April 2019 – DELIA’S PLACE

Before I wrote my fourth Smoky Mountain novel, DELIA’S PLACE, I had recently attended a number of elaborate weddings. I began to wonder after these events had passed, what it would be like to be a young girl, engaged to be married, with all those extravagant plans laid out, and then to have something go wrong at the last minute.

Enter the main character of my story Delia Eleanor Walker, Washington D.C. socialite—just finishing college, engaged to a young doctor and preparing to head to the family’s NC beach home for a sweep of celebratory engagement parties. At the sound of the doorbell, Delia heads to the front door expecting yet another gift in the mail, only to receive a FedEx from her fiancé saying he’s married someone else the night before in Las Vegas. … What?… How can this be happening? … Can you imagine Delia’s shock?

After wailing and snailing, Delia realizes she’ll have to face all those guests at the beach house—plus her extended family—and she really freaks contemplating that thought. Knowing her family as she does, she’s sure they’ll blame her for everything. Slumped on a chair inside the door, Delia glances down at the handful of mail still in her hand, from when she’d walked to the mailbox before the FedEx delivery arrived. Her focus is drawn to the sweet invitation to visit her Aunt Dee’s old cottage behind Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near the Smoky Mountains. Spotting the invitation again seems like a sign, and Delia jumps on the opportunity. Instead of heading, as expected, to the beach for the family celebrations, Delia takes off to Gatlinburg instead. Basically, she runs. Haven’t we all wanted to run away from our problems at some time in life?

However, you can never really run away from life … And in Gatlinburg, Delia runs into a whole new sweep of unexpected problems—a cousin she didn’t know she had, with worse problems than her own, a childhood sweetheart she’d made a fool of herself over as a girl, continuing issues with her family, not easily resolved, and later a criminal on the loose. Plus, Delia can’t escape the need to deal with decisions about her own life and future either.

Although many books and movies tend to depict confident, self-directed and self-assured young women and men, many in these early years of life have not arrived at that point yet. Most in the  high school and college years are still trying to resolve issues of self-identity as well as issues of self-intimacy. They are struggling to determine who they are, what course in life they should follow, and whether they want to link their lives with another—and who that should be. Still dependent on their families, most are heavily influenced by their family’s views, hopes, and desires for them, even if they claim they are not.

Delia Walker, as the youngest child in her family—and a late child to her parents—has been more than a little sheltered and carries other personal insecurities that are explored and uncovered throughout the story. When Delia’s engagement is broken, one of her first panicked thoughts is how to face her family with this news… leading her to flee versus facing her difficulties head on. … On the evening she arrives in Gatlinburg, Delia meets Hallie Walker, a younger cousin she’d never met before, also on the run and hiding out at Aunt Dee’s house. Hallie is, in many ways, the opposite of Delia—confident and mature for her age, saucy and independent, and much more self-directed. Yet, both young women have strengths and weaknesses, and I loved showing how their friendship grows and develops over the course of the story.

Tanner Cross, the other character in DELIA’S PLACE, lives on the property next door to his mother’s place on Balsam Lane, directly across the street from Delia’s Aunt Dee’s home. Because Delia so often spent summer weeks at her Aunt Dee’s, she and Tanner played together as children. Delia had a girlish crush on Tanner then… and as the story begins, he is pleasantly surprised to see what an attractive young woman Delia has become. When old friends meet, it is always fun to “remember when,” and I had fun developing Delia and Tanner’s relationship through old memories and new ones. Readers loved Tanner’s long-time friends, the Jack Gang, and they also liked Tanner’s mother, Maureen Cross, a wise help to Delia and Hallie in the story.

In writing DELIA’S PLACE I ramped up the suspense more than in past books. Hallie’s fears of the step-father she’s hiding out from are well-founded, and readers said they experienced some nail-biting moments of anxiety and worry before all the problems with Jonas Cole are resolved…. Also woven into the story are several other little misadventures and mysteries that gradually unfold, like Hallie’s relationship with John Dale and Delia’s family’s problems with her Aunt Dee.

My setting for this book was downtown Gatlinburg, a beautiful tourist town at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains. Delia’s Aunt Dee’s charming little house behind Gatlinburg, lies on a fictitious street in Mynatt Park, a small neighborhood situated along LeConte Creek adjacent to the park boundary. I walked the streets of this quaint neighborhood many times, researched its past history and fell in love with the cute scenic homes tucked along Mynatt Park’s quiet mountain streets. The descriptions of Mynatt Park, its gazebo on the creek, and the nearby hiking trails are all real—and there for you to enjoy when you visit this area.

In downtown Gatlinburg, for legal reasons I needed to create a fictitious mall for my story businesses, which I called the Laurel Mountain Village Mall. It is much like the other real colorful mountain malls visitors can find on the Gatlinburg Parkway, filled with craft stores, a candy shop, little art galleries and more. I actually removed a small mountain at the west end of Gatlinburg to create a site for Laurel Mountain Village Mall and for the Garden Café and Highland Church on Natty Road behind it. However, most of the rest of the downtown Gatlinburg places, restaurants, tourist attractions, plus the old Walker Sisters cabin in the book are real.

Through all this book story’s twists and turns, Delia comes into her own, gradually growing in character and resolve, gaining new understandings about herself, and seeing more clearly her own right life directions. …Possibly one of my favorite parts of writing DELIA’S PLACE was in pairing the two opposite cousins—the spunky, red-haired Hallie Walker, raised in the rural mountains of Tennessee, and her older, more proper and demure dark-haired cousin Delia Walker, raised in the Washington DC suburbs. I loved showing how both characters each find their own ways eventually out of the difficult situations they face – as the book begins – to later happier times. And I enjoyed showing how their journey, growing their faith together, also helped each find their way more clearly. …

A review by best-selling author Lynne Hinton offers good words to close: “DELIA’S PLACE, fourth in the Smoky Mountain series written by Lin Stepp, is a lovely story of romance that reminds us broken hearts can be healed. A charming tale of friendship and love.”

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]