SoKno author’s love of cats sparks imagination

Betsy PickleOur Town Arts, South Knox

South Knoxville has its paw prints all over “Vivie’s Secret,” even though the new novel’s roots lie on the other side of the Atlantic.

And now everyone in Knoxville and beyond can get their paws on “Vivie’s Secret.”

It’s available online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Walmart. East Tennesseans can meet the author, Terry Lee Caruthers, at the Local Author Showcase 2020, 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at the King Family Library in Sevierville. Twenty authors will be spread safely throughout the library, ready to meet readers and sell their books.

Terry Lee Caruthers

Caruthers has lived most of her life so far in South Knoxville. A graduate of the now-defunct Young High School and a resident of Colonial Village, she is a longtime neighborhood activist and helped to establish the South Knoxville Neighborhood & Business Coalition.

She is known for two things in addition to her community involvement: her many years of feral cat rescue and her work as a librarian. Both cats and her love of books played major roles in the development of “Vivie’s Secret.”

There actually was a real-life Vivie, and she was also a cat-loving South Knoxvillian for many years. It was after her death that Caruthers got the idea of writing a picture book about her.

The aspiring writer worked on her concept for 10 years, envisioning it as a book for children. But the members of her critiquing group started to insist that it needed to be a novel instead – specifically a young-adult novel. Finally, she was convinced to change direction, and she turned the story into a novel suitable for young adults and grownups of all ages.

Expanding the story meant going deeper into the history of the real Vivie and her childhood in Hungary and as a refugee. Caruthers wrote harrowing descriptions of Vivie’s family’s adventures and trials as they fled across Europe.

Caruthers brought to life the places and the people the family encountered. Even without producing a “picture book,” she evoked vivid images of the varied settings and the emotions the characters experienced.

And she did it without leaving her South Knoxville home.

She has been to the European locations “only by virtue of the computer,” she says. Many of the descriptions she created “came from photographs from some of the books that are referenced in the back (of the novel).”

She also provided perceptive vignettes of Vivie’s life in the United States. There are definitely figures and locations in Knoxville that will be recognizable to many local readers. She even incorporated some details inspired by her own family.

Without giving away Caruthers’ secrets, it’s important to note that she took a mere whisker of an idea and made it a rich, engrossing story all her own.

“The whole process took 16 years,” she says. “I didn’t want to rush it.”

Of course, Caruthers had other things going on during those years. With a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts (as a political science major) and a master’s in library information science, she has held several roles within the Knox County Public Library system. Most recently, as a McClung special-projects librarian, she has been working with the Beck Cultural Exchange Center on its archival library collection.

She wrote a nonfiction children’s book called “Sergeant Stubby, Soldier-dog” (2015) that Schoolwide Inc. included in a digital-subscription library. She is working on a series of picture books about Knoxville history; one, called “The Big Day,” is due out on Oct. 30.

“Vivie’s Secret” was released on July 23, but the public event in Sevierville is the first for Caruthers. Earlier hoped-for celebrations fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, the book has earned critical acclaim and positive feedback from readers. Whether she gets to have a big release or not, Caruthers’ “Secret” is now ready for everyone to discover.


Betsy Pickle is a freelance writer and editor who particularly enjoys spotlighting South Knoxville.

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