Nancy B. Brewer is a writer who specializes in historical and Christian fiction, with a special focus on books for young adult readers. She is also a lifelong fan of bluegrass music who has found a unique way to include the music she loves with the stories she writes.
Her passion for historical accuracy in these books is reinforced by her side profession as an historical reenactor, appearing frequently in period attire to bring to life characters and stories from a much older time. Brewer has accepted multiple awards from historical societies for her work, and spends many hours researching state and county records, old newspapers, and land records to ensure that every detail she puts forward is correct, no matter how small.
Bluegrass first found its way into Nancy’s books in The House With The Red Light, whose lead character was a young girl who sang and played the mandolin. Set in 1957, it tells the story of Tammy Sue, who came from a rough, abusive background. In the story she is taken in by a minister who recognizes her talent. As she begins to recognize that he is a fake, she also finds in him as a beautiful mentor who allows her to forage along her own road to faith.
It was at this point that an idea came to Nancy…
“I also write poetry, and have written songs for plays. The girl in the story wrote songs, and the lyrics were included in the book. So I started thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if people could hear a soundtrack of the story.’ “
Brewer had been a bluegrass fan since childhood. She says that growing up in North Carolina, her father was a friend of fiddler J.E. Mainer, and that there were always people at their house playing music. Hearing just how these songs could sound, Nancy reached out to Rhonda Vincent to gauge her interest in collaborating on the music.
“I called Rhonda, and she loved the idea. I sent her what I had written, and she worked her magic.”
The House With The Red Light was released in 2013 as both a book and an audio CD, sold either as a package or separately. It was eagerly embraced by Brewer’s fans, who appreciated being able to listen to the songs that were found in the book. In addition, they discovered the powerful bluegrass of Rhonda Vincent.
When work began on her next book, Nancy began to think about adding music early on.
“My next project was a civil war story set in 1861, about a girl who was a spy. Tim Crouch, who had played fiddle on the first album, called me to see if I was planning to do a CD for this one. He said that he would love to do it if I was interested.”
In this book, The Two Faces of Nina Grey, the lead character is an eighteen year old female double agent, working for both sides in the Civil War. She was an orphan girl, living in Maryland, where she thought that the state’s neutrality would let her escape the war. But her love for her brother soon brought her into the midst of the conflict.
Before the book was completed, Nancy was working with Tim on the music. They created a music video for the theme song for the book, Stay Away From Nina Grey.
Nancy told us that Tim had found Arkansas storyteller Charlie Sandridge for that track, and that while recording it, she met Brandon Lee Adams who was playing guitar at the session.
Once I met Brandon, I liked him right away as well. He said that he had a song that would be perfect for the CD, and when I heard it, I loved it. I liked it so much I made him into a character in the book. Brandon Lee Adams is a singer/songwriter character, and my character Sara meets him in the hospital.”
The Two Faces of Nina Grey was released in June, but Brewer has been a bit late in getting the promotion for the book started. Just as it was coming out, she received a lung cancer diagnosis, and was in the hospital having surgery when it officially released. But she says that she is feeling better now following post-surgical chemo and radiation.
Nancy shared a few words about how her love of bluegrass music and historical fiction relate to each other.
“I love to bring history to life for people who may have missed some of the past.
When I’m writing, I see things unfold as if they are really happening. These are the things that the people alive at the time would have seen.
Bluegrass music is heritage music. It tells a story… who we are… where we came from. I don’t know any other music that does that.”
All of her books are available from Brewer’s web site, and from popular online booksellers in paperback, Kindle, and other digital formats.