Today I am interviewing Alex Bledsoe, author of the new fantasy novel, The Fairies of Sadieville, final book in the Tufa series.
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DJ: Hi Alex! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Alex Bledsoe: I’m originally from Tennessee, and eight of my thirteen novels are set there. I started writing as a journalist, and published over fifty short stories in various small press magazines and journals before my first novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, came out in 2007. I’m married with three kids, and now live in a Wisconsin village famous for having wooden troll statues scattered around town.
DJ: What is The Fairies of Sadieville and then the Tufa series about?
Alex: The series is about a race of exiled faery folk who live in Appalachia. For the most part they’re indistinguishable from human beings and only show their magic in their music.
The Fairies of Sadieville begins with the discovery of a silent film from 1915 that shows a Tufa girl dropping her glamour and revealing her true faery nature. Through this, the vanished coal town of Sadieville is rediscovered, and with it a possible way for the Tufa to return to their homes in Faeryland…if the queen who exiled them will allow it.
DJ: What were some of your influences for the Tufa series?
Alex: A whole bunch of disparate and random things mentally clicked together to create the Tufa. Growing up in Tennessee, I heard many stories about the people of the mountains, including groups steeped in mystery and danger. Then, in the late 90s, I attended my first National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN, which is the ancestral home of my dad’s family in Appalachia. The idea of writing about that area really grabbed hold of me then, but it took a long time to sort out exactly what I wanted to do with it. Immersing myself in the music of the region, both classic and current, really helped, and music became one of the foundations of the Tufa.
A lot of people have mentioned Manly Wade Wellman’s “Silver John” stories as a possible influence, but I didn’t read those, or Sharyn McCrumb’s “ballad” series, until I’d already begun writing about the Tufa. The literary influences are mainly the Newford tales of Charles de Lint, Lee Smith’s The Devil’s Dream, a multi-generation story of a family of mountain musicians, and P.F. Kluge’s novel Eddie and the Cruisers.
The titles for the Tufa novels all come from the songs of South Carolina singer/songwriter Jennifer Goree. Originally this new book, like her song, was just titled Sadieville, but my editor quite rightly pointed out that that title might not really convey the story (and might make some readers think it was a tour guide to the real Kentucky town with the same name). So it became The Fairies of Sadieville.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Alex: The “main character” of this series is a place: fictional Cloud County and its lone town, Needsville. The Tufa are inextricably bound to the area, so much so that if any of them leaves with no intention of returning, disaster always befalls them.
There’s a recurring group of characters who go from being a protagonist in one book to a supporting presence in another. Among those are:
–Bronwyn Hyatt, a young army veteran walking a line between what the Tufa community expects of her, and what she wants for herself;
–Bliss Overbay, a paramedic who is also a community leader. Because she’s a full-blooded Tufa, i.e., faery, she has lived since the Tufa arrived as exiles millenia ago; her magic ensures non-Tufa people don’t notice. She also acts as the regent for…
–Mandalay Harris, who is ten in the first book and fifteen in Sadieville. She’s the hereditary leader of half the Tufa, with access to the experiences and memories of all her female ancestors, but filtered through her current emotions and age. She shares power with…
–Rockhouse Hicks. Like Bliss, Rockhouse has lived undetected since the Tufa arrived; but since he’s the reason they were exiled in the first place, he’s become bitter, mean, and vindictive. In an arrangement that mirrors the Seelie/Unseelie courts of traditional folklore, he and Mandalay rule together, but seldom agree. He’s succeeded as leader by…
–Junior Damo, a whiny, petty young man with a weasel’s sense of how to exploit others’ weaknesses. There’s also rumors that he’s guided by the ghost (known as a “haint”) of Rockhouse Hicks.
Each novel also features an “outsider” figure, through whose eyes we learn more about the Tufa. Among those are:
–Craig Chess, a non-Tufa Methodist minister who quietly helps the community, demonstrating his faith by example rather than proselytizing. He’s a good, decent man, and Bronwyn Hyatt marries him.
–Rob Quillen, a contestant on a musical TV reality show who seeks a cure for his broken heart.
–Matt Johannsen, a gay actor from New York who lands a role in a musical about the Tufa, until he’s picked to bring home the ashes of the musical’s late composer.
–Jack Cates, a wildlife officer who falls for Bliss Overbay.
–Justin Johnson and Veronica Lopez, two graduate students who arrive searching for the lost coal town of Sadieville, and in the process uncover a secret so explosive the Tufa have kept it hidden even from themselves.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the the Tufa series like?
Alex: The series is set in the contemporary world, so all the references are common ones. Cloud County is in the mountains of East Tennessee, part of the Appalachian chain that includes the Smokies. To outsiders, the Tufa appear only slightly different, but that’s due to their glamour. When they drop it, their true faery forms are revealed.
As I mentioned above, the Tufa are split into two groups, mirroring the Seelie and Unseelie Courts of faery lore. They worship nameless New World deities that manifest as the night winds. Because the Tufa are able to have children with humans, for many families the Tufa blood has grown diluted and weak; the few families who have maintained true Tufa blood are therefore afforded great respect. There are two secret organizations within the community: the First Daughters and the Silent Sons. When something need to be done for the good of the Tufa as a whole, these are the groups that take on the task.
DJ: Can you tell the readers about the fae magic?
Alex: My approach to magic is that, if you can do the same thing every time (using the words of a spell, for example) and get the same result, then it’s not magic at all; it’s science. Magic should have an ambiguity to it, a sense that it can always go awry no matter how carefully it’s used, an atmosphere of uncertainty and danger.
The Tufa magic is kept, and expressed, through their music. All of them are excellent instrumentalists, and most sing with the pure, iconic aching voices of bluegrass and mountain music. Even characters with very little Tufa blood can connect through music to their ancestors’ magic.
As faery folk, the Tufa are not always bound by the same rules of time and space. An oft-repeated phrase in the series is, “time doesn’t work the same for everybody,” so some Tufa can slip in and out of linear time, or live eons with no non-Tufa ever noticing. They can also alter others’ perceptions, making things (including themselves) hide or appear as they wish.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first previous books of the Tufa series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Alex: I’ve been lucky enough to get mostly positive responses, both from critics and readers. Many readers respond to the bucolic sense of place and the subtle rather than overt displays of magic; the Bliss Overbay character also has her own fan base, which is flattering. The most touching responses are those in which readers say they feel like they could visit Needsville, or that they’ve looked for it on a map. That tells me I’ve done something right.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Fairies of Sadieville?
Alex: Bringing back characters from all the previous books. Since the events are fairly world-shaking for the Tufa, I wanted Sadieville to have a real sense of the entire community. I also wanted characters to interact who had not done so before, so that I wouldn’t just be repeating myself. First-time readers should have no trouble with it, but those who’ve read the previous five books will, I hope, get an extra bit of fan service. It also allowed me to show how all the major characters end up; as a fan, I’ve always been annoyed by finales that don’t at least imply what the future holds for the characters. I don’t resolve every situation, but I think long-time readers will be happy.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Alex: I hope they talk about how the series ended in a way that left them satisfied. And I hope new readers say they’re inspired to go back and read the other five books.
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing the Tufa series? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Alex: The first novel, The Hum and the Shiver, was written on spec, and with no explicit plan to be first in a series. When I was asked to write a follow-up, I decided then that each book would be a stand-alone, so that new readers could jump in at any point. That goes back to my own frustrations as a reader, finding a book that looks interesting only to learn it’s book two or four or twenty of a series, and incomprehensible if you haven’t read the others. I wanted to make it easy for new readers to get their bearings.
Each novel has its own central concept, but also shows how the recurring characters have grown and progressed since the last book. For example the previous book, Gather Her Round is, at heart, a monster story, as well as the tragedy of new character who can’t seem to make the right decisions. But it also shows how the events of previous books have changed people, especially Bliss Overbay and Junior Damo.
The overall theme of the series is this: how do you move forward when you can no longer hide from the world? The Tufa have successfully avoided attention for centuries, but now it’s no longer feasible to hide, even in plain sight. By the conclusion of The Fairies of Sadieville, that question will have been at least partially answered.
DJ: I’m always curious when authors finish a series, how close to the original course they stayed when it is finally completed or if it ended up evolving and changing. Did the plot stay the same as you had first imagined it? How about the ending? The evolution of your characters?
Alex: Well, I had no overall plan; I was making it up as I went. Each book was its own thing, and it wasn’t until I began what would be the last one that I realized it was a good time to wrap it up. I mean, we’ve all read or watched series that just went on way too long and ended up in repetition or self-parody. Six solid, strong books is a pretty good run.
Also, the Tufa novels tend to be quiet and subtle. Readers who don’t enjoy that approach have remarked that at times, nothing seems to happen in them, and that’s a matter of personal taste. Novels now have to be loud, high-concept, and easily-marketed to be successful, and the Tufa novels are the opposite of that. I hope that means they’ll also have some staying power on readers’ shelves, and in their hearts.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Fairies of Sadieville that you can share with us?
Alex: The central quote, the thing that kicks things off, is, “This is real.” It’s a statement of intent as well as a plot point, and in spirit echoes Jor-El’s first line in the 1978 movie Superman: “This is no fantasy, no careless product of wild imagination.” I wanted to establish right away that, while the characters might debate the reality of this particular thing, the reader knows the truth from the get-go.
The book also ends with a paraphrase of a famous quote, but I can’t tell you here because it’s a spoiler. I will say that I knew it would be the book’s final line from almost the moment the story idea came to me. My editor was skeptical, but that was mainly because I didn’t get the scene right until very late in revision. Once I did, she completely got it.
DJ: Now that The Fairies of Sadieville is released, what is next for you?
Alex: Now that all my kids are in school full time, I’m working on several different things, trying to branch out into genres I haven’t tackled before. Stay tuned!
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Alex-Bledsoe/e/B0028OGIF2
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Fairies of Sadieville and the Tufa series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Alex: This series is probably the most personal thing I’ve written, filled with aspects of my own life and experiences. Knowing that it connects with readers, that total strangers out there get it, remains an amazing thing for me, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
Also, in a more general sense, if you like an author’s work, say so. Leave reviews and comments, and don’t be afraid to contact us directly. Writing is a solitary thing, and we’re always glad to hear from readers.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Alex: I’d like to give a special shout-out to Stefan Rudnicki and Blackstone Audio for their superlative audio versions (the audiobook of Wisp of a Thing, the second novel in the series, won the 2014 Audie Award for Best Fantasy). I can’t imagine a better voice for these stories.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Alex: Thank you for having me!
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*** The Fairies of Sadieville is published by Tor Books and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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Charming and lyrical, The Fairies of Sadieville continues Alex Bledsoe’s widely-praised contemporary fantasy series, about the song-wielding fairy descendants living in modern-day Appalachia.
“This is real.” Three small words on a film canister found by graduate students Justin and Veronica, who discover a long-lost silent movie from more than a century ago. The startlingly realistic footage shows a young girl transforming into a winged being. Looking for proof behind this claim, they travel to the rural foothills of Tennessee to find Sadieville, where it had been filmed.
Soon, their journey takes them to Needsville, whose residents are hesitant about their investigation, but Justin and Veronica are helped by Tucker Carding, who seems to have his own ulterior motives. When the two students unearth a secret long hidden, everyone in the Tufa community must answer the most important question of their entire lives — what would they be willing to sacrifice in order to return to their fabled homeland of Tir na nOg?
About the Author:
I grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). I’ve been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman.
I now live in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls, write before six in the morning and try to teach my three kids to act like they’ve been to town before.
If you want to keep up with me in real time, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Google+. And please feel free to drop me a line via the contact page.