Lin Stepp has enjoyed “imagining” stories since early childhood, but she found it necessary to delay her dream of writing until after college, marriage, raising a family, and establishing a career as an educator and businesswoman.
Since setting out to pursue her long-held passion for storytelling, she has written prolifically. The Foster Girls and Tell Me About Orchard Hollow are the first two of her twelve contemporary Southern romances.
Writing is a second career for you. How do you manage your time?
One of my favorite quotes is: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I am a big example of that since I didn’t start writing fiction until midlife and have to coordinate it around several other career responsibilities.
In my non-writing life, I am on faculty at Tusculum College. I teach a research writing sequel and a variety of psychology courses, and I work part-time as the Educational Coordinator for Huntington Learning Center, doing PR and marketing to K-12 schools. In addition, I still help my husband in several aspects of our twenty-two year business, S & S Communications—that publishes a monthly fishing and hunting guide magazine and sells sports sales products in a side subsidiary. As you can imagine, I had to do some major life shuffling to manage to write around all these commitments.
When my heart drew me to write my fiction series…I made a strong decision to view writing as a serious part-time job with a minimal commitment of 20 hours a week. In my day journal I pencil in my writing “work blocks” in advance for each month, shifting the hours around as needed to accommodate my schedule. Generally, what works best for me is scheduling five-hour work blocks four times a week.
Admittedly, I am rigid with myself. If I fail to put in my scheduled time in a week, I do make it up later. I read once that ‘if you don’t manage your time, your time manages you.’ That is true for me…and when you work at home independently, all sorts of things try to disrupt you and take your writing time.
When it comes right down to it…I think if you want something bad enough, you will try to find a way to make it happen. I have been writing approximately two books a year since 2006…which should encourage anyone reading this that you can do it too. I love fellow writer Carolyn Jourdan’s advice about how to write a book: (1) Start your book, (2) Write a whole lot, (3) Finish your book. That’s the biggest secret to it all—even more than motivation and inspiration.
Did you begin writing as a child? What draws you to writing as a creative outlet?
From the earliest years I remember, I loved words in print. To this day, I love the sights, smells, and feel of a library or bookstore. I read extensively as a child and doodled at writing in fun ways for pleasure as I grew up. Writing has always called to me like a misty siren and tangled me up in its embrace.
On my Facebook recently I wrote: “Something I love about writing novels—unlike life—you can determine what happens.” That’s a happy truth. It’s a joyous creative outlet for me to construct worlds, characters, stories and conflicts, and make everything in that world turn out as I want.
How does your faith play into your writing?
My faith plays into my writing in two ways. First, I feel strongly that we are each meant to use the talents God gave us—and in ways that bring honor to Him. Johann Goethe wrote: “The person with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.”
Second, writers are more powerful leaders than they may realize. They can touch and influence lives by what they write. I plant “seeds of faith” in my novels, simple examples of how people of faith live their lives by what they believe mixed with a wholesome, entertaining, and engaging story.
In truth, I can’t really separate my writing, my life, and my works from my faith. As Dolly Parton says: “God is in everything I do and all my work glorifies Him.”
Has God ever provided an unexpected “detour” in your life that turned out to be positive?
My life has been more full of “detours” and problems than straight paths.
In speaking to a book club last week, I told them a shaping event that led me to start writing at midlife was a critical illness. I had pneumonia four times and developed pleurisy one year, when I’m ordinarily a very healthy person. In this time period, I really thought I might not recover—and as I lay in bed, I realized I hadn’t accomplished the one thing I most wanted to do in my life, which was to write books. So perhaps that “unexpected detour” proved to be like an epiphany and pivotal in shaping my life in a different direction—although I do not believe any illness, sorrow, or hardship comes from God.
Let’s talk about the Smoky Mountain Series (Canterbury House Publishing). Please tell us a little about the first two books.
I write warm, contemporary romances with a dash of suspense, a touch of inspiration, and a big dollop of Appalachian flavor. The Smoky Mountain novels are a series of twelve linked books all set in different areas around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in East Tennessee.
The Smokies is listed as the most visited National Park in America—and yet, as my husband I explored and hiked the Smokies and poked into regional bookstores and shops, I found few contemporary novels set in the area. When I go to the beach, I like to take a stack of ocean-set romances to add to the ambience. Now as I explored the Smokies, I kept asking: ‘Where are your contemporary novels set in the Smokies—you know, with a little romance and a little suspense?” A bookseller sighed and said: “People ask for those all the time. I wish someone would write some; we could surely sell them.” Obviously, he planted a seed in my mind…and one day, while working my Huntington job on the road, the idea for the Smoky Mountain series simply came walking into my mind and thoughts. Eventually, I had twelve novels tentatively mapped out. Right now, I am working on book nine—while marketing and signing for the first novels already in publication.
The Foster Girls, published in 2009, is set in the rural Wear’s Valley near Pigeon Forge, and Tell Me About Orchard Hollow, released in 2010, is set in the Townsend, Tennessee area of the Smokies. For Six Good Reasons, the third book in the series, comes out soon in the spring of 2011. One of my college students said to me: “Oh, Dr. Stepp, I thought you’d write dark novels being a psychologist.” But, no, I write warm, charming, happy novels with a good, satisfying ending.
Because the books are a linked series, versus a continuing series following the same players and ongoing drama, each of my books has its own complete story, with its own unique set of characters and plot. However, for readers who follow the whole series, I do sometimes let book characters pop back into a future book, like meeting an old friend for readers who follow the whole series.
As one of my publisher fact sheets reads, each novel in my series is “an upbeat, sentimental, contemporary romance set in a different area of the Smoky Mountains so that the reader gets to experience a visit to a new area of the Smokies along with the rich pleasure of a good Southern story about memorable characters with each book. Familiar characters and places tie the stories together in an enjoyable way for readers who like a series they can settle into.”
Earlier, you asked me about “detours” and how they can impact lives. In my novels “detour events” cause dramatic changes in many different characters’ lives—and I like showing how my characters work through and past those events to create a richer and stronger future.
To read a synopsis about each book, you can go to my website at: www.linstepp.com. You’ll also find a wide array of beautiful pictures from my hikes in the Smokies by moving through all the links on the website.
Besides providing entertainment, what do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I hope, in each book, that my readers will feel like they have slipped away to another world, visited and made new friends they hate to say goodbye to. For me, reading is a pleasure and an escape—and I also learn and grow from the books I read. From these excerpts from my fan mail, I find readers are experiencing exactly the pleasure I hoped for, and more:
“I just read The Foster Girls in two days, not the norm for me. What a wonderful book. I loved the plot. I loved the dialogue. Your characters quickly became real people for me and you kept me guessing about what would happen next with them. I can’t wait for the next book, and I was thrilled to read on your website that there will be twelve books in the series. I will be buying every one! T. H., Texas
“Dr. Stepp…Just a note from a 60-year-old man who simply adores reading your books. I picked up The Foster Girls while vacationing in Pigeon Forge…and began reading it immediately. The only thing was it put me into somewhat of a quandary—I wanted to read it all in one sitting but then again, I wanted to read it very, very slowly, savoring each line. Sadly, I finished it and longed for yet another dose.…Guess what? My wife and I loaded the car and drove eight hours back to Pigeon Forge to secure the second book in the series, which I again find myself in the same quandary.… Thank you for making the mountains come alive even way down in the flatlands of Eastern NC. I totally enjoy the characters, the settings, the story flow and the scenic descriptions. You are without doubt East Tennessee’s best ambassador for tourism (don’t tell Dolly though!) that I know of. I look forward to reading each book…. Thanks again from someone who now has ‘let Smoky Mountain smoke get in his eyes’ and Lin Stepp novels get in his heart and soul.” J.F., North Carolina
What is your current writing project?
Right now, I am working on two main writing projects. The first is book nine in the Smoky Mountain romance series, called Welcome Back, set in the Maggie Valley area on the North Carolina side of the mountains. The second is a hiking book my husband and I just completed—which we are beginning to shop to publishers. It includes our descriptions and memories of 112 trails in the Smoky Mountains we’ve hiked together, enhanced by over 300 photographs and some unique illustrations.
I understand that the artwork for your covers comes from a very special source. Can you share more about that?
Early in negotiations, my publisher asked me to bring any ideas I had for book covers to a marketing meeting. Since J.L. and I have publication and art production background, we mocked up our idea of what we’d like the book covers to look like. I hoped the covers might include beautiful Smoky Mountains paintings—and regional artist Jim Gray’s art seemed to best suit my stories.
I wrote Jim a letter with all my ideas and thoughts…and the Gray family have now become wonderful supporters of my novels, allowing me to use Jim’s stunning Smokies paintings on every cover of my Smoky Mountain books. The Grays also carry my books in their Gatlinburg gallery. To see more of Jim’s work, you can go to his website at: www.jimgraygallery.com.
I was also blessed that another special source, Dolly Parton, read my first book, loved it, and sent me a personal letter containing an endorsement to use on my novels. She asked, too, that I send her a copy of every one of my Smokies set books. I really treasure her comments and support. 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.”
A few fun questions…
When the words aren’t flowing—or when you want to celebrate if they are—what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Probably ice cream. I have wonderful childhood memories of homemade ice cream in the summer evenings after croquet games in the Ferrell’s yard, of drippy, cold ice cream treats after special occasions growing up, and of ice cream scoops melting over mother’s homemade cakes and pies.
This website features writers as well as musicians, so I like to mix it up a bit. Do you have musical, as well as literary, talent?
One of my early piano teachers kindly told me she always “so much enjoyed my company and visits in her home”—her nice way of saying I wasn’t a stellar piano student. I did take lessons growing up, sang in chorus, and enjoyed music of many kinds—but I just didn’t have the gifting in music as in other arts.
My gifts were always in writing and fine art, and I still enjoy drawing and painting. I went to college, originally, on an art scholarship but soon realized I would probably never be the next Rembrandt—and changed my major to education. I especially like watercolor painting, belong to a Watercolor Group, and do charming, detailed watercolors of houses, flowers, birds, and trees that look like sweet greeting cards.
Many people with artistic gifts do have multiple creative talents. Deborah Smith, a favorite Southern author of mine, who endorsed my first book, also paints. And many children’s authors write and illustrate their own books.
What kind of music do you listen to when you’re relaxing with the radio or an mp3 player? Does music help you write?
My husband, J.L., and I both enjoy easy listening music—music only, no voice—with nature sounds in the background. We are always popping in one of these CDs or tapes while we eat dinner, play games, or work around the house. We also like classical, bluegrass, and 50s-60s music.
When I write, I don’t listen to music. Although I am a multi-tasker and can often do two things at once…when writing, I close myself off with only quiet and my own thoughts.
If you were a song, what kind of song would you be?
Probably something sappy—like a tune from a classic musical. I know so many of those songs by memory.
Are you a major or a minor chord?
I think I’d be defined as a mid-range major chord—normal, harmonious, not discordant—a little light, not heavy in sound.
In the story that is your life, are you the strong, female lead; the girl next door; the mysterious woman behind dark glasses; the super heroine; or the little girl trying to walk in high heels?
Definitely the girl next door. I grew up in a softer, gentler time and had a warm Happy Days childhood. Except for having “stories running in my mind”—I am a pretty normal, ordinary type of person. I wear classics, have long hair tied up in a pony-tail, cook and keep my own house, go to church and circle meetings, take walks with my neighbors, shop the Goodwill and thrift stores for fun, haunt the library and read extensively, and work hard at all my jobs. I was a Girl Scout, led scout troops—and enjoyed every minute of raising my kids.
I am just a really regular person.
I’m a dog lover. Do you have pets?
I like dogs, but I am definitely a cat person. Mother tells me a kitten showed up at our house when I was a baby, climbed up in the crib with me, and that I drew cats like a magnet from then on. Right now, J.L. and I have two cats—a black-and-white tuxedo named Tucker and a tortoise-shell named Sophie.
Thank you, Lin! It’s nice to have you at DivineDetour!
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For more information about Lin and her books, logon to her website at www.linstepp.com.
To purchase The Foster Girls and/or Tell Me About Orchard Hollow from Amazon, logon to http://www.amazon.com/Lin-Stepp/e/B0028OJMPA/ref=sr_tc_img_2?qid=1290360342&sr=1-2-ent.
To purchase The Foster Girls and/or Tell Me About Orchard Hollow from Barnes & Noble, logon to http://productsearch.barnesandnoble.com/search/results.aspx?store=book&ATH=Lin+Stepp.