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Hendersonville native's debut novel wins acclaim

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As a child Heather Bell played with her sister in spooky sheds at her grandparents’ home.

“My maternal grandparents lived in East Flat Rock and they had a bunch of abandoned outbuildings, farm buildings, chicken sheds, tool sheds, and my sister and I would explore them and we kind of found them fascinating and also a little scary,” she said.

Another vivid memory became deeply etched at the homestead.

“My sister and I were in high school when my mother passed way and we were at my grandparents’ house when we found out,” she said.

Almost thirty years later, Heather Bell Adams combines the images of the shed and the heart-ache of loss in the opening scene of Maranatha Road, her acclaimed first novel that will remind readers here of Hendersonville, Green River and Lake Summit and familiar places like Shepherd Funeral Home.

HeatherBellAdamsHeather Bell AdamsThe fictional town of Garnet feels a bit like Hendersonville but what feels truer than place is the people. Adams’ characters sound and behave like genuine small-town mountain natives, doing their best to navigate life’s challenges. The book has won the James Still Fiction Prize, the Carrie McCray Literary Award and the Independent Book Publishers Gold award as the best novel in the Southeast. Southern Literary Review called Maranatha Road “an exquisite story with characters so real they could step off the pages into your living room.”

A native of Hendersonville, Adams is the daughter of Doley Bell, the retired administrator at Carolina Village, who lives in Mills River. She grew up on Kanuga Road, “the last house in the city limits.”

Asked which teachers inspired her, she names philosophy teacher Lisa Vierra and English teacher Tom Orr at Hendersonville High School and Bel Smith, the Hendersonville Middle School newspaper adviser. After graduating from HHS, Adams earned undergraduate and law degrees from Duke.

Although she works fulltime as senior counsel for First Citizens Bank and has a 14-year-old son, she steals time to write short stories and novels — a second one is in the editing stages.

“Really I just try to fit in writing whenever I can, while waiting for a flight in an airport, waiting in the carpool line to pick up my son, just little snippets of time,” she said in an interview from her Raleigh office. “On my commute to work I’m often thinking about the story I’m working on and what will come next or what the characters will do.”

Maranatha Road opens with Tinley losing both her parents. Losing her mother as a teenager gave Adams a searing memory to drew on. Adams’s lead characters, 17-year-old Tinley Greene and 60-something Sadie Caswell, unexpectedly collide. Adams guides them to place ultimately of love and forgiveness. It’s no easy road there.

She tells the story from the points of view of Tinley, her lover, Mark; Sadie, and her husband, Clive. Tinley, and only Tinley, speaks in the present.

“Being younger and almost a little bit more naïve Tinley lives in the present more so than Sadie,” Adams said. “That was always the way her voice came to me, whereas Sadie and the other characters are more nostalgic and looking back.”

Adams finished the novel in a year. Working with a literary agent, she connected with Vandalia Press, a West Virginia University imprint, which published the book last October.

“It was very exciting to see it,” she said. “I remember opening the email when they sent the cover. That was a great moment as well because I had no idea what the cover would look like.”

A launch tour has taken her to bookstores and book clubs throughout the state and to Yale, where her book was honored. Invariably, readers have loved her book.

Her next novel is a dual timeline story set in present day Savannah and in the Pacific in World War II.

If fans ask whether we might see Tinley again, Adams says she has some interest in exploring how the young woman’s life turns out. For now, Adams is happy to be coming home, where she will see people and places that helped inspire Maranatha Road.

“I’m really looking forward to the event in Hendersonville. I have so many family members in the area and friends,” she said. She hopes her paternal grandmother, 96, can be there, as well as her father, her sister, Melissa, who lives in Fletcher, cousins and in-laws.

Adams will read from Maranatha Road and sign books at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at the Heritage Museum in the Historic Courthouse. She will appear on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch with D.G. Martin at 11 a.m. Sunday, April 22, and 5 p.m. Thursday, April 26.