Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Ghost and the Darkness: Russ Thompson’s Loop Breaker Signing at 901 Comics

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2020 at 8:00 AM


The tragic loss of her mother, a recent move from the ’burbs to the middle of nowhere, disembodied voices in the woods calling for help — it’s fair to say that Lee Ann Daniels has a lot on her plate.

As it should be; Lee Ann is the 16-year-old protagonist of Memphis writer/musician Russ Thompson’s debut YA novel, The Loop Breaker: A Beacon and the Darkness (Winterwolf Press), the first in a trilogy. And if the teen protagonist of a YA novel doesn’t have too much on her plate, the writer has done something seriously wrong. That's not the case here, though.

Thompson, a Dyersburg, Tennessee native, has lived in Memphis for most of his life. He’s an avid reader, a songwriter, a former teacher, and now an author of YA fantastical fiction.

As Thompson writes, “The deep woods lining the road gave way to occasional houses and buildings; [Lee Ann] looked at the burned-out automobiles and the trailers with assorted junk in the yards and began to see things differently than she had before.” That effort to see things differently is at the heart of The Loop Breaker — as are the “deep woods,” both literally and metaphorically. History and, often, motivations are obscured in Thompson’s novel, leaving Lee Ann to attempt to find the right path forward. She has her friends, of course, and eventually finds a guide (her Gandalf, if you will), but the way forward for Lee Ann is never simple or direct.

Thompson is signing copies of The Loop Breaker: A Beacon and the Darkness at 901 Comics Saturday, December 19th, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

I spoke with him in advance of the signing, about the hidden history of Thief’s Hollow, his favorite ghost stories, and the real-life psychic who helped inspire the book.

Memphis Flyer: I know you've done some ghost writing. Did you study creative writing?

Russ Thompson: I did a great deal of ghost writing for about three or four years to pay the bills when I quit my job at Shelby County Schools, and it taught me a lot about the novel-writing process and gave me a lot of practice. I was an anthropology major in college, but I have been writing stories since college.

How does being a musician impact or inform your writing style?

Being a musician definitely informs my writing. Outlining a story to me is like writing the main theme of a song in many ways. The story or song begins with a general idea (usually a riff for me in the case of songwriting) and the details get filled in either with characters and dialogue or with instruments or singing in the case of a song. I also believe that the practice of songwriting helps strengthen my abilities as a writer and vice versa.

Were there any other works that influenced or inspired you?

When I was young, “The Haunting of Hill House” was probably my favorite ghost story. Even before that I was inspired by a collection of stories I read by William Faulkner called “Ghosts of Rowan Oak.”

Speaking of ghost stories and spiritual spookiness, what are three things readers need to know about Lee Ann?

1. She has the gift of being able to see and hear those who have passed on and to help them “cross over” although she has to learn how to help them with some assistance. 2. She is somewhat of a snob at the beginning of the novel when she moves to the country, but she changes and grows as the novel progresses. 3. She is somewhat of an outsider who likes to draw and listen to underground music.

Russ Thompson
  • Russ Thompson

Tell me about the voices Lee Ann hears and the orbs she sees in the woods. Did you base the fantastical elements of the book off of existing mythology or history?

The orbs and voices that Lee Ann sees in the woods are souls reaching out to her for help, because to them she shines out like a beacon in the darkness and they instinctively know that she can help them because of her special abilities. Some of these fantastical experiences are very loosely based on some of the experiences of a friend of mine who has real psychic abilities.

I like that you have a moment where Lee Ann's dad, Charles, basically defends libraries. I know from experience they’re especially important in rural areas where access to news can be scarce. Will you talk about the setting a bit?

The setting is the tiny town of Laverne, in Middle Tennessee. It is a tiny town surrounded by remote, forested hill country. Residents of the town are fairly close-minded and distrustful of new people and outsiders. The library in the town helps Lee Ann research the legend of Thief’s Hollow when she can’t find out much on the internet. It is also the place where she meets Felicity, the town psychic who serves as Lee Ann’s friend and guide throughout the story.

One thing I noticed is how much Lee Ann has on her plate, which felt true to being a teenager, at least how I remember it. Can you talk about balancing the mysterious and mundane aspects of her life?

Lee Ann has to balance her grief at the loss of her mother with the pressures of moving to a small town from the suburbs. As if that wasn’t enough, these pesky spirits start contacting her in the nearby woods. She has a great deal of trouble finding a balance because the supernatural events dominate the more mundane circumstances of her life. She is only able to avoid being completely freaked out and overwhelmed with the help of her new friends at school and with the help of Felicity, the town psychic.

I noticed you mentioned Cat’s Cradle. Is there any special significance?

Cat’s Cradle was an important book for me when I was a teenager because of the way that it combines science fiction with humanist/philosophical concerns and sardonic humor. I included it because I wanted Lee Ann to experience it much the same way I did when I was about her age.

I don't want to give anything away, but how does the history of Thief’s Hollow inform what happens in the book?

It is an explanation that the locals use to explain the strange goings-on near Lee Ann’s family’s property. Lee Ann soon finds that this explanation contradicts with her discoveries, which makes Lee Ann determined to find out the truth about what happened to these lost souls.

Can you tell us what readers might look for in the sequel to A Beacon and the Darkness?

The sequel to The Loop Breaker will find Lee Ann trying to escape her life in Laverne and go off to college, but she will find that she cannot escape her destiny to help lost souls and she will be faced with the most difficult and frightening challenge that she has yet to face.

Russ Thompson signs The Loop Breaker: The Beacon and the Darkness at 901 Comics, Saturday, December 19th, from 1 to 4 p.m.

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