October 2019 – DADDY’S GIRL

J.L. and I first drove through Bryson City, North Carolina, on the southern side of the Great Smoky Mountains, while hiking trails out of the Deep Creek Campground and working on our hiking guidebook. Charmed by the glimpses of Bryson City we spotted driving through, we stopped to explore on our return and fell in love with this quaint little North Carolina town. While many downtown areas are in decline today, due to suburban sprawl, Bryson City is still the hub of its community. Trees and  baskets and tubs of flowers and seasonal decorations line the downtown streets, and every shop and building oozes charm. Downtown Bryson is still where people gather, shop, and stop by the local diner or drug store. The gold-domed court house welcomes visitors into town with an American flag stirring on a flagpole in the breeze and the Tuckaseegee River flows right through the town, a scenic sight, as does an old time railroad line offering excursion rides. We loved hearing the woo-woo of the train as it headed into town and enjoyed eating a banana split in the 50s-60s Soda Pops café.

After our visit I told J.L. “I’m going to have to set one of my Smoky Mountain books here” … So later, when a wonderful new story idea began to bubble and develop we headed to Bryson City again to see more of the town and the area, to learn its history and talk to townspeople. My readers said they loved this small town book … and I love remembering how many of my fans planned road trips to visit Bryson City after DADDY’S GIRL published.

In psychology courses I taught in college, especially Developmental Psychology and Educational Psychology, my students often talked at length about peer pressure stereotypes that developed in the school years, especially in high school, and stereotypes that often lingered too long as labels in people’s lives. We also talked about  the increasing problems of bullying in our schools today, often linked to negative stereotypes. … So I decided in this book to explore some of these issues in my story line and what better way to do that than via a high school class reunion, bringing old school mates back together and reviving past peer identities all over again.

Both my main characters, Olivia Benton and Warner Zachery, grew up in Bryson City as neighbors on a quiet rural road outside of town. Behind Olivia’s home was a lavish formal garden created originally by Olivia’s great grandmother, a garden complete with winding trails, tinkling fountains, and lush flowers of all types and kinds. Here Olivia and Warner played as children—and later fell in love. But high school began to throw some curves into their relationship. Olivia, pretty and outgoing, soon became more and more popular with her peers, while Warner, a little odd and socially awkward, became one of the less popular kids, often ridiculed and soon nicknamed “Weird Warner.” Olivia and Warner’s school life and school friendships soon diverged, and although they remained friends at home, during school they ran with different crowds. In time, these differences created a wedge in their friendship and caused the breakup of their budding romance.

After high school, Warner left Bryson City to go far away to college. Olivia stayed. In time Warner found his way to his dreams, married, and then dropped into unexpected fame for his humorous children’s books about a social misfit boy he named Geeky Gilmore. …Olivia stayed in Bryson City, commuting to a nearby college, living at home with her widowed father, caring for him and the Fairchild Gardens. In time her work at a local florist led Olivia to open her own small floral shop in downtown Bryson City.

As the book begins, Olivia is working with her high school friends to plan their ten-year reunion. As she and three girlfriends share lunch in a downtown drugstore, Warner Zachery walks into the store and Olivia knows as soon as she sees him she still loves him, even after all these years. .. As for “Weird Warner,” he’s now become the famous and successful W. T. Zachery but still harbors old bitterness from his Bryson City past and he is quickly reminded of that past. In addition for Warner, two years ago, his wife was killed in a New York store robbery and he’s still working past that hard time, too. He’d hoped coming to Bryson to spend time with his family would prove restful but instead, Warner is soon thrown back into old problems and old feelings for Olivia Benton he thought he’d left behind .

Mixed into this ongoing drama of two old friends reuniting are the stories of several interesting side characters, each  packed with small joys and surprises. The book also features beautiful hikes and travels around the Bryson City and Smoky Mountain area. Continuing problems occur, too, with the community’s concern over a vandal defacing public property, leaving angry messages and frightening people. Mysteries and dilemmas seem to unfold on every corner throughout the plot while Warner and Olivia try to navigate their feelings and unresolved issues amid it all.

I loved writing this book—showing how old stereotypes from school years often follow long into adulthood—and how limiting and hurtful they can be. My past academic teaching experience came into play with this story, helping to show how people grow and change and yet still carry the past along, too. I worked to spotlight as well the dangers and problems of bullying and I worked to reveal through several other characters’ stories, how damaging hidden pasts and secrets can be. Admittedly, I also had a blast creating Warner’s zany Geeky Gilmore characters that peopled his books and I loved developing his journey to success as a writer and illustrator. I also enjoyed creating Olivia’s lavish family gardens, so cherished by the women of her family, and had fun developing her small downtown floral shop in Bryson City. I studied extensively to make the gardens and florist believable and even spent a day at one of my Lenoir City fan’s florist learning the business and observing her staff at work. Many scenes in Olivia’s floral shop reflect Pat McCarter’s store. …As a final thought, like Olivia, I grew up with a mother who loved flowers and the garden, and I drew from those warm memories often in writing this book. I’m sure mother would have loved it.

I hope you’ll have fun visiting my fictional Bryson City world in DADDY’S GIRL.

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