James Kallam has always thought of himself as a wordsmith, often keeping a small notepad on him to jot down new words he hears so that he can look up their definitions later. It was not until recently, though, that he decided to pursue putting all those words to paper in the form of a novel.
Kallam, 50, recently published his first paperback book, “Vassie’s Hands,” which is available for purchase online. He was inspired to write it after assisting his parents to take care of his aging grandparents, working on the book in his spare time. Then, COVID-19 hit, and he was laid off from his job with a trucking company in Virginia. With plenty of extra time on his hands, Kallam decided to take his writing a little more seriously and set out to finish his literary project.
The result is a novel about a fictional family living in rural Rockingham County. The central protagonist finds herself dealing with the challenges of balancing her career as a nurse and taking care of her grandmother, Vassie, who had a stroke. Filled with pop culture references, such as the Duke/UNC basketball rivalry, and a little romance, as well, the book details the emotional ups and downs of caring for aging family members.
“Because many of the scenes take place in a hospital, I had to conduct research, study anatomy and physiology, and learn medical terminology to make sure everything is authentic,” Kallam said. “I figured the writing would be the most difficult part but found the hardest thing was getting someone to notice and pay attention to my work.”
A graduate of Madison-Mayodan High School, Kallam lives on land that has been in his family for more than 240 years. He and his father did some genealogy research and discovered what he described as a “massive” book in the Madison-Mayodan Library about William Kallam, a relative who left Pennsylvania territory in 1779 after being awarded a royal land grant in North Carolina by King George III.
“We are on a 40-acre farm, and this land is part of that original property,” Kallam said of he and his parents’ homestead near Mayo River State Park.
Kallam attended Rockingham Community College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill, but he did not finish his degrees. Instead, he worked in the restaurant and fitness industry before going to work for a trucking company.
“I think part of the reason I wanted to try my hand at writing and be successful is because of my past squandered opportunities,” Kallam said. “Everyone wants to try to accomplish something meaningful.”
While an avid reader, especially of history and world affairs in the last few years, Kallam said he never really had an interest in writing until the last couple years.
“I have always loved words, and I have always been interested in listening to people who are eloquent speakers,” he said. “I love the English language.”
Now that he has started writing, he finds himself driven to do more.
“I never had an outlet for creativity, so this brings fulfillment of that need in and of itself,” Kallam said.
In his spare time, Kallam enjoys exercise and following sports, especially ACC basketball, professional tennis and the NFL.
“Regular exercise is important for my mental well-being, as well as my physical,” he said. “My Christian faith is also important to me and is a central part of who I am.”
Kallam is trying to acquire a literary agent and also has started his second novel about a family having to make harsh decisions to help pay for the care of their 5-year-old daughter, who was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I hope my writing is successful,” he said. “I am really enjoying what I am doing and want to make my family proud.”
Jennifer Atkins Brown writes every other Sunday for this section. Contact her at email@example.com.