The first time I met Sharyn McCrumb, I was nervous. ( I am, at heart, an introvert and meeting new people can be daunting.) However, my nervousness quickly abated when it became clear that Sharyn and I had similar interests: history, folklore, good books, interesting stories that involve a tinge of the supernatural. We are also both storytellers so- different mediums certainly- but a good story is a good story. When I met Sharyn, it was to propose the idea of turning her Civil War themed novel, Ghost Riders into a play.
A mutual friend of Sharyn and I suggested that I consider adapting Ghost Riders. Once I read the book, it became clear why this would be a really adventerous project. It would also be a huge artistic challenge. The central action of the play follows a Civil War era mountain couple, Keith and Malinda Blalock, down a dark path. (The novel follows some additional characters whose fortunes are altered by the war, but in order to avoid having 4-hour performances, I needed to be selective in what was dramatized.) Their story is all the more compelling because it really happened, and it happened right here where we live. In fact, while researching this production, I met a man who had an ancestor that was killed by Keith Blalock; an encounter that underlined how immediate this story really was.
In addition to the Blalock’s the play also focuses on three characters who are contemporary who are still feeling the reverberations of the violence and unhealed wounds left by the kind of fighting that took place in the mountains during the war- which was deeply personal and waged on a house-to-house basis. Having grown up in the Midwest, the Civil War is/was an admitted abstraction to me. My great-great grandparents were not murdered by any vengeful bushwhackers, or conscripted in to the army. In fact, I actually did try and find out about what my ancestors did do during the Civil War; which mirrors the arc of Spencer Arrowood, a fictional character that appears in a number of Sharyn’s stories and in the play.
There are many things that happen in Ghost Riders that are painful to consider. However, these experiences are a part of our regional and national identity. Presenting the facts of the war may be the role of historians, but my role, as a story teller is to apply those facts to the human condition. The results are worth consideration. I don’t know how you will feel about this play and its characters. However, if you feel anything, I will consider my job done and the story honored.