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.