BY TESS COLLINS
Pub date: January 4, 2017
Casebound: ISBN 978-1-937356-46-0
Trade: ISBN 978-1-937356-47-7
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—SHADOW MOUNTAIN begins a new series for author Tess Collins. “The Shadow Mountain Saga opens in the time when the agrarian age is being overtaken by the industrial,” says Collins. “The conflicts of those times play out in the plot, and I suspect going forward in the saga, this won’t be the last we’ll see of cultures clashing in the personal stories of the characters.”
Tess Collins is a coal miner’s granddaughter, raised in a southeastern crater town of Middlesboro, Kentucky. She is the author of six novels and a non-fiction book on theater management. Tess graduated from the University of Kentucky and has a Ph.D. from The Union Institute and University.
Synopsis of SHADOW MOUNTAIN:
At the peak of Shadow Mountain lives a woman who holds to the old ways of magic and conjuring. Delta Wade protects ancient mysteries for her son, Lafette, hoping he will grow up to wield those powers for the good of humankind. But the epoch of witch lore is giving way to an age of industrial titans greedy to control the mountains' resources for material gain. As one man seeks to destroy Delta, another offers his love as salvation. Mother and son struggle with an enigmatic past only to find that true magic shows its power in its own way and in its own time.
Q: You’re starting a new series with the Shadow Mountain Saga while in the middle of a different series—The Crimson County Quartet—what were you thinking?
TC: I’m crazy, I’m just plain crazy for doing this. I told myself this a dozen times, but then went and did it anyway. The Shadow Mountain Saga is going to be, I guess, my opus of life, my oeuvre of all that I’ve been working toward. I jest a bit—seriously, going toward the last quarter of my years on earth, I knew I had to double down and get these stories told. They’ve been in my head since I was a kid. Then, maybe I can rest and watch some TV.
Q: Here’s a question that always gets asked, but readers always want to know: how did you get started writing?
TC: Around the age of 13, I wrote teenage angst poetry about escaping my life of pain and misery in deepest, darkest Appalachia. I also daydreamed of kissing cute football players who never looked my way. Playwright Paul Green sent me the most encouraging letter after I poured my heart out to him in a nine page handwritten diatribe about my ho-hum life, and I thought, damn, I should be a writer.
Q: Was college any better?
TC: My years at the University of Kentucky were filled with worry over landlords who ripped me off, and basketball players who never looked my way either, much less kissed me. I had the biggest crush on Kyle Macy who always ate a few tables away from me but did know I was even alive. I did have some terrific teachers: Gurney Norman, Ed McClanahan, James Baker Hall. From among the three of them, I got the romantic notion of running away to California. I was so eager I graduated in three years, and took off.
Q: To California?
TC: In a cast-off ‘68 Buick Electra my father gave me for graduation. My best friend and I had a Kerouac-ian journey across the country, she as Gypsy Woman and me as Princess Knight, on our search for the Holy Grail. And if you ever ask which of us made the midnight phone call to a well-known writer in Butte, Montana, I’ll never tell.
Q: What has been the most important influence on your writing?
TC: It’s a who: James N. Frey, author of HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL. He’s part evil Santa Claus and part fascist taskmaster, with a glint of satanic elf about the eyes. If you don’t have conflict in every scene and drama in every line you get “Freyed” (fried), as his students say behind his back. Write a static scene and he’s apt to vomit in your lap. Jim’s influence helped me develop into a professional.
Q: You’re a small-town girl living in a big city. Differences much?
TC: I grew up in eastern Kentucky where you learn to duck bullets before you're out of diapers, where only a few years back the Hatfields and the McCoys signed a peace treaty. Only time I ever got shot at was in my hometown of Middlesboro. You come to realize that the fight over who kicked my dog is really about how am I going to live my life. In San Francisco, I’ve woken up to a dead body under my window, walked upon shootings in the Tenderloin where I work and oddly, even in the city, the fight over who kicked my dog is really about how am I going to live my life.
Q: Do you have a favorite author?
TC: I lean toward writers who tell stories and invent characters that stay with you for a lifetime—Thomas Hardy and Tennessee Williams come to mind, but there’s a lot of great writers out there.
Q: Maybe this is an obvious question, but did growing up in Appalachia influence your writing?
TC: How could it not? It’s a place of contrasts that lives in your blood. There are many successful people living there though the poverty-ridden drug culture gets most the attention. In the everyday life, people battle for justice as they see it, and if that means a knock-down fistfight breaks out on election day, then there’s gonna be a fight. One of my favorite true stories is the beauty contestant who got in a fight in the afternoon and still placed in the beauty pageant that night with a black eye. It takes me hours to make up a story with that much energy, passion and a touch of pathos. Many of us who leave the area struggle with who we are in that page of history that is as bloody and infuriating as it is nostalgic. But don’t bad-mouth our hometowns to us. We’ll usually come out most aggressively defending our heritage.
Q: You’ve worked a day job—or is it night job—in theater for many years. Any plans to set a novel in a theater?
TC: Day and night, and what an excellent idea. I may have to consider a thriller that takes place on or off stage. After all, with over thirty years of theater management under my belt, I’ve experienced a great deal of drama in public and in private. I know where the bodies are buried and who has slept with whom.
Q: One last question—is it true you were born in a crater?
TC: Born and raised. Google it. Middlesboro, KY is one of the few cities built in a meteorite crater. Maybe that explains some things, I’m just not sure what things.
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