Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance inflected with grace, humor, and a southern Appalachian flair. She joins the authors who’ve contributed to the multi-author My Heart Belongs series with My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge: Laurel’s Dream (Barbour Books): A British teacher takes on a teaching mission in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and discovers a wild beauty that opens his heart to faith and family. But will he stay long enough to let love bloom among the mountain laurel? In this interview, Pepper introduces us to her main characters, shares what inspired the novel’s setting, and reveals how her own family history helped her get the historical details right.
No spoilers, but what can you tell us about My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge?
My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge is a special story to me because it draws from my own family history and my beloved Appalachian culture. The story follows an Englishman who has come to the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains to teach in a two-room schoolhouse, meets an Appalachian young woman whose dreams are bigger than the mountains in which she’d always know.
The many challenges and celebrations of two contrasting cultures really brings a special touch to this story of how dreams bigger and more beautiful when sifted through God’s hands.
Tell us about your leading lady and leading man. What made you want to write a story about them?
My hero is a wounded man, both physically and emotionally. He’s spent his life being ‘outcast’ from his father, so to speak, because of a childhood injury. Rejected by the military to serve during WWI, he wants to find a way to prove himself, so he takes his uncle up on an offer to teach in the remote Appalachian town of Maple Springs, North Carolina. Jonathan Taylor is a seeker with a generous heart and a teachable spirit, which allows him to adjust, grow, and even embrace this new culture.
Laurel McAdams is ‘light’ on the page. Raised in the harsh and unpredictable world of the mountains, she still holds to her joy and imagination, and craves learning. When the new teacher shows up, her natural desire to help her community and others propels her into a friendship with the quiet and gentle Englishman.
There is a whole lot of my Granny Spencer in the character of Laurel McAdams—or at least how I imagine her to be when she was Laurel’s age.
Why did you set your book in this particular time and place?
The time period lent itself to giving a good comparison between the isolated mountain life and the progress happening beyond the mountains. It also fit the general time-frame of lots of my family history stories AND corresponded well with a classic from Appalachia—Catherine Marshall’s Christy, a book that does such a fabulous job of showing the culture.
What research did you have to do to get the details right?
I’m really thankful to have written down so many stories my granny told over the years, so that I have a wealth of oral history to peel through for research. Also, I’m a product of the Appalachian culture, which helps too.
Of course, I’m not from 1918 Appalachia, so I’ve used online research (several Appalachian websites), site visits (traveled to where Catherine Marshall’s Christy really took place), and books—particularly Foxfire books, memoirs, and Horace Gephart’s classic Our Southern Highlanders.
What do you hope readers take away after reading My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge?
Besides enjoying their visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains of 1918? I hope they’ll see the good of a culture of hardworking, close-knit, creative people who have often been portrayed in a negative light. There are negative things about the Appalachian culture (as with any culture), but there are also beauties too.
I also hope readers recognize the extraordinary grace shown to us in God’s love—that He’s the ultimate dream weaver, who takes the desires of our hearts, our wrong choices, and our humble attempts, and braids them together into a story of His design for our good and His glory.
Visit Pepper Basham’s author page:
My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge: Laurel’s Dream
My Heart Belongs Series