January 2020 – VISITING SC PARKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay warm this winter!

___Lin

 

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]

December 2019 – THE INTERLUDE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]

November 2019 – LOST INHERITANCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few reviews and reader comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]

October 2019 – DADDY’S GIRL

J.L. and I first drove through Bryson City, North Carolina, on the southern side of the Great Smoky Mountains, while hiking trails out of the Deep Creek Campground and working on our hiking guidebook. Charmed by the glimpses of Bryson City we spotted driving through, we stopped to explore on our return and fell in love with this quaint little North Carolina town. While many downtown areas are in decline today, due to suburban sprawl, Bryson City is still the hub of its community. Trees and  baskets and tubs of flowers and seasonal decorations line the downtown streets, and every shop and building oozes charm. Downtown Bryson is still where people gather, shop, and stop by the local diner or drug store. The gold-domed court house welcomes visitors into town with an American flag stirring on a flagpole in the breeze and the Tuckaseegee River flows right through the town, a scenic sight, as does an old time railroad line offering excursion rides. We loved hearing the woo-woo of the train as it headed into town and enjoyed eating a banana split in the 50s-60s Soda Pops café.

After our visit I told J.L. “I’m going to have to set one of my Smoky Mountain books here” … So later, when a wonderful new story idea began to bubble and develop we headed to Bryson City again to see more of the town and the area, to learn its history and talk to townspeople. My readers said they loved this small town book … and I love remembering how many of my fans planned road trips to visit Bryson City after DADDY’S GIRL published.

In psychology courses I taught in college, especially Developmental Psychology and Educational Psychology, my students often talked at length about peer pressure stereotypes that developed in the school years, especially in high school, and stereotypes that often lingered too long as labels in people’s lives. We also talked about  the increasing problems of bullying in our schools today, often linked to negative stereotypes. … So I decided in this book to explore some of these issues in my story line and what better way to do that than via a high school class reunion, bringing old school mates back together and reviving past peer identities all over again.

Both my main characters, Olivia Benton and Warner Zachery, grew up in Bryson City as neighbors on a quiet rural road outside of town. Behind Olivia’s home was a lavish formal garden created originally by Olivia’s great grandmother, a garden complete with winding trails, tinkling fountains, and lush flowers of all types and kinds. Here Olivia and Warner played as children—and later fell in love. But high school began to throw some curves into their relationship. Olivia, pretty and outgoing, soon became more and more popular with her peers, while Warner, a little odd and socially awkward, became one of the less popular kids, often ridiculed and soon nicknamed “Weird Warner.” Olivia and Warner’s school life and school friendships soon diverged, and although they remained friends at home, during school they ran with different crowds. In time, these differences created a wedge in their friendship and caused the breakup of their budding romance.

After high school, Warner left Bryson City to go far away to college. Olivia stayed. In time Warner found his way to his dreams, married, and then dropped into unexpected fame for his humorous children’s books about a social misfit boy he named Geeky Gilmore. …Olivia stayed in Bryson City, commuting to a nearby college, living at home with her widowed father, caring for him and the Fairchild Gardens. In time her work at a local florist led Olivia to open her own small floral shop in downtown Bryson City.

As the book begins, Olivia is working with her high school friends to plan their ten-year reunion. As she and three girlfriends share lunch in a downtown drugstore, Warner Zachery walks into the store and Olivia knows as soon as she sees him she still loves him, even after all these years. .. As for “Weird Warner,” he’s now become the famous and successful W. T. Zachery but still harbors old bitterness from his Bryson City past and he is quickly reminded of that past. In addition for Warner, two years ago, his wife was killed in a New York store robbery and he’s still working past that hard time, too. He’d hoped coming to Bryson to spend time with his family would prove restful but instead, Warner is soon thrown back into old problems and old feelings for Olivia Benton he thought he’d left behind .

Mixed into this ongoing drama of two old friends reuniting are the stories of several interesting side characters, each  packed with small joys and surprises. The book also features beautiful hikes and travels around the Bryson City and Smoky Mountain area. Continuing problems occur, too, with the community’s concern over a vandal defacing public property, leaving angry messages and frightening people. Mysteries and dilemmas seem to unfold on every corner throughout the plot while Warner and Olivia try to navigate their feelings and unresolved issues amid it all.

I loved writing this book—showing how old stereotypes from school years often follow long into adulthood—and how limiting and hurtful they can be. My past academic teaching experience came into play with this story, helping to show how people grow and change and yet still carry the past along, too. I worked to spotlight as well the dangers and problems of bullying and I worked to reveal through several other characters’ stories, how damaging hidden pasts and secrets can be. Admittedly, I also had a blast creating Warner’s zany Geeky Gilmore characters that peopled his books and I loved developing his journey to success as a writer and illustrator. I also enjoyed creating Olivia’s lavish family gardens, so cherished by the women of her family, and had fun developing her small downtown floral shop in Bryson City. I studied extensively to make the gardens and florist believable and even spent a day at one of my Lenoir City fan’s florist learning the business and observing her staff at work. Many scenes in Olivia’s floral shop reflect Pat McCarter’s store. …As a final thought, like Olivia, I grew up with a mother who loved flowers and the garden, and I drew from those warm memories often in writing this book. I’m sure mother would have loved it.

I hope you’ll have fun visiting my fictional Bryson City world in DADDY’S GIRL.

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]

September 2019 – WELCOME BACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Note: All photos my own, from royalty free sites, or used only as a part of my author repurposed storyboards shown only for educational and illustrative purposes, acc to the Fair Use Copyright law, Section 107 of the Copyright Act.]

August 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.]