Author brings latest Appalachian novel to Waynesville

By Jessi Stone Guide editor | Sep 25, 2013

Editor's note: Sharyn McCrumb, a New York Times bestselling author, will be visiting Waynesville at 6 p.m. Oct. 1 at Blue Ridge Books. McCrumb recently took the time to answer questions about her writing and her new novel "King's Mountain."


Q: Tell me a little about the inspiration behind "King's Mountain."

A: "I went to school in piedmont North Carolina. When our history classes covered the American Revolution, we learned about Valley Forge, Paul Revere, the Boston Massacre — but nobody mentioned that a battle fought 26 miles west of Charlotte on the NC/SC border, was called by Thomas Jefferson: 'the turning point of the Revolution.' At a time when George Washington’s Continental Army was losing the war up North, volunteer militias from these mountains — unpaid, unequipped, and uninvited — fought a British regiment at King’s Mountain and won the battle (Oct. 7, 1780.) Their victory inspired the Patriots to keep going, and the war ended at Yorktown a year later. An ancestor of mine actually fought at King’s Mountain, and yet I knew nothing about him or the battle until years after I finished my formal education. I wanted to give other people a chance to find out sooner than that about the part our region playing in the American Revolution."

Q: With so much history included, how much research goes into a novel like this?
A: "I do exactly the same research that any historian would do, but then I have to go one step further and bring all that research to life, giving it emotional weight and sensory illumination. Historians draw a picture of a battle; historical novelists put you in it. I think my job as an historical novelist is to make people care — to feel the events, rather than just to be given the facts in a clinical sense. Anything I can verify, I do verify. After that, I do all the research I can to make the most-informed guess I can make. If you are writing a novel, you may have to tell what the historical figures are eating or wearing, and exactly what they said to one another. Often that requires an educated guess —emphasis on educated. Most interesting fact: When I researched the men who fought at King’s Mountain, I realized that the battle was a Who’s Who of the 18th century frontier. Participants included: the first governor of Tennessee; the first governor of Kentucky; the brother-in-law of Patrick Henry; the father of Davy Crockett; the father of Robert E. Lee; the grandfather of N.C.’s Civil War governor, Zebulon Vance — all in the same battle!

Q: Are you a history buff in general or just like southern history? What did you earn your degrees in?

A: "History in general interests me — that’s where the good stories are. My degrees: B.A. Communications - UNC-Chapel Hill; graduate work in theatre- Wake Forest University; MA English - Virginia Tech."

Q: When did you start writing? Writing or being published?

A: "I decided to become a writer in the second grade, when the rest of the class was evenly divided between cowboys and stewardesses. So, although I started writing in grade school, I didn’t write a book worth publishing and become an author until I had finished graduate school."

Q: How would you describe your writing style to first-time readers of your work?
A: "My books are like Appalachian quilts. I take brightly colored scraps of legends, ballads, fragments of rural life, and local tragedy, and I piece them together into a complex whole that tells not only a good story, but also a deeper truth about the culture of the mountain South."

Q: Where are you from in North Carolina?

A: "Born in Wilmington, I grew up in Burlington, and moved to Greenville when my professor father joined the faculty of East Carolina University. I was always hoping to get to the mountains, though: my father’s family is from around Spruce Pine. Finally, after graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, I attended graduate school at Virginia Tech (in the mountains of southwest Virginia),  and now I live on a farm near the Appalachian Trail."

Q: Have you been to Waynesville before?

A: "Yes. In fact, Waynesville is featured in one of my earlier novels, "Ghost Riders," which tells the story of the Civil War in the North Carolina/Tennessee mountains. The last battle of the war was fought in Waynesville in May 1865 (yes, the surrender at Appomattox had occurred the previous month, but apparently news didn’t travel fast uphill ) Anyhow, I visited Waynesville to see the battlefield for myself, and discovered that I was a few decades too late —that site is now a neighborhood of houses that date from mid-20th century. I had come prepared with boots and anorak for a hike, but the two kind gentlemen from the historical society drove me only a few blocks from the library, pulled into a short driveway, pointed to the homeowners brick barbecue grill, and said, 'This is it!' I put that scene into Ghost Riders, with one of the characters playing 'my part' in the adventure."