TAKE YOUR PICK GIVEAWAY: Make a comment at the end of this interview to win your “choice” of any of Lin Stepp’s books shown below. You can read about them all at her author’s website at: www.linstepp.com or on her Amazon page at: https://www.amazon.com/Lin-Stepp/e/B0028OJMPA
Dr. Lin Stepp is a native Tennessean, businesswoman, and educator. She’s an adjunct faculty member at Tusculum College and has editorial and writing experience in regional magazines and in the academic field. A New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-selling international author, Lin has 10 published novels. Her latest Daddy’s Girl, released in April of this year. Lin and her husband, J.L., published a Smoky Mountain hiking guide in 2014, distributed through The University of Tennessee Press, The Afternoon Hiker. She has two grown children, two cats and loves to hike, paint, read, teach, speak and share about her writing. She enjoys keeping up with her readers on Facebook and Twitter and on her website at: www.linstepp.com
Tell us about your releasing book.
My latest novel DADDY’S GIRL released last month in April 2017. Like all my published novels to date, it is set around the Great Smoky Mountains. I love taking my readers visiting to a new town or place in the mountains of North Carolina or Tennessee in every book. One of my readers called me ‘a great ambassador for the Great Smoky Mountains’ – and I hope that’s true! I love the mountains. I was raised here, my relatives helped settle this area of East Tennessee, and my roots in this Appalachian region run deep.
All my Southern Contemporary novels have a little romance, a touch of suspense, a dash of inspiration, and a big dollop of Appalachian flavor. I’ve always written what I love most to read—an engaging story with a great sense of place readers can get lost in … and always with characters that quickly feel like old friends. Although most books set in the Appalachian area portray a slice of past history, mine paint pictures in today’s time … showing the warm, unique, and faith-filled people that still make their lives in this beautiful region.
Each of my novels is set in a new spot around the mountains and DADDY’S GIRL takes readers to the charming town of Bryson City, North Carolina, on the southern side of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s a story of old sweethearts whose lives cross again. Main character Olivia Benton owns a downtown florist in Bryson City. She’s never totally gotten over her love for neighbor Warner Zachery who left Bryson City after high school, married, and made a successful new life for himself in New York. No one ever thought Weird Warner would ever amount to anything in high school, but when he returns to Bryson City after ten years, famous and widowed, Olivia realizes as soon as she sees him that she still loves him … And thus begins the story of these two old friends, with a multitude of past memories and problems between them.
Where do you get your ideas for your books? What sparked this story?
My idea for writing books set in different places around the Smoky Mountains developed when my husband J.L. and I started hiking and exploring, working on our hiking guide THE AFTERNOON HIKER. As a book lover, I naturally stopped to visit small bookstores and shops while we traveled. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any contemporary novels set in the area. “Where are your books set in today’s time,” I asked one day. ”You know, contemporary books with a little romance, mystery, or suspense?” The store owner said, “I don’t have any, ma’am. This is the most visited national park in America and people ask for books like that all the time. I wish somebody would write some.” So I did!
The story of DADDY’S GIRL, my tenth Smoky Mountain novel, was sparked by visits to Bryson City, NC, while exploring hiking trails nearby. I fell in love with the charm of the picturesque, rural town along the Tuckaseegee River, its cute stores, restaurants, shops, and old historic buildings, with an old time train station running right through the middle of the town. I realized then I wanted to set a future Smokies book in this location … and the idea for the book’s story evolved from that….Besides creating Olivia and Warner’s story, I had fun bringing in the intriguing stories of several side characters, dealing with issues of school bullying, and adding in an ongoing town mystery of a vandal defacing public property and upsetting the community. I think readers will love visiting the “real life town” of Bryson City and hiking in the Smokies with the book characters.
Did anything strange or funny happen while writing this book?
Olivia Benton, the main character in DADDY’S GIRL is a florist and owns a small floral shop in downtown Bryson City. W. T. Zachery, aka Warner Zachery, also grew up in Bryson City. I wanted a lot of local flavor for the story, so J.L. and I made a trip to the area to gather facts and visit local places that might weave their way into the book. All over town, people knocked themselves out to share stories with us and to tell us about their city. We collected more tales and historic facts than we could ever use and made many friends. Sue Miller, who owns a little store and campground near Deep Creek Campground, loaded us up in her jeep to drive us around the mountains to show us local sights. And she scared the pants off us weaving that jeep around hairpin turns on dirt roads running straight up the mountainsides! Because of the hospitality of this city, I included more “real” places and the names of “real” people than I usually do … and they are all so excited about this book. I’ll be in Bryson City signing at O’Neill’s Shop on the Corner and Bookstore this Saturday, June 3rd, 12-3 pm—a cute store right across from the train dept on Everett Street.
The angel statue in the book really exists in the Bryson City cemetery, the schools mentioned are all real, and all the hikes mentioned are ones you can really take when visiting the area. Soda Pops is still an awesome place to get a great banana split or ice cream float in an old fifties-sixties atmosphere, you can still pull in to Nabers drive-in on the river to get a burger, take a walk along the river in Island Park, or ride the train to Nantahala and back enjoying the beautiful scenery of the Smokies.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I have early memories of wishing I could be an author and illustrator. I loved to read and I imagined that being either a writer or illustrator of books would be a wonderful life. … I actually worked as a production artist to make my way through my Masters work in college and had a freelance art production business in my home during the years I stayed home and worked part-time jobs while my kids were small. But I ended up in education … working a variety of educational sales jobs and then as a college faculty member at Tusculum College for eighteen years, where I taught psychology courses and a research-writing sequel.
While raising my family, I made some efforts to write creatively … creating a few picture books for my children, working on a devotional or two, actually finishing a young adult novel and a few stories. But I never did anything with them. It wasn’t until mid life that I began to write seriously. Because I was a “late bloomer” to the career of becoming an author, one of my favorite sayings has always been: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Often, life gives us second opportunities to try new careers and take new paths in later life if we will be bold and step out to take them.
Where do you write, a coffee shop, attic nook, or a cave? Describe it, please.
When I began to work in educational sales and marketing jobs out of my home—and on faculty from my home—I created a dedicated office from an extra bedroom in our house. It made all the difference for me in seeing myself as a “professional” amid my other duties as wife, mom, and homemaker. In my office I always put on my professional hat and work. I can still remember my young daughter answering the phone one day to say, “My mom is in her office working. Can I take a message for her?” Even my children respected my work time when I was in my office.
My home office is a homey, cozy place with an old family desk connecting in an “L” with another long desk space holding my huge MAC desktop, my printer and assorted stacks of files and papers related to my ongoing projects. Behind my work desk is a window, which I love to gaze out of when dreaming up my next book scene, and a bulletin board covered with visual images related to my ongoing book. (I’m a very visual writer.) … The rest of my office is stuffed with bookshelves packed with beloved books I like to refer to or reread plus reference and academic books I need for my professional life. In addition, file cabinets, an old chest of drawers covered with family photos, and a cozy arm chair to read and dream in complete the picture.
Of all your characters, which was your favorite and why?
Hmmm … that’s a hard question. There are things I love about all the characters in my ten novels … and in the novella I wrote. Asking which is a favorite is like asking me which of my children I love best. There are things I love about the different characters in all my books. I really believe you have to fall in love with your characters a little to make your readers love them, too.
You do always remember your “firsts” in everything though … and I loved Vivian, the girl running to the mountains to hide away for a time—with the mystery in her life you gradually learn of as you read THE FOSTER GIRLS, my first published book. I loved Boyce Hart, the steady artist and local Townsend boy in TELL ME ABOUT ORCHARD HOLLOW, my second book, and the romantic former dancer Kendrick Lanier always so artfully sparring with Rosalyn in SECOND HAND ROSE … and the rascally Jack in DOWN BY THE RIVER. And I loved Alice for taking on those six foster children, as a single woman, in FOR SIX GOOD REASONS, and Zola, unusual as a part Tahitian girl with her cute downtown Gatlinburg shop and a Godly seer’s gift, difficult for many to understand, in MAKIN’ MIRACLES. Well, I could go on and on. My books are full of so many heart-warming main characters and great side characters as well—all that readers say stay in their hearts and memories.
Share a few of the techniques you learned that changed the way you write.
That’s hard for me to answer … I gained three college degrees to become an academic and a college professor. Those years were filled with conceptual courses, many of them packed with teaching tips. Despite my early interest in creative writing though, I never found a course to take to help me with writing skills. Required courses in English comp and literature offered little and in those earlier days, I found few books with any good practical advice I could draw from. What “taught” me about writing was a lifetime of reading. I absorbed what makes a good book through the thousands and thousands of books I read from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood. I still read about two or three books a week around writing my own books. Books are the best teachers. A good book shows you what a good book should be.
It has been my good fortune to also have fine editors with my publishers, although my books always needed little to no developmental editing and only basic copyediting. Most of the techniques I’ve learned have been self-taught. I’ve learned, as I’ve become an author, that many of the natural techniques and methods I use have “names” in the industry. Often I’ll read a “how to” article now in a writer’s magazine and laugh to find there is a conceptual name for some writing method I’ve been using for ten years or more. I suppose I’m a “self-taught” author like many painters are “self-taught” painters. But actually, I’ve had many more courses in art and painting than I have in writing! I think too many writers believe that if they go to enough courses, attend enough conferences, or read enough “how to” books that they will suddenly know how to be a writer –and will sit down and write the next bestseller. However, writing, like all the arts, is learned best by “doing;” by writing you learn to write.
Now for the fun: Tell us 3 things your readers might not know about you.
(1) I’m an amateur artist. I went to college after high school on an art scholarship. I love to draw and paint, especially in watercolors. You will find some of my paintings featured in my upcoming June blog. I thought my readers might like to see some of my art, so I’m writing about that in my monthly blog on my website at: www.linstepp.com … In high school, I won a number of awards for my art work and I thought seriously about becoming a commercial artist. I used those skills, as I mentioned earlier, working as a production artist. And if you’ve picked up one of my husband’s and my hiking guidebooks THE AFTERNOON HIKER, all the trail patch black-and-white illustrations in the book are my own. I used to be a part of a weekly watercolor painting group.
(2) I love cats and have always had one or more cats. When I was a baby, a small yellow cat showed up at our door. Mom sent my brother up and down the street to ask to try to find who it belonged to. In the meantime, the kitten found me in my crib, climbed up and snuggled down with me. We were inseparable from that time on … and ever since I’ve had cats. Right now our two resident felines are Sophie, a tortoise shell female, and Tucker, a black-and white tuxedo male.
(3) I also write non-fiction. Besides academic pieces and copy for production artwork over the years, I have helped to write copy and articles for my husband’s and my 25 year publication TENNESSEE FISHING AND HUNTING GUIDE MAGAZINE (www.tnfhg.com) and I wrote an ongoing series of articles in that magazine for several years called The Tennessee Traveler. My husband and I also jointly wrote a non-fiction hiking guidebook titled THE AFTERNOON HIKER, containing 110 trails descriptions and over 300 color photos—a great guide for visitors to the Smoky Mountains. J.L. and I are now working on a new guidebook to all the 56 Tennessee state parks, tentatively titled DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS. Like our first guidebook this book will provide descriptions about things to do and see in all the state parks plus photo illustrations. This book is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2018, along with my next Smoky Mountain fictional title LOST INHERITANCE, set in Gatlinburg.
If you were a musical instrument, what would you be and why?
A flute or a piano. A flute, joyous, positive, and lyrical, creating a little gaiety wherever I pipe, drawing others along behind me into my stories and adventures. … Or a piano, steady, dedicated, and versatile, able to play deep tunes and light ones, comfortable and traditional, the kind of solid, dependable instrument anyone feels easy and welcome sitting down next to.
With the charming small-town setting and light inspirational tone of Jan Karon’s beloved Mitford books, Lin Stepp’s Smoky Mountain series will delight readers looking for a sweet, satisfying novel of faith and friendship, filled with loving relatable characters.
Set amid the charm of Bryson City, North Carolina, in the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, Lin Stepp’s DADDY’S GIRL, is a warm-hearted, small town story proving you can go home again—and that it’s never too late to leave behind painful memories of the past.
Olivia Benton, happy with her downtown floral shop in Bryson City, her rural home shared with her father, and the lavish gardens sprawling behind their mountain property, is stunned when Warner Zachary drives back into town. No one ever thought Weird Warner, or his big dreams, would ever amount to anything, and even Olivia, who loved him, was afraid to risk everything to follow Warner’s dreams. Now he’s returned to Bryson City, famous and widowed, and as soon as Olivia sees him, she realizes she still loves him—a dilemma she is not prepared to deal with.
Warner Zachary, now better known as W.T. Zachary for his famous Geeky Gilmore books for kids, has avoided even visiting Bryson City since high school graduation ten years ago. Unhappy memories linger of being bullied in school and being spurned by his childhood neighbor and sweetheart, Olivia Benton. After his wife’s murder, Warner heads home to spend time with family, old friends, and to take a well-needed vacation. He knows he’ll see Olivia again but expects time to have healed his broken heart—and his anger.
PRAISE FOR LIN STEPP’S SMOKY MOUNTAIN SERIES
“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.” ~ Dolly Parton
“A lovely story of romance that reminds us broken hearts can be healed. A charming tale of friendship and love.” ~ Lynne Hinton, New York Times best-selling author