Whatever Happened to Sharyn McCrumb?

Sharyn McCrumb photograph by Jerry Bauer

I started thinking about Sharyn McCrumb after reading this post from Medusa’s Library. While talking about a section of The Hunger Games, she mentions a book called The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe. It’s set in East Tennessee. I was immediately filled with a desire to read this book, partly because it sounds cool, and partly because I’m always looking for books set in East Tennessee. In a pinch western North Carolina or southwest Virginia will also do.

I married into a love for that region.  My husband BK is from East Tennessee, and he still misses it, years after moving away. We go back pretty often, but usually it’s to help take care of an aging relative, so there’s not a lot of opportunity to really get out and appreciate the beauties of the area. But that’s what books are for, right?

Anyway, now I can’t wait to read The Hum and the Shiver, just as soon as I can get to the library. Just the fact that it exists made me nostalgic for Sharyn McCrumb’s books, and I that’s what got me wondering whatever happened to her.  Full disclosure: I don’t know her personally, and haven’t kept up with her writing as well as I ought.

BK & I first started reading Sharyn McCrumb when she wrote a couple of novels – the Jay Omega series – for TSR. This would have been back in the very early 90s.  Her first novel was Bimbos of the Death Sun, published in 1988. The next novel of hers that I read was Zombies of the Gene Pool. It’s a mark of both BK’s and my geekiness that we first became aware of her work through what she wrote for TSR. They’re set in the world of  role-play gamers and science fiction/fantasy fans, which is irretrievably what we were back in those days. It’s interesting to me that we didn’t become aware of her Elizabeth McPherson novels until we started reading a lot more mysteries.

We kind of lost track of Sharyn McCrumb after we ran out of Elizabeth McPherson novels. Part of that is because her Ballad Novels, for which she is arguably best known, are more difficult to read than some of her lighter works. In addition, I think our library was slow to acquire her later books (post ~1998), possibly because she was more on people’s radar around 1995, when she won just about every mystery award there is for She Walks These Hills.


When we did start reading the Ballad Novels, they were gorgeous, the kind of book that made BK think longingly of home. They were also a welcome antidote to the kind of portrayal one usually sees of mountain people, wherein they might be called hillbillies. These portrayals are wearisome and irksome in the extreme. Sharyn McCrumb knows and loves these people. You can hear the voices of mountain people in her work. Yet she never does a caricature; her characters seem real and wonderful.

So the answer to the question of “Whatever happened to Sharyn McCrumb?” is answered. Thank you, Internet! She hasn’t gone anywhere. I haven’t read her for a while, but I want to go back and pick up some of her novels I’ve missed. Whenever I need to revisit East Tennessee, she’ll be there.

I’m looking forward to reading Alex Bledsoe, too. I can only hope The Hum and the Shiver takes me back to East Tennessee they way Sharyn McCrumb’s books do.