Tom Edwards | Blue Jesus
October 10, 2009
Dr. Kent: My next guest on the show is the author of ‘Blue Jesus,’ a novel by Tom Edwards. Fascinating. It’s about a group of blue-skinned people who live up in Kentucky. So come on back for that. Later on in the show we’ll be talking to Peter Mulvey, so come on back.
Dr. Kent: Welcome back to Sound Authors. My next guest on the show today is the author of ‘Blue Jesus.’ His name is Tom Edwards. This is a fascinating tale, and a gorgeous cover. Welcome to the show, Tom.
Tom Edwards: Nice to be here.
Dr. Kent: Tell me about this. There’s a race of blue people in your book.
Tom Edwards: Yes, how about that?
Dr. Kent: Do they have any relation to the folks that are inbred and sort of appear bluish?
Tom Edwards: It’s sort of an inbred thing. I read a story years ago in the ‘Atlanta Journal Constitution.’ They were called the blue people of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. It’s a recessive gene trait. They discovered the blue people about 1820. The civilization moved into the mountains. The blue people kept going back further into the hollows. As a result of their isolation, they became more and more inbred, which meant there were more and more blue people. I just found it fascinating.
Dr. Kent: Tell me about the story. It’s a fascinating tale. How did you fashion it?
Tom Edwards: Years and years ago, there was a story in my home town about a woman that threw a baby away in the dump. I was too young to be told any details at the time, but just the image stuck with me. I thought it would be interesting to see what happened if the baby came back to life.
Dr. Kent: Yes. What’s the process then that you go through? You’re a very experienced writer of many different kinds of subjects, including plays and scripts, and all sorts of things. What was it like fashioning this tale?
Tom Edwards: It was strange, but I bought Steven King’s book. It’s called ‘On Writing.’ His generosity is just amazing. I still can’t believe he was so generous with his tricks, how he fashions a story. I’d never written a novel before, and I thought, well, shoot! Stephen King sells a bunch of stuff. Let’s see what I can do. This was the first time I’d ever worked without an outline. Doing plays and documentary films, things like that, you just work strictly from an outline. Gosh, years and years ago, I wrote for soup operas. They’d give you an outline that you could not vary from. I just let the story write itself. It was the strangest process I’ve ever been through. There were times I was so surprised and so creeped out, I had to get out of my office. Like, I can’t believe this guy’s doing that! When Buddy tries the slip on, I didn’t know that was going to happen. Man, that freaked me out! It’s like, oh, gees! It’s like the story led me along. Believe me, I’m as surprised as anybody.
Dr. Kent: Did you come up with your cast of characters, and then they just sort of walked around your brain?
Tom Edwards: Exactly. You know, new characters kept coming in. The only thing I really, really knew was that there was going to be a revival scene. That makes me laugh. That was it! Truly, the story just sort of happened.
Dr. Kent: So can you give us a little tip from the book without revealing too much? Why is it ‘Blue Jesus’?
Tom Edwards: It’s about this little boy, Buddy, whose mother dies of cancer. So he moves from Atlanta to the north Georgia mountains to live with his grandmother. That’s where he meets the blue people for the first time. His best friend is this little boy named Early. He’s a blue person, and he’s got special powers. The boys find a baby in the dump that’s been discarded, and the blue boy brings him back to life. That’s how he gets the nickname ‘Blue Jesus.’ His father takes advantage of him and tries to hock his wares all over the town and all over the county.
Dr. Kent: Wow. It’s so fascinating. Of course, the term, ‘Jesus,’ is so loaded. I shouldn’t say ‘term;’ the word, ‘Jesus,’ is so loaded. The Appalachians are so charged with Christianity of a certain kind, you know, very fiery. In exploring this, I’m sure you were surprised at the things that were coming out. Where do you think they came from – the well that you took this story from?
Tom Edwards: I think it’s directly from my hometown. I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan. It had about 600, 700 people. In that small town, church life ruled. I mean, it governed our social activities, and pretty much everything between church and 4H. I think it’s more small-town living than it is mountain living, and this universal truth to be drawn from that.
Dr. Kent: Race has come up hugely in the last several weeks and months with our first black president. It’s gotten so charged again. It’s something I’ve not seen in my lifetime. So here you have a blue kid and a white kid.
Tom Edwards: Isn’t it interesting when you put blue into the mix, determining who’s colored and who’s not? I found it fascinating myself, I really did.
Dr. Kent: Did you end up confronting race in here?
Tom Edwards: Yes, I did. Only in the fact that Early insists that the black people, the blue people and the white people congregate together: a revival scene; that’s one of his caveats for making a miracle.
Dr. Kent: You wanted to start this book with the revival scene. What inspired you to do that? Why did you want to start there?
Tom Edwards: It’s not that I wanted to start there, it’s just that I knew there was going to be a revival scene. I was sort of aiming toward that. The book starts with the dead baby, and then goes along.
Dr. Kent: Why the revival scene? Why was that in your brain as a point? Is it something that you’d experienced at some point – you were thinking about?
Tom Edwards: Not at all. It was all about the cross. [Laughs] I had heard a story years ago about people that were doing a passion play. The person who was playing Jesus got sick in the middle of the play, so they had the substitute Jesus go on. But the cross was rigged to lift to the ceiling with fly weights. Well, the new Jesus weighed much less than the other Jesus, and so when they tripped the fly weights, the cross shot right up to the sky.
Dr. Kent: Wow.
Tom Edwards: And that made me laugh like a fool! I knew I wanted to include that, and really that was the only thing. You know there’s the whole essence about bullying too, which I think has gained some prominence. I grew up being bullied every day. It’s a wonder I can see, speak or hear. Just beaten up every day for being a sissy. I wanted Buddy to go through that. I wanted to, I guess, rid myself of some demons from my youth.
Dr. Kent: So some of that came in here, then? How does your own personality come through when you’re writing fiction? How does that happen?
Tom Edwards: I’m not that skilled a writer. I’m 100 percent Buddy. Even down to my crush on Tony Dow from ‘Leave It to Beaver.’ I’m sure more skillful writers could craft something that’s distinct and different from their lives, and I did to a certain extent. But, no, Buddy is really me.
Dr. Kent: Let’s talk about bullying. I experienced a great deal of bullying myself. I think a lot of kids do. It’s a real problem in this country, especially – I guess in school systems. I remember the terror that I would have going between classes, you know: what would happen to me today. So talk about bullying a little bit. It is an issue these days.
Tom Edwards: It’s the whole thing about being different. I was a little sissy boy, just a momma’s boy. And boy! In a small town where sports rule, I was just fodder for the bullies. They beat me up every day. Then the beauty of that is I would go home, and my father would hear that I was beaten up, so he would beat me up. It was hideous! I just remember trying to be invisible just to stay out of the way. Just praying I wouldn’t see Dennis Hawkins after school. Early is bullied. He’s blue, he has special gifts. It’s just about being different, which is so weird because I think in the big scheme of things, everyone feels they’re a little different.
Dr. Kent: You portray him as a blue Jesus, and that’s his nickname. But little boys, when they’re bullied or when they’re in these situations, they have to sort of transcend themselves in some way. It’s interesting: as adults, we almost understand it more, and we can say, ‘Oh, well, I’m being bullied’ or this and that. But kids, they sort of have to suck it all in and have to transcend the world somehow.
Tom Edwards: Well, of course! With kids, it’s a hurt you don’t understand. A hurt you didn’t bring on yourself. A hurt that you can’t fix. It’s horrifying.
Dr. Kent: So this character Early. Has he told his whole story? Have Buddy and Early told their complete expose, or do they still live in your head?
Tom Edwards: Oh, they’re still there. You know, I can’t get them out. It’s the weirdest thing. A friend of mine said, ‘You’re going to write a sequel?’ This story’s done, but they’re still good friends that live in my head.
Dr. Kent: Isn’t that wild? It’s a pleasure speaking to you. What are you working on now? Are you doing any more films?
Tom Edwards: You know, I’ve just finished a new book. I’ve been waiting tables to support myself. I wrote a book about it. It’s called, ‘Slinging Hash: True Confessions from a Four-Star Toilet.’ It’s an expose of fine dining, but it’s very, very funny, and very, very true.
Dr. Kent: Where can we find out more about you?
Tom Edwards: Gosh, if you go on Amazon, there’s a bio there. Or, I think you could just Google ‘Tom Edwards’ and see what pops up.
Dr. Kent: Great. This book, ‘Blue Jesus,’ has a fantastic cover, amazing premise. It’s so cool. What a great story about a child dealing with religion, race, small town bullying. It’s a real all-American story.
Tom Edwards: Plus, it’s funny, isn’t it?
Dr. Kent: Yes!
Tom Edwards: Good!
Dr. Kent: It’s such a pleasure to talk to you, and I can’t wait until the next time. I hope to hear about the next one, ‘Slinging Hash,’ you said, right?
Tom Edwards: All right. Well, gosh, thank you so much! I sure appreciate this.
Dr. Kent: Have a wonderful afternoon.
Tom Edwards: OK, you too. Bye bye.