Lord of the Mountain: A Southern Novel
In 1989, the year my wife and I moved from L.A. to Nashville, an event called the Southern Festival of Books was born. The festival was my idea of heaven, featuring three days of presentations and panels by writers of every kind.
One focus was Southern novels, a type of fiction I had always admired from a distance but had never known much about. I saw panels on all-time greats such as William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, and heard presentations by the next generation of Southern writers, including Charles Frazier, Alice Walker, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Reynolds Price.
I wondered: What made their books Southern novels? One answer, of course, was that the writers lived in the South. But it was more than that. The books had a particular feel, along with a dense, rich texture. They had colorful characters, a deep and abiding sense of place, a healthy dose of religion, and a connection, in some form, to the issue of race. I was unable to describe Southern novels precisely, but I knew one when I read it.
Since moving to Nashville I’ve written several novels that take place in the South, but I wouldn’t call them Southern novels. Then my reading led me to a wonderful book called Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music. I decided to write a story about the Carters and the 1927 Bristol sessions, the so-called “big bang” of country music.
The result was Lord of the Mountain, my most recent novel. In it, thirteen-year-old Nate Owens and his friend Sue Dean Baker witness the Bristol sessions, wrestle with a crazy brand of religion, and set out into the hills and hollers to solve a musical mystery.
Reading over the manuscript, it hit me: I had written a Southern novel. It had a dense texture, odd and diverse characters, mountain music, and, for godsake, snakehandling.
It’s a Southern story told from the inside, not by a Yankee visitor. And I’m very proud of it.