Cullman library book club hosts ‘Watervalley’ series author Jeff High


Jeff High, author of the popular “Watervalley” book series, was the guest at Wednesday’s meeting of the Cullman County Public Library Book Club. (Heather Mann for The Tribune)

CULLMAN – Avid readers who enjoy stories about small-town life have probably heard of the “Watervalley” series. The books follow Luke Bradford, a doctor who's used to big-city life who sets up a practice in the small rural town of Watervalley, Tennessee and discovers that his neighbors aren't as simple and ignorant as he first believed. With three books written and a fourth in the making, series author Jeff High came to the Cullman County Public Library Wednesday to speak about the third book – “The Splendor of Ordinary Days” – with the library's book club and give a little teaser about the start of the fourth book.

High grew up on a farm in rural Tennessee and got a degree in English from Belmont College in Nashville, to the chagrin of his family (who all attended the University of Tennessee to become doctors, lawyers, veterinarians and geneticists). He worked for AT&T for several years after graduation, then moved on to start his own construction firm, where he worked for 15 years. He then decided to go into medicine and trained at Vanderbilt Medical School to be a registered nurse; he continues to practice as an RN in cardiac surgery to supplement his writing income.

While at Vanderbilt, High won the faculty writing competition three years in a row and started working on his first book on and off while acting as a travel nurse. After a chance run-in with author David Hagberg, High sent his manuscript for “Watervalley Days” to a publishing agent. After making a few changes – including the name – “More Things in Heaven and Earth” was published in 2013, followed by “Each Shining Hour” a year later and “The Splendor of Ordinary Days” the year after that by Penguin Random House Publishing. 

The most recent book was the topic of discussion for the Cullman County Library Book Club and was well-received for its depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder and the connection between Southern small-town life and military service.

"I wanted to write about veterans. You know, 80 percent of our armed forces come from zip codes of under 10,000 people," High told the audience. "With the exception of Pennsylvania, there is a disparate number of our military that comes from the South. Places like Texas and Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and so forth. Military service is a mainstay of small-town life, and that's why I wanted to write about it."

High said he wanted to write about PTSD and how it affects its victims, so he researched statistics online and talked to many veterans who suffered from it to portray it as accurately as possible.

The central conflict in “The Splendor of Ordinary Days” centers around Luther Whitmore, a Watervalley native who returns from Vietnam as a changed man and incites unrest within the town by fencing off a beloved spot by the lake and publishing his incendiary newspaper. Bradford must help try to maintain harmony within the town while balancing his profession, his student debt payments and his love life all at the same time.

High read a few of his favorite scenes to the club and invited questions and comments about how and why he wrote them the way he did and what the books mean to the readers. Many in the audience stated that they greatly appreciated how he didn't include profanity or sexuality in his books, to which he responded that he sometimes had to fight his publisher hard to keep it that way.

Near the end of the meeting, High sat down and read the prologue and first chapter of the series' fourth book. A mysterious widower and his children have purchased the old bed and breakfast, but nobody in town sees them at all for the first three weeks. Rumors fly as moving trucks and renovation crews come in the night and disappear by day, but all sinister thoughts are laid to rest at the town's Christmas Eve service. High hinted that the book may feature a highly-anticipated wedding and finished the meeting by signing any books for audience members. 

Learn more about the “Watervalley” books at

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