|Virginia Book Festival Authors Share Thoughts
by Jann Malone, Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 27, 2005
[download Word file] [download PDF]
The Mountains: My Hopes
by Sharyn McCrumb, Blue Ridge Country, March/April 2005
Creative Loafing Interview with Sharyn McCrumb
"Bestselling Author Meets Homeboy Saint," by Ann Wicker, October 20, 2004
Public Radio South: The Spoken Word, December 2003
BBC Radio 4: On the Hillbilly Trail, Part 2: Log Cabin to White House
Gerry Anderson interviewed Sharyn for his feature "On the Hillbilly Trail, Part 2: Log Cabin to White House." The program aired March 13, 2004.
Author Sharyn McCrumb: The Harmonies Behind her Ballad Books
by Christal Presley, in EVINCE magazine, November 2003
When New York Times bestselling author Sharyn McCrumb walks into a room, everything stops. Even before she speaks, the room ignites with energy. Her presence is mesmerizing.
Black hair streaked with gray drapes against her face. Her expression is a serious one as she gazes out into her audience. No one speaks. No one moves. We wait.
It only takes a few moments to see how truly passionate Sharyn McCrumb is about her craft. Author of almost twenty novels to date, and with a contract for two more, this insightful Southern writer possesses an uncanny ability to produce monumental works that are both highly literary and entertaining, just like she is.
Her most recent novel, Ghost Riders, explores the Civil War in the North Carolina mountains. Past and present intertwine in this novel, as McCrumb’s characters—men and women, adults and children, rich and poor, educated and noneducated, Union and Confederate— tell a tale that connects them all.
From mountain outlaw, Malinda Blalock—who joins the Union army dressed as a boy so she can join her husband, and eventually becomes a Union guerilla fighter—to Zebulon Vance—North Carolina’s Confederate governor—McCrumb’s characters are based on actual people.
What intrigues the reader about Blalock and Vance is the same thing that intrigued McCrumb when she began her research. First, she says, “I became enormously fond of both of them.” Then, when she discovered that they were on opposite sides of the conflict, “I thought I could give a balanced account of the Civil War in the mountains by letting them tell the story in counterpoint.”
Providing yet another layer to Ghost Riders, McCrumb also explores the modern day development of Tennessee from the perspective of characters who are still very much affected by the Civil War almost 150 years later. In a pulse-pounding climax, characters from both past and present learn that the war is definitely not over.
I caught up with this favorite writer of mine in between lectures and book signings from one end of the country to the other. Yet, she generously took painstaking efforts to share her thoughts on Ghost Riders and writing with me.
When asked what the driving force was behind this latest book, Sharyn McCrumb explained it was because so many people hold the opinion that everyone who lived in any of the Southern States during the Civil War was on the Confederate side. This, she had discovered, was not true. “The mountain region of all the states was inhabited by both Union and Confederate sympathizers,” she explained. “I thought it was time somebody pointed out the dissonance.”
Ultimately, she hopes that her readers will now understand that there were two Souths on opposite sides of the Civil War, and that the resulting tragedy has affected thousands of people for generations. As she reiterates in the epilogue of the novel, “I thought that it was worth reminding people that war sometimes seems to take on a life of its own, and that hatred has a half-life.”
Beyond that truth, she says, “I also wanted to stress the idea that the mountain South is a different country from the flat-land South: it was settled by different ethnic groups, with different customs and beliefs. The Civil War is the most dramatic example of the rift between those two cultures.” And, she would add, the rift “hasn’t healed yet.”
This complex layering of messages, characters, and events that exist within Ghost Riders is only one reason Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad novels, as they are known, are studied in universities and secondary schools throughout the world. Others of her highly acclaimed Ballad novels that harken back to the stories and lore of the ballads passed down through the generations are The Ballad of Frankie Silver, She Walks These Hills, and The Rosewood Casket.
Ms. McCrumb, a life-long lover of music and storytelling, to this day finds music a “continuous wellspring of inspiration.” Before she begins writing her Ballad novels, she says she makes a sound track of songs taken from her own to the themes of the book.” She even selects “theme songs” for each of her main characters.
“When the CD or tape is finished,” she says, “I make one copy of it for my car, and another one for my office. Then, before I write a word of the book itself, I play the car tape whenever I am driving so that I can absorb and internalize the sound and the themes of the novel-to-come.
Combine Sharyn McCrumb’s highly acclaimed writing talent with her love for music and the stories told in the music, plus her strong love for place—specifically the mountain South and Appalachia, to which she says she feels “a spiritual connection”—and you have the “good bones” of great writing. But for this writer there is more.
When Ms. McCrumb says that early on her role model of a “successful, important writer” was Charles Dickens this may come as a surprise to the 21st century reader. But, as she describes in her inimitable, high-spirited way, “Charles Dickens wrote best sellers in order to change the world. For decades ministers and social reformers wrote earnest pamphlets reeling off the statistics of child mortality, and calling for childprotection laws—and nobody did anything to help the children.
“Then Charles Dickens wrote a book. It was a novel about a little boy who suffered terribly in the workhouse: David Copperfield. Then came Oliver Twist. Within two years of their publication the child labor laws of England were changed.” Then with passion and conviction she says, “I knew early on that I wanted my words to make a difference. Writing should do more than entertain.”
Indeed it is McCrumb’s masterful weaving together of rich plots, truthful and sympathetic characters, and evocative settings that critics praise and her readers find irresistible. Like the beautiful ballads they are, Sharyn McCrumb’s books are poetic prose-stories that indeed do do more than entertain.
They inform us, and they help us see our world more clearly as she achieves her personal goal: “Passing along the songs, the stories, and the love of the land to people who [have not had] a chance to acquire such things from heritage or residence.”
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