Cordy Wheaton, the protagonist of my soon-to-be-released YA novel ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND, is a born and bred Southern boy who’s rarely left the safe confines of his hometown in rural North Carolina. High Point, North Carolina to be exact, which also happens to be the same place where legendary jazz musician, John Coltrane, lived for much of his childhood. This historical point does not go unnoticed by Cordy or his musically-inclined brother, Travis, who see the Trane as their guiding light, their North Star, capable of coaxing them out from inside the hollow tortoise shell that is their mutual and ancestral stomping grounds.
But, beyond this legendary connection, the small town of High Point, North Carolina has always been a locale where I envisioned myself setting a young adult novel–and only one of those reasons is because I currently live here. The others all tie in to the fact that High Point remains as one of the last prototypical Main Street Americas in, well, America. From the narrow strip of asphalt that knifes its way through the center of town, literally named Main Street, with its antique shops and bar-b-q joints and furniture galleries, to its storied history as the tables and chairs capital of the United States, High Point, North Carolina is either the America of yore or the America of the present that we continually forget to recognize–depending on how you decide to look at it. These are the overarching reasons why I felt this tiny burg in the nowherelands of the Carolinas was the perfect place, in these times we inhabit, for young Cordy Wheaton to both begin and end his heroic journey.
It’s a journey I hope will entice you to PRE-ORDER A COPY of ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND (5.4.21 from FOW Books) and follow Cordy’s frantic search for a brother in the grips of addiction, using nothing but his self-inflicted infatuation with philosophy and mythology, a few pairs of extra underwear, and forty bucks in the pocket of his blue jeans.
What I hope to do for you today, however, is to take you on a magical, pictorial tour of Cordy’s hometown, which also happens to be my hometown, so you can see some of the real-life locales that inspired a novel that is near and dear to my heart.
All aboard! The first stop on our tour is one of my favorite railway stations in the country, built in 1907 by Southern Railway and now run by Amtrak. Not only is this a beautiful station with a tiled hip roof and Romanesque architecture, but it also serves as Cordy Wheaton’s initial bon voyage point in On the Way to Birdland.
If you like breakfast the way I like breakfast, then a stop at this fabled, local landmark is essential for anyone passing through High Point. Definitely get yourself a big ol’ helping of buttery grits and a plate of eggs any way you like them, and experience a true, Southern-style breakfast just like Cordy Wheaton and his brother, Travis, would grab on chilly mornings before school.
No longer functioning, the oldest furniture warehouse in the city is located, ironically, on a dead-end along the train tracks on High Street. I’ve never been inside, but my imagination filled in the details and served as the inspiration for Cordy Wheaton’s many, chaotic dreamstates we experience as readers as his journey progresses.
JOHN COLTRANE’S CHILDHOOD HOME
The squat, cozy bungalow on Underhill Street is unassuming but holds its own magnificence with a newly-placed historical marker to commemorate the legend of High Point’s favorite musical son. The Coltrane House in High Point is but a stone’s-throw from Cordy Wheaton’s house and a place that signifies the intrinsic journey of an individual looking to break out on his or her own.
Perched on Commerce Street, just across the road from High Point’s theater district, the statue of John Coltrane broods over his childhood hometown in both reverence and in judgement. It is this very statue that launches Cordy Wheaton on his journey and makes him remember how important and inspirational the jazz legend has proven to be in the relationship between him and his estranged brother, Travis. It was also the statue that “spoke” to me on my first night in High Point, North Carolina and made me want to stay here in my adopted hometown.
ST. MARY’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
Built in the early 1880s, St. Mary’s has loomed over Main Street for more than a century, contributing to the effect in a small town that sometimes feels like it has more places of worship than people. The stone faced structure has always seemed welcoming to me, and it’s quite a beautiful place even if somewhat intimidating. This is where I envision Maynard T. Wheaton, Cordy’s father, delivering sermons to his congregation and hiding beneath the guilt-woven fabric of his faith.
Found everywhere, this pesky invasive plant is a staple in the South and provides Cordy Wheaton with some last minute cover as he attempts to continue his journey without being detected and hauled off as a missing child. Interesting side note: I recently learned kudzu is actually edible, though I’ve yet to meet a brave soul who has served it as a side dish.
This mural in downtown High POint has no true relevance to John Coltrane, mythology, philosophy, addiction, PTSD, or any of the story elements in On the Way to Birdland unless you count how passing it in my car on many occasions led to me eventually developing a YA novel that hinges on the imagery of the bird kingdom…I sure do. Also, it’s a pretty darn cool mural.
If this pictorial tour piqued your interest, I hope you’ll continue on a literary tour through my hometown of High Point, North Carolina so you can follow Cordy Wheaton on his entire personal Odyssey up the Eastern seaboard on the pages of my soon-to-be-released novel, ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND. Pre-order a copy today!