DOWNSIZING – A Mountain Home Book

The 2020 year brought a host of new problems, including for many the need to make unexpected, often difficult life changes or to drastically curtail expenses. In the past, my husband J.L. and I passed through a few seasons that demanded us to tighten our belts and “downsize” our lives—never comfortable times to face. Becoming more affluent and rising up the financial ladder is always easier than suddenly having to shift gear and slide downhill from a lifestyle one has become accustomed to. People are creatures of habit and change is never easy when it pushes individuals out of comfortable patterns of life they’ve grown used to.

As a psychologist, life changes and how they impact individuals interests me. So I decided to explore this concept in a book. Most studies show that the young adapt more quickly to change, often are excited by and drawn to it. As adults age though, they settle more comfortably into a life routine, often one they like and have worked hard to achieve. They are less eager then to make major lifestyle changes and often find changes more stressful. So I decided my main characters, in a story about a sudden need to “downsize,” would be ones in their middle years. Once families are well-established, a change in the life of any one major family member impacts all the others as well… whether it is a death, divorce, move, job change, injury, or sudden character or lifestyle change.

In my new novel DOWNSIZING, publishing in April 2021, my main character is Mary Pat Latham. At midlife, Mary Pat’s life is settled and comfortable. She’s been married for thirty-four years to her husband Russell, a successful heart surgeon. They are comfortable, own a beautiful home, and have four children who have recently finished college and started settling into new careers and homes. Mary Pat’s life is rich with interests, social clubs, and philanthropic activities. She looks forward to a future with married children, grandchildren, and more times for trips and travel when Russell’s medical practice slows down. The last thing she expects is for Russell to come home in the middle of the day and to announce, out of the clear blue, that he wants a divorce.

This is only the beginning of Mary Pat’s shocks, as she soon also learns he wants to sell their big home—and in fact already has a buyer. He throws out that he’s already found himself a condo near the hospital and seen an attorney to start the divorce proceedings. Stunned, Mary Pat listens to him discuss this severance of her life casually and matter-of-factly as though he’s talking to one of his patients about an upcoming operation. Caught totally off guard, Mary Pat can’t even think how to respond. Suggesting counseling or more discussion gets her nowhere and when she quizzes Russell about what in the world she will do with all the changes he’s suggesting, he callously throws out hurtful comments, criticizing her lifestyle, all but calling her boring, and letting her know, in addition, he’s disgusted with all the weight she’s gained, and with how she’s let herself go in every way.

All of this discussion only gets worse as Mary Pat catches a change in tone as Russell talks about the realtor he’s been working with. His quick defense when Mary Pat quizzes him about the relationship tells her all too much. In some heated words to follow, when Mary Pat pushes to ask if he’s given any thought to where she should move or what she should do now … Russell throws out that she can move up to her parents’ old cottage in Gatlinburg for a time if she wants. He never wanted to buy their old place when her parents moved anyway. So after an afternoon of weeping and shock, Mary throws some things into a bag to head to the small mountain house of her childhood, too upset and humiliated to even think about seeing or talking to any of her friends or family right now

My new book DOWNSIZING is in many ways Mary Pat’s story of how she handles all the dramatic changes that suddenly hit her life, all the hurt and personal analysis needed to evaluate her situation and consider how to move on. I found myself constantly thinking what I would do in her situation, how I would have acted, even as Mary Pat’s own individual story unfolds in its own way. When life changes hit, relationships are often impacted, too—with friends, family, and colleagues. Just as people are uncomfortable with dramatic change in their own lives, friends and family find it hard to relate to big changes in the lives of others, too. Sometimes they pull away and are not supportive at the times when support and kindness are most needed.

I hope readers will enjoy following Mary Pat’s story of how a sudden unexpected series of events impacts her well-ordered life, and of the new life she is forced to forge. Woven into the story are problems with her adult children and friends, but also the unexpected pleasure of being loved and accepted by old friends from childhood she hasn’t seen in years, of finding healing in familiar surroundings, and in beginning to build a new life on the ashes of an old one lost.

Readers will soon run into a rich, colorful cast of characters in the Glades Arts and Crafts Community of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where Mary Pat’s small family home sits on a quiet mountain road. I’ll leave all these new characters’ stories of love and loss for you to learn about as you enjoy this new book, and be assured that a host of unexpected events, shocks, and surprises await you as you turn the pages and follow the plot through its ups and downs.

Angry at all that happens, one thing Mary Pat does after her shocks settle down is to decide to start some improvements and changes in her own life. One of these is to work on “downsizing” herself. Russell’s hurtful words bring home to her that she, in truth, has let her appearance go. These efforts become an interesting part of the book as Mary Pat’s earlier life goals and education were actually geared to nutritional behavioral counseling, the irony not escaping her now. So Mary Pat reaches back to reexamine those old goals and dreams.

No more spoilers for you now. But you’ll love the characters you meet, the adventures and visits around the beauty of the Gatlinburg area, the hikes and visits in the Smoky Mountains, the black bears threaded throughout the story, and some eventful and suspenseful moments that will have your mouth dropping open, wondering what will happen next.

When I was working on planning this book originally, I had to create a fictitious weight loss business and a diet for Mary Pat to follow for the story, so I created a center called Diet Options for the book and pulled out all my old diet notes from successful dieting I’d done in past to design the Diet Options weight loss program and the diet Mary Pat becomes involved in. Fans around this area, knowing what I was working on then—and watching me lose twenty pounds trying out my own diet plan again—began to push me to put the diet at the end of the book. So at the end of the book will be a link taking readers, who are interested, to pieces of Mary Pat’s Diet Options Notebook, with a little inspirational teaching and the complete diet laid out, including food lists, recipes, and more, in case you want to try a little “downsizing” of your own. It’s a great almost 50-page resource you can print out, if you want … and it’s Free to all my readers.

So this April … come meet Mary Pat, her husband Russell, children Todd, Craig, Patrick, and Victoria and her old Gatlinburg friends Owen, Francine, Nancy Sue, Gloria, and many more in my new book DOWNSIZING. Learn as you read how Mary Pat, her family, and friends handle all the upsets, tragedies and unexpected events that come their way – and that seem to happen in all our lives, bringing changes we have little recourse but to face. I hope—if you’re experiencing any “downsizing” or other problems in your life right now, that you will learn, as Mary Pat did, that: “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” [Robin Sharma]

See you next month talking about my new Edisto book!

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.

 

December 2020 – CHRISTMAS MEMORIES

With this 2020 year such a difficult one, all of us are seeing changes in our Christmas celebrations. Those changes cause us to look back and remember with nostalgic fondness our Christmases of the past—and perhaps to cherish those memories more than we might have before. I see it as a form of “thankfulness” to look back on the holidays of the past, being grateful for the warmth, love, and good we remember about each.

My parents’ earliest memories of Christmas were from the years after the great Depression. Both were from large families and presents were simple and few, the Christmas tree cut from the woods nearby and decorated with homemade ornaments. Yet their memories of those years are warm and full of rich recollections of laughter, love, Christmas baking, faith, and wonder.

As J.L. and I were growing up, each of our families held different traditions—but both of us remember the joy of bringing a big cedar tree into the house to decorate with lights and ornaments, hanging greenery and wreaths, unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, and looking forward to what Santa left under the tree and in our stockings. Raised in Christian homes, the carols, church events, and special stories told at Christmas all centered around Jesus’ birth. And both our families found ways to give and share with those in need.

Most of the traditions J.L. and I built for our own family at Christmas were similar to those we’d grown up with. In our early married years we traveled to share Christmas with family but as our children Max and Kate came, we stayed closer to home. Blessedly, in those years, our parents lived in nearby cities so they could join us at Christmas, and as the years went by we built our own unique holiday traditions.

Among my memories as I write this today, I recall the excitement of decorating the tree every year—adding the old treasured and new ornaments—and then watching the lights with pleasure every night. We took driving trips around the neighborhood to see the holiday lights and went to the mall and Christmas shops to see Santa and to enjoy the lavish decorations. We also attended annual events in our area celebrating the season, in the city, at the children’s schools, and at church. Going downtown to the Christmas Parade and to see the lights was an annual trip and later we began to always attend the Fantasy of Trees in Knoxville and to take a trip to Dollywood to see the holiday lights and shows.

I remember fondly how the children poured through the toy catalogs as they arrived in the mail, making lists of “ideas” for gifts they might like to receive from us and from Santa. I recall, too, how they shook and rattled the gifts under the tree later, trying to guess what was inside every package. Christmas morning was always a fun time of discovery, of enjoying new toys and games, trying out new bikes or skates outdoors, and running back and forth to the neighbors to see what everyone else received. I remember the year I saved up long and hard so we could buy both the children bikes and how excited they were to ride them up and down our cul-de-sac street. Katie loved dolls, Barbies, art toys and coloring books, jewelry, and pretty things. Max loved GI Joe, Star Wars, action toys, games and toy guns. And our downstairs held a big playroom that the children and all their friends enjoyed.

As I looked through old photo books to find a few memory pictures to add to this blog today I found Christmas pictures of the children, like this one, we took at the holidays. We gave photo copies to the grandparents, to family, and friends or tucked them into the Christmas cards I always sent. J.L. and I both laughed at the  photos of Christmas past we found, the floor around the tree piled with gift wrap and boxes, family members all grinning and holding up gifts received or modeling new clothes and hats, and the cats getting into the fray by climbing into all the Christmas boxes. Before my eyes I watched the children grow from those baby years to childhood in those photo books and then on to the teenage years. It seems incredible that the years have flown past so swiftly and that now they are both grown and gone—and living so far away.

Our holiday seasons every year are different now with one adult child, Max and his Deborah, far south in the New Orleans area and the other child, Kate, far to the east in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Usually both children come home at Christmas for a few days to a week, and we’re so grateful for that.  But with covid still a problem around the country, our Christmas will be quieter this year. The children aren’t traveling in with the holidays crowds, which is wise, and it will only be J.L., me, and maybe Santa sharing Christmas together this year. J.L’s sister and some friends might come to visit and share Christmas lunch but the day won’t be busy, full, and noisy with the family all home. A. M. Pahro wrote: “What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future.” That’s especially true this year, and I know that you hope and pray with me that 2021 will be a happier and healthier year for us all.

To close on a happier note … I treasure each of you among my special holiday memories now. We have met and connected “by heart” through books, and I am so grateful as the holidays begin to look back and realize how many books have been published now. Thank you for reading them, loving them, and sharing and talking about my stories. and about our Smokies and parks guidebooks, to others. I treasure the memories of meeting many of you in person at book signings and speaking events or at one of the many festivals J.L. and I attend as authors. … You have all become a part of my treasured life memories. Thank you. I so appreciate each one of you … and I love the words of encouragement you write to me and so appreciate the kind book reviews you take the time to put online. You encourage my heart and make me look forward to creating more books in the years to come.

May each of you have a lovely holiday in whatever way you spend it. Best and blessings for a beautiful Christmas full of lots of love, … Lin

 

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.

November 2020 – BOOKS ABOUT REMARKABLE WOMEN

Although all novels are fictitious, many are based in full or part on real facts. They often detail genuine historic times and the lives of real people. I find I often enjoy novels more than true autobiographies or biographies about famous people. They weave the history of remarkable lives into story—which is often more engaging and enjoyable to read. As a woman, my favorites are about other women. I like reading about how they became the heroine of their own lives and not the victim, of how they juggled the problems of multiple roles and the minority status of being a woman to reach for more and to accomplish more. Audre Lord once wrote: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Books about women who have overcome obstacles, made their way in the world against unusual odds, or bravely chosen an untraditional route for their lives inspire and empower other women to also reach for more.

For my November blog I wanted to spotlight some books and novels that tell the stories of some remarkable women. The ones below are contemporary books, some set in the past, some more biographical than others, but each tells the story of a woman who followed a different drummer to a unique destiny. It should be remembered that this is never an easy road for any woman to follow and the success of any woman who makes a difference and leaves a legacy should always be celebrated.

The first book I remember reading about a remarkable woman was actually about a young girl on the brink of womanhood. Her name was Anne Frank and the book I read was a diary Anne kept—which of course was not planned as a book to be published. Annelies Frank, called Anne (1929-1945), gained fame after her death through the publication of her diary in ANNE FRANK: THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL. As a Jewish girl, thirteen-year-old Anne penned her thoughts in a dark time of hiding during the German occupation of her Amsterdam hometown. After two years Anne’s family was found, arrested, and sent to Auschwitz, and later to another concentration camp where Anne died. Anne’s diary was found, given to her father after the war, and eventually published. … Most know this story as the book became a classic and was made into a film. But to me as a young girl reading Anne’s dairy brought a time of history alive to me in a painful, personal way. For Anne’s private account made me “feel” and imagine that time in a way history book accounts never did. In addition, Anne’s incredible optimism in a harsh, cruel time, her desire to “think of all the beauty still left” and her belief, in spite of the evil and cruelties she saw, that “people are really good at heart” stayed tucked deep into my spirit and still influences my thinking.

From the serious to the humorous, I also loved Ree Drummond’s book THE PIONEER WOMAN: BLACK HEELS TO TRACTOR WHEELS. I discovered and enjoyed this light-hearted novel long before Ree Drummond’s fame rose as high as it is today. The book is a fun and delightful love story of how Anne Marie (“Ree”) Drummond, a city girl, heading to Chicago to pursue a law degree, unexpectedly meets, falls in love with, and marries an Oklahoma rancher. She called Ladd Drummond The Marboro Man throughout the book, making you laugh at the unlikely match Ree makes to a fourth-generation rancher on a remote, 430,000 acre spread. The book shares the hard transition Ree faced in settling in to this new life, the teasing, the adjustments, and the difficulties –all in a warm-hearted story … The book doesn’t share the story that follows, though—and I’ve always wished Ree would write another. Extroverted and hungry for company, Ree started a blog later in her life, around raising four kids, feeding cowboys, and living on her Oklahoma ranch. Amazingly, it took off like gangbusters. The blog’s popularity soon morphed into a TV show and a stack of cookbooks, all filled with Ree’s own recipes and personal photographs of her home and life on the ranch. Today, more success has followed, and Ree and her family have a restaurant, hotel, retail store, and bakery in Oklahoma along with a huge fan base. Although many people have seen Ree’s TV shows or picked up one of her cookbooks, I’ve found that few people have read her personal novel and how it all began… so look for this book and expect a lot of laughs and smiles!

Another humorous novel I very much enjoyed is by Peggilene Bartels, who is the reigning chief of the town or Tantum (or Otaum) in Ghana, Africa. As a young woman in her twenties, Peggy moved to the United States to work as a secretary at the Embassy of Ghana in Washington DC. Amazingly after she had worked at the embassy for nearly thirty years, she got a letter one day, and then a phone call, telling her that due to a death in her family that she’d become “king” of her hometown village of 7,000 people in West Africa. “You are now the new king of Otaum!” the caller told her. The novel tells Peggy’s story of returning to her village and taking up the difficult job of becoming a ruler in what she soon learns is a very problematic situation. This is a wonderful story about what one woman with courage and determination can do. Be sure to read this one for a peek into a very different culture from ours in America. You’ll love it.

Stepping back into the past again, I also greatly enjoyed a novel celebrating the life of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a Black woman who was President Abraham Lincoln’s wife’s dressmaker. The book MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER is written by Jennifer Chiaverini, a New York Times Bestseller. The story dips into the very private life of Mary Lincoln, and her family, from the fictional perspective of her dressmaker and trusted friend. It’s a marvelous story, spanning a lengthy period of history, and following the relationship of these two women into the White House, through the trials of the Civil War, and almost to Mrs. Lincoln’s death. Other books have been written about the unlikely friendship of Elizabeth and Mary but this was my first to discover. Elizabeth, a former slave, who endured great hardship in her earlier life, became not only a skilled seamstress and friend to Mary Todd Lincoln, but established a successful dressmaking business, became a civil activist, an author, and served on faculty at Wilberforce University in Ohio. For a glimpse into a slice of history you might not know much about, this is an interesting, well researched and well-written book.

Another novel about a remarkable woman I enjoyed reading was THE AVIATOR’S WIFE, by Melanie Benjamin, about the early life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. In my review of the book on Goodreads I wrote: “A really interesting fiction and history mix about Anne Morrow Lindbergh – Charles Lindbergh’s wife – and the daughter of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. After they married, many do not know that Anne learned to fly like Charles, traveled with him on many flights, and became the first licensed female glider pilot in the U.S. I liked learning more about the Lindberg’s lives … and about Anne’s life. Her book GIFT FROM THE SEA has always been a favorite of mine … but I learned a new side of her in this novel. I loved her spunk in learning to fly with Charles and in being his navigator on many harrowing trips.” The book uncovered aspects of this prominent woman I knew little of.  We often assume women of great prominence and wealth enjoy only happiness but they also have their personal trials to battle. Although much of Anne’s life is well known, like the kidnapping of her son, the truths given in this novel were new to me. After reading this book I can more easily understand why Anne wrote: “I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God. …Woman must come of age by herself … She must find her true center alone.”

When I read GRANDMA GATEWOOD’S WALK I had never heard of Emma Rowena Gatewood (1887-1973). In 1955, she told her Ohio family she was going on a walk but didn’t mention where she planned to go or how long she might stay. She wore sneakers, simple clothes and packed her extra clothing, supplies, an army blanket, an old shower curtain and some money into a pillowsack tote and set off to walk the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail (AT). “I thought it would be a nice lark,” she told reporters later.  She was 67 years old, the mother of 11 children and 23 grandchildren, and she became the first woman to hike the AT alone in one season. Emma survived many perils and problems, which the book details beautifully, but the book also delves into the hardships of Emma’s life before she set out on her hike, helping you to see the courage she displayed as a younger woman that she, undeniably, drew on to later hike the AT. I was privileged to meet the book’s author Ben Montgomery, the journalist who gathered all Emma’s story and then wrote it. As a hiker myself, the book was truly humbling to me. I hike and walk only maintained park trails and would never brave, at midlife, the overnights and hardships of hiking the full length of the Appalachian Trail as Emma did. This book is a great read about a heroic woman. Don’t miss it!

I read the book KISSES FOR KATIE with my Book Club group, my first time to learn about Katie Davis Majors. A Nashville Tennessee girl, Katie, with every advantage, was senior class president and homecoming queen, ready to head away to college, when she went on a short mission trip to Uganda. In Jinga, Uganda, the orphan children touched her heart.  Against her parents’ judgment and all her friends’ advice, Katie returned to Uganda at the end of her senior year to work teaching with the orphans.  Life in Uganda was not easy and the way was hard – and you can’t help but think of Katie’s youth, as you read her story, and that she traveled to Africa alone and without family or friends. But she persevered and in time founded Amazina ministries and fostered thirteen children. “Courage is not about knowing the path,” she wrote. “it’s about taking the first step.” This is a beautiful story of one young girl’s courage to do what she feels God is calling her to do. Katie is now married, has adopted the thirteen children and has a child of her own, and is still working in Uganda. She has also written a second book about her work in Africa called DARING TO HOPE. You will find some beautiful YouTubes of the work of Katie’s ministry on the amazima.org website. This book will really touch your heart.

Another heart-touching book, and a better-known story than Katie’s, is Malala Yousafzai’s in the bestselling book I AM MALALA. When the Taliban came into Pakistan, Malala courageously continued to attend school and to speak out in ways women under the Taliban, were not to do. In 2012, at fifteen Malala almost paid with her life for refusing to be silenced and for continuing to study and learn. On the bus home from school, she was shot in the head at point blank range and wasn’t expected to live. But ten days later she woke up in a hospital in England and after months of surgeries and rehab, Malala made a new home in the UK. She has continued since to vie for women’s rights and in 2014 won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. Every day Malala works and fights for girls to receive safe and quality educations. She wrote, “We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.” Recently, she attained a college degree to better prepare her for more work ahead. “I tell my story not because it is unique,” she says, “but because it is the story of many girls…. Do not wait for someone else to come and speak for you. It’s you who can change the world.”

To close this blog, I want to mention a sweet warm-hearted novel  by Richard Maltby, Jr, called MISS POTTER about the life of Beatrix Potter. This book was also made into a movie also titled MISS POTTER and was a total delight, if you haven’t seen the movie, I encourage to find it and to look for Maltry’s book about Potter’s life. Helen Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) was born into a well to do family in South Kensington outside of London, England.  Beatrix was smart and industrious and studied under a number of governesses. She and her younger brother Bertram both loved to draw and spent hours out of doors making sketches of their many pets and of the animals around the family’s property. Her parents hired art teachers and Beatrix became an adept scientific illustrator and greeting card designer. In a time when women of her class usually simply married and stayed at home, and when working “in trade” was frowned upon by British society, Beatrix was unusual. Maltby’s book tells all of this story in a captivating way and how Beatrix went on to become as well known and beloved author of children’s books. I loved the special insights in this story of how Beatrix envisioned her book characters as so real that she conversed and talked with them and felt she could even visually see them as she worked. The movie story tweaks a few facts in Potter’s real life, but both book and movie are a delightful look at a talented, unusual, and independent young woman of her time. I love Beatrix’s quote: “I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations” and her more humble comment:  “If I have done anything, even a little, to help small children enjoy honest, simple pleasures, I have done a bit of good.”

Happy Reading everyone. I hope you enjoy these and many other books out there about remarkable women who have made a difference in their worlds.

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.

October 2020 -THE ARMCHAIR TRAVELER

About twelve years ago I wrote an article that was republished in several newsletters about how writing books helps to transport me to other places and lives. However,I also experience the same joy traveling to other places and lives by reading books. Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote: “Travel far, pay no fare … a book can take you anywhere.” My life has never brought me the opportunity for great travels, but in books I have visited far away places and sampled lives in other countries I’d never have experienced otherwise. Though books I jump on a magical tour bus, taking me off to wonderful places.

I love the British Isles and books have taken me on many adventures to England, Wales, and nearby Scotland and Ireland. I love England’s quaint villages and towns, so different from ours in Tennessee, and I especially like authors who take me visiting there—classic authors like Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, R.F. Delderfield, Phyllis Whitney, Agatha Christie and Beatrix Potter. Romance authors Julia Quinn and Mary Balogh have carried me off more recently to rural villages and vast country estates in their lovely regency titles. English author Anne Perry has swept me away to London through her intriguing Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries, like The Cater Street Hangman, and Anna Lee Huber has kept me enthralled with her delightful Lady Darby books set in different spots around the British Isles. I also loved every one of James Herriott’s books about a country vet in the Yorkshires, beginning with All Creatures Great and Small.

As a younger reader I discovered Nora Roberts through her romance series set in Ireland that made that beautiful coastal scenery and Ireland’s small towns come alive for me, especially the Irish Trilogy starting with Jewels of the Sun. Michael Phillips took me to Scotland in his books, too, like Angel Harp, and M.C. Beaton took me visiting time and again to Scotland with her humorous coastal mysteries about Hamish Macbeth. Recently I’ve traveled to more remote Scottish towns and to the Cornwall coast in Jenny Colgan’s captivating stories—and in fact, I’m reading one of her books right now.

Always wishing I could travel to France, I first visited there as a girl reading the Madeline books, and later Collette’s Claudine novels and Dumas’s books like The Three Muskateers. More recently I traveled to France and down the Seine on a bookstore barge in Nina George’s charming novel The Little Paris Bookshop and to Paris, also, in Colgan’s The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris. Moving on to Italy, I loved visits there through E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View and Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun. And Susan Elizabeth Phillips book Breathing Room, set in Tuscany, was also a fun read.

Although most books I read set abroad are in Europe, I’ve ventured further to Botswana, Africa, many times via Alexander McCall Smith’s Ladies #1 Detective Agency series—a total delight with every book. I’ve taken adventures to other countries, too, with unlikely spy Emily Pollifax in Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series. I also enjoyed trips to Canada, earlier as a girl, with Nancy Freedman’s Mrs. Mike and L.M. Montgomery’s beautiful Anne of Green Gables novels. And in recent years I’ve enjoyed following Louise Penny’s stories about Inspector Gamache, with The Beautiful Mystery still my favorite of that Canadian series.  For trips to Alaska I’ve traveled with my friend Shannon Brown, writing as Cathryn Brown, in her Alaska series romances. I’ve also ventured to many unusual spots, like to Israel and Jerusalem, with Laurie King’s character Mary Russell and Sherlock Homes.

Back in the U.S. I’ve traveled to a lot of state parks in Nevada Barr’s ranger mysteries and I’ve come to know and love small towns in North Carolina in Margaret Maron’s wonderful mystery series about Judge Deborah Knott, beginning with The Bootlegger’s Daughter. And, of course, I’ve read every one of Jan Karon’s Mitford books, set in small town North Carolina, too. There are so many wonderful Southern authors I’ve traveled with, too many to ever mention and applaud here … but I loved reading all Eugenia Price’s Georgia coastal books, Carolyn Hart’s fun Death on Demand mysteries, Susan Boyer’s South Carolina Lowcountry series, and Deborah Smith’s engaging books set in the Georgia and North Carolina mountains. … I also enjoyed, and still follow, Rita Mae Brown’s Sneaky Pie books about Harry and her pets who solve small town mysteries and murders in rural Virginia, Sherryl Woods books like The Sweet Magnolia series, and Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mysteries set in New York’s earlier days.

As a horse and cowboy lover, I read every Zane Grey mystery set out west and I like Linda Lael Miller’s romance books about cowboys and ranches, too. A favorite recent book that I laughed a lot over was Ree Drummond’s story of marrying her cowboy husband The Marlboro Man  in Black Heels and Tractor Wheels, a fun read worth looking for. Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles mystery series keep me traveling frequently back to Pecan Spring Texas, and authors like Robyn Carr, Susan Wiggs, and Debbie Macomber keep taking me on wonderful trips out west and to the Pacific Northwest coast.

Book visits as an “Armchair Traveler” never have to end—because there are always more books to discover! “That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” [T. Laliri] … And, yet, J.L. and I also love to travel, explore, and hike nearer to home, so one day we decided to begin sharing our adventures in guidebooks. First, we wrote a hiking guide to take you on trails in the Smokies. Then we took off and visited all 56 Tennessee state parks and wrote another guidebook called Discovering Tennessee State Parks. So you can “armchair” travel to our world here in Tennessee—and plan a trip here, too!

Because I’ve always enjoyed my “Armchair” travels in novels so much, I decided to also write some novels of my own to bring you traveling to my part of the world—and to different places around the Smoky Mountains I love so much. The picture here shows my four latest mountain books,Daddy’s Girl set in Bryson City, Lost Inheritance set in Gatlinburg, The Interlude set on the Millhouse Resort in Greenbrier, and Happy Valley set below the Chilhowee Parkway in rural Happy Valley.  There are nine more to enjoy, too, and with a new one publishing this spring!

We don’t travel far and wide—or to faraway places—even for vacation, but we have gone year after year to a lovely quiet island on the South Carolina coast, Edisto Island. So I thought I’d take readers there to visit, too. You can “Armchair Travel” to visit Edisto right now in my new trilogy, with two books out now and the third coming in the new year.

Do you love to travel? But is the ongoing pandemic keeping you a little housebound right now? Well, “escape” and travel in books! And remember: “A book is a magical thing that lets you travel to faraway places without every leaving your chair!” [Katrina Meyer]

See you next month! … And don’t miss also reading my October newsletter, too.

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.] …  Thanks also to Unsplash for many free stock photos used in this blog post.

September 2020 – LIGHTHOUSES

After I completed my annual Smoky Mountain book this spring, I began to research and plan four new future books, that I’d envisioned earlier, focused around a Lighthouse on the South Carolina coast. As a past professor, I love to research and learn about new things, and I uncovered so many interesting facts and fascinating stories about lighthouses that I never knew before while beginning to plan these books. A lot of the gathered knowledge I found, and many colorful stories I unearthed, will find their way into my new Lighthouse books, but I decided it might be fun to share some of the information I’ve discovered in my September blog.

Lighthouse history: Lighthouses have an old history dating back 2000 years to remains found in Egypt and in Europe. However, the modern era of lighthouses that we are most familiar with began in the 1700s first in England, Wales, and Scotland and then in the U.S. not long after when the first American lighthouse was constructed at the Boston Harbor in 1716, called the Boston Light. Many more lighthouses were soon built along the Atlantic coast and then on the Great Lakes and the West Coast. Lighthouses served as well-needed navigational aids in this earlier time period. They warned boats of dangerous areas in the sea and they helped to guide ships into harbor, sort of like traffic lights and signs do on land. The purpose of lighthouses was always to light the way for ships at sea, to keep them from crashing against rocks or reefs in storms and bad weather, to help them find their way in the dark, and to act as points of reference for sea captains. Every lighthouse had its own unique appearance and its own individual system of flashes that let ships know exactly where they were long before modern navigational systems helped pinpoint the way.

A total of about 1500 lighthouses were built in the U.S. with the heydey of lighthouse construction between the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today most lighthouses have been automated and few need a lighthouse keeper unless in special areas or as tourist attractions. There are about 700 lighthouses in the U.S. now, all maintained by the Coast Guard and also by those who work or live at each lighthouse location.

Thinking about a Lighthouse book: After learning about lighthouses in general, I began to look at pictures of lighthouses to decide what the “fictitious” lighthouse in my book might look like. I knew it would sit on a slightly rocky chunk of coastline on an island at the north end of Edisto Island with the Atlantic Ocean to the forefront and the North Edisto River to the side. Considering how many wrecks occurred in past at this location, many on a dangerous shelf of narrow barrier islands called the Deveaux Bank, I’m surprised a lighthouse was never built at this point, as there are lighthouses up and down the Atlantic Coast where other major rivers meet the sea. The small island I’m fictitiously using for my book setting is a quiet, practically unpopulated one, now in a conservatorship. Only a handful of people own land there and further future development is restricted on this island portion of Botany Bay Island, which is separated on all sides by water. In researching the history of the island I learned it had once been called Watch Island in the past with a small fort on it, so I took back that old name for the island for my story. I also decided to name the lighthouse the Deveaux Lighthouse, for the Deveaux Bank nearby and, fictitiously, for the family I’ve created who have kept the light through multiple generations.

It was amazing to me as I looked at all the lighthouse photos on the internet to see the huge diversity of shapes, sizes, and colors that lighthouses come in, like those above. What an incredible array of sizes and colors, from short and squat to tall, narrow and conical. They come in colors from simple white to diverse shades of red, green, gold, brown, and black and many are arrayed in Barber-shop or layered stripes, usually black-and-white or red-and-white. Some lighthouses are tall, wide, and large enough to live in, while others are tall and narrow with a steep, spiral set of metal stairs winding to the top. Others are squatty and not much taller than a person or built into another structure. Some sit right on a spit of land beside the sea, the lighthouse positioned so the light will be visible far into the nearby ocean. Others sit remotely out in the sea itself, often miles from land on small weather-swept, rocky islands or on manmade platforms. These especially, so far from land or people, looked the most lonely to me.

Many lighthouses built on the shore, or on large islands near the shore, included a complete series of buildings, or Lighthouse Station, in addition to the lighthouse. This station often contained eight or more structures that usually included a small keeper’s house or storage building connected to or beside the lighthouse, where the Lighthouse Keeper stayed during storms or at night to be close to keep the light ever burning. The station also usually included a large Lighthouse Keeper’s home in a spot nearby, built to house the big families with eight to twelve children  that people had in the 1880s and early 1900s. These Lighthouse Keeper houses were often large two-storied homes with spacious living areas, many bedrooms, and wide porches. Additionally the Lighthouse Station grounds included several smaller cottages for assistant keepers or visiting supervisors, a bell house or fog house, storage buildings, a boathouse or two, one or boat docks, a well for water, fuel storage buildings, a garden area, and an outdoor “necessary house” or bathroom. Often the Lighthouse Station was fenced or walled all around with pathways leading between the different areas. The Station looked almost like a small community…. which explains why many of these Lighthouse Stations were more easily converted later to tourist resorts with cozy, seaside inns, gift shops, rental cottages, and museums. You may have seen one of these famous inns, the Portland Lighthouse and Inn, pictured above, on a visit to the coast of Maine or in looking through lighthouse photos or paintings.

Because most lighthouses were deactivated by the mid 1900s, they were frequently sold to parks or individuals to convert to tourist destinations or even to renovate as private homes. Today, many lighthouses are actually for sale at bargain prices to those who will fix them up, allow tourist visits, and who don’t mind living in often remote locations. You can visit many lighthouses along the Atlantic and Pacific coast, and abroad as well. We recently visited Hunting Island Lighthouse, shown in the photo at left, at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina, not far from Edisto and Beaufort. Many of the Huntington Island Light’s old station buildings have been preserved, and at this lighthouse, too, you can climb to the top of the lighthouse on steep spiral stairs—if you are able—to look out across the ocean from a platform near the top.

I envisioned and planned that the Deveaux Lighthouse in my story has been converted into a tourist destination with the original Keeper’s House enlarged and renovated into the Deveaux Inn. Visitors can stay at the inn or simply tour the lighthouse, and a ferry takes guests to and from the island, which is accessible only by boat. The four books in this new Lighthouse Sisters series, take you into the lives of the four grown Deveaux daughters, Burke, Gwen, Celeste, and Lila, who grew up with their parents Ella and Lloyd Deveraux at the scenic Lighthouse Station on Watch Island. Each book focuses on the story of one of the daughters specifically but you will meet them all in the first novel, tentatively titled Light the Way.

I have always been fascinated with lighthouse stories, wondering what it must have been like to grow up in such a remote location. I’ve often seen old photos of Lighthouse Keepers lined up with their families outside a lighthouse and wondered at their lonely and often harsh life and about the choices that took them there. Early lighthouse keepers in America and abroad endured great hardship and often risked their lives in storms to keep the light burning or to perform daring rescues at sea. I hope to weave some of those old tales into my books along with the ongoing stories of the daughters’ current lives. I hope you’ll enjoy wandering down to the sea again in these four future books….In the meantime you can visit the South Carolina Lowcountry area in my Edisto Trilogy books: Claire at Edisto, Return to Edisto – both already published – and Edisto Song coming this Spring 2021.

[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.] …  Free Stock photo thanks to Unsplash, Deposit Free, and Dreamstime for photos used in this blog post.

 

August 2020 – TN PARK WALKS

In these times when life is quieter, and we are all staying closer to home, I want to encourage you to still find time to get out-of-doors in nature. It has been proven to be healthy and healing physically and emotionally. Even if you can’t travel abroad, take cruises or long trips, you can still head out for a day to one of your state parks.

J.L. and I discovered the joy and pleasure of our parks in Tennessee while visiting all 56 of them to write our guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS. For my August blog post I thought I’d tell you a little about some special places to take a walk or hike in the wonderful parks in each TN area. If you don’t live in Tennessee, I’m sure your state’s parks offer an equal diversity of beautiful and interesting places to see, along with lovely trails and quiet pathways to enjoy. We’re already finding that to be true as we work on a second guidebook to state parks in South Carolina.

In planning our Tennessee parks guidebook we decided to divide the book according to the three divisions of TN: East, Middle, and West. We started our visits in the eastern tip of TN, visiting all the east parks first, then moved on to Middle and West TN until we reached the last park near the Mississippi River border. In the guidebook, and in others we’re working on or have published, like our Smokies trail guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER, we tell you clearly how to get to each location, detail the best things to do and see, and include color photos to enhance the discussion.

There are 18 wonderful parks in East Tennessee. Since we live in Knoxville, we could easily drive to these, enjoy a day exploring, and come home to sleep in our own bed at night. We discovered mountain parks like Frozen Head and Roan Mountain, lakeside parks like Warriors Path and Harrison Bay, and parks celebrating historic sites like Red Clay and David Crockett’s Birthplace. Some of our favorite walks and trails in the East Tennessee parks that we especially enjoyed are:

(1) The 2-miles Round Trip (RT) Mountain River Trail along the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals State Historic area in Elizabethton. This is a pretty walk and easy for anyone to enjoy, and of course we also explored the park’s historic fort and museum.

(2) At Big Ridge State park in Maynardville you’ll find a beautiful park with many amenities, but also with several scenic hiking trails. Our favorite is the 2-miles RT Lake Trail that winds around the perimeter of the lake and back. If you start at the eastern end of the trail you can see the old Norton Gristmill, too.

(3) Panther Creek State Park on Lake Cherokee in Morristown offers panoramic lake views, many amenities, and a number of interesting trails. We especially enjoyed the 0.6-mile Seven Sinkholes Trail and the mile long Old Wagon Trail along the creek.

In Middle Tennessee there are 26 state parks, more than any other region, and our biggest delight in exploring these parks was in finding interesting caves and rock formations and a plethora of stunning waterfalls. We hadn’t expected to find so many glorious waterfalls or caves and rocky bluffs so far away from the mountains of East Tennessee. Some of our favorite walks and trails in Middle Tennessee were:

(1) The short Indian Rock House Trail in Pickett State Park in Jamestown, and the Hazard Cave and Hidden Passage trails, all leading to high rocky sandstone bluffs, unusual geological formations, and natural rock bridges. This park isn’t far from the Big South Park Recreation area either.

(2) Closer to Nashville the Cedars of Lebanon State Park also has trails leading to sinkholes, caves, and bluffs and on the half-mile Cedar Glades Trail, with interpretative signs, you’ll spot endangered plants and the rare cedars this park is named for.

(3) To spot some truly stunning waterfalls, be sure to walk the 1.5-miles River Trail at Burgess Falls in Sparta, TN. The path winds along the river side to overlooks at four different waterfalls, each falls bigger and more beautiful than the last.

(4) At Rock Island State Park, you’ll discover another interesting park to explore with more glorious waterfalls. Stop at the Great Falls Overlook to view the falls there, trek down a portion of the Caney Fork River Gorge trail, walk the 0.5-mile Blue Hole Trail, and don’t forget to drive over to the Twin Falls Down River Trail to see two glorious falls rushing out of the rock wall before dropping 80 feet to the river below.

Moving on to West Tennessee, the terrain begins to flatten out more, but we still found a rich diversity among the 12 parks here with more fine walks and hikes to enjoy:

(1) At Natchez Trace, a vast state park, we stayed overnight in the beautiful park lodge and walked a number of the park’s trails, especially enjoying the long footbridge leading across Cub Lake and the quiet trails along the lakeside at Pin Oak Lodge.

(2) At Pickwick Landing on the southern border of West Tennessee at Counce, TN, we discovered several lovely scenic trails winding along beautiful Pickwick Lake. We especially enjoyed  the 1.2-miles Nature Trail behind the park’s fabulous inn and the Island Loop Trail near the park cabins.

(3) The Reelfoot Lake State Park at the far northwest end of the state at Tiptonville was another favorite spot, and we loved exploring the boardwalk trails leading out into the lake. The first, only a half mile, starts at the visitor center where you’ll also learn the history of this unusual lake. Taking a tour around Reelfoot we also discovered and walked several other trails we found at the campground at other scenic points along the lake’s 22 miles of picturesque shoreline.

I hope you noticed, while reading this blog post,  that all the park trails I mentioned are “short” ones. I wanted to stress that in the state parks you’ll find many short, easy, and well-maintained trails. All the family can enjoy these walks while also having a fabulous day exploring the parks and their many historic and natural sites.

Do plan some days this last month of summer to visit one of your nearby state parks. Take a picnic, enjoy the August sunshine, and have fun getting out-of-doors.. Also, if you live in, or plan to visit in Tennessee, pick up a copy of our state parks guidebook or our Smokies hiking book at your favorite bookstore or order either of them online through Barnes & Noble or on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Lin-Stepp/e/B0028OJMPA%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Also, If you bought and enjoyed our TN state parks book, please considering following the link above to leave a short review on Amazon about our book. Thank you!

Enjoy this last wonderful month of summer and I’ll see you in September! … Lin

[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.]