September Blog – “Remembering Edisto”

From the earliest days since my husband J.L. and I married we’ve taken our summer vacations at the beach. We are blessed to live near the Smoky Mountains and love visiting and hiking there often, but we also love the special beauty and peace of the ocean. Our first beach trips took us to beaches on the North Carolina coast like Myrtle Beach and Litchfield Beach and to panhandle spots like Panama City and Destin. But one summer in the 1980s, when our children Max and Kate were small, we discovered Edisto Island, a quiet little South Carolina place that quickly stole our hearts, calling us back summer after summer.

From a contest entry in the 1980s, I won a long weekend at Fairfield Glad in Crossville, TN, with the understanding that we’d look at property, of course. I told the man who called, “Look, if we wanted to consider buying vacation property it wouldn’t be in Tennessee, it would be at the beach.”  He answered, “We own a beach property at Edisto Island, South Carolina. I can send you there instead.” I thought, Why not? We were headed to the Carolinas for a summer vacation soon. An extra weekend not far away from our Myrtle Beach destination might be fun.

J.L. and I had never heard of Edisto at the time, a less developed barrier island nestled on the South Carolina coast about half way between Charleston and Beaufort. And later that summer, as we headed down rural Highway 17 to the island for the first time, with vast marshlands spreading on either side of the road, we worried we might be lost. But eventually we arrived at the island—only eleven miles in length and facing the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean.

We quickly found Edisto to be a place of hidden beauty dotted with charming beach homes and villas tucked under shady trees along quiet roads. The island, then and now, had no hotels or high-rise buildings and only colorful local restaurants and gift shops. Bike trails twined around delightful pathways, locals and visitors fished the inlets and creeks, and beach access points on nearly every block wound their way through sea oats and sandy dunes to the beach. It was simply lovely. We settled into a spacious villa, with two bedrooms, baths, a full kitchen, laundry, and a screened porch, on a picturesque street by a sleepy lagoon, the road lined with crepe myrtle in glorious bloom and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. A cute tram, like the one at Dollywood, carried us down to the ocean and back if we didn’t want to drive the few blocks to it. The broad beach was serene and beautiful, without the noisy crowds at Myrtle, and we could leisurely cook many of our meals at the villa without dragging tired children to a crowded restaurant.

At the end of our “free” days on the island, the children begged to stay on—and with no upcoming guests scheduled at our villa—we were able to stay on another week at Edisto, for less than the motel at Myrtle. Every summer after, our little family returned to Edisto, staying in villas or beach homes, sharing happy times and building sweet memories before heading home to Tennessee relaxed and peaceful. Edisto is not the ideal vacation place for everyone. It’s remotely located and not close to a bustling city, entertainments, shopping malls, theatres, or elegant restaurants. Days at Edisto are spent reading or walking on the beach, splashing in the waves, biking around the bike trails, and playing games on the screened porch with a paddle fan drifting lazily overhead. It’s a place for folks who enjoy simple pleasures.

The island has changed over the years since we first visited, of course. The old drawbridge was replaced with a long, arched causeway over the Intracoastal Waterway and more homes, villas, restaurants, and shops dot the island’s roads now. In the peak summer vacation weeks more tourists flock to the island, too, than before. Preferring the quiet, J.L. and I usually vacation off-season now but we find more things still the same than changed at Edisto. It will always be a special place to us, rich with the memories of the years.

I’m writing a new Edisto trilogy of novels now to bring others to the island, and to special places around Beaufort and Charleston, through my stories. The first, set in the 1980s, looks back to the island thirty years ago, while the next two will advance to more contemporary times. The first book, CLAIRE AT EDSITO is complete, and I am starting the second RETURN TO EDISTO now, with EDISTO SONG soon to follow. These novels are scheduled to publish starting in 2019. I hope you will love visiting at Edisto through my books … but don’t worry, there are many more Smoky Mountain novels to keep entertaining you, too.

August Blog – “Growing Up With Flowers”

Henri Matisse once wrote: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” … I grew up with flowers. I was trained to see them and appreciate them, and I am grateful for that.

My mother and my father loved flowers and growing things. We lived in a rural suburban area and our property bordered empty lots owned by the railroad that my parents welcomed into their yard and gardening expansions. They planted a huge vegetable garden every year inside a fence with a gate, just like Mr. McGregor’s garden pictured in Peter Rabbit. Besides remembering fondly the big garden with its neat, long rows of corn and vegetables, I remember lettuce flats, green peas climbing the fences, beds of strawberries, fruit trees, and grapevines rich with warm grapes. But most of all I remember the flowers.

The flowers were particularly my mother’s domain. She did most of the planning for them and I think loved them best, although my father helped in planting, weeding and taking care of them. It was Mother, however, who smiled over them and delighted in them. It was Mother, too, who walked me around the yard and among the many flowers beds, beside flowering shrubs, under trees blooming with rich color, and told me the names of everything. Looking back, I think she always talked about her flowers with the fondness a mother uses to talk about beloved children. She always made the flowers seem much more than mere plants. They took on personalities with her stories and soon became far more than plants to me, too.

My young childhood years were spent playing among the flowers with my friends. We built dolls’ homes in the creeping phlox, made the snap dragons “talk” by squeezing the blooms in just the right spot, sipped from honeysuckle blooms, floated mimosa blossoms in water to make lily ponds, and named the pansies with their “faces” like people. Flowers were a part of my life and my play. Inside our home cut flowers in Mama’s vases usually decorated our tables, and my brother and I often rode to church with a tall vase of flowers wedged between our knees, intended for the church alters. When I close my eyes, I can still see my mother with her broad straw gardening hat working in the flowers.

Some people have a gift for working in the soil and for growing things. They dream of planting in the winter and can’t wait to begin to put our plants and seed in spring, to plow up the rich earth to put in their gardens. I am not so gifted. I love to put words to paper, to paint or draw, to craft and create. But I carry the love for flowers even through I am not much of a gardener myself as my mother was. When I take my walks in the neighborhood I notice every blooming thing, stop to look at it, to “smell the roses.” In the spring I watch for the dogwoods and flowering shrubs to bloom. I visit gardens. I walk the Dogwood Trails in our area. In deep summer I especially love the crepe myrtle, which seem to thrive in the heat. I love flowers, as my mother did. They find their way into my stories and books. They whisper beauty. They are long-time friends.

In hiking I’ve discovered new flowers—the wildflowers of the Great Smokies. There I look for trillium, bloodroot, and purple phlox in spring, for mountain laurel and rhododendron in summer. In exploring the parks and outdoor areas, I slow my steps to look at coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, and other treasures. If I am feeling down, flowers cheer me. They speak of hope, endurance, determination, and beauty. Okakura wrote: “In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends.”

“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.” [Burbank]

July Blog – “The Joys of Home”

I enjoy a little local travel and a nice vacation every now and then … but I am very much a “Home Body.” I love my home and as an author I now have the pleasure of working from my home. As a young girl I was blessed to grow up in a loving, happy home. We lived in a small house in rural suburbia on a quiet dead-end street. All the neighbors knew each other, the kids played together and I cherish fond memories of those early years in South Knoxville near Mooreland Heights School in the old Dogwood Trails area. I relate easily to stories like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Wendy in Peter Pan, or Thumbelina yearning to go home again….and I always loved slogans like “There’s No Place Like Home” … “Home is Where the Heart Is” … and “The Sweetest Type of Heaven is Home.”   In the 1970s after I married, I embroidered a sampler with those words on it which I still have hanging in my dining room.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote: “Home is the nicest word there is.” If a person has a happy place to call home, coming home can feel like coming to a safe haven, a cherished good place away from the cares and problems of the world. When we first married, J.L. and I lived in an apartment near the University of Tennessee and then in a small house in west Knoxville’s Rocky Hill area. We moved to our current home in the mid 1970s when our son Max was a baby and before our daughter Kate was born. The house, brand new when we moved in, sat on a quiet cul-de-sac, in an area more rural than it is now. We’ve watched town grow up all around us over the years … and although many neighbors have come and gone, we’ve stayed, and we love our quiet neighborhood where every home is different from the others. The reason for that is because Foxfire was a “Parade of Homes” site back in the seventies when builders liked to show off their artistry and individuality in the new homes they built in the Parade neighborhoods. So every home has a unique flair. There are only eight homes on our short dead-end street and many of our neighbors, like us, have lived here a long time, watched their kids grow up, but never chosen to leave. That speaks well for Foxfire with its nice homes with big lawns, no through streets, lots of trees, and good people.

Our home is paid for now—a wonderful feeling—and we still love our neighborhood. We walk its streets and visit with our neighbors. We raised our two children here, watched them ride their bikes on our quiet cul-de-sac, skate, play jump rope and hop scotch, run through the sprinklers, swing and climb on the swing set, create sand neighborhoods and sand cakes in the sand box, and play endless imaginative games outdoors with the neighbor children. My desk sits at the front window, and I don’t see the children out playing in the same way today that ours did. I think they miss a lot. Our kids are gone and grown now but we still have cats. We’ve always had cats … the current ones Tucker and Sophie.

J.L. and I garden a little, especially enjoying planting spring bulbs and flowering shrubs that announce winter is past—always such a welcome time. But, admittedly, we would rather be out hiking, adventuring, exploring, getting out of doors somewhere beautiful versus putting in a big garden or spending all our weekends keeping up lavish flowerbeds. I truly love gardens and flowers—go to see them and write about them in my books—but I spend my “artistry” time in other ways.  And when J.L says: “Let’s go adventuring!” … I am always ready to go! So many of the ideas for my books come from the trips and adventures we take to the mountains, lakes, parks, and other beautiful places in the out of doors. A lovely old quote reads: “Chase your dreams but always know the road that will lead you home again.” There truly is ‘No place like home.’

June Blog – “Sunday Painter”

I like the term “Sunday Painter.” The dictionary.com site defines it as “a nonprofessional painter, usually unschooled and generally painting during spare time”—the perfect definition for the dabbling I do with art. I draw and paint as a side hobby and enjoy it even though I’m not especially gifted in that arena.

Research has shown that artistic activities are good for people. They give individuals creative outlet opportunities and pleasure, and art provides a mental rest and relaxation, helpful in our fast-paced stressful world today.

I used to paint and draw much more than I do now. In my early school years, I was praised for being “good at drawing” and those talents in art developed and were recognized even before my writing talents. In high school I won art awards and took classes with adults and college students at a nearby arts center. I went away to college later on an art scholarship but soon saw I was not “Rembrandt material” and changed my major to something more practical.

Later as a mom, and as an professor and marketing and sales rep, I continued to enjoy drawing and painting on the side. I worked my way through my masters course work as a production artist for the college newspaper and I ran a home production art business out of my home when the kids were small.

 

I like to paint realistic, simplistic scenes—birds, butterflies, and flowers like those above. My favorite medium is watercolor, although I have worked in oils, acrylics, chalks, and charcoal. My work looks like sweet little greeting card illustrations but that’s okay; it’s what I enjoy painting.

Other subjects I like to paint are country homes, interesting buildings and outdoor scenes. I often sketch and draw houses, blueprints, and maps for my novels, too, and I created the black-and-white illustrations in our hiking guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER. It’s fun for me to paint pictures, too, of places I’d love to visit, like this little street scene in Paris.

The artistic gift I wish I carried more of is the ability to draw and paint people well. I’d love to illustrate some of the many children’s book I’ve written, all piled in a box in my office, but my efforts at drawing and painting children simply never came close to the Eloise Wilkin or Tasha Tudor standards I yearn for. However, sometimes I do paint a character I admire, like the old man below.

Creative people often have artistic talents or gifts in more than one area. My main gift is creative writing, but painting and drawing have brought me a lot of pleasure over my lifetime. It’s a talent I’d still like to grow more skillful in.

MAY 2017 -“On the Road with Book Signings”


I love my author Book Tours. When a new book publishes – and after our Book Launch– I begin a scheduled series of signings around the Southeast area to bookstores, regional festivals, and other events. I primarily travel to attend venues I can get to and back in a day’s travel—but I often wish I had the time and opportunity to travel more widely around the U.S. because I so enjoy meeting my readers and fans.


At some events I speak before a signing, talking about a variety of topics depending on the venue, and other times J.L. and I just “Meet-and-Greet” the public. Most bookstores put my signing table near the front entrance of the store so I am highly visible, can greet customers coming in the store, and so my fans can easily find me. On a humorous note, despite large store signage about the event, customers often assume I work at the store. They’ll ask me things like: “Can you tell me how to find the ACT study guides?” or “Do you know where the children’s book section is?” … Sometimes when I greet people and say, “Can I tell you about my books?” they look absolutely stunned. “You’re the author? … You wrote those books?” they ask, overlooking the big photo of me on the nearby sign. I guess they simply assume my area is a store display manned by a store employee.

When I go to any signing event, I take a Smoky Mountain map with me. So often people have no idea where towns and places in the Smoky Mountains are. At the best they may know of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Dollywood… but names like Bryson City, NC, Cosby or Wears Valley, TN, where some of my books are set are unknown to them. I take out my map and point the places out. I want to interest people in different areas around the Smokies, and I try to “take them there” in my books. Often after a new book releases—set in a new area around the Smoky Mountains—my readers will plan a Road Trip to go there to visit, eager to see some of the sights and scenes I’ve written about. They’re eager to visit the places where my story was set—and I love that. One reader told me: “You’re a great ambassador to the Smoky Mountains” and I consider that a high compliment.


In bookstore visits on tour I go to big two-storied bookstores like Barnes & Noble in Asheville, NC, and Joseph Beth Bookstore in Lexington, KY, to mid-sized stores of all types and sizes, and to small independent bookstores like Union Avenue Books in my hometown of Knoxville, TN, and Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN. Independent bookstores have a unique flavor and character not found in the big chain stores. For example City Lights in Sylva, NC, has a resident cat and Moon Pie and Book Warehouse in Pigeon Forge, TN, has a charming side shop selling many flavors of Moon Pies.

Some of J.L.’s and my favorite signing venues are at Regional Festivals. These are always so much fun. Not only do we get to meet fans and readers from many states around the U.S.—we also get to enjoy the music, dancing, entertainments, artisans, crafters, old-time demonstrators, storytellers, food, and fun. Festivals we enjoy include the Townsend Festival in the Smokies, the Mountaineer Festival in Clayton, GA, Homecoming at the Appalachian Museum near Norris, TN, the Tomato Festival in Rutledge, TN, and the Mountain Makins Festival in Morristown, TN, to name a few.


I also attend Literary Festivals and Book Fairs like the Rose Glen Literary Festival in Sevierville, TN, and the Frankfort Book Fair in Kentucky. As invited, I speak for many groups, too—civic and educational organizations, clubs, libraries, book clubs, Newcomers and Welcome Wagon groups, Garden Clubs, Rotaries, historical societies like the Daughters of the American Revolution, Senior Groups, church groups and more. If you are in an organization that would like to have me speak, feel free to contact me via my author email at: drlinstepp.com to talk to me about coming to your group.

The best part of Book Tour is meeting my fans—seeing long time fans again and meeting new fans for the first time, many whom I’ve “met” via email or as “pen-pals” on my Facebook pages but not in person. On Tour I also connect with new readers who haven’t discovered my books yet. At a recent signing an interested reader was looking over my books, trying to decide which to buy. One of my old fans at the signing said: “Oh, it doesn’t matter which one you get, because once you read one, you’ll want them all.” … Book Signings are full of fun memories. And there is nothing more joyous than seeing a long-time fan heading toward me waving and smiling, so glad to see me again … and eager to pick up my latest title.

At all my signings and events, readers tell me what they love most about my books—which not only encourages me but helps me see the aspects of my books readers like the best. An authors’ books are their “products” – and it is wonderful to get that personal customer feedback….Perhaps someday I will get to meet you at one of my Book Tour events if you live in the Southeast or travel to this area on vacation. My events are always posted on the Appearances page of my author’s website, so check there often to see if I’ll be visiting somewhere near you this year.

April 2017 -“Book Launch Memories”


One of my favorite times in every year is Publication Date for a new book. Not only is it a celebration date for “birthing” a new title—but it is the time of year when we hold a Book Launch Party for our fans and friends.

Our first launch party was held in 2009 on the Star of Knoxville riverboat. Over 250 fans, family, and friends came to ride down the river on the paddleboat The Star of Knoxville to celebrate publication of my first novel THE FOSTER GIRLS. With every subsequent title we’ve held a launch party at a special place or at a festival where fans could not only celebrate another publication date with us—but also have a wonderful time at a beautiful spot in East Tennessee. 

 

Saturday, April 8th, we held the Book Launch for my tenth novel DADDY’S GIRL at Wesley Woods Camp and Conference Center off the Old Walland Highway in Townsend, Tennessee—only a short distance from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I had worked for many days, as I often do, to make cakes, sandwiches, dips, and a multitude of snacks for the day…. And a wonderful bluegrass group Clinch Valley Bluegrass came to pick-and-sing and entertain for the event.

The day was beautiful and fair with glorious blue skies and sunshine—and over two hundred fans and friends stopped by during the Open House hours from 1:00 – 4:00 pm to enjoy the day with us.

The Launch was held in Wesley Wood’s Tipton Lodge—a perfect spot with its rustic charm and outdoor porches. Many visitors explored the campgrounds enjoying the wildflowers in bloom or walked up the Bob Hayes Trail to a waterfall and back. Not only did friends from around the area come to our Book Launch but friends from other cities and states like Indiana came in for the day as well. It was a joy throughout the Launch to see long-time fans again and to meet new readers and book fans. We are so grateful to all who came, and below are a few memory photos of J.L. and I with many of those who visited with us. Some photos are ours and others were taken by our guests who visited. We wish we could have taken pictures of everyone!

Special thanks to Teresa at Wesley Woods for helping us set up our event and to Camp Director Tony Lee and others on staff for stopping by to wish us well. Thanks also to everyone who took time from your busy lives to come to our Book Launch—and to Sevierville fan and friend Betty Powell for volunteering to help at the refreshment tables for the day.  As busy as we were all day, this help was greatly appreciated!

J.L. and I are also truly grateful to Earl Bull for coming with his Clinch Valley Bluegrass friends to entertain … and to Brenda Hamilton for adding her skills with the hammered dulcimer. We met and got to know Earl and Aurora Bull at festivals attended in past… where Earl and his group performed and Aurora exhibited her beautiful art. One of the unexpected joys of traveling the Writer’s Road has been in making new fans and friends along the way.

Next spring, I’m sure we’ll have another Launch Party to celebrate the publication of my next Smoky Mountain title LOST INHERITANCE, set in Gatlinburg, and to also celebrate publication of J.L.’s and my new parks guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS. We hope you’ll make plans to come next year! … and please check on the Appearances Schedule on my website for upcoming Book Tour events near you. Hope to see you soon!