"Brian L. Tucker is writing about Eastern Kentucky in original and interesting ways, and Pokeweed is a perfect example of that. I'm excited about this newest book and eager for what Tucker does next. You should be, too." - Sheldon Lee Compton
What drew you to the genre you write in?
I wish I could stick to one genre! I’ve written in different mediums with each work I’ve released. My first work, Baptisms & Dogs, was a short story collection written in the fictional town of Seton, KY. I draw largely from my experiences of my hometown of Monticello. The collection was close to me, as it was constructed while working through my MFA program at the Bluegrass Writers Studio (2010-12). This work prompted me to think more about place and setting as a character. It led me to tackle my first novel, Wheelman, taking place in central Mexico (again drawing from a summer residency our MFA program took to San Miguel de Allende (2010)).
Following this, I tackled a second YA novel and went explicitly through a Christian publisher to house the action/adventure work, Swimming the Echo. Again, I based the story in Seton, KY and allowed personal stories from my childhood (growing up in cave country) to allow the reader to travel to Mammoth Cave and witness some of the behemoths situated below ground. Since this second novel, I felt challenged to try something new. After reading Robert Gipe’s illustrated novel, Trampoline, I thought “Hey, it’d be cool to try to illustrate a tale told east of Seton.” I thought long and hard about surrounding towns, and I let research become a part of what would eventually become my newest publication, Pokeweed. It’s an illustrated novella set in Hazard, KY, at a time just after the Civil War. In it, I utilize factual events of a not-so-famous feud known as The French-Eversole Feud to permeate the travails of a teen forced to reckon with the loss of his sister (gunned down by one of the feudists). Due to the shorter length, I sought out an illustrator, and the artist totally nailed the vision I had for eastern Kentucky at that time in American history. It is set for release September 20th, and I can’t wait to share it.
Who was your intended audience for the novella?
Anyone who’s ever picked up a copy of True Grit and thought, “This is fiction!” I wanted to cater to that crowd and tell a story in a new style. I couldn’t get the character, Mattie Ross, out of my head. Portis did such a fantastic job writing a character into existence, and I wanted to mimic that with illustrations and true accounts. While the main character, Z Snopes, is a teen in his own right, his story is one for everyone who’s trying to survive.
Was there something interesting you learned while researching the novella?
So many things happen when you check out a book from the library. For the sake of keeping this [interview] brief, I loved reading about the dwindling size of a town—post-Civil War. (Not for the hardships and pains Hazard, KY people underwent, but the raw realization that just two opposing clans wreaked so much havoc from their sins.) Much like the Hatfields & McCoys, this feud consisted of ever-present hatred. At one point, less than fifty people were stated as living in the city of Hazard. The fear of getting shot caused people to move elsewhere. I couldn’t imagine that type of thing happening, even with all of the recent shootings we’ve seen in the US.
What single book has been the most influential to you as a writer?
This is a tough one. Every book can lend itself to a future idea or project. Wendell Berry’s creation of Port William in all of his great books comes to mind. So does Harriette Arnow’s books, especially Hunter’s Horn and The Dollmaker. I also love anything Thomas Merton wrote.
How important is the setting in your most recent novella?
Setting has gained so much more heft to what I write. Seton, KY started as a word on the page, and it grew from there. I wouldn’t say it’s nearly as fleshed out as Berry’s Port William, but it’s become special to me with each new book. My first thought now is, “Should I bring it back home?” And I weigh the pros and cons of starting in Seton or somewhere else. It’s nice to have that spot in mind. I love my hometown, and I wouldn’t be who I am without the people God placed in that corner of the world [Monticello].