A Banjo as a Bridge, a guest post by Erica Waters
I first got the idea for Ghost Wood Song, my debut YA novel about a girl with a ghost-raising fiddle, from a spooky experience of my own. I was home alone, writing in my attic office, when I heard a banjo playing below. I crept down the stairs with all my senses tingling, but the music stopped. The room was empty and still, and my banjo rested innocently against a wall, perfectly silent. I chalked the phantom music up to vibrations in the banjo’s resonator and went back to work.
However, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of a ghost playing a musical instrument. What might he want to communicate? Could music be a bridge between the living and the dead? If so, would that bridge be safe to cross?
I was already deeply interested in bluegrass and folk music, so I knew I could write a story about ghosts set against those musical traditions. But I needed a character to bring the music to life. And out of the blue, she introduced herself to me. Her name was Shady Grove, named after my favorite Appalachian folk song. Her father had died and she was grieving and missing the music he’d taught her to love. But one day she heard his fiddle crying in the pine woods and believed he was calling to her.
That fiddle became my bridge—an instrument that when played just right could call up ghosts and let them take a solid form, speak, even touch the ones they loved. It was temporary and dangerous, but it was a small form of resurrection. However, the real bridge wasn’t the fiddle itself but the music that Shady played.
Bluegrass tunes, murder ballads, classic country, gospel hymns.
It was music that I had grown up on in rural Florida but had forgotten until I moved to Nashville and started going to bluegrass joints and shows at the Ryman Auditorium. All these songs came back to me—ones that my grandfather had played on tape decks, that my father sang while he drove. It was intimately familiar to me and yet felt brand new. These songs connected me to a past that felt like such a part of me but also fractured, painful, irretrievable.
As I wrote, I was flooded with a longing for home and family, even though those things are deeply complicated for me. But the music that shaped Shady’s story cracked me open too, and something that felt miraculous happened: I found my writerly self. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to write and who I wanted to be as a writer. My writing had context, atmosphere, and voice. It was compelling. It was original. Finally, I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself from scratch; rather, I was returning to myself.
Shady’s music became a bridge for me. To the dead, yes. To a home I thought I’d left behind, yes. But most of all it connected me to myself and my own voice.
So maybe there really was a ghost playing that neglected banjo in the corner. Maybe the phantom music was my own personal fiddle crying in the pines. At any rate, it brought me here. It brought me home.
You can buy a copy of Ghost Wood Song at Nashville’s beloved indie bookstore, Parnassus Books: https://www.parnassusbooks.net/ericawaters.
Meet Erica Waters
Erica Waters writes young adult fantasy with a Southern Gothic feel. She’s originally from the pine woods of rural Florida but has made her home in Nashville, TN with her spouse and two scruffy little rescue dogs. Ghost Wood Song is her debut novel. You can visit her online at ericawaters.com and connect with her on twitter and Instagram.
Cover Design Credit:
Jacket art: Alix Northrup
Jacket design: Jenna Stempel-Lobell
About Ghost Wood Song
Sawkill Girls meets Beautiful Creatures in this lush and eerie debut, where the boundary between reality and nightmares is as thin as the veil between the living and the dead.
If I could have a fiddle made of Daddy’s bones, I’d play it. I’d learn all the secrets he kept.
Shady Grove inherited her father’s ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle, but she also knows the fiddle’s tunes bring nothing but trouble and darkness.
But when her brother is accused of murder, she can’t let the dead keep their secrets.
In order to clear his name, she’s going to have to make those ghosts sing.
Family secrets, a gorgeously resonant LGBTQ love triangle, and just the right amount of creepiness make this young adult debut a haunting and hopeful story about facing everything that haunts us in the dark.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2020
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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