June 2019 – DOWN BY THE RIVER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2019 – SECOND HAND ROSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2019 – DELIA’S PLACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

March 2019 – SIX GOOD REASONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 2019 – ORCHARD HOLLOW

My twelfth book in The Smoky Mountain series publishes this year. To celebrate this series of stand-alone novels, all set around the Great Smoky Mountains, I’m going to dedicate each blog for this coming year to one of my titles.

My second novel TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW came out a year after my first in the spring of 2010. An interesting fact few people know is that this was actually the first Smoky Mountain novel I wrote, even through THE FOSTER GIRLS was the first book published. When I began querying agents and later publishers, I read most expected to see the hero and heroine meet in a compelling, memorable way in the first chapter or two of a book. Since this was definitely not the case with Orchard, I submitted Foster instead.

In TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW the story begins in New York City and it takes some time before Jenna Howell comes to Townsend and meets Boyce Hart. Even then, she is still married, and it is hardly time for a sudden romance to begin for either of them.

Here is the hook and short synopsis for TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW in case you haven’t read the book or forgot the story:

In this second novel in the beloved Smoky Mountain Series, a young woman, hurt by the one she loves most, finds healing and a new confidence in a rural cabin on the quiet side of the mountains. ….. 

New Yorker Jenna Howell has spent many pleasant hours listening to her older neighbor, Sam Oliver, spin stories about his beloved home place on Orchard Hollow Road in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. This rural world is far removed from Jenna’s life in downtown Manhattan, but when several shocking events and marital betrayal come her way, Jenna—a previously sheltered girl—decides to take Sam up on his offer to visit his cabin in the mountains……At Sam’s place in Townsend, Jenna meets many new friends, including her good-looking neighbor, artist Boyce Hart. A quick attraction sparks between Jenna and Boyce, proving to be both exciting and confusing at this time in Jenna’s life. It is not the right time for a new relationship for either Jenna or Boyce. However, as spring blooms in the Smokies, Jenna blooms. She gains a new appreciation for unselfish love and simple pleasures, develops confidence in herself and her talents, and begins to find new understandings about faith. Just as she is finding happiness and beginning to heal, an unexpected tragedy forces her to return to New York City. Here she has to test out her new-found strengths, resolve the problems in her life, and decide on the direction for her future. Choosing the right course proves to be more difficult than expected – as two very different lives vie with opposite allures for Jenna’s heart.

Having never traveled to New York City, I had to read extensively and look at a number of YouTubes to begin my story there. … I wanted to contrast city life with country life. I wanted to show the differences between people from both places and also the similarities. Since the earliest of times, people who live in the hustle and bustle of the city have retreated to quiet country places for vacation, for refreshment, for peace, and even for an escape in a time of hurt or sorrow. Jenna, having heard so many rich stories from her neighbor Sam Oliver about his mountain cabin, decided his place in quiet Townsend the perfect spot to run to when her life fell apart.

An overly sheltered girl, Jenna had found it hard to develop confidence or respect for herself and her abilities. As the story unfolds, the reader sees that Jenna’s husband Elliott and her parents encourage little independence, control Jenna’s life more than is healthy and limit her growth. Suppressed people often don’t see they are suppressed, and a part of this book’s story is about Jenna emerging into her own person. Around an entirely new set of good and wholesome people in Townsend, Jenna begins to change and bloom. I loved painting the picture of her growth and creating all the little scenes in which Jenna begins to “find herself.” Aristotle said “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” and there is much truth in those words. Socrates also said ‘when you find yourself, you can think for yourself.’ Throughout the book Jenna comes to know herself more and more and to think for herself with more confidence.

In a lovely parallel, Jenna’s new friend in rural Townsend, Charlotte Bratcher, has experienced few of the privileges of education and wealth Jenna has known, yet the love and acceptance she’s had throughout her life from family and friends has built in her a strong sense of self and an easy comfortable wisdom. Charlotte proves a kind help to Jenna at a hard time in her life, and in many instances throughout the book Charlotte offers Jenna needed practical advice to live by. “My Granny Oliver says there is no shame in making mistakes in this life. It’s just a natural thing,” Charlotte tells Jenna in one scene. “But it’s what we do after we make them that’s really important.”

Boyce Hart often plays the role of “homespun philosopher” too. He grew up in nearby Wears Valley, where his mother and brother still live. Life for Boyce’s family evolved around farming, faith, and family. Boyce’s father had been a preacher. The family lived on the land, loved it and worked hard with their hands. Boyce learned to paint early as a boy, helping out in his older brother’s craft and sign shop—painting signs and birdhouses, and eventually branching out to paint pictures of the things he loved around the valley. Self-taught, his art developed with practice until he became a well-known landscape artist and opened his own gallery, the Hart Gallery, in nearby Townsend.

As the story begins Boyce is happy and easy with his own life. He feels a little annoyed when asked to “be nice” to city girl Jenna Howell when she comes to stay at Sam’s cabin across the street from his place. He knows though this girl has been good to Sam in New York, and because Boyce loves Sam, he’s determined to reach out with kindness to Jenna. That he soon finds himself attracted to her surprises and upsets him. His strong principles would never let him take advantage of a friend of Sam’s or of a vulnerable girl running from betrayal and still a married woman.

Fate, however, seems to have decided that Boyce and Jenna have something to give each other. And fate continues to find ways to throw them together. Yet both know the timing is totally wrong for initiating a relationship and both are horrified they even feel attracted. So begins this story and this awkward match. Or will it ever be a match? And are these two different people ever meant to get together at all?

As an author, this was a fun story to weave. My heart went out to both main characters, so torn with an unexpected mess of problems and emotions. I loved, too, creating all the side characters in Townsend that Sam Oliver had always spun his magical stories to Jenna about….Sam’s sister Raydeen, Charlotte and Dean Bratcher, Una, Boyce’s neighbors the Hesters and the Lanskys, Boyce’s wise mother Ruth Hart, his brother Charles, and more.

As I researched and plotted this book, I made many trips to Townsend, on the quiet side of the Smoky Mountains. I revisited favorite places, little shops and stores, and drove down quiet back roads to find the perfect spot for “fictitious” Orchard Hollow Road where Sam Oliver’s cabin and Boyce’s home both lay. I searched through Townsend, too, for just the right place for the complex of businesses that held the Hart Gallery, the Apple Barn, and the Lemon Tree. The map here is an early one I hand-drew when working on my story, and a later similar black-and-white one was created to put in the front of the actual book.

One interest that main characters Boyce Hart and Jenna Howell do share is a love for art. Boyce’s skills as a painter are revealed from the first, but gradually as the story unfolds, the reader learns Jenna has skills in art of her own of a different type. Boyce encourages Jenna to appreciate her art more, helping her to see that art takes different forms and is expressed in different ways. “That is what art is,” he tells her at one point, “creating something from out of yourself that touches other people’s lives.”

Boyce also takes Jenna into the beauty of the outdoors for inspiration—and just for fun. He takes her hiking to see and sketch pictures of wildflowers. He points out beauty to her all around. Jenna also begins to see it more for herself. With the book set in the spring, I enjoyed letting Boyce and Jenna hike the Porter’s Creek Trail in Greenbrier, one of our favorite spring trails, to find flowers and to later hike in Cades Cove to the John Oliver cabin. Jenna also hikes up the Chestnut Top Trail outside of Townsend, another beautiful spot for wildflowers in the springtime.

Suspense mounts in the story when Elliott returns from his trip to Paris and finds Jenna gone, his anger flaring. He attacks Sam, a handicapped man, sending Jenna fleeing home early. At this point, Jenna, now stronger in herself, is purposed to get through her separation and divorce and find her own way. She does so, but not without difficulty. At this point in the book, you wonder what she will choose to do with her life. Her career takes off, her life is working out. She has good friends like Sam and her long-time friend Carla. She is finding her way. … Although she and Boyce are communicating through notes and drawings to each other, Boyce wants nothing to do with the city and Jenna has her life and work in New York. It is hard to say how things will work out. … and I hope the reader is wondering how all will resolve right up until the end. I admit I worked hard to hopefully keep you guessing!

Some fun extra notes about TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW:

(1) As a teen, I drew many greeting card designs. I entered a set of card designs in an American Greetings contest at about fifteen and won. When the company rep came to our home to offer me a design job with the company, he was stunned to find me only a minor. He encouraged my parents to send me to an art college to major in illustration and told me a job would be waiting for me at American Greetings when I graduated. He gave my father his card but my parents did not take the visit seriously, nor did they keep the card. Even when I won scholarships to several art colleges with illustration majors, my parents wouldn’t let me accept them. So I understood many of Jenna’s art frustrations.

(2) I had to do extensive research about divorce proceedings and about legalities relating to it for the state of New York. I enjoyed creating attorney Maury Berkowitz to champion Jenna in her legal problems. I hope if I ever need an attorney for anything in life that I find an attorney like Maury.

(3) Sam’s red setter Dan and Boyce’s dog Patrick were based on the smart red Irish Setter that once belonged to one of our friends. We loved Patrick, an incredibly bright, loving, and well-trained animal … and I thought of him with fondness often every time “fictitious” Patrick came on the scene in this story.

(4) Sam Oliver was a major character in this story, even when not on the scene. I loved how he and Jenna bonded, even with Sam in his eighties and in a wheelchair and Jenna so young. And I loved how they both helped each other. I believe age doesn’t have to be a factor in friendship when two right hearts meet.(5) Another of nationally acclaimed artist Jim Gray’s beautiful paintings “Mountain Memories” was chosen for the cover of Orchard and I modeled my little Townsend art Gallery in part after Jim’s lovely gallery in Gatlinburg: http://www.jimgraygallery.com

(6) In Chapter 13 where Jenna talks Boyce into telling her about his first love, he tells her about falling in love with Audrey Bierman, an actress making a movie in Townsend one summer. He also talks about Celine Rosen, another actress a friend Jack Teague fell for and married. This little “hint” lays the groundwork for a later Townsend book starring Jack Teague called Down By The River. I enjoy dropping minor characters into books that will appear again in later stories or in bringing back a past character into a story later on.

(7) Boyce Hart has a strong faith Jenna admires. She struggles in the book to enlarge and grow in her faith, wanting a strong relationship with God like she’s seen in Boyce. The blossoming of this faith shows later in the story as Jenna learns how to pray, how to lean to God for help, and how to read and study her Bible to deepen her spiritual knowledge.

(8) At one point in the story, struggling on her own and lonely, trying to become a person in her own right, Jenna says, “You can do this Jenna … Let’s become someone that ‘s not just someone’s daughter or someone’s wife. Let’s become someone that’s her own person.” I felt so proud of Jenna before the book was over because she becomes exactly that.

 

[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.]

January 2019 – THE FOSTER GIRLS

My twelfth book in The Smoky Mountain series publishes this year. To celebrate this series of stand-alone novels, all set around the Great Smoky Mountains, I’m going to dedicate each blog for this coming year to one of my titles.

THE FOSTER GIRLS was my first book published in the Smoky Mountain series. In 2008, I signed the book contract, with excitement, for it to become a reality. In April of 2009, THE FOSTER GIRLS published with Parkway Publishing, then an imprint of John F. Blair Publishing. John Blair was a wonderful, reputable old publishing company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, headed by CEO Carolyn Sakowski, with distribution all around the United States. It was a happy moment to see my first novel in print. All authors hold a special love for their first book published and I am no exception.

People often ask me where the idea for THE FOSTER GIRLS and later Smoky Mountain novels came from. Back in that time, with our children grown and gone, my husband J.L. and I were hiking Smoky Mountain trails, working on a new hiking guidebook. At bookstores and shops near the trails we explored, I couldn’t find any rich contemporary novels set in the Smoky Mountains like I wanted to read. One day when I asked yet another shop owner if he had any, he replied, “No, I don’t. People ask for them all the time, too. This is the most visited national park in America. I really wish someone would write some.” Those words lingered in my thoughts afterward, and one day the idea for THE FOSTER GIRLS, along with several other titles, simply floated into my mind. I was working near the Smokies in Vonore, Tennessee, calling on schools as Huntington Learning Center’s Educational Coordinator—one of my part-time jobs then around my college teaching for Tusculum. After finishing work that day, I raced home and scribbled down my thoughts, already loving the idea of a series of novels with each new story set in a new and different place around the mountains.

How do specific book ideas begin? … For THE FOSTER GIRLS I saw in my mind a young woman coming to the mountains to escape unexpected life problems. People often head to the mountains or the sea for a healing space in their lives, but it is the individual reasons for their escapes that create really interesting stories…. And from the beginning I decided to let Vivian’s reasons at first be a mystery. Why had Vivian Delaney come all the way from California to the Smoky Mountains? Why did she tell her employer early in the book ‘Keep me hidden …’ Hidden from what? For what reasons? Throughout the book I enjoyed letting the reader in on the answers bit by bit as the story progressed. Vivian is a complex character whose background and secrets heavily impact her actions, feelings, and beliefs.

Scott Jamison is a much more laid-back, easy-going character. His past is warmer, more comfortable, and far more normal than Vivian’s. A happy, extroverted individual—even a little cocky—Scott has found his niche in life, running the Buckeye Knob Camp in Wears Valley. He lives in a home on the campground and rents out his grandparents old farmhouse on the adjoining property. It is here at the farmhouse—through a network of coincidences—where Vivian comes to stay. It is also here where Vivian and Scott meet, in a rather unexpected and alarming scene. Vivian arrives early, without first contacting the realtor. Scott, seeing lights through the trees on that dark rainy night thinks Vivian is an intruder, causing them to meet over the barrel of Scott’s rifle. So begins this journey of two very different people—and how their lives begin to intertwine.

For me, every book begins as an idea or story concept, reading somewhat like the synopsis on the back of a book. The back cover of THE FOSTER GIRLS states the book’s concept very well: “The deep secrets—that restrict us and limit our lives—are at the heart of this first, engaging novel in the new Smoky Mountain series … Vivian Delaney—in The Foster Girls—arrives in the quiet Wears Valley on the backside of the Smoky Mountains, carrying a heavy load of hidden problems and eager to find a quiet place to escape the recent troubles of her past. However, secrets are hard to keep, and right away Vivian encounters unexpected challenges with her landlord, Scott Jamison. From Vivian’s first meeting with Scott—at the end of a rifle barrel—Scott seems purposed to push past all Vivian’s defenses and to find a way to her heart.”

With every book I write I know how the story begins and how the story will end… and I soon begin to picture the characters, setting, and all the details and conflicts of the storyline.  Often I “see” a character’s appearance strongly in my mind. Many times, while looking through magazines or online pictures, a photo will jump out at me and I’ll think, “That’s her” … or “That’s him.” Then I clip out those photos to represent my characters… like the ones you see on this page. I’m a very visual writer when I work on a new story idea. I never begin a book until I have visual illustrations for every character in a story—and often several.

As I flesh out my main characters, the secondary characters–their friends, family, and work colleagues—begin to emerge, too. No one lives in isolation in life, even in books. We all need people to talk to, interact with, argue with, lean to, and run to in trouble…. Working on THE FOSTER GIRLS, I spent a lot of time planning Vivian’s family, friends, and work associates. The more these different characters and their interactions came to life, the more they informed Vivian’s story. The same was true with Scott. As I developed his family, friends, neighbors and camp colleagues his story began to take shape in brighter detail, too. I could almost hear the characters in the story interacting together as I developed them, saw their faces and personalities, felt them coming to life in my mind, laughing, working, becoming more than book characters.

My setting developed, too, as I worked on fleshing out my characters. I read extensively about Wears Valley where this book was set. I researched the valley’s history and gathered pictures to represent places, scenes, homes, businesses, and special spots to be included in the story. I visited the area and soaked up the locale—deciding on “real” sites, businesses, and places I could include to enhance my otherwise fictitious story. I drew houseplans and detailed maps—of Buckeye Knob Camp, Scott’s rustic home, Vivian’s rental farmhouse, and of the Wears Valley area where my story was set. At a marketing meeting in North Carolina, my publisher loved my hand-drawn maps so much that they asked me to create a black-and-white map to include in my book for my readers. That was the beginning of including “maps” in all my books afterward, as my readers simply loved them.

The more the characters and setting came to life as I planned THE FOSTER GIRLS, the more the ideas for the conflicts and problems in the story began to emerge. These came to me like “light bulbs” popping on sometimes, often unexpectedly while I worked on developing plot and storyline. It’s a fun process. … And eventually I began to lay all these ideas into a structured story outline to follow as I write. For me, a good outline is like a map. It reminds where I’m going, things I want the reader to see, learn, and experience along the journey, right up to the end. Like any good story, I layer in ups and downs, unexpected events and conflicts, little mysteries to unravel, warm moments and memorable scenes, along with a lot of twists and turns to keep the reader involved.

In real life, as we get to know people, we learn more about their past, their depths, their fears, their hurts and their hopes. As I weave readers into my stories, I let them slip more deeply into the lives of my characters with every chapter. In THE FOSTER GIRLS, I wanted my readers to care about Vivian Delaney and Scott Jamison—to want their happiness, to get annoyed with them sometimes, too, but to hope everything worked out for them.

One morning as I was developing Quint and Ellen Greene, Scott’s and Vivian’s closest friends in Wears Valley… into my mind walked Sarah Taylor, a foster child staying with the Greene’s. Sarah turned out to be a delightful and important character in the book. She soon worked her way into Vivian’s heart and life—and hopefully into the readers’ hearts, too. She certainly worked her way into my heart. The bond between Vivian and Sarah becomes a major part of the story … And that growing bond ties into a deep conflict between Vivian and Scott before the book ends.

 Some fun extra notes about THE FOSTER GIRLS:

(1) Animals often make us all smile. Scott’s little dog Fritzi and his cat Dearie played sweet roles, creating humor and warmth. I was ready to adopt both!

(2) Extensive research had to be done on soap-making for Ellen Greene’s business as a soap-maker in the story, including watching soap-makers at mountain festivals .

(3) People often have a “special spot” in nature where they go to think about their problems, like the bench in the cemetery where Vivian went. I have a spot like that, too.

(4) Life is filled with humorous characters and I loved creating the McFee girls who worked at the camp and made me laugh many times.

(5) I went to camps much like Buckeye Knob as a girl and my son counseled several summers at a camp right in Wears Valley.

(6) I’m privileged that artist Jim Gray’s beautiful painting “I Look to the Hills” is on the cover of this book … and grateful for the support of the Gray family for my work.

(7) I must have made fictitious “Slippery Rock Falls” in the book sound especially “real” as many fans wrote to ask for directions to it.

Although this wasn’t the first book I wrote… it was the first book published. I was blessed and fortunate my readers loved Scott and Vivian’s story as much as I loved writing it… and then eagerly watched for the next book. Because this was my first published book, I especially treasured some of my readers’ comments and reviews. Here are three samples:….“I just read The Foster Girls in two days – not the norm for me. What a wonderful book. I loved the plot. I loved the dialogue. Your characters quickly became real people for me and you kept me guessing about what would happen next with them. I can’t wait for the next book, and I was thrilled to read on your website that there will be twelve books in the series. I will be buying every one! (T.H. Texas ) ….. “I can’t wait for the next book! Loved every page. Favorite parts: conversation with the minister on the bench and the violets. I cried reading the last chapter. What a super story! God has truly blessed you with a great talent.” –(S.B., Tennessee) ….. “Don’t pick up The Foster Girls to read until you know you have a lot of time. You won’t want to put it down!” …(R. G., California)

If you have missed reading this story, you can order it “in print” directly from me, using the order blank on the front page of my website at: www.linstepp.com … or you can pick it up in eBook online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. … If you read it and love it, let me know what you liked … and write a review for Amazon, too.

… See you next month talking about Book 2, TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW.

[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.]