The Music of the Smoky Blue Series
A Blog Post by Emily Mims
Music is an integral part of my life. Ever since I sat down at our brand-new piano at the age of nine with a simple song in front of me, I have been making music in one form or another on five, hopefully soon to be six, different instruments (piano, organ, guitar, dulcimer, ukulele and hopefully I can nail down the bowed psaltery). It is inevitable that my love of music finds its way into my stories. In my first series, The Texas Hill Country series, my characters either sang, danced well, or played an instrument. But I wanted to take it further than that. So when I was thinking about writing a second series, I decided to set the stories in the world of Appalachian mountain music and bluegrass music and have as my centerpiece a bluegrass music club in Bristol, Tennessee, with my characters the professional musicians performing there.
Kylie Richards, the heroine of ‘Mist’, plays the mountain dulcimer. I play the dulcimer-not as well as she does, but I do play it. I bought my first dulcimer in the summer of 2012 in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The vendor was demonstrating how to play one and it looked interesting, so I sat down and gave it a test run. I was hooked! I bought one on the spot and brought it home to San Antonio, where I found a tiny but thriving dulcimer group called the Riverpickers. The mountain dulcimer is the only instrument that was ever developed in the continental United States and is a bit deceptive in that at first it seems easy, but playing it well requires a great deal of skill. Normally a dulcimer is held flat on one’s lap or on a table in front of the musician and played flat like a steel guitar, but I prefer a ‘music stick’ or banjo dulcimer that I hold like a banjo or a ukulele. Most dulcimers are made by specialty luthiers, and they are hard to find outside Appalachia or the Ozarks. Some of the characters in ‘Mist’ play the hammered dulcimer, a large triangular instrument played by hitting the strings with small hammers. I don’t play one of those and have the utmost admiration for those who do! I also have Kylie’s amputee brother playing a bowed psaltery, an instrument that can be played one-handed. It’s another instrument that is deceptive in that it’s laid out like a piano and would theoretically be a quick study for a pianist, but that again requires skill and practice to play well.
A good musician can play anything on a dulcimer (either kind) or psaltery, but the music that’s made for them are the old folk songs and ballads that were brought over by the English and Scots that settled Appalachia and passed these songs down as the years passed. I was careful to have my characters play actual old mountain songs to the point that I had my Riverpickers music book on my desk as a ready reference. Most of the music in that book is hand-written, as much of the mountain music has never been formally written down or published. When I needed a song for my characters to play, I would ask myself ‘What are the characters doing with the music?’ If they are accompanying the young cloggers, I have them play something that would be suitable for clog dancing, as opposed to singing a love ballad. However, I was also careful to have them play other kinds of music as well. The Barstows sing and play bluegrass, which developed in the 1940’s as a musical genre and is an outgrowth of the old mountain music, and my musicians are seen playing modern songs as well.
As the Smoky Blue series progresses, more musicians will star as my heroes and heroines and more instruments will be featured. Some of my upcoming heroines play the fiddle, the ukulele, and the banjo, and I also have a song writer and a pole dancer in the works. Where will the series go after that? I’m not sure, but wherever it goes, my characters will be making beautiful music in my stories.
Mist by Emily Mims
GENRE: Romance/romantic suspense
The widow of a lying drug dealer, dulcimer-player Kylie Barstow Richards finds herself struggling to see through the mist of the Smoky Mountains to the truth-about her life, about the nightclub where she works, and about the bluegrass-playing musician who has arrived to steal her heart.
Kylie looked Ren in the eye. “How much of that is the truth and how much of it was bullshit?”
Ren’s lips firmed. “It’s the truth, every damned bit of it. And that’s also why I did what I did. The DEA honestly thought you were guilty. A drug dealer took out one of my best friends, Kylie. I’ve missed Jerry every day for the last two years.”
“And that justifies what you did to me? Sorry, Ren. Not buying it. And I don’t care what your reasons for lying were, a liar is a liar. And I can’t stand liars.”
“I get that, Kylie. Look, obviously we blew it, and I’m just as sorry as I can be that I hurt you.”
“If you can be believed, which I seriously doubt.”
“I do mean it. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
“I am, too, Ren. I was just beginning to have a little bit of faith and trust again and you very effectively managed to take that away from me. Congratulations. I will probably never trust another man as long as I live.”
“Aw, Kylie, no.” Ren leaned forward. “Look, I know there is no way I can take back the lies I’ve already told. But I can promise you this. I will never, ever lie to you again about anything.”
Kylie shrugged. “And now I’m supposed to believe that? Ren, I’m sorry. The damage is done. The trust is broken. Kind of like Humpty Dumpty.”
“I understand. But Kylie, I’m going to tell you the truth from now on whether you believe me or not.”
“Knock yourself out.”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Author of twenty six romance novels, Emily Mims combined her writing career with a career in public education until leaving the classroom to write full time. The mother of two sons and grandmother of three, she and her husband Charles live in central Texas but frequently visit grandchildren in eastern Tennessee and Georgia. She plays the piano, organ, dulcimer, and ukulele and belongs to two performing bands. She says, “I love to write romances because I believe in them. Romance happened to me and it can happen to any woman-if she’ll just let it.”
GIVEAWAY INFORMATION and RAFFLECOPTER CODE
Emily Mims will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
This was a different kind of read for me, full of unfamiliar landscapes and sounds. Being a city girl from Michigan whose favorite band is AFI, reading a story about a bluegrass band with a dulcimer-playing heroine that takes place in eastern Tennessee was definitely something new, but I enjoy learning about new places and new things.
Funny sidestory: My parents just moved to his area, and their neighbor complained first thing about the meth problem in the area. My mom freaked out (having also just been diagnosed with cancer) because they’d bought the house sight unseen and it’s a drug neighborhood (which it isn’t.) The second time I hear about this area (Kingsport/Bristol,) the fictional DEA is setting up a sting in a bluegrass music place. I did NOT tell my mom about this book because she’d freak out even more, though I do like to pass on titles of books I think she’ll enjoy–like this one.
Back to the review: This story is about Kylie, a widowed musician whose husband had been a cheater and a liar. She’s tender and doesn’t trust easily, so when Ren, a man working with the DEA steals her heart while investigating her, it’s understandable when she shows him the door. The plot here is nothing new, but the writing style brings these characters and the story to life. There were a few things that bothered me, mostly Cooper’s attitude (he’s Kylie’s brother.) At one point, he spouted off about his mother being a whore, his sister being a bastard, and his father being a queer. Those judgmental, old-fashioned prejudices pissed me off, but then I reasoned that there are people like that in every family–mine included–who we love but want to smack over the head. Kudoes to Ms. Mims that her story engaged me enough to make me want to shake a character. (I’m pretty sure Cooper is the focus of the next book, so hopefully someone teaches him to be more open-minded and less judgmental.)
Overall, I liked this book. The writing style was engaging, and the story was good. Mist has it all–jams, intrigue, love, heartbreak, and forgiveness.