East Tennessee has been novelist Amy Greene's home since childhood, and nature her passion. Greene's acclaimed debut novel Bloodroot celebrates the region's beauty, but doesn't sugarcoat the difficult times and circumstances many of its residents have encountered for decades.
Greene, who'll be discussing and signing copies of Bloodroot Monday at Davis-Kidd, says the book's rich characters, vivid descriptive sections and intricate, poignant situations and storyline were a natural outgrowth of what she's heard her entire life.
"My parents were great storytellers," Greene said. "They passed down so many wonderful tales about what they'd experienced and what they remembered so I had a great head start on creating these characters.
“It really wasn't a question of doing much research, but of getting down the story that was already in my head, then polishing it in such a way that it was readable and made sense. It really flowed from the standpoint of getting that first draft down, but the polishing and editing took about another year before it was finished."
Bloodroot, which takes its name from a flower whose blood-red sap has the power to both heal and poison, follows events in the life of the Lamb family from the Depression to the present.
While Myra Lamb is the central figure, there are several other compelling characters whose exploits provide key Bloodroot. These range from her outspoken and protective grandmother Byrdie to John Odom, the man whose desire for Myra and attempts to change her life result in disaster and chaos.
Greene intersperses details about Appalachian customs and cuisine, and uses multiple narrators as the story unfolds, a literary device she only decided would work midway through the writing process.
"Even though Myra is clearly the most important character, it was important that the story show how she was affected by her decisions and other relationships," Greene said. "The more I wrote about her, the more important it became to make sure there were other voices and that this not become her story alone. So I made the decision to use multiple narrators, and it gave the story depth and substance."
Bloodroot has received rave reviews in several publications, among them Entertainment Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist. But more importantly to Greene, the warm welcome she's receiving as she continues her book tour has reaffirmed the story's universal appeal.
"I've always felt Appalachia was a special place, a wonderful area, and I wanted to be true to its heritage and tradition," Greene said. "But I also felt a story about a family's struggles and triumphs, about the power and beauty of the outdoors and nature, would be attractive to people regardless of geography or background. It's been so gratifying to visit places like California for example, and have people say they loved reading about the Smokies and they related to the characters in Bloodroot."
Greene has already completed her second novel, whose tentative title is Long Man.
"That's what the Cherokees called the Tennessee River," she explained. "It's a story about a small town in East Tennessee during the Depression and the disappearance of a young girl and how that affects everything. It also talks about the impact of the Tennessee Valley Authority's creation and poses the question of whether what we consider progress is always a good thing."
She now lives roughly 20 minutes away from where she grew up with her husband and two children, and Amy Greene has no plans to leave East Tennessee anytime soon, or to stop writing stories about Appalachia.
"There's such a connection to this area for me and so many stories I want to tell that I really don't think I'm going to stop writing about the region and people anytime soon," she said. "When I was a teenager I had this notion about moving away and going to the big city, but I've long since gotten over that. I enjoy visiting other places and a time may come where I do other subjects, but as a novelist, right now I'm very happy writing more novels like Bloodroot."
IF YOU GO
What: Author Amy Greene discusses and signs her debut novel Bloodroot
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Davis-Kidd Booksellers, 2121 Green Hills Village
Cost: Free and open to the public