Ash Grove Chronicles Q&A

Q: What was your inspi­ra­tion for the series?

A: Many years ago I stum­bled on a beau­ti­ful children’s book by Jane Yolen, a retelling of an old Scot­tish bal­lad called “Tam Lin.” The bal­lad is about a hand­some knight who is kid­napped by the queen of the fae and is res­cued by a brave mor­tal girl who has fall­en in love with him. The sto­ry haunt­ed me. I read all the dif­fer­ent ver­sions of it I could find by dif­fer­ent authors—and there are plen­ty! But I couldn’t find a book that told the sto­ry the way I thought it should be told, so I final­ly decid­ed to write my own.

Orig­i­nal­ly I want­ed to set it in 19th-cen­tu­ry Scot­land and have the hero and hero­ine be in their twen­ties. That ver­sion fiz­zled out on me, though, and it wasn’t until I real­ized it should be a mod­ern-day high-school sto­ry that it real­ly took off.

Q: What about the bal­lad appealed so much to you?

A: For one thing, it tells the sto­ry of a brave young woman who res­cues the man she loves. I seem to be drawn to that plot (Sea of Secrets, my goth­ic romance, is anoth­er exam­ple).

To me the Tam Lin sto­ry is about stand­ing by the per­son you love even when it may look like a stu­pid or even dan­ger­ous thing to do. In the bal­lad, the queen of the fae turns Tam Lin into a series of dan­ger­ous forms, like a bear, a lion, or a snake. The hero­ine has to hold tight to him even when it means risk­ing her own life. My Tam Lin char­ac­ter, Tan­ner, trans­forms in per­son­al­i­ty rather than out­ward form, so Joy is always see­ing new faces to Tan, and some of them are real­ly off-putting. She has to trust that he isn’t real­ly the shal­low per­son he some­times seems to be.

Q: Is Ash Grove High School for the Per­form­ing Arts based on an actu­al place?

A: The area of North Car­oli­na where I set the sto­ries is real, includ­ing Lake Chatuge and the Hiwassee Riv­er, but the real-life Brasstown is actu­al­ly home to the dis­tin­guished John C. Camp­bell Folk School. In my books I remove the folk school and put Ash Grove in its place.

As a teen I longed to go to a high school for the per­form­ing arts, but I was in the wrong zone so I missed out. In some ways Ash Grove is the high school I wish I’d gone to!

Q: Are any of the char­ac­ters based on peo­ple you know?

A: Actu­al­ly, I try not to base my char­ac­ters on real peo­ple, although in some cas­es I’ve bor­rowed a detail here or there from some­one I know, like a par­tic­u­lar habit or phys­i­cal trait. Mo, the head of the Ash Grove music depart­ment, comes the clos­est to being mod­eled on a real per­son; he’s a kind of lov­ing homage to one of my writ­ing men­tors.

Q: So there’s no real-life Tan­ner?

A: Phys­i­cal­ly, Tan­ner was mod­eled on the dreamy Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd. I took some lib­er­ties with his appear­ance, but he was my start­ing point.

Q: How did you cre­ate the mythol­o­gy for the series?

A: It’s a work in progress! I’ve loved sto­ries about ghosts and super­nat­ur­al crea­tures since I was a kid, so I have a whole lot of “research” to draw from. I’ve always thought that the most inter­est­ing super­nat­ur­al beings are the ones that seem human, because they can be a more insid­i­ous and dis­turb­ing kind of threat than, say, ani­mal­is­tic crit­ters who can only hurt you phys­i­cal­ly.

Q: Music plays an impor­tant role in the Ash Grove books. What are some of your influ­ences? Why did you write your own songs instead of using exist­ing songs?

A: Unfor­tu­nate­ly, get­ting the rights to quote oth­er people’s lyrics can be a com­pli­cat­ed and cost­ly under­tak­ing! And it was more sat­is­fy­ing to write my own lyrics so that they’d real­ly fit my char­ac­ters’ sit­u­a­tions. Tra­di­tion­al folk songs influ­enced the bal­lad Joy writes in The Shad­ow and the Rose–espe­cial­ly songs using the rose as a sym­bol of love, like the orig­i­nal “Tam Lin” bal­lad.

Cast­ing Shad­ows, the sequel, uses music even more. When I was start­ing to draft the sto­ry I kept hear­ing Snow Patrol’s “Just Say Yes” on the radio, and to me it real­ly cap­tured that breath­less, yearn­ing feel­ing of falling in love. As weird as this may sound, that song influ­enced “She Says Yes,” a very bit­ter and angry song I wrote for one of my char­ac­ters about love turn­ing into feel­ings of betray­al.

Anoth­er song that comes into the sto­ry is a real-life song by the Atlanta band The Pro­duc­ers. To name it here would be spoil­ery, though!

Q: What will your next book be?

A: Among the Shad­ows, book 3 of the Ash Grove chron­i­cles, was a blast to write–the first time I’ve writ­ten alter­nate real­i­ties, and that was real­ly excit­ing. Now I’m work­ing on a short sto­ry about how Gail Brody met her hus­band, Jim, and how the mag­ic of Ash Grove brought them together–along with a young Joy. I’m also plan­ning to jump back in time to the ’80s to tell the sto­ry of Anna Mer­ridew, Joy’s moth­er, when she was an Ash Grove stu­dent, and we’ll find out what role mag­ic played in her sur­pris­ing rela­tion­ship with Steven. I’ll also be depart­ing from the Ash Grove books to write anoth­er his­tor­i­cal goth­ic romance in the vein of Sea of Secrets. There are lots more sto­ries to tell, so stay tuned!

Updat­ed March 30, 2013