Please welcome today's guest blogger, author Lisa Turner, whose newest novel The Gone Dead Train went on sale this week! The book, a riveting Southern gothic mystery set in Memphis, details how detective Billy Able is thrown into a vortex of bizarre murders, Santeria voodoo, flawed heroes, a damning photograph, and a stunning betrayal by a civil rights icon. Today, Lisa shares the inspiration behind the book's haunting title.
It’s hard to find the core of a story when the phone’s ringing and everyone around has needs. But I’ve learned to trust my process, letting ideas float in to me from the ether. When I finally hear my story’s voice, my vision clears, and I know I’m about to be handed a gift. The title of my second novel, The Gone Dead Train, came out of my curiosity and a close encounter with a tornado.
The atmospherics in Memphis—terrific electrical storms, the summer heat, and the city’s music, mostly the blues, play a large part in my writing. Then there are the trains, always the trains. It’s no coincidence that bluesmen and trains run throughout The Gone Dead Train.
A network of railroad tracks carries eighty trains a day through the city. The Norfolk Southern tracks run a mile and a half from my home, so I hear the long, lonely harmonics of train whistles at night when the house is still and my mind is still. The anticipation of the silence between is as seductive to my imagination as the sound.
One morning I was sitting on the floor in my office, surrounded by books, news articles, and scratchy,
old photographs of blues players buried two decades ago. But this story was worrying me. The hard scrabble life of the Mississippi Delta bluesmen isn’t my world, and I needed a handhold on their reality. While I was sitting there thinking, the room suddenly darkened, strange since the windows had been full of light moments before. The wind picked up with a storm blowing in hard from the west across the river. Streetlights snapped on, yellow against the sky. Then the tornado sirens went off. We don’t have a basement, so I chose a book of blues lyrics meant to be read as poetry and settled in a chair far away from the windows.
The sirens wailed as the wind tore at the oak in our front yard. The book opened to a song by King Solomon Hill. A train whistle blew as I read the title, “The Gone Dead Train.” I got the chills.
“I want to go home and that train is done gone dead . . . Please help me with my fare, ‘cause I’m a travelin’ man. Boys, I can’t stay here.”
Thanks to a musician long gone from us, I had my title and an opening scene with Red Davis, a down and out New Orleans bluesman waiting at midnight for a train he would never catch.
After the storm, I learned a tree across the street had been twisted out of the ground like a corkscrew. A tornado had passed right over my head.