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Wednesday, 01 August 2007 00:00

Book Mania: Showcasing some up-and-coming writers

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Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell. Random House, 2007. 368 pages

Readers planning to attend Book Mania in Waynesville have several treats in store for them. A welcome reception for the participating authors will be held Friday evening, Aug. 3, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Osondu Booksellers. Tickets for this reception cost $15 each, money which will be used for local educational purposes. On Saturday, Aug. 4, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Book Mania, a creation of Mountain Writers Alive!, will sponsor an entire day of writers sharing their work through readings, signings, and conversations at the Haywood Justice Center in Waynesville.

Although some of the more than 50 writers will be familiar to readers of the Smoky Mountain News — Robert Morgan, author of Gap Creek and Dear Enemies has frequently spoken at gatherings in Western North Carolina, Susan Reinhardt is a popular local humor columnist, and Kerry Madden is the author of Gentle’s Holler, Louisiana’s Song, and other works — there are other writers, new or blossoming talents, who should also excite our interest.

Vicki Lane, for example, a Marshall resident who has lived in Western North Carolina since 1975, is the author of Art’s Blood and Signs in the Blood, both of which are mystery novels set in the Asheville area and focused on Elizabeth Goodweather, a resourceful middle-aged sleuth. Old Wounds (978-0-440-24359-5, $6.99), Lane’s most recent work in this series, continues to describe Elizabeth’s life on Full Circle Farm as Rosemary, Elizabeth’s 19-year-old daughter, returns home and begins a search for her best friend who disappeared at the age of 10. Soon she and her mother find themselves involved in a maze of magic, Cherokee legends, and long-buried community secrets. Lane increases the suspense in her novel by taking the reader back and forth between past and present, and by writing with dark, Gothic undertones in her prose.

Wayne Caldwell is another local author with a recently released novel, Cataloochee (ISBN 978-1-1400-6343-7, $24.95). This vividly written story is, of course, set in Cataloochee Valley. Here Caldwell recreates both the beauty of the valley and the harsh lives of the people through the eyes of three families: the Banks, the Carters, and the Wrights. A teenager who first sees Cataloochee during the Civil War, Ezra Banks, the central figure of the novel, eventually comes to live in the valley, where he marries Hannah Carter, raises a family of his own, and becomes both wealthy and despised for his spiteful ways by many of his neighbors.

Cataloochee is more than just the story of Ezra Banks, his violent end, and the murder trial that follows. Caldwell introduces us to several generations of the valley folk, weaving us into the heart of their difficult lives in clear unsentimental prose. The stories which his characters live out or tell allow us to see both the hardship and the beauty in the daily lives of these mountain families.

Since my first visit to the valley 30 years ago, Cataloochee has seemed one of those rare places that come closest to feeling like heaven on earth. Every time I visited there, I wondered how the families who had once owned and farmed that remote land must have felt when ordered to move away from their lovely valley. For me, then, the best part of Caldwell’s book describes how the federal government appropriated the land of these people and forced them to move out of their beloved valley, and the damage inflicted by that move on those who loved their homes. He records the agony of their leave-taking and their final reconciliation to their fate. Near the end of this account, Caldwell has a preacher, the Reverend Grady Noland, address his congregation at the Baptist Church in Little Cataloochee:

“Who’d ever thought we’d see the end of Cataloochee? Oh, I know you will come, like the spiritual says, no more water but fire next time, and the earth also and the works therein shall be burned up, amen. That’s the way a great God ends things. It’s in the Book. But this park business is different. It’s the government ending it, which ain’t the same a-tall.”

Born in Asheville, Caldwell attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Appalachian University, and Duke University. He continues to live in the Asheville area. Cataloochee is his first novel, and for its taut prose and vivid picture of mountain life has drawn praise from writers like Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons) and Lee Smith (On Agate Hill, Fair and Tender Ladies).

One writer who was invited to Book Mania, Doug Marlette, died on July 10 in an automobile accident in Mississippi. Perhaps best-known for his Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoon strip “Kudzu,” Marlette had also recently turned his hand to fiction and was the author of two acclaimed novels, The Bridge and Magic Time. Marlette will be sorely missed by his family, his friends, and his readers.

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