Interview with Dr. Lin Stepp

Today we welcome Dr. Lin Stepp, a New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling International author, is a native Tennessean, businesswoman, educator, and the author of eleven Smoky Mountain novels, including the most recent LOST INHERITANCE (2018) set in Gatlinburg, plus a novella in one of Kensington’s Christmas anthologies, and two regional guidebooks co-authored with her husband. Lin writes engaging, heart-warming Southern fiction with every novel set in a different location around the Great Smoky Mountains.

Book ‘Em:  Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.

Dr. Lin Stepp:  Thanks for inviting me to Book ‘Em today… I grew up in Knoxville and am a native Tennessean. My relatives trekked down the Appalachian Trail long ago to help settle this area, when it was still wilderness, so my roots go deep in this Appalachian region and my love for this area is strong.

For much of my life—before becoming an author—I was an educator and businesswoman. I taught research and a wide variety of psychology and social psychology courses at Tusculum College for over eighteen years and worked in educational sales, marketing, and public relations. I’ve also worked as a production artist, a travel writer, and in my husband’s and my 25-year publications and sales business S&S Communications.

On the personal side, I’m married and have two grown children. I love to read as well as write. I greatly enjoy the outdoors, and my husband and I love to hike the trails in the Smoky Mountains and to explore parks and other outdoor areas near our Knoxville home.

Book ‘Em:  Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  I started writing at midlife, inspired—in part—by the fact that I couldn’t find any rich contemporary Southern novels set around the Smoky Mountains—like I wanted to read—in any of the area bookstores. So I decided to write some! … When I started working on my first books, my husband J.L. and I were also hiking Smoky Mountain trails and working on a hiking guide, later published, called THE AFTERNOON HIKER. It features descriptions of 110 trails in the Smokies and over 300 color photos. In the year our hiking guide published in 2014, my sixth Smoky Mountain novel published the same year, so obviously with six novels out by that point, I was having fun. This spring, my eleventh novel published, called LOST INHERITANCE, set amid the charm of downtown Gatlinburg—so as you can see, I’m still writing away! In addition, my husband’s and my new guidebook DISCOVERING TENNESSEE STATE PARKS published in April, too. We had a blast visiting all 56 state parks in Tennessee to write this book, and it provides descriptions of each park, amenities, interesting things to do and see, and a wealth of color photos.

All my contemporary Smoky Mountain novels have a sprinkling of romance, a dash of suspense, a touch of inspiration, and a big dollop of Appalachian flavor. Each stand-alone book takes readers to a new place around the mountains of Tennessee or North Carolina with a new story every time. When I began writing, I wrote what I loved most to read – a warm, engaging story with a rich sense of place … and I have been so pleased that readers have truly loved my books, too. Even Dolly Parton, who I send copy of every book to by request! I’ve always been a big fan of Dolly’s, and now she’s a fan of mine, too. She wrote this wonderful endorsement for me: “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.”

My latest book LOST INHERITANCE takes readers to Gatlinburg—one of my favorite places in the Smoky Mountains. The book’s story explores how loss and disappointments can, with a little time, open new doors to happiness and gain. As the story opens, Emily Lamont learns that an improperly executed will has cut her out of inheriting her godparents’ estate and the prestigious Newman Gallery in downtown Philadelphia. Leonard, a nephew her godparents had little use for, inherits everything instead. Stunned with this news, Emily leaves the city to go to a small art gallery on the River Road in Gatlinburg she did inherit, thankfully, through a later legal transaction. Here she hopes for a new beginning and a time for healing, but she quickly bangs heads with Cooper Garrison who thinks his mother should have inherited the gallery instead of her. So begins the story of these two young people and how they work their way past the disappointments and hurts life has brought them.

Book ‘Em:  Do you have a work in progress?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  The answer to that question is always Yes. I write two books a year, as well as articles, so I always have a new book in the works. Right now, I’m in edits for my next Smoky Mountain novel called THE INTERLUDE which publishes next year, and I’m writing the second of a new trilogy of books set at our favorite vacation spot at Edisto Beach, South Carolina. In addition, my husband and I are planning a new guidebook, so we’ll be traveling and working on that over the coming year or two … and we are also working on a devotional guide together.

Book ‘Em:  What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  I think the first book an author writes is often the most difficult. Like starting into a new business, you’re learning at the same time you are writing for the first time, and your confidence and comfort levels in your work abilities are still developing. Expertise in anything grows with time, always making the job easier.

Our non-fiction books are also harder to write than my fiction titles—and more difficult to edit—because of the accuracy involved in creating and developing regional guidebooks of this type. Every place, street name, hiking trail, historical site, set of directions, and suggested mileage must be accurate. In fiction, on the other hand, my characters and many of the places I create, within a broader “real” setting in the mountains, are purely fabrications. So fictional writing is more “subjective” and creative while non-fiction is more “objective” with specific rights and wrongs.

Book ‘Em:  What sort of research do you do for your work?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  For all my novels I generally spend three months researching, planning, and outlining a story and then three months writing it. I am a consummate planner in my work and never a pantster in my writing style. After I form the concept and idea for a story, I begin to develop the characters and setting while laying out the plot line and conflicts that will flow through the story. I develop every character extensively—their personalities, appearance, background, strengths and weaknesses, family, friends, and more—so that I know each like an old friend before the book begins.

For each setting I do extensive research about the specific area where the book will be set, so readers will feel they are visiting the area as they read. I research through books and online and then explore the area in person to learn more. For all my novels I create a story-map, showing the area in which the book is set, which my publishers include in the front of my books. In addition to creating maps, I collect online photos and magazine pictures to represent my characters and places. These get filed into manila folders for reference. Later I pick an assortment of pictures and create a collage bulletin board for inspiration while I’m writing. I inevitably gather tons more research than I ever use for my books, but gathering it before I begin writing helps to bring the characters and scenes to life as I work and also means I can write freely without stopping to do research along the way.

A reader from California wrote: I love the way you make a person feel they are living the part of the characters and I can see The Great Smoky Mountains as I read each page.“

Book ‘Em:  Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  Reading is my joy, my way to relax at the end of the day. I read broadly… but I especially enjoy romances, historicals, mysteries, inspirational books, and books in my academic fields of psychology and education. I still enjoy L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, Little Women, The Secret Garden, and Peter Pan that I loved as a girl. I like romance authors like Mary Balogh, Jane Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, Susan Wiggs and mystery authors like Margaret Maron, Susan Wittig Albert, and Anne Perry. Some of my favorite spiritual books are by past evangelists like C. S. Lewis, Smith Wigglesworth, and Billy Graham.

A book that has deeply impacted and helped me in my life is Og Mandino’s The University of Success, which I often recommend to my students.

Book ‘Em:  Was there a person who encouraged you to write?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  I wish I could look back in my early life and say yes to that and tell a wonderful story about a mentor and encourager, but the answer is really no. My mother was a wonderful storyteller, encouraged reading, and both my parents valued education … but although my parents, others in my family, and my friends saw that I wrote well, when needed, no one ever envisioned I would write books. I think they’ve been rather stunned that I’ve done so and done well with it—even becoming a best-selling author with readers around the world. … Actually, I’m rather stunned with it myself!

However, from the time I started to write as an adult, my husband J.L. has been my ongoing encourager, along with my daughter Katherine. Both are always the first two readers to read any new book I write … and as a part of our publication business both are valuable helps with graphics and cover design, layout, editing, proofing, and all the tasks of helping a book get ready for publication, regardless of the publisher I’m working with.

Book ‘Em:  What would you say are your strengths as an author?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  I have good time management and planning skills … and I maintain a fabulously positive attitude. I believe if you’re going to do anything at all you should do it well with excellence … and I believe, too, you should take joy in your work. I truly love and enjoy writing and I love sharing my work with others … through my books in print and through my presence in person through the many signing events, presentations, festivals, literary and other events I attend year round. H.J. Brown wrote: “The secret of success is surprisingly simple: give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.”

Book ‘Em:  How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  Writing is now my full-time job, and I usually write at least 40 hours a week. I pencil blocks of expected hours of work time in my calendar for each week … and if I flake off one day or get tied up in unexpected tasks, I move those hours to “make-up” on another day. Without routine and a disciplined work schedule little gets done. Writers write; it’s that simple…. and “There are no short-cuts to any place worth going.” – Beverly Sills

Book ‘Em:  Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  Five years from now, I hope I’ll still be as busy and productive as I am today. As an individual, I want to stay active and busy, to always continue learning, and to keep growing in the Lord. I hope, too, like Dolly Parton wrote, that ‘God will continue to be in everything I do and that all my work will glorify Him.’ I think that’s the best we can hope for from year to year.

Book ‘Em:  If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  My favorite writing advice is coined from fellow author Carolyn Jourdan: “Start your book. Write a whole lot. Finish your book.” You will immediately be in the small minority of people who have actually written a book, versus in the vast majority who only dream about it.

In addition, keep your expectations about being an author realistic … Don’t expect that becoming a writer is like getting the “Miss Piggy Rich and Famous Contract” and a ticket to easy street. Don’t expect that working on your own—and basically for yourself as an entrepreneur—means you won’t have to work hard. You’ll work harder with your own business than working for someone else…. and you’ll probably have to keep your day job, too. John Pomfret wrote: ‘The work of writing is a calling… and… . It demands a type of obsession.’ There is much truth in that.

Book ‘Em:  What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?

Dr. Lin Stepp:  Here are several I love from my fans that say it best:

“I laughed; I cried. It was a wonderful book and I hated to see it come to an end.” – R. J., Florida

“Your books just make the Smokies come alive.” –M.P., Georgia

“Can’t wait for the next book … I will be buying every one.” – T.H., Texas

“You are without doubt east Tennessee’s best ambassador for tourism.” – J.F., North Carolina

“These books are so real it’s like I want to go to Townsend, Wears Valley, and Gatlinburg looking for these people just to meet them—that’s how real these books are to me.” –B.F., Wisconsin

“God has truly blessed you with a great talent.” –S.B., Missouri

“Thank you for writing these stories. They gave me enjoyment as I read them, but they also have inspired me to set goals for myself again and to begin to live in the moment while working toward a better tomorrow.” –L.H., Ohio

“The only thing that worries me is that I may not live long enough to read them all… So get busy and get more out!” – V.B., Alabama

Book ‘Em:  Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.

Dr. Lin Stepp:  This excerpt is from a published article on my website titled “A Writer Is An Armchair Traveler” …

“Writing a book is similar to launching and carrying out a voyage” (B. Francis) – and writers are always eagerly planning out, fantasizing, and envisioning the next “armchair” trip. I believe there is a distinct traveling-writing urge in every writer – and the best thing about writing to me is being an armchair traveler. Writing is a way to travel – not so much to other places – as to other lives. I vicariously live in all sorts of other lives and roles as a writer that I would never have time to “live in” within my own life span.

Writing is powerful, too. As Stephen King wrote: “When you’re writing, you’re creating your own worlds.” In much of life, people are powerless. Life happens, events occur … and people have to ride the current of it, like it or not. They have to work with the life they are given – to a certain degree. In writing, an author can shape the lives of others and determine the events that happen to them. I love that.

“Writers wander around in a fantasy world” (V. Martin) – and it’s fun!! I have a big imagination. I have always wished I could live a multitude of different lives and try different careers I haven’t had time to experience. Writing gives me the luxury of exploring all those lives, careers, and experiences I could never pack into one lifetime. King wrote that ‘writing is a kind of inspired play for the writer’ – and I find that to be true. I have a youthful, imaginative personality – and a lot of the “little kid” left in me. Writing lets me joyfully play by creating other worlds and lives through story.

Phillip Gulley claimed, “There is a joy in creating that is unmatched by any other joy.” That is so true for me. “There is a kind of pure joy I feel when I’m taking on a character … when I’m there nothing else exists.” (S. Field). I love the creative high of writing – of planning, plotting researching, creating characters, envisioning story, putting words to paper. Klass said it so well: “I love the sound of words, the sight of words on the paper.” I love building gentle new worlds with words; of discovering the story and letting the characters begin to live it out.”

[To read the rest of the article, go to my website at: under the Extras tab and look for the article title: A Writer Is An Armchair Traveler]




NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY Best Selling International Author












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