June 2018 – “East TN Parks”

For the summer, I’m going to tempt you to discover the wonderful state parks in your home state by talking about our adventures visiting all fifty-six of Tennessee’s state parks. For June, I’ll talk about the East Tennessee parks, in July the Middle Tennessee parks, and in August the West Tennessee state parks. … My husband J.L. and I had such a fabulous time for two years visiting all our state’s parks.

How did we get started with this idea? … In 2013, when the national parks shut down, J.L. and I, as avid hikers in the Smoky Mountains, found ourselves with no familiar Smokies trails to enjoy. Looking for alternatives, we decided to try hiking in some of the nearby state parks. So we started looking for a guidebook, similar to our guide created for trails in the Smokies. We couldn’t find anything. Nada. We scoured the library, bookstores, Internet sites, and more. Of course, the Tennessee state park service had a great website telling about the parks … but we wanted a book we could carry with us. Not finding one, we decided to write one.

We thought about our new idea for a  guidebook for a few years, before starting any park visits, because our 2013-2015 season was a very busy one professionally. Our hiking guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER came out in April 2014, my 6th Smoky Mountain novel DOWN BY THE RIVER in June 2014, published by Kensington, and my novella “A Smoky Mountain Gift” published in Kensington’s Christmas anthology WHEN THE SNOW FALLS. In addition to those three books, my 7th novel MAKIN’ MIRACLES debuted in early January 2015 and my 8th book SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS in the fall of 2015. Whew! It was a hectic publishing season! In addition I was still teaching at Tusculum and J.L. was continuing to run his business, getting out his monthly fishing and hunting guide magazines and handling UT sports sales products. Neither of us could scrape out a lot of free time. But in the summer of 2015 we finally started our explorations and from 2015 to 2017 we visited all the parks in the state.

J.L. and I decided to start our visits in the far eastern corner of Tennessee, working our way across state to Tennessee’s western border on the Mississippi River. Before each park visit, we did a lot of research. I looked up information about the upcoming park we planned to explore, printed a park map, read about things to do and see in each park. In addition, I read related website articles and descriptions about the park, its trails, sites, and history so we could know as much as possible for our upcoming visit. J.L. researched the best driving route to each park and studied our maps, the state park website, and other information, as well. For every large state park, we planned a four-page write up and for smaller parks we used a two-page spread. Our goal was to tell readers about the most interesting things we found within each park, along with providing a good general description of what any visitor would find.

The first four parks we visited were Warriors’ Path, Sycamore Shoals, David Crockett Birthplace, and Roan Mountain in the Tri-Cities area in upper east Tennessee. Each were an hour-and-a-half to two hours drive from our home in Knoxville, but by heading out early, we still had the entire day in which to enjoy the park before heading back home. For all the East Tennessee state parks, we made day trips to the park on a pretty day and then drove back home to spend the night in our own bed—with no journey a difficult one.

Warriors’ Path was a beautiful lake park on the Patrick Henry Reservoir on the Holston River. The lake views throughout the park were gorgeous and we ate our first picnic sitting at a picnic table on the hillside above the marina, watching the boats come in and out. We generally took picnics to the parks, so the only cost to us was a little gas and time. The park had ten great hiking trails, a stunning golf course, a riding stable, cabins, campgrounds, a beautiful Olympic swimming pool, and an award-winning children’s park with wonderful play structures including a giant tree house—a favorite of all the children. If there hadn’t been so many children playing in the tree house the day we visited, I’d have climbed up in it myself…. And I loved the interactive walkway around the park with statues from The Chronicles of Narnia.

In contrast Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton was a historic park, one of many we would find around the state. The visitor center had a museum, an interesting historic film, and spreading over the grounds was a large replica of Fort Watauga to explore. J.L. and I learned a lot of history at this park as well as having a good time … and felt guilty for all the times we’d driven right past the entrance to this park while working sales and deliveries in the area. Traveling to David Crockett Birthplace park another day introduced us to more history of Davy Crockett’s life. This is a replica of Crockett’s family’s cabin above. Later we would visit another park dedicated to Crockett in middle Tennessee and stop by the last home where Davy Crockett lived in west Tennesse before he was killed at the Alamo.

Roan Mountain State Park reminded us of the Smokies with its mountain streams and blue mountain ranges. We really loved this park and enjoyed learning about the Peg Leg Iron Ore Mine and the area’s history. We also enjoyed visiting the old Miller farmstead and cemetery, and hiking many of the nice trails.  Roan Mountain is famous for the annual Rhododendron Festival held every summer above the park at Carver’s Gap but we didn’t know all this land and more once belonged to General John Wilder. In 1870, he bought 7000 acres of  Roan Mountain land for only $25 an acre. He mined iron ore, farmed, and built a lavish resort on top of the mountain  called The Cloudland Hotel which we enjoyed seeing old pictures of. It was incredible to imagine all this vast property once belonged to one man.

After visiting these first four parks we were hooked … and couldn’t wait to get away from our work to visit another park whenever we found a free day with nice weather. Wanting good photos and a fine day to visit, we planned our parks visits carefully, watching the weather reports, and in the winter we disbanded our visits, not wanting park photos with bare branches and little greenery. Our next parks were north of Knoxville—Big Ridge State Park, an old favorite from our childhoods, Norris Dam, Cove Lake, Panther Creek, Indian Mountain, Seven Islands Birding Park, and Frozen Head. Panther Creek proved to be a big surprise for us. We’d expected it to be low along the Cherokee Lake with lots of lake access, but instead it sprawled across high hills and bluffs above the river. Our favorite trail there was The Seven Sinkholes Trail wandering along deep natural sinkholes in the earth, the first time we’d seen geologic structures like these. We ran into more sinkholes at later parks, like at Pickett State Park near Jamestown, in Cedars of Lebanon Park, and in the South Cumberland State Park.

Our last East Tennessee park visits took us south to Fort Loudon near Maryville, to the Hiwassee and Ocoee River Park, famous for whitewater rafting, to Harrison Bay and Booker T. Washington state parks on the Chickamauga Lake above Chattanooga, and to Red Clay State Historic Park. We loved Fort Loudon for its huge fort and scenic beauty on a peninsula in the Tellico Lake and we found Red Clay fascinating, too.  It sits on Cherokee sacred ground where the last Cherokee councils were held before the Trail of Tears began. Hiking up The Council of Trees Trail at Red Clay through the woods, J.L. and I turned a corner to suddenly see this huge limestone structure on a hill in the middle of nowhere.  This tall castle-like structure, called The Overlook Tower, sits high on a ridge literally in the middle of the forest. No one knew how it came to be there, who built it, or why.  Unexpected wonders like this were some of the factors that made exploring every park so much fun.

The last two parks we visited in East Tennessee were actually saved until after we completed visiting all the other state parks as both were still in construction stages. The Justin T. Wilson Cumberland Trail State Park is still under construction today. It’s a linear park angling from the Kentucky/Tennessee border above Harrogate to a point below Chattanooga on Signal Mountain. Somewhat like the more familiar Appalachian Trail, the trail will span over 330 miles through Tennessee with plans to some day link into a north-south trail tentatively called The Eastern Trail. When we finished our book over 95% of the land for the trail had been purchased and about 65% of the trail had been completed. We learned a lot about this projected trail, its history, and all the volunteer groups who had and still are working on it. We visited several sections of the completed trail to sample it, starting at the head of the trail at Cumberland Gap. There we hiked up past the Iron Furnace to the Tri-State Peak Pavilion where the borders of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet—an interesting spot with fantastic views. We visited other spots along the trail in middle Tennessee near Cove Lake and near Crossville at 110-foot Ozone Falls.

The final East Tennessee park we visited is one of the newest in the system, added in 2012, Rocky Fork State Park. One of the park rangers, early in our journey, suggested we wait until some of the trails could be improved and the bridges and parking areas repaired before we visited. Like Seven Islands, another new park to the system, this park doesn’t have a formal visitor center yet or restrooms, but it’s a beautiful place for hiking. The 2,037 acres of park land lie in a sweep of wilderness bordered by the Cherokee National Forest. Like Roan Mountain park, the trails feel like those in the Smoky Mountains, climbing along rushing mountain streams with cascades, waterfalls, and wildflowers in the spring. The Rocky Fork Trail is an easy, broad, well-developed trail to follow along the stream passing several falls and leading to a historic site.

Finishing the eighteen parks in East Tennessee, we were eager to next explore the parks in the middle region of the state – featured next month. We hope you might look for our guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS to help you to better locate and enjoy all these wonderful parks – still free to visit in Tennessee.

Happy adventuring!…  See you next month with more park discussions.



May 2018 – “My Early Life”

I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My mother, injured in a car accident, had been advised not to have a second child—so I was a risk. My father, a prudent man, bought cemetery lots as the doctor cautioned that one or both of us might die. I still have those lots in the Greenwood Cemetery in Brainerd—in case you need them—and obviously my mother and I cheated death and God had other plans for us.

My father was an engineer with the U.S. Geological Survey, my mother a former high school Home Economics teacher. My mom, dad, my older brother David (eight years older than me), and I lived in Chattanooga for only a short time after I was born before my dad got transferred to the survey office in Knoxville. Our new home was in South Knoxville in Colonial Heights at the end of a dead end street called Chalmers Drive. Few people had big homes then as now, but we had a fantastic yard with wonderful shade trees for climbing, a big vegetable garden, and an abundance of flowering shrubs and plants all over our yard.

Dad converted an old shed and chicken house into a wonderful playhouse that both my brother’s and my friends enjoyed. It had bunk beds, a table and chairs, and play items in it—a fun place we filled with childhood adventures. A small freight train ran by our property every day and we loved waving to the engineer and getting him to pull the train whistle for us as he passed. My young life was filled with outdoor fun—playing in the woods and fields nearby, taking hikes up Browns Mountain, coloring pictures and cutting out paper dolls on quilts under a shade tree, roller-skating and riding our bikes on the street and sidewalks, playing croquet or kick-the-can on warm summer evenings,  giggling and telling stories at spend-the-night parties. My dad helped me build a big dollhouse in the converted playhouse that I peopled with character dolls—all with rich personalities and individual stories… obviously the “writer” in me at work at an early age. My friends say I always created great “pretend” stories and dramas for us to act out and came up with great play ideas. I remember those young years growing up as good and happy days.

I became a “cat lover” in early childhood, and I always had one of more cats. My first cat was a stray that showed up at our Chattanooga home when I was a baby—a small, fluffy, yellow tabby. Mom took it in to feed it and then sent David around to the neighbors’ homes to look for its owners with no results. Looking for the kitten later, mom found it curled up in my crib beside me, my arm around it. From then on, my years were filled with many beloved cat pets. You can see a couple of girlhood photos here with some of our cats and kittens.

My love for books and stories started early, too. I read avidly, loved biking to the nearby library to fill up my bike basket with new books to read. I scribbled poems and stories later, worked with the school newspaper, and was a strong student. School was a place to learn, disciplined and ordered then, with no permissive dress codes or conduct indulged. I am grateful for that solid restrictive, but loving and encouraging, background as it paved the way for later undergraduate, masters, and doctorate studies, along with the discipline and skills needed for study and writing.

As I headed into high school, my father accepted a transfer to Arkansas, which did not prove a happy change for me. We moved to a more city environment and I missed the mountains and countryside of East Tennessee and my friends. I made some good friends and memories, of course, in those years in Arkansas but returned to Tennessee for college, eager to “come home.” I went to Maryville College for a year on an art scholarship but found the school, at that time in its history, heavy-laden with rules and restrictions, and I transferred to the University of Tennessee the next year, changing my major to education. In my heart, I wanted to write and illustrate, but my dad had closed the door to all the colleges I’d been accepted to for commercial art and illustration programs. In those years, a lot of decisions and choices were dictated by others—by parents, advisors, and authorities. It was a limiting time for women as well—in the midst of the age of domesticity—when most girls were pushed more toward gaining their “Mrs. Degrees,” marrying and staying home to raise kids, than pushed toward more ambitious career goals and dreams. Being overly ambitious then made me a bit of a black sheep. Still does sometimes.

I remember adolescence as an emotional roller coaster season with a lot of pressures and disappointments. I feel blessed that I met J.L. in my college years with relationships bouncing up and down like yo-yos. I’m grateful he doggedly pursued me, loved me, believed in me, and married me. I am sure that living with an artist and dreamer [for all writers are essentially artists and dreamers] has not been easy.  Both of us had a lot of growing up to do in those early married years, too—even after the children came. But with time and sharing our lives and dreams, we have become not only sweethearts but the best of friends.

J.L. was out of college, working in business sales, when we married, I was still finishing school and went on to get my masters, while living in an apartment near the university and later in our first house. My artistry goals had shifted to more practical educational goals and I was studying to work in higher education in career services when I got pregnant with Max. I remember with humor getting “the college job offer of my dreams” when I was six to seven months pregnant, as big as a tank and battling toxemia. It wasn’t a day and age when pregnant women were hired for power jobs—or any job. But I loved being a mother to Max and then about two-and-a-half years later to Kate, after we’d moved to our current home in West Knoxville. I found motherhood a wonderful, creative adventure, and J.L. and I sacrificed a lot for me to stay home as much as possible in those years, with me always carrying a wide variety of part-time jobs to help out economically.

In the early years as we became parents, J.L. and I also found the Lord in a new and rich way. We’d grown up in church and were believers, but we had no vital, personal relationship with God. The term for that “change experience” is not as important as finding and having this needed experience, but we were indeed “reborn” at this time. We found that faith filled all the empty places in us and began to make of us something new and better, especially as we read the Word and grew in understanding. Knowing God and growing in God is still the richest and most rewarding part of our lives.

As the children grew older I got into educational sales in the college arena, whetting my old desire to return to college work. I went back to school part-time—as I could save up enough for classes with side jobs—and began work on my doctorate in higher ed and leadership studies.  On right you’ll see me in one of my typical professional suits with my dad, mother, and brother.

I received my doctorate degree at UT the same year my son Max got his undergrad degree in art. Instead of working in college administration, as I thought I would, I ended up in teaching and taught for the next 18 years at Tusculum College’s Knoxville branch while working a variety of part-time marketing, sales, and PR jobs and in J.L.’s business. At Tusculum I taught a variety of Research and Psychology courses, including Rudiments of Research, Organization and Analysis of Research, Educational Psychology, Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Gender, Adult Development and Aging, Theories of Counseling, and Introductory Psychology. Teaching and sales pushed me forward in developing leadership skills, speaking and marketing abilities, creative initiative, and good time management competence.

It wasn’t until the children were finally grown and gone from home that life opened time for me to write—around my other work roles. So you might say I’m a “late bloomer” to the writing life. However, life before this time had strengthened and trained me to handle this new role more efficiently, developing in me the self-discipline, confidence, and initiative needed to write diligently and well—and to market my work—when the time finally opened.

So here I am now, ten years after signing my first book contract, finally writing full-time and able to really call myself a “career author” at last. I am a prime example of the quote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Like a little ship, battered with life’s storms, I’m still sailing on—finally doing what I was always intended to do—and grateful and blessed to be doing it.

April 2018 – “April Wildflowers in the Smokies”

Wildflowers, uncultivated, grow freely in fields, forests, and meadows without human intervention. The origins of many wildflowers are unknown and they appear to be native plants, varieties differing by regional area. Today many wildflowers can also be intentionally seeded or planted but others still grow wild, spreading and reproducing, and delighting us with their beauty.

Living near the Great Smoky Mountains, I look forward to the wildflowers blooming every year. When J.L. and I were working on our hiking guidebook, we were on the trails often through all seasons, always seeing new flowers along the way.  But April was always the prettiest month of the year for enjoying the wildflowers. It’s also in April when the wildflower pilgrimages and wildflower walks around the mountain areas are held. There are more than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants in the Smokies, more than in any other national park, so there are always many varieties and types of wildflowers to discover.

On our hikes and walks in the mountains, we have taken many photos of wildflowers, like the photo of us at the beginning of this post with several varieties of trillium, an early Smokies wildflower. However photographer fans and friends of ours, that we’ve met on the “writer’s road,” take far more spectacular and beautiful photos than we do, so I’ve spotlighted some of their work in this blog post. Raven Pat Smith’s photos above show a glorious white trillium, an early purple violet and wild bluebells. Other early wildflowers in the mountains include white rue anemone, bloodroot, and pink spring beauty as in Pam Mullinix’s photos. Pam’s other shots are of flowering quince and dwarf blue larkspur.

Daffodils, brought to the Smoky Mountains by the settlers, are common in early spring, especially in areas like Cades Cove where many settlers once lived. Dogwood trees were also planted by early settlers and later spread, as did other non-native flowering trees and shrubs. We often discover daffodils, flowering shrubs, and non-native plants around the crumbling walls, foundations, and chimneys of old homesteads—the flowers living on long after the people and farms are gone. Marie Burchett Merritt’s photos on the right show dogwoods in bloom, yellow trillium, and wild dwarf iris—that I always love spotting on the trail.

J.L. and I have many favorite “Wildflower Trails” we love to return to every April, knowing we will find a wide variety of wildflowers there. One of these is the Chestnut Top Trail near the Townsend Wye where forty species of wildflowers can be found on the first mile alone.

Another trail we love is the Porters Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area where we have seen trillium, blue and yellow violets, and trout lily like in Jim Bennett’s photo. Along the roadsides and in other park areas you will find purple ironweed and orange butterfly weed, also in Jim’s photos, which the bees and butterflies love. We were delighted to spot our first pink ladies slippers on a quiet side pathway off the Porters Creek Trail, too.  Another treat in the spring further up the Porters Creek are the white fringed phacelia which spread across the ground like a delightful carpet along both sides of the trailside.

After you explore the mountains trails for many years, you learn where certain flowers can be found most readily … like flame azalea in late April and May on Gregory Bald, mountain laurel on the Smokemont Loop and Chestnut Top Trail in early summer, and later rosebay rhododendron on the Alum Cave and Finley Cane trails. Vibrant pink Catawba rhododendron, like in Kristina Plaas’s photo, grow in the higher elevations like on Andrews Bald or near the Chimney Tops Trailhead. Many wildflowers we simply run into along a trail … stopping to delight in our “finds.” Special wildflowers, always a treat to discover, are white dutchman’s britches, yellow lady’s slippers, and red Indian paintbrush, also in Kristina Plaas’s photo below.

We tried to mention in our hiking guide The Afternoon Hiker trails especially known for wildflowers but flowers in the mountains often show up in unexpected places, and there are flowers of different types to see from early spring into the late fall. But April is still the best time to see the most wildflower varieties in the mountains. If you ever come to the Smokies in April the show of wildflowers will delight you and give you lovely memories to carry home. But remember that anytime you explore the woods, parks, and fields near your own hometown in the warmer seasons that you will find wildflowers, too. This month, I hope you will head outdoors—and get out of your car and walk up a trail—to enjoy the beauty you will find at every turn.

Springtime is the land awakening.” [L. Grizzard]…“For, lo, the winter is past, …the flowers appear on the earth.” [Song of Solomon 2:11, KJV]… and “Spring invites us into a fairy land of imagination where flowers bloom with joy, butterflies fly with song, and love dances with love.” [D. Mridha] … Happy Spring and Happy April.

March 2018 – “Book Inspirations”

My new novel LOST INHERITANCE publishes on April 3rd. This is my eleventh novel set around the Smoky Mountains. The short publisher description on the back of the book says: “Set amid the charm of downtown Gatlinburg in the Smoky Mountains, Lin Stepp’s LOST INHERITANCE explores how shattering loss can lead to happiness and gain.” … A fitting description. Main character Emily Lamont learns, as the story begins, that an improperly executed will has cut her out of inheriting the prestigious gallery in downtown Philadelphia where she works. Stunned and with few other options, Emily retreats to a small mountain gallery in Gatlinburg she did inherit—a smaller life by far than she is used to. She hopes for happiness and a new beginning but soon bangs heads with Cooper Garrison, who feels bitter his mother didn’t inherit the gallery instead of her. And so begins this story of two young people life has dealt losses and disappointments to more than once. I hope you will enjoy their story and visiting in the Gatlinburg area of the Smokies.

Ideas for books come from many different sources. The idea for this new book came from a true life, similar story that happened to my long-time friend Jayne Matthews.  I was unaware a will could be overturned on a technicality and remember Jayne’s own disappointment over an inheritance that an aunt and uncle meant to leave her being disbursed to others. I dedicated this book to Jayne, who died a few years ago, much too young. Pictured with Santa in this photo, Jayne—always ready with a good story—will be forever loved and remembered with fondness by her many friends.

Often animals belonging to my friends and fans inspire pets I create for my stories. In LOST INHERITANCE both my main characters own a dog. Emily’s dog is a proper, refined standard poodle, named Mercedes, used to life in downtown Philadelphia. Cooper’s dog Brinkley is a warm-hearted, lovable golden retriever, used to rambles in the outdoors around  the mountains. Mercedes was inspired by my fan Lisa Keever’s big gray poodle Sadie Belle and Brinkley by Kensington CEO Steven Zacharius’ golden retriever by the same name. I featured a gallery cat in this book, too, named Sugar Lips, who welcomes guests to the Creekside Gallery on the River Road. Sugar Lips belongs to my fan Charlene Povia. Sugar Lips is hardly the head of the welcoming committee when Mercedes arrives at the gallery but they grow used to each other as the book progresses.  As Emily explores a neighborhood near the gallery and her apartment, she meets Sara and her little white bichon freise Buster.  The girls become friends and often walk their dogs together.  Buster was inspired by neighbors Ken and Sandra Owens’ two white bishons, Ginger and Tucker. Special thanks to Lisa Keever, Steven Zacharius, Charlene Povia, and Whitney Owen for providing photos of their pets for this blog post.

Main character Emily Lamont in this story works at the Creekside Gallery and also builds dollhouses. In a later scene in the book, Emily talks about the Dollhouse Shop her parents once owned in the Bearden neighborhood in Knoxville. I used to take my children to that charming little shop in the Homberg area when they were small. We enjoyed looking at the miniature dollhouses, dolls, and furnishings for sale and we sometimes got to watch the owner working on a new house. The shop is empty now but I drove there today to take this photo. It’s still such a cute place, reminding me of good memories—just as Emily is reminded of sweet memories when she sees it again, too.

The story’s other main character, Cooper Garrison, builds log homes and loves the outdoors. He soon takes Emily on hikes around the mountains … and he and Emily often walk their dogs on the nearby Gatlinburg Trail. This is one of the few trails in the Smokies that allows dogs on the trail. It is popular with locals and visitors for that reason and because the trail winds along the creekside and past remnants of old houses, chimneys, and other relics of the settlers who once lived there. The Gatlinburg Trail is an easy trail for any to enjoy while visiting the area, as is the Old Sugarlands Trail nearby, that Cooper and Emily explore in the story another day. Both these trails are ones we have hiked often, so our memories of good times there were fun to create for my scenes in LOST INHERITANCE.

Many inspirations behind an author’s books are totally fictitious but sometimes the places, people, pets, and adventures are based on real memories. Good writing advice says to “write what you know” … so often what I know and love finds its way into my books. I loved creating this new story in Gatlinburg … and hope you will enjoy this new novel, too.

February 2018 – “Come To Big Ridge”

In April, J.L. and I have another wonderful guidebook coming out—DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS. Over the last two years, we visited all fifty-six state parks and had a fabulous time exploring the beauty and diversity of each. Similar to the format of our previous Smoky Mountains hiking guidebook, we give directions to each park and then a description of interesting things to do and see. Throughout the book are hundreds of color photos to show you sights and delights you can see when you visit.

To kick off publication of this new book, as well as my latest novel LOST INHERITANCE, set in Gatlinburg, J.L. and I decided to have our annual Book Launch at Big Ridge State Park. It’s only 30-35 minutes north of Knoxville, very accessible from I-75, and a beautiful park to introduce our fans and friends to the fun we had in our explorations. The launch will be held in what used to be the old Snack Bar (Shelter/Pavillion #4) on a grassy hill just above the main parking lot. It’s a large building with two open sides, lovely views, a rustic fireplace, picnic tables, its own restrooms, and even handicapped accessible parking. Naturally, we’re believing for a gorgeous sunny spring day, but even it sprinkles, we’re well under cover.

The Book Launch will be on Saturday, April 7th, Open House Hours 1:00 – 4:00 pm. As always, we’ll have drinks and snacks—but you can bring something, too, if you’d like. Lots of food and sweets always make an event more fun. We are excited to have our friend Earl Bull and his wonderful bluegrass group Clinch Valley Bluegrass coming to entertain during our launch. The well-known group performs at many festivals and events around the area, and we are so glad they can come to be with us. If you have a couple of lawn chairs—bring those, too, as we have limited seating, and you may want to sit around for a while to enjoy the music and fellowship.

When I was a young girl, Big Ridge was the state park my family visited the most. We often spent the day at the park—had a picnic, swam at the great swim beach, took a paddleboat or canoe ride on the lake, or just enjoyed the day. A favorite part of the visit for me was getting to ride horses around the trails and across the dam or staying overnight in one of the park’s rustic cabins. I also hold happy memories of watching the older teenagers dance in the old snack bar (where our launch will be) to songs on the jukebox and later of dancing there myself. On the hill above the snack bar, mother’s extended family often gathered for family reunions—and with mother one of twelve children, we always had a crowd.

After stopping by our Book Launch, you can enjoy exploring the park. There are many hiking and bike trails and scenic spots to see. In early April the landscape will be lush and green with the beginning of Spring and you’ll find wildflowers scattered all around the park. An interesting place you should visit is the old Norton Gristmill, built in 1825, on a finger of the lake. Down the road from the mill you’ll find a group camp to explore and the beginning of a scenic trail along the lakeside, The Lake Trail, one of our favorites in the park.

We hope you’ll come and join us for a day at Big Ridge if you can. You will find a map to the park and more info on the state website [tnstateparks.com/parks/about/big-ridge] plus directions below. If you are unable to make this event, we have many other signing events around the Tennessee area to follow as part of our 3-Month—April, May, and June—Book Tour with more events, festivals, and speaking engagements ongoing all through the year as well. Remember that our events are always listed month by month under Appearances on my website at: www.linstepp.com … See you in April!

Directions: From I-75 north of Knoxville, take Exit #122, turning east on Hwy 61. Pass Appalachian Museum and continue 10 miles to Big Ridge. Turn left into park; then take first left to visitor center; continue to large parking area at road’s end and Snack Bar (Pavillion #4) on the hillside. 

January 2018 – “Creating a Book”

In 2009 I published my first novel and now have ten published books set in the Smoky Mountains with another—LOST INHERITANCE—publishing in April 2018. I’ve also published a novella in one of Kensington’s Christmas anthologies and, with my husband, a Smoky Mountain hiking guidebook. When speaking for events, I am often asked how I create a book, so in this post I’m going to talk about the method and process I use as I work on each new book. No author works in exactly the same way and the creative process varies greatly according to the individuality of the author and the book type or genre. But this is the process I use in working with each of my novels.

STEP 1- CONCEPT: Every one of my books starts with a concept or idea. Whenever I get a good book idea I try to write it down so the concept won’t slip away. I’ve written ideas on napkins in restaurants or on the back of deposit slips. Once I get a new idea or concept, I entertain it, think about it, and play with it creatively in my mind—starting to imagine the characters, setting, and conflicts that might be a part of that book. If I decide my idea has good book potential, I create a manila folder for it and tentatively title the book. I put whatever notes or writings I have about that idea into the folder and as more ideas come later, I keep adding them to my folder. When it is time to begin the book, I already have a big head start on the novel.

STEP 2 –CHARACTERS: The next step after forming the general concept for a book is to create story characters. I start with my main characters, which in a romance are the main male character, or hero, and the main female character, or heroine. I plan in detail who they are, what they look like, what age they are, what their personalities are like, where they come from, and how their backgrounds shaped them. As I work on main characters, I also create all of the secondary characters whose lives will interact and intertwine with my main characters. For every book, I develop all my book characters to such depth that I know them like a best friend or close family member. I get into their skin, learn their past hurts and conflicts, how they’ve grown and still need to grow. I “see” my characters in my mind as I think about, plan, and name them. As a highly visual author, I flip through magazines or internet sites to find pictures that look like how I envision each of my characters. These pictures help me solidify and flesh out the characters in my books and bring them to life. Before starting a new book, I choose a selection of pictures and create an inspirational bulletin board to prop near my desktop computer.

STEP 3 – SETTING:  Often I flip back and forth between creating characters and developing setting. I research my settings extensively, studying maps and reading up on area history. I usually collect more information than I can ever use … but it is there and at hand if I need it while writing. My Smoky Mountain novels are all set in different places around the Smokies not far from my home, so I visit each area and “map out” where my book will be set. While there, I rough out my setting maps … plotting actual place names, stores, tourist attractions, and other highlights I might include within my story. Later I draw detailed maps of my story areas, including the black-and-white drawing always used by my publisher in the front of each book. The setting in a book is a constant backdrop for the story … and weaving in just the right amount of descriptive content around the ongoing action makes a book come alive for the readers.

STEP 4 – PLOT: Once concept, characters, and setting are researched and established, I am ready to play with plot and conflict. Plotting, by definition, is taking all one’s ideas, characters, and setting and fleshing them out into a full-length story that will capture readers’ attention and hold it throughout the book. It is a writer’s job to create a story for their main characters that readers will want to read and follow, with characters wrestling with difficult problems, situations, or individuals, feeling torn about what to do. All these ongoing conflicts hold readers’ interest. I personally outline the plot and story of my books in extensive detail before ever starting any book. Then as I write, I let the novel develop within that structure. After my plot is formed, I create a brief chapter-by-chapter outline on a single sheet of paper so I can see the whole book story laid out at a glance. Having a sound outline strengthens my overall writing and causes me to need less editing and re-writing after my book is done.

The whole process of plotting, planning characters and setting, researching, and outlining a book takes me approximately three months. Like being pregnant, there’s a point when I finally feel ready to “deliver” and then begin to write. But it’s a work process to get there.

STEP 5- WRITING: Once all the research and planning stages are complete, I am ready to write. Because of the preparation I do ahead, I can usually write the book I’ve plotted and outlined in three months, just as it took three months to plan it. Normally, I write two books a year when life doesn’t throw me too many curve balls. Ongoing consistency in writing is critical to getting a book completed. I schedule a bare minimum of 20 hours a week for writing. When I write regularly on a schedule, I stay immersed in my story and characters. As I move along with the book, I follow my outline and let the story flow and develop as I write. Sometimes the planned pattern I laid out ahead of time follows true; other times there are detours and turns. Generally, as I write, I become a part of the story, the characters, the settings, and the ongoing conflicts. Some days I find writing is simply work while other days I get lost in the writing in a joyous way, termed “flow,” and lose all track of time. These are the best of moments. The most important thing to remember in the writing stage is to keep writing and to keep the story moving.

As I work day to day, I edit small spelling or grammatical errors I see but avoid any major editing that knocks me out of my creative mode. Editing and writing are like wearing different hats and it took me time to learn this. Editing is a detached, analytical “professor” hat and there is time enough to wear that hat after all the creative effort is done. Then I can return to the finished work to critique, tighten, revise, and strengthen it. The mental process of writing is totally free and creative while the mental process of editing is analytical, logical, and structured. They are not compatible efforts. When a book is completed, I lay it aside for a month or so and then return to it to begin the editing process.

Just because a book is completed doesn’t mean it’s finished. An author will probably need to do several edits of his or her book before it is at its best … and it is often good to put a space between each manuscript edit … so the author can return to it with fresh eyes. Few books come out right in every way the first time – and working hard to self-edit a book is an important part of the writing process. More editing stages with outside eyes will be completed with a publisher before the book goes to press.  A writer’s life can be very challenging, but like in all the arts, there is great joy in sharing your work – and in seeing that first rough draft of your new book cover when it arrives. But remember, no book happens without work and effort. And no dreamed about idea or book, remaining unwritten, ever gets published.