Dr. Lin Stepp is an educator, marketing professional, businesswoman, and the author of six novels—with the release this month of Down by the River (Kensington Publishing, May 2014). A native of East Tennessee, Lin creates stories set in the Great Smoky Mountains. Her novella I Can Hear the Wind Sing will be included in a 2014 Christmas anthology featuring Fern Michaels.
Earlier this year, Lin and her husband, J.L., published a Smoky Mountains hiking guide. The couple met more than forty years ago as students at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and continue to reside in that area.
Let’s talk about your new novel, Down by the River. What was the inspiration for the characters? Is it a standalone or part of a series?
Down by the River is the sixth book in the Smoky Mountain series. All my books in the series are standalone novels, each with its own set of characters and individual story, but with each novel set in a new place around the mountains. I wanted readers to be able to pick up any one of my books—in any order—and be able to enjoy a great read without worrying that they’d missed an earlier book or wouldn’t be able to follow the storyline.
Believe it or not, I actually dreamed the story for Down by the River, my latest book. My husband J.L. and I were headed up through Townsend to hike one weekend and I saw an interesting old house for sale along the Little River. It had a long green lawn, a charming turret, and a rambling porch. I told J.L. “Look at that house. Someone should buy that place and make a business out of it or something.” Of course, J.L. just zoomed on by—and we headed on to hike. I actually forgot all about seeing the house until I dreamed about it a couple of weeks later. Then I woke up to scribble down all the plot idea, characters, and story I dreamed—all in rich color, just like a movie!
I dreamed that this middle-aged woman, Grace Conley, came over from Nashville to pick up her daughter from school at Maryville College. She saw this interesting house for sale in nearby Townsend, which had been a bed and breakfast, went to see it and impulsively bought it. Widowed for several years, Grace had been wondering what to do with the rest of her life. Back in Nashville, her kids had a fit over her purchase. “
Mother what do you know about running a business? You’ve always been a homemaker and a mom. You keep all our kids when we go to the ballgames and on trips; you babysit and host all the family holiday events. You can’t just move away. Are you crazy?”
Set on her new course, Grace moves to Townsend anyway and opens the Mimosa Inn. She then begins to wonder if she might be a little crazy when she begins to fall for the local ladies man—when she’s a practical, sensible woman and knows better than to get involved with a man like Jack Teague. To further complicate things, her difficult daughter, Margaret, comes to live with her and the minister next door thinks he’s had a sign from God that he’s supposed to marry Margaret when she’s not even a Christian and says she’d never want to live in a podunk town like Townsend. Finally, to top off Grace’s problems, there is a stalker in the neighborhood.
… Anyway, I had a lot of fun writing Down by the River and readers will enjoy every minute of it. It’s a great story to prove that it’s never too late for new adventure and a fresh start.
God often uses our work to teach us something. What did you learn (about life, faith, and/or even yourself) in the process of writing this story?
My characters in Down by the River helped affirm to me once again one of my own beliefs that: “It’s never too late to be what we might have been.” Several characters in Down by the River make some dramatic changes in their lives—showing that change, even if difficult, is always possible.
I just finished teaching a Theories of Counseling course at King University and I thought of my Townsend book again, in example, as we read about Victor Frankl. He lived through the Holocaust and afterward wrote a book called Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl came to believe that the greatest need for all people was to find meaning, faith, and love in life—and that it is possible for people to take the helm of their lives, to steer in the direction they choose, and to have the courage to be. Frankl said that with meaning and faith, life can take new direction. Several of the characters in Down by the River exemplify this teaching—and with new faith and meaning, their lives do take very new directions.
Actually, J.L. and I were working on our hiking guide before I started my Smokies novels. In the late 1990s, when we became “empty nesters”—and our children moved out on their own into new lives and careers—the two of us started hiking the trails of the Smoky Mountains together every weekend when we could. I was journaling our trails and J.L. was taking photos, and we soon decided we wanted to begin compiling our own guidebook. Many of the hiking guides we’d bought didn’t seem suited to “afternoon hiker” types like us, busy professionals who only had time for a short trek through the woods on the weekends.
The Afternoon Hiker includes 110 trail descriptions and over 300 of our color photos of the trails we hiked on the Tennessee and North Carolina side of the mountains—all readily accessible trails that average six-eight miles roundtrip. It’s the perfect guide for the occasional hiker and for busy professionals wanting to get away to the mountains for a fun morning or afternoon walk in the Smokies.
It was published by Mountain Hill Press in January—and besides being distributed through Ingram and Baker & Taylor, is also being distributed through The University of Tennesses Press (our college alma mater). After the book came out in January, it hit No. 12 in its category on Amazon—and is really being well-received. So this new year has been an exceptionally busy time with both the Hiker and the new book with Kensington coming out.
On a fun side note, another of my “bucket list” wishes came true with The Afternoon Hiker as my black and white illustrations were used in the hiking patch designs created for each of the 110 trails in the book. So, now in a small way, I am officially an “illustrator” as well as an author!
Despite a busy schedule with work and family, you’ve written and released a book a year (two this year) since 2009. How do you make time to write?
Kathy, sometimes I wonder about that myself. But I lead a very time-disciplined life—and that is the only way I can accomplish and complete all I need to do every week and every month. I’m on faculty at Tusculum College, where I’ve taught for fifteen years now. I’ve taught a variety of research and psychology courses for Tusculum, and with some changes in their psychology department, I began to teach psychology courses with the psych department at the new King University branch campus that opened in Knoxville a few years ago. So now I teach at two schools, write books, market, and run the roads doing book signings, related presentations, and festival and event signings. But I also love all of it…. I love to teach, I love to write, and I love to speak and meet my readers. If you’ll check my Book Tour Schedule on my website … you’ll see that, around my teaching schedule, I’m signing almost every weekend somewhere around the Southeast and often speaking for some group in between.
Around work and home obligations, I continue to write a minimum of twenty hours most every week. That is my weekly goal and I work very hard to get in those hours. Often that means, like tonight, that I’m still working at ten o’clock. It also means carefully planning and budgeting my time every single week. I do not watch television, which saves about five to six hours a day that most people give to this media, and I budget other online media time rigidly.
I generally write two books a year around my work schedule. My past publisher put out one title a year from 2009 through 2013, but Kensington plans to publish two titles a year. My first book with them, Down by the River, comes out in May and the next Makin’ Miracles, set in Gatlinburg, comes out in January with another to follow in the fall of 2015 titled Saving Laurel Springs, set in Cosby. In addition, Kensington called to ask if I would write a short novel to be included in a fall Christmas anthology, When the Snow Falls, with Fern Michaels—so this fall I wrote the novella A Smoky Mountain Gift for that book, under separate contract, which will be out this September or October.
Right now, I am working on my eleventh title in the Smoky Mountain series called The Lost Inheritance and hope to also finish another novel before next Christmas. I can generally write two books a year around my teaching and work schedule, which also includes helping with my husband’s business and writing a travel article every month for his Tennessee Fishing and Hunting Guide Magazine which we call “The Tennessee Traveler.” I have a quote taped by my computer that reads: “You are your choices.” … That’s pretty much true, I think, with everything. Most of us can do a lot more than we think we can if we would.
A few fun questions…
What’s the title of the last GREAT book you’ve read?
I define a GREAT book in two ways—a great book is one I learn and grow from and a great book is one that captures my attention and makes me fall in love with the characters, the story, and the setting. I also think a great book is not necessarily a recent title but a book you’ve read that keeps speaking to you and stays in your mind.
I grew and learned from Gail Sheehy’s New Passages this year—about the passages of a woman’s life and about our increased longevity—and from Shad Helmstetter’s book Finding the Fountain of Youth Inside Yourself about the healthy importance of staying young in heart and mind.
For books of pure pleasure I loved Beth Hoffman’s Saving Cee Cee Honeycutt, Mary Alice Monroe’s Time Is a River and Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery. My favorite spiritual book of the last year was Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, which I used every day as the beginning point of my devotional time.
What’s your current favorite song on the radio or your mp3 player?
I rarely listen to the radio or watch television and I don’t have an mp3 player. I do love music, and J.L. and I have a collection of CDs we listen to while eating, entertaining friends, and when playing cards or board games. These CDs are a variety of easy listening mood music, many with nature sounds in the background, or bluegrass or Christian music. We love our CDs and we love the festivals we attend colored with Appalachian music, bluegrass and gospel music. We also love the symphony when we can get tickets and make time to go.
In the car traveling, I use my time as a marvelous, quiet space for prayer. It’s wonderful for that—the one time when I don’t have a million things I need to get done and can just pray, sing, praise, and talk to the Father along the miles.
Some of my writer friends listen to music while they write, but I can’t think and focus without quiet. However, I do weave music, dance, and singing into my novels, and in one of my books, Second Hand Rose (2013), I wrote my own song lyrics, the plot for a musical, and the layout for a variety show!
What verse or story in the Bible best describes your faith journey?
Abraham had a prescribed and perhaps predictable life laid out—but God had other plans and ideas for him. I relate to Abraham’s story because I followed God’s leading several times in a direction my family and friends perhaps wondered about—but that path, if less traveled, took me right into what I feel was God’s best plan for my life. My journey, like Abraham’s, was a little circuitous sometimes—and not always easy—but I grew closer in covenant and relationship with the Lord as I traveled. Like the Robert Frost poem: ‘I took the road less traveled and for me that has made all the difference.’
Have you experienced any “divine detours” lately?
My life journey has taken several “divine detours” in the last few years—although I certainly didn’t see them as “divine” at the time. I had to seek a new publisher for my Smokies novels when I began to experience problems with my past publisher. From that seeking, a contract with Kensington of New York opened—which has led me into a happy new detour with a fantastic national publishing company, a wonderful new editor and editorial staff, a great publicist, and many new opportunities I’d never have known without the “detour” and change.
Similarly another publishing problem led us to a new avenue of publication for our hiking book with an additional distributor agreement with the University of Tennessee Press. So I have seen in these “detours” how God does work all things for good.
Thank you, Lin! It’s nice to have you back at DivineDetour.
Thank you, Kathy!!! I appreciate your interest in my books and hope we’ll meet again soon along life’s journey!
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