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!

 

 

March 2017 – “New Book DADDY’S GIRL”

daddysgirl_river_front
It is always an exciting time for an author when a new book is getting ready to publish. My tenth novel, set in the Smoky Mountains, called DADDY’S GIRL, publishes on April 1st. It is already popping up on Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Amazon, and other sites for “pre-order” in either Print or eBook. I love bringing my readers to visit a new area in the Smoky Mountains with each book … and this novel takes readers to the charming small town of Bryson City, North Carolina. I blogged about Bryson City in my January blog, noting that my husband and I have happily visited the town often and hiked many times in that beautiful part of the Smokies.

The main character in my new book, DADDY’S GIRL, is Olivia Benton, a young woman who owns a small floral shop in downtown Bryson City. Olivia’s love for flowers traces back several generations and she especially cherishes the beautiful formal gardens lying behind the home she and her father share. As a girl, Olivia enjoyed happy hours playing in that garden with her neighbor Warner Zachery. Warner, always marching to a different drummer, left Bryson City immediately after high school. Full of big dreams, he wanted Olivia to drop everything and follow after him—and was angry with her for saying no. But first loves are not easy to forget, no matter how much time passes, and when Warner suddenly returns to Bryson City ten years later, Olivia is stunned to find her old feelings for Warner much more alive than she expected.Bryson City, NC

Of course, as in all my books, there is more to the storyline than a romance threaded throughout and many more fun and interesting side characters to enjoy. Elements of suspense slide in along the way, as vandals keep defacing public property and unsettling the town’s peace of mind. Bits of mystery begin to unravel with several characters, and troubling problems pop up involving school bullying and high school peer groups. … I hope you will enjoy your visit to Bryson City, North Carolina, as you read DADDY’S GIRL, and that you’ll have fun meeting all the new characters in this heart-warming, small town story.

Daddy's Girl Book Launch InvitationTo celebrate the publication of DADDY’S GIRL you are cordially invited to attend our annual
Book Launch Party on Saturday, April 8th, Open House Hours 1-4 pm, in the picturesque Tipton Lodge at Wesley Woods Camp, Townsend, Tennessee. A wonderful regional bluegrass group, Clinch Valley Bluegrass, will pick-and-sing and entertain during the event and there will be snacks and drinks on hand. If you’d like to bring a snack item to add to the table, I’d love for you to do so since I do my own catering … but there will be plenty either way.

Wesley Woods Launch PhotosYou will find the entrance sign to Wesley Woods Camp on the Old Walland Highway about two miles from Townsend, Tennessee, only a short distance from the entrance to the Smoky Mountains National Park. If you are coming from out of state, there are nearby motels and many cute rental cabins in the Townsend and Wears Valley area. April is a lovely time to visit in the Smokies as the wildflowers are blooming. Hikes abound around the area, and there is a fine hike to a waterfall right on the campground.

Our thanks to Wesley Woods Camp for giving us permission to use photos of the Tipton Lodge, entrance sign and camp logo in this post. You will find specific driving directions to  Camp Wesley Woods – and more photos and information – on the camp website at: http://www.campwesleywoods.com/driving-directions.html
… J.L. and I hope to see you all at the April Book Launch. We will have all of our books there – and you can pick up any you have missed and get them personally autographed.

February 2017 – “Hiking the Smokies”

Smoky MtnsAlthough my husband J.L. and I are avid hikers in the Smokies now—that wasn’t always so. Growing up in east Tennessee, our families took occasional trips to the mountains for picnics, short walks up the trails, or afternoons exploring the craft shops of Gatlinburg, but J.L. and I never took our first official “hike” until mid-life when we hiked with friends to Grotto Falls one Saturday. To our surprise and delight, we loved it… discovering that hiking was simply a joyous walk in the woods versus some sort of rugged, sweaty, arduous effort like we’d imagined. Always outdoors lovers, we immediately began to explore other trails in the mountains.

Getting into our new adventure with zest, we picked up a pile of hiking guides to learn more about trails to explore. But we then began to run into difficulties—from our perspective. Many guidebooks didn’t begin describing the trail until ten to twelve miles up the way—while we’d turned around long before that as weekend hikers. In addition, the books’ ratings of trail difficulty seldom matched our “new hiker” status, with their idea of “easy” very different from ours. We also found the guidebooks we studied often failed to mention points of interest along the early portions of the trail we were likely to see—a falls, historic home, an interesting bridge—and mileage to these points or to trail intersections along the way were often not included.

afternoon_hiker_fullAs we explored our first trails, I wrote notes in a journal detailing each hike and J.L. took lots of photos. It didn’t long for us to decide to write our own guidebook more suited to casual hikers like ourselves—a book non-Sierra-Club types or average visitors to the park might better relate to. The result, after exploring hundreds of trails on the Tennessee and North Carolina sides of the Smoky Mountains was THE AFTERNOON HIKER, published in 2014. Our book has 110 trail descriptions and over 300 color photos. To the best of our knowledge, ours is the only Smoky Mountain trails book with photos throughout.

If you’ve never hiked in the Smoky Mountains two short trails you might want to explore for a first hike might be The Gatlinburg Trail, which starts at the back of downtown Gatlinburg, or The Rich Mountain Loop, which begins at the entrance to Cades Cove. The Gatlinburg Trail is a short 1.7 miles trail traveling on an easy walking path from the back end of Gatlinburg on the River Road to Park Headquarters Road not far from the Park headquarters and Sugarlands Visitor Center. It travels through an open, shady forest along the West Prong Little Pigeon River. Despite its nearness to a major tourist city, the trail is a quiet and peaceful one to explore with remnants of settlers homes and cabin foundations along the route.

Gatlinburg Trail Scenes

The Rich Mountain Loop begins at the entrance to the loop road through Cades Cove. Park your car just before the road begins and walk a few feet to the trail’s entrance on the right. A 1.5 miles walk leads to the historic John Oliver cabin, a nice point to turn around for a short 3 miles roundtrip walk. Like the Gatlinburg Trail, the pathway is easy to walk, following through a picturesque woodland, across a couple of small creeks, and past views of the Cades Cove valley.Rich Mtn Loop Trail Scenes

If you have never explored any of the Smoky Mountains trails, I hope you will do so on your next visit to the mountains. It is a joyous way to get close to nature and to experience the beauty and peace of the mountains firsthand. To help you plan hikes to take in whatever part of the Smokies you plan to visit, order our hiking guide to take with you… from your favorite bookstore or online. You can read more about the book on my website and see some of the early pages of the guide in the Look Inside feature on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Afternoon-Hiker-Guide-Casual-Mountains/dp/0692020462 … We hope to see you on the trail one day!