Lake Norman & Mooresville

Artist publishes fourth book

Mooresville native Cotton Ketchie is best known for artwork depicting scenes of North Carolina and for running Landmark Galleries in downtown Mooresville.

He's also an author. He began writing in 2006 and has published four books. Ketchie said he writes when he needs a break from painting.

His latest novel, "Trouble in Love Valley," was published in October. On Feb. 16, he hosted a book signing at the Mooresville Public Library.

"Trouble in Love Valley" is a sequel to his first work of fiction, "Little Did They Know." Ketchie wrote the sequel because of requests from readers. He is writing a third novel involving the same characters. The books are set around the Mooresville area.

"Trouble in Love Valley" follows a murder investigation by the fictional first female sheriff of Iredell County. The setting is Love Valley, a real town about 15 miles north of Statesville, where automobiles are not permitted. Visitors must explore the town on foot, on horseback or by horse-drawn vehicle.

Ketchie laughed as he recalled taking his wife to Love Valley for the first time. She fell asleep in the car and woke to the surprise of a town bustling with horse traffic and featuring a saloon, general store and hitching posts.

The late founder and mayor of Love Valley, Andy Barker, commissioned Ketchie to paint scenes of his town, and they became friends. Barker plays a fictional role in the plot.

Ketchie often includes real settings and people in his fictional scenarios. For example, a restaurant that appears in his novels is based on Mooresville's Little Kitchen Restaurant, which no longer exists. He also named a character after Darren Campbell of the Iredell County Sheriff's Office after Campbell taught him technical aspects of police work to help with realism.

Ketchie does not outline his work before or during the writing.

"I don't know what's going to happen next until I get to work that morning," he said. But that method doesn't mean he's less invested in his characters than other writers are.

"I get emotionally involved in writing," he said. "There were two places in the new book where the tears were flowing as I was writing."

He begins writing at 5 a.m. each day and continues until time to open his gallery. He likes to write short chapters and is inspired by authors Robert B. Parker and James Patterson.

His wife of 25 years, Vickie Ketchie, edits his work. They self-publish his books through Lorimer Press in Davidson.

Ketchie likes to include humor in his writing. His first two books, "Memories of a Country Boy" and "A Country Boy's Education," are based on his own childhood in the Mooresville area. They include many anecdotes of life in the rural South, such as a chapter on a community "hog killing."

"We were poor country people," said Ketchie. "I was 12 before I found out my name wasn't 'get wood.' "

Ketchie said he's grateful for his upbringing.

"I can't express how lucky I am to have grown up in the '50s," he said. "It was much simpler."

The memoirs include the full story of why he is called "Cotton." He said it has to do with having bleached blond hair as a child and hating his given first name, which he did not reveal.

Each of the memoirs sold more than 4,600 copies.

Ketchie's novels do express overarching human themes. One is how people can get along even though they believe differently, he said. Another is women's struggles to balance work and family roles.

A third theme of the series is raising awareness of domestic violence and abuse. The issue is important to Ketchie, who was a board member of the Mooresville nonprofit organization SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) for about 10 years.

Someday he would like to make his books into movies and start his own publishing company, said Ketchie.