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Ancient, intriguing, complex, homespun: the Appalachian Mountains have provided songwriters and storytellers with a rich trove of inspiration for centuries, but perhaps none have mined this deep vein more than author Sharyn McCrumb. With her beloved “ballad” series — so named because of the lyrics and titles of traditional folk ballads that provide motifs that unite the books — McCrumb interweaves contemporary problems with traditional folklore to create timeless tales that draw on her own heritage. “I come from a race of storytellers,” says McCrumb in her introduction to Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Other Stories, and she attributes her love of mountain culture to her great-grandfathers, itinerant circuit preachers who traveled throughout the mountains of eastern Tennessee.
Born on February 26, 1948, in Wilmington, North Carolina, Sharyn Elaine Arrowood learned about her heritage from her father’s tales of growing up in the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. These stories were balanced by those of her mother, a “flatlander” from the coastal community of New Bern, North Carolina, who told her of the family’s more genteel traditions. Both backgrounds would greatly influence the three major series of McCrumb’s literary career: her “Elizabeth MacPherson” mysteries; “Jay Omega” sci-fi spoofs; and her Appalachian “ballad” series.
A 1970 graduate of the University of North Carolina with a B.A. degree in communications and Spanish, McCrumb plied a variety of jobs, including teaching at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, and as a reporter for the Smoky Mountain Times in Bryson City, NC. She married David McCrumb, a corporate environmental director, in 1982; the couple has two children, Spencer and Laura.
McCrumb’s first novel, Sick of Shadows, launched her acclaimed “Elizabeth MacPherson” mystery series, in which McCrumb set out to satirize the world of Southern gentility, one populated by eccentric characters such as a Shakespeare-quoting cousin who lobs caustic comments about Southern stereotypes. McCrumb describes her heroine as “Jane Austen with an attitude” and says that her mysteries “serve as a catalyst” to show how people react to real or perceived threats to their social situations.
In 1987, while pursuing a M.A. degree in English with a concentration on Appalachian literature and culture, McCrumb wrote her fourth novel, Bimbos of the Death Sun. Intended as a practical joke, Bimbos spoofed science fiction writers and their fans and introduced a second McCrumb series featuring Dr. Jay O. Mega, an engineering professor who gets caught up in a “Dungeons and Dragons” type of game scenario. Encouraged by a professor to submit the manuscript for publication, the series enthralled critics who praised McCrumb for her “funny one-liners and sense of the absurd.”
The first of McCrumb’s “ballad” novels, If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O, was published in 1990, and showcased the stories, folk tales, ballads, and history that were part of McCrumb’s personal heritage. In an interview with the journal Now and Then, McCrumb said she began this series because she “was tired of hearing the stereotypes of Appalachia” and set her novels in the mountains of eastern Tennessee so that “people could see the culture there and realize that it’s not Bo Duke,” a reference to the then- popular Dukes of Hazzard TV series. Each novel examines a contemporary issue such as child abuse or land mismanagement through the filter of mountain lore and myth.
McCrumb’s works have won her numerous awards and accolades, among them the Best Appalachian Novel Award from the Appalachian Writers Association in 1985 for Lovely in Her Bones, and again in 1992 for The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter; the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1988 for Bimbos of the Death Sun; New York Times Notable Book citations for If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (1990) and The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter(1992); the Nero Award, Agatha Award, Anthony Award, and Macavity Award, all for She Walks These Hills; and an Audie Award for Best Recorded Book for Ghost Riders.
Books by Sharyn McCrumb
The Ballad Novels
If Ever I Return, Pretty Peggy-O (1990) **
The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter: A Novel of Suspense (1992)
She Walks These Hills (1994) **
The Rosewood Casket (1996) **, ER
The Ballad of Frankie Silver (1998) **, LP
The Songcatcher (2001) LP
Ghost Riders (2003) **, LP
The Devil Amongst the Lawyers (2010) ***, ER
The Ballad of Tom Dooley (2011) ***, LP
Elizabeth MacPherson Series
Sick of Shadows (1984) ER, LP
Lovely in Her Bones (1985) ER, LP,
Highland Laddie Gone (1986) ER only
Paying the Piper (1988) LP
The Windsor Knot (1990) ER
Missing Susan (1990) ER, LP
MacPherson’s Lament (1992) **, ER, LP
If I’d Killed Him When I Met Him (1995) ER
The PMS Outlaws (2000) **, ***, LP
Jay Omega Series
Bimbos of the Death Sun (1987) **, ***, ER,
Zombies of the Gene Pool (1992) **, ***
Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Other Stories (1997)
St. Dale (2005) ***, LP
Once Around the Track (2007) **, ER, LP
Other Formats: Legend
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Cassette Audiobook = **
CD Audiobook = ***
Electronic Resource = ER
Large Print = LP