Readers often ask me where I get the ideas for my books. In looking back at over twenty published novels now I think my main answer would be that “places inspire my stories.” It is often while traveling around East Tennessee, hiking in the Smokies, or visiting the beach in South Carolina when ideas for books slip into my heart and mind. Suddenly in those moments I can see book characters walking around in my thoughts, the concept of a new story drifting to life.
Often odd or humorous things I see morph into a new story idea or past memories of loved places wind their way into my books. For example, we often took our son to a mountain camp to work as a counselor, and the memories of that Smoky Mountain camp inspired Buckeye Knob Camp that found its way into my first book THE FOSTER GIRLS and into several novels later. On a trip to the mountains one day, two boarded-up country stores made me sad, with their forlorn, dilapidated appearance, and they inspired, in part, the storyline for my book HAPPY VALLEY, where a character camping at Abrams Creek Campground gets the idea to build and open a store in the valley.
Many times, when visiting in a place that charms and deeply appeals to me, I find myself wishing I could bring others to visit there, too – seeing the same beauty and all the interesting things I see.
On a visit with my husband to Dandridge, Tennessee, a small town on Douglas Lake not far from the Cosby side of the mountains, I found my mind returning often to that little city, steeped in history, and one day a storyline set in Dandridge popped into my mind. I laughed when I first thought of the idea that became EIGHT AT THE LAKE, publishing on April 1st, because the story also answered an ongoing reader request. Over and over readers said to me, “Write another book with a lot of children in it like your book FOR SIX GOOD REASONS, Lin.” Of course I usually answered that many of my books have children in them. But fans would reply, “But not with a lot of kids like in FOR SIX GOOD REASONS.” They were right in that observation. In that novel Alice Graham, a social worker, finds herself trying to place six children who lost their parents in a fatal car crash. Having known their parents well and being unable to find anyone to take all six children, Alice ends up taking them in herself.
Perhaps this ongoing request fired the idea for the eight children, in EIGHT AT THE LAKE, being raised by Ford McDaniel. Ford is a local veterinarian in Dandridge and part-owner with his father of Sycamore Lake Resort. Quite frankly, Ford has many days himself, when he wonders how in the world he ended up with eight kids to raise. My other major character in this book, Samantha King, grew up in Dandridge at a lovely old Bed & Breakfast belonging to her Aunt Dixie. She and Ford McDaniel have nothing in common. Samantha is a well-known storm chaser and meteorologist with a national weather channel in Atlanta. She travels constantly across the U.S. covering storms, her world an exciting one compared to Ford’s life in a small, quiet town in rural Tennessee. The only reason Samantha is in Dandridge at all is to recover from an accident, and she is already champing at the bit to get back to work as the story begins.
You’ll find a synopsis of the book on the front page of my website at: www.linstepp.com, but an unmentioned aspect in that synopsis is that this happy, fun-filled story will take you visiting in downtown Dandridge, Tennessee, and to many charming places that really exist around the Douglas Lake and Great Smoky Mountains area nearby. A reviewer once wrote: “Lin Stepp’s books take me to a new place in the mountains in every book” and that’s always what I try to do with every new story.
In 2019, I also took readers to our favorite spot at the South Carolina coast to Edisto Island. We have been vacationing at Edisto Beach as a family since the 1980s, and for several years I’d been saving materials and scribbling down ideas for Edisto stories even before I approached my editor about writing a book series set there.
Whenever I go to Edisto, A small island halfway between Charleston and Beaufort, I always return so refreshed. The sounds of the waves and gulls, the feel of the warm sunshine, the quiet of the island bring me such peace. And one day—walking up the beach—I imagined that island setting doing the very same for Claire Avery, a young widow who had lost her husband, and for her two small daughters, Mary Helen and Suki. All my mountain books are stand-alone novels, but for this book I knew right away I wanted to also write follow-up stories about Claire’s daughters, too. It was a joy and pleasure to write all three books in my Edisto Trilogy and readers loved them. So it was easy to embrace the idea later for a new beach series as it floated into my mind one day while walking along a quiet stretch of beach at Botany Bay—and looking toward the Deveaux Bank and the North Edisto River.
Old maps call the small island at Edisto’s north end, Botany Bay Island, and it took only a small jump of my imagination to imagine a lighthouse and inn sitting there. The entire island had been separated from the mainland of Edisto in Hurricane Gracie and now could only be accessed by boat—a perfect spot for my story idea of four sisters growing up at a lighthouse. Since the name Botany Bay is now so associated with the Botany Bay Wildlife Preserve, I decided to call the island Watch Island in my book, using one of its old names from the past, and I decided to name my fictitious lighthouse after the Deveaux Bank bird sanctuary nearby and after the equally fictitious Deveaux family, who had been keepers at the lighthouse since its earliest days. Not living as close to Edisto as I do to the Smoky Mountains, I gathered more research online, bought history books about the Lowcountry and Edisto, and made extra visits to South Carolina to work on developing the concept for the four books that will be in this new series.
I think readers will love these new coastal books and will enjoy coming to visit the Deveaux Inn and Lighthouse in the first book titled LIGHT THE WAY. It is Burke’s story, the oldest of the Lighthouse sisters. Her heart has always called her to stay on the island, which has belonged to the Deveaux family for six generations, and she has always helped to run the inn and keep the light. You can read the synopsis of LIGHT THE WAY on the front page of my author’s website at: www.linstepp.
I hope you’ll enjoy taking a trip to the South Carolina coast in the first book in the Lighthouse Sisters series LIGHT THE WAY and also in visiting the mountains and Dandridge in EIGHT AT THE LAKE. “Where are you taking me next year?” one of my readers asked recently. The answer is to Cherokee, North Carolina, in a rich new Mountain Home story titled SEEKING AYITA – and also back to the beach again for the second of the Lighthouse Sisters books titled LIGHTEN MY HEART.
Happy Spring … See you in April … And don’t forget to read my March newsletter, too, at: https://linstepp.com/media-2/
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.