February 2020 – HOW I WRITE

HOW I WRITE

So many of my readers, fans, and friends have asked  how I think up my story ideas and write my books, so I thought I’d talk about “How I Write” in this February blog post. Every artisan—author, painter, photographer, composer—develops a different method, so what I’m sharing here is my method. It evolved as I began to write from my own personality, my own academic and personal background, and my own study about the methods that worked best for successful authors I admired.

(1) AT THE BEGINNING OF EVERY BOOK IS A GOOD IDEA.

Coming up with a story idea is where every one of my books begins. Active with life, my ideas often evolve from news events I’m reading, places I’m visiting, or thoughts and questions that run into my mind. For example, always interested in social work and the foster care system … I wondered how a social worker would handle a case with children she knew that she couldn’t find a foster home for. I thought, “What would I do?” And then I smiled, realizing an old softie like me would probably try to take the kids in if I could. From that idea my book FOR SIX GOOD REASONS began to evolve about a young, single social worker who ends up taking in six siblings….Another book idea actually came to me while hiking with my husband on the Cooper Road Trail out of Abrams Creek Campground. We’d always loved the scenic, rural Happy Valley area we drove through in order to get to the Abrams trails. I said to J.L., “I’d love to set a book here but there’s little here but rural farmland and no businesses, not even a store.” He laughed and said, “You could put some survivalists in your book to spice it up. They love backwoods places to live.” He told me some stories about survivalists he’d heard of and met delivering his fishing and hunting guide magazines. I forgot our conversation while hiking, but started laughing on the way back down the trail. “I’ve just had the best book idea for Happy Valley,” I told him. “With a store and with some survivalists tucked into the plot.” … And that’s how the idea for my upcoming book HAPPY VALLEY, publishing in April, came to be.

(2) DEVELOPING STORY CHARACTERS IS ALWAYS THE SECOND STEP.

An old quote says “Characters are the lifeblood of any good book” and there is much truth in that. A book needs rich, realistic characters that a reader can relate to. It takes time and thought to create book characters that will linger in the minds of a reader after they close the book at the end. And that’s always what I want. I like books about basically nice, likable people wrestling with life problems and issues, trying to live a morally good life. Of course, as in real life, not everyone that my characters know in their family or among their work colleagues are equally interested in being wholesome individuals. Many have unresolved problems … and that’s always where the fun comes in. All of us wonder how to get along with the problem people and difficult issues in our lives and we like stories about how others handle those things.

Because I write contemporary romances, my two main male and female characters always evolve first. Who are they? What is their story before the book begins? What will happen to them as the story idea moves along? As I begin to see these plot and character factors, I start to also envision how these characters will look. I search for photos from magazines or the internet like the images I’m seeing in my mind because I believe actual visuals help artists create richer art. As I develop and envision these main characters and the story line of the book, secondary characters begin to naturally come to my mind, too. The family, neighbors, work colleagues, and others in the main characters’ lives begin to find places in the developing drama–the sweet, supportive characters in their lives and the difficult ones causing concerns. In my book LOST INHERITANCE a sweet young girl gets cheated out of an expected inheritance by a flaw in the will, with everything going to a somewhat nasty nephew. I wanted the readers’ hearts to go out to Emily and their anger to go out to Leonard, mean for no good reason. In my book WELCOME BACK, I wanted the reader to feel the heartache and dilemma Lydia faced living with a truly dysfunctional mother-in-law. Difficulties with family members are often some of the hardest situations we all face.

(3) THE THIRD STEP IS CREATING A RICH AND MEMORABLE SETTING.

The setting is the time and place in which the story occurs and it needs to fit the story, enrich it, and help the ongoing story come to life more for the reader. I like to create a setting that makes the reader feel like they are “there” in that setting, and I love using real places readers can actually go to visit later and enjoy. If I have personally visited a setting and spent time there, I can bring it to life better for my readers. So my main book settings are always in places where I’ve spent a lot of time. Most of my novels are set in and around the Great Smoky Mountains near my home. I love this area of East Tennessee and North Carolina, and I love bringing my readers to visit here.

To enrich every book further, I visit my settings, exploring up and down area streets, hiking trails, checking out spots to visit, restaurants where characters can eat, local events they can go to. I take photos, I pick up maps and brochures. I talk to people, getting local tips and stories I might bring in. I later draw my own map settings of where the main actions in my books will take place. I draw or find room designs for the main homes and businesses essential to the story. If I can see it, I can write it with more passion and realism. After J.L. and I discovered the charming small mountain town of Bryson City, North Carolina, while hiking trails near there, I was purposed to set one of my upcoming stories there. And in this case, the town itself helped to inspire the story for DADDY’S GIRL. Seeing a beautiful old white turreted home for sale and a lovely old swinging bridge, both on the Little River in Townsend, gave me the vision and dream for a bed and breakfast and the story for DOWN BY THE RIVER set there.

(4) PLOTTING OUT THE STORY LINE FOR A BOOK COMES NEXT.

After the idea for the story is beginning to develop and flesh out, the characters formed, the setting established, I am ready to plot out the story line for a book. Plot is the chain of connected events that make up a story. I am a methodical person and could never be a panster writer, just sitting down to see what might flow out of my pen at random, and later trying to reorganize it into some semblance of order. I think logically and chronologically when writing a book and I want every plot point researched and planned before I start a book. To me writing a book without a plan would be like taking off on a trip without a map or any planning. I organize the story events from the opening scenes throughout the book to its end before I write. To me what I hate most in a book is when it seems to wander around as if it doesn’t know where it’s going. I also want a thick story with a lot of side sub plots within and around the main plot. Otherwise I am quickly bored. A slow or too easily predictable plot will lose my interest so I work hard to create a rich plot that will keep my readers involved and guessing a little about what happens next. I want my plots to have some surprises, some unexpected emotional moments, some insights and some life teachings. I don’t want readers to easily put the book down once they begin.

At this point for me, I have folders full of character sketches, setting material, plot and story notes I want to weave into my book. And now is the time to pull all that research and planning and envisioning together. I do this by creating a story outline. Often these start with paragraphs about each chapter as I work through the action, conflicts, and story lines I want to occur before the book ends. Every character’s problems have to be resolved in some way and there needs to be enough action all the way through so there are no sagging points in the story. Once I get the plot planned, I create a one page chapter-to-chapter outline to follow, reminding me of the book plan I’ll be following as I write. With my Edisto Trilogy, this process proved even more complex as the three books planned are a continuing series. While writing CLAIRE AT EDISTO, my mind had to “plot ahead” the next books in part to lay hints and factors that would link from the first book into the subsequent novels. As I wrote the next two books RETURN TO EDISTO (publishing this April) and EDISTO SONG (publishing next year) all my facts had to coordinate. I found this harder than my other stand-alone books. In those books I occasionally let a side character from a past book wander in again, as in MAKIN’ MIRACLES where a side character from two past books became the story’s main character, but the story was new and there was little to coordinate in plot. It takes a lot of planning and work to develop a good plot that will keep readers engaged in the story until the end. Many call this the most difficult stage in the writing process.

(5) AT LAST IT’S TIME TO WRITE THE STORY!

At this point, I’m finally ready to write, following my outline, digging out all my notes and research as needed, and putting up my bulletin board filled with pictures of characters and setting scenes for ongoing inspiration, like the one for a future book EIGHT AT THE LAKE below. There is so much more work and discipline and hard, long days of labor than most people realize in writing a book and bringing it to life. A critical factor at this point is making the time to write consistently until the book is complete, which doesn’t mean a chapter here or there with big gaps or weeks between the writing. Think of it like watching a movie. If you don’t stay with the movie, you lose the flow and story of it. If you leave it too long and come back, you may even lose your passion for it.

I have tried many writing patterns, and I have had to vary my writing times around other ongoing work schedules in my life. When I first started writing I was teaching 8-9 college classes a year at Tusculum College, working with my students, helping my husband with his business, and carrying a part-time job as the educational coordinator for Huntington Learning Center. My usual writing hours then were from right after dinner to bedtime or after because those were the only blocks of free time I had. My minimal writing goal, even then, was to put in 20 hours a week. This is still my minimal goal every week although I put in much more time than that now. My early writing goal was to write two books a year; that is still my goal. And it’s rare that I haven’t achieved it. But it takes dedication and discipline. Much of a writer’s time is spent alone in front of a computer working and writing. Anyone who doesn’t love creating stories and sharing them will probably quit as soon as they realize how much work writing is.

Right now, I am finishing my planning and research for the next book I plan to write which will be set in Cherokee, North Carolina. I hope to settle into writing in the next week or two and to hopefully finish all or most of the book before Book Tour for my two new books begins in April. I write far ahead of my publishers. I don’t like the stress of looming deadlines, and I like to have about a year with every book to edit and re-edit with fresh eyes after the book sits for a few months and before it goes to my editor for more edits. At this time, all the books in the little photo listing are completed plus another Mountain Home book called EIGHT AT THE LAKE that I finished at the end of 2019. Around writing my new Cherokee novel, J.L. and I will be traveling and working to finish a South Carolina state parks guidebook and continuing to work on a joint devotional in progress. And in a file box by my desk are a multitude of folders of other book ideas I’m planning and thinking about in my spare time…. Writers are always writing a book, planning the next book, and thinking ahead to even more books to come!

 

I hope you enjoyed learning a little about “How I Write.” Next month I’ll be sharing about my new books coming in April … about our Book Launch … and about Book Tour stops and plans… So tune in again in early March.

See you then! __ 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.]

January 2020 – VISITING SC PARKS

In 2018, my husband J.L. and I published a guidebook to all the fifty-six parks in Tennessee. We had such a wonderful time visiting and exploring state parks for two years before this guide published—and enjoying seeing it become a Best Books Award Finalist in Nonfiction: Guidebooks in the 2019 American Book Fest Awards—that we were soon hungry for another adventure. Because I’d started a trilogy of novels set on the coast of South Carolina, we began to receive encouragement from new fans in South Carolina to do a guidebook for their state. One reason that we wrote our DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS guidebook was because we couldn’t find a single guide to the wonderful parks in our home state. … Surprisingly, we now found the same thing to be true in South Carolina, one of our favorite states to vacation in. There was no guidebook to their state parks either.

The push to write a South Carolina guidebook continued while we were in coastal South Carolina this August 2019, where I did five bookstore signings and events for my new book CLAIRE AT EDISTO while on tour. “We don’t have anything like that,” one of the managers at Barnes & Noble in Charleston told us. “You need to write a guidebook about our parks in South Carolina like you did for Tennessee.” Considering the idea more seriously now, we decided to visit Edisto Beach State Park since we were staying at Edisto. To start our first visit, we drove down a quiet side road to find the park’s environmental education and visitor center—only to learn that to explore any park in South Carolina you had to pay an entrance fee. This was a big surprise to us as in Tennessee all the state parks are free. The ranger told us if we planned to visit multiple parks we might want to buy a park passport, good for a year of free park visits… so we looked at each other, smiled, and decided to bite the bullet and do just that. “Well, we’re committed now,” J.L. said, but it has proved to be a good commitment!!

As I write this blog, we have now visited 27 parks—or half—of the 54 parks on our list. The state of South Carolina has 47 state parks and 7 small national parks that we decided to combine for our new guidebook. To start our book we visited the Edisto park and drove down to Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort on another day before returning home from vacation…. Back at home, we began to plan our future journeys and trips to the remaining parks in the state. While working on our Tennessee book, we could drive to most parks in one day and easily return home to sleep in our own bed that night. But South Carolina’s parks are all further away from our home in Knoxville, TN, so this time we knew we would need to explore multiple parks over several days, spending a couple of nights in towns near the parks we planned to visit.

Tennessee has three clear divisions—East, Middle, and West Tennessee, but South Carolina classified its regions in a few different ways, depending on the websites we examined. We decided to classify the parks in our new guidebook into the four regions you see on the colorful bulletin board map above—Upstate, Midlands, Pee Dee, and Lowcountry. We started our first block of park visits in the Upstate area and now have visited all the Upstate parks and many in the Midlands region as well. As in our Tennessee book, we will give directions to each park, tell about all the interesting things to do and see in each, detail some of the trails we hiked and historic spots we saw, and provide a multitude of color photos with each park to accompany the text.

On our first visit to South Carolina in September we visited eight parks in three days in the Upstate area of the state. I tend to think of South Carolina more in terms of the flatter, lowland areas of the state, but this part of South Carolina along the border of the mountains looks much like the high country areas around East Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. Our journey began traveling down SC Highway #11 in the far northwest corner of the state on the border of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. The first park we visited was Jones Gap State Park at one end of the 13,000-acre wilderness area, where we enjoyed especially hiking along mountain creeks to several water falls, followed by Caesars Head State Park at the other end of the wilderness area. At Caesars Head, we were blown away by the incredible views at Casear’s Head Overlook and enjoyed walking through the Devil’s Kitchen crevice in the huge granite rocks piled there.

We spent the night in nearby Greenville and the next day visited more parks along Highway #11—Table Rock, Keowee-Toxaway, and Devil’s Fork parks. The highlight at Table Rock was the giant mountain the park is named for rising above Pinnacle Lake. Keowee-Toxaway and Devil’s Fork parks both centered around lakes, too, and we enjoyed beautiful scenes at both along with seeing gorgeous campgrounds and exploring several fine hiking trails. We returned to Greenville to explore Paris Mountain state park before spending the night. Paris Mountain, on the outskirts of Greenville, offered us the chance to hike two nice trails, one around Lake Placid to the spillway dam. And then on our last day we journeyed further down Highway #11 to Oconee Station, a small park with historic sites and then on to Oconee State Park, with fine campgrounds and a wonderful old waterwheel by the dam at the end of Oconee Lake. Then we drove home over the mountains back to Tennessee.

Our next three-day trip in October followed a similar pattern, and we visited eight parks, most along the beautiful lakes on the border between South Carolina and Georgia. If I owned an RV or camping gear, and loved to boat or fish, I’d head to one of these parks for a weekend visit as most had lovely campgrounds looking out over stunning lakeside views. The lake parks we visited included Baker Creek, Calhoun Falls, Hamilton Branch, Lake Greenwood, Hickory Knob, Lake Hartwell, and Sadlers Creek. On this trip we also enjoyed exploring the interesting Ninety Six National Historic Site where a pivotal battle of the Revolutionary War was fought

In November we took our final 2019 trip to South Carolina—this time traveling to nine parks in our three-day journey. This trip took us to a greater diversity of state parks, to historic parks like Cowpens, the Kings Mountain parks, Andrew Jackson, Landsford Canal, and Musgrove Hill State Historic Site, on to family parks like Chester State Park and Croft State Park, and even to a beautiful old antellebum home at Rose Hill Plantation State Historic Site. We especially enjoyed Cowpens and Kings Mountain, their museums and battlefield trails, learning about the history of the Revolutionary Battles fought there. Chester State Park, centered around a 160-acres lake, was especially scenic and Croft Park had delightful trails leading to scenic creekside scenes, old bridges, lakes and springs. This park is especially known for its equestrian show ring and many fine horse trails, and we ran into many riders while there, even on a weekday.

This spring, when the trees green up again, when the weather grows fairer and the days longer, we’ll travel further into the Midlands and Pee Dee regions of South Carolina to explore more parks and then down to the coastal regions to the Lowcountry parks. South Carolina is topographically diverse and we’re enjoying traveling around its backgrounds to see all its picturesque parks and sights. J.L. and I hope before next year to complete our SC guidebook and to see it published.

Stop back by my blog in February and March and I’ll talk about our new books publishing at the first of April, what inspired them and photos from each.

Stay warm this winter!

___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.]

December 2019 – THE INTERLUDE

This month I’m writing about the 12th and final book in the Smoky Mountain series. It  seems incredible to me that twelve books in this series, once just a dream and a vision, have now been published and loved by so many. Thank you all for reading and loving these books set around the Great Smoky Mountains I love so much.

THE INTERLUDE is set in the Greenbrier Pittman Center area, just a short distance east of Gatlinburg on Highway #321. For my story in this book I needed an area at a little distance from town where I could create a wonderful mountain resort, first established in the early days before the Smokies became a national park. Drawn from the memories of many beautiful Appalachian resorts we’ve visited and loved, I created the fictitious Millhouse Resort with a lovely rock lodge and restaurant, an old historic mill, cottages, pool and tennis courts, a tea room, golf course, hiking trails, and more. The resort belongs to the Wingate family, who have lived and worked in the resort since its earliest days…and Beau and Nonnie Wingate still welcome guests to the resort with love and affection.

Mallory Wingate, Beau and Nonnie’s granddaughter, has spent many summers and holidays with them—and comes to them as a young woman, as this story begins, for a needed rest after a breakdown. Too much care with a dying mother, too much stress, work, and heartache led to her breakdown, which by necessity, has sent her away from her job as an editor with a publishing house to recover and heal.

On the plane, hoping only for quiet, Mallory sits by a handsome, charismatic young man, a golf pro, traveling back from an event. Despite her reluctance to be congenial, he charms his way into her company—drawing her into a flirtatious interlude that Mallory enjoys, despite her problems. Of course, she never expects to see the man again—but to her shock, he shows up at her grandparents’ home the day after she arrives, and she learns he’s the resort’s golf pro! And so the story begins.

Mallory has a troubled heart and needs healing—but as the story progresses the reader soon learns that Lucas James has his own problems to overcome, plus a young daughter to raise. Suzannah, only five, was a joy to create—and she and many other side characters will soon draw you into their hearts, lives, and troubles.

As a psychologist, and as a prof teaching many psychology and counseling courses over the years, I know how people often carry limited knowledge and misconceptions about mental health problems. From minor issues to more serious ones, these create problems not only for the people experiencing them but to the families close to them. And several different types of mental health concerns find their way into this story…along with a series of troubling thefts occurring at the resort. Are they related or singular? And who is behind them?

Reviewers noted the mental health issues in some of the book’s many reviews:  “The Interlude emphasizes and demonstrates the importance of family … Stepp’s background in psychology no doubt played a part in both illuminating the emotional problems Mallory and Lucas had as well as providing believable solutions.” – B. Mushko, blog reviewer … In The Interlude “ serious mental health issues including bipolar disorder, suicide and mental breakdowns are addressed, and this is excellent. It’s so important to shed more light on these conditions to remove the stigmas attached to them… The Interlude … is a heartwarming thoughtful story.” – J. Lynn, Amazon reviewer

Many happy pleasures went into writing this book. I loved creating  the outdoor scenes in the Greenbrier area … taking readers around the town of Pittman Center, to Emerts Covered Bridge, to the Pittman Center Museum at the elementary school – all real places. I also enjoyed creating the wonderful rock resort lodge at Millhouse Resort, and the its beautiful stone structures from quarried rock in the area—Wingate House, Beau and Nonnie’s home, with the Butterfly Tea Room behind it, Retreat House for rent for groups at the resort, and Ivy Cottage, where Lucas James and his little daughter Suzannah live.

I also enjoyed taking readers hiking in the mountains … up the trail to Ramsey Cascades in Greenbrier, to a small family cemetery and another waterfall and pool on a trail behind the resort, Rock Creek Falls, and up the mountain to Chessy Bohanan’s old ramshackle cabin. So many places in this book are real ones that readers can visit … including the book’s scenes in nearby Gatlinburg. There really is a wonderful Fourth of July Parade every year in Gatlinburg, as pictured in the book, and readers often head to see places depicted in my novels when visiting in the Smokies.

In addition to taking readers to the mountains, I also enjoyed including scenes in Savannah, Georgia, as part of this book’s setting. Mallory works for a Savannah based publishing company called Whittier Publishing as an editor … and the company’s owner David Whittier and Associate Editor Nancy Franklin play memorable roles in the book’s story as Mallory finds her way back to health and happiness. I have visited often in Savannah and I love the colorful houses and townhouses downtown, so many set around lush green parks, like Whitefield Square, across the street from Mallory’s townhouse.

A final plus was in getting to create Suzannah’s dolls, toys, and favorite books, her charming tree house, and her cats Babycakes and Mr. Tom. In one scene in the story, Lucas and Mallory sit in on the birthing of Babycake’s kittens … reminiscent of a time when the same thing happened to J.L. and me with a young calico cat we had when first married. … I admit, I’d still like to take home all four of Babycake’s and Mr. Tom’s offspring—Lily, Muffin, Buddy, and Jas

I hope readers have as much fun reading my books as I do writing them! … And if you’ve missed reading THE INTERLUDE, it would make a great holiday season read! And any of my books would make great gifts!

Note: To celebrate this series of twelve stand-alone novels, all set around the Great Smoky Mountains, I dedicated each blog for this past year to one of my titles. If you’ve missed reading any of the others just continue scrolling down to find them all. …

[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 2019 – LOST INHERITANCE

The idea for my novel LOST INHERITANCE came from a true story. My college friend Jayne was very close to an aunt and uncle who had no children. She spent many summers and holidays with them and lived with them for a time after she graduated from college. They always told her they planned to leave their home, properties, and business interests to her, but when they died it was discovered that the will hadn’t been property executed. It went into probate and all her aunt and uncle’s property was dispersed to a long list of other relatives, leaving Jayne out completely. She couldn’t even go into their home to get things she’d stored there but had to bid on them at auction if she wanted them. … This sad story stayed with me for years and finally found its way into the concept of this book.

Main character Emily Lamont, orphaned when only a young girl, was raised by her godparents in their opulent home in Philadelphia. From a young age she trained and worked with Hal and Mary Newman in their prestigious downtown art gallery, the Newman Gallery, and it was their heart’s desire to leave their home and gallery to her. However, as in Jayne’s story, a problem with the will cut Emily out of her inheritance. Her godparents’ home, money, art collection, and gallery went instead to their nephew Leonard—not a happy answer. In addition, Leonard disliked Emily and made it clear to her he would take over everything and do with it as he liked.

In shock, Emily discovers that a small gallery in Gatlinburg, that her godparents bought later in life, had been put jointly in her name. Her attorney encourages selling The Creekside Gallery but Emily decides instead to move to Gatlinburg to run it and to make a new beginning. However, Cooper Garrison in Gatlinburg, is bitter his mother didn’t inherit the gallery since she’d faithfully managed it for so many years. So the sweet reception Emily hoped for is tempered with Cooper’s grudging resentment, even though Cooper’s mother Mamie kindly welcomes Emily with open arms.

Of course, this is only the beginning of the story. Cooper has his own difficult past and issues to deal with and  immediately resents his attraction to Emily, too. Emily has her own adjustments to contend with, linked with her past and the new gallery in Gatlinburg. The “lost inheritance” theme plays out in other ways, also, as the story moves along … and the book is full of unsolved mysteries, friendships, love interests, and the lovely world of a beautiful little art gallery, all amid the colorful setting of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains.

An extensive amount of research went into this novel to create the book’s settings—first in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and  then in Gatlinburg in the Smokies. I placed the Creekside Gallery on Gatlinburg’s River Road and I spent many hours creating the “fictitious” artists who showed their work in this mountain gallery. I put my characters’ homes in different spots around downtown Gatlinburg — all in the midst of all the real sights any visiting tourist can see and enjoy there. Gatlinburg is a fun city to visit … and I worked hard to help my readers feel they were “right there” in the Burg with Emily, Cooper, Mamie, Mackie, Sara, and all the other colorful characters that found their way into this story.

For additional story fun, Emily and Cooper take hikes in the Smoky Mountains together that readers will love. They walk their dogs on the nearby Gatlinburg Trail, enjoy the downtown restaurants and shops, and visit Dollywood.  … In the story,  Cooper Garrison builds log homes, so I had to study extensively about log-home building and visit a log home business to learn how these mountain homes are created. Emily’s new friend Sara Russell works with her mother in a dollhouse shop in the Laurel Mountain Village Mall in Gatlinburg, forming a link between these two young women right away as Emily builds dollhouses as a side hobby.

I believe all stories are enriched with beloved pets, and four wonderful pets help to make this story special. Emily’s well-behaved gallery dog Mercedes comes with her to Tennessee from Pennsylvania and right away has a spitzy confrontation with the Creekside Gallery cat Sugar Lips. The real Sugar Lips is owned by my Sevierville fan and friend Charlene Povia and Mercedes was based on another fan, Lisa Keever’s, gray poodle Sadie. Cooper’s golden retriever Brinkley is named after Steven Zacharius dog with the same name. Steven is the CEO of Kensington Publishing in New York and was pleased that Brinkley found his way into a novel. And finally little Buster looks very much my next door neighbors, the Owens’, two Bichon Frise feisty, little dogs. So I had actual pets to observe to create all these fun story pets. …and Mercedes and Brinkley even get to become heroes in the story.

I loved working on this book set in Gatlinburg… and many of the side characters I created became as dear and beloved to me as the main characters….the elusive, eccentric artist Cawood Gentry, the fun-loving Bolinger brothers who ran the coffee store next door to the gallery,  Cooper’s long-time friend Mackie Hilton and his wise father Delbert, and Venetta Renaugh, roaring up on her motorcycle and stirring up bad memories for Cooper. I also loved Daniel Stelben, valiantly trying to keep the Newmans’ Philadelphia gallery going and struggling to keep Leonard Newman from destroying it.

If this isn’t a book you’ve read yet, I hope you will look for it soon. ....See you next month to talk about the twelfth Smoky Mountain book THE INTERLUDE …  Lin

A few reviews and reader comments:

Lin Stepp is a gifted storyteller who skillfully captures the mystical and enduring history and beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains and the faith, loyalty, and resilience of the people who call them home. …Stepp’s writing is smooth and easy, bringing the reader into the hearts of her characters, showing (not telling) us their intersecting journey from multiple, individual perspectives. Her characters make mistakes; they stumble. They are complex, flawed, and real and while that makes me angry with them at times and sympathetic to them at others, it also makes me appreciate and enjoy their journey all the more. I’ll be returning for more of Lin Stepp’s engaging and heartwarming stories.” – PJ, Romance Dish

“Your books feed the soul in so many ways.” – L.H. Murfreesboro, TN

“I loved Lost Inheritance! When it ended, I didn’t want it to be over. It was hard to start another book after. I was still involved with the characters.” – R.J. C., Kannapolis, NC

“Just finished Lost Inheritance. Best one yet and I’ve said that about every one of your books. I feel like I’m right there in the beautiful Smoky Mountains. I hate to finish them. Hurry and write another.” – M.B., Urbana, OH

What another fantastic Smoky Mountain series book by Lin Stepp! There were several surprises for me including the outcome concerning the glitches in the Rockwell pictures. I loved the Lady in Red ending which brought tears to my eyes as I could “hear” it being played at that moment. Lin Stepp is a wonderful writer of these contemporary stories set in and around the Smoky Mountains.” – J.W., Amazon Review

“I always turn to your books to lift my spirits! They feel like home.” … F.C., Beech, NC

[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 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.

[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.]

September 2019 – WELCOME BACK

Because my husband J.L. and I had spent many happy days over in Western Carolina hiking trails and exploring the area, I decided to set one of my novels there. I decided on Maggie Valley for my primary setting—a quiet valley and resort town tucked up against the eastern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Maggie Valley is a small, peaceful mountain community not far from nearby Waynesville and Asheville. The Western Carolina area is also “apple country” and home to many apple orchards like Barber’s Orchard that we’d often visited outside of Waynesville. So I decided to create a family apple orchard as a part of my Maggie Valley story. I called the orchard the Cunningham Farm Apple Orchard and enjoyed many happy hours reading about orchard farming and just the right apple varieties for the orchard to grow.

As a psychology professor, I’d often listened to my students talk about the problems caused in their family units by difficult family members. Many shared, in our class discussions, about a single individual that made every family get-together a nightmare and who often had torn an otherwise healthy and happy family apart. I decided to explore this idea in this novel and created Estelle Cunningham, a harsh, dominant, and authoritarian woman, who ruled the roost in her family with a demanding and unkind hand. Estelle was John Cunningham’s mother. His legacy in inheriting his family orchard, which had been in his family for several generations, included his widowed mother. He and his sister Holly had grown up with their mother’s controlling and dominating ways, each finding their own ways to cope with her. But when John brought his new bride Lydia into the family, things didn’t go so well. Lydia, a warm, friendly, and loving woman kept trying over and over again to win over the love and respect of her new mother-in-law, but to no avail. As the children came and when John and Lydia moved into the big home after John’s father’s death, things only seemed to grow worse. When John and Lydia’s three boys began to enter their teens, they developed their own interests and ideas for their life—none to Estelle’s pleasing—as she expected them to stay and work the farm. Lydia came under more attack from Estelle at that time, also, for going to work to help with the family’s debts. …In a turning point, with Lydia’s unhappiness growing, she decides to separate from John and take a job offer in Atlanta. Not long after, with increased pressure from Estelle and their mother’s support gone, the boys move to Atlanta to live with their mother. Now as the story begins, Lydia has a fine job opportunity back at home in North Carolina. Estelle has passed away and Lydia decides to take the job to see if she can patch up her relationship with her only daughter. Her sons accuse her of  going home to try to patch things up with John, too, but she denies it—even to herself.

The questions, of course, are: (1) Can Lydia and John reunite after all these years apart? (2) Are there still loving feelings remaining? (3) Can they work through the bitterness and anger they both hold about their relationship and the past? … And in addition, can their children—now grown—give up their old anger and resentments they’ve carried for so long? From these questions, you can see that  one of the book’s central themes revolves around the hurtful past of this family and whether they can ever recover, forgive, and love one another again.

Side characters and side plots also play a marvelous part in this story. The farm staff members, who live and work at the Cunningham Farm and have always been like family,  have their own lives and problems ongoing. Lydia’s daughter Mary Beth and her two twin sons had to come back home to the farm after Mary Beth’s husband deserted them. In addition, ongoing issues in her life with her husband thread throughout the story… along with fun, warm-hearted scenes with Mary Beth’s five-year old twin sons Bucky and Billy Ray. Readers will also enjoy meeting Lydia and John’s long-time friends Rebecca and Tolley Albright who are both cloggers—and who get Lydia and John back into clogging again, too. On a side note: Many national champion cloggers come from the Maggie Valley, North Carolina, area and the Stompin’ Ground theatre there still offers wonderful evenings of mountain clogging and music.

Along with the family dynamics in this story, problems with a ghost are troubling the valley and the Cunningham family. Several sightings of the ghost, and frightening scenes related to it, have happened all too close to the Cunningham Farm’s property. Speculation about the ghost are rampant—and of course there are mixed opinions as to whether it is a real ghost or someone posing as a ghost causing the problems. Before the book is out, some scary scenes unfold related to this elusive ghost until the mystery is finally solved. To further complicate matters, Mary Beth’s former husband, a troubled man, is causing problems for the family—leading to yet another menacing and suspenseful scene. You will not be bored with the events of this story in Welcome Back as one surprising event just seems to lead to another before the book finally ends.

I loved taking readers over to the Western Carolina area in this story … to scenes in downtown Waynesville, on hikes in the Cataloochee Valley, to nearby Balsam Mountain, and to visit the campus at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee where Lydia has taken her new job as career services director. To my joy, this book also was a finalist for the Selah Awards—a nice honor and a coveted one by authors of inspirational books. The Selahs are awarded annually by the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for best books…. If you’ve missed reading Welcome Back, I hope you will look for it soon!

MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW:                                                                                                                                     “Welcome Back is another terrific Smoky Mountain novel from the pen of Lin Stepp and continues to underscore her master of the genre and her impressive attention to character development and background detail.”

[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.]