Jaye Wells

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High Lonesome Sound and Decoration Day

As we near Memorial Day, I wanted to tell you a little bit about the origins of my novel High Lonesome Sound.

I chose to use the phrase as the book’s title because that it is used to describe the mournful quality of bluegrass music. My novel is set in southern Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Appalachian range. It’s nearly impossible to write about that region and not include music. The title was also fitting because the story itself was partially inspired by a song. John Lee Hooker’s “Decoration Day” starts like this:

“People I had a woman, she was nice and kind to me in ev’ry way
But Lord, she died and she left me, I sang the blues on ev’ry Decoration Day.”

I first learned of the mountain practice of Decoration Day from a tv show. The tradition happened every spring when the menfolk clean the cemeteries and the women make paper flowers to decorate the graves. There’s a picnic on the ground and the preacher offers a service. It’s a way for communities to reconnect after the long winter and to honor their dead.

There’s some debate about the origins of the practice. It’s similar to Dia de Los Muertos and Memorial Day, which came later. But I’m a writer so my brain is pretty twisted, and when I asked myself why a community would start a ritual like this one, I decided they did it because they had to–or the dead would rise.

John Lee Hooker’s song combined with one of my favorite short stories, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs, gave me the idea for the basic premise of the story: A man, mourning his dead wife, will do anything to get her back, even if it means making a deal with a demon. The problem is deals with demons rarely go as one hopes, and his dead wife, Rose, doesn’t come back alone.

As I started writing the story, it grew into much more than a narrative about the lengths we’ll go to to escape grief. It became a story about five people who were searching for something they’d lost. Cotton Barret is the man searching for a way to get his wife back. Ruby Barret is his daughter, who lost her ability to hear the mountain’s song on the day her mama died. Peter West is a down-on-his luck horror novelist who’s looking for a new story to save his career. Deacon Fry is the town’s mayor and the head deacon of Moon Hollow’s only church, and he’s search for redemption for a sin he committed as a young man. Then there’s Granny Maypearl, the local granny woman who specializes old folk remedies and magic, who is searching for a way to mend her broken family and pass her gifts to her estranged granddaughter, Ruby.

If you haven’t given High Lonesome Sound a read yet, I hope you’ll consider it. From now through Memorial Day weekend, it’s only $.99 in ebook.

Buy High Lonesome Sound in ebook now!

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