by Heather Bell Adams
I’m a lifelong North Carolinian—born and raised in Hendersonville, undergrad and law school at Duke, and now living in Raleigh. It’s probably no surprise then that North Carolina provides the setting for my first novel, Maranatha Road, the story of Sadie Caswell, whose son dies shortly before his wedding, and Tinley Greene, the young stranger who shows up claiming she’s pregnant with his child.
Inspired by (and in awe of) writers like Robert Morgan, Wiley Cash and Ron Rash, I chose the western part of the state for this story, conjuring up a small, fictional town named Garnet. The setting bears some similarity to Hendersonville, as well as nearby places where I’ve visited grandparents, great-grandparents and other relatives, including the town of East Flat Rock and, nestled against the South Carolina border, the communities of Zirconia and Tuxedo.
The area’s history of gem mining inspired the name Garnet. More modest than the rubies, emeralds and sapphires also found in North Carolina’s mountains, the blood red garnet was believed in medieval times to cure depression and ward away bad dreams. And yet for much of the story the area’s garnets offer little such protection for Sadie or Tinley.
The idea for Maranatha Road came to me as the image of a girl, sheltered from the rain in a dark shed and waiting for her parents to return. Various abandoned outbuildings were scattered across my maternal grandparents’ property in East Flat Rock. As a child, they both fascinated and terrified me. Cloaked in velvety darkness, the sheds smelled of rich, black dirt and dried corn or seeds. Unfamiliar farm tools, still sharp-edged though coated with rust, hung from the flypaper-covered walls. In the summer, overgrown blackberry bushes might hide the entrance to some of the sheds, further cloaking them in mystery. So, as the book opens, we meet Tinley Greene hiding out in an old shed, peeking through the holes in the wood to the rain outside.
Before long, Tinley makes her way to Maranatha Road, where Sadie and Clive Caswell live along with their troubled son, Mark. I don’t know of a road in the area named Maranatha, which loosely translated means our Lord, or hope, is coming. But there’s a Maranatha Baptist Church near my paternal grandmother’s house, and the name seems to fit the character of the place.
Roads near Lake Summit and along Green River lend their topography to the story. As Sadie explains, “In some places around here, the road curls around itself like fingers closed in a tight fist. But where we lived on Maranatha Road, the fingers ease into an open hand. Farms stretch out on both sides. It’s not a valley exactly, but close to one.”
Much of Henderson County seems embraced by mountains and yet apart from them, perched on a plateau. This explains why Mark Caswell describes Garnet as an “in-between place” where the “steepness eases off a bit” to give people a rest.
I grew up in a house (pictured) on Kanuga Road, barely in Hendersonville’s city limits. Follow the road in one direction to arrive at summer camps with rock walls and long dirt driveways, reminiscent of Emerald Cove, the fictional camp appearing in the novel.
Or take Kanuga the other way and you soon reach a charming downtown filled with antique shops and host to North Carolina’s Apple Festival.
In the novel, Sadie would like to plant an apple orchard one day. I couldn’t resist sprinkling this aspiration throughout the story since I remember how lovely the area’s apple trees look, especially come spring when they’re in full bloom.
Finally, the Peter Guice Memorial Bridge on Interstate 26, southeast of Hendersonville, provided inspiration for the bridge where Tinley and Mark have their last conversation, although in the book the surroundings retain a more rural character and the highway sees less traffic. Spanning the Green River Gorge from a height of 225 feet, the Peter Guice is the highest bridge in North Carolina. According to family gossip, my parents on one of their first dates toured the site while it was under construction. These days, when I cross the bridge with my husband and son, that’s one of the stories I like to imagine. The other is a story of two strong, Southern women looking for a way to bridge the gap between them.
Maranatha Road is one of our 2017 Fall/Winter Reads. View the full reading list here.