Today I’m extremely excited to be able to share with you an exclusive cover reveal for Erica Waters’ debut novel, Ghost Wood Song, as well as a first look at the story & a giveaway!
Ghost Wood Song is such a rich and atmospheric contemporary fantasy with strong rural South vibes, fiddles raising the dead, and shadow men holding long-buried secrets. You’ll know what I mean once you see the cover & read the excerpt–the Southern Gothic feels are so strong and creepy, 2020 is really taking “atmospheric” to new heights.
Here’s the official summary for Ghost Wood Song:
Shady Grove is her father’s daughter, through and through. She inherited his riotous, curly hair, his devotion to bluegrass, and his ability to call ghosts from the grave with his fiddle.
That cursed instrument drowned with him, though, when his car went off the road, taking with it the whispering ghosts, nightmares, and the grief and obsession that forced her daddy to play.
But Shady’s brother was just accused of murder, and so she has a choice to make: unearth the fiddle that sang her father to the grave and speak to the dead to clear her brother’s name, or watch the only family she has left splinter to pieces.
The ghosts have secrets to keep, but Shady will make those old bones sing.
Doesn’t it sound amazing? You can add it to your Goodreads TBR using the button above, and keep an eye out for the preorder links coming soon!
I think if you love atmospheric novels, rural South vibes, and music themes, you’ll definitely want to pick this up in 2020 when it releases from Harper Collins!
Oh–and did I mention that it’s got a bisexual main character?! Yeah, y’all. The excerpt gives a perfect taste of some of the tension to come, and I’m so so excited to read Shady’s story.
Here’s what Erica had to say about Ghost Wood Song and its cover:
I’m so pleased to be able to share the gorgeous cover of Ghost Wood Song with you all today. To me, the cover perfectly conveys the spirit and atmosphere of my debut novel. Like my book, this cover is spooky and mysterious, yet still communicates the deep beauty of the rural South. I love the rattlesnake and azaleas, the lush foliage and the tiny wasps—and of course the hint of deep, dark woods where you can get lost.
I’m also thrilled to share the first chapter of Ghost Wood Song and to introduce you to my heroine, Shady Grove, her two best friends, and the haunted pine woods she calls home. Little pieces of my heart and history are scattered all throughout this book, which makes sharing it with the world as terrifying as it is exciting. I know a novel can’t be all things to all people, but I hope you’ll find something in these pages that feels like it was written just for you.
This was so sweet, and I definitely agree–the cover feels like it fits the story and really gives a good hint of what’s to come. (And the art is just gorgeous!)
Are you ready to see it?
Keep your eyes peeled for some of the details . . .
And here it is!
I’m as restless as the ghosts today. The sigh of the trees makes my scalp prickle, my senses strain. There’s something waiting for me in the silences between the notes we play, like a vibration too low for human ears. It’s been out here in the woods for weeks, just out of my reach.
No one else notices. Sarah leans over her banjo, dark hair falling across her forehead, mouth set in concentration. The music that spins from her fingertips is bright as the sunshine that drifts across the pine needles. She looks soft in this light, her eyelashes downy as moth wings.
The wood behind her glows golden right up to the edge of Mama’s property, where the true forest begins. There, the sunlight loses its hold, fading to shadows. Those trees grow tall and close together, clotted with brambles and vines. That’s where the ghosts who spill out of Aunt Ena’s house like to linger, mingling their whispers with the wind. I can’t quite catch their words, but they tug at me, drawing my attention away from the music.
“Jesus, Shady,” Sarah says, her voice hacking through the song like a machete. Orlando slaps his hand over his guitar strings to mute the chord he fumbled. “You missed your cue again. Why didn’t you come in?” All her moth-wing softness has disappeared.
“Sorry,” I say, glancing at the fiddle in my lap. “There’s not much for me to do in this song.” I pull a loose thread from the fraying hem of my skirt, wrapping it around my finger.
That was the second time I forgot to come in. I’m distracted today, but the truth is, this song doesn’t mean anything to me. I want to learn to play bluegrass the way my daddy did—like it’s the breath in my lungs, the beat of my heart. And I never will if Sarah keeps picking all these folk-rock songs.
She pushes her short, messy hair back with an impatient hand, revealing her undercut and the cloud-shaped birthmark behind her ear. I’ve thought so many times about running my lips over just that spot. “The open mic’s in one week, Shady. We can play something else, but if we don’t decide on a song today, we won’t be ready in time.” There’s an edge to her voice like she’s been paired with a lazy classmate for a group project. “You know how badly I need to win this.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again, louder, taking up my fiddle to show I’m paying attention. I know I’m the one at fault, but the annoyance in her voice makes me glare back at her, all thoughts of lips on skin forgotten. “I want to win, too, you know.”
The prize is a free half day in a small recording studio, a chance to record a song with professional help and equipment. It sounds cool, but I mostly want to win to make Sarah happy. She thinks it would help her get into a good music school.
But we can’t even agree on what song we’re going to play for the open mic night. Sarah only wants to play newer, more popular folk-rock, Orlando flits from one style of music to another like a butterfly tasting flowers, and I can only really perform if we’re playing traditional folk and bluegrass. We’re like the leftovers from three different dishes someone’s trying to make into a casserole.
“We could do ‘Wagon Wheel’ instead. It has a strong fiddle part,” Sarah says.
“ʻWagon Wheelʼ?” I say, so surprised I flinch. The last time we played “Wagon Wheel” it was just Sarah and me, alone in her room. One minute we were playing and the next our lips were inches apart. Sarah pulled away before we could kiss, but it changed everything between us. We haven’t talked about it since. Maybe now she’s trying to remind me, to give me an opening?
Confusion passes over her face, followed quickly by a deep blush. She definitely didn’t mean to bring up the almost-kiss.
“‘Wagon Wheel’ is kind of overplayed,” I say, glancing away.
“It’s a crowd pleaser though,” Orlando offers, oblivious to what just happened. He’s stretched out on his belly, wire-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose, which hovers about three inches from a mess of pill bugs he found under a rock. That’s always the danger of holding practice in the woods—Orlando will wander off after a grasshopper or get stuck watching the progress of an ant colony for hours on end. His whole absentminded-professor thing irritates Sarah, but you can’t blame a person for loving what they love. And Orlando loves bugs.
“Any other ideas?” Sarah asks.
“I’ve been working on ‘The Twa Sisters.’ Orlando likes that one too.”
“It’s too creepy and weird,” she says, shaking her head.
I shrug. She’s not wrong. “The Twa Sisters” is an old folk song about two sisters who fall in love with the same boy, so one drowns the other. When the drowned sister’s body washes up on the river bank, a young fiddler finds it and shapes her bones into fiddle parts. Her rib cage becomes a fiddle, her finger bones its pegs. But the bone-made fiddle will only play one tune: Oh, the dreadful wind and rain.
Daddy taught me “The Twa Sisters” during one of his low times, when his songs all turned dark and drear, as far from the bright notes of bluegrass as a person can get with a fiddle in hand. You’d think he was the one who killed the fair sister from the song, the way his voice got so husky-sad, the way his fiddle cried.
Only tune that the fiddle would play was
Oh, the dreadful wind and rain
I’ve been practicing it for weeks, but I still can’t play it like he did, as if the song’s story is my own. My notes come out sweet and bright, no matter how I try to deepen and darken them. But I can’t seem to leave this song alone, like it’s the only one my fiddle wants to play.
I’d never say it out loud, and even admitting it to myself gives me chills, but if I could have a fiddle made of my daddy’s bones, I’d take it. I’d take it and play it and learn all the secrets he kept, all the sorrows he bore inside his breast. I think that’s what made his music so good.
“I don’t get why you’re so opposed to playing new music,” Sarah says as if she’s reading my thoughts.
“And I don’t get why you’re so opposed to playing good music,” I shoot back, heat spreading across my cheeks.
Sarah’s lips part for a retort, but then she closes her mouth, looks down at her lap. She puts on such a tough front, but underneath all that sarcasm and bossiness there’s this tender, easily bruised Sarah she tries so hard to hide. And my barb cut right through.
Before I can apologize, she snatches up her banjo and stalks off through the woods, her boots kicking up pine needles. Orlando groans and gets up to follow her, leaving me with only the trees for company. I wish I could make her understand what playing the fiddle means to me—what it used to mean, what it can’t ever mean again.
I know that music could be my ticket out of here, out of Mama’s crowded trailer, out of Goodwill clothes and food that comes in cans and boxes. It could be an escape from all the memories that never leave me be. But that’s not why I play the fiddle. My family history—everything we’ve lost, all our ghosts and all our griefs—those feel like the truest part of me, the beating heart of my music. Playing Sarah’s way is like taking an ax to my deepest, most secret roots.
Bright, soft banjo notes begin to drift through the trees. Sarah’s playing a Gillian Welch song, the one about Elvis. Orlando starts singing along, his voice rich and sweet as molasses.
Their music floods me with longing, making me think of ninth grade, when the three of us met. Sarah had just transferred from another county, and Orlando had moved to Briar Springs from Miami the summer before. We were close friends within a few weeks and started playing music together soon after. Orlando was happy to discover that the bluegrass Sarah and I liked reminded him a little of the guajira music—Cuban country— he’d grown up playing with his grandfather and uncles. He taught us a few Cuban songs, and we taught him bluegrass and folk. Music is what made us friends, but now it feels like it’s pulling us apart. If we could play together again like we used to, when it was just for fun, when we laughed through half the songs we played—
I grab my fiddle and follow their notes like bread crumbs through the trees.
They both look up, startled, when I reach the small clearing where they sit. “That’s the one,” I say, pushing down all my doubts. “We’ll play that for the open mic night.”
I linger in the woods after Sarah and Orlando head home. The sun has gone down, and the woods are hushed, shadows spilling like ink through the trees. The air is cool and sweet with the smells of early spring.
I raise my fiddle and breathe into the quiet, my eyes closed in concentration. A great horned owl hoots gently somewhere nearby, like a chiding mother telling me to get on with it.
Daddy always said twilight was good for ghost raising because it’s an in-between time, when the barrier between worlds seems to grow thin as tissue paper and the ghosts are at their lonesomest. This fiddle can’t so much as poke a hole in that tissue paper, but it’s the only one I’ve got now.
Daddy’s fiddle drew ghosts like hummingbirds to nectar. Mine only reminds me of everything I’m not, everything I’ll never be.
My bow slices across the strings, sending a wail into the blue hush and startling the owl, who erupts in a flurry of shocked feathers from a branch high above my head, hooting her displeasure.
I play “The Twa Sisters” over and over again, trying to imagine myself as the drowned sister, watching the world turn to brown river water. Then I play it as the fiddler who finds the body and strings the girl’s long, yellow hair into a fiddle bow. But the song comes out the same—sad and sweet, quiet and calm as the river that washed up her bones.
Finally, I let the song fade, its last notes disappearing into the skinny pines. Night settles in around me, the air close and clammy. Cicadas take up where my fiddle left off, and small animals rustle in the brush. The trees sigh and sigh and sigh. This forest feels like an ear that’s always listening but never hears what it’s hoping to. Maybe it misses Daddy’s fiddle same as I do. Maybe it’s waiting, like I am too, for a voice of its own.
I turn to put my fiddle in its case, when, like a belated echo, a snatch of music comes back to me from the trees, deep and pure and full of grief, the dark twin of my bow’s last arc. A shiver runs up my spine, spreading chill bumps over my arms. Every muscle in my body tenses, waiting for another note.
“Shady,” Mama yells from the trailer, making me jump. “It’s dinnertime.” The door slams, and I shake myself.
I put my fiddle in its case and turn for home, back through the hungry, darkening woods, back toward Mama’s trailer, to the life we made inside the emptiness Daddy’s death left behind.
Want to try your luck at winning an advance reader’s copy of Ghost Wood Song once ARCs are available? Enter through the Rafflecopter button below where one lucky winner will receive an ARC of Ghost Wood Song! (US only, ends Oct. 31st at 11:59 PM EST.)
Are you excited for Ghost Wood Song? What do you think of the cover?
I’m 100% excited for more bi content and that excerpt whetted my appetite for this! I mean, the dynamic between Shady and Sarah already is so loaded and the tension is bubbling. Eep!