On Top of Old Smoky

How does a mountain draw you into its magic? Straddled between North Carolina and Tennessee, the Smoky Mountains are known for their beauty and animal life.

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We grew up not far from those mountains and sadly took them for granted as we, many times on a whim, visited more times than I care to count. They captured my soul, but none so much as when I grew older, and enough, to really appreciate their ancient nostalgia.

Any season is perfect to visit, but my favorite is during the Fall. Donning a coat, hat, gloves and boots, we would walk the scenic trails and settle down beside a mystical waterfall for our brown-bagged lunch. Yes. I said a brown-bagged lunch. So good having lunch in the wild. Sometimes one of the falls would produce a deafening roar, others not so much. Whichever, each one was a sight to behold.

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Cades Cove inside the National Park is a must visit. The drive through could sometimes take hours, depending what season you go, but it’s worth every minute of the wait. Log cabins, old churches and a grist mill takes you back in time when our forefathers worked hard for a living. Tours are available. You can camp, hike, go fishing, horseback riding, or settle in for a picnic. Don’t miss a chance to visit when you can.

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One of the most beautiful sights is Clingman’s Dome. When you think you’ve reached the top of the mountain, at an overlook, you haven’t. It is quite a drive up to Clingman’s Dome, but the breathtaking view is astounding. Once you arrive at the parking lot, there is an extremely steep trail to walk. I believe it’s around a half mile up, but they offer sitting areas when you need a rest. When you reach the top, some days you could possibly be in the clouds, other days you could possibly see as far as one-hundred miles away. That’s pretty awesome.

We saw deer on top. They allowed my nephew to walk within a few yards from them. He was thrilled!

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If you contemplate visiting Clingman’s Dome, be sure to wear a coat, hat, gloves, and comfortable shoes. It’s cold at the top, no matter the season. Make sure all participants are physically able to make the trip.

I could go on and on bragging about the mountain and its area. Sightseeing possibilities are endless in the Smokies. You’ll need many, many days or several trips to see all the Smoky Mountains have to offer.

Enjoy!

My second book, A Smoky Mountain Christmas is set in the Smoky Mountains. It’s available at Amazon. http://tinyurl.com/6p3f2n6

Tell someone you love them.

May your 2020 be filled with good health and lots of love.

Until next time…I wish you Music, Butterflies  087d7f0069385dd543178c4c2fca3430--blue-butterfly-butterfly-wings  and most of all…I wish you Love 

 

 

Cynical Romance

Being a romantic in today’s world can be difficult, with several claiming that ‘romance is dead’ and others waiting for ‘Prince Charming’ to save them from something or another. As a romantic, I can understand both sides even though I disagree. Prince Charming isn’t on his way, and there’s no reason you can’t save yourself.

Also, it’s not that romance is dead, it’s just that people have a formed opinion on what qualifies as romantic. Long walks on a beach, midnight picnics, flowers, poetry, champagne with strawberries, the list goes on.

Most beaches are hot, crowded, and the sand gets everywhere. Midnight picnics include a lovely swarm of insects (most of which bite.) Flowers are pretty but wilt or can cause allergic reactions if you don’t check before buying them. Not many people are decent poets and others choose a cut and paste poem found online. As for champagne, does anyone actually like champagne?

A part of me blames books and movies for the perceived romanticism in these acts. I myself have fantasized partaking in all of them as well as a few others. My all-time favorite is standing in the rain as you share your first kiss. (Oh, this swoon worthy scene shall eventually appear in a future book.)

Before you misunderstand and think I’m hating on romance, I’m not. I LOVE romance but I prefer unorthodox examples.

A few years ago, I went on a date where we checked into a nice hotel. He ordered champagne and strawberries for the room and after having a small glass we sat down at a fancy restaurant where the menu had no prices (I’m sure I don’t need to explain why that’s important.) We had a lovely time, the meal was three courses and we shared a bottle of wine.

During another date, we got takeout and just sat together talking for hours. Can you guess which date makes me smile more?

Romance is what you make it. As children (ages 7 and 10), me and my sister decided that the Tramp had it right. The most romantic date was sharing a large plate of spaghetti and drinking milk from wine glasses. When my sister was in highschool, her boyfriend took her to dinner where they got spaghetti with milk. They are now married for over ten years with four boys. Was it the spaghetti? Probably not, but that attention to detail is romantic in itself.

The point of this blog is to tell you to look at what you have. On the surface it might not appear perfect or romantic but if you look deeper you might find that what you have is better than what you wished for.

Motherhood

I’m starting to write again, in earnest, as another chapter in my life – one I’ve been holding on to for too long – is coming to a close.

th (1)My son has two feet out the door on the path to his own life. I am happy and excited for him. He’s wanted a wife since he proclaimed exactly that, quietly, emphatically, at age two. When I asked why, he answered “because I want someone to love and snuggle with”.

Okay.

BEST REASON TO BE MARRIED, EVER……………FROM A TWO-YEAR-OLD. (And yes – I’ve put this in a book).

This beautiful human is about to turn twenty-one. He is in a master’s program for criminal justice at UWM. I’m incredibly proud of him.

And yet, I’ve put my life on hold to try to be a mother who cares, a mother who is present, a mother – who unlike the mother I love who has now passed on – cares to spend time with her children.

I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter how we prioritize, no matter how frequently or deeply we engage with our children, we need to let go. We, and by “we” I mean “I”, need to move up on, or just care about what I’m doing more than I care about making up for the perceived – AND I DO MEAN PERCEIVED – losses in my own life.

silhouette-mother-walking-hand-child-vector-87964024It’s well past time I acknowledge that not only am I a good mother, I am the best mother I can be.

Now it’s time to be the best ME I can be.

Happy writing,

Leigh

 

 

 

Inspiration is just a spark away.

The most asked question of a writer is ‘where do you get your ideas?’ The answer is both simple and difficult at the same time—everywhere!

Along with the stories I do for the Authors of Main Street boxed sets, I also write “not clean and wholesome” stories of ghost hunters, shapeshifters, and zombie apocalypses.

Most writers will tell you they have a ‘book of their heart,’ a book that just wrote itself, as if by magic, touched their hearts, brought tears to their eyes, and a happy sigh at the happily ever after at the end of the tale. For me, that is Dangerous Shift. Set in the near future, Dangerous Shift deals with issues of prejudice and preconceived notions of what it means to be human. When a doctor sees the shapeshifters as less than human, they have no problem creating an Extinction Level Event virus tailored to kill all shapeshifters.

In Dangerous Shift I have gender shifters. They can shift back and forth between male and female. I get asked (a lot) where the idea came from. I tell them–Jurassic Park.

I was watching the movie for the millionth time with my kids. We got to the scene where Dr. Grant is explaining about how the dinosaurs managed to reproduce when the scientists made them all female. He tells Tim and Lexie that some Amazon tree frogs can change sexes if there are too many of one gender or the other and the scientists used frog DNA to make the dinosaurs.

I was sitting there like, “Wow, too bad humans can’t do that.” It was like a light bulb went off in my head. “Wait, I write stories. I could write one where they could do that.”

Dangerous Shift, book 1 of the Shifters of San Laura series was born. I’m currently working on book 2, Stolen Shift. In the second book, a deadly virus has struck the world and taken out 90% of the children in the world aged 5 to 15 years old. An entire generation is gone. But not shapeshifter children.

If you lost your child, what would you pay to have them back? At least in appearance? Seems some people would pay a lot to have an identical copy.

Off to write!


Jill James, romance writer
author of Sugar Sprinkled Memories in the Christmas Cookies on Main Street boxed set.

Proper gentlemen, perfect ladies, and the fun of seeing them mussed

In a winter so cold the Thames freezes over, five couples venture onto the ice to find a love to warm their hearts.

It’s no surprise that my usual reading pleasure — historical romance set in Regency Society — is popular. After all, gorgeous healthy young man in a coat he has to be poured into, tight breeches, and stockings that show every curve of his calf muscles? What’s not to like?

Add to that the courtliness of the times. Passionate gentlemen who, nevertheless, act politely in the company of ladies. Clear rules about appropriate behaviour.

In any romance worth its salt the main characters care about one another, and behave with respect, but in cis Regency romance, the stakes are high. Our heroes have all the legal power; our heroines need love and respect in order simply to be safe, let alone happy.

Of course, the real Regency was also classist, sexist, and all kinds of other ists, so part of the fun of writing Regency stories is playing off the reality and the fantasy.

My newest release, Melting Matilda, which has just come out as a novella in the Bluestocking Belles collection Fire & Frost, has a heroine known as the Ice Princess, and a hero dubbed the Granite Earl.

He is all about convention and proper behaviour. She, even more so. I had great fun persuading them to relax and get mussed. Here’s the blurb for Melting Matilda.

Her scandalous birth prevents Matilda Grenford from being fully acceptable to Society, even though she has been a ward of the Duchess of Haverford since she was a few weeks old. Her half-brother, the Marquis of Aldridge, is convinced she will one day be wooed by a worthy gentleman, but Matilda has no such expectations. The only man who has ever interested her gave her an outrageous kiss a year ago and has avoided her ever since.

Charles, the Earl of Hamner is honour bound to ignore his attraction to Matilda Grenford. She is an innocent and a lady, and in every way worthy of his respect—but she is base-born. His ancestors would rise screaming from their graves if he made her his countess.

When his mother and her guardian begin collaborating on Her Grace’s annual charity fundraiser, neither Charles nor Matilda sees a way to avoid working together. And neither can forget the kiss they once shared.

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Excerpt:

If the two of them made it out of the near-invisible city streets alive, Matilda Grenford was going to kill her sister Jessica, and even their guardian and mentor, the Duchess of Haverford, wouldn’t blame her. Angry as Matilda was, and panicked, too, as she tried to find a known landmark in the enveloping fog, she couldn’t resist a wry smile at the thought. Aunt Eleanor was the kindest person in the world, and expected everyone else to be as forgiving and generous as she was herself. Matilda could just imagine the conversation.
“Now, my dear, I want you to think about what other choices you might have made.” The duchess had said precisely those words uncounted times in the more than twenty years Matilda had been her ward.
When she was younger, she would burst out in an impassioned defense of whatever action had brought her before Her Grace for a reprimand. “Jessica is not just destroying her own reputation, Aunt Eleanor. Meeting men in the garden at balls, going out riding without her groom, dancing too close. Her behavior reflects on us all.”
Was that the lamppost by the corner of the square? No; a few steps more showed yet another paved street with houses looming in the fog on both sides. Matilda stopped while she tried to decide if any of them were in any way familiar.
Meanwhile, she continued her imaginary rant to the duchess. “Even in company, she takes flirtation to the edge of what is proper. This latest start — sneaking out of the house without a chaperone or even her maid — if it becomes known, she’ll go down in ruin, and take me and Frances with her.”
Matilda had gone after her, of course, taking a footman, but she’d lost the poor man several mistaken turns back. Matilda had been hurrying ahead, ignoring the footman’s complaints, thinking only about bringing Jessica back before she got into worse trouble than ever before. Now Matilda was just as much at risk, and she’d settle for managing to bring her own self home to Haverford House, or even to the house of a friend, if she could find one.
Home, for preference. Turning up anywhere else, unaccompanied, would start the very scandal Matilda had followed her sister to avoid. If Jessica managed to make it home unscathed, Matilda would strangle her.
In her imagination, she could hear Aunt Eleanor, calm as ever. “Murder is so final, Matilda. Surely it would have been better to try something else, first. What could you have done?”

The Story Behind the Story

Everyone wants to know the story behind the stories that we write. To be honest, probably only half of my stories have any real inspiration. Most of the time I stare at a blank screen until something congeals.

Characters sometimes have a little more to them, but not exactly. That’s because I use this person’s looks and that person’s personality. So by the time I’m done, it’s a jumbled mess.

People who knew my husband swear I write him into every hero. I don’t see how that is possible. But maybe I like certain types of males. I like a man who is intelligent. One who will hold a real conversation on things from metaphysics to how buttercups got their name or why political systems get corrupted. I also like a man who knows the difference between a screwdriver and a hammer and when to use each one. A man who can watch something and then do it. But I also like a man who can be tough as nails and totally gentle, sweet, kind, and loving. If he knows how to cook, clean, and do laundry, that’s even better. So maybe I do write my heroes to be somewhat like the man I married.

Heroines are a little different. I like strong but not overbearing. I think most women possess an inner strength. Even the shyest and timid women often have a very strong interior, probably because women are wired to protect and nurture their young.

Women come in all sizes, shapes and colors, and with their own idea of fashion…then and now. There are so many things to pull together when writing about women. So creating characters is fun.

Anyone is apt to become a character in my stories. I’ll see somebody and their hairstyle or hair color will catch my attention. Young or old, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I see someone in person, on a screen, or on paper. And beauty…they don’t have to be beautiful. Very few people are beautiful, but most people are attractive. Most people have something about them that makes them attractive. Maybe it’s those little things that makes a person do a double take – that something that makes him or her stand out from everyone else.

I was watching and not watching a TV show at my daughter’s house. She always has the TV on. Anyway it was live cop show and the cop wasn’t what I would have called good looking. But he had the most beautiful blue eyes, mesmerizing blue eyes. But after watching this man for a few minutes, my brain has that big hunky guy firmly implanted in it and he’ll probably wind up as a hero in one of my stories. Lots of women love those big guys. Or at least, his eyes will make it into a story.

Think of some of the people you know or know of that don’t fit the norm for beauty. Barbra Streisand instantly comes to my mind. I’m certain James Brolin might differ on my opinion of her, but Barbra isn’t pretty. What is she? Extremely attractive! She’s taken her looks and learned how to make herself stand out. She’s got an incredible voice and a little chutzpah. Her very unusual looks and amazing talent made her famous. I think that’s a great thing.

There are very few ugly people in this world. Birth defects, disease, injuries, etc. often change the way people look. Yet, some of those who lack any sort of beauty seem to make up for it in personality. My mom’s best friend from the time they were little children was homely. Yet she was the most wonderful person that I knew. She was a very talented artist, and she was kindest, nicest person. When I was with her, I never once thought about the way she looked. When we accept people, appearance no longer matters.

The Internet has been a great equalizer. We’ve gotten to know people without ever meeting them or even seeing what they look like, except that is changing with selfies and posting pics. Today certain things are handled with surgery. One friend was born with six fingers on each hand. The extra fingers were immediately removed. Another friend was extremely cross-eyed. He recently underwent surgery to correct the problem. It’s made a huge difference in his appearance.

Thank goodness we can correct so many things today. But it wasn’t always that way. When I wrote A Husband for Matilda, I wrote a mail order bride, Mrs. Ketchem, into it. Most mail-order brides were women who had a difficult time finding a husband close to home.

They had a house full of children, mostly girls, and it was obvious that Mrs. Ketchem was producing more yarn than she could use. But what really impressed him was the house. He’d never seen a log cabin quite like this one.

“Did you build the house?” Zeke asked between mouthfuls.

“Ay, I did. I bought my own saw and cut the lumber.” Mr. Ketchem motioned to his wife. “We managed to do it together, but putting the roof on required help which I didn’t have. I built it on the ground and used ropes and a couple of oxen to get it up there.” He grabbed a child’s slate and drew a picture of the situation. “You planning on building one?”

“If I obtain the land I want, I might not have enough leftover for a house, but I’ll need one.”

“I’m from the Adirondack Mountains, and this area called to my heart. Bet you never heard of the Adirondack Mountains.”

“I know where they are. Tucked in the northern portion of the state of New York. Not far from Canada.” Zeke laughed. “I happened to like geography.”

“So did I. I was topographer with the railroad as they began to survey and make decisions as to where to put the tracks. I thought drawing maps would be exciting. I wanted to do something special with my life. Instead, I discovered I was bored.”

The man took another bite of food, chewed, and swallowed. “I came from a farm. We had apple and chestnut orchards to go along with our farm. We worked hard.”

“I know about that. I came from a farm outside of Philadelphia. My father would go into Philadelphia several times a week to sell produce.”

“I went all the way to California and as I came back, I knew this was where I wanted to be.”

“Were you already married?”

Mr. Ketchem shook his head and Mrs. Ketchem answered. “He wrote his mother and asked for a bride. I was twenty-two at the time and still not married.” She held up her hands. “Six fingers on each hand. No one wanted me. But my grandmother insisted that I write to Henry.

He said he didn’t care that I had extra fingers. He was more worried about my being able to move out here and if I could cook. He promised that he was a good man and would treat me well.”

Mr. Ketchem chuckled. “I don’t mind those extra fingers. She’s a hard working woman, and I couldn’t ask for a better or prettier wife.”

Zeke looked at the dark-haired woman with crystal blue eyes and porcelain white skin and smiled. He wouldn’t have called her pretty. He finished his meal and thanked both Ketchums several times before leaving for Homestead Canyon.