|Keepers of the Legends
The story of Appalachia includes the myths and tales, the songs, the landscapes and the lifestyle of the people of the region. To properly tell the story requires books, music and pictures — and some special talented individuals to serve as “keepers of the legends.”
Jane Hicks, the original Cosmic Possum, is a teacher, poet and fiber artist from upper East Tennessee. The Cosmic One is the inspiration for the name of a mythical Appalachian Trail hikers' hostel in Sharyn McCrumb’s ballad novel, The Songcatcher. Jane and Betty Smith (below) performed a program of music and poetry in Madison County, North Carolina in October 2003.
Long before I met Betty Smith, I was listening to her music on recordings from Appalshop. Betty is a music scholar and a wonderful singer, who accompanies herself on dulcimer, guitar, and psaltery. It is from Betty Smith that I learned many of the songs that make up the soundtrack of the Ballad novels: from For My Friends of Song, I took “Little Margaret” and “The Knoxville Girl,” key elements of the plot of the first Ballad novel If Ever I Return, Peggy-O. All my novels have “soundtracks” because I work closely with music as I write. Betty Smith is a partof the creative process — she is the voice of the Ballads.
Charlotte Ross is the inspiration for Nora Bonesteel — though she would tell you that Nora more closely resembles her own grandmother, who also has the Sight. A professor of folklore and a gifted storyteller, Charlotte Ross is a true wise woman in the history and culture of Appalachia. In the planning stages of each Ballad novel, I talk out the issues of the book with Charlotte to make sure that what I feel and what I've researched match her perceptions of the way things are for the mountain people. In 1996, Charlotte and I spent three weeks in Ireland,looking for the connections between our Appalachian people and their Celtic forebears.
Ken Murray is a freelance photojournalist based in Kingsport, Tennessee. His images include small family farms, coal mines, industries and education and reflects the rural lifestyle of the region. Murray's photographs appear on all current paperback editions of the Ballad Novels, and on the hardcovers The Ballad of Frankie Silver, The Songcatcher and McCrumb's latest book Ghost Riders.
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