As my husband J.L. and I hiked trails around the Smoky Mountains, and as I researched the mountain areas where we hiked, I read many stories about how the Appalachian lands were settled. I learned about the early settlers and then about the latter wealthy northerners who came to the area for the clean air and outdoor beauty of the mountains. Many resorts grew up in this era, often on old assembly grounds or in spots where mineral waters bubbled out of the ground. These mountain resorts were often lavish with beautiful buildings, fine dining and entertainment—places where the wealthy came in their opulent clothes, with their new Model T automobiles and industrial wealth of the time, to get away from city life and the smoke and filth of growing industry.
Into my mind, as I studied, came the idea of creating one of those resorts in one of my books. And so I invented Laurel Springs Camp Assembly Grounds, an old resort and campground in Cosby, Tennessee. Like the gracious resorts I’d read about, I enjoyed creating the history of Laurel Springs and the history of the two families that originally built the resort and whose ancestors still lived on and ran it. Carter Layman and Rhea Dean grew up at Laurel Springs, ran and played all over the resort and mountains in the area, and dreamed as children—and later as teens and sweethearts—of one day restoring the old resort and campground to its former glory. But time and angst drew them apart. Carter went away, married another, had a child. Rhea stayed, making her life at the resort.
Now nine years later Carter has come home, widowed, with a young six year -old son Taylor. Rhea is not happy to learn Carter is visiting or to hear he plans to stay. She is especially provoked to find Carter expects to pick right back up where he left off with their old dreams to restore Laurel Springs and with her. The nerve! And so the story begins.
I had a joyous time creating these two stubborn, independent, smart and strong willed characters who’d known each other since early childhood. There is something about the bond with long-time friends you’ve known all your life. They “knew you when”—and in many ways know you now with a depth others don’t. In addition, Rhea and Carter’s deep ties are also linked to a place they both know and love. No place at the old resort doesn’t hold rich memories for them.
As the book begins Carter is quicker than Rhea to want to forgive, to want a new start with her. But Rhea isn’t so quick to forgive or to forget—not ready to give up her anger, bitterness, and sense of betrayal. She hates the idea of now being Carter’s second choice and still carries hurt she wasn’t his first, that he could have left her and their dreams behind. …. The difficulty of forgiveness is an ongoing theme in this story. Carter has his areas of hidden bitterness, too. … A sweet part of this story is how Carter’s grandfather and Rhea’s grandmother both help the two find their way past these old hurts they’ve both carried far too long.
Carter and Rhea also share the love of strong old friends Billy Wade and Jeannie Ledford. Their son Beau bonds quickly with Carter’s young son Taylor. … I painted many sweet scenes with these long-time friends and with Billy Wade and Jeannie’s desire to help Carter and Rhea…. Many other memorable family members and friends around Cosby make this book a warm and welcoming story. … I researched extensively to make Laurel Springs resort’s story and background true to the history of many resorts around the area. Not all early resorts of this type remain in the mountains today but some still do. For the Dean and Layman families I created two farmhouses to either side of the resort, developed old assembly ground buildings, a historic church, and a resort store all centered around Laurel Springs Lake. Along Little Cascades Creek, running through the resort, I had fun creating an array of cute, colorful resort cabins, each with an individual name and style and on the other side of the creek a scenic, shady campground. The road into the campground passed through an old covered bridge and Kensington’s artist used that bridge concept for the book cover, since many sweet and special scenes revolve around that covered bridge.
Cosby, Tennessee, where the book is set is a small but beautiful community tucked up against the Smoky Mountains not far from Newport, Pittman Center, and Gatlinburg. Cosby spreads over a valley area between the Great Smoky Mountains and English Mountain, rich with rushing streams, farms, forestland, and natural beauty. At its heart is a small township, tourist attractions, the Cosby Campground, and many hiking trails. Rhea, Carter, and Taylor hike one of these trails to Henwallow Falls in the book and picnic afterward at the Cosby picnic area. J.L. and I have hiked the Cosby trails many times, explored the back roads, visited Carver’s Orchard, and cooked hot dogs at the Cosby picnic area after our hikes. On one occasion we met a local bluegrass group practicing in the picnic area and I had fun bringing this memory into my story.
In doing my original area research, I learned gold had often been panned in the streams of Cosby and Greenbrier—a surprise to me. Many in the mountains hoped to get rich from the gold and gemstones found in Appalachian streams. In some areas around the Appalachian region, like in Dahlonega, Georgia, a rich amount of gold was found. On an interesting side note I learned that gold panned in the Smokies was redeemed in Dahlonega with records seldom crediting the finds to Tennessee. Just as out west, squabbles about lands and claims were common. So I had fun introducing an old gold mining story—and an unsolved mystery—into the story plot.
No matter the heart or intent, keeping secrets and not communicating causes problems in relationships, another underlying theme in this story. Holding on to stubborn pride and grudges can damage emotions and relationships, too, as this story so often shows.
Readers of this book enjoyed visiting Cosby and this section of the Smoky Mountains … and I loved creating Laurel Springs resort and Carter and Rhea’s story. This book went into a large print hardback edition and went international … and it’s always interesting to see the new covers created for different versions like these.
In closing, here are a few reader comments that I hope might make you want to read this book… or to return, as I did, to read it again.
“Dr. Lin Stepp has given us another Smoky Mountain novel — Saving Laurel Springs…a heartfelt story full of hope, small town charm and belief in second chances.” … It continues with the theme and setting of the Great Smoky Mountains, which serve as a backdrop for the small town of Cosby, populated with characters who are blessed with a strong community spirit and cherished memories…The reader will share the questions, the agony, the romance and the happiness as Rhea Dean journeys through memories, making decisions, only to examine them later in the light of truth and forgiveness. How her life comes back together with the people she cares about and the place she loves makes a “I-can’t-put-it-down” story that pulls the reader into an emotional blend of past and present… another Smoky Mountain gem from Lin Stepp.” – B. Marlowe, Cleveland Banner Newspaper article
“A heartwarming, tender story about young love and forgiveness. Stepp has a wonderful ability to take you back to your own youth with her characters and storytelling.”– RT Book Reviews
“A camp assembly in the Great Smoky Mountains is the setting for the eighth novel of this sweet contemporary series with a heartfelt faith message woven within the romance. The highlighted lesson behind this Christian story is forgiveness and it’s honed beautifully by the end of the story. How many of us harbor resentment for the past, never releasing ourselves into the power of forgiveness? SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS illustrates one woman’s rather bumpy journey through bitterness, ending with a rich new beginning that will touch your heart…I enjoy Lin Stepp’s books for their simplicity, taking us down-home into the lives of people who understand poverty, hard work and a belief that life improves with faith.” –Review from The Zest Quest
[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.]