and pretty much everything else; his assignment to get an exclusive interview with Bronwyn causes him to reconnect with his Tufa heritage.

The antagonists include Bronwyn’s old boyfriend Dwayne Gitterman, a devilish old man named Rockhouse, and brutal state trooper Bob Pafford.

3. You grew up in the Tennessee area, how did your childhood determine the setting of the story?

Since two of the three major inspirations came from Appalachia, I couldn’t imagine setting it anywhere else. The beauty, mystery and magic of the Smoky Mountain setting seemed so appropriate that I kept it, and the rhythms of Southern speech are second nature to me. And while the issues that the characters face are universal, they’re expressed in a uniquely Southern way.

4. What special research was involved in creating the story line?

I listened to a lot of music, the real old stuff that was sung in the mountains for generations before anyone ever thought to write it down: “Shady Grove,” “Barbara Allen,” and so on. I also listened to the music being made in that area today, because it’s a thriving tradition. I read about musicians, and how they felt about music and what it meant in their lives. I researched faery folklore and discovered that they were far from the harmless little sprites we think of today. And I thought a lot about how “family” and “religion” are defined in the South, and how they affect every aspect of life.

5. You describe your book genre as “gravel-road fantasy”. Can you provide additional information surrounding the genre?

It’s “urban fantasy” in a rural setting. In UF, the magical elements appear in the mundane world of cars, skyscrapers and crowded nightclubs. In my book the setting is still modern, but it involves tractors, small-town convenience stores and barn dances.

6. The main character, Browyn, is a strong, attractive heroine. Did you rely upon an actual person to develop the character and why?

Her ordeal was inspired by the experiences of Jessica Lynch at the beginning of the Gulf War. But the character herself is entirely drawn from scratch. I wanted her to be someone who had endured a lot, but never let herself be a victim; as a teenage hellraiser she’d been nicknamed “The Bronwynator,” and deep down that’s who she remains. Now she faces a bunch of decisions she tried to avoid, and must figure out a way to be true both to her people, and herself.

7. Do you have a website where our readers can learn more?

www.alexbledsoe.com. The site includes my blog and information on my other novels.

I’m also on:
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Alex-Bledsoe/176299128296
Twitter: @AlexBledsoe
Google+: http://plus.google.com/108152096052245851555/about

8. Who do you think would enjoy The Hum and the Shiver and why?

It’s “urban fantasy,” but in the country instead of the city. So if you can conceive of a world where Charles de Lint and Rick Bragg co-exist, I think you’ll enjoy this book. Anyone who ponders what faeries would be like if they lived among us, understands the magic found in songs and music, and/or likes stories of people trying to do the right thing in a situation where “the right thing” isn’t always clear, will enjoy it.

9. What is the reception you’ve gotten to the book so far?

The pre-publication reviews have been excellent; Publishers Weekly even called it a “masterpiece of world-building.” But more importantly, I’ve gotten e-mails from readers who received advance copies and who explained, in detail, how much the book meant to them. I’ve never gotten that kind of response before.

10. How can our readers purchase your book?

It will be available in all the usual online and brick-and-mortar locations, and for all the popular e-readers. There will also be an unabridged audio version.

A big thank you goes out to Alex himself and Babs at PR by the Book for permission to reprint this Q&A. And be sure to check out my review of The Hum and the Shiver for my take on the book, but I strongly encourage you to find and read this amazing story!

–Fitz

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Interview: Breaking Laces’ lead singer Willem Hartong

Hi all!

Occasionally I have an opportunity to chat online or over the phone with an entertainer to get some insights into their motivations and processes. This past week I was given a chance to ask Breaking Laces’ lead singer Willem Hartong a few questions. He kindly responded with a few answers!

Q1: First, let me congratulate you and the band on a great album. I really enjoyed When You Find Out. It’s obvious that there are some stories behind the relationship-oriented tracks on the album. Any you’d like to share?

[WH] I tend to strive for plausible and/or entertaining versions of the truth. So some stories might sound odd in relation to the actual song. Suffice it to say, relationships are tricky. I’ve been on all sides of them including being in a lasting loving relationship at the moment which prompted the song “Here to Stay”. That’s a nice feeling. It’s a bit better than having shoes thrown at you, which oddly enough has happened to me twice. Maybe that’s why I wrote “What We Need,” because sometimes it’s “time to leave.”

Q2: Who are your influences? I heard bits that reminded me of Snow Patrol, Better Than Ezra, Toad the Wet Sprocket, and others…

[WH] The two on the edges are bands I enjoy. Dulcinea is a terribly good record, especially outside of the radio singles. “Windmills” absolutely slays me, what a beautiful song. I really liked Snow Patrol’s first album but haven’t gotten to the second. As a band we enjoy Radiohead and Built to Spill a lot. A few other formative albums for me are It’s a Shame About Ray, Exile in Guyville, Blue Screen Life and Ruby Vroom. Collectively I’ve probably listened to those about a thousand times.

Q3: What’s your personal songwriting process like? Do you get the idea for the lyrics and music at the same time? Separately?

[WH] No matter how often I do it, I always feel like I’m starting from scatch as to how to go about writing a song. So the methods to the madness are many. I do write in a big sketch pad and I always write by hand. That way I can draw little pictures when I get stuck.

Q4: It’s obvious you, Rob, and Seth have a great rapport going… How collaborative is the process of creating the songs and then tweaking them for audiences and recording?

[WH] It used to be me bringing in a song or idea and we’d go at it together to shape it. Lately Rob and Seth have been there at the beginning which has yielded some great results. It’s largely due to our “New Music Days” which are long rehearsals when we do nothing but work on new material.

Q5: Where did you learn to play guitar? What are some of your favorite covers to play solo or with the band?

[WH] I picked up the guitar at 16 when our rhythmn guitarist quit “In the Attic” my high school band. I was just singing and not really in love with just singing. So i busted apples to get up to speed so I could sing and play with the band. That’s how it happened for me. I love to play Cat Steven’s songs solo. I also think Nirvana, Radiohead and Lemonheads songs are fun to go at alone. With the band I particularly enjoy covering Radiohead and Built to Spill songs as they are challenging and fun to try and get right.

Q6: If there was one thing you wanted to tell your fans that you haven’t been asked yet, what would it be?

[WH] Boxer briefs.

I want to thank Willem for taking the time to answer my questions and wish him and the band the best of luck with their tour. If you haven’t listened to When You Find Out, I’d encourage you to give it a go. Breaking Laces has a great sound and I hope they continue to put out new music to enjoy!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

Hi all!

Joseph Campbell somehow over the course of his lifetime managed to gain an amazing amount of knowledge about myths from around the world – everything from the parables of holy books and myths to Star Wars. But even with all of this knowledge, Campbell managed at once to capture the giddy nature of someone who enjoys the stories themselves and the deep intellectual knowledge of the underlying themes, motifs, and ideals repeated throughout these tales.

When Bill Moyers interviewed Campbell for PBS in the mid 1980s, I don’t think anybody knew how the series would resonate with PBS viewers over time. In the 30 years since, it has aired repeatedly by viewer request. I had seen an episode here and there since then, but have never seen the entire series. Thankfully, the entire series is now available on a two-DVD set with many extras as Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers.

According to Campbell, the power of myth is that it provides a structure by which a person can navigate the pitfalls and temptations of our own mortality. And I think that no matter the era of human history, it’s readily apparent that we could (as a species) all use a better roadmap to avoid those pitfalls from time to time.

Hearing Campbell speak so eloquently about the themes of good and evil, conscious and unconscious, secular and mystical, is a bit like listening to the knowing voice of an elder. I couldn’t help but hear the voices of my grandparents in Campbell’s tale and explanations.

All six episodes of the original series are included on the two-DVD set.

The series starts off with “The Hero’s Adventure,” discussing the similarities between the stories of the Buddha and the Bible, and why the hero journey and mythology is still relevant in modern times. It’s fascinating to hear Moyers and Campbell discussing these various myths in the context of the worlds they come from as well as the emerging mythos of the Earth as a whole organism we are a part of – the Gaia principle.

The series concludes with “Masks of Eternity”, the pair covers the broad area of cultural “masks” – both figurative and literal – which serve as symbols of the divine and metaphors for thoughts of transcendence. Each of us has some idea of what “God” is – whether we think of the concept of the deity in a secular or theological sense. There are thousands of gods around the world – is any more true than any other? Some would argue that is the case. But Campbell argues that in all cases we are seeking to transcend the human experience into something greater than ourselves.

Through it all, Moyers manages to not only ask insightful questions, but seems to comprehend the nature of what Campbell relates along the way. The language used by both men goes above and beyond what I hear daily in the national news on radio, television, and in print – a welcome glimpse into a time where the media didn’t try to reduce concepts and words to a 6th grade vocabulary.

In addition to the six complete episodes of the series, there are many extras included – from lists of Campbell’s influences and a biography of Bill Moyers’ work, to photo galleries and an excerpt from Campbell explaining the Sukhavati – stories of the Buddha from Mahayana Buddhism. But two additional interviews really stand out for me…

An interview that originally aired in 1981 on the Bill Moyers’ Journal provides a bit of an early look and overview of the material covered in the later interviews that aired in 1987. At age 77, Campbell dove into what a myth and mythology are in a broader context. Again, Moyers expresses a deeper understanding from his own experiences that makes it easy to relate to the more intellectual explanations of Campbell. Both men are obviously passionate about the subject matter, which comes through despite the somewhat degraded quality of the original recording a transferred to DVD.

And an interview with one of my childhood idols, George Lucas, is the other highlight of the extras on the DVDs. “The Mythology of Star Wars” was filmed at Skywalker Ranch, filmed soon after Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace had been released. Lucas speaks eloquently about how myths could be applied to the modern world and how every day we teach through our own behavior. I thought it was very interesting to hear him speak about his own religious beliefs and how his stories are used in and out of religious context. He seems fascinated by the themes of worldwide religions and mythologies that he’s worked into his own mythology of Star Wars.

If you’re interested in mythology and want to learn more about these stories in a cross-cutting manner, you can’t find better in my opinion than Joseph Campbell. He was a brilliant man who had a gift for explaining the common themes and how to use these tales to “follow your bliss…” Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers is an amazing DVD set that has much to offer as food for thought. I’d encourage you to take a bite.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this DVD set and other great books from Joseph Campbell below!

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