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Bloodroot (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – January 4, 2011
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A Q&A with Amy Greene
Question: You’ve lived all your life in East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, a part of the country you depict vividly in Bloodroot. How did you imbue a familiar place with such detail and even magic? What was it like to put the language you’d heard all your life into words on the page, as dialogue?
Amy Greene: There is, I think, an intimacy with the landscape that comes with living here. Most of my childhood was spent outdoors, a part of my experience that emerges naturally in my writing. Bringing the language I’ve heard all my life to the page also came easily. It was instinctive to appropriate the voices of my family, friends and neighbors for the characters I was exploring in Bloodroot. The challenge was actually in dialing back the language once I had poured it onto the page, making it accessible to people who aren’t familiar with these expressions and colloquialisms.
Question: Six different character--men and women, old and young--narrate Bloodroot. Which characters or voices came to you first? Who was the most difficult to write, and who was the easiest? Did you have any particular people in your own life in mind when you came up with these characters originally? How did you invent the totally unique Ford Hendrix?
Amy Greene: I envisioned Johnny and Laura first, not as children but as young adults. I considered writing a short story about them, but realized I wanted to know more than I could learn about their lives within a few pages. I found myself creating a past for them, going back in time before their birth to discover what had brought them to such a dark place. Their great-grandmother, Byrdie, was the easiest character to write. She hasn’t changed much since the first draft of Bloodroot, probably because I’ve been surrounded and raised by women like her, my mom and my aunts and the ladies I went to church with. I was interested in exploring, through Byrdie, the stories I’d heard from them about life in Appalachia during the Depression. John Odom was hardest to write. It was difficult to show all his dimensions and his conflicting emotions--to portray him not just as a villain but also as a tortured soul. I struggled to make it believable that, at least in his own mind, it was possible for John to love Myra and at the same time, to hurt her. With Ford, I wanted Johnny to have the father figure he was searching for, but the first character I created to fit that role became uninspiring to me. I knew he wasn’t working, so I scrapped what I had written and began to imagine a character I wouldn’t grow tired of, one who would intrigue Johnny and me both enough to follow him a long way. The intriguing figure I ended up with was Ford Hendrix.
Question: Bloodroot takes place across four generations, from the Great Depression to the present-day. At times there’s a sociological aspect to your depiction of life in Appalachia--the poverty some families struggle with for years, the development of the land. But in some ways the story you’ve told seems out of time--we don’t see politics or computers, for instance. Did you consciously weave social issues into the novel? How isolated is this area of the country, and how has that changed over time? To your mind, what role does history and the passage of time play in this family story?
Amy Greene: I didn’t think about "sociology," especially not at first. I concentrated primarily on storytelling, and building the lives of the characters. For the most part, I kept the wider world out of the picture, partly to preserve the dreamlike quality I wanted to achieve with the writing, and also to portray the sense of isolation that comes with living in Appalachia. Often the passage of time and what’s going on outside the mountains has little impact on life here. People still grow and can their own food, get their water from wells and springs, use wood and coal for heat. There’s a feeling of separateness from the rest of the country. But as I wrote deeper into the characters, the outside world began seeping into their stories with the progression of time. In successive drafts I was able to add another layer to Bloodroot by expanding those moments already present in the narrative that addressed social issues, such as the poverty that persists in parts of Appalachia. Although the quality of life has improved here over the last few decades, there are still areas where lack of education, job training, and access to public services makes life difficult. I also thought about the possibility of hopelessness as a kind of legacy, generation after generation accepting destitution as their lot in life because it’s all they’ve ever known. But while history and the passage of time do play important roles in this story, the familial bond of the characters mattered more to me. It transcends the changing world around them--the landscape changes, their circumstances change, people move in and out of their lives. But their blood ties are permanent.
Question: Magic and mysticism run throughout the book--there are "granny women" who are like witches; spells and potions, including a visceral scene where a young woman swallows a chicken heart to make a man fall in love with her; and a special connection with animals, called "the touch," that is passed down in the family. How did these supernatural elements make their way into a story that often feels very true-to-life? Growing up, had you heard any similar legends? Does this type of folk magic--healing or curses or anything else--still hold weight for people?
Amy Greene: I’ve always seen Appalachia as a magical place. I grew up hearing stories of haints and fortunetellers and curses. One of my favorite scenes in Bloodroot to write, where Clifford blows healing wind down Byrdie’s throat, is based on a story my dad tells of his mother taking his baby sister to a neighbor man who cured her thrush the same way. My mom had an aunt who took off her warts by rubbing a stone in a circle around each one and then throwing the stones away. This kind of folk magic still holds weight here because, for whatever reason, people see tangible results from the practice of it. The thrush clears up, the warts fall off, and so they keep believing.
(Photo © Amy Smotherman Burgess)
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The first section of the story is the most confusing, alternating between two narrators whose thankless job it is to set the stage for the mysterious story that will follow. By the time Byrdie Lamb and Douglas Cotter finish telling their stories, I was completely bewitched by the characters and the plot, but the second section, narrated by twins Johnny and Laura, is that much more powerful. The twins' story follows the dark currents of genetic inheritance, the curse of blood, how nature emerges despite any counteracting nurture.
The writing in this novel is stunning. I could smell, see, touch and taste the world of the characters, whether it was the green cool of the mountain or the dirt and rocks of a gravel yard. I could hear the scream of a baby rabbit or the scrabbling wings of a trapped bird. To have such a dark story told so beautifully makes for a wrenchingly painful tour-de-force that thankfully leaves the reader with the true possibility of redemption and hope.
Very highly recommended.
A few weeks back I made a vow to break my addiction for books that have `happily ever after' endings, and try to read some sad, but worthwhile stories. I would just like to state that with Bloodroot I've met my `sad' quota for a month or two at least. I was persuaded to try this book by a rave review in Entertainment Weekly magazine. I figured if the purveyors of popular culture liked it, then there's a good chance that I would too.
Some books like to save up the sadness, and spring it like a trap at the end. Bloodroot was different in that it was fairly sad at the beginning, middle, and end. Actually I take that back - the one ray of hope and sunshine came at the very end. As sad as it was, I didn't cry. Not once. I suppose I was too angry with the characters to express any maudlin sentiments. As I read story after story about these poor, ignorant people, I kept wondering where is that American grit we're so famous for? I kept waiting for someone to pull herself up out of the muck, but it's like they were all destined to fail.
The setting was vivid and lush, with beautiful descriptions. The speech rhythms got under my skin, and I found myself wanting to slip into the same patterns after spending all afternoon within the story. There is much to admire here, but it was too unrelenting when it came to the sour mood.Read more ›
This book was popping up all over the place -- magazines, the VINE program where I was smart enough and lucky enough to be able to obtain a copy, advertisements, word of mouth -- I was eager to get my copy and dive right in. What a first novel! Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new voice in literature.
We are taken up to Bloodroot Mountain, located in Tennessee. It's a magically quiet place, an area where time seems to stand still, a location the world doesn't seem to know even exists. Living in the beautiful terrain are mountain folk who, for generations, have lived, loved, dealt with many heartaches and hardships. Yet, through love, hard work, and perseverance, they carry on.
The story is told my very favorite way, in the voices of several different characters. We meet Byrdie Lamb, living on the mountain forever and a day, who has a way with herbs, roots, and some say is quite magical. She is known as a 'granny woman' and people rely on her heavily for her special ways and gifts.
Byrdie births and raises many children, but it's her grand-daughter, Myra Lamb, who is her heart child. Myra is special too and has what many call 'haint blue eyes'. Myra loves her Granny and her life on the mountain. She runs wild and free, has her family and friends, and most of the boys that know her come to fall in love with her.
We meet many characters, each adding their own story into the stories of the other characters whose lives are all entwined together -- some in good ways, others in horrible ways -- through each other. There's the Cotter men, handsome John Odom, his brother, Hollis, the twins, Johnny and Laura.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Bloodroot is a novel that needs some tightening, but tells an interesting story. The best part of the novel is the feel for life among the poor in backwoods Tennessee. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Steven R. Lindahl
Beautifully written. Rich narrative. I felt transported by this heartbreaking story.Published 6 months ago by Jennifer C. Hofstetter
Story draws you in. Depicts mountain life, the importance of family. Involves abusive behaviors. The story of twins in search of heritage.Published 8 months ago by Lib
Having read the story using Amazon Immersion Reading made for a much better experience. Six narrators using appalacian accents opens the story to a visual world lost on reading... Read morePublished 8 months ago by M. James
I wanted to love this book because it represents Appalachian literature. For all that it is wonderfully written, it also deals in stereotypes. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Heather Baker