All They Can Do Is Reject Me
You’ve always wanted to be a
writer. You still keep up with the
professor who inspired you some
30 years ago.
But. The rejection notices start to make
a pile. And you have the opportunity to
run an established family business. You opt
out of teaching, and writing
becomes a hobby.
If you grew up near Asheville,
on the Haywood County side
where your ancestors farmed the
valleys amid the old Appalachian
hills that walled you in and the
modernizing world out, you
almost can’t help but be drawn
to their lives — romanticized but
very, very hard — in the days
before tourists, then automobiles, then the
Park Service trickled in. These become the
things you study, the things you think about
when you think about writing.
Then one day, Charles Frazier walks
into your furniture store to buy himself a
sofa. That Charles Frazier, ’ 73, the one
you’ve heard called the 500-pound canary
of his genre. He casts a shadow on a
wannabe writer the way the mountains
hold up the sunrise — he even used a tale
from your home turf in Cold Mountain.
You’ve hit midlife, the business is going
well, and you can let Mr. Frazier have his
couch and all the stories. Or you can jump
right in there with him.
Wayne Caldwell ’ 69 jumped. He saw a
notice for a fiction contest in this magazine
nine years ago. The story he built around
the tragic accidental demise of one of his
mother’s cousins in the Cataloochee Valley
near the Tennessee line was judged the best
of 75 entries. Now he has included that
story in his first novel about post-Civil War
life in a place he fell fascinated with the
first time he saw it. Still president of the
furniture business, Caldwell now lists his
job title as “writer,” and Random House is
awaiting his sequel to Cataloochee.
“I was so green at this I didn’t have any
better sense than to peddle a 650-page manuscript,” he said. The publisher, which kept
him waiting one month, saw two books.
Not until he and Mary Long Caldwell
’ 73 had children, he says, did Caldwell start
wondering about where he came from.
The first time he saw Cataloochee “it was
like walking into a spiritually charged
place.” His grandfather was born there in a
time when a mule was an indispensable
machine and a close companion, the battle
between the Lord and the Devil was real
and constant, and men could not fathom
why the government would tax liquor.
Not until Wayne
and Mary Long
walking into a
Caldwell ’ 73
he came from.
The first time
‘it was like