The Novels

Requiem by Fire

In Requiem by Fire, Wayne Caldwell returns to the same fertile Appalachian ground that provided the setting for his first novel, recalling a singular time in American history when the greater good may not have been best for everyone.

In the late 1920s, Cataloochee, North Carolina, a settlement tucked deep in the Great Smoky Mountains, is home to nearly eleven hundred souls—many of them prosperous farmers whose ancestors broke the first furrows a century earlier. Now attorney Oliver Babcock, Jr., has been given the difficult task of presenting the locals with two options: sell their land to the federal government for the creation of a national park or remain behind at their own financial peril.

While some of the area’s inhabitants seem ready to embrace a new and modern life, others, deeply embedded in their rural ways, are resistant. Silas Wright’s cantankerous unwillingness to sell or to follow the new rules leads to some knotty and often amusing predicaments. Jim Hawkins, hired by the Parks commission, has relocated his reluctant wife, Nell, and their children to Cataloochee, but Nell’s unhappiness forces Jim to make a dire choice between his roots and his family. And a sinister force is at work in the form of the deranged Willie McPeters, who threatens those who have decided to stay put.

Requiem by Fire is a moving, timeless tale of survival and change. With humor and pathos, this magnificent novel transports readers to another time and place—and celebrates Southern storytelling at its finest.

Winner of the 2010 Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award from the Western North Carolina Historical Association.

Cataloochee

Against the breathtaking backdrop of Appalachia comes a rich, multilayered post—Civil War saga of three generations of families–their dreams, their downfalls, and their faith. Cataloochee is a slice of southern Americana told in the classic tradition of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.

Nestled in the mountains of North Carolina sits Cataloochee. In a time when “where you was born was where God wanted you,” the Wrights and the Carters, both farming families, travel to the valley to escape the rapid growth of neighboring towns and to have a few hundred acres all to themselves. But progress eventually winds its way to Cataloochee, too, and year after year the population swells as more people come to the valley to stake their fortune.

Never one to pass on opportunity, Ezra Banks, an ambitious young man seeking some land of his own, arrives in Cataloochee in the 1880s. His first order of business is to marry a Carter girl, Hannah, the daughter of the valley’s largest landowner. From there Ezra’s brood grows, as do those of the Carters and the Wrights. With hard work and determination, the burgeouning community transforms wilderness into home, to be passed on through generations.

But the idyll is not to last, nor to be inherited: The government takes steps to relocate folks to make room for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and tragedy will touch one of the clans in a single, unimaginable act.

Wayne Caldwell brings to life the community’s historic struggles and close kinships over a span of six decades. Full of humor, darkness, beauty, and wisdom, Cataloochee is a classic novel of place and family.

Genesis of a First Novel

My mother’s first cousin’s husband died mysteriously. My first short story, “The Pact,” transplanted that incident into Cataloochee.

My great-grandfather was killed by a falling tree in Cataloochee. Another short story, “The Burning Tree,” arose from this story.

A family relic, an Iver Johnson “owlhead” pistol, worked its way into the hands of Ezra Banks, who, by then, lived in Cataloochee.

Thus my typical working pattern: begin by sketching a fragment of a story, or an artifact: a dead man face up in a creek, a huge tree limb atop a farmer, a pistol lying on a table. As details emerge – the wife finds her dead husband, friends turn the limb over, a man orders the pistol from a catalog – I discover why he fell in the creek, how the farmer’s funeral will be conducted, what manner of man bought the pistol. Soon the material begins to stand on its own. When it grows large enough to walk, and not awkwardly, it finds life as a novel.
That’s how Cataloochee came to be.