I saw a children’s book the other day, based on a childhood song I learned and sang many times in school, scouts, and summer camps—“She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.” If you don’t know this song from your childhood, I’m attaching a link to the classic song by folk Singer Pete Seeger for you to enjoy. It’s one of my favorite versions and the words and tune are more true to the original. You’ll find it by typing in the song name and Pete Seeger’s name or at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfhk0B-zTxo
As a girl who grew up near the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee… I could easily envision, in this song, this “Appalachian lady” from afar “comin’ around the mountain” for a visit with her kinfolks. Extended families were closer in my childhood years than now, and family members and friends came to visit and stay more often. Motels and restaurants were fewer in comparison to today, and people gathered more in homes to visit and fellowship than they do now. I helped my mother plan, cook, clean, and prepare many times for “company” coming to our home from out-of-town. I also remember more family reunions, church dinners and homecomings, and family gatherings than I see today.
As I heard the verses to this old song, I could well relate to them …and to the images they created in my mind: “She’ll be comin’ round the mountain” … “She’ll be driving six white horses” and “We’ll all go out to meet her.” Many of my relatives had farms and chickens, so I laughed over the verses: ”We’ll kill the old red rooster”…“And we’ll all have chicken and dumplins.” I even laughed at the line: ”She’ll be wearing’ red pajamas” as relatives and visitors often wore some unusual garbs!
I think the songs and stories we hear—again and again—growing up help to shape us. My mother was a big storyteller and a good one, and she could sit and make up wonderful tales, which I loved listening to. So could my dad—and my aunts and uncles. I spent a lot of my young years sitting around listening to adults telling stories, laughing, talking, and visiting. Times were simpler then, and these are all good memories now.
My mother loved to sing, too—and she sang in the church choir. But even better, she sang with us at home, teaching us songs and singing with us on trips in the car. I grew up with a lot of impromptu music like this, and the words of these songs have stayed with me. In my memory bank even now is a huge repertoire of songs—and I continued this tradition of sharing songs with my own children.
I know I especially resonate with the song “She’ll Be ‘Comin Round the Mountain” because that’s what I do so much in my life now. I travel around the mountains to hike and explore. I travel around the mountains to book events, signings, and festivals. And I travel around the mountains in my imagination, bringing readers to different mountain communities, cities, and places in my books.
From the first when I started to write novels—and even our guidebooks—my heart’s desire was to bring people to the mountains I loved, to the East Tennessee areas where I grew up, and to the nearby mountain Appalachian areas I knew about and had visited.
The first book my husband and I envisioned and worked on together was THE AFTERNOON HIKER—taking readers “Around the Smoky Mountains” of TN and NC to many of its wonderful hiking trails. We personally hiked all the trails included in the book, discovering as we explored. We learned how scenic, interesting, fun, and often how much “quieter,” many trails were than the more popular ones usually packed with tourists. We wanted to share with readers how to find these trails, to tell them about each one so they could enjoy them, too. And’s that’s exactly what we did, taking readers “around the mountain” to 110 different trails.
My novels were inspired by these travels “coming around the mountains,” too. I yearned to read more books set in today’s time in the places where we were visiting—but found none. Most books I did find were historic accounts or stories of past times… I soon found my imagination fired with the idea to create some like I wanted to read, to take readers “coming around the mountain” to the different places I’d seen and enjoyed in story. I worked hard in each to “paint scenes” of the beautiful places we’d explored, and to show the warmth, intelligence, resourcefulness, and goodness of the people. I purposed to avoid the negative stereotypes too often depicted of Appalachian people, inbred, immoral, stupid, often comical characters in overalls, barefooted, a jug over their shoulder.
My dream became a reality, and there are now twelve wonderful books in what is called The Smoky Mountain Series—each taking the reader to a rich, new, heartwarming place around the mountains in a happy new story laced with a little romance, a dash of suspense, and a touch of inspiration. … You will see these books above and you can read more about each under the “Books “heading on my website at: https://linstepp.com/books/
My Smoky Mountain books will take you “coming around the mountain” to places like Wears Valley, Gatlinburg, Cosby, Bryson City, Maggie Valley, and Pittman Center, each with a story set amid real places, shops, restaurants, hiking trails, and other locations you can go visit and see when you come to the mountains. In the front of each book is a map you will enjoy… and to my pleasure, over the years, many of the books have become New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon bestsellers and reached readers all over the world.
My fans and readers became anxious and unhappy with the idea of the series ending with twelve books, as always intended … so my editor at the time, Audrey LaFehr at Kensington Publishing in New York, said: “Twelve is enough in a series, Lin, but we can start a new series of more books set around the mountains. … Let’s see, we can call them The Mountain Home Books.” So now twelve of those books are planned and four now published! …
With The Mountain Home books I’ve been able to take readers to new places, not directly adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but close to it. This has given me a chance to “branch out” in my writing, taking readers “around the mountains” to New Places like Happy Valley below the Foothills Parkway between Maryville and Townsend, to the picturesque Arts and Crafts Community called The Glades above Gatlinburg, to historic Dandridge on Douglas Lake near Cosby, and now to Cherokee, NC, the home of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee….And there are more to come!
Through my husband J.L.’s and my other guidebooks, we have also taken readers visiting around the beautiful state parks of Tennessee, to the parks in South Carolina, and soon to North Carolina with our new state parks guidebook that publishes this summer.
Anyway … I hope you’ll “drive your six white horses”—your car, SUV, van, camper, or jeep—“out to meet us” at one of our events in and around the mountains this year. I won’t promise we’ll “kill the old red rooster” and “have chicken and dumplins” or that “we’ll be wearing red pajamas” but we’ll definitely enjoy a good visit, talking, sharing, and laughing as mountain people do.
To those of you who live far away or in another country—I hope you’ll enjoy traveling in your mind and imagination to my part of the world, and imagine yourself “coming around the mountain” to see all the beauty here and to meet the good mountain people of Southern Appalachia.
Ya’ll come back now!
I’ll see you next month … 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