A big welcome to Alex Bledsoe who is here to telling us about the creation of the Tufa and celebrating the release of Chapel of Ease, A Novel of the Tufa #4 (published on September 6, 2016 by Tor).
Hiding in Plain Sight
The Creation of the Tufa
Brigadoon did it the easy way.
Lerner and Loewe’s classic musical tells of a magical Scottish village that appears once every hundred years. The rest of the time, it’s hidden and inaccessible from our world. Marion Zimmer Bradley hid the island of Avalon behind titular mists, and James Hilton placed his Shangri-La in the Himalayas. In all three, these hidden communities seem like paradise to the jaded outsiders that discover them, leave, and then move heaven and earth to return.
The idea of the hidden, idyllic community is a powerful one, especially when the outside world gets too grim. And there are rare cases of genuinely isolated places which have, consciously or not, avoided contact with (some might say “contamination by”) the outside world. So the concept isn’t total fantasy, even when the stories told about it clearly are.
My imaginary group, the Tufa, live in an isolated small town in contemporary East Tennessee. It’s not idyllic—like most of Appalachia, it suffers from poverty, substance abuse and an apparent lack of prospects. And unlike Brigadoon, Shangri-La, or Avalon, it’s not terribly hard to find. But like those places, it has secrets: in this case, not so much about the place, but the people. They are descended from an exiled band of Celtic faerie folk, and retain the supernatural aspects of their ancestors.
As a kid in the seventies, I grew up hearing about the Melungeons, a strange (as it was told to me) group who lived isolated in the mountains of East Tennessee. They were spooky, shiftless, and untrustworthy, my father’s family insisted, and occasionally stole wayward children. They also looked unlike any other people in the region, and had supposedly been there when the first European settlers arrived.
Of course, none of that is true. Melungeons are no different than anyone, and their history, while fascinating, is not the least bit supernatural. But those stories, fictional and slanderous though they were, set a powerful hook in a child’s mind, and led directly to the invention of my own hidden people.
Each Tufa novel (the fourth and most recent, Chapel of Ease, has just been released, and the fifth, Gather Her Round, comes out in March of next year) is a standalone story, but the overarching theme of the series is how these hidden people respond when they can no longer avoid notice, when technology and communication reach everywhere and every mystery has its own Wikipedia page. How do you hide when the whole world can see you? The answer, and the approach that the Tufa have used for centuries, is to hide in plain sight.
It’s the opposite of what, for example, Charlaine Harris did with the Sookie Stackhouse novels, in which the world suddenly became aware of the reality of vampires, and changed accordingly. You also see that trope used a lot in urban fantasy—the new world order that encompasses the supernatural. But to me, the moment magic is common, it loses a lot of its dramatic power. A world where everyone knows about vampires isn’t as interesting to me as one that, due to ignorance, allows vampires to hide in plain sight (and that’s not a criticism, it’s merely a personal preference).
The idea of hidden places is an ancient one that, especially as our world becomes more connected, continues to fascinate us. Whether they exist underground, in isolated geography or hidden by magic, they promise things that the real world can’t: simplicity, tranquility, and an end to suffering. And even when those things prove to be false (or maybe especially when they do), they provide the basis for compelling stories.
ALEX BLEDSOE grew up in west Tennessee an hour north of Graceland (home of Elvis) and twenty minutes from Nutbush (birthplace of Tina Turner). He’s been a reporter, editor, photographer and door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. He now lives in a Wisconsin town famous for trolls, writes before six in the morning and tries to teach his three kids to act like they’ve been to town before. Bledsoe is also the author of the Eddie LaCrosse novels and the Memphis Vampires series.
Chapel of Ease by Alex Bledsoe
Available on September 6, 2016 by Tor
When Matt Johanssen, a young New York actor, auditions for “Chapel of Ease,” an off-Broadway musical, he is instantly charmed by Ray Parrish, the show’s writer and composer. They soon become friends; Matt learns that Ray’s people call themselves the Tufa and that the musical is based on the history of his isolated hometown. But there is one question in the show’s script that Ray refuses to answer: what is buried in the ruins of the chapel of ease Matt’s journey into the haunting Appalachian mountains of Cloud County sets him on a dangerous path, where some secrets deserve to stay buried.
Interested in being a guest on All Things Urban Fantasy? Fill out our Guest Request Form