August 2020 – TN PARK WALKS

In these times when life is quieter, and we are all staying closer to home, I want to encourage you to still find time to get out-of-doors in nature. It has been proven to be healthy and healing physically and emotionally. Even if you can’t travel abroad, take cruises or long trips, you can still head out for a day to one of your state parks.

J.L. and I discovered the joy and pleasure of our parks in Tennessee while visiting all 56 of them to write our guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS. For my August blog post I thought I’d tell you a little about some special places to take a walk or hike in the wonderful parks in each TN area. If you don’t live in Tennessee, I’m sure your state’s parks offer an equal diversity of beautiful and interesting places to see, along with lovely trails and quiet pathways to enjoy. We’re already finding that to be true as we work on a second guidebook to state parks in South Carolina.

In planning our Tennessee parks guidebook we decided to divide the book according to the three divisions of TN: East, Middle, and West. We started our visits in the eastern tip of TN, visiting all the east parks first, then moved on to Middle and West TN until we reached the last park near the Mississippi River border. In the guidebook, and in others we’re working on or have published, like our Smokies trail guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER, we tell you clearly how to get to each location, detail the best things to do and see, and include color photos to enhance the discussion.

There are 18 wonderful parks in East Tennessee. Since we live in Knoxville, we could easily drive to these, enjoy a day exploring, and come home to sleep in our own bed at night. We discovered mountain parks like Frozen Head and Roan Mountain, lakeside parks like Warriors Path and Harrison Bay, and parks celebrating historic sites like Red Clay and David Crockett’s Birthplace. Some of our favorite walks and trails in the East Tennessee parks that we especially enjoyed are:

(1) The 2-miles Round Trip (RT) Mountain River Trail along the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals State Historic area in Elizabethton. This is a pretty walk and easy for anyone to enjoy, and of course we also explored the park’s historic fort and museum.

(2) At Big Ridge State park in Maynardville you’ll find a beautiful park with many amenities, but also with several scenic hiking trails. Our favorite is the 2-miles RT Lake Trail that winds around the perimeter of the lake and back. If you start at the eastern end of the trail you can see the old Norton Gristmill, too.

(3) Panther Creek State Park on Lake Cherokee in Morristown offers panoramic lake views, many amenities, and a number of interesting trails. We especially enjoyed the 0.6-mile Seven Sinkholes Trail and the mile long Old Wagon Trail along the creek.

In Middle Tennessee there are 26 state parks, more than any other region, and our biggest delight in exploring these parks was in finding interesting caves and rock formations and a plethora of stunning waterfalls. We hadn’t expected to find so many glorious waterfalls or caves and rocky bluffs so far away from the mountains of East Tennessee. Some of our favorite walks and trails in Middle Tennessee were:

(1) The short Indian Rock House Trail in Pickett State Park in Jamestown, and the Hazard Cave and Hidden Passage trails, all leading to high rocky sandstone bluffs, unusual geological formations, and natural rock bridges. This park isn’t far from the Big South Park Recreation area either.

(2) Closer to Nashville the Cedars of Lebanon State Park also has trails leading to sinkholes, caves, and bluffs and on the half-mile Cedar Glades Trail, with interpretative signs, you’ll spot endangered plants and the rare cedars this park is named for.

(3) To spot some truly stunning waterfalls, be sure to walk the 1.5-miles River Trail at Burgess Falls in Sparta, TN. The path winds along the river side to overlooks at four different waterfalls, each falls bigger and more beautiful than the last.

(4) At Rock Island State Park, you’ll discover another interesting park to explore with more glorious waterfalls. Stop at the Great Falls Overlook to view the falls there, trek down a portion of the Caney Fork River Gorge trail, walk the 0.5-mile Blue Hole Trail, and don’t forget to drive over to the Twin Falls Down River Trail to see two glorious falls rushing out of the rock wall before dropping 80 feet to the river below.

Moving on to West Tennessee, the terrain begins to flatten out more, but we still found a rich diversity among the 12 parks here with more fine walks and hikes to enjoy:

(1) At Natchez Trace, a vast state park, we stayed overnight in the beautiful park lodge and walked a number of the park’s trails, especially enjoying the long footbridge leading across Cub Lake and the quiet trails along the lakeside at Pin Oak Lodge.

(2) At Pickwick Landing on the southern border of West Tennessee at Counce, TN, we discovered several lovely scenic trails winding along beautiful Pickwick Lake. We especially enjoyed  the 1.2-miles Nature Trail behind the park’s fabulous inn and the Island Loop Trail near the park cabins.

(3) The Reelfoot Lake State Park at the far northwest end of the state at Tiptonville was another favorite spot, and we loved exploring the boardwalk trails leading out into the lake. The first, only a half mile, starts at the visitor center where you’ll also learn the history of this unusual lake. Taking a tour around Reelfoot we also discovered and walked several other trails we found at the campground at other scenic points along the lake’s 22 miles of picturesque shoreline.

I hope you noticed, while reading this blog post,  that all the park trails I mentioned are “short” ones. I wanted to stress that in the state parks you’ll find many short, easy, and well-maintained trails. All the family can enjoy these walks while also having a fabulous day exploring the parks and their many historic and natural sites.

Do plan some days this last month of summer to visit one of your nearby state parks. Take a picnic, enjoy the August sunshine, and have fun getting out-of-doors.. Also, if you live in, or plan to visit in Tennessee, pick up a copy of our state parks guidebook or our Smokies hiking book at your favorite bookstore or order either of them online through Barnes & Noble or on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/Lin-Stepp/e/B0028OJMPA%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Also, If you bought and enjoyed our TN state parks book, please considering following the link above to leave a short review on Amazon about our book. Thank you!

Enjoy this last wonderful month of summer and I’ll see you in September! … Lin

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

July 2020 – HIKE MORE. WORRY LESS.

“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miracles.” -Mary Davis

With July and warm summer weather here, I hope all of you will find ways to get out into the healing wonder of nature. After many of us have been cooped up for so long with the corona virus going on and quarantines in many places, I think our inner being literally hungers to get outside again—to take a walk, look up at green trees and into the blue sky, stick our toes into a cool mountain stream or lake, and see some of the beauty of nature again. There is something healing to our souls, uplifting to our minds, and definitely good for our physical well being in getting outside in the natural world. The smile on my face in this photo at right, which appeared on the back of my first published book, shows how happy and peaceful taking a walk in nature always makes me feel. I never fail to come back happier and more refreshed, less stressed or worried than when I left.

To encourage everyone to get outdoors more, I thought I’d talk about some of the special state parks and hiking trails in the Smoky Mountains that we especially like. All are discussed in detail in our two area guidebooks, Discovering Tennessee State Parks and The Afternoon Hiker. If you have not picked up your own copies yet, you’ll find them filled with details about walks and hikes you can take in the Smoky Mountains or Tennessee’s parks, along with directions to each, discussions of things to do and see, and hundreds of color photos. With social distancing still important, do your research and find places to visit for your walks and hikes that are in less populated areas, rather than joining the “madding” crowds where so many congregate. To be more careful and safe, take a picnic to enjoy before or after your walk versus seeking out a crowded restaurant, and always take home, or safely dispose of, your trash when you leave. Remember the motto: “Leave no trace.”

For my first hike discussion … If you’ve read my latest novel HAPPY VALLEY, you may remember Juliette and Walker hiking trails around the Abrams Creek Campground in the Smoky Mountains, not far from their homes in the Happy Valley. This is a quieter part of the mountains where you can take a walk or hike and avoid big crowds. A favorite trail of ours that begins directly behind the Abrams Creek Campground is the Cooper Road Trail. It’s an easy, wide roadbed trail suitable for most anyone, and you can walk as far as you’d like—even all the way to the trail’s end in Cades Cove! You’ll find picnic tables and a nice restroom in the campground, and there are several other fine trails here you might enjoy walking, too, like the Rabbit Creek Trail, Cane Creek or Beard Cane trails and the Little Bottoms Trail that climbs over Hatcher Mountain and down to Abrams Falls by a back route. But the Cooper Road Trail is the easiest and it’s always a beautiful walk.

If you don’t know the Smoky Mountains well and are staying near downtown Gatlinburg, you will find a wonderful little trail winding right out at the end of town, nor far from Nantahala called The Gatlinburg Trail. You may remember it from my book LOST INHERITANCE as Cooper and Emily often walked their dogs, Brinkley and Mercedes, there—and this is one of the rare Smoky Mountain trails that welcomes dogs. The trail winds along the stream and over a low ridge, passing the rocky remains of old homesteads. It’s a great short trail, good for all ages. There are free parking spaces near the trail entrance, and if these are full there is a reasonable pay lot by the winery. Nearby you will also find other trails, not packed with tourist traffic, like the Sugarlands Trail. There are also several wonderful walking trails off the Roaring Fork Nature Trail like the Twin Creeks Trail that Delia and Tanner hiked in my novel DELIA’S PLACE or the walk to Grotto Falls on the Trillium Gap Trail.

In the summer season, I’d advise avoiding the more popular trails—where you will find heavy tourism, crowded parking lots and facilities, and many more people on the trails than you might like. Although these trails are beautiful, you might want to avoid: Laurel Falls, the Chimneys, Alum Cave Bluff, the start of the AT at Newfound Gap, the paved hike to Clingman’s Dome, and anything on the Cades Cove Loop.

Instead, choose trails in less “touristy” areas, which are equally picturesque. On the Townsend-Cades Cove side of the mountains, try one of the trails off the Tremont Road like the West Prong or Lumber Ridge trails, the trail to Spruce Flat Falls out of the Tremont Center, or the Middle Prong Trail at the end of the Tremont Road. The latter is one of our favorites, a broad trail following the stream past waterfalls and cascades. If you want to see a bit of Cades Cove without getting into the heavy traffic there, park right before the road begins and hike the Rich Mountain Loop Trail to the John Oliver cabin. This will give you a chance to see a lovely part of the cove and a historic home without getting into the crowds. You might remember Jenna and Boyce hiking this trail in my book TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW.

Another less crowded area of the Smokies where we just hiked last week is in the Cosby area of the Smokies. From Gatlinburg follow Hwy 321 east to the right turn leading into the Cosby Campground. Along the road you’ll pass the trailhead for Gabes Mountain Trail leading to Hen Wallow Falls.  Rhea, Carter, and Carter’s son Taylor hiked to this falls in my book SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS. On our last visit to Cosby, J.L. and I hiked parts of two trails not far from the picnic and campground area—the Low Gap Trail and the Lower Mount Cammerer Trail. The latter is a lengthy trail, eventually connecting to the AT, but you can hike as far as you feel led through the woods, along and across the streams. Low Gap is a steeper trail, but it parallels the creek for much of its journey with many pretty cascades. Not far away from Cosby is a lovely stretch of the Foothills Parkway, too, which you can drive a portion of for some stunning mountain views.

A final area in the Smokies where you can walk and picnic and enjoy a quiet day is in Greenbrier. This area is also off Hwy 321, passed along the route to Cosby. Turn down the Greenbrier Road to find wonderful pull-offs along the Little Pigeon River and many fine trails you’ll enjoy. One hike you’ll discover is the Old Settlers Trail, that Alice and Harrison rode their horses along in my book FOR SIX GOOD REASONS. The Grapeyard Ridge Trail also winds off the Greenbrier Road to reach Injun Creek Campsite in 3.2 miles. Two of our favorites trails in this area are the Ramsay Cascades and the Porters Creek trails. The Ramsay Cascades is a challenging trail, walking to a stunning waterfall and back. You might remember taking that hike with Mallory and Lucas in my book THE INTERLUDE. You’ll find the Porters Creek Trail at the very end of the Greenbrier Road. The parking lot at this beautiful trail is sometimes busy, especially when the wildflowers are in bloom, but once you head up the trail, things grow quieter. We love the diversity of this pretty trail. Much of the pathway hikes along the stream with many scenic spots along the way. After a mile up the trail, a side path leads over to a preserved mountain cabin, cantilever barn, and springhouse. You can sit on the porch of the old cabin to eat your lunch and imagine what it might have been like to live there deep in the mountains. Remnants of rock walls and a little cemetery can be found along the route and further up the way is Fern Falls, which trickles down the hillsides for about forty feet. In the spring sweeps of phacelia cover the upper trail and on the lower trail are many glorious wildflowers.

Even though it’s summer, it is often cooler along the Smoky Mountain trails, which wander under deep shade trees and along cool rushing mountain streams. Wear comfortable clothes, good athletic shoes or hiking boots, carry water with you—and perhaps spritz yourself with bug spray—and I guarantee you’ll leave your worries behind while walking one of the mountain’s quiet and memorable trails.

[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.]

June 2020 – GAMES I’VE LOVED

In these quieter days at home I’ve been doing some of those “cleaning out” and “sorting through” housekeeping chores. On one of those cleaning days while looking through Family Games, I was met with a sweep of wonderful old memories.

Our lives are tied up with memories not only of the people and places we’ve loved and known, but with the good times and activities associated with them. One of those pleasures—threaded from my childhood through today—has been the joy of playing a multitude of board, card, and outdoor games. The list of different games I’ve played and enjoyed over my life is long … and that list is still growing, because I really love games!

The first games I remember as a child are old classics still around today—card games like “Go Fish,” “Old Maid,””Slap-Jack,”  and “Crazy Eights” … and simple board games like “Candy Land” and “Uncle Wiggly.”  I remember my mother taught me to play “Chinese Checkers” and later “Parcheesi,” two of her favorites, and Dad taught me to play “Marbles,” “Jacks,” and real “Checkers.” Both taught me how to create and play Paper Games, too, that they learned as children … “Tic-Tac-Toe,” “Dot-to-Dot,” and “Hang Man.” These were popular in my Elementary School years, too, because we could scribble them on school paper and pass them around to play.

Neither of my parents were big “game players,” nor was my older brother, but I learned games from my friends at school and while visiting at their homes in my neighborhood. My friend Paula’s parents loved games and puzzles. Paula’s mother taught us to play “Canasta,” “Rummy,” “War,” and many other games with playing cards. Mr. Ferrell taught us all to play backyard “Croquet.” Always a competitive player, he played to win, too, and set the bar high. Another neighbor, Mr. Hartman, created a huge lighted badminton court in his backyard and I learned that game at their house. His daughter Trish, my first friend who lived right across the street from me, taught me to dribble and shoot basketball later, too, and to play simple basketball games like “Horse.” Many of our best loved childhood and school-year games were played outdoors … “Hop-Scotch” and “Jump Rope” games like “Run-Through-School.” I played jump rope games on the playground, too, and on our neighborhood street. I still remember the sing-song jump rope lyrics of “Teddy-Bear, Teddy-Bear” of “Cinderella-Dressed-in Yellow” and of “Down in the Valley Where the Green Grass Grows.”

At school, in Girl Scouts, at summer camps and  in other groups we played “Bingo” and often played for prizes.  The game of Bingo started in the 1530s in Italy and it is one of the oldest and  most popular games in the world.  I remember as a young college girl being taken on dates to Deane Hill Country Club where Bingo was played for prizes as large as a new car!

Many of my play times and game times growing up were spent outdoors. On sunny afternoons in my neighborhood and on warm summer evenings near dusk, we played outdoor games like “Red Rover,” “Kick the Can,” Hide and Seek,” and “Mother May I.” If I close my eyes I can still hear the laughter of the voices calling out …”One-Two-Three on Steve!…I see you behind that bush.” Those were happy, innocent times.

A favorite Christmas gift every year—and often at birthdays—was a new board game. I remember an early one I loved was “Game of the States” that taught me all the states, their capitals, and facts about them. We played many board games… “Monopoly,” “Clue,” “Pay Day,” “Parcheesi,” “Sorry,” and “Careers.” Later with our children I played these all again … along with new ones like “The Game of Life,” “Battleship,” “Operation,” “Hi-Ho Cherry-O,” “Chutes and Ladders,” “Risk,” ”Cootie,” and “Mastermind.”

Through the years we also played many popular boxed card games like “Rook,” “Uno,” Phase 10,” and “Skip Bo.” Our repertoire of playing card games grew to include favorites like “Knock,” “Shang-Hai Rummy,” a multitude of Solitaire games like “Clock” and  of course “Poker,” played with chips, buttons, or pennies.

One of our favorite family games through all the years was “Clue.” It was wonderful fun to travel from room to room to try to determine, by elimination, “who” had murdered the victim and with “what” weapon. Especially in the years when I was reading all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries I loved this game … and I found my children and my husband loved it, too.  Naturally, we always had our “favorite” characters in that game and mine was always Colonel Mustard. “Clue” and the “Game of Life” were probably two of our all-time favorites that we never seemed to tire of playing.

My other favorite games were always word games … like “Scrabble.” I still think this is a fantastic game to help develop word and spelling skills.  J.L. and I battle heavily whenever we play this one, trying to come up with the most creative words and with words that will count the most points. A couple of other word games that are fun are “Upwords,” “Spill and Spell” and “Bananagrams” which comes in a cute, little zippered banana case, easy to carry when you travel!

Group and party games came into play in these years, too, “Charades,” “Trivial Pursuit,” “Pictionary,” “Twister,” “Jenga,” and fast paced games we all laughed over like “Catch Phrase.” I still like the old game of Charades, which is another old classic game. A parlor game, dating back to the 1700s in France, Charades has woven its way into many books, movies, and television shows over the years.

Even now J.L. and I keep discovering new games. A favorite of ours for a number of years has been “Mexican Train,” played with dominoes … and we continue to pull out and play our old favorites like “Yahtzee” and “Scrabble.”

I hope your life, too, has been peppered and flavored with a multitude of great games from your childhood years until today. I’m sure you probably have some favorites I’ve missed mentioning … and maybe reading my remembrances today, you’ll want to dig out a few old favorites to play one evening soon.

[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 2020 – MAY FLOWERS

I grew up hearing story rhymes and poems about April Showers and May Flowers—but at my rural childhood home in South Knoxville, May Flowers were more evident than at most of my friends’ homes. My parents were avid, prolific gardeners. My mother especially loved flowers and grew all sorts of varieties in our back yard, side yards, front yard, and on the extra properties surrounding our rural home. People often came by to look at Mother’s flowers in May—when her displays were especially profuse.

I’m not sure where mother’s love for flowers began. She said she learned her love of them from her mother who also loved flowers—and from growing up out in the country where she was always close to nature. I was older by the time I really noticed that my parents were more enamored with yard and garden that most of my friends’ parents. I’d often heard my mother called “The Flower Lady” by then, too.  She belonged to the local garden club, won competitions with her flower arranging, and created the table decorations for her civic groups and at church.

Looking back, I’m sure it was a disappointment to my parents that I didn’t seem to inherit or develop the same passionate interest in gardening, tilling, planting, canning, freezing, and cultivating …. but I was big on “appreciating.” I loved the flowers in our yard and I loved the big fenced vegetable garden, the strawberry beds and the  glass topped lettuce keepers, the fencerows covered with grapevines, purple, white and blue Petunias, and Sweet Peas. While Mother and Dad looked through gardening catalogs in the winter and could hardly wait until Spring to get their hands in the dirt to plant, weed, and get the garden started … I was usually lost to other worlds instead, to imaginative worlds. Lost in a book or playing with words in some way. This makes sense now that I’m a writer but that latent gifting wasn’t well understood in my home or especially nourished. If I had been a unique variety of iris or a new tomato variety, I’d have been cultivated and fertilized more devotedly.

I don’t blame my parents for the lack of recognition for gifts they didn’t know how to recognize or develop. I was a loved child who grew up in a warm, nurturing, Christian home with my needs met, my friends welcome, good neighbors all around, a healthy environment to grow up in and the importance of good morals and a good education always stressed. As a psychologist now, I understand better that it’s difficult to understand in every way others that are different from us.

The legacy I did gain from growing up around flowers and with a mother who loved them was a rich legacy of knowledge about all kinds and varieties of flowers and about all growing things in general, plus a deep, genuine appreciation for the beauty of  both flowers and nature. Mother saw flowers with a “grower’s eye” while I saw them with an “imaginative eye.” To me the Pansies had faces. I saw them with various fanciful personalities and I gave them names. The long rows of Iris looked like tall, lovely ladies to me—in dresses of purple, blue, gold, or white. The two-toned iris were the most fanciful, their dresses decorated with multi-colors and velvet trims. The Snowball Bushes and Peony shrubs provided lush round flower balls perfect for “pretend bridal games.” With scarves over our heads we’d walk down green aisles in the yard or dance with flowers in our hands.

Tulips and daffodils provided a beautiful backdrop for springtime play and games out-of-doors as did the Roses with their lush, rich scents. Amid the low-growing flowers like pink Creeping Phlox, my friends and I played with our small dolls, and the Phlox were a perfect home for fairies, too. Out in the fields we gathered Daisies and Clover to fashion into necklaces, bracelets and garlands. We sipped Honeysuckle flowers, picked Daisies, and made nosegays of Mimosa Tree blooms. On old quilts in the field, we watched the bees and butterflies weave in and out among the Red Clover, Goldenrod, Queen Ann’s Lace, and Bachelor’s Buttons of every color and we joyously gathered bouquets to bring back home to put in one of Mother’s old vases.

To me, flowers were the joyful setting for imaginative games and stories. My best childhood memories are not of gardening but of Mother pointing out the different flowers to me in the yard or identifying flowers, plants, and trees to me when we traveled and visited in other states. I loved the stories she told me about growing things, about the history and meanings of the flowers, the humorous tales about their names or growing traits. These are the memories I hold the dearest. I especially recall those times today when I walk the neighborhood, the hiking trails or nearby parks, enjoying the flowers. We often gain a legacy, a love and appreciation, for beauty in indirect ways as well as in more direct ones. The love I developed for flowers and growing things as a child continues to flow richly in me and now also drifts into my writing…. Thank you, Mother, for all that wonder you shared with me.

[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 2020 – NEW SPRING BOOKS

As April begins—two new books, HAPPY VALLEY and RETURN TO EDISTO, are being “born” into the world of books on April 2nd… and celebrating their “First Birthday.” I often feel like sending out Birth Announcements after new books publish. So much time, planning, patient work and labor goes into each one… and it’s always such a special thrill when a finished book is finally birthed and those first print copies finally come to my door—and to yours!

If you haven’t yet read a short summary about each of these new books you can read one for each book on my “Books” link. But I wanted to share with you here in this blog post today a few fun facts about these new books that you might not know.

First, if you haven’t noticed it yet HAPPY VALLEY is the first book in a new stand-alone book series called The Mountain Home Books. I am still amazed and thrilled that all twelve of the Smoky Mountain books, conceived so many years ago, have now been published. As that series neared its end, fans began to worry that there would be no more titles and they started to ask for more. My editor at Kensington at the time, Audrey LaFehr, who is now retired, said, “I think 12 books in this series is enough, Lin, but there’s no reason we can’t continue more similar books in a new series. Let’s see, perhaps we can call them The Mountain Home Books.” So I have Audrey to thank for the new series idea and name. A new series also offered the opportunity to stretch my “mountain wings” around to new regions and places—and to have our graphics artist create fresh new cover designs.

Happy Valley is actually a “real place” set between the Chilhowee and Smoky Mountains in an unincorporated community called Tallassee, Tennessee. If you have ever visited the Abrams Creek Campground area of the Smoky Mountains or hiked the trails there, you drove through Happy Valley to get there. We’ve always loved this rural valley, dotted with picturesque homes, farms, and old churches… and I’d often wished I could think of a book idea to set there. “This area is so pretty,” I told J.L. one day while driving through Happy Valley to go hiking. “But I can’t seem to envision a good story idea set here. The area is so small, there are no businesses, and it’s rather far away from most areas. What could I write about set here?” J.L. laughed and said, “It’s a great place for survivalists.” He began to entertain me with stories about survivalists he’d met on his travels delivering fishing and hunting guide magazines as we drove to the parking area of our hiking trail.

Coming back down the Cooper Road Trail a little later in the day I started laughing. “I’ve just had the best idea for a book in Happy Valley. I’m going to create an old country store and I’m even bringing in some survivalists into the story.”  And that was the beginning of the idea for my book HAPPY VALLEY. … Later, as we explored the area more, we met many of the lovely people who live in this valley. We were even graciously invited to attend a Homecoming service at the Missionary Baptist Church … so, of course, that little white church wandered into my story line. J.L. and I both grew to love Happy Valley as I worked on this book … and I peopled the book with fictitious, warm-hearted characters reflecting the type of wonderful friends we made in this rural valley … I hope you’ll really love this new story!

My other new book RETURN TO EDISTO is the second novel in my new Edisto Trilogy. The first book CLAIRE AT EDISTO introduced Claire Avery and her young daughters Mary Helen and Suki, who all came to Edisto for a time of healing after Claire’s husband Charles’s unexpected death. In RETURN TO EDISTO, Mary Helen has grown up, graduated college and taken off to make a life of her own up north in New Jersey. But a hurtful and shocking event causes her to leave her work and head back to her family’s beach house at Edisto. It’s rare that Mary Helen can’t find her way and know what to do when problems come, but this situation is not the norm for her. Her old playmate from childhood, and sweetheart for a time, J.T Mikell is surprised and glad to see Mary Helen back, even for a short visit.  But the sparks soon fly, just like in old times, between these two.

The story of RETURN TO EDISTO could be read as a stand-alone novel but it is much more fun to read it as a sequel—since many of the characters from the past book wind their way into this new story, too…. You will meet many old friends you’ll remember from the first book and many new characters, too … including quite a few dogs!… While working on RETURN TO EDISTO, I posted pictures of these story dogs on Facebook and asked my readers to help me name them—and many of those names found their way into the story…. I often find readers give me great ideas that I can use in my books.

To recall another story that influenced this book’s plot … while at Edisto one summer I unfortunately got flipped off my feet by a wire buried in a sandy yard and broke my arm. Overall that was not a happy memory, but I hate to let any experience be wasted, even a negative one. So in RETURN TO EDISTO I actually wove some aspects of this adventure – of breaking an arm – into the plot of this book… so when you come to that place in the story ( I won’t say when!)  you’ll remember that I unfortunately  broke my arm, too, at Edisto.

To close … I hope you’ve loved visiting our favorite vacation spot in these Edisto novels—and that you’ll enjoy finishing the series next year, sharing Suki’s story, with the third book in the trilogy EDISTO SONG. … You can also look forward to the second Mountain Home book next year titled DOWNSIZING, which is set near Gatlinburg in the Arts and Crafts Community.

Thank you for enjoying my books, and if you take pleasure in these new stories, please consider posting a few words of review on my Amazon or Barnes & Noble pages, on Goodreads, or even on your Facebook page. Spread the word so others will discover my books, too!

See you next month. Stay safe and well.                                                                                                          Lin

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

March 2020 – INTERVIEW MEMORIES

One of the things authors are often asked to do, apart from book signings, speaking engagements, events, and book festivals, are “Interviews.”  Since my first book published in 2009 … I have done many interviews for magazines, newspapers, and review blogs. I thought it might be fun for this March blog to reminisce about some of those interviews and to include some of the questions and answers given about writing over the years. I tried to pick a diversity of questions, spanning  from early in my career to later … and from a variety of sources. Hope you enjoy reading some of the questions I was asked and the answers I gave.

INTERVIEW 1: DIVINE DETOUR:                                                                                                                  An early interview I did in 2010, after my first two books came out, was for Kathy Harris’s Divine Detour Blog. Kathy manages the Oak Ridge Boys in Nashville, keeps an active website about books, media, detours and dreams, and is also a writer with published books of her own. In the years since this first interview I’ve occasionally done a few other interview with Kathy and last year we got to meet for the first time when she came to my Barnes & Noble Book Signing in Franklin, below Nashville.

Here were a few of Kathy’s questions and my answers:

Let’s talk about the Smoky Mountain Series. Please tell us a little about the first two books.                                                      I write warm, contemporary romances with a dash of suspense, a touch of inspiration, and a big dollop of Appalachian flavor. The Smoky Mountain novels are a series of twelve linked books all set in different areas around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee. … The Foster Girls, published in 2009, is set in the rural Wears Valley near Pigeon Forge, and Tell Me About Orchard Hollow, released in 2010, is set in the Townsend, Tennessee area of the Smokies.  For Six Good Reasons, the third book in the series, comes out soon in the spring of 2011. One of my college students said to me: “Oh, Dr. Stepp, I thought you’d write dark novels being a psychologist.” But, no, I write warm, charming, happy novels with a good, satisfying ending. …. Because the books are a linked series, versus a continuing series following the same characters and ongoing drama, each of my books has is its own complete story, with its own unique set of characters and plot. However, for readers who follow the whole series, I do sometimes let book characters pop back into a future book, like meeting an old friend for readers who follow the whole series. …In my novels “detour events” cause dramatic changes in several characters’ lives—and I like showing how my characters work through and past those events to create a richer and stronger future.

Did you begin writing as a child? What draws you to writing as a creative outlet?             From the earliest years I remember, I loved words in print. To this day, I love the sights, smells, and feel of a library or bookstore. I read extensively as a child and doodled at writing in fun ways for pleasure as I grew up. Writing has always called to me like a misty siren and tangled me up in its embrace. … On my Facebook page recently I wrote: “Something I love about writing novels – unlike life – you can determine what happens.” That’s a happy truth. It’s a joyous creative outlet for me to construct worlds, characters, stories and conflicts, and make everything in that world turn out as I want.

How does your faith play into your writing?                                                                                         My faith plays into my writing in two ways. First, I feel strongly that we are each meant to use the talents God gave us – and in ways that bring honor to Him. Johann Goethe wrote: “The person with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.” … Second, writers are more powerful leaders than they may realize. They can touch and influence lives by what they write. I plant “seeds of faith” in my novels, simple examples of how people of faith live their lives by what they believe mixed with a wholesome, entertaining, and engaging story. …In truth, I can’t really separate my writing, my life, and my works from my faith. As Dolly Parton says: “God is in everything I do and all my work glorifies Him.” 

INTERVIEW 2: SOUTHERN WRITERS MAGAZINE:                                                                           In 2012, my first interview with Susan Reichert for SOUTHERN WRITERS MAGAZINES appeared in the magazine’s May/June issue – right between publication of Delia’s Place and Second Hand Rose. This was my first introduction to Susan, who had been reading and enjoying my books, and later I wrote several articles and Suite T blogs for Susan’s publications. Here are a few of Susan’s questions and my answers:

Did you choose your genre or did it choose you?               A little of both. As my husband and I hiked and explored the Smokies for our hiking guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER, I kept stopping in gift stores and book shops along the way looking for light, contemporary novels set in the area … you know, good Southern stories, with a little romance, a little suspense, rich characters, and a happy ending. There weren’t any—only guidebooks to the area, old-time biographies, historical novels, pioneer tales, and mountain recipe books. I asked a bookseller one day, “Where are your contemporary novels set in the mountains?” …He shook his head. “There aren’t any. I wish someone would write some. People ask for them all the time.”  I guess that seeded the idea for me. I hated the idea that there weren’t any contemporary novels set in the Smokies when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited national park in America. As we hiked that day, I started thinking, “Maybe I could write some.”

Later, traveling and doing marketing work for Huntington Learning Center at schools in a locale near the mountains, the idea for the whole series of Smoky Mountain novels simply walked into my mind while driving down the highway. I could see the first book clearly, in vivid detail, and the idea for subsequent books tumbling along behind. …I couldn’t wait to get home to start writing everything down. I’d wanted contemporary books in the mountains and perhaps those books wanted me to write them!

How do you find the time to write?                                                                                                                    I make time and I think that is true for all authors. When I started to write seriously at mid-life, I knew, in order to be successful, I had to think of writing as a “real” job. Since I carried other jobs—as a faculty member at Tusculum College (at that time teaching eight to nine courses a year in psychology and research) and also working as the part-time Educational Coordinator with Huntington Learning Center (making educational marketing visits to K-12 schools), I knew I’d need to plan diligently, make time some time sacrifices, and restructure my life to find the hours to write.

Most serious part-time jobs require a maximum of 20 hours a week of work, so I set that as my minimum weekly goal. I tried various methods of structuring those hours into my weeks—and gradually found, for me, that blocking five hour time blocks into four days a week worked best for me. I planned and penciled these hours into my daybook, and if I didn’t fulfill them, I made myself shift the hours to another day I’d hoped to be “off.” This method wasn’t, and still isn’t, easy but it worked. Starting this routine in 2006, I researched and wrote two books a year this way. In 2008, I started seeking a publisher while working on book four in my Smoky Mountain series. I connected with my current publisher, then seeking a regional romance series set in Appalachia (nice match). My first book THE FOSTER GIRLS, set in the scenic Wear’s Valley below Cove Mountain, came out in 2009. The second book, TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW, set on the quiet side of the Smoky Mountains in Townsend, came out in 2010, with FOR SIX GOOD REASONS highlighting the little-known Greenbrier area following in 2011. My latest release DELIA’S PLACE, published this year, takes readers to the familiar resort town of Gatlinburg. I’m currently writing book ten in the series, around edits with the publisher on book five, to come out April 2013.What sacrifices have you had to make to be a writer?                                                          Working 20+ hours a week writing around my other professional jobs—and now adding in publicity, marketing time, signing events, presentations and speaking engagements—leaves me less and less time for pleasures. Where I used to spend Saturdays on the hiking trail with my husband, we’re now traveling somewhere at a signing at Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, or some other venue. Where I used to enjoy attending a watercolor group every week to paint, I no longer have time to go. TV watching is totally eliminated from my life, since much of my writing is done at night. When people casually discuss tv shows and characters, I smile a lot. I’ve never seen them. Home projects have been put on permanent hold. Painting, crafting, and gardening projects are a thing of the past. I think I caught one movie this past year and one symphony. The writing life is a very disciplined life.

INTERVIEW 3: Nickie Simmons Review Blog:                                                                                    Nickie Simmons, in Sevierville, TN, contacted me to do an interview for her blog not long before SECOND HAND ROSE published in 2013. She and her mother were both big fans of my books and I now know both of them well. Nickie is a busy teacher and part-time minister and no longer does a blog, but I have gone to talk with her students at her school and will be there again this month speaking for the school’s Literacy Fair. Here are a few of Nickie’s questions and my answers:

What age were you when you started writing?                                            My mother was an oral storyteller and I began weaving stories in my mind at a young age. Childhood friends remember that I created the roles and plots for play games. Later, I used my writing gifts on the school newspaper and in writing a few early poems and stories. In college, not finding a major for creative writing and illustration—or receiving any encouragement to pursue either—I majored in education, a practical major for women of my era. I ended up getting three degrees in the psychology and educational arena and began to teach college and work in educational marketing after. …  Writing got shelved through those busy years of college, marriage, children, and work. It wasn’t until the children were grown that I began to write with any serious intent, coming back full circle to early girlhood dreams.

How many books are you currently working on?                                                                        Recently I completed the final edits for my next Smokies novel Second Hand Rose, which is now working its way into galleys and will be published next spring 2013. In between edits … I am writing on book ten in the Smoky Mountain series, a title called Daddy’s Girl, set in Bryson City. I am also involved in final editing stages for my husband’s and my hiking guide, The Afternoon Hiker, which will come out later this fall…… I am a multi-tasker and can work on several projects at once—a blessing in the writing and publishing world! I also am working on a devotional guide, a children’s book, and another non-fiction book. This weekend, I am heading to the beach to Edisto Island, SC, where—even there—I will “play in my mind” and scribble down thoughts and ideas for a trilogy I plan to set at this island where our family has visited every summer since the 1980s. Eugene Ionesco said, “For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.” For me, I guess that is always true!

Is there a message in your novels that you want readers to grasp?                                            As a psychologist, I weave a number of messages throughout my novels—that love heals and prevails, that forgiveness is better than bitterness, that life can offer new beginnings, that people have the capacity to help others mend and heal after sorrows. I am a positivist and an optimist and I write books full of hope and promise with happy endings. I am concerned about the current fascination today with dark and immoral topics in books and movies, and I worry about the diet of trashy, violent, and immoral images America is constantly feeding into its mind through literature, television, and online media. Like an old line from Alice in Wonderland said, “We are what we eat.” …….. .I believe it is still possible to write a compelling book readers will love and buy without throwing in excessive violence, explicit sexual content, cursing, vampires, or witchcraft. That is what I try to write. Within every book, I also plant a few spiritual seeds—that prayer works, that God is still real, that you can have a genuine relationship with the Creator, and that faith makes life richer and better.

INTERVIEW 4: ALL ABOUT WOMEN MAGAZINE:                                                                                 An interview article came out in the ALL ABOUT WOMEN MAGAZINE at a busy season in 2014 after the release of several books with Kensington Publishing, including DADDY’S GIRL, MAKIN’ MIRACLES, SAVING LAUREL SPRINGS, and WELCOME BACK…. And after the publication of our hiking guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER and a novella titled “A Smoky Mountain Gift” in Kensington’s Christmas anthology WHEN THE SNOW FALLS.   Here are a few of the questions in that interview:

What is your favorite thing about creative writing?                        My favorite thing about creative writing is getting lost in the creative world of my imagination, and in developing rich characters, settings, and stories to share with others. I also love bringing readers from all over the US and abroad to visit the beauty of the mountains of Tennessee and No. Carolina.

What is your writing process?                                                                         Generally, I write two books a year around my other jobs and life commitments. I spend a minimum of 20 hours a week—usually much more—working on my writing. It usually takes me about three months to plan, research, lay out, and outline a new book and about three months to write it.

What is most challenging about writing?                                                                                                        I believe the most challenging thing about being a writer is protecting one’s time to get the writing done. Many people carry stories in their hearts or minds but never get them on paper. It takes disciplined, dedicated effort to write a book. Then it takes courage and persistence to find a publisher and to work through the many stages of editing required to make the book the best it can be. Additionally, once a book is published a writer’s time becomes even more challenged because of the ongoing and time-consuming demands to market and promote every new book published. Book signings, book talks and presentations, interviews, and media promotion take an inordinate amount of a writer’s time—and there is also fan mail to answer and social media to engage in to stay in touch with readers and fans. …..                                                        In many jobs, the hours and tasks of the day are structured—and policed—by another, but the writer’s day is, by-and-large, self structured. And at the end of a hard day of self-imposed, extensive hours of work, there is no one to say “well done” or to pat an author on the back and offer praise for the long hours put in. Because of this highly entrepreneurial process, an author’s work ethic must arise from within. Each author must become his or her own taskmaster—a truly daunting challenge every day.

INTERVIEW 5: Panel Questions for ROSE GLEN LITERARY FESTIVAL                                  In February of 2018 I was asked to be on a panel with two other regional authors Sam Venable and Steven Lyn Bales. We were given interview questions to think about and prepare answers for, although we actually answered many other questions instead straight off the cuff. I have been on several other festival panels and these are always fun opportunities to share speaking with other authors and answering reader questions after. Here were a few of the questions we were given:

Have you ever written a story in which someone disputed the details?                                                        No, not that I can remember … I do a lot of research about each of my novels set around the Smoky Mountains, so I don’t get much argument about the details in my books—real or fictional. And in our guidebooks, taking readers up the Smoky Mountain trails … I can’t recall anyone has ever disputed anything about the trails we described or the occasional bit of area history we tucked in. …….              I’ve taught research classes for over eighteen years in college, and we “research teachers” tend to rather closely mind details. You can see I’m the one out of the three on the panel with notes written out – which is telling! ….  Actually, I spend as much time researching a book as I do writing it … and that probably helps the accuracy of my books. I laughed recently over a novel by a well-known author set in Gatlinburg. The book characters ran down to the hospital in Gatlinburg in one scene .. .and anyone who’s spent some time around here knows there’s no hospital in Gatlinburg … and they also frequented a lavish, Hollywood-type spa downtown—the type of facility you might find in Beverly Hills, but certainly not around the Smokies!. … I tend to set my books around here locally and write about what I know. It keeps me out of trouble more.

What have you written about that you vowed to never write about again?                        An academic Dissertation! That experience, while doing my doctorate, is not on my list of joyous remembrances. Academic committees thrive on having students rewrite and rework their dissertation topics and writings again and again, needed or not. It’s the expected academic experience. In one of my last meetings the committee proposed that I come at the topic from yet a different angle and they asked if I had a problem with that. I said, “No. That will be an easy change because that approach and write-up was the one I presented in the very beginning a year ago.” Fortunately because I said it rather sweetly rather than as a smart ass – and because they all realized it was true – they let me move along then. …. But the research, the writing, and the APA adherence to format with a dissertation is a rigid, very uncreative process. ….                                                              Fortunately, once a Doctor always a Doctor … so I don’t have to pass that way again. I’ll always remember Dr. Connelly on my committee, a real battle-ax in the classroom and a legal stickler … said in her typical droll way in my final defense meeting, “I read a lot of these dissertations, generally dry and dull, but I have to say Lin’s was the exception. It read almost like a novel … I think she might have missed her calling.”

Have you ever written anything that you wished had never been published?               No. And I hope I never do.  …. I keep a little quote by L.M. Montgomery taped by my computer in my office: “Never write a line you would be ashamed to read at your own funeral.” … I try real hard to do that.

INTERVIEW 6: Interview for Carrie’s blog READING IS MY SUPERPOWER                  Carrie Schmidt, an avid Kentucky reader and blogger, discovered my books because of her love for the Smoky Mountains. Carrie is a gifted and multi-talented woman who works for an educational testing service and is also the co-founder and partner for JustRead Publicity Tours for authors. I am participating in one of Carrie’s company’s five-day tours later in March before my upcoming books HAPPY VALLEY and RETURN TO EDISTO publish on April 2nd.. The questions below were from an interview done last year in 2019 just after publication of THE INTERLUDE and CLAIRE AT EDISTO.

Writing spaces are as diverse as authors and books. Where is your favorite space to write?  ….                                                                                                                                                             Although I’ve been know to scribble out book ideas while traveling or on napkins in restaurants … when I settle down to write a new books, it is always in my home office. Like the old line by Virginia Woolf saying a woman needs “a room of her own to write” … I am grateful to have a full room for my office and a dedicated place in which to write. In my room are bookshelves of references, resources, and favorite titles, an old desk handed down in my family I cherish, and a long computer desk that holds my big iMac and printer. Around the room are mugs full of pens and pencils, stacks of papers and folder related to ongoing books, and behind my desk is a big bulletin board on the wall collaged with magazine and internet pictures representing the characters and places in my ongoing book … When I come here, the world goes out. And I write.

Which of your main characters is most like you?                                                             Professionally, Vivian Delaney—in my first published book THE FOSTER GIRLS—was a professor and a writer, so I felt in tune easily with the challenges she faced in both jobs … Also in my latest book CLAIRE AT EDISTO, I related easily to Claire, a busy young mother with little time to develop her own talents. I still remember those younger years raising my children and how hard it was to pursue my own dreams while helping my children pursue theirs, and while working and keeping the home front running smoothly.

What do you most want readers to take away from your books?                                                  I’m tempted to just say “a sigh and a smile.” … I love bringing readers to the rich story settings in my books along with a good heart-warming story. I always want readers to stay entertained from start to finish in every book I write, to fall in love with the characters, but also to never be quite sure what will happen next in the story. … I also want readers to feel like they have visited in the settings of my books—in different areas around the Grreat Smoky Mountains, where most of my novels are set, or at the beach at South Carolina, where my new trilogy takes place. It’s such a joy to me when I get fan mail saying “Your books made me feel like I was there” or when readers come to my book signings telling me about making road trips to places around the Smokies because they read about them in my books. One fan called me ‘a great ambassador to the Smokies’ and I loved the idea of that title…Because I put seeds of faith in all my books, I also love when readers tell me how some spiritual seeds I planted into my story encouraged their faith. These are the best compliments of all … Most of all I want readers to regret when the book ends because they enjoyed it so much.

CLOSING: I hope you enjoyed reminiscing with me and remembering some of the many interviews I’ve had over the years. … See you next month in my April blog and I hope to see you at one of my events in the southeast area. Find all of those scheduled for 2020 so far on the Appearances page of this website. And remember my new books publish on April 2nd and are available for pre-order on Barnes & Noble and at Amazon now.

See you then! __ Lin

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