After publishing five books with my first publisher, I needed to seek a new publication route. After sending queries to a variety of different publishers, I received a call from the editorial director at Kensington Publishing in New York. She said that she loved my book submitted, and the synopses of next titles, and that Kensington wanted to write contract for my next Smoky Mountain novels. She also told me with enthusiasm that she wanted to personally be my editor because she so enjoyed my work. What a happy call that was! A year later, in the spring of 2014, DOWN BY THE RIVER, my sixth Smoky Mountain novel, published with Kensington. Like my earlier novel TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW it is set in Townsend on the quiet side of the Smoky Mountains, although in a different locale and with a completely new set of characters.
A fun note to remember about this book is that I actually dreamed the plot and story for DOWN BY THE RIVER—a first for me! My husband and I were heading through Townsend to hike one sunny Saturday and I looked over to see this charming turreted home for sale along the Little River. “Look at that gorgeous place.” I pointed toward the house. “Someone should buy it and open a shop or business there.” As we headed on to hike, I promptly forgot about the house, but a couple of weeks later, I woke up to grab a pen and paper to scribble down the story plot I dreamed about that very place. In the photo, you will see a picture of the actual turreted house on the river at the bottom of my bulletin board that inspired this story and then another modified photo above it of how I changed and enlarged the original house to accommodate a gracious bed and breakfast I named The Mimosa Inn.
Main characters in DOWN BY THE RIVER are Grace Conley and Jack Teague. As the book begins, Grace, who’d lost her husband a few years ago, is restless and looking for a new direction in life. She decides, somewhat impulsively, to buy a bed and breakfast for sale on the Little River while visiting in Townsend to pick up her daughter at a nearby college. Her family in Nashville is scandalized when she returns home to break the news. “Mom, are you crazy? What do you know about running a bed and breakfast? You haven’t worked in years … and if you move away who will keep the kids during the Vanderbilt games and host our family holidays?” But Grace does move away, even with her grown children’s disfavor, and then begins to question her own sensibility after finding herself attracted to Jack Teague, the local ladies man. She knows better than to get involved with a man like Jack.
Jack Teague, a realtor in the Townsend area, is attracted to Grace Conley from the moment he meets her, even after seeing she isn’t the kind of woman who wants to fool around. Busy with his life and his twin girls he’s raised alone, Jack doesn’t expect to see Grace again after showing her the inn on the river. When, to his surprise, she buys the inn and returns, it’s the beginning of many complications in his life—none of which Jack is the least bit ready for.
To further complicate things, Grace’s difficult daughter Margaret shows up to stay with her, and the young minister of the church next door, Vincent Westbrook, thinks he’s had a sign from God he’s supposed to marry Margaret. Visiting only briefly, Margaret makes it clear she is not interested in Vincent and would never want to live permanently in a Podunk town like Townsend. … Then on top of all the other problems going on, there is a stalker in the neighborhood whose furtive, threatening actions are troubling the area residents.
To learn what else happens in the story and to meet all the other interesting characters you’ll need to read the book. It will quickly wrap you in its rich, heart-warming, keep-you-guessing story … while taking you to visit in the charming town of Townsend near the Smoky Mountains. You’ll enjoy book scenes along the Little River, as in the photo above, a visit to the Little River Railroad Museum, and you will smile at the many sweet scenes on the swinging bridge behind Grace Conley’s Mimosa Inn.
With every book published my author’s life is kept busy with … book launches, a book tour, book signings, speaking events, and the ongoing tasks of keeping up with blog posts, social media, and replying to reader emails. In addition to continuing to write more new books, authors travel to many signings and events all year round. Fortunately, I really love traveling to meet my readers and I love speaking for book clubs, organizations, libraries, literary events, conferences, and book festivals, too.
It’s always fun when readers come to a signing or event to meet me to get my latest book and tell me the things they enjoy about my writing. Another encouragement and joy are the wonderful reviews and comments written to me by fans and readers from all over the U.S. and abroad in personal emails and the fun Facebook notes or comments posted on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Goodreads, and a multitude of review sites. Here are a few reader comments below I thought you might enjoy.
“Stepp established a lovely sense of place in the novel, capturing the sights and sounds of Tennessee’s breathtaking Great Smoky Mountains.” – Booklist
“Down by the River is a delightful book through and through…the setting is beautiful…the array of characters are fun and quickly feel like friends…the banter between Jack and Grace is amusing. There’s tragedy, good times, everyday life like we all experience. The author has penned a wonderfully inspiring tale that left me smiling long afterwards.” – J.A., Goodreads
“Stepp is an amazing storyteller … the romance exhibited is pure, natural and heartwarming.” – RT Review
“These books are so real it’s like I want to go to Townsend, Wears Valley and Gatlinburg looking for these people just to meet them …I finished Down By The River today and turned right around and started reading it again to make sure that I did not miss anything.” – B.F., Cincinnati, OH
“Outstanding novel.. .Down by the River… Cannot put it down.” -S.M., South Africa
With Kensingon’s interest and backing, DOWN BY THE RIVER was a wonderful success. The book built a strong new national following, racking up best-seller awards, and went international. I enjoyed seeing the international covers popping up for my Kensington books like the Polish version pictured here, so different from the U.S cover. In looking back, the entire year of 2014 when DOWN BY THE RIVER published proved to be unbelievably hectic year for me and for my husband J.L., too. Our jointly written Smoky Mountain hiking guidebook THE AFTERNOON HIKER also published in 2014 in the spring as did my novella “A Smoky Mountain Gift” published in Kensington’s Christmas anthology WHEN THE SNOW FALLS in 2014 in the fall … In addition, my next book MAKIN’ MIRACLES came out right after the new year in 2015. During this period, many new honors and awards came my way with books hitting the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Bestseller lists. Titles soon began to go into large print, audio, and international versions and many fine interview and review articles popped up in magazines and newspapers. It was a fun and exciting time.
[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.]