Interview: Chet Williamson on “The Final Verse”
- Tell us a bit about the story.
“The Final Verse” is about a slightly over-the-hill country/bluegrass singer who becomes involved in a search for the supposedly missing verse of a classic traditional song. What he and his friend find isn’t quite what they’d expected. They get the verse and a little, shall we say, bonus material.
- What is the genesis of this story – its inspiration, or what prompted you to write it?
I’ve been a huge fan of roots music for years (I got into bluegrass through playing guitar back-up for my son when he played in fiddle contests). I have a massive collection of Bill Monroe, The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, and other roots artists, as well as traditional blues — everything rootsy, really. And I’ve always been fascinated by the research done by John and Alan Lomax and those like them, going back into the mountains to track down the original sources of classic traditional songs. I wrote the story when a small press publisher approached me and asked if I had a reprint story that would work for a chapbook/CD series. I thought it would be fun to create a story that could be heard as well as read, so I wrote “The Final Verse,” and created music to the lyrics as well. Unfortunately, the necessary financing didn’t come through for the project, but I remembered that many of Manly Wade Wellman’s wonderful “John” stories, which use mountain legends as their source, had appeared in F&SF, and I submitted the story to Gordon, who liked it.
- What kind of research did you do for this story?
I had to do very little, really. I know this music so well that to recreate a similar tragic mountain ballad was a real joy.
- Would you say that “The Final Verse” is characteristic of your stories in subject matter and tone, or does it represent a departure from your norm?
The horror element is certainly there, and I think that the story slowly creeps up on the reader, so that the full tale isn’t told until the very end, which is something I always try to do when I write. So it’s not really a departure. I love to read this kind of story, and it seems to be the kind I end up writing.
- What do you like best about “The Final Verse?”
The lyrics of the song, and the double meaning to be found there. I wish readers could hear the music — it’s eerie and minor key. I read the then unpublished story at a Halloween reading, and played guitar and sang the lyrics, and listeners were really creeped out by it.
- What are you working on now?
I’ve been concentrating this past year on getting my out of print backlist into e-book format through Crossroad Press. There are seven e-books now available (including a never before published novel, Defenders of the Faith), both in the Kindle Store and from Crossroad Press, as well as audiobooks that I’ve recorded of my own work. I’ve also narrated novels by Michael Moorcock, Tom Piccirilli, David Niall Wilson, and Zoe Winters. That’s kept me so busy that I haven’t had much time to write new work, but I’m currently plotting a novel. I’ll also be shooting a film this summer that Joe Lansdale’s producing, based on one of his stories. It’s a zombie film called Christmas With the Dead, and I play a crazed preacher who provides a bizarre communion service for zombies. It’s going to be a blast!
- Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that one of these days I’m going to record “The Final Verse,” complete with music, so watch for it. And it’s always a real pleasure to have my stories appear in F&SF. The magazine is an institution, and I first appeared there way back in 1983, and am glad to still be hanging around its pages. I hope readers get a kick out of the new story!
“The Final Verse” appears in the May/June 2011 issue.
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