July 2019 – SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS

As my husband J.L. and I hiked trails around the Smoky Mountains, and as I researched the mountain areas where we hiked, I read many stories about how the Appalachian lands were settled. I learned about the early settlers and then about the latter wealthy northerners who came to the area for the clean air and outdoor beauty of the mountains. Many resorts grew up in this era, often on old assembly grounds or in spots where mineral waters bubbled out of the ground. These mountain resorts were often lavish with beautiful buildings, fine dining and entertainment—places where the wealthy came in their opulent clothes, with their new Model T automobiles and industrial wealth of the time, to get away from city life and the smoke and filth of growing industry.

Into my mind, as I studied, came the idea of creating one of those resorts in one of my books. And so I invented Laurel Springs Camp Assembly Grounds, an old resort and campground in Cosby, Tennessee. Like the gracious resorts I’d read about, I enjoyed creating the history of Laurel Springs and the history of the two families that originally built the resort and whose ancestors still lived on and ran it. Carter Layman and Rhea Dean grew up at Laurel Springs, ran and played all over the resort and mountains in the area, and dreamed as children—and later as teens and sweethearts—of one day restoring the old resort and campground to its former glory. But time and angst drew them apart. Carter went away, married another, had a child. Rhea stayed, making her life at the resort.

Now nine years later Carter has come home, widowed, with a young six year -old son Taylor. Rhea is not happy to learn Carter is visiting or to hear he plans to stay.  She is especially provoked to find Carter expects to pick right back up where he left off with their old dreams to restore Laurel Springs and with her. The nerve! And so the story begins.

I had a joyous time creating these two stubborn, independent, smart and strong willed characters who’d known each other since early childhood. There is something about the bond with long-time friends you’ve known all your life. They “knew you when”—and in many ways know you now with a depth others don’t. In addition, Rhea and Carter’s deep ties are also linked to a place they both know and love. No place at the old resort doesn’t hold rich memories for them.

 

As the book begins Carter is quicker than Rhea to want to forgive, to want a new start with her. But Rhea isn’t so quick to forgive or to forget—not ready to give up her anger, bitterness, and sense of betrayal. She hates the idea of now being Carter’s second choice and still carries hurt she wasn’t his first, that he could have left her and their dreams behind. …. The difficulty of forgiveness is an ongoing theme in this story. Carter has his areas of hidden bitterness, too. … A sweet part of this story is how Carter’s grandfather and Rhea’s grandmother both help the two find their way past these old hurts they’ve both carried far too long.

Carter and Rhea also share the love of strong old friends Billy Wade and Jeannie Ledford. Their son Beau bonds quickly with Carter’s young son Taylor. … I painted many sweet scenes with these long-time friends and with Billy Wade and Jeannie’s desire to help Carter and Rhea…. Many other memorable family members and friends around Cosby make this book a warm and welcoming story. … I researched extensively to make Laurel Springs resort’s story and background true to the history of many resorts around the area. Not all early resorts of this type remain in the mountains today but some still do. For the Dean and Layman families I created two farmhouses to either side of the resort, developed old assembly ground buildings, a historic church, and a resort store all centered around Laurel Springs Lake. Along Little Cascades Creek, running through the resort, I had fun creating an array of cute, colorful resort cabins, each with an individual name and style and on the other side of the creek a scenic, shady campground. The road into the campground passed through an old covered bridge and Kensington’s artist used that bridge concept for the book cover, since many sweet and special scenes revolve around that covered bridge.

Cosby, Tennessee, where the book is set is a small but beautiful community tucked up against the Smoky Mountains not far from Newport, Pittman Center, and Gatlinburg. Cosby spreads over a valley area between the Great Smoky Mountains and English Mountain, rich with rushing streams, farms, forestland, and natural beauty. At its heart is a small township, tourist attractions, the Cosby Campground, and many hiking trails. Rhea, Carter, and Taylor hike one of these trails to Henwallow Falls in the book and picnic afterward at the Cosby picnic area. J.L. and I have hiked the Cosby trails many times, explored the back roads, visited Carver’s Orchard, and cooked hot dogs at the Cosby picnic area after our hikes. On one occasion we met a local bluegrass group practicing in the picnic area and I had fun bringing this memory into my story.

In doing my original area research, I learned gold had often been panned in the streams of Cosby and Greenbrier—a surprise to me. Many in the mountains hoped to get rich from the gold and gemstones found in Appalachian streams. In some areas around the Appalachian region, like in Dahlonega, Georgia, a rich amount of gold was found. On an interesting side note I learned that gold panned in the Smokies was redeemed in Dahlonega with records seldom crediting the finds to Tennessee. Just as out west, squabbles about lands and claims were common. So I had fun introducing an old gold mining story—and an unsolved mystery—into the story plot.

No matter the heart or intent, keeping secrets and not communicating causes problems in relationships, another underlying theme in this story. Holding on to stubborn pride and grudges can damage emotions and relationships, too, as this story so often shows.

Readers of this book enjoyed visiting Cosby and this section of the Smoky Mountains … and I loved creating Laurel Springs resort and Carter and Rhea’s story. This book went into a large print hardback edition and went international … and it’s always interesting to see the new covers created for different versions like these.

In closing, here are a few reader comments that I hope might make you want to read this book… or to return, as I did, to read it again.

Dr. Lin Stepp has given us another Smoky Mountain novel — Saving Laurel Springs…a heartfelt story full of hope, small town charm and belief in second chances.” … It continues with the theme and setting of the Great Smoky Mountains, which serve as a backdrop for the small town of Cosby, populated with characters who are blessed with a strong community spirit and cherished memories…The reader will share the questions, the agony, the romance and the happiness as Rhea Dean journeys through memories, making decisions, only to examine them later in the light of truth and forgiveness. How her life comes back together with the people she cares about and the place she loves makes a “I-can’t-put-it-down” story that pulls the reader into an emotional blend of past and present… another Smoky Mountain gem from Lin Stepp.” – B. Marlowe, Cleveland Banner Newspaper article

A heartwarming, tender story about young love and forgiveness. Stepp has a wonderful ability to take you back to your own youth with her characters and storytelling.”– RT Book Reviews

“A camp assembly in the Great Smoky Mountains is the setting for the eighth novel of this sweet contemporary series with a heartfelt faith message woven within the romance. The highlighted lesson behind this Christian story is forgiveness and it’s honed beautifully by the end of the story. How many of us harbor resentment for the past, never releasing ourselves into the power of forgiveness? SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS illustrates one woman’s rather bumpy journey through bitterness, ending with a rich new beginning that will touch your heart…I enjoy Lin Stepp’s books for their simplicity, taking us down-home into the lives of people who understand poverty, hard work and a belief that life improves with faith.” –Review from The Zest Quest

[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.]

July 2019 – MAKIN’ MIRACLES

In two of my earlier books, readers met a minor, cameo character called Zola Devon. In my book DELIA’S PLACE Zola suggested that Tanner Cross’s interest in Delia Walker might be something he should pursue, telling him, when she’d never even met Delia: “She’s going to be an important presence in your life.” Zola made Tanner nervous with insights like this. He’d always heard Zola was the tiniest bit odd and had a tendency to know or see things about people but now he had it confirmed. “Weird,” he said to himself, shaking his head.

Zola also popped into my book DOWN BY THE RIVER suggesting to Grace Conley, when they’d never met before, that she owned a bed and breakfast named The Mimosa Inn in Townsend. “I beg your pardon?” Grace said, stepping back, feeling disquieted by Zola since she’d looked at a bed and breakfast only that morning, thinking how nice it would be to own it. “Are you a fortune teller?” she asks Zola. “Absolutely not,” Zola replied, looking shocked. “I’m only a simple Christian woman who sometimes hears a little word from God for people. Like a Biblical seer.” Of course, Zola shared more with Grace … and Grace had to admit Zola made her nervous, too.

Readers, fascinated with this unusual character who could “see” things about people, kept saying to me, “Write a book about Zola, Lin” … and so after hearing many, many comments like this, I decided to do just that. MAKIN’ MIRACLES is about Zola Devon, who is part Tahitian and part Appalachian. Zola’s father grew up in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee outside of Gatlinburg on the Devon family farms. He later became a missionary doctor in Moorea in the Tahitian islands, where he met and married Zola’s mother. Growing up, Zola made many visits to the states to spend time with her Tennessee family, and her father even renovated an old home place on the family property for his family to stay in on their visits. Later, when Zola’s mother died, Zola came back to Tennessee to stay with her grandparents and, after finishing college and opening her shop Nature’s Corner in Gatlinburg, she moved into her father’s house.

Life has often been difficult for Zola with her mixed heritage and Tahitian looks, but even more so because she has a gifting from God. The Lord sometimes shows her wisdom or knowledge about someone – that she couldn’t know otherwise – in order to help them in some way. Zola’s seer gift is in stark contrast to that of fortunetellers in the world, who charge for what they term “psychic abilities.” Zola’s gifts of knowing come only as God gives them and she shares them only as God shows her and never with any remuneration.

A point I wanted to make in this book is that God always has, and still does, use people in spiritual giftings, but never for profit and only by the leadership of the Spirit of God. In the world, many claim supernatural abilities—but these are not from God, even if well-intended. Many, quite frankly, are a little shady, and some abilities are very close neighbors to “the dark side,” with their origins from the opposite end of the spiritual spectrum. So naturally Madam Renee in the book, who has a psychic business for profit in the Gatlinburg area, resents Zola and sees her as a threat. Dark and light never mix well.

The other main character in this story, Spencer Jackson, a nature photographer, with a gallery in Gatlinburg not far from Zola’s shop, has a lot of hidden issues in his life. He does not appreciate meeting Zola’s gift head-on suggesting that the women he’s with might rob him later that night. Who does this woman think she is suggesting such a thing? Spencer is further angered when Zola has the audacity to suggest that Leena is not the woman for him. … So Zola and Spencer do not have a happy first meeting. Later, even when Spencer finds her warnings were true—and realizes he wouldn’t have seen it if not for her—their relationship is rocky. The two are such very different people—Zola warm-hearted, happy, content with her life, Spencer moody and broody, carrying secrets, grudges, and old anger. Yet, despite it all, they are attracted.

Zola yearns to help Spencer but Spencer resists help from Zola or anyone else. As the book progresses the reasons for Spencer’s grudges and issues are gradually revealed. But it is a toss-up for a long time how he’ll deal with them or if he’ll deal with them at all. … Amid the ongoing up-and-down relationship between Zola and Spencer are warm, happy scenes with Zola’s family and friends—all of whom readers will soon come to love. And additionally, problems come Zola’s way with a lost child in the mountains and a murder she finds herself involved in.

I loved creating scenes for this book in the out-of-doors, one love that Zola and Spencer hold in common. Readers get to go on several wonderful outings and photo shoots in the mountains with Spencer and Zola. My own experiences hiking in the Smokies came into play here with trails they hiked in the Elkmont area and high on the mountains near Clingman’s Dome. In another lovely scene Zola helps Spencer discover a hoar frost covering the mountain hillsides that he gets to take wonderful photos of.

Side characters in this book showed more diversity than in many of my past books. Aston Parker, Spencer’s best friend and assistant manager of the Jackson Gallery is African American—a warm, fun-loving, smart and wise man. Zola’s assistant manager at Nature’s Corner, Maya Thomas, is Jamaican. Her wisdom and love for Zola, and sweet acceptance of her and her gifts, provide a valued friendship for Zola. And Ben Lee, the father of an Asian friend of Zola’s, seeks out Zola’s help, yearning to know what has happened to his daughter who simply disappears one day.

Many big and small mysteries are revealed throughout this book, along with a rich multi-layered story of two very different people who find a way to resolve their differences and learn to love and appreciate each other. … If you’ve missed reading MAKIN’ MIRACLES I hope you’ll add it to your summer reading list. This book was also published in hardback large print, with a different but lovely cover, as well as in trade paperback and eBook versions.

[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.]

June 2019 – DOWN BY THE RIVER

After publishing five books with my first publisher, I needed to seek a new publication route.  After sending queries to a variety of different publishers, I received a call from the editorial director at Kensington Publishing in New York. She said that she loved my book submitted, and the synopses of next titles, and that Kensington wanted to write contract for my next Smoky Mountain novels. She also told me with enthusiasm that she wanted to personally be my editor because she so enjoyed my work. What a happy call that was! A year later, in the spring of 2014, DOWN BY THE RIVER, my sixth Smoky Mountain novel, published with Kensington. Like my earlier novel TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW it is set in Townsend on the quiet side of the Smoky Mountains, although in a different locale and with a completely new set of characters.

A fun note to remember about this book is that I actually dreamed the plot and story for DOWN BY THE RIVER—a first for me! My husband and I were heading through Townsend to hike one sunny Saturday and I looked over to see this charming turreted home for sale along the Little River. “Look at that gorgeous place.” I pointed toward the house. “Someone should buy it and open a shop or business there.” As we headed on to hike, I promptly forgot about the house, but a couple of weeks later, I woke up to grab a pen and paper to scribble down the story plot I dreamed about that very place. In the photo, you will see a picture of the actual turreted house on the river at the bottom of my bulletin board that inspired this story and then another modified photo above it of how I changed and enlarged the original house to accommodate a gracious bed and breakfast I named The Mimosa Inn.

Main characters in DOWN BY THE RIVER are Grace Conley and Jack Teague. As the book begins, Grace, who’d lost her husband a few years ago, is restless and looking for a new direction in life. She decides, somewhat impulsively, to buy a bed and breakfast for sale on the Little River while visiting in Townsend to pick up her daughter at a nearby college.  Her family in Nashville is scandalized when she returns home to break the news. “Mom, are you crazy? What do you know about running a bed and breakfast? You haven’t worked in years … and if you move away who will keep the kids  during the Vanderbilt games and host our family holidays?” But Grace does move away, even with her grown children’s disfavor, and then begins to question her own sensibility after finding herself attracted to Jack Teague, the local ladies man. She knows better than to get involved with a man like Jack.

Jack Teague, a realtor in the Townsend area, is attracted to Grace Conley from the moment he meets her, even after seeing she isn’t the kind of woman who wants to fool around. Busy with his life and his twin girls he’s raised alone, Jack doesn’t expect to see Grace again after showing her the inn on the river. When, to his surprise, she buys the inn and returns, it’s the beginning of many complications in his life—none of which Jack is  the least bit ready for.

To further complicate things, Grace’s difficult daughter Margaret shows up to stay with her, and the young minister of the church next door, Vincent Westbrook, thinks he’s had a sign from God he’s supposed to marry Margaret. Visiting only briefly, Margaret makes it clear she is not interested in Vincent and would never want to live permanently in a Podunk town like Townsend. … Then on top of all the other problems going on, there is a stalker in the neighborhood whose furtive, threatening actions are troubling the area residents.

To learn what else happens in the story and to meet all the other interesting characters you’ll need to read the book. It will quickly wrap you in its rich, heart-warming, keep-you-guessing story … while taking you to visit in the charming town of Townsend near the Smoky Mountains.  You’ll enjoy book scenes along the Little River, as in the photo above, a visit to the Little River Railroad Museum, and you will smile at the many sweet scenes on the swinging bridge behind Grace Conley’s Mimosa Inn.

With every book published my author’s life is kept busy with … book launches, a book tour, book signings, speaking events, and the ongoing tasks of keeping up with blog posts, social media, and replying to reader emails. In addition to continuing to write more new books, authors travel to many signings and events all year round. Fortunately, I really love traveling to meet my readers and I love speaking for book clubs, organizations, libraries, literary events, conferences, and book festivals, too.

It’s always fun when readers come to a signing or event to meet me to get my latest book and tell me the things they enjoy about my writing. Another encouragement and  joy are the wonderful reviews and comments written to me by fans and readers from all over the U.S. and abroad in personal emails and the fun Facebook notes or comments posted on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Goodreads, and a multitude of review sites. Here are a few reader comments below I thought you might enjoy.

Stepp established a lovely sense of place in the novel, capturing the sights and sounds of Tennessee’s breathtaking Great Smoky Mountains.” – Booklist

Down by the River is a delightful book through and through…the setting is beautiful…the array of characters are fun and quickly feel like friends…the banter between Jack and Grace is amusing. There’s tragedy, good times, everyday life like we all experience. The author has penned a wonderfully inspiring tale that left me smiling long afterwards.” – J.A., Goodreads

“Stepp is an amazing storyteller … the romance exhibited is pure, natural and heartwarming.” – RT Review

“These books are so real it’s like I want to go to Townsend, Wears Valley and Gatlinburg looking for these people just to meet them …I finished Down By The River today and turned right around and started reading it again to make sure that I did not miss anything.” – B.F., Cincinnati, OH

  “Outstanding novel.. .Down by the River… Cannot put it down.” -S.M., South Africa

With Kensingon’s interest and backing, DOWN BY THE RIVER was a wonderful success. The book built a strong new national following, racking up best-seller awards, and went international. I enjoyed seeing the international covers popping up for my Kensington books like the Polish version pictured here, so different from the U.S cover. In looking back, the entire year of 2014 when DOWN BY THE RIVER published proved to be unbelievably hectic year for me and for my husband J.L., too. Our jointly written Smoky Mountain hiking guidebook THE AFTERNOON HIKER also published in 2014 in the spring  as did my novella “A Smoky Mountain Gift”  published in Kensington’s Christmas anthology WHEN THE SNOW FALLS in 2014 in the fall  … In addition, my next book MAKIN’ MIRACLES came out right after the new year in 2015. During this period, many new honors and awards came my way with books hitting the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and Amazon Bestseller lists. Titles soon began to go into large print, audio, and international versions and many fine interview and review articles popped up in magazines and newspapers. It was a fun and exciting time.

[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.]

May 2019 – SECOND HAND ROSE

Surely a girl can be forgiven a moment of fantasy dancing with a tall dark stranger? And surely nothing can come of it? Wrong. Life’s chance, indulgent moments always find a way of coming back to complicate everything.”

In looking back on my past books, I always smile when thinking about this one. The story brings together two very different people—both with hurts and problems in their past. The main characters in this book are Rosalyn Latham McCreary and Kendrick Reynaud Lanier. Even from their names, you sense their backgrounds are very dissimilar. The two meet by chance in a lovely, romantic opening scene. Rosalyn has been cleaning a house on the mountain and stops to dream and dance on the patio with an imaginary partner. Kendrick, new to the valley, stops to visit for his realty company. He sees Rosalyn dancing on the patio and impulsively moves into her arms to dance with her. It’s a sweet moment but a crazy one and Rosalyn is quickly shocked with herself as the dance ends.

The following synopsis provides a quick story overview:                                                                  ….. Life is sometimes hard as a widowed, single mother with three young children, a business to run, bills to meet, and debts to pay. Despite it all, Rosalyn McCreary tries to count her blessings. She cherishes her shop, Second Hand Rose, her family and friends. A practical woman by necessity, she seldom indulges in impulse and fancy—except for that crazy spring day she danced with a total stranger she’d never met. Whatever was she thinking? And then to later learn her mystery stranger, Kendrick Lanier, plans to move to Wears Valley. Great. Just one more problem she doesn’t need. …. Kendrick, however, is enchanted and intrigued with Rosalyn and soon pursues her, despite her efforts to crowd him out. He finds ways into her life, and into the lives of her children, and creates complications Rosalyn simply doesn’t want to deal with. The more she learns of the man’s life and secrets, the more she’s determined they are not well-suited…. With Rosalyn and Kendrick’s troubled pasts, and Rosalyn’s temper, you’ll find it a toss-up to decide if these two stubborn, determined individuals should—or shouldn’t—get together.

As a writer, I had a joyous time weaving the story about Kendrick, a former professional dancer, starting his life over again after an accident, and Rosalyn, a young widow with three children, struggling to get by with her small shop and her penny-pinching. Rosalyn’s life, even with its difficulties, is sweet and good and she doesn’t see any place in it for someone like Kendrick—despite their attraction. Kendrick, in contrast, sees no conflict in pursuing Rosalyn and works to charm himself right past her objections and temper and into her life and the lives of her children. But their relationship is not without continual problems.

Rosalyn’s children, Caroline 12, Davis 9, and little Holly 5, make the story all the more fun because they are all charmed by Kendrick from the first. The book also quickly introduces a wealth of interesting side characters who work their way into the pattern and fabric of the story. These include Kendrick’s friend Arthur, associates in the realty company, and his family members, as well as Rosalyn’s family, her friends, neighbors in the valley, and her children’s friends.

The setting for this book is Wears Valley, a long scenic valley that lies between the Smoky Mountains and the Chilhowee Mountains. The two-lane highway through the valley, known as Wears Valley Road, connects busy Pigeon Forge to quieter Townsend, Tennessee on the west. Since its early settlement, the valley has grown from farm and mountain land to an area popular with tourists. The valley is now dotted with mountain shops, restaurants, a few historic sites, and an abundance of rental cabins. For legal reasons, I used mostly fictitious stores and businesses for this story, but I tried to pattern them after the types of stores and businesses actually found in the valley.

Contrast comes again between the home Kendrick buys, Saddle Ridge, a lavish estate on the mountain top with beautiful views, compared to Rosalyn’s small home behind her deceased husband’s parent’s house on their farm in the valley below. The differences are easy to compare, and Rosalyn is uncomfortable with Kendrick’s wealth, further explained as the story progresses. Helen McCreary, Rosalyn’s mother-in-law, is Rosalyn’s help and rock in this story and I admit I fell in love with Nana, too. Her wisdom and counsel were always so wise and good and her faith strong and inspiring.

Months of research time went in before I was ready to create my chapter-by-chapter outline. Pulling out my old files again today to write this blog, reminded me of all the things I needed to research. I found over fifty pages of notes just about the ballet alone. I needed to learn so much about the ballet to create realistic scenes and dialog about Kendrick’s past. Many scenes scattered throughout the book, too, involved the ballet or reference to it. I also had to study about running a second hand children’s store. Rosalyn’s store needed to be realistic and I wanted it to be charming, as well. I visited several similar second-hand stores, studied the merchandise and arrangement of the store, and then researched online about business aspects of owning a store that I needed to know. In addition, for Kendrick and Arthur’s Mountain Realty business I had to delve into information about the real estate business.

In the last year, people have often asked me if I plan to write a book about the Gatlinburg fires … but I already touched on this subject in Second Hand Rose. I actually saved many newspaper accounts of the 2002 fires that burned up sections of Wears Valley mountain land and many rental cabins and homes there. It troubled me even before the fires of 2002 how close together contractors were building tourist rental cabins and how little respect was being shown for the beauty of the mountains in development plans. While plotting my story for Second Hand Rose, I read all these news accounts again, studied about fires and fire-fighting on the internet, and watched you-tubes about fire-fighting to create the scenes of a dangerous fire for this story.

As always in my books, I took readers to scenic spots around the mountains and painted pictures of the beauty so prevalently found. Main character Rosalyn loved flowers in this story, with a partiality for roses. I read and researched a wealth of information for the scenes where Rosalyn talks about and tends her roses. While reading about old rose varieties, I discovered the sweet story of how the Madam Hardy rose got its name. Then I had fun weaving this rose’s romantic history into Rosalyn and Kendrick’s story. In our country’s early years, many vintage roses were brought to early America from Europe. Then starts of roses and other flowers were often lovingly carried into frontier and wilderness areas, planted, tended, and loved. Even after the old settlers were long gone, many of the flowers, shrubs, and old roses lived on. J.L. and I often find sweeps of daffodils, flowering shrubs, wild roses, and other garden flowers—not native to the area—around old home sites when we hike in the Smoky Mountains.

Developing running themes to thread through a story can be fun to create and fun for readers to follow. The “rose” theme was one of those themes really apparent in this book. Rosalyn’s name had the word rose in it and her store was called Second Hand Rose. She loved growing and propagating roses, created her own perfumes and lotions from them, and several scenes with roses are scattered throughout the book’s story. At the book’s end, Kendrick delights Rosalyn with a special rose gift at their wedding to help sweeten the final scenes of the book.… And of course Caroline writes about the wedding in detail in her diary, too, letting us know everything that happened.

If you haven’t read this book, here is one review about it to close:

Lin Stepp is back with the fifth edition in her Smoky Mountain series, Second Hand Rose. This one doesn’t disappoint. She has once again spun a compelling story with homegrown flavor. Her words flow across the page like a soft spring breeze in the Smokies, leaving behind traces of wildflowers and wood smoke. If you’re looking for a heartwarming tale sprinkled with romance, you can’t go wrong with a Lin Stepp book. Her stories always bring to mind those long summer nights sitting on the front porch and listening to my grandmother tell stories about the family and neighbors. For me, reading her books is like going home.” ~ Andrea Chapman, Co-founder and Co-Owner of Reading Lark

[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.]

April 2019 – DELIA’S PLACE

Before I wrote my fourth Smoky Mountain novel, DELIA’S PLACE, I had recently attended a number of elaborate weddings. I began to wonder after these events had passed, what it would be like to be a young girl, engaged to be married, with all those extravagant plans laid out, and then to have something go wrong at the last minute.

Enter the main character of my story Delia Eleanor Walker, Washington D.C. socialite—just finishing college, engaged to a young doctor and preparing to head to the family’s NC beach home for a sweep of celebratory engagement parties. At the sound of the doorbell, Delia heads to the front door expecting yet another gift in the mail, only to receive a FedEx from her fiancé saying he’s married someone else the night before in Las Vegas. … What?… How can this be happening? … Can you imagine Delia’s shock?

After wailing and snailing, Delia realizes she’ll have to face all those guests at the beach house—plus her extended family—and she really freaks contemplating that thought. Knowing her family as she does, she’s sure they’ll blame her for everything. Slumped on a chair inside the door, Delia glances down at the handful of mail still in her hand, from when she’d walked to the mailbox before the FedEx delivery arrived. Her focus is drawn to the sweet invitation to visit her Aunt Dee’s old cottage behind Gatlinburg, Tennessee, near the Smoky Mountains. Spotting the invitation again seems like a sign, and Delia jumps on the opportunity. Instead of heading, as expected, to the beach for the family celebrations, Delia takes off to Gatlinburg instead. Basically, she runs. Haven’t we all wanted to run away from our problems at some time in life?

However, you can never really run away from life … And in Gatlinburg, Delia runs into a whole new sweep of unexpected problems—a cousin she didn’t know she had, with worse problems than her own, a childhood sweetheart she’d made a fool of herself over as a girl, continuing issues with her family, not easily resolved, and later a criminal on the loose. Plus, Delia can’t escape the need to deal with decisions about her own life and future either.

Although many books and movies tend to depict confident, self-directed and self-assured young women and men, many in these early years of life have not arrived at that point yet. Most in the  high school and college years are still trying to resolve issues of self-identity as well as issues of self-intimacy. They are struggling to determine who they are, what course in life they should follow, and whether they want to link their lives with another—and who that should be. Still dependent on their families, most are heavily influenced by their family’s views, hopes, and desires for them, even if they claim they are not.

Delia Walker, as the youngest child in her family—and a late child to her parents—has been more than a little sheltered and carries other personal insecurities that are explored and uncovered throughout the story. When Delia’s engagement is broken, one of her first panicked thoughts is how to face her family with this news… leading her to flee versus facing her difficulties head on. … On the evening she arrives in Gatlinburg, Delia meets Hallie Walker, a younger cousin she’d never met before, also on the run and hiding out at Aunt Dee’s house. Hallie is, in many ways, the opposite of Delia—confident and mature for her age, saucy and independent, and much more self-directed. Yet, both young women have strengths and weaknesses, and I loved showing how their friendship grows and develops over the course of the story.

Tanner Cross, the other character in DELIA’S PLACE, lives on the property next door to his mother’s place on Balsam Lane, directly across the street from Delia’s Aunt Dee’s home. Because Delia so often spent summer weeks at her Aunt Dee’s, she and Tanner played together as children. Delia had a girlish crush on Tanner then… and as the story begins, he is pleasantly surprised to see what an attractive young woman Delia has become. When old friends meet, it is always fun to “remember when,” and I had fun developing Delia and Tanner’s relationship through old memories and new ones. Readers loved Tanner’s long-time friends, the Jack Gang, and they also liked Tanner’s mother, Maureen Cross, a wise help to Delia and Hallie in the story.

In writing DELIA’S PLACE I ramped up the suspense more than in past books. Hallie’s fears of the step-father she’s hiding out from are well-founded, and readers said they experienced some nail-biting moments of anxiety and worry before all the problems with Jonas Cole are resolved…. Also woven into the story are several other little misadventures and mysteries that gradually unfold, like Hallie’s relationship with John Dale and Delia’s family’s problems with her Aunt Dee.

My setting for this book was downtown Gatlinburg, a beautiful tourist town at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains. Delia’s Aunt Dee’s charming little house behind Gatlinburg, lies on a fictitious street in Mynatt Park, a small neighborhood situated along LeConte Creek adjacent to the park boundary. I walked the streets of this quaint neighborhood many times, researched its past history and fell in love with the cute scenic homes tucked along Mynatt Park’s quiet mountain streets. The descriptions of Mynatt Park, its gazebo on the creek, and the nearby hiking trails are all real—and there for you to enjoy when you visit this area.

In downtown Gatlinburg, for legal reasons I needed to create a fictitious mall for my story businesses, which I called the Laurel Mountain Village Mall. It is much like the other real colorful mountain malls visitors can find on the Gatlinburg Parkway, filled with craft stores, a candy shop, little art galleries and more. I actually removed a small mountain at the west end of Gatlinburg to create a site for Laurel Mountain Village Mall and for the Garden Café and Highland Church on Natty Road behind it. However, most of the rest of the downtown Gatlinburg places, restaurants, tourist attractions, plus the old Walker Sisters cabin in the book are real.

Through all this book story’s twists and turns, Delia comes into her own, gradually growing in character and resolve, gaining new understandings about herself, and seeing more clearly her own right life directions. …Possibly one of my favorite parts of writing DELIA’S PLACE was in pairing the two opposite cousins—the spunky, red-haired Hallie Walker, raised in the rural mountains of Tennessee, and her older, more proper and demure dark-haired cousin Delia Walker, raised in the Washington DC suburbs. I loved showing how both characters each find their own ways eventually out of the difficult situations they face – as the book begins – to later happier times. And I enjoyed showing how their journey, growing their faith together, also helped each find their way more clearly. …

A review by best-selling author Lynne Hinton offers good words to close: “DELIA’S PLACE, fourth in the Smoky Mountain series written by Lin Stepp, is a lovely story of romance that reminds us broken hearts can be healed. A charming tale of friendship and love.”

[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.]

 

March 2019 – SIX GOOD REASONS

I always look back on FOR SIX GOOD REASONS as one of the most “fun” books I’ve written. It’s the third book in the Smoky Mountain series and set in the Greenbrier area of the Smoky Mountains, not far above Gatlinburg heading toward Cosby off Highway 321. The main setting for the book lies in a lovely, green rolling valley with the Smoky Mountains rising in the background—sort of like the photo below.

The main character in the book is Alice Graham, a social worker in the Blount County and Sevier County area, who also played a minor role in my first book THE FOSTER GIRLS as Sarah Taylor’s social worker. Alice works for the Sevierville branch of the Knoxville Wayside Agency, her office in a medical building off Middle Creek Drive near the LeConte Medical Center. Good colleagues and friends of Alice’s, Loren and Richard Stuart, own a counseling center in the same building. The Stuarts often helped Alice with her child and family counseling problems and she always promised to see their children happily placed if anything ever happened to them.

When something did happen and both Loren and Richard were killed in a tragic wreck, Alice stepped right in as promised—but ran into an immediate problem. The Stuarts had six children, ranging in age from five to twelve. Richard had no family except one brother, not fit to care for the children, and Loren’s only close relative was her father Lloyd, not in strong health who lived in a retirement community. Any remote family members drew the line on taking on the responsibility of six kids. Even working through the Wayside Agency, Alice drew a blank on finding anyone willing to take all the children. Lloyd came up from Georgia, despite his health, to stay for a time after Loren and Richard’s deaths, but when he is unexpectedly injured, Alice quickly gets more involved with the children. Fearing being split up, the Stuart children begin to ask Alice if they can stay with her… and somehow she ends up the foster parent of six children.

Alice first moves the children into her small, squinchy home in Sevierville, but later starts looking for a larger place. The book begins as Alice returns for the second time to see a large country home in Greenbrier below the Greenbrier Pinnacle. On an earlier visit, she saw a man on horseback, high on a hillside, and felt an odd draw toward him. To her later shock she learns he is her neighbor—and here begins a new set of problems for Alice.

Harrison Ramsey owns the Ramsey Stables and family farm, next door to Alice’s new home, and he also owns a small country market, rental cabins, and an orchard across the highway.  A bachelor with two very bad experiences with women in the past, plus a difficult mother and three older sisters who never made his early life easy, Harrison is determined to avoid women at all costs. A woman with six children that soon end up hanging out at his stables and causing problems is tops on his list of women to avoid. He could stay away more easily from Alice, of course, except for that odd drawing attraction he’d felt toward her from the first, that dang drawing with no sensible explanation.

And so begins Alice and Harrison’s story—both thrown together by proximity with their lives soon jumbled together in other ways as well.  Throughout the book, too, weaves the story of Alice and Harrison’s personal lives, their work problems, and the challenges Alice faces every day as the primary caregiver to six children.

One of my favorite things about writing this story was creating the Ramsey Stable. Growing up I was always a little horse-crazy as a young girl and I hung out at a walking horse stable near my home. My childhood friend and I, both horse lovers, read about horses all the time, played “pretend” horse games, went horseback riding whenever possible, collected horse statues, watched every horse movie that came out, and even sat writing out lists of “horse names” we loved. So I got to return to my “horse-loving” roots inventing a stable, weaving riding trails for it into the mountains, finding pictures for all the horses in the stable, and naming them.

As a teen, I also volunteered at a nearby orphanage and always had a tender heart toward children who had lost their parents—and had no family to take them in. Later in college courses in psychology and counseling, I learned more about social work, childcare and foster agencies and the good work they do. I enjoyed creating a situation in this book where children, who’d lost their parents, gained a new and happy life.

It was joyous fun to create the Stuart children. By the time I fully developed each child in age and personality, and saw them through the storylines and conflicts of FOR SIX GOOD REASONS, my heart grew bonded to these kids—as if I’d helped raise them myself. The Stuarts were great kids. The two oldest girls Hannah and Megan only twelve and ten, try so hard to be a help to Alice—wanting their family to stay together. Stacey, eight, outgoing and feisty, and little Rachel, seven, sweet and shy, are both heart-stealers. And the rambunctious, inquisitive five-year-old twins Thomas and Tildy constantly steal the show in the book, as little children of that age always seem to do. Thomas, in particular, with five older sisters is especially drawn to Harrison, and despite himself Harrison feels a pull toward Thomas, too, remembering being the younger brother of older sisters himself.

The “inspiration house” for the country home Alice buys for herself and the children was inspired by Jim Gray’s painting “Spring Ablaze,” which was used as the cover for the book. This house was actually Jim and Fran Gray’s home before they moved from Tennessee. I expanded the idea of Alice’s new home, called “Meadowbrook” in the story, to accommodate a large family … but the home idea is similar in feel and style.

If you haven’t read this book, I think you will enjoy it. I won’t spoil the rest of the story with all its adventures, twists and turns. But I hope you will love FOR SIX GOOD REASONS. The hook and synopsis on the back of the book are good to close with. . . . .  “A young woman with six foster children under twelve, hopes for patience, peace, and a bigger house—but love? Not hardly. However sometimes fate deals an unexpected hand. . . . . . . When Alice Graham came back to look at the sale property at the base of the Smoky Mountains in Greenbrier, it was absolutely not because of that recurring dream of the cowboy. She’d seen him high on the ridge-top in the winter and felt a peculiar drawing and attraction flash between them—but she certainly never expected to see him again. When she did, a month after buying the rural property, that odd attraction still sizzled in the air.”

. . . See you next month talking about Book 4: DELIA’S PLACE!

[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.]