Welcome to my stop on the Virtual Book Tour for Heart of the Ozarks by LeeAnn Sontheimer Murphy. LeeAnn was kind enough to answer my interview questions below. Please be sure to leave a comment or question for her below as LeeAnn will be giving away eBook copies of Heart of the Ozarks to fifteen (15) random commenters during her tour. You can follow her tour here. Please also check out my review of her book here.
Me: Several of the books you've written have been set in Missouri, where you live, with this newest one being set in the Ozarks. What is it about the Ozarks that made this a perfect setting for this romance?
LeeAnn: The Ozarks offers a lot of a natural beauty and it's long been a place where people from the larger cities come for some rest and relaxation. My own journey here began, like the hero in the novel, coming to visit the region during the summer with my grandparents.
Me: What was it like growing up in Neosho, the home of Camp Crowder with "Beattle Bailey" fame?
LeeAnn: I didn't actually grow up in Neosho - I'm originally from St. Joseph, MO, the old river town north of Kansas City where Jesse James met his end and the Pony Express began it's short-lived but well-known existence. I moved to Neosho when my family relocated to follow my dad's career with the USDA as a teen. I did start college at Crowder College, a local junior college on part of the old Army base. It's funny but some locals still hate the Camp Crowder era because, as one older resident once told me, the changes to Neosho were like night and day. There's still another elderly man who contacts me to rail about the loss of his family farm when the Army took the land to build the Camp. As a college student, I wrote for the campus newspaper and did a series of articles about the transition from camp to junior college. I dragged my photographer way out into the boonies to shoot pics of some of the remaining buildings and places. Fewer still exist now and more of the former base is off-limits. And, there is still an active Missouri National Guard installation on site.
Me: Your first experiences as a "professional writer" were at a young age when you were one of the editors for "The Crowder Quill" - the campus magazine for Missouri Southern State University - when you look back on those days, did you ever think you would make a living as a romance fiction writer?
LeeAnn: I served in an editorial basis for both "The Crowder Quill" (which was at Crowder College) and "The Winged Lion" at Missouri Southern State. I hoped to make a living as a writer one day although I didn't really think about becoming a romance writer. It was during my senior year, however, one of my professors called me to come chat about what I'd like to do in life and first suggested becoming a full-time writer, possibly an author could happen. He didn't said it would but he said I had the potential to make it possible.
Me: You've had various careers over the years; broadcasting, substitute school teacher, working at Wal-Mart, and now you write a weekly local history and nostalgia column for your local paper The Neosho Daily News. Can you tell us how much research you do for your columns, or what type of research you do and what it's like to write non-fiction about the area you live in?
LeeAnn: It's interesting. I love history - actually majored in both Communication Arts and History in college - and the Ozarks are a rich region in history. Some of the research that ends up in my novels is often also used in my columns. As an example, the subdivision where I live was a flourishing fruit farm in the early 1900's and a beautiful brick house in town was built from one year's strawberry profits (or so the legend goes). I wrote a column about it and then used the idea to create a fictional love story in "In Love's Own Time". I've spent some time researching Camp Crowder and other local points of interest. And sometimes I write about things in my life, tied in with the nostalgia and history theme.
Me: Do you base the characters in your stories on local people in the area you live? On family members and friends?
LeeAnn: None of my characters are 100% based on anyone real but I often use characteristics from relatives, maybe even a few friends. People who know me well often try to guess who a character is based upon or try to point out the similarities. Sometimes they nail it and sometimes not.
Me: Who has been the biggest writing influence in your life and your most staunch supporter?
LeeAnn: My paternal grandmother (Granny) wrote a beautiful class prophecy essay when she graduated from school and when I read it in my teens, I had to ask her why she hadn't become a writer. Her simple words offered inspiration - "I couldn't," she said. She didn't have to list reasons why - I knew as a wife and mother through two world wars, the Great Depression, twice widowed, a single mother, she couldn't. Then she added, "But you can - and should." She encouraged me to write and to reach for the stars and so did her youngest son, my dad. Both supported me in every way possible and although both are gone from life now, the legacy continues. I also have an amazing group of other family members including everyone from my kids to dozens of cousins who support me all the way.
Me: You have school age children, write fiction and non-fiction, have a husband and belong to several writing organizations. What is the best advice you can give to a new author about balancing your time and focus?
LeeAnn: You must make up your mind writing is a serious business, not a hobby, not a fun pastime. Writing has to become a priority even if you can only write for fifteen or thirty minutes a day. Have a routine and stick to it. Don't be afraid to accept constructive criticism and develop a thick skin. Keep learning, always improving. I'll be very honest and share when my writing career as an author really began to happen came after I made up my mind to treat writing as if it were a job.
Me: Can you tell us what your working on next? What can we expect to see from you in 2012 and 2013?
LeeAnn: For the rest of 2012, I have at least four new releases slated...a historical 1930's romance, Dust Bowl Dreams coming September 17 from Rebel Ink Press, a collection of connected short stories coming October 3, also from Rebel, called Kosovo Tales: Two Hearts, One Love, another Romance on The Go short work from Evernight Publishing in October, An Emerald Heart, a contemporary November 3, Devlin's Grace, from Rebel Ink Press, and I'm not sure if it's scheduled for this year or next but one more from Rebel, Three Encounters of the Close Kind.
In 2013, I have my first title coming out from Secret Cravings in both eBook and paperback, The Sin Eater's Redemption, in January and May, I believe. I also have another from Champagne Books, Urban Renewal coming in March 2013. I will also have a short stand alone with some of the characters from my first Rebel Ink Press release, Love Never Fails, titled Three of Hearts out early next year. Plus many more, I hope!
Right now, I'm working on one for Rebel Ink Press, untitled but contemporary. I also have several other projects in the works as well.
Right now, I'm working on one for Rebel Ink Press, untitled but contemporary. I also have several other projects in the works as well.
Quick Get to Know You Questions:
Favorite Color? Red
Favorite Snack? Popcorn
Favorite Childhood Author? Betty Smith (I read adult books at an early age)
Currently Reading? A biography of Rudolph Valentino
Favorite TV Show? Numb3rs!
Favorite Vacation Spot? Anywhere with a beautiful beach
Favorite Song? Take Me Like I Am....Johnny Horton
Heels or Boots? Boots
Title: Heart of the Ozark
Author: Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy
Publisher: Rebel Ink Press
Length: 75,000 words
Sub-Categories: Second Chance at Love
Heat Level: Steamy (Hot sex scenes/language, but not explicit)
After St. Louis TV weathercaster Cole Celinksi loses his almost estranged wife and three children in a car crash, his boss orders him to take a leave of absence. Against his will, Cole leaves the city in late May to find the rest and relaxation everyone else thinks he needs. Without anywhere else to go, Cole heads for Lake Dreams, a resort on the quiet side of Lake Taneycomo in the Ozarks he visited each summer as a child with his grandparents. Some of his best memories were made in the lakeside vacation haven with his summer friend, Maggie.
Upon his arrival, Cole learns Maggie now runs the place. Twenty years have passed but from the minute he returns, they reconnect and soon their mutual attraction ignites. He fishes in the lake, takes Maggie to visit some of the places he remembers and begins to find out who he truly is. Before he can heal, he must learn to deal with his loss and to see if he can create a new family with Maggie and her children. It’s a task he’s not sure he can handle but if he wants to be with Maggie, he must. A near tragedy brings them all together into a close knit unit and afterward, Cole may be able to make his dreams reality.
Maggie took three steps forward until she stood in front of him and put one hand on his chest. She stared at him for a moment stretching out long and then stood on tip-toe to kiss his mouth, very gentle and soft. It wasn’t a lover’s kiss, not quite, but intimate and Cole’s reaction surged through his body with a rush. Her mouth’s brief caress whispered affection and familiarity.
“Go get changed,” she said, “We’re not fancy at Dove Chapel but shorts won’t do. I’ll come pick you up in a half hour, okay?”
“Sure,” Cole said, “I’ll be ready.”
When she rolled to a stop beneath the cabin’s porch, he hurried down, wearing the single pair of Dockers he’d brought along with a button-down shirt. Maggie smiled, dressed now in an attractive navy blue and white print dress, hose, and dark blue heels. She’d also put on more make-up than he’d seen her wear yet and tamed her hair into a bun on the back of her head, held in place with a plastic clip.
“You look lovely,” Cole said, his eyes drinking in her beauty.
“Thanks,” she laughed, “Don’t turn my head or I’ll get nervous.”
She drove around the winding curves along the back roads to the old church, handling the car with skill. They didn’t talk much but she sometimes broke into song, practicing he guessed. Cole realized he’d never ridden with Maggie at the wheel before. He recalled during the last summer he spent here driving Pop’s Impala with Maggie riding shotgun to Dove Chapel.
When the church came into view Cole’s chest tightened with sudden anxiety. Too late to turn back, now he wasn’t sure he should have come. He offered up his first prayer in a very long time and begged God no one be present from St. Louis.
“Will people ask who I am?” he said as they climbed out of the car.
“Probably,” Maggie replied, “And everyone will stare at you and be nosy.”
His heart slowed and his stomach clenched. “Tell me you’re kidding.”
She grinned, “I’m not, really but it’ll be fine, Cole. Trust me, okay?”
If he hadn’t wanted to hear her sing and watch, he’d gone back to the car but he sighed instead. “All right, I’ll try to be on my best behavior.”
They settled into a pew midway down the right side of the aisle. As Cole looked around the once familiar church, he could almost believe he’d been transported back to Mayberry or to a sound stage somewhere. The humble country church appeared to date to the early 19th century and he figured it probably did. Before he could analyze his thoughts further, a couple in their sixties appeared and greeted Maggie.
“Oh, you look so pretty, honey,” the woman said, “Who’s your friend?”
Cole cringed and restrained from ducking his head like a bashful child as Maggie rested one hand on his knee and said, “This is Cole Celinksi, an old friend. He used to spend his summers at the resort when we were kids. Cole, this is Irene Matthews and her husband, Tom. They used to own a little motel over on the other side of Taneycomo, where Branson Landing is now.”
“Hi,” Cole said, extending his hand in greeting. “It’s nice to meet you.”
He repeated the phrase for the next ten minutes until the service began and everyone settled into place for worship. Maggie remained in the pew through the opening song but then she headed up front. Cole watched, awestruck, as she stood in front of the upright piano and clasped her hands. From the rear of the church, someone struck up guitar chords for the melody and she sang in a clear, full voice. The sound of it filled the little old church and resounded around the room. For Cole, it seemed as if she sang to him alone. Her eyes never left his face as she trilled out the lively song and as the message tucked within the music penetrated his heart, tears trailed down his cheeks, slow and steady.
Until then, he’d never realized how angry he’d been with a god who allowed his kids to die or how high a wall he’d erected around his faith to hide it. Listening to Maggie’s pure voice, he realized God sent joy to his people, a joy to dance about even when the devil’s on your back. He’d shut himself off from joy and wallowed in sorrow. In her voice, he heard echoes of his children’s laughter and Cole moved his lips, singing along with Maggie without sound. As soon as she finished, she came to the pew and slid in beside him.
Cole reached out and squeezed her hand, speechless with emotion. As the pastor took the pulpit and began to preach, Maggie handed him a tissue from her purse and whispered, “Are you okay?”
He nodded, mopping away his tears. “I’m good, Maggie. Your song touched me.”
Maggie slipped her arm through his and leaned against him. Her whisper came like a breath of wind, for his ears only, “I’m glad.”
Although the sermon lasted a full thirty minutes and the volume increased, Cole didn’t hear a word of it. His mind reflected on the song but his awareness of Maggie beside him increased until he thought of nothing else but her and where their friendship might go from this point.
Her soft perfume permeated his nose and beneath it he could smell her lavender shampoo. Each breath she drew he felt and when the congregation joined in song, her voice matched his. Since he came to Branson, Cole’d known several quiet moments with Maggie but this one eased his inner turmoil in a different, more powerful way.
The thought struck him he belonged with Maggie and maybe he’d find his way home with her help.
He liked it almost enough to forget the idea scared the hell out of him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy is a full-time romance author. A native of the old historic city of St. Joseph, Missouri, one time home to both Jesse James and the Pony Express, she now lives and writes in the beautiful Missouri Ozark region. Her romance novels include Love Never Fails, Witness Protection Program, Sing We Now of Christmas, A Patient Heart, In Love’s Own Time, Miss Good Samaritan, In The Shadow of War, Guy’s Angel, and Heart of the Ozarks, all from Rebel Ink Press. She also has six other novels and several novellas available. Her work also appears in more than twenty anthologies and she has multiple short story/non-fiction credits.
She is a member of RWA, Missouri Writers Guild, EPIC, and the Ozarks Writers League. Her work also appears in multiple anthologies. She earned a BA degree in both English and History from Missouri Southern State University as well as an AA Degree in Journalism from Crowder College. She worked in broadcast media for a decade and also has a background in education. Her weekly column “Hindsight” appears each week in the Neosho Daily News.
She is married to Roy W. Murphy and the couple has three children, Emily, Megan, and Patrick Murphy.
If Lee Ann – or Lee as many of her writing friends know her – isn’t writing, she’s reading or spending time outdoors.
In Neosho, Missouri, the small town she now calls home, she serves on the local library board, is active in the annual Relay For Life fight against cancer, has worked with the local Arts Council, and is active in her parish.
A Page In The Life: http://leeannsontheimermurphywriterauthor.blogspot.com
Rebel Writer - Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy: http://leeannsontheimermurphy.blogspot.com
Seanachie Stories: Tuesday Tales And More: http://seanachiestories-tuesdaytalesandmore.blogspot.com
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Ann-Sontheimer-Murphy/e/B004JPBM6I/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
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