Sometimes I (gasp!) read reviews

reviewsSo many authors will tell you not to do it. Some even have friends who read reviews for them and only pass along the ones that are really stellar.

Because even if there are only a handful of bad reviews, they tend to dent your confidence. Some will even batter your confidence and make you wonder if you really ARE a fraud.

Even so, I read reviews. I LIKE hearing what people thought of my books. Once in a while I even learn something I can do better. One reviewer pointed out my tendency to use the word, “somehow,” which seriously weakens whatever it is I’m trying to say. I totally need to thank her!

So, last week, I popped in on Goodreads and saw that The Sound of Rain had some new reviews. Mostly good (phew). But one . . . oh my. Sometimes, a reader will just get whatever it is I was trying to do in a way that clarifies it even for me. A reviewer named Kav did that last week.

I try to be careful about “tooting my own horn” here on my blog, but this review brought tears to my eyes. So here you go. A review from someone who totally made my day and reminded me why I keep writing.

Sometimes the people who needed the most help didn’t look like they needed any help at all.” (p 290)

Sarah Loudin Thomas has a lyrical style that is sheer poetry. I find myself reading out loud from time to time just to hear the impact of her words. The Sound of Rain is an exquisite escape into another time and place. And I have a secret fascination for all things Appalachia. Stoic people, hardworking and proud. They blend faith and culture into a fascinating seize-the-moment kind of living that really speaks to me.

But Judd leaves that life in a bid to escape heartbreaking reminders of all that he has lost. He flees the darkness of the coal mines for the promise of light in work above ground in South Carolina. What he doesn’t realize is that he carries that darkness within him. (Exactly! -SLT)

By contrast, Larkin’s light shines brightly. Enthusiastically. Misdirected at times but she has a gift for brightening the lives of the people around her. It’s a dangerous gift in the hands of someone who doesn’t recognize its power — and Larkin doesn’t in the beginning of the story. She’s spoiled and idealistic which Judd finds both frustrating and fascinating. But he’s drawn to that inner glow and Larkin is equally intrigued by a real-life mountain man.

In some ways, Judd and Larkin’s stories seem independent of each other as their goals lead them in different directions. That doesn’t mean they don’t share a lot of ‘page time’, because they do and when that happens there’s an undeniable connection that speaks of hope in their future. Of course, there’s a lot to work through before Thomas brings us to that end. Larkin needs to grow up some, and Judd need to open up more. There’s a lovely spiritual undercoating that binds their stories together even when they are miles apart.

Sarah Loudin Thomas delivers another stunning portrayal of life and love and the faith that connects it all.

Thank you, Kav, for being an incredible encourager.

Appalachian Thursday – The Heirloom

On October 2 of this year, my latest work will release–as part of a collection title The Heirloom (available for pre-order). As a follow-up to The Sound of Rain, I’ve written Hank’s story. You remember Hank–he was George Heyward’s right-hand man until Judd came along. And now he’s wondering where his future lies.

Earlier this week, we got to release the cover!

This collection has been SUCH fun. I was at a writing conference in 2016 when I sat down next to Karen Witemeyer and she looked at me and said, “You’re books are set in the 1950s, right?”


Karen, Kristi Ann Hunter, and Becky Wade (all favorite authors of mine!!) were hatching an idea to write a multi-generational series of novellas that would trace the women of one family from Regency England to modern day America. Their only gap was the 1950s.

Oh, I was IN!

And so, after lots of e-mails and a pretty hilarious Skype meeting, we set to work. The thread tying the stories together is a brooch that’s supposed to bring true love when it’s gifted from mother to daughter. Fun!

Plus, I get to insert Appalachia into a series that includes Regency, western, and contemporary stories. Talk about variety! And my character is such fun–a mountain girl who’s much better at shooting than socializing.

Here’s the brief summary for A Shot at Love: Fleeta Brady’s rough-and-tumble childhood means she prefers hunting to more feminine activities. She never expected her family’s brooch might be how southerner Hank Chapin turns her attention from competition to romance.

Fleeta also puts in an appearance in Becky Wade’s contemporary story (the last in the bunch). So excited for this series of interconnected stories to be released this fall.


Social Media and REAL Community

KermitI am generally on the side of believing that social media is NOT conducive to developing REAL relationships. What we see of our “friends” on-line tends to be superficial and sometimes even downright misleading.

However. Every once in a while it turns into something compelling and wonderful

Saturday evening I checked Facebook and stumbled across a comment from a writer-friend in Canada. She was writing at a pub and noticed a large group of friends nearby . . . including an attractive guy (she’s single).

“i am trying to ascertain if the woman beside him is with him —or just part of the group. and this is me on sleuth duty. keep you posted.”

And that was the beginning of a four hour+ festival of her friends (many of them writers) being glued to a single Facebook post that ultimately had more than 600 comments. We waited breathlessly for her to report on observed interactions offering advice with varying degrees of helpfulness and posting a ridiculous number of gifs. My favorite being one of Kermit the Frog biting his nails.

Then . . . a loooooong silence.

Yet not silence because writers began doing what they do best–making stuff up. Entire romances spun out. Wedding invitations were mailed. One mom had to step away to deal with a poopy diaper. (Okay, that was pretty real.)

And then, about three hours in, our friend returned to report that she’d joined the group and learned that the cute guy in question was married. However, there was a plot twist. An unmarried guy in the group did ask to exchange numbers!

I think I heard the roar of applause across the United States, Canada, and apparently New Zealand.

She finally wrapped the evening up with this: “and some nights are so unique that you end up sitting with strangers and laughing and plotting cowboy romances for harlequin (yes) and cheering olympic skiing . . . and just feeling a community in a huge metropolis.”

The funny thing is . . . while my friend was experiencing actual, first-person community, she had also created a space where hilarious virtual community swept up 30 or 40 people in an incredible evening of love and laughter.

I’m still a HUGE fan of actual, in-person interaction. However, it seems that genuine, REAL, social media interaction is possible. The trick is for someone to start out by being so honest, open, and real that it attracts the same . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Moonshiners!

springI love it when I describe something in one of my novels that I can clearly picture and THEN find that what I described actually exists. In Miracle in a Dry Season Casewell cleans out an old spring with a catch basin. Guess what my husband found in the woods on the mountain behind our house?

Just such a spring with basin.

It’s a steep hike to get to the place where water flows from the side of the mountain, but clearly someone had been there before us. They dug out a spot and shored up the edges with stones set in place. It’s lovely.

And, of course, we wondered why someone would create such a spot so far from any sign of a house. Our answer was further down the mountain, near a neighbor’s house, in the form of a cast concrete cistern with an outflow pipe.

The spring flows there to fill the cistern. We asked a local fellow who’s lived in this valley all his life about our discovery. He gave us the name of the fella who used to live in that house. The fella who kept his still close so that the smoke could be mistaken for smoke from his own chimney.

You need good water to make good moonshine . . . or so I hear.

Casewell didn’t make moonshine, but his son, Henry got mixed up in that business. Guess I didn’t need to look too far for inspiration for either story!

I love living in a part of the world where such discoveries are waiting in my own backyard. Where an afternoon hike can turn into research. Or maybe verification of a past tale . . .


Ten Decorating Ideas for Christmas

Christmas treeI know lots of folks who jump on their Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving (or sooner!), but I always wait until December 1. Maybe because it’s my birthday. And even then, I start slow, with a few outside decorations, maybe the nativity. I gradually add decor around the house and finally get the tree up a week to ten days out from December 25.

But this year, I have a new idea about decorating for the season. My pastor gave me the idea during yesterday’s sermon. What if we added a new kind of decorations this holiday season? What if, in addition to the greenery, tinsel, and lights, we decorated our lives with love?

How does that work? I’m glad you asked. Here are ten ways to decorate with love this December:

  1. Send an actual, physical Christmas card that you WRITE in to special people in your life. Real mail is getting scarcer than hen’s teeth these days. And mail with a handwritten, heartfelt note is the unicorn of the postal system. Be sure to sign your card with LOVE.
  2. Now send an actual, physical Christmas card to someone you only know a little. Maybe someone who might not get many cards. Write them a sweet note, too.
  3. Say something nice to someone you don’t know. Maybe it’s a mom in the grocery store trying to shop with kids–tell her how cute her little ones are. Tell the clerk at the mall you like her nail polish. Say thank you to someone in uniform.
  4. Leave the UPS or Fed-Ex delivery person some holiday sweets or maybe bottled water with a holiday ribbon. They’re working their tails off this time of year!
  5. Take a meal to someone who’s sick. Or overworked. Or overwhelmed. Or who simply might appreciate it. Take out is totally fine! And if a meal is too much, take cookies.
  6. Give an anonymous gift to someone you appreciate. It doesn’t need to be big or impressive–a bar of chocolate with a ribbon around it, a candle, or fancy soap–just a little something with a note attached that says, “You are loved” or “You are appreciated.”
  7. Make a donation to your favorite charity. Even better, make the donation in honor of someone you love.
  8. When you’re at a toll booth, or fast food drive-thru, pay for the person behind you. Ask the clerk to tell the customer, “Merry Christmas!”
  9. Go caroling at a nursing home. Or, if you can’t sing, take sugar-free cookies. And don’t forget a box of fudge for the nursing staff.
  10. Smile. Smile at family member, co-workers, shoppers at the grocery store, folks at church you don’t really know, neighbors. Sometimes the gift of a smile is just exactly the dose of love someone needs.

John 13:35 – By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Appalachian Thursday – Deer Season

Going Hunting

My father and brother–off to hunt on a snowy morning.

It’s almost holiday time in West Virginia. Oh, sure, there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the REAL festivities begin on Monday. The first day of deer season.

Many schools are out all week because, well, no one would come if they were open. Teachers, students, staff–they’re all out “celebrating” deer season.

So how does one celebrate? If you’re a hunter, it’s obvious. You go hunting. But what about non-hunters? That was always me. I know plenty of women who enjoy hunting, but I don’t happen to be one.

Even so, the week was a fun time for me growing up. First, we were out of school. Second, there was plenty of company. Friends and family would come to the farm to hunt, eat, nap, and tell tall tales. Which meant we got to indulge in junk food, questionable conversation, and interesting schedules. And when everyone else was out hunting, I got to curl up in a cozy chair and READ!

One friend of Dad’s worked for Lays and would bring us an entire case of potato chips. We NEVER got potato chips. Hunters eat packaged cookies, processed lunch meats, soda–it’s kid heaven. There’d be a fire in the fireplace, funny stories we didn’t always understand, early mornings, and as soon as someone got a deer–venison tenderloin seared in butter.

Here’s one of my favorite deer season recipes. My dad is the master of this one. Mmmm, I could eat a plate full right now!

1 smallish venison roast
salt and pepper to taste

Partially freeze the venison roast (or, if it’s already frozen, partially thaw it).  Melt a knob of butter in a skillet. Shave off pieces of venison into the butter until you have enough for however many are hungry. As soon as the meat begins to brown add as much flour as you did butter and cook for a few minutes to get rid of the flour taste. Splash in some milk and stir, stir, stir until that begins to thicken. Alternately add water and milk until your gravy is bubbling and the thickness you like. Salt and pepper to taste (lots of pepper really is in order here). Serve spooned generously over hot biscuits (not from a can!).

Halloween in the Hills


I LOVED Halloween when I was a kid. I’m still pretty fond of it even today. But when I was little it was all about playing dress up and eating candy.

I was one of those little girls who wanted to be something pretty. An angel, a princess–something pink and sparkly. And Mom was a whiz at making gorgeous costumes. Although I’m still a little annoyed about having to wear a turtleneck under my princess dress (see photo–that’s just not right!). Never mind that it was 40 degrees. I could have toughed it out.

But trick-or-treating was different when you lived in the hills of West Virginia. There was no running around subdivisions or shopping malls collecting candy. We piled into the car (angel wings rated the front seat) and drove from house to house. And we knew everyone we visited. Shoot, we were related to most of them.

Aunt Dorothy had homemade caramel apples and popcorn balls, Aunt Bess had full-sized candy bars, Grandma had little piles of candy arranged on a TV tray near the door, Floyd had Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (hands off, Dad!). And at each stop–especially when we had masks on–there was a great to-do about guessing who we were.

When my dad was a kid growing up in the mountains of WV, that was a BIG part of Halloween. You actually tried to disguise yourself so that friends and neighbors couldn’t recognize you. And there were more pranks. Apparently involving outhouses more often than not. Halloween was about visiting and laughing and connecting with community.

In the 17+ years we’ve lived here, we’ve had a total of five trick-or-treaters at our house. Although we live outside the city limits, we can see several houses from the front porch and still no one dresses up or sends the kids around. Oh, there are a few decorations out, but that’s it. Everyone takes their kids to where the houses are closer or to a church trunk or treat.

I say they’re missing out BIG TIME. I miss when Halloween was family time. When we got as many hugs as we did candy bars. When we could eat anything we got–even the homemade stuff–because everyone who dropped something in our bags loved us.