Trail of Tears
Today on A Sparkling Vintage Life we step back to an era of history that was perhaps less “sparkling” than “sparking”: the southern U.S. in the late 1950s, where racial tensions crackled and smoldered and threatened to burst into flame. (Sound familiar? The more things change …)
Author Pamela King Cable explores this volatile time period with sensitivity, grace, and a sense of God’s faithfulness in her new novel, The Sanctum–which is now a bestseller, having reached the top 100 on Amazon in the category of Contemporary Christian Fiction!
On a November day in 1946, Neeley McPherson turned five … and accidentally killed her parents. Thrown into the care of her scheming and alcoholic grandfather, she survives by her quick wit, and the watchful eye of an elderly black man, Gideon. In 1959, as equal rights heats up the South, authorities accuse Gideon of stealing a watch and using a Whites Only restroom. Neeley, now thirteen, determines to break him out of jail.
When the infamous Catfish Cole, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon of the Carolinas, discovers their courageous escape, he pursues Neeley and Gideon into the frozen Blue Ridge Mountains to a wolf sanctuary. There Neeley crosses the bridge between the real and the supernatural. But will Neeley’s actions lead to tragedy again? Or will she finally realize the desire of her heart?
Let’s welcome Pamela to A Sparkling Vintage Life.
The Sanctum is set in the southern U.S. in 1959-1960. What has intrigued you about this time and place in history?
I was born in the South, a coal miner’s granddaughter, but my father escaped the mines, went to college and moved his family to Ohio to work for the rubber companies in 1959. I spent every weekend as a little girl traveling back to the Appalachian Mountains.
Many of my stories are based on people I’ve known and places I’ve been. History also plays a great part in my work. As a writer it is my desire to transport a reader’s mind—but my ultimate joy is to pierce your heart. When I was a little girl someone in my family taught me respect for all people. He said we were related to the great Martin Luther King since after all, my maiden name is King. I soon realized it wasn’t true, but I never forgot what he said. Later, I discovered blatant prejudice had incubated for decades within my family. My southern grandparents believed wholeheartedly in segregation.
For over a decade I lived near Summerfield, North Carolina, located northwest of Greensboro. This area is historically saturated with horse and tobacco farms, which today still dot the landscape. By chance I discovered James W. Cole (1924-1967) was ordained into the ministry in Summerfield at the Wayside Baptist Church in 1958. He toured as a tent evangelist and broadcast a Sunday morning radio program, becoming an active member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and eventually the Grand Dragon of North and South Carolina. The man intrigued and appalled me, and since the first part of the book takes place in Summerfield during that time period, I wrote him into the story.
What sparked your imagination for this particular story?
Late in 2008, and for the next two years, I labored over a new story to give myself a break from the heat and intensity of my novel, Televenge. Little did I know of the fierce obsession and passion that would overtake me in writing The Sanctum. Wanting to include the possibility of the paranormal and spirituality from different points of view, I focused on a young girl with fuzzy, red hair who called herself Neeley, and the story began.
This skinny, parentless thirteen-year-old who wore thick eyeglasses and hand-me-down dresses captivated me from page one. Placing my little redheaded girl on a tobacco farm in 1959, and in the caring hands of an elderly African-American male, a rugged individual who wasn’t afraid of his gentle side, I quickly fell in love with them. The novel slowly wrote itself, dragging my heart behind it.
The International Civil Rights Center and Museum is located in the recently restored Woolworth’s building in downtown Greensboro, a Woolworth’s that also found its way into my story. As I further studied the Civil Rights Movement, I thought of it in terms of rights for all people. My great grandmother was a full-blooded Cherokee, according to our family’s historian. So I then researched the Trail of Tears.
And finally the wolf appeared. An animal that has fascinated me all my life, the wolf is about family and order. It is a subtle character, but a voice to be reckoned with. I studied wolves carefully, and found people who loved the animal enough to create wolf sanctuaries. I spent time on a sanctuary near the town of Bakersville in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a five-hour drive from my home. When I arrived a sign read “The Wolf Sanctum.” From that moment I called my novel, The Sanctum.
What do you most hope readers will take away from The Sanctum?
That above all else, God is faithful.
Most of my readers have reported they feel drained. As though they’ve stepped through a portal in time. They’ve been informed, enlightened, and yet their hearts have been pierced clean through. They’ve said to me many times that the characters became alive. I want all of my readers to experience that. To want to linger inside the pages, to live in the story until it becomes a part of them. Until the story is pressed into the recesses of their memories.
Are there any particular challenges you’re facing in your writing life these days?
I believe it’s with the publishing industry in general. The industry is in desperate need of a major overhaul. The length of time it takes from finishing the novel to publication is painfully long. There’s got to be a better, faster way for traditionally published books to get to market. Also, the worn-out process of retailers returning our unsold books, it’s still the most ridiculous part of this business. Total nonsense. If the Gap can’t return its unsold blue jeans to the Levi Company, why should Barnes & Noble be allowed to return its unsold books to the publisher? This is an antiquated process that needs to stop. Now.
How do you stay spiritually grounded during the writing and publishing process?
Spiritual life-changing moments in my life have consistently fed my desire to write. However, those moments came at a price. Compassion and love from my Heavenly Father saved me from the bottom of my barrel, from the depths of despair. In the midst of the darkest valley of my life, He raised me up and placed in me a desire to pierce the hearts of my readers with the written word straight from my sanctified imagination. He delivered me, saving my life more than once. It wasn’t just the hand of God that moved; it was His whole arm. There is nothing like experiencing the miracle hand of the Master first hand. The undiluted and undisputed faithfulness of God molded me as a woman of faith, and as a writer. Remembering all of this keeps me spiritually grounded, in every aspect of my life.
Who is the one person who has influenced your professional life the most and why?
Donald Maass, author and literary agent. Don is to the writer what Lee Strasburg was to the actors in his time. I am a graduate of the 2005 Breakout Novel Intensive and have studied under Don at different times and locations around the country. Don made me a better writer, and I am ever grateful to him for it.
Are there any particular authors and/or books that have inspired your writing journey?
On my thirteenth birthday, I received a copy of Gone with the Wind. I devoured it in a weekend. Margaret Mitchell became my hero until I discovered Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and Eudora Welty. The rich story content of the South fans the flames of many writers’ fires. But for me, their work was a springboard, catapulting me into the possibility of creating my own unique stories driven by compelling and unforgettable characters.
I love the works of many authors. Pat Conroy, Lee Smith, Silas House, Dorothy Allison, Alice Munro, Diana Gabaldon, Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver … the list could fill this page.
Favorite musical artist. Do you listen to music when you write? What?
Growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, I’m a classical rock kind of girl. I have many favorite artists. But when I write, I listen to music without words. Words are distracting. Classical music, or arrangements from motion picture soundtracks can set a scene into motion. I’m not one to write in coffee shops or anyplace with commotion. I work hard to keep my ADHD self on track.
Any movies (old or new) that you’d recommend?
Movies I can watch, and have watched, over and over are as follows: Steel Magnolias, Green Fried Tomatoes, The Color Purple, The Help, National Treasure, Places in the Heart, Driving Miss Daisy, Matewan, Forrest Gump, Hope Floats, Winter People, Cold Mountain, A Time to Kill, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Selma, Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Apostle, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and To Kill A Mockingbird.
What’s the next book project coming up for you?
Plot outlines for two books: Bitter Homes and Gardens, and The Pinnacle
What is one of your favorite lines (scenes, quote from a character) from you current book?
“My life had to change, and yet I knew, living in North Carolina, danger arrived in winter. Southerners hole up during cold weather. Food is tasteless, and the world around us smells like our rusted tin roofs. Religious conviction freezes on our faces, but our sins are not confessed. I was a child of winter. I had learned the consequence of snow and cold. It was a dreaded time of year, knowing every cold and flu season brought me bad luck and closer to truths too terrible to bear. But the day I turned thirteen began a new chapter that taught me bad luck could turn into good luck, even though it might take time. Even though the evidence of good luck is often invisible as a bubble at first. Even though the evidence of things unseen can make you think you’ve lost your mind.” ~ Neeley McPherson, The Sanctum
Is there anything you’d like readers to know about you that I haven’t asked? If so, tell us!
For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar; places of clapboard and canvas that characters hang ripe for picking. From the primitive church services of the mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments in cathedrals and synagogues all over the world. From the hardworking men and women who testify in every run-down house of God in America to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals televised in today’s megachurches, therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.