God, murder and Elvis: setting the stage for BLUFF CITY

In just a few days, I’ll be rolling out the promo push on my new novel BLUFF CITY. Here’s a bit of a tease: the three epigrams I’m using to set the stage. Each of these has a particular significance to the story; read these, and you know what you’re getting into. Let’s begin, shall we?

Memphis was [in the 1820s] a small town, ugly, dirty, and sickly…Everything pointed to the certainty that in a short time this squalid village must grow to a great and wealthy city…but for many years, the population would be rough and lawless, and the locality and sanitary conditions of the town promised that disease and death would hold high carnival there.
—Reuben Davis, Recollections of Mississippi and Mississippians

I love it when history books set the tone for the future. And this shows that Memphis is, and always has been, a barely-under-control town of lunacy, with tales on every streetcorner.

What is the American dream? It’s different things to different people. To a farmer, it’s a bountiful harvest that he can sell for a lotta money. To a photographer, it’s a beautiful picture that he can sell for a lotta money. To a soldier, it’s becoming a general, so that he can sell weapons to a foreign country for a lotta money. But maybe I can best express the American dream in a story. It’s about a kid who grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, in the early 1950s. He was a poor kid, but he had a rockin’ guitar, some flashy clothes, and a wiggle in his hips—and he had that certain something, called ‘talent.’ Of course, he never made a nickel, because he was black, but two years later Elvis Presley made a fortune doing the same thing.
–A. Whitney Brown, Saturday Night Live, 1987

Dead-bang perfect. The centerpiece of BLUFF CITY is Luther Washington, a down-on-his-luck bluesman who gets kidnapped and unintentionally sets in motion events that end up with the whole city on fire. This is the perfect description of how Memphis both revered Elvis and lost sight of those who made it possible for him to exist.

As a whole, we Southerners are still religious, and we are still violent. We’ll bring you a casserole, but we’ll kill you, too.
—Lee Smith

How awesome is this quote? This is pretty much everything that BLUFF CITY is, all wrapped up in one. The book’s big publicity push starts June 1. Make plans to grab a copy, won’t you?

Jay

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