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Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Denise! Tell us about your latest book.

My most recent release is Bright as Gold, fourth and final novel of The Georgia Gold Series. The series, which begins with Sautee Shadows in the time of the 1830s Georgia Gold Rush, connects the mountains and the coast as readers follow four fictional families through the mid-1800s. One of my main characters is Mahala Franklin, a half-Cherokee girl who grows up trying to find out who killed her father and stole the gold he mined from the Sautee Valley. Eventually, her white innkeeper grandmother brings her to town to raise her as a proper young lady. There she meets Carolyn Calhoun, an unwilling and shy socialite forced to choose a husband between two very different brothers, and Jack Randall, shipping entrepreneur from Savannah. When Jack buys a competing hotel and the two also fight their attraction to each other, sparks fly. The middle two novels include lots of adventure set during The Civil War, and the most recent one is Reconstruction-era. It’s a more introspective and relational look at how the characters overcome during a very difficult period of time.

When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

I start the momentum with my research, timeline and plot plans, but the characters have been known to take over at times. I think we have to be deniseweimersensitive to what a certain character would or would not do. If it doesn’t feel true to their personality or development, we need to find a little flexibility.

Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

I started local, doing signings at book stores, gift shops, festivals, book clubs, etc. I crafted a basic news release that could be altered for each. I also contacted clubs and groups in the region which might have interest in an author’s visit. I supported all that with online publicity. Recently my publisher and I have worked to get the word out past the hour-and-a-half radius where I can personally appear. I’ve joined Goodreads and Twitter as well as Facebook and am doing more guest blogging, author networking, requesting reviews, and conducting giveaways. I’m also planning a book signing tour to a wider area.

How long have you been writing?

I began writing at age 11. We don’t have to talk about how long ago that was, do we? I grew up visiting historic sites with my parents. My active imagination would wonder what type of people had lived in the homes or towns and what their lives might have been like. Eventually I bought spiral-bound notebooks and would whip those out and scribble down the stories from right there in the back seat as we traveled. I went straight to writing novels, of course, although I wouldn’t want anyone to read those now!

What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

I love this advice. It’s great to apply to selecting the setting for our books, for starters. If we create a story set near where we live, we are more apt to accurately capture the local “feel:” the ins and outs of the way people think, their ethnicity and heritage, the hole-in-the-wall places they frequent, their lingo, their history; the sounds, sights and smells of nature there; the area’s secrets and idiosyncrasies. Research is far easier; we run less risk of either error or the expense of visiting our chosen locale. Marketing is far easier; we have a strong natural geographic starting base for events with an instant niche. I believe it’s also good to write what we know in terms of what we have experienced. If we’ve lived through something, there’s a reason. There’s wisdom in finding the meaning in that experience. We can relate it with authentic emotion that will pierce the consciousness of the reader and share life lessons that may encourage others.

How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.

The Georgia Gold Series is historical fiction or Southern literature (or could be dubbed historical romance). While I will probably write more in that genre in the future, I expect there will be some out-of-genre surprises.

Besides “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?

Wife, mother of two daughters, and keeper of the home. Swim/taxi mom most specifically. I spend a lot of time commuting and sitting in car rider lines. But writing is what has allowed me to be flexible and available for my family. I really feel the flip side of writer is saleswoman. I’ve created a blog article on that shocking conversion as well.

Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.

I’m an organized type of person, so I like to do my research first. I put facts in the mental hopper and allow them to percolate. As plot ideas spring forth randomly over time, I overlay those on my timelines. Then I’m free to daydream and let the actual scenes come to me – the fun part! – grab a pen or my laptop, and start composing.

Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?

In my childhood home, academics and literature were greatly appreciated. My parents encouraged me to read the classics and would read aloud to me from series like Little House on the Prairie and The Chronicles of Narnia. My parents provided great examples of how being well-read made you well-educated and able to interact on a variety of subjects.

Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?

deniseweimer.brightasgoldWell, I had one who scared me, and sometimes that can be motivational. She was my 8th grade English teacher. We’d do these exercises in class where we had to fill in a blank that had to do with the correct form of a verb or part of speech. But she’d do it in rapid-fire succession. We’d try our best to count ahead to which question might hit us, but she liked to mix things up. Everyone in class would be trembling like they were about to be tied to the execution pole. Because if you got the answer wrong she’d explode with something like, “NO! You ding-dong! That’s a dangling modifier!” Or some such nonsense. This was before calling children in a classroom names was politically incorrect. And she had a startling repertoire of originally insulting but not quite cursing names. We won’t even talk about how hard it was to get an ‘A’ in there. But … when I had to recite the balcony scene from “Romeo & Juliet,” she looked quite entranced. And there was a calendar she kept with literary scenes on it. The last month in her class “The Lady of Shalott” graced the wall. Of course I had a fascination with that poem then because the GPTV “Anne of Green Gables” had just come out. I would stare at the romantic depiction of the lady in the boat and wish it was me, “drifting down to Camelot,” away from English class. At the end of the school year, I asked Mrs. S for that page. Her look of surprised pleasure almost cracked into a warm smile. I walked away with a firm command of sentence structure and a print that now hangs matted and framed in my Victorian-style guest bedroom.

Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I do have a Kindle. I hear there are some people who are e-reader-only people and others who are print-only people. I’m sure this is true, but I have found for me (and probably others, too) there’s a place for both. I love to find free and discounted books for the Kindle and take it with me on trips for ease of packing. But for books I want to keep forever because I love them that much or a friend wrote them – or a situation like with my Georgia Gold novels where the covers are one-of-a-kind prints done by a regionally collected artist – I value the physical copy on my shelf.

How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

My characters often come to me in those “loosely constructed” or “unplugged” moments described in the question on writer’s block. But before that happens, I spend time pondering what sort of person I want to represent a certain group of people and how I want them to be shaped from beginning to end by the trials and circumstances of history or what’s going on in the story. Mostly they are their own people, but occasionally a real-life person will bear some influence. An example of this would be Maddy, the hotel cook in my Georgia Gold Series. She was my grandma who has since passed away, who cleaned immaculately and was a wonderful cook but was never satisfied with her own efforts.

Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?

I just read some fascinating research having to do with brainstorming. Basically it stated that we use different parts of our brain at different times in the creative process. And that the best thing to do when you’re stuck is to “unplug” your brain for a while … just take a walk or do another task requiring less concentration. The ideas will start to flow. That’s why we have our best inspiration at odd moments. Check out my blog at deniseweimerbooks.webs.com for an upcoming article on this!

Why do you write?

I write because when God gives you a gifting and a desire in the same area, you don’t squander it. There are so many talented writers out there, and I have no claims or delusions of fame. But I do believe if you’re a writer, you know it, and God will also give you the story or the manuscript, whether it be meant to entertain, instruct or encourage.

Thank for joining us today, Denise. For more information about Denise:

 

 

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To celebrate >25,000 ebooks sold and >300 reviews on Amazon, we’re giving away copies of Whistling Woman in the following formats:  whistling woman

5 ebooks

5 paperbacks

5 audiobooks

For a chance to win, please like our Whistling Woman Facebook page and send us a message as to your preferred format. If you have already liked us, just send us a Fb message saying so and the format you would like. The first five names drawn in each format will receive their free copy.

For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a short blurb:

A whistling woman and a crowing hen never come to a very good end. In the waning years of the 19th century, Bessie Daniels grows up in the small town of Hot Springs in western North Carolina. Secure in the love of her father, resistant to her mother’s desire that she be a proper Southern belle, Bessie’s determined to forge her own way in life. Or, as her Cherokee great-grandmother, Elisi, puts it, a whistling woman. Life, however, has a few surprises for her. First, there’s Papa carrying home a dead man, which seems to invite Death for an extended visit in their home. And shortly before she graduates from Dorland Institute, there’s another death, this one closer to her heart. But Death isn’t through with her yet. Proving another of Elisi’s sayings, death comes in threes, It strikes yet again, taking someone Bessie has recently learned to appreciate and cherish, leaving her to struggle with a family that’s threatening to come apart at the seams. Even her beloved Papa seems to be turning into another person, someone Bessie disagrees with more often than not, and someone she isn’t even sure she can continue to love, much less idolize as she had during her childhood. And when Papa makes a decision that costs the life of a new friend, the course of Bessie’s heart is changed forever.

CC Tillery

(Cyndi Tillery Hodges

Christy Tillery French)

Southern historical fiction author Steve Brown is in the spotlight today. A little backstory for our readers; Steve and I belong to the WNC Writers’ Guild, a group that meets on the second Thursday of every month, and we often engage in, um, how shall I put this, “friendly” discussions about the future of the publishing industry and what works best for an author today. Steve is what I lovingly refer to as a “dinosaur” and I feel duty-bound to drag him into the 21st century, whether he likes it or not. In all seriousness, I admire the fact that he can—and does!—sell a great many books “face to face” but I shudder at doing the same thing. In fact, I know I would be a miserable failure if I tried it so my hat’s off to him. That said, I’d be interested to know how our readers feel about his, um, rather outdated approach to sales. Okay, here we go…

Welcome, Steve! Tell us about your latest book, Charleston’s Lonely Heart Hotel.

charleston-lonely-hearts-hotel-3dcover-300Charleston’s Lonely Heart Hotel is the story of building of the first bridge across the Cooper River in Charleston. I affectionately call it “Grey’s Anatomy builds a bridge” because there are not enough hotel rooms for all the men who come to town to build the bridge. A woman living on South Battery Street opens her house up to several engineers who she puts in a row of beds in the downstairs reception hall. Well, nature abhors a vacuum, so the second floor of the mansion fills up with wives, girlfriends, and fiancées. The Great Cooper River Bridge was built during the Roaring Twenties. The book that follows is Charleston’s House of Stuart, set in 1930, after the stockCharlseton's House of Stuart market crash of 1929. There is a good bit of bootlegging lore in the story.

I’ve heard quite a bit about this book and I’m looking forward to reading it. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

Charleston on the Potomac is the third book following these same families who live south of Broad, in the same mansion on Charleston’s Battery. This third book deals with how South Carolina sent a man to the United States Senate, and for every one dollar the state of South Carolina sent to Washington, this South Carolina senator returned twenty-seven dollars back to his state.

Since these stories are about society, I spend most of my time writing about women and the changing rules of the game.

Okay, brace yourself everyone, here comes the topic that Steve and I often go round and round about! Steve, promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

I don’t believe in social media. Face to face is the only way to sell books, so I do book signings every weekend at Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble.

Uh-huh, well, you know how I feel about that, Steve. I will grant you this, it all depends on what the author is most comfortable doing. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

Jack Pyle and Taylor Reese. Fifteen years ago, they told me to stop waiting to be “discovered” and get out there and sell my books.

Having met Jack and Taylor (two of the founding members of our writing group), I agree with you, they’re an inspiration to everyone who meets them. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

That I have the opportunity to comment on society. For instance, a sixty-year-old woman says in the third book of the trilogy: “Back in my day, the family raised the children, not the federal government.”

I love that and it’s so true. Of course, back then, families didn’t expect the government to raise the children. I don’t know when that changed but I think that’s one of the areas where we need to go back to the old ways. Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?

Two Southern girls watching a Yankee boy and his fiancee walk by. One belle turns to the other and says, “If I understand correctly, Yankee boys treat their women as equals.” The other belle is horrified. “Now why would they do that? Don’t they know that men were put on earth to serve women?”

I’ve never heard that one before but I have to admit, it made me smile. What are major themes or motifs in your work?

One of my editors told me that she loves my female characters because they have so many rules they have to get around. And sexism never goes away. It is a constant theme throughout all of my stories. As I have pointed out on more than one occasion, if you are writing about society, you really don’t spend a lot of time on men’s problems!

Ahem, this is another of our “friendly” topics of discussion so…I’m just going to move on. What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall) If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?

Ruthlessly true to the historical record. I never shade anything for anyone, conservatives or liberals. And I never forget that a real man is an incomplete man.

Good choice! Fits you to a tee. Describe your writing process once you sit down to write and tell us where you get your ideas.

When I sit down to write, I always ask myself the two questions any reader asks when they open a new book: Where am I and do I want to be there? All readers ask that, and the answer to those two questions determines if the reader will read your story.

The ideas usually just pop in my head. I’ll be doing something else, usually driving along on my way to a book signing, and shazam! For example, I wanted to write a novel about building the first bridge over the Cooper River in Charleston, and at book signings I would talk about my next project. (That’s where I do my market research.) No one was interested until I mentioned that the bridge was built during the Roaring Twenties.

Well, I have to admit, that’s a great way to do market research. It takes you right to the heart of your readers and what they want to read. Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)

Nah. I read the Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and the sci-fi novels of Andre Norton, and watched a lot of movies where I learned that the “presentation of the material was all important.” When I got to college, I read the Travis McGee novels of John D. McDonald, the Matt Helm stories by Donald Hamilton, the Desmond Bagley novels of suspense, and watched even more movies. When I was overseas in the service, I discovered Modesty Blaise who I thought was incredibly cool, and scary, for a girl, so I occasionally bring a tough broad like Modesty back to life in my stories.

Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about McDonald’s Travis McGee novels in forever and a day. I used to love those and have no idea what made me quit reading them. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

My characters are chosen by the historical record. If you write about the antebellum South, you must create a Yankee character who voices misgivings about slavery, and it’s better if that character is a woman because she is more heavily invested in Northern culture.

Yes, that’s the method my sister and I used, and continue to use, for the series of books about our great aunt’s life. Historical record, combined with family stories. It’s amazing to me when they converge. What’s your attitude toward the standard writing advice; write what you know?

CarolinaGirls-3dWell, if that’s true, then I must think one hell of a lot about women. Carolina Girls, my most popular book, with over ten thousand in print, begins with four different seventeen-year old girls who go to the beach in the sixties. Well, I have been seventeen, but I’ve never been a girl nor did I EVER go to the beach until I was close to thirty.

I’ve read Carolina Girls and enjoyed it very much. For anyone who grew up in the sixties and early seventies, it’s a must read, an engaging trip down memory lane. Thanks so much for being with us today, Steve. I enjoyed it and hope you survived your foray into cyber-space!

Readers, if you’d like to find out more about Steve’s work, visit his website Chick Springs Publishing.

Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon

which your reason and your judgment wage

 war against your passion and your appetite.

 

Kahlil Gibran

Chapter 1

The outer door to her office swung open and Natasha’s eyes widened when Danny DeVito crossed the threshold. Yanking her feet off her desk, she came close to overbalancing and toppling over backward. Dangit! Squaring her shoulders and trying to look professional, she squinted against the bright light flooding the room, watching as he closed the door, a large briefcase in hand. As he drew near, she studied the prancing gait, wondering if Danny, who happened to be one of her favorite actors, was gay. Oops. She hoped that didn’t fall into the category of a homophobic thought.

The man stopped on the other side of her desk and regarded her for a moment. Natasha stared back, disappointed to see a younger version of Danny, sharing the same dark hair, dark eyes, and short, stocky body.

He extended his hand, saying, “Ms. Chamberlain,” as if he knew her.

As she shook, Natasha debated rising, but she would probably tower over him, feeling like an Amazon, so chose to remain seated. “And you are?”

“Tommy James, Esquire.”

Natasha raised her eyebrows. “As in attorney at law?”

He gave her an insipid smile. “If you insist.”

Natasha waved toward the chair in front of her desk. “Please.”

With great deliberation, Tommy set his briefcase down next to the chair. He took care to remove a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and dust off the seat.

Natasha mentally sighed. That’s what she got for buying second-hand office furniture. No matter how much she cleaned, everything appeared tattered and grimy. Even her wooden desk looked like someone had taken a heavy chain to it at one point. She rubbed her hand over the pitted surface, skimming the rough surface of the well-used emery board she had been using on her fingernails when the door opened. Well, that didn’t look professional. Placing her palm over the file, she eased her desk drawer open and slid the emery board inside.

Tommy tucked his hanky away and seated himself in the chair.

Natasha tried not to stare at his feet, dangling several inches above the floor. “How can I help you, Mr. James?”

“I need your services as a bodyguard.”

A sense of relief washed over Natasha. This would be a nice diversion from her troubles with Striker; a reason not to see him as much. That thought overwhelmed her for a moment. Surely things weren’t that bad.

“Ms. Chamberlain.”

“I’m sorry. Please call me Natasha.” She fished a contract out of her desk drawer and placed it on the desk. Tore the doodle page off her legal tab, wadded it up, and flipped it over her shoulder. Smirked when she heard it thump against the inside of the trashcan.

“Very good,” Tommy said.

Natasha gave him a perfunctory smile. “I do that a lot.” She uncapped her pen and hunched over the pad. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on, Mr. James, why you need my services.”

“Tommy.”

“Okay, Tommy.”

Tommy settled his butt firmly in place, folded his hands on his lap, and crossed his feet. “Well, I’ve got myself into a bit of a jam.”

Natasha wrote on her legal pad: Tommy James, attorney, in jam. “Go on.”

“I’m afraid someone is trying to kill me.”

Natasha looked up. “You’re sure?”

Tommy shrugged. “Call it an occupational hazard.”

“What kind of attorney are you, Mr. Jam—Tommy?

“I practice all aspects but specialize in criminal defense.”

“Yikes.”

“Exactly.”

“Do you have any idea who might want to kill you?”

Tommy leaned over, flipped open the top of his briefcase, and pulled out a typewritten sheet. He slid it onto Natasha’s desk.

She picked it up, her forehead furrowing. “There are at least fifty people on here.”

Tommy shrugged. “What can I say?”

“What, you lost all these cases and these guys want to kill you for it?”

Tommy’s eyebrows collided. “For your information, Ms. Chamberlain, I’m a very successful defense attorney. Those names are family members of victims who harbor ill-feelings toward me because I’ve gotten the defendant off.”

“No offense, but I don’t know if I want to protect you. I kind of have a problem with people in our society who protect criminals’ rights over victims’ rights.”

Tommy shook his head. “Should have known you’d be a Republican.”

Natasha glared at him. “Those are fighting words. I am not, never have been, nor never will be a member of any party and am proud to call myself an Independent.” She waved her arms around. “Does this look like money to you?”

“My point exactly. It’s the money, sweetie-pie, the money. I’m a millionaire because of what I do.”

“Please don’t call me sweetie-pie. You understand I’m not licensed to be an investigator. I can’t legally investigate these people.”

“I don’t recall asking you to.”

Natasha tried not to let her disappointment show. Things were more interesting when she got to do some independent sleuthing, which is what she had been fishing for in a backhanded way. She briefly wondered if she shouldn’t look into getting an investigator’s license, combine the two careers.

Tommy cleared his throat. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t, let’s say, check them out behind the scenes?”

Natasha tamped down her growing excitement as she wrote below Tommy’s name: Defense attorney – claims someone wants to kill him. She raised her eyes to his. “What exactly makes you think someone is trying to kill you?”

Tommy fished in his briefcase once more and pulled out a lined sheet of white paper, the type school kids use. Holding it up by the edge, he placed it on Natasha’s desk.

Natasha used the capped end of her pen to slide it toward her. She leaned over and studied the words pasted on the paper which looked like they had been cut out of magazines, each a different size, different color. “Your dead.” She looked up at Tommy. “Not a very smart killer wannabe, huh?”

Tommy frowned. “I’m sorry?”

“Y-o-u-r, not the contraction y-o-u-apostrophe-r-e, for you are.”

Tommy struggled to his feet and peered at the paper. He sat back down, a flustered look on his face. “I’m sure a lot of people make that mistake. That shouldn’t tell you one way or the other whether the sender is intelligent or not.”

Natasha considered this for a moment, thinking he seemed awful defensive. “Do you have the envelope in which this letter was mailed?”

Tommy shook his head. “Wasn’t. Someone put it in my firm’s mailbox, folded and stapled.”

Holding it by one edge, Natasha flipped the paper over, noted letters forming the words Tommy James pasted on the outside. She examined the staple marks, creases in the paper. “Did you give this to the police, have them dust it for prints?”

“What’s the point? At least five other people handled it before me.”

“Has anything else happened to cause you to think someone wants to kill you?”

“Yeah. I’ve gotten a couple of phone calls, a man’s voice, saying I’m going to be a dead lawyer. Also, I’m pretty sure someone’s following me.”

“Have you gotten death threats before?”

“I’m a defense attorney, it goes with the territory. But the person always made it clear who was threatening me.” He waved his hand at the paper. “This is creepy.”

Natasha eased back in her seat, careful not to lean too far back or over she’d go, vaguely wondering why in the world she continued to hold on to a cast-off piece of furniture that belonged in the dump. “And when exactly do you want me to protect you, Tommy?”

“What do you mean?”

“While you’re at your office, your home, when you’re out and about?”

“Oh, I need you 24/7. Just like you did with Roger Valentine.”

“You know Roger?”

“I know of Roger. I followed his mother’s trial. That’s how I learned about you. I was in court the day you testified.” He crossed his legs. “FYI, she would have walked if I defended her.”

“Well, thank the good Lord you didn’t.” Cassandra Valentine was a scary person. Natasha still had nightmares about the time she and Roger were held at gunpoint by Cassandra. If Natasha’s mom, Stevie, hadn’t interfered, Natasha and Roger would, in all probability, have ended up six feet under while Cassandra lived the lifestyle of the rich and infamous. Natasha still couldn’t understand how a mother could love money more than her own son, especially if that son was Roger. With a sigh, she shook her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t have the staff to protect you twenty-four hours a day. Maybe you should hire a larger firm with more members. I can recommend Investigative Services, Inc. I personally know the owner, and they’re a very good service.”

Tommy shook his head. “I want you and no one else.” He hesitated. “Well, I realize you can’t guard me round-the-clock without sleep, so maybe those two Samoan bodyguards who helped guard Roger could help out. I like their looks.”

I’ll just bet you do, Natasha thought.

“And I’d like you to be my pretend girlfriend, like you did with Roger.”

Natasha’s eyes widened. “Sorry, no can do. I’m in a committed relationship and my fiancé wouldn’t appreciate that.” Neither would she but she decided not to voice that thought.

“You mean Striker?”

Her gaze met his. “You know Striker?”

“I’ve met him a time or two.”

Natasha’s lips twitched, imagining Tommy looking like a little kid standing next to Striker’s 6’2”, muscular frame.

Tommy leaned forward. “Look, I’ll pay you twice your hourly fee. And maybe girlfriend isn’t the right word. How about companion?”

“That sounds worse than girlfriend, and I’m not going to be anything to you other than your bodyguard if I take the case.”

His eyes gleamed. “So you’ll do it?”

“Before I even consider it, I’d advise you to think about having more than one bodyguard protect you at any given time.”

“Nah, you and those two big Samoans should be enough. Besides, I’ve got a security guard covering the grounds at my office, so that’s taken care of. All I need is you inside, with me.” He raised his eyebrows. “What do you say?”

“Give me a minute.” With great care, Natasha turned her chair around and stared at the wall. Twice her hourly fee was enticing. Thanks to the generous bonus Giki awarded her at the end of the tour, her savings account had grown from two zeroes to three hovering on four. Thoughts of expanding her business once she got busy with it had become a real goal, along with luring Pit and Bigun away from Striker if she could talk them into it and Striker agreed. And how dangerous could it be, guarding an attorney? Of course, a lot of people looked upon them with disdain, but it was rare to see a news flash about a lawyer murdered by a client or someone seeking vengeance.

She swiveled back around. “Okay, we’ll do it this way. I’ll guard you during the day, and if Pit and Bigun are free, they can take you at night. You understand, that means they’ll be living with you.”

Tommy put one finger to his chin and contemplated. He opened his mouth at one point as if to say something but then closed it. After a few minutes, he said, “Deal.”

Using her pen, Natasha slid the letter into a file folder. “I’ll have this checked for fingerprints, see if anything shows up.”

Tommy reached forward, pulled the contract to his side of the desk. “Where do I sign?”

Natasha picked up the phone. “Just a minute. First I need to verify Pit and Bigun can do it, then I need to revise the contract.”

She called Striker and asked him if he could subcontract Pit and Bigun out to her for awhile.

“You got a case?” Striker didn’t sound too happy about it.

“Yes, I do.”

“Guarding?”

“An attorney.”

“Natasha—”

“Look, he’s in my office now, so let’s talk about that later. Are Pit and Bigun available and can I have them?”

“They’re on a case, but I can pull them off if you need them.”

“Yes, I do, and I appreciate that, Striker.” She caught sight of Tommy frantically waving his hand at her. “Hold on.” She put her hand over the mouthpiece. “Yes?”

“Tell Striker Tommy says hello.”

“Striker, Tommy James says hello.”

She pulled the phone away from her ear at his reaction, scowling at Tommy. “Thanks, Striker, I appreciate it,” she shouted into the phone and hung up.

Tommy shrugged, a grin on his face. “I tend to do that to Striker.”

“Sheesh. Whatever you did to him, it must be bad.”

Tommy made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Oh, you know Striker, he’ll get over it.” He rubbed his palms together. “Okay, sweetie-pie, let’s do this thing.”

“Don’t call me sweetie-pie,” Natasha said, turning to her computer.

Buy links:

Ebook: http://tinyurl.com/9f4vmsc

Paperback: http://tinyurl.com/8tkwzwe

Christy’s Amazon home page: http://tinyurl.com/8n2qgth

Southerners have a way with words. Not only in the way they say things, but how they say things. I love a southern accent, but southerners also know how to talk expressively, which is why I like writing about characters from the South; it’s full of spirited people who use colorful language. And by language, I don’t mean swear words. I mean expressions. People all over the world use sayings or colloquialisms. But nobody knows how to wield an expression like a southerner.

Winston Groom didn’t originate “Pretty is as pretty does” or “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but he did make the phrases well known when he wrote them into Forrest Gump. I grew up hearing phrases like “I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger,” and “She’s got the personality of a dishrag.”  Most everybody’s heard those, right? But the South has hundreds of them. I think colloquialisms are the spice of language. They add a little bit of spirit, they give a vivid picture of the speaker’s intent, and they are memorable.

Why say, “That surprises me” when you could say, “Well shave my legs and call me smoothy.”

Why answer a rhetorical question with “Yes” when you could say, “Does a fat kid like cake?”

“She looks like she made an ugly pie and ate every slice” says so much more than a simple, “She’s ugly.”

My father used to come home with new lines all the time. As a blasé teenager, I rolled my eyes and held my appreciation in check for lines like, “Her tongue’s tied in the middle and loose at both ends.” But all these years later, I remember them.

Suppose it’s the first day of August and you’re a southerner on the phone with somebody from up north. You could tell them, “Man it’s hot out there,” or you could say, “It’s so hot out there you could pull a baked potato right out of the ground.” Now that’s hot. You’ve illustrated just how hot it is outside and entertained your friend to boot.

Or suppose you’re angry with someone. If they said, “Oh calm down.” You probably would be anything but calm. But if they said, “You can just get glad in the same pants you got mad in, missy,” it’s a pretty good bet your anger is going to crack just a little bit, along with your smile.

My novel, Murder & Mayhem In Goose Pimple Junction, is loaded with conversations peppered with expressions that are often bandied about in the south. I’ve begun to call these colorful phrases “goosepimpleisms.” It’s no secret that I didn’t invent, write, or first utter these lines. But I’m told they’re woven into the dialogue of my book in a way that makes Goose Pimple Junction take on a personality of its own.

Now my kids are the ones rolling their eyes when I say, “I’m hangin’ in there like a hair in a biscuit,” or “You’re actin’ crazier than a sprayed roach,” or “She had a hissy fit with a tail on it.” Now that’s a hissy fit, although a “duck fit” is one fit above that one, and a “dying duck fit” is one above that.

My favorite goosepimpleism is, “Get your straw out of my Kool-Aid,” to tell someone to mind their own business. But go ahead and put your straw into my Kool-Aid and read Murder & Mayhem In Goose Pimple Junction. That would make me happier than a woodpecker in a lumberyard!

Buy links: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0985138874

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/murder-and-mayhem-in-goose-pimple-junction-amy-metz/1111849687?ean=9780985138875

Most of our readers know about Whistling Woman, the book Christy and I wrote about our great-aunt’s formative years living in Hot Springs, North Carolina. In an effort to remain true to the history of the small town, we did tons of research both on-line and in books. Luckily, a cousin of ours, Jackie Burgin Painter, who grew up in Hot Springs had written several books about the area, including our most valuable research tool, The Season of Dorland-Bell, History of an Appalachian Mission School and An Appalachian Medley: Hot Springs and the Gentry Family, Vol. 1. In Jackie’s books we were able to see pictures of our great-grandfather (Papa in Whistling Woman), John Daniels, as well as a copy of Aunt Bessie’s diploma from Dorland-Bell (Dorland Institute at the time) dated May 21, 1899. And we also learned about Aunt Bessie’s sure-fire cold remedy (warm moonshine mixed with honey and rock candy).

The books were a tremendous help to us but I think the one thing that really made us feel as if we were a part of what we were writing were the frequent visits to Hot Springs. Both of us feel a sense of “homecoming” whenever we go there, whether for a couple of days to edit or for only a couple of hours to have lunch.

This past Wednesday, using the excuse of our mom’s birthday, we met in Hot Springs for lunch at what has become our usual place (so much so that the waitresses recognize us!), the Smoky Mountain Diner. The weather was perfect, sunshine, very little wind, and temperatures in the 60s, so we took the opportunity to stroll around and take pictures (don’t ask me why we never thought to do that before) and we’d like to take you on a walking tour of our favorite town, Hot Springs.

Here we go! We’ll start at Smoky Mountain Diner where we usually eat. Best hot dogs in town (or anywhere else, for that matter) and they have a lot of options, everything from pizza to pot roast. All yummy!

Walking down the right side of Bridge Street (the main road) toward downtown the first thing we come to is a marker for the Appalachian Trail which runs the length of the town. Hot Springs is well known to hikers and they host a trailfest during the summer.

Also, along Bridge Street, you’ll see historical markers about happenings and places in the town. First is one about an English folklorist, Cecil Sharp, who collected ballads of the “Laurel” area in 1916 and the next one is about Dorland-Bell Institute which is where Great-aunt Bessie went to school.

                                         

Next up, is another favorite of ours, the Hot Springs Public Library. This was the first place we went when we started doing the research on the book. The librarians are friendly, knowledgeable, and very helpful.

After the library, it’s Gentry Hardware. The Gentry family is well known in Hot Springs and have been there almost since the beginning. Jackie’s book, An Appalachian Medley, is about the Gentry family.

And then we come to the Hot Springs Welcome Center. The welcome center used to be housed in a Southern Railway caboose, which they moved just down the road from the new building.

                                           

Next, we cross the bridge over Spring Creek. The creek played an important part in our Great-aunt Bessie’s life. It weaves throughout the story a lot like it weaves through the town of Hot Springs.

                                            

Next, comes the Hot Springs City Hall. No one could tell us if this is the actual location of the small jail we describe in Whistling Woman, but in our minds as we were writing, this is where we imagined Papa’s office was.

Cross the railroad tracks and cross the street and you come to the Hot Springs Resort and Spa, excuse me, the World Famous Hot Springs Resort and Spa (at least that’s what the gate says). This is where you can go to take the waters and cure whatever ails you. It’s not as grand as the Mountain Park Inn that stood there in Aunt Bessie’s time but it still is the focal point of the town.

         

Going back down the other side of the street, our first stop is at the Harvest Moon Gallery in a house that was built back in the 1800’s. We’d been told one of the houses our great-grandfather built was still standing and were hoping this was the one. Research showed it wasn’t, but it was so close to the house we described in the story it was a bit spooky when the owner allowed us to walk through as if it was our own home. (Why am I hearing the theme from Twilight Zone in my head?)

                                             

After that, it’s the Dorland-Bell Presbyterian Church which was built and opened in 1900. The chapel takes center stage in an important event in Great-aunt Bessie’s life. It’s a gorgeous building even though it’s over a hundred years old and the stained glass windows alone are worth a trip to Hot Springs.

                                               

Last but not least, behind the chapel we have the Hot Springs First Baptist Church which is where Great-aunt Bessie’s graduation ceremony from the Dorland Insitute was held (this was before the chapel was built). They used the Baptist Church because Dorland didn’t have a building large enough to hold all the people who came to see the graduation. Great-aunt Bessie was one of only seven members of the first graduating class but it was an event important enough to the town to have people coming from near and far to see it. As a matter of fact, it was so well attended they had to hold two ceremonies, one in the afternoon and another one in the evening, to accommodate everyone.

         

So there you have it, our favorite little town nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, or as the sign for Madison County says, “The Jewel of the Blue Ridge.” We hope you’ve enjoyed walking with us through the setting of our book, Whistling Woman, and hope if you ever find yourself in Hot Springs you’ll stop in at the Smoky Mountain Diner for a cup of coffee and a slice of their scrumptious pecan pie or maybe a piece of their delicious German chocolate cake. And don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of Papa, Bessie, Mama, Roy, Loney, Green, and Thee–we’re convinced their spirits are all there.

Whistling Woman is available in ebook at Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and on Smashwords. Print version coming soon!

Whistling Woman by CC Tillery

CC Tillery has some big news to share! But first, a little backstory–toward the end of our book, Whistling Woman, the family celebrates Old Christmas, with Papa and Bessie telling Thee the meaning and the myths behind the holiday. The following is an edited section–no spoilers here!–from Chapter Twenty-one, Winter 1900, entitled, Breaking up Christmas:

Papa is talking to Thee:

“Ya’ see, boy, midnight tonight is when the baby Jesus was first presented to the world. That was when the three Wise Men arrived at the stables where Mary and Joseph had taken shelter so Mary could have her baby. The Wise Men had traveled for miles, following the light of a single star, because they wanted to honor the birth of their Savior. When they showed up and offered the gifts they’d brought, all the animals in the stables woke up, adding their praise to that of the three Wise Men and the angels singing up above. And to this day, they say if you go out right at midnight and stand quietly, you can hear the animals praying, and some say if you can get a look at them, you’ll see them kneeling, too. Don’t know how true it is, but I’ve heard tell that the wild animals out in the woods and up on the mountains wake, stand up, and then lay back down on their other side.”

I looked at Thee, his eyes wide and filled with love, and knew right then and there that not only could I forgive Papa, I had to for the sake of my family.

Loney, who loved Christmas, sat in the chair beside Papa with a nearly completed quilt top spread across her lap. She’d heard the story many times, but when Papa started telling it, she stopped sewing and listened as raptly as Thee. When the story was finished, she smiled and asked, “Have you ever seen the animals pray, Papa?”

“Can’t rightly say I have, but I’ve heard tell of people who sneak out at midnight and have seen it. ’Course, there’s folks who say it’s bad luck to go looking for the signs of Old Christmas, that if you do, something bad will happen to you. I don’t think that’s so, though, since the people I talked to that claim to have seen and heard it all looked hearty to me.”

“But if you just happen to be out and see a sign, then it’s all right?”

“Sure it is but why would a person be out in the barn at midnight?”

Playing along, Loney said, “Maybe they were late getting home and had to put their horse in the stable before they could go to bed?”

Papa laughed. “Could be, Loney, but we’re all safe at home, as most people are on a cold winter night, so I guess we’ll stay right here and let the animals and alder bushes do what they do without us.”

“The alder bushes?”

Papa winked at Thee. “Did I forget that part? Well, Loney, the animals aren’t the only ones who honor the birth of the baby Jesus. The alder bushes do, too. Right at midnight on Old Christmas Eve, no matter how cold the night is or how much snow’s on the ground, the alder bushes burst into bloom and some say they even sprout new branches. I’ve also heard it said that if you listen closely, you can hear the bees roar in the bee-gum, as if they wanted to swarm.”

Thee stood up, leaned on Papa’s knee and said, “Can we see the animals, Papa?”

“Maybe in a few more years, when you’re old enough to stay up until midnight but not this year, boy. This year, I’d say you’ll be fast asleep by the time midnight rolls around. Why, you already look like its long past your bedtime and here it’s barely gone dark. It’s a long time till midnight.”

Thee’s little face crumpled and Papa patted his head. “Tell you what, Thee, if you can keep your eyes open till then, I’ll take you out to the barn myself and we’ll see what we can see.”

Clapping his hands, Thee jumped up and down. Jack chortled and did her best to slap her tiny hands together, too.

“But Papa, what if it is bad luck?” Loney asked.

“Pshaw, girl, I’ve talked to lots of people who say they’ve seen just such a thing and they were all living and breathing when they told me.”

Loney picked up her needle and started working on the quilt top again. “Wouldn’t that be a lovely thing to see, all the animals honoring Jesus like that?”  She looked down at Thee and smiled. “I think it might be worth taking a chance on some bad luck, don’t you, little man?”

Thee nodded and clapped his hands again. “Tell us some more, Papa.”

“Why that’s all I know to tell, boy. Maybe Bess knows more.”

Thee ran over to me where I sat on the sofa. “Tell, Bessie, tell.”

I smiled at him and ruffled his hair. “I’ll tell you what else happens during the twelve days of Christmas, Thee, but it’s about people, not about the animals.”

He looked doubtful but sat down at my feet, prepared to listen.

“There are some things you shouldn’t do, like lend anything to anybody during the twelve days of Christmas because if you do you’ll never get it back.” I pointed to the fireplace. “You see how the ashes are piling up in the hearth over there? That’s because it’s bad luck to clean them out during the twelve days. It’s also bad luck to wash your bed sheets until Old Christmas is over.”  I leaned down and sniffed at Thee. “Good thing we only have one more day, else we wouldn’t be able to stand the smell.”

Thee giggled and dramatically sniffed the skirt of my dress, wrinkling his little nose.

“Tonight is Old Christmas Eve and at midnight people everywhere will be breaking up Christmas.”  His face crumpled again and I went on hurriedly, “That’s not a bad thing. What it means is most people will drink sweet cider and burn a piece of cedar or pine in the fire as a way of saying farewell to the season.

“Do they have to break it because it’s old?”

I smiled. “No, sweetie. You see, some people believe the twenty-fifth of December is the day when the baby Jesus was born and the sixth of January is when He was first presented to the three Wise Men and to the world. But a long time ago, most people believed the sixth was the day when He was truly born and that’s when they celebrated so that day came to be known as Old Christmas. There are twelve days between the two dates, from December 25th, the ‘new’ Christmas, to January 6th, the ‘old’ Christmas, and that gives us the twelve days of Christmas. During those twelve days, people have what they call Breaking Up Christmas parties. Tonight’s party is at Aunt Belle’s house and there will be lots of sweet cider to drink and music for dancing.” I leaned down. “And I’ll tell you a secret if you promise not to tell. Promise?”

He nodded.

I bent down and whispered, “Aunt Belle is planning on having a small fire in the street outside her house right at midnight so that people can burn a piece of cedar or pine to officially Break Up Christmas. Don’t tell Papa though, or he might have to arrest Aunt Belle.”

Thee laughed and whispered back, “I won’t. Can I go and see the fire?”

“If you do, how will you see the animals in the barn when they kneel down to pray?”

He frowned. Uncle Ned boarded his horse at the town livery stables so Aunt Belle didn’t have a barn or any animals he could spy on to see if they really did pray at midnight.

I took his chin in my hand and lifted it to give him a kiss. “Why don’t you stay here with Papa and Loney, and if you can stay awake, Papa will take you out to see the animals. You can see a fire in the fireplace any old time and Roy and I will be sure to burn a piece of pine in Aunt Belle’s fire to break up Christmas for you.”

Roy came in from the barn, bringing the crisp smell of winter with him. “You about ready to go, Bessie? I’ve got the horses hitched up and they’re champing at the bit.”

I stood, lifting Thee with me. “You keep those eyes open tonight, Theodore Norton. I want to hear all about what you see tomorrow.”

He put his arms around my neck and hugged me, whispering, “I will, Bessie,” in my ear. I squeezed him before kissing his cheek and setting him down on the floor.

Walking over to Papa, I kissed Jack on the top of her head first then bent further in to kiss Papa’s cheek. I turned to Loney who set her quilting aside and stood up.

“Have a good time, Bess.”  She stepped forward and kissed my cheek, which surprised me. Loney wasn’t usually given to outward signs of affection.

I took her hand and squeezed it. “You sure you don’t mind staying home with the babies? I can stay and you can go to the party if you want.”

She smiled. “I don’t mind a bit. You know how much I enjoy taking care of them. You and Roy have fun.”

I hugged her goodbye. At the door, I turned and looked at my family and the strangest sensation washed over me, as if I stood far away, seeing them in a dream. I could feel their love for me, just as I could mine for them, but there was a distance there, a deep chasm keeping them from me.

Now for the big news, in honor of Old Christmas, and as a way of saying thanks to everyone who’s been involved with this book for the last four years, Christy and I decided to have a special 12 Days of Christmas sale. That means from December 26, 2011 until January 6, 2012, you’ll be able to download the Kindle version of Whistling Woman for only 99 cents!

Enjoy and a very happy holiday season to everyone!

The Dames are pleased to welcome author Lin Stepp to our blog. 

1.     Tell us about your latest published book, For Six Good Reasons.

FOR SIX GOOD REASONS is the third novel in the popular Smoky Mountain Series.

Each book is set in a different area around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The first novel, The Foster Girls, highlighted the picturesque Wear’s Valley while Tell Me About Orchard Hollow explored Townsend on the quiet side of the mountains. For Six Good Reasons is set in the Greenbrier area just above Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Other novels in the twelve book series will find homes in familiar locations such as Maggie Valley, Bryson City, Gatlinburg, and Cosby. My readers say they feel like they’ve visited the Smokies in each book and often write me from California, Texas, or New York wanting to know how to find places in my books when they come to visit. I’m becoming known as “The Smoky Mountain Writer” and I kind of like that title. 

In all honesty, I’ve had a great time creating and writing my Smoky Mountain books.  All my novels are warm-hearted contemporary romances—with a dash of suspense, a touch of inspiration, and a big dollop of Appalachian flavor.  There are twelve books in the series – but rather than a continuing sequence following the same character, all the books in the Smoky Mountain Series have their own unique set of characters and their own unique story.  However, just for fun … I often walk a side character from a past book into a new one to appeal to my ongoing readers.

In For Six Good Reasons, the main character—a young social worker named Alice Graham—takes on the care of six foster children under age twelve because she can’t bear to split up the young family. Cramped in her small Sevierville home, Alice moves the family to a big country house in Greenbrier—right next door to a riding stable.  Now where do you suppose six kids would head with a stable practically in their back yard?  Straight to the stable, of course – which is owned by Harrison Ramsey, a confirmed bachelor.  Harrison was sent an engagement ring back through the mail by one woman and stood up at the altar by another.  He wants nothing more to do with women, as you might expect …claiming all a man needs is a good dog and a good horse to be happy.  Perhaps you can guess right away how much fun is in store from this brief glimpse!

Several readers have already called this the “best book yet” in the series, claiming it is “delightful and difficult to put down once you start.” I’ve been pleased with the positive endorsements for my first books, too.  Best-selling author, Joan Medlicott, labeled me “a wonderful new Southern voice” and southern author Deborah Smith described my books as “warm hearted and satisfying novels of love, family and friendship … painting a charming portrait of the Smokies, their people, and a wonderful way of life.”

Even more exciting, Dolly Parton loves my books and has requested that every book in the series be mailed to her.  She wrote: “Well, I’ve finally come across someone that believes in all the things that I do… love, family, faith, intrigue, mystery, loyalty, romance, and a great love for our beloved Smoky Mountains. Dr. Lin Stepp, I salute you.”

On the front cover of For Six Good Reasons you’ll see a beautiful painting by Jim Gray called “Spring Ablaze.”  Jim allows me to use his stunning Smokies paintings on the front covers of all my books, and the Grays have become strong supporters of my work, keeping my books in their stores. I’ve been truly blessed with some wonderful favor … and I am thrilled readers like my books in the Smoky Mountain series so well.

 2.  Can you share a little bit about your current WIP?

My fourth book, Delia’s Place, set in Gatlinburg, is in the mill with my publisher at this time, and due for publication next spring.  But I am actually working far ahead of my publisher in my writing and am in the middle of Book Nine at this time.  This current novel, called Welcome Back, is set in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and I had fun researching apple farming, clogging, Cataloochee elk, and area legends like Nance Dude, for this story set around an apple orchard called the Cunningham Farm.

Prior to Welcome Back, I completed Saving Laurel Springs, set in Cosby, Tennessee.  This book follows the lives of two young people who grew up on a mountain resort and assembly grounds, called Laurel Springs, and dreamed of one day restoring it to its former glory.  However, life intervened, taking them in different directions and creating angst between them.  As the book begins they’re brought back together at Laurel Springs – spitting and snarling – forced to face each other, battle threats to the resort, and remember their early dreams.

As for the book being published next … everyone loves Gatlinburg and will love the charming story of Delia Walker and Tanner Cross in Delia’s Place.  Readers will delight in discovering the quaint resort homes at Mynatt Park and have fun exploring downtown Gatlinburg with the main characters.  They’ll love hiking along with the story characters down mountain trails near Gatlinburg, learning mountain lore and hearing stories of past settlers like the Walker Sisters. But even more … they’ll get caught up in the book’s engaging story. 

Delia Walker inherits her Aunt Dee’s little cottage behind Gatlinburg and flees there  when she gets a FedEx from her fiancé announcing he has married someone else. Arriving in Gatlinburg, she immediately runs into Tanner Cross, a friend from childhood that she made a fool of herself with in the past.  This reminder of yet another romantic failure is the last thing Delia needs at this time.  Adding another complication, Delia soon finds  a younger cousin she’s never met before hiding out in her aunt’s cottage, running from sorrows of her own. Love interests and suspense build as Delia and Hallie work through their list of problems … with readers along for the roller coaster ride.

Exploring Gatlinburg again and creating the setting and story for Delia’s Place was fun, and readers who haven’t visited the area often, will be charmed to learn new places to explore. Mynatt Park, just behind Gatlinburg, is a little-known city treasure with a charming picnic area along rushing LeConte Creek.  The park is only a stone’s throw from downtown Gatlinburg’s shops and wonders, and the quiet road leading to it funnels straight into scenic Roaring Fork Nature Trail with its hikes and historical sites.

3.  Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Inspiration for the settings for my books comes directly from my hikes, visits, and readings about the Great Smoky Mountains. One of my fans calls me “one of the Smokies greatest ambassadors” and I hope that’s true. I truly love the Smoky Mountains.

My husband and I are big hikers and have trekked all over the Tennessee and North Carolina mountains hiking over 100 trails.  While in the different mountain regions, we explore and visit historic sites, shops, and places of interest.  Many of these explorations and regional visits find their way into my books … as do bits of the stories I’ve heard about relatives and ancestors who made their way down the Appalachian trail to settle this once wilderness region.

Readers often ask me where I get the ideas for my books.  I tell them all my ideas for the characters and stories for my books rise out of my rich imagination.  I don’t base any characters on people I know and the ideas for my books roll into my mind of their own accord.  I have a vivid imagination and a rich fantasy life. But don’t let that lead you to believe that writing is easy.  Because after the early flush of inspiration comes the hard work and long hours of fleshing out the characters, the setting, the conflicts, and the story for a book.  It takes me about three months of research, planning, and outlining to get a book ready to write – and then another three months to write it.  Like Truman Capote joked:  “Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”  

 4.  What is a typical writing day like for you?

Like most authors, I’ve experimented with a variety of methods for managing my writing time.  The most important tip to any potential author I can offer is to view your writing as a profession.  That means you must structure and lay aside a set amount of hours in every week for your work.  Early on, I decided that if I was going to be successful I’d have to at least give 20 hours of work time a week to my writing, viewing it—at the least—as a committed part-time job.  Since I still hold other professional work responsibilities as a faculty member at Tusculum College and a part-time Educational Coordinator for Huntington Learning Center … I knew I’d have to be disciplined to make this work.

After trying out several writing schedules, I found that five hours a day on four days a week worked best for me.  With my teaching schedule and other commitments, it didn’t work well for me to write every day.  I work better in longer blocks.  In my monthly calendar book, I pencil in my work hours and if I don’t fulfill them as planned, I have to reschedule them to another day.  Writing down my hours helps me be accountable to my writing time, and usually, on those days when I write, I fill many more hours than five.

One thing I can tell you from experience is that when life and events intervene and get me off schedule for too many days at a time—the flow of the work is impeded.  I lose touch with the characters and the story and have to work harder to “get back into the story” when I return to the writing.    

 5.  Your current book, For Six Good Reasons, is the third in your Smoky Mountain Series.  I find it amazing that you have twelve planned and even more amazing that you already have titles for all of them.  Obviously you have some idea what each book will be about, but do you also have outlines for each one?

In answer, I never had opportunity to meet many writers before I got published … but since I have, all of them seem to find it unusual that multiple books float around in my head at once.  It doesn’t seem odd to me that I have twelve stories and titles in my head—although it does to everyone else!  I’ve decided it’s because I’m a multi-tasker, used to shuffling several work roles at once around all my other life responsibilities.

When the original idea for the Smoky Mountain books came to me, I was on the road doing marketing with Huntington … calling on school principals in a rural area not far from the base of the mountains.  The ideas for the books—several ideas one after the other—just floated into my mind.  By the time I got home at the end of the day I was ready to start writing them down and fleshing them out.  Even after I began to write the first novel, more book ideas kept popping into mind.  But after the twelfth no further Smoky Mountain books came to me, so I guess twelve will be the final number in this series.  (However, other book ideas are creeping into my mind now, with other settings!…)

And, yes, Caitlyn … for each of the twelve books in the Smoky Mountain series, I already know who the main characters are, where the main setting will be, and what the main story will be about.  I keep manila folders on all my books … and when ideas about any of them float into my thoughts, I write down those ideas and add them to my folders.  Because I also see my characters and settings so visually in my mind, I clip out magazine photos or media pictures to represent all my story characters, along with pictures of houses and scenes that will be a part of my books.  These I stuff in my folders, too.  In addition, I create detailed character sketches, maps, and house plans for my books and do extensive research for my settings and scenes.  By the time I’m ready to start a book, I already have a lot of material accumulated. I usually have a rough outline of the storyline and conflicts for each book, which after planning and more research, I expand to a detailed chapter-to-chapter outline before I begin to write a book. I am definitely a “planner” and not a “pantster” in my writing style.   

 6.  How would you describe your writing: character driven or plot driven?

My writing is a strong mix of both.  While character driven novels focus on the growth and change of the characters and plot driven novels tend to depend on actions and ongoing drama … a lack of either one can make a book lackluster and unmemorable.  After reading a great book, I believe the reader has a warm remembrance of both the characters and the plot.  For example, the plots in Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, set in regency England, employ masterful plots and subplots but at the same time the main characters, Charlotte and Thomas—along with many of the charming secondary characters—linger in the mind.  In the same way, Nora Roberts made the fiery Irish characters in her Irish Trilogy vibrate with lively personality while her story plots, set in the Irish village of Ardmore, enchanted her readers with equal action and conflict.  One aspect without the other makes for a weak story, soon forgotten.

In all my books, I work hard to create both memorable main characters and enjoyable side characters, woven into a plot rich with conflicts and sub-conflicts, to keep my readers guessing about the exact outcome until the end.  One of my Texas readers wrote: “Your characters quickly became real people for me and you kept me guessing about what would happen next with them.” That is exactly what I want to hear!  

I want my readers to get so involved in my characters, as I do, that every character feels real and that the reader almost forgets the characters are purely fictitious. I also want the story and conflicts to be so compelling that readers get caught up in the drama and action and hate for the story to end. One fan said: “Your book had my attention from the beginning and kept it all the way through.  When Scott found Sarah in the tree [in the Foster Girls], it actually made me cry!  Now that is a great author!  Those are the best books!  The ones where you can get caught up in the story and see and feel the [characters and] imagery in the story.” A California reader finished her letter with these words:  “I love the way you make a person feel they are living the part of the characters.”

 7.  Authors must promote. Tell us a little bit about how you promote and what has worked best for you.

I have to humorously admit I had no idea an author needed to actively promote their work and help build their readership after publication.  Naively, I thought I’d be like John Boy Walton … that I’d write my book and sit back on the farm to write more while someone else did all the promotional aspects.  The reality that I’d become my own book publicist, set all my book signings, and do most of my book marketing has been my biggest writing surprise!

Today, all writers must help to promote and publicize their books.  Unless they begin their career as a well-known celebrity like Mike Huckabee (or have a publicity budget like Mike Huckabee’s), they will be expected by their publisher—small, regional, or large—to promote their book.  Few publishers want to spend money on an author who doesn’t want to work to help their book become a success.

A first important step for all new authors is to establish a good website.  Through this they can connect with their public and keep them informed of their signing events and speaking engagements. (You can see mine at: http://www.linstepp.com

For me, the first steps in promoting were getting out on the road, meeting-and-greeting and shaking hands with booksellers and librarians. I told them about my books, encouraged them to carry my work, dropped off materials, and offered to do book-signings if they became a venue for my publications. 

I also developed marketing media to accompany my visits and calls, beyond those my publisher provided to me, which I could give out in print or email.  When I set a signing event, I went to work several weeks prior to that event promoting it—calling newspapers, area book clubs, libraries, and any other organizations I could think of.  I created author presentations I could give to civic groups, libraries, and book clubs and marketed my availability.  To enhance my image at any event, I created unique Smoky-flavored signage, bookmarks, business cards, and table decorations.

An old saying says: You learn by doing, and I gained most of my best promotional skills by trial and error.  One tip I learned quickly is be friendly, positive, and grateful.  Show up early for your book signings and stay late, speak to everyone in the store staff, greet store customers as they come in, smile and be gracious, and think of yourself as an employee of the store at every book signing. 

In promoting your work as an author you can do a little, with a lot of whining and excuses, or you can do a lot.  However, I believe, if you will give your best with a good attitude that you’ll see that the best comes back to you over time.

 8.  What is the single most satisfying aspect of writing for you?

Absolutely the joy of creating my own worlds and the joy of sharing them.  I wrote what I most loved to read when I started my Smoky Mountain novels … and the single most satisfying aspect beyond that has been in learning how much readers love my work, too.  I’ll never forget the thrill I got when I opened a random email to find my first fan letter.  I’m still humbled and awed to think a reader would go to my website, search through it to find the contact page, and then take time to write me a note or letter about how much they love my books.  How can anything be more satisfying and rewarding than that?

Also, tucked within all my novels are spiritual “seeds”, a few nuggets about how to grow and develop in one’s walk of faith.  Never preachy, as one of my readers wrote, they are presented in a subtle, natural way through the lives of one or more characters.  By genre, my books are not inspirational books from beginning to end but they do have aspects of faith within them.  I love it when someone writes to tell me they’ve been impacted by the faith-development of a character or by an aspect of faith in one of my novels.  In this way, I feel like my books are ministry tools.  

 9.  Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

The hint for the answer to this question is in my response to the question above.  I doubt I’d have started writing seriously at all if it hadn’t been through prayer and leading from the Lord. I actually had a writing vision, or epiphany, encouraging me to be an author when I was young.  But the busyness of life kept me from responding to it fully until I came to my middle years of life.  Perhaps that’s why one of my favorite sayings is:  “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”

In addition, I cannot give enough credit and thanks to my husband, J.L., for his constant encouragement and help to me as a writer.  He is the first reader of all my books.  And he was the first to rejoice with me as the books found publication.  J.L.’s skills as a publisher of regional fishing and hunting guide magazines came in very handy as multitudes of fliers, business cards, and bookmarks needed to be created. He and I designed the concept for my book covers … and he was the first to whoop and holler when we received an endorsement from Dolly Parton on her distinctive butterfly stationery and when we received a letter from Jim Gray’s studio saying they loved my books and would be delighted to have Jim’s beautiful paintings on every cover.

J.L. helps me in marketing and promoting my books and travels with me enthusiastically to book signings, events, and festivals whenever he can around his own work schedule.  When I am lost in writing and the dinner hour slips by, he goes into the kitchen and fixes dinner.  He’s the best.

10.  What part of the craft of writing has improved most since your first book?

In a word, editing.  I think few novice, first-time writers know how to self-edit their books with skill.  Even as a professor, who has graded papers for over 12 years, taught a research class, and guided students through the preparation of theses, I still had limited knowledge of the expectations of a book publisher.  For every type of writing and print venue, there are rules and expectations, and I have really grown in knowing what these are in the fictional, romance area.  I offer tremendous praise and thanks to the patience of my wonderful editor, Sandy Horton, for her artful and diplomatic methods of helping me to strengthen every one of my works, and in her words ‘for making my books sing’.

Now I automatically hear Sandy’s instructions in my ear as I write, so that my books continually grow stronger and need less editing. I can also better self-edit my books before submission.

In any art or craft, you strengthen with doing … and I know my writing continues to improve with each book. 

11.  I know you’re a Southerner, born and bred, as they say around here, and I’m familiar with where you live since I grew up in the area, but can you share a little bit with our readers about the place you call home?

I grew up in South Knoxville, Tennessee, toward the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. My home was in a rural suburban area of town where I could easily take off on foot to be in the country in a few minutes—to climb up the twisty paths to the top of Brown’s Mountain, to swing off old grapevines along the local railroad tracks, to explore through the woods or lie in a field of wildflowers and dream. Half tomboy and half girly-girl, I played horses, roamed through the fields, and read Hardy Boy books but still found time to play dolls, build an extensive dollhouse in my brother’s and my playhouse, create paperdolls, and read all the Anne of Green Gables novels.

It was a gentler time when I grew up and I know that time shaped me.  Children had so much more freedom then.  Even in elementary school, I rode the city bus downtown with my young friends without adult supervision, went to the movies, to shop, and to eat lunch before we returned home.  I walked or rode my bicycle all over our neighborhood and roamed the fields and woods.  Entertainments were simpler—picnics, wading in the creek, badminton in the back yard, making flower chains with wildflowers.  Sunday afternoons were usually spent with relatives, listening to the tales and stories of the old folks. In the summer months, Mother and Daddy were too busy in the yard or garden to run us around to entertainments. Instead, we created our own fun and created our dramas and games.  I’m still doing so.     

12.  I have to believe from your books and your bio on your website that family is a very important part of your life.  Can you tell us a little bit about yours, including any pets you may have?

My father was an engineer, a solid, stable man, and a mister fix-it. My mother was a home-economics teacher who brought all those skills home full-time when the children came.  She sewed, cooked, gardened, put up food, and did all of it artfully. My brother was eight years my senior so my play was mostly with my neighborhood and school friends.  I count myself blessed to have grown up in a loving family in a warm, congenial neighborhood. I still have friends I’ve known since school days and we’re still close.

In high school, my father was transferred to Arkansas.  We moved to Little Rock, but I didn’t like it there. I swore I’d come back to Tennessee to college and marry a Tennessee boy and stay here.  I did.  J.L. and I have been married over 30 years.  Our two children are gone and live too far away to see often.  Max is a high school art teacher in New Orleans, and Kate is a media librarian in Hope Mills, North Carolina, below Fayetteville. I envisioned them married and living nearby by this time, with several grandchildren for us to enjoy.  Instead, they are happy career-oriented individuals.

I have always had cats.  A favorite story in my family is about the kitten that showed up at our house when I was a baby.  While my brother searched for its possible owners in the neighborhood, the kitten found my crib, curled up with me, settled in, and never left.  Mother said it was a sign.  I’ve had—or attracted—cats ever since.  J.L. and I currently have two—Tucker, a tuxedo, and Sophie, a tortoise shell.  My husband, J.L., who prior to our marriage didn’t think he cared much for cats, has now become a converted cat lover. Perhaps too much so.  I think he is the softie with the cats as he was with the kids.

My cats are great fans of my writing, loving to watch me on the computer or sleep on top of my papers. One of the best things about cats is that you can take off for the weekend, set up access to the outdoors, leave food, and know they will be fine until you get back.  Cats are independent, like I am, and we have always suited each other. Too bad they can’t read and buy books!

To find out more about Lin and her books, visit her website at www.linstepp.com

You can also find her on Facebook, Author’s Den, Goodreads, and Library Thing

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