When I first started brainstorming what would eventually become my 2019 indie-folk album Kaden Hollow, there was a swirl of myth that took over my thoughts. I spent most of my formative years in Tennessee and North Carolina, and this culture shock of an experience (for a Pacific Northwestern kid) had a profound impact on me culturally and artistically. One thing that stuck with me from then on was the uniquely layered history of the American south with its mixture of gruff determination and rigorous adherence to social norms, religion, and superstition. I found there an undercurrent of divinity and magic, a place where the superficial nature of humanity met with the limitless, confounding pulse of the spirit world.
Kaden Hollow itself is a fictitious town, but it is a conglomeration of several rural places that I have lived. The first hints of writing I did about this place started about twenty years ago and came in the form of song snippets and short paragraphs about people I had known. Back and forth I wrote poetry and songs, then prose, then songs, then prose. Several years after I had started with seedlings of ideas, I turned out a handful of the songs that would end up on the album and a few short stories about the characters whose lives I was singing about. Another couple years later, I had refined the short stories a bit and set out to slowly share them via scored blog posts. I recorded compositions of ambient music that was meant to accompany the reading of the stories and set up a blog site. Some of you may remember the beginnings of this endeavor, several short stories about specific characters with organic, acoustic instrumental songs. This blog was up for a couple of years, and I added to it regularly until most of the characters in the story had been showcased at some point in the meandering series of stories.
Eventually, I finished the songs, recorded them over the course of about a year, and then finally released the album. However, the prose version of the the stories just hadn’t quite come to fruition. In fact, I wrestled with it in numerous ways trying to make something out of it that I liked. I tried writing it from multiple points of view, in 3rd person, 1st person, in fragments of short stories that overlapped, I even tried writing it as a screenplay. As years went by, and as other things happened in my life, the autobiographical moments in the story started to morph, as did the entire shape and form of what I was trying to create.
It wasn’t until a couple years after the album had been released, and many years after the whole idea had begun, that I finished the final draft of what is now the book Whisper. This book consists of a short novel and 3 short stories that all take place in Kaden Hollow. The album and the book can be experienced individually, but when combined, the characters’ stories become more complex, more nuanced. Sketch, who is essentially the main character of both works, is about 50% autobiographical and 50% fabrication. His friends, Friday, Jacob, Katy, and all the other characters who show up along the way are mixtures of people I have known. Some of this book is inspired by folklore of both American and European origin, and much of it is also inspired by the mysterious and superstitious realities lived by communities in the southern U.S. Another major influence on the somewhat supernatural elements that appear is my own upbringing and the belief system of my mother. I was raised in a very spiritual, yet non-denominational, environment. This lent itself to belief in the paranormal, the transcendental nature of the spirit, openness to the mystical and miraculous, and a general acceptance that there is reality beyond ours that we are always in contact with. These have been some of the elements of storytelling I have held on to throughout my life, and that show up in this work.
In much the same way my songwriting tends to address the concept of humans getting uncomfortably introspective, Whisper is largely about people being confronted with the unconscious parts of themselves. These darker, hidden parts of self, what Jung called “the shadow,” are often the parts that direct us through our lives, despite the fact that we aren’t fully aware of them. I am fascinated by this, and by the fact that most people still believe themselves to be completely conscious and in control (insert crying-laughing emoji). Hopefully, this is what readers will connect with in these stories as well. I generally agree with the wisdom of Faulkner, who noted that (and I am paraphrasing here) the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. Enjoy…