Thursday, July 31, 2014

Where is Home?

Just a few days ago, my husband asked me which place I considered home? I only lived in Kingsport until I was thirteen, and then we moved to Northern Virginia, so nearly thirty years of my life (give or take) have been spent in this area. But can I really call it home?

Well, it's true that our physical home is here in Northern least for now. But my heart-home is Kingsport and this is why: my entire family is there.

I thought I'd use this last entry on Kingsport to share some visual insight into what I love most about Kingsport.

My mom and stepfather:

My dad, stepmom, sisters, their husbands, and my nieces and nephews:

My Aunt Billye and Uncle Jim (now famous due to his voiceover on the book trailer--ha!)

 I consider my Grandma Mary Ann and Grandaddy Bill honorary Kingsportians, since they lived there until I was 10, and some of my best memories are with them (even though they now live an hour away in North Carolina).

Finally, the memory of my wonderful, wonderful grandmother, Carol (pictured here with my husband), who passed away two years ago (and my grandfather who passed away in 2002):

In my opinion, family makes up the most important components of home.

This will be the last of the Kingsport series, as tomorrow is official book launch day, so I'll be moving the blog in a different direction. Thanks for allowing me to explore the setting of my novel so thoroughly and with such fondness!

Now for the question of the day, where is home for you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Smiles and Southern Hospitality

The D.C. Metro region is a fast-paced, congested area where everyone is either busy, in a hurry, suspicious, or just indifferent. Traffic is terrible, prices are high, and no one visiting this area would ever accuse residents of being overly friendly, welcoming, or accommodating. Not many people stay here after they retire—as a matter of fact, according to Gallup, it’s one of the top areas in the country from which people are trying to escape.

When I first moved here, I was 13 years old (probably the worst possible time in my life to move to an area like this), and the culture shock was pretty extreme. I came from a town where I had a close group of friends (and I’d known them my whole life), a tightly knit family, and several pets (including a horse). Moving to this area meant giving up friends, hardly ever seeing family, and selling the horse. It took years to finally meet some friends and settle in.


As a matter of fact, my husband and I still talk about how unfriendly people in this area can be. The reasons for this are varied—it’s a transient area and people move in and out constantly; everyone is running around trying to get from one place to another in gridlock traffic; people are overworked and stressed and simply don’t have time for others.


Not so in my hometown.


Every time we return to Kingsport for a visit, we’re newly surprised at how nice everyone is. People smile, they say hello to each other (even the people they don’t know), and there’s just an overall feeling of hospitality. It’s not at all unusual to strike up conversations with check-out clerks in the grocery store, or even a random group of folks sitting at the next table in a downtown restaurant.


There’s a neighborly feeling throughout the community—folks help each other out and pitch in when needed. Over the last few years, downtown renovations have been moving full-speed ahead, including re-purposing some old warehouses that have been shut down for years. Now the old warehouses are a thriving farmer’s market, and this area will soon have its own carousel. A while back when the idea for the carousel was first conceived, volunteers were needed. My mom volunteered to paint one of the characters, and every Tuesday for several months the volunteer painters convened to put the community project together. ( Mom's part of the project may be seen below.


There are good reasons why Kingsport is listed as a top town in which to retire and why it attracts so many folks from up North ( It’s a friendly place full of people who enjoy being a part of a small community with a big heart and a lot of southern hospitality.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kingsport Series: Good Times!

There are a lot of great things to do in the Kingsport area (for every interest and taste), and in this post I thought I would highlight some of them.

When I was a kid, my dad used to take me to Bays Mountain for the water slides. You know, those watery thrill rides where you ride down on a rubber mat (at least you hope you ride down on the mat) and try to avoid being run over by the man behind you who weighs 150 pounds more than you do and is traveling three times faster than you are? 

Yeah, those. Anyway, I have such good memories from those water-slide weekends. I don't think the water slides are there anymore, but never fear! For those who want water, there is the Kingsport Aquatic Center. This facility boasts several pools including a competitive pool and a warm water pool, a water activity park, and lazy river.

If you're still up for the outdoors, but don't want to swim, Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium is chock full of possibilities. It is a 3,550 acre nature preserve (right now they have wolf pups!), and there are hiking trails galore! There's also a state-of-the-art planetarium on site (we used to field trip there with my elementary school when I was a kid), and the planetarium shows are reasonably priced ($4.00!!).

For history buffs, Kingpsort is rife with possibilities. I'll only list two here: Allandale Mansion and Netherland Inn. My husband and I were married at Allandale in 2006.

It's a well-known point-of-interest in Kingsport. It can be rented for all sorts of functions, and its grounds are beautiful.

Netherland Inn is on the National Register of Historical Sites and built around 1802. Seasonal events are often hosted there, and several presidents (Jackson, Johnson, Polk) are said to have stayed the night there while traveling through Tennessee. Some say it's haunted...

If you're into motor sports, well--you are in luck! The Bristol Motor Speedway is just off I-81 and every August the masses descend upon the entire area for NASCAR racing. Attendees rent out and take over people's homes, and you can't get a hotel room from Bristol to Knoxville.

Finally, for those with more "refined" tastes, the local area now hosts several vineyards and wineries(many which have produced award-winning wines). Reedy Creek Winery is located at Meadowview (a golf course and conference center), but they still produce their wines on site; Countryside Vineyards is located in Blountville just off of I-81, and so is the Corey Ippolito Vineyard and B&B.

So there you have it! A taste of the Tri-Cities in a snapshot. A little something for everyone!

Wait! What? Does Kingsport have a beach?
Umm...sadly, no. But it does have Boone Lake and the Holston River! Does that count?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Song from the Ashes Book Trailer

At long last, release-date week has arrived! Song from the Ashes will be released on Friday, August 1st. In preparation, I will be blogging every day this week, resuming my series on Kingsport tomorrow.

Today, however, I have a special treat! The book trailer!

I have to give a huge shout-out to my wonderful husband who made the trailer, and to Jim Whitaker for the voice-over, and Dick and Deb Harris for the photography and videography of Kingsport.

I hope everyone enjoys the trailer!

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Best Book I Read in July: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

It's time for the July blog hop through The Cephalopod Coffeehouse where we discuss our favorite book read during the month.

This month, I took a recommendation from V's Reads and dove into The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight.

This is a YA book penned by Jennifer E. Smith about seventeen-year-old Hadley, who is on her way to London for her dad's wedding—an event she is dreading. In fact, she hasn’t seen her father since the divorce from her mother over a year ago. On the plane she meets Oliver—a Brit who just happens to be attending Yale University, which is very close to where she lives in Connecticut. Hadley and Oliver hit it off right away, and a romantic spark ignites. However, once they arrive in London, things get complicated.

I loved this book! As I’ve remarked before, I read very little YA fiction. I have this whole philosophy that I’ve already been there, felt that—don’t want to feel it again as I didn’t particular enjoy it the first time around. Having said that, I’m so glad I read this novel. It actually reminded me a lot of my first trip to London (even though I was older than Hadley, and I was going there to live for six months, not just a weekend). The plot of the story may seem a bit implausible, but I actually did meet several potential love interests in London (and one on the plane as I returned), so I actually found it believable.

Smith’s strength is in her dialogue, which is wholly realistic and natural. She accurately portrays the desperate feelings that occur when deeply connecting with someone in a transient place, not knowing if you’ll ever see them again. It reminded me a little of the 1995 movie Before Sunrise starring Ethan Hawke and Julia Delpy—the same kind of instant attraction leading to “now what?”

The story takes place over the course of a single weekend—and it honestly left me feeling jet-lagged and emotionally exhausted right along with Hadley. I read it in about two or three sittings and found it extremely difficult to put down.

Hence, I wholeheartedly recommend it for a weekend read with a spot of tea and a plateful of Jaffa cakes.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Hills of Tennessee are Alive with Music!

Music has always been a huge part of my life. When I was little, I would play Barbra Streisand and Laura Branigan records on our stereo, and belt out “Evergreen” and “Gloria” at the top of my lungs.
I wanted to be a singer for many years, and my undergraduate degree in college was in music with a concentration in vocal performance. Before all of that, however, I played clarinet and bassoon in middle school, and took lessons in downtown Kingsport for both. At one point, I decided I wanted to be a rock singer, and I took guitar lessons on Broad Street at Joseph’s Music Center (now closed, unfortunately), where I fell madly in love with my heavy metal rocker guitar teacher.

Kingsport always had some sort of musical happening taking place whether it was the Kingsport Symphony Orchestra, the Fun Fest concerts, or even musical theater. Some of the most musical days of my life were spent in my hometown.
Now, I’m happy to say, the Tennessee hills are alive with the sound of music once more, as Kingsport revitalizes the night life of the downtown with “Bluegrass on Broad” (Thursday nights) and “Twilight Alive” (Friday nights).  These concerts take place for 8 weeks in the summer (May-July)right smack in the middle of Broad Street, drawing crowds consisting of music lovers, families, visitors and tourists.
(See video below to give you a little flavor of Downtown Kingsport and the concert series as Blue Highway plays)


Obviously, as the names suggest—Thursday nights are geared towards those who love the good old sound of the south—fiddles and banjos and bluegrass harmonies. Friday nights feature cover and tribute bands. So there’s something for everyone and all ages!


Sadly, the concert series has now finished for the summer, but fear not—it will start up again in May of next year!


Just a little more evidence to show that Kingsport has it going on 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Kingsport Fun Fest: An Example of "Community Unity"

In a country that is so divided right now, examples of unity are few and far between. It seems to me, that all of the politicians and contentious groups of people out there could take a lesson from my hometown. (I'm being partly facetious, of course, but I do think Kingsport has the right idea).

Fun Fest is an annual town festival consisting of week-long activities for all age groups.
Personally, my favorite memories of Fun Fest consist of the hot air balloon races, the town-wide scavenger hunts, and the concerts and fireworks serving as the culminating entertainment at the end of the week. All of these events still take place, as well as various cultural, culinary, crafty, and sports-oriented activities.

The "Taste of the Tri-Cities" event remains a town favorite--hosting around twenty different restaurants and eateries. Everything from seafood and barbeque to fastfood and ice cream are on offer, and the food festivities span over four nights. You can bring a blanket or fold-out chairs, find a place in the park to veg out, and just enjoy the sights, smells, and eats.

The concerts always take place at Dobyns-Bennett High School in the J. Fred Johnson Stadium. Boasting a variety of musical performers to fit all tastes, the entertainment fare is never shabby. This year's concert performers include Train, Martina McBride, and Mercy Me.

While researching the history of this festival, I learned some interesting facts. The first Kingsport Fun Fest was held August 8-15, 1981. The beginnings of this regional program are rooted in the idea of unifying a town divided by socio-economics, politics, and religious convictions. Staff and board members from the Chamber of Commerce discussed plans for bringing people together across their many divides to promote "a more positive attitude about the Kingsport community and a more friendly nature among its residents" ("The History of Fun Fest"*). What I especially like about this idea is that unity was the main goal, not tourism or economic gain (which, incidentally, was an indirect result of the annual festivals).

When I look at the Fun Fest website, I see a vast array of businesses, restaurants, hospitals, churches, universities, car dealerships, insurance companies, banks, and individuals all sponsoring, hosting, and helping with the organization of this annual festival. I know this cannot be easy or cheap to host, and many, if not most, of the events and activities are free to attendees. I think this truly vouches for Kingsport's love for and commitment to its inhabitants, and it makes me truly proud to call it my hometown.

FunFest has been taking place all this week and wraps up tomorrow night with its concert series.

Kingsport FunFest website:

*"The History of Fun Fest" retrieveed from FunFest website:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Memories of Kingsport: Pal's Hotdogs

For the next couple of weeks, I'm going to do a mini-series on the highlights of my hometown. Since Song From the Ashes is set in Kingsport, I thought it might be nice to give everyone a little glimpse into the town and the many amenities it has to offer.


I'm really proud to call Kingsport, Tennessee my hometown, as it's a beautiful and charming small town (population around 50,000) positioned along the Holston River.

For those who aren't sure where Kingsport is located, it's in the Northeast corner of the state bordering Virginia (The Tri-Cities area containing Bristol, Kingsport, Johnson City).

Kingsport was my home until I was twelve or thirteen, and I remember the years I lived there as some of the happiest of my life. Summers were the best! Horsebackriding, swimming, and bike riding with friends are some of my fondest memories, but right alongside those fun activities, eating Pal's hotdogs ranks near the top of the list.

Fastfood Series

Pal's is a local Tri-Cities area chain that started up in 1956 by Pal Barger--a brilliant businessman who had an innovative idea about "sudden service" restaurants. (Interestingly, before opening Pal's, he'd met with McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, who had a similar idea about fast food service). Pal Barger also owned a fine-dining steak restaurant, and he used the same source of meat for his burgers, and later his hotdog chili.

Pal's was, and continues to be a huge success in the Tri-Cities area. Although asked to nationalize the chain, Mr. Barger preferred to keep the chain restricted to this little corner of Tennessee/Virginia, where it spread from one tiny operation in the center of Kingsport into twenty-six locations around the area.

In my humble opinion, no other hotdog touches the Almighty Pal's dog. They also serve wonderful hamburgers, sauceburgers, chicken sandwiches, and milkshakes, but I always get the same thing: two hotdogs, one Frenchie Fry, and an unsweetened ice tea (and the tea is so large you can sip on it all day long). My aunt and uncle have friends who visit from out of town occasionally, and when they do, they bring a large Igloo cooler and fill it up with Pal's hotdogs. Then they take them home and freeze them. They're that good.

So if you're passing through Northeast Tennessee, be sure you stop off at Pal's for a meal. I highly recommend visiting the original location on Revere Street if you can; otherwise, there are twenty-five other locations to choose from.

Check out their website!

Any other hotdog fans out there?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Songs of the Summer!

And it's time for another fun bloghop from The Armchair Squid. I'm really excited about this one, as it deals with one of my favorite things:  music!

In this bloghop, summer songs are the topic du jour, and when I think of summer music I think back to a couple of different times in my life.

Growing up in Tennessee, summers were all about riding horses in the mornings and swimming in the pool in the afternoons. I remember my mother and I driving to the barn where we kept our horse, and on the way we'd listen to the soundtrack from Urban Cowboy. Remember that one?

There are a ton of songs off of that soundtrack that remind me of summer, but this is the one I remember belting out at the top of my lungs as we drove to the barn.

Then we moved from Kingsport to the Washington, D.C area the summer I was twelve years old. This was a terrible time for me. I didn't want to leave my hometown, and once we'd moved into our new house, I'd sit in the basement listening to music on the radio. One of the songs that stands out in my memory is "Cruel Summer" by Bananarama.

And of course, who could ever forget this classic piece from 1984?

"Boys of Summer" remains one of my favorite songs of all time.

As I progressed into high school, my musical (and fashion) tastes moved in a slightly different direction. I started wearing a lot of leather, ripped-up jeans, and rock band T-shirts. The summer of 1987 is marked in my memory by this band in general, but this song in particular.

Finally, I'll wrap up this walk down memory lane with the only song to which I danced at my senior prom (my date refused to get up from the table or his ashtray long enough to humor me with more than one dance). This, too, remains one of my absolute favorite songs of all time. My eyes grow misty with youthful nostalgia every time I hear it. (I also like to think of it in conjunction with the wonderful movie Say Anything, so I'm using that youtube video).

So there you have it! Those are my five most memorable summer tunes.

What are some of your summer favorites?

Cover Reveal! Song From the Ashes

At long last, the cover is here!

The publishers at eLectio were very patient with me as we went through about seven cover possibilities. I didn't feel the original ones they sent were quite right for the tone of the book, and they diligently returned to the "drawing board" to try again. Finally, my husband submitted a book cover for their consideration (he is a graphic artist by profession), and they accepted it.

So....finally (drum roll) here it is!

I really, really love it! I think it perfectly conveys the love triangle, the background setting of the hills of Tennessee, and the country music aspect of the story.

Here's a synopsis of the novel:


Attorney Landon Kingsley craves order and normalcy, and aside from his well-hidden vice of smoking, he lives the life everyone expects from him in his hometown of Kingsport, Tennessee. Recently engaged to beautiful nursing student, April May, Landon’s new fiancée is everything he could want in a wife. She is devoted to her faith and family, and she truly loves him.

April’s cousin, Ella Casey, has returned to Kingsport after ten years of pursuing a career as a country music singer in Nashville. Ella’s failed career and affair with a married music producer scandalizes her in the eyes of the town, but her legal troubles drive her to Landon for help. Landon finds himself increasingly attracted to Ella and more discontent than ever with the path he has chosen for his life. Amid a firestorm of family and town gossip, Landon is tormented by his past and the complicated decision of whether to listen to God’s voice or follow his own desires.

SONG FROM THE ASHES, a modern retelling of the classic Edith Wharton novel The Age of Innocence, explores the dilemma between the pursuit of dreams and personal happiness versus contentment in God’s plan for marriage and love.

Thanks for everyone's patience and encouragement!
Three weeks until book release on August 1st!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


I know many of you are wondering what happened to the book cover. I’m sorry to have excited everyone’s anticipation, but you’ll have to wait just a bit longer. There has been a slight delay, but hopefully this week I can reveal the final cover.

In the meantime, I wanted to mention a fantastic movie my husband and I watched last night called Ragamuffin. This is a film based on the life of Christian singer-songwriter Rich Mullins. Some of you may know his songs “Awesome God” and “Hold Me Jesus”.  Amy Grant performed several of his songs in the late 70s and 80s.

But the film was mainly about his troubled childhood, including a father who was a hard man and had great difficulty showing love and affection. On top of this Rich never felt like he belonged anywhere—he didn’t have the farming talents to take over his father’s land, and the only thing he really wanted to do was play worship music. Tormented by his past and a broken heart he incurs while at college, Rich finally accepts an offer to go to Nashville where Amy Grant wants to record some of his songs. But life as a musician is a hard one, and not really the sort of he wanted. Even as he plays music for churches, church camps, and Native American reservations, he struggles with alcohol abuse and understanding his own faith.

Ragamuffin is the most honest and well-made Christian movie I’ve ever seen. Its message is truly moving—that Jesus loves us right where we are—in our broken, addicted, hopeless states. We need not wait to come to him or worship him once we’ve “got it all together” as He will use us right where we are.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Waiting for the Cover...and holding my breath!

My publisher contacted me yesterday to let me know that they were finishing up the cover and I should have it be close of business today. I'm excited...but nervous. What if I don't like it? What if it doesn't represent the novel? I can always find a "what if" to worry about. Ultimately, it's in God hands, but meanwhile, I thought I would post some book covers I really like.

This is Francine Rivers' new novel. I love her books anyway, but I love the old, slightly glamorous look of this cover. Right away I can tell this is probably set in the 50s, the palm trees scream California, and the pose of the girl leaning against the car suggests Hollywood. It gives me a pretty good idea of the novel's themes. I'm excited to read this one.

This cover actually enticed me to read this novel. I've read a few of Nicole Baart's books and love her literary writing style, but there are many of hers I've not yet read. While trying to decide which one to buy, this cover jumped out at me--I thought it was really striking. It's curious and a little dark--suggests a mystery or something gone terribly awry. It turned out to be an excellent novel--part mystery, part domestic drama.

And here's a classic for you. Many have probably read this book in high school or college. It's a broody, coming-of-age novel set in World War II at boy's boarding school. If you haven't read it, it's a fabulous read--complex and sad with many layers.  I love the muted tones of this cover--the boy at the front of the scene in full contemplation--the setting in the background. It's a well-balanced cover.

Now back to my wait...