Appalachian Thursday – Snow Day!

Snow DayWe had a snow day yesterday–a couple of inches of the white stuff, hardly anyone venturing out, bacon for breakfast, and a good book to read (not to mention one to write!). Ahhhhh.

When I was a kid, of course, snow days were a bit more exciting. And in West Virginia in the 1970s, they seemed more dramatic, too. I remember missing almost the entire month of February one winter. It was so cold that a skim of ice would form on the top of the pail of milk in the time it took Dad to walk from the barn to the house.

Poor Mom. Stuck inside with three kids day after day. And it was too cold to play outside. At least Dad had livestock to tend.

I remember the power going out during a snowstorm once. Dad stoked the fireplace and we got to sleep in the living room floor in sleeping bags. Mom made us wear knit hats since those were the days when we still believed you lost most of your heat through the top of your head.

There was tomato soup with grilled cheese. Card games and board games. Sledding and the building of snowmen. We played in the hayloft, which was a smidge warmer than outside. Mittens were soaked through. Chapstick was applied. And woe to the child who realized she had to pee while wearing a snowsuit too far from the house.

We also fed the cattle. The winter my older brother had appendicitis, I got to ride on the trailer, cutting the twine on bales of hay, and pushing it off for the cows. Bart, our Black Angus bull, would steal bites of hay from the trailer. He was a sweetheart, though, and I’d scratch him behind the ears anyway.

It got dark early those days and in my memory the house was the coziest place in the world. A nation unto itself. A place where the snow and cold could never reach.

Now, snow days frustrate me–make me wish I could get out and work on my to-do list. Maybe I need to go back in time and embrace what I can’t change. Make a snow angel. Throw snowballs for Thistle. Snuggle under a blanket inside and, instead of being frustrated, give thanks for the reprieve of snow days.

2017 Reading Round-Up

RiverWhile I love being a writer, one of the downsides is that it definitely cuts into my reading time. I used to read several books a month, often reading several at once, and now if I finish one or two I feel like I’m doing well.

And then there are contests. If you enter some contests, you’re required to read entries in other categories. Plus, having found contests SO helpful when I was trying to get published, I really want to help judge them.

All of that to say I read fewer books for pleasure than I’d like to.

But, like cutting back on chocolate, it makes the books I DO find time to read all that more wonderful. And here are a few I particularly liked from last year:

  1. River to Redemption by Ann Gabhart – Okay. So sometimes being an author means you get reader perks. This book doesn’t actually release until 2018, but I got to read it as an endorser. Just let me say, you are in for a treat come July!
  2. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I’m not the only one who loved this book about a notorious woman who was essentially stealing and selling children under the guise of running an orphanage. Chilling and redeeming all in one!
  3. Camino Island by John Grisham – This one was such fun! It’s a writer’s book, with a main character suffering writer’s block and lots of literary fun. Not Grisham’s typical fare, but maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
  4. Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette – I don’t read a ton of Biblical fiction, but this story really brought Exodus to life for me. Really well done!
  5. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain – If you liked Out of Africa, read this book. It’s the more or less true story of Beryl Markham who was the third corner of a love triangle with Denys and Karen. And that may be the least remarkable thing about her.
  6. A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron – I didn’t see the movie, but adored the book. The writing is simple (it’s a dog’s POV after all), but deeply touching. Plus, I’m pretty sure my dog could write a book, so it gives me hope.

How about you? What did you read in 2017 that stirred you?

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

Sound of Rain Q&A

After wrapping up the Appalachian Blessings series, how did you decide what would come next?

Riverwalk in ConwayI thought it was time to add a little variety to my Appalachian setting. I lived near the coast of South Carolina for ten years and loved the idea of taking a mountain man and dropping him into that hot, sandy landscape. It let me use my own experience of trying to adjust to a different climate and way of life. Neither Judd nor I ever got used to how hot it would stay all summer—even in the middle of the night. We also share a deep appreciation for southern cooking!

The story begins with your hero nearly dying in a mine cave in. What was it like writing that scene?

The first pages of the novel are drawn directly from my great Uncle Harry’s experience as a coal miner. He would often tell the story of being trapped in a mine with that boot pressed against his cheek—although his language was more colorful than Judd’s. Hearing him talk about his brush with death certainly captured my imagination when I was a child. It also convinced me that I never wanted to step foot in a mine myself!

Hurricane Hazel provides a turning point in the story—why did you choose to include that catastrophic event?

My first job out of college was doing public relations for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. I learned a fair amount of coastal history and was impressed with the way Myrtle Beach came to be the tourist destination it is today largely because Hurricane Hazel wiped the slate clean in 1954. Prior to that, Myrtle Beach was a relatively quiet seaside community. After Hazel, there was literally nothing left to hinder beachfront development. Except the Pavilion, of course, and it fit right in with hotels, restaurants, and shops. That beach music mecca weathered the storm—much as Judd does—a little the worse for wear, but still standing.

Larkin is somewhat naïve in her notion about helping the “backward” people of Appalachia. What attitudes do you run into about the region?

I hear a lot of West Virginia jokes when I tell people where I’m from and where I set my books. Of course, the best defense is to know more—and funnier—jokes than anyone else. I’m well aware that much of Appalachia faces serious challenges and has for generations. I hope my books highlight some of what’s wonderful and special about the region—the strength and perseverance of the people, their willingness to lend a helping hand, their pride (which can be a shortcoming!), and their love for the land. I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture, but I do want to shine a light on the beauty of the people and the place.

What’s next for you?

luckenboothIn 2018 I’m partnering with three Bethany House authors to put together a novella collection that will trace a century or so of one family. A piece of jewelry ties all the stories together and each author is writing the generation that ties into her genre. Kristi Ann Hunter will start us out in 1827 England, then Karen Witemeyer will tackle Texas in 1890. My story is set in the 1950s in West Virginia (of course!) and Becky Wade will close us out with a contemporary tale in Washington. It’s the first time I’ve collaborated with other authors and it’s been so much fun. Writing can be solitary, so having others invested in my story has been a delightful experience.

Release Day is Tomorrow!

Dad at churchReleasing a new book just doesn’t get old. It’s kind of like my birthday. There ought to be cake and maybe some champagne. Certainly streamers and cheering.

And there’s NOTHING wrong with celebrating all week long! So today, to kick off the party, here’s a link to the first chapter of The Sound of Rain.

It still makes me cry to read it.

I think that’s a good sign.

Enjoy!

Appalachian Thursday – WV to SC to KY

are Organics(1)I love my latest book’s release date. Why? Well, just look at it–all ones and sevens. Maybe it’s because Dad’s a math teacher, but for whatever reason, it pleases my eye.

At any rate, my fourth full-length novel, The Sound of Rain, will release next Tuesday. A handful of folks already have their copies and there are a couple of good reviews out (RT Book Reviews and Library Journal). The first one-star review is still out there in the future somewhere.

It’s weirdly wonderful to release a novel. A combination of pride and fear. I know the book is pretty good–it must be or Bethany House wouldn’t have put it out there. Still . . . doubts creep in and I want everyone to love the book as much as I do.

Which is, of course, impossible. Everyone didn’t write it, didn’t conjure up Judd from real-life family heroes or Larkin from favorite southern ideals. But maybe, just maybe, some folks will like it. And maybe, just maybe, it will touch a heart here and there and remind someone that change–although hard–is often God’s way of shaping us into what he had in mind in the first place.

The book starts in the WV hills and quickly moves to the coast of SC, then sends Judd and Larkin to eastern KY where coal is king and life is hard. I hope you’ll journey with them. And I hope you’ll enjoy the trip as much as I have.

The Sound of Rain 11.7.17

My wonderful editor sent me an early copy of The Sound of Rain over the weekend. There’s always something special about holding the actual copy. At last, the story I’ve been living with for more than a year is REAL.

This story was inspired, in part, by a tale my great uncle Harry used to tell about being in a mine cave in. So that’s where the novel begins–with Judd Markley trapped in a mine. The part about him having a boot pressed against his cheek is true to Uncle Harry’s story.

If you click below, I’ll read you the opening pages.

And if you want to know whose boot it is–I hope you’ll go out and get a copy of the book when it releases three weeks from tomorrow!

Judd Markley is a hardworking coal miner who rarely thinks much past tomorrow until he loses his brother–and nearly his own life–in a mine cave-in. Vowing never to enter the darkness of a mine again, he leaves all he knows in West Virginia to escape to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It’s 1954, the seaside community is thriving, and Judd soon hires on with a timber company.

Larkin Heyward’s life in Myrtle Beach is uncomplicated, mostly doing volunteer work and dancing at the Pavilion. But she dreams of one day doing more–maybe moving to the hollers of Kentucky to help the poor children of Appalachia. But she’s never even met someone who’s lived there–until she encounters Judd, the newest employee at her father’s timber company.

Drawn together in the wake of a devastating hurricane, Judd and Larkin each seek answers to what tomorrow will bring. As opposition rises against following their divergent dreams, they realize that it may take a miracle for them to be together.