By David Rogers. September 13, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Imagine exhuming a body from a cemetery in 1897 to investigate claims of death by foul play. Forget forensic science as we know it today. Don’t even think about the technology of “CSI: Miami.”
Especially when the protagonist of the story says she was told by a daughter’s ghost that her death was by murder, the investigation might even be by the illumination of a kerosene lantern on a cold, snowy night. A prosecutor responding to a demand for justice from a distraught mother because of what a ghost told her, well that might have raised some eyebrows around town.
These are the kinds of images conjured up by New York Times best-selling author Sharyn McCrumb in describing her new book, “The Unquiet Grave,” (2017, Atria Books, New York) at a book-signing on Wednesday at Blowing Rock Art & History Museum (BRAHM). The book was released on Tuesday (September 12, 2017) and the Blowing Rock signing was almost the first on her current tour to promote it. The novel is based on old folklore about one of the most bizarre murder trials in American history, the story set in 19th century West Virginia.
Best known for her now “ballad” novels mostly set in the Appalachian region, the gravelly voiced McCrumb has written 13 of them, as well as three books with auto racing related themes.
Her presentation at BRAHM was deftly laced with humor, some of it self-deprecating. “I didn’t know a thing about NASCAR when I started to write about racing,” she deadpanned. “I thought Kurt Busch was the governor of Florida.”
Listening to McCrumb, you begin to understand the detail she brings to the craft of writing stories: meticulous research. As one audience member said admiringly of the author afterwards, “She is one of those experts on ‘combing.’ She has developed a skill and passion for searching through documents, sifting through census records and newspaper clippings to put together a certain believe-ability to her stories.”
McCrumb loves, she said, to find the truth of stories told in folklore, just as she did in previous titles like, “The Ballad of Tom Dooley,” and “The Ballad of Frankie Silver.”
“I want to get to the truth,” she observed. “The folklore about Zona and her ghost telling her mother that she had been murdered has it all wrong. I did the research.”
By all accounts, she did indeed do the research. And what might be the most amazing thing of all about this woman and her writing, she doesn’t just research the main characters, but all of the peripheral characters, too, in detail, because in their own way they are so much a part of Zona’s story. Listen to her talk about the minutia of the supporting characters’ respective lives and you get the sense that they could be the subject of a next novel.
McCrumb told the audience gathered in the Alexander Community Room at BRAHM that she started her research for “The Unquiet Grave” in 2015.
FAIR WARNING: Don’t even begin to read McCrumb’s books — unless, of course, you plan to sit for a spell and be taken back to another place and another time, enthralled by her narrative.
- If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, Scribner (New York, NY) 1990
- The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, Scribner (New York, NY) 1992
- She Walks These Hills, Scribner (New York, NY) 1994
- The Rosewood Casket, Dutton (New York, NY) 1996
- The Ballad of Frankie Silver, Dutton (New York, NY) 1998
- The Songcatcher, Dutton (New York, NY) 2001
- Ghost Riders, Dutton (New York, NY) 2003
- The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY) 2010
- The Ballad of Tom Dooley, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY) 2011
- King’s Mountain, Thomas Dunne (New York, NY) 2013
- Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past, Abingdon Press 2014
- Prayers the Devil Answers, Atria Books 2016
- The Unquiet Grave, Atria Books 2017
THE NASCAR NOVELS
- St. Dale, Kensington (New York, NY) 2005
- Once Around the Track, Kensington (New York, NY) 2007
- Faster Pastor, (with Adam Edwards) – High Country Press (Boone NC) 2010)
EARLY WORKS: ELIZABETH MACPHERSON NOVELS
- Sick of Shadows, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1984
- Lovely in Her Bones, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1985
- Highland Laddie Gone, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1986
- Paying the Piper, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1988
- The Windsor Knot, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1989
- Missing Susan, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1990
- MacPherson’s Lament, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1992
- If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1994
- The PMS Outlaws, Ballantine (New York, NY) 2000
EARLY WORKS: THE JAY OMEGA NOVELS
- Bimbos of the Death Sun, TSR Books 1986
- Zombies of the Gene Pool, Simon & Schuster 1992
SHORT STORY COLLECTION
Foggy Mountain Breakdown, Ballantine (New York, NY) 1997
CONTRIBUTIONS OF SHORT STORY TO ANTHOLOGIES OR LITERARY MAGAZINES
- Fairy Tale Princesses of the Civil War, Ed. Elizabeth Baird Hardy. Gateways Magazine, Mayland Community Colelge, Spruce Pine, NC 2012.
- Rattler and the Mothman, The Monster’s Corner, – Ed. Christopher Golden- St. Martin’s, 2011.
- Settling Up, Smoky Mountain Living, (Waynesville NC), Vol. 9, No. 4 – Summer, 2009
- A Wing and A Prayer, Blood Lite II, -Ed. Kevin J. Anderson – Pocket Books, 2010
- Hands Across the Ridge, Appalachian Heritage. Ed. George Brosi. Berea KY: Spring, 2008
- The Mountain House Poe, Ed. Ellen Datlow – Solaris Press, 2008
- Dead Hand , Blood Lite, -Ed. Kevin J. Anderson – Pocket Books, 2008
- Parting Shot, Iron Mountain Review, Emory & Henry College, Spring 2006
- Abide With Me, Appalachian Heritage. Ed. George Brosi. Berea KY: Fall, 2004
- The Resurrection Man, (novella). Transgressions. Ed. Evan Hunter. New York, Forge: 2005
- The Wish Hounds, Hellboy: Odder Jobs. Ed. Christopher Golden. Dark Horse, 2005
- Thomas the Rhymer, The Book of Ballads. Ed. Charles Vess. New York: Tor, 2004
- Music When Soft Voices Die, The Rose & The Briar, American Ballads. Ed. Greil Marcus and Sean Willenz. Norton: 2004
- The Gallows Necklace, The Dark, ed. Ellen Datlow. New York: Tor, 2002
NON FICTION PUBLICATIONS
- Sharyn McCrumb’s Appalachia – A Collection of Essays about the Mountain South. Waverly TN: Oconee Spirit Press, 2011.
- Living Historians, Ed. Cara Modisett. Blue Ridge Country. Roanoke VA: December 2009
- Comfort Me With Apples, Mountain Homes Magazine, (Roanoke VA), Winter, 2007.
- Excerpt from The Songcatcher. Ed. Sandra L. Ballard and Patricia L. Hudson. Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia. Lexington KY: U.K. Press, 2003
- Foreword. Virginia Tech: Cut in Stone: A University of Timeless Beauty Allen TX: DSA Publishing, 2007
- My Driver Ed. Norma R. Wilson. Now & Then. Johnson City TN: East Tennessee State Univ. Volume 21, Number 2, Fall 2005
- The Cosmic Possum Ed. Cara Modisett. Blue Ridge Country. Roanoke VA: April 2005
- Born to Die: Tom Dooley Ed. Cara Modisett. Blue Ridge Country. Roanoke VA: January 2007
- The First Appalachian Journey: The Serpentine Chain Ed. Matthew Wasson. Appalachian Voice. Winter 2005. Boone NC.
- The Liminal State of Franklin: Magic Realism in Appalachia Voices of the Mountains. Ed. Rob Neufeld. Asheville, NC: March/April 2001
- A Cave on Mull – From Here to There: Stories From a Mobile Virginia Ed. Dan Smith. Roanoke VA: VA Museum of Transportation,1998
- The Celts and the Appalachians Ed. Barbara Peters. Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen
- The Devil Amongst the Lawyers – Unabridged. Recorded Books, Recorded Books, 270 Skipjack Road, Prince Frederick, MD 20678.
- Faster Pastor – Unabridged. Read by Nicole Poole. Recorded Books, Recorded Books, 270 Skipjack Road, Prince Frederick, MD 20678.
- Once Around the Track – Recorded Books, 2008.
- St. Dale – Unabridged Read by Anna Fields; BBC Audiobooks America, PO Box 450, Hampton NH 03843
- Ghost Riders – Unabridged. Brilliance Audio Books, P.O. Box 887, Grand Haven, Michigan 49417. 2003. Winner: 2004 Audie Award
- Ghost Riders – Abridged. Brilliance Audio Books. 2003.
- Ghost Riders/Rank Strangers – Companion CD to Ghost Riders, Sharyn McCrumb and Jack Hinshelwood, P.O. Box 495, Shawsville, VA 24162. 2002.
- The Songcatcher – Unabridged. Read by James Daniels and Aasne Vigesaa. Brilliance Audio Books, 2001.
- The Songcatcher – Abridged. Read by James Daniels and Aasne Vigesaa. Brilliance Audio Books, 2001.
- The Rowan Stave – Companion CD to The Songcatcher, Sharyn McCrumb and Sweetwater, Sweetwater Productions, 643 E. Euclid Ave., Springfield, OH 45505, 2001.
- The Ballad of Frankie Silver – Unabridged. Read by C.M.Herbert. Blackstone Audio Books, P.O. Box 969, Ashland, Oregon 97520. 1998
- The Ballad of Frankie Silver – Unabridged. Read by Jeff Woodman & Barbara Rosenblatt. Recorded Books, 270 Skipjack Road, Prince Frederick, MD 20678. 1998.
- The Ballad of Frankie Silver – Abridged. Read by Sharyn McCrumb. Dove Audio, 8955 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90048.
- The Rosewood Casket – Unabridged. Read by Sally Darling- Recorded Books 1996
- The Rosewood Casket – Unabridged. Read by C.M. Herbert- Blackstone Audio Books, 1996.
- The Rosewood Casket – Abridged. Read by Sharyn McCrumb- Penguin Audio Books, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY. 1996.
- She Walks These Hills – Unabridged. Read by Sally Darling- Recorded Books 1994
- She Walks These Hills – Unabridged. Read by Buck Schirner. Brilliance Corporation. 1994
- She Walks These Hills – Abridged. Read by Buck Schirner. Brilliance Corporation. 1994
- She Walks These Hills – Unabridged. Read by C.M. Herbert. Blackstone Audio Books. 1996
- The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter – Unabridged. Read by Sally Darling- Recorded Books. 1993
- If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy – O. Unabridged. Read by Sally Darling- Recorded Books, 1993
- Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Abridged. Read by Sharon Gless. Durkin Hayes Audio, 3375 North Service Rd. Burlington, ONT L7N 3G2 Canada. 1997
ALSO RECORDED UNABRIDGED BY RECORDED BOOKS
- If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him
- The Windsor Knot
- Paying the Piper
- Highland Laddie Gone
- Lovely in Her Bones
- Sick of Shadows
- MacPherson’s Lament
- Missing Susan
- PMS Outlaws
- Bimbos of the Death Sun
- Zombies of the Gene Pool
The next speaker at BRAHM is curator Jerald Melberg, in a presentation about the late artist Romare Bearden, Thursday, September 14, 2017, 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm. The talk is in conjunction with the exhibit of Romare Bearden’s work, running from August 5, 2017 through November 11, 2017. CLICK HERE for more information.