Magic, Mystery and Music:
The World of Alex Bledsoe
By Doug Moe
Maybe it was at a state park outside Nashville when the line between fact and fantasy blurred for good for Mount Horeb author Alex Bledsoe.
What happened that day in 2013 at the Montgomery Bell State Park in Burns, Tennessee, might easily have been a scene in one of Bledsoe’s acclaimed “Tufa” novels, which feature a mysterious people by that name who live in the Tennessee mountains.
Except it really happened.
Exactly what transpired I will get to momentarily, other than to say it gave me goosebumps when I heard about it. Bledsoe is good at that, just as he is good at getting starred – rave – reviews from book industry publications for novels like The Sword-Edged Blonde (Publishers Weekly) and The Hum and the Shiver (Kirkus Reviews).
Bledsoe will join me at Mystery to Me September 16 at 7 p.m. to chat about his career and his newly published Tufa novel, Chapel of Ease, which is both a continuation of the series and a bit of departure. The author said his goal was to give regular readers what they expect while also freshening things up.
For now, back to that park in Tennessee.
Bledsoe was a presenter at the Pagan Unity Festival, a four-day event in May 2013 that promised authors, music, food and rituals.
Bledsoe wasn’t that excited about the music. He figured it for New Age mellow, not his thing. He was kicking back in his cabin when from the pavilion below he heard the thunderous roar of heavy drums. Intrigued, he walked down to investigate.
“It was one of the great experiences of my life,” Bledsoe said.
What he encountered was an eight-piece ensemble band that mixed Celtic and Appalachian sounds into an intoxicating witches brew. Bledsoe was riveted. His Tufa novels had always been musically-themed – “the music ties them all together,” he said – and here was a band that might have been reading over his shoulder as he wrote. The band’s name, Tuatha Dea, was drawn from Irish mythology, which was also the inspiration for Bledsoe’s naming his fictional people the Tufa. It was eerie.
The next day, Bledsoe sought out the band’s leader, Danny Mullikin, introduced himself, and gave the musician a copy of “The Hum and the Shiver,” the first Tufa novel. Mullikin handed over a Tuatha Dea CD. A friendship was forged.
“Danny and I couldn’t believe the synchronicity,” Bledsoe said.
For his part, Mullikin told a reporter that reading the novel gave him chills: “It felt like somehow the characterizations had kind of rolled over without any of us knowing of the other’s existence.” Tuatha Dea subsequently recorded an album inspired by the Tufa novels.
Reading, writing and music were passions of Bledsoe’s growing up in West Tennessee. He got hooked on “Star Trek” TV reruns and began reading the novels written to tie-in with the syndication success of the series. Meanwhile, there was an AM station out of Memphis with a good signal and a mixed format that allowed him to sample a variety of music. By high school, Bledsoe was writing his own science fiction and fantasy stories, knowing he had found his calling, if not how to make a living at it.
He worked a series of journalism jobs, landing in Madison a dozen years ago. The relationship that brought him to the area ended, but Bledsoe stayed, meeting the woman he would marry.
He kept writing, and found himself returning again and again to a story that had been in his head since high school, a mix of fantasy and Raymond Chandler noir, sorcery and murder.
“I must have done 50 drafts,” Bledsoe said.
A later one got him an agent, and the agent found a publisher for The Sword-Edged Blonde, which put Bledsoe on the map when it was published in 2007, Publishers Weekly calling the novel “stylish and self-assured.”
There have been a number of books since, and at some point Bledsoe began to think about a story his father had told him about growing up in East Tennessee, and a real-life group of isolated Appalachians known as the Melungeons.
Bledsoe liked the fictional possibilities that might spring from such a group. “So I made up my own,” he said, and the Tufa were born.
Chapel of Ease is his fourth Tufa novel. “The easiest book I’ve written,” he said, as well as the first Tufa story to be told in the first person. It opens in New York, where a theatrical musical directed by a man of Tufa heritage is about to premiere. Mysterious events ensue, someone dies, and the scene shifts to Appalachia.
Cue the drums, and hold on.
Mystery to Me
Sunday, September 4 - 12:30
History's Mysteries Book Club
Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
Friday, September 9 - 7 pm
William Kent Krueger is here!
#15 in the Cork O’Connor series...
To help with event logistics we'd love it if you would go to Eventbrite to RSVP.
An RSVP will guarantee that you have a place to sit. Once we reach capacity (give or take 45), we'll have standing room only.
Tuesday, September 13 - 5:30 pm
Madison Writers' Studio students read from their work.
Wednesday, September 14 - 7pm
Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden will be at the Sequoya Public Library
Death on a Starry Night
Thursday, September 15 - 7pm
It's a double-header evening with authors Kelly Harms and Amy Reichert!
Kelly Harms will be here to discuss her new book, Matchmaker's of Minnow Bay
Amy Reichert will join Kelly to discuss her new book, Luck, Love and Lemon Pie
Friday, September 16 - 7 pm
Doug Moe interviews Alex Bledsoe (see Doug's article above!)
Chapel of Ease
Tuesday, September 20 - 7 pm
Doug Moe interviews Paula Becker
Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, The Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I
Betty Bard MacDonald (1907-1958), the best-selling author of The Egg and I and the classic Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle children's books, burst onto the literary scene shortly after the end of World War II. Readers embraced her memoir of her years as a young bride operating a chicken ranch on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and The Egg and I sold its first million copies in less than a year. The public was drawn to MacDonald's vivacity, her offbeat humor, and her irreverent take on life. In 1947, the book was made into a movie starring Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert, and spawned a series of films featuring MacDonald's Ma and Pa Kettle characters.
Wednesday, September 21 - 6pm
Join us for a discussion of Louise Penny's newest Inspector Gamache novel, The Great Reckoning!
The book was just released August 30 so you'll have a little time to read it before coming to the discussion. The publisher, Minotaur, has provided us with maps of Three Pines, recipe cards, Louise Penny bookmarks and discussion questions about the book.
Saturday, September 24 -- 10am to 5pm
Monroe Street Festival
Mystery Discounts All Day!!
Join us between 11am and noon to learn how to Zentangle a bookmark with "zentanglist" Julie Swanson
Sunday, September 25 - 3pm
Agatha Christie Book Club
Death Comes as the End
Tuesday, September 26 - Friday, September 30
Banned Book Week
Check out our selection of banned and challenged books.
15% off our table of banned books! Whoop....
This year's Banned Books Week is focusing on the diversity of authors and ideas that have prompted a disproportionate share of challenges. The American Library Association estimates that more than half of all banned books are by authors of color or ones that represent groups or viewpoints outside the mainstream. Here are some examples of books banned or challenged in 2015-2016:
--Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
--Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
--City of Thieves by David Benioff
--Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
--Looking for Alaska by John Green
--For Every Child a Better World by Jim Henson
--I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
--The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
--The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
--The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq by Jeanette Winters
Wednesday, September 28 - 6 pm
Mystery to Me is launching a new book club. At this first meeting we'll talk about possible book selections, meeting times, etc. Book club members always get 10% off the purchase price of book club selection.
Thursday, September 29 - 7pm
Join us for a wonderful evening of poetry with Jesse Lee Kerchival and Jon Loomis
Jesse Lee Kercheval is the author of fourteen books including the poetry collections Dog Angel and Cinema Muto, winner of a Crab Orchard Open Selection Award; The Alice Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Fiction Book Prize; and the memoir Space, winner of the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She is also a translator and a 2016 NEA in Translation Fellow. Her translations include The Invisible Bridge: Selected Poems of Circe Maia. She is the editor of the anthology América invertida: An Anthology of Emerging Uruguayan Poets. She is currently the Zona Gale Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is the Director of the Program in Creative Writing.
Jon Loomis is the author of three poetry collections: Vanitas Motel (1998, winner of the FIELD prize in poetry), The Pleasure Principle (2001) and The Mansion of Happiness (forthcoming in September 2016), all from Oberlin College Press. He is also the author of three mystery novels set in Provincetown, Massachusetts: High Season (2007), Mating Season (2009) and Fire Season (2012). High Season was named a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, and was among the Washington Post Bookworld’s “Best Books of the Year” for 2007. He was the Halls Fellow in poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing and is currently an associate professor in the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire.
October is Full of Fun!
We have a great line-up of authors visiting the store and we'll be busy selling books at both the Wisconsin Science Festival and the Wisconsin Book Festival. Check out our website for more details.
Here's a preview of the first week in October...
Sunday, October 2 -- 12:30 pm
History's Mysteries Book Club
Rose of the World by Alys Clare
Sunday, October 2 - 2 pm
Steve and Jerry Apps
Tuesday, October 4 - 7 pm
Memory of Muskets
Saturday, October 8 - 2 pm
Death in Cold Water - a Door County Mystery