Queen of the May

May QueenThere are stories all around us. All you have to do is listen.

A dear friend’s mother offers a wealth of inspiration for my Appalachian stories. Anne grew up on a tobacco farm in Kentucky, but spent considerable time with grandparents in town. While she did help with farm work, she was more likely to be found reading.

And she still is.

Tomorrow is her 96th birthday. One of my favorite stories of hers is how she was almost Queen of the May. When she was a child at school, one of the girls would be selected to lead the May Day celebration each year. This is an old-time tradition that often included a parade, May baskets, and dancing around a May pole. It goes back to the Celtic celebration of Beltane and there are variations galore.

Since it was her birthday, Anne assumed she would be chosen queen.

She wasn’t, but her best friend was.

On the way home, her friend gave Anne the crown of May flowers she’d been given as queen. Anne promptly went home and told her mother she had been named Queen of the May.

But lies, even sweet, childish ones, eat away at our well-being. Anne, overcome with guilt, finally confessed the truth with tears.

So every year, we celebrate Anne as Queen of the May (in the photo above she’s a mere 92). Tomorrow, she’ll get to be queen once again.

Happy birthday Queen Anne–thanks for the wonderful stories!

Southern Kentucky Book Fest – Come See Me!

I’m super excited to be heading to Bowling Green, Kentucky, this week for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. I’ll be teaching a class titled “Setting as Character” at 9 a.m. Friday morning, attending a meet the authors reception Friday evening, and sitting on a panel titled “People, Places, and Pie” Saturday morning. That last panel is with Karen Spears Zacharias, Ann Gabhart, Naomi Miller, and Rachel Miller so it’ll be a treat for me as much as anyone!

I’ll also be signing as many books as they’ll let me!

The Southern Kentucky Book Fest is one of the state’s largest literary events and is presented by Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Warren County Public Library, and WKU Libraries. The event is in it’s 20th year and I’m honored to be included.

And while it’s great to meet readers, I’ll confess I’m also pretty excited to get to hang out with some author friends. In addition to the ladies on the pie panel, I’ll get to see some other author friends and hopefully meet several new ones. Writing can often feel incredibly solitary, so having an opportunity to spend time with other writers is always a treat.

If you’re in the vicinity of Bowling Green this weekend, I hope you’ll come out to see us. And if you’d like to register (the event is free), click HERE to learn more.

Dreaming Big – Once Upon a Prince

upon a princeWhen Rachel Hauck released Once Upon a Prince, I hesitated to read the story. I was afraid it was going to be just another reinterpretation of Cinderella. And while I LOVE Cinderella, did we really need another, modern version?

Boy, was I wrong!

Oh, there are echoes of Cinderella, but somehow Rachel has managed to craft a surprisingly believable commoner falls for royal story with a wonderful faith theme woven through.

And now, it’s being released as a Hallmark movie.

The thing is, shortly after an author’s book is released, friends and readers start saying things like, “This would make a great movie.”

And your job, as the humble author, is to thank them and say things like, “Oh, well, it’s tough to get a movie deal.” Or, “There are so many great stories out there–who’s going to notice mine?”

But secretly you’re thinking, “Yes! It would make a great movie. When’s that going to happen?”

Well, for Rachel, it’s happening this coming Saturday at 9 p.m. Eastern on the Hallmark Channel. Which could easily lead to things like comparison and jealousy.

But here’s what I know about Rachel. She’s written 30 or so books. Lots of them have won awards. Some haven’t. She’s incredibly active in the world of Christian and romance writing. She teaches. She mentors. She endorses books by new authors. She sits across the table at lunch and listens with her heart.

And now, for Rachel, her dream of a movie is coming true. I, for one, can hardly wait! Check it out this Saturday at 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel.

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 titled The Christmas 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?”

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 . . .

cistern