If you’re looking for your next great urban fantasy read then look no further than Alex Bledsoe’s Chapel of Ease. The latest in his series of Tufa novels, Chapel of Ease is a stand-alone story and serves as the perfect way for new readers to jump into the series.
The Tufa books are an incredibly intriguing series of interconnected novels focused on the Tufa people, a mysterious group who make their home in the Appalachians. While there are many connections and nods to one another the stories are all self contained. Each book in the series focuses on a new part of their story. Unlike so many other urban fantasy series, the Tufa books are very easily picked up by anyone who is interested without any need to read what came before. (Though, of course, you’ll probably want to in the end!)
If we were going to pick a place to start this series, Chapel of Ease sounds like it would be the perfect book to start with. Just check out this synopsis:
When Matt Johanssen, a young New York actor, auditions for “Chapel of Ease,” an off-Broadway musical, he is instantly charmed by Ray Parrish, the show’s writer and composer. They soon become friends; Matt learns that Ray’s people call themselves the Tufa and that the musical is based on the history of his isolated hometown. But there is one question in the show’s script that Ray refuses to answer: what is buried in the ruins of the chapel of ease? Matt’s journey into the haunting Appalachian mountains of Cloud County sets him on a dangerous path, where some secrets deserve to stay buried.
Chapel of Ease just came out this past Tuesday from Tor Books and we were fortunate enough that Alex Bledsoe was able to find the time to answer some of our questions prior to the book’s release. You can read our full Q&A below!*
Sam: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us!
What made you want to approach each new Tufa novel as not just a part of a larger series but also it’s own standalone story?
Alex: Nothing frustrates me more as a reader than finding a book that looks fascinating, but doesn’t take new readers into account; if you missed book one, buddy, you’re SOL. I decided early on that none of my series were going to be like that. I want to make it easier for people to read my stuff, not harder.
Of course there are threads of continuity; if you read them all in order you get broader and longer arcs. But if you pick up any one (i.e., CHAPEL OF EASE), you’ll get a complete story that totally resolves within that book.
Is it difficult to walk away from certain characters and stories at the end of each book?
Oh, definitely. Bronwyn Hyatt Chess, from THE HUM AND THE SHIVER, remains one of my favorites, and I always try to work her into subsequent Tufa novels as a supporting character just so I can write about her some more. I invented a pair of stoner Tufa girls for HISSES AND WINGS, a novella I did with Teresa Frohock, and I loved coming back to them in the next novel, GATHER HER ROUND. And I’ll take any excuse to write about Eddie LaCrosse.
How do you decide what story to tell next?
That’s the real trick with a series: giving readers the things they loved about the earlier books, yet coming up with enough new things so you don’t repeat yourself. For the new Tufa novel, CHAPEL OF EASE, I decided that the story would start somewhere other than Cloud County before moving there for the second half; I also chose to write this one in first person, both because it suited the story, and because I hadn’t done it before in this series.
Why did you choose to write a gay protagonist?
There were two reasons for that. One relates to the answer of the first question: I wanted to do things differently from the first three books. Two, why shouldn’t the hero be gay?
I grew up in a very small town, and was pretty much an outcast—I liked to read, I wasn’t good at sports, I had asthma and wore really bad glasses. I was depressed, and secretly suicidal. Yet I could still see myself as the hero (i.e., Luke Skywalker, Huckleberry Finn, the Duke boys), because they were all straight white guys. They represented hope.
Imagine the experience of kids who aren’t straight white guys, who are just as depressed and suicidal but lack even the comfort of popular media. Not only do they rarely see heroes who resemble them, the characters who do seldom survive to the end of the story. What does that say to them? Where’s the hope in that?
It made sense for this story to have a gay hero, and so I tried to make him as interesting and courageous as I would a straight hero. I hope I succeeded.
How did the story of Jonathan Larson/Broadway inspire Chapel of Ease?
I enjoy using something from the real world as a jumping-off point for fantasy; it just feels more substantial somehow. My last novel, Long Black Curl, began with a version of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
The life and death of Jonathan Larson is such a specifically American tragedy (after years of struggle and failure, a young man dies on the verge of success, never knowing how beloved his work would become) that it felt like a good starting point. My playwright character, though, is nothing like Larson; he’s a Tufa who’s come to New York to make it in the theatre world by writing a musical based on Tufa stories.
Do you feel like Chapel of Ease is a good place for new readers to jump on board? Is there another book in the series you might recommend people pick up first?
CHAPEL is definitely a good place to start. As I said above, although it’s book four, it’s a standalone story that doesn’t require any previous exposure to the mythology.
What has been your favorite part of working on the Tufa books?
Discovering music for each book. I quote lyrics from both classic folk (i.e., public domain) and newer, mostly indie musicians who let me use their songs. That involves a lot of listening, and it’s always a real joy. When you get to my age, it’s easy to become rigid in your musical tastes, and this forces me to keep an open mind.
What has been your greatest challenge?
I started writing my first novel when I was 18, and it was published when I was 44. My biggest challenge was not getting disheartened during those 25 years of failure and rejection letters (including one arriving on Christmas Eve).
What is your writing process like?
I like to write in the morning, when my brain is still fresh. I’m the stay at home parent of three small kids, so that complicates things, especially when school is out. First drafts are the hard ones for me; once I have the whole story in front of me, revising is fun.
Where did you get the inspiration for the Tufa series?
The initial spark came from stories I heard growing up, about an isolated group of people in East Tennessee whose origin was supposedly mysterious and secretive. The idea that people like that existed in the modern world fascinated me. Using that concept, I invented my own group, the Tufa, and added other elements: Celtic fairy lore, traditional and modern music, and tales with one foot in the real world and the other somewhere else entirely.
Why is music such a large part of your novels?
Because it’s also a large part of my life. I don’t play any instrument—if rock and roll is three chords and the truth, as Bob Dylan said, then I know two chords and some gossip— but I’m fortunate enough to be friends with several songwriters, and the process of writing and playing songs is literally magical to me.
Also, in the Appalachian setting of the Tufa novels, music remains important in a very immediate, contemporary way. It’s probably the last place where people play and sing like they’ve always done, as accompaniment to the basic work of life. So it wouldn’t feel honest without the music.
Thanks again for answering these questions for us! And congratulations on the release of Chapel of Ease. We can’t wait to read it!
As we said earlier, Chapel of Ease just came out Tuesday, September 6th. It’s available anywhere books are sold. We definitely recommend you check it out and that you take a look at the earlier books in the Tufa series, too. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.