“Fall in East Tennessee”

We are blessed in Tennessee to enjoy four distinct seasons, each with its own beauty and character. In fall, it’s a joy to crunch leaves underfoot and look up into the canopy of trees dressed in their autumn colors of russet red, vibrant orange, and rich gold. In  winter, the beauty of the bare trunks can be seen and with the leaves gone, vistas out over the mountains are more visible. As spring begins, lovely fresh yellow-green leaves pop out and flowers begin to appear in the neighborhoods and dot the mountain trail-sides. By summer, the neighborhood yards are verdant green, the forests and mountains a rich, lush wonderland of greens, too, with mountain laurel in early summer and later rhododendron, flame azalea, fire pinks and black-eyed Susans.

I often think Fall is the most dramatic of the seasons with the trees changing color and the weather growing cooler, but the milestone memories of autumn lie more in personal events. When I was a girl, the start of school after Labor Day always marked the beginning of fall in my mind. It was the time for new clothes, shoes, crayons, notebooks, and school supplies—and shortly after, I looked forward to the annual Tennessee Valley Fair at Chilhowee Park in Knoxville. Before the development of theme parks and entertainment venues like we know today, the Fair was an exciting event, anticipated with eagerness for the colorful rides, carnival atmosphere, shows, cotton candy, corn dogs, and agricultural buildings. J.L. and I still enjoy going to the fair and this photo was taken in one of the agricultural barns filled with prize-seeking chickens, sheep, goats, cows, rabbits and other farm animals.

Fall has always been Festival Time in Tennessee, too, and around the area colorful decorations start to pop up—pumpkins, scarecrows, fall signs, gourds, old wagons, and hay bales. As regional authors, J.L. and I travel to many festivals around the Smoky Mountains and Appalachian area. These fun-filled events—like the annual Townsend Festival, Mountaineer Festival in GA, Appalachian Museum Homecoming, and the Mountain Makins Festival, to name only a few—are full of bluegrass music, clogging, storytelling, local artisans and crafters, and fabulous food vendors. The colorful sights and sounds at every turn are always entertaining and reflective of the region, too—its history, culture, and people.

Amid all this, the fall days grow shorter and cooler—and the landscape gradually alters.
I see the changes as I walk the neighborhood and travel to events and as we hike in the Smoky Mountains nearby. In early October red sumac and a few changing leaf colors begin to hint of the splendor of color soon to come. Then, often suddenly, a few chilly days will trigger nature’s big show of color—usually in late October or early November. East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains show off then with a gorgeous color display, as if nature is offering a final burst of beauty and a last hurrah before the start of winter’s bleaker season.

Many people drive through the Great Smoky Mountain roads to see the color, but the
finest way to enjoy it is on a hike up a mountain trail. All the senses get involved on a hike. You see the color all around you, feel the nip in the air, hear the trees rustling in the breeze, the birds twittering, watch the squirrels rushing to gather nuts for winter. You can kick up leaves underfoot as you walk or watch them swirl over cascades in the creek like colorful boats racing downstream. Overhead, you see the rich display of reds, oranges, golds, and yellows with color and beauty all around you. Seeing nature at its finest demands getting up close and personal with it, and that’s where my richest memories of fall have been made. So open your senses—and take a little time before the season passes—to make some autumn memories for yourself.

 

 

October 2017 -“The Impact of Books.”

Often in author interviews, or when answering questions after speaking, people ask if I read a lot or if I remember any particular books that impacted my life. Certain special books always seem to come to mind related to different stages of my life. Truly “My life would have been entirely and regrettably different if I didn’t learn to love books.” – anon

My love affair with books and the printed word started in early childhood. I was blessed to have a mother who loved books and read to me. My early books were storybooks—popular in my day—like Little People Who Became Great, about young people who grew up to make a difference. Many of the storybooks in our home included stories with good morals and virtues, others had poetry or Bible stories, and many offered a mix of literature. A favorite I still own is The Better Homes and Gardens Storybook … filled with classics like “The Little Red Hen,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” and my most loved story “Peter Pan” that I read in a longer book later, as well.
Peter and Wendy’s story fanned my imagination and I loved the bravery and resourcefulness of the children and the concept that by simply “believing” incredible things can happen.

Albert Einstein wrote: “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Once I discovered the small library near my home as a girl, my reading list expanded greatly. My school age friends and I swapped books and we loved reading out on a big quilt under a shade tree in the yard. I loved Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, horse books of all kinds, animal stories like Bambi, and classics like The Secret Garden, Pollyanna, Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and especially the Anne of Green Gables books – my favorites. I identified with Anne and her love of beauty, her ambitions, her warm affection for family and friends, and her heart to write and teach.

By the time I was a young teenager, my reading interests shifted to adult novels. I remember reading Michener books like Hawaii while still enjoying Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet The Austins, Darby’s Island Girl, and romance books for girls like Janet Lambert’s Star Spangled Summer. I loved British novels, too, and read the Jane Austen books, Susan Howatch’s novels like Penmarric, John Galsworthy’s Forsythe Saga books, and all the R.F. Delderfield novels including God Is An Englishman. All of these books are still on my bookshelves, too. These reads began to develop my vocabulary and expand my learning. My own writing skills improved from all my reading and started to show in school papers and in the poetry and stories I scribbled for pleasure. I didn’t just read books then, I climbed into them and escaped to other worlds. Joyce Carol Oates wrote: “Reading is the sole means by which we slip involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” 

In my college years, I read extensively in my academic fields, but I still always found time for novels and also enjoyed self-help and inspirational books. I read Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, Agatha Christie, Eugenia Price and Marion Chesney novels and I loved Catherine Marshall’s book Christy – especially inspirational as I was majoring in education in undergrad school. In my masters work years I discovered Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, Rollo May’s The Courage to Create, and others that broadened my thinking… and in the 80s, found Og Mandino’s University of Success, which proved to be a life-changing book to me, opening my eyes to new understandings about how to make the most of my abilities, insight into why people fail, and how to better reach for goals, visions, and success. I often reread this book and recommend it to students and friends.

When J.L. and I were in our early married years, we began to seek for a stronger faith and found the Lord in a deep way for the first time.  A book that helped us was Billy Graham’s Peace With God, and of course after we got saved and began to grow in faith we read the Bible and many other spiritual books – and still do.
We are still growing in the Lord. It is a journey that never ends and a glorious one. During that early season in the Lord, I worked in a bookstore [ loved that job!] and bought a “A Love Story” book cover to put on my Bible. I still have it, and it holds special meaning for me.

As the children came, reading to them became a part of J.L’s and my “reading time.”  I collected picture books and other children’s classics for them—many I still own. My personal reading interest shifted more to romances and mysteries in those years. Novels were a wonderful escape from my busy family days and work life. I read so much then, and still do, that it is hard to remember all the authors I loved the most at that time–or year to year today.. But in the 1990s I remember discovering Jan Karon’s Mitford books, starting with At Home in Mitford, and to this day these are some of my favorite books. I knew that if I ever had time to write books myself someday that I would want to write books like Jan Karon’s or L.M. Montgomery’s—sweet, heartwarming stories with a beautiful sense of place and rich memorable characters.

Now that life has moved on—children grown and gone—and I am an author myself, I write books that I love as well as still reading them. Seth Godin claimed: “The book that will most change your life is the book you write” and that has certainly been true for me. Since my first novel THE FOSTER GIRLS came our in 2009, and many more since, my life has taken on a whole new dimension. Today I still read about two books a week—romances, regencies and historicals, mysteries, biographies and autobiographies, spiritual books, devotionals, self-help books, and other titles linked to my academic teaching fields. In addition I’ve added a new type of book to my reading list—writing craft books. My favorites of these are ones written by authors whose work I enjoy, and it’s always fun to read about how they became authors, how they write and create their books, and tips they have for other writers. Two of my favorites of these are Debbie Macomber’s Knit Together and Janet Evanovich’s How I Write. Virginia Woolf said: “Read a thousand books and your words will flow like a river.” … I’ve read many more than a thousand over my life and my words are still flowing and pouring out on paper.

Books change you. If you read a lot, you know that, too. Everything I’ve read has impacted my life and shaped my life as an author. “Be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” [Cassandra Clare]

[Note: book photos are of my own books]

September 2017 – “Remembering Edisto”

From the earliest days since my husband J.L. and I married we’ve taken our summer vacations at the beach. We are blessed to live near the Smoky Mountains and love visiting and hiking there often, but we also love the special beauty and peace of the ocean. Our first beach trips took us to beaches on the North Carolina coast like Myrtle Beach and Litchfield Beach and to panhandle spots like Panama City and Destin. But one summer in the 1980s, when our children Max and Kate were small, we discovered Edisto Island, a quiet little South Carolina place that quickly stole our hearts, calling us back summer after summer.

From a contest entry in the 1980s, I won a long weekend at Fairfield Glad in Crossville, TN, with the understanding that we’d look at property, of course. I told the man who called, “Look, if we wanted to consider buying vacation property it wouldn’t be in Tennessee, it would be at the beach.”  He answered, “We own a beach property at Edisto Island, South Carolina. I can send you there instead.” I thought, Why not? We were headed to the Carolinas for a summer vacation soon. An extra weekend not far away from our Myrtle Beach destination might be fun.

J.L. and I had never heard of Edisto at the time, a less developed barrier island nestled on the South Carolina coast about half way between Charleston and Beaufort. And later that summer, as we headed down rural Highway 17 to the island for the first time, with vast marshlands spreading on either side of the road, we worried we might be lost. But eventually we arrived at the island—only eleven miles in length and facing the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean.

We quickly found Edisto to be a place of hidden beauty dotted with charming beach homes and villas tucked under shady trees along quiet roads. The island, then and now, had no hotels or high-rise buildings and only colorful local restaurants and gift shops. Bike trails twined around delightful pathways, locals and visitors fished the inlets and creeks, and beach access points on nearly every block wound their way through sea oats and sandy dunes to the beach. It was simply lovely. We settled into a spacious villa, with two bedrooms, baths, a full kitchen, laundry, and a screened porch, on a picturesque street by a sleepy lagoon, the road lined with crepe myrtle in glorious bloom and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. A cute tram, like the one at Dollywood, carried us down to the ocean and back if we didn’t want to drive the few blocks to it. The broad beach was serene and beautiful, without the noisy crowds at Myrtle, and we could leisurely cook many of our meals at the villa without dragging tired children to a crowded restaurant.

At the end of our “free” days on the island, the children begged to stay on—and with no upcoming guests scheduled at our villa—we were able to stay on another week at Edisto, for less than the motel at Myrtle. Every summer after, our little family returned to Edisto, staying in villas or beach homes, sharing happy times and building sweet memories before heading home to Tennessee relaxed and peaceful. Edisto is not the ideal vacation place for everyone. It’s remotely located and not close to a bustling city, entertainments, shopping malls, theatres, or elegant restaurants. Days at Edisto are spent reading or walking on the beach, splashing in the waves, biking around the bike trails, and playing games on the screened porch with a paddle fan drifting lazily overhead. It’s a place for folks who enjoy simple pleasures.

The island has changed over the years since we first visited, of course. The old drawbridge was replaced with a long, arched causeway over the Intracoastal Waterway and more homes, villas, restaurants, and shops dot the island’s roads now. In the peak summer vacation weeks more tourists flock to the island, too, than before. Preferring the quiet, J.L. and I usually vacation off-season now but we find more things still the same than changed at Edisto. It will always be a special place to us, rich with the memories of the years.

I’m writing a new Edisto trilogy of novels now to bring others to the island, and to special places around Beaufort and Charleston, through my stories. The first, set in the 1980s, looks back to the island thirty years ago, while the next two will advance to more contemporary times. The first book, CLAIRE AT EDSITO is complete, and I am starting the second RETURN TO EDISTO now, with EDISTO SONG soon to follow. These novels are scheduled to publish starting in 2019. I hope you will love visiting at Edisto through my books … but don’t worry, there are many more Smoky Mountain novels to keep entertaining you, too.

August 2017 – “Growing Up With Flowers”

Henri Matisse once wrote: “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” … I grew up with flowers. I was trained to see them and appreciate them, and I am grateful for that.

My mother and my father loved flowers and growing things. We lived in a rural suburban area and our property bordered empty lots owned by the railroad that my parents welcomed into their yard and gardening expansions. They planted a huge vegetable garden every year inside a fence with a gate, just like Mr. McGregor’s garden pictured in Peter Rabbit. Besides remembering fondly the big garden with its neat, long rows of corn and vegetables, I remember lettuce flats, green peas climbing the fences, beds of strawberries, fruit trees, and grapevines rich with warm grapes. But most of all I remember the flowers.

The flowers were particularly my mother’s domain. She did most of the planning for them and I think loved them best, although my father helped in planting, weeding and taking care of them. It was Mother, however, who smiled over them and delighted in them. It was Mother, too, who walked me around the yard and among the many flowers beds, beside flowering shrubs, under trees blooming with rich color, and told me the names of everything. Looking back, I think she always talked about her flowers with the fondness a mother uses to talk about beloved children. She always made the flowers seem much more than mere plants. They took on personalities with her stories and soon became far more than plants to me, too.

My young childhood years were spent playing among the flowers with my friends. We built dolls’ homes in the creeping phlox, made the snap dragons “talk” by squeezing the blooms in just the right spot, sipped from honeysuckle blooms, floated mimosa blossoms in water to make lily ponds, and named the pansies with their “faces” like people. Flowers were a part of my life and my play. Inside our home cut flowers in Mama’s vases usually decorated our tables, and my brother and I often rode to church with a tall vase of flowers wedged between our knees, intended for the church alters. When I close my eyes, I can still see my mother with her broad straw gardening hat working in the flowers.

Some people have a gift for working in the soil and for growing things. They dream of planting in the winter and can’t wait to begin to put our plants and seed in spring, to plow up the rich earth to put in their gardens. I am not so gifted. I love to put words to paper, to paint or draw, to craft and create. But I carry the love for flowers even through I am not much of a gardener myself as my mother was. When I take my walks in the neighborhood I notice every blooming thing, stop to look at it, to “smell the roses.” In the spring I watch for the dogwoods and flowering shrubs to bloom. I visit gardens. I walk the Dogwood Trails in our area. In deep summer I especially love the crepe myrtle, which seem to thrive in the heat. I love flowers, as my mother did. They find their way into my stories and books. They whisper beauty. They are long-time friends.

In hiking I’ve discovered new flowers—the wildflowers of the Great Smokies. There I look for trillium, bloodroot, and purple phlox in spring, for mountain laurel and rhododendron in summer. In exploring the parks and outdoor areas, I slow my steps to look at coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, goldenrod, and other treasures. If I am feeling down, flowers cheer me. They speak of hope, endurance, determination, and beauty. Okakura wrote: “In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends.”

“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.” [Burbank]

July 2017 – “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 2017 – “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.