Author Alex Bledsoe’s Southern roots influence every aspect of his storytelling
Alex Bledsoe is slated to soon release "Dandelion," the first book in four years from the prolific author of 13 other published novels and more than 50 short stories.
Mount Horeb author Alex Bledsoe had a new book accepted for publication over the summer.
“Dandelion,” a Southern gothic horror novel, is tentatively slated for release in 2022 from Falstaff Books. It will be the first book in four years from the prolific author of 13 other published novels and more than 50 short stories. And it’s particularly welcome news for Bledsoe’s many friends and fans, who ached for him and his wife, Valette Piper-Bledsoe, when their 10-year-old son, Charlie, died unexpectedly in July 2018.
This year also saw the establishment of an endowment fund in Charlie’s honor, set up by the National Inventors Hall of Fame, along with his family. It will provide scholarships to Camp Invention, a national STEM summer program hosted locally by the Mount Horeb Area School District.
“Charlie loved Camp Invention,” Bledsoe says. “It’s fun and it encourages things that don’t always get encouraged, like making a mess, taking things apart and putting them back together.”
That Bledsoe has conjured a Southern gothic novel should come as no surprise — he’s a transplanted Southerner.
The author’s best-known books — six novels featuring mysterious mountain people known as the Tufa — are set in his native Tennessee.
While Bledsoe, now 58, grew up in a small town north of Memphis in western Tennessee, his father’s family comes from the eastern Tennessee mountains.
“He told me stories,” Bledsoe says, “of these people who lived in the mountains and had supposedly been there when the first European settlers came. Nobody knew where they came from. They kept to themselves.”
It would be years — decades — before the first of his novels featuring the Tufa, “The Hum and the Shiver,” was published in 2011.
Like many authors, Bledsoe served a long and varied apprenticeship. He studied journalism and English at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He took newspaper jobs and stole time when he could to write the fantasy and horror stories that had captivated him since watching “Star Trek” as a boy.
Bledsoe couldn’t get them published, but he persevered. “I was going to write whether it went anywhere or not,” he says. He went through dozens of drafts of one particular idea, a mix of fantasy and hard-boiled noir featuring a character named Eddie LaCrosse.
Bledsoe brought that manuscript to Madison when he moved to the area in 2003, accompanying a girlfriend who was starting graduate school at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
“I thought, ‘I’ve lived in the South my whole life,’ ” Bledsoe recalls. “ ‘If I’m ever going to get out, it’s got to be soon.’ I used that as the impetus.”
While the relationship didn’t last, Bledsoe liked the Madison area, and still does. He soon met Valette — herself a Southerner, from Virginia — and earlier this year they celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary.
Meanwhile, a new literary agent — his third — helped Bledsoe get the Eddie LaCrosse manuscript, titled “The Sword-Edged Blonde,” across the finish line in 2007. It was his first published novel. He was 44 years old.
More LaCrosse books followed, and some vampire novels, and then around 2009 Bledsoe read a news update about a female soldier from West Virginia who’d famously been captured and rescued in Iraq. He thought about it in the context of his dad’s long-ago tale of the Appalachian mountain people.
“What if,” Bledsoe thought, “along with going back to this tiny town in West Virginia, she was also part of this strange little community that had been there forever — and had to deal with that as well?”
Although he ended up writing a character that was completely different from the soldier that inspired her, “That was the start of the Tufa stuff,” Bledsoe says.
The first Tufa novel garnered rapturous reviews. His publisher asked if he had another story set in that world.
He didn’t. “But the answer is always yes,” Bledsoe says. He found another story — and four more.
One of the most memorable moments of his Tufa adventure came in 2013 when Bledsoe presented at the Pagan Unity Festival at a state park near Nashville. One night a band called Tuatha Dea played songs and covered themes — a mix of the Celtic and Appalachian — that sounded as if they might have been drawn from the Tufa books.
Bledsoe introduced himself to the band’s leader, Danny Mullikin.
“It turned out we grew up within 10 miles of each other,” Bledsoe says. “We’re the same age and knew all the same places and a lot of the same people, but we never actually met as kids.”
Tuatha Dea recorded a CD based on the Tufa novels and Bledsoe gave the band a cameo in his Tufa book “Long Black Curl.”
Bledsoe hasn’t ruled out writing another Tufa novel — fans have been clamoring for it — but says, “I’d do more if I had better ideas. The six books that are out there kind of tell the complete story and I’m happy with that. If I was to go back it would have to be a really good idea.”
Along with the gothic horror novel, Bledsoe has a new Eddie LaCrosse short story that will be included in an anthology out in 2022.
Bledsoe’s work ethic is legendary in Mount Horeb, where he can often be found typing away next to locals at the cafe or coffee shop. And certainly, given the events of the past few years, fans and friends would have understood a break. But Bledsoe seems to find solace in writing to help him through life’s painful losses, like the death of his son.
This past summer, some Mount Horeb High School art students painted a six-panel mural that was installed in the Mount Horeb Public Library, in honor of Charlie Bledsoe.
“Each panel has a character that’s based on Charlie,” Bledsoe says.
The family — Bledsoe and his wife have a son, Jacob, and daughter, Amelia — has been moved by the community support.
Of Charlie, his dad says, “You’d be surprised what reminds you of him. Things like songs and smells and things that really would seem to have no connection. … It’s never far below the surface.”
Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Magazine.
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