An Excellent Historical Novel

I just finished reading an excellent historical novel. Cataloochee was Wayne Caldwell’s debut novel, and what an entertaining story it is! I read now as an aspiring novelist. Historical fiction is my first love, so I constantly try to identify and learn from what published authors do well. Reading Cataloochee on the heels of the 2014 publication of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, made the story all the more vivid for me.

I like the way Mr. Caldwell follows families through several generations. In fact, that is what I am working toward in my own writing. Mr. Caldwell’s descriptive writing put me in the setting. I can see the plants he refers to and I can smell the flowers and other scents he mentions. His careful use of colloquialisms is a model I hope to emulate in my debut novel that has the working title, The Spanish Coin.

Cataloochee is historical fiction at its best, and I look forward to reading Mr. Caldwell’s second novel, Requiem by Fire. It carries forward some of the Cataloochee families as Great Smoky Mountains National Park becomes a reality and changes their lives forever.

Being from North Carolina, I am familiar with many of the places mentioned in Cataloochee. One of my late uncles lived on Hemphill Road in the Jonathan Creek community, and another late uncle was a Methodist preacher at Cataloochee in 1928. Oh how I wish I had asked Uncle Grady and Aunt Clara questions about their time there! Aunt Clara wrote a book, Lingering Echoes of the Blue Ridge: A Charge to Keep about some of her and Uncle Grady’s experiences in his various pastorates in western North Carolina.

Reading Cataloochee prompted me to reread Aunt Clara’s book. She and Wayne Caldwell are good storytellers and their books paint a picture of life in the Appalachian Mountains. On my next trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, I hope to visit Cataloochee. According to Aunt Clara’s book, the church where Uncle Grady preached was still there a few years ago. Since it is on national park land, I trust it is still being cared for and protected.

It was not until I was two-thirds of the way through Cataloochee that I thought about Aunt Clara’s book. Making this family connection with the places in Cataloochee was serendipitous. I can’t stop smiling!

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