Ashley Crownover loves Nashville and knows it well—her family has lived here for six generations—and this adoration for her hometown is evident in her new picture book, Nashville Boo!: Scary Tales of the City. In the book, written in a bouncy rhyme, two children are guided by a spectral Hank Williams, as rendered by illustrators Chris Sharp and Chris Grant. Hank takes them through Nashville’s haunted spots, some legendary and some imagined. From the Ryman to old Glendale Park, there are haunts for young readers at every turn.
Crownover, who also wrote Wealtheow: Her Telling of Beowulf for adult readers back in 2007, answered questions from Chapter 16 via email about her debut children’s book and how she found just the right balance of safe and scary.
Chapter 16: Can you talk about when inspiration for this book first struck?
Ashley Crownover: The Boo! books are actually a series published by Reedy Press in St. Louis. St. Louis Boo! was the first, and when they decided to expand to Nashville, I jumped at the chance to highlight some of my hometown’s most iconic—and occasionally spooky—places.
Chapter 16: Was it challenging to narrow down the stories for inclusion?
Crownover: Many local ghost stories involve tragedy—that’s why a place becomes haunted, right? But since this is a picture book for ages four to eight, I needed stories that were the fun kind of scary, not the violent kind. (No Bell Witches here! She terrified me as a child. I never did see her in a mirror, despite following proper procedure in a darkened bathroom, like many local kids my age.) I eliminated unavoidably violent tales from consideration—the 1918 train wreck at Dutchman’s Curve being the most notable example—and smoothed the rough edges off the rest.
Chapter 16: What was your research like? Did any stories you already knew lead you to unexpected ones?
Crownover: Like many locals, I had heard or read about the Ryman’s flickering lights and dressing room laughter. (Elvis has not left the building, they say!) And, of course, cemeteries—especially old, historic ones, like City Cemetery—are natural spots for hauntings. But I was not aware that Adelicia Acklen allegedly still inhabits Belmont Mansion. And I took some creative license in depicting the Tennessee Fox Trot Carousel (created by Tennessee artist Red Grooms) as a ghostly apparition on the Riverfront. I remember taking my children to ride it downtown many years ago, and I know it’s now in storage waiting for some generous soul to revive it, but “ghostly children” whirling in the dark was just too spooky to resist. Anyway, who’s to say? Maybe the carousel really does want us to “come back soon!”
Chapter 16: What was it like for you to see Chris Sharp’s and Chris Grant’s illustrations for your story?
Crownover: I was amazed and thrilled. They asked for recommendations and information on my vision for each two-page spread, and it was incredible to watch the overabundance of photos and info I sent them become such charming, adorable illustrations. In particular, the picture of the balcony at the Ryman (shown toward the end of the book) features these beautifully rendered stained-glass windows that I love, love, love. I don’t know either of the Chrises personally, but I could not be happier with their work.
Interestingly, I did more research for the illustrations than I did for the ghost stories. Once I had my haunted spots picked out, I found pretty much every photo ever posted to the Internet about each of them, selected those I felt to be most iconic (Union Station in the moonlight, for example), and sent them on to Chris and Chris, along with a great deal of potentially irritating advice.
At least I imagined it to be irritating, as I was writing down these detailed notes about how the ghostly host character, Hank, should hold his guitar. I sent them photos of Hank Williams, Hank Williams’s guitar (the one that’s displayed in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum), Hank Williams holding his guitar, and Hank Williams playing his guitar. “This is Nashville,” I said, “and everybody’s got some connection to music. If Hank’s fingers on the guitar are not positioned properly, people will notice.”
I definitely became obsessive about the authenticity of the illustrations, more so even than the ghost stories themselves. I have to admit that the haunted remains of Glendale Park—a Victorian-era amusement park at the end of a trolley line near what is now Lipscomb University—exist only in my imagination, though I do have a friend whose backyard rec/music room is the actual bandstand building from the park.
Chapter 16: As a sixth-generation Nashvillian, what does it mean to you to publish a book about Nashville?
Crownover: My great-grandfather, Stanley F. Horn, was an historian and writer who published, among other things, The Decisive Battle of Nashville, a challenging read for the modern lay person but apparently of some success back in the day. He was even state historian in the 1950s. Other relatives have written about our family history, on both my mom’s and dad’s side, so it’s definitely in my blood. Researching Nashville and the path my ancestors took to get here is a favorite pastime. My dad, especially, knows so much about this town and has been generous in sharing his stories.
Nashville Boo! is actually dedicated to my dad and to my uncle Art, the two best storytellers in our family. My uncle Art passed away unexpectedly in February as the book was preparing to go to press, and it felt important to acknowledge his legacy. I would have liked to include the racetrack at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville Boo!, since that was always a favorite haunt of the Crownover boys; but much like train wrecks, car crashes are usually the wrong kind of scary for a light-hearted children’s book!
Chapter 16: Do you have big Halloween plans to share the book with children, such as school or bookstore visits?
Crownover: On October 29 we’ll have a full-fledged Halloween party at East Side Story in the Idea Hatchery (in East Nashville). My friend Chuck Beard owns the bookstore and has been incredibly supportive, as he always is with local writers. I can’t wait to read the story with the kids and do ghost crafts. And eat candy. (There’s also a great candy store in the Idea Hatchery. I know, because I used to work there!)
Chapter 16: What’s next for you? Working on any new projects?
Crownover: As one of the founders of community radio station WXNA-LP Nashville (101.5 FM and online), I have the great privilege of hosting a weekly talk show (“Nashville Haps”), where guests and topics are often of the historical sort. I’d love to be like George Zepp (author of Hidden History of Nashville) and tell Nashville’s story one quirky tale at a time, or like the Nashville Retrospect newspaper, which does such a great job with its reprinted news articles and original reminiscences of the old days. More immediately, however, I’ve applied to the Ph.D. program in English at MTSU to study popular culture and literary theory. Now that’s scary!
Julie Danielson, a former school librarian, blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and writes about picture books for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage. Her first book, Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, was published in 2014.
Tagged: Children & YA